NCAA Football News

Michigan Football: What Al Borges Departure Means for Brady Hoke

It all seemed to happen in a matter of seconds. On Wednesday, Jan. 8, Brady Hoke swiftly announced the firing of much-maligned offensive coordinator Al Borges and replaced him with a shiny new one in former Alabama OC Doug Nussmeier, as ESPN's Joe Schad initially reported. 

Enticing Nussmeier to leave Nick Saban's staff at Alabama is an impressive feat by Hoke and athletic director Dave Brandon. While Nussmeier won't be able to replace Michigan's offensive line with Alabama's, Nussmeier will bring a fresh perspective to an offense that has been wildly inconsistent. He's also a great recruiter and has an excellent track record of developing young quarterbacks. This is a great hire for Michigan. 

But looking beneath the surface what does Al Borges' departure really mean for coach Hoke? 

It means that he has no more excuses, and no more scapegoats. It's also a clear indicator to Michigan fans that the program won't settle for mediocrity and that regressing in back-to-back seasons won't be tolerated. 

It couldn't have been easy for Hoke to part ways with Borges, who becomes the first assistant to leave the program since Hoke's arrival in 2011. The move contradicts Hoke's statement to the press back on Dec. 2 at an event to support the National Child Identification Program, in which he said that he expected to retain his full staff of assistant coaches. 

Interestingly, when Brandon strongly backed Hoke as the "Right Leader for Michigan Football" in his Nov. 27 manifesto on mgoblue.com, there was no mention of Borges. Brandon did laud defensive coordinator Greg Mattison in his note, saying that, "The transformation and improvement of our defense under the leadership of coach Greg Mattison has been outstanding." 

Could Brandon have forced Hoke's hand on this matter? It's certainly plausible, but we'll probably never know the entire extent of their closed-door discussions at Schembechler Hall. 

What we do know is that Michigan has made a major decision to move away from Borges, and it will invest an even larger amount of money in Nussmeier. Bruce Feldman of CBS Sports reported that Nussmeier will be one of the five highest-paid coordinators in the country. But as salaries go up, so do expectations. Hoke and Nussmeier will be expected to make significant strides on offense next year—this can't be a multi-year process. 

So with no more potential scapegoats left in Hoke's cabinet, will he be able to deliver the necessary results in Ann Arbor in 2014? 

 

Follow Tom on Twitter @TomLogan_BR

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Why Tennessee Is the Most Surprising Recruiting Class in the Country

Tennessee's 2014 recruiting class is currently ranked No. 6 in the country, according to 247 Sports. How can a team that finished sixth in the SEC East bring in so much talent? 

For starters, the Volunteers landed Jalen Hurd, the No. 4-ranked athlete in the country. He is expected to put in time at running back and fill the shoes of senior RB Rajion Neal. What other strengths does the Tennessee recruiting class possess? 

Watch Adam Kramer, Barrett Sallee and Michael Felder break down the most surprising recruiting class in the country. 

 

Highlights courtesy of XOS Digital

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Every SEC Team's Biggest Concern This Offseason

Household names like Johnny Manziel, Aaron Murray and A.J. McCarron will no longer grace the sidelines of the Southeastern Conference due to a jump to the NFL or graduation, hailing an offseason that will bring significant changes not only to the SEC's teams but to its long-term power structure.

Following a season that will be remembered for its offense, half of the conference's teams lose their starting quarterbacks. Half of the SEC's leading wide receivers are also gone, as are a third of its top running backs.

As with any offseason, the coaches of the nation's most elite conference now turn their eyes toward player development and patching up holes left by departing players. Though some are still waiting to learn the fate of their most talented athletes, as many have yet to make their decision on whether to declare for the NFL draft, others are looking to make a leap up the ultra-competitive food chain with an experienced returning core.

Taking for granted that those who have not declared for the draft will return, we now look at what concerns each SEC team will need to address to stay competitive in both the conference and the nation.

Follow me on Twitter for daily commentary: @SEC_Nerd.

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Who Will Be Alabama's Quarterback in 2014?

AJ McCarron's career came to a disappointing end in the Sugar Bowl loss to Oklahoma, handing him the first back-to-back losses of his career with no chance to redeem them.

Still, McCarron's time in Tuscaloosa, Ala., is something to be celebrated. He won 36 of his first 38 games as a starter and left the program with three national championship rings on his fingers. That is the stuff of legends.

As with any legend, McCarron leaves big cleats to fill in the Alabama backfield. Whoever assumes starting duties will have the benefit of T.J. Yeldon, Amari Cooper, Derrick Henry and O.J. Howard—the latter two for more than one season. That's the good news.

The bad news is that with great weapons comes great responsibility. Alabama is expected to win every time it lines up, and with talent like that around him, the team's new QB will be blamed for every loss the Tide might incur.

But who might said quarterback be?

 

The Candidates

This was already a wide-open competition, and the departure of offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier, who reportedly accepted the same job at Michigan, opens it up even more. Last year's depth chart is no longer as applicable.

Walk-on Luke Del Rio, the son of famous coach Jack Del Rio, surprised many by winning the No. 3 job behind McCarron and Blake Sims last season. He was never pressed into action, allowing him to keep his redshirt intact, but the loss of Nussmeier would seem to hurt him more than anyone.

Though he was offered scholarships to Oregon State, UCLA and Oklahoma State (where he briefly committed), Del Rio is viewed as an inferior physical talent to some of the other quarterbacks in camp. He was Nussmeier's "guy" among the younger crowd, but now that title is more open.

Sims might seem an early and logical favorite, if not for any reason other than experience. He's been on this team far longer than any of the other candidates, spent the most time learning under AJ McCarron and generally has the best understanding of the offense.

But how high is his ceiling in that offense? Nick Saban has never employed a shorter, running quarterback full time, which is what Sims would be. He doesn't have the height to run a pro-style offense in a pro-style way, which casts his prospects into doubt.

"Not at all," Saban said, according to Andrew Gribble of AL.com, when asked if Sims was the natural successor to McCarron. "Not at all."

Alabama fans might be rooting for David Cornwell to step in and assume the job. He's the highest-touted quarterback recruit the Tide have landed in quite some time, and at 6'5'' with a massive arm, he probably has the best physical gifts.

Still, look at the trend among the candidates above. Not a single one of them saw the field as a true freshman, instead taking a redshirt. That includes AJ McCarron as well. With Cornwell rehabbing from a knee injury that ended his senior season of high school, can he really be expected to walk in and usurp this position?

According to Ryan Aber and Jason Kersey of The Oklahoman, Cornwell expects his knee to be fully recovered by spring camp, and he expects to make a run at the starting job. "A lot of [the other] guys have experience on me," Cornwell said. "It'll all start (in the spring) and then be won in fall camp. I'll build on that and make a run during the fall camp."

That type of confidence is not uncommon for players Cornwell's age—especially ones with his physical profile, who have been shredding high school defenses for the past few seasons. But that doesn't make him ready to win the job so soon at a school like Alabama.

His time might come at some point, but it will probably be later.

 

The Big Three

Despite some of the qualms laid out above, I expect this to eventually become a three-horse race by the second week of fall camp. Sims will be the tentative favorite, followed closely by Del Rio and fellow redshirt freshman Cooper Bateman.

Bateman is an interesting case. He was the No. 4 pro-style quarterback in the class of 2013, and though he didn't perform poorly in practice last season, it was a bit disheartening to see Del Rio beat him out for the No. 3 job.

Still, other than Cornwell, Bateman probably has the highest ceiling of any quarterback on the roster. It's hard to project if he'll make major strides from 2013 to 2014, and if he does, he might be a threat to steal this position. For now, however, he's my guess to end up at third string.

As for the starting job, I think Del Rio and Sims will be co-starters entering the season. So was the case after Greg McElroy left in 2011, when McCarron and another Sims, Phillip, split time in the opener against Kent State.

Soon it became apparent that McCarron was the better option, and history was written from there. If I had to predict now, though it's hard to be confident, I'd say that the same thing will happen during the first couple games of 2014.

And unthinkably, once again, I think a "Sims" will be relegated to second string.

"I like Luke a lot," McCarron said of Del Rio, according to Andrew Gribble of AL.com. "He’s always around me trying to learn everything. Sometimes you’ve got to try to hide from him, get away.

"He’s a really smart kid, throws a really good ball, and I think he’s going to be a heck of a player in the future. I really do."

Take this with a grain of salt, since the season is so far away. So much can change, and I could see any of five guys stepping up to claim the job.

But if forced to choose right now, give me Del Rio in a minor upset. Why not?

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Tre Mason Officially Announces He Will Enter 2014 NFL Draft

Fresh off a transcendent finish to the 2013 college football season, Tre Mason has declared for the 2014 NFL draft. 

Auburn football's Twitter feed gave a snapshot of the junior running back's announcement, while AL.com's Joel A. Erickson provided the quote:

Other than his Tigers eventually coming up just short against the Florida State Seminoles in the BCS National Championship, Mason really couldn't have gone out on much higher of a note.    

After a fairly up-and-down start to his season, including four of five games below the 100-yard rushing mark, Mason took it to an other-worldly level when the Tigers needed him most.

He gashed Alabama for 164 yards and a touchdown on the ground in the Iron Bowl, set five individual SEC championship game records with 304 rushing yards and four scores against Missouri, and tallied over 200 total yards and found the end zone two more times against FSU. 

Mason finished the year with 1,816 yards and 23 touchdowns rushing, and was a Heisman finalist. 

Of course, he's not just about stats. 

As he displayed in the title game, he has impressive burst, can hit holes in a hurry and can make defenders look silly with his cutting ability. At 5'10" and 205 pounds, though, his strength and toughness may just be his greatest attributes. 

If his bone-crushing touchdown run late in the championship game wasn't enough evidence of that, take head coach Gus Malzahn's word for it, via Erickson:

Mason reveals, per Erickson, how the NFL advisory board graded him:

CBS Sports' draft rankings slot Mason as the No. 2 running back behind Ka'Deem Carey and a projected second-round pick, while Bleacher Report's Matt Miller believes the top positional spot will come down to Mason and Ohio State's Carlos Hyde:

While his position makes it unlikely he will be a first-round pick, Mason has proven over the past several months that he is easily one of the best ball-carriers in this class. 

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LSU Football: 5 Recruits Tigers Must Land on NSD 2014

On the cuffs of reliving another exodus of juniors for an LSU team heading into 2014 national signing day, news of Jeremy Hill staying has propelled the expectations for the 2014 season. His decision to stay is great for the Tigers, but LSU's offseason can get even better with the signing of these five players by Feb. 5.

With Leonard Fournette and Hill in the backfield to go along with talent scattered throughout the defense, the Tigers should compete for a national title in 2014.

That is, of course, if LSU can fill the voids left behind by departing juniors. The defensive line needs to be attended to with Ego Ferguson and Anthony Johnson entering the NFL draft. The same can be said about a wide receiver position that's absent of the greatest tandem LSU fans have ever seen in Odell Beckham and Jarvis Landry.

It's no secret that wide receiver and defensive line are now the concentrated positions heading into 2014 national signing day. With that in mind, the Tigers must pursue these athletes to ensure a remarkable recruiting class addresses team needs.

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Michigan Football: Everything You Need to Know About New OC, Doug Nussmeier

Brady Hoke has replaced embattled offensive coordinator Al Borges with Doug Nussmeier, and in doing so lured one of the top offensive coordinators in college football to Ann Arbor.

Hoke announced Borges' departure on mgoblue.com:

"Decisions like these are never easy," said Hoke. "I have a great amount of respect for Al as a football coach and, more importantly, as a person. I appreciate everything he has done for Michigan Football for the past three seasons.”

Within hours, word leaked that Michigan had replaced Borges with one of the top coaches in NCAA football. Nussmeier is credited with helping Alabama set offensive records in his first season (2012) for touchdowns (68), total points (542), total offense (6,237) and passing touchdowns (31) while going 13-1 and winning the national championship. This season Alabama fell short of the national title game after Auburn returned a missed field goal for a touchdown on the final play of the game.

Hoke made the hiring official today on mgoblue.com:

"Doug is a highly respected offensive coordinator and has earned a reputation as being a great mentor to quarterbacks, specifically, where he's coached Pro Bowlers, top NFL draft choices and Heisman trophy finalists," said Hoke. "Doug has been successful at every coaching stop with his balanced and explosive offenses, and he brings national championship experience. He is an excellent addition to our coaching staff and football program, and we are excited to have Doug, Christi and their children join the Michigan family."

Nussmeier will have his work cut out for him, first needing to sort out the quarterback position between returning starter Devin Gardner and freshman phenom Shane Morris and most importantly shuffling an offensive line that loses two starters from a group that couldn't consistently pass block or open up running lanes last season.

The hiring of Nussmeier sends a clear message that Hoke will do what it takes to get his team back to the ranks of the elite—even if it means firing a loyal assistant.

Borges had coached with Hoke since 2009 starting with two seasons at San Diego State followed by three at Michigan. Borges initially found success in his first season at Michigan and was rewarded with a new contract making him one of the highest paid assistants in college football. But during the last two seasons, he came under fire for inexplicable play calling and the perception that he dodged responsibility for the failure of the offense.

Things to know about Doug Nussmeier:

 

He Played Quarterback in College and the Pros

Nussmeier played collegiately at Idaho and won the 1993 Walter Payton Award, presented annually to the Division I-AA player of the year. As a fifth-year senior in 1993, Nussmeier completed 185-of-304 passes for 2,960 yards and a school-record 33 touchdowns.

He still ranks among the NCAA I-AA all-time leaders in passing (No. 9 with 10,824 career yards) and total offense (No. 10 at 309.1 yards per game). He is one of only three quarterbacks in NCAA history to throw for at least 10,000 yards and rush for 1,000 yards (1,230), joining Alcorn State's Steve McNair (1991–94) and Central Florida's Daunte Culpepper (1996–98).

After college, he was selected by the New Orleans Saints in the fourth round of the 1994 NFL Draft and was the fourth overall quarterback taken. Nussmeier served as a backup quarterback for five seasons spending four years with New Orleans (1994–97) and one with Indianapolis (1998).

While in the NFL he played in eight regular-season games (46-for-82, 455 yards, one touchdown and four interceptions). Nussmeier finished his professional playing career in the Canadian Football League in 2000 and was the team’s quarterbacks coach in 2001.

 

He Knows Michigan

Not only was Nussmeier the offensive coordinator for Alabama when the Tide rolled all over Michigan 41-14 in 2012 he also coached at Michigan State from 2003-05. While at Michigan State, he never beat Michigan and most notably was on the losing end of the 45-37 3OT 2004 game at Michigan Stadium.

 

He Coached in the NFL

Nussmeier was quarterbacks coach for the St. Louis Rams in 2006-07 and helped Marc Bulger, a former sixth-round pick, become a Pro Bowl player.

 

He’s a Quarterback Guru

Nussmeier has a great record of working with quarterbacks; Alabama’s AJ McCarron, Washington's Keith Price and Michigan State's Drew Stanton and Jeff Smoker all improved under his coaching. He’ll have the opportunity to guide Devin Gardner and Shane Morris in Ann Arbor.

 

He Will be Highly Paid

Borges was one of the highest paid coordinators in college football but Nussmeier will make even more. According to CBS, Nussmeier will be one of the five highest-paid coordinators in the country.

 

He’s a Hot Commodity

Nussmeier is a future head coach and was in the running to be head coach at both Washington and Southern Miss. He’s probably not a long-term solution but his hiring shows that Michigan is interested in winning now and hiring the best coaches available.

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Michigan Football: How Hiring Doug Nussmeier Will Change Wolverines' Offense

Michigan coaches have long talked about being a physical run team, playing downhill and being a pro-style based team. However, that never really occurred over the past two years and it led to head coach Brady Hoke not renewing the contract (aka firing) longtime offensive coordinator Al Borges. 

It took only a few hours for the new offensive coordinator to be hired. Alabama offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier was named the new OC at Michigan with an official announcement Thursday morning

According to a report by CBSSports.com's Bruce Feldman, Nussmeier is expected to be one of the five highest paid assistant coaches in college football. 

With the hire, Michigan and Hoke are putting their chips all-in in an effort to get back to winning 10-plus games and becoming relevant nationally. 

The question is, exactly what will change under Nussmeier? He'll still be dealing with the same set of players Borges couldn't mold into some sort of style. 

More than anything else, that is what Nussmeier needs to change—Michigan's offense needs to have an identity. If it can find that in one offseason, Michigan could find success quickly under Nussmeier. 

Speaking of quick turnarounds, according to Feldman's report, Alabama's offense set all sorts of records under Nussmeier's tutelage in his first year: 

Under Nussmeier's guidance, Bama set records for offensive touchdowns scored (68), total points (542), total offense (6,237) and passing touchdowns (31) in the 2012 season--his first with the Crimson Tide.

Could Michigan see that kind of improvement in year one itself? It's a good question, especially given the most talented players on offense are gone in left tackle Taylor Lewan and wide receiver Jeremy Gallon. 

However, the good news is there are parts to work with, especially tight end Devin Funchess and a very talented incoming class of recruits on the offensive side of the ball. 

One area that will really help in creating an identity under Nussmeier will be the quarterback position. His hire could signal a real quarterback battle in Ann Arbor. 

Nussmeier is known as a great quarterbacks coach—developing names like Michigan State's Drew Stanton and Jeff Smoker, Washington's Jake Locker and Keith Price and Alabama's AJ McCarron.  

At Michigan, the question that needs to be answered is if Devin Gardner can be a true pro-style quarterback or if the Wolverines will look to shift to Shane Morris or the incoming Wilton Speight, who is enrolling early. 

Without figuring out who the quarterback is, an identity can't be formed. 

Michigan will also need to clean up the offensive line to allow it to be anything like Nussmeier's offenses at Alabama. 

To that point, Feldman's article shows he is capable of rebuilding an offensive line quickly: 

Despite a rebuilt offensive line, Bama ranked No. 6 in the nation this season in yards per play (7.15) and were ranked third in the nation in that stat in games against ranked opponents (7.59)

Luckily, Michigan has put some good effort into recruiting some more highly ranked offensive lineman in this class. 

They will bring in two 4-star tackles (Mason Cole and Juwann Bushell-Beatty), with Cole being one of the more intriguing early enrollees in the Big Ten this season.  

If Nussmeier can get a quarterback to his liking and rebuild a tattered offensive line (one that has the dubious record of blocking for consecutive negative rushing games for the first time in FBS play since 2000), the chances of finding that identity and righting the ship quickly increase. 

With the hire of Nussmeier, the time for talking about who Michigan is on offense is over—the Wolverines need to prove who they are on the field.

 

Andy Coppens is Bleacher Report's lead writer for the Big Ten. You can follow him on Twitter: @ andycoppens

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Alabama Football: Top 5 Replacements for Doug Nussmeier

With the news that offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier has left Alabama for the same job at Michigan, Alabama will now begin its search for a new offensive coordinator.

It remains to be seen which direction the Crimson Tide want to go on offense. Coach Nick Saban could opt again for another traditional, pro-style attack. He could, however, change things up a little bit.

Saban said this before the Auburn game about switching to a more hurry-up style:

We do it against each other a bit. Even though we don't choose to do it as a team that much, I think we are capable to do it, if we wanted or needed to. I really do think our team responded better against those types of teams this year than what we've done in the past. It has been our approach, how we practice, how our offense practices against us. All those things have helped. I think our offense could go out and do that same thing.”

With that in mind, here are five potential replacements for Nussmeier at Alabama.

 

Mike Groh

If Saban wants to go with someone he’s more familiar with, Groh would be a great fit.

Alabama’s wide receivers coach during the 2011 and 2012 seasons, Groh knows what Saban expects from his offense and is very familiar with the system. He left Tuscaloosa to become a wide receivers coach in the NFL with the Chicago Bears.

Groh would also be a welcomed asset on the recruiting trail.

He was named 247Sports’ Recruiter of the Year in 2013, as he was instrumental in locking down players like A’Shawn Robinson, Dee Liner and Altee Tenpenny.

 

Freddie Kitchens

The former Alabama quarterback will be a target for the job, according to Andrew Gribble of al.com.

Kitchens has spent the last year working as a quarterbacks coach for the Arizona Cardinals after spending six years with the Cardinals as a tight ends coach. Kitchens threw for 4,667 yards and 30 touchdowns as the Crimson Tide’s starting quarterback from 1995-1997.

Kitchens spent the 2000 season as a graduate assistant under Saban at LSU, and he has served as running backs and tight ends coach at Mississippi State for a year each.

 

Chad Morris

Clemson’s offensive coordinator is a rising star, and if Saban wants a change in philosophy, Morris is worth a look.

He helped develop Tajh Boyd into one of the premier passers in the country and led Clemson’s offense to top-10 finishes nationwide in yards per game for the last two years.

Morris would bring more of a spread and hurry-up look with him to Tuscaloosa and would bring fresh ideas to a team that has relied on largely the same system since Saban’s arrival in 2007.

 

Rick Neuheisel

Saban’s last two offensive coordinators have come from the West coast, and the Senior Bowl’s Phil Savage touted Neuheisel as someone to watch in the Tide’s search.

Neuheisel has made head coaching stops at Colorado, Washington and UCLA with a stint as the Baltimore Ravens quarterbacks coach, then offensive coordinator, in between.

The current Pac-12 Network studio analyst would bring a vast amount of experience at the college and pro levels with him to Tuscaloosa.

 

Lane Kiffin

While it seems crazy, Saban is very high on the former Tennessee and USC head coach. He had Kiffin come in and evaluate his offense after a 34-28 season-ending loss to Auburn in the Iron Bowl.

“Lane is a really good offensive coach, and I’ve always had a tremendous amount of respect for him,” Saban said at the time. “Just to come in and brainstorm a little bit, just some professional ideas with our guys, I think, is a real positive thing.”

Kiffin was also a great recruiter in his stops at Tennessee and USC, and while he would bring some baggage with him to Tuscaloosa, he has proven himself to be an adept offensive mind.

CBSSports.com’s Jeremy Fowler and TideSports.com’s Aaron Suttles both reported that Kiffin will interview for the job.

 

All quotes were obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted.

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Updates on Lane Kiffin's Candidacy for Alabama Offensive Coordinator Job

You have to give Lane Kiffin this—the man knows how to keep his name in the ring for some truly high-profile jobs.

According to ESPN.com's Joe Schad, Kiffin is interviewing Thursday, Jan. 9, at Alabama to become the team's offensive coordinator, following Doug Nussmeier's departure for Michigan, via the Associated Press. The report shares these additional details:

The 38-year-old Kiffin visited with Alabama coach Nick Saban prior to the Sugar Bowl "to share ideas and exchange ideas ... [for] professional development," Saban said at the time.

"Lane is a really good offensive coach, and I've always had a tremendous amount of respect for him," Saban said then. "Just to come in and brainstorm a little bit to get some professional ideas with our guys is a really positive thing."

Apparently, Kiffin impressed Saban enough to garner consideration for the team's offensive coordinator gig.

Kiffin has had some rocky times over the past several years. The Oakland Raiders hired him as their head coach in 2007, making him the youngest head coach (31 years, eight months) in the history of the NFL. He went just 5-15 in less than two seasons in Oakland, however, and the Raiders fired him after Week 4 of the 2008 campaign.

But Kiffin landed on his feet, getting hired as the head coach at the University of Tennessee in December 2008. Kiffin stayed for one season, leading the Volunteers to a 7-6 record in 2009, but he made national headlines when he accused Florida's Urban Meyer of recruiting violations.

Kiffin left the Tennessee job to take over as head coach of USC, where he had previously worked as an assistant coach. Kiffin took over the USC program in January 2010 amidst the school being hit with NCAA sanctions, leading it to a 28-15 record through three-plus seasons.

However, after a 62-41 loss to Arizona State on Sept. 28, 2013, USC fired Kiffin in the most unceremonious of fashions, pulling him off the team bus at the airport to inform him of his termination.

Scott Wolf of the Los Angeles Daily News detailed the events:

At Alabama, Kiffin would be able to focus solely on the X's and O's of the game, perhaps a welcome respite after failing to succeed as the head honcho in three head-coaching gigs. With Saban as the figurehead, Kiffin can simply run the offense and look to improve a reputation that has taken a bit of a hit over the years.

It's an interesting potential marriage, and one that will receive plenty of scrutiny if Alabama indeed hires him.

 

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Texas A&M OT Cedric Ogbuehi Tweets He Will Return to Aggies in 2014

The protection for Texas A&M’s next starting quarterback just received a significant boost on Thursday afternoon.

That’s because the team’s starting right tackle Cedric Ogbuehi announced that he would return to College Station for his senior season via his official Twitter page:

The news came as a shock to many.

Just last week, ESPN’s Alex Scarborough reported that Ogbuehi had reportedly received a first-round grade from the NFL Draft Advisory Board. The junior was expected to join fellow offensive lineman Jake Matthews—also projected to go in the first round—in leaving for the NFL.

That could have presented the Aggies head coach Kevin Sumlin with several difficulties.

After quarterback Johnny Manziel announced his decision to declare early for the NFL draft on Wednesday, via ESPN’s Sam Khan Jr., the team already had an uphill battle ahead of it in finding a replacement for the 2012 Heisman Trophy winner. Throw in losing two top offensive linemen in Matthews and Ogbuehi, and Texas A&M could have been looking at a nightmare situation.

Thankfully, the coaching staff and fans alike can breathe a sigh of relief.

With Matthews gone, Ogbuehi will move to left tackle. In fact, the opportunity to make the switch most likely played a large role in the Allen, Texas native’s decision to return to school.

That’s because given the position’s demand to protect the blindside of right-handed quarterbacks, left tackles come at more of a premium for NFL teams.

Furthermore, with Auburn’s Greg Robinson, Tennessee’s Antonio Richardson and Alabama’s Cyrus Kouandjio all declaring early for the draft, Ogbuehi immediately becomes the SEC’s top left tackle prospect in 2015.

 

All stats and rankings used in this article are courtesy of CFBstats.com.

For complete coverage and everything college football, you can reach Sebastian on Facebook, on Twitter and via email at Sebastian.LenaBR@gmail.com.

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Jalin Buie Commits to Auburn: Tigers Land 2016 RB Recruit

The Auburn Tigers landed a pledge from one of the nation's top underclassmen Thursday. Impressive running back prospect Jalin Buie gave his verbal commitment to the reigning SEC champions, according to ESPN reporter Derek Tyson.

He is the second member of Auburn's 2016 recruiting class, joining defensive end Landon Rice (Rome, Ga.). These players can't officially sign with the university until their senior year of high school.

Buie emerged as a nationwide target at Trinity Christian Academy in Jacksonville, Fla., where he led the team with 1,527 rushing yards and 12 touchdowns, per MaxPreps. The sophomore standout rushed for 98 yards and a score in the Florida 3A state championship game.

His efforts quickly warranted several scholarship offers. Buie's list of options currently includes South Carolina, Penn State, Louisville and Tennessee.

He announced his commitment Thursday, along with two Trinity Christian teammates.

Junior defensive back Deontai Williams pledged to Florida, and junior offensive lineman Kendrick Norton committed to Florida State.

Auburn currently has an excellent outlook at the running back position.

Heisman finalist Tre Mason may return to the team next season. If he decides to depart for the NFL, 5-star prospect Racean Thomas will be ready to take on an immediate role next fall.

With a commitment from Buie, the Tigers appear to be in tremendous shape in the backfield for years to come.

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Kendrick Norton Commits to Florida State: 'Noles Land Versatile 2015 4-Star

It hasn't taken long for the Florida State Seminoles to see their national title pay dividends on the recruiting trail.

As tweeted by Warchant.com, FSU added 247Sports composite 4-star lineman Kendrick Norton to its 2015 recruiting class.

The Jacksonville native claimed an enormous offer list but pulled the trigger for the 'Noles over Auburn, Florida, South Carolina, Tennessee and several others.

Warchant identified Norton as a defensive tackle, but 247Sports projects him as an offensive guard. He is listed as the No. 13 offensive guard for 2015 by 247.

At 6'2", 275 pounds, he has the size to fill either role.

Norton was one of three Trinity Christian Academy prospects to commit Thursday. Deontai Williams, a 3-star safety announced his pledge for Florida, while 2016 running back Jalin Buie announced for Auburn.

Buie is the younger brother of West Virginia running back Andrew Buie.

Norton's pledge marks the second 2015 haul in two days for FSU. The 'Noles brought in 4-star safety Calvin Brewton Wednesday.

Norton is the fifth member of Florida State's 2015 class. As of his commitment, the Seminoles were No. 1 in the ACC and No. 6 nationally in the 247Sports composite rankings.

It has been a remarkable month of January already for FSU. The Seminoles have accepted five early enrollees from their 2014 class, most notably 5-star running back Dalvin Cook. They also took verbal pledges from 4-star receiver Travis Rudolph and 4-star defensive end Lorenzo Featherston.

With Florida State's reign as champion only a few days old, look for the recruiting momentum to continue.

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Deontai Williams Commits to Florida: Gators Land 2015 DB Recruit

The Florida Gators secured their first (active) commitment in the Class of 2015 on Thursday, landing 3-star safety Deontai Williams from Trinity Christian Academy in Jacksonville.

Derek Tyson of ESPN had the news:

Williams isn't the sexiest recruit in the field, ranking No. 638 overall on the 247Sports composite, 38th among safeties and 79th among players from Florida.

Still, he's got decent height at 6'0'' and appears capable of adding weight to a slender 175-pound frame. He also has a whole year of high school football ahead of him, giving the rising senior a chance to improve his stock and rating.

More importantly, though, Williams is a teammate of 5-star outside linebacker Jeffery Holland, whom Florida would love to get its hands on. Holland is the No. 27 overall player on the 247Sports composite, and he would represent a major coup for Will Muschamp's staff on the heels of a turbulent season.

Florida and Auburn are currently the two favorites to land him. 

Four-star receiver Da’Vante Phillips, a top-60 overall player in the Class of 2015, had previously committed to the Gators but reopened his recruitment in December. According to Adam Silverstein of Only Gators, Phillips was a high school teammate of 2014 running back Dalvin Cook, who also recently flipped from Florida to Florida State.

With Phillips' decommitment, Williams is officially the only pledged member in next year's class for the Gators. Whether or not he can deliver Holland to Gainesville remains to be seen, but for now, at least Florida is back in the books.

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Florida State's Timmy Jernigan to Enter 2014 NFL Draft

With little left to accomplish after winning the 2014 BCS National Championship, the Florida State Seminoles' Timmy Jernigan has decided to make the jump to the NFL next season.

ESPN national college football reporter Joe Schad announced the junior defensive lineman’s decision to forego his senior season via Twitter:

It will certainly be a huge loss for the Seminoles, as Jernigan was a key factor on defense all year.

In 14 games, the Lake City, Fla., native recorded 63 tackles (11 for loss) and 4.5 sacks. That includes tallying a combined total of 19 tackles in Florida State’s final two games.

He especially came up big against the Auburn Tigers in the BCS title tilt, leading the team with nine tackles (0.5 for loss) while being a disruptive force in the trenches for the majority of the night.

According to Jernigan, he is more than ready to take on the next challenge in his career: 

Jernigan is not too far off on that assessment.

As Schad notes, the 6’2”, 298-pounder is described as disruptive, violent and relentless by ESPN’s Scouts, Inc. He is also considered to be a first-round selection and is rated as the No. 7-overall player in the draft.

But mainly, Jernigan is expected to provide a boost to whichever defense is lucky enough to land him.

Backed by his play, the Seminoles defense thrived last season. The unit finished No. 1 in scoring defense (12.1 PPG), No. 3 in total defense (281.4 YPG), No. 1 against the pass (156.6 YPG) and No. 18 against the run (124.8 YPG).

Jernigan is a near lock to be a star on Sundays.

 

All stats and rankings used in this article are courtesy of CFBstats.com.

For complete coverage and everything college football, you can reach Sebastian on Facebook, on Twitter and via email at Sebastian.LenaBR@gmail.com.

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Alabama's Cyrus Kouandjio and Ha Ha Clinton-Dix Reportedly Declare for NFL Draft

Two potential first-round picks from the Alabama Crimson Tide, offensive tackle Cyrus Kouandjio and safety Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, have reportedly declared early for the 2014 NFL draft, according to Adam Schefter of ESPN:

Neither's decision comes as much of a shock, as both are considered among the top prospects at their positions.

In his most recent mock draft from Dec. 30, B/R's Matt Miller had Kouandjio going No. 13 to the St. Louis Rams and Clinton-Dix going No. 25 to the Green Bay Packers.

That, of course, came before the Crimson Tide's Sugar Bowl loss to Oklahoma, which Kouandjio, more than anyone, seemed to struggle in. AJ McCarron was sacked a career-high seven times by the Sooners, facing heavy pressure on his blind side from linebacker Eric Striker, whom Kouandjio was often assigned to block.

After the game, the big left tackle (6'6'', 310 lbs) apologized to fans for his performance and vowed that it wouldn't break him, per Andrew Gribble of AL.com:

Clinton-Dix faced his own troubles in 2013, albeit of the off-field variety. He was suspended for two games in the middle of the season for accepting impermissible benefits—borrowing a couple hundred bucks from an assistant coach—but he was reinstated by the NCAA during mid-October.

Even with a couple of blemishes on their most recent season, both Kouandjio and Clinton-Dix have an overwhelmingly positive body of work to their names, and both appear to be ready to make the jump to the next level.

Their losses will be felt in Tuscaloosa, but the way Nick Saban recruits, the Crimson Tide should have little trouble finding replacements. Next man up.

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Texas Football: Don't Expect Charlie Strong to Land Many Florida Recruits

Who says new Texas head coach Charlie Strong isn't good at schmoozing?

Numerous times during his introductory press conference Monday, Strong deliberately mentioned high school coaches in the State of Texas. Every time, he was complimentary. 

"Nationally, the Texas high school coaches are king," Strong said. "My staff and I will be committed to closing the borders on this great state. 

"We will recruit with fire and we will recruit with passion. We're devoted to making Austin the state capital of college football, as well as the state capital of [Texas.]" 

Strong's intensity comes through loud and clear. That, along with his impressive resume, earned Strong the Texas job.

But one of the concerns about Strong was the unfamiliarity he has with the state's high school recruiting map. Strong's Texas ties amount to a whole year, 1985, when he was a graduate assistant at Texas A&M. 

Of course, former Longhorns coach Mack Brown didn't have deep Texas ties either when he took over the program in 1998, but Strong isn't going to have 16 years to turn things around.  

A&M head coach Kevin Sumlin and Baylor head coach Art Briles, meanwhile, are rooted in the Texas high school scene. No two programs have benefited from the Longhorns' mediocrity in recent years like the Aggies and Bears. 

Though Texas maintained top-five recruiting classes in 2011 and '12, Baylor and A&M have closed the gap. Both successfully recruited Heisman Trophy-winning quarterbacks—Robert Griffin III and Johnny Manziel, respectively—and A&M's move to the SEC is beginning to pay dividends on the recruiting trail. 

There's no doubt that Strong's introduction to Texas will be used against him by other college coaches. 

Strong knows he can't shy away from the challenge, though. Staying entrenched in Texas is crucial to the long-term success of the program. Recruiting is more than building a relationship with a prospect and his family; it's about developing rapport with high school coaches. 

Strong is already known as a great recruiter because he connects with young people.

Texas has 21 verbal commits with National Signing Day less than a month away. His first job will be to keep that class, ranked 17th, together.

Strong's connection, as well as his staff's connection, to coaches across the state is what will be tested. It's important, then, for Strong to get off on the right foot. 

"There are great coaches here, coaches who do an unbelievable job," Strong said. "That's why the doors here will always be open to these high school coaches. I want them to be here and I want them to be a part of it. This is their team. 

"We represent this whole state, we represent this country, but we will also represent these high school coaches." 

Don't expect Strong to move his recruiting efforts to Florida, where he has deeper ties from his days as the defensive coordinator for the University of Florida. 

"I want to make sure I control this state and then we will cherry pick outside this state, whether it's Florida...or Georgia," Strong explained. "I want the high school coaches to understand that, when we leave this state, don't think your player isn't good enough to play here." 

Not only would abandoning Texas be a poor recruiting decision for Strong, one that would likely result in his firing, it could potentially screw over the coach who succeeds him.

A bad hire can set a program further back than a good hire can propel a program forward. Putting Texas high school players on the back burner could be nothing short of an unmitigated disaster. 

So don't expect Strong to have the presence in Florida he used to have. His focus is within the borders of Texas now. It's a grand experiment, as was Texas athletic director Steve Patterson's decision to hire Strong.

There's no denying Strong and his coaching staff can develop talent. Marcus Smith came to Louisville as a quarterback recruit in 2010 and leaves as a highly touted defensive end prospect for the NFL. 

Rather, the question will be whether Strong can keep persuading that talent to come to Austin. The success of Patterson's decision, and of Strong's tenure, will be closely tied to it. 

 

Ben Kercheval is the lead writer for Big 12 football. All quotes obtained firsthand unless noted otherwise. All recruiting rankings reflect 247Sports. You can follow Ben on Twitter @BenKercheval.

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James Franklin Reportedly Will Become Head Coach at Penn State

Penn State was looking for a big name to replace Bill O'Brien, and it reportedly managed to land one of the most sought-after head-coaching candidates in America.        

According to Bruce Feldman of CBS Sports, former Vanderbilt leader James Franklin, following the Commodores' second straight nine-win season and bowl victory, is expected to agree to terms with the Nittany Lions:

Feldman's report was confirmed by ESPN's Brett McMurphy:

Franklin, who is 41 years old and a Pennsylvania native, resurrected the Vanderbilt program. Taking over for a school that went 4-20 in the two years preceding his hire, he led the Commodores to a an impressive 24-15 record and three bowl appearances in three seasons.

In a conference like the SEC, which is widely regarded as the most difficult in the nation, and in his first job as a head coach, Franklin did a marvelous job with less talent, and it wasn't surprising that he drew such heavy interest. 

James Shurburtt of 247Sports mentioned that those qualities make him a perfect hire for Penn State:

According to ESPN's Adam Schefter, one official from the Houston Texans called Franklin, whose name also came up for open NFL jobs as a "star on the rise":

But the Nittany Lions were lucky enough to land him, and he has some big shoes to fill. 

O'Brien took the job at Penn State when no one else wanted to, leading the Nittany Lions to a 15-9 record over the past two seasons. In 2012, he won the Big Ten Coach of the Year award and Bear Bryant Award for national coach of the year. 

Still, as difficult as it may be to live up to O'Brien's job, Franklin has at least two seasons to build around stud quarterback Christian Hackenberg. He also gets some solid players back on the defensive side of the ball and will have 80 scholarships to work with in 2015.

There is always some type of fallout when colleges switch head coaches (4-star quarterback commit Michael O'Connor has already opened up his recruitment), but the young and full-of-energy Franklin should have little trouble selling kids on the program.

Even if he does have trouble, he has proven the ability to win at one of the highest levels in college football, continually racking up victories despite Vanderbilt typically landing near the bottom of the SEC in recruiting rankings.  

Only time will tell for sure, but this looks like a positive move for all parties involved. 

 

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Ranking Most Amazing, Confounding Moments from Auburn's Stunning Football Season

Although the team fell short of its ultimate goal, there’s no doubt that the Auburn Tigers had a 2013 to remember.

From the opening kickoff to the closing seconds of the 2014 BCS National Championship Game, Auburn’s season was filled with electrifying moments.

For some, the highlight was the jaw-dropping finish at the Iron Bowl. Some even point to the Hail Mary against Georgia as the most memorable. Others think the mere presence of head coach Gus Malzahn along the sidelines takes the honor.

All in all, there were more than a handful of moments that stand out from the Tigers' sensational season.

Luckily, B/R has taken a closer look and ranked 10 of the best for your viewing pleasure.

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Who Really Had the Better College Football Career, AJ McCarron or Aaron Murray?

The SEC is losing some of the better quarterbacks in conference history this offseason, but among the sea of Mettenbergers, Shaws and Manziels, two names stick out for both the quality and breadth of their careers.

AJ McCarron and Aaron Murray.

Neither player ended his career the way he'd hoped. Murray tore his ACL against Kentucky and had to miss his final two games, capping a Georgia season that was plagued with injuries from the get-go. McCarron, on the other hand, stayed healthy but lost back-to-back games for the first time in his career after starting 36-2.

Still, McCarron and Murray are two of the best players in league history—if not college football at large. The former won two national titles as a starter (and three overall), while the latter holds career SEC records for completions, passing yards, total yards and passing touchdowns.

That brings up an interesting question: Whose career was better?

On face value, this appears to be a question of philosophy. Do you prefer a quarterback who puts up stats (Murray) or a quarterback who wins football games (McCarron)?

Upon closer review, however, it's not so cut and dried. Murray shattered the SEC record book, but he had the added advantage of starting as a redshirt freshman. Looking beyond some of the non-volume related numbers, McCarron holds up statistically.

Not only does McCarron have the (far) superior record, the SEC championships and the national title rings, he also has better non-volume numbers. His career passer rating is better than Murray's, as is his completion percentage, adjusted yards per attempt and touchdown-to-interception ratio.

That being said, it's hard to penalize Murray for starting as a freshman. If anything, taking the reins of a mediocre 2010 Georgia team was noble and self-effacing. He took his lumps, playing the first four games without suspended receiver A.J. Green, and the team went 6-7, but for a 19-year old kid, making the postseason itself was impressive.

Let's discount 2010, in some spots, when comparing McCarron and Murray side-by-side. No matter who Murray was losing to at the time, it was more impressive than McCarron sitting on the bench behind Greg McElroy.

Starting in 2011, once both men were officially starters, here are Murray and McCarron's records against ranked opponents:

McCarron checks in with a better record and rating than Murray, though something curious does pop up. For both quarterbacks, the season their team did the best against Top 25 opponents was the season they did the worst. Conversely, the season McCarron's team did the worst against Top 25 opponents was the season that he did his best.

Interesting.

I'm not sure what to make of that, other than the fact that quarterback wins are an overrated commodity. Teams win football games; quarterbacks just help. It's unfair to hold a guy with a crummy defense accountable for his crummy defense. Performance is all that should matter.

So far, though, McCarron appears to have the edge in both performance and record. If that holds up, he would be an obvious choice over Murray for the career achievement title. But there's one last thing to look at—especially since those rating numbers were so close to one another.

Not all Top 25 teams are created equal. McCarron, for example, got to face Texas A&M's defense this season and call it a quality opponent. Anyone who watched the Aggies play in 2013 knows that's not the case.

Here's a look at Murray and McCarron's passer ratings, against all FBS teams, sorted by the strength of opposing pass defense (per Football Outsiders' S&P+ ratings):

This calls into question some of the numbers above, along with the notion that McCarron is who you'd prefer in a "big game" against the "best teams." Not only is Murray more experienced against top-20 pass defenses, he's also been more successful.

These numbers also discount what Murray can do with his legs. Billed as a dual-threat quarterback coming out of high school, he showed on numerous occasions that he could be a threat running the football. Not in a Michael Vick way so much as in an Aaron Rodgers way, which is certainly nothing to be ashamed of.

Still, as we saw above, sometimes a quarterback's numbers get inflated when his team doesn't perform well. He's forced to throw more, occasionally against prevent defenses and softer coverages, so his final rating might be a bit misleading.

Contextually, McCarron's 137.4 rating against top-20 pass defenses isn't the indictment it may seem (when compared with Murray's). His two national titles came against teams ranked second and 12th, respectively, against the pass, and both times McCarron completed more than 67 percent of his passes.

In the biggest game of his career, against McCarron's fourth-ranked Alabama pass defense, Murray played merely decent, going 18-of-33 for 265 yards, one touchdown and one interception.

Choosing between these two quarterbacks is splitting hairs. They both enjoyed fantastic careers, and though McCarron would seem an easy answer as to whose was better, the competition is far closer and far more complicated than it seems.

But if forced to choose, I would still roll (tide) with AJ.

 

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