NCAA Football News

BCS Championship Game 2014: Florida State's WRs Ready to Explode vs. Auburn

NEWPORT BEACH, Calif. -- Florida State made the media rounds early Saturday morning, and wide receivers Kelvin Benjamin, Rashad Greene and Kenny Shaw were quite popular.

No, not because Shaw participated in the event with Google Glass—although that was pretty cool.

The trio of Seminole wide receivers are the ones being counted on to exploit Auburn's most notable weakness—its suspect pass defense.

The Tigers boast the SEC's second-worst pass defense at 259.3 yards per game, having given up the most passing plays of 30 or more yards (27) this season.

Despite the numbers, Florida State's wide receivers are impressed with what they see from Auburn's secondary on tape.

"They are where they're supposed to be," Kelvin Benjamin said. "They don't have a lot of busted coverages. They try to be physical with you at the line of scrimmage and jam. We just have to go out there and minimize our mistakes and be consistent with our catches, and I think we'll do a pretty good job of that."

Greene also complimented the physical play of cornerbacks Chris Davis and Jonathan Mincy.

"They have good size and they're very physical," Greene said. "They're a great secondary and they're a great defense. They play hard."

The wide receivers certainly took a class in diplomacy.

Let's be honest though. If Auburn can't get pressure with four and is forced to blitz and open up passing lanes, quarterback Jameis Winston and these receivers are going to pick this defense apart.

"Having the trio is just a blessing in my life, having the receivers is a blessing in my life," Winston said. "Kelvin Benjamin is gonna catch anything, Kenny Shaw is gonna catch anything, and Rashad Greene's gonna catch anything."

This is the unit that is going to decide the outcome of the BCS National Championship Game.

Whether Auburn's ability to rotate defensive linemen allows the back end of the defense to stay in coverage, or defensive coordinator Ellis Johnson is forced to bring the heat, it's going to be up to these wide receivers to make sure that the risks Winston takes don't turn into rewards for the Tiger defense.

They've been doing it all season long, and they're going up against a secondary that's been vulnerable all season long.

Auburn's defensive line needs to help the Tigers out. If it doesn't, it's going to be a long night.

 

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

 

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Winners and Losers of the 2014 US Army All-American Bowl

In a decidedly one-sided U.S. Army All-American Bowl, several future college football stars made their names known.

As the West smashed the East 28-6, Texas A&M commit Kyle Allen, Oklahoma commit Joe Mixon and several other high school prospects put forth huge performances.

Mixon announced his commitment in the fourth quarter in San Antonio, as did several other recruits.

Ohio State pulled in two blue-chip defensive backs, while Texas A&M, Notre Dame, USC and Virginia were among the schools to see new additions Saturday.

Click on to see which schools and players brought in the biggest hauls at the Alamodome. 

 

Note: All ratings based on 247Sports Composite Rankings, unless otherwise noted.

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Nick Marshall's Long and Bumpy Road to the 2014 BCS National Championship

Nick Marshall sat in the passenger seat of a car headed countless miles away from home.

Beside him was his new coach, Jeff Tatum, who was sitting behind the wheel and driving Marshall farther and farther away from the state of Georgia—and farther and farther from his supposed destiny.

It was February 6, 2012, and everything had just fallen apart.

Just a few days before, Marshall had been dismissed from the University of Georgia's football team due to a violation of team rules. Before he even knew it, Marshall was off to Kansas to get back in school and play for Tatum at Garden City Community College—nearly 1,300 miles from his hometown of Pineview, Ga.

"We packed his clothes up and drove out there, and started a new lease on life," Tatum said. "His mom and his high school coach thought it was the best for him to get as far away from Georgia as possible, as quickly as possible."

Marshall had ridden the first four hours or so of the 20-hour journey with his old high school coach, Mark Ledford. They met Tatum in Birmingham, Ala.—where Marshall took all of his clothes and piled them into the back of Tatum's van, before riding with him for the rest of the seemingly endless drive.

Through the trip, Marshall spent some of the time sleeping in the passenger seat. At times, the two talked about the offense they would soon be running at Garden City.

Other times, they'd talk about how Marshall was going to turn his life back around.

Here was Marshall—considered a legendary high school athlete in some circles in southern Georgia—heading West, without a car of his own, exiled to junior college with no intention of coming back any time soon.

This wasn't how Marshall's career was supposed to go.

Marshall did it all at Wilcox County High School.

He was a two-sport star and a high school sports hero, out in a rural area where there never is much going on besides high school sports.

He thrilled the community both on the football field and on the basketball court for the tiny Class A school—becoming a noted prospect in both sports in the process.

On the gridiron, Marshall became famous for his lightning-quick feet and his near-mythological arm strength. During his junior season, Marshall led the Patriots to a Class A state title—after single-handedly accounting for 331 of Wilcox County's 339 yards of total offense in its state championship game win over Savannah Christian in the Georgia Dome.

By the time his football career was finished, Marshall had set a Georgia all-classification record for career touchdown passes with 103 over four seasons.

But, at the time, football was just his second sport.

Marshall had twice been named AP Class A Player of the Year in basketball—and for the majority of his high school career, he thought that's where his future was.

That thought process ultimately led Marshall to the University of Georgia, where arrangements were made so that he could play basketball for hoops coach Mark Fox and football for head coach Mark Richt—albeit as a defensive back rather than a quarterback.

Marshall stayed in Georgia and signed with his home-state institution, becoming a part of the Bulldogs' famous "Dream Team" recruiting class in 2011, which saw a number of the state's most high-profile prospects stay close to home and sign with Georgia.

As a freshman, Marshall saw limited time for the football team as a defensive back, but he was all set to burst onto the scene in a big way during his sophomore campaign, and eventually make his basketball debut under Fox—and add to the lore of his dual-sport legend in the state of Georgia.

Everything was going according to plan, until the script flipped on Feb. 3, 2012, when Richt unceremoniously dismissed Marshall, Sanford Seay and Chris Sanders from the team. Reports indicated that the incident involved theft of money from a Georgia dorm room.

Three days later, Marshall was on his way to Kansas with Tatum.

"It was so urgent to get back in school," Marshall said at a BCS press conference Thursday. "When I made the decision to do that, I put my mind into what I needed to do to get out there and get better at playing Division I football.

Once he was in Garden City, Marshall didn't have a car of his own. He couldn't quit and go home even if he wanted.

"You really can't get in trouble," Marshall said. "There is nowhere to party. You focus on your schoolwork and football and that's the thing I did when I was out there."

What's more, Marshall wasn't going to be satisfied by earning just any spot on a Division I roster.  He was going to be coming back as a quarterback.

"I think all along his heart was to play quarterback," Tatum said. "As soon as we got in the van, and headed back to Garden City, that was the first thing. Before I put it in drive I said, 'You do understand, you're going to play quarterback for me? If that's a problem, you need to let me know right now.' And he said, 'No Coach, I think that's the best thing for me.'

"I think deep down in his heart, even the whole time he was at Georgia, I think he really wanted to play quarterback. But he is such a good kid, he didn't want to rock the boat or buck the system or anything like that."

Marshall also decided to give up basketball for the time being, focusing entirely on the quarterback position.

"After the state championship game his junior year, I think that's when he really fell in love with football and knew that would be a great career opportunity also—that he was just as good in football as he was in basketball," Tatum said.

If the Georgia Dome is where Marshall found his love for the game, Garden City is where he found his focus.

Auburn's tremendous turnaround in 2013 comes as no surprise to Tatum.

Tatum saw Marshall spark a similar turnaround at Garden City a year ago.

In fact, Tatum says he could see it coming even before that.

It started with a team-building exercise in the spring of 2012, when Tatum took Marshall and the rest of the football team on a road trip to watch an away Garden City basketball game.

The opposing school's baseball team was also there in the stands.

"Our guys are hollering at their baseball team on the other side of the court, and they're hollering back, and all of a sudden they started hollering 'two-and-seven,'" Tatum said. "(Marshall) looked at me and said, 'Coach, what are they saying?' I said, 'They're saying two-and-seven.'

"'Well why are they saying that?'

"'That's because we went 2-7 last year.'

"He said, 'Oh, I didn't know that. Don't worry about this year, Coach. We won't be 2-7. I promise you that.'"

That, Tatum says, was the moment when he knew his team would turn the corner with Marshall at quarterback.

"It wasn't one of those where he was telling me what I wanted to hear," Tatum said. "He really, truly believed that we were not going to be 2-7 because he was going to help our football team be a better team."

That fall, Marshall led Garden City to a 7-4 record, passing for 3,142 yards, and 18 touchdowns, and rushing for 1,095 yards and 19 more touchdowns.

In the season finale, Marshall returned to the game from injury to lead a game-winning drive and defeat Copiah-Lincoln, 31-29, in the Mississippi Bowl.

"In our bowl game, when we got behind there at the end of the game, I went over to him and he got a little banged up on the next-to-last drive, and I didn't want to get him hurt," Tatum said. "I went over to him and I said, 'Nick, I need two throws.' And he said, 'OK, Coach.' And when I turned around it was like, 'He's gonna do it.' And then he makes the two throws, and we go down and kick the field goal to win. To him, that was just what was supposed to happen.

"All these things that have happened positive to Auburn all year, he's one of those guys that truly expects good things to happen to him and his football team."

"It was 4th-and-18," Marshall said at a BCS press conference Thursday, recalling the miraculous play that defeated his former team earlier this year, "and we was in the huddle and Coach Malzahn gave us the play and as we were getting ready to break, Ricardo Louis looked at me and told me to throw him the ball.

"I put my trust in him and he put his trust in me to throw him the ball."

For Marshall and Louis, that play was all about trust.

So was many of the things Marshall has been able to do with the Tigers this year.

"Those guys want to play with him and play hard when he's out on the field, because they know that, when he's out there, that he believes in them and that they're going to go make plays," Tatum said.

While Auburn continued to shock the world each week this season, making the most improbable of runs to the BCS National Championship Game and completing the best turnaround in the history of college football, Marshall stayed the same calm, collected person throughout.

"He's a leader, without being a vocal kind of guy," Tatum said. "If you want into a room, he's not the guy that's going to be jumping up and saying 'let's go'—the rah-rah type guy. He's one of those that's quiet, kind of behind the scenes as a quarterback, being real positive. And then also he has that calming effect. When he talks to people, it just kind of settles them down. He's got that calmness about him."

It's from that calmness that comes belief—and from that belief, the "miraculous" plays that Auburn has been able to string together seemingly all season.

"It's like Coach Malzahn said, at the end of the game we're going to find a way to win," Marshall said. "We have been doing that the whole year."

Tatum—who has since left Garden City to become the head football coach at Mississippi Delta Community College—has been able to follow Marshall and Auburn all season. He was in attendance at Jordan-Hare Stadium for both the Georgia and Alabama games to close the season.

Marshall and Tatum still talk regularly every week. Before arriving at Auburn last June, Marshall took a few classes at Mississippi Delta during the preceding summer semester, because Tatum was there.

Now, Tatum will look on as the player he helped convert back into a quarterback goes head-to-head with the Heisman Trophy winner on the biggest stage in college football—and as the kid from rural Georgia who was supposed to be a cornerback looks to win a national championship.

No, this isn't how Marshall's career was supposed to go.

So far, it's been even better.

 

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

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Rahshead Johnson Commits to USC: Trojans Land 4-Star WR

Four-star wide receiver Rahshead Johnson (Long Beach, Calif.) committed to the USC Trojans on Saturday, capping off a very good afternoon on the recruiting trail for new head coach Steve Sarkisian and his staff.

Ryan Bartow of 247Sports had the news:

Johnson has a thin, lanky frame (5'11'', 165 lbs), but he's very shifty in the open field. Capable of playing either wide receiver or cornerback at the next level, he is tentatively projected to begin his career on offense, though that is subject to change.

Previously committed to play at Washington, Johnson decommited (for the second time) after Sarkisian left for USC, where he replaced interim coach Ed Orgeron. According to Gerard Martinez of USCFootball.com, he accepted the scholarship just 20 minutes after Sarkisian offered it to him:

Earlier in the afternoon, the Trojans also landed a toss-up commitment from athletic tight end Bryce Dixon, who was choosing between them and UCLA. Not long after announcing he would play at USC, Dixon made a very impressive catch in the Army All-American Bowl, flashing his blue-chip athleticism.

Between him and Johnson, the Trojans scored a couple of very nice prospects to develop in the passing game. Quarterbacks Cody Kessler and Max Browne are already licking their chops.

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USC Football: 4-Star Bryce Dixon Commits, Makes Trojan TE Corp Best in Nation

4-star TE Bryce Dixon committed to USC during the U.S. Army All-American Bowl Game on Saturday.

Dixon is considered the No. 2 tight end in the nation, and his commitment to Troy gives USC the best tight end corps in the country. It already features NFL-caliber talent in Xavier Grimble and Randall Telfer, and Dixon has the skill set to be a great addition to head coach Steve Sarkisian's new offense.  

After announcing his decision, Dixon spoke to the media about why USC is the best fit for him:

"USC has a good tradition of tight ends. They're bringing coach Sark in. It'll be a great addition and I think I can keep the tradition going of good tight ends."

Less than an hour after Dixon, 4-star WR Rahshead Johnson committed to USC, in what was a surprising decision. With Marqise Lee declaring for the NFL draft on Friday night, the addition of Johnson lessens the blow of Lee's departure.

While Dixon will need to gain some weight before he is ready to contribute, the depth he brings alone at tight end is a score for USC. Jalen Cope-Fitzpatrick is the only other scholarship tight end the Trojans have after Grimble and Telfer, and we haven't seen much of him yet. 

Telfer and Grimble (if he elects to return for his senior season) will graduate next year, so Cope-Fitzpatrick and Dixon will spend 2014 learning on the practice field before becoming starters themselves.

USC has four stud tight ends, and the opportunities to fully utilize them in the Trojan offense are endless.

The 6'4", 220-pound tight end was a star at St. Bonaventure High School in Ventura, Calif. What makes him such an important get for the Trojans is that he has excellent hands and top-end speed. Since Sarkisian will be looking to feed the tight ends the ball more in his new scheme, Dixon already fits the mold for what Sarkisian is looking for at that position.

Like the veterans he would learn under, he can hold onto the ball in traffic as well as catch balls over the middle. He will need to improve his blocking skills before he sees the field, however.

While Dixon was thought to be a UCLA lean for much of his recruitment, the opportunity to play early likely had an impact on his decision. USC picked up an elite player at a position of need, and thought he will take an official visit to UCLA later this month, he said during the Army All-American Bowl that his decision is set.

With Dixon and Johnson in the mix, USC has 16 commits in the class of 2014, and Sarkisian is making good on his word of shoring up depth at positions of need. 

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BCS Championship Game 2014: Layoff Is Exactly What Auburn's Passing Game Needed

NEWPORT BEACH, Calif. — A lot is made of the layoff between the end of college football's regular season and the bowl season, particularly for teams participating in the BCS National Championship Game, which have to wait a month or more to play for the crystal football.

That layoff is particularly important with No. 2 Auburn, which rode a wave of late-season momentum all the way to Pasadena for a title game tilt with top-ranked Florida State.

With time to prepare, it's only natural that an advantage could sway towards Tallahassee since the coaching staff will have plenty of time to dissect that multi-dimensional Auburn rushing attack.

Only don't tell Florida State cornerback Lamarcus Joyner that, because he's clearly concerned.

"I don't think if you got a year, a month, a week or two days off, at the end of the day, it's no secret what Auburn is doing," he said. "They do what they do, and they do it well. Teams know that. You just have to stop them and be disciplined."

But what if Auburn changes up what they do in the title tilt on Monday night?

Quarterback Nick Marshall only had five weeks in this offense before the season-opener versus Washington State. During the time off, Marshall and offensive coordinator Rhett Lashlee self-scouted the Tigers' passing game, and worked on Marshall taking that next step as a passer.

"We've been working on fundamental things like footwork, and fundamentals with our feet," Marshall said. "I think it helped me a lot."

Lashlee has been impressed with the attitude of his junior quarterback, as the two went back to the drawing board.

"I think it's been a good 30 days for Nick," Lashlee said. "He's practiced extremely well not just from his mindset and the way he's attacked it to get better, but he's thrown the ball extremely well over the break. He got an extra 30 days to focus on just being a quarterback, which hopefully we'll see on Monday night and he'll play pretty well."

Sammie Coates has been Marshall's go-to receiver this season catching 38 passes for 841 yards, seven touchdowns and an SEC-best 22.13 yards per catch. But for Auburn's passing game to get a boost, somebody has to step up outside to compliment Coates.

Could that be tight end C.J. Uzomah? 

The 6'4", 258-pound junior has nine catches for three touchdowns this season; and emerged as one of Marshall's go-to guys in the red zone through the air. He's back to 100 percent after nursing an injury and only seeing one snap during the Missouri game, and he will be ready in the red zone against Florida State if his number is called.

"Yeah, probably," he said. "Coach [Gus] Malzahn has a plan and he hasn't really given us too, too much because of all of the media and stuff, so I guess we'll just have to see."

Make no mistake, Auburn isn't going to sling it all over the Rose Bowl on Monday night.

"He's always been a great quarterback," wide receiver Trovon Reed said. "But like Coach Malzahn says, 'in order for us to change something, they have to stop something'."

If Florida State stops something in the title game, the work Marshall, Lashlee and the receiving corps put in during the layoff may determine which team leaves Southern California with that crystal football.

 

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


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Joe Mixon to Oklahoma: Sooners Land 5-Star RB Prospect

Joe Mixon, one of the top running backs in the class of 2014, has made his mind up on where he will play college football next year

Mixon will be attending Oklahoma, according to Justin Hopkins of 247 Sports:

According to 247Sports’ composite rankings, Mixon is regarded as a 5-star prospect. He grades out as the No. 18 overall talent in the country, the third-best player in the state of California and the top-ranked all-purpose back in his class.

Bob Stoops is fortunate to have added this crown jewel to his recruiting haul. Aside from Oklahoma, Mixon was reportedly giving serious consideration to Wisconsin, California and UCLA, and he had offers from many other powerhouse football schools.

Luckily for fans in Norman, the 6’2”, 195-pound back has decided to align his talents on the Sooners side.

Once Mixon gets on the field, it is hard to see a situation in which he doesn’t make an impact. This young man is tall, strong and powerful. He possesses great speed for his frame and can break away once he gets into the second level.

While Mixon sometimes struggles to bust through the smaller holes, he has proven his ability break tackles and juke defenders with ease in the open field.

This Freedom High School prospect from Oakley, Calif., is also a natural receiver. He has great hands and has no issues motioning out wide to run routes from the slot. Offensive coordinator Josh Heupel will have his hands full thinking of unique ways to get Mixon the ball.

Add in some top-notch blocking and great recognition in pass protection, and you are looking at one of the most versatile, skilled rushers in America.

Expect Mixon to play all three downs for Oklahoma and eventually become an integral part of the Sooners offense. He’s a star in the making and will soon be shining bright under the lights of Gaylord Stadium on Saturdays.

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No. 1 APB Joe Mixon Commits to Oklahoma Sooners: Meet the Next DeMarco Murray

5-Star APB Joe Mixon has committed to play for Oklahoma. The 6'2", 200-lb athlete is one of the top prospects in the country and will be a phenomenal addition to the Sooners' 2014 recruiting class.

What makes him so good?

B/R's college football analysts Adam Kramer and Michael Felder break down what kind of player Mixon is and why he is comparable to DeMarco Murray.

Highlights courtesy of xosdigital.com

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Marshon Lattimore to Ohio State: Buckeyes Land 4-Star ATH Prospect

Ohio State is off to a scorching-hot start in its chase for a top 2014 recruiting class, after landing 5-star prospect Marshon Lattimore according to Bill Rabinowitz of The Columbus Dispatch.

Lattimore is a native of Cleveland, Ohio, and a junior star playing for Glenville High School. He had offers from Ohio State, Michigan, Penn State and USC, among others.

According to 247Sports.com, Lattimore is the fifth-best athlete in the nation in the class of 2014, and the No. 1 prospect coming out of the state of Ohio. 

A 6-foot, 175-pound athlete, Lattimore is a football player above all else. However he is most likely to excel as either a wide receiver or a defensive back at the college level. His speed and ball skills stand out in particular. 

He possesses a quick burst as well as solid top-end speed. But what separates him from an ordinary speedster is his ability to rise and secure the ball alone or in traffic. Lattimore can shutdown opposing wide receivers, or reverse roles and burn opposing cornerbacks as an explosive wideout.

It will be interesting to see where Lattimore spends most of his time on the field in the coming years, as he is among the most versatile 5-star prospects headed to the next level in 2014.

What's scary is that he's only a teenager in his junior year of high school.

Overall, there's very few things Lattimore doesn't do well. Plus, he's only going to get better during his senior season, and over the course of next summer as he prepares to begin his college football career.

 

Follow Bleacher Report Featured Columnist Patrick Clarke on Twitter. 

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Missouri Coach Gary Pinkel Celebrates Cotton Bowl Win by Dancing in Locker Room

The Missouri Tigers pulled out a wild 41-31 victory over the Oklahoma State Cowboys in the Cotton Bowl on Friday, so they had plenty of reason to rejoice after the game.

The players weren't the only ones celebrating, though, as Coach Gary Pinkel decided to put on a show in the locker room.


Thanks to Pinkel for the video, and hat tip to Diehard Sport's Alex Friedman for the find.

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What 4-Star CB Marshon Lattimore Means to Ohio State Buckeyes

4-Star CB Marshon Lattimore has committed to play for the Ohio State Buckeyes. The 6'0", 175-pound athlete is one of the top prospects in the country and will be a phenomenal addition to coach Urban Meyer's strong 2014 defensive class.

What will Lattimore mean to the Buckeyes program?

B/R's college football analyst Michael Felder breaks down what to expect from this top recruit at the next level.

 

Highlights courtesy of XOSDigital.com

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Nyles Morgan to Notre Dame: Irish Land 4-Star ILB Prospect

Notre Dame landed a big prospect for its 2014 recruiting class on Saturday, landing a verbal commitment from Crete-Monee (Illinois) High School star linebacker Nyles Morgan.

Brandon Huffman of Scout.com first reported that Morgan made his decision.

According to 247Sports.com, Morgan is a 4-star recruit. Although verbal commitments are non-binding until 2014's national signing day, the junior is a big pull for Brian Kelly's '14 class.

Currently the No. 63 overall prospect in 247 Sports' rankings of the 2014 class, Morgan compiled 242 tackles during his sophomore and junior seasons and helped lead Crete-Monee to a 6A Illinois State Championship.

Morgan is listed at 6'2", weighs in at 220 pounds and has a listed 4.68 40-yard dash. He already has good size for a college linebacker, and his 40 time will only improve with more work. On film, he shows great instincts in finding the football, takes on blocks well and has the speed to make up for any missteps he accrues in the running game.

He and Laquon Treadwell (one of Ole Miss' newest 5-star freshman) were two of the best players at Crete-Monee during the 2012 season, and he'll have a chance to finish out his high school career as one of the best players in the history of Illinois sports—especially if he adds another 100-plus tackle season during his senior year.

Miles also had offers from Florida, Ohio State, Oklahoma, Michigan, Indiana and UCLA—among others—during his recruitment.

After winning Times' 2012 Defensive Player of the Year Honors (courtesy of The Northwest Indiana and Illinois Times), Miles has the pedigree of an elite prospect and will be expected to help the defense from Day 1 at Notre Dame.

Verbal commitments are non-binding, and the first day a 2014 recruit can sign his National Letter of Intent (NLI) is Feb. 5, 2014 (h/t NCAA.org). 

 

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What 4-Star ILB Nyles Morgan Means to the Notre Dame Fighting Irish

4-star ILB Nyles Morgan has committed to play for Notre Dame next season. The 6'2", 225-pound athlete is an absolute bruiser, known for his hard hitting style and closing speed to the ball.

What will Morgan's commitment mean for the Fighting Irish?

BR's college football analyst Michael Felder breaks down what to expect from this top recruit at the next level.

Highlights courtesy of xosdigital.com.

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Rapper Drake Enjoyed Himself at the Orange Bowl

The Ohio State Buckeyes invited Drake to watch the Orange Bowl against Clemson, and it looks like he thoroughly enjoyed the atmosphere and his time there.

He got a press pass to watch from the bench, but his photos and video show he spent a lot of time in the stands.

 

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Why Charlie Strong Is the Best Fit for Texas Football

The Texas Longhorns have been among the more disappointing teams in college football over the past four years. After advancing to the BCS National Championship in 2009, the Horns have gone 31-21 while finishing ranked outside the Top 25 in three of those four seasons.  

This led to Mack Brown resigning this offseason, and now the program is searching for a head coach they hope can get them back to national prominence. 

Multiple media outlets are reporting that Louisville Cardinals Head Coach Charlie Strong will be the man Texas eventually hires. Here's the latest report from ESPN: 

This would be a great hire for Texas, and hopefully they'll get it wrapped up sooner rather than later so they can begin focusing on recruiting with only a month until National Signing Day.  

Here are the two things Strong has excelled at doing at Louisville, and why Texas should hire him expecting him to do the same there.

 

Talent Maximization

Before Strong got to Louisville, the Cardinals went 9-15 and had won just two Big East conference games in their previous two seasons. Entering the 2010 season, UL was projected as one of the worst teams in a BCS conference and likely to finish in last place in the Big East. 

But his first Cardinals team went 7-6, won the Beef 'O' Brady's Bowl and finished fifth in the Big East out of eight teams.

Not only that, but of the Cards' six losses, five of them were by just one touchdown or less, and it showed how in just one year Strong had changed the losing culture at Louisville. 

The next season saw Louisville go 7-6 again but finish in a tie for first place in the Big East, including a win over the conference champion West Virginia Mountaineers, who went on to defeat the Clemson Tigers in the Orange Bowl. It was now becoming evident Louisville was becoming a program that could compete with elite college football competition. 

His third year saw his Cardinals win the Big East and defeat the heavily-favored Florida Gators, who sported eight draft picks in the 2013 NFL Draft.

Speaking of which, Strong went 25-14, won the Big East and a BCS bowl game in his first three years while having only four players drafted into the NFL, and none of them were higher than a third-round selection. 

That's called maximizing your talent, something Mack Brown failed to do over his final four season at Texas, which led to his downfall. The first thing Texas needs to push for in its new coach is someone who recruits and develops talent well. 

That's what Strong thrives in and why he could come to Texas and make an immediate impact with as much talent as the Longhorns already have on their roster.

 

Focus on Defense

One of the biggest culprits behind the Longhorns' struggles recently has been the lack of consistently good defense. That was painfully evident early this year when the BYU Cougars ran for 550 yards, the most all-time by BYU and the most rushing yards the Longhorns had ever given up, according to the Salt Lake Tribune

Strong has built the Louisville defense into one of the best in the nation after it was among the nation's worst prior to his arrival. 

Per ESPN Stats and Info, Strong has had the Cardinals rank in the top 10 in the FBS in points allowed per game, yards per game, yards per play and sack percentage after ranking 75th or worse in those categories prior to his arrival. 

His star pupil at Louisville is Marcus Smith, who came to Louisville as a quarterback, but Strong helped morph him into a 6-foot-3, 256-pound defensive end who was just named the American Athletics Conference Defensive Player of the Year.

This, after registering 14.5 sacks in his senior season, the second-most in the nation. He's the truest testament to how well Strong develops and maximizes talent, particularly on defense. 

There may be bigger names that Texas can pursue, but given Strong's success at maximizing talent and building defense, the two things Texas needs the most right now, Strong may very well be the best hire the Longhorns can possibly make. 

 

 

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Bryce Dixon to USC: Trojans Land 4-Star TE Prospect

Four-star tight end Bryce Dixon has signed with USC.

Ryan Abraham of USCFootball.com broke news of the decision:

According to 247Sports' composite rankings, Dixon is the second-best tight end in the country, the 10th-best prospect in California and No. 116 overall.

The 6'4", 220-pound tight end is good enough to have earned a place in the 2014 Army All-American Bowl:

Dixon is the kind of prospect that leaves recruiters and head coaches drooling. The product of St. Bonaventure High School is a good mix of raw ability and actual talent. He's got great hands for a tight end and has an ability to find the ball in the air and snatch it out the sky.

In addition, the physical tools are all there. He has enough power to handle opposing linebackers, but his speed will create mismatches in the secondary.

The one concern you might have with Dixon is his size. Weighing 220 pounds when you're 6'4" is acceptable when you're a wide receiver, but it isn't for a tight end. While the position is becoming dominated more and more by athletic freaks, Dixon could stand to add a little more bulk. Where he is right now, he'd get bullied at the line of scrimmage.

It shouldn't be a big problem, since getting on a more regular strength and conditioning program should allow him to build some additional muscle.

Tight ends are becoming more and more like wide receivers, and Dixon no doubt fits that mold. With the right coaching, he could be one of, if not the best tight end in the country in a few years. It's a matter of him fulfilling his massive potential.

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Frank Iheanacho to Texas A&M: Aggies Land 4-Star WR Prospect

Wide receiver Frank Iheanacho wasn't even on the college football radar entering the 2013 season, but after a fantastic campaign at Westside High School in Houston, Texas, interest heated up. It all culminated in him committing to play at Texas A&M Saturday, according to Brandon Huffman of Fox Sports:

Despite Iheanacho's obvious physical tools, he had to play his way into the conversation this past season. According to 247Sports.com, he didn't play football in 2012, instead concentrating solely on basketball. He returned to the gridiron in 2013, though, and managed to reel in 44 passes for 652 yards and 16 touchdowns.

That touchdown total is what had so many top schools salivating. At 6'7" and 220 pounds, it shouldn't take Iheanacho long to be a red-zone weapon at the very least. He still has to develop other areas of his game, but he has all the potential in the world.

When asked about his return to the sport of football, Iheanacho told Brian Perroni of 247Sports.com that his teammates convinced him to give it another try.

“My teammates, I would talk to them about it,” Iheanacho said of returning to the football team his senior year. “Those are like my brothers. I really just wanted to come out and have fun with them and get to play football again.”

Per 247Sports.com, Iheanacho is the No. 71 overall recruit and the No. 8 overall wide receiver, which is amazing when you consider how little experience he has. Even so, Oregon, Arkansas, LSU, Missouri and a host of other top programs were vying for his services.

Iheanacho clearly seemed to enjoy the recruitment process as well. As seen in this photo courtesy of his Instagram account, he was quite impressed with what the Razorbacks had to offer:

Westside head coach Frank Byrd has had nothing but good things to say about Iheanacho, per Perroni.

“He’s a big kid that moves so well,” Byrd said. “We saw flashes of it his sophomore year but we didn’t know quite what to expect when he came back. He was just a natural route-runner. He was so smooth, especially for being so big."

What Byrd sees in Iheanacho is likely right in line with what those who were trying to recruit him saw. Even though he's still somewhat raw as he tries to convert his natural talent into on-field excellence, it is blatantly obvious that he has the ability to be a very special player.

As seen in this video of Iheanacho's high school highlights, he often uses his size to take advantage of smaller defensive backs. That is something that he must continue to do since he'll have a height advantage no matter who he goes up against.

With that said, there is more to the collegiate game than that. Iheanacho will have to polish his route-running even more, especially in the short and intermediate areas. He is a big threat over the top due to his leaping ability already, but he can be even better once he rounds out his game.

Clearly, there is plenty of belief that Iheanacho can take that next step since so many high-profile programs wanted him. He has finally made his decision, but the work has only just begun in terms of fulfilling his immense promise.

 

Follow @MikeChiari on Twitter

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5-Star RB Joe Mixon Scores, Flashes Money Manziel Sign at Army All-American Bowl

Five-star running back Joe Mixon (Oakley, Calif.) will be playing his college ball for Oklahoma, according to Justin Hopkins of 247Sports, but one famous Texas A&M Aggies player is clearly among his influences.

After scoring a touchdown in the 2014 U.S. Army All-American Bowl, Mixon celebrated with the "show me the money" dance made famous by Johnny Manziel:

Manziel started doing the gesture as a redshirt freshman in 2012, celebrating scores all the way to a Heisman Trophy. But this year, after being investigated by the NCAA for allegedly selling autographs, he drew the ire of many by doing the same dance against Rice in the season opener.

Mixon is No. 10 in the all-purpose back 247Sports rankings for 2014. Earlier in the Army All-American game, he flashed another part of his skill set by taking a screen pass down the sideline for a long gain.

We'll let you know once he announces his commitment.

 

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How an Oklahoma Sugar Bowl Victory Brought Redemption for 2007 Fiesta Bowl Loss

It's safe to say that Oklahoma's triumph over Alabama in this year's Sugar Bowl was one of the greatest games ever played by the crimson-and-cream team. Quarterback Trevor Knight performed better than he had all year by throwing for 348 yards and four touchdowns over the course of the game, while Bob Stoops became the only coach to win the Rose Bowl, Sugar Bowl, Fiesta Bowl and Orange Bowl since the beginning of the BCS era.

With this victory, the Sooners were able to bring some closure to one of their toughest losses in the history of their program: The 2007 Fiesta Bowl, where the Sooners took on Boise State.

For those who remember, the eighth-ranked Sooners emerged as the overwhelming favorite to win that evening, with many believing the Sooners would win with a seven-point deficit or higher. Meanwhile, the Boise State Broncos had plenty of momentum on their end thanks to the Western Athletic Conference championship triumph with an undefeated regular season. 

When the game started, Boise State took an early lead, and lead for most of the game before the Sooners fired back with 25 unanswered points to achieve their first lead of the game with 1:02 left on the clock, 35-28. 

With the game already looking to be a close one, fans on both sides were exhilarated when Jerard Rabb brought the ball down for a 35-yard touchdown run with seven seconds left in the game. The ensuing kick tied the game up 35-35. The game was sent into overtime.

Adrian Peterson gave the Sooners an edge with a 25-yard touchdown run, with the ensuing kick bringing the score to 42-35. Sooner fans knew that the game was going to go in Oklahoma's favor, but a six-yard touchdown followed by a Statue of Liberty trick play for a two-point conversion gave the Boise State Broncos the Fiesta Bowl win, 43-42.

The game was widely regarded as one of the greatest college football games ever played due to the dramatic fashion in which it ended. But while the Broncos received the fanfare which comes with being a victorious underdog, the Sooners were left with a crushed morale which, in some ways, they never recovered from. 

Sure, they've won more games than lost, and they have won multiple Big 12 titles since that fateful January day, but the fact of the matter is that they were ousted by what was supposed to be a lesser team. The 2007 Fiesta Bowl will always be remembered in college football history, and Oklahoma has to suffer the stigma of being the juggernaut that lost that night.

Fast forward seven years later to the 2014 Sugar Bowl between Alabama and Oklahoma. It was an odd reversal of roles as Oklahoma was touted as the underdog team led by Stoops, while the third-ranked, Nick Saban-led Alabama was the favorite to win. With three BCS National Championship wins in the last four years, including the last two, it looked like it was going to get ugly.

Yet Oklahoma played a better game against Alabama than they had all year long. Relying heavily on a passing game, the Sooners brought the fight to Alabama, who struggled uncharacteristically through the night. Their pro-style offense had faded and became more predictable to defend against. Through it all, it was Oklahoma who pulled off the upset with a 45-31 win over Alabama.

Although it wasn't a nail-biter like the 2007 Fiesta Bowl, Oklahoma's performance in the 2014 Sugar Bowl managed to become one of the biggest in the program's history. For one, it signals a possible resurgence for the program. Also, as opposed to any surprise last-minute plays, Oklahoma played almost flawlessly throughout the game. 

With that, the Sooners are the reigning Sugar Bowl champions. Knight's stock has risen greatly because of his performance. Look for the Sooners to bring the heat this fall when football season starts back up.

Follow Joseph on Twitter: @ThatSheltonGuy

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BCS Championship Game 2014: Don't Expect a Heisman Hangover from Jameis Winston

NEWPORT BEACH, Calif. -- Winning a Heisman Trophy changes your life forever. When a player carries that stiff arm trophy home from New York City, he's no longer a college football player—he's a sports celebrity, which is a different world.

Just ask Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel.

Dealing with fame can be tricky, especially when there's work to be done on the field. Say, like winning the BCS National Championship Game?

That's the position Florida State quarterback Jameis Winston finds himself in, after he threw for 3,820 yards, 38 touchdowns and 10 interceptions and rushed for another 193 yards and four touchdowns as a redshirt freshman in 2013, claiming college football's biggest prize in the process.

"My life hasn't changed at all because our goal as a team, it still isn't over yet," he said during his media appearance on Friday. "At Florida State, we began the season as everybody was looking at us as, like okay, they've got a freshman quarterback. Nobody is going to pay any attention, now we're in the National Championship."

Winston knows that his biggest step is in front of him.

"I still haven't reached my maximum goal," he said on media day on Saturday. "At the end of the day, I want to be the last person on that field and holding up that crystal ball. With all of the awards that an individual can receive, nothing is more important than hoisting up that crystal football with your team on that stage signing 'we are the champions'."

Besides, the Heisman hangover is more myth than reality these days.

Manziel set a Cotton Bowl record with 516 yards in a 41-13 win over Oklahoma last year, one month after hearing his name called in New York City. Baylor's Robert Griffin III accounted for 350 yards and two touchdowns in a 67-56 win over Washington in the Alamo Bowl following the 2011 season. Auburn's Cam Newton didn't exactly look stellar in the Tigers' 22-19 BCS National Championship Game win following the 2010 season, but that crystal football is all that matters.

Seminole head coach Jimbo Fisher has liked what he's seen from his star quarterback during the month-long layoff between the ACC and BCS Championship Games.

"He looks like the old Jameis right back when were about to play Pitt (in the season opener)," Fisher said. "He's excited, but you see a guy who grinds and puts the film work in, he's practiced well and affected his teammates well."

Don't expect a Heisman hangover for Winston when toe meets leather inside the Rose Bowl on Monday night. For the redshirt freshman, it's just another game.

 

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


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