NCAA Football News

Oregon Football: Are Ducks the Real Underdogs Despite the Spread?

Based on statistics alone, the second-ranked Oregon Ducks should be favored over Florida State in the Rose Bowl, and they are. However, based on history, tradition and experience, the Ducks should be considered as underdogs in the College Football Playoff. 

It’s a role that the Ducks should relish, not shun.

The Ducks and Seminoles will face off in the 2014 Rose Bowl on Jan. 1 in a game that features the 2013 Heisman Trophy winner, Jameis Winston, and the likely 2014 Heisman recipient, Marcus Mariota.

On paper, Oregon is the better team. Not only have the Ducks been destroying opponents over their last eight games by an average margin of victory of over 26 points, but also they’ve been doing it against some of the better teams in the country.

Moreover, the Ducks are statistically better than the Seminoles nearly across the board. Oregon leads the Seminoles in points per game, passing yards, rushing yards, total yards, yards per play, sacks, strength of schedule, turnover margin and a host of other categories.

Perhaps the one that stands out the most is the difference in points scored off turnovers. The Ducks have scored 428 points off of turnovers this year, while the Seminoles have only scored 83.

Not only do the statistics favor Oregon, Vegas and analytics do as well.

According to Odds Shark, the Ducks are currently favored by 9.5 points over the Seminoles. Ed Feng’s analytics website, The Power Rank, predicts that the Ducks will beat the Seminoles by 10.8 points at a neutral site and that Florida State has a 22 percent chance at victory.

Feng’s analytics also reveal that the Ducks should be ranked No. 1, as they are expected to have the largest margin of victory against an average team (27.91) in the nation.

To further this point, ESPN’s Football Power Index (FPI) also ranks the Ducks as the No. 1 team in the country, slightly ahead of Alabama. According to the FPI, Oregon’s 35.1 percent chance to win the national title is the best among the final four teams.

So then why are the Ducks the underdogs in the College Football Playoff?

Well, the reasoning mostly comes from the fact that the other three programs in the CFP—Alabama, Ohio State and Florida State—have been to the pinnacle before and have coaches who’ve won national championships. In fact, those programs have each won a national championship within the past 12 years.

Furthermore, the other three head coaches in the CFP—Jimbo Fisher, Nick Saban and Urban Meyer—have combined to win six of the past eight national titles.

Florida State, Alabama and Ohio State are three of the best football programs in the history of college football and have combined to win a grand total of 25 national championships.

While the Ducks have come a long way over the past decade, in part due to the influence and money of Nike and founder Phil Knight, they’re still on the outside looking in, and they’re doing it with a coach, Mark Helfrich, who is only in his second year at the helm.

We’re talking about an Oregon program that didn’t make it to a Rose Bowl from 1958 until 1994 and didn’t win a Rose Bowl from 1916 until the 2011 season. We’re talking about a team whose all-time winning percentage of 56.9 percent is ranked No. 46 in college football history.

Until 2007, Oregon’s overall record was 559-447-46, good for a winning percentage of 55.5. Since 2007, former head coach Chip Kelly’s first season (as offensive coordinator), the Ducks are 88-17, which is a 83.8 winning percentage.

The tide has turned quickly for the Ducks, and the program is now considered one of the finest in the nation. However, they’ve still yet to win a national championship, something that they’re reminded of every time they come close.

Oregon had an opportunity to win a national title in 2010 when it faced Auburn in the BCS National Championship. They lost on a last-second field goal, 22-19. It had a chance in 2012, only to have that opportunity evade them due a late-season loss to Stanford in Eugene.

The Ducks are creeping toward another shot at the title here in 2014 and with two more wins, will finally secure a spot as a true college football powerhouse. However, in order to get there, they’re going to have to take down the powers that be.

Perhaps it’s appropriate that in order for the Ducks to finally win a title that they’re going to have to do it by knocking off members of the college football hierarchy.

They’ll move one step closer to their goal of becoming a national power on Dec. 13 when quarterback Marcus Mariota likely raises the first Heisman Trophy in school history.

However, for now, without a national title under their belts, Oregon is still an outsider.

The Ducks are the underdogs. It’s a role they should cherish.

 

Statistics courtesy of cfbstats.com unless otherwise stated. All quotes obtained firsthand unless otherwise stated.

Jason Gold is Bleacher Report’s lead Oregon writer. Follow Jason on Twitter @TheSportsGuy33.

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Nebraska Football: What Huskers Must Do to Prepare for USC Trojans

Practice has begun again for the Nebraska football team. This time, the Huskers are preparing for the Holiday Bowl, where the team will face the USC Trojans on December 27 at 8 p.m. on ESPN.

It's hard to predict how Nebraska's players will respond on the field to former head coach Bo Pelini being dismissed. Under the direction of interim head coach Barney Cotton, the Huskers will have a lot to prove in San Diego. So, what exactly must the Huskers do to prepare for the Trojans?

First and foremost, the Huskers offensive line needs to prepare for USC defensive lineman Leonard Williams. ESPN.com's Kyle Bonagura summed up Williams best:

Despite being possibly the best pro prospect in the country -- ESPN’s Mel Kiper Jr. has him No. 2 on his latest Big Board -- Williams has managed to fly somewhat under the radar. While other players in the Pac-12 put up massive sack numbers, the shared opinion among coaches and scouts is that Williams is the best defensive lineman.

Nebraska is going to need to run the ball in order to win. That means both I-back Ameer Abdullah and quarterback Tommy Armstrong will need a strong performance from the offensive line to make that happen.

After all, in 12 games only three opponents rushed for more than four yards per carry against USC, per Michael Castillo of FanSided. Williams will be out to limit Abdullah especially, so this is an immediate area that the Huskers should focus on in the next couple of weeks.

As for Armstrong specifically, he has the next couple of weeks to continue improving. There are no guarantees that he will be the starting quarterback next season, so a strong performance in the bowl game would be beneficial.

He primarily needs to work on having confidence and becoming more sound in his passing abilities, especially if USC forces him to win with his arm.

On the defensive side of the ball, the Nebraska secondary will have to prepare for USC's offensive game plan. Per NBC Nebraska, the Trojans are averaging nearly 300 passing yards per game. That means players like sophomore defensive back Nate Gerry will have to be able to make the necessary plays.

Gerry, for instance, has five interceptions on the season. To beat USC, the secondary will have to support Gerry and make those big plays. Failure to do so could result in a big night for USC quarterback Cody Kessler and his wide receiver Nelson Agholor.

Nebraska also must quickly adjust to the new leadership. The benefit is that the Huskers are familiar with and used to Cotton. That will help make things a littler easier.

However, it's unclear what fans can expect from Nebraska just yet. ESPN.com's Garry Paskwietz compared the Huskers' current situation to the one USC was in just one year ago:

From the outside looking in, it's hard to know if the response to the firing of Bo Pelini at Nebraska was as emotional as it was for the USC players when Ed Orgeron was let go, but it sure sounds like both teams took the news in similar fashion.

In USC's case in 2013, the Trojans easily handled Fresno State 45-20, proving the team could overcome all that had happened.

The Huskers must do the same. Failing to move beyond all that has happened could guarantee a loss for Nebraska.

The Holiday Bowl isn't going to be an easy victory for the Huskers. However, there are things Nebraska can do to get prepared. That preparation starts now.

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College Football Playoff: Are 8 Teams Really the Answer?

During this first playoff season in college football history, many people (including me) have maintained and complained that the four-team format must be doubled to eight.

But now that the dust has settled (except at Baylor and TCU) does an eight-team playoff still have the same allure?

When one looks at the final College Football Playoff rankings it’s easy to say yes.

First, having eight teams would have averted all the Baylor and TCU arguments. They both would have been in at Nos. 5 and 6, and the Big 12 would have been spared its embarrassing decision to not name a conference champion.

Also, No. 7 Mississippi State and No. 8 Michigan State are 10-2 teams from Power Five conferences, and everyone below them was clearly distanced by having a third defeat or being from a lightly regarded league.

But wait a sec.

What was the key to Mississippi State and Michigan State ending the regular season with only two losses? The fact that neither won its division and didn’t have to suit up during championship week. Yes, sitting on the sidelines is what would have allowed both back into an eight-team playoff.

Don’t get me wrong. Both of those MSU schools fielded excellent squads. Michigan State led Oregon late in the third quarter in their September meeting, and Mississippi State’s early play merited the No. 1 ranking it held for four weeks.

But Arizona, Georgia Tech, Missouri and Wisconsin also were 10-2 teams whose division titles sent them to conference championship games. There, they lost to the final four playoff teams and were punished in the final rankings, while other schools benefited from having a figurative bye.

Maybe Michigan State wouldn’t have been beaten 59-0 by Ohio State in the Big Ten Championship Game the way Wisconsin was. And maybe Mississippi State could have made it close against Alabama again.

But the college football championship shouldn’t be about mulligans and second chances.

It also shouldn't be about diminishing big regular-season confrontations. That's what would have happened if Alabama had been beaten by Auburn in the Iron Bowl. The Crimson Tide still would have had a top-eight spot, rendering the outcome of one of the nation's biggest rivalry games meaningless.

We probably also need to think twice before we ask college teams to adopt an NFL-like postseason. And as for the crowd that cries for fairness, this is the one and only time I'll quote Stephen A. Smith: "Fair is a place where they judge pigs."

So, what would an eight-team playoff have looked like back in 2013?

Pretty hazy, quite frankly.

Based on that season’s BCS rankings, Missouri would have been last in, grabbing the eighth spot with an 11-2 record. Four teams with 10-2 marks would have been left out: South Carolina, Oregon, Oklahoma and Clemson.

2012 would have had a similar problem, with No. 8 LSU getting in at 11-2. But there would have been several other schools from Power Five conferences that also had only two defeats.

Perhaps the most eye-catching eight-team playoff would have come in 2011 when Boise State would have squeaked in at No. 7 with an 11-1 record. But again, several twice-beaten Power Five teams like Wisconsin, South Carolina and Michigan no doubt would have protested heatedly.

Having eight teams would solve some arguments but also would just create new ones elsewhere.

The other problem is logistics. Finding four neutral sites for first-round games wouldn’t be hard, but how often can you ask college fans to pack up and travel?

Only 45,618 fans from Oregon and Arizona showed up at 68,500-capacity Levi’s Stadium for the Pac-12’s conference championship on a neutral field in Santa Clara, California. 

And it wouldn’t be surprising if many fans skipped first-round playoff games and saved their cash for the possibility of spending it on a title-game ticket.

The No. 2 Oregon-No. 7 Mississippi State game would have matched schools that are about 2,500 miles apart. Having the top-seeded teams host first-round games could solve that issue, but there likely would be resistance to giving away that big advantage in the postseason.

There's also the question of how to schedule an additional week of playoff games.

If they're put on the back end, further lengthening the season, the college game will finish in late January, and the current setup already means seasons are ending later than ever. And if they're put earlier, toward the end of December, the playoff games will be messing with Christmas, another factor that could ruin the attendance and, with it, the game-day atmosphere.

So instead of adding a third round of playoffs, maybe we need to realize there already is a third round, the conference championship week. That proved to be a knockout round for the losing schools, didn't it?

 

Tom Weir covered college football as a columnist for USA Today.

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UCLA Football: 5 Bold Predictions for Bruins' Bowl Game

The UCLA football team will play in the Valero Alamo Bowl on Jan. 2 against the Kansas State Wildcats. 

Led by famed coach Bill Snyder, the Wildcats are a tough, fundamentally sound and hard-nosed football team. Playing a quality team from the Big 12 Conference provides head coach Jim Mora and his squad with a huge opportunity. 

This piece will make five bold predictions in relation to the contest. Four of the five proclamations will directly deal with the game itself, while a fifth deals within the realm of recruiting. 

Surely, UCLA will look to begin its 2015 season on a positive note. 

 

*UCLA vs. Kansas State will begin at 3:45 p.m. ET on Jan. 2. The game can be seen on ESPN. 

 

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Is 4-Star RB Mike Weber's Flip to Ohio State Rock Bottom for Michigan Recruiting

It’s been a rough go for the University of Michigan on the recruiting trail in recent weeks, but the recent flip of former running back pledge Michael Weber to Ohio State may be a new low for fans of the Maize and Blue.

Weber—who committed to the Wolverines back in August before dropping his pledge in November due to the impending doom of the Brady Hoke era—will now head south to play for the Wolverines’ most hated rival.

“The main part is I like winning and didn’t think Michigan could get the job done,” Weber told Dan Kilbridge of SpartanTailgate following his decommitment.

While Weber’s statement is telling, his recruitment is simply the latest—and hopefully final—casualty of Hoke’s tenure in Ann Arbor.

He’s the latest high-profile defection from the Wolverines' 2015 class—which has seemingly lost enough commitments from top-flight recruits to field an all-star team.

To make matters worse, Michigan has yet to name a new head coach since Brady Hoke was fired earlier this month. Plus, the Wolverines' class has only six commitments remaining less than two months away from national signing day. 

In Weber’s case, losing a top-caliber in-state prospect to a bitter rival definitely stings.

However, once a new coach is hired the healing process will begin for one of college football’s most storied programs.

The key for the Wolverines is to bring in the right coach and preferably one who can energize the fanbase and help to build a buzz on the recruiting trail.

According to Clint Brewster of Wolverine247 (subscription required), the early list of candidates includes coaches with ties to the program and those who have had success at various levels.

For a glimpse into what new blood can do for a program, all Wolverines fans have to do is take the example of Florida, who is another powerhouse going through a similar transition in changing coaches.

The Gators have rallied around new head coach Jim McElwain, and he’s been able to create enough positive vibes in his first few days on the job to give Gators fans hope that their recruiting class can finish on a strong note.

Even Hoke—who went 11-2 in his first year after succeeding Rich Rodriguez—was able to change the fortunes of the program upon arriving at Michigan in 2011.

Given the history and tradition of the Wolverines program and the fact that Michigan was able to pull so many talented prospects before this season’s collapse, there’s reason to believe that things can turn around fairly quickly.

 

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

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Is Michigan or Wisconsin the More Attractive Big Ten Head Coaching Job?

Just when you think you've seen it all this coaching silly season, something else comes along. And we're not even one week removed from the end of the regular season.

In a stunning move, Oregon State announced on Wednesday afternoon that Wisconsin head coach Gary Andersen had left Madison to take over the same job with the Beavers. The move comes less than a week after former Oregon State coach Mike Riley, in his own surprising move, left to take the same job at Nebraska. 

A statement from Wisconsin athletic director Barry Alvarez reads as follows: 

I began working to find a new head coach as soon as I spoke with Gary this morning. My first concern is taking care of the players on our current team, especially the senior class, and ensuring that their bowl experience is a memorable one. I will find a head coach to uphold the great tradition at Wisconsin, someone who is committed to excellence both on an off the field.

In a press conference, Alvarez said "I had no idea this was in the works." (H/t Bruce Feldman, Fox Sports.) 

Barring another dramatic and unexpected turn of events, Wisconsin and Michigan are the only two Big Ten programs in need of a coach. As Scott Roussel of Footballscoop.com tweets, expect Wisconsin to fill its vacancy first: 

According to Angelique Chengelis of The Detroit NewsMichigan interim athletic director Jim Hackett is using a search firm to assist in finding a new coach to succeed former coach Brady Hoke

Does that mean Wisconsin is the better job? Not necessarily. It's no secret that the gap between a traditional blue-blood program like Michigan and everyone else has closed. Furthermore, Michigan is recovering from the administrative blunders made by former athletic director Dave Brandon. 

There's a lot of change that's coming to Ann Arbor that doesn't solely revolve around the head coaching position. It wouldn't be a surprise if coaches aren't interested in taking a job when they don't even know who their new boss will be. 

Conversely, anyone who takes the Wisconsin job knows what he's getting in to—and that might be the issue. 

It's not that Wisconsin isn't a good a job. It is, and it's a place where a coach can win nine or 10 games a season like Andersen did and be in good standing. However, as Dan Wolken of USA Today notes, two coaches—Bret Bielema and now Andersen—have left Madison in the past two years. And not for the Alabamas or USCs of the world either. 

Bielema left for Arkansas at least in part because he didn't feel his assistant coaches were properly compensated. That's an argument Alvarez disputed in an interview with Wolken in 2013: 

I think there's a misperception there. Any time somebody interviewed, Bret thought if you just throw a pile of money at them, they stay. I can't do that. We have to work on a budget. You don't just keep throwing money, because then everybody has leverage on you. All you have to do is say somebody's interested and you double their salary. You can't operate that way.

Why Andersen left for Oregon State hasn't been said on the record yet, and that might never happen. Here's what we do know: Alvarez is a legend at Wisconsin, transforming a downtrodden program into a consistent winner as a former head coach from 1990-2005. As Steve Greenberg of the Chicago Sun-Times notes, Alvarez is a hands-on guy: 

Wisconsin is also a difficult place to recruit. Madison is a gorgeous town and a fine selling point, but the Badgers don't pull in top-25 recruiting classes regularly—or even sometimes

Even as Hoke slowly drove Michigan football to lowly depths, the man could recruit blue-chip kids to Michigan. With the exception of his first signing class in 2011, Michigan has had a top-25 recruiting class in each of the years Hoke has been the head coach, per 247Sports.com composite rankings. In 2012 and '13, Michigan finished with top-10 recruiting classes. 

Only this year, in the midst of the conjecture surrounding Hoke's ultimate termination, have the Wolverines suffered on the recruiting trail. 

Michigan made a bad hire with Hoke and probably wishes it hadn't let go of Rich Rodriguez, now at Arizona, so soon. There shouldn't be any argument that the last few years have been a low point for Michigan football. But the school still has a passionate fanbase, a national brand and tremendous resources to win. 

The gap may have closed, and Michigan may not have its man yet, but that doesn't mean it has fallen off of the college football map. 

 

Ben Kercheval is a lead writer for college football. 

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Wisconsin's Best Move Is to Hire Bo Pelini as Badgers New Head Coach

It might seem crazy, but Bo Pelini would look pretty good in Wisconsin red and white. He's already got plenty of that color pallet in his closet, not to mention the kind of coaching traits the Badgers should be looking for in their next coach.

The college football coaching carousel reached peak "silly season" with Wednesday's news that Wisconsin coach Gary Andersen had accepted the job at Oregon State.

Andersen's departure comes six days after Oregon State had a sudden opening, with Mike Riley leaving after 14 seasons to take the Nebraska job. That gig was open because the Cornhuskers decided Pelini, who had won at least nine games in each of his seven seasons, wasn't the answer.

One team's trash could be another team's treasure, especially with Wisconsin finding itself in need of a coach for the second time in three years.

While the scenario itself may never come to fruition, it's hard to imagine Wisconsin could find a better coach than Pelini, who went 67-27 at Nebraska and helped make the program's transition from the Big 12 to the Big Ten a seamless one. That move took the Cornhuskers farther from the Texas recruiting landscape they had cultivated for decades to one that relied more on finding diamonds in the rough and developing stars rather than landing them.

Two examples: senior running back Ameer Abdullah was a 3-star prospect from Alabama that picked Nebraska because Pelini wanted him as a running back while most other schools had him pegged as a cornerback, and junior defensive end Randy Gregory ended up with the Cornhuskers after washing out at Purdue and then spending time in junior college.

Wisconsin has ranked at a similar level as Nebraska on the recruiting trail, listed by 247Sports as having the No. 33 class in 2014 compared to Nebraska's No. 36 class, so Pelini would be a guy able to work with the same kind of talent.

Pelini also always had a standout rusher at Nebraska, with Abdullah the latest following the likes of Rex Burkhead and Roy Helu. Wisconsin is also a running back factory, so Pelini's offensive style would fit in Madison.

More than anything, what makes Pelini a great fit with Wisconsin comes in the reputation category. After seeing Andersen jump ship just two years after Bret Bielema abruptly left, it might be better off bringing in someone looking for redemption rather than a resume boost.

Andersen was at Wisconsin for less than two seasons, going 19-7 and showing little drop-off from the success that Bielema had from 2006-2012. Bielema shockingly left in December 2012 to take the job at Arkansas, and athletic director Barry Alvarez tabbed Utah State's Andersen as the successor.

Bielema was the heir apparent to Alvarez, chosen by him after Alvarez retired from coaching in 2005.

Pelini reportedly was offered the job at FCS Youngstown State, but Thayer Evans of Sports Illustrated tweeted late Tuesday that Pelini had denied such rumors.

Wisconsin crushed Nebraska 59-24 on Nov. 15, a game in which Wisconsin's Melvin Gordon ran for a then-FBS-record 408 yards. Pelini was fired two weeks later, despite a 9-3 record, while Andersen's Badgers won the Big Ten's West Division but then were dominated 59-0 by Ohio State in the conference title game on Saturday.

Alvarez has yet to name an interim coach to run the team for its game Jan. 1 against Auburn in the Outback Bowl, though Wednesday he did say "My goal is to have somebody in place before the bowl game," according to Bruce Feldman of Fox Sports.

Alvarez coached the Badgers in the 2013 Rose Bowl after Bielema left, losing 20-14 to Stanford.

Pelini would also bring some much-appreciated defensive grit. The Badgers ranked fourth in the country in yards allowed this season, even after getting run over by Ohio State, and Pelini's background has been on that side of the ball.

Nebraska struggled at times on defense this year, but from 2009-2013 his teams ranked in the top 40 in yards allowed every season.

Prior to running Nebraska, he spent five seasons as a defensive coordinator, including three years as Les Miles' DC at LSU from 2005-07.

That experience could bode well for the Badgers, who open the 2015 season in Arlington, Texas, against Alabama.

 

Follow Brian J. Pedersen on Twitter at @realBJP.

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How Lane Kiffin Became the Most Influential Assistant Coach in College Football

TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — If Nick Saban was trying to hire someone who was the complete opposite of himself, he wildly succeeded.

When Alabama’s search for an offensive coordinator started, Saban went right for the guy who had been left fired at a bus stop, a coach known for his brash interviews and bold statements that stirred up plenty of controversy. But he also went for the guy he had brought in as a consultant during bowl practice and had interacted with several times during his coaching career, a guy whose coaching acumen he greatly respected.

And in doing so, he wildly succeeded in bringing in the perfect guy to make his offense one suitable for the modern reality of college football.

The Lane Kiffin experiment has been a smashing success in Tuscaloosa. Not only has Kiffin engineered a record-setting offense—its 6,376 yards is the highest total in program history with at least one more game left to play—he’s done it while altering the style of play so that it is almost unrecognizable from what Alabama had done in the past.

And in turn, he became the most influential assistant coach in college football, working for a coach who is traditionally hard-and-fast set in his ways.

While Kiffin has changed almost everything about how the Alabama offense looks on the outside, the philosophy in terms of run/pass still remains relatively the same.

Consider these numbers from this season with 2013, Doug Nussmeier’s last year in Tuscaloosa and a season in which Alabama had passed more than any other year in the Saban era with quarterback AJ McCarron a redshirt senior and Eddie Lacy gone to the NFL.

The run-pass ratio has hardly changed. In fact, Kiffin and Alabama are running it at a slightly higher rate than last year.

So what’s been the difference? What’s made Kiffin’s offense so different and effective?

A good starting point has been the tempo.

The Crimson Tide haven’t gone all out and looked like Auburn or Oregon on offense. But a few times during a game, Alabama will hit the gas pedal, keeping a defense on its heels and helping its offense get in a rhythm.

You can see the difference in plays run increased dramatically over a 13-game season.

“It basically started out this season because of the personnel that we have,” Saban said before the SEC Championship Game. “The quarterback functioned better that way. He's functioned better that way all year. Because of that, our whole personality on offense has gotten to where we function better as a group when we play with some tempo and some pace. That doesn't mean that we're always going to do that, but it certainly has been something that has been beneficial to us.

“Our fastball plays that we do run have been effective. I think it's been a benefit to us and something that we'll continue to do.”

That’s a far cry from this offseason, when he was touting player safety and limiting exposure for players with fewer offensive plays.

Schematically, though, Kiffin has made subtle changes that changed the look of Alabama’s offense, no matter how fast it was running.

For one, he’s been maximizing his personnel. Wide receivers are doing more than traditional “wide receivers” and on down the line to the running backs, tight ends and even occasionally offensive linemen.

The best and most cited example of this came in the fourth game of the season against Florida, when Kiffin split speedster Kenyan Drake out wide and he caught an 87-yard touchdown to open the game.

When Drake got hurt against Ole Miss, Kiffin lost one of his favorite toys. Bleacher Report’s Ray Glier wrote that Kiffin had similar plays lined up for Drake the rest of the season.

Here's Kiffin talking about working in Drake during an interview with 103.7 The Buzz in Arkansas before the Broyles Award ceremony:

The amazing thing is, the most unique of all of them, Kenyan Drake, was injured in that Ole Miss game and was out for the year. He was kind of the Reggie Bush factor - the first play of the Florida game we threw to him as a wide receiver and stuff. The other guys are phenomenal running backs but really don't do the other stuff that Kenyan did, so it will be exciting to get him back next year. And I always, I shouldn't do it, but I think sometimes, imagine if we still had him. Just because he’s such a mismatch issue.

There are countless other examples of players getting used in nontraditional roles like that this year.

Fullback Jalston Fowler has been split out wide, too, to provide blocking on screen passes or go on passing routes himself.

Heisman Trophy finalist Amari Cooper has been used in just about every way possible, including coming out of the backfield, on reverses, screens, swings, anything to get Alabama’s best weapon the ball.

In overtime against LSU, he split left tackle Cam Robinson out wide and sent converted tackle/tight end Brandon Greene on a seam route that got Alabama to the 1-yard line. SB Nation’s Rodger Sherman had a great piece breaking down the depth of that play and all of the deception that went into it.

It’s all made for a fascinating conversion, watching a fairly predictable offense loaded with skill talent be transformed into a juggernaut that is one of the most effective in the country.

His influence has been very apparent and the most of any assistant coach in the country.

 

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

Follow on Twitter @marctorrence.

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Texas Football: What Longhorns Must Do to Prepare for Arkansas

Year one of Charlie Strong's career in Austin has not been an easy road traveled.

The head coach removed nine players from the program for violating his rules, faced a tough non-conference schedule—which ultimately led to Texas starting off the season with a losing record—and lost his starting quarterback, center and defensive tackle before the beginning of conference play.

But Texas fought through it all to become bowl-eligible and have the chance to end the season with a winning record.

However, the Longhorns received another blow when the AdvoCare Texas Bowl announced their opponent for the Dec. 29 game.

The Arkansas Razorbacks have a lot of talent throughout the two-deep, and their 6-6 record does not do the team justice.

Yes, the Razorbacks only won half of their games, and yes, the team only beat two conference opponents this season. But the Razorbacks significantly improved since their season-opening loss to Auburn, and it will take a tremendous effort from the Longhorns to leave Houston with a win.

 

Texas Defense: Prepare to Stop the Run, Weather the Storm

Arkansas' run game is the envy of most college football teams. The Razorbacks have two 1,000-yard rushers in Alex Collins and Jonathan Williams. The duo helped carry much of the offensive load this season and put up 23 combined touchdowns in 12 games.

But the success of the ground game is not only due to the talent of the running backs. In fact, a big reason for the run game's success is because of the offensive line.

The Razorbacks O-line is one of the largest in college football, and the unit's 6'6", 321-pound average size is largely to credit for Collins and Williams' success.

Strong and defensive coordinator Vance Bedford will be brutally tasked with coming up with a game plan to stop the Razorbacks ground game. Texas needs to be prepared to shut down the run and force quarterback Brandon Allen to throw the ball.

What Texas has working to its advantage is the fact that the Razorbacks have struggled to put up points late in the game. Arkansas has averaged 7.5 points in the second half against conference opponents. 

The Razorbacks have not been able to continue their first-half offensive performances throughout the season. The Texas defense needs to weather the storm and be prepared to stuff Arkansas' offense after halftime.

If the Longhorns are successful in these areas, the team has a chance to finish the season with seven wins.

 

Texas Offense: Prepare to Score Quickly and Target Arkansas' Pass Defense

The Razorbacks rank No. 22 in the nation against the run and have only allowed 10 rushing touchdowns all season. It wouldn't be fair to say Arkansas struggles against throwing quarterbacks, but its pass defense is likely to give up more scores than the run defense.

Where Arkansas tends to struggle is in games where its offense is forced to score quickly.

Texas needs to use this to its advantage.

The Longhorns have to get off to a fast start and force the Razorbacks to come from behind.

Some Longhorns fans may cringe at the thought of placing the offense's success in the hands of quarterback Tyrone Swoopes following his performance against TCU, but the quarterback needs to be on point on Dec. 29.

Swoopes has received a lot of criticism and blame this season. Some of it was probably warranted, and some may not have been, but that's what happens when you are the starting quarterback in Division I college football.

Swoopes has to protect the football and prove his worth in the Longhorns' bowl game. He doesn't have to put the whole team on his back and carry the load for Texas, but he does have to play well, which is something he did not do in the final game of the regular season.

Strong said Swoopes gets way too down on himself when he plays poorly. That cannot happen against this Arkansas team.

The Razorbacks defense will likely be salivating over Swoopes' performance against TCU, so the quarterback has to maintain his composure and not make mental errors.

Swoopes has shown talent and the ability to sling it this season. He needs to take what he did in the fourth quarter against Oklahoma and bring that mentality throughout his preparation for the AdvoCare Texas Bowl.

***

The Longhorns opened as five-point underdogs to the Razorbacks, according to Odds Shark. Texas will have the national spotlight on it when it faces Arkansas on Monday night and a chance to make up for its embarrassing regular-season finale with a win over a SEC team.

The Longhorns have been through a lot of turmoil in Strong's first season, but the head coach senses the program is beginning to make a turnaround, and a win against Arkansas could be just what the team needs to get the program back on track.

"You would like to go win more games and make sure that the program is headed in the right direction. A lot of times we judge that by the number of wins. I see that happening with this program. I see it turning," Strong said.

"We had a stretch there where we won games and then the last game, we didn’t play so well. We should have played a lot better than what we did. It’s coming, and we just know this. We just have to continue to work hard, and good things are going to happen."

 

Unless otherwise noted, all quotes were obtained firsthand.

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

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Wisconsin Football Head Coach Search: Latest News and Speculation on Position

For the second time in three seasons, the University of Wisconsin has been left reeling as their head football coach departs for a less successful program. Gary Andersen officially tendered his resignation Wednesday and was immediately announced as the next head coach at Oregon State.

Andersen, 50, will take over for Mike Riley, who departed for Nebraska earlier this month after more than a decade in Corvallis.

The move was a shock to many given the disparity in success between the two programs. Oregon State has reached double-digit wins only twice in its football program history, which dates back to 1893. Wisconsin has hit the double-digit mark three times since 2009 and is a perennial contender in the Big Ten. Andersen's departure comes two seasons after Bret Bielema left for Arkansas under a similarly eye-opening situation.

"I began working to find a new coach as soon as I spoke with Gary this morning," Wisconsin athletics director Barry Alvarez said in a statement. "My first concern is taking care of the players on the current team, especially the senior class, and ensuring that their bowl experience is a memorable one. I will find a head coach to uphold the great tradition at Wisconsin, someone who is committed to excellence both on and off the field."

Brent Yarina of the Big Ten Network added more from Alvarez:

Bleacher Report's Michael Felder discussed his take on who should take over for Andersen:

Pete Thamel of Sports Illustrated threw out a multitude of names as potential replacements, highlighted by former Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Rutgers head coach Greg Schiano:

Schiano, 48, was out of football in 2014 after being fired by the Buccaneers following a frustrating two-season run. He's had much more success at the collegiate level, where he went 68-67 in 11 seasons at Rutgers. A complete nonentity when Schiano took over the job, he left having built Rutgers into a program respectable enough to earn a Big Ten Conference invite.

Paul Chryst is a the current head coach at Pittsburgh and served as a longtime assistant at Wisconsin, most notably as an offensive coordinator from 2005-11. Dave Clawson has no ties to the university and struggled in his first season at Wake Forest, but as Thamel notes, finished second behind Andersen in the school's most recent coaching search.

Pro Football Talk's threw out Seattle Seahawks offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell, who is expected to draw NFL head coaching interest, as a potential candidate:

Bevell is, of course, one of the most decorated quarterbacks in Wisconsin history. His arrival in Madison was one of the defining moments in Alvarez turning around the Badgers program, as Bevell led them to their first Rose Bowl victory in 1994. Not only is Bevell's name hot in coaching circles, but his close relationship with Alvarez undoubtedly makes him an interesting target.

That said, there is a reason this seemingly great job has been vacated twice in the past 24 months. Adam Rittenberg of ESPN noted that Wisconsin's academic policies left Andersen "frustrated":

It's unlikely we'll see an entire university bend its academic standards more to appease the football program. But it'll nonetheless be interesting to see whether those factors play into Alvarez's coaching search.

After being dumped twice in such succession, Wisconsin needs to find someone who will stick around.

 

Follow Tyler Conway (@tylerconway22) on Twitter

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Gary Andersen Out, Who Should Be the Next Head Coach for the Wisconsin Badgers?

According to the Wisconsin athletic department, Gary Andersen is leaving the program and accepting the Oregon State head coaching position.

Bleacher Report's College Football Analyst Michael Felder discusses where Wisconsin should go from here.

Who do you think the Badgers should snag as their new head coach?

Watch the video and let us know!

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Bleacher Report Expert Picks for 2014 Heisman Trophy

The 2014 Heisman Trophy will be presented to one deserving college football player on Saturday night in New York. 

But just who will that player be? 

The three best players at their respective positions are all vying for a chance at history. 

Marcus Mariota, quarterback of the Oregon Ducks, is the favorite to win the prestigious award, according to Odds Shark. However, Wisconsin running back Melvin Gordon and Alabama wide receiver Amari Cooper each have a compelling case. 

Gordon leads the nation in rushing with 2,336 yards. He averaged just under 180 yards a game and 7.6 yards per carry. The junior back scored 26 touchdowns on the year, including five in one game. Oh, and who could forget his record-breaking performance of 408 rushing yards in just three quarters? 

Cooper leads the nation in receiving yards and receptions, totaling 1,656 yards and 115 catches this season. The junior wideout scored 14 touchdowns on the year, including three in not one but two separate games. One of those games was the 2014 Iron Bowl against Auburn, which really set Cooper's campaign on fire, as he hauled in 13 receptions for 224 yards. 

Mariota leads the nation with a passer rating of 186.33.  The junior signal-caller threw for 3,783 yards and rushed for just under 700. However, what's most impressive—aside from leading his team to the Pac-12 title—is the 53 total touchdowns he compiled this season (38 through the air, 14 on the ground). 

Bleacher Report college football experts Adam Kramer, Michael Felder, Barrett Sallee and Ben Kercheval have made their picks on how the order of the voting for the 2014 Heisman Trophy will play out. What say you, college football fans? 

Let us know your picks in the comments below! 

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Gary Andersen to Oregon State: Latest Contract Details, Comments, Reaction

Gary Andersen is headed back west. 

After a successful two-year stint with Wisconsin, the 50-year-old Utah native has accepted the vacant position at Oregon State.      

The school's official athletics Twitter feed confirmed the news Wednesday:

Wisconsin released a statement shortly after the news broke, including comments from athletic director Barry Alvarez and chancellor Rebecca Blank:

Alvarez, via Fox Sports' Bruce Feldman, talked about the search for a new head coach, noting that the players have asked him to coach against No. 19 Auburn in the Outback Bowl Jan. 1 in Tampa, Florida:

Andersen attended the University of Utah and spent time as an assistant coach and defensive coordinator with the Utes. Following a stretch as head coach of Utah State, he took over the Badgers job shortly after the 2012 campaign. 

In two seasons in Madison, he compiled a 19-7 record with a loss to South Carolina in last year's Capital One Bowl. Under his watch, the Badgers finished sixth in the nation in scoring defense in 2013 and 13th in 2014.

As such, his decision to leave comes as a bit of a shock. Heisman finalist Melvin Gordon and defensive end Chikwe Obasih (among many other Badgers players) took to Twitter to express their disbelief and disappointment:

While it's unfortunate for Wisconsin, which met a similar fate just two years ago when Bret Bielema unexpectedly darted for Arkansas, it's a huge hire for the Beavers. 

NFL.com's Daniel Jeremiah put it simply:

Oregon State finished 5-7 this season under Mike Riley, and while there have been some solid seasons in Corvallis in recent years, the Beavers have had a difficult time breaking through into the Pac-12's upper tier. 

This hire, however, is a terrific step in the right direction.     

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Michael Weber to Ohio State: Buckeyes Land 4-Star RB Prospect

In this era of college football, the running back is still a vital component to offensive success. Michael Weber, a 4-star recruit from Michigan, is going to make fans of Ohio State very happy starting next season. 

According to ESPN's Tom VanHaaren, Weber will be a Buckeye:

As is often the case for high-profile recruits, Weber had a whirlwind journey before getting to this moment. In August, he committed to Michigan.

However, in the midst of all the unrest around the coaching staff and athletic department during the season, Weber took to Twitter again to announce that he was reopening his recruiting:

According to Nick Baumgardner of MLive.com, Weber made the decision as the Wolverines were losing to Maryland, and it put a significant dent in the school's 2015 recruiting class, which was already starting to thin out:

Weber is the fourth player to decommit from Brady Hoke's 2015 recruiting class this season, joining four-star defensive end Darian Roseboro, four-star corner Garrett Taylor and four-star linebacker Darrin Kirkland.

Michigan's 2015 recruiting class is down to seven players.

Weber, the 13th-ranked running back in the country, had offers from Georgia, Michigan, Michigan State, Notre Dame, Alabama and Ohio State. He had his best season in 2014 with 2,268 rushing yards and 29 touchdowns, via 247Sports.com

While boasting a strong running back frame at 5'10", Weber will need to add more bulk as he's currently listed at 205 pounds. One thing that you notice from the highlight video embedded above is how he doesn't really avoid contact.

Because Weber lacks elite speed, defenders have a chance to hit him. However, because he's so physical with a strong lower half, you have to wrap him up and fight to get him down. That's why the 17-year-old could have instant success in college, though a redshirt season isn't out of the question. 

 

If you want to talk sports, hit me up on Twitter

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Notre Dame Football: 5 Players to Watch in Music City Bowl

With the Irish set to take on LSU in three weeks, Notre Dame's coaches are preparing the football team for a final game in the 2014 season as well as for the future ahead. With a roster that remains largely intact, the opportunity to win once more in 2014 while also starting to prep the foundation of next year's team is one of the main benefits that come with a postseason bowl game. 

Drawing LSU makes for a difficult challenge, but it's that's a better matchup for a battered Irish defense than Georgia or Auburn would have been. And while beating Les Miles' Tigers is the primary objective, Brian Kelly spent some time last Sunday discussing some of the big-picture goals that need to be reached this December.

"It gives us a chance to obviously get an opportunity to finish the season off with a win," Kelly said Sunday. "Any time you get bowl preparation, that's important for a football team, especially one where we're trying to find ourselves. The additional practices allow us to continue to work with our younger players and continue to develop our players who are currently on our football team."

That development will be crucial not just for beating LSU but for prepping a team that has grand plans for next season. Let's take a look at five players to watch in the Music City Bowl on Dec. 30. 

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Chad Kelly to Ole Miss: Rebels Land Former Clemson, JUCO QB

It has been a long ride for Chad Kelly, but the latest path has carried the quarterback to Ole Miss. The former Clemson and East Mississippi signal-caller announced he will join the Rebels after this season.

Kelly made his intentions clear on Twitter:

Kelly, who is the nephew of Buffalo Bills Hall of Fame quarterback Jim Kelly, was in competition to take the starting position in Clemson following Tajh Boyd's departure, but didn't see those plans come to fruition. Clemson coach Dabo Swinney dismissed the quarterback and issued a statement at the time, via Ken Bradley of Sporting News:

I have dismissed Chad Kelly for conduct detrimental to our program. He has had a pattern of behavior that is not consistent with the values of our program. I hope he will mature and grow from this and become the man and player I know he can be. I wish him nothing but the best in the future academically and athletically.

Though he had issues while with the Tigers, Kelly helped lead East Mississippi to a NJCAA national title this season. During 12 games with the Lions, Kelly passed for 3,905 yards, 47 touchdowns and eight interceptions.    

Dan Wolken of USA Today offered his take on the potential for Kelly in Oxford:

In 2014, the Rebels rolled to a strong start in the SEC West and looked like College Football Playoff contenders. Though that fell apart late, adding a quarterback like Kelly might wind up keeping Ole Miss in contention. 

It should be interesting to see how Kelly's career takes shape with the Rebels after the issues he experienced at Clemson. After finding success at the junior college level, this looks like a shot at redemption for the talented young quarterback.

 

Follow @RCorySmith on Twitter.

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Will QB Cody Kessler Lead USC to the College Football Playoff in 2015?

USC is never short of talent, but it should be most excited about its Heisman-contending quarterback, Cody Kessler, returning to hopefully lead the Trojans to a Pac-12 title and beyond.

Bleacher Report College Football Analysts Michael Felder and Adam Kramer debate how USC will fare next season. 

How far can Kessler take the Trojans?

Watch the video and let us know!

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Why Tennessee Has a Shot at Making the College Football Playoff in 2015

With their returning impact players and stud recruiting class, the Tennessee Volunteers have all the ingredients to make a run at the SEC East crown and beyond in 2015. 

Bleacher Report College Football Analysts Barrett Sallee and Adam Kramer discuss the idea of Tennessee's competing for a shot at the College Football Playoff in 2015. 

How do you see Tennessee faring in 2015? Check out the video and let us know! 

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Lane Kiffin Jokes About What Nick Saban Says to Him on Sideline During Games

Every fan wants to know what Alabama coach Nick Saban says to his players and coaching staff during games, especially when things aren't going well for his team.

Alabama offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin recently took some time to reveal what the Crimson Tide boss says to him on the sideline. In this instance, "reveal" means he had some fun joking around.

Kiffin is in his first season as the Crimson Tide's offensive coordinator and was a finalist for the Broyles Award, which is given to the nation's top assistant coach. His time at the podium, behind a microphone, was his chance to tease Saban.

Ohio State offensive coordinator Tom Herman went home with the 2014 Broyles Award, but Kiffin was at least able to have some fun at the event.

[Broyles Award]

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Clemson Football: 5 Bold Predictions for the Tigers' Bowl Game

Since Sunday, the Clemson Tigers have known they will be taking on the Oklahoma Sooners in the Russell Athletic Bowl on December 29. That much we know. The part that is still up in the air is exactly how things will go in the bowl game for the Tigers, especially with the recent news, via ESPN, that quarterback Deshaun Watson will be undergoing season-ending knee surgery on Friday.

Can the defense win another close game for the Tigers? Will Cole Stoudt end his college career on a positive note? Here are five bold predictions for Clemson’s bowl game.

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