NCAA Football News
Headlined by former Florida State and Tampa Bay Buccaneers linebacker Derrick Brooks, the 16-member College Football Hall of Fame Class of 2016 was officially announced Friday on ESPNU in Scottsdale, Arizona.
Along with Brooks, 13 additional players and two coaches were revealed as inductees, and they will officially be enshrined Dec. 6, 2016 in New York City:
The 42-year-old Brooks played for the Seminoles from 1992-1994 before the Bucs selected him with the No. 28 overall pick in the 1995 NFL draft.
The Pro Football Hall of Famer was a two-time first-team All-American, and he led FSU to the 1993 national championship by virtue of an Orange Bowl victory over Nebraska.
Brooks' inclusion in the Class of 2016 was no surprise, but he received congratulations from many for the honor, including ESPN's Anthony Becht, who was Brooks' teammate with the Buccaneers from 2005-2007:
Brooks is joined by another Pro Football Hall of Famer from the defensive side of the ball in the Class of 2016, Purdue's Rod Woodson.
The 1987 No. 10 overall draft pick made 11 Pro Bowls in 17 NFL seasons, primarily with the Pittsburgh Steelers and the Baltimore Ravens, but he also excelled as a cornerback, safety and return man for the Boilermakers.
Per Kirk Bohls of the Austin American-Statesman, Woodson still holds 13 Purdue records.
Not every huge name made it into the Hall of Fame, though, as former SMU running back and Pro Football Hall of Famer Eric Dickerson was omitted, according to ESPN.com's Brett McMurphy, despite rushing for 4,450 yards and 47 touchdowns in his collegiate career.
While Brooks and Woodson were among the biggest names announced Friday, former Nebraska-Omaha quarterback Marlin Briscoe was perhaps the most historically significant.
Briscoe threw for 5,114 yards in his collegiate career with the then-NAIA school before the Denver Broncos took him with the 357th overall selection in the 1968 NFL/AFL draft.
He went on to play nine seasons between the AFL and the NFL doing most of his damage at wide receiver, although he was a trailblazer for black quarterbacks as well, according to Mike Ferguson of the Ledger:
Randall Cunningham was among those who Briscoe paved the way for, so it is fitting that they are 2016 Hall of Fame classmates.
Few signal-callers produced more spectacular highlights during their collegiate and professional careers than Cunningham. He was a four-time Pro Bowler, primarily with the Philadelphia Eagles and the Minnesota Vikings, and a three-time Bert Bell Award winner, which is given to the NFL Player of the Year, but it all started at UNLV.
Cunningham still holds Rebels records with 8,020 passing yards and 59 touchdown passes during his three-year tenure at UNLV from 1982-1984.
As great as Cunningham was under center, he was arguably an equally strong punter, averaging 45.6 yards per kick at UNLV and garnering two All-America selections at the position.
The 52-year-old Cunningham continues to have an impact on current players 14 years after his NFL retirement, including Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback and Rookie of the Year candidate Jameis Winston, per Greg Auman of the Tampa Bay Times.
"I just fell in love with him," Winston said. "I liked Randall Cunningham (because) what he brought to the game (was) excitement."
The entire College Football Hall of Fame Class of 2016 left an indelible mark on the game, and it is difficult to argue against any of them taking their place in Atlanta later this year.
Much of the focus in Arizona is currently on the upcoming national championship game between No. 1 Clemson and No. 2 Alabama, and one can only assume that being surrounded by some of the greatest players in college football history will only serve as further motivation to perform well and perhaps join them in the Hall one day.
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The last piece of new Georgia head coach Kirby Smart's staff could be falling into place, and it could come from his old stomping grounds.
According to Bruce Feldman of Fox Sports, Alabama defensive backs coach Mel Tucker will be named Georgia's new defensive coordinator after finishing up his responsibilities with the Crimson Tide—which will square off against top-ranked Clemson in the College Football Playoff National Championship Game on Monday night.
Tucker came to Alabama this year after a decade in the NFL and immediately turned around the Crimson Tide secondary—the biggest sore spot on the defense. Alabama gave up an SEC-worst 133 passing plays of 10 or more yards a year ago during its College Football Playoff run but cut that number down to 94 in 2015—sixth in the conference.
Eddie Jackson was named a first-team All-SEC performer at safety after Tucker moved him from cornerback prior to the season, Marlon Humphrey and Minkah Fitzpatrick were named to the SEC All-Freshman team, and the Crimson Tide finished with the nation's 18th-best pass defense (186.0 yards per game).
"They've got a bunch of secondary guys that are going to be first-rounders when their team comes," said Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney leading up to Monday's title game, according to CollegePressBox.com. "So they're a complete group, no doubt."
With Tucker set to join Smart in the "Classic City," will that be a distraction?
Not at all.
In fact, Georgia and Alabama have handled this transition about as well as possible.
Today is a travel day for Clemson and Alabama, so whatever distractions existed as Smart and Tucker discussed the possibility of Tucker's moving to Athens will be left in the Southeast as the Tide travel to Arizona.
Is it a coincidence that the news leaked out on Thursday night, the day before the team departed? Of course not.
The recruiting dead period lasts until Jan. 13, Tucker and Smart can't visit face-to-face with prospects anyway since they're going to be in Arizona on Friday, and the rest of the Georgia staff is essentially already in place.
For Georgia, you had to give Smart time.
While he was busy double-dipping as defensive coordinator of the Crimson Tide, he had to assemble his staff as the head coach of Georgia. Kevin Sherrer served as the interim defensive coordinator in Georgia's TaxSlayer Bowl win over Penn State and was retained by Smart without a title in December.
Georgia knew Smart had to be smart about how he approached hiring coaches off the Tide staff to prevent any friction between Smart and Alabama head coach Nick Saban, and it did just that.
Tucker is a tremendous hire for Georgia based on his familiarity with Smart, success at Alabama, NFL ties and specific work as a coordinator for the Cleveland Browns (2008), Jacksonville Jaguars (2009-2012) and Chicago Bears (2013-2014).
This is the perfect scenario for Georgia, for Smart and for Alabama. Smart appears to have his guy, didn't rush things and kept Saban happy as the Tide made their run to the title game.
Barrett Sallee is the lead SEC college football writer and national college football video analyst for Bleacher Report as well as a host on Bleacher Report Radio on SiriusXM 83. Follow Barrett on Twitter @BarrettSallee.
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For a regular season that provided so much wackiness, the path to the College Football Playoff National Championship game has been straight chalk for quite some time.
The season's first playoff committee rankings, all the way back in Week 9, had Clemson at No. 1 and Alabama at No. 4. The Crimson Tide knocked No. 2 LSU off a few days later and claimed its spot.
So in the eyes of the College Football Playoff selection committee, and most of the country, the two squads squaring off in Monday's national championship game have been the nation's best teams for two months running.
And both Clemson and Alabama proved their worth in their respective playoff semifinal matchups on New Year's Eve.
Clemson, the last undefeated team in college football, dominated the second half of the Orange Bowl against the four-seed Oklahoma Sooners, who were favored by the folks in Las Vegas. Quarterback Deshaun Watson and and running back Wayne Gallman ran around the Sooners, and a loaded defense came up with big stop after big stop on the way to a 37-17 victory.
Alabama used a steamrolling second half of its own to flatten Michigan State in the Cotton Bowl, beating the Spartans 38-0. The Crimson Tide's crushing defense filled with pro prospects was too much for a team that already had its hands full thanks to a career night from quarterback Jake Coker.
Now their journeys will end in the Arizona desert Monday night.
Clemson is looking to cement its status as a resurgent powerhouse in college football and cap its storybook season with its first national championship win since 1981.
Alabama will be going for its fourth national title under coach Nick Saban, whose famous "Process" of stockpiling 5-star recruits and developing them into can't-miss NFL talent just missed out on the crown each of the last two seasons.
The oddsmakers and public opinion seem to prefer Alabama, a touchdown favorite that has been in this situation several times in the last few seasons.
But Clemson and coach Dabo Swinney have no problem rallying around the underdog role, barking out memorable postgame one-liners, and more importantly, adding one more win against the odds.
Here is Bleacher Report's ultimate guide to the Tigers and Tide's quest to become the second national champion of this wonderful new College Football Playoff era.
Dabo Swinney vs. Nick Saban
College football, on its biggest stage, has provided one of the best possible coaching matchups— Swinney vs. Saban, two men with contrasting styles and stories.
Clemson was Swinney's first head coaching job, and he almost lost it after his second full season with the program. An interim who replaced former boss Tommy Bowden midway through the 2008 campaign, Swinney was squarely on the hot seat after a 6-7 season in 2010.
"[The national title game is] a dynasty coach vs. a newcomer trying to climb," Bleacher Report's Greg Couch wrote. "And one thing is undeniable: Under the way the sport is run now, there is no way the climber, Swinney, should have lasted long enough to reach this height."
But Clemson's brass decided to keep the faith in Swinney. Two high-profile coordinator changes, four straight 10-win seasons, the death of the term "Clemsoning" and a stadium-wide pizza party later, Swinney is one victory away from being on top of the college football world.
The only thing standing between Swinney and that mountaintop is none other than his beloved alma mater.
Swinney was raised a passionate Alabama fan. He would later walk on for the Crimson Tide at wide receiver and be a part of their 1992 national championship team and serve as an assistant at Alabama from 1993 to 2000.
Now Swinney will have to coach against an Alabama program that is playing its most dominant ball since the Bear Bryant days he grew up idolizing.
Saban rebuilt Swinney's alma mater into a modern championship-winning machine, yet the ultimate prize has eluded his grasp each of the last two seasons.
A loss to Auburn in a legendary Iron Bowl kept the Tide from a third straight national championship in the 2013 season. Alabama then opened its own College Football Playoff era in last year's Sugar Bowl with a 42-35 loss to eventual champion Ohio State.
And even though this season hasn't been perfect from beginning to end, the Crimson Tide are back in the national championship game. In the three times they've been here under Saban—back in the BCS era—they won by a combined score of 100-35.
For a coach whose dynasty was supposedly dead and buried earlier this year, Saban is standing on the verge of another title in perhaps his best season yet.
"Having seen exactly what was necessary to win at an unprecedented level, Saban altered the formula," Bleacher Report's Adam Kramer wrote. "He gave up on something proven with the hopes of something more ... But in 2015 we learned that Saban can win in more ways than one, and that's a scary thought."
There are storylines aplenty for this national championship game, and we haven't even gotten past the two guys in the headsets. Get ready for a colossal showdown from the coaching perspective.
When Clemson has the ball
And now for the main event in college football's main event—the matchup between Clemson's offense and Alabama's defense.
Of all the all-world defenses Saban and outgoing coordinator Kirby Smart have had during their time in Tuscaloosa, this one could be legendary when it's all said and done.
A front seven that allows only 71 rushing yards per game is loaded with highly touted pro prospects, from the frighteningly massive and agile defensive line of A'Shawn Robinson, Jarran Reed and Jonathan Allen to the hard-hitting linebacking corps led by the veteran Reggie Ragland.
And while it was an Achilles' heel for Alabama last year, a revamped secondary has become a strength for the Crimson Tide this season. Opposing quarterbacks have thrown 18 interceptions and posted the fourth-lowest pass efficiency rating against the Tide's secondary in 2015.
But if there's an offense designed to give Alabama's defense trouble, it's this one from Clemson.
In the last four seasons, the only teams that have beaten Alabama have run some sort of spread offense. Quarterbacks who have the ability to run have been especially troublesome: Texas A&M's Johnny Manziel; Auburn's Nick Marshall; Ohio State's Cardale Jones; and most recently Ole Miss' Chad Kelly.
As Bleacher Report's Christopher Walsh noted, this year's Alabama defense has "quietly done well" against dual-threat passers this season.
"The opponent with the most rushing yards by a quarterback was Mississippi State with 38," Walsh wrote. "Collectively, they have a passing efficiency rating of just 99.47."
Still, Alabama's No. 2-ranked defense hasn't faced a test this season quite like the one that Watson should provide.
The sophomore was the nation's best quarterback this year, finishing third in Heisman voting after racking up 41 touchdowns in the regular season. He's coming off the best rushing performance of his college career, and he showed against Oklahoma he can bounce back from early adversity.
"[Watson] really is probably as fine a dual-threat quarterback as we've played against for a long, long time and certainly does an outstanding job of executing their offense," Saban said, per Walsh. "There's no question about the fact that he's an outstanding leader as well, because you can see the way the players sort of rally around him."
Clemson will look to spread out Alabama's defense and hit it with the powerful rushing game of Watson and Gallman. It's a strategy that Auburn and Ohio State used to success the last two seasons, and it will open things up for the efficient Watson downfield.
If the Tigers can get things rolling and play up-tempo football, they'll keep Alabama from rotating bodies on its elite defensive front. If they get behind the sticks early, they'll play right into the Tide's hands.
This won't be another shutout for Alabama—Clemson is too talented in its spread offense. But it won't be an unstoppable performance from the Clemson offense—Alabama is too talented in its stifling defense.
What it will be, though, is one of the best chess matches in recent title-game memory.
When Alabama has the ball
While offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin has incorporated more spread schemes and hurry-up pace to Alabama's attack in the last few seasons, the core of the Tide's plan of attack is still the same on offense—wear defenses down.
And the Crimson Tide have the best possible running back for their "man ball" mission. Heisman winner Derrick Henry, a 6'3" physical beast of a rusher, can absorb a huge amount of punishment and still create big plays late in the game.
"In what could be the final game for the junior Heisman Trophy winner before he moves on to the NFL, expect greatness," Bleacher Report's Barrett Sallee wrote. "Expect Henry to grind it out when it matters most. Expect him to prove one more time that he is college football's ultimate closer."
Clemson's No. 6-ranked defense, like Alabama's, is stacked along the front seven—an incredible feat for defensive coordinator Brent Venables and the rest of his staff, considering how much talent these Tigers lost there from last season.
"Everybody wants to talk about who's left and what you don't have," Swinney said during his press conference Tuesday, per Walsh. "Sometimes you have addition by subtraction. I mean, I don't get caught up in all that. I worry about who we've got."
Nobody in college football has more tackles for loss this season than Shaq Lawson, who will try to play after suffering an MCL injury against Oklahoma.
And the Tigers showed against the Sooners that they can still dominate an offense without Lawson, relying on the talents of Kevin Dodd, B.J. Goodson, Ben Boulware, Carlos Watkins and several other budding stars.
Clemson shut down Oklahoma's rushing attack, leaving the Sooners one-dimensional and having to play catch-up in the second half. That didn't work at all for head coach Bob Stoops and his team.
The Tigers may be able to contain Henry early on and force Coker to prove his masterful performance against Michigan State wasn't just a fluke.
Alabama star wide receiver Calvin Ridley vs. Clemson shutdown cornerback Mackensie Alexander will be the best one-on-one matchup of the day. Both players have won several battles against high-profile names this season, and whoever takes advantage of this matchup will be a strong factor in the final result.
Also pay special attention to whenever Alabama has the ball—or is about to get the ball—in special teams situations.
Alabama kicker Adam Griffith has had an incredible redemption season and will be able to put crucial points on the board if the Tide's drives stall. Punter JK Scott came on strong during the end of the year, and his ability to flip the field is extremely valuable.
And if Clemson lines up in a punting situation, watch out. The Tigers have tried fakes in each of their last two games—one bad, one good—and the Tide have a game-changing weapon at returner.
"Much of [Alabama's special teams success] is due to the play of senior Cyrus Jones, who has returned a school-record four punts for touchdowns this season," Bleacher Report's Brian Pedersen wrote. "His 57-yard punt return score early in the second half broke open the Cotton Bowl."
But the ultimate between the Alabama offense and the Clemson defense will be how tough the Tigers can stay late against Henry, who seemingly gets stronger down the stretch.
If Clemson wears down, Henry could take over in the second half. If it can hang tough, the spotlight will fall on Coker in the final game of what has been a roller coaster of a collegiate career.
The college football experts here at Bleacher Report are somewhat divided on how Monday night's title game showdown will shake out in Arizona.
Three of our experts—Sallee, Kramer and Ben Kercheval—picked the Tide over the Tigers. Sallee, who picked Alabama to win it all during the preseason, envisions a scenario where Clemson has a crucial drive late in the game and the Tide make a stop.
The other two experts—Michael Felder and Couch—are pegging Clemson to complete the perfect season and send Alabama home without a title. Felder made the bold prediction that Clemson would find running room against Alabama's front seven, while Couch sees the Tigers holding Henry to under 100 yards.
Those split opinions are just a testament to how talented and complete these two title contenders truly are.
Both have award-winning offensive stars that can wear out teams in completely different ways. Both have defenses with elite fronts and secondaries that can change momentum on a dime.
The Tigers and the Tide have different motivations and methods, but they'll be equally fired up to play on the biggest stage of them all. Both teams will get stops and scores in a back-and-forth matchup.
Clemson might be able to corral Henry early on in this game—especially if Lawson plays—and hit Alabama for some big plays with Watson and its up-tempo offense.
But Alabama is so good at adjusting and coming on strong during the middle of games that one could expect a tight game heading into the fourth quarter.
In those clutch moments, the championship pedigree of Saban and Alabama will shine bright. If it comes down to a sophomore star quarterback against arguably the best defense in college football, the advantage will ride with the Crimson Tide.
My personal pick is that Alabama will make the one big stop it needs in the fourth quarter with a slim lead and ride Henry to one of those anaconda-like drives that have become synonymous with football in the Saban era.
The Tide will find the end zone once more to put the national championship out of the Tigers' reach and into their own strong grip.
Alabama 30, Clemson 21
Statistics courtesy of CFBStats.com.
Justin Ferguson is a college football writer at Bleacher Report. You can follow him on Twitter @JFergusonBR.
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When No. 1 Clemson and No. 2 Alabama line up for the College Football Playoff National Championship Game on Monday, it'll be a star-studded game full of household names and future NFL stars—not to mention an all-time great coach (Nick Saban) versus another who's creating his own path (Dabo Swinney).
But rewind three, four or even five years ago. The two rosters competing for college football's top honor had to come from somewhere. What are the origins of a championship-caliber team?
We traced the two-deep depth charts for Alabama and Clemson (plus a few key reserve contributors) to find out the states from which they came. Not surprisingly, there's a heavy Southeastern presence, as there have been with multiple recent BCS champs.
Where does championship-caliber talent come from? We traced more than 80 players from both sides to find out.
Winning Your Home State Actually Matters
If you've ever listened to a head coach's national signing day press conference, you've probably heard the phrase "we have to win our state in recruiting" more times than you can count. It sounds like coachspeak on the surface, but there's actually a lot of truth in it.
Looking at this year's championship contenders as an example, it's easy to understand why. In-state prospects accounted for about about one-third of Alabama's starters and key contributors. That number drops slightly for Clemson but remains at just under 30 percent.
The table above shows the Tide and Tigers are getting a bulk of their key players within their own state borders. However, each program also had roughly three or four pipeline states in which it acquired another high percentage of players.
Not surprisingly, these pipeline regions are either border states or, like Florida, act as a recruiting ground for pretty much everybody in major college football.
In either case, Alabama and Clemson have geography on their side. When leaving the state, Alabama gets a bulk of its key players from Florida, Georgia and Louisiana, with some traces from Texas, Mississippi and the like. Clemson also mines Georgia and Florida but has a presence in North Carolina and Virginia as well.
Basically, if Alabama and Clemson were the circles in a recruiting Venn diagram, Florida and Georgia would be in the center.
Ultimately, though, winning the in-state recruiting battle is important, even if the state is not traditionally considered one of the richest talent producers. Prospects like running back Marcus Lattimore (2010) and defensive end Jadeveon Clowney (2011) boosted the profile for recruiting in South Carolina—not just because they were so highly rated, but because they opted to stay home.
Neither, of course, went to Clemson, but they were part of raising the national profile of South Carolina football. That's what a top in-state player can do for a program.
Origins of the Blue-Chip Players
Recruiting isn't an exact science, but there is a correlation between teams that regularly recruit at a high level and ones that win (or at least compete for) national championships. Go ahead and look at the last handful of title-winning teams, and then look at how they recruited. No one's winning with only 2-and-3-star players.
Yet the popular contrarian opinion to have is that recruiting stars are laughable, at least when compared to coaching and player development. This is what Fort Worth Star-Telegram columnist Mac Engel tweeted during the Orange Bowl between Clemson and Oklahoma, noting that Sooners quarterback Baker Mayfield was a walk-on:
Mayfield's path to stardom certainly goes against the norm, but he's also an exception to the rule. Oklahoma's star running back, Samaje Perine—a player literally standing right next to Mayfield in the backfield—was a 4-star prospect. Go through Oklahoma's starting 22, and you're more likely to find recruits of Perine's mold than Mayfield's.
The not-so-hush-hush insider secret of the business is that all of those factors—recruiting, coaching and development and even scheme fit—matter; nothing exists in a vacuum by itself.
Alabama and Clemson have mastered all of those elements. Neither would be playing Monday if it hadn't. But it all starts with recruiting. According to 247Sports composite rankings, here are Alabama's and Clemson's average recruiting class rank over the last five years (to account for redshirt seniors and true freshmen):
The Tide, in fact, had the No. 1 class in the country in each of the last five years.
From where do the blue-chip (4-and-5-star) players over the last five years hail? In the table below, signees were charted from the following areas: home state, Florida and Georgia and the top pipeline state.
Seeing as a large chunk of Alabama's key contributors are in-state products, it makes sense that most of the blue-chip players are as well. Guys like linebacker Reuben Foster were once 5-star prospects from Alabama. Still, the Tide have succeeded in plucking blue-chip players from Florida and Georgia, like Heisman-winning running back Derrick Henry and his backup Kenyan Drake, respectively.
Clemson's recruiting dominance has been more spread-out. It has to be. As mentioned before, South Carolina isn't quite on the same level as some other talent-rich states. The big-time players who have come out of that state haven't always signed with the Tigers, either.
Linebacker Ben Boulware and receiver Mike Williams (injured) were in-state products, but some of the biggest names came from out of state. Quarterback Deshaun Watson is from Georgia. Cornerback Mackensie Alexander is from Florida.
Clemson has been forced to win outside its state more than Alabama, but that doesn't mean it hasn't done so successfully. Clemson's presence took a major turn in 2006 when Swinney, then an assistant for the Tigers, recruited a 5-star running back by the name of C.J. Spiller out of Florida.
Alabama has made its way to this point with lots of homegrown talent and more blue-chip players than you can possibly imagine. Clemson didn't exactly do it the hard way, but Swinney deserves a lot of credit for building a championship-caliber program at a place where the best players in the country don't line up at his door.
With all due respect to the rest of the country, the South has a built-in recruiting advantage. You probably already knew this, but it's a fact nonetheless. The number of 4- and -5-star players per capita is simply more concentrated in the Southeast, as SbS Football tweeted earlier in the year:
There are outliers, of course. Ohio State can pick up plenty of in-state products while having the brand to recruit nationally. Notre Dame has completely transformed its recruiting pitch by becoming a partial member of the ACC.
Generally speaking, though, it should be no surprise that the above graphic matches the table below charting the number of national championship game appearances by state:
Alabama and Clemson succeeded in recruiting their own backyards but also found plenty of players in neighboring states. Put simply, if you want to compete for a national championship, you have to pluck blue-chippers from states like Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana and Texas; the same can also be said for California, but that's in a completely different geographical region.
But good luck with that. Every program in college football is already chasing Alabama. Soon, they could be chasing Clemson, too.
“Those great businesses out there, those great programs, they don’t plateau. How do you do that? Well, you have to constantly reinvent, reinvest, reset, learn, grow, change,” Swinney said, via Matt Connolly of the State. “You have to do that. You don’t just change to change, but you have to always challenge yourself each and every year to say, ‘OK, well this may be how we’ve done it, but is it the right way?’"
Ben Kercheval is a lead writer for college football. All quotes cited unless obtained firsthand. All recruiting information compiled by 247Sports.
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