NCAA Football News

Bama Signees with Best Chance of Playing

TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — With 2015 national signing day in the books, the question for Alabama fans now becomes: So who’s going to play?

There’s a lot that goes into playing right away as a freshman.

First, you have to have the skill and talent obviously. But the roster needs to shake out such that there is an opening for you to squeeze into and contribute. If you are the best inside linebacker in the class and your team is returning two All-Americans at that position, it’ll be hard to see the field right away.

So with all of that in mind, let’s look at some 2015 signees with the best chance to get playing time immediately.

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Tyren Jones Suspended By Alabama: Latest Details, Comments and Reaction

Alabama Crimson Tide running back Tyren Jones was suspended indefinitely by the program on Tuesday.

Andrew Suttles of TideSports.com tweeted Alabama head coach Nick Saban's announcement:

It is unclear as to what Jones specifically did to warrant such steep punishment, but this isn't the first time the talented ball-carrier has been in trouble. Jones was also suspended in October 2014, though Saban declined to divulge details at the time.

Jones can't afford to be in Saban's doghouse many more times, or else his potentially promising NCAA career in Tuscaloosa won't be able to fully blossom.

The 5'9", 212-pound redshirt sophomore-to-be sat out in 2013 before flashing nicely in 2014, running for 224 yards and two touchdowns on 36 carries.

D.C. Reeves of the Tuscaloosa News implied big things could be in store for Jones, provided he sees the field:

Competition was stiff in the Crimson Tide backfield this last year, but now Jones has set himself back in a bid to take on a more prominent role. T.J. Yeldon is heading into the NFL draft, while Kenyan Drake is fighting back from a broken leg.

Derrick Henry figures to be the feature back for Alabama in 2015. However, if Jones can straighten himself out and get back in Saban's good graces, he has a chance to be a big contributor in the coming years.

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Way-Too-Early Preview of Florida State Seminoles' 2016 Recruiting Class

The Florida State Seminoles are wasting no time with their 2016 recruiting class, scooping up some top-notch talent that can play on both sides of the ball. 

Bleacher Report College Football Analyst Michael Felder breaks down the Seminoles' 2016 class, highlighting the players who will be making an impact for Jimbo Fisher and his staff. 

Will Florida State knock off Alabama and reign atop the recruiting world? Check out the video, and let us know!

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Way-Too-Early Preview of Oregon Ducks 2016 Recruiting Class

The Oregon Ducks enjoyed one of the finest seasons in school history, cracking the College Football Playoff before eventually losing to Ohio State in the championship game. They produced one of the best 2015 recruiting classes, but the Oregon fanbase is always looking forward.

Bleacher Report College Football Analyst Michael Felder discusses the 2016 class for the Oregon Ducks.

Will this class come in and keep the winning ways going for the Ducks? Check out the video and let us know!

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What the End of the Mike Weber Recruiting Saga Means for Ohio State

COLUMBUS, Ohio — Shortly after 5 p.m. yesterday, a tweet entered my feed showing Ohio State signee Mike Weber wearing a Michigan shirt during a workout at his high school. Given that at the time, Weber appeared to still be torn between the Buckeyes and Wolverines following the departure of OSU running backs Stan Drayton, I found it interesting and decided to retweet it.

Buckeyes star defensive end Joey Bosa responded, his dry sense of humor more apparent than ever. 

As it often does, Twitter ran with it from there, as stories popped up asking if Bosa had dissed the 4-star running back. About two hours later, those stories were rendered irrelevant, however, as Weber broke his four-day streak of public silence.

Weber's tweet indicated that he's just fine with Drayton's replacement, Tony Alford, who had recruited the Detroit Cass Tech star during his previous job at Notre Dame. More importantly, Weber reaffirmed his decision to be a Buckeye and will evidently not seek an exit from his recently signed national letter of intent.

That's big for Ohio State and head coach Urban Meyer. The Buckeyes would have surely faced a messy dilemma had one of their prized prospects campaigned to leave the program in favor of an archrival.

Make no mistake, Drayton's sudden departure the day after signing day was still a public relations nightmare for the Buckeyes, but it appears as though its effects will only be temporary. After a weekend full of drama—including an apparent subtweet from Michigan head coach Jim Harbaugh regarding the situation—Weber is sticking with Ohio State, adding the nation's ninth-ranked incoming running back to an already loaded Buckeyes backfield.

The Weber saga hasn't affected Ohio State's future on the recruiting trail yet either, with 5-star 2016 running back Kareem Walker solidifying his commitment to the Buckeyes with a statement approving Alford's arrival via Elevenwarriors.com's Jeremy Birmingham. Harbaugh will undoubtedly use last week's drama against Ohio State on the recruiting trail, but if Weber didn't even try to get out of his commitment, it's hard to imagine it swaying any other prospect.

The fact of the matter is coaching changes happen at the college level year-round and a player will rarely make it through all four years of his career without being affected by one. The timing of Drayton's departure was far from ideal, but in retrospect, the attention it received was full of overreaction—from myself included.

Because if there's no tangible effects—both in the short and long-terms—then what's the real harm in a couple of days of bad PR? If anything, Meyer showed his ability to make the most of a tough situation, arguably upgrading his running backs coach in the process.

“I’ve known Tony Alford for a long time and I am very pleased to be adding him to our staff,” Meyer said in a statement announcing Alford's hiring. “He is an exceptional person and coach who is going to work really well with our staff and who will be an outstanding mentor and teacher for this football program.”

Highly thought of as a recruiter in coaching circles, Alford has already proven capable of minimizing any damage done by Drayton's sudden decision to leave Columbus for the Chicago Bears. That should come in handy on the recruiting trail as well, where the Buckeyes and Wolverines will be squaring off for the foreseeable future. 

As for the on-field effects of Weber's decision, he could very well see immediate playing, helping spell Hesiman frontrunner Ezekiel Elliott alongside sophomore-to-be Curtis Samuel. While Samuel possesses electrifying speed, Weber's game is more power-based, with the 5'10", 215-pounder rushing for 2,268 yards and 29 touchdowns in his senior season.

Sure, the past week—which started with Weber going back and forth on whether to initially sign with the Buckeyes or Wolverines in the first place—added plenty of sizzle to a rivalry in need of some and was perfect for today's quick-hitter news cycle. But for Ohio State, it is no longer an issue, with the Buckeyes—and Weber—walking away unscathed.

 

Ben Axelrod is Bleacher Report's Ohio State Lead Writer. You can follow him on Twitter @BenAxelrod. Unless noted otherwise, all quotes obtained firsthand. All statistics courtesy of cfbstats.com. Recruiting rankings courtesy of 247Sports.

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2015 Draft Prospect Duke Johnson Does Everything but Can't Carry an NFL Offense

Years ago, Miami Hurricanes running back Duke Johnson would have been categorized as a scatback once he made the transition to the NFL. In today's game, Johnson would fall under the more common designation of a third-down back. What Johnson won't be is projected as a feature back who can carry the load for an NFL offense. 

But that doesn't mean his value is completely diminished. 

In a class that features an elite, albeit injured, talent in Georgia's Todd Gurley, a potential first-round pick in Wisconsin's Melvin Gordon and a wild card in Boise State's Jay Ajayi, Johnson holds advantages over all three of them. 

Johnson is healthier at the moment than Gurley. The Miami product is far more polished in the passing game compared to Gordon. And Johnson's overall speed and quickness are superior to Ajayi's. 

This combination will help place Johnson among the top five running backs in this year's class. The problems, though, stem from concerns over Johnson's size and durability. 

The Miami native is listed at 5'9" and 206 pounds. 

Weight certainly fluctuates for all athletes, and some of those listed measurements most likely haven't been updated in years. But the general consensus is that only one of the league's top rushers claims a smaller frame than Johnson. 

Johnson's durability also remains in question due to his size. 

The running back fractured his right ankle in a 2013 contest against the Virginia Tech Hokies. The same ankle was injured during the Hurricanes' 24-21 loss to the South Carolina Gamecocks in the 2014 Independence Bowl. However, Johnson told The State's Josh Kendall it wasn't a severe injury: 

A running back's durability extends beyond his ability to stay on the field, though. 

A player takes a beating at the position throughout his career. A running back's shelf life isn't expected to be more than a handful of years, or whenever that player is about to reach 30 years old. 

While fewer carries at the collegiate level can be seen as a positive for running back prospects, it also leaves room to question the back's ability to thrive as a team's No. 1 option out of the backfield. 

Comparisons to the Philadelphia Eagles' LeSean McCoy and the Kansas City Chiefs' Jamaal Charles will be cited to place Johnson in a favorable light due to their similar statures.

McCoy, though, showed during his time with the Pitt Panthers that he could be the team's primary runner and carry a heavy load. In his two seasons compared to Johnson's three in Miami, McCoy actually accumulated more carries. 

Charles' career path at Texas was much closer to Johnson's, but the current Chief still isn't the ideal comparison. The Cincinnati Bengals' Giovani Bernard's career path, which started with the North Carolina Tar Heels, may be the best example for how Johnson will transition to the NFL level. 

During his first season with the Chiefs, Charles learned behind Larry Johnson. Bernard, meanwhile, only carried the ball 10.6 times per game as a rookie after being drafted in the second round of the 2013 draft. 

This type of scenario would be ideal for Duke Johnson. 

But even if the Miami running back is eventually placed into a similar situation, it doesn't guarantee success. 

After exploding onto the scene as a rookie, Bernard was viewed as the new No. 1 running back in Cincinnati. Bernard's increased role didn't last long.

Through the initial five games of the 2014 season, Bernard averaged 17.2 carries. He then injured his ribs against the Indianapolis Colts on Oct. 19. The running back also suffered an injured shoulder and knee as the season progressed. By the end of the campaign, Bernard missed three games and averaged only 10.2 carries over his final eight games. 

The Bengals instead turned to Jeremy Hill, a 238-pound rookie. Not only did the LSU product assume the lead back duties, but he went on to be one of the NFL's most productive running backs. 

This is the concern that surrounds Duke Johnson. Can he hold up to the rigors of the NFL, or is he merely a rotational player among a team's running back stable? 

Like Bernard, Duke Johnson's value truly lies in his versatility. 

During his final season on campus, Bernard averaged 6.7 yards per carry compared to Johnson's 6.8. The North Carolina standout snagged 47 receptions, while Duke Johnson grabbed 38. Both also proved to be dynamic returners during their careers. 

As a pure runner, the Miami running back owns elite straight-line speed, tremendous lateral quickness and the ability to make a cut without slowing down. 

After running for 1,652 yards as a junior, Duke Johnson declared early for the draft. During his final collegiate campaign, he became Miami's all-time leading rusher. 

Think about that for a second. 

During his time in Coral Gables, Duke Johnson was more productive than Ottis Anderson, Edgerrin James, Clinton Portis, Willis McGahee and Frank Gore. 

However, Duke Johnson isn't the most physical runner. His speed makes him a valuable commodity, but he shouldn't be expected to break tackles or excel as a short-yardage runner at the next level. 

The running back starts to separate himself as a receiver out of the backfield. Duke Johnson caught 38 passes for 421 yards as a junior. He isn't simply a check-down option either; the running back ran wheel and seam routes during the season. He can be a downfield threat when placed in the right situations.

Current players such as Reggie Bush and Darren Sproles bring the same value to their teams. Neither is counted upon to carry the ball more than 10-12 times per game, but each serves as one of his respective team's best receivers. 

The running back is also a willing blocker. While Duke Johnson can be overwhelmed at the point of attack, he does a good job recognizing pressure and picking up the right blitzer or free rusher. 

Duke Johnson even brings added value as a dynamic kick returner. While he wouldn't be the team's top option out of the backfield, the upcoming rookie can prove to be a major presence on special teams. 

Prior to his junior season in which Miami coach Al Golden decided to use him only as a running back, Johnson averaged 31.4 yards per kick return. He also recorded a pair of touchdowns as a true freshman. 

The Arizona Cardinals, Minnesota Vikings, Oakland Raiders and San Diego Chargers are organizations that require running back depth and also finished 22nd overall or worse in kick return average. 

As the NFL becomes more and more specialized with each passing season, the ability to contribute in multiple areas makes prospects like Johnson valuable commodities.

The Miami product's speed with the ball in his hands, ability to contribute in a team's passing attack and brilliance in the return game as a special teams ace will make Duke Johnson a early-round pick in April's NFL draft.

Just don't ask him to be a workhorse in a run-heavy offense. 

Brent Sobleski covers the NFL draft for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter.

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The Under-the-Radar Signee Who Will Explode for Auburn in 2015

National signing day drama encapsulated Auburn last week, after 5-star defensive end Byron Cowart committed to Auburn in the morning but didn't get around to faxing in his national letter of intent until much later in the day.

One of its biggest surprises, though, took place late on the night before national signing day. 

Darius Slayton, a 6'1", 182-pound wide receiver from Greater Atlanta Christian in Norcross, Georgia, flipped from Georgia hours before signing day and is the top-ranked wide receiver in Auburn's class.

He's going to make an immediate impact, too.

Slayton will join a crowded Auburn wide receiving corps that includes leading receiver D'haquille "Duke" Williams, Ricardo Louis, Melvin Ray, Marcus Davis and Tony Stevens. Of those players, though, only Louis has shown the ability to consistently get open deep.

That was with Sammie Coates earning most of the attention. Now that Coates is gone, it opens up more room for somebody to emerge to become a deep threat in the new-look Tigers offense that should be more pass-happy with Jeremy Johnson taking the snaps.

"Darius Slayton is a big, long guy that can really run," head coach Gus Malzahn said during his post-signing day press conference. "He attacks the ball."

Slayton can become the deep threat for Auburn early, and then evolve into a more complete receiver once he gets into the strength and conditioning program and Williams moves on.

At 6'1", Slayton presents matchup problems to cornerbacks trying to cover him one-on-one, has great moves in the open field and can high-point a football as well as anybody in the class of 2015.

"I think Slayton is the most underrated receiver in this class," said B/R national recruiting writer Sanjay Kirpalani. "He's so smooth as a route-runner, and he has great body control when fighting for passes in the air. He's elusive in the open field and he has the speed to be a deep threat. I believe he's one of the most complete receivers in the country, and I believe he can help Auburn immediately next fall."

Is there a traffic jam in front of him? Absolutely.

That won't matter to Slayton, who has the skills to be a star right away. Take a look at his highlights below, and you'll see a burner with terrific hands who knows how to get open and make plays in space.

Besides, this won't be the same Auburn offense Malzahn was successful with over the last two seasons.

Quarterback Nick Marshall's departure and the transition to Johnson will make this year's Tigers more wide open than they have been in the past. They're not going to be the same as the Tulsa teams Malzahn coordinated when quarterback Paul Smith topped the 5,000-yard mark in 2007 and David Johnson topped the 4,000-yard mark in 2008. But it will have some of the same elements, especially with so many weapons.

One of those weapons, Louis, emerged as a weapon on jet sweeps during the second half of the 2014 season. With Corey Grant gone, that could shift more running responsibilities to Louis, which means more chances downfield for other receivers, including Slayton.

Keep an eye on Slayton.

He wasn't one of the headliners of Auburn's 2015 recurring class, but he could evolve into one of the most important pieces of the offensive puzzle as early as next season.

 

Barrett Sallee is the lead SEC college football writer and video analyst for Bleacher Report, as well as a host on Bleacher Report Radio on Sirius 93, XM 208.

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

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Texas A&M Football: 4 Redshirts with Best Chance to Earn Starting Spot in 2015

The Texas A&M football team will compete for an SEC title in the 2015 season. If the Aggies want to win the SEC, they are going to need a number of players who redshirted in 2014 to step in and contribute as starters in the fall.

The eligibility clock on college athletes has been sped up. As time goes on, college football players are expected to contribute earlier and earlier in their careers. At one time, freshmen could expect to redshirt their first year on campus and contribute on the field as juniors and seniors.

Now some freshmen are expected to contribute on the field right away. There were 21 recruits in the Aggies' 2014 signing class and 12 of them played as true freshmen.    

This is a look at which players who redshirted this past season will compete for starting positions in 2015. 

 

 

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USC Football: Recruiting Success Ups Ante for Sarkisian to Win Soon

Bringing in his second Pac-12-best recruiting class in as many years and USC football's highest-rated signing class in eight years puts pressure on Trojans head coach Steve Sarkisian to win big in 2015.

Sarkisian's debut season as USC head coach was marked with near-misses—namely Arizona and Cal rallying from double-digit-point deficits to force close finishes—and devastating heartbreak. 

Had a single play against either Arizona State or Utah gone differently, USC would have had its second consecutive 10-win season and first Pac-12 Championship Game appearance.

Still, given the limitations USC faced—the Trojans’ roster was at its thinnest after three years of NCAA sanctions—Sarkisian was justified in his assessment that 2014 was “a total success." 

"We're excited to have won nine games, and our future is bright," Sarkisian said the day following USC's Holiday Bowl win over Nebraska.

National signing day was a major milestone in that future, as Sarkisian and his staff put together a class reminiscent of those Pete Carroll landed amid USC's run of seven straight conference titles last decade.

While not quite enough to bring USC to full strength, the 26 new additions give the Trojans depth that was sorely lacking in recent campaigns. Given the accolades many in this class bring to Heritage Hall, USC has the sheer talent to match any team in the Pac-12—even with roughly 10 fewer players on scholarship.

Success in 2015 can only be defined by winning championships—not just being a few plays away from them.

Among the veterans set to team with USC's incoming recruiting class, there was no shying away from talk of championships in the final days and weeks of the 2014 season.

"We're looking forward to next year, just going back to work and we're going to go for that championship," offensive lineman Toa Lobendahn said.

That means a Pac-12 South title and appearance in the conference championship game represent the absolute basement for a successful season.

The incoming class of highly rated freshmen and junior college transfers must be prepared to shoulder a considerable portion of the burden in chasing championships.

Last year's signing class proved good things are not exclusively for those who wait. First-year players like Lobendahn were central to the successes of 2014, and this year's class features even more blue-chip prospects capable of making an immediate splash.

Several signees are not just capable, but could be asked to make an immediate impact. Ronald Jones II, for example, joins a running back corps returning only one scholarship player who played last season.

Defensive tackle Rasheem Green steps into a defensive line looking to replace All-American Leonard Williams, a former first-year phenom in his own right.

Don't expect the newcomers to shirk the responsibility inherent in taking on prominent roles, either.

Offensive lineman Damien Mama, who was in that position last season, summarized it best. "Championship, just like every other," he said when I asked about the goal the 2014 class set.

The 2015 class comes in with the same goal, but it won't just be a dream. Competing for titles in 2015 will be the expectation.

 

Quotes obtained firsthand unless otherwise cited. Recruiting rankings and information courtesy of 247Sports.com composite scores.

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2015 Signees Who Will Immediately Help Texas A&M

No team wants to lose a player—or players—to either transfer or other personal reasons. In the last 24 hours, Texas A&M, according to 247Sports, will go into the 2015 season without the services of a former starter at linebacker in Jordan Mastrogiovanni and a receiver expected to compete for playing time in Kyrion Parker.

Fortunately for Kevin Sumlin, the Aggies signed a top-12 class featuring 25 athletes. The class includes three 5-star and 11 4-star players, all of whom will be competing for early playing time next season.

And one look at last year's depth chart, courtesy of Ourlads, shows that Sumlin likes to play his young guns if he feels they are worthy.

Sumlin is excited about the 2015 class—and rightfully so. He will have some freshmen looking to not only challenge for playing time but also find permanent starting roles. Here are five signees who could be immediate impact players for the Aggies in the fall.

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Will Roquan Smith's Decision to Not Sign a LOI Set New Recruiting Trend?

One of the craziest scenes on national signing day involved 4-star linebacker Roquan Smith—who committed to UCLA on national television but failed to sign his letter of intent after Bruins defensive coordinator Jeff Ulbrich departed Westwood for an NFL job.

Smith has reopened his recruiting process and will decide from his group of four finalists—Georgia, Michigan, Texas A&M and UCLA.

However, according to Michael Carvell of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Smith will not sign a national letter of intent with his school of choice. Instead, he will simply commit to a school and enroll at that program in the summer.

“He’s not going to sign a letter of intent,” Smith’s high school coach, Larry Harold, told Carvell. “The reason why is because what he went through last week. This just gives us flexibility in case something else unexpectedly happens again.”

Smith’s decision has the potential to change the way top prospects handle their recruitments, but will it become recruiting’s new trend?

The answer to that question remains to be seen.

However, Smith’s decision is likely to make waves among top prospects in future cycles.

Considering the drama that surrounded recruits such as Smith, Ohio State signee Michael Weber and Florida signee CeCe Jefferson—all of whom saw coaches that recruited them to their school of choice bolt for NFL gigs shortly after signing day—opting not to sign a letter of intent gives recruits more leverage and control over their futures.

Andy Staples of Sports Illustrated theorized that the NLI is the “worst contract in American sports.” He also noted that the more important document that recruits should be concerned with is the financial aid agreement—which allows prospects to earn most of the benefits of having a scholarship without the penalties that come with trying to get out of a dispute after signing a NLI.

Staples wrote:

Though most players don’t realize it, they do not have to sign the NLI to receive a scholarship. They need only sign a financial aid agreement at their chosen school. The financial aid paperwork provides (almost) the same guarantee of a scholarship as the NLI, but unlike the NLI, it doesn’t strip the player of the only leverage he’ll have until he graduates from college.

As Connor Tapp of 247Sports details, refusing to sign a NLI makes sense for prospects of Smith’s caliber. Colleges are likely to be more lenient with prospects such as Smith, who are being recruited by programs all over the country.

However, for lower-rated prospects, signing it brings the security of assuring a place in the school’s signing class.

Carvell estimates that schools will only allow a handful of elite prospects the option of enrolling without signing the NLI.

Regardless of how Smith’s saga plays out, his arrival at his school of choice has set a new precedent that gives top recruits a new way to make their commitment official.

At the very least, recruits now have an option that protects them from getting burned at the last minute by coaches who jump ship right after signing day.

 

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

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Does Oregon's Mark Helfrich Deserve His $17.5 Million Contract?

In a vacuum, Oregon head coach Mark Helfrich deserved every penny of his five-year, $17.5 million contract extension.

The problem is that we don't live in a vacuum; we live in a world in which Helfrich followed Chip Kelly, inheriting his system, his coaches and his players. No matter how one feels about Helfrich, his achievements are linked to the previous regime.

Still, Helfrich has done enough the past two seasons to earn that raise, especially in 2014-15, when Oregon won the Pac-12, beat Florida State in the Rose Bowl/national semifinal and lost to Ohio State in the College Football Playoff Championship Game.

Only eight active coaches have made a national title game since 2004. Here is what they earned last season (per USA Today):

  • Nick Saban (Alabama): $7.2 million
  • Bob Stoops (Oklahoma): $5.1 million
  • Urban Meyer (Ohio State): $4.5 million
  • Les Miles (LSU): $4.4 million
  • Gus Malzahn (Auburn): $3.9 million
  • Jimbo Fisher (Florida State): $3.6 million
  • Mark Helfrich (Oregon): $2.0 million

*Note: Brian Kelly made the 2013 BCS National Championship Game, but Notre Dame withholds his contract information.

With his raise, Helfrich moves from $2 million in 2014-15 to $3.2 million in 2015-16 and $3.8 million in 2019-20. As of next season, he'll rise from No. 51 in the salary rankings to the top 25—still below those other six coaches, but close to their stratosphere.

And that feels about right. Saban, Stoops, Meyer, Miles and Fisher have been doing this a long time. Other than Fisher, each has actually made multiple national title games. And Malzahn, who like Helfrich was a second-year head coach in 2014, turned a 3-9 Auburn team into the national runner-up in one season.

Helfrich did not inherit a 3-9 team; he inherited a Fiesta Bowl champion. That explains the salary discrepancy between him and those other six coaches. What he's done is slightly less impressive, so he deserves slightly less money.

Until Monday, though, he made a lot less money.

Oregon went 46-7 in four years under Kelly, winning 12 games per season from 2010 to 2012. Helfrich is 24-4 with an 11-win and a 13-win season (although the CFP format might have boosted that).

Kelly (33-3) fared better in conference play than Helfrich (15-3), but Helfrich's only nonconference loss came in the national title game. The Ducks beat Michigan State 46-27 in Week 2 last season; Kelly never won a nonconference game that huge.

Helfrich was the offensive coordinator/quarterbacks coach under Kelly from 2009-12, coming to Eugene after three years in the same position at Colorado. Before that he coached quarterbacks under Dirk Koetter at Boise State and Arizona State. Under his command, Sun Devils quarterback Andrew Walter broke John Elway's Pac-10 record for career passing touchdowns (85).

Why is this important? Because it proves Helfrich is not some two-bit, discount Kelly impersonator. If he were, Kelly never would have hired him in first place. Neither would have Koetter.

"He can do it all in his head," Koetter told Ray Glier of Bleacher Report in September. "He doesn't have to draw pictures on the board. …He sees the game through the quarterback's eyes. We all have ideas, but if your quarterback can't execute those ideas, they are lines on a paper. Mark is as smart a football guy as I know."

Having spent eight years under Koetter—who just became the offensive coordinator of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers after three years with the Atlanta Falcons—and four years under Kelly, Helfrich has learned more about offense than most coaches will forget. Those are two of…what, the 25 best offensive minds in football? Maybe 15?

And it's clear that Helfrich took notes:

The last number on that table refers to the F/+ ratings at Football Outsiders. The percentage denotes how a unit compares with the FBS average. Under Helfrich, the Ducks' offense has been roughly 20 percent better. Under Kelly, it was roughly 13.

Helfrich, then, took a famously dominant offense and made it more dominant. And not just a little more dominant—a lot more dominant.

Part of that has to do with timing: Helfrich coached Marcus Mariota, the best quarterback in Oregon history, as a redshirt sophomore and junior, while Kelly coached him as a redshirt freshman. Who's to say what might have happened with Kelly on the sideline?

Helfrich still has something to prove, and he'll get his chance with Mariota leaving for the NFL next season. Eastern Washington transfer Vernon Adams leads a field of five candidates to replace him.

Can Helfrich win with a new face under center? We'll find out in 2015. But based on what he's done to this point—not just at Oregon, but before—he has earned the benefit of the doubt.

He's earned that new paycheck, too.

 

Follow Brian Leigh on Twitter: @BLeigh35

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7 SEC Players Who Are Under the Most Pressure Entering Offseason Workouts

National championships aren't won or lost in the fall. They're won or lost in the offseason. 

For many players who are getting ready for spring practice around the SEC, the next few months will dictate whether they become stars, or regress to anonymity as other talented players pass them on the depth chart.

Which players around the SEC are under the most pressure heading into spring practice?

Our picks based on opportunity, age, talent and competition are in this slideshow.

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Which 2015 Recruit Is a Future No. 1 Pick in the NFL Draft?

National signing day is over, and the top prospects have signed on the dotted line for their respective schools. It is now time to get down to business as the 2015 season quickly approaches.

Bleacher Report College Football Analysts Michael Felder and Barrett Sallee discuss which 2015 commit is most likely to be the No. 1 pick at the professional level.

Who would you select? Check out the video and let us know!

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10 College Football Coaches Who Are Destined for the NFL

How many current NFL head coaches served in the same capacity at the college level?

Five: Seattle’s Pete Carroll (USC, 2001-09), Philadelphia’s Chip Kelly (Oregon, 2009-12), Houston’s Bill O’Brien (Penn State, 2012-13), the New York Giants’ Tom Coughlin (Boston College, 1991-93) and Detroit’s Jim Caldwell (Wake Forest, 1993-2000).

Identifying who will make the next successful transition is not as easy as saying, “he’s a great college coach, so he’ll definitely do well in the NFL” (think Steve Spurrier and Nick Saban), nor is it safe to say “great college coaches can’t win in the pros” (refer to Pete Carroll).

Here are a handful of things recent level-jumpers have in common: Multiple assistant roles in the NFL, a limited number of college head jobs, a primarily offensive background and a winning record in college.

Though these college guys may not sound like the most obvious NFL prospects, they most completely fit the mold of their predecessors. While it doesn’t mean they’re sure things, it’s definitely worth keeping them in mind.

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6 Wide Receivers the San Francisco 49ers Must Consider in the 2015 NFL Draft

The San Francisco 49ers have a new coaching staff and holes to fill at several key positions. This is a critical time for the 49ers, as anything less than a stellar draft will doom this team to a second year out of the playoffs.

The 49ers finished the 2014 season with a record of 8-8, trailing both the Seattle Seahawks and Arizona Cardinals in the NFL West. In addition, with the St. Louis Rams on the upswing, the 49ers could be a lot closer to fourth place than first this coming year.

Arguably, it appears that the biggest hole in the 49ers 2015 roster is at the wide receiver position. The 49ers have no No. 1 receiver or deep threat. Even with the expected emphasis placed on the ground game, in order to keep opposing defenses honest, the 49ers must have someone who can make big plays down the field.

The 49ers do not have that breakaway threat among their current crop of receivers. Anquan Boldin and Stevie Johnson are solid receivers but can be best classified as No. 2 or No. 3 receivers, not top-flight No. 1 threats.

With Michael Crabtree likely gone via the free-agent market, that leaves Quinton Patton and Bruce Ellington as the only other receivers behind Boldin and Johnson. Both Patton and Ellington are unproven and have battled injuries in their brief NFL careers.

Unfortunately, this issue is something that should have been addressed in the 2014 draft, as there were a dozen highly skilled receivers coming out. It was, perhaps, the most highly talented class of receiver talent in history. 

San Francisco general manager Trent Baalke did not draft a receiver in the first two or even three rounds, which now has the 49ers in a tough predicament. The 2015 receiver class is far below the quality and quantity of 2014. Baalke dropped the ball by neglecting to grab a top young receiver last year. 

Drafting in the 15th spot in the 2015 draft, let's take a look at the 49ers' options in Round 1, as well as who might be a fit later in the draft.

All stats courtesy of sports-reference.com.

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College Football Offenses That Will Struggle After 2015 NFL Departures

With the NFL draft quickly approaching, it's natural for most of the focus to be on how the new class of rookies can fill holes for the teams playing on Sundays.

But an aspect of the draft that is often overlooked is the holes being left on Saturdays.

The Alabama Crimson Tide, for instance, lose arguably their two best offensive weapons in Amari Cooper and T.J. Yeldon, while teams like the Kansas State Wildcats and Florida State Seminoles are also left to replace their biggest tools on the offensive side of the ball.

So which college football offenses will struggle most to replace the guys who will suit up for the pros in 2015?

 

Note: All draft prospect projections and rankings are from CBS Sports unless otherwise noted.

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2015 Missouri Tigers Full Season Preview

The 2015 Missouri Tigers football season is something like uncharted waters for fans of this generation. Coming off of back-to-back SEC East division titles, there's no question that Mizzou has a target on its back that comes along with winning.

Head coach Gary Pinkel's squad has come up with 23 wins over the past two seasons to prove that his leadership is anything but a showpiece. Pinkel has shown incredible persistence as a coach, and the fruits of his labor are apparent in everything that you see going well with Mizzou right now.

But don't think that teams like the Georgia Bulldogs are going to be taking the Tigers lightly. Don't think that Florida's newest son Jim McElwain is coming in to test the waters out. If its 5-0 bowl record is any indication, the SEC East is on the rise and will look to come after the Tigers with confidence.

Missouri will look to avoid the kind of unpredictable loss they had last year, as long as they can take care of a relatively easy nonconference schedule.

Quarterback Maty Mauk returns as a junior to guide a team that could undoubtedly three-peat as SEC East division champions. But after a redshirt year, Tampa's Marvin Zanders will now be in the fold at quarterback and could see some game time this year. Let's not forget Drew Lock, a player Jim Harbaugh attempted to court to Michigan, to no avail.

Here, we take a look at where we believe the players will all end up when everything is said and done, as well as way too many other things about Missouri football that will gear you up for the 2015 season.

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