NCAA Football News

Texas Football: Fixing Inept Offense Must Be Longhorns' Top Offseason Priority

HOUSTON, Texas—The Longhorns had the chance to end Charlie Strong's first year as the Texas head coach on a high note but fell short in a 31-7 loss to Arkansas in the Advocare Texas Bowl.

Texas somewhat had home field advantage with an in-state bowl game but played as if the team was in a different country with everyone rooting against them.

"It’s been a season that’s been up and down. You go out here tonight and you play against a good Arkansas team. You would have thought that we would have come out and just been better prepared," Strong said following the loss. "It falls on the head coach and the coaches, but at some point too, we’ve got to develop and we’ve got to get the pride back in this program."

The blame of this loss can be spread out to various positions, but the majority of it is on the offense.

Texas was held to 25 total offensive yards until the final offensive drive in the fourth quarter. Meanwhile, the Longhorns had given up 29 penalty yards leading into the last drive. And that is not a typo.

"We didn’t execute on offense," said Strong. "What happens if you’re watching so much, when we have one bad play it leads to another bad play. It’s like we can’t retain our focus. We can’t get back on track. Nobody’s making a play. We’re not blocking anybody. We’re not running the ball. We’re not protecting the quarterback. There are no playmakers.”

Quarterback Tyrone Swoopes is going to receive a lot of the blame for the loss and rightfully so. The sophomore looked like a fish out of water most of the game and struggled to lead his offense.

The unit's performance is without doubt the reason Texas has ended its season with a losing record.

There are a number of instances that led to the offensive struggles in year one of Strong's career in Austin. Texas suffered injuries to its starting quarterback and center in Week 1 of the season and had an offensive line with limited experience, which led to the Longhorns run game being non-existent in various games this season.

The most important thing for the coaches to do is find a way to formulate an effective offense if the Longhorns are planning on winning games in 2015.

But putting together an effective offense may require having a new quarterback under center.

This may come off as harsh but there's no reason for anyone to believe Swoopes should be the automatic starter in 2015.

Can he change that statement during the offseason? Absolutely, but he will need to make significant progress in order to prove the starting role should be his.

Nobody expected Texas to be good in year one of the Strong era. And if any Texas fans expected the Longhorns to be in contention for the College Football Playoff then they had their expectations set way too high.

It will take time for a coach to turn around a program and it will take special players to help make it happen. Strong and his staff need to get their guys at Texas, most importantly, offensive players who can put up more than 59 total yards against a 6-6 opponent.

Can it be done? Sure, but the jobs of the offensive assistant coaches could be on the line if significant steps are not made in 2015.

"Texas has got to mean something," Strong said. "Right now, it doesn’t mean much. We have to play with passion. We got to play with energy. You have to have an edge to you. We don’t have that right now."

 

Unless otherwise noted, all quotes were obtained firsthand.

Taylor Gaspar is Bleacher Report's featured columnist covering the Texas Longhorns. Follow Taylor on Twitter: @Taylor_Gaspar.

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Texas Bowl 2014: Game Grades, Analysis for Arkansas vs. Texas

Arkansas pounded, punished and flat-out ran over the Texas Longhorns en route to a dominant 31-7 victory in the AdvoCare V100 Texas Bowl.

Aside from a couple mental lapses, one could argue that Bret Bielema's team played a perfect game against the Horns. Quarterback Brandon Allen was sharp, the running backs did their thing, and the defense smothered the opposition at every level of the field.

As for Charlie Strong's team, well, the hope is that better days are coming.

 

Game Grades for the Razorbacks

Passing Offense

Allen completed only one of his last seven passes, and it didn't matter. The junior hit 11 of his first 16 for 117 yards and two touchdowns. Most of all, he made Texas think twice about completely selling out for the run, putting points up while the backs wore down the Longhorns front.

 

Rushing Offense

Jonathan Williams and Alex Collins took their sweet time in slowly dismantling Texas' front seven then took over in the second half. In all, these two finished with 181 yards and a touchdown on 40 carries. Even if it was a little less than what we're used to, they were as good as advertised.

 

Passing Defense

Texas' offensive line just had no chance. Trey Flowers, Darius Philon and Martrell Spaight lived in the backfield, getting into quarterback Tyrone Swoopes' head early. You can't complain about 57 passing yards.

 

Rushing Defense

The Razorbacks gave up two rushing yards. That's all you need to know.

 

Special Teams

This unit was the only reason Texas even stayed somewhat in the game, giving up a big return to set up Texas' only score of the night. Kicker Adam McFain was shaky in everything he was asked to do while punter Sam Irwin-Hill consistently pinned Texas in its own territory.

 

Coaching

Bielema and his staff pitched a perfect game, unleashing their vicious defense and trusting Allen to take the Longhorns defense off-balance. Bielema was even classy enough not to punch in one last touchdown with three minutes to play.

 

Game Grades for the Longhorns

Passing Offense

Swoopes has started his last game as Texas' quarterback. He had to play well after coughing it up five times against TCU. He instead mustered only 57 passing yards and committed two more turnovers.

You feel for Swoopes because his blockers worked more like a runway for the Arkansas front seven. But one or two big plays were there, and he missed them badly. Between the body language and lack of overall improvement, it just doesn't seem like it's going to happen anymore.

 

Rushing Offense

Two rushing yards. That's all Texas could muster, mostly because Swoopes lost 32 yards trying to avoid sacks. Malcolm Brown and Johnathan Gray weren't much better, but few ball-carriers can make up for bad blocking against a stacked box.

 

Passing Defense

Allen completed 11 passes in the first half, and they were all too easy. The pass rush made him work early then wore down as the offense regressed in the second half. 

Specifically, cornerback Duke Thomas played a mostly awful game. He was burned on Allen's 36-yard touchdown and repeatedly lost his man in coverage. Without a stud recruit currently in the 2015 class, he might be Texas' top corner next season.

 

Rushing Defense

You have to feel sorry for Malcom Brown and Hassan Ridgeway, who battled the whole game and got pounded because of it. There was just nothing these guys could do, as the offense literally moved backwards in the second half.

 

Special Teams

For once, it was the special teams keeping the Horns in a game. Jacorey Warrick's 30-yard kick return took Arkansas completely by surprise, setting up the Horns' only score of the game. Michael Davidson averaged over 40 yards per punt despite punting from under his own goal post for most of the night.

 

Coaching

There's not much you can do when your offensive line can't block and your quarterback can't hit open receivers. The defense will inevitably get tired, taking your team to a point where it will do nothing particularly well.

Still, you can't afford to play this poorly after a month of free practice. This is a team lacking depth and pure talent, but Strong and his staff have to figure out how to prevent performances like this from ever taking place again under their watch.

They have an excuse now. It'll have run its course in nine months, though.

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Bowl Win Caps Turnaround Season, but Arkansas Still Can't Hang with SEC's Elite

Enjoy this one, Arkansas fans. In fact, treat the dominant Texas Bowl victory for what it is, the crowning achievement of a season that shows Bret Bielema was the right choice to turn around the Razorbacks program.

But despite what you hear during the offseason, remember this: There's still a long way to go before Arkansas is a legitimate contender in the SEC West.

By winning, 31-7, on Monday against Texas, Arkansas finished with a winning record for the first time since 2011. It helps provide momentum on the recruiting trail and gives the many integral players returning in 2015 a huge confidence boost in facing what lies ahead. NFL.com's Bryan Fischer thinks watching the game film from this win will also be a boost for the Arkansas coaches:

Just don't be fooled into thinking that the Hogs will be competing for a division title or anything so glamorous—at least not yet.

That defense that the Hogs unleashed on a helpless Texas team has been rising up since mid-October, when a blocked extra point (and not enough offensive punch) kept the team from upsetting Alabama. Since then, it has enabled the Razorbacks to end a long SEC losing streak by thoroughly dominating LSU and Ole Miss with back-to-back shutouts, earning the necessary conference wins to get into a bowl game.

It's a foundation that Arkansas can build on, but defense alone isn't going to get it done against the talent that resides in the SEC. The Razorbacks will need to become as good—if not better—on offense than what they've shown they can do defensively, and that's going to mean not being one-dimensional.

There's been a noticeable push in that direction as the season wore on, with quarterback Brandon Allen becoming a more integral part of the game plan, while dual 1,000-yard rushers Alex Collins and Jonathan Williams saw their touches remain relatively constant. Nearly every relevant offensive player should be back in 2015, so the expectation of further improvement isn't outlandish.

Yet Arkansas still seems at least a year away, especially when you look at the schedule it faces next season, particularly the conference portion.

Road games against Alabama, LSU, Ole Miss and Tennessee will make for tough sledding at every stop, not to mention another matchup with Texas A&M in Arlington, Texas. Having two-time East Division champ Missouri as its permanent crossover rival doesn't help, either.

The Razorbacks can actually look to those ahead of them in the West standings for examples of what can potentially happen in the near future, depending on how they progress. Mississippi State and Ole Miss both finished below .500 in division play last season, with the former needing to beat the latter just to make a bowl. Each won its bowl game and headed into this fall with momentum and increased hope.

Both got off to great starts, yet each eventually ran into a wall when its main deficiency was exposed.

Mississippi State had an exciting quarterback in Dak Prescott, a Heisman contender for much of the year, but when he began to struggle, the lack of a consistent defense became the Bulldogs' downfall; Ole Miss had the defense, which allowed an FBS-low 13.8 points per game, according to cfbstats.com, but without a matching offense that could be relied on to do its part every week, that defense couldn't carry the team.

Those teams now know what it will take to keep on improving and make the next step. Arkansas needs to be strong and balanced on both sides of the ball, not just one. It can be that team, but it's a process.

Instead, the Razorbacks figure to get better gradually, which will have to do. Bielema had to know this was going to be the case when he chose to leave the good thing he had going at Wisconsin—where he could annually compete for at least a Rose Bowl spot—for this major challenge.

He saw that gradual improvement this year, not just in the seven wins but also by virtue of four losses by seven points or less (after losing by an average of 21 points in SEC play the season before). The turnaround actually began late in 2013, when Arkansas' final three losses were by 10, seven and four points.

That might mean next year—when opening SEC play against A&M—instead of a narrow loss, it will result in a hard-fought victory.

 

Follow Brian J. Pedersen on Twitter at @realBJP.

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Arkansas vs. Texas: Score and Twitter Reaction for 2014 AdvoCare Texas Bowl

For the first time in over a decade, Arkansas owns the bragging rights in one of college football's oldest rivalries. 

The Razorbacks throttled former Southwest Conference foe Texas on Monday night, rolling to a dominant 31-7 win in the Texas Bowl and earning their first win in the rivalry since 2003. 

Texas coach Charlie Strong didn't sugarcoat anything after the game, via ESPN's Max Olson:

ESPN Stats & Info provided the one stat that summed up the game:

It was a matchup that figured to be a defensive struggle, a revival of the old-school battles between the two longtime adversaries. But Arkansas' offense didn't cooperate with the narrative. Brandon Allen threw for 160 yards and two touchdowns, Jonathan Williams and Alex Collins combined for 181 yards on the ground, and the Razorbacks finished with 351 total yards and their highest point total since an October win over UAB. 

Allen was named MVP:

Of course, the defense still wasn't to be outdone. 

Texas' offensive line struggled immensely to contain Trey Flowers and a relentless Arkansas pass rush, and the roller-coaster season of Tyrone Swoopes hit a new low. The sophomore QB was sacked three times, completing 13 of 25 throws for 57 yards and an interception. 

The running game also had zero success, and the Longhorns finished with 59 yards on 43 offensive plays. USA Today's Paul Myerberg put the historically woeful offensive performance into humorous perspective:

After a field goal from Razorbacks kicker Adam McFain served as the only points of the first quarter, Arkansas began the second by finding the end zone in spectacular fashion, courtesy of Demetrius Wilson:

Things quickly piled on for Texas. Midway through the second quarter, the Hogs downed a punt at the 4-yard line, and on the next play, Swoopes botched a handoff to Johnathan Gray, resulting in a fumble recovery for Taiwan Johnson in the end zone. 

As Kirk Bohls of the Austin American-Statesman noted, it was a recurring theme for the Longhorns:

Texas responded right away with a quick scoring drive, as Swoopes scrambled for a nine-yard touchdown to make it 17-7 and seemingly give the Longhorns some hope heading into the locker room.

That hope was instantly crushed, though. Collins returned the ensuing kick 39 yards, and Allen orchestrated a nine-play, 61-yard drive culminating in a five-yard toss to Keon Hatcher to push the lead back to 17 points just 24 seconds before halftime. 

One Texas fan's body language summed up the game thus far, via CJ Fogler:

Things didn't get any better after the break. Texas had five possessions in the second half. The first four of those all went for negative yardage and ended in three-and-outs. Their first first down didn't come until there were less than six minutes left in the game. 

Swoopes completed a few more passes on that drive (a noteworthy accomplishment on a forgettable night for the Longhorns) but was eventually picked off by Henre' Toliver in an appropriate ending to a game the Razorbacks controlled from start to finish. 

CBS Sports' Jon Solomon put it simply:

Texas and Arkansas will now turn their focus toward the offseason and the final month of the 2015 recruiting period. Each program features a top-25 class, per 247Sports' composite rankings, and despite how this game played out, both teams are certainly on the rise under their relatively new head coaches. 

That doesn't make them equal in the rebuilding process, though.

Strong has shown encouraging glimpses but must quickly fix this offense, while Bret Bielema and the Razorbacks appear to be much further along in their ascent back to the nation's elite.

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Notre Dame Football: Players to Watch in High School All-American Games

Following Notre Dame football's Music City Bowl clash with LSU on Tuesday, the attention on the Irish will turn toward the future and the next wave of Notre Dame teams.

With Notre Dame's 2015 recruiting class already stocked with 22 commitments, who are the players to watch in the upcoming high school All-American games?

A mix of Irish commitments and remaining targets litter the list.

Let’s have a look.

 

Begin Slideshow

Russell Athletic Bowl 2014: Game Grades, Analysis for Oklahoma vs. Clemson

Things were never really close in this game, as the Clemson Tigers demolished the Oklahoma Sooners 40-6. The result was a mixture of Clemson playing well and Oklahoma simply playing terribly, but credit has to be given to Dabo Swinney’s squad.

With the victory, the program reached 10 wins for the fourth straight season, and it did so in impressive fashion. The Sooners were held to 275 total yards, and quarterback Trevor Knight threw for only 103 yards.

Cole Stoudt had his best game of the season, throwing for 319 yards and three touchdowns. More importantly, he didn’t throw any interceptions en route to a turnover-free performance for the Tigers. There were two main targets for the senior quarterback in this one, as both Mike Williams and Artavis Scott went over 100 yards receiving.

You can find the full box score here, courtesy of NCAA.com.

 

Game Grades for the Clemson Tigers

Passing Offense

The passing performance from Stoudt wasn’t flashy, but the game plan was very efficient. Stoudt finished 26-of-36 passing, and he often found success with the short passing game. The Oklahoma secondary didn’t make it tough for Stoudt, but the senior played mistake-free in the win.

 

Rushing Offense

The Tigers didn’t find much success on the ground, but they did enough to open things up through the air. Clemson finished with only 68 yards on 42 carries, and Wayne Gallman was held to just 55 yards.

 

Passing Defense

The Tigers secondary did an excellent job in this game. Knight found it tough to throw the ball all night, completing just 17 of his 37 passes. He finished the game with only 103 yards, and the Tigers forced three interceptions.

 

Rushing Defense

The Tigers did a good job in the first half of containing Samaje Perine, but the freshman phenom found room to run in the second half. He finished the bowl game with 134 yards, which was good for 5.8 yards per carry. The Sooners rushed for 172 yards as a team, but the Tigers didn’t let them control the game with the rushing attack.

 

Special Teams

The special teams weren’t bad for the Tigers, either. They played a pretty solid game in all three phases, and Ammon Lakip played well. He had one kick blocked, but he connected on his other two attempts.

 

Coaching

The Tigers came out with an excellent game plan, and they executed it beautifully. The short passes on offense helped Stoudt get into a rhythm, and the offense still looked pretty good despite not getting anything going on the ground. The job by Brent Venables was remarkable, as the Tigers held a high-powered Oklahoma offense to just six points.

 

 

Game Grades for the Oklahoma Sooners

Passing Offense

Knight looked like he was on a different planet Monday night, and he never found any kind of rhythm in the passing game. He completed only 17 of his 37 throws, and he averaged only 2.8 yards per pass. The three interceptions is what hurt him the most, and the Tigers were able to keep him from ever getting too comfortable.

 

Rushing Offense

The Sooners needed to use the rushing game to control things, and they didn’t accomplish that. They got down early because they couldn’t get the running game going, and it was too late to do that in the second half. Perine has a very bright future, and his 134-yard performance will be something to build off of going into next season.

 

Passing Defense

The Sooners secondary was terrible in this game. There were too many wide-open throws for Stoudt, and the missed tackles capped off an embarrassing performance. The Tigers threw for 319 yards and three touchdowns, and they did so with a quarterback who hasn’t looked good since the second game of the season.

 

Rushing Defense

If there was a positive takeaway from this game for Oklahoma, it would have to be the rushing defense. They held the Tigers to 68 yards on 42 carries, and they never let Clemson get anything going on the ground. Gallman was coming off of his best performance against South Carolina, but he was held to just 55 yards on 19 carries.

 

Special Teams

It’s tough to judge the Sooners special teams because they didn’t attempt any field goals in this game. The punter got a workout, punting nine times and landing two of those inside the 20-yard line. The one thing that stood out to me was the blocked field goal. That was a great play, and it could have flipped the momentum had it not been for the interception by Clemson moments later.

 

Coaching

The Sooners looked overmatched and unprepared in this game. The roster has talent, but the coaches didn’t get anything out of their players on Monday night. The offensive game plan failed because Knight never looked comfortable, and the Sooners had no answers for Clemson’s short passing game.

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Cole Stoudt Has Lasting Memory for His Clemson Career in Demolition of Oklahoma

The gifts given to players in the Russell Athletic Bowl included a watch, a T-shirt and a Best Buy shopping trip. Cole Stoudt got an extra prize: the kind of a sendoff befitting a guy who stuck around and waited for his chance.

In the final game of his senior season, a season in which he was essentially benched three times, the Clemson quarterback put forth a career-best effort in the Tigers' 40-6 win over Oklahoma on Monday.

He threw for 319 yards and three touchdowns on 26-of-36 passing and also ran for a two-yard TD, putting a cap on a tenure that involved three seasons as a backup before finding himself in and out of the lineup this fall.

As shocking as the final score was, even more improbable was how much Stoudt had to do with it.

He only started because freshman Deshaun Watson, the heir apparent to record-breaker Tajh Boyd, had surgery to repair a torn ACL earlier this month and wasn't available.

Watson had played with that injury in Clemson's win over rival South Carolina, something the coaching staff was aware of ahead of time but pushed aside because Watson figured to give the Tigers their best chance to win.

Clemson coach Dabo Swinney had a premonition heading into the bowl game that, given one more chance to play in the orange and purple, Stoudt would end his career on a high note.

"I think he's going to play well, I really do; I like the look in his eye and his focus," Swinney told Brandon Rink of the Anderson Independent-Mail prior to the game. "I think he knows that he's the guy and has a chance to go and finish this thing off the right way."

That "look" Swinney referred to could be seen throughout Monday's performance, from his first snap—a short sideline screen to Artavis Scott that the speedy wide receiver turned into a 65-yard touchdown catch—to his scamper for a rushing TD midway through the third quarter.

It was best noticed on the sidelines when, not long after getting lit up—as well as having his helmet torn off—he tossed a pinpoint 24-yard TD pass to Germone Hopper.

Stoudt showed up at Clemson in 2011, the same year that Boyd began his three-year run in charge of a team that would win 32 games and make two BCS bowl appearances.

The 6'4" Stoudt got plenty of mop-up duty between 2011-13, throwing eight TD passes in 119 attempts while completing over 72 percent of his passes.

He finally got his chance this year, beating out Watson and Chad Kelly, who was booted off the team in the spring. But Stoudt struggled in the season-opening loss at Georgia, and not long into the third game at Florida State, he was replaced by Watson.

Stoudt threw only four passes over the next two games.

Yet when Watson broke a bone in his hand against Louisville on Oct. 11, Stoudt had to come in cold and managed the offense enough to pace Clemson to a 23-17 victory. Stoudt started the next three games, winning all of them, but when Watson was ready to go in mid-November, the senior had to step aside for the freshman again.

Then Watson suffered a knee injury against Georgia Tech, and Stoudt was again thrown into the fire.

This time, though, he failed miserably, completing only three of 11 passes for 19 yards and three interceptions. Two of those were returned for touchdowns in the 28-6 loss to Georgia Tech.

Stoudt finishes his career with a 6-2 record as a starter, helping Clemson reach 10 wins for a fourth straight season. He threw for 1,892 yards and nine touchdowns this season. For his career, he posted 2,634 passing yards and 19 total scores.

"What a fighter," Swinney told ESPN after the game (h/t TigerNet.com). "He had a stage like this tonight to play probably the best game of his career."

With the game no longer in doubt, Swinney used timeouts during the fourth quarter to allow his seniors on both sides of the ball to walk off the field to a loud ovation from Clemson's fans.

When it was Stoudt's turn to do so, the cheers were coming as much from the fans as from the sideline as Stoudt's teammates recognized the dedication he'd put forth during the past four years.

 

Follow Brian J. Pedersen on Twitter at @realBJP.

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Why Oklahoma's Bob Stoops Should No Longer Be Considered an Elite Coach

And with one final embarrassing loss, the unraveling of Oklahoma was complete.

It took four months for the Sooners to go from preseason playoff favorites to a 40-6 loss to Clemson in the Russell Athletic Bowl. In the end, college football's most disappointing team ended the season 8-5. The Sugar Bowl victory against Alabama last January, which sparked the playoff conversation and the return of "Big Game Bob" Stoops, almost feels like it never happened. 

To make matters worse, Brent Venables, the former Sooners defensive coordinator who now holds the same title with Clemson, was the one who delivered the knockout punch. Clemson held Oklahoma to just 275 yards of offense and kept the Sooners off the scoreboard until midway through the fourth quarter. 

Oklahoma defensive coordinator Mike Stoops will get some blame for the box score, but it was the offense that never got going and committed five turnovers. Quarterback Trevor Knight threw three picks and enters the offseason with a diminished, if not nonexistent, edge on the starting job. 

Venables and head coach Dabo Swinney had their team prepared. Oklahoma's coaching staff did not. The result was as bad a loss as you're going to find in the Stoops era. 

That leads to a question no one probably thought to ask about Stoops: At what point does this no longer become acceptable?

Consider the following: This season, Stoops lost three games at home—to Kansas State, Baylor and Oklahoma State—for the first time ever. In each of the past three years, the Sooners have lost two games each season by double digits. 

It still may not happen often, relatively speaking, but Stoops and Co. are getting outclassed on a yearly basis.

It's happened before, most notably in the 2005 Orange Bowl against USC (a 55-19 loss), but at least that was for a national championship. And those USC Trojans were in the middle of one of the great runs in college football history. These blowouts are of a different variety. 

That clouds a narrative about Stoops' 16 years with Oklahoma. The accomplishments make for a long list. Stoops has won at least 10 games in 12 seasons, eight Big 12 titles and a national championship. That's nothing to overlook. Furthermore, Stoops is one season removed from arguably his best coaching job, squeezing 11 wins out of a team with quarterback and injury issues. 

That said, Oklahoma has only won a share of the conference once (2012, with Kansas State) in the past four seasons. Other than the Sugar Bowl, there have been few key victories of note during that span. Somehow, the 39 games Stoops has won since 2011 feel hollow. Certainly, OU doesn't feel like the dominant program of the early to mid-2000s. 

There also appears to be a constant resentment against Mike Stoops and co-offensive coordinator/quarterbacks coach Josh Heupel. Would Stoops ever consider making staff changes? He's tremendously loyal; his brother might make the decision for him before it ever has to be made officially. At the very least, though, Stoops has to take a hard look at how he and his staff are developing key players.

Oklahoma continues to recruit at a high level, finishing with the top class in the Big 12 and No. 14 class nationally in 2014, according to 247Sports. There's no reason why Oklahoma shouldn't be getting more out of its roster. 

Bob Stoops won't be fired tomorrow because of that. He probably, barring an obvious disaster and/or scandal, won't be fired after the 2015 season either. Any hot-seat chatter needs to cool before it even gets started. It's not like Stoops forgot how to coach, and he's still well-liked by the administration. 

However, it is time to wonder if Stoops' reign as one of the top coaches in the country is nearing an end. That's not to say Stoops will never be remembered as a great coach again; however, there are plenty of others—Alabama's Nick Saban, Florida State's Jimbo Fisher, Ohio State's Urban Meyer—who have won championships more recently. Baylor's Art Briles would contend that he's the best coach in the Big 12 at the moment. 

Sixteen years is a long time to keep a great thing going. 

The year ahead becomes a crucial one for Stoops to show that he still has it. The three times Stoops finished with eight wins or fewer in a season, his teams have bounced back to double-digit wins the following year. 

Can he do it a fourth time? His legacy with Oklahoma and how it's crafted going forward may depend upon it. 

 

Ben Kercheval is a lead writer for college football. 

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How Oregon's Homegrown Coaching Staff Is Bucking the College Football Trend

LOS ANGELES—Mark Helfrich remembers Oregon football from its roots, before Nike's Phil Knight put the Taj Mahal of facilities on campus. And that description might be short-changing the facilities.     

"There was a lot of space out in the parking lot," he told me Sunday at media day for the College Football Playoff semifinal game against Florida State. "Everywhere that now we have an indoor facility, an athletic complex. Our practice field is the baseball field, the lacrosse…all of that was a parking lot.

"There was some wide open space out there. We got some good pickup games going."

Helfrich was just a kid then from Coos Bay. Now, he's Oregon's head coach, leading the Ducks into the College Football Playoff semifinal Thursday against Florida State. And that's a nice feel-good story about a nondescript kid reaching his dream job. But also, it's just the Oregon Way.

The college coaching profession is filled with vagabonds who hop around the country from one job to the next, preaching loyalty and commitment at every stop. At Oregon, they actually mean it. They have consistently grown in the past few decades from one of the worst programs in the country to one of the best and the richest.

Yet they're doing it with a homegrown coaching staff, the way it used to be done.

Helfrich is the third straight head coach at Oregon to be promoted from an assistant's job. And this past offseason, he promoted defensive line coach Don Pellum from linebackers coach to defensive coordinator. The other finalist was another current Oregon assistant.

When Helfrich was a kid in the parking lot, playing pickup games with his friends, Pellum was inside the stadium, playing for the Ducks.

"I think it kind of speaks to another time in football," Pellum said. "At one time, this was normal. Penn State's staff, Bobby Bowden's at Florida State. But I think we're the last of a dying breed. Once we're gone, I don't know if we'll ever see this again.

"It's special and unique just for the bond we all have. But what it did for us along the way, when we were trying to build a program way back when and didn't have a lot of resources and weren't getting a lot of top recruits, we were just getting some good kids and developing them. We've been together so long that we've figured out some things. Then we started to get some better players in here."

And it all added up to Oregon just two wins away from its first national championship.

This isn't meant to pass judgment on any other approach. But as playoff money and cable TV money keep growing in multiples, it is just going to become easier and easier to give up on a direction and buy a bigger-name coach.

When you have money, who needs patience and loyalty?

In fact, if anything, the big money has made the vagabond coaches—which does not count Florida State's Jimbo Fisher, who was promoted from within—into superstars. By contrast, it has kept Helfrich an unknown nationally. That, and the fact that he is just running the system passed down by his predecessor, Chip Kelly.

The final four in college football has Fisher, Urban Meyer and Nick Saban. They are all stars, and the faces of their programs. Yet, according to Michael Weinreb at Grantland, even the kids at Marshfield High, where Helfrich went, can't pick Helfrich himself out of the team picture on the wall in the school. A team takes on the personality of its coach, and that means selflessness in Helfrich's case, which creates a weird dynamic at Oregon:

Here is Phil Knight pumping money into the place to make the program one of the nation's elite, and yet here is a program built on a cozy feeling of family. It's an awkward fit with the national elite.

And while no one is considering firing Helfrich, his first team broke a four-year string of reaching major bowl games. This year, when the team lost to Arizona, even the locals had to wonder if Helfrich was up to the job.

Maybe that will be the real test of Oregon's commitment to the Oregon Way, when the team starts to falter. For now, it keeps its family feel.

"That's a good part of it, being able to be at a place where my dad went to school, my mom went to school," Helfrich said. "And my dad played briefly and my uncle played football at Oregon. All of that is certainly a point of pride for everybody."

When Pellum came to Oregon as a freshman, one of the seniors on the team was Steve Greatwood, who is now the offensive line coach.

"Back in the mid-to-late 70s, we had nothing but really friends and relatives in the stands," Greatwood said. "If we have 25,000 people there, it was a big game. The big thing now is the continuity of the staff. And we've all had our kids grow up together."

It's a good bet one of those kids will be the head coach someday. And the others will be his assistants.

 

Greg Couch covers college football for Bleacher Report.

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Oklahoma vs. Clemson: Score and Twitter Reaction for 2014 Russell Athletic Bowl

It's not unusual to see a bowl game that pits a team hungry to end its season on a high note against a team that is disappointed it isn't playing in a more meaningful game and comes out flat and uninspired. 

On Monday night, Clemson played the part of the former and Oklahoma the latter, as the Tigers absolutely crushed the Sooners, 40-6.

Clemson's defense was brilliant, holding Oklahoma to just 103 passing yards, forcing five turnovers and holding the Sooners scoreless for most of the game. Quarterback Cole Stoudt was excellent, meanwhile, finishing 26-of-36 with 319 passing yards, three touchdowns and no interceptions.

Oklahoma's freshman phenom Samaje Perine was the lone bright spot for the Sooners, rushing for 134 yards on 23 carries, while adding 22 yards on three receptions.

Clemson jumped all over Oklahoma in this one, racing out to a 27-0 lead in the first half. Artavis Scott scored the first touchdown, catching a short pass in the flat and eluding two Oklahoma defenders before racing 65 yards to paydirt.

Poor tackling in the secondary would end up being a theme for the Sooners in the first half.

Ammon Lakip would add a field goal later in the quarter before Ben Boulware would really open things up for Clemson, picking off a deflected pass and returning it 47 yards for the score. SportsCenter on Twitter provides the highlight:

Even when things went right for Oklahoma, they went wrong. Trailing 20-0 in the second quarter, Charles Tapper deflected a Stoudt pass on a fourth-down attempt and intercepted the pass, returning it for a touchdown that seemed as though it might get Oklahoma back into the game.

But Oklahoma was offside on the play, not only negating the touchdown, but also giving Clemson a first down.

Two plays later, Mike Williams turned a short out route into a 26-yard touchdown after breaking a tackle in the secondary, and the rout was on. SportsCenter passed along the play:

Oklahoma couldn't get into the locker room fast enough after turning the ball over three times and trailing 27-0 at halftime. Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney tried to be diplomatic in his halftime interview, but Andrea Adelson of ESPN.com wasn't buying it:

As Pat Forde of Yahoo Sports noted, the Sooners were getting burnt by a player in Stoudt who didn't burn many teams this season:

And Stewart Mandel of Fox Sports didn't see anyway back for the Sooners:

That would quickly become a 34-0 deficit in the third quarter, as Stoudt's two-yard touchdown run all but ended this one about five minutes into the second half. And Stoudt's excellent throw to Germone Hopper for a 24-yard score—despite Stoudt getting rocked on the play—gave Clemson a 40-0 lead (the extra point was missed).

The 40 points may have been a bit of a surprise for Clemson, but, as ESPN Stats & Info tweeted, the shutout was nothing new:

Even when Oklahoma ruined the shutout with a garbage-time touchdown, the team still managed to sour the moment, as the extra point was blocked. It was a "when it rains, it pours" type of night for the Sooners.

And it leaves serious questions about Bob Stoops' future. While the coach has been a stabilizing presence at Oklahoma and has led the school to a national championship and eight Big 12 titles, the Sooners limped to an 8-5 record this year and have gone three seasons without a Big 12 title. 

Those are the sort of results that aren't tolerated at a proud program like Oklahoma, however unfair that might be to a successful coach like Stoops. His past might be enough to keep him in Norman for another season, but there's no question that he's on the hot seat now.

Ralph D. Russo of the Associated Press tried to look on the bright side for Oklahoma:

As for Clemson, the Tigers will hope to build off of their strong close to the 2014 season and will hope to end Florida State's reign over the ACC in 2015. Getting Deshaun Watson back next season at quarterback will certainly help, as Clemson heads into the offseason riding high.

 

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The Far-Reaching Impact of Jimbo Fisher's Loyalty to Jameis Winston

LOS ANGELES — There are times when doing the wrong thing is the right thing. There is safety in it. It pays.

Florida State coach Jimbo Fisher has shocked people this season with his seemingly clumsy and overly staunch defense of everything Jameis Winston did or was accused of doing. Fisher came across as the great enabler, a cliche of a coach who would pull the wool over anyone's eyes for the team.   

From everyone's perspective outside the Florida State bubble, he willingly put the black hat on his own program. What was the impact of Fisher's approach?

Florida State is in the College Football Playoff semifinals against Oregon on Thursday. It hasn't lost a game all year. Top recruits are still coming. And Fisher? He got a shiny new eight-year contract.

Eight years. Well played, Jimbo Fisher.

"Would you want your boss to have your back if you were right?" Fisher asked Saturday at the CFP media day. "Would you want your wife to have your back if you were right? Would you want your mom or dad to have your back if you were right?

"As a coach, we're like a father figure to those guys. When they're wrong, we address, we punish, we move on. When they're right, you fight like heck for them, and that's our role as coaches."

Sounds like something he will say in family rooms to recruits' mothers.

In fact, when Florida State beat out Alabama for top running back recruit Jacques Patrick, the kid mentioned that Fisher's defense of Winston was a selling point.

"My mom was the one that really reacted to it," Patrick said in an interview with Warchant TV (subscription required). "She knows I'm going to be in good hands when I get up there, and that's the most important thing."

There was risk in this. But it's not that Fisher is tone-deaf, as NFL.com's Chase Goodbread suggested. It was a calculated decision.

It was exactly what the sports world demanded of him, and he could see it from the start. The national image of Florida State was expendable. It was an acceptable casualty.

So I asked Fisher on Sunday at the CFP media day how important that image is and what he does to uphold it.

"You've just got to keep doing things right," he said. "We feel like we do things right. So we've just got to keep doing it. In time, everything will handle itself."

Someone asked him if he has made any changes in his handling of that image.

"We feel our program is as good as anybody in America and we have great kids," he said. "We have better kids than we have players on our team."

There was never any wavering. When he said there was no victim because there was no crime, in light of the rape allegation against Winston, that came off—again, outside the bubble—as so insensitive to a woman who was claiming she had been violated (no charges were filed).

But it was other things too—stealing crab legs, damage caused by BB guns. Jump on a table in a cafeteria and yell things that are offensive to women? Fisher suspended Winston for half a game, and when the school upped it to a whole game, according to ESPN's Elizabeth Merrill, Fisher threatened to quit because he was angry that the school was caving to public pressure.

See? He was willing to tarnish the image for the sake of showing unity and keeping his team together.

And he winds up making millions of dollars as a result. While financial details haven't been released, Corey Clark of the Tallahassee Democrat said Fisher's annual salary is expected to increase from about $4 million to $5 million.

The impact is this: Fisher wins. I'm not talking about ethics and decency. At Texas, new coach Charlie Strong has taken a tough, policing approach. We'll have to see how that works out for him.

But Fisher has set himself and his program up for an even better future.

It was no accident.

 

Greg Couch covers college football for Bleacher Report.

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