NCAA Football News

Ranking Every College Football Conference Post-2015-16 Bowl Season

Monday night's epic College Football Playoff National Championship capped a strong postseason for the SEC and a year of shifting power across the top conferences.

With the offseason officially underway, the age-old debate of the pecking order among college football conferences can return to full power. SEC fans will point to the league's return to the national championship, while others will focus on the struggles the conference had during the regular season.

But which league proved the most on the field in 2015? Here are Bleacher Report's latest college football conference rankings.

These rankings are based on the leagues' top-to-bottom strength—the number of ranked teams in B/R's final Top 25 compared to the number of teams that stayed at home this postseason—and how they fared against other top conferences.

Of course, this might not be everyone's method to sorting through the madness that is conference power ranking. Give us your personal rankings in the comments below.

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Cold Hard Fact for Tuesday, January 12, 2016

Fact: Alabama has won 11 national championships in the poll era (since 1936), the most of any team.

Bleacher Report will be bringing sports fans the most interesting and engaging Cold Hard Fact of the day, presented by Coors Light. 

Source: ESPN Stats & Info

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College Football Championship 2016: Top Breakout Stars from Alabama vs. Clemson

There are three aspects to a football game: offense, defense and special teams. For as much attention as the first two receive, it can often be special teams that turns the outcome of a game one way or another.

Despite there being so many superstars and so much talent on the field in Glendale, Arizona, Monday, it was the special teams that made the difference for Alabama, as the Crimson Tide claimed yet another title and extended their dynasty another season.

It wasn’t all about the specialists, though, with the superstars carrying both teams throughout the game and setting up the thrilling finale. Alabama running back Derrick Henry was a beast on the ground throughout, Clemson quarterback Deshaun Watson put on his best Vince Young impression in the first half and even injured Tigers defender Shaq Lawson stepped up in a big way.

But while the headliners will, well, dominate the headlines in the morning, they weren’t the only players who stepped up, with both teams getting performances from a few less heralded players that kept them in the game.

The casual fan likely didn’t know who some of these players were before the game, but afterward, it is hard to ignore the presence of some of the breakout stars from last night's title game.

 

Top Breakout Stars

Clemson WR Hunter Renfrow

For everything Watson did to carry Clemson in the first half when seemingly nothing else was working, he had to have someone to throw the ball to, or else all of his scrambling would have been for naught. That's where Hunter Renfrow comes in.

Heading into the game, Renfrow, a redshirt freshman wide receiver, was fifth on the team in receiving yards and touchdowns, but Monday night fans would have been excused for thinking he was the team’s No. 1 target.

Despite only recording three touchdowns in the first 13 games of the year, Renfrow was on the receiving end of two scores in the opening quarter Monday that saw Clemson take an early lead against Alabama.

Even when Deon Cain returns to the team next season and forces Renfrow back down the depth chart, it is hard to imagine the young receiver disappearing completely. With Charone Peake gone, Renfrow should still have a big role for the Tigers next season even if it is as a second or third receiver.

 

Clemson DE Kevin Dodd

Perhaps it is a little unfair to call Kevin Dodd a breakout star after the regular season he had, but if fans didn’t know who he was before Monday night, they absolutely do now.

Overshadowed throughout his career by the likes of Vic Beasley and Shaq Lawson, Dodd continued to grow until he jumped into the starting lineup this season and established himself as one of the best defensive linemen in the country.

Recording nine sacks this season—good for second-best on the team behind Lawson—Dodd was a force for most of the year, but showed off his abilities to the fullest against Alabama. Finishing the game with three sacks, Dodd outplayed Lawson and was the most dominate defensive player on the field for either team.

If he elects to return for the 2016 season, Dodd will be looked at to continue the legacy of great defensive ends at Clemson after Lawson departs for the NFL.

 

Alabama TE O.J. Howard

Here’s the thing, if you have watched Alabama at any point over the last couple of seasons, you know exactly who O.J. Howard is. Since his freshman year, the tight end has been touted as one of the most talented players in the country at his position, but he has never quite reached that potential—that is until Monday.

As Alabama looked for offensive balance—only offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin knows why you would when Derrick Henry is capable of running the ball 40 times—the typical course of action would be to call on No. 1 wideout Calvin Ridley. But in the title game it was Howard who stepped up, and he did so in a huge way.

Finishing the game with 208 yards and a pair of touchdowns that both gave Alabama the lead, Howard showed why Crimson Tide fans have been so excited for him to break out over the past few seasons.

Whether or not Alabama was the right fit for him to put up big numbers at tight end, Howard has established himself as one of the best in the country and provides an interesting prospect for NFL scouts.

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National Signing Day 2016: Predictions for Top Recruits After CFP Championship

With the close of college football season Monday night, fans will turn their attentions to the Feb. 3 national signing day.

While many top recruits already have at least verbally committed to their schools, 18 of the top-50 247Sports prospects have yet to announce their decisions.

The usual SEC suspects lead the way in the team recruiting rankings—with the LSU Tigers at the top—claiming six of the top-10 spots, but it's the Michigan Wolverines and Ohio State Buckeyes that come in at second and third.

 

Top-Five Remaining Uncommitted Recruits

Rashan Gary, Paramus Catholic (Paramus, NJ), DT

Gary is the No. 1 overall prospect and has not committed, although 247Sports Crystal Ball predicts, with a 64 percent certainty, he lands in Ann Arbor with Jim Harbaugh and Michigan. 

Here are some highlights per Prep1Force.com:

At this point in the game it would be a surprise if Gary, an east-coaster, defied the odds and picked an SEC school, although it's possible. However, with the turnaround Harbaugh performed at Michigan this year—from five wins to 10—expect Gary to prove most experts right.

Prediction: Michigan

 

Derrick Brown, Lanier (Buford, GA), DT

Brown, at 6'4", 317 pounds, is the No. 8 recruit, per 247Sports. He's projected to attend Georgia by every expert with 247Sports, despite narrowing his list to Alabama, Auburn, Georgia, Mississippi State and Tennessee, per USA TODAY.

The Army Bowl shared a picture of the talented lineman who was named the American Family Insurance Defensive Player of the Year:

He's a hometown guy, and even though the Bulldogs fired longtime coach Mark Richt, it doesn't appear to have hindered Brown any with his decision.

Prediction: Georgia

 

Ben Davis, Gordo Sch (Gordo, AL), ILB

The 247 Crystal Ball experts are in agreement here as well, predicting Davis to attend Alabama in the fall. A 6'3", 240-pound linebacker, Davis will announce his decision live on ESPN during national signing day on Feb. 3, per Ben Thomas of AL.com.

Davis' list includes Alabama, Georgia, Auburn, Notre Dame and LSU, "with the Crimson Tide and Bulldogs 'kind of sharing No. 1 at the moment.'"

After a 100-tackle senior season playing deep in the heart of SEC country, Davis is highly sought-after. While top recruits certainly leave their home state for other schools, it would seem Alabama have the advantage after winning its fourth national title in seven years Monday night.

Prediction: Alabama

 

Lyndell Wilson, Carver (Montgomery, AL), OLB

Wilson, a talented linebacker with a rare combination of size and speed shown in this video from MaxPreps.com, is ranked No. 13 overall by 247Sports, with a 71 percent chance of landing at Alabama.

He has narrowed his selection down to three SEC schools, per Amos Morale III of NOLA.com—Alabama, Florida and Georgia. Morale said Wilson has listed Florida as his top choice multiple times, but the Crimson Tide have been recruiting him since his freshman season, and their dynasty looms large, especially for an in-state player.

Georgia seems to be third on the list considering Wilson said he didn't know much about new head coach Kirby Smart, but he also said he has talked with Davis, his Under Armour game roommate, about playing together, per Morale.

It would be interesting to see an Alabama kid choose Florida during a time where it seems no one can beat Alabama, but it's hard to believe head coach Nick Saban would let him get away considering the Crimson Tide proved they are on another level compared to the Gators with an old-fashioned SEC Championship beatdown this year.

Prediction: Alabama

 

Brandon Jones, Nacogdoches (Nacogdoches, TX), S

Jones, the fifth defensive player in the top five, but the only defensive back, has narrowed his choices down to four schools, per Gerry Hamilton of ESPN:

The 247Sports Crystal Ball predicts a 71 percent chance for Texas A&M, compared to 24 for Texas. Per Wescott Eberts of Burnt Orange Nation, Jones remains a top target for the Longhorns:

The most important safety target left on the board for the Longhorns is Nacogdoches star Brandon Jones, who is getting a full-court press from emerging ace recruiter Jeff Traylor, the Texas tight ends coach who recently elected to remain in Austin for at least one more year.

In the past month Texas A&M has lost its offensive coordinator (although it just hired Noel Mazzone from UCLA), athletic director and two, former 5-star quarterbacks. 

It's not like the Aggies are in disarray, but there has to be an "upset" or two with some of the top recruits, and it feels like this could be the case here, as head coach Charlie Strong and the Longhorns showed some life at the end of last season with a big road win over the No. 12 Baylor Bears.

Prediction: Texas

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College Football Rankings: Early Look at 2016 Preseason Top 25

The Alabama Crimson Tide are still celebrating their national championship, but it's never too early to look ahead. 

While Alabama fans will continue to bask in the glory of this title for at least a few more days, every other school has already started the countdown to September. 

The deadline for underclassmen to declare for the NFL draft is still a week away (Jan. 18), so 2016 projections could change up until that point. But based on the players we know are leaving and those who have indicated their early decisions, here's a very early look at how the preseason rankings could look in August. 

 

Notable Teams

1. Clemson Tigers

Clemson returns arguably the most valuable player in the nation, quarterback Deshaun Watson, who will be an early Heisman favorite in 2016. 

Redshirt sophomore running back Wayne Gallman is also likely to return, as is true sophomore receiver Artavis Scott. 

But Clemson isn't just returning the overwhelming majority of its offense, it's also adding to it. 

Wide receiver Mike Williams, who missed almost the entire season after suffering a neck injury in Clemson's season opener, is expected to return. Williams led the Tigers with 1,030 receiving yards as a sophomore in 2014 and will add another dangerous weapon to the Clemson offense. 

Clemson will have the opportunity to start 2016 with a statement, as it travels to Auburn to open the season on Sept. 3.

 

4. Alabama Crimson Tide

The full extent of Alabama's mass exodus to the NFL isn't yet known, but it will be substantial. 

Derrick Henry, Reggie Ragland, Jake Coker and Jonathan Allen are just a few key players who are graduating or expected to leave early for the pros. 

But we've seen this happen time and time again at Alabama, and head coach Nick Saban always reloads. 

Cooper Bateman will likely take over at quarterback for Alabama, with sophomore running backs Bo Scarbrough and Damien Harris battling it out for the carries at running back. 

Unfortunately for Alabama, there will be no time to ease in the new starters. The Tide kicks off the season with a showdown against USC in Arlington, Texas, and then travels to Ole Miss in Week 3.

 

7. Tennessee Volunteers

Perhaps no 8-4 team has ever been closer to contending for a championship than Tennessee was in 2015. 

The Vols held fourth-quarter leads in three of their four losses, including crushing defeats against Oklahoma and Alabama. 

While those losses were devastating for Tennessee and its fans, the Vols may be better off in 2016 having learned from those experiences. 

The stars of the offense, quarterback Joshua Dobbs and running back Jalen Hurd, return for the Vols and should both be considered early Heisman dark horses. 

Tennessee also made a significant coaching move, hiring defensive coordinator Bob Shoop away from Penn State. 

 

8. Ohio State Buckeyes

As Tim Shoemaker of ElevenWarriors.com points out, Ohio State has a lot of holes to fill in 2016:

Sixteen starters will need replaced for Ohio State next season. Number drops to 14 if you pencil in Curtis Samuel & Sam Hubbard as starters.

— Tim Shoemaker (@TimShoemaker) January 6, 2016

One of the few returning starters, quarterback J.T. Barrett is arguably their most valuable player on the offensive side of the ball and should be able to make the Buckeyes Big Ten contenders once again. 

Linebacker Raekwon McMillan and cornerback Gareon Conley will be the leaders of a defense seeking eight new starters. 

One of those new starters on defense will be Sam Hubbard, who primarily took the field as a situational pass-rusher in 2015. According to CFB Film Room, Hubbard generated 14 quarterback pressures during the regular season. 

 

13. Houston Cougars

Through the first two years of the College Football Playoff, the Group of Five teams have failed to make a serious push to crash the party. That could change in 2016. 

Houston enters the season with a wave of momentum, having handled Florida State in the Peach Bowl.

The Cougars will have the opportunity to make an even greater statement on opening weekend as they take on Oklahoma in NRG Stadium, home of the Houston Texans. 

With a victory over Oklahoma, Tom Herman's squad would have the signature victory necessary to make a serious push for the playoffs. 

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The Call That Made Nick Saban the Best Coach in College Football History

GLENDALE, Ariz. — They had run the play before, time and time again, and it had failed. Over and over again, the ball had hit the ground or bounced out of bounds. It was not ready for Clemson or a stage this magnificent. 

In fact, days before Nick Saban won his fifth national championship by a very un-Saban-like score of 45-40, he watched the play—appropriately named "pop kick"—flop one last time.

In Thursday's walkthrough, having wanted to execute one more successful dry run, Marlon Humphrey let the football hit the ground.

"It was 50-50," special teams coordinator Bobby Williams said as confetti danced around him following the game, seeming completely at ease with those percentages after the fact. 

He was not alone. With a new wave of "Dead Dynasty" columns waiting to be composed and Clemson on the verge of snatching all momentum, Saban made a decision that will reshape his robust legacy. 

He pulled the trigger on a play that masterfully showcased his magnificent adaptability—a theme that has not been recognized enough. And above all, he cemented himself as the greatest ever—a living, breathing—and now gamblin'—legend. 

"If we wouldn't have got that," Saban said shortly before leaving the podium, "y'all would be killing me right now."

With a little more than 10 minutes left in the third quarter, Alabama tied the game 24-24 with a 33-yard Adam Griffith field goal.

Even with the score back to even, it had been an uphill climb all evening. Clemson quarterback Deshaun Watson had given Alabama's impenetrable defense fits, fitting balls in tight windows and picking up yardage on the ground that had not been there for the past three months.

Alabama needed a lift—perhaps emotionally more than anything else. So, instead of turning to his Heisman Trophy-winning running back or one of the many experienced superstars at his disposal, he turned to his kicker and a redshirt freshman cornerback who was by no means a sure thing. He had seen that firsthand.

"We were tired on defense and weren't doing a good job of getting them stopped," Saban said. "And I felt like if we didn't do something or take a chance to change the momentum of the game that we wouldn't have a chance to win."

Knowing the complex relationship the school has with its kickers, Griffith took the field just like usual. But instead of blasting the kick deep, he popped it into the air—like a tennis player trying to catch his opponent at the net—and it fell right into Humphrey's arms.

A stunned stadium—both sides—tried to process what it had witnessed. It was perfect in every way.

"I knew for sure we were going to get it, to be honest," Humphrey said, unfazed by the failed practice attempts. "But it was a tie game. That was pretty gutsy."

It was out of Saban's comfort zone in every way imaginable. From the personnel to the call itself, this was not part of the process. This was something no one in the building had anticipated.

To cap it, the man who rarely smiles unleashed one for the world to see. The man who rarely appreciates his work—especially during a game of this magnitude—couldn't help but marvel at how it had all come together.

Two plays later, quarterback Jake Coker connected with tight end O.J. Howard on a 51-yard touchdown pass. The onside kick was the shot of adrenaline; this was the moment that made it whole.

"It got the sideline energized," Howard said of the kick. "Everybody was pumped up, and we went down and scored on the next drive, so it was a big momentum swing for us." 

Despite Clemson's unrelenting efforts, Alabama never trailed again. The final score told the tale of a game ripe with explosive plays and tremendous swings—things that would have crippled Saban in the past.

But that was just that—the past. 

That was before Saban went out and hired Lane Kiffin—admitting in plain view that he desperately needed help on the offensive side of the ball. The decision has worked brilliantly—and loomed large in the most significant game of the year. 

That was before Saban reconstructed his defense to generate more sacks—something that had plagued this program leading up to 2015. Along with this alteration, Saban went out and hired Mel Tucker to coach his defensive backs, fully aware new influence was necessary.

Long before Saban made the most memorable call of an incredible career, he showed the world he was capable of change. We simply didn't bother to notice.

In many ways, this play was the culmination of countless gambles taken to reach this point.

But those plays will take a backseat to a decision that will be discussed and celebrated in Alabama living rooms for generations—long after Saban retires and is recognized as the greatest to ever stroll any sideline.

They will talk about their coach and all of the championships he brought them—each more special than the next. And yes, they will recount the one time he called a play that didn't work until it absolutely had to.

 

Unless noted otherwise, all quotes obtained firsthand.

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