NCAA Football News

National Signing Day 2014: Programs with the Most to Gain

For many programs across the nation, college football's national signing day can be a turning point that leads to success on the field or one that leaves coaches that put in months of hard work with an empty feeling.

In the past few months, however, the college football landscape has shifted. With Charlie Strong officially taking over for the Texas Longhorns and Steve Sarkisian leaving the Washington Huskies for greener pastures with the USC Trojans, several questions remain for the new head coaches and the programs they left behind.

With national signing day less than a month away on Feb. 5, here are three programs that can potentially lock up great recruits who will change their team over the next few seasons.

 

USC Trojans

Steve Sarkisian has been considered a recruiting guru for years whether it was as an assistant coach at USC or the head coach at Washington. With his ties already strong in Southern California, Sarkisian is expected by Trojan fans to pick up right where he left off.

Thanks to a recent commitment from tight end Bryce Dixon, Sarkisian seems to be on the right path. During the live broadcast of the U.S. Army All-American Bowl, Dixon committed and said, "USC has a good tradition of tight ends. They're bringing coach Sark(isian) in. It'll be a great addition and I think I can keep the tradition going of good tight ends."

After the Dixon commitment, the Trojans still have multiple high-caliber recruits who are considering signing with the program. USC currently ranks as 247Sports' No. 25 recruiting class, but signing day could be a game changer.

With 5-star players like Adoree' Jackson, John Smith and Damien Mama all leaning toward attending USC, according to 247Sports, the Trojans might come out of signing day with a recruiting class that could quickly change the outlook under Sarkisian.

 

Georgia Bulldogs

Over the last few seasons, Georgia has been on the cusp of making a BCS bowl game but has simply fallen short against other SEC opponents. But with the addition of two more 5-star running backs in Sony Michel and Nick Chubb to add to the stable of Todd Gurley and Keith Marshall, the Bulldogs look like they are already in good hands on offense.

What lies ahead is a handful of defensive recruits that are strongly considering the Bulldogs, headlined by 5-star defensive end Lorenzo Carter. The No. 2 weak-side defensive end (according to 247Sports) from Norcross, Ga., told Tom VanHaaren of ESPN about a tradition that he plans to uphold:

While that may seem like a silly statement to bring up in a recruiting story, when considering that the distance between Norcross and Athens is just over an hour by car, according to MapQuest, Carter would be able to drive back home to enjoy time with his family.

Along with Carter, the Bulldogs are also waiting to hear from 4-star defenders Rashaan Evans and Elisha Shaw. If just two of the three dynamic defensive players commit, the Bulldogs could boost their recruiting rankings and provide a huge boost to their front seven for years to come.

 

Texas Longhorns

Welcome to the big leagues, Charlie Strong.

The same man who brought Teddy Bridgewater to Louisville will be expected to immediately turn around the Texas program and get the job done on the recruiting trail as well.

Luckily, Strong might have brought in one of the nation's best dual-threat quarterbacks without speaking a word to the young man. Following the hire of Strong, Jerrod Heard, a 4-star quarterback from Denton Guyer High School told The Dallas Morning News that he will stick with the Longhorns:

Strong will also have to continue to woo players who strongly considered joining Mack Brown's old team to come to Texas. Heavily-recruited players like Solomon Thomas and Edwin Freeman, both defensive players, are still considering the Longhorns, but are still holding out.

According to The Dallas Morning News, Heard wasn't the only player who liked the hire of Strong:

With much still to be decided in the recruitment of several of Texas' top targets, Strong still has his hands full with this year's recruiting class. If he can convince players to sign with him the same way that he did with Louisville, Strong's first recruiting class with the Longhorns could be a memorable one.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

AP College Football Poll 2014: Post-BCS Championship Rankings Released

The Associated Press has released its Top 25 poll for Week 20. It should come as little surprise that the organization unanimously declared Florida State its national champion. 

While crowning the undefeated Seminoles is far from controversial, fans may take umbrage with how the AP ranked the remainder of the teams at the conclusion of bowl season.

Let’s take a look at the updated standings, compare those results to Bleacher Report’s final Top 25 poll and recap the most impactful games that shaped this season-ending list.

FSU clearly deserves the No. 1 spot in the AP Top 25 poll and every other sort of college football ranking system under the sun. The team dominated throughout the 2013 campaign and capped off its run with a thrilling victory in the BCS Championship Game against No. 2 Auburn.

Heisman Trophy winner Jameis Winston deserves much of the credit for taking his team this far. He delivered a coup de grace in the form of a two-yard touchdown strike with 13 seconds left on the game clock.

Rob Carlin of CSNWashington.com was excited about Kelvin Benjamin’s catch:

The Tigers put up a strong fight before submitting. Star running back Tre Mason bullied his way to a 195 yards rushing and two total touchdowns, including a 37-yard run to put his team ahead with just over a minute left to play.

Auburn head coach Gus Malzahn heaped praise on his players after the contest, as per Seminoles.com: "I told them in the locker room, we put together the biggest turnaround in the history of college football. We were on the brink of making it one of those magical seasons.”

Unfortunately for the Tigers and their fans, they will have to settle for the No. 2 spot in the final AP poll.

Following the two championship-game teams is No. 3 Michigan State, which narrowly edged No. 11 Stanford in a 24-20 thriller that fittingly took place during the 100th edition of the Rose Bowl. The Spartans finished the year 13-1 and delivered the Cardinal their third loss of the 2013 campaign.

South Carolina comes in at No. 4 in the latest rankings, vaulting up four spots after a convincing win over No. 22 Wisconsin in the Capital One Bowl. The Gamecocks' second-half rally allowed them to beat the Badgers by double digits in Orlando.

Missouri rounds out the Top Five, as the SEC runner-up won a shootout against No. 17 Oklahoma State in the Cotton Bowl. The Tigers had a better-than-expected season and will have much to build on heading into 2014.

Oklahoma jumped up to No. 6, just ahead of the No. 7 Alabama team it beat in the Sugar Bowl. The Sooners took care of business against a sluggish Crimson Tide team, even though they were a major underdog at kickoff.

Clemson takes the No. 8 spot after dispatching a slumping Ohio State squad in the Orange Bowl. The Buckeyes fell to No. 12 and ended their season on a two-game losing streak.

Oregon and UCF round out the Top 10, with the No. 9 Ducks capitalizing on an Alamo Bowl blowout over Texas and the No. 10 Knights proving they belong with a convincing BCS win over Baylor. The Bears dropped to No. 13 after the 10-point loss in the Fiesta Bowl.

It was a thrilling college football campaign and featured outcomes that almost no one would have predicted at the start of the season. 2014 promises to be even more exciting, but first fans must get through the long offseason.

At least they will have something to debate in the form of this final, Week 20 Associated Press Top 25 poll.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

FSU vs. Auburn: NFL Draft Prospects That Helped Their Stock in BCS Title Game

The Florida State Seminoles won the BCS National Championship, but there were players on both teams who helped boost their NFL draft stock heading into May.

Despite a 21-3 lead in the second quarter, the Auburn Tigers were unable to pull out the win, losing 34-31 to the Seminoles.  Jameis Winston led Florida State down the field for a game-winning touchdown with just 13 seconds remaining, helping him earn MVP honors for the game.

But Winston won't be able to declare for the NFL draft this year, so let's take a look at a few players who can and who had great games that helped move them up draft boards across the country.

 

Greg Robinson, OT, Auburn

One of the fastest-rising prospects in the country, Auburn's Greg Robinson helped himself even more in this game, making solid plays in both the running and passing game. 

Robinson was solid throughout and was rarely beat.  But his best play of the game came on a screen pass from Nick Marshall to Tre Mason.  If you watch the play below, you see Robinson (No. 73) make a critical block in the second level to help Mason get into the end zone.

At 6'5'' and 320 pounds, Robinson is a big boy on the offensive line.  While that size helps him in the trenches, it's his footwork that makes him a top-tier prospect, as he's capable of sticking to his man regardless of the play called.

With another big game, Robinson is quickly looking like an early first-round pick.

 

Timmy Jernigan, DT, Florida State

He may have been worn down by the end of the night, but Timmy Jernigan showed just how disruptive he can be against elite competition, and that will go a long way in the eyes of NFL scouts.

Bleacher Report's own Matt Miller gave his thoughts on Jernigan during the game, and he had a lot of positive things to say about the junior defensive tackle.

For as big as he is, Jernigan is a surprisingly quick player on the line.  He does a good job using his hands and feet to create separation and clog up rushing lanes while also using his size and strength to push offensive linemen back on their heels.  He's not the most explosive player off the snap, but his range makes up for it, at least at the college level.

A big game like this bodes well for Jernigan, as now teams will likely be looking at him early in the second round.

 

Tre Mason, RB, Auburn

After scoring the go-ahead 37-yard touchdown with just 1:19 remaining in the game, it looked like Mason had given the Tigers the national title.  But it wasn't to be after the Seminoles were able to drive down the field and grab the game-winning score.

That shouldn't take away from an incredible game form Mason.  He finished with 195 rushing yards on 34 carries along with two total touchdowns.  He was able to finish the season with 1,816 rushing yards and 24 total touchdowns while averaging an impressive 5.7 yards per carry.

He's only 5'10'', but Mason is arguably one of the best running back prospects available.  Mason makes up for his lack of size with some very impressive lower-body strength, which he uses to keep his legs turning and keep going for extra yards.  

Mason's vision and explosiveness at the line of scrimmage reminds me a lot of how Eddie Lacy runs for the Green Bay Packers, although he's clearly not as big.  Still, that's a big compliment for the young running back.  He's not the fastest guy on the field, but he can find a hole and use his legs to pick up yards in bunches.

This game only proved to me further that Mason is the real deal, and he should be one of the first running backs taken, going somewhere in the third round.

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Auburn Football Recruiting: Incoming Freshmen with Chance to Make Impact in 2014

Out of miracles, Auburn came up just short of the national title with a gut-wrenching 34-31 loss to Florida State in the Jan. 6 BCS title game. Now, the Tigers and their fans will quickly fix their gaze to the future with the hopes this program can sustain the success it found this year. 

The way recruiting is going early, Auburn stands a good chance to do just that: 

These next three players, in particular, appear poised to make an impact not just down the road, but next season. 

 

Tre' Williams, LB, 6'2", 230 lbs. 

Tre Williams is almost a certain lock to make an impact at Auburn next year. He is an exceptional prospect, and linebacker is a position of need for Auburn. 

He is listed by 247 Sports' composite rankings as the second-best inside linebacker of his class and the 33rd overall recruit.

The 2014 commit appears to be best suited for the inside linebacker position. He has an excellent first step and a natural ability to read and react to the offensive play. 

He also has the strength and attitude to handle blockers in the run game.

If he is going to struggle, it will come in space. Although he has a good initial burst, he does not have a great top speed, and he is stiff while trying to change directions.  

 

D'haquille Williams, WR, 6'3", 213 lbs. 

D'haquille Williams is ranked by 247 Sports' composite rankings as the No. 1 junior college player in this class. His addition will help the Tigers find a more balanced attack on offense. 

Just his commitment to Auburn is a boost to the program. Auburn didn't land Williams until he decommitted from LSU in May. I'm sure Auburn won't be shy about pointing out this recruiting win over a conference foe as they push on in the recruiting trail. 

Williams has the talent and production to justify the recruiting battle for his services. According to NOLA.com, Williams produced 67 catches for 18 touchdowns and nearly 1,300 yards this past season. 

Williams is a rare combination of physicality and speed. 247 Sports lists him with 4.4 time in the 40 and watching film, it quickly becomes evident he is eager to attack defensive backs. 

 

Racean Thomas, RB, 5'11", 196 lbs. 

The potential impact Racean Thomas can make next year is largely out of his control. Incumbent running back and Heisman Trophy finalist Tre Mason is still undecided about his future. Mason has filed paperwork to the NFL Draft Advisory Committee to find out his perceived draft value in the upcoming draft.

If Mason doesn't come back, Thomas will still have to fight for playing time with the returning Cameron Artis-Payne and Corey Grant. No matter what happens, however, head coach Gus Malzahn should find playing time for this talented youngster.

Thomas was named the Gatorade Player of the Year for a season where he rushed for 2,211 yards and 32 touchdowns. 

In 247 Sports' composite rankings, Thomas is ranked as the third-best back in this class and the 17th-best recruit overall. 

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

2014 Preseason College Football Rankings: Early Look at Top 25 Teams

After a thrilling final BCS National Championship Game capped off college football's magnificent 2013-14 campaign, there's nothing else to do but look ahead to the top teams of the upcoming season. 

There's going to be a lot of news made between January and August, but it's never too early to take a look at how the toughest programs stack up on paper. 

Without further ado, here's a sneak peek at the teams that'll open up the 2014 season.

 

1. Florida State

Jameis Winston will spend at least one more year under Jimbo Fisher's tutelage at Florida State after winning the national championship against Auburn. Even though guys like Kelvin Benjamin, Devonta Freeman and Cameron Erving could leave for the 2014 NFL draft, FSU's roster is stacked with elite talent from top to bottom.

 

2. Alabama

The biggest question facing Alabama in 2014 is simple: How will Nick Saban account for the loss of A.J. McCarron?

Interestingly enough, McCarron was quick to dismiss any notion that his Crimson Tide will suffer without him, as reported by Andrew Gribble of AL.com:

Everybody was worried when Greg (McElroy) was leaving. I heard people say Alabama was going to fall off. I'm sure one of these guys will step up and do an unbelievable job and make a lot of Alabama fans proud and the rest of our coaching staff proud.

Whoever lines up behind center for 'Bama in 2014, you can be sure he'll have plenty of help from T.J. Yeldon and the rest of the team's talented running backs. 

 

3. Auburn

Nick Marshall will be back, and one more year under Gus Malzahn could make him a Heisman hopeful by the time 2014 is over and done with. Additionally, he'll be playing with most of the same teammates, as running back Tre Mason and left tackle Greg Robinson are the only significant expected losses via the NFL draft. 

 

4. Ohio State

Braxton Miller is reportedly staying at Ohio State for the 2014 season, as first reported by Pete Thamel of Sports Illustrated and then confirmed by Joe Schad of ESPN: 

Given the exceptional young talent coming back on offense, Miller should have a huge season. If the Buckeyes can learn how to play defense, then this team could go all the way. 

 

5. Stanford

The Cardinal have a tall task ahead of them replacing stalwarts like running back Tyler Gaffney and linebackers Shayne Skov and Trent Murphy—all of whom will be headed to the NFL. But head coach David Shaw has impressively built on Jim Harbaugh's excellent recruiting. This program won't have any issues replacing its stars. 

 

6. Oregon

Marcus Mariota made the right decision to stay in school after finishing off his 2013 campaign with a whimper. Losing big games will only help him become more formidable for the Ducks in 2014, however, and if this team can figure out a way to beat Stanford, then it could finally go undefeated.  

 

7. Oklahoma

Trevor Knight put a huge target on his back for media praise and relentless scrutiny by having the game of his young life against Alabama in the Sugar Bowl.  The freshman phenom passed for 348 yards with four touchdowns and just one interception, leading Oklahoma over 'Bama, 45-31.

No wonder Bob Stoops is pumped about his team's ability to play with any team in the nation. Speaking on ESPN Radio's "The Herd with Colin Cowherd," via ESPN.com:

Hey, I've got total respect for Alabama, but you can't deny what we did last night. Obviously, we can play with anybody, whether it's the SEC or anyone else. And to say we can't … well, Alabama's been rolling the SEC for the last three years and we didn't seem to be overwhelmed last night. I'm done with that talk.

Oklahoma is on the rise, and if Knight continues to progress in 2014 like he did this past year, then the Sooners will be tough to stop.  

 

8. UCLA

Brett Hundley is coming back to school, according to Edward Lewis of Rivals.com, and he gives UCLA a shot to take down Stanford and Oregon in the Pac-12 this upcoming season:

Jim Mora has been brilliant on the recruiting trail, and he's got talent coming into the program from all across the nation. 

 

9. Baylor

Baylor will be in stiff competition with Oklahoma in the Big 12, but Bryce Petty gives this team a chance to win every game. This team will need to overcome the loss of key starters on the offensive line—including Cyril Richardson—but points haven't been hard to come by for the Bears the past few years. 

 

10. Michigan State

Losing cornerback Darqueze Dennard (if he declares) and senior linebacker Max Bullough will be tough for the Spartans. These two players were arguably the best at their positions in 2013.

But the stellar play of quarterback Connor Cook toward the end of the season gives fans hope that Michigan State's offense will carry more of the load in 2014. 

 

11. LSU

It'll be interesting to see what LSU's offense looks like next season without Zach Mettenberger and likely without top receivers Odell Beckham and Jarvis Landry. All five offensive linemen should be back in place, meaning Les Miles could resort to a run-heavy approach once again. 

But nobody should expect anything less than another 10-win season for the Tigers—a mark Miles has hit four years running. 

 

12. South Carolina

Losing Connor Shaw and Jadeveon Clowney is tough, but the Gamecocks will return many starters on both sides of the ball. Dylan Thompson is coming into the season with three starts under his belt already, and he should be able to run Steve Spurrier's offense smoothly from the get-go. 

 

13. Georgia

Georgia's defense was atrocious in 2013, allowing 29 points per game. Mark Richt must fix this ailing unit, especially in light of Aaron Murray's departure on the offensive side.

He'll have a couple of young pass-rushers to build around, however, in Jordan Jenkins and Leonard Floyd, and the young players in the defensive secondary should be much-improved with another year together.  

 

14. Missouri

The Missouri Tigers are in good hands offensively with Maty Mauk, who'll be starting at quarterback with James Franklin leaving. Mauk threw 11 touchdowns and just two interceptions in backup duty in 2013, and that experience will serve him well in the season to come. 

On defense, losing key starters Michael Sam, Kony Ealy, Andrew Wilson and E.J. Gaines will be a huge challenge to overcome. Young players must step up for Missouri to repeat as SEC East champs. 

 

15. USC

Steve Sarkisian brings a fresh vibe to Southern California, which finished off a tumultuous 2013 season in style with a 45-20 blowout win over Fresno State.

It will be fascinating to see if Cody Kessler can keep redshirt freshman Max Brown from taking over the starting quarterback duties. But whoever starts behind center, you can bet the Trojans will lean heavily on their many talented running backs early in the year. 

 

16. Wisconsin

Running back Melvin Gordon is an intriguing early favorite to win the Heisman Trophy in 2014. Wisconsin will lose James White, which means Gordon will likely receive a heavier workload next season. This young man is capable of carrying the Badgers to a Big Ten Championship.

 

17. Clemson

Tajh Boyd and Sammy Watkins will both be playing for NFL teams next season, meaning Clemson's offense must find a new identity. However, the Tigers will be returning many defensive starters and key offensive linemen, so not all hope is lost.

That said, it'll be shocking if Clemson wins 10 games.  

 

18. Ole Miss

Look out, SEC offenses, when Ole Miss comes your way.

With returning defensive starters like Robert Nkemdiche, Tony Conner, Denzel Nkemdiche and Cody Prewitt, the Runnin' Rebels will be formidable on the defensive side of the ball. 

Whether or not the offense can win games is a question that has yet to be answered, but this program is certainly headed in the right direction under head coach Hugh Freeze. 

 

19. Arizona State

Arizona State's offense should be explosive with returning starters quarterback Taylor Kelly and receiver Jaelen Strong, who were key members of last year's team that averaged 41 points per game. However, as pointed out by Dave Bartoo, only five returning starters are coming back on the defensive side:

In particular, losing defensive tackle Will Sutton will be a huge blow for this defense.

 

20. Washington

Losing Sarkisian was brutal, but Washington rebounded nicely by signing Chris Petersen away from Boise State. It was a perfect marriage for both parties, as Petersen needed to move on.

Look for the Huskies to be formidable on defense, but the biggest key for this team's success will be whether or not running back Bishop Sankey and quarterback Keith Price can be adequately replaced.  

 

21. Notre Dame

With the return of Everett Golson, Notre Dame's offense should be much-improved in 2014. However, this team is losing some huge pieces on defense, as Stephon Tuitt and Louis Nix III will both be entering the NFL next season. 

And the schedule for 2014 looks brutal.

With 10 opponents that went to bowl games this past season, Brian Kelly will do well to lead his team to eight wins.

 

22. Oklahoma State

The Cowboys are losing a lot of key starters on both sides of the ball, including quarterback Clint Chelf, defensive tackles Calvin Barnett, cornerback Justin Gilbert and linebackers Shaun Lewis and Caleb Lavey.

It's hard to imagine Oklahoma State will be able to match its 2013 total of 10 wins.

 

23. UCF

Blake Bortles ditched his senior season in favor of the NFL draft, and UCF will have its work cut out to duplicate last year's success. That said, given the way this team's defense clamped down on opposing offenses this past year, the Knights will be a tough out every week no matter who they're playing. 

 

24. Texas A&M

Without Johnny Manziel, Jake Matthews and Mike Evans, the Aggies will be hard-pressed to score 44-plus points a game on offense. But the real issues facing Kevin Sumlin lie on the defensive side of the ball. Texas A&M was horrible defensively in 2013, and he's got his work cut out for him to improve. 

 

25. Michigan

Michigan should get better in 2014.

With Devin Gardner starting for his second straight year and running back Derrick Green coming on strong, the Wolverines should be able to move the ball consistently on offense.

Michigan's defense was young and raw last season, but many starters are returning, and they should play better together with another season under their belts.

 

Follow me on Twitter @JesseReed78 

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Auburn vs FSU: Highlighting Top Prospects from Epic BCS Title Game

After winning the national championship with the aid of the largest comeback in the history of the BCS title game, the Florida State Seminoles are the stars of the college football bowl season. When it comes to evaluating players for the NFL, however, there is no room to lump individuals in with their team. 

With all the talent on the field during Florida State's 34-31 win over Auburn on Monday, some time has to be spent reviewing the performances of some of the players who appear headed toward long NFL careers. 

 

Greg Robinson, OT, Auburn

Heading into the title game, third-year sophomore Greg Robinson was headed for the first round of the 2014 NFL draft if he decided to turn pro. He should be a candidate to be the first tackle off the board if he goes pro now.

Robinson proved to be the most physically dominating player on the field on Monday. The 6'5", 320-pound beast moves with a quickness and fluidity that shouldn't be possible for a man his size. 

He is punishing in the run game and can get to the second level and make blocks on screen passes. Just watch him motor downfield to make a key block on Tre Mason's touchdown catch in the first quarter. Robinson is No. 78 and picks up Terrence Brooks at the 5-yard line: 

Still, these abilities have not been questioned by scouts. Playing in the run-dominated attack at Auburn, Robinson remains raw in pass-blocking. In the title game, however, quarterback Nick Marshall threw the ball 27 times, and Robinson had little difficulty holding his own. 

 

Kelvin Benjamin, WR, Florida State

Kelvin Benjamin is awaiting his grade from the draft evaluation board before deciding if he will turn pro. He will likely be projected to go in the second half of the first round. For instance, this mock draft by Walter Football has him going No. 26 to the Cleveland Browns. 

Benjamin didn't do anything to change that status on Monday. 

The third-year sophomore, who finished the regular season with 957 receiving yards and 14 touchdowns, finished the game with four catches for 54 yards.

He didn't do anything worth mentioning until Florida State's final offensive play. 

Of course, it was on that two-yard touchdown pass where Benjamin displayed why he is such an exciting prospect:

At 6'5" and 234 pounds, Benjamin is a beast in the red zone. On that touchdown pass, the close coverage by Chris Davis didn't matter due to Benjamin's ability to go up and get the pass. Then, Benjamin's big hands allowed him to hold onto the ball despite Davis' attempt to jar it loose.

Benjamin isn't just a red-zone threat, either. He has solid speed for his size, and he has the ability to get downfield for deep passes.

  

Jameis Winston, QB, Florida State 

Redshirt freshman Jameis Winston is not eligible for the NFL draft, which is a shame. If he had the opportunity and desire, the Heisman Trophy winner would undoubtedly be the first overall selection. 

Statistically, Winston did not have his best game on Monday. In fact, in terms of quarterback rating, it was his second-worst outing of the season. 

Still, his performance drew this comment from head coach Jimbo Fisher, via Mike Anthony of WTRF: 

For much of the night, it was Winston's worst game of the year. He was unusually inaccurate and was struggling with his reads. He was, however, nearly flawless in crunch time. 

Winston, who finished the game by going 20-of-35 for 237 yards, two touchdowns and no interceptions, went 6-of-7 passing for 77 yards on the game's final drive. 

That ability to handle the pressure, even when struggling for most of the game, is invaluable for a quarterback, and it was the one thing Winston had left to prove was part of his arsenal. 

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Miami Football: Al Golden "Walks the Walk" with Decision to Stay

Four days of flirtation, endless speculation, unanswered questions and in the end, a long journey back to where things were a week ago.

Head coach Al Golden will return for a fourth year with the Miami Hurricanes, having taken himself out of the running for the Penn State opening. Silent on the matter since last Thursday, Golden responded Sunday afternoon in the form of a university-released statement.

Golden chose Coral Gables over Happy Valley, which should stand as a testament to the future of the Miami program. Past coaches departed for what were deemed bigger and better opportunities, and even if Golden mulled over a "dream job" opportunity and chance to go "home," the result was staying put—for now, at least.

Whether Miami or Penn State is the more-desirable job all depends on one's perspective. "Better" is always relative; circumstance and intangibles all play into the equation.

As it stands, the Hurricanes are closer to turning the corner than the Nittany Lions—finally out of the NCAA's crosshairs and ready to resume the rebuilding process. Bowl bans are a thing of the past, and Miami was hit with minimal scholarship reductions, leaving the program on the brink of signing the program's most well-rounded class in a decade.

In Happy Valley, "Blue & White" faithful continue riding the NCAA storm out.

Scholarship reductions have been slightly restored, but smaller numbers and missed postseasons will remain the case for two more years. There's also the Joe Paterno effect as the legacy of a legend—both good and bad—still permeates throughout Happy Valley, ready to hang over whoever paces that sideline the next several seasons.

While a Golden return to Penn State can never be counted out, fertile South Florida recruiting soil, an effort to make inroads with local high school coaches and the difference between time served and hovering sanctions, all give Miami the current edge—even for a one-time Nittany Lions team captain.

 

Full Speed Ahead: No Longer Just a 'Canes Mantra

Fair or unfair, Golden is going to pay a price locally for his recent Penn State-related courting, much of which is unrelated to this much-debated stay-or-go moment. The bulk of the frustration stems from a disappointing 35-29 record over Miami's five-year run prior to the former Temple coach's arrival.

While Golden can't be blamed for his predecessors' results, the clock is starting to tick regarding his turnaround timetable. Miami reached 7-0 in late October—days after the NCAA investigation wrapped—but the 'Canes dropped four of the next six, playing themselves out of a Coastal Division title and ACC Championship Game berth.

Golden spent the past three years as sympathetic figure to Miami fans, as well as college football enthusiasts nationwide, many of whom felt he was blindsided by the scandal. While many coaches would've cut and run, the Hurricanes leader dug in his heels and rolled up his sleeves.

Other programs inquired, but Golden tuned them out. This first-season setback, though no fault of his own, was a lesson in character and seeing a task through. There would be no shortcuts or bailing out. As recently as late December, Golden vowed that he was in it for the long haul, intent on getting Miami's mess solved.

"I made a commitment to get it done and we're going to fight our asses off until we get it done," Golden pledged hours after the bowl loss to Louisville, as reported by The Miami Herald.

While a contingent of Miami's fanbase wants to stay marred in the who, what, when, where and why of this weekend's events, Golden is moving forward with no desire to dwell.

The head coach plowed through his scheduled local-radio appearance Monday morning, while using an afternoon press conference to deflect questions, spout off statistics and deliver the news that no staff changes were being made anytime soon.

 

It's Officially "Win or Bust" over the Next Few Seasons

One of two scenarios is setting up for Golden, provided he remains at Miami long enough for either to play out: ultimate success, or colossal failure.

Golden's contract runs through the 2019 season—should he see it through—giving him ample time to turn things around, which is the ultimate cure-all.

While the natives are currently restless, the sentiment is status quo at "The U." Golden is hardly the first Miami coach to feel the wrath of a demanding fanbase, but the two-step blueprint has been laid for getting back in good graces with the Hurricane faithful:

Stockpile talent and get back to winning ways.

Folks wanted to run Jimmy Johnson out of town early on, writing him off as a mid-level Big Eight coach who couldn't beat the likes of Nebraska and Oklahoma. When Dennis Erickson arrived, he was chastised for running a one-back offense, as Miami had proven success with two backs.

Still, nothing tops the turbulent ride Butch Davis took over six seasons at the helm of the Hurricanes.

From his career-opening loss in 1995 to his fourth-ranked squad getting upset at No. 15 Washington in 2000, Davis was consistently put through the ringer.

The worst came in September 1997 when Davis was publicly shamed on game day by the Miami fans at the Orange Bowl after a 1-2 start to his third season.

Fans ponied up money to fly a banner over the stadium which read, "From National Champs to National Chumps...Thanks, Butch!" They blamed the third-year coach working to fix the mess left by his predecessors, who turned a blind eye to improper conduct. (Sound familiar?)

Davis went on to rebuild the program in due time, stockpiling talent and turning Miami into a national championship-caliber program by the end of the 2000 season. The soon-to-be NFL head coach departed after a No. 2 finish, a convincing Sugar Bowl victory and 11-1 campaign, before lying his way out the door to Cleveland. 

Despite all of that, many would still again welcome the 62-year-old, currently unemployed Davis—a desperate attempt to reclaim rare lighting-in-a-bottle success a second time around.

Golden's battle remains uphill, but there's solace in knowing forgiveness is just around the corner.

But after this past weekend, winning has to precede it.

 

Follow Chris Bello on Twitter @allCanesBlog.

 

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Why Auburn vs. Florida State Was a Better BCS Title Game Than USC vs. Texas

Before Monday night, memories of Vince Young scampering into the end zone to seal up Texas' national title in 2006 were considered the best in BCS Championship history. 

Now, those memories will be replaced by Jameis Winston dropping back in play action and throwing a perfect strike over the middle to Kelvin Benjamin for the game-winning score.  

The BCS could not have asked for a better send-off to its tumultuous tenure as the keeper of college football's holy grail. Florida State overcame an 18-point deficit to end the SEC's seven-year stranglehold on the title. And the Seminoles did it against Auburn, a team that seemingly never ran out of miracles until Tre Mason was tackled on the game's final play. 

In the contest's final five minutes on Monday night, there were three lead changes. There was a kickoff return for a touchdown, followed by two epic drives. Winston's touchdown pass to Benjamin with just 13 seconds left put the exclamation point on what will go down as the best BCS Championship game in history. 

Before the Seminoles' victory, many saw the Texas Longhorns' win over USC in the 2006 Rose Bowl as the best BCS title game in history. On Jan. 2, Sebastian Lena of B/R ranked Vince Young's performance in that game as the best in BCS history. 

It's hard not to compare the 2006 Rose Bowl and Monday's BCS Championship. Winston's and Young's game-winning touchdowns came in the same end zone. Even former Texas head coach Mack Brown took to Twitter to address the similarities:

While Young outworked two Heisman Trophy winners in Matt Leinart and Reggie Bush on that thrilling night, it doesn't match Winston's efforts to save the Seminoles from the brink of what would've been FSU's first loss of the year. 

What made Florida State's win over Auburn better than Texas' victory over USC was that last drive.

For Young, he had over two minutes to take his team 56 yards for the game-winning touchdown, which of course ended with the Texas quarterback's eight-yard touchdown run on 4th-and-5. The drive ended up being 10 plays long and took up 1:50. 

As for Winston, he had to take the Seminoles 80 yards down the field in just 79 seconds. FSU was able to complete the drive in seven plays, which included a huge 49-yard completion from Winston to Rashad Greene on the second play of the possession. 

Also, Young was a chiseled veteran of the college ranks as a junior against USC. He was used to the bright lights by then. 

Winston is a freshman who put a team that hadn't trailed in a game since the month of September on his back and carried it to college football's most sought-after prize.

Nothing at all should be taken away from Texas and its win over USC. Probably the only fair way to rank both these games is by listing them as 1a and 1b, and everything else third or worse.

But Florida State overcame more adversity to beat the 2013-14 team of destiny on Monday night, and a freshman is the main reason why. That's more than Young and Co. could have said eight years ago.  

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Bleacher Report's Ultimate BCS Champion Bracket

After 16 years, the BCS Era is over.  Whether you love or hate the system, there is no denying that the BCS has provided us with some great champions—but which has been the supreme team in the age of the BCS computers?

To figure it out, Bleacher Report’s college football editors and lead writers power-ranked all 16 champions and set up a bracket to determine The Ultimate BCS Champion.

The 2001 Miami (Fla.) Hurricanes were the obvious No. 1 seed as a whopping 38 players from that roster were selected in the NFL draft.  That's nearly two full starting lineups.  Ironically, the No. 2 seed—2004 USC—doesn’t even have its title anymore after vacating it in 2010 due to NCAA violations surrounding Reggie Bush.

That 2001 'Canes unanimously squashed the original BCS championship team, a Tennessee squad that shocked the nation by winning a title just one year removed from replacing the irreplaceable Peyton Manning at quarterback.

While the ‘Canes took care of Tee Martin's Volunteers, Tim Tebow and Cam Newton, two of the most prolific quarterbacks in SEC history, were pitted against one another, with Tebow’s 2008 Gators moving on.

However, Tebow didn’t have enough to top Vince Young’s stellar 2005 Texas squad, which provided one of the most thrilling title games of all-time. Just as VY disposed of USC in the 2005 title game, he sent UT to the semifinals against the Hurricanes.

The Texas club was a formidable foe for Miami, as it beat a USC team that was almost identical to the 2004 champion squad. However, the ‘Horns couldn’t complete their run, as the 'Canes moved on to the finals.

On the other side of the bracket, USC unanimously dispatched of Nick Saban’s first BCS title squad, LSU from 2003. In a first-round upset, Saban’s third national champion, the 2011 ‘Bama squad, clipped Chris Weinke, Peter Warrick and the 1999 Florida State squad, which was ranked No. 1 through the entirety of its title run, by a 3-2 vote.

While the 1999 version of the 'Noles fell early, this year’s champion Florida State squad dominated just as it did through its 2013 campaign. After finishing the regular season No. 1 nationally in scoring offense and defense, Jameis Winston’s ‘Noles failed to capture just one vote in three wins to move into the finals over the 2004 Trojans.

The 2013 Seminoles are champs today, but they were no match for Ken Dorsey's 'Canes.  The '01 Hurricanes were never ranked lower than No. 2 throughout their title run, while this year's Florida State team started the season at No. 11 in the AP Poll.  To further put the 'Canes talent  in perspective, perennial All-Pros Frank Gore and Sean Taylor didn't even start in 2001.  

This year’s Florida State squad was every bit as dominant as that club, but with its legacy still to be determined, it was no match for the star-studded ‘Canes in our bracket.  To make matters worse for 'Noles fans, the 2001 'Canes came to Tallahassee and thrashed the 2001 version of Florida State, 49-27.

 

*H/T to Bleacher Report columnist Alex Sims for helping create the text for this article.  

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BCS National Championship: Is 2013 Florida State Squad Best Team of BCS Era?

Few teams in the BCS era were as dominant as the 2013 Florida State Seminoles, which capped their first national championship season since 1999 Monday with a 34-31 win over Auburn. It was a rare back-and-forth contest in what was otherwise a completely one-sided season for the Seminoles. 

Quarterback Jameis Winston referred to Florida State's tendency to blowout opponents when discussing Monday's fourth-quarter comeback, per Sports Illustrated reporter Pete Thamel.  

Indeed, his services were rarely needed beyond the third quarter of most games. ESPN College Gameday tweeted that 170 players in the Football Bowl Subdivision attempted more fourth-quarter passes—an especially large number, given there were only 124 other FBS and reclassifying programs in the 2013 season. 

The Seminoles' rally from 18 points down Monday completed the first undefeated title season since 2010. The 2013 Seminoles also join nine other teams in the 16-season BCS era to run the table—not the most exclusive of clubs on its face, but impressive given just two accomplished it in the previous seven campaigns.

And Florida State didn't simply run the table. As both Winston and his fourth-quarter passing numbers attest, the Seminoles decimated the table. 

Coming into the 2014 BCS Championship Game, the Seminoles won 13 games by a combined 550 points. For perspective on just how staggering a figure that is, Florida State's regular season margin of victory would have been the No. 10 scoring team in the FBS. 

A team doesn't dominate in such a manner without excelling on both sides of the ball, and Florida State concluded the season as the nation's No. 2 scoring offense at 51.6 points per game, only conceding the top spot to Baylor after scoring a paltry 34 points against Auburn.  

The Seminoles were top overall in scoring defense, edging out Louisville's 12.2 points per game surrendered with a 12.1-point per game yield. The 31 points Auburn scored were the second most Florida State allowed, yet the Tigers' third-lowest output of the season. 

To rank so highly in both scoring offense and defense has this Florida State team standing out among their fellow, undefeated BCS champions. Alabama in 2009, for example, was No. 2 in points allowed but No. 22 in points scored. 

Texas led the nation in scoring in 2005, and was No. 8 in scoring defense. USC cracked the top 10 in both during the 2004 season, but wasn't atop college football like this Florida State bunch. 

And, oh yeah, the Seminoles' special teams were pretty good, too. Special teams certainly came into play Monday, as Kermit Whitfield's 100-yard kickoff return for a touchdown gave Florida State its first lead since 3-0. 

 

There's no denying Florida State was historically dominant against its competition, though detractors will point out the level of competition wasn't on par with what other BCS-era champions faced.

Take Miami which, in 2001, was the previous standard bearer for steamrolling through a perfect season. The Hurricanes faced four ranked opponents in the final four games of the season, in that stretch blasting Syracuse by 59, Washington by 58 and Nebraska by 23 in the Rose Bowl.

Florida State ends this season with wins over three teams in the final Associated Press Top 25: Clemson, Duke and now Auburn. Miami beat four teams in the final AP Poll of 2001, and did so with two fewer attempts. 

Likewise, Florida State's last national championship team ended a 12-win season with four defeats of teams ranked in the final poll. 

No matter where this team may rank among its fellow title winners, the 2013 Florida State Seminoles cemented their place in college football history. It may be a while before the sport sees another team win as thoroughly week-in and week-out. 

 

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BCS National Championship Game 2014: Auburn's Cinderella Slipper Finally Breaks

It’s been a wild ride, Auburn. And perhaps wild doesn’t even begin to describe the season that was. 

What began with little hope and robust 1000-1 odds to win the BCS National Championship Game ended with a thrilling, hard-fought 34-31 loss in the final BCS game ever played.

It wasn’t the storybook ending many were hoping for—including the limited bunch firmly grasping that 1000-1 ticket to the very end—but the journey itself is one to celebrate. It’s also one off which the program will build.

Along the way, long before Florida State wide receiver Kelvin Benjamin’s touchdown crushed Auburn’s hopes for an upset with 13 seconds left, there were moments. Some called it destiny.

Auburn was given the “team of destiny” label after a handful of miraculous and unexpected finishes. From the comeback at Texas A&M, to the miraculous fourth-down touchdown against Georgia, to the unforgettable finish against Alabama in the Iron Bowl...the Tigers' season is one divided into many distinct chapters.

Each was as incredible as the next, and these plays served as stepping stones—albeit unorthodox ones—to the national title. With each unlikely outcome, the “team of destiny” cries grew louder.

Over the course of the past month, the label gained further steam through football silence. And up until the very last second left the clock on Monday night—knowing just how valuable one second can be—this label remained.

“Destiny,” however, implies that the overall outcome was predetermined and that the process itself was somewhat moot. Destiny, in its purest form, skips over the path, choosing instead to focus on the final product. 

After all, it was bound to happen regardless. It was destiny.

Luck played a role in this run to the championship, but it always plays a role. And while a handful of key plays will stand out along the way to Pasadena, this was a destiny that Auburn created.

Against Florida State on the biggest stage imaginable, the luck didn’t run out and destiny didn’t simply give in. Auburn just got beat by an exceptional team. 

Up 21-3 in the second quarter, it felt like the unthinkable was unfolding. Auburn dominated on both offense and defense, and Florida State looked as if it was ready to give in.

It wasn’t. The Seminoles got a late first-half score in large part because of a beautifully executed fake punt, gaining some momentum before halftime.

After a relatively uneventful third quarter, FSU responded with 21 fourth-quarter points, capped off by Benjamin’s go-ahead touchdown after the Seminoles bled the clock close to zero. For Auburn, the clock finally struck midnight.

Destiny gave way to a different outcome, and the dream season took on a new, unfamiliar chapter. Even in a loss, however, this was a dream season for the Tigers.

"I'm very proud of my team, proud of these guys, how far they've come from the very first game to getting here, and just being on the brink of winning the whole thing," Malzahn said courtesy of auburntigers.com.

It’s disappointing, of course, as are all losses in games with this much on the line. It’s slightly more heartbreaking when you factor in the lead and momentum Auburn had going deep into the first half. There’s no sugarcoating that.

The notion of a moral victory is not one the team will want to hear, but there still is some perspective to be gained from the loss. There’s the foundation that has been built seemingly overnight, and the fact that a young roster will remain mostly intact for the 2014 season.

In four months, the perception of Auburn underwent a massive reconstruction. In seven months—when the Tigers return to fall practice—the expectations will be dramatically different thanks to their stunning season.

Although the best and most surprising story of the college football season ended just short of its ultimate ending, don’t let that take away from just how brilliant this run was.

Destiny is no more, and reality has set in. The reality for Auburn is that its Cinderella season has come to an end. The more significant reality, however, is that the Tigers are poised for another deep run next season.

 

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Oregon Loses De'Anthony Thomas to the NFL, but Ifo Ekpre-Olomu to Stay on Campus

Although they weren't playing on the day many thought the Oregon Ducks would be playing for a national championship, there was plenty of news coming from the Oregon football program.

Two of the Ducks' top players announced long-awaited decisions regarding their futures. There was good and bad news for the Ducks as running back De'Anthony Thomas and cornerback Ifo Ekpre-Olomu announced their plans for 2014.

On Monday, Thomas ended all the speculation regarding his future by announcing he will forgo his senior season and begin workouts in anticipation of the NFL draft.

Losing one of the most dynamic playmakers in program history is obviously a blow to the program, but if there is one area Oregon can afford to lose someone, it is at the offensive skill positions.

As dangerous as Thomas was for the Ducks, Oregon's cupboard is far from bare when it comes to weapons to take his place. Even after Thomas returned from an ankle injury late in the season, his production was limited, as the pair of Byron Marshall and Thomas Tyner had become the lead option for the Oregon running game. 

In addition to Marshall and Tyner, the Ducks have two talented high school recruits verbally committed in the class of 2014. With two established players on the verge of stardom already on the roster and two potential stars on the way, the Ducks will likely be even better at running back in 2014.

Led by wide receiver Bralon Addison, who took over the punt return duties from Thomas in 2013, the deep and talented roster has future stars in the making at all of the offensive skill and kick return positions.

Much as he will be missed, the Ducks won't miss Thomas nearly as much as they would have missed some of their other stars who had been considering making the jump to the NFL. 

Aside from getting word that their record breaking quarterback would return, the Ducks were holding their breath over Ekpre-Olomu's announcement more so than they were for any other player.

The All-American cornerback's decision became even more vital when his counterpart, Terrance Mitchell announced that he is leaving school to pursue his NFL dreams.

On Monday, Ekpre-Olomu surprised many and disappointed Pac 12 opponents and NFL general managers alike, by announcing that he will remain with the Ducks for his senior season.

Keeping one of the best defensive backs in school history around is a big deal for a number of reasons, but the fact that the Ducks must replace the other three pieces of their secondary is the biggest of all.

If a program has just one piece to build around, it might as well be the best guy they've got. Ekpre-Olomu will be the unquestioned leader of a young, but talented defense in 2014. He will pair with safety Erick Dargan to lead the Oregon secondary against pass happy Pac 12 opponents.

When a program has the kind of success that Oregon has enjoyed in recent years, losing players early to the NFL is inevitable. Losing a handful of players at once can be a major setback for a program, but if a couple of the elite players at the most important positions decide to stay, it says a lot about the continuity of a program.

Considering the fact that the Ducks were facing the real possibility of losing quarterback Marcus Mariota, center Hroniss Grasu, Ekpre-Olomu, Thomas and Mitchell, the Ducks made out pretty well by keeping three of them for another year.

2003 is the only other time in which the Ducks lost multiple players to the NFL by way of early entry. That year it was running back Onterrio Smith and tight end George Wrighster. 2013 brought a number of players who could have made it a mass defection from the program, but the Ducks managed to keep the core of their leadership together heading into 2014.

 

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Florida State vs. Auburn: Jimbo Fisher Shows Gus Malzahn Who's Boss in 2nd Half

Florida State wasn't a comeback team. It didn't need to be. 

On the contrary, the Seminoles got off to fast starts in 2013, averaging 28 points and shutting out opponents seven times in first-halves. Florida State finished first in both scoring offense and defense; unofficially, it also finished first in garbage time because of all the blowouts. 

By those numbers, Monday night's BCS National Championship against Auburn, a 34-31 win, couldn't have gone any less to script. 

The Florida State offense started out flat—the 'Noles were shaken, really—against Auburn's defense, which had been a porous 102nd in pass defense and gave up 24 points a game. The Seminoles were getting dominated in the trenches and quarterback Jameis Winston was getting hit hard and often. 

There was no run game to take the pressure off Winston, and receivers were dropping passes. The Heisman winner was knocked out of rhythm, lost a fumble and finally looked like a redshirt freshman. 

It was only through a gutsy fake punt in the second quarter that the Seminoles kept a drive going, eventually resulting in a crucial touchdown.

Still, the 'Noles couldn't stop Auburn's high-tempo offensive onslaught and trailed 21-10 at the half. It was the worst, and most flustered, Florida State had looked all year. 

The game wasn't out of reach, though, and Fisher apparently delivered a halftime speech for the ages. All anyone knows about it, though, was that it included the word "believe." 

Whatever else was said, worked. After getting thoroughly outcoached by Auburn's Gus Malzahn in the first half, Florida State head coach Jimbo Fisher came out with a vengeance. 

Florida State scored the first 10 points in the third quarter to make it a one-point game and then exchanged scores with the Tigers all the way until the final seconds. In all, the Seminoles outscored Auburn 24-10 in the second half. (Seven Florida State points came on a Levonte Whitfield 100-yard kickoff return for a touchdown.) 

The biggest improvement came on defense. Florida State forced Auburn to punt on its first three possessions and forced a Nick Marshall interception on the fourth. None of those drives lasted longer than five plays or went farther than 17 yards. 

Auburn's offense isn't complicated, but there are so many options and ways it can hurt a defense that, when combined with tempo, makes it nearly impossible to stop.

Yet, Florida State defensive coordinator Jeremy Pruitt and his staff made excellent halftime adjustments. Auburn running back Tre Mason still got his touches and finished with 195 yards on the ground, but the Tigers offense slowed almost to a half for nearly two quarters. 

On offense, Fisher committed more to the run game and had success. Running back Devonta Freeman didn't have a huge game with 73 yards on just 11 carries, but he picked up some tough and necessary yards for the 'Noles all the same. 

And then there's Winston, who helped orchestrate a seven-play, 80-yard drive in the final minute of the game that ended in the go-ahead touchdown. Of Winston's 237 yards passing, 77 came on six completions during that drive. One play after a defensive pass-interference penalty against Auburn, Winston connected with receiver Kelvin Benjamin on a two-yard touchdown.

The drive further proved it doesn't always matter how well you play the whole game as long as you play well when it matters. 

That was indicative of Florida State as a whole. The most dominating team in college football was a far cry from its normal self on Monday, but when things got bad, it dug in and stuck together. 

And Malzahn, an X's and O's genius, got stuffed by the comeback Seminoles. 

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Florida State vs. Auburn: Defensive Halftime Adjustment That Saved 'Noles

After allowing Auburn to jump out to a 21-3 lead during the second quarter, Florida State limped into halftime trailing 21-10. Defensive coordinator Jeremy Pruitt had his work cut out for him, and his team emerged from halftime better prepared having adjusted to get stops against the Tigers offense.

For the Seminoles, it was not so much adjustments, plural, as it was one major adjustment. Pruitt did not tweak his defense, change the alignments or tinker with the approach. Rather, he pushed the Florida State defenders to show a little more respect for the No. 2 receivers in Auburn's passing game.

Entering the game, it was understood that Pruitt wanted to force Auburn quarterback Nick Marshall to beat his Seminoles team by throwing the ball. However, giving Marshall easy pitch-and-catch scenarios was not part of the plan, and after several major failings, Pruitt's team had to show a new respect to the interior receivers, something Joe Dice of Pulse of the Chiefs points out.

That long touchdown by Melvin Ray was a prime example of the issues that Florida State battled early in the game: linebackers not expanding in zone coverage, cornerbacks rolling down to help with the run, safeties pushing toward the outside receivers while vacating the interior.

After halftime, Pruitt's defense conducted the delicate dance of honoring the interior threats while remaining dedicated to stopping the run. The game plan held steady at the core: Make Marshall beat you with his arm—the difference, of course, being forcing Marshall to make good throws, instead of giving him easy targets to hit.

Forcing Auburn's receivers to have to get themselves open, to have to get down the field to create space, allowed Florida State to force Marshall to make tougher throws and gave its pass rush time to be a factor. Although Florida State only sacked the quarterback once, the 'Noles did get pressure on him and force more errant passes than in the first half.

The players Pruitt wanted to get active against the run, Timmy Jernigan, Christian Jones and Mario Edwards, stayed the course. Meanwhile, guys like Nate Andrews and Lamarcus Joyner made run fits and still were bothers in the passing game. And those run fits were critical, because the first year defensive coordinator stuck to the plan, despite asking for more care to be paid to making sure Marshall at least had to make a good throw.

Gus Malzahn and the Tigers waited for the deviation, but the Seminoles never strayed from the path, a testament to Pruitt's plan. Moving away from the plan would have spelled disaster for the Seminoles. The 232 yards surrendered to Auburn on the ground would have ballooned toward the 300-plus numbers the Tigers have grown accustomed to over the season.

Florida State's defensive coordinator had a good plan entering the game: Make Marshall win with his arm. His big change came at halftime when he made sure his nickel, money player and linebackers were honoring the No. 2 and No. 3 receivers in coverage, instead of flying exclusively to the run game.

Although Florida State gave up 220 yards in the second half, a near-identical total to the 229 given up in the opening half, Pruitt's unit only surrendered two scores in the final 30 minutes. The second-half total is also deceiving because the two scoring drives covered 144 of the 220 yards. Throw in the 33 garbage yards to wrap up the game's desperation period, and the the 'Noles gave up 43 yards on the other four drives in the back half of the game.

Jeremy Pruitt did not have to revamp his entire defense to put his team in a position to win. The coordinator had to stop giving Nick Marshall the freebies and force him to make more plays with his arm. That simply meant paying more attention to the interior receivers, and as the Seminoles made that adjustment, it put them in a position to win.

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BCS National Championship Game 2014: Florida State Special Teams Wins the Day

Jameis Winston, Tre Mason, Nick Marshall...pshh, try Roberto Aguayo, Levonte Whitfield and Karlos Williams.

For all the stars who will get the headlines—it was the names of three special teams players that mattered most in Florida State's 34-31 win over Auburn for the national championship on Monday night. 

The fact that those words were just written is a feat in itself, considering how this game began. It couldn't have gone much worse for the Seminoles in the first quarter-and-a-half. 

Auburn was winning the field-position battle, FSU's punter was playing poorly and it couldn't cover the Tigers' return game. 

However, when the final whistle blew and Florida State became national champions—it was the Seminoles special teams that won the day and the national title too.

As we hinted at, it didn't start out that way, with Auburn up 21-3 thanks to its special teams putting both its offense and defense in position to be successful.

No series of plays better exemplified Auburn's early advantage than what took place following Steven Clark's 38-yard punt that was downed at FSU's 2-yard line. 

All of the special teams momentum was swinging Auburn's way, yet it didn't stay that way. 

In a strange way, the Tigers' special teams success actually forced Florida State's special teams to come up big as well. 

Down 21-3, facing a fourth down at their own 40-yard line and under five minutes to go in the first half—all signs pointed to the Seminoles needing to do something big or they could be staring an insurmountable 28-3 hole square in the face. 

Jimbo Fisher and the 'Noles went gutsy, calling a fake punt on 4th-and-4. It worked, as Williams gained seven yards and the Seminoles went on to make it 21-10 on that same series.

It not only changed the score and the complexion of the game, but it gave the entire Seminoles special teams unit a boost. 

That was just one facet of the special teams to come through for the Seminoles on the night, though.

Kicker Roberto Aguayo may have had the best night of anyone on the 'Noles on Monday. Not only was he perfect on field goals (2-of-2 with a long of 41 yards), but he also made the most crucial extra point of the season.

Thanks to a 15-yard unsportsmanlike conduct penalty on a touchdown early in the fourth quarter, Aguayo hit a not-so-easy 34-yard extra point to put his team up for the first time all game at 21-20. 

All of that would be topped by one moment that will live in BCS infamy. You know, the moment where Auburn went from up 24-20 with just under five minutes left in the game to down 27-24 thanks to this:

That 100-yard kick return by Whitfield capped off a complete turnaround from what FSU's special teams 

It's safe to say that unit went from goat to hero over the course of four quarters, and when it was all on the line, FSU's special teams came up larger than Auburn's. 

For all of Winston's fourth-quarter success and game-winning touchdown, without the special teams' performance, Winston and his teammates aren't hoisting the crystal ball or being called 2014 national champions.  

 

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

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BCS National Championship 2014: 10 Things We Learned from Auburn vs. FSU

The Florida State Seminoles ended the Southeastern Conference's reign over the BCS championship, toppling the Auburn Tigers to take the crystal football out of the league for the first time since 2006.

The ACC's major victory almost didn't happen, as Auburn took a 31-27 lead with just over a minute left in the game. However, Heisman Trophy winner Jameis Winston methodically led FSU on a game-winning touchdown drive, giving the 'Noles a 34-31 victory.

It was just the second BCS title in 16 years for the ACC, both of which were won by FSU. It also marks the end of the BCS era.

As college football transitions into its new championship format, Florida State and Auburn will each move forward from outstanding 2013 campaigns.

Click on to see what we learned about the past, present and future for the Tigers, the 'Noles and the sport. 

Begin Slideshow

BCS Championship 2014: Meet Kermit Whitfield, Florida State's Unsung Hero

PASADENA, Calif.: This wasn’t supposed to happen.

It was over in the first half when Auburn proved once again that the SEC is all there is to know in college football. Florida State played Duke in the ACC championship; they were supposed to be the cream of the crop, the best team in college football?

But then, inexplicably, the Seminoles started to creep back into it. First came a Roberto Aguayo field goal and then a touchdown pass to Chad Abram. The score of 21-10 was suddenly 21-20, and FSU was alive once more.

“As a quarterback you've got to always believe that you are never bigger than the game, and I was out there, I was so outcome oriented. I was like, 'man, I'm trying to blow these boys out,'” Jameis Winston said. “I had to remember, 'hey, I've got to respect the game. I've got teammates around me. I've got a team for a reason, so I can't go out there and do stuff by myself.' I took the initiative in the second half, 'hey, guys, we're here for a reason,' and I was like, 'I'm going to get on my A-game, I'm going to start doing what I need to do.'”

Auburn drove down the field for a field goal, and Florida State found itself in a fourth-quarter, adversity-filled situation for the first time this year. This is what America wanted, what it so desperately needed to know: Can the ‘Noles deal with getting hit in the mouth, or are they simply another soft, offense-only ACC cupcake?

Enter Kermit Whitfield.

The freshman wide receiver who is looked at as the fastest man in college football made the biggest play of the game, the biggest play of his life and possibly the biggest play in Florida State football history.

He read his blocks, hit his holes and outran anybody in a white jersey, leaving everybody behind en route to Florida State’s second kickoff return touchdown of the year. It was unbelievable, incomprehensible and unexplainable, but here it was, on the biggest stage in college football in the Granddaddy of Them All.

“Kermit is a big-time player,” Jimbo Fisher said. “He's a 10.1 in the 100 meters, third-fastest 100 meters in high school history. But this guy is going to be a big-time player. He has great hips, great acceleration, he's learning our offense and getting the touches, but in the open field he's as dynamic as anybody in America. He's as good as anybody I've ever been around and to do it at that stage—our team blocked very well—but he has that finishing speed, and I think the sky's the limit for that guy in his whole career here at Florida State.”

In the end, Kelvin Benjamin would become the hero for the Seminoles, snagging a pass from Winston to clinch the victory. But Kermit Whitfield, in his first season as a Seminole, will now forever live in lore. 

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SEC BCS Championship Streak Fun While It Lasted, but All Dynasties Must End

PASADENA, Calif. - It was fun while it lasted, but all great things must come to an end.

When Auburn running back Tre Mason was brought down by Florida State linebacker Telvin Smith on a failed hook-and-ladder play that looked from the sideline like the next in a series of improbable finishes to go the Tigers' way, it closed the curtain on one of the most remarkable streaks in American sports history.

For the previous seven seasons, a team from the SEC had ended the college football season hoisting the crystal football. In a sport that's grown to 125 members in the FBS and only plays 12 regular-season games, that's not easy to do. 

It takes talent, depth and a whole lot of luck to even be in position to get on that doorstep, much less walk through the door.

In the end, though, it was the Seminoles who rebounded from a sluggish start and hit Auburn with a dose of its own medicine on a Kermit Whitfield 100-yard kickoff return for a touchdown that gave the Seminoles a 27-24 lead with 4:31 to play. 

After Tre Mason led the Tigers to what appeared to be the game-winning touchdown to put the Tigers up four with 1:19 to play, Seminoles quarterback Jameis Winston led his team straight down the field and found Kelvin Benjamin on a two-yard touchdown with 13 ticks on the clock to claim the title and end the SEC's streak.

It capped off an 18-point comeback for the Seminoles, which was the largest comeback in BCS history.

"The SEC is great football, I coached in that league for 13 years," Florida State head coach Jimbo Fisher said. "I respect every bit of it, but there's some other folks in this country that can play some football, too."

Commissioner Mike Slive congratulated the Seminoles, according to to Chuck Dunlap of the SEC office.

Statement from Mike Slive: "The SEC's unprecedented string of consecutive national titles in the BCS era will be an enduring point of ...

— Chuck Dunlap (@SEC_Chuck) January 7, 2014

pride for our entire conference and we look forward to competing for more championships in the College Football Playoff era.'

— Chuck Dunlap (@SEC_Chuck) January 7, 2014

More Slive: "Congratulations to Florida State on its national championship and also to Auburn for a truly magical season."

— Chuck Dunlap (@SEC_Chuck) January 7, 2014

It was ended by the better team.

Florida State came in to this showdown without playing a close game all season but fought back from the early deficit, got the passing game going and exploited the weakest spot of the Auburn defense—its secondary. 

Cornerback Chris Davis was called for a pass interference on Rashad Greene with 18 seconds to play and was beat by Benjamin for the game-winner one play later.

So where does the SEC go from here?

We are heading into a new era now, and while teams from the same conference winning seven straight titles seems unlikely, the SEC will have more access to the meaningful part of college football's postseason in the four-team playoff starting after next season.

Does Auburn's loss coupled with Alabama's 42-31 loss to Oklahoma in the Sugar Bowl contribute to a perception change of the SEC? 

That remains to be seen, but its two highest-profile teams losing on big stages during bowl season—even though the Tigers were a double-digit underdog to the Seminoles—doesn't help that perception.

In college football, perception is reality.

Those two things fed off one another from 2006-12, and came to an end during the closing seconds in the final game of the BCS era.

It's only fitting. 

With a new set of rules in the new landscape, getting to the dance won't be as challenging. Becoming the prom king year after year will be a different story.

 

*Barrett Sallee is the lead SEC college football writer for Bleacher Report. Quotes were obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted.

 

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Florida State Bests Auburn as BCS Goes out in Blaze of Glory

PASADENA, Calif.—After 16 years, the BCS is finally dead. But it did not go away quietly.

And for that, college football is grateful.

Jameis Winston's 2-yard TD pass to Kelvin Benjamin with 13 seconds remaining capped the biggest comeback in the history of BCS' 16 championship games. On the same Rose Bowl field and in the same south end zone where Vince Young made his epic dash to immortality in 2006, Florida State's precocious Heisman-winning quarterback claimed his own place in college football lore—on his 20th birthday, no less.

Florida State's 34-31 victory over Auburn brought down the curtain on the BCS era, which began in the 1998 season when an SEC team (Tennessee) defeated the Seminoles for the first crystal ball. FSU would lose two of the first three BCS title games, but gained more than a measure of redemption Monday night for the rest of college football universe by ending the SEC's seven-year championship dominance.

It was fitting that the BCS era—and the SEC's reign—ended in the spiritual home of college football. In a brilliant evening at the Rose Bowl—home of the Granddaddy of 'Em All—the much-maligned BCS had the ultimate setting, with game-time temperature of 69 degrees, against the backdrop of San Gabriel Mountains at dusk and a packed house of 94,208. 

Early on, though, the game threatened to be a runaway and another SEC romp. Auburn took a 21-3 lead with five minutes left in the first half and was on the verge to break it open as a flustered Winston was unable to move the ball. Florida State's defense also had trouble with Auburn's no-huddle pace, giving up eight of 12 third-down conversion opportunities.

But as FSU's defense stiffened in the second half, Winston and the Seminoles clawed back.

After cutting Auburn's lead to 21-20 early in the fourth quarter, the game reached a glorious crescendo in the final five minutes. The teams traded four scores in the final 4:42, featuring a 105-yard kickoff return by FSU's Kermit Whitfield and a 37-yard scamper by Auburn's Tre Mason that looked like the game-winner before Winston led the Noles' actual winning drive in a mere 58 seconds.

FSU's victory is a vindication that there is more to college football than the SEC. But ironically, it was the vision that came from the SEC that helped forge the BCS and remake college football into the spectacle it is today.

Before the BCS, college football was mostly a regional affair, with each major conference having its respective bowl tie-ins. Media members and coaches would vote on the national champion at the end of each season, divining the superiority of one team over another purely on speculation, since many of the top contenders never met each other on the field.

From the end of World War II until the advent of the BCS in 1998, the Rose Bowl never featured a team not coming from either the Big Ten or Pac-10 (now Pac-12) conference.

It took former SEC commissioner Roy Kramer, the godfather of the BCS, to finally persuade the Big Ten, Pac-10 and the Rose Bowl—the most venerable and prestigious bowl game—to loosen their alliance to allow the top two ranked teams to play for the title annually.

In the 1998 Rose Bowl, the final one played before the BCS' creation, Michigan won a split national championship, the fourth consecutive split winner produced in Pasadena. After the advent of the BCS, there had been just one split championship, in 2003, when USC won the Rose Bowl and the AP title while LSU took the BCS title at the Sugar Bowl.

In the 2006 Rose Bowl, which remains the highest-rated game in college football history, Texas ended two-time defending champion USC's dynasty when it overcame a 12-point deficit as Vince Young scored from five yards out with 19 seconds remaining to snap the Trojans' 34-game winning streak.

Eight years later, the Seminoles dug themselves out of an 18-point hole and broke the SEC's seven-year stranglehold—and the state of Alabama's four-year ownership—on the crystal ball.

"The ACC is good football, folks," Florida State coach Jimbo Fisher spoke up for his conference in particular and non-SEC football in general after the game. "It's a great football conference. We have a great commissioner, we have great coaches, we've got great players. We had 11 teams in bowl games. The SEC is great football, I coached in that league for 13 years, I respect every bit of it. But there's some other folks in this country that can play some football, too."

That sentiment will be put to test again next year when college football moves into the next phase with the four-team College Football Playoff. The two semifinal games will be played at the Rose Bowl and Sugar Bowl, with the winners advancing to the championship game at the Dallas Cowboys' palace in Arlington, Texas.

But thank heavens there was no need for another game this year. The season ended in spectacular fashion and in the right place. The BCS might be dead, but it bequeathed college football an unforgettable parting gift.

Follow on Twitter @BCSGuru

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BCS Championship 2014: It's Not Ready Yet, but ESPN's Megacast Is the Future

ESPN went all-in on its coverage of the 2014 BCS National Championship Game, dubbing it the "BCS Megacast," and hoping to give fans innovate and new ways to view a football game. 

After taking in Florida State's 34-31 comeback victory over Auburn in those new ways, it's clear that ESPN has something it can work with, but there are things that need to be reworked—just like anything version 1.0 really.

The good news if you're ESPN is that the reaction of the fans has been very positive, and rightfully so.

While the broadcast experience may be different, the fact is the way fans consume the game today is different, and consuming more information while seeing the game unfold has become more important than ever before. 

To that end, the mothership found a way to marry viewing the game with consuming information in a way that can work in the future. 

More importantly, ESPN found a way to cater to all demographics while not appearing to be overdoing it in any one aspect. You could switch from the regular broadcast to its "Film Room" coverage and again over to "Title Talk" and not miss the core of the game. 

Twitter itself has become a great judge of what does and doesn't work with the public-at-large, and judging by the response of the Twitterverse, this type of coverage could have a bright future ahead of itself. 

Two parts of the telecast gave fans ways to watch the game that haven't been seen before, and after taking in both, it was hit or miss and nothing in between. 

"BCS Film Room," airing on ESPNEWS, was the way I found myself wanting to watch the game, and I wasn't alone—that version of the game was a massive hit all over social media. 

ESPN also gave fans that wanted the regular viewing experience, minus Brent Musberger and Kirk Herbstreit, a chance to tune in to the radio feeds of each school, via ESPN3 and the watchESPN app.

For those who were into the more social aspect of these events, there was "BCS Title Talk," over on ESPN2—which featured ESPN personalities, celebrities and highlights from Twitter blazing across the screen.

The biggest responses came via the two new ways of watching the game, "Film Room" and "Title Talk." However, only one of these two has great potential to change viewership of the game, and that was "Film Room." 

Current head coaches Kevin Sumlin, Steve Addazio and Paul Chryst joined ESPN analysts Tom Luginbill, Matt Millen and Chris Spielman in the "Film Room," where they gave fans a split screen view of the game from two different angles. 

For those who witness Big Ten football, the names Millen and Spielman could make you not want to view, but the good news is they served as facilitators of discussion and not the focal points—that's where the coaches came in. 

Even better, you got none of Musberger and Herbstreit and all of the coaches talking the X's and O's of the game as it unfolded in front of you. 

It was like walking into a coaching clinic for free.

For the hardcore football fan, this look could have a huge future because it has two things that make sports television work—educating fans while also entertaining, and that's not an easy mix to make work in a new way of presenting live sports. 

One of the better parts of the "Film Room" coverage came at halftime and not just for the lack of cheesy halftime performances and overabundance of commercials, but more so for the fact that those tuning in got a glimpse into how the coaches minds work between halves. 

However, the single best moment came minutes earlier as the entire cast called FSU's fake punt before it even happened. 

Florida State's touchdown near the end of the second quarter was a great example of "calling it," as both Sumlin and Addazio saw the blocking setup before the handoff happened and called the touchdown. 

There were kinks in the system from time to time, but the ability to see how the game unfolds from the minds of coaches in real time is a rarity, and it added, rather than subtracted, from the viewing experience. 

For those who don't take their football too seriously and are more into the entertainment value of the game, ESPN made an attempt to have some fun with "Title Talk." 

The issue was, what ESPN was going for—an interactive and reactive broadcast—just felt forced and uninspired at times. 

Of course, ESPN couldn't resist trotting out its newest acquisition in Tim Tebow, alongside Johnny Manziel, during halftime and into the third quarter of the broadcast on the deuce.

Luckily for them, Tebow held his own and actually made the "Title Talk," worth watching. 

Again, a theme emerged on that side of the broadcast: The less attempts at comedy and the more X's and O's chatter, the better the broadcast became. 

Whether it was Tebow talking about why FSU's defense made a switch from a 3-4 base to the 4-3 to open the second half or Manziel's insight as to why Auburn's wide receivers were their secret weapon—that kind of talk worked. 

However, when the group went off the football talk and tried to get funny or cute, things just felt forced and awkward, and it took away from the intensity and intrigue of the game. 

ESPN's rotating group of comedians, celebrities and football personalities was just a bit much, especially with the five different camera angles going on at the same time and one person trying to reign in the broadcast by reading tweets. 

Isn't that what being on Twitter and using whatever app suites your fancy is for though? I don't need to be reading it on my television screen. 

Anchoring a broadcast on what is happening via Twitter also made the broadcast feel forced at times, especially because ESPN force-fed "amazing" (their words) stats and tweets from it's personalities and fans tweeting at ESPN only. 

What really made the "Title Talk" fall flat was its inability to mix sound. Oftentimes, it was hard to hear what a guest or analyst was saying over the raw sound from the original broadcast. 

Credit ESPN with trying something different and trying to cater to the different styles of fans across the country, but there is clearly some work that needs to be done before this type of viewing becomes commonplace for big events. 

Give us more of the coaches and the analysts talking X's and O's and less of celebs making jokes, and the future of college football's biggest stage could be very bright. 

For the neutral fan, options in how to watch a game like this only enhance the viewing experience. Now, it's on ESPN to give it a few tweaks and continue to experiment with how it uses the multiple platforms it has.

Judging by the overwhelmingly positive response of the fans, there should be a version 2.0 of the "Megacast" in the very near future; and sports viewing may never be the same—in the best way possible—because of the 2014 BCS National Championship Game.

 

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

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