NCAA Football News

Nebraska Football: Many Husker Fans' Complaints About Mike Riley Hire Misguided

Nebraska football fans were floored by the announcement that athletic director Shawn Eichorst had hired Oregon State’s Mike Riley to be NU’s new head coach.

Riley, who had coached the Beavers for 12 of the last 14 years (with an unsuccessful stint as head coach of the San Diego Chargers in the interim) was a surprise to everyone, and that surprise did not sit well with some Nebraska fans (as recounted by Hail Varsity).

Of course, fans are emotional, and some of those fans reacted without putting a lot of thought into their criticism. Here's why some of the most common complaints were off-base.

 

We shoulda hired Scott Frost!

Of all the negative reactions to Riley’s hiring, this was probably the most common. And sure, the story is compelling.

A championship-winning Nebraska quarterback, coming home to take the program back to its glory days. He’s one of us! He gets what it means at Nebraska!

Stop. I mean really, just stop. Frost, in his second year as offensive coordinator at Oregon, is a promising young coach with what looks to be a bright future ahead of him.

Does that sound at all familiar? Nebraska hires a young coach—a talented coordinator with no head coaching experience—to take over one of the most storied programs in college football.

Haven’t we seen this movie and know how it ends?

That’s not to say Frost isn’t a good coach and won’t perhaps someday be a great head coach. But Nebraska just went through seven years of giving an untested rookie on-the-job training on the sidelines in Lincoln.

Plus, how many other programs were looking to hire Frost as a head coach this season? If your answer was “none,” then you win the prize.

It’s understandable for Nebraska fans worried about an uncertain future to reach out for something familiar. But with all the risk involved with making a coaching change, allowing sentiment to drive the decision would be a dreadful mistake.

 

His record is worse than Pelini’s!

In Bo Pelini’s seven years at Nebraska, his teams went 66-27. Under Riley during the same time period, his teams went 46-42. Overall, Riley is 96-80 as a collegiate head coach.

See! Pelini’s way better than Riley! Pelini’s never won fewer than nine games, something Riley’s only done once since 2009. Why did we fire Pelini to get this guy?

Yes, Pelini has never won fewer than nine games (or lost fewer than four games) in his career—at Nebraska. And Riley has done what he’s done at Oregon State.

Put simply, Oregon State isn’t Nebraska. Before Riley arrived in Corvallis, the Beavers had won nine games in a season twice—once in 1939 and again in 1962. Oregon State hadn’t had a winning record since 1970 and had only won a total of 14 games in the seven years before Riley took the job.

Oregon State is a tiny college town in northern Oregon, dwarfed in stature and resources by the school in Eugene that is funded to the hilt by Phil Knight, CEO of Nike. And yet Riley has consistently won there at a level far exceeding what the school’s size, prestige and resource level would dictate.

Want an analogy that is a little more familiar, Husker fans? Oregon State is a lot like Iowa State—if Iowa had a blank check with a swoosh on it to build facilities. If a coach was able to do in Ames what Riley did in Corvallis, wouldn’t you be intrigued by the prospect of what he could do in Lincoln?

It’s time to get over the "nine-win" thing, Husker fans.

 

He’s never won anything!

OK, fine, you say. Winning nine games isn’t a big deal if it doesn’t come with a championship at the end. And as a I previously observed, Eichorst made a bold statement that playing for championships is the standard for NU, nothing less.

I thought Eichorst said championships were the standard! How can we hire a coach that hasn’t won anything more than Pelini has?

Riley has never won a conference title at Oregon State. He’s been close, and Dennis Erickson took Riley’s players (including Chad later-to-be-Ochocinco Johnson and T.J. Houshmandzadeh—you may have heard of them) to an 11-1 season and a Fiesta Bowl win in 2000.

So yes, Riley hasn’t won a championship at Oregon State. We’ve discussed already how winning titles at Oregon State is a much harder task than winning them at Nebraska.

But Eichorst also talked about the importance of Nebraska competing in the "games that matter," which Nebraska was notoriously bad at under Pelini. How do Pelini and Riley compare in that category?

Well, let’s take a look at games against top-15 opponents, which is a fair estimation of Eichorst’s "championship-caliber" teams.

In the last seven years, Pelini has notched wins over No. 7 Missouri (2010) and No. 9 Michigan State (2011). In that same time period, Riley has wins over No. 1 USC (2008), No. 2 Cal (2007), No. 9 Arizona (2010), No. 13 Wisconsin (2012, the same year the Badgers beat Nebraska 70-31) and No. 6 Arizona State (2014).

None of Pelini’s wins come close to Riley’s teams knocking off the No. 1 and No. 2 teams in the country. Heck, a pretty good argument could be made that none of Pelini’s wins are better than Riley’s squad this year taking No. 6 Arizona State out of playoff contention.

 

So are you saying Nebraska’s a lock for the playoff next year?

Of course not. Riley is far from a guaranteed success in Lincoln. With Nebraska opening against BYU, its toughest lid-lifter in a decade, it’s possible Riley could start his scarlet-and-cream career at 0-1.

Next season, Pelini’s defenders and those inclined to snark will be quick to pounce if Nebraska wins fewer than nine games. Is that expectation fair? Probably not, but it’s what Riley will have to deal with as he starts his career in Lincoln.

But the ultimate question is this: Does Nebraska have a better chance at winning a conference title in the near future by making a change and hiring Riley or by keeping Pelini and maintaining the status quo?

Eichorst made it crystal clear on which side of that question he came down.

And while there will be many doubts raised about the move in the coming months, as the inevitable challenges hit Riley and his new staff in Lincoln, hopefully calmer and more rational minds can set aside those challenges that are less well thought-out.

 

For a different look at Nebraska football, check out The Double Extra Point.

Or you can use the Twitter machine to follow @DblExtraPoint.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Without J.T. Barrett, Ohio State's Championship Hopes Rest with the Defense

After J.T. Barrett suffered a season-ending ankle injury against Michigan, Ohio State's national championship hopes were ripped from the steady hands of the its budding quarterback and placed squarely on a defense that has slumped in recent weeks.

With No. 13 Wisconsin and its powerful rushing attack looming, the fifth-ranked Buckeyes will need that unit to step up in a big way to earn their first Big Ten title since 2009.

That development would have been hard to fathom at the beginning of the season.

When Ohio State lost its first option at quarterback after Braxton Miller re-injured his shoulder in fall camp, head coach Urban Meyer expected his defense to rally—fueled by what USA Today (h/t 247Sports) thought was the best defensive line in the country.

In fact, Meyer went as far as comparing this Buckeyes defensive front to one of the all-time greats—his former outfit at Florida that guided the Gators to a national title in 2006.

"2006 was our best defensive line at Florida. This line, if they all stay healthy and perform, could be on that level," Meyer told reporters. "We have some game-changers up front."

The Buckeyes certainly have game-changers.

Defensive end Joey Bosa has grown into one of the most disruptive pass-rushers in the country, leading the Big Ten and ranking fourth nationally with 13.5 sacks. The true sophomore was named the Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year and is a finalist for the Lombardi and Bednarik Awards.

Ohio State has also gotten solid play out of defensive tackles Michael Bennett, who was named to the All-Big Ten Football second team, and Adolphus Washington, who earned an honorable mention from the media.

But the Buckeyes have greatly missed Noah Spence—their star junior defensive end who was supposed to balance the line opposite Bosa. Spence didn't play a snap all season thanks to a second failed drug test that resulted in a permanent ban from the Big Ten.

That, combined with a surprising lack of depth, has Ohio State's defensive line falling incredibly short of its preseason potential.

Over the last four weeks, opposing running backs have taken advantage.

It started on the road against Michigan State, when Jeremy Langford ripped Ohio State for 137 yards and three touchdowns on just 18 carries.

That triggered a bad trend for the Buckeyes, who have given up a combined 584 yards and 11 touchdowns on the ground to the last four running backs they've faced.

On Saturday in Indianapolis, with a Big Ten title hanging in the balance, Ohio State will have to stop the nation's most dangerous running back. Wisconsin's Melvin Gordon, who leads the country in both rushing yards (2,260) and rushing touchdowns (26), has a blend of speed and toughness that could hurt the Buckeyes where they're the weakest.

Ohio State is hoping its recent run against elite ball-carriers can serve as preparation for what lies ahead.

“I mean we’ve seen a lot of good backs this year,” Buckeyes linebacker Joshua Perry told Austin Ward of ESPN.com. “Obviously [Gordon] is a Heisman front-runner, so he’s on a level of his own. But you can’t say that we haven’t been tested already with some of the running backs, some of the offensive lines we’ve seen this year."

The Buckeyes' improved secondary won't be tested much—the Badgers average just 147.8 passing yards per game, which ranks 117th out of 125 teams in the country.

But with Gordon in the opposing backfield, Bill Rabinowitz of the Columbus Dispatch reports Meyer is wary of the potential opportunities for play action:

Will the Buckeyes be able to stop Gordon and Wisconsin's ground attack?

Without its star quarterback as a safety net, Ohio State's Big Ten title hopes—and by extension, its playoff aspirations—will depend on it.

 

All stats via NCAA.com.

David Regimbal covers Ohio State football for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter @davidreg412.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

UCF Beats East Carolina on Game-Winning Hail Mary

The UCF Knights were down, 30-26, against the East Carolina Pirates with one final play remaining, so Justin Holman threw up a prayer.

Despite a number of Pirates players around the goal line, Holman's pass somehow floated over them, landing in Breshad Perriman's hands for the game-winning 51-yard touchdown.

Here's another angle of the touchdown:

The Knights got the miracle 32-30 win to finish the regular season at 9-3, so they'll now have to wait and see which bowl game they'll be invited to. The win also helped them clinch a share of the AAC 

[Vine]

 

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

College Football Rankings 2014: Teams Positioned to Crack Top 4 in Final Week

It's a shame that the four-team playoff has devalued the FBS regular season so much.

Looking back, it's amazing to think that anybody tried to argue that swapping out the Bowl Championship Series for the playoff would've meant irreparably harming what is the best regular season in American sports.

The advent of the playoff has merely opened the door for more teams to have a legitimate shot at the national championship, thus lending importance to games that might have been overlooked in previous seasons.

College football fans can't ask any more of a regular season in which the drama hangs until the final week. So many questions remain unanswered.

 

Not Going Anywhere

Florida State, Oregon and Alabama

Florida State, Oregon and Alabama would all make the top four as long as they win their respective conferences.

Although the Seminoles are in fourth—behind three one-loss teams—there's no way the selection committee would overlook an unbeaten Power Five team, no matter how questionable its resume is in some fans' minds.

With victories in championship week, Oregon and Alabama would almost certainly position themselves as the top two seeds in the bracket, in whatever order, with FSU probably coming in third.

This much is known. Outside these three teams, it's all up for grabs.

 

Prospects Looking Good

Baylor

One of the bigger top-four debates surrounds whether Baylor or TCU would be a better Big 12 representative. The Bears beat the Horned Frogs, but the Horned Frogs arguably have the better overall resume.

Baylor's not messing around, with ESPN.com's Jake Trotter reporting that the school hired a public relations firm in order to strengthen its standing in the eyes of the media and general public:

Yahoo Sports' Dan Wetzel gave the Bears their best case for the top four:

CBSSports.com's Tom Fornelli also believes that a head-to-head victory trumps any other argument in this situation:

Baylor has good reason to remain confident that it will make the top four in Week 16. While the Bears obviously benefit from the win over TCU, they could also be hugely helped by recency bias.

It's almost impossible to not value a team's most current games more heavily than its earlier ones. Baylor plays No. 9 Kansas State on Saturday, while TCU will take on two-win Iowa State. A win over the Wildcats should be enough to put the Bears over the top.

 

Sitting on Shaky Ground

TCU

As mentioned above, TCU may have the high ground now, but that could change by next week. Beating the Cyclones won't do much to strengthen their top-four credentials.

The biggest reason for TCU to remain confident as to its playoff standing—aside from its strength of schedule—is the fact that the Big 12 won't determine a sole conference champion in the event both the Horned Frogs and Bears finish with the same record.

Big 12 commissioner Bob Bowlsby explained how he and the conference's members are taking a hands-off approach when it comes to the playoff, per CBSSports.com's Jon Solomon:

We don't have any province to say to the playoff committee, 'Baylor won head to head so they need to be our representative.'

The process is about selecting what they consider to be the four best teams. Four best is different than the four most deserving. The most deserving is mostly an objective process in which you might have computer rankings and a bunch of different polls.

Baylor being considered outright champions would've been the final nail in TCU's coffin. Instead, the Horned Frogs being a co-champion could provide the committee one more out so as to put them ahead of the Bears.

Of course, if Baylor loses and TCU wins, then the Horned Frogs are all but assured of a top-four spot, and this discussion becomes irrelevant.

 

Ohio State

The J.T. Barrett injury has cast a lot of doubt on whether the playoff committee would consider sending Ohio State into the playoff. Without Barrett, the Buckeyes are obviously worse, thus their standing as one of the best teams in the country could come under question.

But should that outweigh everything else they've done this year? You can't exactly punish a team for a player getting injured.

Head coach Urban Meyer thinks that injuries to both Barrett and Braxton Miller have proved the overall strength of his team, per Doug Lesmerises of the Northeast Ohio Media Group:

You're the champion of the Big Ten Conference, you lose one Heisman Trophy candidate before the season and another one in (game 12) that is also a Heisman candidate. I think that's almost a positive, that your team can still go function, and it tells you about the players and talent on your team.

Of course, this leaves aside the issues with Ohio State's body of work. The loss to Virginia Tech got worse and worse by the week, while the Buckeyes don't have a ton of worthwhile victories with which to counter.

Ohio State doesn't have much of a chance to get into the top four if Baylor wins, but in the event the Bears lose, the Buckeyes might be able to sneak in ahead of the Horned Frogs based on winning a conference championship game.

Beating somebody as good as Wisconsin might also help to silence any doubt about the team in the eyes of the committee after Barrett's injury.

 

Don't Count Them Out

Arizona

They still need a lot of help, but the Arizona Wildcats could still manage to make the top four with a win over Oregon and losses by some combination of Florida State, Alabama, Ohio State, Baylor and TCU.

Now, we're talking Skyfall-type levels of confluence in terms of all the moving pieces ending up exactly right. It's still possible, though.

Arizona will have beaten the No. 2 team in the country on two occasions, while the Wildcats' losses came to No. 25 USC and No. 15 UCLA. The first of those came by two points, and the second was on the road. Neither is embarrassing.

It's always fun to envision doomsday scenarios at the end of the college football regular season. Who doesn't love a little anarchy?

Also, seeing the Wildcats in the top four would add a fresh new face to the scene. Rich Rodriguez has done some impressive things in Tucson, and it would be fun to see if he can help get the program to the next level.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Adam McLean to Maryland: Terrapins Land 4-Star DT Prospect

Adam McLean is on his way to College Park, Maryland.

The 4-star defensive tackle announced on Twitter Thursday night that he will become a member of the Maryland Terrapins:

According to 247Sports' composite rankings, the prep star is the 13th-best defensive tackle and 121st-best recruit overall in the 2015 class. In general, the Big Ten had a pretty good Thursday, as ESPN.com's Tom VanHaaren pointed out:

McLean had already committed to another Big Ten school, Penn State, before decommitting from the Nittany Lions in the middle of November. He confirmed the news on Twitter:

Rivals' Adam Friedman praised the work of head coach Randy Edsall:

This is a coup for the Terps, who have the eighth-best recruiting class in the Big Ten and 47th-best in the country, according to 247Sports. Edsall had a bit of an up-and-down season with Maryland in 2014, so securing McLean's commitment is a nice boost for the program heading into bowl season.

At 6'2" and 290 pounds, McLean's not the kind of space-eater defensive tackle who is a force of nature by sheer size alone. He's athletic for somebody as big as he is, which helps to make up for that. He can serve a variety of purposes on the defensive line because he's not a one-dimensional run-stuffer.

McLean doesn't project as anything other than a defensive tackle at this stage, even if he's a tad undersized for the position.

He isn't the kind of recruit who can single-handedly turn Maryland's fortunes around as the team tries to establish itself in the Big Ten. But McLean will certainly help the Terrapins climb the food chain.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

What Has to Happen for Baylor, TCU or Kansas State to Make Playoff?

It's possible that two teams from the Big 12 could make the College Football Playoff. It's also possible that none will. 

Currently, the TCU Horned Frogs are No. 3, the Baylor Bears are No. 6 and the Kansas State Wildcats are No. 9 in the latest playoff rankings

That means the road should be easy for TCU, which squares off against Iowa State (2-9) this week. A win over the Cyclones, and the Horned Frogs are in. 

The road isn't as easy for Baylor or K-State. For starters, they play each other this week, and the loser will likely be knocked out of the playoff hunt. On the flip side, one of those two teams will get a win over a Top 10 team to finish the season. 

Since college football is a "what have you done for me lately?" world, the de facto Big 12 Championship Game in Waco couldn't come at a better time for either squad. 

Nevertheless, there are plenty of scenarios across the board for all three teams. 

Let's take a look at what needs to happen for TCU, Baylor and K-State to get to the playoff. 

 

TCU Horned Frogs

STEP ONE: Beat Iowa State

This is the only step TCU needs to take to make the playoff, and it's nonnegotiable. A win over the Cyclones, and the Horned Frogs are in. A loss and there's virtually no scenario where they'd be in. Either Ohio State, Baylor, K-State or Arizona would be almost guaranteed to take their spot. 

There'd be no forgiving a loss to a two-win team, especially without the absolution of a conference title to back it up, which TCU would lose out on if it falls to the Cyclones. 

The big thing to consider is—assuming the Horned Frogs win—how they win and, more importantly, how Oregon and Florida State fare. These games will be instrumental to their seeding and where they'll go. 

If the Top Four in the playoff rankings—Alabama, Oregon, TCU and Florida State—all win easily, then TCU will likely stay at third and travel to the Rose Bowl to face Oregon. That'll give the Ducks a West Coast advantage. 

If Alabama or Oregon loses but TCU and Florida State win, that will open the door for either Ohio State or Baylor to get into the playoff. TCU would move up to the second seed and still travel to the Rose Bowl but face Florida State instead. 

In a perfect world in Fort Worth, Alabama, Oregon and Florida State will all lose. That'll give TCU the No. 1 spot in the rankings, meaning it'll head south for the Sugar Bowl, where it'd likely face either Baylor or Michigan State. 

 

Baylor Bears

STEP ONE: Beat K-State

Again, this step is nonnegotiable. The Bears are already on the outside looking in and in need of help, so a loss will burst the Bears' bubble altogether. The beauty of playing No. 9 Kansas State at home is that a win over a Top 10 team is the perfect eye test for the committee, especially on the last week of the season. 

A win will also give Baylor at least a share of the Big 12 title—and the committee openly favors conference champions. 

 

STEP TWO: Ohio State loss to Wisconsin in the Big Ten Championship Game

The obvious thing about this step is that Ohio State, at No. 5, is one step ahead of the Bears in the playoff rankings. That means, in the committee's mind, a win for the Buckeyes means they'll be the first ones to get in should anybody in the top four falter. 

Also, the Pac-12 Championship Game may very well be meaningless. Oregon is No. 2, but more importantly, Arizona is No. 7. Let's say Arizona knocks off the Ducks—it's likely that the Wildcats will pass over the Bears regardless of their result over K-State. But the Ducks will also fall behind Baylor if they beat K-State. 

If Oregon wins, then Arizona will fall off. And Oregon will stay in the playoff, effectively taking a spot away from Baylor. Either way, the Pac-12 champion will probably take precedence over the Bears. 

 

STEP THREE: Florida State loss to Georgia Tech in the ACC Championship Game OR Alabama loss to Missouri in SEC Championship Game OR TCU loss to Iowa State

Assuming steps one and two happen, Florida State, TCU or Alabama losing will be the last door that needs to open for Baylor to get into the playoff. 

Despite being undefeated, the Seminoles are on the cusp of the playoff at No. 4. A loss to No. 11 Georgia Tech will surely eliminate Jameis Winston and Co. from playoff contention. With Ohio State having theoretically lost, that'll open the door for Baylor to walk into the No. 4 seed. 

Now if Alabama or TCU loses but Florida State wins, the same thing will happen, and Baylor will be playoff-bound. 

Simply put, the Bears need Ohio State and a Top Four team to lose to get into the playoff. 

Now if two or more Top Four teams fall, Baylor could get in that way as well. But with TCU facing off against a two-win team, Oregon looking like the nation's best team and Alabama playing a team outside of the Top 10, it's tough to imagine more than one of those teams falling. 

 

Kansas State Wildcats

STEP ONE: Beat Baylor

This one's easy. K-State is already a long shot for the playoff—the only reason they're in the conversation is thanks largely in part to both UCLA and Mississippi State losing in the same week the Wildcats played lowly Kansas. If the Wildcats want in, they'll need a win over No. 6 Baylor.

Just like the Bears though, the Wildcats get a chance to beat a Top 10 team right before the committee convenes to make its final decisions. 

 

STEP TWO: Oregon beats Arizona in Pac-12 Championship Game

I know what you're thinking—"Kansas State needs all the chaos in the world to get into the playoff; how does No. 2 beating No. 7 help?" 

Well, the Wildcats are No. 9 in the playoff standings—meaning they need to catch up five spots to get into the playoff. 

If they beat Baylor, they'll likely pass No. 8 Michigan State, who is off this week. That's two spots right there, as the Wildcats will probably pass the Bears in the final standings. 

No. 7 is Arizona. Let's say Arizona upsets Oregon. Would the Ducks, who will have just two losses to the same team—a Top 10 team now—fall behind K-State, which also has two losses to Auburn and TCU? 

It's debatable but unlikely. K-State needs the easiest road to making up five spots, and No. 7 losing falls into that category. Bill Snyder and Co. want to be in the playoff with the Ducks. 

 

STEP THREE: Ohio State loss to Wisconsin in Big Ten Championship Game

The same reason Baylor needs Ohio State to lose is why K-State needs the Buckeyes to slip up. Ohio State is next in line for a spot should someone in the Top Four falter. The Wildcats don't want the Buckeyes in their way for one of the last spots should one become available. 

So if all the steps come true up to this point, K-State will have made up four of the five spots it needs to get in. 

 

STEP FOUR: Florida State loss to Georgia Tech in the ACC Championship Game OR Alabama loss to Missouri in SEC Championship Game OR TCU loss to Iowa State

The final step for K-State to get in is the same one for Baylor—it needs a Top Four team to lose. 

This is true for basically any playoff hopeful. If all four teams in the Top Four win this week, they'll all be conference champions, and it'll be unlikely the committee punishes them on the last week. 

Kansas State can't worry about any seeding advantages—climbing five spots is hard enough in one week. 

But crazier things have happened in the world. 

The Wildcats may need a ton of help this week, but a win over Baylor should guarantee the Wildcats a top-tier bowl game. 

If just a few more games go their way, who knows? 

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

5 Must-See Players at the Under Armour All-America Game

The Under Armour All-America Game brings many of America's premier prospects to Tropicana Field in St. Petersbug, Florida, on Jan. 2. The talent-packed showdown is broadcast on national television and has previously featured future NFL playmakers like Julio Jones and Trent Richardson.

The latest version isn't lacking for stars, as several top-tier recruits are expected to suit up. It will be the final tuneup before college football for marquee members of the 2015 class.

Here's a look at elite players to keep an eye on when the action kicks off.

Begin Slideshow

Jim Harbaugh to Michigan Would 'Redefine Grand Slam Hires in College Ranks'

The Michigan Wolverines are in search of their next head coach. With a hungry fanbase and a legacy to protect, many are asking for a big-name hire.

Steve Lorenz247Sports Michigan Insider, joined Stephen Nelson to discuss who could potentially be the next head coach in Ann Arbor. 

Who should Michigan hire?

Watch the video and let us know. 

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Antonio Williams to Wisconsin: Badgers Land 4-Star RB Prospect

Wisconsin has landed its next potential star at running back. Antonio Williams announced his commitment to the Badgers on Thursday, choosing them over co-finalists Auburn, Duke, Notre Dame and Georgia.

Benjamin Worgull of Scout.com had the report:

A 4-star recruit from North Stanly (North Carolina) High School, Williams was considered a lock to attend Wisconsin for much of the process. 247Sports' Crystal Ball projections gave the Badgers an 82 percent chance of landing the commitment as of Thursday morning, with Georgia (12 percent) and Auburn (six percent) the only others receiving consideration.    

Wisconsin hosted Williams for his unofficial visit for its 34-24 victory over Minnesota on Nov. 29. An impressive trip to Madison undoubtedly left the Badgers an even bigger advantage; Williams very publicly bemoaned having to leave the campus:

Of course, that's all without mentioning their recent run of pro-ready running backs. Melvin Gordon is well on his way to a trip to New York City for the Heisman Trophy ceremony. Gordon has rushed 2,260 yards and 26 touchdowns heading into Saturday's Big Ten Championship Game and is considered a potential first-round pick, per CBSSports.com.

Wisconsin has produced at least one 1,000-yard rusher each of the last six seasons. Gordon will look to join Montee Ball and James White as the recent Badgers who are rumbling on Sundays. 

Auburn is the only other finalist that could boast about its recent running back success. Tre Mason, a Heisman finalist last season, is currently the starting running back for the St. Louis Rams. Notre Dame is one of the most storied programs in the country and Duke appears on the rise, but the line of logic is clear as to why most expected Williams to become a Badger.

Listed at 5'11" and 210 pounds, Williams is North Carolina's third-best player in the Class of 2016. Only outside linebacker Keion Joyner and defensive tackle Dexter Lawrence are higher on 247Sports' composite rankings. As a junior, he rushed for 2,852 yards and 36 touchdowns, per 247Sports. Competition level will be a bit of a question given the disparity between Big Ten play and his local high schools, but Williams appears to be developing into a star.

He doesn't boast elite speed but runs with a decisiveness and can overpower smaller defenders. Much more Ball than Gordon in terms of his downfield burst, Williams will need to prove he can handle elite college speeds before he becomes a contributor.

That said, he's still more than a year away from arriving in Madison. Thus far he's proven himself quite adaptable. 

 

Follow Tyler Conway (@tylerconway22) on Twitter

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Cardale Jones' Performance vs. Wisconsin Will Decide Ohio State's Playoff Hopes

Ohio State's playoff hopes were broken as soon as J.T. Barrett's ankle was. 

At least that's the common perception. 

The selection committee's job is to determine the best teams moving forward. Sure, the Buckeyes have won 10 in a row and scored 40 points in eight of those games, including a 49-37 thrashing of No. 8 Michigan State. But losing one of the most dynamic players in America at the most important position on the field changes things significantly. 

OSU is an unknown entity without Barrett, and with several teams deserving of the top four spots, the selection committee will find it difficult to advocate rolling the dice on the Buckeyes, who feature such a glaring variable. 

Fortunately for Urban Meyer, whose playoff hopes were already falsely terminated twice this season (once after Braxton Miller's injury, another after Barrett looked terrible in a loss against Virginia Tech), he still has a week to convince the committee of his team's merits for the top four.

Or perhaps more accurately, Cardale Jones has a week to do the convincing. 

The odds are stacked against him. He's a sophomore with 19 career pass attempts and very little game experience. Even Barrett, who we now know is as talented as anyone in the country, struggled to quickly acclimate when he was thrown into the fire. 

But Jones is no slouch. He's 6'5" and 250 pounds with athleticism and a rocket arm. While he isn't as quick, elusive or as accurate as Barrett, he is a physical, dynamic threat who can thrive in Meyer's offense. 

"Cardale is a great player," Barrett said, via ESPN.com's Austin Ward. "I honestly feel like if I wasn't starting this year, Cardale would have done the same things I did this year. Cardale is that talented. He definitely can do it."

While that's pretty basic teammate-speak, Jones has the perfect stage to put his talent on display. 

No. 12 Wisconsin, one of the hottest teams in the country, has won seven in a row and allowed just 17.6 points per game over that span. The game is also on a neutral field, and it's an opponent Ohio State has yet to play this season. 

The Buckeyes were already expected to leap-frog into the top four with a Big Ten championship win, which would vault them to 12-1. If Jones lights up the Badgers and leads his team to a statement win in arguably its second-most difficult game of the season, that's enough proof to suggest a major drop-off just isn't coming. 

Whether or not that happens is a different question entirely. But let's not erase Ohio State's playoff hopes quite yet. 

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Beware: This Isn't the Same 'Soft' Oregon Team

The assumption, even now, is that Oregon will eventually fail.

It’s why a team with all of the essential components—headlined by a create-a-player under center, a youthful bowling ball at running back and a wide receiver-consuming star at corner—is still soaring under the radar as it prepares for Arizona.

Everything is bright, quick and impossible to miss, and yet, we choose to miss it. Although Oregon has traveled light-years in the past decade while operating at lightning speeds, it still hasn’t earned our collective approval.

That can change this weekend when the Ducks plays for revenge, a Pac-12 championship and a spot in the College Football Playoff. Also on the line is an opportunity to silence all narratives that this team has been unable to shake.

“Internally, everybody probably knew what the perception was after losing to Stanford in back-to-back seasons and that overall style,” Andy McNamara, assistant athletic director for communications at Oregon, said. “It is kind of contrasting from a big-picture standpoint, but on both sides of the line we have guys who are pretty nasty.”

McNamara is not your typical university employee. Like everything else at Oregon, his title comes with flash. McNamara is a mouthpiece for the football team, releasing a weekly video on the Oregon website that highlights the latest happenings in the program, the Pac-12 and relevant national stories.

As part of this, McNamara watches a lot of football and, in particular, Oregon football. He has seen more than his share of immensely talented Eugene teams since arriving in 2005—the highlight being a three-point loss in the national championship back in 2011.

Over time, he has also watched the reputation of the program chameleon-ize: from the good (the facilities, the wins and the obvious national rise) to the bad (the idea that Oregon is still somehow “soft” or incapable of winning higher profile games with its unique style).

“It’s not a label that’s going to be easy to shake as long as we continue to put up points,” McNamara said. “We come across this perception all the time that it’s some gimmicky offense and the defense is sort of along for the ride. This is a really complete team in every facet.”

Oregon has the opportunity to showcase its completeness to the College Football Playoff selection committee on Friday. As the No. 2 team in the current Top 25, the Ducks will lock up a playoff spot with a victory over Arizona. They’re also in contention for the No. 1 seed.

On October 2, the night Arizona walked off the Eugene turf following its 31-24 victory, this end-of-season scenario never felt feasible, not after another crushing disappointment.

The Ducks, coping with substantial injuries to the offensive line and relying heavily on youth, had ample excuses as to why they were unable to overcome Arizona, a team that proved its worth over the course of the season.

Regardless of the circumstances attached, the “Same Ol’ Ducks” headlines poured in; narrative prevailed yet again.

Only days later, the offensive line started to return some key pieces, which helped Oregon power past UCLA the following weekend. Then the youth who struggled early on started to develop. Then Oregon hit its stride.

Since falling to Arizona 31-24 more than two months ago, the Ducks have averaged nearly 48 points per game and outscored their opponents 333-163.

“I think they’ve gotten more comfortable with some of the new guys they have in key roles, and I think they’ve gotten healthier in certain spots,” Arizona coach Rich Rodriguez said. “But they were really playing well before we played them. Now they’ve just been rolling right by people. In all three phases they’ve just been dominating.”

Rodriguez, like the rest of the football universe, can’t help but marvel at some of the things Marcus Mariota does with the ball in his hand. At the same time, his defense—led by the spectacular Scooby Wright, a Heisman contender in his own right—has been able to keep the quarterback in check its past two meetings.

Mariota’s health along with the health of those trying keep him upright played a role in these games. With that fine print considered, the Wildcats have found a formula most Pac-12 teams are still searching for.

26% of Marcus Mariota's turnovers in his college career have come against Arizona. 3 INTs and 3 fumbles.

— Daniel Berk (@DSBerk) December 1, 2014

Still, Rodriguez understands the obstacle ahead. The trick to shutting down Oregon begins in the most obvious of places. It’s also easier said than done despite the promising track record.

“I think Marcus has been one of the best quarterbacks in the country since probably the day he took his first start,” Rodrigeuz said. “If you didn’t have to play him, you’d love watching him. In my opinion, he’ll win the Heisman.”

Mariota, however, is not alone in his offensive efforts. The newest piece to the Oregon machine, running back Royce Freeman, has made a splash in his first season on campus. If you’re looking for a singular piece that single-handedly destroys all notions of being “soft,” look no further than the 229-pound true freshman.

Freeman has emerged as one of the most dangerous threats in the conference. He didn’t burst onto the scene out of the gate, although the timing of his surge should come as no surprise. As Freeman got going so did the Ducks.

“It was one of the runs against UCLA where it started to click,” Freeman told Bleacher Report in October. “I broke a good amount of tackles and finished a run hard. Every time I get the ball I need to have that attitude.”

Since the loss to Arizona, Freeman has hit the 100-yard mark in five of seven games and totaled 98 and 99 yards in the other two matchups. He’s also found the end zone 12 times, pushing his total touchdowns to 17 in his first season. His emergence as Stanford antidote has shown up in plenty of other situations.

The defense—as McNamara so aptly stated above—has remained the forgotten piece. While you won’t confuse Oregon with Stanford, the play has outperformed the perception yet again.

For the second consecutive year, the Ducks are No. 2 in the Pac-12 in scoring defense. In the past month, Oregon has given up more than 20 points only one time.

Defense will never be the bedrock of this team’s identity, even with a player like Ifo Ekpre-Olomu patrolling the back end, which will undoubtedly be tested on Friday. It also doesn’t have to be, at least not with the way this particular team is constructed.

This is by no means a perfectly balanced group, although no such team exists in 2014. Since its one and only loss to Arizona in October, however, Oregon has had the look of the sport’s most dominant team.

“Obviously there are a lot of guys who were a part of that,” head coach Mark Helfrich said. “Anytime you do something for a second time or you see somebody across the country do something you don’t want to repeat, hopefully you’re learning from those situations.”

The topic of revenge will be sold in (and throughout) the Pac-12 championship in bulk. With both teams vying for a playoff spot, however, no further motivation is necessary. That doesn’t mean you won’t be tired of the term halfway through the second quarter.

The reality, however, is that Oregon’s loss to Arizona earlier could end up being a blessing in disguise. While it originally drove a tired narrative home, it also served as a valuable turning point at a time when Oregon was still finding itself.

“I think the best thing that might have happened to us this year was losing that game to Arizona,” McNamara said. “Not that we were sloppy or played awful in that game, it really just refocused the team. They began to play a little bit looser and with more confidence, something that has continued to build since this season has gone on.”

Operating with a style that has made it unique and remarkably successful, Oregon will look to free itself of all narratives on Friday night. To do so it won’t suddenly change what got it to this point, nor should it.

"Dealing with success is sometimes harder than dealing with defeat," Helfrich said. "I think that’s been equally impressive."

With the necessary tweaks in place and the likely Heisman winner fully operational, Oregon will stay the course and incorporate the smaller, finer changes to its already successful blueprint. The overall identity of this team has not shifted.

It still wants to move as fast as it possibly can—faster than anyone it plays against. It wants to bloody teams with touchdowns and destroy scoreboards in tremendous and destructive fashion, operating in the most high-tech and eye-popping threads on the planet.

The new plan looks a lot like the old plan, which might ignite familiar reservations. There's only one way to change that.

Label this team, if you dare, at your own risk.

 

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

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Big Ten Championship 2014: Preview, Predictions for Ohio State vs. Wisconsin

The Ohio State Buckeyes enter Saturday's Big Ten Championship Game with an outside shot to qualify for the inaugural College Football Playoff. Standing in their way are the Wisconsin Badgers in what should be an epic matchup at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis.

Prior to the Buckeyes' victory over archrival Michigan last week, OSU figured to enter this conference-title clash with a big edge at the quarterback position. Unfortunately, J.T. Barrett, who did so well in Braxton Miller's stead, fractured his ankle versus the Wolverines.

That leaves former third-stringer Cardale Jones tasked with making his starting debut for the Scarlet and Gray on just about the most pressure-packed stage fathomable. Good luck, young man.

Below is an overall preview of Saturday's showdown, along with several predictions as to how Jones will fare, how the game will unfold and a final score projection.

Note: Statistics courtesy of NCAA.com.

 

 

Predictions

Ohio State Leans Heavily on Ezekiel Elliott

One may glean over the general statistics prior to the Big Ten title kickoff and be led to believe the Buckeyes have no chance to run on a Badgers defense that concedes just 3.03 yards per carry.

Bear in mind, though, that all of Wisconsin's ranked opponents that have run the ball well have been so one-dimensional that it could load the box and focus most of its efforts on clogging running lanes.

Jones must keep the Badgers secondary honest. With how dangerous the likes of Jalin Marshall, Michael Thomas and Devin Smith are in space, that shouldn't be too much of a challenge with the wide throwing windows the Buckeyes' spread system generates.

Then it's up to Elliott to pound the rock. OSU's strapping sophomore is an explosive, 225-pound ball-carrier who showed off his breakaway speed on a 44-yard touchdown run that sealed the Michigan win.

Big Ten Football notes how ball control will probably go a long way in determining the conference champion:

The Buckeyes' trademark read-option should also be effective, as Jones offers some serious might of his own at 6'5" and 250 pounds. It's going to be a far more physical festivity for Ohio State's offense than the speedier runners Wisconsin will deploy in an effort to knife through its adversary.

Don't be surprised if Elliott racks up close to 200 yards on the ground, depending on how often Jones keeps the ball. Based on how thin the Buckeyes are at QB, they'd probably prefer Elliott to be the predominant workhorse as is.

 

Melvin Gordon Continues to Shine

As bruising and toll-exacting both Elliott and Jones should be on Wisconsin's front seven, the big Badgers offensive line should do its fair share of brute-force combat in the trenches.

That will allow the likes of Gordon—holder of the NCAA single-game rushing record for one week, as outlined in the video above—to use his electric speed to rip off yards in chunks.

Elliott couldn't help but gush about Gordon, via OSU's official athletics department Twitter:

It doesn't seem to matter what opponents do. All Gordon does is find the end zone with regularity to bail out an odd, two-QB system that prevents Wisconsin from being a truly elite team.

Ohio State is just 40th in rush defense, so it figures to have a tough time dealing with arguably the best tailback in the game. The key will come down to stopping Tanner McEvoy on quarterback keepers to diminish the multifaceted nature of the Badgers' rushing attack.

Should Gordon not have success, Corey Clement is also a force to be reckoned with, as he's compiled 830 yards rushing and eight TDs of his own. Wisconsin's backfield depth will keep both primary backs fresh, contributing to a tight contest.

 

Cardale Jones Upstages Wisconsin QBs, Leads Buckeyes to Win

It's amazing to ponder that Jones, despite the huge stakes, such little experience and prior status as the No. 3 option on the depth chart, may be superior to the Badgers' two best signal-callers.

But it isn't too much of a stretch. McEvoy, who had played safety for Wisconsin the year prior, beat out previous incumbent Joel Stave in a QB competition before the 2014 campaign commenced.

McEvoy is now deployed as a rushing specialist because he has some of the least natural accuracy you'll ever see out of a college quarterback.

Ohio State can almost always presume McEvoy won't be airing it out when he's on the field, considering he has 21 carries and one passing attempt in his past four games. Meanwhile, Stave has been serviceable but not spectacular despite being complemented by an amazing runner in Gordon.

The good news for the Badgers is that Stave is coming off a big performance in the team's most recent win over Minnesota (11-of-18 passing, 215 yards and two touchdowns). However, he'll face a far tougher pass rush led by Buckeyes star Joey Bosa, as OSU ranks tied for 11th in the nation with 37 sacks.

Jones is facing a fourth-ranked scoring defense in Wisconsin, but as mentioned above, he'll have Elliott to lean on and brings his own blend of power and athleticism as a ball-carrier. It's feasible to believe that Ohio State will beat the Badgers at their own game, though it will be close thanks to Gordon's brilliance.

The deck is stacked against Jones. Even a decent outing under the circumstances may be skewed due to the difficult challenge Wisconsin's defense poses.

Although the numbers may not be all too aesthetically pleasing in the end, that Jones could come in and finish off a Big Ten title would have to help the Buckeyes' cause to ascend one spot into the Top Four.

It's on Ohio State to keep Gordon in relative check, make sure McEvoy doesn't get loose on the ground and to apply pressure on Stave to force turnovers and grind out a win in Indy. Based on the Buckeyes' better all-around talent on both sides of the ball and superior plus-five to minus-two turnover margin, they get the winning nod.

Prediction: Ohio State 27, Wisconsin 24

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

5 Most Important College Football Recruiting Visits of Week 15

National signing day is now just two months away, putting pressure on college football programs to stockpile talent. It's also crunch time for high school prospects, who must determine where they plan to spend the next stage of their playing careers.

Campus visits carry more weight with each passing week, and there are several worth watching in the coming days. Here's a look at five key recruits expected to embark on meaningful trips.

Begin Slideshow

Pittsburgh Football: (Sun) Devil They Know Is No Better Than Devil They Don't

Much has changed for No. 17 Arizona State in the three weeks since Bleacher Report national college football columnist Greg Couch hailed head coach Todd Graham as "The Smartest Bad Hire in College Football History."

Not much has changed for Pitt, however, in the three years since Paul Chryst took Graham's infamously vacated job. But I refuse to throw Chryst under the team bus for another regrettable regular season without making Graham grab a wheel.

At one point, ASU was 10 spots above its current spot in the AP poll, and the snake who got on the first plane to Tempe stood an outside chance of slithering into the inaugural College Football Playoff.

Then suddenly, Steel Citizens who couldn't find Corvallis without the aid of Google Maps most assuredly danced on the Sun Devils' grave by the pale moonlight as Oregon State, and later Arizona, knocked them out of Pac-12 contention.

Those spiteful Pitt fans haven't had as much to cheer about locally, save for transcendent individuals like ACC Player of the Year James Conner. Even with the nation's No. 4 rusher, the Panthers had to claw the bottom of the barrel for wins over Syracuse and Miami just to "achieve" a fourth consecutive 6-6 regular campaign and token bowl bid to be announced Sunday.

As recently as Week 12, ASU under Graham has become something that Pitt has not been under Chryst—relevant—hence the horn-tooting. But does he really deserve to be called a "smart bad hire"? Can ASU really have its devil's food cake—see what I did there—and eat it?

Graham should be judged on all his deeds, not just the ones that headline The State Press sports page. Certain deeds belie whatever genius a man possesses.

Couch said, love him or hate him, it's time to resign ourselves to the notion that Graham was "the right guy" after all. Just like Woody Hayes was the right guy for Ohio State...until he punched Charlie Bauman.

Just like Bobby Collins was the right guy for SMU...until his brazen cheating KO'd that whole program.

Just like Joe Paterno was the right guy for Penn State...until...well, you know.

"Graham is not a study in disloyalty or anti-commitment as people have labeled," Couch wrote.

Thirty-six months and 2,048 frequent-flyer miles ago, he was given a position of authority with which he loudly presented himself to his players as loyal. Those players, coincidentally, were then stabbed in their collective back by a small man with a red pitchfork.

There are over 120 teams in the FBS, filled with student-athletes working their tails off year-round in good faith because they all want to win just as badly as Graham does. Yet he decided one innocent group of student-athletes was more deserving of professionalism than another.

Isn't that the essence of disloyalty?

That decision exacerbated Pitt's ongoing run of mediocrity by stunting players' recruitment, development and, above all, trust. Chryst has simply tried to make the you-know-what sandwich left in his lunch pail more edible.

"Sure, he has done some sneaky things, treated his players poorly," Couch continued. "But coaches shouldn't be expected to stick around in any job longer than they want, longer than it seems like the right place to be."

Well, if nothing else, Graham has certainly demonstrated a better understanding of the new American way than his counterpart. Chryst has spent the last three years recruiting players who will love his program unconditionally and weeding out those who won't. Those who stick have come to expect their devotion to be reciprocated.

Oh, that unpatriotic scoundrel!

Seriously, though, if it's too big to ask for a grown man tasked with setting an example for young men to say what he means and mean what he says, then what does that tell you about the sorry state of his profession?

What does it tell you that Chryst doesn't see it that way?

"He isn't even a symbol of the greed of college football," Couch said of Graham. "He is just a guy who has left a job as soon as a better one came along. Be honest: You would do the same thing."

That's not what Chryst did. He humbly battled through his first year at Pitt with—generally speaking—an island of misfit toys. When his alma mater needed someone to replace Bret Bielema, just as some Pitt fans contracted Here-We-Go-Again Syndrome, Chryst publicly reaffirmed his commitment to their team.

One guy turned down, presumably, a dream job (as opposed to a "dream job") for the greater good. One guy did the polar opposite.

There will be blood on the hands of athletic director Steve Pederson, with whom Graham butted heads, unless Chryst wins at Pitt as consistently as Graham has at ASU.

Still, if you were Pederson, and you had a program-changing and potentially career-defining decision to do over, which personality would you put in charge?

One of the first players to take advantage of Chryst's open-door policy at Pitt was beleaguered quarterback Tino Sunseri, who was once called out publicly by Graham for an "average" performance after throwing for 419 yards in a win over Connecticut. 

When he would share stories with Chryst about his relationship with Graham, the two men could be heard sharing boisterous laughter.

Sunseri, following a wildly inconsistent junior season, had become a lightning rod for all Pitt's struggles. Sometimes it was called for, as Pittsburgh Post-Gazette columnist Ron Cook wrote at the time, but sometimes, as was the case with Graham's put-down, it wasn't. 

Under Chryst, Sunseri quietly threw for the second-most single-season yards in school history, and he threw 271 straight attempts without an interception at one point.

Lost in the disappointment of Chryst's .500 lifetime record at Pitt is the fact he got Sunseri's successor, Tom Savage, a hard-luck journeyman, to the NFL.

Though neither was a program savior, this noteworthy pattern continued as new starter Chad Voytik improved steadily this season.

The redshirt sophomore, who threw for 15 touchdowns against seven interceptions, registered seven TDs and just two picks in the second half of this season, while boosting his completion rate by almost 10 percent.

Voytik finished the regular season a respectable 30th among FBS passers with a 143.8 efficiency mark.

Chryst has not yet put a finished product on the field, as his vulnerable and inexperienced defense has demonstrated this year.

But between the annual maturation of his quarterbacks, the increased stubbornness of his offensive line (which has allowed fewer than half as many sacks as last year), the eye-popping playmaking of receiver Tyler Boyd and Conner's aforementioned accolade (or should I say, "ACColade"?), it's clear he's getting closer.

Furthermore, he's doing it with the youngest team in major college football. While Voytik's recruitment, retrospectively, might have been the only redeeming quality of Graham's stint, Chryst's recruiting classes are starting to bear fruit.

Highlighting his next one will be cornerback Jordan Whitehead of nearby Central Valley High School, arguably Pennsylvania's top prospect.

Fans bemoaning the decline of the program since the Dave Wannstedt era have to realize the program will be better off once Chryst has what Wannstedt had at his peak: a team chiefly featuring upperclassmen and boasting NFL-caliber talent at multiple positions.

That is not to say Pitt shouldn't be on a better trajectory than it is now. Every game—with the exception of that historically nightmarish homecoming date with Georgia Tech—was within the Panthers' reach. 

Losing at home to Akron is indefensible for all involved. Chryst's butchery of what should have been a quality win over Duke also underscores the growing pains he's been through as a game-day coach.

Graham, meanwhile, is coming off a 9-3 regular season with his own 11-man senior class that, along with Pitt's, is one of the least voluminous in the country.

"I don't mind growing pains if we're growing," Chryst said to flagship radio station 93.7 The Fan (KDKA-FM) midseason. "But if we're just going through pain for the sake of pain, not real smart."

Next year, Pitt needs to start showing tangible signs of growth. It wouldn't hurt if whatever defensive talent Chryst has to work with, such as Whitehead, starts making beleaguered coordinator Matt House look like an overnight genius.

Otherwise, Chryst's legacy will be tainted, and Pederson's seat should be piping hot, if it isn't already.

But for now, the pen is still very much in Chryst's hand. And we should be more forgiving of this coach, who came to town with a plan and stuck to it while holding players to rational standards, than the copperhead who bolted for The Copper State when he realized what he wanted wouldn't just be handed to him.

Pittsburghers, thirsty as a desert-dweller for the glory days, were willing to drink Graham's Kool-Aid. To hear a man make bold, "high-octane" promises who did not appear allergic to expectations was their ultimate refreshment after years of seeing their team underperform, or sometimes, barely perform at all.

Now that Graham has left with "speed, speed, speed," dealing with the mild-mannered Chryst has been an ironically nice change of pace.

One of my most vivid memories of working for the flagship for four years was its coverage of Graham's clandestine exit.

Late-night host Chris Mueller invited listeners to play "Name That Press Conference," a satirical game in which callers were asked to properly identify out-of-context yet eerily similar sound bites from Graham's introductory conferences at both Pitt and ASU.

Weekend host Bob Pompeani actually booked him on his show to give him a chance to account for himself. Graham backed out at the last minute, doing so—fittingly—by shooting Pompeani a text message that read, "That chapter of my life is over."

I'd like to believe that in another three years the book on Chryst will be easier for Pitt fans to digest. I'd also like to believe both Graham and his apologists will still appear vindicated. But it's not how you start. It's how you finish.

ASU, as Couch corroborated, has divorced itself from any previously harbored skepticism and made its marriage to Graham a happy one. I understand completely. I'm just bracing myself for the messier divorce that will ensue when Graham contrives a way to alienate that fanbase too.

If you're one of the fans who doesn't care how sausage is made, you can call Graham a "smart bad hire" until proven otherwise. If you're a true Pitt fan, you can call him addition by subtraction.

I can only wonder what he'll be called when the next "dream job" beckons.

 

Statistics courtesy of NCAA.com, CFBStats.com and the University of Pittsburgh Athletic Media Relations Office. Quotes obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Which 5-Star Recruit Is Top Priority for New Florida HC Jim McElwain?

Jim McElwain, newly hired head coach of the Florida Gators, has his work cut out for him in his attempt to turn around the Gator program. Florida has many needs, but none more pressing than at offensive line. 

Bleacher Report College Football Analyst Michael Felder was joined by GatorCountry.com beat writer Nick de la Torre to get a better feel for Florida's recruiting situation. 

What is Florida's biggest need?

Check out the video and let us know! 

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Florida State's Mario Edwards, Jr. First Showed Glimpse of Talent vs. GT

Mario Edwards, Jr. arrived on campus before the 2012 season overweight. The nation's top defensive end prospect had eaten his way out of potential playing time and it appeared a possibility that he would redshirt.

And then All-American Brandon Jenkins was lost for the season in Week 1 with a foot injury. While trying to slim down, Edwards would see some playing time as a reserve. But then another defensive end, Tank Carradine, suffered a torn ACL in the final regular-season game.

Edwards had his chance to not just play but start in the ACC championship game against Georgia Tech.

"That was my coming out game," Edwards said. "For me to do it in college was definitely big. I came in overweight, and for me to get my weight down and then go out and have a good game was definitely a confidence boost for me."

Edwards had seven tackles that day, helping limit Georgia Tech's triple-option offense to 183 yards on 52 carries. FSU needed a run-stopping defensive end, a player who would "set the edge" and not let any Yellow Jackets run wide and find green grass.

He did just that in his first start. It was something he had done on Friday nights but never in college.

"He played one heck of a football game for us," FSU coach Jimbo Fisher said. "You saw the potential and what he could be. To go out and perform like he did, in that game, was huge. And I think it really kicked his career off."

Now a redshirt junior, Edwards has developed into an All-ACC defensive lineman. He has 41 tackles and 11 tackles for loss going into Saturday's ACC title game against Georgia Tech.

The Yellow Jackets' triple-option offense is tricky, featuring far too many potential ball carriers for a defensive player to watch in the moments after a snap.

"You have four people in the backfield that can touch the ball at any given time and it's all tricks," Edwards said. "There are so many things you can do. If you're not assignment-sound or reading your keys, it will mess you up."

Current Georgia Tech quarterback Justin Thomas didn't play in the 2012 game against FSU. But Thomas has run for 861 yards and five touchdowns this season, leading the Yellow Jackets in rushing when he's not handing the ball off.

"He's shifty," Edwards said. "He's a real fast quarterback. He does good with faking it and then pitching it. You will guess that he's doing something and he'll make you pay for it."

Bob Ferrante is the lead FSU writer for Bleacher Report. All quotes obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted. Follow Bob on Twitter. Stats courtesy of seminoles.com, ramblinwreck.com or FSU game notes.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Recruiting Awards for the Top 2015 Defensive Tackle Recruits

The 2015 class of defensive tackles is deep and talented. Distinguishing which player is the absolute best is a tough task with each recruit possessing specific skills sets needed to excel at the college level.

Bleacher Report College Football Analyst Michael Felder breaks down the skills of all the top defensive tackles of the 2015 class.

Which defensive tackle listed will make the most impact at the next level?

Check out the video and let us know! 

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

10 Biggest Surprises of the 2014 College Football Season

Anyone who says they predicted even a few of the craziest things that have happened during the 2014 college football season is 1) a major fan of chaos and 2) probably lying.

The long offseason leaves plenty of time to guess what's going to happen during the fall, but while some things are easy to project—Nebraska will win nine games, Navy and Georgia Tech will run for a bunch of yards and at least one team ranked high in the preseason will fall way short of expectations—there will always be far more occurrences during the season that come as huge shockers.

The 2014 season was no different, as on a weekly basis something happened that had us all saying variations of "wow!" But looking at it from an overall perspective, here are the 10 biggest surprises of this season, ranked based on how unexpected they were either before the season or as the campaign progressed.

Begin Slideshow

5-Star CeCe Jefferson and Other Florida Recruits React to Jim McElwain Hire

Florida entered a new era Thursday when it finalized an agreement with former Colorado State head coach Jim McElwain. Despite success in Fort Collins, it's his former employer who recruits are most familiar with at first glance.

"He's coached under [Nick] Saban, so he has the experience," 5-star defensive end CeCe Jefferson told Bleacher Report.

The coveted Sunshine State standout is one of several prospects who've surveyed a tenuous situation in Gainesville during the past year. With Will Muschamp's star dimming as the 2014 season progressed, plenty of pledges jumped off the bandwagon while others held back commitments to see how things played out.

“When recruits my age were growing up, we saw that team dominate," Gators tight end target Daniel Imatorbhebhe said. "It was Tim Tebow running over people, Percy Harvin making big plays and just a ton of success. That’s not really how guys see the team anymore, and it's probably held them back from picking up some big-time players.”

So, is McElwain the man who can return Florida to those dominant days?

“I honestly don’t know much about Coach McElwain. I’m not even really sure what he looks like," Imatorbhebhe admitted. "Now that his hire is official, I’m going to start looking into it."

Star Tampa receiver commit Auden Tate was a bit more blunt.

“I’ve never heard of him," he told Luke Stampini of 247Sports (subscription required).

McElwain is a relative mystery man to most Florida prospects. SEC squads don't often cross paths with Mountain West Conference members on the recruiting trail.

Still, everyone respects victories, and those are exactly what he racked up at Colorado State. McElwain collected 18 wins during the past two seasons with a program that managed just 16 in the four years that preceded his arrival.

“I’ve heard that [Florida athletic director] Jeremy Foley doesn’t settle for anything but the best," Imatorbhebhe said. "If that’s the guy they wanted all along, then that means it was probably for a very good reason."

Foley explained the characteristics that drew him to McElwain on the team website.

"He has recruited the South and the state of Florida and has spent time coaching at the highest level in the NFL [with Oakland]," he said. “He has an engaging personality and is someone who can connect with a variety of audiences, and he operates with a high level of integrity."

McElwain's resume includes a four-year stay at Alabama, where he served as offensive coordinator during two national championship runs. Running back Mark Ingram earned the 2009 Heisman Trophy as a centerpiece in his attack, while Trent Richardson emerged as a finalist for the award two years later.

Both became first-round NFL draft selections—a rare feat for today's top college rushers.

Early benefit of the doubt is easier when your track record includes successful work with a legend like Saban, as Jefferson alluded. Recruits aware of his background appear impressed.

If you’ve done your research on him, he’s a great hire," Florida offensive lineman commit Tyler Jordantold Andrew Spivey of GatorCountry.com. "He’s a good offensive mind who has coached at the highest level before.”

Imatorbhebhe believes his accomplishments as an assistant command respect.

"He had a lot of success at Alabama and helped Saban win championships," he said. "That's pretty strong, and it's definitely a good sign for the Gators."

McElwain must elevate the team's on-field performance to validate the hefty price Florida paid for his services, but first the focus shifts toward a 2015 recruiting class that has fallen apart.

The group rapidly eroded during Muschamp's final campaign and currently includes just nine pledges. It rates 61st nationally in 247Sports' composite class rankings, listed below the likes of Louisiana Tech and San Jose State.

McElwain has two months to turn things around and salvage a successful signing day. His sales pitch should center on an opportunity for recruits to return a proud program to prominence, so the next eight weeks will speak volumes about how high school stars view Florida's new leader.

"We'll see what he's bringing to the table," Jefferson said.

 

Quotes obtained firsthand by Bleacher Report national recruiting analyst Tyler Donohue unless otherwise noted.

Recruit ratings courtesy of 247Sports.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Ohio State vs. Wisconsin: How to Solve the Melvin Gordon Problem

COLUMBUS, Ohio — After watching film of Wisconsin in preparation of this weekend's Big Ten Championship Game, Ohio State linebacker Curtis Grant was left with one question: "Are we playing the Green Bay Packers or are we playing Wisconsin?"

This isn't a "Could Kentucky beat an NBA team?" scenario, but Grant's confusion between his college opponent and its professional counterpart isn't unfounded.

Watching the Badgers run the ball, it's easy to mistake them for an NFL squad—between both their star running back and the players blocking for him.

With only conference championship weekend standing between now and the presentation of the Heisman Trophy, Bodog (h/t Odds Shark) lists just two players with odds to take home college football's most prestigious individual award.

One is Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota, who's favored to take home the trophy with odds of 1-10.

The other? Wisconsin running back Melvin Gordon.

The Badgers back's 5-1 Heisman odds are well-deserved, too, seeing as Gordon leads the nation with 2,260 yards and 26 rushing touchdowns.

He also lays claim to the greatest single-game performance of any Heisman candidate, rushing for an NCAA record-breaking 408 yards and four touchdowns in Wisconsin's Nov. 15 win over Nebraska. That's the type of performance that the Buckeyes are dreading on Saturday, the type that keeps them up late at night longer than the unproven nature of first-time starting quarterback Cardale Jones does.

For Ohio State co-defensive coordinator Luke Fickell, Gordon's evisceration of the Cornhuskers conjured up memories of former Michigan running back Tim Biakabutuka, who gashed the Buckeyes for 313 yards when Fickell was a defensive lineman at OSU in 1995.

"I've been a part of one that's not been like that and I don't ever want to relive it," Fickell said. "I know as a defense, there's never any more of a sick feeling than to see things like that."

If there is anything that can give the Buckeyes defense confidence heading into Saturday's showdown, it's that while Wisconsin has seemingly always been well known for its rushing attack, Ohio State has had recent success bottling up the Badgers.

Two years ago, it was Montee Ball headlining the Wisconsin run game as an 1,800-yard rusher who would go on to be a second-round pick by the Denver Broncos. While he rushed for 191 yards in the Buckeyes' 21-14 overtime victory, it took him 39 carries to do so and he only managed to find the end zone once.

Last season, Ohio State got its first look at Gordon as a feature back, holding the then-sophomore to 74 yards in a 31-24 Buckeyes' win.

In fact, OSU limited the Badgers to just 104 yards in the last meeting between the two teams—well below Wisconsin's per-game average of 283.8 rushing yards in 2013.

"You look at last year, you look at two years ago, they've had great running backs there," Fickell said of the Badgers. "We've had success against it. It comes down to playing team defense."

But while the Buckeyes have been able to do just that recently against the Badgers, the same can't be said about their last month of the season. Starting with its Nov. 8 statement win over Michigan State, Ohio State has endured a disturbing trend of allowing big games to the Big Ten's stable of talented running backs.

It was on that day that Spartans back Jeremy Langford gashed the Buckeyes for 137 yards and three touchdowns. A week later, Minnesota's David Cobb ran for 145 yards and three scores in OSU's 31-24 win.

Indiana's Tevin Coleman tallied 228 yards and three touchdowns against the Buckeyes, and even Michigan's Drake Johnson ran for 74 yards and two touchdowns before tearing his ACL in the third quarter of last weekend's rivalry game.

Altogether, Ohio State has surrendered an average of 199.5 rushing yards per game in its last four contests.

So how does a struggling rushing defense contain the nation's best running back? Do the Buckeyes even have a chance to do so? Fickell insists they do.

While Gordon has rushed for 100-plus yards in all but one of the Badgers' games this season, the Ohio State co-coordinator has seen teams limit the 6'1", 207-pounder's big-play ability. Fickell knows that he'll need to get a similar effort from the Buckeyes this Saturday in order to keep Ohio State in the conversation for a spot in the College Football Playoff.

"The teams that have done as good of a job as they can—even last week [Minnesota] didn't let him out," Fickell said. "If you can force him to stay inside, you know he's going to get some yards, but you've got 11 guys that have to help get his ass down."

Buckeyes cornerback Doran Grant stated OSU's game plan is even simpler than that.

"Pursue him and get him on the ground," the defensive back answered when asked how the Buckeyes can stop Gordon.

Isn't that easier said than done?

"That's what we have to do," he replied.

 

Ben Axelrod is Bleacher Report's Ohio State lead writer. You can follow him on Twitter @BenAxelrod. Unless noted otherwise, all quotes obtained firsthand. All statistics courtesy of cfbstats.com and recruiting information courtesy of 247Sports.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Pages