NCAA Football News

USC Football: Early Departures Will Test Steve Sarkisian in Year 1

Steve Sarkisian inherited a tenuous situation when he accepted the head coaching vacancy at USC. The upcoming signing period is the program's last under heavy NCAA-mandated scholarship reductions, and the brunt of three years with limited roster space is compounded by a number of early departures for the NFL. 

Tight end Xavier Grimble became the fifth USC underclassmen since the Trojans' Las Vegas Bowl rout of Fresno State to declare for the 2014 NFL draft. The Los Angeles Times first reported Grimble's change of heart on Tuesday, almost a month after hinting he would return

Grimble joins safety Dion Bailey, defensive lineman George Uko, offensive lineman Marcus Martin and wide receiver Marqise Lee on a journey to the NFL that leaves a sizable dent in USC's outlook for next season.

Grimble's departure complicates one of Sarkisian's stated plans for the Trojans offense in 2014. At his introductory after being named the new head coach in December, Sarkisian touted his use of the tight end, namely All-American Austin Seferian-Jenkins, while at Washington. 

Five is not an insignificant number; that's 10 percent of the entire corps that made the trek to Las Vegas last month. 

With everyone returning who had the opportunity to do so, the Trojans looked like a Pac-12 championship contender coming off of their 10-win campaign and a No. 19 ranking in the final Associated Press Top 25.

As it stands, USC is still a possible preseason Top 25 selection, based on very early projections—San Jose Mercury News columnist Jon Wilner has the Trojans all the way up at No. 8 in his initial projection. But Sarkisian’s job in year one is considerably more challenging when left to not only address the depth issues but also replace Bailey, Martin, Uko, Grimble and Lee. 

Sarkisian reminded the nation that NCAA sanctions are lasting on an interview with The Herd on ESPN Radio Tuesday, per CoachingSearch.com

When we get to training camp, we’ll have between 65-70 scholarship players that are healthy and ready to go. When you think about that, compare it to everybody else in the country that have 85. We’re 20 players less, essentially, at practice. Practice is when most people work with the [first string] and [second string] and sometimes [third string]. We’re going [first] and maybe [second string].

The lack of depth is a greater concern with fewer seasoned veterans accustomed to it, particularly given the style Sarkisian had success using while at Washington. 

He installed a hurry-up, no-huddle scheme there last season that reinvigorated the Huskies offense after a tumultuous 2012. Washington averaged 37.9 points per game and scored at least 38 points five times.

An uptempo system only works with enough to cycle players in and out, or if the few playing are particularly well conditioned. Given the Trojans played just 13 defensive players in the win over Stanford, and early departing Uko and Bailey were two of the them, the pace of an uptempo may prove too rigorous for Sarksian to implement immediately. 

That is unless, of course, Sarkisian is able to get incoming recruits and the few reserves USC did have last season prepared in very short order.  

Reinforcements are on the way on the defensive side. End Claudeson Pelon and safety/linebacker Uchenna Nwosu are intriguing additions. Pelon will practice in the spring, and Nwosu, a recruit of retained wide receivers coach Tee Martin, could settle into a hybrid role similar to Bailey's.

National Signing Day will be paramount for filling USC's ranks, and Sarkisian made an addition this week that sent tremors through the recruiting world with the defensive line coach Bo Davis from Texas. 

Two Longhorns verbal commits—defensive linemen Courtney Garnett and Trey Lealaimatafao as reported by The Dallas Morning News—rescinded their pledges following the news of Davis leaving Texas to join Sarkisian's staff. 

USC was not in the mix for Garnett or Lealaimatafao prior to their decommitting, but Davis' presence adds an intriguing element to their recruitment for the next four weeks. 

The new USC staff has worked some recruiting trail magic, landing U.S. Army All-American tight end Bryce Dixon, a prospect heavily projected to go to UCLA. Dixon could prove to be a key addition, as he or sparingly used sophomore Jalen Cope-Fitzpatrick may help offset Grimble's departure. 

Sarkisian is obviously severely hamstrung because of the scholarship limitations, which makes every decision of paramount importance.  

That said, he is hardly working from scratch. Sarkisian may have the best returning wide receiver in the Pac-12 in Nelson Agholor, running backs Tre Madden and Buck Allen were both stellar when given the reins as the primary ball-carrier, and quarterback Cody Kessler grew into a capable leader of the offense by season's end. USC also returns Leonard Williams, one of the nation's best defensive linemen.

The departures leave Sarkisian more filling holes than building from the ground, but how those holes get filled is the difference between a trying season and a thriving one. 

 

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Which Recruit Makes Biggest Impact on Defense in 2014?

The 2014 class is stacked with impact players on the defensive side of the ball, but a few have set themselves apart.

Ohio State commit Marshon Lattimore is one of the top defensive backs in the country and has the potential to contribute immediately for the Buckeyes next season.

Who else made Bleacher Report's list of the top impact defenders in the 2014 class?

Watch B/R experts Michael Felder, Barrett Sallee and Adam Kramer break down who should be on your radar as freshmen next year.

Highlights courtesy of xosdigital.com

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Big Ten Football Early Enrollees You Need to Know More About

Early enrollees are becoming a greater trend in college football, and the Big Ten is perhaps one of the leading conferences in this practice. 

For those that enroll early, the chances of playing as a freshman increase dramatically. 

Just look at Sojourn Shelton at Wisconsin and Joey Bosa at Ohio State just this past year as examples of what can happen by enrolling early. 

Bosa and Shelton were easily the two best freshmen playing defense in the Big Ten this past year and a lot of it had to do with the extra time, not just with the football program, but also in school period. 

Of course, this practice isn't ending with the 2014 class, so as we begin to look forward instead of behind, here are a few of the early enrollees you should get to know and keep an eye on throughout the Big Ten. 

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Predicting Every 2014 College Football Conference Champion

The 2013 college football season, which seemed to spiral further into chaos every week, has set the bar high for 2014.

The sport will be going through some major changes, as conference realignment will continue and the College Football Playoff will be replacing the BCS.

Meanwhile, conference title races will rage on like always, leaving plenty of questions looming for the ensuing season.

Can Oregon finally break through and win an elusive national title? Will Alabama climb back to the top of the SEC? How will traditional powers Texas, Florida and Michigan fare after underwhelming 2013 seasons?

We'll take an early look at those questions and predict the outcome of every conference race up next.

 

H/t to Trey Iles of The Times-Picayune for breaking down the conference realignment for the 2014-15 season.

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Brady Hoke, Michigan Announce Al Borges Will Not Return in 2014

After fielding one of the worst offenses in the Big Ten Conference, Brady Hoke and the Michigan Wolverines have signaled for a major coaching change.

Hoke announced Wednesday evening that offensive coordinator Al Borges will not return for the 2014 season, according to the official website of Michigan athletics.

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

Borges has been with the Wolverines for all three of Hoke's seasons in Ann Arbor. The two-time Broyles Award nominee joined Hoke in 2009 while he was at San Diego State.

According to USA Today, Borges was among the top 10 highest-paid assistant coaches in college football.

His long career has included offensive coordinator stops at Auburn, Indiana, Cal, UCLA, Oregon and Boise State.

The Wolverines finished 10th in the Big Ten in total offense, tallying just 373.5 yards per game. UM closed out the season with a poor offensive performance (261 total yards) in a Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl blowout loss to Kansas State.

In that contest, the Wolverines totaled just 65 rushing yards—40 of which came on one run by quarterback Shane Morris in the fourth quarter when the game was well in hand.

UM's offensive struggles started long before that, including historically bad performances against rivals Michigan State and Nebraska.

In consecutive games, the Wolverines netted negative rushing yards. The two-game disaster yielded minus-21 rushing yards against the Cornhuskers and minus-48 (worst output in school history) against the Spartans.

Those embarrassing outcomes likely sealed Borges' fate. Two customary questions now arise: How will this impact recruiting and who will UM bring in to replace Borges?

The first question will be answered in time, but ESPN's Tom VanHaaren has already begun reaching out to several recruits with mixed results. He retweeted 2015 5-star running-back commit Damien Harris expressing surprise over Borges' departure, but also reported that 3-star wide receiver Maurice Ways won't let the news impact his recruitment.

Task No. 1 might be keeping 2014 crown jewel Jabrill Peppers in the fold, while task No. 2 will be replacing Borges.

Bleacher Report's Adam Biggers has already taken the time to suggest a potential replacement: recently fired Miami (Ohio) head coach Don Treadwell.

The high-profile position could attract a number of viable candidates. 

The hire will also be a crucial decision for Hoke, who is on the hot seat after regressing in each of his last two seasons.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

10 College Football Coaches Who Will Begin 2014 Season on the Hot Seat

Nobody feels the pressure in college football more than head coaches.

If a team wins, the players will usually get the majority of the credit. But if the team loses, the blame typically falls squarely on the head coach.

Then again, that tends to come with the territory.

However, sometimes the head coach truly is to blame. Sometimes, the coach is the only thing holding a team back from reaching its true potential—see Gene Chizik.

When this happens, these head coaches usually find themselves on the hot seat.

Here’s a list of 10 head coaches who will find their seat a lot warmer entering 2014.

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Biggest Takeaways from Pac 12's 2014 College Football Schedule

Set those reminders, make those reservations and let the countdown to the 2014 college football season begin, because the Pac-12 released its slate for the next year Wednesday. 

The 2014 schedule mirrors the 2013 version in a few key ways, thus the divisional races could again be decided before the regular season's final week. Several marquee matchups with possible conference championship implications occur between the first week of September and mid-October: 

 

USC at Stanford, Sept. 6: Pac-12 play begins in especially combustible fashion. Not only has USC-Stanford grown to be one of the conference's more competitive rivalries, but new Trojans head coach Steve Sarkisian and Stanford's David Shaw had a heated dispute that played out in the media last October, following the Cardinal's narrow defeat of the Sarkisian-led Washington Huskies. 

Each side will also have its own brand of payback in mind for the other. The Trojans effectively ended Stanford's BCS Championship hopes in Los Angeles last November, but haven't won on The Farm since 2008.  

As Lindsey Thiry of Fox Sports notes, this is likely the most significant cross-divisional test USC faces. 

 

UCLA at Arizona State, Sept. 25 (Thurs.): The Pac-12 South's last three title game participants meet in Tempe, Ariz. Their last two meetings were decided by two and five points. UCLA won its last time at Sun Devil Stadium with a field goal in the waning seconds. 

 

Stanford at Washington, Sept. 27: This is the first in a series of brutal road games for Stanford, which lost its last time in Seattle. Washington played the Cardinal within a field goal last season. This game should provide some insight into the Huskies' conference championship credentials.

 

Oregon at UCLA: Oct. 11: Each is a very early favorite in its division, thanks in no small part to the decisions of quarterbacks Marcus Mariota and Brett Hundley to return for their redshirt junior seasons. The inside track for hosting the 2014 Pac-12 Championship and the Heisman Trophy race will be at stake. 

 

Stanford at Arizona State, Oct. 18: A rematch at the site of the 2013 Pac-12 Championship game, the Sun Devils are seeking their first victory over Stanford since 2008.  

 

Washington at Oregon, Oct. 18: Chris Petersen, winner of his last two games as a head coach against Oregon, takes a crack at ending Washington's decade-long losing streak in the border rivalry. 

Two-time defending conference champion Stanford will obviously have its mettle tested almost immediately. In addition to its three big Pac-12 games in the season's first eight weeks, the Cardinal travel to Notre Dame in Week 6 for their annual regional rivalry tilt. 

Stanford-Notre Dame is one of the top non-conference dates on the schedule, but fans will have to wait through Week 1 before getting to the good stuff.  

Opening week is rather pedestrian compared to this season, which featured Washington State's trip to Auburn and the Washington-Boise State bowl rematch. USC hosts Fresno State in another bowl redux, but the Bulldogs visit the Coliseum in Trojans head coach Steve Sarkisian's debut, but do so without Derek Carr.

Nevertheless, that may be the most intriguing pairing of the first week. Week 2 rewards fans' patience with perhaps the best non-conference game of the season. 

Michigan State visits Oregon in a clash worthy of the Granddaddy of 'Em All. The programs won two of the last three Rose Bowls, and a number of Spartans from this year's Michigan State team return to test Oregon's high-tempo offense with precisely the same kind of physical defense and smash-mouth offensive style that denied the Ducks the Pac-12 title the last two seasons. 

Between the Michigan State showdown and visit to UCLA, Oregon's College Football Playoff resume will either be rock-solid or scrapped by the time Stanford visits Autzen Stadium on Nov. 1.  

Of course, the Ducks will need to avoid a November letdown, something that has plagued their championship aspirations throughout the last three seasons. The 2013 campaign brought losses at Stanford and Arizona. A Nov. 8 trip to the elevation and cold of Salt Lake City to face Utah looms as a potential upset date. Just ask Stanford. 

 

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Florida Gators: Why They Will Compete for an SEC Championship in 2014

Something happened to the Florida Gators in 2013 that Gator Nation was not used to.

They were the laughing stock of college football and sports fans everywhere.

In just five seasons, the Gators went from winning their second national championship in three years to being SportsCenter's No.1 "Not Top Play" for having two players on the offense block each other during a game.

That game happened to be when the Gators hit rock bottom. It was against Georgia Southern, an FCS school, and the Gators lost 26-20 in The Swamp.

Now, as of January 8, the Gators have lost their No. 1 recruit—247Sports.com 5-star running back Dalvin Cook—to bitter rival Florida State.

Oh, and those Seminoles have just won the national championship.

Fans who sat in misery on their hard bleacher seats and watched Steve Addazio conduct an offense that didn't look like it could ever get any worse were devastatingly shown just how much worse an offense can look in 2013—even without Addazio.

Florida ranked 113th out of 123 Division I FBS teams in total offense in 2013, ranking behind teams like Idaho and Eastern Michigan—both of which are on the schedule for next season.

The Gators had the worst season in the school's history since 1979 and lost for the first time to Vanderbilt in Gainesville since 1945.

And yet, there is reason to be optimistic heading into 2014.

If nothing else, fans can look at the miraculous turnaround of Auburn from 2012 to 2013. Auburn was historically bad in 2012, losing every one of its eight conference games on the way to a 3-9 overall record before eventually firing Gene Chizik.

Everyone knows what happened this season, and while the Tigers came up just short of a national title, the 2013 Auburn Tigers will stand as one of the greatest turnaround stories in the history of college football.

Sure, they needed some miracles at the end of games to make it where they ended up.

No, they were probably not the second-best team in the country as far as talent goes, but that is my whole point! The beauty of college football is that it may not always be pretty and teams need a bit of luck to make it to the top.

The 2012 Gators ended up being one game short of playing for a national championship and needed a miraculous blocked punt touchdown against the lowly Louisiana Ragin' Cajuns on homecoming at the end of the game to keep that season alive.

College football is sometimes about the ball just bouncing your way—as it literally did for Auburn on the game-winning touchdown catch against Georgia this season.

The 2013 Gators had serious talent issues at some key places, but the team also had some of the worst luck imaginable—especially when it came to injuries.

For the entire 2013 season, 29 scholarship players missed snaps due to injury, 23 scholarship players missed entire games and 17 scholarship players suffered season-ending injuries during some point before or during the season.

Only five players made all 12 starts for the Gators.

No matter what kind of talent pool you have, it is impossible to replace that many men and expect to be competitive.

Furthermore, despite the disaster that was 2013, the Gators still currently sit at 10th in ESPN's recruiting class rankings. Of the Gators' top six recruits for 2014, three are offensive players and two are considered "athletes" who can play on both sides of the ball.

One of those recruits is quarterback Will Grier from North Carolina, who comes in ranked as the No. 2 dual-threat quarterback in the class.

Grier set a national record with 837 yards passing in a playoff game last season and broke his own state record in the game with 10 passing touchdowns.

As Gator fans know, though, Jeff Driskel came in as a highly touted playmaker as well and has yet to live up to his perceived potential.

With former offensive coordinator Brent Pease now gone from Florida, the Gators brought in Kurt Roper from Duke in an attempt to revive the offense.

The Gators plan to run a more uptempo and spread offense under Roper, as Will Muschamp knows he is on thin ice.

Roper had been the offensive coordinator, assistant head coach and quarterbacks coach of the Blue Devils and was named as a finalist for the 2013 Broyles Award, which recognizes the nation's top assistant coach. Duke ranked 43rd in total offense in Division I under Roper in 2013.

While the Gators still need more talent on the offensive side of the ball, they still return a talented stable of running backs that includes Mack Brown, Matt Jones and Kelvin Taylor, who had a very impressive freshman season.

The Gators also currently hold a commitment from ESPN's No. 2 wide receiver, Ermon Lane, whose 6'2" and 196-pound frame could give the Gators more size and big-play ability from the wide receiver position.

Defensively, the Gators will certainly lose a lot of talent to the NFL draft in April, as three starters—Dominique Easley, Loucheiz Purifoy and Marcus Roberson—are projected to be selected in the first three rounds by WalterFootball.com.

Despite the injuries, the Gators still managed to deliver the nation's eighth-best total defense and seventh-best passing defense in 2013.

Florida will return in 2014 with an ultra-talented but young secondary anchored by Vernon Hargreaves III, who was named as a finalist for the Jim Thorpe Award recognizing the nation's top defensive back last season. Hargreaves was the only freshman named as a finalist for the list.

On top of everything else, the going should be at least a little easier for the Gators in the SEC East next season, as Georgia, South Carolina and Missouri will all be replacing senior quarterbacks.

All things considered, 2014 is an opportunity for a fresh start for the Florida Gators.

The 2013 season was disastrous, but the foundation is in place for a great team. After all, this team is just one season removed from an 11-2 record with not much of a difference in talent.

Will Muschamp knows the time is now, but he has the support of athletic director Jeremy Foley and, most importantly, his players.

The Gators can and will compete for an SEC Championship in 2014.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Dear Mr. NFL GM, Here's Why You Should Draft Johnny Manziel

The door has closed on Johnny Manziel's college football career as he announced on Wednesday that he is "ready to make [his] dream a reality" and declared for the NFL draft. Life is about to get even more complicated for the 2012 Heisman Trophy winner as he will be one of the most discussed players over the next few months leading up to the 2014 NFL draft.

If you are a general manager of an NFL team that is looking for a quarterback, look no further than the former Texas A&M passer. Teddy Bridgewater, of Louisville, will likely be the first off the board, but after Bridgewater, Manziel should be the guy GMs are clamoring to add to the roster. The kid is a great leader who loves football, wants nothing more than to win and he's a mighty fine quarterback prospect as well.

The anti-Manziel crowd will be out in full force in the months leading up to the combine and will get even louder when draft day comes. They will scream about his off-the-field antics. They will tell tales of his immaturity and mention how he is a jerk. They will talk about the autograph scandal and subsequent NCAA investigation that ultimately amounted to nothing.

These folks have been around since he was popping bottles after the Cotton Bowl win. They showed up, as expected, after the Johnny Football they thought they knew at the Heisman ceremony turned out to be a fun-loving college guy with enough family money to enjoy some of the finer things in life. They are the folks who got real loud after the Manning Passing Academy incident, and chirped hard when Manziel got the unsportsmanlike conduct penalty for jawing with a Rice player.

It is a group littered with 'moralists' who want Johnny Football to fit into their box.

Simple advice on dealing with these folks? Ignore them.

The fact is, Manziel is a winner who is loved by his teammates and is willing to do whatever it takes to get the job done. The selfishness folks mention? The quarterback cost his team once this year, against Rice, in a spot when the Aggies had a hefty lead and it ultimately amounted to nothing.

From that point on, he was the picture of poise. In Oxford, the quarterback's knee buckled in what looked to be an ugly injury. It was merely a scare as Manziel got back out on the field and showed he was still capable of making defenders miss. His final drive against the Rebels, in a winning effort, was a testament to his teammates believing he could get it done, and the quarterback delivered.

Against Auburn, Manziel suffered a shoulder injury, but he made sure he was out on the field to keep the Aggies in the game. The defense couldn't get a stop, but Manziel fought through the pain to put up the 41 points that would fall just short of the victory. It was a winning effort with no W to show for it.

After Texas A&M struggled on the road against No. 14 LSU and No. 5 Missouri, Manziel returned to form, rested and healthy in the Chick-fil-A Bowl. After trailing Duke 38-17 at the half, Johnny Football came alive under the bright lights, leading the offense into the end zone for four offensive touchdowns in the second half to play catch-up to the Blue Devils in order to get the New Year's Eve victory.

More important than the win?

How Manziel handled the game itself. The redshirt sophomore got his classmate, Mike Evans, under control following the big receiver's early angry outburst. Even when the game looked like it was slipping away, the 2012 Heisman winner kept himself and his offense focused.   

Most importantly, the quarterback got the defense fired up. He let them know that he believed in them, that the game belonged to A&M and it was up to the defense to go out and snatch the victory for the Aggies. It was the defense understanding that its leader needed it to bow its neck and get a win that made the difference as the much-maligned unit iced the game in its final minutes. 

There is, of course, more to Manziel than the simple buzzwords. After all, GMs don't just want a winner or a leader, it is understood that they'd also like to get a real, actual, high quality quarterback.

Make no mistake, Johnny Football has them covered there.

A season ago, the quarterback was a runner who could throw the ball down the field when he had to. He had Heisman moments that were rooted in hoping no one hit him and trying to keep the ball moving toward the end zone. He was a phenomenal player, but not a very good quarterback.

That changed in 2013, when Manziel answered the bell at the quarterback spot. Texas A&M asked him to work through his reads, and he did it. Texas A&M asked him to get through a progression, and he did it. Texas A&M asked him to be patient in the pocket, and he did it. Everything that Johnny Football needed to work on to become Johnny Quarterback, he did, and that work showed up in his play on Saturdays.

In 2013, he proved the doubters wrong as he showed he could make effective adjustments and had not yet reached his ceiling. He made himself into a quarterback by growing up with the offense and expanding his play at the position. He displayed the arm to make the long throws and the touch to make the short throws. 

Against Duke, standing on the NFL right hash, the quarterback pushed the ball to the left sideline on a rope. That throw displayed not just the distance, but the velocity that is a must to stop cornerbacks from breaking up the long pass.

Oh, and he still has that knack for getting out of trouble and doing something special when he has to.

GMs in the NFL, pull the trigger on Manziel, he's a guy that a team on the quarterback hunt cannot afford to pass up.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Johnny Manziel Declares for NFL Draft: What Is His College Football Legacy?

Oftentimes when discussing legacies, numbers take over. Wins, statistics and trophies lead the conversation. With Johnny Manziel, however, simply citing numbers and hardware—all plentiful and ridiculous—will insufficiently encompass the most exciting college football player of our lifetime.

The way to appreciate Manziel won’t come by simply pointing at his name in the SEC record book, an exhausting exercise given his historical presence. It’s the moments, the absurdity of his highlights and the impossible plays that were made possible that truly summarize his greatness.

It was on another level. And now, he'll take it to another level.

On Wednesday, the worst-kept secret became official. Manziel declared for the 2014 NFL draft, leaving Texas A&M early after two magnificent seasons as starting quarterback. Gil Brandt of NFL.com first broke the report.

Manziel later confirmed the news to Bruce Feldman of CBS Sports, offering the following on the decision:

After long discussions with my family, friends, teammates, and coaches, I have decided to make myself available for the 2014 NFL Draft. 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 Sumlin and Coach Spav and be part of a program that's continuing to grow. But I felt like this is was it 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.

By officially declaring, Manziel will quickly become one of the more intriguing prospects in the history of the NFL. His style will come into question, as will his size, but his sheer playmaking ability and underrated arm will be too intriguing for many teams to pass on. The production speaks for itself.

No, it’s not just about numbers, but Manziel will leave A&M with a number of records. In fact, his name will be at the top at just about every meaningful statistic a quarterback can obtain.

G.O.A.T. (via @TexAgs) pic.twitter.com/ELeuTmHoQr

— Hurricane Doug (@dougigem) January 8, 2014

Manziel will also leave with a handful of SEC marks, including the most total offense in a single season with 5,116 yards (3,706 passing, 1,410 rushing) in 2012. Manziel overtook Cam Newton (4,327 total yards) in his 12th game of that season; Newton accumulated his total in 14 games.

Manziel will also leave as the SEC’s all-time leader for total offense in a game. His 576-yard performance against Louisiana Tech is tops overall, while his 562 yards against Alabama during the 2013 season checks in at No. 2. Yes, he also owns the bronze medal in the department. And he did it all in two years.

In that time, the program has undergone a radical change for the better.

Head coach Kevin Sumlin just signed a lucrative new contract that will make him one of the highest-paid coaches in all of college football. With Sumlin just getting started, recruiting is absolutely thriving. Texas A&M current has the No. 4-ranked recruiting class, according to 247Sports, after closing with the No. 8 class in 2013.

Beyond the team, Kyle Field is currently undergoing a $450 million expansion that will push its total capacity from nearly 83,000 to well over 100,000 when it is completed in 2015.

This has all been made possible by the overwhelming financial support the school is currently enjoying. Last year, the school raised more than $740 million in donations, besting the previous best year by more than $300 million.

These unbelievable developments aren’t solely because of what Manziel was able to accomplish with a football in his hands, but he has been the catalyst of it all. His Heisman Trophy run (and win) added validity to his 2012 season and brought attention the school has since capitalized from.

Along the way there were controversial tweets, casino visits, nights out, endless celebrity encounters, and an autograph scandal along with a subsequent NCAA investigation. In the first game of the season, he pointed at a scoreboard and the Internet nearly broke because of it.

He was larger than life and the game itself, a role he embraced. It wasn’t always smooth—never easy—but the rigors of his celebrity status seemed to calm in the final months. And with the world of expectations on his shoulders this year—and an entire football world ready to pounce on his failure—Manziel delivered the same magic game after game.

You could make the argument that he was even better in 2014, a scenario that seemed impossible before the season began.

The only knock that can (and will) be made against Manziel’s college accomplishments is the lack of championships. And it’s a legitimate one. He’ll head to the NFL without an SEC title or BCS National Championship, although this is really through no fault of his own.

In fact, A&M was still able to win nine games in 2013 despite navigating a brutal schedule and allowing more than 32 points per game (good for No. 96 nationally).

Simply put, there's only so much one man can do.

More significant that any record, statistic or empty trophy slot were the moments that will carry on, and this is where Manziel’s legacy enters another stratosphere.

Like his play against Alabama in 2012, somehow escaping the grasp of Alabama tacklers to find his target wide open in the end zone.

Or his play against Alabama in 2013 where he somehow upped the ante, unsatisfied with the difficulty level from a season ago. Manziel escaped yet another dicey situation, tossing a miracle pass to his wideout on a play that will never quite make much sense.

And then, of course, there’s his miraculous touchdown throw still fresh from A&M’s wild comeback win over Duke in the Chick-fil-A Bowl. It will never make much sense, so don’t bother trying to understand how or why it worked.

This is who Johnny Manziel was at A&M, the kind of player you can’t wait to tell your children about.

To truly understand the magnitude of his ability, you had to watch him destroy a Nick Saban defense that was deemed indestructible. Or make future NFL stars look utterly helpless in their efforts to bring him down. Or exercise two consecutive spin moves on a single play with the grace of a ballroom dancer.

He was always unpredictable, never boring and almost always successful, a combination of style, improv and skill that may never be matched.

After a while, you almost became numb to the absurdity, a testament of just how normal he made the incredible seem. Numbers, as magnificent as they might be, simply don't do his legacy justice.

Hopefully you were tuning in.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Twitter Reacts as Johnny Manziel Officially Enters 2014 NFL Draft

Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel is unquestionably one of the most intriguing prospects to enter the NFL draft pool in years, and while every team will likely have differing opinions on him, several factors suggest that Johnny Football should come off the board quickly.    

Most figured that 2013 would be Manziel's final season in the collegiate ranks, and while he kept his intentions under wraps initially, Manziel officially declared for the 2014 NFL draft on Jan. 8, as NFL on ESPN reported:

Manziel later made the announcement official, via CBS Sports' Bruce Feldman:

After long discussions with my family, friends, teammates, and coaches, I have decided to make myself available for the 2014 NFL Draft. The decision was such a tough one for me because of how much I wanted to go back and 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.

The decision was an obvious one for Johnny Football after winning the Heisman Trophy as a freshman in 2012 and following that up with yet another spectacular season that resulted in him being a Heisman finalist yet again.

Manziel is a special talent, and it can be argued that he is one of the greatest college football players of all time despite playing just two years. That argument is bolstered by the fact that he dominated SEC competition, as evidenced by this stat courtesy of SportsCenter:

Not only did Manziel excel as a passer, but he was also an extremely dangerous threat with his legs, which resulted in him racking up nearly 10,000 total yards and 93 touchdowns in two seasons:

Manziel wasn't as dynamic as a runner in 2013, but that may have been by design. He made strides as a passer, and head coach Kevin Sumlin acknowledged that, according to the Associated Press via The Trentonian:

I think he moved from an athlete that was playing quarterback to a quarterback that's an athlete. I think he's improved as a passer, improved in his knowledge of not only what we're doing, but his knowledge of defenses, and I think that shows.

Speaking of Sumlin, NFL.com's Gil Brandt makes a great point regarding what Manziel's departure means for him in 2014.

It's extremely difficult to ignore all the accolades, but there is far from a consensus feeling that Manziel will translate to the NFL level. For starters, it can be questioned whether or not he has elite arm strength, and it remains to be seen if he can play in a pro-style offense.

Of course, the lines between collegiate and NFL offenses have been blurred in recent years with the spread- and read-option gaining traction in the professional ranks, but Manziel still may have to play under center and do some things that Sumlin and the Aggies didn't ask him to.

Also, Manziel's slight frame could cause some issues. Johnny Football's size is comparable to Washington Redskins quarterback Robert Griffin III, who suffered a torn ACL in last year's playoffs and was unable to return to form in 2013.

Manziel is just 6'1" and 210 pounds and dealt with a few different ailments throughout this past season. To his credit, though, he displayed a huge amount of toughness by playing in every game despite the fact that it would have been very easy to sit out with the NFL draft and a big payday looming.

NFL Network's Daniel Jeremiah admitted that his size could be an issue, but he feels as though Manziel has the highest ceiling of any quarterback in the draft:

NFL insider Jay Glazer agreed and has high hopes for Manziel's NFL career:

It's also no secret that Manziel has a penchant for making spectacular plays, such as this one against Duke in the Chick-fil-A Bowl, courtesy of SportsCenter, which would prove to be his final collegiate game:

Manziel simply seems to have intangibles that no other quarterback prospect does. They are immeasurable and difficult to project to the NFL level, but they probably shouldn't be ignored.

The biggest thing working in Manziel's favor is that four of the first five teams that will select in the 2014 NFL draft could really use a quarterback, as well as the Minnesota Viking at No. 8. Because of that, it's tough to imagine him falling below the eighth pick unless he decides to work out at the Scouting Combine and totally tanks.

The consensus seems to be that Louisville quarterback Teddy Bridgewater is the top guy at the position, with UCF's Blake Bortles and Manziel next in line. That means Manziel could either go No. 3 to the Jacksonville Jaguars or No. 4 to the Cleveland Browns. No. 5 to the Oakland Raiders is also possible if they are ready to move on from Terrelle Pryor, and the Vikings are the worst-case scenario at No. 8.

Adam Caplan of ESPN believes that most will tab the Browns as the favorites to select Manziel at No. 4 overall:

ESPN's resident draft guru Mel Kiper Jr. ranks Manziel No. 3 among the draft-eligible quarterbacks:

Despite Manziel's perceived lofty draft status, not everyone is buying in. ESPN's Mike Greenberg doesn't take anything from Manziel's collegiate career, but he doesn't view him as a first-round talent:

There are probably plenty of others who agree with his point of view, but there are just as many who feel the opposite. Manziel is as divisive as a prospect can possibly be, and that is what will make following him throughout the draft process and beyond so interesting.

Teams may also take into account Manziel's star status since he can instantly re-energize a moribund fanbase, which means the Jags and Browns have to take a long, hard look at him.     

An even bigger winner could be the NFL. ESPN's Colin Cowherd believes that Manziel's involvement will drive television ratings for the draft:

All it takes is one team picking high in the draft to fall in love with Johnny Football, and it's hard to imagine that not happening.   

 

Follow @MikeChiari on Twitter

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What Life After Johnny Manziel Will Be Like for Kevin Sumlin, Texas A&M

So long, Johnny.

What was a longtime assumption became a reality on Wednesday when Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel announced that he is forgoing his redshirt junior and senior seasons at Texas A&M and will enter the 2014 NFL draft.

The Kerrville, Texas, native posted an open letter thanking the fans on TexAgs.com.

I cannot begin to tell you what the support of the school, my teammates, Coach [Kevin] Sumlin, Chancellor [John] Sharp and the fans has meant to me over the last two years. The Heisman Trophy belongs as much to you as it does to me.

So what does this mean for Texas A&M moving forward?

Manziel was the trigger man of an Aggie offense that led the SEC in total offense in each of his first two seasons at the helm—which were head coach Kevin Sumlin's first in College Station as well.

Sumlin came to the program with a reputation for leading high-flying offenses at Houston, particularly through the air with quarterback Case Keenum.

At Texas A&M, however, things have been different.

Manziel's dual-threat ability has allowed Sumlin to implement more designed runs and read-option looks in the offense, which kicked an already potent offense into overdrive.

The player everybody in Aggieland is excited about is incoming freshman Kyle Allen. 

The 6'2", 185-pound, pro-style quarterback from Scottsdale, Ariz., is the 15th-ranked player in the country in 247Sports.com's composite rankings. He is the kind of player who can be a difference-maker for a program. According to his 247Sports timeline, he signed a financial-aid agreement with the university and intends to enroll this month.

Allen possesses the accuracy and awareness to be a weapon in Sumlin's offense, and has the arm strength to stretch the field. That's great for Sumlin 1.0, but that's not what Texas A&M has come to expect.

Having a true dual-threat quarterback that can do those things on top of posing a threat with his legs is what really makes this offense tick and there's already a signal-caller on the roster who fits that description.

Kenny Hill.

The 6'1", 215-pound rising sophomore played in four games as a true freshman and completed 16 of 22 passes for 183 yards and one touchdown. He also carried the ball seven times for 37 yards. 

Should the Aggies really want Allen—a true freshman—making his first career start on the road in Columbia, S.C., versus the Gamecocks on opening night?

That's a lot to ask.

Hill needs to win the job this spring. If Sumlin is unwilling to name a starter because he wants more information in fall camp, Hill must at least have the consensus lead on Allen and the rest of the pack heading into fall camp.

With a defense that gives up yards and points in bunches, the Aggies need a dynamic difference-maker at quarterback. While that defense can improve in the offseason, there's no margin for error with an SEC game in Week 1.

If Hill wins the job, it allows Sumlin to possibly redshirt Allen and create two years of separation between potential starting quarterbacks.

The offense won't change that much with Hill and his marginal experience in game action will benefit this team not only in Week 1, but throughout the season.

Allen may have the most upside, but if he becomes the starter, Sumlin and the rest of the roster would have to adapt to an offense that looks more like what Keenum ran at Houston.

That's not to say that it wouldn't be successful. With Sumlin calling the shots, it absolutely would be. However, the speed bumps would be bigger and the transition would be more pronounced.

Deciding whether it's worth it is Sumlin's most important decision of the offseason.

 

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Louisville Cardinals: Why Bobby Petrino Is the Best Choice for Cardinal Football

Louisville athletic director Tom Jurich has proven time and time again that he is one of the premier ADs in the country. Jurich has been the architect behind countless facility renovations for the University of Louisville, stadium expansions and coaching hires.

He is credited with bringing basketball coach Rick Pitino to the Cardinals as well as being the driving voice behind the Cardinals' move to the ACC.

Now Jurich is faced with the task of finding the football coach best-suited for continuing Louisville's momentum. The Cardinals have gone 23-3 over the last two seasons, including back-to-back bowl victories and consecutive seasons in the Top 15.

Louisville football cannot afford to take a step backwards. Charlie Strong packed his bags for Texas last week and the search for his successor began. Several names have been linked to the Louisville job in the past week.

None have inspired as much emotion as former Cardinals head coach and current Western Kentucky bench boss Bobby Petrino.

Louisville fans have taken to Twitter in full force to voice both support and disgust at the idea of a Petrino-Louisville reunion.

Pat Forde of Yahoo! Sports has reported that Petrino's return to Louisville is "imminent."

Athletic director Tom Jurich is expected to meet with Petrino's agent, David Dunn, Wednesday night to finalize contract details. The school plans to introduce Petrino Thursday. The Louisville Athletic Association's personnel committee has called a 10 a.m. ET meeting Thursday to discuss a personnel matter. The committee is expected to approve a contract for Petrino, and he will be formally introduced thereafter.

Petrino led the Cardinals from 2003-2006 and racked up an impressive 41-9 record at Louisville, including a victory in the 2006 Orange Bowl. He coached Western Kentucky to an 8-4 record this season and has a career record of 83-30.

Petrino's controversies are well-documented. He left Louisville in 2006 for the Atlanta Falcons and failed to finish a full season in Atlanta before taking over as head coach of the Arkansas Razorbacks. He built Arkansas into an SEC contender and had the Razorbacks poised for a potential title run prior to his now-infamous scandal.

Petrino took a year off from coaching before Western Kentucky gave him an opportunity to return to the sidelines. Petrino has appeared to be a man humbled by failure—at the professional level as well as in his personal life.

Petrino's teams have been consistently high-scoring and scoring points was a struggle at times for the Cardinals this season. Petrino took Louisville football to heights it had never before seen, and did it without Top 25 talent.

If given the reins to Louisville football, Petrino will have an abundance of talent returning to a team that just finished 12-1.

ESPN's Kirk Herbstreit discussed this situation earlier:

One thing is for certain: Despite all of Petrino's personal transgressions, the man is an incredible coach and one of the brightest offensive minds in the game. Louisville is taking a risk if it does indeed bring Petrino back, but there is no reward without risk.

Louisville has been called a "stepping-stone job" for many years. The irony of the situation is that a coach who used Louisville as a stepping stone could now return to build Louisville into a destination.

 

Stats and video courtesy of ESPN.com.

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Bo Davis' Departure from Texas Results in Several Decommits for Longhorns

The Charlie Strong Era at Texas hasn't produced an ideal beginning.

First the transplant from Louisville was ripped by a major Longhorns booster, Red McCombs. Now, UT is feeling the change elsewhere in its coaching staff and on the recruiting trail.

The Longhorns recently lost defensive line coach Bo Davis, who left Austin to join Steve Sarkisian's staff at USC. And with his departure came the decommitments of several defensive line commits—most recently, 247Sports composite 4-star defensive tackle Zaycoven Henderson, as detailed by Damon Sales of ESPN.com.

Upon his decommitment, Henderson tweeted about the departure of Davis.

Why Did Bo Davis Leave Texas 😒

— Zay-Coven Henderson (@lobo5540) January 7, 2014

Henderson's exit came Tuesday night and was joined by decommitments from Trey Lealaimatafao and Courtney Garnett.

Lealaimatafao, a composite 3-star from San Antonio, also questioned Davis leaving before announcing that he is no longer a Longhorn. 

Did coach Davis really leave Texas? 😐

— Trey Lealaimatafao (@TreyL55) January 8, 2014

Davis leaving appears to have been the final straw for the Army All-American, as Oregon has been surging late in his recruiting process. The 247Sports crystal ball projects he'll now head to Eugene.

Garnett—a 3-star from New Orleans—completed the decommitment hat trick, announcing on Twitter that the 'Horns were out of the picture.

Texas is no longer a option 🙅🙅🙅

— Courtney Garnett (@ONLYFORAKING) January 8, 2014

Texas still boasts the No. 1 class in the Big 12 Conference and the No. 12 class nationally with 21 commitments remaining for 2014.

The 'Horns will have to replace one key defensive lineman, defensive end Jackson Jeffcoat, next season. Conveniently, their top commitment at the moment is 4-star defensive end Derick Roberson.

Additionally, they are still in the mix for the No. 2 defensive end in the nation, 5-star Solomon Thomas, who recently expressed excitement about Strong's hiring, per Matt Wixon of The Dallas Morning News.

While the 'Horns are likely hurting after three losses in one night, pulling in Thomas would more than ease the pain.

As Strong continues to settle in at UT, wins on the recruiting trail will help to smooth the waters that have been rough in his first few days.

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Oklahoma QB Trevor Knight Will Make Serious Push for 2014 Heisman Trophy

If you don’t know the name of Oklahoma Sooners quarterback Trevor Knight by now, it’s about time you got acquainted.

That’s because come next December, the San Antonio, Texas, native could be in New York City sitting front row for the 2014 Heisman Trophy presentation. And if Knight plays his cards right, the name enshrined on college football’s most prestigious award could very well be his.

No, that’s not a joke.

Knight made his introduction to the college football world on Jan. 2, leading Oklahoma to an improbable upset of the Alabama Crimson Tide, 45-31, in the 2014 Sugar Bowl. In the process, he threw for 348 yards, four touchdowns and one interception on 32-of-44 passing, including going 14-of-17 for 169 yards on first down.

In comparison, the redshirt freshman had thrown for just 471 yards, five touchdowns and four interceptions on 52.2 percent passing in seven previous appearances.

But if his sudden prowess in the passing game wasn’t impressive enough, consider the opponent. Since head coach Nick Saban arrived in Tuscaloosa in 2007, only a few quarterbacks have had any kind of success against Alabama.

In fact, Knight’s performance put him in some pretty good company.

*QB must have thrown at least 25 passes to qualify

The 32 completions are the most a Saban-coached Tide defense has conceded. Furthermore, Knight became just the second quarterback to throw four touchdowns against the unit and the third to top 70 percent passing.

But does one stellar showing erase the bouts of inconsistency and ineptitude Knight has displayed under center at times during the 2013 season?

If you recall, this is the same quarterback who completed less than 60 percent of his passes in three of his four starts prior to the Sugar Bowl. Not to mention, Knight’s previous career high in passing yards was just 171 yards.

Doesn’t really scream out Heisman Trophy, does it?

Then again, one can argue that an exceptional performance in a BCS bowl game—against the two-time defending BCS national champions no less—certainly trumps two or three lousy starts.

Or the fact that Knight’s last full game of the regular season for the Sooners was actually quite impressive.

Back on Nov. 23, he led the team to a much-needed road victory over Kansas State, 41-31. Knight shined during the game, throwing for 171 yards, a touchdown and an interception on 14-of-20 passing, while adding another 82 yards and a score on 14 carries.

But what stood out the most from that performance was how he relied on his legs in critical situations.

While he may have struggled through the air at times, Knight never had any difficulty getting it done on the ground. On the season, he accounted for 445 rushing yards and two touchdowns on 67 carries—the most by an Oklahoma quarterback since Jamelle Holieway rushed for 860 in 1987.

Knight has a good chance to surpass Holieway’s mark next season. In just five starts, he topped the century mark twice, while rushing for 82 and 47 yards respectively in two other games.

For the first time in his 15-year coaching career, Sooners head coach Bob Stoops has himself a quarterback that threatens to be just as formidable with his arm as he is with his legs.

But don’t count Stoops as one of the many surprised by Knight’s breakout performance.

“[Knight] took care of the football, made great throws and was competitive,” he said following the victory over Alabama, via Yahoo! Sports’ Nick Bromberg. “He showed everybody what we’ve been seeing for a couple of years. He has a chance to be really special.”

And if Knight can keep this up, “really special” will become an understatement.

A household name is more like it.

 

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

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

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Candidates Charlie Strong Should Consider for Texas' Offensive Coordinator Job

Now that Charlie Strong is the head coach at Texas, it's time for him to begin assembling his coaching staff. 

Perhaps no hire will be more important than who he brings on as offensive coordinator. 

The Longhorns have been inconsistent on offense since 2009 when quarterback Colt McCoy was a senior. Former coach Mack Brown and his coaching staff have failed to develop offensive talent over the past few years. There has also been a lot of turnover at the OC spot, from Greg Davis, who resigned, to Bryan Harsin, who left to take the head job at Arkansas State. 

Chances are, current OC Major Applewhite is not going to be retained by Strong. 

With so many great offensive minds in the Big 12, it's crucial that Strong finds someone who can make Texas an exciting offensive team again. 

Here are five candidates he could consider. 

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5 Biggest Darkhorse National Title Contenders for 2014

The Florida State Seminoles and the Auburn Tigers weren't high on the list of national title contenders going into 2013—but they put together remarkable seasons and earned trips to Pasadena.

Looking forward to 2014, which squads are capable of earning their way into the first College Football Playoff?

We'll break down five serious possibilities—teams that didn't end 2013 where they hoped, but are poised for a turnaround next year.

 

Note: Teams that finished in the Top 10 this season or those that were in the national title conversation down the stretch in 2013 were not eligible for consideration.

Begin Slideshow

Bobby Petrino Reportedly Set to Accept Louisville Head-Coaching Job

Bobby Petrino, who compiled a 41-9 record while leading the Louisville football program from 2003 to 2006, is closing in on a return to the Cardinals sideline.   

Pat Forde of Yahoo! Sports reports the agent for the current Western Kentucky coach is set to meet with Louisville athletic director Tom Jurich to iron out the remaining contract details before an official introduction is made:

Athletic director Tom Jurich is expected to meet with Petrino's agent, David Dunn, Wednesday night to finalize contract details. The school plans to introduce Petrino Thursday. The Louisville Athletic Association's personnel committee has called a 10 a.m. ET meeting Thursday to discuss a personnel matter. The committee is expected to approve a contract for Petrino, and he will be formally introduced thereafter.

If there are no setbacks during the final stages of negotiations, Petrino will replace Charlie Strong, who left the Cardinals to accept the same position at Texas. The former Louisville head man will return after a one-season stint with Western Kentucky where he went 8-4.

Aside from an ill-fated stay with the Atlanta Falcons at the NFL level, Petrino has enjoyed on-field success at every stop as a head coach. Between Louisville, Arkansas and Western Kentucky, he has racked up an 83-30 (.735) college record.

Petrino was fired by Arkansas in April of 2012 after a motorcycle accident with his mistress shed light on an ongoing affair he was having. Athletic director Jeff Long had this to say upon Petrino's firing (via ESPN):

In short, coach Petrino engaged in a pattern of misleading and manipulative behavior designed to deceive me and members of the athletic staff, both before and after the motorcycle accident.

The Montana native's final season during his first go-round with Louisville was his most successful. The Cardinals finished with a 12-1 record after winning the Orange Bowl before Petrino decided to pursue other opportunities.

He realizes now that was probably a mistake, at least according to his father. Bobby Petrino Sr. told Adam Himmelsbach of The Courier-Journal that his son was hoping for another chance at Louisville and called his exit his biggest coaching error:

He told me this weekend he would like the opportunity to coach at Louisville again. He said that he’s been everywhere, the NFL and everywhere else, and he said probably the biggest mistake he’d ever made as a coach was leaving Louisville.

While Petrino covets another opportunity with Louisville, not everybody is applauding the reported decision by the Cardinals' brass. Adam Klug of CBS Sports Radio says the hiring sends the message that winning is the only thing that matters:

While that may be the case, Forde's report states Louisville interviewed seven candidates to fill the coaching void. Apparently, it decided Petrino was the best option—again.

 

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With Sean Mannion Returning, Pac 12 Football's 2014 QB Class Is Best in Nation

Pity Pac-12 defenses: In 2014, they will face the best collection of quarterbacks in college football.

Sean Mannion joined in on the parade of Pac-12 quarterbacks passing on the NFL draft when the Oregon State junior declared his return to Corvallis, Ore., for one more year.

Mannion's return was not met with the same fanfare as UCLA redshirt sophomore Brett Hundley announcing his intention to spend another season in the Pac-12, which also came Monday.

A trying five-game stretch to close the regular season extinguished early Heisman Trophy talk and also explains the relative lack of national media attention Mannion's return received in comparison to his counterpart Hundley.

But it's also a testament to just how much talent the Pac-12 has returning at quarterback: Consider that Mannion is coming off a 2013 in which he set the conference's single season record with 4,662 passing yards, and his decision to captain the Beavers offense for one more season is quite significant.

Mannion rebounded from his late-season struggles with 314 passing yards and two touchdowns against rival Oregon, followed by a solid 24-of-33, 259-yard performance in the Beavers' Hawaii Bowl romp over Boise State.

His return is a big reason San Jose Mercury News columnist Jon Wilner ranks the Beavers No. 21 in his "ridiculously early" 2014 Top 25.

Oregon State is one of nine Pac-12 teams guaranteed to return its primary starting quarterback from the past season for 2014. If Utah's Travis Wilson is granted medical clearance to play, he makes 10. That leaves only Arizona and Washington introducing a new, full-time starter next season—and Washington reserve Cyler Miles made a start and finished the Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl while senior Keith Price was nursing an injury.

No other conference among the Group of Five with College Football Playoff priority has as much quarterback star power to go with the Pac-12's depth. The SEC, for example, loses a number of standouts: A.J. McCarron, Johnny Manziel, Aaron Murray and Connor Shaw head that list.

The ACC returns with Heisman winner Jameis Winston, but loses such noteworthy starters as Tajh Boyd and Bryn Renner.

The Pac-12's group is top-heavy, replete with early Heisman favorites. Newsday includes Mannion in a list that also features Hundley and Oregon's Marcus Mariota, a frontrunner for the award through much of the past season before a late-season injury.

With Bryce Petty returning from a stellar campaign, Trevor Knight coming off a star turn in Oklahoma's Sugar Bowl defeat of Alabama and Davis Webb fresh from a thrashing of Arizona State, the Big 12 is perhaps closest to matching the Pac-12's upper echelon of quarterbacks in 2014. But matching the Pac-12's depth is another story.

Plenty has been said and written of the conference's top-tier quarterbacks, but it's the less discussed of the bunch that make the 2014 class the nation's best and add intrigue to the league's competition. 

Take Cal's Jared Goff and Colorado's Sefo Liufau. Their teams finished last in their respective divisions, but both showed promise starting as true freshmen.

"I watched him a lot through his [prep] career," UCLA head coach Jim Mora said of Liufau in October. "He's a darn good football player."

He lived up to Mora's praise by going 25-of-36 for 247 yards with a touchdown and no interceptions in Colorado's Nov. 2 loss at UCLA.

Depth isn't the only notable attribute that makes this quarterback crop so intriguing, either. The variety from one to another is immense.

There are dynamic dual-threats like Hundley, Mariota and Arizona State's Taylor Kelly, as well as gunslinging passers Mannion and Washington State's Connor Halliday. Stanford's Kevin Hogan is a capable two-way talent operating the Cardinal's power-based offense, and USC's Cody Kessler only began to scratch the surface of his abilities while leading the Trojans to a 7-2 finish. 

Deep, diverse, talented or promising: No matter how one chooses to describes this class of quarterbacks, it's the best the nation has to offer for 2014. 

 

Quotes obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted.

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BCS Championship 2014: How Auburn's Defense Was Able to Rattle Jameis Winston

The Auburn Tigers lost the BCS National Championship Game, 34-31, to the Florida State Seminoles, but the Tigers defense put together one of its best defensive outings of the season. More importantly, defensive coordinator Ellis Johnson's unit played Florida State better than anyone had all season, including shaking the confidence of quarterback and Heisman winner, Jameis Winston.

Prior to the game, the talk was about Auburn stopping the highly touted Florida State attack. The Seminoles entered the game averaging 529.4 total yards per contest, pushing 207.4 on the ground and another 322 in the air to go with a 53 points-per-game total. Even on the road, Winston and Florida State were abusing opponents to the tune of 484.7 total yards per game and 46.8 points away from Doak Campbell Stadium.

Auburn's defense had its issues in 2013, and as Winston became the next big challenge, the quarterback who excelled against the blitz would have to be stopped by Johnson's group. The key, as was discussed here prior to the game, would be getting early pressure with the front four.

And the Tigers answered the bell.

Over the course of the game, Johnson used blitzes and worked multiple coverages, but the foundation was laid with the four down linemen who pushed to make Winston uncomfortable. Auburn did not use a ton of gimmicks; there were not a bevy of slants and twists to get the linemen off against Florida State. Rather, Johnson asked his linemen to win one-on-one battles, and they responded.

Here, you see Kris Frost mugged up at the line, forcing the center, Bryan Stork, to identify the possible blitzer, giving all four defensive linemen a chance to play solo football. On the snap, Frost takes a hard step before getting into coverage. Dee Ford and Carl Lawson run the edge extremely well, beating both tackles to the top of Winston's drop and forcing the quarterback to step up into the pocket.

Nosa Eguae is the beneficiary of this move; after a great push off the ball, he works back down to his initial rush lane to close off the interior opening to Winston. His slap of Josue Matias' hands gives him the separation he needs to not just be a deterrent to Winston, but also allow him to use his athleticism to close on and, ultimately, sack Winston.

It was not just the sacks that did it for the Tigers. On the play prior to Eguae's sack, Gabe Wright flashed to force Winston to throw the ball before he was settled and his receivers came open. Wright comes fast out of his stance as the left defensive tackle, takes an inside route on the right guard, Tre' Jackson, and gains control to get to the quarterback and force the ball to come out quick.

Again, just four guys in the mix for the Tigers. Four guys in the rush means seven guys playing coverage. Although Auburn used man-free and even some two-man in the ball game, the extra defenders were also able to help take away some of the interior routes.

After establishing the front four and using linebackers showing blitz then dropping back into coverage, Johnson decided to push the envelope by bringing pressure. On Winston's second-quarter fumble, the defensive coordinator adds another rusher to the mix in addition to working his defensive ends, No. 13 Craig Sanders and No. 10 LaDarius Owen, out of two-point stances.

Anthony Swain is the added rushing linebacker, while Jake Holland remains close to the line in a green-dog situation. Swain forces the back to step up, dives over the cut and drives Winston up into the pocket. The tackles, No. 50 Ben Bradley and No. 98 Angelo Blackson, disengage and collapse on the pressed Winston, resulting in a fumble.

Notice that none of the players involved in the first pressure or sack were involved in the big play of the second quarter for the Tigers. Depth along the defensive line allowed Johnson to demand max effort out of his linemen and then rotate them in and out to maximize their impact on the game.

Auburn made Winston uncomfortable, and it started with the front four. Dee Ford consistently beat his man around the edge, and the rest of the unit stepped up to the challenge of winning one-on-one battles. Mixing in timely blitzes, like this well-timed pressure from Cassanova McKinzy, after the Seminoles already struggled to handle the front four, and Auburn had a solid plan.

Unfortunately, when Fisher switched to a more quick-pass game and run game, the Tigers were put in a tough position, but they responded well. This unit only surrendered 27 points to the Seminoles, enough to get them a BCS Championship win if it was not for the special-teams explosion of Kermit Whitfield.

For Auburn, the future is bright despite the loss of Dee Ford and Nosa Eguae. This defensive unit should build on this performance and transition from a liability in 2013 to a team strength in 2014.

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