NCAA Football News

Johnny Manziel Will Enter 2014 NFL Draft

Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel has decided to forgo his final two years of collegiate eligibility and will enter the 2014 NFL draft.  

Gil Brandt of NFL.com was first to report the news:

ESPN's SportsCenter later confirmed Brandt's report:

Manziel later confirmed the news in an interview with Bruce Feldman of CBS Sports:

"After long discussions with my family, friends, teammates, and coaches, I have decided to make myself available for the 2014 NFL Draft," Manziel said. "The decision was such a tough one for me because of how much I wanted to go back be with all those guys that I love playing with, and to work with Coach (Kevin) Sumlin and Coach (Jake Spavital) Spav and be part of a program that's continuing to grow. But I felt like this is what's best for me now.

"I feel very relieved. It's a weight off my shoulders. I'm ready to become a professional and dedicate myself to making my dream a reality of becoming the best quarterback I can be."

Manziel also gave a special message to Texas A&M fans, via TexAgs.com.

The unsurprising choice comes after the dual-threat quarterback's second straight successful season with the Aggies. He recorded over 40 total touchdowns both years and made strides as a passer in his sophomore campaign (4,114 yards, 69.9 completion percentage), which was exactly what NFL scouts were watching for.  

Quite simply, there was nothing left for him to prove in college. He won the Heisman Trophy as a freshman and was a finalist again in his second year, carving up opposing defenses with relative ease every step of the way.

Manziel joins fellow teammate Mike Evans in declaring for the NFL draft, and as Brandt points out, it will make Kevin Sumlin's job at Texas A&M next season that much harder:

Now that Manziel is NFL bound, the debate about whether he's going to develop into a highly successful professional quarterback is set to heat up. 

There will probably be a lot of debate in front offices around the league between now and draft day about whether Manziel will succeed. Great results in college, even at a Heisman Trophy level, don't guarantee success in the NFL.

The one thing working to Manziel's advantage is that he's a more refined passer than Tim Tebow, who had no trouble conquering the college game but never quite established himself in the NFL.

Being able to stand tall in the pocket and deliver strikes to wide receivers is essential in the NFL. Although Manziel still has work to do in terms of reading defenses and going through his progressions, he doesn't need to totally rebuild his mechanics as was the case with Tebow.

Even though there has been a revolution of quarterbacks who can make key plays with their legs, led by Cam Newton, Colin Kaepernick and Andrew Luck, the position is still based on making plays through the air first and foremost.

 

Exactly how efficient a team thinks Manziel can be in that area will determine how early his name gets called on draft day. Of course, all it takes is one team to fall in love with his wide-ranging skills to select him inside the top five.

 

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Big 12 Football: What We Learned from Bowl Season

Just like that, another college football season is over. It's been a fun one, and some of the best bowl games involved Big 12 teams. 

Nothing will top Oklahoma's 45-31 over Alabama in the Sugar Bowl, the most improbable upset of the bowl season. However, the 41 fourth-quarter points in the Cotton Bowl between Missouri and Oklahoma State comes in a close second. 

Texas Tech also had a solid win over Arizona State, who won the Pac-12 South Division, in the Holiday Bowl.

Texas, meanwhile, sent head coach Mack Brown out after 16 years with a 30-7 loss to Oregon in the Alamo Bowl. 

There were plenty of highlights and lowlights for the conference, which finished 3-3 in the postseason. Here's what we learned about the Big 12 in bowl season looking forward to 2014. 

 

Start the Oklahoma Hype Machine

While announcing that the Sooners are "back" is both a kiss of death and unfair to the 11-win season they just finished, expectations will nevertheless be higher in Norman next season.

That's what happens when you knock off Alabama in the Sugar Bowl as a 17-point underdog. 

The most impressive part was the development of quarterback Trevor Knight.

The redshirt freshman was the definition of a run-first quarterback when he began the season. After getting benched midway through the Week 2 game against West Virginia because of a knee injury and general ineffectiveness, many questioned why head coach Bob Stoops named Knight the starter over Blake Bell in the first place.

If Knight can continue to develop as a passer and remain healthy, he will be a dangerous offensive weapon.

He'll have an excellent supporting cast on offense too. Running back Keith Ford, who played well in limited action, will be a sophomore. Sterling Shepard returns as well to lead a relatively new wide receiver group. Losing center Gabe Ikard will hurt, but the Sooners' offensive line remains mostly intact. 

On defense, most of Oklahoma's front seven should return, though replacing cornerback Aaron Colvin and safety Gabe Lynn in the secondary will be tough. 

It would be surprising not to see Oklahoma named the Big 12 preseason favorite for next season. 

 

Baylor Becomes a Team to Watch in 2014

Baylor's first Big 12 championship and BCS bowl appearance was made possible by the tremendous building job of head coach Art Briles.

He'll return as the Bears' coach next season after being linked to the Texas job. However, a lot of the players that made 2013 so special won't be. 

Running back Lache Seastrunk declared for the draft and Glasco Martin is a senior. There are three seniors along the offensive line, including Cyril Richardson, who are departing. Senior receiver Tevin Reese is gone too. Quarterback Bryce Petty returns, however. 

Seven seniors on defense will leave, including safety Ahmad Dixon, and linebacker Bryce Hager could easily declare for the NFL as a junior.

This was a group that has grown together over the past couple of years to become one of the best defenses in the conference. However, they got exposed by UCF in a 52-42 loss in the Fiesta Bowl. 

So what will Baylor look like in 2014?

Depth wasn't an issue for the Bears, so thanks to a number of blowouts, there was plenty of playing time to go around. Next year's Baylor team won't be brand spankin' new, never having seen the field before. Still, there was so much star power on this year's team. It will be fascinating to follow how well Baylor plays, especially on defense. 

 

Oklahoma State's Defense was a Special Group

It's not often Oklahoma State and great defense are mentioned together, but the 2013 group under first-year defensive coordinator Glenn Spencer was something special. 

That defense, featuring cornerback Justin Gilbert and linebacker Caleb Lavey, ranked No. 4 nationally in turnover margin and swarmed to the ball every play. It was a well-coached group with some tremendous athletes. 

Through three quarters of the Cotton Bowl, which the Pokes ultimately lost 41-31, Oklahoma State held Missouri to 17 points despite continuously losing the field position battle. Things got out of hand in the fourth quarter when the Tigers scored 17 offensive points as part of an exciting back-and-forth, but the Cowboys defense gave the team a chance to win. 

After all the offensive success Oklahoma State has had over the years, it was fun to watch such a sound defensive team. 

 

Texas' Quarterback Situation is Dicey

The most important hire for new Texas head coach Charlie Strong will be the offensive coordinator because Texas' offense was awful in the final stretch of the season. 

Quarterback David Ash returns after suffering a season-ending concussion. He will definitely have the edge over freshman Tyrone Swoopes heading into spring practice. 

Ash has been inconsistent in his career, but he has all the physical tools to be successful: size ( 6'3", 223 pounds), mobility and a strong arm. Now he just needs to continue to develop. But what happens if he gets hurt again? Swoopes is also physically gifted, but he didn't look ready to play in limited action. 

The Longhorns' Alamo Bowl loss to Oregon showed how dire the quarterback situation is. If Ash doesn't improve and/or stay healthy, Strong's first season in Austin could be tough. 

 

Other Happenings From Around the Big 12 in Bowl Season

 

Best Offensive Performance: Oklahoma quarterback Trevor Knight. He was dropping dimes and slinging the pigskin for 348 yards and four touchdowns against Alabama. What else do you need?

 

Best Defensive Performance: Oklahoma linebacker Eric Striker. As a heat-seeking missile, Striker had seven tackles, three sacks and a forced fumble that basically ended the game. He was a monster. 

 

Most Ridiculous First Half: Kansas State wide receiver Tyler Lockett. He caught three touchdowns to put K-State up 21-6 at the half and finished with 10 catches for 116 yards. Michigan employed the always-bold strategy of defending Lockett with one-on-one coverage, which as everyone knows usually results in PAIN.  

 

Best Kick Return: Texas Tech wide receiver Reginald Davis. He took it 90 yards to the house just as Arizona State was creeping back into the game. The Red Raiders shocked the Sun Devils, 37-23. 

 

Best Flip for a Touchdown: Baylor quarterback Bryce Petty. If this whole football thing doesn't work out, he has a chance to be a really good gymnast. Needs to work on sticking his landing, though. 

 

Ben Kercheval is the lead writer for Big 12 football. You can follow him on Twitter @BenKercheval

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Blake Whiteley Commits to Texas: Charlie Strong Lands Massive JUCO TE

The Charlie Strong era is underway in the Texas Longhorns recruiting office. Just two days after his official introduction as head coach, the former Louisville Cardinals leader secured a commitment from coveted junior college tight end Blake Whiteley, according to 247Sports reporter Jeff Howe.

Texas rose to the top of his list, ultimately edging out Arkansas. Whiteley also holds offers from Virginia, Purdue, TCU and West Virginia.

The 6'5", 240-pound pass target competed at Arizona Western College in 2013. He played high school football in West Vancouver, Canada.

Whiteley received an offer from Texas in early December when Mack Brown remained at the helm of a tenuous situation in Austin. He quickly reacted to the hiring of Strong, expressing interest in the offensive attack that would be implemented under a new regime.

"I do think coach Strong is a great coach. However, for me as both a blocking and a pass catching tight end, I still need to hear what kind of offensive philosophy and coordinator he is going to choose," Whiteley had told OrangeBloods.com writer Jason Suchomel on Sunday.

Apparently he approves of the outlook at Texas under the direction of Strong. The Longhorns remain in search of an offensive coordinator as the program pieces together a revamped coaching staff, but they managed to add a valuable piece for whoever accepts the position.

Whiteley is rated a 4-star recruit and the country's No. 1 JUCO tight end by 247Sports. He joins a 2014 Texas class that now features 21 players.

Among current Longhorns commits, Whiteley is the first prospect to pledge to Texas since Houston safety John Bonney gave his verbal in September. Expect strong to hit the recruiting trail at a torrid pace prior to national signing day in an effort to elevate a recruiting class that currently ranks 12th nationally, according to 247Sports.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

20 College Football Underclassmen to Watch out for in 2014

With the 2013 college football season in the books, it’s time to look ahead to what’s in store for 2014.

More specifically, which underclassmen will make the biggest impact for their respective teams?

Some on this list have enjoyed tremendous success during their freshman season. Meanwhile, some are prepping to begin their first collegiate season.

All in all, these players will look to have an immediate impact and make opposing defenses pay.

Join B/R as we take a closer look at 20 such players.

Begin Slideshow

Ohio State Football: 3 Reasons Recent Adversity Will Lead to Fortune in 2014

Not even the arctic chill sweeping through the Midwest could cool the rising anger erupting in Central Ohio right now. The joys of the Buckeyes’ 24-game winning streak have quickly evaporated in the midst of their two-game losing skid. The late-season collapse has exposed the worst in fans.

Their venom-laced tirades are squarely focused on the secondary, defensive coordinator Luke Fickell’s head and coach Urban Meyer for refusing to play quarterback Kenny Guiton in the last series against Clemson.

Buckeye fans are as passionate as they come, but they need to relax and take a deep breath. If you trust Meyer, then you must trust that he will fix the problems. No one is more critical of the program than he is, and he’ll get the issues resolved.

The notion that he does not understand or care about defense is nonsense. Keep in mind that Meyer may be known for his offense, but he has been around some of the leading defensive strategists his entire career. Meyer played defensive back in college and coached under Jim Heacock, Sonny Lubick, Lou Holtz and Bob Davie. His key assistants along the way have included Charlie Strong, Greg Mattison, Kyle Whittingham and Gary Andersen. The wisdom gained from serving with these coaches for 28 years will help forge the turnaround.

The pill is bitter, but adversity will be good for this program. Here are three reasons why the pains of 2013 should bring joys in 2014.

 

Coaching

No one likes to eat humble pie, but a little taste of it should get Meyer’s competitive juices flowing like a river.

The losses have probably rattled the confidence of his players and their beliefs in his system. That is okay. As the team recovers from the agony of losing, Meyer has the opportunity to do his best coaching.

Last spring, website Eleven Warriors revealed that the program hired Focus 3 to help instill leadership skills. The organization’s trademark formula is E (event) + R (response) = O (outcome). The players attended weekly classes to learn and understand how the formula works. Now Meyer can test the formula.

He can push the players to work harder in the spring and summer to improve. He can challenge his assistants to correct the problems and be better coaches. He can open up every position to competition to break entitlement and find leaders. He can build the team the right way for the upcoming season. 

The Buckeyes’ success in 2014 will depend on how well the team responds to Meyer’s pressure. If the players channel the pain of losing into daily actions that foster improvement, the team will reach the goals it failed to accomplish this season.

 

Defensive Identity

For decades, the defense has been nicknamed the Silver Bullets. Under the leadership of players like Mike Vrabel, Antoine Winfield, Will Smith, A.J. Hawk, Cameron Heyward and John Simon, the Buckeyes defense was a perennial top-20 unit. The downward spiral over the last two seasons damaged the reputation of this proud unit, but a major resurgence is imminent.

Every defense needs one player to be the field general that instills confidence and gets everyone on the same page to play cohesively at an extremely high level. This player sets the tone and keeps his teammates focused on doing their job on each play. This type of leadership was inconsistent this year. Next season will be different.  

The one player who will demand the commitment to excellence and define the unit’s identity moving forward is 6’6”, 275-pound defensive end Joey Bosa. His motor and the playmaking ability are incredible. He’ll be the glue that binds the defense.

Bosa finished the 2013 season with 44 tackles, 13.5 tackles for loss and 7.5 sacks and was named to the FWAA Freshman All-America team. Meyer gave his star high praise in an interview with Dieter Kurtenbach of the Chicago Tribune saying "He's better than anyone envisioned as a freshman defensive lineman.”

Expectations are high considering the highly ranked players who Meyer has recruited over the last two years. Fans are optimistic that these players are laying the foundation for greatness on this side of the ball. In an interview with reporters in May 2012, Meyer expressed his concern about talent without leadership though.

Talent will get you about seven or eight wins.  Discipline will start pushing that to nine. Then when you get leadership that’s when magic starts happening. It's when you start getting rings and some really cool things are happening to your team.

Bosa made an impact in 2013 with his talent, intensity and work ethic. He’ll lead the defense in 2014 with his ability to inspire the players and unify them into upholding the standards of being a Silver Bullet. When this happens, Meyer will get the magic he is seeking.

 

Balance

Michigan State did the Big Ten Conference a huge favor when it beat Ohio State. Outside of a couple of seasons, the Buckeyes have dominated the league for 10 years. Ohio State’s reputation has declined a little over this time period too because the Big Ten has been considered weak. With their win, the Spartans restored some competitive balance and injected hope that the conference is on the rise heading into the playoff era.

The devastation felt after Michigan’s epic upset over No. 1 Ohio State in 1969 enraged Woody Hayes and ignited the "Ten Year War." The loss to the Spartans has a similar feel. The Buckeyes are no longer king, and Meyer can use the anguish as fuel to motivate his team. Ohio State needed a new enemy and now it has one.

 

Analysis

The mood is sour in Columbus right now. No one wants to admit that this Buckeye team was flawed, but it was. The luster on Meyer’s capabilities may look a little dim, but there’s no reason to panic. The misfortunes this season will be distant memories in 2014. The program’s foundation is strong, and the stage is set for huge rebound.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Georgia Football: Damian Swann Is X-Factor to Defensive Development

Returning 10 starters may or may not be a good thing for Georgia football in 2014.  In theory, the experience that comes with a veteran-laden squad should make the Bulldogs one of the most competitive teams in the SEC.  In actuality, however, concerns abound as the incumbents were part of one of the worst defenses in recent Georgia history.

Only significant improvement by the unit as a whole will elevate this defense to its optimal level, but Damian Swann is the x-factor for the team's defensive development.  His ability to transform into a true cover cornerback and emerge as a leader on defense will be vital to the Dawgs' future success.

 

Where He's Been

For a guy who's started 27 games in a row, Swann largely flies under the radar.  While lining up in a defensive backfield that featured three NFL draft picks (cornerback Sanders Commings and safeties Bacarri Rambo and Shawn Williams), Swann thrived in 2012.  He led the team with four interceptions while also registering 53 total tackles.

Admittedly, his sophomore campaign was aided by surrounding talent.  As Jarvis Jones and Cornelius Washington pressured quarterbacks and Alec Ogletree roamed the middle of the field, the other veteran defensive backs executed at a high level in their respective roles.  Commings, a true cover corner, took away opposing teams' top targets, while Rambo and Williams read passers.  This left an opportunistic Swann to make plays when throws were forced.  He did so masterfully.

Unfortunately, the ball-hawking skills he displayed as a sophomore did not translate as Swann settled into his new spot as Georgia's primary cornerback in 2013.  As young players filled a roster that established veterans once called home, Swann's deficiencies were magnified—perhaps unfairly so.

The season was a disappointment, both individually and corporately, for Swann, who told Seth Emerson of the Columbus Ledger-Enquirer recently, "The way I look at it is we struggled as a whole.  I struggled, I had my own struggles, and we struggled as a whole."

 

Where He Needs to Be

For the entirety of the 2013 season, opponents picked apart Georgia's pass defense.  While the front seven did a respectable job of pressuring quarterbacks, cornerbacks (including Swann) mishandled coverages repeatedly, while safeties continually seemed lost in space.  The deficiencies of the defensive backs fed off of each other and exacerbated the group's woes.

For the unit to take a step in the right direction, Swann must improve from a technical standpoint.  His athleticism and instincts are more than sufficient, and he's certainly physical enough to play with some of the league's best receivers.  Far too often, however, he relies on those inherent gifts and innate skill sets.  Far too often, opposing receivers blow by him.

His development in one-on-one coverage will take pressure off the safeties and the opposite cornerback. 

Equally beneficial, if Swann can establish himself as a lockdown defensive back during spring practice and the offseason, he will also emerge as the leader of the Georgia defense.  In 2013, the unit lacked direction.  Defensive coordinator Todd Grantham's squad was home to only one senior starter, and continued lackluster efforts by the collective whole kept even the standouts (linebackers Ramik Wilson and Amarlo Herrera and defensive end Ray Drew) from properly captaining the squad.

As a senior, Swann's leadership will be needed.  As the best defensive back on the team, it will be validated.

 

Swann's Potential Impact

Many felt Swann's junior campaign could be his last in Athens.  This time last year, an early jump to the NFL seemed plausible.  While a disappointing season may keep him at Georgia for another year, Swann's talent and potential remains sky high.

Swann told David Paschall of the Chattanooga Times Free Press he didn't think too hard about leaving after this season.  He added, "I want to be one of those first two-round guys, and to that that you've got to put it on tape."

By all accounts, the talented cornerback is striving for that status.  If he reaches that pinnacle, a 2014 Georgia defense will look completely different, even with a whole lot of familiar faces.  And that is a very good thing.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

If Ohio State's Noah Spence Sues the Big Ten, How Will That Impact B1G's Image?

When news first broke of Ohio State Buckeyes defensive end Noah Spence's suspension, something just didn't add up. Now we know why. 

Noah Spence didn't get a three-game suspension for a dietary supplement, like was first reported.

Rather, he was suspended for testing positive for "a small amount of ecstasy" in a random drug test prior to the Big Ten Championship game, according to an interview with Spence's father by WHTM-ABC27 in Harrisburg, Pa. 

That's only half the story, though, as the report also indicates that Spence's family is also considering suing the Big Ten over how it classifies ecstasy. 

Whether or not the lawsuit happens or has a chance to work is for another time. Today, the question is: Will the Big Ten stick to its guns on how it classifies the drug going forward?

It may seem like a matter of semantics, but it is an important question because the answer may affect what seems to matter most in this day and age, its image.

See, the Big Ten classifies it as a performance-enhancing drug, while the NCAA classifies it as a street drug. 

The latter carries with it a far less harsh penalty, while the violation of the Big Ten's performance-enhancing drug policy carries an automatic one-year suspension. 

Spence's family, backed by Ohio State, already won an appeal of the original one-year suspension, according to WHTM's report. 

An apparent second appeal went nowhere fast, hence the consideration of a lawsuit to get the rest of Spence's suspension lifted. 

The difference in how one group classifies the drug is quite dramatic, and it brings the Big Ten's image into question. 

Let's face facts—the Big Ten is seen in a lot of circles as the snobby, old-school, stuck-up conference. After all, who wants to hear about being about "academics and athletics" at every turn? 

Especially when the conference pioneered its own moneymaking machine in the Big Ten Network and is currently the most lucrative conference in the country, with the potential to stay that way in the coming years thanks to its expansion into big television markets. 

That aside, it is important to figure out how the Big Ten looks at how it classifies the drug. 

Let's remember that the Big Ten is classifying ecstasy under performance-enhancing drugs because its affects are seen as similar to that of amphetamines and other stimulants that would help a player's performance on the field.

Whether that actually would happen or not is another question and better left for the professionals, but the conference has a reason for classifying the drug like it does.  

But, by acquiescing in its stance on the drug in this one case and giving Spence a three-game suspension, the Big Ten is opening itself up for some serious issues down the line.

What about the player who unknowingly takes a dietary supplement that contained a trace amount of a banned stimulant?

Shouldn't he/she be treated the same way as Spence? After all, they were just given a supplement and didn't have a way of knowing what was in it. 

See, that's the issue with the "he unknowingly ingested ecstasy in a drink he was handed at a party," argument Spence's family is floating and apparently someone else bought. 

It opens up Pandora's door, and once you do that you can't close the door ever again. 

Whatever happens down the road, the Big Ten needs to be careful in the precedent it sets with this case. Its credibility and image really can't afford to take a hit with television contracts to be renegotiated soon.

What the Big Ten needs to do is work with the NCAA to clarify its classification for drugs and make sure they are uniform in punishment. 

It gives players, families and coaches a clear picture of the consequences of taking a certain drug, and it avoids the issue of the Big Ten looking like the old fuddy-duddy who won't let its players just have a little fun like the rest of people in college. 

 

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

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Who Will Be the Auburn of 2014 College Football Season?

The Auburn Tigers, as you've no doubt heard, won the SEC championship and played in the national title game this past season, just one year removed from finishing 3-9 overall and 0-8 in conference play.

Gus Malzahn's team was the story of 2013, even if it came up just short against Florida State in the BCS championship, losing 34-31 on a touchdown in the final seconds. The Tigers were projected to finish fifth in the SEC West by conference media, but they ended up finishing second in the country in the final AP Poll.

Likewise, Michigan State won the Big Ten, the Rose Bowl and finished No. 3 in the final AP Poll, even though it needed to win its final game of the season to become bowl-eligible in 2012. The Spartans were expected to finish third our fourth in their division, the Big Ten Legends, but they ended up winning every conference game by 10 or more points, including the championship against then-undefeated Ohio State.

Now that the 2013 season is over, and media outlets have started publishing their "way too early" predictions for 2014, it bears noting that this is the natural cycle of college football. Teams come up out of nowhere—perhaps not to the extent of an Auburn or Michigan State—and enjoy great success each season; lather, rinse, repeat.

The trick is finding out how to spot them. There's no foolproof method—that is, don't go running to Vegas and buying futures tickets—but potential breakout teams tend to leave some indicators the season before. You just need to know where to look.

Let's give it a try.

 

Recent Success: How to Narrow the Field

One linking factor between Auburn and Michigan State is recent success—prior to the one bad season in 2012. The thinking here is that a bad year can be proven a fluke, whether it be schedule-, injury- or bad luck-related.

This is further validated by Football Outsiders, which studies the sport of college football using sabermetrics and has come to the following conclusion:

It may seem strange because graduation enforces constant player turnover, but college football teams are actually much more consistent from year to year than NFL teams. Thanks in large part to consistency in recruiting, teams can be expected to play within a reasonable range of their baseline program expectations each season.

Our Program F/+ ratings, which represent a rolling five-year period of play-by-play and drive efficiency data, have an extremely strong (.76) correlation with the next year’s F/+ rating.

In layman's terms: A team's performance over a five-year sample is the best way to predict its performance the following year. Other factors—things like personnel losses and coaching upturn—serve to distract us, and sometimes that's justified. But for the most part, good teams are expected to stay good.

We don't have access to Football Outsiders' up-to-date Program F/+ numbers, so it's hard to calculate success over a five-year sample accurately, but even looking at a rough three-year sample might have predicted Auburn and Michigan State to rebound in 2013:

Both teams combined to win 22 games in 2010 and 2011, though Auburn's number is slightly skewed by the national title season, where it played 14 games. Still, both teams took marked steps back in 2012 and then marked steps forward in 2013. 

So why not start there? What are some traditionally proud programs that struggled to win games in 2013? Assuming the next Auburn will be like Auburn—a recently successful team that needs to snap out of a funk—that is the list we should begin with, then whittle it down from there.

Though Michigan State technically made a bowl game in 2012, let's limit this to power-conference teams, like Auburn, that didn't make the postseason in 2013 after finishing with a winning record the previous two years:

Arkansas doesn't satisfy the immediate request of the list, having missed the past two postseasons. We'll include it, however, because the magnitude of its success in the two seasons before that—a record of 21-5—is too large to ignore. As long as the sample doesn't exceed five years, it should still be relevant.

Besides, at this early stage of the process, we can afford to make an exception. Especially for a team whose 2013 season so closely resembles that of Auburn in 2012, there is no reason to get picky so soon. We'll see how well the Razorbacks qualify.

 

Turnover Margin

Turnover margin is, quite obviously, something that can affect a team's record. It's also something that tends to normalize from year to year, making it closer to random than most people care to admit.

That's not to say that good coaching can't improve it. Well-coached teams are less likely to turn the ball over than poorly coached teams, for sure. But things like fumble quantity and recovery rate are difficult to account for, and thus they're essentially chalked up to luck. A good study on the matter can be found here.

When looking for bounce-back candidates, checking for fluky turnover margins is always a good place to start. These are teams that we can rightfully call "unlucky" the past season, and we can project—or at least hope—for them to find better luck down the line.

Let's see how Michigan State and Auburn fared in turnover margin the past two seasons:

Both teams improved by more than 10 turnovers this season, which is a significant number. No doubt about it, turnovers help explain each team's respective turnaround.

Auburn's horrific margin in 2012 also helps explain why its record, 3-9, was so much worse than Michigan State's at 7-6. The Tigers didn't start forcing turnovers at a momentous clip this season, but the improvement from awful to average was a big one. So was Michigan State's improvement from average to very good.

Now let's look at out candidates for improvement, with an emphasis on turnovers:

Arkansas jumps off the page, comparing closely with 2012 Auburn once again. Not only did the Razorbacks finish 3-9 overall and 0-8 in the SEC, but they were plagued with the same awful turnover-margin problems, ranking 113th in the nation.

The others could all stand to improve as well, the same way Michigan State did. It's hard to project how and when a team will improve—again, we're operating under the premise that turnovers are more or less random—but one thing to look at is fumbles.

West Virginia, for example, fumbled the ball 30 times this season and recovered 14 of them. That's a shade under 50 percent, which is the normal recovery rate, but dropping the ball 30 times is what's problematic, and also what's likely to decline.

Despite the decent recovery rate, West Virginia finished 122nd in the country in fumbles lost this season, most among teams that played less than 13 games. That makes it an ideal candidate to improve.

TCU lost 13 fumbles and threw 17 interceptions, both of which were tied for 109th in the country. The first number stands to improve with better luck in 2014, while the second number stands to improve with the improved health of quarterback Casey Pachall, who broke his arm in 2013 and never looked the same upon returning.

Florida resembles 2012 Michigan State.

 

Expected Wins

Here is where Auburn and Michigan State deviate, and where we'll begin to see a schism within our potential improvers.

The Tigers were truly awful in 2012. According to Football Outsiders' F/+ ratings, they were the No. 105 team in America, behind even 1-11 Kansas and 2-10 UNLV. For a team with their resources, that is truly, truly pitiful.

The Spartans, meanwhile, weren't nearly as bad as their 6-6 regular-season record suggested. They finished 15th in the F/+ ratings, one spot behind 12-0 Ohio State and ahead of teams like Utah State, Nebraska, Boise State, Clemson, Cincinnati, Louisville, Northwestern and Northern Illinois—all of which won 10 or more games.

According to the Football Outsiders Almanac (purchase necessary), F/+ scores are "a composite assessment of the possession-by-possession performance of a team over the course of a game." It accounts for a team's raw efficiency independent of record, allowing good teams with poor records to score ahead of poor teams with good ones.

This is a good way to tell which teams were better than their record indicated the previous season. Michigan State, Wisconsin and Oklahoma State combined to go 23-17 last season, but F/+ ranked all three of them among the top 16 teams in America.

It's no coincidence that all were much better in 2013.

Which brings us to an important point: Until now, we've been treating Auburn and Michigan State the same since both improved so dramatically this season. But in truth, there is more than one way to "bounce back." You don't have to follow one specific formula.

You can either be an Auburn, turning a truly awful team into a good one, which is the traditional approach. Or you can be a Michigan State, turning a good team that loses into a good team that wins, shoring up the lucky things like turnovers and close-game success.

Here are the 2013 F/+ numbers of our four candidates:

The quartet breaks into two distinct camps, both less-extreme versions of Auburn and Michigan State in 2012.

TCU and Florida weren't nearly as good as Sparty was two seasons ago, but they were both far better than a 4-8 record might indicate. Like 2012 MSU, they rode a top-20 defense as far as they could, in spite of an anemic offense. Because of it, the Gators and Horned Frogs placed ahead of "good" teams like Fresno State, Vanderbilt, Minnesota and Northern Illinois.

Likewise, Arkansas and West Virginia weren't quite as bad as Auburn was two seasons ago, but they were pretty stinkin' bad. The Mountaineers finished behind low-conference non-bowl teams like South Alabama and Florida Atlantic, while Arkansas finished behind both 3-9 Memphis and 1-11 Hawaii.

They'll have a much harder road to improvement than Florida and TCU, which are a few lucky breaks and offensive tweaks away from being next year's Michigan State.

But neither, by definition, can be next year's Auburn.

 

In Conclusion

And then there were two.

West Virginia and Arkansas are the two best bets to be next year's Auburn. Both had a track record of success before one—or in Arkansas' case, two—bad season(s), both had bad luck with turnovers in 2013, and neither was deceptively better than its record indicates. They were crummy football teams.

The comparisons with 2013 Auburn don't stop there, either.

The Tigers ran through the SEC this season on the strength of a dual-back ground game, something Arkansas head coach Bret Bielema is famous for tailoring. He isn't a first-year head coach like Malzahn, but he's still getting his feet wet in the conference. If anyone is capable of bullying the SEC like Auburn did, it's a team coached by Big Bret.

West Virginia, meanwhile, is led by head coach Dana Holgorsen, who has a similar offensive reputation as Malzahn. It may have failed a bit in 2013, but Holgorsen is still a progressive, forward-thinking game-planner with a chance to surprise and outsmart his opponent on any given day.

After seeing the offenses he led at Texas Tech, Houston and Oklahoma State—not to mention with Geno Smith in Morgantown—are you really willing to bet against his improvement?

The real trick will be defense. Auburn never quite got that side of the ball figured out in 2013, but it was talented and good enough to get by. If either Arkansas or West Virginia can figure out that side of the ball, why can't they be next year's Auburn?

I think that both have a realistic chance, but gun to my head, Arkansas would have to be the choice. With only slight improvement, the Alex Collins-Jonathan Williams backfield tandem could be roughly as good as Auburn's this past season, and the overall talent is better than that of West Virginia's.

Should you bet on it? No. Part of being next year's Auburn is being someone you'd have to be crazy to wager on (sorry @markjskiba). If you'd read this article about Auburn before the 2013 season, you likely would have dismissed it and left a comment calling the writer an idiot—and no one could have blamed you.

But stranger things happen each year. Woo Pig Sooie! 

 

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Clemson Football: How Will NFL Draft Departures Affect Tigers?

CLEMSON, S.C. – When it comes to early NFL draft entries, Dabo Swinney and Clemson’s staff have been more than fortunate over the last five years.

Since Swinney took over full-time in 2008, only four Clemson players have left early for the NFL: defensive end DaQuan Bowers and tailback Jamie Harper in 2010, tight end Dwayne Allen in 2011 and wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins in 2012.

That run of luck ended following Clemson’s 11-2 2013 season, which wrapped up with an Orange Bowl victory over Ohio State.

Monday, junior wide receivers Sammy Watkins and Martavis Bryant declared themselves eligible for the draft, as did junior cornerback Bashaud Breeland. If junior defensive end Vic Beasley (currently mulling his future) joins them, Swinney would double his early NFL departures in one draft cycle.

Mid-January will be very different around Clemson’s football offices as Swinney and Co. plan to fill the holes the early departures leave behind while also putting the finishing touches on the Class of 2014.

How will Clemson account for the NFL draft losses? Let’s take a look.

It is nearly impossible to underestimate how much Clemson will miss Watkins.

He followed a disappointing sophomore season with one of the best seasons by a receiver in Clemson history, catching 101 passes for 1,464 yards and 12 touchdowns, setting program single-season marks for receptions and receiving yardage.

His 16-catch, 227-yard, two-touchdown Orange Bowl effort set Clemson single-game records for receptions and receiving yardage and tied an ACC single-game record for receptions.

In just three seasons, he set Clemson career records for receptions, receiving yardage, touchdown receptions and 100- and 150-yard receiving games.

You just don’t replace talent, production, speed and athleticism like Watkins has. He is expected to be a top-15 pick, at the earliest, in the NFL draft.

Bryant’s departure only compounds the problem.

Like Watkins, Bryant entered as a highly touted recruit, but inconsistency limited him in his first two seasons. The 6’5” talent enjoyed a breakthrough this season, catching 42 passes for 846 yards and seven touchdowns. He had two athletic touchdown grabs in the Orange Bowl alongside Watkins.

How does Clemson replace them? Volume. Steady rising senior Adam Humphries (41 receptions, 483 yards, two touchdowns in 2013) will be back, as will junior Charone Peake, who had emerged as a starter this fall before suffering a season-ending torn ACL.

Rising sophomore Mike Williams made some impressive grabs and raised eyebrows as a true freshman, catching 20 passes for 316 yards and three touchdowns. And while inconsistent, rising sophomore Germone Hopper (23 receptions, 149 yards, two touchdowns) had his moments as well.

But the real guys to keep an eye on just arrived on campus this week as early enrollees.

Four-star signees Demarre Kitt, Kyrin Priester and Artavis Scott will all go through spring practice with their new teammates, and all three have a chance to break into the receiver rotation early.

Kitt is rated by 247Sports as the nation’s No. 10 wide receiver prospect, and Scott is rated No. 26 by the same site. Kitt is from Sandy Creek (Ga.) High School, Calvin Johnson’s alma mater, and is a polished product with good route-running and over-the-middle ability. He can turn bubble screens into touchdowns, possesses solid speed and leaping ability and can also block downfield.

At 5’10”, Scott is smaller than the 6’2” Kitt but has game-breaking speed and big-play ability as an outside or slot receiver.  Along with Priester, who spent the fall at Fork Union (Va.) Military Academy after failing to qualify academically last summer, Clemson’s newest receivers are poised for early impact.

Like Watkins, Breeland bounced back from a disappointing, injury-riddled sophomore year for his best collegiate season. He was a second-team All-ACC selection, making a team-high four interceptions and 13 pass breakups while adding 74 tackles (fifth on Clemson’s defense). He was a hard-nosed hitter and brought serious toughness to a secondary that allowed the 16th-fewest passing yards in the FBS.

Combined with senior Darius Robinson’s graduation, Clemson will be without its top two corners next season.

Rising seniors Martin Jenkins (26 tackles, three PBU, one interception) and Garry Peters (28 tackles, four PBU) will get first crack at the starting roles, but there could be a youth movement afoot.

Four-star 2013 signee Mackensie Alexander redshirted after suffering a preseason groin injury, but if he is healthy, Alexander should make a major push for playing time.

Redshirted freshmen Adrian Baker, Marcus Edmond and Ryan Carter should also contribute: Baker and Edmond nearly played this fall but were held back because of the depth at corner. That won’t be an issue in 2014.

Alexander will lead the way, but youth will be served in the secondary next fall.

How successful will that youth be on either side of the ball? Clemson’s string of three consecutive 10-win seasons could depend on how quickly the youth movement finds its legs and confidence.

 

Connect with Greg on Twitter @gc_wallace

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

USC TE Xavier Grimble Declares for 2014 NFL Draft

USC lost another underclassman on Tuesday night when tight end Xavier Grimble announced that he would forego his final year of eligibility and declare for the 2014 NFL draft.

"I’ve been at 'SC for four years and have had a pretty productive career," Grimble said, according to Gary Klein of the Los Angeles Times. "I’m healthy and just want to move on and give it a shot.... I feel like it was kind of my time."

Grimble has an NFL body (6'5'', 250 lbs) and has shown flashes of NFL talent during his tenure at USC. He wasn't always consistent in 2013, finishing with 25 catches for 270 yards and two touchdowns, but some of that can be ascribed to the up-and-down passing game as a whole.

Despite the average receiving numbers, though, Grimble still has the upside that NFL teams covet, according to former scout and NFL.com writer Daniel Jeremiah:

Grimble becomes the fifth Trojans underclassman to declare for the draft, joining receiver Marqise Lee, center Marcus Martin, safety Dion Bailey and defensive tackle George Uko. That is a lot of talent to lose from a team that struggled at times in 2013, but USC has recruited well enough to realistically weather the storm.

At tight end, senior Randall Telfer and junior Jalen Cope-Fitzpatrick will be back in 2014, and both saw a healthy amount of playing time behind Grimble this past season. Four-star prospect Bryce Dixon, the No. 2 tight end in the class, also committed to USC over UCLA at the Army All-American Game, and he might be an option to see early playing time.

The 6'4'' rising freshman has a lot of similarities to Grimble.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

What I Loved and Hated from the College Football Bowl Season

Well done, college football. Well done by all.

This year’s bowl season proved to be quite the ride, although sadly it has come to a close. A magnificent run of performances culminated in one of the greatest national championships ever played—and the end of the BCS era.

Florida State and Auburn put on a show, and you needed to be reminded that breathing was acceptable and encouraged during the final five minutes of game time. Before the season shut down in thrilling fashion, however, there was bowl brilliance everywhere.

To celebrate it all, the weekly Love/Hate column has returned for a special bowl game edition. And it is special. There was Steve Spurrier exorcising his troll demons, Johnny Manziel testing football physics, an Alabama fan hoping to capture flight, a nasty stiff arm you wanted no part of and so much more.

Before we close the book on the season, here’s what I loved and hated about the college football bowl series.

Begin Slideshow

FSU Ball Boy 'Red Lightning' Is a BCS Champion Covered in Ladies

If you haven’t met Frank Grizzle-Malgrat, please allow me to make the introduction.

Known to fans in ‘Noles Nation as Red Lightning, Grizzle-Malgrat is a ball boy for the Florida State Seminoles and perhaps the most interesting man in college football who has never played a moment in any game.

While he may at first appear to be some sort of ageless wonder-elf, Grizzle-Malgrat is very much a college student. The 21-year-old is often spotted streaking up the sidelines like a greased bottle rocket, although a recent, post-BCS title game sighting has placed him in a new context—completely still, with female company in tow. 

Indeed, Red Lightning was seen popping buttons and letting his freak flag fly in the aftermath of FSU's win over Auburn in the final BCS title game. His entourage consisted of two female 'Noles fans, who seemingly wanted nothing more than to feel the rich, garnet carpeting of his manly physique. 

This singular moment in FSU history was noticed by Ty Duffy of The Big Lead, and it supports the idea that every member of Florida State’s football program had a hand in bringing home the Crystal on Monday night.

Red Lightning was also seen leading the Seminoles crowd in the Tomahawk Chop after the title game. Suffice to say, he gave the old tradition his own twist.

Despite Jameis Winston and other talents returning next season, questions remain to be answered regarding Florida State’s chances to repeat as national champions in 2015—a possibility highly contingent on the return of Red Lightning.

The future appears to remain up in the air for the young ball boy, considering members of the NFL have taken keen interest in the fleet-footed squire. 

While his early departure would stagger the program and leave ‘Noles Nation in shambles, it may be time for him to take his game to the next level.

I’m not entirely sure how ball boys are selected in the National Football League, but one can only hope there’s a combine or Billy Madison-esque decathlon involved. 

If there is such a contest, I project Red Lightning to perform at the top of his class and emerge a consensus first-round pick for the Houston Texans—a franchise in dire need of a difference maker who can hold onto the ball.

 

Red Lightning: The Red Baron of ball boys. 

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

College Football Rankings: Final Standings from BCS Era

The BCS era as we know it came to a close on Jan. 6, when the Florida State Seminoles engineered an amazing comeback to topple the Auburn Tigers 34-31 in the BCS Championship game.

That result ended the SEC’s reign of dominance—a stretch that included seven straight national titles for the conference—and put the ACC (and FSU) back on top for the first time since 1999.

It certainly was a thrilling way to close out a highly controversial, oft-debated era and left almost zero debate as to who the rightful champion is of 2013. Regardless, the rest of the Top 25 is certainly up for discussion, and many are going to feel that the voters in the AP and USA Today Coaches polls made grave errors in their decisions.

Let’s take a look at how each of these final rankings looks and highlight a few teams that many fans believe deserve to be slotted higher. 

Complete AP and USA Today rankings can be found here.

 

Michigan State at No. 3

The Spartans finished the 2013 campaign with just a single loss and a solid 24-20 Rose Bowl victory against Stanford, which was ranked No. 5 at kickoff.

Instead of vaulting up to No. 2 behind the ‘Noles upon dispatching the Cardinal, MSU was placed at No. 3 in the final standings by both the AP and USA Today voters. Auburn faltered—albeit in the final moments as a major underdog—in the title game and was still given the runner-up distinction by both organizations, despite finishing the year with two blemishes on its record.

While SEC and Tiger fans may feel this is fair because of how Auburn hung tough against the nation’s best team on the biggest stage, many in East Lansing and around the country can’t help but feel that Michigan State was robbed.

It didn’t help Auburn’s case when Alabama, the Tigers’ bitter rival and opponent they vanquished in an epic Iron Bowl showing to make the SEC Championship Game, was handed an embarrassing 45-31 loss in the Sugar Bowl by a two-loss Oklahoma Sooners program.

This is exactly why a playoff will be beneficial to college football and allow the four best teams to duke it out against one another. The system surely won’t be perfect and is almost certainly going to be rife with controversy, but it should see the wheat separated from the chaff more often than not.

For now, MSU will have to settle with the No. 3 ranking and use it as motivation to improve in 2014.

 

UCF at No. 10 and Below

The Central Florida Knights are another one-loss team that isn’t getting enough respect from pollsters.

UCF finished the year being ranked No. 10 and No. 12 by the AP and USA Today voters, respectively, despite finishing the year with a single loss and a highly impressive Fiesta Bowl win against Baylor.

The Knights' status in the final standings is only a small rise from where they finished the regular season. Despite running away with the American Athletic Conference title, this team was viewed as a pretender and given a No. 15 ranking by both organizations.

While Baylor wasn’t the toughest opponent in the nation, it was definitely up there. The Bears were ranked No. 6 at the start of the contest, having dropped a single regular-season game against Oklahoma State.

As winners of the Big 12, this group was given a fair amount of respect—especially due to its high-powered offense that averaged 52.4 points per game, the most in the nation.

UCF came into the showdown as a major underdog and ran away with a 10-point victory in a shootout. Quarterback Blake Bortles established himself as a bona fide star, connecting on three touchdown passes and running in another.

Don’t be surprised if the Knights ride their nine-game winning streak into next season with a chip on their shoulder and repeat as conference champs.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Arizona Football: How Will Cats Replace Ka'Deem Carey?

Though it hasn't happened yet, it is very likely that standout Arizona running back Ka'Deem Carey will forego his senior season and enter the NFL Draft. The deadline is Jan. 15 for draft-eligible underclassmen to declare their intentions.

Assuming that Carey goes, it will leave the Wildcats with a huge hole to fill. Carey has led Arizona in rushing each of the past two seasons, rushing for 3,814 yards with 42 touchdowns during that span.

How, exactly, will Arizona replace such a potent producer? We've got some thoughts.

Begin Slideshow

Auburn vs. FSU: Players Who Improved Their Draft Stock in BCS Title Game

The 2014 BCS title game was one of the most thrilling title games in history. The Florida State Seminoles emerged victorious, 34-31.

Along the way, we saw a few players with aspirations of playing in the NFL improve their draft stock. Both the Auburn Tigers and the Seminoles have a high volume of players headed to the next level. The following three really improved their chances of hearing their names called sooner rather than later.

 

Tre Mason

The Heisman Trophy finalist may have cemented his place as college football's best running back. In defeat, Tre Mason did everything he possibly could to lead his team to victory.

He caught a touchdown pass and ran for 195 yards—which included a 37-yard touchdown scamper with just 1:19 left in the game.

Mason showed excellent vision, power and heart the entire season. In Monday's loss, he broke Bo Jackson's single-season rushing record at Auburn.

Mason is only a junior, but he'd be wise to bolt for the NFL. He ran the ball 317 times this season. Durability is always a concern with any player but especially a running back.

It's about time Mason was paid for his next attempt.

 

Greg Robinson

Yes, Mason is a beast, but his offensive line is equally as beastly. Greg Robinson is the best of the bunch. His ability to move his large frame reminded me of a healthy Jason Peters.

Robinson obliterated Lamarcus Joyner on Mason's 12-yard touchdown on a screen play.

Match this type of athleticism with the strength and sturdiness the 6'5", 320-pounder provides and you have a potential stud at left tackle.

Robinson apparently knows his worth. He announced his intentions to enter the 2014 NFL draft Tuesday. 

Bleacher Report's Matt Miller said this Monday night about Robinson.

 

Mario Edwards Jr.

With a sack and several next-level plays around the ball, Mario Edwards Jr. proved himself to be worthy of consideration if he should choose to enter the NFL draft.

He showed great mobility and stamina as he defended the Tigers run game, and he chased down the fleet-footed Nick Marshall all game. Warchant.com recognized Edwards Jr.'s sack on Marshall.

BushidoNole talked about Edwards Jr.'s growth since he arrived in Tallahassee.

He hasn't made a public decision yet on his future, but this game could be a "payday" performance for the talented defensive lineman.

 

Follow me. Sports are what I do.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Texas A&M Football: What Texas' Charlie Strong Means for Aggies

For the first time in well over a decade, Texas A&M has gained the upper hand over long-time rival Texas. All the advantages sit with the Aggies—a nationally driven atmosphere, a magnetic star athlete and a young, charismatic head football coach—while the Longhorns flounder in what has seemed to be an inconsequential coaching search. 

Monday, just hours prior to the national championship, Texas concluded its musings with the official announcement of Louisville's Charlie Strong, a defensive-minded coach who led the Cardinals to a 23-3 record and Sugar Bowl victory the past two seasons. 

It was the safe hire. And what many are calling a "football" hire. 

Unfortunately for Texas, though, the Longhorns require more than just a head football coach. As Strong's predecessor Mack Brown has proved time and time again over the past 16 years, the position demands a political face off of the gridiron, one Strong may not be able to implement.

As Sports Illustrated's Andy Staples discussed in his column on the topic, Strong is simply about the internal workings of the program, ranging from the on-the-field strategy to relationships with the players. Spending time with the boosters looking for bonus points or corralling the media for a press conference just isn't part of Strong's demeanor. Period. 

And the Texas athletic department did a poor job moving Strong into the position from day one, as they sacrificed their new head coach's image by not even consulting the major donors beforehand, as Texas business school namesake Red McCombs pointed out during a radio interview

Not exactly a strong start (pun noted). 

Now, how does this immediate insecurity affect Texas A&M? One word: positively. 

The Aggies' football program has taken off the past two years under Kevin Sumlin, and for a multitude of reasons. First, for A&M's bold realignment into the Southeastern Conference. Second, for Sumlin's suave recruiting skills. And third, for Johnny Manziel's catalyst-esque boost to the program's direction, drawing national attention and distinction to College Station in a fraction of the time it may have taken without him. 

According to 247Sports.com, A&M ranks third overall for its recruiting class and second conference-wide (trailing only division rival Alabama). In the past week alone, the Aggies have secured commitments from the first- and 11th-ranked wide receivers nationally—Speedy Noil and Frank Iheanacho—despite losing top-flight All-American Mike Evans to the NFL Draft in the same time period. 

Basically, Sumlin and the Aggies have been unflappable on the recruiting trail and deadly on the football field. And while A&M and Texas have no plans on taking the field against one another any time soon, the Aggies are winning the in-state rivalry by a landslide. 

Strong's hire failed to do for the Longhorns what the program would have hoped: make a splash. It was safe. It was predictable. And worst of all, it looked—and felt—awkward. Middle school dance awkward. 

For A&M, Texas' lack of ability to take advantage leaves yet more room for the Aggies to add separation between them and the Longhorns, both on the field and the recruiting trail. 

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

UCLA Football: 4 Biggest Concerns Heading into the Offseason

The UCLA Bruins are entering a new phase as a program. 

With the 10-win season in 2013, the Bruins have the look of a team on the rise. A vast majority of the young roster will return next year, and the team got a major boost with the announcement that Brett Hundley will return for his redshirt junior season. 

The stage is set for a potentially huge upcoming season. However, there are some areas of concern as with every program. 

In particular, UCLA has to shore up four areas in order to reach its potential as a team contending for a national championship. Replacing three significant members on the defensive side of the ball tops the list. 

Here's a look at the four biggest concerns heading into the offseason for the UCLA Bruins.

Begin Slideshow

South Carolina Football Recruiting: Updates on 2014 Commits and Targets

The old ball coach Steve Spurrier is getting up there in age, but his age shouldn't shy players away from committing to South Carolina. 

South Carolina's recruiting is nothing amazing, yet it meets team needs and continues the spree of Spurrier's in-state recruiting work.  

The Gamecocks put together another 11-win season and have a promising future as they only lose a handful of players, though Spurrier and his staff need to revamp the depth of the roster to prepare for the future. 

 

Gamecock Nation, this is your spot for South Carolina recruiting updates. 

News, analysis and updates on targets and commits are right here and will be updated regularly. 

Begin Slideshow

Auburn Football: Fans Rally Around Team, Gus Malzahn Vows Return to Title Game

Despite Auburn's heartbreaking 34-31 loss to Florida State in the BCS National Championship Game on Monday, hundreds of Tigers fans were on hand Tuesday at Auburn's indoor practice facility to welcome back the team as it arrived from Pasadena.

Fans lined the indoor facility, making a tunnel stretching the length of the full-sized field, mimicking Auburn's usual "Tiger Walk" tradition—where fans cheer as the team enters the Jordan-Hare Stadium before a game.

This time, "Tiger Walk" wasn't before a game, but after it—and after a loss, no less.

Even after Auburn's last-minute loss to Florida State, the fans were still there to welcome the team back to the Plains—and still there to chant "It's great to be an Auburn Tiger."

"This is truly unbelievable," Auburn athletics director Jay Jacobs said.

"Hey guys," Jacobs continued, directing his attention to the Tigers players. "This is what being a part of the Auburn Family means. I know some of you are first-year guys, and some of you are fourth or fifth-year guys, but this is what it means, right here. Regardless of what happens out there, the Auburn Family sticks together."

Jacobs spoke at a podium arranged at the end of the Tiger Walk, then turned the microphone over to Auburn head coach Gus Malzahn.

"You are truly the best fans in college football. It all started at A-Day with 84,000 fans," Malzahn said to the crowd, referencing the Tigers' record-setting spring game attendance. "I just want to say thank you."

Malzahn ended his words with a promise.

"We're disappointed we came up just a little bit short—13 seconds," Malzahn said. "But I'm just going to tell you, I've never been prouder of a team, and of what they've done and where they've come. We're all in this together. We're truly the Auburn Family. These guys right here laid the groundwork for great things to come in the future.

"I'm going to tell you right now: We're going to go back."

 

Justin Lee is Bleacher Report's lead Auburn writer. Follow him on Twitter @byjustinlee. All quotes obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

LSU Football: Imagining Leonard Fournette & Jeremy Hill in Same Backfield

The best recruiting sometimes happens internally, and LSU head coach Les Miles may have landed a stud on Tuesday night—current Tigers running back Jeremy Hill.

The rising junior is three years removed from high school, but according to Ross Dellenger of the Baton Rouge (La.) Advocate, he will return to school instead of declaring for the NFL draft.

We reported y'day Hill leaning toward returning at #LSU. @LSUBeatTweet reporting Hill to announce Monday. I've heard Friday or Monday.

— Ross Dellenger (@DellengerAdv) January 8, 2014

That's huge news for the Tigers.

Hill rushed for 1,401 yards and 16 touchdowns for the Tigers in 2013, including 216 yards and two touchdowns in LSU's 21-14 win over Iowa in the Outback Bowl. While the stats pop off the page, something else is motivating Hill to stick around Baton Rouge, according to Luke Johnson of TigerRag.com.

It's his reputation.

He wants to prove to LSU fans, his teammates and head coach Les Miles that the guy who was caught on camera knocking someone out in the parking lot of a bar last spring isn't the man he is.

"I think doing that over the last seven months has completely changed the way people look at me and the perception of me," Hill told Johnson.

Hill's legacy is important to him, and he has the opportunity to write the final chapter of his legacy with a very talented running back—incoming freshman Leonard Fournette.

The 6'1", 226-pound Fournette committed to the Tigers earlier this month at the Under Armour All-American Game in St. Petersburg, Fla., and has the ability to step on any college field and become an immediate contributor.

The No. 1 overall prospect in the class of 2014 in the 247Sports.com composite has the size and power of an upperclassman, speed to burn and has drawn comparisons to former Oklahoma running back Adrian Peterson.

What could this duo do in Baton Rouge? 

Frustrate defensive coordinators, for one.

LSU will likely have to tweak its offense quite a bit with quarterback Zach Mettenberger and receivers Odell Beckham Jr. and Jarvis Landry gone. The two power backs can ensure that LSU has a fresh running back late in virtually every football game. That's a great asset for offensive coordinator Cam Cameron to have in any circumstance but especially with a new quarterback and wide receiving corps.

Hill punishes people anyway, and now Fournette's presence will allow either to serve as that "closer" who pounds on worn-down front sevens.

LSU is going to be a contender in the SEC West anyway, and the combination of Hill and Fournette in the same backfield could elevate the Tigers to be the primary contender to Auburn's throne.

 

Follow @BarrettSallee

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Pages