NCAA Football News

Tony Sanchez Named UNLV Football Coach: Latest Details, Comments and Reaction

UNLV's football program planned to look far and wide for its next head coach. It wound up finding the perfect candidate right at home.     

The Rebels officially announced Tony Sanchez, the head coach at national power Bishop Gorman High School in Las Vegas, will fill their vacant position on Thursday. 

"Tony Sanchez may be a new face to the college game but he is a dynamic leader, a proven winner and an outstanding coach," UNLV President Donald Snyder said in a statement. "He also understands the importance of academics. He has the passion and dedication to elevate UNLV football and provides a strong connection to the Las Vegas community."

Sanchez, 40, has led Bishop Gorman to an 85-5 record and state championships each of the last six seasons. Bishop Gorman went 15-0 in 2014, and the UNLV release indicates the program is expected to win the high school national championship.

Sanchez will take over for the departed Bobby Hauck, who went 15–49 in five seasons in Las Vegas. Hauck resigned last month after the Rebels dropped from a surprising 7-6 in 2013 to 2-11 the following season. He had two years remaining on his contract.

"Athletics are part of the overall student experience at a major university and we need to be competitive," Snyder said. "Given the state of our football program, it was time for a completely new approach. We have tried the traditional route in the past and it has not worked. This begins a new era of UNLV football. We want to generate excitement and energy for the fans, the alumni and all of Southern Nevada."

While certainly a step up from the high school ranks, Sanchez will have his work cut out building a winner at UNLV. The program has appeared in four bowl games since its inception, only two of which have come outside Las Vegas. Hauck's 2013 team was the program's first winning season since 2000. UNLV has 10 winning seasons total since becoming a Division I program in 1978.

Sanchez says he'll look to build the program from within the Las Vegas community.

“You’ve got to find the local homegrown kids and give them an opportunity and a reason to stay home,” Sanchez told Thayer Evans of Sports Illustrated. “That is huge. You talk about putting more people in the stands, getting more community support and people rallying around the program, I think it always starts in your backyard. Home is always home, but you’ve got to give them a reason to want to stay home.”

The program he's taking over will prove a stark contrast Sanchez's time at Bishop Gorman, where he never finished with fewer than 13 wins.

It'll be interesting to see whether Sanchez can work magic at Las Vegas' premier collegiate institution after doing the same at the high school level.

 

Follow Tyler Conway (@tylerconway22) on Twitter

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

What LSU Must Do in 2015 to Return to National Prominence

The LSU Tigers had an up-and-down 2014 campaign, at times looking like an elite team and other times struggling on both sides of the ball. 

Bleacher Report College Football Analysts Michael Felder, Adam Kramer and Barrett Sallee discuss where the Tigers will be in 2015.

Will LSU compete for a spot in the College Football Playoff in 2015?

Check out the video and let us know!

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

The Best Bowl Team That Never Was

Louisiana-Lafayette, Arkansas State and South Alabama will all wear the Sun Belt patch on their jerseys this bowl season, but there's one thing that Georgia Southern has over the trio that can never be taken away.

The Sun Belt title.

In their first season in FBS, the Eagles cruised through the conference, finishing the season 9-3 overall and 8-0 against Sun Belt foes, claiming the outright conference title.

First-year head coach Willie Fritz took a program that had become synonymous with the triple-option and turned it into a more run-based, zone-read team.

It looked a little different than Georgia Southern teams of the past, but the result was the same. The Eagles led the FBS is rushing with 379.92 yards per game and 7.11 yards per attempt, and did it against competition that was tougher than what it used to face in the Southern Conference.

"We knew it would be tougher competition," quarterback Kevin Ellison told Bleacher Report. "But we look forward to that competition every single Saturday. We are thankful that we were able to go into FBS and the Sun Belt, be able to compete and come out with the Sun Belt championship."

Ellison rushed for 1,082 yards and 12 touchdowns, running back Matt Breida rushed for 1,485 and 17 scores and fellow running back Alfred Ramsby rushed for 691 and 12 touchdowns, as the program took a step away from the old-school, triple-option days and into a new era of Eagle football.

"We want to build a powerhouse here," Fritz said. "I've said this from Day 1, we want to have the same kind of success here at Georgia Southern at the FBS that they're used to having at the FCS level. It's the all-time winningest FCS program in the history of the NCAA with six national championships. Everybody has heard of Boise State, and the reason everybody has heard of them is because of their football program. We feel like we can do that here."

That new era, though, requires baby steps.

Since they are in their first year in the FBS and still considered a transitional program by the NCAA's rules, the Eagles were not eligible to compete in a bowl game unless a waiver was granted by the NCAA.

When Appalachian Sate beat Louisiana-Lafayette on Nov. 22, it gave Georgia Southern at least a share of the Sun Belt title. At that time, athletic director Tom Kleinlein began the process of petitioning the NCAA for a waiver that would allow the Eagles to play in a bowl game, despite their transitional status.

"As a conference champion who, at the time, has the potential of going undefeated, I'm going to ask the NCAA why they wouldn't consider [the waiver process] for a team that was undefeated and a conference champion, when they would make an exception for a team that didn't win six games and would make an exception when there aren't enough bowl-eligible teams," Kleinlein said.

Georgia Southern was denied a waiver request by the NCAA late in the season, appealed that decision and had that appeal denied shortly after beating Louisiana-Lafayette 22-16 on Nov. 29 to claim the conference title outright and finish off an unblemished conference season.

The late-season fight for a bowl game played out in media reports in late November, but it didn't have any impact on the players, who had one goal in mind.

"Our coaches really tried to tell us to not think about the bowl game," senior linebacker Edwin Jackson said. "Let's go on, finish the regular season and leave with a mark and leave with something that nobody can take away from us. We crossed our fingers [for a bowl], and people really believed in us. That's what I got from Eagle Nation."

The reason for the denial was simple. Georgia Southern isn't technically a member of the FBS yet and would take a spot away from a more deserving team.

"Deserving team? Who's more deserving than an undefeated conference champion from the Sun Belt?" Kleinlein said. "We did not take one of those bowl spots away, us being undefeated took one of those bowl spots away."

It was in college football no man's land, and the only way out is patience.

"It became very clear [during the appeal process] that this was a membership deal," Kleinlein said. "Us being part of the club, so to speak. When you talk to the NCAA in terms of membership, in their world, that's a very black and white, non-negotiable world."

That world's existence really shouldn't apply to Georgia Southern, though. 

Part of the reason the two-year transition rule exists is to prevent teams from loading up on transfers from the higher classification before making the leap themselves, because those players would circumvent the rule that prevents players from being eligible when they transfer within FBS institutions.

Georgia Southern had a few transfers, but none that moved for the purpose of skirting the rules and playing FBS football without sitting out a year.

"We didn't have a bunch of players transfer in and build our roster up and then make an announcement," Kleinlein said. "We didn't do any of that, so we didn't have a competitive advantage when it comes to the transfer rules."

In fact one Georgia Southern player—reserve quarterback Favian Upshaw—had to sit out a year because of the FBS transfer rule, even though he chose to transfer to the program from Florida International before Georgia Southern even announced it was moving to the FBS.

On top of the rule existing in part for a reason that wasn't really applicable to Georgia Southern, the final element of the appeal process couldn't be pursued due to ongoing changes in the NCAA's governance structure.

"Under the new structure, the next level of appeal was to the administrative cabinet," Kleinlein said. "But that doesn't exist anymore."

As a result, Kleinlein was unable to get in front of a real live group of people and state his case.

"There was no mechanism to get in front of that group of people and talk it out," he said. "You can write it and you can submit it and you can do that stuff, but when you want to make an appeal, you want to talk to people."

Instead of showing off just how good the program is in front of a national audience against a big-time opponent in a bowl game, the Eagles' resume will have to stand as is.

That's just fine, though. The lack of a bowl game doesn't take the shine off what was a tremendous season for Georgia Southern.

"Being here for five years, the biggest thing I've taken away from this journey is patience," Jackson said. "My senior class last year, they weren't able to go. They passed it to the next generation. We're undefeated in the Sun Belt, but we can't go to a bowl game. Next year, we can, and I'm passing it on to the next generation. We beat the Sun Belt in our first year. You're going to beat it next year and you're going to a bowl. It's all about patience."

Georgia Southern announced its FBS presence with authority. On top of their run to the Sun Belt title, the Eagles had tight losses on the road against N.C. State and eventual ACC coastal champion Georgia Tech.

"Being undefeated conference champs, we were hoping they'd look at that and grant us our waiver," Fritz said. "Unfortunately they didn't, and we have to move on from there. That's just part of it. They can't take away that undefeated conference championship."

 

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

2014 College Football Headlines You Never Would've Believed 5 Years Ago

Every college football season brings headlines that are hard to comprehend in the moment.

Imagine how harder they would have been five years ago.

Five years doesn't sound like an eternity on paper, but a lot has changed in the interim between 2009 and 2014. Coaches have moved across the country. Programs have risen and decayed. 

But a lot of this change has taken place with a creeping normality that makes it difficult to notice as it's happening. Like a frog in a boiling pot of water, we can't always tell the climate is changing until it's unrecognizably different.

Here are a few headlines that were hard to comprehend in 2014 but would have been impossible to comprehend five years ago.

Sound off below if you can think of anything else.

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Why Army vs. Navy Rivalry Is the Best in College Football

The final regular season college football game of 2014 has no bearing on the playoffs, doesn't have a bowl berth hanging in the balance and isn't going to get the losing team's coach fired. Yet when Army and Navy meet in Baltimore on Saturday, it will be the most noteworthy game of the year.

And not just because it's the only one on the schedule. Army-Navy has everything we want in a rivalry game, but with so much more.

"By game's end, no matter what the score, America wins," wrote Braden Gall of Athlon Sports, one of many publications to list Army-Navy as college football's best rivalry.

Football is an American sport, and nothing brings out love of country like pitting members of the United States Military Academy and the Naval Academy on the gridiron.

As it has been for more than a decade, this year's game figures to end up in a Navy victory. The Midshipmen (6-5) have won 12 straight meetings, 10 by double digits, as Army (4-7) is headed for a fourth straight losing season and 17th in the past 18 years.

Saying the records don't matter is a sports rivalry cliche, but here's where it fits more than feels forced.

This is a game where, from the opening kickoff to the final whistle the two sides are consumed with the desire to dominate the other, much like any other rivalry game. But once the clock hits zero, and a winner is declared, that rivalry is immediately replaced by camaraderie.

The postgame hugs and handshakes following other such games seem part of an expected routine, an opportunity for opposing sides to show their respect for each other on the outside while still teeming with hatred on the inside. With Army and Navy, it's a way of embracing their shared role as soldiers.

The players aren't in this game hoping to draw the attention of pro scouts, not when their future is already pledged to military service. It's not that there aren't quality athletes on the field—Navy junior Keenan Reynolds set an FBS record for rushing touchdowns by a quarterback last season, and would start for other option-run teams—but how big, fast and strong they are ranks far behind the off-field sacrifices they're prepared to make.

Played since 1890 (and continuously since 1930), Army-Navy is a tradition that has no end in sight. It's even proving to be realignment-proof, as Navy's move to the American Athletic Conference next season won't affect the long-running series. The next three games are scheduled to be played on the second Saturday of December, as has been the case the past five years, which would be one week after an AAC title game.

 

Follow Brian J. Pedersen on Twitter at @realBJP.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

5 Most Important College Football Recruiting Visits of Week

Less than two months separates us from national signing day, making every piece of the recruiting process impactful at this point. Many of America's premier prospects remain uncommitted and could leave their collegiate fate undetermined into February.

Aside from a small selection of states still competing for titles, the final high school season has ended for 2015 recruits. As their full focus shifts toward finding the right college fit, here's our latest look at key campus visits to watch this weekend.

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2015 College Football Recruits Most Likely to Commit During Bowl Season

With bowl season upon us, and a recruiting dead period slated to take effect on December 22, most schools across the country will take a break from the recruiting trail in an effort to focus on bowl preparations.

However, there is a handful of recruits who are candidates to make a decision in the period between now and when bowl season ends.

A few candidates are early enrollees, while others are simply close to ending the process. 

Which recruits are most likely to make a pledge during bowl season?

 

*All players are listed in alphabetical order.

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Meet Melvin Gordon, the Most Snakebitten Heisman Trophy Candidate Ever

To truly appreciate Melvin Gordon’s season—one of the most historic and unfortunately timed stretches of brilliance the sport has ever seen—you must quantify it with something more.

How about total football fields? Let’s begin our journey there. In 13 games, the 213-pound back who hails from Kenosha, Wisconsin rushed for the equivalent of nearly 24 football fields length- to-length, a feat only three players have ever achieved. To put this in perspective, only 40 teams—yes, full rosters made up of multiple running backs—can say the same this season.

Oh, full-length fields don’t suffice as running back currency? Well, then how about miles? That’s not a method by which we typically calculate a running back’s rushing output, although it’s appropriate on this occasion. Gordon, despite matching up against defenses that clearly knew when and where he would get the football, totaled more than 1.3 miles on the ground this season.

Next time you’re about to hit your cruising speed on the treadmill, think about that.

We could keep going, diving deeper into the endless rabbit hole of statistical absurdity, although it won’t change the outcome come Saturday. Despite delivering a resume seemingly constructed with the Heisman in mind, Wisconsin’s celebrated workhorse will likely finish a distant second to Oregon’s Marcus Mariota when the winner is announced.

Gordon’s spectacular effort couldn’t have come at a worse time, stacked side-by-side with one of the more dominant, stat-crazed seasons a college quarterback has ever had. His finest single-game performance—one of the best days a running back has ever had—was overshadowed, astonishingly, just one week later.

More important to those hoping to become the next Melvin Gordon, this all came during a time when the running back has been deemed replaceable.

Gordon wasn’t just going up against Big Ten defenses; the obstacles were far greater.

“You’re not looking at running backs anymore,” former Wisconsin running back and Heisman winner Ron Dayne told Bleacher Report. “Everyone’s looking at different positions. It didn’t circle back around yet for him to get the attention that he needed.”

Dayne won his Heisman in 1999, which might as well be 1899 when it comes to league appreciation for the position. Operating with a much larger frame and drastically different running style, his 2,034-yard, 20-touchdown year was deemed Heisman worthy at a time when the position was viewed differently. It was appreciated.

Now back at Wisconsin as a student, university employee and a valuable asset to the Badgers’ recruiting efforts, Dayne has passed along pieces of his Heisman experience to Gordon as he braces for New York City, sharing stories of the moment, his first encounter with Jay-Z and more.

“You’re going to see so many people you’ve seen on TV,” Dayne told his latest protégé.

Before sharing red-carpet stories, Dayne provided feedback to Gordon along the way as he raced toward the award. He didn’t stress running styles, blocking schemes or areas in which he could improve. In fact, Dayne’s approach was much simpler in nature while speaking to one of the sport's brightest stars.

“The biggest thing I told him when I got to talk with him is to have fun. Laugh,” Dayne said. Go out there and have fun no matter what. Don’t worry about stats.”

Whether he worried about them or not, the stats came. And like the rest of us football mortals without a Heisman resting comfortably in our trophy case, Dayne marveled over what Gordon accomplished week to week.

It was a different kind of dominance, a style unique from Montee Ball—another Wisconsin back who ended up in NYC not long ago after his dream season.  It was different from James White, Brian Calhoun and Anthony Davis, other Badger backs who delivered tremendous results during their Madison tenures.

“He’s a different style running back. I can’t compare him to any running back now or any old-school running back either,” Dayne said. “I tell him he looks like Jamal Charles because he’s got the long hair, he’s fast and he can truck guys. He certainly doesn’t run like I did.”

Dayne’s style was built on power and vision; Gordon’s most diabolical traits are unquestionably his speed parlayed with his own knack for finding small openings and making the most of it.

What Gordon hasn’t received ample credit for is the way he has adapted over the course of his college career, a career that will end following the team’s bowl game against Auburn.

“They said all he could was run outside, then the next year he was running inside on all of his plays,” Dayne said. “Then it was he couldn’t catch, and he got multiple touchdowns this year catching the ball. He’s a monster, and he changed every year.”

Playing in an offense deprived of any reasonable threat to pass, No. 25 has managed to accumulate rushing yards in bulk. Gordon finished with 2,336 rushing yards, 151 receiving yards and 29 total touchdowns, three of which came by way of pass. He averaged nearly 180 yards per game.

 “I always have high expectations for myself and always expected to be good,” Gordon said. “But I never thought it would be this crazy.”

Gordon totaled 33 plays of 20 yards or more, which was tops in the nation. He eclipsed 200 total rushing yards in five different games this season and ran for 100 yards or more in all but two outings.

My goodness, we fell down the Gordon stat rabbit hole, didn't we?

He carried the ball 100 more times than he had previously and averaged 7.6 yards per carry, just slightly under his robust career average. In the third quarter of games—a time when most backs wear down—Gordon averaged more than 10.5 yards per rush.

His 408-yard effort against Nebraska broke LaDainian Tomlinson's single-game FBS record for rushing yards in a single game—a record that was set the same year Dayne took home the Heisman.

The very next week, Oklahoma’s Samaje Perine overtook Gordon’s record. A historic milestone that had stood for more than a decade fell in seven days.

This, in many ways, sums up Gordon’s season: remarkable dominance that somehow—through a strange sequence of events—never quite received the appreciation it deserved thanks to dream seasons and dream Saturdays from other magnificent players.

At the same time, Perine’s effort added further ammunition to a battle Gordon fought for this season. Even though it took a little shine off the performance, Gordon reached out to Perine to congratulate him shortly after.

“All of us running backs around the country are trying to make a statement that we are important,” Gordon said. “We’re trying to do the best we can to help out our teams and show that running backs are just as important as any of our positions. We’re trying to show that as much as we can, and that’s not just me.”

It wasn’t just him. The 2014 season was indeed the year of the running back, although it was Gordon’s magical campaign that led the charge.

It didn’t end with a bang against Ohio State in the Big Ten Championship—with Gordon totaling just 76 yards on the ground in the loss—but his overall performance stacks up valiantly compared to some of the greatest running back seasons ever.

The name on the list you can’t avert your eyes from is none other than the great Barry Sanders, the player Gordon grew up watching along with the late, great Walter Payton.

“Those were the first two guys my dad showed me,” Gordon said.

Arguably the greatest college football player of all time, Sanders’ 1988 season at Oklahoma State is the one all running backs are chasing. As Gordon’s production increased, the comparisons to Sanders’ year started to become more prominent for Gordon as he navigated expectations.

While he embraced the attention and managed the madness, he also didn’t have any interest in stacking resumes or running styles side by side.

“Barry Sanders? No. I don’t think you can emulate or be anything like Barry Sanders,” Gordon said. “He’s just one of a kind. There’s only one Barry Sanders and you can’t be like him. You can try, but you won’t be too successful.”

The record is still within reach, although it will take a monumental effort to get there. For the first time all year, however, Gordon isn’t moving toward history. He’s not running from defenses; he’s not running to keep an entire position relevant.

Gordon has finally stopped moving, and he will be able to celebrate his season and his accomplishments in the spotlight, even if he doesn't hear his name called as the Heisman ceremony winds down.

“It’s been a goal of mine and it just shows what type of year I had and how hard I worked,” Gordon said. “I came back to help my team and do some things to become a better player, as well, and I think this is showing that.”

Although Gordon won’t win the sport's most prestigious award, history is not out of the picture just yet. His work is nowhere near complete.

“I’m trying to do my best to be remembered, and hopefully this is a step to that direction, he added.”

Gordon needs 292 rushing yards against Auburn in the Outback Bowl on January 1 to hit Sanders’ historic mark before departing for the NFL. For any other running back managing realistic expectations, such gaps would seem unrealistic and unreasonable. For Gordon, it seems oddly attainable.

After all, it’s not even three full football fields and less than a quarter mile.

 

Unless noted otherwise, all quotes were obtained firsthand. All stats courtesy of CFBstats.com.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Updated Odds on Who Will Be the Next Michigan Wolverines Head Coach

After the firing of Brady Hoke, the Michigan Wolverines are looking to fill their vacant head coaching position. Naturally, the rumor mill is buzzing, with all the big names being thrown into the mix.

Bleacher Report College Football Analyst Adam Kramer dishes out his updated odds on who will be the next head coach of the Wolverines.

Who will coach Michigan next season? Check out the video and let us know! 

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Jordan Stevenson to Wisconsin: Badgers Land 4-Star RB Prospect

Coveted running back prospect Jordan Stevenson has committed to play college ball at Wisconsin. The decision comes one day after he opted to reconsider his options following a prior commitment to Texas.

Stevenson confirmed his new choice on Twitter:

Ryan Bartow of 247Sports passed along further comments from the back, who provided a little more detail into why he picked the Badgers.

"They have great academic advisors that help the athletes out," Stevenson said. "Man it's amazing. The team plays together and they each understand their role. They just want to win. I like how they run the ball."

He rates as a 4-star prospect with an overall ranking just outside the top 200 nationally in the Class of 2015, according to 247Sports' composite rankings. Coming out of Texas, he also checks in among the top 20 players at the position and top 30 out of the football-rich state.

Wisconsin star rusher and Heisman Trophy finalist Melvin Gordon recently confirmed his decision to enter the 2015 NFL draft. That means Stevenson should at least be handed an opportunity to earn some playing time right away in a run-first offense, which probably helped in the decision-making process.

Stevenson is on the small side (5'8'', 185 pounds) but features an intriguing combination of speed and playmaking ability out of the backfield.

 

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Alabama Football Awards for 2014 Season

The Alabama football season isn't quite over yet. Some would say it's just beginning.

But as players finish final exams this week, and there's a little break before College Football Playoff practice begins, now seems like a good time to hand out some season awards.

The football team had its team banquet the Sunday night after the SEC Championship Game, where it gave out its long list of awards.

Here are Bleacher Report's awards for the 2014 Alabama football team.

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2014 Will Be Remembered as Start of Ohio State Football Dynasty

COLUMBUS, Ohio — When it comes to the first-ever College Football Playoff, to paraphrase a certain kid from Akron, Ohio, the Buckeyes aren't even supposed to be here.

No, at least not after star quarterback Braxton Miller went down with a season-ending injury two weeks prior to the start of the 2014 campaign. And certainly not after his Heisman Trophy-worthy replacement suffered a broken ankle in Ohio State's regular-season finale on the eve of the Big Ten Championship Game.

But even if he wouldn't admit it at the time, Urban Meyer's doubts of his own team dated back to before August. And they only increased once he saw an already young roster get even younger with the loss of its most important player.

"If you would have told me back in August, I would have said, 'Not yet. Maybe next year,'" Meyer told ESPN following Sunday's announcement that the Buckeyes had been selected as the fourth and final team in this year's playoff. "We're a young program."

And yet here Ohio State sits, ahead of schedule, preparing to take on No. 1 Alabama in a Sugar Bowl that will double as a playoff semifinal game. One look at the Buckeyes' roster justifies Meyer's previous concerns but also makes it clear that Ohio State is set up for much more than short-term success.

 

'Still Very Young'

Of the 24 players listed as starters on offense, defense and special teams for the Buckeyes, a total of 13 are classified as either freshmen or sophomores. None, however, has been more important to OSU's success than quarterback J.T. Barrett, who brought the Buckeyes to the brink of the playoffs before the broken ankle he suffered in Ohio State's finale brought his stellar freshman campaign to a premature end.

"I thought he'd be OK," Meyer said of Barrett. "I didn't think he'd—I'm hoping he gets that phone call to go to New York [as a Heisman Trophy finalist] because he should."

Barrett didn't get that call—the Heisman only announced three finalists this year—but his numbers indicate that he was deserving. In just 12 games, the redshirt freshman broke Ohio State's single-season record for total offense (3,772 yards) and the Big Ten's mark for total touchdowns (45) en route to being named the league's Freshman and Quarterback of the Year.

Make no mistake, while backup Cardale Jones turned in an MVP performance in the Big Ten title game and Miller ponders his future, Barrett will be Ohio State's quarterback once he's fully healed, giving the Buckeyes the Big Ten's best at the most important position for the foreseeable future.

"He's a product of those around him," Meyer said of Barrett earlier this season. "There's some guys making really terrific plays out there for him, too."

And like Barrett, they also happen to be young.

Next season, the Buckeyes will return running back Ezekiel Elliott next season (1,402 rushing yards, 12 touchdowns), as well as backup Curtis Samuel, who has shown plenty of promise in the limited playing time he's received in his freshman season. Altogether, Ohio State is slated to return nine of its top 10 rushers from 2014, the lone departure being reserve running back Rod Smith, who was dismissed from the Buckeyes program in October.

In the passing game, Ohio State will lose steady seniors Devin Smith, Evan Spencer and Jeff Heuerman but will most likely return third-year sophomore Michael Thomas, who leads the Buckeyes in receptions with 43. The Buckeyes will also bring back second-year H-backs Jalin Marshall (523 total yards, seven touchdowns) and Dontre Wilson (400 total yards, four touchdowns), as well as tight end Nick Vannett and freshman Noah Brown.

“We’re still a very young team," Meyer said.

Perhaps second only to Barrett in terms of importance, Ohio State also remains young on an offensive line that has come together throughout the 2014 season. Right tackle Darryl Baldwin is the unit's only senior this season, although left tackle Taylor Decker could entertain the possibility of entering next May's NFL draft.

The return of Decker would be an obvious boost for the Buckeyes, but either way, they'll bring back an interior line that includes All-Big Ten sophomore guard Pat Elflein, center Jacoby Boren and freshman guard Billy Price. That's reason enough for excitement in Columbus, as Meyer cited the Buckeyes' young offensive line as his top concern entering the 2014 season.

"Four new offensive linemen," Meyer recalled. "When Braxton was our quarterback, I was still worried."

 

'They Just Grew Up Rather Quickly'

Defensively, Meyer's worries were twofold, as Ohio State attempted to mesh a young unit with defensive coordinator Chris Ash's new scheme. The Buckeyes defense still has its issues—although you wouldn't know it from their 59-0 shutout of Wisconsin in the Big Ten title game—but showed steady improvement, and most importantly, could return seven of its top players in 2015.

That starts with defensive end Joey Bosa, who was named a USA Today All-American after recording 13.5 sacks and 20 tackles for a loss in his sophomore season. The 6'5", 278-pounder is a lock to be a high first-round pick in the 2016 draft but will return to Ohio State next season with one more year of experience under his belt.

"With a guy that big, normally you're one-dimensional," Meyer said of Bosa. "He can beat you with speed and power. He's got it all as far as defensive linemen go."

The Buckeyes will lose likely first-round pick defensive tackle Michael Bennett, and junior Adolphus Washington's status as a potential first-rounder leaves the status of OSU's interior defensive line up in the air. But senior-to-be Tommy Schutt possesses plenty of experience as a reserve, and defensive end Jalyn Holmes has shown flashes in limited time throughout his freshman season.

Perhaps more importantly, the players in the Buckeyes' back seven have shown strong improvement this season, after a shaky 2013 brought last season to a crashing halt. The Buckeyes will lose senior linebacker Curtis Grant and cornerback Doran Grant, but there's no shortage of talent—and youth—in the other five spots.

Freshman linebacker Darron Lee has shown a knack for making big plays, and cornerback Eli Apple has gone from weak link to one of the most improved players on the OSU roster in his freshman season. Likewise, sophomore safeties Vonn Bell and Tyvis Powell have only gotten better as the 2014 season has wore on, and true freshman Raekwon McMillan has emerged to take the lion's share of the snaps at middle linebacker, leaving Meyer excited about burgeoning return of the "Silver Bullets."

"Did I think Darron Lee would perform like an All-Big Ten linebacker? He's not there yet, but he's darn close. To see the development of Eli Apple, I thought he was a very average player. He's not an average player, he's a pretty good player," Meyer said. "When those two young safeties—three actually with Cam Burrows and you throw [freshman] Erick Smith in there—when those kids grow up, I think they'll be outstanding safeties. They just grew up rather quickly."

 

Final Four

As the Buckeyes learned last week, until the Big 12 adds a conference championship game, Ohio State will likely always have an inside track to the College Football Playoff. All it will take is winning the Big Ten with one or no losses, and the Buckeyes should find themselves in the final four at each year's end.

Given the current state of the Big Ten, that might be a realistic expectation for the next three seasons.

Michigan is currently in flux, searching for its third head coach in the last seven years. Wisconsin, the Big Ten West's defending champion, just lost its second head coach in three seasons after Gary Andersen accepted the head coaching position at Oregon State on Wednesday.

Penn State is still building with James Franklin and recovering from three seasons of NCAA sanctions, while Nebraska will be breaking in a new head coach in Mike Riley. Michigan State has built a legitimate threat to the Buckeyes under Mark Dantonio, but quarterback Connor Cook is about to be a senior, if the potential first-round pick doesn't decide to enter the 2015 draft.

Add it all up and Ohio State should be set with the most stable program and quarterback situation in a league that's already benefited from the new college playoff system. The Buckeyes may have eked their way into the final four this year, but get used to hearing their name in the conversation, as this season is only the start of something special happening in Columbus.

"I look at our players and I see how many young guys are playing for us that are going to be around here for awhile," Meyer said following the Buckeyes' win over Michigan State on Nov. 8. "The future is extremely bright 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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Why Nobody Wants the Wisconsin Head Coaching Job

Wisconsin lost its second head coach in four years when Gary Andersen departed at the end of the regular season. For a second time in four years, Wisconsin athletic director Barry Alvarez will be the interim coach for the Badgers' upcoming bowl game, per Kirk Herbstreit of ESPN.

Bleacher Report College Football Analysts Michael Felder, Barrett Sallee and Adam Kramer explain why Wisconsin seems to have trouble keeping a head coach.

Why can't the Badgers keep a head coach?

Watch the video and let us know!

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Texas A&M Football: 5 Bold Predictions for the Aggies' Bowl Game

The Texas A&M football team will play the West Virginia Mountaineers in the 2014 Liberty Bowl. The Aggies will have a number of players who will surprise with their strong play in Memphis.

The Aggies and Mountaineers have a lot of crossover between the two coaching staffs. West Virginia head coach Dana Holgorsen was an assistant under Texas A&M head coach Kevin Sumlin when the two coached at Houston.

Texas A&M offensive coordinator Jake Spavital coached quarterbacks under Holgorsen at West Virginia. Both teams should be very familiar which the other's offense.

The Texas A&M defense plays against the West Virginia offense every day in practice. The Liberty Bowl should come down to which team executes its defense best.

This is a look at a few bold predictions for the 2014 Liberty Bowl.  

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USC Football: How Will Trojans Stop Nebraska RB Ameer Abdullah?

The man in red on whom USC football will be focused this holiday season does not come from the North Pole, but Nebraska running back Ameer Abdullah is known for producing magic. 

The Trojans defense is tasked with slowing down the Cornhuskers' multifaceted playmaker in the Dec. 27 Holiday Bowl. It's not the most desirable of chores, to be sure; Abdullah heads into the postseason affair averaging 126.9 rushing yards per game with four games of 200 yards or more as well as an average of 144.3 yards per game from the line of scrimmage. 

Still, USC's defense is well-equipped to contain the explosive running back, as the Trojans have demonstrated at times this season.  

Obviously, the Trojans' efforts start on the line, and standout lineman Leonard Williams' ability to shed blockers will be vital to USC controlling the Cornhuskers up front. 

He'll get help from Antwaun Woods and end Claude Pelon, both of whom have come on of late. Woods has made 10 of his 37 tackles in USC's last two games while head coach Steve Sarkisian has praised Pelon for his emergence in the back half of the season.

But stopping one of the most electric running backs in college football is going to take more than the play of the line due to his wide-ranging skill set.  

Elements of Abdullah's role in the Nebraska offense are comparable to that of Arizona State running back D.J. Foster. 

Beyond their similar size—Abdullah is 5'9", 195 pounds, and Foster is 5'11", 205 pounds—both are capable pass-catchers. 

While Foster is used in that capacity far more often—he has 53 receptions to Abdullah's 16—Abdullah is just as dangerous when taking a swing pass as he is on a carry. 

For this reason, USC cannot simply limit its efforts in containing Abdullah to between the tackles. Slowing him down extends sideline to sideline but starts with pressure in the backfield. 

When the Trojans hosted Arizona State on Oct. 4, USC defensive coordinator Justin Wilcox's game plan had USC selling out on Foster behind the line of scrimmage. 

The first-quarter result, per the USC athletic department's official game stats: 

  • Run for three yards
  • Run for a loss of two yards
  • Incomplete pass 
  • Run for a loss of five yards
  • Run for two yards
  • Reception for seven yards 

USC was aggressive up front, opting to cover wide receivers one-on-one with the linebackers supplementing the rush. 

That included hybrid linebacker-defensive back Su'a Cravens, who played up on the line for much of the evening. 

By swamping Foster in the backfield, USC made Arizona State an almost exclusively downfield passing team. In many ways, that strategy mirrors how Michigan State game-planned for Abdullah and Nebraska in the Spartans' Oct. 4 win.

Michigan State held Abdullah to 45 yards rushing on 24 carries. Linebacker Riley Bullough explained the Spartans' strategy, per MSUSpartans.com:   

He's quick, he was going to try to cut back on us, so we preached all week that we all got to swarm to the ball. We all know schematically what we want to do and I think for the most part we achieved it. The big thing was we wanted to get heads to the ball and I think we did that.

Simple enough in theory. More difficult in execution. But USC's ability to do so against Abdullah—or not—will likely determine the Holiday Bowl's outcome.  

 

Quotes obtained firsthand unless otherwise cited. Statistics courtesy of CFBstats.com

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Do the 2015 Miami Hurricanes Have What It Takes to Win the ACC?

The Miami Hurricanes finished 6-6 in 2014, earning them a berth in the Independence Bowl. With Brad Kaaya and Joseph  Yearby back next season, coupled with a deep recruiting class, they have their sights set on an ACC title in 2015. 

Bleacher Report College Football Analysts Michael Felder and Barrett Sallee discuss Miami's expectations for 2015.

Can Miami win the ACC in 2015?

Check out the video and let us know!

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Barry Alvarez Will Coach Wisconsin in Outback Bowl

Longtime Wisconsin head coach Barry Alvarez is returning to the sidelines from his current role as the school's athletic director to lead the Badgers in the Outback Bowl.

The decision comes after the surprisingly swift exit of Gary Andersen, who is leaving to become head coach at Oregon State, per ESPN.com.

Kirk Herbstreit of ESPN reported the decision to have Alvarez take over for the clash with Auburn:

Alvarez coached the Badgers for 16 years starting in 1990. He's compiled a 118-74-4 career record, which includes a 2012 Rose Bowl loss when he temporarily took the reins after the departure of head coach Bret Bielema.

Before the announcement, Adam Kramer of Bleacher Report commented on Alvarez:

Jesse Temple of Fox Sports passed along comments from the 67-year-old coach, who admitted Andersen's exit was a surprise.

"I was very surprised," Alvarez said. "I really had no idea that this was in the works."

Now he's forced to quickly shift gears to get Wisconsin prepared for a high-profile clash with a talented Tigers squad on New Year's Day.

His previous experience making the change, which resulted in a 20-14 Rose Bowl defeat to Stanford, should help him this time around. 

 

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Watch the Wildest High School Trick Plays in 2014

Who doesn't love trick plays? They require tons of preparation and just the right amount of bravery. And when they are successful, they are something to behold.  

We've compiled the best high school football trick plays of the 2014 season in the video above. 

Which trick play was the best?

Check out the video and let us know! 

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Will Georgia Return to Prominence and Capture 2015 SEC East Title?

Georgia has had one of the most dominant programs in the SEC in recent years. It was unable to reach the SEC title game this year, even with the mediocrity of the SEC East. 

Bleacher Report College Football Analysts Michael Felder and Barrett Sallee debate whether Georgia can deal with key departures and make a push for the SEC East title. 

Will Georgia make it to the College Football Playoff next season?

Watch the video, and let us know! 

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2014 Heisman Trophy Finalists' Pro Player Comparisons

For the second time in three years, the Heisman Trust announced just three finalists for the Heisman Trophy: Alabama wide receiver Amari Cooper, Wisconsin running back Melvin Gordon and Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota.

Six finalists made the trip to New York City last season, but Cooper, Gordon and Mariota were so much better than the rest of the country in 2014 that no fourth, fifth or sixth player received enough votes to qualify for the ceremony.

Each of the finalists will go down in college football history for the season he just enjoyed. Cooper had one of the best wide receiver seasons ever. Gordon had one of the best running back seasons ever. And Mariota had one of the best quarterback seasons ever.

But who do they compare to once they get to the next level?

Good question.

It's time to indulge in some NFL comparisons.

 

Amari Cooper, Alabama — Jeremy Maclin, Philadelphia Eagles

In the past, I have compared Cooper to a young Santonio Holmes, and while I still think that comparison fits, I think this one fits better.

The biggest difference between Jeremy Maclin and Holmes is that Maclin is a little bit faster. He is more of a home run threat with the ball in his hands on short throws and (in his college life) kick returns.

Cooper told Andrew Gribble of AL.com that he ran a 4.31 40-yard dash at Alabama's pro day, and his junior year tape looks even faster. Like Maclin (and Holmes), he is a fluid route-runner who makes getting open look easy and running after the catch look even easier.

He is the type of player you can target at all levels of the field: short, intermediate and deep. Cooper has been especially good in the short area this season, taking advantage of Lane Kiffin's screen-heavy offense by turning low-risk throws into high rewards.

And here is the kind of stuff Maclin got into at Missouri:

Missouri head coach Gary Pinkel compared Cooper to Maclin before the SEC Championship Game, noting the similar explosiveness, speed, hands and fluidity, per Ron Clements of the Montgomery Adviser.

Pinkel coached Maclin from 2006-2008, so he would know.

 

Melvin Gordon, Wisconsin — Jamaal Charles, Kansas City Chiefs

I have tried to avoid making this comparison because Jamaal Charles relies so much on catching the football, and Gordon, prior to the 2014 season, had done little to prove he was a threat in the receiving game.

This year, however, Gordon turned his three career catches into 20 with a 17-reception season that proved he could make plays out of the backfield, as he did in impressive fashion against Purdue:

Having now checked the box as a viable receiving back, Gordon stacks up well with Charles in terms of frame and overall skill set.

Gordon (6'1", 217 lbs) is noticeably bigger than Charles (5'11", 199 lbs) and better at running between the tackles. Charles is a little bit faster than Gordon and better at running in space. But both use a similarly straight-up, long-legged style and run with confidence.

Neither struggles in any one area.

 

Marcus Mariota, Oregon — Colin Kaepernick, San Francisco 49ers

This is not comparing Mariota with the zombie version of Colin Kaepernick we have seen in the NFL this season.

Rather, it's comparing Mariota with the pre-2014 version of Kaepernick—the one who took the San Francisco 49ers to three consecutive NFC Championship Games and one Super Bowl.

Both players have similar running styles and speed and maintain their passing effectiveness from outside the pocket. Kaepernick has more pure arm strength, but Mariota is not far behind.

Mariota has slightly better accuracy and makes smarter decisions, but those are minor quibbles. Prior to 2014, Kaepernick did not really struggle with either of those things. Assuming Kaep gets back to his previous form, watching him and Mariota play in the NFL will be a treat.

Other NFL quarterbacks are mobile, but only Kaepernick had made a solid defense look like Swiss cheese in a playoff game:

Mariota has the same capability.

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