NCAA Football News

USC Football: The Biggest Offseason Storylines for the Trojans

In 2014, the primary plot points for USC football centered around the Trojans' adjustments in the first year under a new coaching staff.

Heading into the 2015 offseason, the storylines emanating from Heritage Hall are focused on building on those first-year adjustments in pursuit of the program's first conference championship since 2008.

The Trojans won nine games and finished in the final College Football Playoff rankings. They'll also be ranked in the last Associated Press Top 25 poll of head coach Steve Sarkisian's first season.

But Sarkisian said that USC just laid a foundation this year.

"Was there more out there for us this year? Maybe. [Losing is] part of the process," he said following USC's 45-42 Holiday Bowl win over Nebraska on Dec. 27. "That's part of laying the foundation of getting better as a program."

The build for his second year at the helm begins right away, first on the recruiting trail and in a few months with spring practices.

As the offseason progresses, the storylines for 2015 will begin to take shape.

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Starting the 2015 Hype Train for Tennessee Football

Tennessee, meet the hype train. Hype train, meet the Tennessee football program.

You two get comfortable with each other, because for the next nine months, you're going to be locked arm-in-arm.

Tennessee capped off its first winning season since 2009 with en emphatic 45-28 win in the TaxSlayer Bowl on Friday in a game that wasn't nearly as close as the score indicated. The Vols jumped out a 42-7 lead heading into the fourth quarter before Iowa made it look respectable with a few garbage touchdowns in the game's final frame.

"We wanted to start fast," head coach Butch Jones said in quotes released by Tennessee. "We thought that was critical in this game. We did start fast. I believe we only had three third downs in the entire first half. When we're moving on offense, we're generating first downs on first and second down."

It capped off a 7-6 season for a young Vols team in which 38 of the 79 players to play in the regular season made their first appearances in orange and white, according to the final game notes of the season.

Hype machine, you can commence spinning. 

Others are more wary of the Vols and what the bowl performance will do to voters, who undoubtedly were impressed with the way they capped off 2014.

If, by "drastically," you're picking Tennessee to earn a College Football Playoff berth, then yes, you need to pump the brakes. But the SEC East? That's much more attainable for the 2015 Vols.

The hype is warranted, but only a small piece of it has to do with the actual bowl game itself. Here's why:

 

The Progression of Joshua Dobbs

For the first time in Joshua Dobbs' career as Tennessee's starting quarterback, he got first-team snaps in a camp-like setting leading up to the trip to Jacksonville. 

It showed.

Dobbs completed 16 of 21 passes for 129 yards, one touchdown and one pick, and he rushed 13 times for 76 yards and two scores in the rout of Iowa. A true dual-threat, Dobbs also showed the consistency in performance and the maturity to lead an offense that thrives with a quarterback who's efficient.

"Sometimes Josh has options on plays, not just pass plays but run plays, where he can hand the ball off or run the play," Jones said according to the postgame quotes. "I thought Josh did a great job of really managing the offense all game long. Some of those sweeps were him reading it, and others were pre-called."

Dobbs took over for an injured Justin Worley in the middle of the season, and he showed flashes of brilliance as a runner and a passer in an offense that had nagging injuries to a number of its wide receivers, including Josh Smith, Von Pearson, Marquez North and Jason Croom. 

Now Dobbs gets a full offseason as the unquestioned starter with a wide receiving corps that was forced to establish depth in 2014 due to injuries. On top of that, it's not like Dobbs has to throw for 400 yards every game. He's a slippery runner who's deceptively fast and adds a dimension to the the Vols offense that wasn't present under Worley.

 

Dangerous Front Seven

Texas A&M freshman defensive end Myles Garrett stole most of the freshman defensive headlines this season for breaking Jadeveon Clowney's SEC freshman sack record (eight) with 11.5 on the season, but it was Tennessee freshman defensive end Derek Barnett who had a bigger impact in the backfield.

Barnett's 10 sacks also topped Clowney's record, and he finished his inaugural campaign in the SEC with the second-most tackles for loss in the conference (20.5)—two shy of Missouri's Shane Ray.

In the TaxSlayer Bowl against Iowa, Barnett squared off with star tackle Brandon Scherff. While he didn't record a sack, Jones was pleased with Barnett's performance against a player who's slated to go 17th overall in B/R NFL draft lead writer Matt Miller's latest first-round projections.

"He's a great, great player," Jones said of Scherff. "I know Derek accepted the challenge. He's one of those individuals on New Year's Eve, we did the bed check, couldn't find him. But he was sound asleep at 10:00 at night."

Toss in hybrid veteran Curt Maggitt and leading tackler Jalen Reeves-Maybin at linebacker and a front seven that included one senior on the entire two-deep depth chart at the end of the season, and the Vols are loaded.

What's more, the Vols have monster 5-star defensive tackle Khalil McKenzie, 4-star defensive tackle Shy Tuttle and 4-star defensive end Kyle Phillips, Andrew Butcher and Darrell Taylor committed in the class of 2015. 

The foundation for defensive success is already on Rocky Top. After all, they didn't finish second in the SEC in opponent's third-down conversion percentage (34.21 percent) by accident. Now that experience has been gained from the youngsters.

 

Thunder and Lightning

It's clear that the Vols have the potential to be ridiculously good up front. What's the common theme in football even in an age of exotic offenses? You have to run the ball and stop the run.

The Vols will be able to run it very well. 

In addition to Dobbs' emergence as a true dual-threat weapon at quarterback, Jalen Hurd emerged during his freshman year as a player who can be counted on to be an every-down back in the SEC. Hurd rushed for 899 yards and five touchdowns in 2014, and he capped it off with a 122-yard, two-touchdown performance against the Hawkeyes.

Hurd also realizes how important this offseason is for his progression.

"I walked in the locker room a couple weeks ago, they already have a chart," Jones said in the postgame quotes. "There's a contest between [tight end] Ethan Wolf and Jalen Hurd, a number of guys about their offseason lifting totals, what they're going to do."

Another full offseason for Hurd—who enrolled early last January—will do wonders for his progression.

He's going to have company in the backfield, too.

Jones inked junior college transfer Alvin Kamara—a 5'10", 210-pounder from Hutchinson (Kansas) Community College in December. The former Alabama running back rushed for 1,253 yards and 18 touchdowns in junior college and is the second-best junior college running back in the country.

Hurd and Kamara are both true all-purpose backs who excel in different areas, which opens the playbook for Jones and offensive coordinator Mike Bajakian.

It's not crazy to think that Tennessee is going to take a massive step forward in 2015. The Vols have the foundation for success, are accumulating more talent and play in a down division.

The hype train should be gaining steam this offseason. As long as it's headed on a track that has the Vols contending for the SEC East, that's appropriate.

Anything more would be a stretch—but that might not last much longer.

 

Barrett Sallee is the lead SEC college football writer and video analyst for Bleacher Report, as well as a co-host of the CFB Hangover on Bleacher Report Radio (Sundays, 9-11 a.m. ET) on Sirius 93, XM 208.

Quotes were obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted. All stats are courtesy of cfbstats.com, and all recruiting information is courtesy of 247Sports. Follow Barrett on Twitter @BarrettSallee.

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Who Is the No. 1 Recruit in the 2015 Class?

The 2015 recruiting class is full of top-notch talent, from quarterbacks to defensive ends, all ready to contribute to their respective programs. But who is the No. 1 recruit in all of the land?

Bleacher Report College Football Analysts Michael Felder, Adam Kramer and Barrett Sallee dish out who they believe is the best recruit in the country.

Who is the No. 1 recruit in the country? Check out the video and let us know!    

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Notre Dame Football: The Biggest Offseason Storylines for the Irish

Notre Dame’s last-second 31-28 win over No. 23 LSU in the Music City Bowl helped change the vibe surrounding the program. Now the Irish enter an offseason filled with optimism and questions.

The acidic taste of a four-game losing streak to end the regular season isn’t completely washed away, but the outlook is certainly sweeter after senior kicker Kyle Brindza buried a 32-yard field goal as time expired to topple one of the SEC’s elite. And while there are positive takeaways from the performance in Nashville, Tennessee, there are questions too.

So what are the biggest offseason storylines for Notre Dame?

 

What Happens at Quarterback?

Bet you saw this one coming.

It’s the clear-cut biggest offseason storyline for the Irish. There are multiple layers, and the potential consequences go without saying.

Redshirt freshman quarterback Malik Zaire made his first career start against the Tigers and impressed, completing 12 of 15 passes for 96 yards and a touchdown. Zaire, a natural runner, shined on the ground, directing a nifty read-option to the tune of 96 yards and a touchdown on 22 attempts.

Everett Golson, who went from Heisman candidate to punching bag while starting all 12 regular-season games, didn’t draw the same headlines that Zaire did against LSU, but Golson was needed, too.

He connected on six of 11 passes for 90 yards and thrived on Notre Dame’s game-winning drive. Golson pulled the Irish out of 2nd-and-long with a 14-yard completion to Will Fuller before finding Ben Koyack and Tarean Folston on consecutive plays for first downs. Golson’s final pass—an eight-yard toss to Chris Brown—moved the Irish within Brindza’s range.

So what happens next?

Does Irish head coach Brian Kelly truly commit to utilizing both quarterbacks moving forward? Can a platoon actually work?

If Zaire is named the singular starter, what becomes of Golson?

Meanwhile, if the Irish do turn to Zaire—either in a platoon situation or in a full-fledged starting role—is Kelly committed to deploying a run-based offense?

We’ll see.

There’s still a lot to be decided through winter workouts and spring practice, for starters.

 

Who Returns?

Even early in the season, when the Irish rolled to a 6-0 start, many Notre Dame followers realized the arrow was really pointing toward 2015, when a heaping crop of underclassmen would return with added experience.

The future is still undoubtedly bright in that regard.

Now, though, we wait and see who returns.

Redshirt sophomore left tackle Ronnie Stanley was one of four Irish players who submitted the paperwork for an evaluation from the NFL Draft Advisory Board, per B/R's Keith Arnold.

If Stanley returns, he'll immediately stabilize an offensive line that played physically against LSU and will only lose Christian Lombard.

Junior defensive end Sheldon Day also hasn’t officially announced his intention one way or another.

The decisions by arguably Notre Dame’s best offensive and defensive lineman, respectively, are critical, but so too are other potential returns.

If cornerback KeiVarae Russell and defensive end Ishaq Williams do indeed return after missing the entire 2014 season, there will be two more starting-quality players on the defense. Russell, in particular, would team with breakout cornerback Cole Luke and offer one of the strongest cornerback tandems in the country.

There’s less clarity with wide receiver DaVaris Daniels. In late November, Kelly said Notre Dame was at the point of “determining eligibility as it relates to academics” with the athletic wideout.

And we can’t forget about all the injuries, either.

The health of middle linebacker Joe Schmidt (ankle) and defensive tackle Jarron Jones (foot), as well how quickly they can round back into form, will be pivotal for the center of the Notre Dame front seven, which was decimated by injuries and accordingly shredded by offenses down the stretch.

 

Defensive Growth

Notre Dame’s defense mashed expectations early in the season. The young group didn’t allow more than 17 points in each of the first five games, and the Irish even shut out Michigan. The final seven games of the regular season were a different story before—but especially after—the injuries mounted.

The injuries make it difficult to truly assess the defense. Were the struggles in the second half of the season closer to the norm than the stifling defense at the outset? And how much can be pinned on health?

After all, Notre Dame was healthy against North Carolina, yet the Tar Heels tallied 43 points in South Bend. And then-No. 2 Florida State notched 21 points in the second half of the showdown in Tallahassee.

The injuries started cropping up against Navy, but the Midshipmen ran the option for 39 points.

With a healthy group, defensive coordinator Brian VanGorder will have a chance to re-evaluate and reload.

 

All quotes obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted.

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

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Notre Dame Football: O-Line Needs to Build on Music City Bowl Dominance

Where was that offensive line all season? 

In the wake of Notre Dame's stunning 31-28 victory over LSU in the Music City Bowl, you're not alone if you're wondering what got into Harry Hiestand's offensive line. After struggling with consistency all season, the front five put together its best performance of the season against the SEC's top-rated defense. 

With a game plan that demanded the Irish control the football—and therefore the line of scrimmage—Brian Kelly went all-in on his O-line. And the group delivered, powering an Irish ground game that went for 263 yards and a passing attack that didn't allow a sack. 

Now comes the important part.

After finally finding its identity in the season finale, the offensive line needs to build on its dominant performance against LSU and become the driving force of the 2015 offensive attack. 

First, the Irish need to get a little bit lucky. After a strong finish to his season, left tackle Ronnie Stanley looks like a potentially high draft choice. B/R's own Matt Miller has Stanley going No. 11 to the Minnesota Vikings in his most recent mock draft. But Stanley didn't receive a first-round grade from the NFL's advisory board and has yet to decide on what he'll do. 

Bringing Stanley back would be undoubtedly huge. But if he decides to head to the NFL, it appears his heir apparent is freshman Alex Bars. A highly touted recruit who is redshirting this season, Kelly raved about Bars during bowl practice, calling him among the best offensive line prospects he's seen in his 25 years of coaching. 

At right tackle, Mike McGlinchey impressed during his first start of the season. At nearly 6'8", McGlinchey has the size and athleticism coaches covet and will bring an impressive blend of power and length to the line with Christian Lombard having graduated. 

From there, figuring out the interior of the offensive line is crucial.

An early-season shuffle swapped Nick Martin from center to guard, with Matt Hegarty taking over snapping duties. They're both slated to return for their fifth years. Meanwhile, sophomore Steve Elmer began 2014 at right tackle but shifted inside, with Lombard moving outside. These three will likely start in 2015, but center might still be up for grabs. 

After a slow start to the season, Elmer found his comfort zone at guard, using his impressive size and strength to his advantage without having to worry about playing in space at tackle. Keeping Elmer in one position all season should put the 6'5.5", 315-pounder back on the trajectory that had Kelly and Hiestand so excited after his freshman season. 

Depth behind the starting five shouldn't be a problem. Freshman Quenton Nelson looks ready to make a move, with the coaching staff working him inside at guard. While Hunter Bivin wasn't dressed for the LSU game because of an undisclosed injury, he'll battle this spring to be in the two-deep at tackle. Talented young players John Montelus and Colin McGovern also will get extended looks. 

Perhaps the best part of the offensive line's impressive performance against LSU is the potential to establish an offensive identity. With both Malik Zaire and Tarean Folston getting more than 20 carries, the Irish went out and won a football game relying on the power game. That's music to the ears of an offensive line that doesn't need to identify blitzers coming from everywhere on the pass rush; it can simply dictate terms with its size and strength advantage. 

That happened against Florida State, when Kelly leaned on the ground game to keep the ball away from Jameis Winston. And after seeing a two-quarterback platoon work effectively against the Tigers, it's a formula that Kelly needs to consider moving forward, eliminating the razor-thin margin for error that a pass-heavy game plan puts on his quarterbacks. 

After proving it could serve as the engine that moves the offense against LSU, the offensive line will be the key to 2015. With sky-high expectations and more skill talent than we've seen in South Bend in decades, it'll be on the guys up front to deliver.

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Ohio State Football: Could Dontre Wilson Be Difference-Maker Against Oregon?

At this time two years ago, Dontre Wilson was a 4-star recruit who was verbally committed to play his college football at Oregon.

Fast forward to current day, though, and Wilson is set to line up with Ohio State in a highly anticipated showdown against the Ducks in the national championship.

The dangerous all-purpose back out of DeSoto, Texas, flipped his commitment to the Buckeyes when Chip Kelly left Oregon for the Philadelphia Eagles in January 2013. Wilson instantly became a contributor in Columbus, registering 460 total yards and three touchdowns during his freshman season.

But with Braxton Miller and Carlos Hyde forming one of college football's most dangerous backfields, Wilson's primary role was to serve as a decoy last year. This season, with Hyde gone and four new offensive linemen up front, the Buckeyes wanted to feature their bevy of playmakers on the perimeter—led by Wilson.

Ohio State certainly went to the air more frequently, but Wilson didn't have the breakout season many expected. The sophomore blazer accounted for 400 total yards (300 receiving, 100 rushing) and three touchdowns before breaking his foot against Michigan State—an injury that sidelined him for Ohio State's next five games.

According to Ari Wasserman of The Plain Dealer, Wilson was a game-time decision against Alabama—he was hoping to see the field as a returner at the very least—but the coaching staff decided to give him some additional time to heal.

With 11 more days to recover, Wilson is certain he'll be back in the fold when the Buckeyes travel to his home state to play the team he was formally committed to for a national title.

When asked about his chances of playing against Oregon, Wilson said, via Wasserman, "100 out of 100. I'm back. I'm back." 

Will Wilson be healthy enough to make an impact against the Ducks?

The week-and-a-half he has to prepare will be pivotal. He'll need to learn the new plays and formations Ohio State has installed for Cardale Jones, and he'll need to get back into game shape after missing eight weeks of practice reps.

"It's going to give me a lot of time to get back in shape and learn the new plays we put in and come out in Jerry's World and go as hard as I can," Wilson said of the time leading up to the title game, via Wasserman.

If he's able to do that, Wilson will be one more weapon Ohio State can add to its already explosive offense. And to his credit, he's chomping at the bit to get a shot at the team he almost joined back in 2013.

"It seems like a dream, it's like a story," Wilson said, per Wasserman. "I could [write a] book if we go to Dallas and handle our business."

 

All recruiting information via 247Sports. All stats via NCAA.com and B/R research.

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

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The Best Backfield in College Football

Let's start with a game of "Guess That Football Team." 

This team's first four scores in one semifinal game came on a field goal and three rushing touchdowns totaling five yards. The drives that ended in those scores went an average of 11 plays for 76 yards. The pair of running backs scoring those three touchdowns averaged 222 pounds. 

That had to be Alabama, right? Florida State? Ohio State? Anyone? Bueller? It was Oregon—none of the above—and the Ducks impressively outmuscled Florida State in a 59-20 rout to send themselves to the College Football Playoff National Championship. 

As B/R's Adam Kramer noted, this was not your traditional big-play, finesse Oregon offense. Sure, the Ducks run their version of the spread. Yes, they used tempo against Florida State; no scoring drive lasted longer than five minutes. However, this was a team that earned every yard it gained—301 on the ground, tying a season high—and beat the Seminoles at the point of attack. 

Only when Florida State began turning the ball over in the second half did Oregon's offense strike more quickly.

The reality is Oregon hasn't been that team with the fancy uniforms and gimmicky offense for some time. The Ducks have added muscle over the past few years in recruiting. But sometimes, it takes a big spotlight to shine a light on those efforts. 

"Everyone talks about their shovel passes, or whatever," Ohio State coach Urban Meyer told George Schroeder of USA Today"It's not that. There's a culture out there that has been started."

Because of those efforts, Oregon can claim the best backfield in college football. By the time the game was nearing its end, the Ducks were beating down Florida State with reserves. 

There's a three-headed monster that fuels this backfield, though. It starts with a freshman, which is appropriate since 2014 has morphed into the year of the freshman running back. Without a doubt, Royce Freeman has been among the most productive true freshman backs from Week 1. Before tallying just 44 yards on 12 carries against Florida State, Freeman had at least 98 yards in each of his previous eight games. Only once in the regular season did Freeman dip below four yards per carry (3.75 vs. Washington State). 

Freeman didn't gain the most yards of any freshman back, and he didn't have the most touchdowns. His impact on Oregon's rushing offense right away cannot be denied, however, as he's accounted for 40 percent of his team's rushing attempts. 

But with Freeman being slowed down against the Seminoles, Thomas Tyner took control without missing a beat. The sophomore had a season-high 124 yards and two touchdowns on just 13 carries. Tyner has served in more of a complementary role in his two seasons in Eugene but was also slowed by a nagging shoulder injury this year. When healthy—or, at least, close to healthy—he provides the speed and power that drives this new-look Oregon offense. 

Then, there's Heisman-winning quarterback Marcus Mariota. The passing stats (4,121 yards, 40 touchdowns and 10.1 yards per attempt) are what earned him college football's most prestigious award. Still, Mariota is second on the team in rushing attempts (125), touchdowns (15) and yards per attempt (5.8) for all rushers with at least 50 carries. 

There are some designed runs for Mariota, but he seems to do the most damage when scrambling for chunk yards. Either way, the Ducks have college football's most outstanding player running and throwing from the backfield. 

With those three players, the design of Oregon's ground attack, where tough, inside running meets speed on the edge, has been an inspiration to others. That includes Ohio State, which will face Oregon next Monday in the national championship. As Schroeder explains: 

Last week all the talk was about whether the Buckeyes were built in the image of an SEC team. In reality, as much as they resemble [Ohio State coach Urban] Meyer's Florida teams — size, speed, and strength, though probably not as much depth yet — they look like nothing so much as Oregon. And it's by design.

Which is why come Jan. 12, when the Ducks and Buckeyes meet in the inaugural College Football Playoff championship game, the similarities could be uncanny. Thursday night, after beating Alabama in the Sugar Bowl, Meyer mused that he would 'probably be able to call Oregon's plays, because we study them and they study us.'

Thus, when those two teams face off in Arlington, don't be surprised to see similar looks in the respective running games. When you're the best, other teams want to model themselves after you. Right now, Oregon has the most complete backfield. It'll be up to Ohio State's rushing defense, along with its outstanding defensive line, to stop it. 

There's no guessing there. 

 

Ben Kercheval is a lead writer for college football. All stats courtesy of cfbstats.com

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Winners and Losers of the 2014-15 College Football Bowl Season

Next bowl season can't come soon enough.

Sunday night's crazy GoDaddy Bowl served as a fitting finale to two weeks of wild and wacky action, during which we saw comebacks galore and enough trick plays to wonder what football was like before teams realized they could throw it twice or put the ball in the hands of large individuals.

Now that the dust has settled and all we have left is next week's championship game between Ohio State and Oregon—which, technically, is not an actual bowl game—it's time to take stock of what we've just witnessed. There was a whole lot of great, as well as a sizable helping of not so good.

Here are the winners and losers from the 2014 college football bowl season. Come along for the ride down (recent) memory lane.

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10 College Football Stars Most Likely to Start in the NFL in 2015

A great deal of 2014 rookies became instant NFL starters, highlighted by the wide receiver class of Sammy Watkins, Odell Beckham Jr., Mike Evans, Kelvin Benjamin, et al. They were joined by polished defensive players such as Khalil Mack and C.J. Mosley, seniors who entered the NFL pro-ready.

But who will follow in their footsteps next season?

To answer that, we looked not for the 10 best overall draft prospects but for the 10 that are the best finished products.

Nebraska defensive end Randy Gregory, for example, has the tools to be a top-five pick—and rightfully so. And there's a chance he turns those tools into a fine rookie season. But there are less-raw players out there with a better chance of starting from Week 1.

Injuries were also taken into account, most notably with regard to Georgia running back Todd Gurley, who would have made this list (with ease) if not for the question of his ACL surgery.

Sound off below and let us know whom else you'd add.

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Nike Unveils Uniforms for Oregon and Ohio State for 2015 Championship Game

The matchup for the inaugural College Football Playoff National Championship was set on New Year's Day, and now Nike has unveiled the uniforms for both Ohio State and Oregon.

Below are the uniforms that the Ducks and the Buckeyes will be wearing during the championship game on Jan. 12.

 

Oregon

ESPN's Darren Rovell noted something interesting about Oregon's uniforms:

 

Ohio State

[Nike]

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Juan Harris Names Top 3: Is Alabama, Oregon or Ohio State Best Fit for 4-Star?

Juan Harris, one of the top underclassman football players in America, cannot sign with a collegiate program for another two years. Still, he's already assembled a list of heavyweight favorites, according to Alex Gleitman of 247Sports (subscription required).

The massive 4-star sophomore defensive tackle identified College Football Playoff competitors Alabama, Ohio State and Oregon as three schools that stand out. Harris, who decommitted from Iowa last week, is considered a top 100 overall prospect in his class and a candidate to collect substantial interest in the coming months.

Rated 10th nationally among defensive tackles in 247Sports' 2017 composite rankings, Harris already holds offers from a collection of FBS squads that includes Wisconsin, Virginia and Tennessee.

However, none of his favorites have extended an offer at this stage. Gleitman notes that Harris "is confident all three could come with scholarships in the near future."

The 6'4", 356-pound prospect plays at North Fayette Valley High School, a 2014 state champion in Iowa. His skills drew strong accolades from head coach Bob Lape.

“He has size, speed, agility and explosiveness, and at that size," Lape told Jeff Johnson of The Gazette. "I’ve never seen anything like it. He’s still got two more years to develop, he’s still baby faced. He’s going to grow to be a man."

Given Harris' size and potential, expect offers to arrive in bunches as college coaching staffs get underway with expansive recruiting film studies from this past season. 

Each of his top three teams obviously carries clout on the national scene. Alabama has won three national titles under head coach Nick Saban and reached the semifinals this January, while Oregon and Ohio State are set to compete in a championship showdown.

The Crimson Tide rarely lack for talent along the defensive front and landed coveted 2015 nose guard Daron Payne this past weekend. The Tide's 2016 class already features 6'7", 315-pound Mississippi tackle Raekwon Davis.

Saban continues to load up on edge-rushers and perimeter ends, but there's always room for big-bodied run-stuffers along the interior. Harris has already convinced one SEC team (Tennessee) he has what it takes to compete in the conference and now is turning his attention to Tuscaloosa.

Oregon is well known for its uptempo offensive attack, but the Ducks are beginning to exhibit more well-rounded roster balance. Improved toughness and talent on defense has the program in position to take home a national title after throttling defending champ Florida State in semifinal action.

The team now aims to procure top-level defensive talent from beyond the West Coast, where Oregon has made its mark in recruiting. A Midwest menace like Harris fits the bill for extending that reach, and he could be counted on to contribute quickly in Eugene.

Ohio State would seem to have an advantage in terms of proximity. Big Ten teams are likely to lead the charge for Harris when all is said and done, especially after his initial commitment to Iowa.

Wisconsin pulled the trigger on an offer, and head coach Urban Meyer could be tempted to follow suit this winter. Ohio State already holds a foundational 2017 commitment from 4-star quarterback Danny Clark and a third national championship for Meyer would further fuel future success on the recruiting trail.

Harris, who visited the Buckeyes in July, could complement an impressive collection of young defensive line talent in Columbus. Jonathan Cooper, one of the country's top 2016 defensive ends, committed to Ohio State in November.

The Buckeyes have whiffed on a few key tackle targets during this recruiting cycle, and it remains to be seen how the team will fare in that department leading up to signing day 2016. At the moment, Ohio State would seem to be the ideal fit for Harris given its location, roster needs and defensive pedigree.

There's a long way to go for the big man in a process that's really just beginning to gain national traction. Expect Harris to play a pivotal role in the 2017 cycle, with multiple powerhouse programs in the mix.

 

Recruit ratings courtesy of 247Sports.

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Biggest X-Factors in 2015 National Championship Game

New Year’s Day was a true football holiday. The College Football Playoff made its long-awaited debut, and it was glorious. First, Oregon ended Florida State’s 29-game win streak in spectacular fashion in the Rose Bowl, laying a 59-20 whipping on the Seminoles.

That was followed by Ohio State’s stunning 42-35 upset of No. 1 Alabama in the Sugar Bowl.

The best part? Those games were only the appetizer for the main course: the College Football Playoff National Championship.

On Jan. 12, Ohio State and Oregon will meet at AT&T Stadium in Dallas to determine the national champion and give college football a fresh title holder. Oregon has never won the national title, while the Buckeyes haven’t won a national crown since 2002’s upset of Miami (Fla.). The matchup of high-powered offenses will be a fascinating evening, with numerous subplots churning, which will determine the champion. As George Schroeder of USA Today says, the offenses are very similar to one another.

Here’s a look at the biggest X-factors that’ll matter for the College Football Playoff National Championship.

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College Football's Most Important Offers of the Week

It's safe to say Oregon will eventually reap the rewards of reaching the national title game for the second time in the last five years.

However, its spoils may come sooner than later.

Hard-hitting 4-star linebacker Christian Folau was set to make his commitment at the Semper Fidelis All-American Game—with Oklahoma State, Oregon State, Utah and Wisconsin among the teams in the running to land him.

Those plans were scrapped when Mark Helfrich and his staff came through with an offer for the 6'1”, 240-pound Utah native.

"Well Oregon offered me recently and that's a school I've always wanted to go to," Folau told Justin Hopkins of Duck Territory (subscription required). "I haven't taken an official visit yet so I need to do that this January. Since I'm not ready there wasn't any reason for me to make a commitment at the Semper Fidelis game. Oregon has always been a dream school of mine so that's a big offer for me."

While he didn't instantly jump on the offer from the Ducks, his excitement upon receiving his offer bodes well for the Ducks.

Given the success Oregon is enjoying on the field, expect the Ducks to carry more weight on the recruiting trail moving forward.

 

Auburn Jumps In for Biggie

Heading down the stretch toward national signing day, few prospects will be more coveted than 5-star corner Iman Marshall.

However, Biggie received a new offer from Auburn shortly after turning in a strong performance at the Under Armour All-America Game:

According to Justin Hokanson of AuburnUndercover, a visit from the nation’s top corner could be in the works.

While it's still a long shot that the Tigers can land Marshall, it's worth making an attempt if a player of his caliber is reciprocating the interest.


LSU offers 2015 CB, Former South Carolina Commit

After decommitting from South Carolina last month, 2015 4-star corner Mark Fields has generated a strong buzz from teams who need help in the secondary.

Last week, LSU pulled the trigger and offered the North Carolina native:

"I was so excited," Fields told Ryan Bartow of 247Sports (subscription required). "LSU is my 'dream school.' I've always wanted to go there since I was a little kid. I grew up watching Patrick Peterson."

The Tigers, who will host Fields on Jan. 16, will battle Clemson and Texas for the right to land one of the nation’s top corners in the 2015 class.

 

2016 DE Nets Pair of Big Offers

2016 3-star Khalid Kareem has collected a bevy of offers over the course of his junior season.

The final days of 2014 saw him add tenders from Oregon and Penn State:

The Ducks and the Nittany Lions join Duke, Miami, Tennessee and Wisconsin, among others, in actively pursuing the Michigan native.

The 6’4” 240-pounder is quickly emerging as one of the top pass-rushing prospects in the 2016 class.

 

Best of the Rest

 

Sanjay Kirpalani is a National Recruiting Analyst for Bleacher Report. Unless otherwise noted, all recruiting information courtesy of 247Sports.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Why Brian Schottenheimer Is Perfect Candidate for Georgia Offensive Coordinator

Former offensive coordinator Mike Bobo was hardly missed as Georgia temporarily elevated tight ends coach John Lilly for the Belk Bowl last week.  But if Lilly's performance in a one-game tryout and his familiarity with the culture in Athens is not enough to secure him the job, Brian Schottenheimer is the perfect candidate to fill the void.

Currently the St. Louis Rams offensive coordinator, Schottenheimer boasts an impressive football pedigree and a coaching resume that could be a real asset in The Classic City. And according to Dean Legge of Scout.com's Dawg Post, he's on the short list of replacements for Bobo.

The son of longtime NFL head coach Marty Schottenheimer and the nephew of weathered NFL assistant Kurt Schottenheimer, Brian Schottenheimer graduated from the University of Florida, where he played under Steve Spurrier and backed up star quarterback Danny Wuerffel for three years.  After a winding—but successful—early career, a move back to the Southeastern Conference could be next for Schottenheimer, who turned 41 in October.

For Georgia, the allure of an NFL name is strong.  While coaching at the collegiate level presents its unique challenges, the recruiting advantage of having a tenured NFL offensive coordinator running a pro-style offense could be decisive.  Schottenheimer has the chops to back up such hypothesizing.  

He developed NFL quarterbacks from 2001-2005 with the Washington Redskins and the San Diego Chargers.  Since that time, he's served as an offensive coordinator with the New York Jets (from 2006-2011) and the Rams (since 2012).  Though his performance at football's highest level is debatable, the fact that he's earned a paycheck as offensive coordinator in the NFL for each of the last nine seasons cannot be ignored.

Very few assistant coaches know the game of football as well as Schottenheimer, and very few assistants could appeal to dream-chasing recruits with more experience.  

Last winter, Tracy Rocker was a terrific addition to Georgia's coaching staff because of his experience coaching defensive line units at the NFL level.  The same would be true to an even greater extent of Schottenheimer.

When Bobo's departure for a head coaching job was announced, many fans immediately feared the potential loss of a commitment from Jacob Eason, the top pro-style quarterback in the 2016 recruiting class, according to 247Sports.  Hiring Schottenheimer would only strengthen Eason's commitment and the interest of stars seeking NFL-like offenses.

And according to his current boss, Rams head coach Jeff Fisher, Schottenheimer appears to have the skills one would hope for in a collegiate offensive coordinator.  According to Jim Thomas of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Fisher praised Schottenheimer last week, saying, "I think Brian is an outstanding play-caller.  Outstanding play-caller.  He's very organized.  He's an excellent teacher."

Talk may be cheap, but those words of endorsement seem to rebuff concerns that may have stemmed from Georgia's last hire of an NFL coordinator, Todd Grantham.  

Grantham's knowledge of defensive schemes was vast.  But his most recurring shortcoming was an inability to teach young players and develop personnel.  Fisher's complimentary assessment of Schottenheimer's ability to educate is encouraging.

Further, Schottenheimer stands out because he's hard to eliminate for obvious reasons.  According to Marc Weiszer of the Athens Banner-Herald, Georgia is also looking at the likes of Mike Bloomgren (Stanford), Kurt Roper (last with Florida, but not retained by new head coach Jim McElwain) and Tyson Helton (Western Kentucky).

Bloomgren is a compelling candidate given the recent success of Stanford football, but he's only been the team's offensive coordinator for two seasons, and over that period the Cardinal have combined to average fewer than 30 points per game.  In five losses this season, Stanford averaged just 13.4 points per contest—and that included 10 points in overtime periods during a 20-17 loss to Utah.  Also of note: Bloomgren worked under Schottenheimer for five seasons with the Jets.

Roper was a trendy name this time last year after helping revitalize Duke football, but is he worthy of such praise after a dismal performance at Florida in 2014?  For the most part, Florida's offense struggled in his lone season at the offensive helm.  Against FBS opposition, Roper's unit averaged just 24.6 points per game, and the lone highlight of the year was a 38-point performance against (ironically) Georgia.

As for Helton, the concern is experience.  Though he's been around the block as a coach, with stops at Hawaii, UAB and Memphis before arriving at Western Kentucky, he's never coached at a Power Five conference program, and he's only been an offensive coordinator for one season.

Schottenheimer brings a lot of everything to the table.  He's a big name that should offer a viable advantage in recruiting.  He's a capable teacher and knowledgeable play-caller, which should make practices productive and game plans effective.  And he's experienced enough to take the role in stride.

 

Unless otherwise noted, all quotes obtained firsthand.

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Oregon vs. Ohio State: Complete Preview for College Football Championship 2015

After a pair of College Football Playoff semifinals that both unfolded unpredictably in their own unique ways, Oregon and Ohio State are gearing up for a battle to decide the national champion.

The Ducks left no doubt about their place as the most dominant force in college football this season, slaying the giant that was Florida State. But instead of a back-and-forth, hard-fought win, Oregon throttled the Seminoles 59-20 in a one-sided Rose Bowl.

The favorites weren't so fortunate in the New Year's Day night cap, as the Buckeyes gave the Alabama Crimson Tide their best shot and wouldn't be denied in a 42-35 win.

Each team comes in with only one loss, and neither squad has seen a defeat since the opening few days of October. With destiny creeping in for two national powerhouses, legacies will be on the line come January 12.

Here's a look at everything you need to know for the national championship.

 

When: Monday, January 12, 2015

Where: AT&T Stadium, Arlington, Texas

Start Time (ET): 8:30 p.m.

TV: ESPN

Live Stream: WatchESPN

Spread (via Odds Shark): Oregon -6.5

 

National Championship Preview

It may not be the matchup we all expected, but there's little to complain about when Oregon and Ohio State are meeting for the national title.

On one side of the matchup, getting here seemed like a mere formality. Ever since a shocking home loss to Arizona, the Ducks have been on fire, earning nine straight wins by double digits (many of which were much more lopsided).

Marcus Mariota's continued dominance is the main ingredient. Despite throwing an uncharacteristic interception in the Rose Bowl, the Heisman Trophy winner dazzled with 338 passing yards and three total touchdowns. 

As ESPN Stats & Info noted, all he has to do is score as many touchdowns as turnovers in the championship and he'll make history:

Keeping up his offensive dominance against an Ohio State defense that conceded 407 total yards to Alabama shouldn't be difficult, but outscoring a Buckeyes offense that hasn't skipped a beat with its third-string quarterback is another story.

Quarterback Cardale Jones proved his game against Wisconsin was no fluke, helping gash the Alabama defense. Ohio State put up 537 total yards in the game, 281 of which came on the ground against a group that had been the nation's top-ranked run defense.

Ohio State couldn't get off to the start it wanted against Alabama, but it didn't much matter when things got clicking. The Buckeyes won't want to do the same against an Oregon team that is used to putting opponents away by the middle of the third quarter.

The Buckeyes' comeback likely would not have been possible without holding Alabama to just one score in each of the final three quarters, which will be easier said than done against Oregon's offense. Then again, the Ducks shouldn't be able to make the Buckeyes one-dimensional like they did the Seminoles.

After Ohio State rolled with some early punches and executed its plan to perfection against the top-ranked Crimson Tide, the Buckeyes won't be short on confidence as they try to do the same against Oregon. With that said, it's going to be a completely different type of challenge.

 

Prediction

Ohio State's offense is for real, and there's no one who should doubt that after what unfolded in the Sugar Bowl. But a great offense can only be topped by an unstoppable offense, which will be the case in this one.

The Buckeyes were on their P's and Q's defensively against Alabama but still conceded 35 points. Mariota and the Oregon offense are simply firing on all cylinders right now, taking advantage of every turnover and moving the ball down the field with ease.

Jones has too much around him on offense to fall apart like Jameis Winston and FSU did against these Ducks. Unlike most of the times Oregon has stepped onto the field this season, it won't come easy—but it will undoubtedly come, and Oregon will hoist its first-ever national title.

Oregon 41, Ohio State 34

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Transfer Is the Best Move for Jeff Driskel and Florida

Florida quarterback Jeff Driskel's legacy wasn't what he expected, but he did go out with a bang.

Playing in place of injured starting quarterback Treon Harris, Driskel entered the Birmingham Bowl and polished off a 28-20 win with an 11-yard run on 3rd-and-4 with 1:11 to play.

It was the final meaningful play of Driskel's career.

New head coach Jim McElwain announced before the game that he has been granted a release to transfer if he wants to.

"We all have choices, and I'm not going to hold him hostage," McElwain told ESPN.com's Greg Ostendorf prior to the Birmingham Bowl.

According to ESPN.com's Brett McMurphy and Joe Schad, Driskel—who as a graduate is eligible immediately—will head to Louisiana Tech.

It's the right move for Driskel and for Florida.

For Driskel, it's a chance for a fresh start. The former top-ranked dual-threat quarterback in the country in the class of 2011 never lived up to the hype, as he threw 11 touchdowns and 13 interceptions over the last two seasons and became the poster child of offensive ineptitude in Gainesville.

Could Driskel have stuck around, played his last year for McElwain and possibly earned his starting job back? He could have tried, but that wasn't going to happen. He also could have joined MLB's Boston Red Sox, who drafted him in the 29th round of the 2013 MLB draft, according to ESPN.com. He hasn't played baseball since high school, and if he's good enough to get drafted, that is a fallback regardless of when his football career ends.

He absolutely should give it another shot, just not at Florida.

Driskel had become branded as one of the major problems in Gainesville, and there's no reason for him to stick around for one more year to try to change his legacy. It's already etched in stone, and the 11-yard scramble to seal the Birmingham Bowl is a nice way to close it out.

Plus, Louisiana Tech is a fantastic place for Driskel to revitalize his career.

Head coach Skip Holtz and offensive coordinator Tony Petersen produced a potent passing offense in 2014 that finished the season averaging 252.2 yards per game through the air. Quarterback Cody Sokol threw for 3,436 yards, 30 touchdowns and 13 picks for the Bulldogs and helped Holtz's crew to a 35-18 win over Illinois in the Zaxby's Heart of Dallas Bowl.

A move to Ruston will give Driskel a fresh start in a potent offense against lesser competition. Is that going to set him up for football at the next level? It's safe to say he's not an NFL draft prospect, but at least he can finish off his career on a high note for a program that is hoping to take the next step.

For Florida, it's the right move as well. 

McElwain has already proven that he's looking for a fresh start in many aspects of the program, as former defensive coordinator D.J. Durkin was replaced by Geoff Collins, and defensive backs coach and star recruiter Travaris Robinson moved on to join Will Muschamp's defensive staff at Auburn.

If McElwain had given Driskel one more chance and the Oviedo, Florida native took advantage, it'd be a sign that the McElwain regime is more of the same. Harris had already taken over the job during the season and will have a full offseason to progress after hitting the ground running during his true freshman season.

Will Grier, a 4-star quarterback in last season's recruiting class who redshirted this season, will also get a look from McElwain and offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier. Grier threw for 14,565 yards, 195 touchdowns and 27 interceptions in three years as a starter at Davidson Day (N.C.) High School, according to MaxPreps.com.

The two quarterbacks have different styles, but youth is the common factor. McElwain is wise to build with youth rather than delaying the development of his younger quarterbacks by giving Driskel another chance.

Florida doesn't have a quarterback committed in the class of 2015 but could hit the free-agent transfer market if options become available. Whether it's a newcomer, Grier or Harris, there's reason for hope in Gainesville due to change. 

That's a step in the right direction.

 

Barrett Sallee is the lead SEC college football writer and video analyst for Bleacher Report, as well as a co-host of the CFB Hangover on Bleacher Report Radio (Sundays, 9-11 a.m. ET) on Sirius 93, XM 208.

Quotes were obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted. All stats are courtesy of cfbstats.com, and all recruiting information is courtesy of 247Sports. Follow Barrett on Twitter @BarrettSallee.

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B/R CFB 250: Top 25 Defensive Ends

Bleacher Report's CFB 250 is an annual ranking of the best players in college football, regardless of NFL potential. Brian Leigh and Kynon Codrington have studied, ranked and graded the top athletes in the country, narrowed that list to 250 and sorted by position. Today, we present the Top 25 Defensive Ends.

Other CFB 250 Positions

Defensive end was the deepest, most talented position in college football during 2014.

Declarative statements such as that are often hyperbolic, but this one is not. It is simply the truth. As many as 14 players could have made a convincing argument to land in the top five. And a healthy chunk of that top 14 has already announced it will return next season.

Part of this depth has to do with the way we defined "defensive end." Certain players who are technically listed as linebackers were included if they played the majority of snaps with their hand down. Even though they are capable of standing up and playing linebacker, it feels more honest to call them 9-technique ends.

Before we start, please note that these players were graded as college linemen, not on how they project as NFL linemen.

Targeted skills such as run defense are important at both levels, but there is a difference between college run defense and professional run defense. If a lineman is strong enough to set the edge in the SEC or the Big 12, it doesn't matter that he can't set the edge against the NFC North. At least not here, it doesn't.

This is all about his college performance.

Note: If two players finished with the same grade, a subjective call was made based on whom we would rather have on our team right now.

Begin Slideshow

Superlatives from Kramer's Korner: Playoff Is a Huge Win, What Took so Long?

In December of 2010, former BCS stage coordinator and current College Football Playoff puppet master, Bill Hancock, wrote a column for USA Today adamantly defending college football’s former playoff-less era. More specifically, Hancock tackled chatter for a playoff head on, explaining in detail why this concept would be a detriment to the sport.

“College football has the best regular season of any sport,” Hancock wrote. “And the lack of a playoff is one big reason why.”

On January 1 2015, the playoff debuted with no one less than Hancock himself, the executive director, overseeing it all. The entire thing—to the surprise of absolutely no one—was an overwhelming success. Feet still haven’t hit the floor. Eyeballs consumed in mass.

The playoff, as it turns out, didn’t have a negative impact on the regular season. In fact, its presence added an element and importance to each and every week, a season-long journey that culminated in a pair of wildly entertaining semifinals on New Year’s Day.

With these two games came two enormous television ratings, numbers that compete individually with national championships from previous seasons.

. @CFBPlayoff Semis: Cable’s Largest Two Audiences in History @rosebowlgame@SugarBowlNola Each Avg More Than 28 Million Viewers

— Keri Potts (@MsPotts_ESPN) January 2, 2015

Nothing blew up. Nothing was lost. The bowl season was still successful and necessary. The regular season wasn’t just kept important; it became even more imperative for more teams and fanbases.

While the debate over deserved playoff participants nullified some of the playoff’s true value—with controversy taking over—this was gladly tossed aside the moment Oregon and Florida State kicked off.

Even with one blowout, you couldn’t turn away. Alabama and Ohio State capped off a spectacular day in spectacular fashion, delivering an unlikely result we’ll be buzzing about for some time regardless of what happens next.

While the playoff may not be perfect—and much of this depends on how you like your football served—the new era has been welcomed with open arms. It was a perfect complement to a brilliant bowl season, not a big, sorry distraction.

Change, of course, is always worrisome. It’s why Hancock—and many others, for that matter—fought to keep the old system intact for as long as he could. He viewed the playoff as a threat before having no choice but to embrace the unknown. In losing this battle, however, the rest of us won.

The only relevant question that can be asked now isn’t regarding the prospects of eventually expanding to eight teams. We’ll get there when we get there. It’s far simpler than that.

Why’d we wait so long? 

With only one game remaining, here are the awards, Vines and important mascot groin kicks from an action-packed bowl season.

 

Offensive Player of the Bowl Season: Nick Chubb, Georgia 

Given some of the box score destruction that took place in obscure bowl locations, you could have gone a handful of directions for this award. But in terms of numbers and overall impact, no one did more for their team this bowl season than Nick Chubb, Georgia’s “backup” running back. (Note: This isn’t very fair.) 

Todd Gurley’s replacement ran for 266 yards and two touchdowns on 33 carries, obliterating the nation’s No. 11 rush defense. A combination of size and speed, the true freshman capped off a brilliant first year in style, falling only 16 yards short of Herschel Walker’s single-game mark. 

He will now spend the next eight months getting bigger and faster, which is also unfair.

 

Dominant Defender: Arkansas, The Entire Defense (Again) 

Only once this season did we honor an entire defense rather than an individual in this category. That team was Arkansas following its 30-0 victory over Ole Miss in late November, its second consecutive SEC shutout.

As dominant as the defense was in back-to-back weeks, it was even better against Texas in the Texas Bowl. The Longhorns weren’t just defensively challenged; they were running head first into a brick wall for 60 minutes. 

Texas: 59 yards on 43 offensive plays; fewest yards by any FBS team in a game this season

— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) December 30, 2014

As statistically incredible as that might seem, it should be noted that Texas had less than 30 total yards late in the fourth quarter. The numbers don't do it justice.

And over the last five weeks of the season—going up against four ranked opponents at the time of the game—Bret Bielema’s team allowed 31 combined points. Not bad.

 

Video Game Box Scores 

— In a game that took roughly 19 hours to complete, USC and Nebraska delivered plenty of offense in the Holiday Bowl. These two totaled a combined 1,040 yards, 702 passing yards, 50 first downs and 87 points. Despite the Trojans' best efforts to blow a robust lead, they held on 45-42. 

— Prior to Clemson’s bowl game, quarterback Cole Stoudt had a negative quarterback rating in two of three games, headlined by a -62.6 performance against South Carolina (albeit with only two throws). After struggling mightily all season, however, Stoudt was brilliant in the Russell Athletic Bowl. Behold one of the strangest individual finishes to the season you will ever see.

Cole Stoudt’s quarterback rating over his last four games: From -62.6 to 174.2. pic.twitter.com/Oj3DU243Ni

— Adam Kramer (@KegsnEggs) January 4, 2015

 

Anti-Video Game Box Score

— How do you total 583 yards, score 41 points and still manage to finish with negative rushing yards? If you’ve been seeking out an answer to this riddle, pull up a chair. Baylor’s heartbreaking loss to Michigan State in the Cotton Bowl gave us that answer.

Coming to an anti-video game box score bowl recap near you: pic.twitter.com/p3P6QvpzDA

— Adam Kramer (@KegsnEggs) January 3, 2015 

— Oh, Ole Miss. After a brilliant season, the Rebels ended with an emphatic thud against TCU in the Peach Bowl. The Rebels totaled just 129 yards in their 42-3 loss, running for just nine yards on 37 carries. This game also featured eight turnovers—four on each side—although Bo Wallace’s early interceptions did not help matters. In fairness to Ole Miss, TCU is a mighty fine team.

 

Best Moment

It was a rare break in his programming, a sign of actual raw human emotion from an individual who rarely allows us access. Although Ohio State head coach Urban Meyer is typically robotic in his media encounters, this was not the case following his team’s Sugar Bowl victory over Alabama.

As Meyer met with the media following his team’s 42-35 win, he was alerted of Oregon’s blowout victory over Florida State and—more relevant to his interests—his opponent for the national championship.

His reaction was authentic and perfect. It was subtle and, yet, it was a welcomed change of pace from a coach that doesn’t stray from the script often. 

 

For the Highlight Reel 

It was Christmas Eve, and I was wrapping presents with the helping hand of a large glass of Baileys. With the Bahamas Bowl on as backdrop, I watched Western Kentucky blow out Central Michigan for three quarters. And then, with the score 49-14 entering the fourth quarter, the Chippewas responded. Oh, did they respond. 

After scoring 28 consecutive points, Central Michigan was down to its final play in regulation with just a few seconds remaining. In need of a miracle at the wrong 25-yard line—the side you don’t want to be on when you need a miracle—the unthinkable happened.

I have watched this video roughly 40 times, and it still doesn’t make sense. It still doesn't look real.

Although the two-point conversion to win the game failed on a poorly executed fade—please ban this play from your playbook—you may never see anything like this in your football life. Treasure it.

 

For the Highlight Reel: Part Two

World, Maxx Williams. Maxx Williams, world. 

If you live within Big Ten walls, this is a name you know quite well. If this is your introduction to Maxx Williams—the nation’s best tight end and perhaps a future first-round draft pick—you’re in for a treat.

Against Missouri in the Citrus Bowl, Williams pulled the rare double-hurdle on a 54-yard touchdown reception. Because one just wasn't enough.

Although “anonymous draft scouts” will soon be dissecting our favorite players, they will not be able to knock his ability to hurdle mortals with relative ease.

 

Best Quote

Gary Patterson didn’t say much at all. And yet, no one said more.

When your team is left out of the College Football Playoff by the slimmest of margins and your response is a 42-3 clobbering over the nation’s No. 9 team, not saying much at all is almost more powerful. The resume says plenty.

Gary Patterson on if this was statement to @CFBPlayoff: "I don’t think I have to say anything"

— Brett McMurphy (@McMurphyESPN) December 31, 2014

 

Large-Man Play of the Bowl Season

If you share the same passion for large-man feats as I do, you’re going to want to sit down, or at least move far away from all glass tables and other breakables. After all, it’s not every day that a 390-pound human runs freely in the open field with a football in his hand. 

That’s precisely what happened with Baylor’s Laquan McGowan. The 6’7” guard heard his number called against Michigan State on an 18-yard touchdown reception in a play call that I would like to hug.

It was unexpected. It was brilliant. And it was beautiful.

The best part of this moment—outside of everything, of course—has to be the awkward booth silence following the score as ESPN searched for the name of the unexpected giant.

No, wait. The best part is how McGowan’s jersey only covers about half of his upper body and looks more like a bib.

Scratch that. The best part is all of it. Yep, let’s go with that.

 

Biggest Hit

We stay in the Cotton Bowl for a while longer, although all kickers—both past and current—are encouraged to skip to the next section.

Following a blocked field goal late in the game, Baylor kicker Chris Callahan tried to track down the ball that was moving in the other direction. That’s when Michigan State wideout/cornerback/special teams missile Tony Lippett appeared out of nowhere.

Please put on your hard hat before viewing.

It should be noted that Callahan was fine despite what the video told us. In fact, following the game, he and Lippett had a nice exchange on Twitter.

@chrispcallahan2 man that play happened so fast man... Hope u alright though man

— Ralph LaurenLIP (@Tony_Lippett14) January 2, 2015

They may not be best friends after all this, but that's nicely done by both.

 

Biggest Hit (Runner-Up)

It was a difficult bowl season for kickers. On top of the occasional missed field goals and game-losing botched extra points—sorry, Boston College—the position was hit hard.

Although West Virginia kicker Josh Lambert wasn’t hit nearly as hard as Chris Callahan above, he was hit somewhere no kicker wants to be hit in the Liberty Bowl.

Kickin’ ain’t easy, folks. Remember that as you watch a Texas A&M player fly into the screen and make "contact" with Lambert's "belt area."

It should be pointed out that after a flag was thrown, Lambert came back later on in the drive and made a field goal. That is award-worthy.

 

Biggest Hit (Mascot Edition) 

There must be history here. How else can you explain why the Cincinnati Bearcat did a flying kick into Thomas Jefferson's belt area? I never expected to type that sentence, but I’m sure glad I did.

The matchup between Virginia Tech and Cincinnati was certifiably “meh.” But when a mascot disrupts a race featuring former presidents with a move from Mortal Kombat, your utmost attention is required.

I haven’t stopped laughing at this. I don’t plan to anytime soon.

 

Most Embarrassing Bowl Season Job 

Let’s stay in the mascot genre a while longer and celebrate what has to be a low point for some young man’s professional career.

I’m sure there are worse things to do than hold an umbrella for a giant potato mascot—more specifically, the terrifying mascot for the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl—although none come to mind. This has to be a personal low.

I’m sure it will read much better on a resume than it appeared on television.

Also, again, why is that thing wearing gloves?

 

Most Terrifying New Bowl Mascot(s) 

Congratulations, mutant potato. You are no longer the most terrifying mascot of the bowl season. You have been overtaken by not one, but two food-related items that appeared in the Outback Bowl.

Here we have a mutant shrimp, I think.

So that's a fried shrimp. pic.twitter.com/MN2Fy8iZbd

— SB Nation GIF (@SBNationGIF) January 1, 2015

And a human-sized Bloomin’ Onion. Children reading this for whatever reason, I’m so sorry. They'll see you in your Outback nightmares.

So...who do you have winning the #OutbackBowl? Coconut Shrimp or Bloomin' Onion? pic.twitter.com/mmirFmMc0t

— Kimmie (@kimmiexj) January 1, 2015

  

Toughest Coach of the Bowl Season 

Although there were better overall coaching jobs this bowl season (see: Urban Meyer), no coach took a kick to the face—yes, an actual kick to the face—better than South Alabama’s Joey Jones.

That’s not an exaggeration. In fact, this moment wasn’t for the faint of heart. Playing Bowling Green in the first-ever Camellia Bowl, Jones was simply trying to help one of his players as he was pushed out of bounds and took a cleat to the face in the process.

Again, you've been warned.

The result was not pretty, although Jones didn’t budge from the sideline. South Alabama fell short in its comeback efforts, but kudos to the head coach for hanging in there with a broken nose.

1st Camellia Bowl has a little bit of everything, including bloody nose for coach Joey Jones. pic.twitter.com/kYCI2uR3Qi

— Jon Solomon (@JonSolomonCBS) December 21, 2014

 

Best Illegal Forward Pass of the Bowl Season 

It ended up not being a fumble; let’s start with the positives. With that out of the way, Iowa’s Jonathan Parker provided one of the strangest kick returns you will ever see against Tennessee in the Taxslayer Bowl. 

You’ve been there before. Perhaps your, “Oh [expletive removed by copy editors]!” moment didn’t come on a kick return with your team down roughly 987 points. But sometimes instincts kick in, and sometimes these instincts are wrong. 

Chin up, kid. At least it was ruled an illegal forward pass and not a fumble. Plus, this wasn’t the play that cost Iowa the game. No, there were plenty more of those.

 

Best Unexpected Coaching Tantrum 

With things starting to turn in the Pinstripe Bowl, Boston College head coach Steve Addazio had seen enough. When one of the members of the chain gang got in his way, almost causing him to fall, Addazio let the man hear it as he picked himself up.

It wasn't this gentleman's fault that things went bad against Penn State; although I'm sure it felt like it at the time.

 

Best Headset Toss 

This one is easy. There is no contest. If this whole coaching thing doesn’t pan out, Urban Meyer might have a future in shot-putting.

 

There is one more game to go. Enjoy every last minute of it. I have zero doubts that you will.

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Tennessee Football: The Biggest Offseason Storylines for the Volunteers

Now that Tennessee's resurrection season is complete following a 45-28 win over Iowa that gave the Volunteers their first winning record since 2009, it's time to turn the attention toward the offseason.

It's going to be an exciting one in Knoxville.

Head coach Butch Jones is locked into a long-term contract, he's recruiting at the highest level in the country and the team has several centerpieces around which to build.

The decisive victory over the Hawkeyes was what everybody on Rocky Top needed as a catalyst. An offense that had struggled at times this year found a few reliable playmakers, and the defense continued to make huge strides under coordinator John Jancek.

The Vols now have to focus on parlaying the successful finish into bigger and better things.

With a more manageable schedule and a more seasoned team, UT is expected to be one of the hottest teams entering the national picture next season. It's possible the Vols even start the season ranked.

But there's a long way to go between now and the start of next season. Here are some things that need to happen in the interim to keep the Vols heading in the right direction.

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College Football Championship 2015: Most Critical Matchups in Oregon vs Ohio St.

If football is a game of matchups, then Oregon and Ohio State will present a feast of strength-on-strength battles in the national championship game.  The Ducks and the Buckeyes are two of the most well-rounded teams in the nation, and with so much premier talent even among the third-stringers, neither side has much of a weakness for the other to exploit.

However, the stylistic contrast should be fascinating.  For instance, while both teams boasted top-five scoring offenses this season, the up-tempo, spread-oriented Ducks make for a significant contrast with Ohio State's pro-style power-running game and emphasis on the deep ball.  Talent typically wins out, but in this instance, scheme will play just as significant a role.

Therefore, when thinking about these matchups, it's important to consider not just talent but also how each team utilizes each player.  With that in mind, here are the likely player matchups that will have the greatest impact on this game's outcome.

 

Joey Bosa (DE, Ohio St.) vs. Jake Fisher (LT, Oregon)

Few defensive players in the nation possess the power-speed combination necessary to corral Marcus Mariota, but the sophomore Bosa is one of them.  Though the unanimous first-team All-American was largely contained against Alabama, even a poor game by his standards resulted in a handful of pass pressures:

On the season, Bosa has compiled 20 tackles for loss, making him a potentially disruptive force against the Ducks rushing attack.  The Big Ten doesn't have many systems similar to the Ducks, but against Indiana's spread rushing-oriented offense on Nov. 22, Bosa's impact was muted by his lofty standards, as he recorded five tackles but no sacks.

Still, he's the toughest test on the Ohio State defense, and the Bosa assignment will largely fall upon Jake Fisher's shoulders.  Oregon's left tackle has been an unsung hero in the Ducks offense, as the offensive line conceded 10 sacks in the two games Fisher missed this year.  However, Fisher was excellent in the Rose Bowl, shutting down Florida State's Mario Edwards Jr. as the Ducks held the Seminoles without a sack.

Tempo is Oregon's greatest ally in keeping defenses on their heels, but that alone isn't likely to stop Bosa or Ohio State's talented interior tackle tandem of Michael Bennett and Adolphus Washington.  Thus, Fisher and the rest of the offensive line will need to play their best game of the season to slow down the Buckeyes defensive line, the best unit on the squad.

 

Devin Smith (WR, Ohio St.) vs. Troy Hill (CB, Oregon)

Against Florida State, the senior corner Hill shadowed top receiver Rashad Greene.  The Buckeyes possess a more egalitarian wide receiving corps, so it's unclear if the Ducks will employ that same strategy with their No. 1 cornerback.  Sophomore Michael Thomas leads the Buckeyes with 50 receptions, while freshman running back Jalin Marshall will present headaches for linebackers on passing downs.

However, no player is more dangerous than Smith, whose 12 touchdowns lead the team this season.  Smith's absurd 27.7 yards per catch is the highest mark in the FBS for players with at least 30 catches, per Sports Reference, and no other receiver has scored on a higher frequency of his catches. With a 47-yard touchdown against Alabama, the senior again reminded us that he is one of the nation's best deep threats:

Hill won't be intimidated by the challenge if he does shadow Smith, as he stymied Greene, holding him to just six catches for 59 yards.  While potential first-rounder Ifo Ekpre-Olomu has received much of the hype in the Oregon secondary this season, his absence has fostered an appreciation for Hill's gritty man-to-man coverage skills:

Ohio State is 22-0 when Smith catches a touchdown, so it's clear that this matchup is going to represent one of the game's determining factors.  While the Buckeyes offense won't be toothless if Hill contains Smith, that would go a long way toward reducing Cardale Jones' margin for error.

 

Cardale Jones (QB, Ohio St.) and Ezekiel Elliott (RB, Ohio St.) vs. Oregon Front Seven

Speaking of Jones, the sophomore has fared better than anyone could have hoped for since taking over for an injured J.T. Barrett.  Though Jones threw a pick and took some untimely sacks in the Sugar Bowl, he averaged 6.9 yards per attempt while wearing down the Crimson Tide's front seven with his bruising running style.

The Buckeyes will seek to run the ball first, especially with the 6'0", 225-pound Ezekiel Elliott in the backfield.  Elliott failed to make either All-Big Ten team, because of the conference's enviable backfield depth, but with 1,632 rushing yards, 14 touchdowns on the season and 450 yards on the ground over his past two games, the sophomore is on an absolute tear.  Between Elliott and the 250-pound Jones, few teams can match the muscle in the Buckeyes running game.

That will be a huge test for the Ducks front seven, which often unfairly gets labeled as "finesse" because of the program's general emphasis on speed.  Still, Oregon did have issues with Florida State's running game, as its running backs averaged 6.3 yards per attempt.

In past years, beefy SEC teams such as LSU and Auburn have bullied Oregon's front seven in the trenches.  Now, the Ducks are facing a team that derailed one of those SEC kingpins.  Oregon will be an underdog in this specific matchup, but there's no better way to change the national perception than by containing the Buckeyes running game and forcing the game onto Jones' arm.

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