NCAA Football News

Insider Buzz: Which 2015 Recruits Are Atop Texas A&M's Big Board?

The Texas A&M Aggies have hit the recruiting trail hard, as head coach Kevin Sumlin has scooped up some of the best recruits in the land. Their 2015 recruiting class is currently ranked eighth in the nation by 247Sports.

With that said, there is still work to be done in College Station.

Bleacher Report's Stephen Nelson was joined by 247Sports' Brian Perroni to discuss which players are still coveted by the Aggies.

Whom do the Aggies need to land to round out their class? Check out the video and let us know!

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Trent Irwin Commits to Stanford: WR Can Be Instant Starter for Cardinal

Trent Irwin is a 4-star wide receiver, per 247 Sports Composite Rankings, and committed to Stanford University. The athletic wide receiver out of Newhall, California, is staying close to home choosing the Cardinal over a host of other big-name programs. 

Bleacher Report college football analyst Michael Felder breaks down Irwin's game and what his impact will be at Stanford.

Will Irwin make an immediate splash for the Cardinal? Check out the video, and let us know!  

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Texas Football: Why the Future Is Brighter Than Ever for the Longhorns

More than a year has passed since Charlie Strong was named the head football coach of the University of Texas.

Change is something that will always follow when a new head coach is hired to take over a football program. But the number of changes Texas underwent in 2014 may have been larger than what some people anticipated. 

Strong made a point to do things his way at Texas, which led to hiring new assistant coaches and removing nine players from the team for violating his five core values. 

Some questioned if Strong was too tough for Texas or if he would lose the locker room after dismissing players from his program.

But if recent history proves anything, it is that Strong has full control over the program and has the Longhorns heading in the right direction.

 

Where It All Began

Strong held his first press conference as the head football coach at Texas on Jan. 6, 2014. He spoke on many topics, primarily his goal to put Texas back at the top of the college football ranks by instilling toughness in the program.

Strong hit the ground running and had his new staff in place by Jan. 15. It was then time to focus on recruiting.

The staff had less than a month to hold together the Longhorns' 2014 recruiting class. Texas had a couple of decommitments but signed the No. 20 recruiting class, according to Rivals.com.

The Longhorns would soon lose a handful of players either to career-ending injuries or dismissals.

Removing nine players from a team before the season began was not an easy move for the first-year head coach, but it was proof that Strong was not playing around when it came to obeying his core values—no drugs, no weapons, no stealing and treating women with respect and honesty.

 

The Season

The Longhorns' first season under Strong did not play out the way some may have hoped. Texas suffered yet another embarrassing loss to BYU and entered conference play with a losing record for the second consecutive year.

The Longhorns hit an all-time low when they were shut out by Kansas State. They had a 3-6 record and dwindling hopes of making it to a bowl game.

But the team took matters into its own hands and decided it was not the time to give up. Texas answered by winning three of its final four games of the season and nabbed a bowl bid to face former Southwest Conference foe Arkansas in the AdvoCare V100 Texas Bowl.

The bowl game did not go in the Longhorns' favor. Texas was embarrassed by Arkansas in the 31-7 defeat.

The game may have looked bad for Texas fans, but the momentum train had already begun moving in the Longhorns' direction.

 

The Momentum

Convincing recruits to attend your school is not always an easy task. Convincing recruits to attend your school after you had a losing season is even more difficult.

But Strong has managed not only to recruit well but also land some of the top talent in the 2015 recruiting class, beginning with 5-star commit Malik Jefferson.

The talented linebacker appeared to be a Texas A&M lean throughout the majority of the recruiting process. But Strong and defensive coordinator Vance Bedford proved they would not give up on landing the athlete.

Their work and dedication was rewarded. Jefferson announced his commitment to Texas on Dec. 18, 2014.

But the momentum did not end with Jefferson.

The Longhorns have received verbal commitments from 4-star linebackers Cecil Cherry and Anthony Wheeler, 4-star tight end Devonaire Clarington, 4-star defensive backs Davante Davis and Tim Irvin and 3-star wide receivers Gilbert Johnson and Deandre McNeal.

In other words, the train is rolling for Strong and the Longhorns.

 

The Future

Texas will be looking to replace a handful of players on both sides of the ball, but the defense will take the biggest hit. However, the amount of talent the Longhorns will sign on national signing day who could very well be contributors in 2015 cannot be ignored. 

There's a solid possibility that a number of these signees will play in 2015. One of the biggest questions will be who starts at quarterback for the Longhorns.

That question has yet to be answered, but Texas will have more than one option to lead the Longhorns in the next few years.

A lot of hype surrounds redshirt freshman Jerrod Heard—and rightfully so. The young quarterback was a stud in high school and led his team to back-to-back state championships during his junior and senior seasons. 

Heard did not enroll early and therefore was a bit behind in the quarterback competition during his true freshman year in 2014.

But redshirting Heard is a blessing for the future of the program.

Texas has not had the chance to redshirt an eventual starting quarterback since Colt McCoy in 2005. Heard's chance to have more than a year to get used to the college game and offensive scheme can only help the Longhorns' future.

If Heard can take over the reins and these talented commits develop into their college roles, the future could be very bright for the Longhorns.

 

Unless otherwise noted all quotes were obtained firsthand.

Recruiting star ratings via Rivals.com.

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

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Ohio State Buckeyes vs. Oregon Ducks: Betting Odds, NCAA Championship Pick

The high-flying Oregon Ducks are 9-0 both straight up and against the spread since suffering their only defeat of this season back in October, and they've done that while facing big numbers as favorites on the spreads almost every time out.

Oregon bettors might actually think they're getting a deal on Monday's College Football Playoff Championship Game against Ohio State, considering the Ducks are giving under a touchdown.

But beware of the Buckeyes, who do not take kindly to being labelled underdogs.

 

Point Spread: The Ducks opened as 6.5-point favorites but are favored by six points as of Wednesday. The total sits at 75.5.

Odds Shark Computer Pick: Oregon 44, Ohio State 36

 

Why the Ohio State Buckeyes Can Cover the Spread

After the injury to quarterback J.T. Barrett, the season seemed almost over for the Buckeyes. They were underdogs to Wisconsin going into the Big Ten Championship Game and had to jump over two teams to make the CFP.

However, with third-string QB Cardale Jones making his first collegiate start, Ohio State blew out the Badgers 59-0, which was enough to make the playoff field.

Then, as eight-point underdogs in the Sugar Bowl against vaunted Alabama, the Buckeyes racked up 281 yards on the ground and pulled off a 42-35 upset.

Ohio State is solid everywhere. If it can keep the chains moving on offense, run some clock and make a few stops on defense, it could win this game outright. And as an underdog, the Buckeyes (13-2 ATS) have been very profitable over the years.

 

Why the Oregon Ducks Can Cover the Spread

The Ducks are the hottest team in the country, with nine straight wins—most in blowout fashion—including a 59-20 romp over Florida State in the Rose Bowl. The Ducks let the 'Noles hang around through halftime, then won the second half 41-7.

For the day, Oregon totaled 639 yards of offense and 301 on the ground. Over their last nine games, the Ducks are averaging 49 points per outing.

Also, the Oregon defense has held its last four opponents to an average of just 16 points. The Quack Attack is tough to stop once it gets rolling, and with its team speed, Oregon will try to run Ohio State off the field.

Oregon has won and covered nine straight overall, facing spreads of seven or more points eight times.


Smart Pick

Led by Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback Marcus Mariota, Oregon has the edge on offense. However, Ohio State holds an edge on defense. The Buckeyes have been underrated by the oddsmakers and the betting public since Jones took over behind center.

Looking back to the summer, it seemed Ohio State's season was lost when Braxton Miller got hurt and their title odds plunged from 10-1 to 40-1.

In a matchup that looks closer on paper than the spread might indicate, the smart choice might be with the underdog, plus the points.

 

Betting Trends

  • The total has gone over in 12 of Ohio State's last 13 games.
  • Ohio State is 13-2 ATS as an underdog since 2007, covering six in a row when getting a TD or more.
  • This is the first time since 2006 Rose Bowl that no SEC team is in the championship game (eight seasons).
  • Three of past four title games played under.
  • Oregon has won and covered four straight bowl games.
  • Oregon has won and covered nine straight overall, facing spreads of seven or more points eight times.
  • Oregon is 5-1 SU vs Big Ten schools since 2007.

 

All point spread and lines data courtesy of Odds Shark, all quotes gathered firsthand unless otherwise noted. Check out Twitter for injury and line movement updates and get the free odds tracker app.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Ohio State Football: Cardale Jones' Wild-Card Status for 2015

COLUMBUS, Ohio — Urban Meyer has a problem.

It's a good problem to have. But a problem nonetheless.

Meyer's Ohio State team will play Oregon in the national championship game on Monday, which wouldn't have been a surprise had somebody predicted that this is where the Buckeyes would eventually wind up back in August. Returning its star quarterback with a manageable schedule, Ohio State was ranked as the No. 5 country in the preseason AP Top 25, projected to finish right on the edge of the first-ever College Football Playoff.

But days later, the Buckeyes' star quarterback would go down with a season-ending injury, the same fate that would later be suffered by his Heisman Trophy-caliber successor in Ohio State's regular season finale. And yet here the Buckeyes sit with their third option at quarterback, one win away from capturing college football's national crown.

So what's Meyer's problem? 

While his roster apparently possesses no fewer than three quality quarterbacks, each of the three has eligibility remaining after this season and is currently slated to return to Columbus for the 2015 season. At football's most important position, only one player can start, meaning that Meyer will be tasked with benching two more-than-qualified quarterbacks.

So who should start for the Buckeyes next season? Let's look at the blind resumes of each of Meyer's options.

 

Option A

Claim to Fame: Two-time Big Ten MVP (2012, 2013), Two-time Big Ten Quarterback of the Year (2012, 2013), Big Ten Freshman of the Year (2011), CFB Performance Awards National Freshman of the Year (2011), fifth-place Heisman Trophy finish (2012).

Experience: Three-year starter (26-8 record as a starter, including a 22-2 mark under Meyer from 2012-13).

Numbers: 5,292 passing yards, 3,054 rushing yards (8,346 total yards). 52 passing touchdowns, 32 rushing touchdowns. Career 59.3 completion percentage (63.5 completion percentage in 2013). Seventeen interceptions.

Current Status: Recovering from a torn labrum in his throwing shoulder, which necessitated a second shoulder surgery in an eight-month span in August. Expected to be fully recovered between the start and finish of fall camp.

Other Options: As a fifth-year senior who has already obtained his undergraduate degree, could transfer to another program and be immediately eligible, or enter the NFL draft.

 

Option B

Claim to Fame: Third-team AP All-American (2014), CFPA National Freshman of the Year (2014), Big Ten Quarterback of the Year (2014), Big Ten Freshman of the Year (2014), fifth-place Heisman Trophy finish (2014).

Experience: One-year starter (11-1 record).

Numbers: 2,834 passing yards, 938 rushing yards (single-season school record 3,772 total yards). Single-season school record 34 passing touchdowns, 11 rushing touchdowns (Big Ten single-season record 45 total touchdowns). 64.6 completion percentage. 10 interceptions.

Current Status: Recovering from a fractured ankle suffered against Michigan on Nov. 29, 2014. Expected to be fully recovered by the start of fall camp.

Other Options: As a redshirt freshman, has three years of eligibility remaining. Could transfer to another FBS program and sit out 2015, or transfer to an FCS school and play right away.

 

Option C

Claim to Fame: Big Ten Championship Game MVP (2014), Sugar Bowl/College Football Playoff win over Alabama (2015).

Experience: Three starts (2-0 in games played), 12 combined appearances in 2013 and 2014.

Numbers: 621 passing yards, 386 rushing yards. Six passing touchdowns, one rushing touchdown. 57.7 completion percentage. One interception.

Current Status: Preparing to start for the Buckeyes in the College Football Playoff championship.

Other Options: As a redshirt sophomore, has two years of eligibility remaining. Could enter the NFL draft, transfer to another FBS program and sit out 2015, or transfer to an FCS school and play right away.

 

As you probably already know, Option A is Braxton Miller, B is J.T. Barrett and C is Cardale Jones. And while all three present compelling cases to be Ohio State's starting quarterback after Monday, there's no doubting that given his options and still incomplete resume, Jones is the wild card of the bunch.

A 22-year-old redshirt sophomore by way of Cleveland Glenville, Jones will make just the third start of his college career against Oregon after leading the Buckeyes to wins over Wisconsin in the Big Ten championship game and Alabama in the Sugar Bowl/playoff semifinal. Albeit in a small sample size, Jones has won on the biggest stages for Ohio State, the 6'5", 250-pounder's apparent arm strength adding a dynamic to Meyer's spread offense not seen in a decade.

"All three of those guys are very good deep-ball throwers," Meyer said of his quarterback stable. "But Cardale is the first guy I've had, I want to say since [former Utah quarterback] Alex [Smith] that is up there that can high‑low a pass over the top of a defensive line and that's rare. That's hard to find those guys."

So are guys like Miller, who almost single-handedly led the Buckeyes to a 12-0 season in 2012 with his explosive ability as a runner, and guys like Barrett, who in his freshman season managed to rewrite Ohio State's quarterback record book. Even as they recover from their respective injuries, having either Miller or Barrett as a starting quarterback would immediately enter any team into the national championship discussion.

And yet when Ohio State takes the field at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas, on Monday playing for just that, it will be led by a player who entered the 2014 season as Meyer's third option at quarterback. But if Jones beats the Ducks and adds a national championship to his short but outstanding resume, could Meyer really relegate him back to the bench in 2015 once Barrett and Jones are healed?

That's a big "if" of course, given that Oregon enters the game as a seven-point favorite, according to Odds Shark. And according to Jones, what happens in North Texas on Monday won't affect his future for the coming year, as he already plans on returning to Ohio State for his junior season.

"I definitely will be back," Jones said. "I don’t think about things like that right now at this point."

He may not be, but others certainly are, especially given that his options for the 2015 season are almost limitless.

Even if the Buckeyes were to win on Monday, it wouldn't necessarily guarantee a return to Columbus for their starting quarterback. Four years removed from high school, Jones could enter the upcoming NFL draft,  where scouts are reportedly intrigued by the OSU signal-caller.

With two years of eligibility remaining, Jones could also transfer to an FBS program and regain eligibility in 2016, although that wouldn't make much sense for a player who just sat out for the better part of three seasons and is already 22-years-old. He could also transfer to an FCS school—Youngstown State would be intriguing given his connection to YSU president Jim Tressel, who originally recruited him to Ohio State—but his high school coach, Ted Ginn Sr., insisted to SI.com that Jones' primary goal is to graduate from OSU, which he is slated to do at the end of 2015.

That would indicate that Jones, indeed, does intend to return to Columbus next season, where he would be the team's No. 1 quarterback in spring practice with both Miller and Barrett still recovering from their respective injuries. Even if he were to return to his role as a backup, he would possess the ability to transfer as a graduate in 2016, giving him immediate eligibility at any FBS school in the country.

And while he maintains that he'll be back at Ohio State regardless of Monday's outcome, a third consecutive big game under the brightest lights could change everything. With a national championship on his resume, Jones could conceivably permanently go from third to first on the Buckeyes' depth chart, or even become one of the most unlikeliest NFL draft picks in recent memory.

Jones, however, insists that all three of Ohio State's quarterbacks will return next season, joking that they're begging the coaching staff to install a triple-quarterback package. "We talk about next year," Jones said. "My opinon, we’ll all be back."

It certainly makes sense for Barrett to return to Ohio State, where he'd either resume his role as the Buckeyes' starter or serve as a backup during the same season that he'd have to sit out even if he transferred. Meanwhile, rumors have swirled that Miller will take advantage of his ability as a graduate transfer, with the two-time Big Ten MVP being linked to Florida State, LSU, Duke and even Ohio State's upcoming opponent, Oregon.

Miller, for his part, has remained mum on the topic, and Meyer said in New Orleans that he anticipates the star quarterback being back at Ohio State.

"We've had conversations and I expect him to be back at Ohio State," Meyer said at a Sugar Bowl press conference.

Like Jones, Miller possesses a plethora of options, including staying at Ohio State, transferring, switching positions or entering the NFL draft. Given all of the moving parts, the Buckeyes' quarterback situation for 2015 would be complicated enough if there were just two players involved, but having three could make for an unprecedented quarterback controversy in Columbus next season.

"I'm really excited to have two really good quarterbacks next year," Meyer said in November, before Jones ever entered the fray. "Competition brings out the best."

After Monday, that theory will certainly be put to the test.

 

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

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Which 2014 CFB Playoff Participant Is Most Likely to Be Back in 2015?

While its performance in the Rose Bowl might indicate otherwise, having Florida State included in the first College Football Playoff served as a great passing of the torch from the BCS era to this new semifinal age. The defending national champion bridged the gap from one format to the next, providing some stability in a time of major change. 

Will we get another dose of familiarity next time around?

The first playoff participants all figure to remain among the top teams in the country in 2015, despite their various significant player departures. It wouldn't be a surprise to see one or more of the lot of Alabama, Florida State, Ohio State or Oregon back in the semifinals, as from 2010-2013 at least one team that finished in the top four of the final BCS standings was among the final four the following year.

If we had to pick just one, though, the best bet right now looks to be Ohio State. Based on what each team will lose, what's coming back and who they're set to play in 2015, the Buckeyes have more pieces in place to make a return trip than anyone else.

Follow along as we break this down in more detail.

 

Holes to fill

Florida State showed that you can win a title, lose a lot and still stay near the top, as did Alabama. The schools had a combined 15 players taken in the 2014 NFL draft, yet both matched their regular-season record from the year before.

The losses for each of those teams figures to be far more significant this time around, though.

Alabama has to replace eight senior starters, including quarterback Blake Sims and 60 percent of its offensive line, and that doesn't even include the expected departures of juniors Amari Cooper and T.J. Yeldon. The Crimson Tide's defense doesn't take as big of a hit, even with safety Landon Collins expected to turn pro early, but the linebacker corps loses some key pieces that need to be replaced in Trey DePriest and Xzavier Dickson.

FSU's departures are far more widespread than Alabama's and will be impacted as much by graduation as the NFL draft. The Seminoles had eight senior starters on offense, and combined with redshirt sophomore Jameis Winston announcing Wednesday he was going pro, a complete overhaul of that side of the ball is expected. Defensively, defensive end Mario Edwards and cornerback P.J. Williams have already declared, while cornerback Ronald Darby and defensive end Eddie Goldman could both leave as well.

Oregon's lineup won't lose too much, in terms of quantity, with eight seniors and a handful of projected junior departures, but in terms of quality the losses could be the most significant of any team. First and foremost, there's reigning Heisman winner Marcus Mariota, the junior quarterback who sits No. 1 on Bleacher Report NFL draft expert Matt Miller's latest big board. The Ducks have three offensive linemen and several key defensive players to replace as well, though none are as significant as Mariota to sustained success.

That leaves Ohio State, which figures to be in the best shape to replace those losses of any of this year's playoff teams.

OSU is in line to graduate seven starters (as well as big-play receiver Devin Smith, who is technically the No. 3 wideout in an offense that goes with two receivers for its base formation) and might even elude the siren song of the NFL draft. The most likely candidates to leave early are left tackle Taylor Decker and defensive tackle Adolphus Washington, but Tim May of the Columbus Dispatch reported that both are expected to return.

"I think another year, barring something drastic happening, it can only benefit me," Decker told May, who wrote that Decker was projected as a potential second-round pick. "My draft stock can only go up."

A look at the Buckeyes' depth chart for the national championship game shows that, including Smith, there are only 11 seniors listed among the 62 players on offense and defense. Many of the backups are sophomores and juniors, who have gotten plenty of reps this season, which would help ease the transition to becoming starters.

Depth was built throughout the season by the other playoff participants, but not to the level that OSU did. And combined with the lack of impact departures, the Buckeyes figure to head into 2015 best resembling this season's product.

 

Questions to answer

It's not always as simple as being able to plug in reserves and newcomers to replace starters and expect things to continue as if nothing happened. You don't give the keys to the Camaro to the teenager who just got his license, not without making sure he can handle the ride.

With that in mind, we have to look at the kind of issues that need to be addressed by playoff teams during the offseason. Each one has at least one major question that requires an answer, and how hard that query is to solve will factor into a team's chances to repeat as a semifinalist.

Alabama has to break in a new starting quarterback for the second year in a row, but offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin managed to turn unproven backup Blake Sims into a star in 2014, so the uncertainty at that position doesn't figure to hold as much weight as this past offseason. Instead, it's what to do about that defense.

Despite finishing 12th in total defense in 2014, the Tide was torn apart down the stretch by Auburn, Missouri and Ohio State, all of whom were able to throw deep and take advantage of tempo to throw off Alabama's complicated and methodical schemes.

"Their system is built on a system of checks and substitutions from the sidelines and from players on the field to be able to defend every nuance of an offense after seeing where it lines up," Bleacher Report's Marc Torrance wrote. "When teams go fast, Alabama can’t substitute the way it wants to and make all the necessary calls."

For Florida State, the biggest question won't be so much about replacing Winston or any single player but how the program responds to a second straight season of mass departures to both graduation and the draft. Alabama and LSU are comparable teams to look at in this area, and while the former has managed to remain among the top four for four seasons despite so much turnover, the same can't be said for LSU.

The Tigers lost 17 players who were part of the team that played for the 2011 title over the next two offseasons to early draft declarations, and while dropping from 13-1 to 10-3 wasn't much of a dropoff, this past season LSU slipped to 8-5 and has lost nine regular-season games in the past three years.

FSU held strong after one year of departures and got the ball rolling on the next batch of stars by integrating key underclassmen such as running back Dalvin Cook and safety Jalen Ramsey. But now the real test comes, of whether coach Jimbo Fisher's recruiting prowess and reputation for developing players (particularly at quarterback, where he figures to have numerous options both from the existing roster and incoming prospects) can maintain success.

"Even though we have a very experienced team, we played a lot of our freshmen," Fisher told Dan Wolken ofUSA Today. "We've developed them early, so it's not like they're coming in totally raw. And as the culture is created, it's not about winning but about working and practicing and about preparation and all the things that go into the winning."

When it comes to Ohio State's offseason to-do list, the most pressing issue is actually one that should be considered a good problem. The Buckeyes' ability to overcome the loss of not one, but two Heisman-level quarterbacks in 2014 means they could be dealing with the mother of all quarterback competitions in the spring and summer.

That assumes, however, that Braxton Miller decides not to transfer to another school and play right away as a graduate student, and that J.T. Barrett is able to fully recover from his leg and ankle injury suffered in late November. If it ends up that OSU has only two, or even just one, viable passer left when the 2015 season starts, however, this year showed that success isn't dependent on who is taking the snaps so much as how Meyer and his staff are able to get that passer prepared for action.

Oregon's biggest question might be the most simple, but also the most difficult. It's all about moving on without Mariota, a three-year starter who has attempted more than 92 percent of the Ducks' passes and accounted for more than 57 percent of the offensive output during that span. He hasn't been a one-man team, but he's been about as close to it as you can get.

Backup Jeff Lockie, a sophomore, figures to get the first crack at the job, but he's thrown only 40 passes the past two years. Morgan Mahalak, a 4-star recruit from the 2014 class, redshirted this season, while Oregon has a commitment from 4-star prospect Travis Waller as well. Any of those guys could end up being really good, but right now none come with the same anticipation of success that Mariota did while redshirting behind Darron Thomas and Bryan Bennett in 2011.

 

2015 schedule

At this point last year, a look at the schedules that each of the top teams had to look forward to gave us an idea of how those schools would fare. But while we figured it would be a lot harder for Auburn to return to the championship game and for Florida State to go unbeaten based on their slates, it was difficult to factor in things such as bye weeks and other parts of schedule makeup.

But we have to make due with what's available, and in that respect the best barometers are comparing number of home, road and neutral-site games and the 2014 records of 2015 opponents.

From a strictly numbers standpoint, Alabama has the toughest schedule in terms of opponents. Every one of its SEC games next season will be against a team that played in a bowl this winter, including crossover opponents Georgia and Tennessee. Add in another high-profile neutral-site opener (against Wisconsin in Arlington, Texas), and the Crimson Tide will again get plenty of tests.

Same goes for Oregon, who despite facing the fewest number of 2014 bowl opponents of the lot gets most of them on the road. That starts with a Sept. 12 visit to Michigan State in a rematch of this season's best nonconference game and continues with Pac-12 trips to Washington, Arizona State and Stanford.

Florida State's ACC schedule isn't set in terms of when it will play those eight games, but the matchups and locations are locked in. And after getting the majority of its toughest foes in Tallahassee this season, the Seminoles have to play at Clemson and Coastal Division champ Georgia Tech while also visiting Florida.

That leaves Ohio State, which plays as many 2014 bowl teams as Alabama (nine) but gets two-thirds of them to come to Columbus, where the Buckeyes have only lost once in Meyer's three seasons. OSU's toughest road games bookend the season, first with the opener at Virginia Tech and then the finale against Michigan in the first of what should be a great series of games between Meyer and new Wolverines coach Jim Harbaugh.

 

Final thoughts

While these arguments might not be strong enough to warrant putting the mortgage on future bets for 2015, the road ahead does appear clearest for Ohio State to make a return trip to the semifinals. It would also make for the best storyline, seeing how the Buckeyes had to battle back from the brink of elimination almost from the beginning of this past season.

Much as Florida State's inclusion in the initial Final Four worked for system continuity, so too would having the so-called "last team in" then follow this current run up with another trip to the semifinals. This new playoff approach was meant to decide things on the field, rather than have a formula pick two teams and not take into account the possibility of additional contenders.

OSU benefited the most from the new approach and showed how improving as the season went on is as important as the overall record. Now the Buckeyes get to move into the role of favorite, with the most pieces intact and the most favorable circumstances to get back to the semifinals.

 

Follow Brian J. Pedersen on Twitter at @realBJP.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

3 SEC Teams That Will Regress in 2015

It's safe to say that the bowl season wasn't the happiest of times for SEC programs.

The SEC West—once thought to be the most dominant division in the game—went 2-5, Alabama lost to Ohio State in the Allstate Sugar Bowl national semifinal despite being more than one-touchdown favorites, and the conference didn't win a major bowl (BCS/New Year's Six) for the second straight season.

Is this the bottom, or does the hole get deeper?

College football is cyclical, and some SEC teams—even those that won bowl games—could be trending down.

Which three SEC teams will regress in 2015?

 

LSU Tigers

Linebacker Kwon Alexander and cornerback Jalen Collins will head to the NFL off LSU's stellar defense, offensive tackle La'el Collins has exhausted his eligibility, and that pesky quarterback position—which has been a sore spot nearly every year since 2007—is still unsettled heading into the offseason. 

On top of that, LSU head coach Les Miles is in the market for a new defensive coordinator after his attempt to keep John Chavis failed and the Mad Hatter lost the Chief to Texas A&M.

As ESPN's Brett McMurphy said on Sports Talk with Bo in Arkansas after LSU's 31-28 loss to Notre Dame in the Franklin American Mortgage Music City Bowl, times aren't great in Baton Rouge.

First things first, Miles has to find a quarterback.

Whether that's Anthony Jennings taking a step forward, the light bulb going on for Brandon Harris or Miles hitting the free-agent quarterback market with a vengeance, something has to change. Ever since Ryan Perrilloux was let go prior to the 2008 season, consistency from quarterbacks has been an issue in Red Stick, with Zach Mettenberger's senior season in 2013 being the lone exception.

If that trend continues, Miles will go from the periphery of the hot seat to squarely on it within a three-month span next fall.

The new defensive coordinator will have plenty of talent to work with, including safety Jalen Mills and linebacker Kendell Beckwith, but a new coach and perhaps a new scheme will still lead to some uneasiness within the program.

LSU lost to Auburn, Alabama, Arkansas and Mississippi State within the division this year, and the rest of the division—Texas A&M and Arkansas, in particular—is on the rise.

An 8-5 season isn't great, but it may get worse before it gets better.

 

Georgia Bulldogs

The SEC East is wide open yet again, and somebody has to step forward.

It won't be Georgia.

The Bulldogs lose cornerback Damian Swann, linebackers Amarlo Herrera and Ramik Wilson, receivers Chris Conley and Michael Bennett, and quarterback Hutson Mason. On top of that, the Bulldogs failed to inspire with their new offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer—a coach whose offenses finished 20th or worst in the 32-team NFL in all but one season since 2009.

Is Nick Chubb a phenomenal running back? Yes. He'll get plenty of opportunities with Schottenheiemer, who ran out of choice and necessity during stints as the offensive coordinator of the New York Jets and St. Louis Rams.

Is he going to be the magic potion that leads Georgia to the Promised Land? There's nothing to suggest that he will—not with the pieces Georgia has to replace.

If anything, Georgia is sitting in neutral in the SEC East, while potential power Tennessee is building, and Florida is fixing its offensive glitch.

Sure, Jeremy Pruitt is a good defensive coordinator and can replace the departures on his side of the ball. But there won't be many two-touchdown leads at Georgia with Schottenheimer calling the shots on offense, which means that Pruitt's margin for error is razor-thin.

 

Mississippi State Bulldogs

Mississippi State is a good program that proved that it can pull together, thrive with continuity and get to the double-digit win mark even in this day and age of SEC West teams pulling out all of the stops to be successful at college football's highest level.

That win total, however, is not sustainable.

Running back Josh Robinson rushed for 1,203 yards as a junior in 2014 but announced on social media prior to the Orange Bowl that he is leaving early for the NFL draft. Three starters up front on the defensive line have moved on, linebacker Benardrick McKinney could jump, and cornerback Jamerson Love also exhausted his eligibility.

New defensive coordinator Manny Diaz is the right hire for Mississippi State after Geoff Collins jumped to Florida, but a small step back should be expected in Starkville based on personnel losses alone.

If quarterback Dak Prescott jumps early too, that small step could become a big one.

 

Barrett Sallee is the lead SEC college football writer and video analyst for Bleacher Report, as well as a co-host of the CFB Hangover on Bleacher Report Radio (Sundays, 9-11 a.m. ET) on Sirius 93, XM 208.

Quotes were obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted. All stats are courtesy of cfbstats.com, and all recruiting information is courtesy of 247Sports. Follow Barrett on Twitter @BarrettSallee.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Oregon vs. Ohio State: Rapid-Fire Predictions for National Championship

The national championship game is right around the corner, and with it comes the conclusion of this year's college football season. 

Bleacher Report College Football Analysts Michael Felder, Barrett Sallee and Adam Kramer debate the biggest headlines heading into the biggest game of the season. 

Who will win the national championship?

Watch the video and let us know!

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

New Georgia OC Brian Schottenheimer Is a High Risk, High Reward Hire

In a surprisingly bold move, Georgia hired Brian Schottenheimer as its offensive coordinator on Wednesday afternoon according to GeorgiaDogs.com.

While there are pros and cons to any personnel move, this one was made at great risk in hopes for even greater reward. 

Schottenheimer, whose father coached in the NFL for several decades, has spent the last nine years serving as an offensive coordinator for the New York Jets and the St. Louis Rams. Now, Schottenheimer has been lured to Athens to take over the same role.

Somewhat obviously, the hire is indicative of Georgia's commitment to contending for national championships. After all, Schottenheimer brings a strong football pedigree and NFL coaching experience that should lend itself quite nicely to recruiting the most talented offensive weapons in the country. He fits the "big name hire" qualifications perfectly.

But the future success of Schottenheimer as a collegiate coordinator is unknown primarily because the true measure of his success at the professional level is debatable.

On one hand, Schottenheimer was approaching a full decade of continuous employment as an offensive coordinator at the game's highest level. In and of itself, that presents some semblance of an endorsement. The NFL is certainly not known as an environment defined by patience and prolonged second chances. Accordingly, multi-year stints with two franchises seem to be a testament to Schottenheimer's offensive mind.

On the other hand, his offenses were never great.  Schottenheimer's units ranked among the league's top 10 in points scored just once. Outside of that 2008 season, the results were largely mediocre.

Those numbers certainly aren't great, but they're a far cry from atrocious. His offenses finished an average of 18th in a 32-team league, and given the turnover rate of high-level NFL assistants, it's fair to say Schottenheimer was—at worst—an average offensive coordinator at the professional level.  

And it's worth noting that after he left New York, the Jets offense fell from 13th in the league in scoring to 28th. Conversely, in his first year with the Rams, St. Louis rose from dead-last in points scored to 25th.

Sure, hiring an average NFL offensive coordinator should theoretically be deemed a fantastic hire for a college program. But that's not necessarily the case. Hiring Schottenheimer is still fraught with risks. If he does come up short, two narratives will come to the forefront thanks to revisionist history.

First and foremost, fans will point to former defensive coordinator Todd Grantham who was hired away from the NFL and spent four tumultuous years at Georgia before moving on to Louisville. Most Bulldog fans label Grantham's tenure in Athens as a failure. If Schottenheimer doesn't succeed, his hire will be viewed as the repetition of a previous mistake.

Secondly and more generally, fans will bemoan Georgia for going after a flashy name rather than a proven college coordinator. Mike Bloomgren of Stanford was on the table. Kurt Roper, who worked miracles at Duke and actually improved Florida's offense, was an available option  John Lilly, a dedicated and loyal member of Georgia's coaching staff, performed well in one game calling plays.

But if Schottenheimer works out well, the results could be staggering.  

Just last week Rams coach Jeff Fisher gave Schottenheimer a vote of confidence and in doing so praised his play-calling and his ability to teach players, per Jim Thomas of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. If he can truly do those two things while bringing in elite offensive talent, the sky is the limit for an already potent Georgia offense.

Combine that upward trajectory with a defense that is poised for further improvement over the coming years under Jeremy Pruitt and a host of returning talent, and great things—Championship-like things—could be on the table.

According to Seth Emerson of Macon's Telegraph, Georgia head coach Mark Richt expressed excitement over the hire of Schottenheimer and singled out his NFL experience as a point of differentiation. Meanwhile Schottenheimer echoed that excitement saying, "This is a great opportunity to become a Georgia Bulldog for both my career and my family."

Such phrasing is unique coming from a man who just took—at least in theory—a demotion from the NFL level to college football, but it may also be indicative of Schottenheimer's willingness to match Georgia in taking a risk. In other words, he's betting on the Bulldogs just as boldly as they're betting on him.  

Either both gambles hit or both lose, there is no hedge. Will the parlay pay off?

 

Unless otherwise noted, all quotes obtained firsthand and all stats courtesy of Sports-Reference.com.

 

 

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Alabama and Nick Saban Taking Huge Risk Signing Jonathan Taylor

TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — Eighteen days ago, as Alabama was in the middle of Sugar Bowl prep for Ohio State, Drew Champlin of AL.com asked Nick Saban a routine question during a routine press conference about D.J. Pettway, the Crimson Tide’s defensive lineman in his second stint in Tuscaloosa after being kicked out of school his freshman year for second-degree robbery.

Saban, unexpectedly, turned his answer into a four-minute mini-speech on second chances, graduating players and not giving up on them.

Here’s video of the impassioned response, per AL.com:

It’s starting to look like Saban’s headline-making answer went deeper than just Pettway.

Alabama announced on Wednesday—the first day of classes for the 2015 semester—the signing of eight early enrollees from its 2015 recruiting class. Included on the list was JUCO defensive tackle Jonathan Taylor, a former Georgia Bulldog who was dismissed after a domestic violence arrest.

Saban’s decision to sign Taylor is not the first time a player has come to Alabama with a troubled past. But none has been quite as brutal as Taylor’s.

It’s a massive risk for the seemingly untouchable Alabama coach, and one that has already drawn widespread criticism from the Crimson Tide fanbase. And it’s a risk that, should it backfire, would be a major black mark for Saban and Alabama.

The details of Taylor’s history are graphic, to say the least.

While at Georgia, Taylor was arrested on an aggravated assault/family violence charge and dismissed shortly thereafter, according to Chip Towers of the Atlanta Journal Constitution.

Per Towers’ report:

Taylor was placed into the custody of UGA Police at 4:45 a.m. Tuesday in response to a third-party complaint that he had physically assaulted his girlfriend during a domestic dispute at McWhorter Hall dormitory. Police said evidence and witness accounts indicate the 6-foot-4, 340-pound Taylor 'choked' and 'struck with a closed fist' his 5-11, 170-pound female victim.

According to Marc Weiszer of OnlineAthens.com, Taylor was indicted on November 25, and “the felony case remains in the pre-arraignment stage in Clarke County Superior Court.”

And that was already Taylor’s second “strike.”

According to Towers, Taylor had previously been arrested for theft by deception after double-cashing meal reimbursement checks.

TideSports.com’s Andrew Bone first reported Taylor’s enrollment Wednesday night, and AL.com’s Champlin confirmed the news Wednesday morning.

During that time, many Alabama fans took to Twitter to express their frustration and disappointment at the decision by the coaching staff, which has typically been strict in its discipline policies for players who commit violations while on the team.

The outrage is very understandable, given the serious nature of a domestic violence charge and the issue recently coming to the front lines in American sports.

Saban giving a second chance to an alleged domestic violence perpetrator goes against the grain of the current climate of discipline in sports for this type of crime.

Alabama spokesperson Deborah Lane released the following statement to Bleacher Report on Wednesday afternoon:

Jonathan Taylor was admitted to The University of Alabama following the same procedures that the UA Admissions office uses to evaluate any student who has dealt with legal issues. The admissions process includes representatives from academic, legal, student affairs, student conduct, UAPD and counseling. Athletics is not involved in the admissions process. Taylor’s continued enrollment depends on his ability to fulfill all requirements the University has specifically mandated for him during his time as a UA student.

Officials for Nick Saban have not responded for comment from the Alabama coach.

Aaron Suttles of TideSports.com provided further detail on Taylor’s requirements at UA:

1) He'll be required to regularly volunteer at a battered women's shelter. 2) He'll be required to attend weekly anger management counseling sessions. That is not the exhaustive conditions placed upon Taylor, but they are a couple of the main ones.

Saban has earned a reputation for being strict with disciplinary issues for players already on his team. Most notably and recently, he dismissed a quartet of players for an on-campus robbery of two students.

Pettway was one of those players, and after a year in junior college, he was re-admitted to the team and graduated this past December. He has already announced his intentions to return for a final year of eligibility and pursue a master’s degree.

The precedent, as Saban so emphatically reminded everyone 18 days ago, is there for a redemption story. Already facing criticism for his recruitment of Taylor, Saban was given a chance to further plead his case in that December 20 press conference when asked about one that had worked out before.

But domestic violence is a different animal, especially in 2014 (and now 2015), where the issue is finally getting the serious attention it deserves. Allegedly choking and striking a female with a closed fist—a girlfriend literally half your size, who has placed a level of trust in you—is on a very different plane than getting in trouble for making mistakes while hanging around with the wrong crowd.

And even from a purely football perspective, a perspective that should be far down the list of priorities to consider here, the move is a massive risk.

Alabama is already loaded on the defensive line. It is expected to return Jarran Reed, Pettway, A’Shawn Robinson and Jonathan Allen on a front that will be loaded with talent. Off-field issues aside, Taylor will already face an uphill climb to see the field immediately.

Perhaps this plays out like Saban hopes it will. Perhaps Saban has been given reason to believe Taylor has truly turned a corner. To his credit, Saban, to this point, has not given anyone reason to doubt that he has done his due diligence in this instance. And human instinct naturally wants to root for a genuine turnaround here, to see a person admit his mistakes at a young age and authentically change his life for the better.

But this could also backfire in a big way—for Saban, for the football team and for the Alabama community. As the national conversation on domestic violence and other women’s issues reaches a crescendo, Alabama could find itself taking a step back, rather than in the right direction in terms of public perception, should Taylor step out of line in a similar way.

It’s a risk Saban is, apparently, willing to take. And one he hopes will turn into another redemption story, rather than a huge hit in a time of progress.

 

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

Follow on Twitter @marctorrence.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

UCLA Football: What Bruins Must Do to Compete in Tougher Pac-12

For UCLA football, the task of competing in a changing Pac-12 landscape is a challenging proposition.

When Jim Mora was hired as head coach before the 2012 season, the conference was in a state of flux. The South Division sent a 6-6 UCLA team to the inaugural conference championship in lieu of a USC team serving NCAA sanctions.

And those sanctions helped weaken the Trojans, presenting an opportunity to take over the Los Angeles football scene, which the Bruins pounced on. 

"I already said it: UCLA runs L.A.," quarterback Brett Hundley said on Nov. 22 following UCLA's third straight win in the series against USC. 

Hundley is on his way out after three excellent seasons, but Mora and his staff remain. And Mora is 28-11 in three seasons with the Bruins, including just completing the program's second straight with 10 wins.

He also returns a veteran, talented roster in 2015, many of whom shined in the Bruins' 10th win of the 2014 season: A 40-35 defeat of Kansas State in the Alamo Bowl. 

"You look at [linebacker] Myles [Jack] here. Myles is a sophomore," Mora said, per ASAPSports.com. "You look at [running back Paul Perkins], and Perk is a sophomore, and so I think the future looks bright for UCLA football."

Linebacker Deon Hollins, who Mora called "our most improved defensive player this year," culminated that improvement with a three-sack Alamo Bowl.     

UCLA has reason to be optimistic, but cautiously so. The Bruins cannot let their historic run of success turn to complacency as the conference gets increasingly more challenging. 

 

Keep Pace Ahead of the South 

UCLA was one of four teams in the league—and three in the division alone—that ousted its head coach and was starting over. Thanks to the solid recruiting of Mora's predecessor, Rick Neuheisel, the new regime inherited a well-stocked program that won a divisional title in the first season. 

South Division competition has been of little consequence for UCLA the last three seasons.

Mora is 2-1 against Arizona State and Todd Graham, 3-0 against Arizona and Rich Rodriguez and 3-0 against USC with two wins head-to-head against Steve Sarkisian, the first coming in Sarkisian's time at Washington. 

But each program has shown growth under its head coach. Arizona and Arizona State each won 10 games this season while USC currently boasts the Pac-12's most highly rated 2015 recruiting class

All three teams finished the regular season ranked in the final College Football Playoff standings, and they will all assuredly be included in next week's final Associated Press Top 25. 

Add Utah, and 20 percent of the national rankings is made up of the Pac-12 South. This division is a far cry from the island of misfit teams it was when Mora and Co. first arrived. 

Remaining in the hunt for conference championships means staying ahead of a curve that keeps getting steeper. 

 

Balancing Speed and Strength 

Stanford's size and physicality and Oregon's speed are on two opposite ends of the football spectrum, yet both have posed UCLA immense trouble under Mora.

UCLA is fast—Mora preaches tempo, and offensive coordinator Noel Mazzone obliges with a no-huddle style that produced 992 snaps in the 2014 campaign. 

The Bruins also play physical. After the USC win, linebacker Eric Kendricks said of the current team, "We go hard." 

"When coach Mora came in, we preached a hard-[nosed] mentality," he said. 

But lopsided losses to the Cardinal and Ducks exposed the Bruins' need to get better in both regards.

UCLA's hurry-up offense suffered from stretches of dormancy this season, most recently going nearly 28 minutes without a touchdown in last week's Alamo Bowl.

As far as physicality, the Bruins' deficiencies there were most evident in critical losses to Utah and Stanford. Both bullied UCLA on each line, but especially the Bruins offensive line.

Utah got to Hundley for 10 sacks in its Oct. 4 win at the Rose Bowl while Stanford brought down the UCLA quarterback five times. 

"[Stanford's] defense is always a physical, strong defense. Their strength coach does a good job of building those guys up," UCLA center Jake Brendel said following the loss, the Bruins' fourth to the Cardinal in three seasons. 

Adopting the same philosophy on getting strong without sacrificing emphasis on speed is a key in UCLA taking that next step to title contention. 

 

Stay Aggressive in Recruiting 

With USC charging ahead in the Pac-12's recruiting race, the pressure is on Mora and his staff now more than ever to get aggressive. 

UCLA is doing a fine job with its 2015 class, sitting at No. 2 in the conference and No. 15 in the nation approximately a month ahead of national signing day. 

How UCLA finishes in the coming weeks will set the tone going forward. Mora has favored a national approach, but the Bruins' presence in Southern California will determine the strength of UCLA signing classes in the years to come. 

 

Quotes obtained firsthand unless otherwise cited. Statistics courtesy of CFBstats.com. Recruiting rankings and information via 247Sports. 

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

The Future of the Ohio State Buckeyes' Backfield

Ohio State fans have enjoyed a remarkable run watching the Buckeyes battle onward despite a pair of devastating injuries at quarterback.

Just one win away from completing the journey with a national championship, there's reason to be excited about what lies well beyond the title bout with Oregon. Ohio State has stocked its 2015 recruiting class with players capable of delivering successful seasons down the line. 

Quarterback Torrance Gibson and running back Michael Weber provide plenty of promise for an offensive backfield that's flaunted its depth throughout the 2014-15 campaign. Both players carry clout in this recruiting cycle and are considered two of the top 100 overall prospects.

The 4-star tandem took part in U.S. Army All-American Bowl festivities last week, getting an opportunity to see each other in action.

Weber started for Team West and went on to lead all players with 48 rushing yards on 10 carries. Gibson, the Team East starter behind center, completed five of eight pass attempts for 47 yards.

"We could do incredible things together," Gibson said. 

The coveted recruits each racked up accomplishments during impressive prep careers.

Weber, rated 13th nationally among running backs in 247Sports' composite rankings, rushed for 2,268 yards and 29 touchdowns as a senior at Cass Technical High School in Detroit. He gained at least 1,600 yards on the ground during each of the past three seasons, winning a state title in 2012.

"Mike is a great running back and a great person," Gibson said. "He's the kind of guy you want to be around on and off the field. He has work ethic and strives to be the best. I think that makes him one of the top players in this class."

All-American linebackers Osa Masina and Porter Gustin each pointed out Weber when asked to identify an offensive player who commanded their attention during practice sessions.

"I'm an every-down back," Weber said. "Whatever you need me to do, I'll do it. Blocking, running, catching passes. Leave me on the field for all of that."

He also has a penchant for punishing opponents upon contact. Weber finished off a few plays in the All-American Bowl by driving forward through defenders

"I have the mindset to be better than my opponents by the time we get to the fourth quarter," Weber said. "I hit them hard when they're tired. I'm a closer."

Gibson has also shown the ability to close. He sealed state championship runs at American Heritage High School in Florida in 2013 and 2014, tallying three touchdowns in each title game. 

Still, he has his detractors.

The jury is out among national recruiting analysts about where Gibson fits best in college. He's not listed as a quarterback in 247Sports' composite rankings and instead rates fifth nationally among "athletes."

You'll find plenty of folks who feel his future lies at wide receiver, but don't bother telling Gibson. He's heard the opinions and remains unwavering about where he belongs on the football field.

"Playing the position I love has been important to me throughout this whole process," he said. "I've always viewed myself as a quarterback, and that's how a lot of college coaches feel, too. I think I have what it takes to lead an offense to success at the next level."

Gibson proved he's a dual-threat weapon as an upperclassman, rushing for 2,044 yards and 26 scores, per MaxPreps. His passing mechanics remain a work in progress, and improvement in that department is ultimately the best method to prove doubters wrong.

"I think I've progressed very well during the past year," Gibson said. "My focus is to work on everything I possibly can to prepare me to play the position in college. My footwork, my throwing motion, the way I read defenses—everything."

Despite throwing 21 touchdowns and just three interceptions as a senior, he managed to complete only 47 percent of pass attempts. The shortcoming gives Gibson a focal point during training sessions.

"Accuracy is huge," he said. "It's the toughest thing to work on as a quarterback, and a lot goes into increasing your accuracy. That's my main concern, and I'm doing everything I can to get better every day."

Weber believes Gibson is destined for big things in Columbus.

"That guy is impressive," he said. "Torrance beats teams in different ways and fits in with what Ohio State does."

Ohio State, like Florida and Utah before, has enjoyed immense offensive success with head coach Urban Meyer at the helm. Now aiming for his third national championship and first as a Buckeye, he's kept the attack rolling despite major hurdles. 

Braxton Miller was expected to vie for the Heisman Trophy this season before sustaining a season-ending shoulder injury during training camp. Backup quarterback J.T. Barrett stepped up and set a Big Ten Conference record with 45 total touchdowns, but he went down with a fractured ankle in the regular-season finale.

Cardale Jones, slotted as a third-stringer this summer, has thrown for 500 yards and four scores in postseason victories over Wisconsin and Alabama.

"It’s crazy what they've been able to do, and it's all about Urban Meyer," Gibson said. "He does a great job recruiting and putting together a talented roster. It says a lot about Meyer and his recruiting process to be able to replace quarterbacks like that and keep on winning. I respect that a lot and hope to be one of those guys someday."

There are still hurdles to clear between now and national signing day in the Buckeyes' efforts to sign Gibson. He shared plans to visit Auburn and UCF in January, at the request of his No. 1 fan.

"I'm 100 percent committed to Ohio State, but my mom wants me to visit those schools," Gibson said. "It's important to her that I check everything out."

News also surfaced this week that he'll spend an official visit at LSU. The trip to Baton Rouge is set for Jan. 23, per Ryan Bartow of 247Sports.

Some also wonder whether Weber will ultimately become a Buckeye. He was previously committed to Michigan and is considered a top target for new Wolverines coach Jim Harbaugh, according to Bill Kurelic of 247Sports.

"Jim Harbaugh is a great coach. I think he’s going to change things around there a bit with how the team approaches games," Weber said. "But I'm all about Ohio State now."

If Meyer manages to retain commitments from Weber and Gibson, the Buckeyes should finish with another top-five recruiting class. The duo would provide a reason to celebrate on signing day and establish high expectations in Columbus for years to come. 

"We can make something special happen at Ohio State," Weber said. "We could both become Heisman Trophy candidates and compete for titles. I helped lead my team to state championships in high school, and I know Torrance did too. We both know what it takes to win, and that's what Coach Meyer has done everywhere he’s been."

 

Quotes obtained firsthand by Bleacher Report national recruiting columnist Tyler Donohue.

Recruit ratings and info courtesy of 247Sports unless otherwise noted.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Brian Schottenheimer Named Georgia OC: Latest Details, Comments and Reaction

Georgia shocked both the college football and NFL worlds on Wednesday, announcing it had hired Brian Schottenheimer to be its offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach.

Seth Emerson of The Macon Telegraph had the report:

Bleacher Report's Barrett Sallee was one of many folks surprised to hear the news:

Gregg Rosenthal of NFL.com offered one possible impetus for Schottenheimer's move:

Mike Sando of ESPN.com, meanwhile, broke down Schottenheimer's record as an offensive coordinator with the different quarterbacks he coached while defending the oft-criticized coordinator in the process:

Schottenheimer spent the past three seasons as the offensive coordinator for the St. Louis Rams, a role he also held for the New York Jets from 2006-11.

That experience should translate well to Georgia, though Bulldogs fans are aware of some of the critiques that follow Schottenheimer to Athens, like an inability at times to find creative ways to involve potential playmakers (see: Tavon Austin) or an occasionally rigid adherence to his preferred philosophy, the West Coast offense.

At Georgia, he'll have the opportunity to build and mold his scheme by helping to recruit players that fit within it. It will certainly be interesting to see how his philosophy translates a level down in the SEC.

 

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

How Urban Meyer Fixed O​hio State

It started with disrespect. Ohio State lost the Gator Bowl to finish a year with more losses than it had had in one season since the 1800s, and the team flew back late at night. New coach Urban Meyer had already called his first meeting, for early in the morning. A bunch of players didn't bother to show up on time.    

A few days later, another meeting. Players were late again. Offseason workouts were set to start the following week, but Meyer "turned to Mickey Marotti (his right-hand man) and said 'F--k it. Start now. Now!'" said Bill Rabinowitz, whose book, Buckeye Rebirth. Urban Meyer, An Inspired Team and a New Era at Ohio State chronicled the 2012 season. It was Meyer's first year at Ohio State.

"They thought they were going to work out indoors, but he made them do it outside," Rabinowitz told Bleacher Report. "It was like 20 degrees and they didn't have any gear. They were wearing socks on their head to stay warm. They were doing crazy drills, trying to weed them out. He kicked them out of the locker room, and they were dressing in the cafeteria and the halls. He wouldn't let them wear Ohio State clothes. 'Now you understand how hard you have to work.' He absolutely erased any sense of entitlement."

Meyer has turned around Ohio State at an incredible pace.

It's a huge overstatement to portray this like the Bad News Bears. Ohio State has all the money and all the tradition in the world, and it had come off only one bad year when Meyer arrived. Still, we've seen national powerhouses teeter and then fall off a cliff. Like Nebraska. Like Michigan. Ohio State very well could have been another one. Instead, in just three years, Meyer has the Buckeyes in the national championship game against Oregon.

He picks his jobs well, as his former assistant and current Illinois head coach Tim Beckman told me. But Ohio State had lost coach Jim Tressel to scandal, was facing NCAA probation and had just finished a 6-7 season under interim coach Luke Fickell.

"At a school like Ohio State…you should be able to rally back pretty quick," Meyer told reporters Tuesday. "Any time there's transition or issues you have to deal with, sometimes you get a little bit of a void in a recruiting class and it's amazing nowadays, (how it takes) one year.

"But we have a really a [sic] motto around here: There's no excuses from the coaches or players, and I don't want to hear about this, we don't have this, we don't have this, the previous staff—no, no, no. We are good, they are your players now and our players now and do the best you can with them."

Meyer said Ohio State avoided the void thanks to the seniors in 2012. They could have left Ohio State when the NCAA announced sanctions that included a ban from bowl games. Meyer said every last senior stayed, and that staved off another bad year or two.

You'd expect at least a little trouble, though. Some hard times. And even though the Buckeyes finished undefeated in his first year and couldn't play in a bowl game, Meyer did have trouble. He'd won two national titles at Florida and spent a year on ESPN, and you probably think that meant instant respect among the players.

Rabinowitz described Meyer's troubles in getting players on his side. Tressel had been the guy who hugged his players, made them feel like part of the family. But when everyone's favorite uncle left, Meyer came in as all business. In Meyer's business, that includes cracking heads.

"He's done it everywhere to be honest," said Beckman, who has known Meyer since his college days and was his defensive coordinator at Bowling Green for two seasons. "He came in and we had a very good group coming back, and he brought his discipline and his philosophy and next thing I knew we were winning eight games, nine games right away. He did it at Utah, Florida. The same thing.

"He had some talent at Ohio State. But I think he brought that all together and incorporated a vision. And he'll let them know; he's not bashful. He'll let them know how it's going to be done. That creates change right away. No, he's not bashful."

Not bashful. According to Rabinowitz, Meyer started in right away with mat drills. Put it this way: If you were in a mat drill, you'd have a football player standing in front of you—and a line on the floor eight yards behind him. You have eight seconds to cross that line.

He has eight seconds to stop you.

Rabinowitz said plenty of players weren't buying into the change in philosophy at Ohio State and weren't buying into Meyer. The Buckeyes looked bad for the first four games in 2012 but won anyway. And when they were going to play Michigan State in the Big Ten opener, Meyer figured they were going to lose.

He told the team, according to Rabinowitz, to stop evaluating and second-guessing coaches and they'd see it pay off. Ohio State won that game, and everything turned. Also, the Big Ten was awful that year, making it easier for the Buckeyes to roll.

In the long run, Meyer changed things not only by turning everything into a competition and by removing entitlement through bootcamp, but also by modernizing the offense. That, mixed with his big name, brought something that the Big Ten wasn't used to: top, speedy, skill-position recruits from all over the country. He wins everywhere he goes.

So a big-time coach fixing a blue-blood program in a hurry isn't your usual feel-good kind of story. But it started by reminding a tough program how to get its hands dirty. Hey, royalty has its problems, too.

 

Greg Couch covers the NFL for Bleacher Report.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Oregon vs. Ohio State: Storylines to Watch in College Football Championship 2015

Oregon and Ohio State have yet to slip.

Oregon, the team led by Marcus Mariota that usually hits a late-season hiccup that ruins everything, is through to the title game. Not only did the Ducks quell past demons against teams such as Stanford, they took down Florida State.

Ohio State, a new-look squad under Urban Meyer, is a far cry from the one that annually lost at the hands of the SEC. Despite a third-string quarterback, the Buckeyes took down Alabama.

The storylines for a title game that would never work under the watchful eye of the BCS are bountiful. Talking points are critical to any matchup, but these have a way of writing themselves.

It all comes to a head January 12.

 

College Football Playoff National Championship Odds and Schedule

 

Latest Storylines to Watch

Marcus Mariota's Legs

The book on Marcus Mariota is widely available.

Heisman winner. Eye-popping statistics, including a 40-3 touchdowns-interceptions ratio. Conqueror of the Pac-12 and defending champions. Surefire NFL first-round pick, potential No. 1 overall.

What is lost a bit in the limelight is Mariota's ability with his legs. Not in a stereotypical "he's a dual-threat quarterback" sense, either, considering so many like to point out his 731 yards and 15 scores as a rusher this season.

No, this focuses more on his ability to not only extend plays with his feet, but also remain aware enough to find the open target down the field. This ability is a major reason he was able to complete 68.6 percent of his passes so far despite injuries to starters along the offensive line such as Tyler Johnstone.

Mariota's ability to pretend he is a more agile Ben Roethlisberger is key against the Buckeyes. Defensive end Joey Bosa leads one of the nation's most feared rushes, headlined by his 14 sacks.

Said rush flustered Alabama's Blake Sims into three interceptions and helped to limit him to 29 rushing yards. Oregon players understand the task at hand, too, as comments by center Hroniss Grasu illustrate, per Paul Myerberg ofUSA Today:

They're the most talented defensive line we've faced all season long. The most talented defense. They've got some young guys in there who can really play. They're just very active. They won't quit on a play. Florida State, they'd stop after one move. These guys, they won't quit on a play.

Obviously, Mariota is not prone to turnovers. Yet he rarely encounters defenses such as Ohio State. Really, even Florida State's unit in the semifinal entered as one of the most criticized points of the matchup.

It only seems right that Mariota's final collegiate test comes against such a stellar unit. Ditto for Oregon's final ascension after years of coming up short.

 

Cardale Jones' Pursuit of Perfection

Cardale Jones makes being a third-string quarterback look so easy.

Just don't tell that to Ryan Lindley.

Humor aside, nobody should discredit what the sophomore has accomplished in such a short period after J.T. Barrett's injury. Big Ten Championship Game against Wisconsin? No problem, Jones just throws for 257 yards and a trio of scores.

Leading the Buckeyes to a win against Alabama is not a bad footnote on the resume, either. Especially after helping to orchestrate a serious comeback in the process—not that Jones understands how he pulled it off, either.

"I have no clue," Jones said, per ESPN.com's Brian Bennett. "I think I'm just naturally a calm person. I never get too excited or too down. I never started pressing when we were down two scores."

That said, Jones will need to be better than his 18-of-35 mark for 243 yards with a touchdown and interception against the Crimson Tide. The same goes for his 43 yards on a 2.5 per-carry average.

The honeymoon is over for Jones. Next up is an Oregon defense that does not get enough credit, even after holding Jameis Winston to 348 yards, one touchdown and interception and 20 total points—without top corner Ifo Ekpre-Olomu.

As great as Ezekiel Elliott can be, it is ridiculous to expect another 230 yards and two scores from the star back. The title game sure feels like a final exclamation point on the debut story of one of college football's next big things, but Oregon has the talent to ruin things to the point where Jones' three-game run is nothing more than an asterisk.

 

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

 

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

College Football Conference Champs with the Best Chance to Repeat in 2015

Only three conference champions repeated in 2014, and two of those three—Baylor in the Big 12 and Central Florida in the American—needed co-championships to get there. The only outright repeat champion was Florida State in the ACC.

But can anyone follow in FSU's footsteps next season?

Doing so is harder than it sounds, and if this past season was any indication, almost every team I pick on this list will be wrong. But there are a few teams that look poised to defend their title in 2015.

Ranking the contenders included obvious criteria: how much talent each champion returns, how much talent the rest of the conference returns, coaching continuity, schedule favorability, etc.

A whole lot can change between now and August, but for the time being, here are the top candidates to go back-to-back in 2015.

Begin Slideshow

Who Will Replace Jameis Winston as the Face of College Football in 2015?

Jameis Winston has been the face of college football ever since he won the 2014 Heisman Trophy. Winston is moving on to the NFL, so who will take his place?

Bleacher Report College Football Analyst Barrett Sallee gives his pick for the next face of college football. 

Do you think J.T. Barrett is the next face of CFB?

Watch the video and let us know!

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Ryan Newsome Sets Decision Date: Where Will 4-Star WR Land?

One of the top available wide receiver recruits will be off the board in a little over two weeks, as 4-star prospect Ryan Newsome announced he'll make his commitment on Jan. 23.

The Aledo, Texas star, who is rated by 247Sports as the No. 230 overall player in the 2015 class and the 25th-best wide receiver, unveiled his commitment plans Tuesday night via Twitter:

At 5'8" and 170 pounds, Newsome is among the smallest wideout prospects out there. But what he lacks in size he's made up for in speed and elusiveness, which enabled him to catch 54 passes for 1,073 yards and 12 touchdowns this past season. He also returned two punts for TDs, following up a junior year in 2013 when he tied a national prep record with seven punt-return scores, according to 247Sports.

"He is deceptively strong for his size and does a nice job of finishing runs by getting low and delivering the hit instead of receiving it," according to RockyTopInsider.com.

Newsome made visits in the fall to Ole Miss, Tennessee, UCLA, Oklahoma and Texas, with 247Sports' Crystal Ball tracker listing Texas as the favorite with an 80 percent chance to land the in-state product. He'd make for a nice replacement in the 2015 class for 4-star wideout John Burt, who decommitted from the Longhorns on Tuesday.

Texas already has commitments from 4-star athletes Tim Irvin and DeAndre McNeal, 3-star athlete Louis Brown and 3-star wideout Gilbert Johnson, but with the Longhorns offense struggling mightily all season—and the team graduating receivers John Harris and Jaxon Shipley—there's a definite need for depth at that position.

Newsome's other top destinations are Tennessee and UCLA, according to Bleacher Report recruiting analyst Tyler Donohue. Tennessee has a commitment from 5-star prospect Preston Williams, who at 6'4" fits more as an outside receiver compared to Newsome looking more like a slot option. It's a similar situation at UCLA, where the Bruins' lone wideout commit to this point, 4-star L.J. Reed, comes in at 6'3".

With his ability to play receiver and return kicks, Newsome has a chance to make an immediate impact where he ends up because of that versatility.

Where do you think Newsome will end up? Give us your thoughts in the comments section.

 

Follow Brian J. Pedersen on Twitter at @realBJP.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Which 2015 Wide Receiver Will Make the Biggest Impact Freshman Year?

The 2015 recruiting class is full of big-time athletes on all sides of the ball, but the wide receiver position is especially stacked. 

Bleacher Report College Football Analysts Michael Felder, Barrett Sallee and Adam Kramer dish out which wide receiver will make the biggest impact in 2015.

Which wideout will make the biggest splash at his school? Check out the video and let us know! 

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

SEC Extra Points with Barrett Sallee: Miller, Golson Transfer Rumors Abound

What to Make of the Transfer Rumors

We are potentially entering one of the most prolific offseasons of quarterback free-agent transfers in college football history. Ohio State quarterback Braxton Miller and Notre Dame quarterback Everett Golson were both mentioned in Heisman Trophy discussions during the last calendar year, and have both been connected to LSU over the last week. Both players have done their best to quell transfer rumors, but that won't make them go away.

Are there any other possible destinations other than LSU within the SEC? 

Georgia, South Carolina, Alabama, Ole Miss and Florida could all wade into the quarterback free-agent market if they so choose.

Would any of those schools go down that road? Rebels' head coach Hugh Freeze wouldn't rule out adding another quarterback, even though DeVante Kincade, Ryan Buchanan and junior college signee Chad Kelly will all be in the mix to replace Bo Wallace.

"You're going to consider anyone you feel like helps your football team move another step forward," Freeze said after the Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl. "I'm anxious to see both of those guys [Kincade and Buchanan] go to work, and whoever else we decided to bring in during the spring...we've got a lot of kids returning too."

If Miller transfers, whichever program lands him is getting a bona fide superstar who will make an immediate impact.

Golson would be an upgrade from current situations, but his 14 interceptions and 12 fumbles (eight lost) should be very concerning to any team who takes a chance on him. On top of that, he won't graduate from Notre Dame till May, and the SEC's new rule on graduate transfers could make it hard for Golson, who admitted that his 2013 expulsion was due to cheating, according to Andy Staples of Sports Illustrated.

SEC Bylaw 14.1.15.1 (d) of the Graduate Student Exception, which was sent to B/R from the SEC, could stand in the way.

(d) The student-athlete has not been subject to official university or athletics department disciplinary action at any time during enrollment at any previous collegiate institution (excluding limited discipline applied by a sports team).

There is an appeal/waiver process in place for any team in the SEC to take Golson. Would it apply? The conference did block basketball player Eric McKnight's potential transfer to Tennessee this summer, and as Ben Fredrickson of the KnoxNews.com reported this summer, that rule could have played a part.

There will be a huge market if one or both decide to transfer, which will make this offseason a lot of fun.

 

Big News for Auburn's Defense

Auburn's defense has been more of a joke than a juggernaut ever since Tommy Tuberville moved on after the 2008 season, but head coach Gus Malzahn has taken it upon himself to fix the problem. Malzahn signed former Florida head coach Will Muschamp to coordinate his defense last month, and the duo got great news on Tuesday. 

Linebacker Cassanova McKinzy announced on Twitter that he's coming back to the Plains for his senior season.

McKinzy finished second on the Tigers with 91 tackles, and ever since the middle of the 2013 season, he has evolved into a force in the middle of the Tigers defense. With Muschamp calling the shots, his performance, draft stock and Auburn's defense will all benefit from another go-round in the orange and blue—as USA Today's Dan Wolken notes.

McKinzy will anchor a linebacking corps that could include veteran Kris Frost, rising sophomore Tre' Williams, veterans Anthony Swain and Justin Garrett and perhaps several talented incoming freshman. They'll be playing for a coach in Muschamp who's well schooled on not only coaching versatile and successful linebackers, but getting new pieces up to speed in a hurry.

McKinzy is a proven leader and fundamentally sound tackler, which isn't the norm in Auburn's defense. He and Auburn will mutually benefit from his return in 2015.

 

Class Crumbling?

South Carolina already saw 4-star cornerback Mark Fields decommit from the program in December, and now another key piece of the recruiting class in a position of need could be headed elsewhere.

Arden Key, a 4-star defensive lineman from Lithonia, Georgia and a longtime commitment, announced on Twitter on Tuesday that he is opening up his recruitment.

Being No. 1 on his board is nice, but certainly is more perilous than it was when he was committed to the Gamecocks.

The news dropped South Carolina down four spots to No. 16 in the most recent 247Sports team recruiting rankings, which is a far cry from the top five—which is where South Carolina was hovering just a few months ago.

A sign of more struggles for South Carolina? You bet.

The 7-6 season was a disappointment, and now key pieces of the recruiting class who were being counted on to fix the primary problems in Columbia are jumping ship.

 

Putting the Coaching Hat on

By now, you already know a little bit about 4-star wide receiver prospect Cordell Broadus. The 6'2", 195-pounder from Bishop Gorman High School in Las Vegas is the son of music mogul Snoop Dogg, and he has earned offers from several high-profile programs, including UCLA, USC, LSU and Arizona State.

Broadus' dad is his harshest critic.

Snoop Dogg was in Atlanta this week for the world premiere of his new ESPN documentary Snoop & Son: A Dad's Dream at the College Football Hall of Fame. Snoop—who also serves as a coach in his Snoop Youth Football League, gave a scouting report on what Broadus needs to work on to become a star at the collegiate level.

"He's really good at blocking," Snoop said. "He has great blocking technique. He can position his body to make great catches and he has soft hands."

As is the case in the documentary, which debuts on ESPN at 7 p.m. ET on Jan. 14, Snoop put his "coaching hat" on and offered constructive criticism on what his son needs to improve upon to become a star.

"He needs to work on attacking the ball at its highest point, and be a little bit more aggressive as a receiver and not as timid," Snoop said. "I've seen him grow as a receiver and grow into the beast that I want him to be, but I feel like there's still a lot of room to grow. I feel like the next coach and the next program that gets him will get a guy with a lot of upside."

Where will Broadus end up? 

A common theme during the first two episodes that were screened during the premiere was Broadus getting out of Snoop's shadow, which, in part, is a reason the family moved to Las Vegas in the first place. Broadus says during the show that it might be a better idea to stay away from USC due its location and his dad's unwavering support for the Trojans.

If that were to happen, Snoop wouldn't care.

"I'm an SC guy," Snoop said. "Regardless of where he goes, I will have on my SC drawers and socks. If he picks another university, I'll have on that university's sweatshirt with SC drawers and socks."

 

Quick Outs

  • LSU has become synonymous with early departures, but that could be changing. As Shea Dixon of 247Sports points out, news has trickled out that safety Jalen Mills and offensive linemen Vadal Alexander and Jerald Hawkins all could come back. That'd be huge for a program that's in desperate need of good news after sputtering to an 8-5 record and 4-4 conference mark.
  • John Burt, a 4-star wide receiver from Tallahassee, Florida, just decommitted from Texas, and has Auburn in the mix. At 6'3", 180 pounds, Burt has the potential to grow into his frame in a college strength and conditioning program, and be a force over the middle and deep for the Tigers if he lands on the Plains.
  • Jim McElwain met with the media on Wednesday, and for the most part, he had the CEO role down, confirming the dismissal of defensive tackle and former hot-shot recruit Gerald Willis, according to Richard Johnson of The Alligator. More importantly, McElwain out of context is fun.

 

Barrett Sallee is the lead SEC college football writer and video analyst for Bleacher Report, as well as a co-host of the CFB Hangover on Bleacher Report Radio (Sundays, 9-11 a.m. ET) on Sirius 93, XM 208.

Quotes were obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted. All stats are courtesy of cfbstats.com, and all recruiting information is courtesy of 247Sports. Follow Barrett on Twitter @BarrettSallee.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Pages