NCAA Football News
LSU did not have the season it wanted.
The Tigers finished 8-4, which is their worst mark since 2008. But it could have been even worse.
Credit must be given to LSU for salvaging a season that was met with an 0-2 conference start. The Tigers would win four of their remaining six conference games, finishing with an impressive 23-17 win on the road against Texas A&M.
LSU head coach Les Miles and the rest of the coaching staff deserve credit for making some changes after the slow start. The players responded with a three-game winning streak and a valiant effort against Alabama.
Here are the six Tigers that stuck out above the rest this season.
The Oregon Ducks won't get running back Thomas Tyner back in time for the Pac-12 Championship Game. He reportedly didn't travel with the team to face the Arizona Wildcats at Levi's Stadium on Friday night.
Aaron Fentress of Comcast SportsNet reports it will be the third straight game he's missed: "Oregon running back Thomas Tyner will miss his third consecutive game when the Ducks face Arizona in tonight's Pac-12 Championship Game in Santa Clara, Calif., according to a team source. Tyner did not travel with the team."
Tyner ranks third on the team in rushing behind Royce Freeman and quarterback Marcus Mariota. Freeman figures to continue playing a more extensive role within the high-powered offense. Byron Marshall will likely pick up the remaining slack.
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While Notre Dame awaits its postseason destination, the stench coming from the Irish's November performance still hangs in the air. A 7-5 record came after the Irish started 6-0, a young and injury-depleted roster crashing. That collapse has done its best to shake the foundation of a program that appeared on solid footing.
That's still likely the case. But a four-game losing streak and a blowout loss to USC—the worst of the Brian Kelly era—has Irish fans questioning everything, including their head coach.
But the season wasn't all disappointment. We saw numerous young players emerge, including a sophomore class that looks like it has what it takes to lead Notre Dame into the College Football Playoff.
The offense scored more points than any Irish offense since Charlie Weis' 2005 team, doing so with mostly underclassmen at skill positions and all but Ben Koyack and Christian Lombard returning.
While defensive struggles in first-year coordinator Brian VanGorder's system saw the Irish give up more than 30 points in seven straight games to end the season, when the unit was healthy it performed well.
Let's take a look back and rank the regular-season's top performers.
With two Heisman contenders under center lost for the year, Urban Meyer's Ohio State Buckeyes have never been more vulnerable as they head into the Big Ten Championship Game against the Wisconsin Badgers.
Outside of an early-September loss, the Buckeyes have run the table this season and stand a legitimate chance at making the College Football Playoff. But the task is more difficult than ever now that the staff is forced to turn to sophomore quarterback Cardale Jones at the worst possible time.
Wisconsin has no CFP aspirations at this point thanks to a season-opening loss to LSU and a horrific loss to Northwestern on the resume. What Gary Andersen's team does have is lofty bowl expectations and a Heisman contender in the backfield by the name of Melvin Gordon.
These two put on a show last season and are sure to do so once again with so much on the line. Anything less will be a resounding disappointment.
When: Saturday, Dec. 6, 8:17 p.m. ET
Where: Lucas Oil Stadium, Indianapolis, Indiana
The weight of the world falls on Jones, who has attempted all of 17 passes this season.
The cleats to fill are quite large. J.T. Barrett replaced Braxton Miller and threw for 2,834 yards and 34 touchdowns to become a Heisman contender himself while allowing the Buckeyes to rank fifth nationally in scoring.
Jones is, of course, taking the task at hand in a serious manner, as illustrated by Bill Rabinowitz of the Columbus Dispatch:
Inexperience under center is just that, though, which means one of the nation's top defenses can sell out to stop the Ohio State ground game if Jones does not prove early and often that he can go over the top.
The showdown on paper is one between a top defense and offense:
Much of that hinges on Jones, as it does Ohio State lead back Ezekiel Elliott. The sophomore has rushed for 1,182 yards and 10 scores this season on a 6.0 yard-per-carry average but faces the toughest challenge of his season with Wisconsin so focused on stopping him.
In turn, the focal point for Ohio State suddenly comes on the defensive side of the ball.
The Buckeyes may rank 29th defensively, but just last season the unit did the unthinkable and held Gordon in check. Wisconsin rushed for just 104 yards, its lowest total in any game over the course of the past two seasons.
For Buckeyes defensive coordinator Luke Fickell, the task at hand boils down to the fundamentals.
"In order to stop a running game, you've got to have great team defense, you've got to surround the ball, you've got to build a wall at the line of scrimmage, you've got to swarm tackles," Fickell said, per The Associated Press (via ESPN.com).
Not only does it sound simple, the Buckeyes have already proved they can do it.
Except it is never that easy with Gordon this year.
Gordon has rushed for 200 or more yards in five games this season and has 31 rushes of 20 yards or more, good for a higher total than 118 of 124 teams. As ESPN's Joe Schad points out, the Heisman contender turns up his play against strong competition, too:
Joey Bosa and the Ohio State defense have a lot of work to do, to say the least. It at least helps, though, that the unit will not need to worry about Wisconsin quarterback Joel Stave (1,042 yards, eight touchdowns, four interceptions) all that much.
When they do, the Buckeyes just so happen to rank 11th in the nation with 37 sacks on the season.
That said, the unit is in its worst stretch of the season at the moment considering its last four opponents have scored 37, 24, 27 and 28 points, respectively. Going into a matchup with a player as talented as Gordon, that places a shadow of doubt over whether or not the Buckeyes can beat the Badgers at their own game.
If Saturday was Jones' second or third start, perhaps it would be easier to roll with the Buckeyes. But his first start comes in a conference title game against a Top 15 team that can control the pace of the game with a Heisman contender on the ground.
This time Gordon will have his revenge. The collective stress level of the CFP committee will be in great debt to the man, too.
Prediction: Wisconsin 27, Ohio State 24
Statistics and info courtesy of ESPN unless otherwise specified.
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Top Louisiana prospect Tyron Johnson is among the most heavily pursued offensive playmakers leading up to national signing day. The 5-star receiver provided some insight on where he currently stands in the process Friday morning, tweeting his top-five list:
Johnson, a 6'1", 191-pound playmaker from Warren Easton High School in New Orleans, included in-state powerhouse LSU. The Tigers must contend with SEC opponents Auburn and Georgia, along with Big 12 teams Texas Tech and Oklahoma State.
Rated second nationally among receivers and 21st overall in 247Sports' composite rankings, Johnson could provide immediate big-play ability at the university of his choice. The Under Armour All-American has tallied more than 1,500 receiving yards and 19 touchdowns while leading Warren Easton to a state title game appearance, per James Smith of NOLA.com.
He is also a top kick returner in the 2015 class.
Now that we know which teams are vying for his commitment, let's take a closer look at each option.
Johnson labeled Auburn his "leader" in early November and spent time on campus this summer. However, he was unable to follow through with a scheduled official visit last month due to high school playoff commitments.
It remains to be seen whether Gus Malzahn will successfully schedule a makeup date with Johnson. Auburn holds a commitment from top-ranked junior college running back Jovon Robinson and is looking to also secure a standout downfield target in this class.
Along with Johnson, the team remains in the mix for fellow 5-star receiver Chrsitian Kirk. The Tigers may need to replace a significant portion of production in the passing game, as top targets D'haquille Williams and Sammie Coates could both consider leaving early for the NFL.
Senior Quan Bray ranks second on the team in receptions.
If Williams and Coates remain on campus, Johnson wouldn't necessarily need to step up until 2016. Several offensive recruits are enamored with Malzahn's attack, and Johnson is at least very interested.
Mark Richt and his staff have made receiver a priority position during this recruiting cycle. The Bulldogs landed 4-star pass-catcher Darius Slayton earlier this week, giving the team five prospects who are expected to end up at receiver next year.
Georgia has received underwhelming returns from recent signees at the position. Throw in the fact that leading receivers Michael Bennett and Chris Conley are seniors and it becomes apparent that additional depth is needed.
The Bulldogs have a young stockpile of talent in the offensive backfield and already hold a commitment from heralded 2016 quarterback Jacob Eason. Johnson would further enhance the future potential for an abundance of points, but Georgia has done an excellent job addressing its issues at receiver to this point.
Offensive coordinator Cam Cameron aims to add to his impressive collection of in-state receivers and Johnson is the latest prize up for grabs. Last signing day, the Tigers landed Louisiana targets in 5-star prospect Malachi Dupre and all-time high school receptions leader Trey Quinn.
The duo have made a modest impact this season as LSU's passing game has largely sputtered due to inconsistent quarterback play. Sophomore Travin Dural is the only player who caught more than 20 passes during the regular season, a far cry from past LSU attacks that featured an abundances of NFL prospects.
That statistic may scare off receiver targets, but Johnson is comfortable with the Tigers staff. He's been on LSU's radar for a long time and holds substantial relationships with coaches and players alike.
However, we saw 5-star New Orleans receiver Speedy Noil spurn the team for Texas A&M last signing day and he's enjoyed immense success beyond state borders. Odds are in favor of Johnson taking a similar route.
The Cowboys have been known as a prolific passing team in recent years, highlighted by the success of eventual first-round NFL picks Dez Bryant and Justin Blackmon. The downfield attack isn't operating with nearly as much efficiency this season, but a weapon like Johnson could reinvigorate things.
Oklahoma State is still searching for an elite receiver in this cycle and coaches are likely doing all they can to line up an official visit with the New Orleans star. If the team can get him on campus for a weekend, its chances of actually pulling in his signature improve exponentially.
However, as along as he remains a stranger, there probably isn't a bigger long shot on this list than the Cowboys.
The Red Raiders were an early leader in this race and remain a strong contender despite the program's disappointing season. Texas Tech fans are still largely fired up about the team's future with former quarterback Kliff Kingsbury leading the way, and that excitement extends into recruiting.
Texas Tech is on the verge of landing one of its strongest classes, headlined by Jarrett Stidham. The 5-star quarterback threw for more than 60 touchdowns throughout his past two seasons at Stephenville High School in Texas, surpassing 900 rushing yards during each campaign.
Johnson and Stidham could form a prolific duo for years to come in Lubbock. Aside from Oklahoma State, the Red Raiders presents his best option for emerging as a No. 1 target in 2015.
With Stidham on board, give the team a slight edge. Texas Tech is the top choice and best fit for Johnson two months shy of signing day.
Recruit ratings courtesy of 247Sports.
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