NCAA Football News
With Florida State earning its first Heisman in 13 years and potentially winning their first national championship in 14, questions are starting to arise as to how the Seminoles will be able to turn this revitalized success on the field into success in the recruiting world.
Jimbo Fisher is known for his strong recruiting classes, which are perennially ranked in the top 10, and he hasn't shown any sign of slowing up this year, with the Seminoles ranked sixth by ESPN and Scout, as well as fourth in Rivals' rankings.
Coaches have been hitting recruiting visits in the lull of action, going to see recruits play in their playoff games in addition to in-home visits.
Players have even gotten in on the action, notably Heisman Trophy winner Jameis Winston doing his part in recruiting 5-star cornerback prospect Marlon Humphrey.
Humphrey is one of the biggest targets on Florida State's radar, along with running back Dalvin Cook, who is committed to UF but is on the wish list of FSU and Miami as well.
"I'm 100 percent recruited until the Under Armour Game," Cook said per SB Nation. "They've all been recruiting me hard the last two weeks, and I'm going to go ahead and shut my recruiting down.
"Yeah, in my mind, I know where I'm going."
According to ESPN and Rivals, FSU doesn't have a 5-star in its class of 25 commits, with Scout being the only recruiting site to have a Seminole commit listed as a 5-star—linebacker Kain Daub from Sandalwood High School in Jacksonville, Fla.
The Seminoles have covered commitments in the offensive line with the recent addition of Maryland prospect Brock Ruble, in addition to defensive line, quarterback and linebacker. Where they are lacking, however, is in the skill-position area, where they can stand to add wide receivers and another running back, which if Fisher gets his way will be Cook.
Adding in more offensive threats, along with a big name or two, will guarantee FSU another top recruiting class and another building block towards continuing the success they have enjoyed this year.
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While at Michigan State, Kirk Cousins and LeVeon Bell set a standard while embodying Mark Dantonio’s coaching philosophy—and that of Spartans hoops coach Tom Izzo—of doing more with less.
Both flourished under Dantonio.
Perhaps the word “flourished” is an understatement—each became among the best to ever play their position.
Cousins and Bell were two guys who no one wanted, yet they propelled the rebuilding Spartans to a record number of wins, their first share of a Big Ten title in 20 years, three straight triumphs over Michigan and an Outback Bowl victory over a talent-filled Georgia squad headed by Aaron Murray.
Surrounded by a lukewarm buzz, each entered the NFL draft—Cousins was taken in the fourth round in 2012 by Washington as an insurance plan for its top draftee, Robert Griffin III, who was fresh off a Heisman-winning season at Baylor.
But times have changed for Cousins, who is now the No. 1 in D.C.
Pittsburgh opted for Bell in the second round of 2013, taking a chance on a workhorse running back who was met with mixed reviews.
Sunday night, Bell became just the third Steelers rookie to eclipse 1,000 yards from scrimmage, per ESPN’s live broadcast of Pittsburgh’s 30-20 win over the Cincinnati Bengals.
They’re not NFL stars. But they’re proof positive of Dantonio’s working system—it’s a system that will bring multiple Big Ten titles to East Lansing and continue to turn once-unheralded talent into gold.
Darqueze Dennard, you’re next.
Cousins Taking Over with Class
Captain Kirk has always been the consummate professional. He’s not new to a quarterback situation, but he’s certainly encountering something a little different than fighting Keith Nichol for starting reps.
Today, he’s essentially a moving piece within a battle that’s engulfed our nation’s capital—is RGIII in or out?
What about coach Mike Shanahan? He can’t see eye to eye with owner Dan Snyder. And, of course, that deteriorating relationship makes national headlines every minute of the day. In case you haven’t heard, there’s a presidential-sized mess going on in the Redskins' front office.
Cousins has shown incredible poise and discipline throughout the fiasco. His demeanor has always been appreciated at Michigan State, and it’s a safe bet that Dantonio is using Cousins’ current position as a teaching tool for his soon-to-be pros.
In all likelihood, Dantonio’s probably citing Cousins’ high-road approach as means to handle a multitude of problems in life, not just on the field.
Not long ago, Cousins moved luncheon goers with a leadership speech during Big Ten media days. In 2013, he’s playing the role of a smooth, polished, experienced and composed professional who only wants what’s best for his organization.
He’s often baited with headline-seeking questions. Cousins hasn’t bitten once. He’s not going to satisfy the massive hunger of a controversy—that’s not his style.
Whether or not he’s the answer for Washington is irrelevant. Cousins is simply doing what he was drafted to do, and that’s to serve as second fiddle to RGIII until further notice.
Well, he’s been called upon, and he’s certainly not going to roll over. Despite three turnovers, Cousins had his team one play away from victory. Instead, a failed two-point conversion with 18 seconds to play clouded his 381-yard effort during Sunday's 27-26 loss to the Atlanta Falcons.
Taking it in stride, he didn't deflect, deny, call out coaches or cast blame on anyone but himself, the team's quarterback and maestro of the offense.
However, Cousins’ stock increased in value. Eventually, he’ll get a shot at a full-time starting job. And as he’s said in televised press conferences, he’ll have his experience at Michigan State to help him wade through the murky waters of adversity.
He's a symbol of a Dantonio-instilled resilience.
Bell Perfectly Fits Steelers
At 6’1” and 244 pounds, Bell looks at home lined up next to quarterback Ben Roethlisberger. He’s big. He blocks. He’s made for a black and yellow uniform, which has been the case for plenty of former Spartans—credit the George Perles-Pittsburgh connection for that.
Bell’s not blowing off doors with an average of 3.4 yards per carry. But he’s more than serviceable when the Steelers need a short-yardage touchdown or when they’re in need of a few feet to move the chains.
Bell does that. He does it well, actually.
Also a threat as a receiver, Bell’s 8.9 yards per touch make him a valuable asset to coach Mike Tomlin’s playoff-hopeful squad. He’s fought foot injury and concussion in the name of being a productive starter.
Having the chance to be your own franchise ball-carrier has its benefits. Playing pro ball in the Steel City was a dream for Bell, who said the following in June to ESPN’s Jamison Hensley:
Growing up, my family was hard-core Pittsburgh Steelers fans. I know the Steelers love revolving their offense around the running game. The fact that they picked me made me very happy. I’m glad where I’m at, and I want to go out there and make plays for them.
Spartans running backs haven't translated college success to pro success. Sedrick Irvin, a pre-Dantonio back, wasted away for two years in Detroit. Jehuu Caulcrick, a bruiser who left prior to Dantonio's arrival, hopped around from San Francisco to Buffalo but never stayed put.
Javon Ringer never made it past No. 2 on Tennessee's depth chart.
There aren't a lot of positive past stories for Bell to follow. He could end up like Ringer or Caulcrick, or he could be the next Lorenzo White. Bell is to Dantonio running backs as Cousins is to Dantonio quarterbacks.
They're not the first from Michigan State to have solid starts in the League. They certainly won't be the last. However, Cousins and Bell have set the scale on which Dantonio's pros will be graded.
Follow Bleacher Report's Adam Biggers on Twitter @AdamBiggers81
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With 28 commitments for its 2014 recruiting class, Arizona has made big strides to continue building up its roster with talented players. However, with less than two months remaining until the official national signing day on Feb. 5, there are still some questions the Wildcats need to have answered.
Currently, Arizona's upcoming class ranks as the 20th-best in the nation, according to 247Sports.
Though Arizona's current roster won't be decimated too badly by graduation (or early departures to the NFL), there are a number of spots where incoming recruits will be expected to make instant contributions. Therefore, having a good sense of what to expect on signing day will help coaches plan for the future.
Frank Beamer has long been quiet when asked about his future as the head football coach of Virginia Tech. Beamer, who will turn 68 next season, is finishing up his 27th season with the Hokies and is currently the winningest active head coach in the FBS.
Last Saturday, Beamer met with the assembled media to discuss the Hokies' upcoming game against UCLA in the Sun Bowl. UCLA wasn't the main topic of conversation for Beamer, though.
I'm very appreciative of Virginia Tech. They stuck with me when things weren't good, stuck with me longer than most people would, and that probably won't happen again. It's a performance business. I fully understand that. Jim and Mack are probably my two best friends in this business.
Beamer's next quote was most telling: "Just kind of reminds you nothing is certain about this business. I'm very sensitive to staying around too long."
With a new president on board, and soon a new athletic director, Beamer will have new bosses for the first time in a long time. Will these new bosses want to make their own mark? Or will they allow Beamer to leave his post when he is completely ready?
Here are five candidates who should be on the Hokies' radar when Beamer retires.
With some dead time before Wisconsin's Jan. 1 bowl game against South Carolina, it's an opportunity for players to focus more on finals while coaches hit the recruiting trail to make one last-ditch effort at improving the class of 2014.
As of Dec. 15, the Badgers have 24 commitments from its upcoming class, according to 247sports, which would rank Wisconsin as the No. 22 class among FBS schools. That's an improvement from a season ago, but there are still some names floating around that would provide Wisconsin and head coach Gary Andersen with a significant boost.
But it's not just recruiting questions that need to be answered before the college football's national signing day on Feb. 6. Will there be any coaching vacancies? What are some areas of weakness that need to be addressed?
Those are just a few of the issues that could present themselves within the next couple months, and we'll see if they crack the list of the three biggest questions Wisconsin needs to answer before Feb. 6 arrives.
The USC Trojans will tango with the Fresno State Bulldogs on Saturday in the Royal Purple Las Vegas Bowl, a game that will either be a disaster or a thriller, depending on if USC shows up.
The Bulldogs were just one slip-up from a BCS berth this season, so they will undoubtedly come into this bowl game looking to prove that their loss to San Jose State was a fluke.
Based on how the Trojans have played in lower-tier bowl games in the past, USC could very well aid Fresno State in their mission.
Even before the BCS era, USC went 6-6 in bowl games between 1980 and 1998, and all of those losses came in lesser bowls.
Everything about this matchup lends itself to be a potential trap game for the Trojans. There's the fact that USC will play with only 30 healthy, scholarship athletes, while Fresno State is fielding a full, very talented roster. Then there's the emotional hangover from beloved interim head coach Ed Orgeron's resignation in the wake of Steve Sarkisian's hire that is still working its way through USC's system. On top of that, there's the fact that save for wide receivers coach Tee Martin, the assistant coaches' futures with USC are in flux as Sarkisian continues to mold his coaching staff.
All of these factors could yield a disastrous outing for USC, much like their performance last year in the Sun Bowl.
It was clear from the opening snaps of the Sun Bowl that there was little heart left in the team after the difficult season it had in 2012, and 2013—though the Trojans did win more and caught fire in the latter half of the season—was quite taxing as well.
That said, the players and coaches have made it clear that a 10-win season is their goal, and that they intend to give it all they have to accomplish that.
Interim head coach Clay Helton told Gary Klein of the LA Times that getting to 10 wins is the priority, despite all the uncertainty the coaching staff is facing:
Helton said coaches made "a promise" as a staff to do "everything" for the players as the 9-4 Trojans attempt to finish the season with 10 wins.
"Obviously, we have to take care of ourselves and families at some point in time," Helton said, "but until that last game is over and done with, we owe that to USC and to these kids."
Both teams have a lot of pride riding on this game. If Fresno State wins, the Bulldogs would establish themselves as legitimate competition in 2014. If USC wins, the Trojans would emerge from the ashes of NCAA sanctions and their lingering effects to be a team worthy of consideration next season.
And as fate would have it, Fresno State and USC open their 2014 season facing each other, which means what happens in the Las Vegas Bowl will lay the foundation for next year's clash.
USC proved in the latter half of 2013 that it can rally and perform well despite the odds against it, but the Trojans are also a team known to lay an egg when things aren't going their way. We can expect the Trojans to spend the week getting physically and mentally prepared to face Fresno State and end their season on a high note.
But whether USC finishes its season with 10 wins—which would further be noteworthy, as USC would have two 10-win seasons in three years of sanctions—or falls short to the hands of the Bulldogs will be determined more by the Trojans than by their opponents.
USC will indeed be making an appearance in the 2013 Las Vegas Bowl. But will the Trojans show up?
The verdict is still out on that one.
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Florida State quarterback Jameis Winston has taken the college football world by storm this season. He has helped the Seminoles reach the national title game, and won some small award called the Heisman Trophy on Saturday night.
Winston's powerful right arm and athleticism are just the tip of the iceberg for his skill set. He also has a friendly personality packed full of charisma, which helps him as a leader.
However, Winston's road to Tallahassee as a recruit could have easily led him elsewhere.
Part 2 of a series: Over the next few weeks, I will be reviewing each of the 16 seasons since the Bowl Championship Series came into existence in 1998. Here is a look back at who got lucky, who got robbed, what could've been, what should've been and other controversies of the day. The series will appear throughout December and January.
Give yourself a big pat on the back, BCS. You deserve it. You got it right.
You matched up the only two undefeated major conference teams in the national championship game. Brilliant! Couldn't have done it without ya!
What's was left unsaid was: "Whew!"
Despite the obvious—only Florida State and Virginia Tech emerged from the regular season unbeaten—there were doubts about whether they'd face each other in the Sugar Bowl for the national championship. In the end, Virginia Tech had a barely comfortable margin to hold off one-loss No. 3 Nebraska to play in the title game.
But in the 16-year history of the BCS, 1999 was one of the most uneventful. The Seminoles went wire-to-wire as the No. 1-ranked team, their place in New Orleans never in question. Upset losses by Penn State and Tennessee in the first two weeks of November paved the way for Virginia Tech to seize the No. 2 ranking.
The Hokies, led by redshirt freshman quarterback Michael Vick, had to sweat out the final four weeks of the regular season mostly because of a soft schedule. With strength of schedule still a separate component accounting for nearly one-third of the BCS standings, Virginia Tech had a hard time gaining breathing room from the Cornhuskers, finishing just 1.30 points ahead in the final standings.
Just as in 1998, an undefeated non-BCS conference team finished the regular season unbeaten. And just like Tulane, a 12-0 Marshall team was shut out of a BCS bowl despite finishing No. 12 in the final standings. And one more thing like the Green Wave: The Thundering Herd, quarterbacked by Chad Pennington, completed a perfect season with a victory over BYU, in the Motor City Bowl.
In the Sugar Bowl, Vick rallied the Hokies to take a 29-28 lead at the end of the third quarter. But the Seminoles scored the game's final 18 points in the fourth quarter, giving Bobby Bowden his second and final national championship.
Final BCS Standings: 1. Florida State, 2. Virginia Tech, 3. Nebraska, 4. Alabama, 5. Tennessee.
Using post-2003 BCS formula: 1. Florida State, 2. Virginia Tech.
Likely four-team playoff: Florida State vs. Alabama; Virginia Tech vs. Nebraska.
The top four teams also won their respective conferences, making the selections fairly simple.
Kansas State snub II: Well, it wasn't quite as egregious as the one in 1998, but the Wildcats once again earned the dubious honor of being the highest-ranked team not invited to a BCS bowl. K-State, ranked No. 6 with its only loss to Nebraska, was passed up by the Fiesta Bowl (No. 5 Tennessee) and Orange Bowl (No. 8 Michigan). But unlike the previous year, the Wildcats managed to hold it together and win the Holiday Bowl, 24-20, over Washington.
Marshall snub: With today's arrangement, the Herd would've earned an automatic BCS berth. But with strength of schedule a key component in the formula at the time, Marshall was doomed by its 98th-place schedule. The MAC champs, however, would become the last undefeated team not to play in a BCS bowl.
BCS formula review: Five more computer rankings were added to the formula—Billingsley, Dunkel, Massey, Matthews and Rothman—bringing the total to eight. The lowest ranking among the eight was dropped, and the remaining seven averaged to produce the computer ranking. Also, a "Kansas State clause" was added, guaranteeing any team finishing in the top four a BCS bowl spot, but the Wildcats weren't in position to benefit from it.
Final analysis: Two years in, the BCS appeared to be producing the desired results. The title games matched deserving teams, and the other BCS bowls featured interesting matchups. But this was only the calm before the storm, as raging controversies were about to envelope the BCS, forcing major changes almost annually in the coming years.
Follow on Twitter @BCSGuru
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South Carolina is stacked with talent for next season. Though, the future of the team rests with the latest recruiting classes, including the 2014 class.
While 2014 is not a huge recruiting year based on team needs for the Gamecocks, South Carolina is in need of bolstering a couple of units for the immediate and long-term futures of the program.
The 2014 class is rounding out, and South Carolina still needs to address the defensive line and secondary as well as look toward some future power on offense.
A lot of South Carolina's units are set on players, yet there is more to recruiting than landing the players. South Carolina has dominated the in-state recruiting scene, as it tends to snag the top-rated players in the state and draw them away from rival Clemson.
The old ball coach Steve Spurrier and his staff have had a great spree of recruiting, and I expect that to continue as 2014's national signing day approaches. But, some questions still remain.
Here are the three biggest questions South Carolina needs to answer before national signing day.
With the 2013 college football season winding down, coaching staffs around the country are gearing up to put the finishing touches on their 2014 recruiting classes.
Urban Meyer has Ohio State set up for success with 17 verbal pledges already in the fold. The Buckeyes' class is highlighted by two 5-star prospects in Dante Booker (linebacker) and Curtis Samuel (athlete), along with 12 other 4-star recruits.
Meyer has made a habit of finishing the recruiting season strong, but how can he make a class that already ranks third in the country even stronger?
Here are the three biggest questions Ohio State needs to answer before national signing day.
Will Ohio State Add More Offensive Linemen?
Meyer's top priority in 2014 was to build depth along an offensive line that is losing four senior starters at the end of the season.
The Buckeyes would love to add one more lineman, but their biggest remaining target—4-star JUCO prospect Chad Mavety—chose Florida State over Ohio State last week.
The Buckeyes are still pursuing a number of prospects, most notably 4-star tackles Frank Ragnow and Alex Bookser. Ohio State is facing an uphill battle for both players, but with Meyer at the helm, the Buckeyes are never out of the race.
Can the Buckeyes Secure Raekwon McMillan?
Of all the talented prospects in this year's class, 5-star linebacker Raekwon McMillan has been Ohio State's top recruiting target from the start.
McMillan, a 6'2", 242-pound standout from Hinesville, Ga., has offers from schools such as Auburn, Florida, Georgia, Florida State and USC, but his final decision will be come between Ohio State, Alabama and Clemson.
That decision will come on Monday, December 16 at 12:30 p.m. ET.
Similar to the offensive line, Ohio State wants to build depth at linebacker. With Booker already in the fold, the Buckeyes have a chance to sign two 5-star linebackers in the same class to bolster a huge position of need.
Landing McMillan could propel Ohio State to a very strong finish.
Will Urban Meyer Sign Any Surprises?
Ohio State is in very good position to land commitments from 4-star prospects Marshon Lattimore (cornerback), Erick Smith (safety) and Johnnie Dixon. Those names have been on Ohio State's radar for a long time, but will there be any surprises down the stretch?
Meyer has been hotly pursuing a trio of 5-star prospects who are warming up to the Buckeyes.
Tony Brown, a 6'0", 188-pound cornerback out of Beaumont, Texas, is considered a heavy LSU lean, but Meyer has worked the Buckeyes into contention. John "JuJu" Smith, the talented safety out of Long Beach, Calif., has also been getting a lot of attention from Ohio State, as well as defensive end Solomon Thomas.
With signing day approaching and time running out, this is usually when Meyer starts to shine. If he comes through again, the Buckeyes could be on the verge of signing one of the best, if not the best recruiting class in the country.
All recruit rankings via 247sports.com.
David Regimbal is the Ohio State Football Lead Writer for Bleacher Report.
Follow him on Twitter @davidreg412.
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Now that Nebraska’s regular season is over, fans will be looking toward signing day to get a feel for what to expect in 2014. For the next two months (with the distraction of a Gator Bowl rematch with Georgia in between), Nebraska fans will be talking about star rankings, 40-yard dash times and the remaining eligibility of junior college transfers.
So as we prepare to rush headlong into Nebraska’s final 2014 recruiting season, here are five things to keep your eyes on.
All star ratings and other information from 247Sports.
While major programs such as Alabama, Ohio State, USC, Florida, Texas, Notre Dame, Michigan, LSU and Florida State get most of the top recruits every year, not every prospect aspires to play for a "big" school.
Recruits have to do what is best for them, on and off the field. Some who have offers from major programs want to play a certain position in college, but only a smaller school is willing to give them a chance at that particular spot. Other recruits fly under the radar of the powerful schools, but become studs at small programs.
Western Michigan has a commitment from a solid 3-star safety, while a talented linebacker is headed to Louisiana-Lafayette. Plus, UCF is getting a quarterback with a high ceiling.
Al Golden and the Miami Hurricanes need to answer a few questions before the 2014 edition of national signing day arrives.
Golden will help one player make a decision about his football future, try to entice some high school prospects to attend Miami and must also reconsider the coaching status of a longtime friend.
The 'Canes finished the regular season 9-3, but the 2-3 finish to the 2013 campaign created some questions around the team, and these decisions will impact the future of Miami.
But Golden is on a deadline—all of this must be completed before February 5.
Will Denzel Perryman Bolt for the NFL?
Denzel Perryman has been the unquestioned leader of the Miami defense.
After being plagued by injury as a sophomore, Perryman has put together a resurgent season, already tallying 104 tackles through the 12 regular-season contests.
His effectiveness has certainly not gone unnoticed by scouts and, being a junior, Perryman could declare for the 2014 NFL Draft. Bleacher Report's Matt Miller ranks him as the ninth-best outside linebacker.
So, if Perryman does indeed decide to move on to the NFL, the 'Canes will be left with inexperience at linebacker. Seniors Jimmy Gaines and Tyrone Cornelius will run out of eligibility following the bowl game against Louisville.
Sophomore Tyriq McCord did it all this season, tallying 4.0 sacks, forcing three fumbles, three pass defenses, two interceptions and one fumble recovery. But can he do it as an every-down linebacker instead of a situational blitzer?
At this time, Thurston Armbrister, Raphael Kirby and Alex Figueroa are the expected starters. The three have combined for 11 starts during their respective time at the University of Miami.
Jermaine Grace almost exclusively played special teams as a true freshman, but the Miramar High School product basically rounds out the linebacking corps.
As of now, Darrion Owens, Juwon Young, Mike Smith and Terry McCray are committed. But if Perryman elects to go pro, the young recruits will be called upon to contribute immediately.
Can Al Golden Close on Top Prospects?
Al Golden is establishing himself as a closer on the recruiting trail, snatching more and more 4-star talent each season.
Considering a handful of big-name prospects have yet to make their decision, Golden's ability to lock them up will be tested.
Two teammates of 5-star running back Dalvin Cook—Joseph Yearby and Trevor Darling—are committed to Miami, and they are constantly in his ear. But Cook's recruiting process is like a box of chocolates: "you never know what you gonna get."
According to the GatorBait staff on 247Sports (subscription required), Cook knows which college he will attend and is planning to announce during the Under Armour All-American Game.
Per Jamie Newberg of Scout, Johnnie Dixon is set to decide during the week of Dec. 16 and is down to Ohio State and 'The U.' Alabama could be in the picture as well.
Golden has repeatedly shown he is not afraid to play young talent, and that is certainly an attractive pitch to recruits.
But is it enough to lure the top prospects to Miami?
Will Mark D'Onofrio Be Retained as Defensive Coordinator?
This is probably the biggest question.
Following a surprisingly good start to the 2013 season, the 'Canes were dreadfully bad defensively, and many pointed fingers at defensive coordinator Mark D'Onofrio.
Sure, there were some bright spots, but Perryman, Tracy Howard (four interceptions) and Shayon Green (10.5 tackles for loss) could only do so much.
Overall, the Hurricanes allowed 415.8 yards (79th in FBS) and 26.0 points per game (59th in FBS) but earned 27 takeaways (15th in FBS).
However, even those rankings are somewhat skewed. During Miami's final five contests against conference opponents, the 'Canes surrendered 518.6 yards and 37.6 points per game while forcing eight turnovers.
Christy Cabrera Chirinos of the South Florida Sun Sentinel notes that Golden takes full responsibility for the team's defensive struggles.
I know Mark is working his tail off to get it fixed... There’s no question. We were getting takeaways better early in the season, we were getting more pressure on the quarterback early in the season...there’s no question we have to do a better job, but it starts with me. I’m responsible for it.
Bleacher Report's Chris Bello wondered aloud if Golden's loyalty to the coaching staff—especially D'Onofrio—is holding Miami back.
Whether it is relieving D'Onofrio of duties or retaining him, a decision about his future must be made well before signing day.
Follow Bleacher Report CFB Writer David Kenyon on Twitter @Kenyon19BR.
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Michigan State, by virtue of winning the Big Ten Championship, will head to Pasadena and headline a list of some pretty impressive bowl games for the conference. But with so many bowl games each winter, how can Big Ten fans figure out which games are must-watch contests? That's where we come in!
While the No. 4 Spartans provide perhaps the best head-to-head match of almost any bowl game this season, facing the No. 5 Stanford Cardinal in the Rose Bowl Game, there are several other games fans of Big Ten football won't want to miss for varying reasons.
Whether it's evenly matched opponents or that cross-conference hatred that has been brewing for decades between the SEC and Big Ten, we've put together a list of the five top contests involving Big Ten programs during the 2013-14 bowl season.
In past generations, high school recruits would sign with schools and typically redshirt. However, today's prospects are all looking for a chance to play right away as freshmen.
Recruits are both competitive and a bit egotistical today, which is why getting immediate playing time is a big factor in their decisions. However, they're also bigger, faster, stronger and more skilled.
Many recruits in the 2014 class appear to be locks to play significant snaps next fall, as Virginia has two prospects who could be starting before the end of next year. North Carolina State has a pledge from a defensive end who is ready to play now, plus Florida's starting quarterback next year may be in its current class.
What began when Texas’ Ricky Williams won the Heisman Trophy 15 years ago ended Saturday night when Florida State’s Jameis Winston lofted the bronze statuette over his head.
Not only is Winston the 79th winner of the most coveted individual award in college football, he’s the last guy ever to take home the prize in the BCS era.
Since the Bowl Championship Series took over for the Bowl Alliance in 1998, 16 athletes have been called to the podium in New York City to become a part of history.
And though it’s compelling to compare Heisman winners over eight decades of college football, it’s more relevant to do so over a specific era.
Our BCS-era Heisman rankings are based on the following criteria: total Heisman points, statistical FBS rankings, team record, championships, overall draft pick, Pro Bowls and weighted career approximate value (as calculated by Sports-Reference.com).
Undergraduates Jameis Winston and Johnny Manziel are given the benefit of average NFL careers.
After a disappointing 34-7 loss to Navy, Army has reportedly parted ways with head coach Rich Ellerson.
Pete Thamel of Sports Illustrated had the news:
BREAKING: Army parting ways with coach Rich Ellerson. http://t.co/EEJu0DbUp5— Pete Thamel (@SIPeteThamel) December 16, 2013
The news was confirmed by the Army athletics website later in the evening.
The loss marked Army’s 12th straight defeat at the hands of Navy, their biggest rival, and brought about the end of an unsuccessful tenure by Coach Ellerson.
Army Director of Athletics Boo Corrigan briefly spoke about the decision (via goarmysports.com):
"This is a very difficult day for all of us at West Point. Rich Ellerson has represented West Point and the Army football program extremely well since taking over as our head coach five years ago. He has been a tremendous role model for our cadet-athletes and great mentor for many within the athletic department.
Unfortunately, our team has not experienced the level of success on the football field that we expect, and we feel it is necessary to make a change in leadership at this time."
Ellerson came to the Black Knights after stints with Southern Utah and Cal Poly. After amassing a 60-41 record at those two schools, however, Ellerson only managed a 20-40 record with Army.
The Black Knights won seven games in the 2010 season and won the Armed Forces Bowl that year, but Army has gone 8-27 in the last three years and won only three games this season.
Ellerson knew of his possible dismissal, but he handled the unfortunate situation with class according to Mike Jensen of The Inquirer.
According to Jensen, Ellerson admitted after the loss to Navy that he hadn't done enough: “I was brought in to win football games and beat Navy. I knew the job description. It wasn’t to get close.”
Thamel reported that the vacancy has already generated substantial interest from assistant coaches across the country.
Ellerson’s successor is likely to have some ties to Army football, and Thamel mentions Ohio State co-offensive coordinator Ed Warinner, New York Jets special teams coach Ben Kotwica and Tampa Bay Buccaneers offensive coordinator Mike Sullivan as a few names with West Point connections to keep an eye on.
Whoever replaces Ellerson will have his work cut out for him, as Army’s last winning season prior to Ellerson’s 2010 campaign was in 1996 under head coach Bob Sutton.
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While much of the focus will be on Baylor quarterback Bryce Petty and Central Florida quarterback Blake Bortles in the 2014 Fiesta Bowl, it's the wide receivers that need to be paid the most attention.
Both Petty and Bortles have a bevy of receivers that are capable of making plays for each offense, and it will be the most successful grouping of receivers that decides the outcome of the Fiesta Bowl.
Baylor wide receivers Antwan Goodley, Levi Norwood and Tevin Reese have been big-time targets for Petty this season, and they have contributed to his 3,844-yard season in the air.
Goodley hauled in 67 receptions for 1,319 yards and 13 touchdowns. It's clear that Goodley is Petty's favorite target, as over one-third of his total passing yardage and nearly half of his touchdown passes were credited to Goodley.
As a possession receiver, Norwood has been crucial to Baylor's offense. His 43 catches rank second on the team and his 670 receiving yards rank third.
Reese, Petty's second-favorite deep threat after Goodley, recorded 33 catches for 824 yards and eight touchdowns. The senior wideout has big play potential and is a quality receiver despite his small, 5'10" frame.
This trio of wide receivers has made Petty's life very easy under center. Petty only threw two interceptions on the year, and that's a tribute to both his abilities as a passer and his receivers' abilities to get open. If one or two of them can get open at any given time against UCF, then Petty will pick the defense apart.
Bortles also has a quality trio of receiving options. Rannell Hall highlights the group, as he recorded 53 catches for 773 yards with three touchdowns on the season. He has struggled a bit in his past three games, but Bortles continues to look his way.
Breshad Perriman has nearly equaled Hall's output with just 36 catches. He accumulated 763 yards and hauled in three touchdowns this season, and he is a legitimate deep threat for Bortles. If Perriman can get open over the top of the defense, then Bortles will have a field day against the Baylor secondary.
The key receiver for Bortles will be J.J. Worton. Worton doesn't rack up a ton of yards, though he does have 42 receptions—second-most on the team—and a team-high seven touchdowns. When UCF gets in the end zone, expect Bortles to look Worton's way immediately.
With such talented receivers playing, the Fiesta Bowl figures to be a pass-happy contest. That will result in big scores and a ton of points if the defenses can't keep up.
The key will be which receivers can effectively move the chains while providing threats down the field. Baylor's receivers posted stronger numbers because of Petty's great play, but one could easily argue that UCF's receivers are equally as talented.
Baylor is widely considered the favorite in this one because of their absurdly high-powered offense, but UCF can win if Bortles and Worton are able to hook up in the end zone.
Worton will be the focus of Baylor's defense in the red zone, and their ability to cover him will make scoring touchdowns through the air difficult for UFC.
Two of the better quarterbacks in the nation have had the luxury of throwing to some very talented receivers this season, and it will be the most productive trio that decides the outcome of the Fiesta Bowl.
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Notre Dame will be spending bowl season in major city for the second consecutive year, though this time around the Irish won't be playing for a national championship.
While the New Era Pinstripe Bowl is hardly a consolation, Notre Dame's recruiting efforts haven't been subdued after a lackluster follow up of the storied 2012-13 season. Head coach Brian Kelly and his staff are well on their way to locking up a top 10 class for the second consecutive cycle.
247Sports.com currently ranks the Irish's 2014 haul as the nation's ninth-best, behind Georgia, Miami (Fla.), Auburn, Florida State, Texas A&M, Ohio State, Tennessee and Alabama.
Despite such a short window of time existing between now and national signing day, the Irish remain in play for a handful of high-profile prospects whose potential pledges to Notre Dame cold lift the Irish into, perhaps, the top five of 247sports.com's rankings.
Among the prospects Notre Dame remains in play for, a handful would fulfill a dire area of need for the Irish.
Shoring Up the Defensive Line
As it stands, Notre Dame has five commitments along the defensive line, though none of the quintet are capable of filling the massive shoes left behind by now former nose guard Louis Nix (last week, Nix signed with an agent, effectively exhausting his collegiate eligibility).
Thus, the Irish are in scramble mode to lock up a commitment from a prospect capable of playing on the interior of Notre Dame's defensive line.
Delp seems like an outside shot, as he doesn't currently hold a Notre Dame offer and hasn't visited campus. Delp also appears to favor staying on the West Coast, having taken official visits to Arizona State and Washington State, with another official upcoming to Oregon State Jan. 17.
However, the potential exists for a last minute offer to sway the 6'3", 310-pound lineman, particularly given the Irish's dire need for a player who fits their need as Kelp does.
As for Holley, the Brooklyn, N.Y. native appears to be leaning toward Penn State, per his 247sports.com profile. Yet fellow Brooklyn native and current Notre Dame commit Jay Hayes continues to attempt to sway Holley to South Bend, Ind.
It's reasonable to suppose hope exists for a Holley commitment, though the Irish's ultimate prize would be Elam, a 6'6", 350-pound pure defensive tackle out of Elizabethtown, Ky.
Elam has pared his final three schools to Alabama, Kentucky and Notre Dame, though the Irish seem to be trailing the Tide and Wildcats for his services.
It should be concerning that Notre Dame seems to be on the outside looking in for all three of these prospects, and it wouldn't arrive as a surprise if none signed with the Irish. Should that transpire, it would be a massive blow to the interior of the Irish's defensive line for the foreseeable future.
Will Notre Dame Take a Running Back?
With Notre Dame's running back depth chart not expected to change transitioning from 2013 to 2014, the question of whether Notre Dame will take a running back has been a common one.
The answer is likely no, as both of the Irish's top targets at the position—Bo Scarbrough and Nathan Starks—have seemingly dropped off the program's radar. The latter was expelled from Las Vegas (Nev.) Bishop Gorman High School for unspecified violations of team and school rules.
Meanwhile, Scarbrough has remained firm in his commitment to Alabama, meaning his commitment to any other program at this point would arrive as a surprise.
Adding to Notre Dame's likely decision not to take a running back is that freshman back Greg Bryant was forced to take a medical redshirt as the result of a knee injury sustained early in the season. Thus, Bryant will theoretically be a 5-star recruit entering the 2014-15 season.
With George Atkinson III and Cam McDaniel slated to graduate in May 2015, expect Notre Dame to be hard at work recruiting running backs in the 2015 class.
Will the Loss of Both Chuck Martin and Bob Diaco Affect Notre Dame's Recruiting Efforts?
When Martin and Diaco jumped ship for head coaching gigs at Miami (Ohio) and Connecticut, respectively, within one week of one another, worries existed as to whether Notre Dame's recruiting would take a hit.
So far, that doesn't appear to be the case.
Even better news for the Irish is that they haven't experienced the sting of de-commitment from any prospects on either side of the ball. While that's always a possibility, particularly during the stretch between bowl season and national signing day, the Irish's class seems to be solid going forward.
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A sure highlight of the offseason, the Michigan Wolverines are most likely looking straight ahead to National Signing Day.
Never mind the Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl on Dec. 28 vs. Kansas State—blazing-hot sauce doesn’t smell quite like Pasadena Roses. Win or lose, it’ll just go down as another game, not one of championship caliber.
Maybe next year.
But before coach Brady Hoke can plan for the fall of 2014, he must first tie up loose ends on Feb. 5 by signing his stellar class of commitments.
Depth at quarterback will be addressed by the addition of Wilton Speight, a 6’6”, 220-pound pro-styler who has Peyton Manning size and a skyscraper-high ceiling of potential. The Collegiate (Va.) star is set to join Derrick Green, a sophomore-to-be who also fine-tuned his skills in Richmond, giving the Wolverines an adequate quarterback-running back combo for the future.
Throw in Shane Morris, who’ll be a sophomore, and Devin Gardner, who’ll be a senior, and the offense will have no less than three options for next fall. Morris and Gardner will likely duke it out for the top spot, but don’t forget about Speight—he could make things interesting come time for camp.
In essence, National Signing Day is the draft for Hoke—minus the agents and the players’ lack of having a choice in destination, of course. The point of signing the top talents available is to fill internal roster needs.
Thus far, Hoke has a great track record of producing top-10 recruiting classes. Wolverines fans are still waiting to see what that talent does, but that’s another story.
Depth and talent usage are just two areas that need attention.
Grip on Peppers?
Jabrill Peppers’ relationship with Michigan is the storyline of the offseason. That won’t change until Feb. 5—the day Peppers, for Hoke’s sake, chooses the Wolverines over other suitors.
Initially, Peppers was classified as an athlete and defensive back by 247Sports, which now tags Peppers as an athlete and running back.
It’s not clear whether or not Hoke and offensive coordinator Al Borges view Peppers as a ball-carrier—but why not?! Team 134 certainly had issues running the ball; it only picked up the pace during the final weeks of 2013, in which Green and DeVeon Smith, also a freshman, injected a breath of fresh air into the huddle.
With athleticism teeming from his pores, Peppers will instantly add a level of skill to any position he undertakes in Ann Arbor. First and foremost, he’s a defensive back. Michigan’s secondary could use help, so he fits there.
But what about in the backfield? What about as a return man? A wideout?
Peppers hasn’t been shy about his desires and expectations when it comes to college football. He may be a bit over the top in some cases, namely the Charles Woodson comment, but his talent can’t be denied—he’s absolutely the cornerstone of the 2014 haul.
Keeping Peppers close should be Hoke’s sole mission in life. Forget wings, carrot slivers and logs of celery—it’s all about the Peppers.
Will Recruits Strengthen D-Line?
Mone, a husky, 6’4”, 338-pound defensive tackle, carries a 4-star rating from 247Sports. The Salt Lake City Highland senior is the No. 4-ranked DT of 2014 and, due to stature, has lofty goals to reach. He has a loose connection to Greg Mattison, who’s renowned for his four-man front.
Mone is a match, and he attended the same high school as Baltimore Ravens DT Haloti Ngata, who was coached in the NFL by Mattison.
Hoke recently shared a meal with the Mone family, which was a promising sign. Keeping tabs is the name of the game.
According to NCAA.com, the Wolverines ranked an embarrassing No. 78 in terms of sacks per game, averaging just 1.69 per outing (22 on the year). Mone may not be a sack artist, but he’s certainly capable of separating offensive lines so that linebackers and ends can take down quarterbacks.
Marshall, coincidentally enough, is an end who excels at compromising quarterbacks. The 6’3”, 225-pound Southfield (Mich.) berserker has a 4-star rating and is ranked as the No. 10 wideside DE of his class.
Mattison has yet to have a true bull-rushing prodigy. Assuming Ondre Pipkins, who tore his ACL in October, returns healthy, Mattison will have enough options this fall to assemble a legitimately threatening pass-rush corps.
As a junior, Frank Clark, an end, led the team with 12 tackles for a loss and 4.5 sacks. Similar contributions will be necessary next year. Despite a touted offseason, Clark and Jibreel Black failed to wreak havoc on the Big Ten. Black, a senior, started in each game but tallied just 2.5 sacks and 7.5 tackles for a loss.
Between the two, the conservative preseason prediction for the pair was around 10 sacks and 25 TFL. Was that too much to ask for? No, not at all. Those weren’t astronomical numbers to forecast, just the solid would-be stats of a like-talented tandem.
Mone and Marshall could evolve into a 10-and-25 duo. Hoke needs to remind them that they’re part of the master plan. They’re ideal for Mattison’s defense and embody the type of defenders that the Wolverines need to advance up the Big Ten ladder.
Team 134 exhibited traits of a train wreck. It got to the point where watching Michigan football was in the same league as cruel and unusual punishment. Watching Gardner get mercilessly charged and drilled got old.
Watching the line fold under pressure, snap after snap, quickly grew tiring.
There was little to no continuity on the offensive line. But there were plenty of “we’re learning” excuses. Results didn’t follow, so the talk can be filed under “empty promises.” A weak line was the demise of Michigan this past season. Clearly overmatched, Hoke should have realized that his first line of defense was his biggest liability.
Gardner was sacked 34 times, the third-most in the FBS—it’s a statistic that just won’t go away. It’s worth mentioning on a regular basis because of the “wow” factor—as in “Wow, Michigan really let that happen?”
Yes. It happened. And it can’t be repeated.
In order to avoid another mess next year, Hoke and his staff must dedicate as much time allowable by the NCAA to pound the fundamentals into their linemen’s heads. Taylor Lewan won’t be there next year to be the line’s spokesman, and Hoke won’t have Michael Schofield, who also graduates this year.
That leaves a young mid-section that didn’t hold up too well (see the official Week 14 depth chart, via MGoBlue).
Graham Glasgow, Jack Miller, Erik Magnuson and Chris Bryant, along with Kyle Kalis and Kyle Bosch, have more film to watch and more reps to take before they’re considered as the backbone of the offense.
Getting that properly aligned is another head-scratcher that needs to be resolved.
Follow Bleacher Report’s Michigan Wolverines football writer Adam Biggers on Twitter @AdamBiggers81
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