NCAA Football News

Big Ten East Division Quickly Becoming Best in College Football

With all due respect to the SEC West, the Big Ten East Division will be the best in college football this year. Whether it’s from arrogance, complacency or the demise of the rigged BCS system, the SEC’s reign of supremacy is dead.

Without question, early-season poll favoritism will keep too many SEC teams in the hunt when they don’t belong resulting in another season of having to endure the constant fawning by sycophants like Paul Finebaum and Mark May. Nonetheless, it will be gratifying watching their beloved SEC fall like a house of cards again this season.

The pendulum is swinging in the Big Ten’s favor right now, and here are three reasons why the conference will be back on top in 2015:  

 

Winning in September Again

September has not been kind to the Big Ten lately, but there is optimism in the Midwest that 2015 will be a continuation of the end of 2014 when its best teams delivered. A few games will have significant implications on the playoff chase.

 

Wisconsin vs. Alabama

Whether the Big Ten likes it or not, the image of the conference is often measured by how well the teams do against SEC opponents. For the first time in years, the Big Ten has the upper hand. This game won’t make or break the either team, but it does present a good opportunity for the Badgers to drive a stake into the king of the SEC.

Interestingly enough, both teams enter this game with something to prove. Wisconsin has one of the most consistent programs in the nation, but it always seems to come up a little short in big games.

Alabama has not won a title in two years, which for most teams is normal, but not for the Crimson Tide. Head coach Nick Saban tried his best to sell the loss to Ohio State, telling reporters in his Sugar Bowl postgame news conference, "I don't think you necessarily have to get a trophy to be a winner," but the reality at Alabama is a non-championship season is a bust.

Other than kicking off the Paul Chryst era with a monumental upset, there is not a lot of pressure on the Badgers in this game. Few expect them to win, especially with concerns at quarterback and having to break in several new starters on the offensive line.

The good news for Wisconsin is Alabama lost many of its key players too. The bad news is the Crimson Tide’s cupboard is stocked with 5-star talent so the team is just reloading again.

This game has upset written all over it. Wisconsin’s defense is good enough to keep it in the game, and the offense will grind out enough points to win it.

 

Michigan St vs. Oregon

The Spartans had the Ducks on the ropes early in the second half in last year’s game in Eugene, but Oregon scored 28 unanswered points to secure a convincing 46-27 victory. The loss humbled the Spartans, who entered the game looking to build on their momentum from their 2013 Big Ten championship and Rose Bowl win.

He may not mention it, but payback is on head coach Mark Dantonio’s mind. With 14 returning starters, including senior quarterback Connor Cook and 2013 Big Ten Defensive Lineman of the Year Shilique Calhoun, the Spartans have expectations of making the College Football Playoff this year. A loss to Oregon won’t kill their chances, but it would make the road significantly difficult. They’ll be ready.

Breaking in a new quarterback and playing on the road against a Top 10 opponent will be too much for Oregon to overcome. Michigan State will win with its ground game and defense setting up a possible epic November showdown with the Buckeyes in Columbus.

 

Ohio State vs. Virginia Tech

Just as November 8 was circled on last season’s calendar, September 7 is circled on this year’s calendar. The Hokies embarrassed the Buckeyes 35-21 last September in the Horseshoe as coach Urban Meyer’s young team was ill-prepared to handle Bud Foster’s hard-nosed, pressure defense.  

That loss banded the team together, which helped it make its magical run to the title, but avenging the loss is the first step in Ohio State’s quest to defend its title. Expect a highly motivated Buckeyes team to rise to the occasion in Blacksburg. Ohio State wins the game convincingly by three touchdowns.

 

Minnesota vs. TCU

Many TCU fans pointed to last year’s 30-7 win over Minnesota as Exhibit A to support their argument that the Horned Frogs belonged in the playoff over Ohio State. The selection committee felt differently, and the sting is still lingering as coach Gary Patterson told reporters on April 9:

“I was told the reason we had a [selection] committee is we were going to take all that stuff out of it. [Conference] championship games shouldn't have mattered.”

The stakes in this game are pretty high for both teams. TCU is almost in a lose/lose situation. A blowout win did not help the team last year, so anything less could be an anchor all season. Minnesota coach Jerry Kill has done wonders for the program, but he still needs a statement game. A loss almost ensures another season without 10 wins.

TCU is loaded for a title run, but it will be interesting to watch how Patterson’s team manages the pressure of being the favorite. Playing on the road in Game 1 might be a little more difficult than desired. The Horned Frogs will win, but the game will be very close.

Beyond these featured matchups, the Big Ten has several other significant nonconference games against quality FBS opponents, including Stanford, Duke, Miami, BYU, Utah, West Virginia and Pitt. Winning most of these games is a must to earn that coveted "best conference" trophy.

 

Year of the Quarterback

Last season was the year of the running back in the Big Ten. With Ameer Abdullah, David Cobb, Melvin Gordon and Tevin Coleman off to the NFL, the quarterback position is emerging as the strength of the conference. Several high-profile quarterbacks are returning in the Big Ten that will keep the teams highly competitive.

Ohio State’s Cardale Jones, J.T. Barrett and Braxton Miller are all Heisman candidates vying for one spot. Most conferences would be thrilled with having three elite-level quarterbacks, let alone one school. Jones is in the lead right now mainly because Barrett and Miller are still rehabbing injuries. Eventually Meyer will have to make a decision, but getting paid $5.8 million this year should ease the stress a bit. Any decision he makes will work. The Buckeyes are loaded for another title run.

Michigan State’s Cook is 23-3 as starter, and he already has two impressive bowl wins and a Big Ten championship on his resume. Returning for his senior season was a smart decision as Cook has a good chance at finishing his career as Michigan State’s all-time leading passer in yards and touchdowns. Barring injury, he’ll also be one of the top quarterbacks taken in the 2016 NFL draft. His experience will help carry the Spartans to another 10-win season or maybe even more if they catch a few breaks.

Penn State’s Christian Hackenberg had a sloppy sophomore season in Happy Valley, but there was little help up front or from the skills. Depth was a major problem too. Offensive line is still a huge concern going into this season, but a second year under the same coaches and more depth in every spot will pay dividends for Hackenberg and the Nittany Lions. They won’t dethrone the Buckeyes or Spartans this year, but they have a good chance to win 10 games for the first time since 2009.

Minnesota’s Mitch Leidner is a big kid with a strong arm looking for a breakout season. Without tight end Maxx Williams and Cobb to lean on, Leidner will shoulder a bulk of the offensive load this year. The only way the Golden Gophers compete for the Big Ten West Division is if he elevates his game and the players around him. He has the skill and toughness to do it if he can stay on the field.

 

Jim Harbaugh

Love him or hate him, there is no denying Harbaugh’s a winner. Contrary to popular opinion in Ohio and East Lansing, the Big Ten is better off when Michigan is among the elite football programs. Sure, it feels good to kick Michigan when it's down, but beating the Wolverines when they’re a good team is so much sweeter.  

This season is really about Harbaugh resetting expectations, changing the team’s identity and getting the team to buy into his brand of football. Being a winner should not be a hard sell.

Despite some concerns, the rebuilding project is not as drastic as some make it out to be. The roster has talented players, and you can bet that he will make them better. What the Wolverines have been lacking for a decade are their signature offensive line and pro-style quarterback. Harbaugh will fix these problems quickly and make the team competitive this season.

Outside of Ohio State and Michigan State, every game on the schedule is winnable. If Harbaugh can get the team to jell early, there’s an outside shot at a 10-win season. That would exceed everyone’s expectations for his first year in Ann Arbor.

 

Analysis

What seemed impossible just a year ago, the Big Ten is suddenly a football powerhouse again. To be fair, Ohio State and Michigan State already made the conference formidable, at least at the top. Bowl season restored some glory back to a conference that has been ridiculed for the last 10 years.

The riches will get even better when Michigan and Penn State return to prominence in the next season or two as expected.

The road to the top is not complete yet, but a second playoff championship by Ohio State coupled with another remarkable season by Michigan State will secure the Big Ten’s lock as the best conference in college football.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Why Jake Rudock Is the Perfect QB for Jim Harbaugh's First Year at Michigan

On last week's Big Ten spring football teleconference, Jim Harbaugh was asked no fewer than five times about Michigan's addition of Iowa graduate transfer Jake Rudock.

But the most in-depth that the Wolverines head coach would get into talking about his new quarterback was still a somewhat vague answer that required an extensive viewing of Rudock's history to understand.

"The same things that I think all of us saw," Harbaugh responded when asked why he chose to add the former Hawkeyes quarterback to his roster.

While identifying those attributes Harbaugh was referencing may not be possible without having followed Iowa closely over the past two seasons, a closer examination of Rudock shows a quarterback who should make for a natural fit in the new Michigan coach's pro-style system. More than that, it's the Fort Lauderdale, Florida, native's intangibles that likely appealed to Harbaugh, according to Rudock's personal quarterback coach.

A former NFL quarterback himself, Ken Mastrole has served as a private instructor to Rudock dating back to his sophomore season at St. Thomas Aquinas High School. The founder of the Mastrole Quarterback Academy, Mastrole has worked with the likes of Teddy Bridgewater, Tajh Boyd, E.J. Manuel, Blake Sims and Kenny Guiton among others. He believes that Rudock has what it takes to help the Wolverines make a jump in Harbaugh's first year at the helm.

"I definitely think Jake’s a guy that can come in and cement things offensively, that could take them to play at the next level," Mastrole told Bleacher Report. "Maybe play above what they’re used to from a push.”

Mastrole obviously has a vested interest in Rudock's success but pointed to his client's numbers as proof of both his measurable and immeasurable abilities. Appearing in 12 games and attempting 345 passes, Rudock threw just five interceptions in 2014, the fewest of any Big Ten quarterback with 250 or more attempts on the season.

According to Mastrole, the 6'3", 208-pound Rudock's low turnover rate serves as a microcosm of his mindset, both on and off the football field. The former Chicago Bear said that while other players get caught up in things like their draft status and social media, Rudock has always remained committed to the team aspect of football, which shows up in his play.

"He’s a guy that just loves the game and loves football, but there’s more to him," Mastrole said of Rudock. "He’s got that side where he’s able to balance things in life, which I think is really good because at the quarterback position, you can’t put stars on it and you’ll never really be able to measure it unless you get to know the quarterbacks and then be able to see them over long periods of times."

Mastrole believes that will make Rudock a fit with Harbaugh, who he first met during an audition with the Carolina Panthers in 2001. Through his career as a private instructor, Mastrole has also built a strong relationship with Michigan quarterbacks coach/passing game coordinator Jedd Fisch, who recruited Rudock during his time as an assistant at Miami (Fla.).

After Rudock decided to transfer from Iowa, he spent time with the Wolverines staff during a visit to Ann Arbor, which Mastrole said helped seal the deal when it came to deciding where he'd be spending his senior season.

"How can you pass this up? You’re getting a head coach who played the game," Mastrole said of Harbaugh. "He understands the nuances of the game. It’s not always about the X’s and O's, but knowing the personnel and knowing the type of quarterback that you have."

There's still no guarantee that quarterback will be Rudock, as the Sunshine State product will be joining a crowded QB depth chart upon his arrival at Michigan this summer. Junior Shane Morris exited spring ball as the front-runner to start for the Wolverines according to Harbaugh but will continue to battle Wilton Speight, Alex Malzone and Zach Gentry once fall camp begins this summer.

But make no mistake, Morris' main competition will be Rudock, who some have already penciled in to be Harbaugh's first quarterback with the maize and blue.

"I expect there will be very good competition. He's a player who is hungry to compete," Harbaugh said of Rudock. "I'm excited to watch it go down."

So is Mastrole, who insists that Rudock is under no false impression that he's already been promised the Wolverines' starting job. Rather, he believes his client will head to his new school hungry to prove himself and make the most of one last season in his college career.

“Anytime you leave a situation where you put so much blood and sweat into something like he did at Iowa, that’s a tough situation. But I think overall, Jake’s excited. He knows there are a number of quarterbacks on the roster, but it’s just like anything in life," Mastrole said. 

"He’s not expecting to go in there and just be handed the keys and have somebody tell him, ‘Hey, this is yours.’ He’s going to have to battle, but he’s not one to talk about it much. I think the guys who don’t really speak about it much just have that inner-confidence that, 'I’m just going to do my job and if I’m prepared and I’m the best guy for the job, I’m going to win the job.'"

And if Rudock does indeed wind up starting for Michigan against Utah on Sept. 3?

"If Jake comes in and brings the same attitude he brought to Iowa, the relationship-building with the teammates because chemistry is so important and that’s a really good aspect that he has," Mastrole said, "I do think they could make some noise."

 

Ben Axelrod is Bleacher Report's Big Ten Lead Writer. You can follow him on Twitter @BenAxelrod. Unless noted otherwise, all quotes were obtained firsthand. All statistics courtesy of CFBStats.com. Recruiting rankings courtesy of 247Sports.

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SEC Football: Power Ranking Conference's 2015 Head Coaches

The SEC has evolved into a pseudo-all-star team of college head coaches.

Five head coaches are currently in possession of SEC title rings, and three—Alabama's Nick Saban, LSU's Les Miles and South Carolina's Steve Spurrier—have national title rings as head coaches (Spurrier won his at Florida).

How do they stack up against one another?

Our ranking of the 14 SEC head coaches based on overall record, program prestige and potential power are in this slideshow.

 

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Arizona Football: Wildcats' Biggest Offseason Goals for 2015

With spring practice in the books and fall training camp still months away, Arizona is in a bit of a holding pattern when it comes to preparing for the 2015 season. There were some positive developments that came out of the just-completed session, but far more must be done before the Wildcats can feel confident that they'll be able to match or improve upon last year's 10-4 record and Pac-12 South Division title.

"We know what we have, but we also know what we don't have," Arizona head coach Rich Rodriguez said after the April 10 spring game.

With that in mind, here are a few things Arizona will look to work on between now and the Sept. 4 season opener against UTSA.

 

Improve the pass rush

Arizona ranked 105th in the nation in total defense last season, and while five of the six starters from the defensive line and linebacker corps will return (including star linebacker Scooby Wright) this season, that area is still a major concern for the Wildcats. That's because if Wright were to be taken out of the equation, there'd be little to no pass rush to speak of, according to Daniel Berk of the Arizona Daily Star:

Arizona had 38 sacks last season, but 14 came from Wright, who often lined up at defensive end on third downs because of the UA's lack of a pass rush. But this year, [head coach Rich] Rodriguez and [defensive coordinator Jeff] Casteel would like to use Wright more in coverage on third downs and be able to rely on other players to get in the backfield. Sacks are nice, but Rodriguez would like to just see enough pressure to help out the back eight on defense.

The return of fifth-year senior Reggie Gilbert at defensive end will be huge, but Arizona needs strong development and contributions from the likes of Boise State transfer Calvin Allen, junior college transfer Luca Bruno and redshirt freshman Marcus Griffin.

 

Develop multidimensional roles

Young stars at quarterback (Anu Solomon) and running back (Nick Wilson) are expected to handle the bulk of their duties, while an incredibly deep receiving unit will allow Arizona to spread the ball all over the field again this year. But head coach Rich Rodriguez has expressed the desire to be more diverse on offense, utilizing his most skilled and athletic players in as many ways as possible.

This will lead to receivers Samajie Grant and Tyrell Johnson lining up in the backfield on occasion, while 5'6" redshirt freshman scatback Jonathan Haden will sometimes go into the slot. The Wildcats also want to create a package for backup quarterback Jerrard Randall, whose mobility and strong arm are just too valuable to keep on the bench.

Randall, a senior who began his career at LSU before playing at the junior college level, ran for 104 yards with a touchdown last season for Arizona.

 

Continue recruiting for 2016

It's been an up-and-down past week for Arizona on the recruiting front, as it picked up two huge commitments but also lost what would have been a solid piece of its 2016 class.

Trevor Speights, a 3-star running back from Texas, decommitted from the Wildcats on Saturday, the same day unrated Georgia running back Russell Halimon committed. That came three days after Arizona landed its biggest prospect of 2016, 4-star pro-style quarterback Devon Modster.

The 6'2", 215-pound Modster, from Rancho Santa Margarita, California, picked Arizona over Boise State and UCLA. He's rated by 247Sports as the No. 289 overall prospect in 2016 and the nation's 10th-best pro-style passer, and he gives Arizona two quarterbacks in that class along with 3-star athlete Khalil Tate.

Arizona only has five commits for 2016 at this point, and only one is on the defensive side.

 

All quotes obtained firsthand, unless otherwise noted.

Follow Brian J. Pedersen on Twitter at @realBJP.

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Nebraska Football: Five Things Standing in the Way of a B1G Championship

For the most part, Nebraska football fans aren’t unrealistic. Honest. They don’t expect to see Nebraska winning national titles like in the late '90s. They do expect, however, to see Nebraska competing for conference titles—especially seeing how other schools in similar situations (such as Michigan State, Wisconsin and Oregon) are able to do the same.

This year, new head coach Mike Riley will be trying to do what three coaches before him were unable to accomplish. So what’s standing between Nebraska and a conference crown? Here are five of the biggest hurdles.

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2016 College Football Recruits Who Could Start Right Away

Each year, college football coaches look for recruits who can fit their schemes and be major impacts within the program. In many cases, coaches want these athletes to excel sooner than later.

There are many coaches nationally who won't look for excuses to play their best athletes. If that means a freshman outshines a senior in practices, so be it. The 2016 recruiting class has a handful of athletes who are capable of making an upperclassman a permanent backup.

Of course, it all depends on how fast a player adapts to a program, but here are 10 2016 athletes who not only could see playing time in college but also could be put into starting roles as freshmen. All names are listed in alphabetical order.

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The Biggest Takeaways from 2015 College Football Spring Practice

Spring football is hitting its final stretch, with the last major batch of scrimmages set for this weekend. After that, we head into the last extended dead period of college football before training camps get going in late July and early August. Before you know it, the 2015 season will be here.

It's been another notable season in terms of player development and position battles, and coaches no doubt have gained valuable insight into what their teams will look like this fall. Much was learned from the practices as well as the spring games, though far more will come from preseason practice, when teams have their rosters replenished by incoming recruits.

Follow along as we detail some of the biggest takeaways from this year's spring practice season.

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Tre Threat Commits to Auburn: What In-State LB Brings to Tigers

There's a lot to like about Spanish Fort, Alabama, standout Tre Threat.

It starts with his name. He has a name fitting for a linebacker. At 6'2" and 235 pounds, he has the size and overall game to match.

It doesn't hurt that he has some of the best hair in 2016 recruiting. But that's neither here nor there when discussing what he brings to the table. He's a tackling machine who finished with 123 tackles and 4.5 sacks as a junior.

And as of Thursday morning, Auburn will benefit. Threat verbally committed to the Tigers during a ceremony at Spanish Fort High School. Considered a 3-star talent, Threat chose Auburn over Ole Miss and Alabama.

It's a great spot for an athlete who grew up an Auburn fan, as Threat told Justin Hokanson of AuburnUndercover:

I grew up a fan, but I didn't just choose it because I grew up a fan. I chose Auburn because it's the right school for me, I can play there, it's the feeling I get.

The coaches treat me like family, the athletes always welcome me in, [and] I'm at home and comfortable. I wanted to go ahead and get it over with.

Threat's commitment is big for the Tigers, as he is the first linebacker pledge of the 2016 class. An added bonus is that Threat is very versatile at the position. He's listed as the nation's No. 16 inside linebacker, but with a 4.58-second 40-yard dash time, Threat is quick enough to play on the edge at outside linebacker.

Additionally, Threat is a good win for an Auburn team looking to keep as many in-state prospects as possible. The Tigers are hoping to have similar success with in-state talent such as 5-star defensive end Marlon Davidson, 5-star linebacker Lyndell Wilson and 4-star cornerback John Broussard.

And then there's the fun fact of Auburn putting itself in position for having the all-name team, according to Bleacher Report's Barrett Sallee.

Threat, who received his Auburn offer on March 7, visited the Auburn campus over the weekend at A-Day. He told AuburnUndercover that he actually committed to the Tigers during the visit.

A handful of coaches were a part of Threat's recruiting, including linebackers coach Lance Thompson, defensive coordinator Will Muschamp, co-offensive coordinator Dameyune Craig and defensive line coach Rodney Garner. Add in the presence of head coach Gus Malzahn, and the opportunity to play for Auburn proved to be too good to pass up, as Threat told AuburnUndercover:

Each time I visited, I loved it. Watching them in practice, it was intense and energetic. In a game, it's a difference. During the game, they were locked in.

During the A-Day game, it really stood out to me. I thought they played very hard, they hit well, there were minimum busts. They are swarming to the ball.

Per AuburnUndercover, Threat is expected to play weak-side linebacker for the Tigers. Because of his versatility, don't be surprised if he's used at a variety of spots as well as on special teams.

 

Damon Sayles is a National Recruiting Analyst for Bleacher Report. All player ratings are courtesy of 247Sports' composite ratings. Follow Damon via Twitter: @DamonSayles

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

B/R Exclusive: Elite 2016 QB David Moore Makes His College Commitment

David Moore is a 3-star dual-threat quarterback, per 247Sports Composite, who is uncommitted, but he is ready to make his decision.

The five schools remaining on his list are Wake Forest, Houston, SMU, Colorado State and Utah. 

Watch as Bleacher Reports Stephen Nelson is joined by Moore to reveal the school that he will be attending in 2016.

 

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Alabama Football: Nick Saban's 3 Biggest Concerns Post-Spring Practice

TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — Nick Saban isn’t going to take spring practice as a final gauge of where his team is.

No, spring practice, he says, is only one step along the way.

“It's almost like a midterm in school,” Saban said. It's not the final exam. It kind of shows you the progress that you've made to this point, how many guys that you actually have out there that have made the kind of progress that they need to make, that they can go play in a competitive situation and elevate their game and play with some kind of consistency.

“It also points out the areas where you need to improve, individually as well as collectively as a team, and where we have to invest our time in the future to be able to fix some of those things.”

So if spring practice was the midterm, what does Alabama need to keep studying for the final exam?

Here are three of the Crimson Tide’s lingering concerns going into the summer.

 

Running back depth

Will a No. 3 running back please stand up?

It would seem like a first-world problem, complaining about having only two running backs, but the Crimson Tide will likely need a third to make things work.

Derrick Henry and Kenyan Drake are more situational backs. Henry is a bruiser who is most effective late in games. Drake is the speedster whose frame wouldn’t hold up with 25 carries a game but is a threat to take it to the house on every play.

Drake, too, may be used more in a passing role. We saw him take some reps at wide receiver during some spring practices.

So a third running back needs to step up and eat some carries when needed.

The problem is, all of Alabama’s dropped like flies, and the team is left with a former safety, a true freshman and an incoming freshman to do the work. One of those three (Ronnie Clark, DeSherrius Flowers or Damien Harris, respectively) needs to emerge as a trustworthy back before Alabama faces off with Wisconsin.

 

Quarterback favorite?

Just as Alabama rode Blake Sims to the College Football Playoff, so too will it live and die on the back of its 2015 signal-caller.

Who that will be continues to remain a mystery.

Right now it looks like it will either be Jake Coker or David Cornwell. Coker is still the presumed favorite, despite an inconsistent A-Day performance, and Cornwell emerged late in spring to grab the No. 2 spot.

Alabama also is reportedly looking at Ohio State quarterback Braxton Miller to come in and lead its offense. Miller, if healthy, would seem like a natural fit in Lane Kiffin’s offense, but there are still several major questions that remain unanswered before he could get to Tuscaloosa.

The only sure thing we know about Alabama’s quarterback situation is that there is no sure thing right now for the Crimson Tide.

 

Safety shuffle

It looks like Alabama figured out half of its secondary struggles from last year, after it gave up a Saban-era high 226 passing yards per game.

Cyrus Jones is a proven No. 1 corner, and Tony Brown showed waves of improvement after an impressive freshman season.

Those two could form a lockdown cornerback duo, while Bradley Sylve, Anthony Averett and Marlon Humphrey are solid options behind them.

At safety, though, Alabama has developed some talent and moved some guys around, but needs to settle on a consistent rotation to get the most out of the group.

Geno Smith finished spring practice at free safety after a short practice suspension for DUI. Eddie Jackson moved from cornerback to work with the safety groups and looks like he could play free or strong.

Hootie Jones seems to be another major candidate at strong safety after getting some looks there his freshman year. Maurice Smith makes for a nice nickelback or dime back in passing situations.

And Ronnie Harrison made the most moves of any early enrollee, drawing praise from both Saban and his teammates.

If Saban and new secondary coach Mel Tucker can find the right combinations, Alabama’s secondary could be a strength of the team, instead of its biggest weakness.

 

Marc Torrence is the Alabama lead writer for Bleacher Report. All quotes and reporting were obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted.

Follow on Twitter @marctorrence.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

17 Sports Movie Villains Who Could've Been Heroes

Some of the best-known sports movie villains aren’t really villainous at all, proving in the end to be far more likable than the real bad asses of their evil group.

Rocky IV's Ivan Drago, for example, is more misunderstood than malicious, only getting the chance to show his true humanity in the film's closing scene.

In the very same manner, Jean Girard of hilarious Talladega Nights fame is cast in a villainous light too, but over time, proves to be a fierce but virtuous competitor in search of nothing more than a true challenge.

Finally, Iceland's Gunnar Stahl also takes the form of villain throughout nearly all of D2: Mighty Ducks, yet upon escaping the shadow of his truly evil coach, he establishes himself as nothing more than a kind and charming teen at heart. 

With these contradictory "bad guys" in mind, we've done very our best to put together a comprehensive list in honor of The Least Villainous Sports Movie Villains.  

And while each of our selections vary in forms of evil and degrees of redemption, in truth, they all share one thing in common: Though they're initially depicted through a villainous lens, they prove to be nothing of the sort in the very end. 

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What Are Oregon's Biggest Selling Points to Land Top Recruits in Nation?

The Oregon Ducks have morphed into a recruiting powerhouse over the last decade. From their apparel deal to the winning culture, the top recruits are swarming to Eugene. 

Bleacher Report's College Football Analyst Michael Felder goes through Oregon's selling points and how the Ducks are landing some of the best players in the country. 

How is Oregon doing it? Check out the video and let us know! 

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

10 College Football Players We Wish Didn't Declare Early for NFL

Being selfish is okay. It's more than okay, actually. It's encouraged at times. And we here at Bleacher Report's college football department are super selfish when it comes to players moving on to the NFL. 

While leaving early for the NFL is natural—why do something for free when you can, in the worst-case scenario, get paid league minimum?—there's a certain, shall we say, parental instinct we feel about it. These are players we've followed from signing day to draft day. We've watched them grow and become incredible players. 

We're sad to see some of these players go, knowing they'll never play on Saturdays again. In the following slides are 10 of those players based on 2014 production, plus other variables like injuries and highlight reel plays. 

 

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Texas' Favorite Son, Chad Morris, Is Ready to Finally Save SMU

Before Chad Morris can take back the state of Texas and go toe-to-toe with the state’s sudden gluttony of football-coaching goliaths—like Briles, Sumlin, Patterson, Kingsbury and Strong—his new home needs furnishing.

Rummaging around the furniture store with his wife, Paula, Morris is ready to leave the makeshift apartment that has bridged his transition from Clemson, where he was one of the nation’s best offensive coordinators, to SMU, a program that only recently hit rock bottom.

Today he is seeking out sofas and such to furnish his new digs, taking just a few hours away from a massive rebuilding project—one of the largest comprehendible—although he refuses to use that vile word.

“I don’t see it as a rebuild,” Morris told Bleacher Report. “I see it as a new era. It’s a fresh start, and it’s going to be something different from anything any SMU fan has seen.”

It’s a new era for a historic program that won exactly one game in 2014, scoring just 15 touchdowns. For perspective: 97 players individually matched or surpassed this total last year nationwide. SMU didn’t just struggle in 2014; it was one of the worst—if not the worst—teams in the nation.

To coincide with a fresh start, Morris has watched roughly 10 minutes of SMU from last season. He caught a small portion of the Mustangs’ final game live and has followed up this experience with a grand total of zero minutes of film. He doesn’t plan to watch any more.

After successful stops in Tulsa, followed by Clemson—the place where he made a name for himself as one of the nation’s brightest offensive coordinators—many waited to see where Morris would land. When he decided on SMU, some found the decision curious. Many assumed he could have landed a job at a place with more recent success.

As it turns out, however, this is a marriage that has been in the making for quite some time. After coaching high school football in the state of Texas for 16 years, Morris jumped at the opportunity to come home.

“The city of Dallas is hungry. I’m from that city, I’m from this state, and I grew up coming to SMU football games,” Morris said. “I coached high school ball in this state, and I know the importance of football here.”

It won’t be easy. Art Briles, Charlie Strong, Kevin Sumlin, Gary Patterson, and Kliff Kingsbury are not going away. Tom Herman, now at Houston, is only getting started. Texas football is as ruthless and unforgiving as it has ever been.

But with the help of 22,000 high school coaches seemingly invested in one of their own and a plan in place to capitalize on the one thing he knows better than just about anyone else, Morris is ready to embrace his former home on his latest endeavor. And home is ready to embrace him right back.

“It’s important to the state of Texas and important to the high school coaches that he’s a success,” Cedar Hill head coach and back-to-back Texas state champion Joey McGuire said. “He’s one of us.”

 

Chapter One: Returning Home

In his 16 years as a Texas high school coach, Morris won multiple state titles in multiple stops. Given the level of difficulty and competition, this was nothing short of Saban-esque. His back-to-back state championships at Lake Travis ultimately catapulted him to the collegiate ranks.

A model of consistency, Morris won more than 80 percent of his games at the high school level, and yet, it wasn’t always good enough. In the rare instances when one of his teams lost, the Morris family would often wake to a freshly placed “For Sale” sign in its front yard on Saturday mornings, a gesture from a disappointed and passionate fan. Paula Morris would often try to remove the sign before her husband saw, but he knew.

“Every Friday night is the Super Bowl,” Morris said.

This wasn’t necessarily a bad thing, either. He didn’t look forward to surprise lawn ornaments, but it ultimately helped shape the coach and the man. The expectations, as magnificently unattainable as they might have been, were a sign of success. The signs were badges of honor he carries with him in his new football life.

“I take great pride in saying that I coached high school football in the state of Texas,” Morris said. “I know there are many, many coaches in that state that could be sitting here doing this interview. They are every bit as qualified, if not more qualified than I am.”

After working under Todd Graham for a year at Tulsa, Morris was hired by Dabo Swinney at Clemson to add points to the scoreboard.

His unique uptempo, spread offense—known appropriately as “basketball on grass”—allowed the Tigers’ wealth of position talent to flourish over four seasons. In that time, his profile morphed and developed: The former high school power became a commodity.

“Over the course of the four-year tenure I was in Clemson, I probably had four opportunities to leave to become a head coach,” Morris said. “But the timing wasn’t right. Had this job been in Florida, or North Carolina or South Carolina, I just don’t think the job would have been the one.”

Although tempting propositions trickled in, none were perfect. When the SMU position officially opened in December, Morris—despite knowing the work and makeover necessary—was instantly drawn to the vacancy. The timing and geography was right.

“I knew I had a great situation in Clemson. SMU knew I had a great situation in Clemson,” Morris said. “This job, this situation, the wheelhouse of my recruiting, at home and in a conference that’s full of turnaround programs, I think it can be done,” Morris said. “Otherwise I wouldn’t have taken it.”

 

Chapter Two: Meet the Neighbors

On a rare snowy Texas day earlier this offseason, with schools closed and much of the impacted areas essentially shutting down for the day, Adamson High School head coach Josh Ragsdale and his offensive coordinator spent the entire day locked in the SMU film room with Morris and his staff.

“We talked football from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. We watched film, went on the board, and any detail we wanted Chad gave us,” Ragsdale said. “That was shocking to me. That’s so valuable for our staff.”

Adamson is located only a few miles away from SMU’s campus. Taking back roads, Ragsdale can be there in seven minutes. And yet, despite the proximity, the coach’s relationship with SMU up until the past few months has been almost nonexistent.

“When the SMU game was on, I didn’t really care to watch,” Ragsdale said. “I couldn’t name one coach on their staff other than June Jones. That’s a problem.”

This midweek encounter wasn’t anything in particular. It was a foundation for recruiting and many conversations ahead. It was help for competitive minds seeking out an edge. And perhaps on a far simpler level, it was a room full of Texas high school coaches doing what they like to do: talk football.

Let’s go down the road a bit, although not too far. Todd Peterman, still fresh off a promotion from offensive coordinator to head coach at DeSoto High School—just a 30-minute drive from SMU—has also logged hours with Morris since he took over. In fact, the regime change ultimately helped Peterman get his dream job.

Morris hired former DeSoto head coach Claude Mathis to his staff when he took over, which left an opening at the high school. With his head coach gone, Peterman pondered his future at the program. Morris, understanding the situation, offered his services.

“He asked me if there was anything he could do to help get me the job,” Peterman said. “He didn’t have to do that, but he did.”

Ultimately Peterman got the job. Morris didn’t have to pull any strings to make it happen, although the conversation stuck with the new DeSoto head coach. A relationship and friendship was formed.

Operating in far different circumstances, Joey McGuire—a high school coach who garnered serious interest from collegiate programs this past offseason, including Texas—checked his phone after Cedar Hill capped off its second consecutive state championship late last year.

He was greeted with a slew of congratulations, although none were more noticeable than the unified effort coming from a program only 25 minutes from his workplace.

“Every single one of SMU’s coaches between the time that game was over and midnight sent me a text congratulating me and our program,” McGuire said. “From Day 1 when Chad stepped on SMU’s campus, he’s made it a point that they are going to recruit Texas. They’re going at it really hard.”

Ask any Texas high school coach who’s been in the game long enough about Chad Morris, and they’ll beam about his football presence in the state. They’ll speak of him as if he’s a friend—and many are—referring to him simply as “Chad.” They've been saying it for a while.

“Chad was always such a good guy when he was winning,” Peterman said. “He was inviting, and that’s why a lot of high school coaches are such big fans of his here.”

More significant to Morris in his current situation, many of these coaches already have a sense of who he is and what his program will ultimately be about even thought the first game is still months away.

“I trust Chad Morris,” Ragsdale said. “I trust him as a man and what he teaches kids. That’s where I want my kids to be.”

 

Chapter Three: Seeing It Through

Still wandering around the store looking for the appropriate furnishings for his new home, Morris reveals his game plan in a sentence that is as simple as it is intricate.

“You can recruit all the kids you want with 10 dollars in a tank of gas,” Morris said. “And if you can just keep the kids from leaving the state…”

Wait a second; hold it right there.

While keeping Texas players from leaving the state is a shared philosophy, there are still Texas-sized obstacles functioning within the state lines.

With Baylor, TCU and Texas A&M operating with more momentum than they’ve had in ages, recruiting should not be assumed. And then there’s the biggest giant of them all, Texas, poised to bounce back now that Charlie Strong has settled in.

There’s a solution for this, too. Compete when you can, but embrace the state’s magnificent size and resources.

“Texas, TCU, Baylor and A&M are all going to get their 25 [kids],” Morris said. “Well, that’s 100 kids total. If you can just keep the other kids from leaving the state, you can sign one of the top classes in the conference every year.”

Morris watched Art Briles revive a Houston program that was tiptoeing toward extinction before Briles ignited a sleeping giant. He watched Gary Patterson thrive at TCU and make a move to a larger conference feasible. Each coach has had ample opportunities to leave during his tenure. Up until now, they have politely declined.

“They’re building there, and they know the importance of football in that state,” Morris said. “That’s what excites me about SMU. You’re in one of the hotbeds of recruiting, and you have an opportunity to get this thing turned.”

It won’t happen this spring or this fall. Despite his unwillingness to use the term, the rebuild at SMU will take years and multiple Texas-heavy recruiting classes. It will demand a philosophical change and a great deal of nurturing. It will take time.

With his expectations of conference championships and a Top 10 ranking, Morris isn’t simply thinking about relevancy. He’s aiming much higher than that, hoping to bring his winning ways back home.

"I hope that in the not-too-distant future, you and I will do an article about one of the greatest turnarounds in the history of college football,” Morris told me.

But first things first. Does that chaise come in black?

 

Adam Kramer is the College Football National Lead Writer for Bleacher Report. Unless noted, all quotes were obtained firsthand.

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Which Team Has the Best Running Back Corps in the Country?

Running backs are an essential part of what makes an offense go, and these teams have the best crop of ball-carriers heading into the 2015 season. 

Watch as Bleacher Report College Football Analysts Michael Felder, Barrett Sallee and Adam Kramer debate who has the best backfield in the country. 

Which team has the best running back corps in college football? Check out the video and let us know!

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Should Alabama Fans Worry About Sluggish Start to 2016 Recruiting Class?

Alabama is off to a slow start in recruiting for 2016. But the Tide are coming off five consecutive recruiting titles, so they know how to kick it into gear.

Bleacher Report National Recruiting Analyst Damon Sayles joins Stephen Nelson to discuss Alabama's 2016 class in the video above.

Will Alabama have the best 2016 recruiting class this year? Check out the video and let us know!

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

If Braxton Miller Wants to Transfer to SEC, Alabama Is Not His Best Option

One of the hottest industries in college football has become the quarterback transfer market, and this offseason could include one of college football's most prominent players.

Ever since J.T. Barrett got Ohio State in position to win the Big Ten and Cardale Jones took over and capped off the Buckeyes magical national-title run, all eyes have been on senior Braxton Miller

The former Heisman Trophy contender injured his shoulder last August, graduated in December and would be eligible immediately should he decide to transfer to another FBS school.

Where could he land?

Thanks to The Paul Finebaum Show on SEC Network and ESPN Radio, Alabama has emerged as an option this week so much so that head coach Nick Saban did his best to dance around the subject on Tuesday night.

"If there was somebody out there that I thought could help our team, we have a spot or two available that we could probably—but it would have to be the right person, in the right place that could make a contribution," he said, according to Bleacher Report Alabama lead writer Marc Torrence.

One source in close to Ohio State indicated to B/R that Miller isn't leaving Columbus, according to Torrence. 

Could that change once it becomes even more apparent that either Jones or Barrett (or both) will play over Miller? Sure. If Miller does decide to change his address, Alabama isn't his best option in the SEC. Here are some more appropriate choices.

 

LSU Tigers

Not to get overly simplistic, but why would Miller decide to leave Ohio State? To start.

There's nothing to suggest that a starting job would be guaranteed at Alabama, even though a starter hasn't been named. Sure, Jake Coker hasn't worked out yet, but he's still leading redshirt freshman David Cornwell.

Cornwell is the biggest reason a job isn't guaranteed. He came to Alabama last January with a torn ACL, recovered last spring, and then underwent offseason foot surgery before working with the scout team last fall. He's only had one true practice session to run Alabama's offense and did so with four other players vying for snaps.

At LSU, the door is wide open. 

This is Year Two of the Brandon Harris vs. Anthony Jennings battle, and the results from Year One—a year in which both players started games—didn't work out so well. Jennings, who started all but one of LSU's games, completed just 48.9 percent of his passes, struggled with short and intermediate routes and couldn't pose the threat that LSU needed to take pressure off of the running game.

In the spring game, they both looked better statistically but did most of their damage against the second-team defense (which didn't look good). The duo combined to throw for just 64 total yards, zero touchdowns, one pick and took five sacks for the "purple" team against the first-team defense, according to stats released by LSU.

That won't cut it.

Head coach Les Miles isn't on the hot seat, but it's not exactly cool either. He can't really afford another 8-5-type season, otherwise he might be coaching for his job in 2016. Because of that, he might be more willing to not only take a risk on Miller (or any quarterback transfer), but also hand him the job earlier in fall camp.

Does the system at LSU fit?

Not really, and offensive coordinator Cam Cameron would have his work cut out for him in order to get acquainted to Miller on the fly. Dual-threat quarterbacks are all that LSU has, though, and Miller would instantly be the most talented one the roster.

As Bama Sports Radio on VSporto pointed out on Twitter, LSU makes much more sense than Alabama.

 

Florida Gators

New Florida head coach Jim McElwain has established that redshirt freshman pro-style passer Will Grier is the leader to win the job in Gainesville and sophomore Treon Harris, who started seven games last year, is a close second.

Harris doesn't seem to fit what McElwain wants to do from a schematic standpoint, but Florida's offensive line issues may force the new staff to become more vanilla than anticipated in Year One, and having a mobile quarterback to elude what seems like it could be constant pressure wouldn't be a bad thing.

Miller is the perfect quarterback to find that happy medium.

While he's most known for his dual-threat abilities, Miller has thrown for 5,292 yards, 52 touchdowns and only 17 picks. He hasn't operated in a true pro-style offense at Ohio State, but he still has had a ton of success through the air.

What's more, Florida's issues up front might require McElwain to transform his system into more of a hybrid scheme in 2015 anyway, and Miller would be the perfect quarterback to bridge the gap.

If he took Miller, would McElwain be running the risk of losing one or both of his current quarterbacks? Probably not. Harris knew he was a square peg in a round hole all offseason and chose to stick around, and he would certainly benefit from a year working in the new system. For Grier, he'd still be a redshirt sophomore next season and have up to three years as the starter if he's able to win the job.

It'd be a concern, sure. But only a minor one.

 

South Carolina Gamecocks

South Carolina head coach Steve Spurrier turned 70 years old on Monday, and his window to win the SEC title at South Carolina is closing by the day.

Miller's presence could prop the window open for the time being in the wide-open SEC East.

South Carolina was at its best with dual-threat star Connor Shaw taking the snaps, and Miller would be the closest thing to Shaw that South Carolina has on its roster. Spurrier and quarterbacks coach G.A. Mangus could get really creative with how they use Miller alongside ultra-versatile wide receiver Pharoh Cooper and running backs Brandon Wilds and David Williams.

Current quarterbacks Connor Mitch, Perry Orth and Michael Scarnecchia looked decent in the spring game. But with a rebuilt offensive line and no established playmakers outside other than Cooper, South Carolina could use a kick start in its offense in the form of an established dual-threat quarterback transfer, and Miller would be the best on the market if he decides to leave.

As is the case with Florida, accepting a graduate transfer for one season likely wouldn't alienate Spurrier's current group of quarterbacks. Mitch, a redshirt sophomore, is the front-runner to win the job right now, and as I wrote earlier this month, true freshman dual-threat Lorenzo Nunez will likely see some time as a changeup quarterback in some capacity this fall.

Mitch would still have time in 2016 and 2017, and Nunez could benefit from a redshirt season in 2015.

 

Quotes were obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted. All stats are courtesy of CFBStats.com unless otherwise noted, and all recruiting information is courtesy of 247Sports' composite rankings.

Barrett Sallee is the lead SEC college football writer and college football video analyst for Bleacher Report as well as a host on Bleacher Report Radio on Sirius 93, XM 208.

Follow Barrett on Twitter @BarrettSallee.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Tennessee Football: Players to Watch in the Orange and White Game

Despite an injury-riddled spring for the Tennessee football team, several Volunteers have earned high marks for their work over the course of the past month.

In some instances, the laundry list of hurt Vols allowed little-used players to receive valuable reps.

The coaching staff also gave extended looks to several newcomers who proved over the course of practices, workouts and meeting sessions they'll be able to help right away.

New arrivals such as Alvin Kamara and Shy Tuttle emerged to be depended upon for meaningful snaps when the season rolls around. Others who were already at UT like Evan Berry, Kendal Vickers and Rashaan Gaulden showed they could be primed to take the next step.

Upperclassmen who will play major roles are ready to be leaders as well.

So, while team depth reared its head as a potential hindrance in a 2015 season where a Vols' resurgence is expected, the quality of that depth may wind up much improved because of this spring.

With Saturday's Orange and White Game on the horizon, let's take a look at a few players you'll want to watch.

Begin Slideshow

Notre Dame Football: Brian Kelly's Biggest Concerns Post-Spring

SOUTH BEND, Ind. — Spring isn’t designed as a time for negativity and pessimism, but Notre Dame football head coach Brian Kelly still has a few areas of concern following the slate of 15 practices.

By and large, Notre Dame is in good shape. As Kelly has reiterated, the depth in the program is strong and the Irish coaching staff was able to handle the spring season differently than it has at any other point in Kelly’s tenure in South Bend.

But whether Kelly is outwardly optimistic or not, there are issues worth monitoring with this Irish squad moving forward.

Let’s address a few.

 

Defensive Health

When making predictions, it’s easy to pencil Notre Dame’s banged-up bodies into the fall depth chart. According to Kelly, middle linebacker Joe Schmidt and defensive tackle Jarron Jones will “absolutely” be ready for fall camp and should participate in summer OTAs in June, too.

Second-year safety Drue Tranquill is recovering from a torn ACL and has drawn impressive reviews of his ongoing return.

While all signs are certainly pointing in the right direction, it’s often easy to assume the returning players won’t miss a beat and will step right back to their previous form.

 

Pass Rush

Without a proven and dominant pass-rusher, Notre Dame is preaching a sacks-by-committee approach heading toward the 2015 season.

In 2014, defensive end Romeo Okwara led the Irish with four sacks. Linebacker Jaylon Smith and defensive back Matthias Farley each tallied 3.5 sacks. Jones chipped in 1.5, Isaac Rochell added 2.5 and Sheldon Day nabbed one.

Sure, there will be individual improvement. Notre Dame defensive coordinator Brian VanGorder praised Rochell’s growth throughout the spring, highlighting his understanding, quickness and foot coordination.

But without an elite pass-rusher, Notre Dame just might not be a team able to consistently pressure quarterbacks—especially those with the ability to bounce around the pocket and elude rushers.

 

Special Teams

If Irish fans were looking for any further indication that special teams aren’t a focus in the spring, then a quick reminder of the Blue-Gold game scoring might change their thinking.

By rule, there were no kickoffs during the spring game and all punts were fair catches. Of course, injury prevention is the primary reason for the lack of special teams work. That’s worthwhile for sure.

But with most practices indoors at the Loftus Sports Center, it would seem consistent practice for the third phase of the game is hard to come by.

Moreover, Notre Dame’s expected starting kicker, incoming freshman Justin Yoon, won’t arrive for another few months.

The spring did afford new punter Tyler Newsome the opportunity to gain valuable reps after Kyle Brindza’s graduation.

Special teams in South Bend have been a punch line in recent years. Until Notre Dame shows marked improvement in this department, there will be lingering concerns.

 

Depth

To be clear, Notre Dame’s depth is a strength overall. The Irish have added deep recruiting classes in recent years, and last year’s horde of underclassmen has progressed into a crop of seasoned upperclassmen.

However, there are a few areas worth keeping an eye on.

While assessing Notre Dame’s defense before the spring game, Kelly said the Irish must continue to grow at cornerback. Second-year man Nick Watkins turned in a strong spring showing, but most of the Irish depth at the position has yet to touch down in South Bend.

Three cornerbacks—Shaun Crawford, Ashton White and Nick Coleman—are scheduled to enroll this summer, while KeiVarae Russell is expected back in June, as well. Those reinforcements should turn the group into a position of strength, but the spring months aren’t to be totally discounted.

One of the main storylines following Saturday’s Blue-Gold game was the Irish offensive line.

In addition to an impressive performance by the starting unit, including both left guards Quenton Nelson and Alex Bars, Kelly agreed afterward the offensive line could be as deep as any he’s had in South Bend.

While that could prove to be true given the recent success with recruiting along the line, Notre Dame doesn’t boast many established commodities in the second unit. Even starting right tackle Mike McGlinchey has only logged one career start—the Music City Bowl against LSU.

There's work to be done in the summer months heading toward fall camp.

 

All quotes obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted.

Mike Monaco is a lead Notre Dame writer for Bleacher Report. Follow @MikeMonaco_ on Twitter.

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Jim Harbaugh Reveals He Called His Future Wife 9 Times Before He Got a Reply

As determined as Jim Harbaugh is on the football field, he is just as persistent off it.

The new Michigan Wolverines coach recently did an interview with HBO and revealed how he met his wife, Sarah. From the moment he saw her, he knew that she was a "winner." However, it took him a while to get in touch with her after their first encounter.

Harbaugh revealed that it he had to call her nine times before he ever heard back from her. 

To Harbaugh's credit, he never gave up. And it paid off.

[YouTube, h/t USA Today's FTW]

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