NCAA Football News

Georgia Lands UAB's Jake Ganus, Immediately Strengthens Defense

Former UAB linebacker Jake Ganus will transfer to play his senior year at Georgia.

Ganus was UAB's leading tackler the past two seasons and is eligible to play immediately following the folding of the Blazers program Dec. 2. He announced the news on Twitter:

Georgia is set to lose inside linebackers Amarlo Herrera and Ramik Wilson next season. Outside linebackers Jordan Jenkins and Leonard Floyd are both expected to return, per Genry Estes of 247Sports, but the Bulldogs could still use depth at the position.

Ganus began his career at safety before moving to linebacker as a sophomore. He had 16.5 tackles for loss in 2014, tying him for No. 16 in the country. He is 6'2", 225 pounds and played on the weak side at UAB, so it's doubtful he could handle playing inside in the SEC.

Herrera (245 lbs) and Wilson (237 lbs) both make Ganus look small.

Still, Ganus made the All-Conference-USA second team in 2014 and has three years of game experience under him. He was one of the most attractive "free agents" on UAB's roster and gives Georgia depth at multiple positions—safety included.

Jake Reuse of Rivals.com explains how Ganus was courted by Georgia coaches and his effect on the scholarship numbers:

[Ganus] was put in contact with Georgia coaches when the relocation process began and the relationship appeared to bloom from there.

Ganus committed to the Bulldogs over the Marshall Thundering Herd, upon finding out that he would be granted official visits over the dead period and that his eligibility would not count toward the mid-year scholarship numbers.  Instead, Ganus will be counted toward the final spring count of 85.

Ganus played his best game of the 2014 season against Arkansas, one of the most physical offenses in the SEC. The Razorbacks won with ease, 45-17, but Ganus had 11 total tackles including one 12-yard sack. He tackled Jonathan Williams for a one-yard loss on the first play of the game and finished with five tackles in the first quarter.

Defensive coordinator Jeremy Pruitt could go a number of different ways with Ganus. He could try to beef him up and play him on the inside. He could try to slim him down and play him at safety. He could leave him as he is and let him back up Floyd and Jenkins.

That Ganus doesn't fit one role concretely is what makes him such a valuable addition. Georgia has a ton of holes on defense, and a new one opened Dec. 8 when cornerback J.J. Green announced he will transfer to Georgia Tech. If the past few offseasons were any indication, that will not be the only player lost to transfer or dismissal before next fall.

Ganus gives the Bulldogs options at multiple spots. He is an experienced FBS player who can paper over some of their holes.

No matter where he lines up, this defense just got better.

 

Follow Brian Leigh on Twitter: @BLeigh35

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Auburn Football: How Will the Tigers Stop Melvin Gordon?

AUBURN, Ala. — Auburn's defense returned to the practice field without its coordinator from the entire regular season, under the direction of an interim coordinator whose future with the program is unclear and with its next coordinator observing off to the side.

And, through all of those drastic changes, the Tigers are having to prepare for the nation's best running back.

Melvin Gordon, who leads the country with 180 rushing yards per game this season, will lead a Wisconsin offense, undergoing an abrupt coaching transition as well, against an Auburn defense that struggled mightily to end the season in the Outback Bowl.

"He has a lot of moves in his arsenal," junior linebacker Kris Frost said. "He can get free. He has a lot of breakaway speed. He has a lot of power to his game. It makes him tough to bring him down.

"But it's something that we're up for the challenge, and we'll be ready when it comes time to play."

Slowing down Gordon will be a challenge for Auburn's defense, but it shouldn't be viewed as an impossible task, if it takes a page out of the Ohio State playbook.

Although the Heisman finalist ripped through opponents throughout the regular season—even breaking LaDainian Tomlinson's 15-year FBS record for most rushing yards in a single game against Nebraska—he is also coming off one of the worst performances of his illustrious Wisconsin career.

Ohio State held Gordon to just 76 yards on 26 carries in an eye-popping 59-0 rout in the Big Ten Championship Game, a victory that helped the Buckeyes make the inaugural College Football Playoff.

"We couldn’t make any explosive plays," Gordon said after the loss, per the Wisconsin State Journal's Andy Baggot. "They really got after us with blitzes and with everything. Our offense as a whole couldn’t get things rolling."

While Ohio State's defense had more success than Auburn's in 2014, its performances against rushing attacks weren't all that different:

But the Buckeyes shut down Gordon and Wisconsin's power-running offense thanks to sound fundamentals and a fierce attitude.

"We leveraged the ball, we were aggressive and we were gap sound," Ohio State linebacker Josh Perry told Cleveland.com's Bill Landis. "Guys came out with a chip on their shoulder and got after them early."

On Thursday afternoon, Frost echoed Perry's keys to stopping Gordon.

"Gap fits and making sure everybody is in the right spot at the right time," Frost said. "Really just bringing your feet on every tackle, never expecting him to just go down and knowing that he's always going to keep his legs moving. So we're going to have to keep our legs moving. When you hit, you have to continue to run."

That, of course, is easier said than done, especially for an Auburn defense that struggled to make sure tackles and stay true to assignments throughout the year.

But, according to Frost, the extra practices between the end of the regular season and the Iron Bowl have been beneficial in getting ready for a runner like Gordon.

"The main focus is winning the game and stopping their offense as a whole—the run, as well as the play-action pass and the dropback pass," Frost said. "With how much we're polishing things up and getting after it in practice, I'm sure we'll be ready for it when the time comes."

While Frost called playing against a run-first Big Ten team like Wisconsin "a linebacker's game," his teammates said stopping Gordon would be a total team effort.

"We're going to execute, just make sure all our run-stops are correct, and we're going to be ready for anything that comes by," sophomore safety Johnathan Ford said. "We're going to be ready to stop the ball, defend passes. We're getting ourselves ready. As DBs, we're going to be ready to defend passes, we're going to be ready to stop the run."

As for the attitude the Buckeyes had, Auburn's defensive stars said that has already been created by the presence of future coordinator Will Muschamp.

Outback Bowl practices and the game itself can be viewed as one big audition for Auburn's defense, which will be under the former Florida head coach after the New Year's Day showdown with Wisconsin.

The Tigers know that playing a huge role in stopping the nation's top running back would look great in the eyes of their new coordinator.

"It's going to be competition each and every day, but we've just got to go out and execute," Ford said. "You want to show your new defensive coordinator what you can do. ... Whenever you put stuff on film, people are going to evaluate you."

 

All quotes were obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted. All recruiting rankings and information courtesy of 247Sports. All stats courtesy of cfbstats.com.

Justin Ferguson is Bleacher Report's lead Auburn writer. Follow him on Twitter @JFergusonAU.

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Treon Harris Cited for Driving Vehicle Without License: Latest Details, Reaction

Florida Gators quarterback Treon Harris has gone through an up-and-down season both on and off the field, but the freshman once again finds himself in trouble with the law.

According to Robbie Andreu of GatorSports.com, the 19-year-old Miami native is facing a second-degree misdemeanor for operating a vehicle without a license.

Edgar Thompson of the Orlando Sentinel reports that "Harris is scheduled to appear in court at 1:30 p.m. Jan. 15 for the misdemeanor charge."

Scott Carter of GatorZone.com has a statement regarding the incident:

Harris was reportedly stopped by police for speeding on Dec. 13, per Andreu:

Marijuana was found upon searching the car, although Harris is not facing marijuana charges since he doesn't own the car that was pulled over:

According to Andreu, Harris was accompanied by two other Gators players in freshman defensive backs J.C. Jackson and Jalen Tabor:

Per Richard Johnson of Jacksonville.com, Harris plans to plead not guilty to the charge against him:

Harris' attorney, Huntley Johnson, believes the charge will ultimately be dropped, according to Andreu.

"I think as soon as he gets his license, the charge probably will be dismissed," Johnson said. "That's the way it's usually handled in a case like this for a citizen, and he's a citizen."

Harris was accused of sexual battery by a female student earlier in the season, but she decided against pursuing criminal charges.

The Gators are set to face East Carolina in the Birmingham Bowl on Jan. 3, and Harris is expected to start under center.

That could potentially change if the school decides to pursue further discipline, although there hasn't been any indication of that to this point.

 

Follow @MikeChiari on Twitter

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Texas May Not Play Texas A&M, but Rivalry Is Still Heated on Recruiting Trail

The rivalry between the Texas Longhorns and the Texas A&M Aggies may no longer be played out on the field, but it is as heated as ever on the recruiting front.

The head-to-head battle between Texas A&M head coach Kevin Sumlin and Texas head coach Charlie Strong has been fairly one-sided in the Aggies' favor. However, Strong may have leveled the playing field Friday.

According to 247Sports' Colt Barber, 2015 5-star linebacker and No. 1 player in the state of Texas Malik Jefferson announced his commitment to the Longhorns early Friday morning. Texas also received the commitment of Jefferson's high school teammate, 4-star wide receiver/linebacker DeAndre McNeal.

Numerous recruiting experts, including the "Crystal Ball" pundits at 247Sports, predicted the Aggies were all but locked in for both Jefferson and McNeal. Those predictions proved to be wrong.

Texas A&M not having named a defensive coordinator could have been the straw that broke the Aggies' back with Jefferson, which allowed Strong to swoop in and take the lead.

Regardless of the reason behind Jefferson and McNeal's decisions, Strong landed two coveted recruits over in-state rival Texas A&M.

What happened Friday goes to show the battle between the Longhorns and the Aggies may never die. In fact, Strong and Sumlin's fight on the recruiting front has only just begun.

Texas has needed a big break in recruiting, and Friday's commitments give the Longhorns significant momentum on the recruiting trail.

What will be interesting to watch is if the momentum can continue through national signing day.

A variety of top recruits are still on the table, most notably wide receiver Ryan Newsome as well as defensive backs Kris Boyd and Holton Hill. Of those three main targets for Texas, Boyd has high interest in both the Longhorns and the Aggies.

Jefferson and McNeal's commitments could be exactly what Strong and Texas needed to reel in some more top talent in the 2015 class.

The events that occurred Friday will be far from the end of the battle between Texas and Texas A&M on the recruiting trail. As it stands, the Aggies' 2015 class ranks No. 4 compared to the No. 14 Longhorns.

Texas still has a lot of catching up to do, but Jefferson and McNeal's commitments are the first significant step in Strong's recruiting in the state of Texas.

 

Unless otherwise noted, all quotes were obtained firsthand. Recruiting information courtesy of 247Sports. Taylor Gaspar is Bleacher Report's featured columnist covering the Texas Longhorns. Follow her on Twitter @Taylor_Gaspar.

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Why Michigan's Next Coach Should Keep Greg Mattison

Michigan is currently waiting to see whether its massive offer to San Francisco 49ers head coach Jim Harbaugh is enough to lure him back to Ann Arbor. As Harbaugh contemplates his next move, conjecture turns to whether or not any of Brady Hoke’s assistants will be retained.

While it’s hard to make a case for anyone on the offensive side of the ball, defensive coordinator Greg Mattison is the best candidate to return.

Mattison was extremely loyal to Hoke, but it’s unlikely that he’d follow him to another university. He repeatedly defended Hoke’s handling of the program but still argued with him on the sidelines this season.

Mattison’s defense ranked 10th nationally this season despite getting very little help from an anemic offense which ranked 111th.

Could Mattison be tempted to continue working with the players he recruited and see how well they work with a better offense?

Whomever replaces Brady Hoke should retain some of the previous coaches in order to help the current players transition to the new staff. Even Rich Rodriguez, who famously purged most of Lloyd Carr’s staff, retained running backs coach Fred Jackson. Jackson was also retained by Hoke after Rodriguez’s dismissal, although it’s unclear if he will be retained by the next coach.

Mattison’s experience in the NFL and success at Michigan makes him a top candidate for any opening, although his age (65) does raise the question of how long he plans to keep coaching.

An interesting connection exists between Mattison and potential new coach Jim Harbaugh. Mattison has worked with both Harbaugh’s father, Jack, at Western Michigan his brother, John, at Baltimore in the NFL. He would undoubtedly have the support of Jim’s family, and his loyalty to both Michigan and his players might be enough for him return.

If Harbaugh passes on the job, Mattison also has ties to Les Miles, whose stealth campaign for the job  continues even as he publicly denies it. Miles recently told MLive.com's Nick Baumgardner that, "The only thing I can tell you is that I'm so for Michigan. They have a process, they're going to go through it. They're going to get a great coach.”

Miles’ current offensive coordinator, Cam Cameron, worked with Mattison in Baltimore and previously worked at Michigan as an assistant. It's conceivable that he might try to convince Mattison to stay.

Whomever replaces Hoke should consider retaining Greg Mattison. He was Hoke’s best coach and deserves a shot to keep building his defense.


Phil Callihan is a featured writer for Bleacher Report. Unless otherwise noted, all quotes were obtained firsthand.

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@PCallihan

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How Oregon Can Coach Around Ifo Ekpre-Olomu's Absence in Rose Bowl

Oregon knows what it will get out of Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback Marcus Mariota in the Rose Bowl against Florida State. What it will get out of its pass defense now that star cornerback Ifo Ekpre-Olomu is sidelined is an uncertainty.

In any case, Ducks coach Mark Helfrich may have to make some major adjustments on the fly.

According to Fox Sports' Bruce Feldman, Helfrich confirmed on Thursday that Ekpre-Olomu would miss the bowl game with a knee injury:

The news confirmed a previous report from Paul Myerberg of USA Today of the same variety.

It's a potentially game-changing blow for Oregon. Ekpre-Olomu was a first-team All-Pac-12 selection and Associated Press All-American. He finished second on the team with two interceptions—one of which came in spectacular fashion against Michigan State—and nine pass break-ups on 11 passes defended.

In all likelihood, Ekpre-Olomu was going to be matched up against Seminoles receiver Rashad Greene on January 1. Outside the hash marks, that was going to be the most important, and most watched, matchup on the field.

Greene, who leads the team with 93 receptions for 1,306 yards and seven touchdowns, has been the cornerstone of the Seminoles' passing game.

Numbers aside, Ekpre-Olomu would have given Oregon confidence in covering Greene. Athletically, Ekpre-Olomu matched up well, but Tyson Alger of The Oregonian also called the senior corner the "emotional leader of the secondary."

With Ekpre-Olomu out, the Ducks will promote redshirt freshman Chris Seisay into the starting lineup. Whether Seisay, senior Troy Hill or some other combination cover Greene remains to be seen.

Ideally for Oregon, it could put someone on Greene in man-to-man coverage—the "next man up" mentality—and not miss a beat.

However, Seisay knows that Florida State will target him early and often regardless of whom he covers. He's the new blood.

"They don't know me, they're going to pick on me because I'm the new corner," Seisay told Alger. "I just have to show them what I can do."

That's where Florida State could do its damage in the passing game. It's not necessarily about targeting Greene now that Ekpre-Olomu is out. It's about finding other weaknesses if Oregon is forced to bracket Greene in Ekpre-Olomu's absence.

Blitzing only puts more pressure on the Ducks' pass defense and some of its young defenders.

It's an interesting situation for Florida State, too. If Oregon devotes extra bodies to Greene, will Florida State quarterback Jameis Winston look elsewhere? Other than tight end Nick O'Leary, the next best receiver is freshman Travis Rudolph with 32 receptions.

Oregon's secondary is a mix of veteran guys like Hill and Erick Dargan, and younger players like Seisay. Several young faces are going to be thrown into important roles in the biggest game of their young careers. Helfrich hopes they're going to be ready.

How he adjusts if they're not is going to be the coaching decision to watch.

 

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

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UCF Is Home to College Football's Biggest Pond Party

We have heard about Ohio State's Mirror Lake Jump, but UCF takes their pond and turns it into the biggest party of the year with Spirit Splash.

Check out what this fun UCF tradition is all about.

A special thanks to the Ideas United group for all their hard work on this piece.

Let us know what you think in the comments below.

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Ricky DeBerry Commits to Oklahoma: What Impact Will 4-Star Defender Make?

Oklahoma picked up its highest-rated commitment to date when 4-star linebacker Ricky DeBerry announced his commitment to play for the Sooners on Friday, according to Adam Friedman of Rivals.com.

The 6’3”, 240-pound Virginia native—who ranks as the nation’s seventh-best outside linebacker prospect and the No. 71 player overall in the 2015 class—selected the Sooners over offers from Alabama, Michigan State, Ohio State, Tennessee and Texas A&M, among others.

But what is it about DeBerry that should have Bob Stoops and his staff giddy over landing the U.S. Army All-American?

Chief among the traits that made him such a coveted recruit are his versatility and the physicality with which he plays the game.

DeBerry has the size and the speed to play multiple positions in Stoops’ defense.

Oklahoma lists a 3-4 defensive scheme as its base look, and DeBerry is a prime candidate to play one of the two outside spots in that set.

As noted by James Hale of OUInsider (subscription required), DeBerry has clocked a time of 4.58 seconds in the 40-yard dash, which highlights the athleticism he is bringing to Norman.

He also played defensive end in high school, which should serve him well if he continues to add mass and strength to his frame.

The Sooners made landing DeBerry a priority early in the process, and the relationship Stoops built with DeBerry and his family played a huge role in helping Oklahoma land the No. 2 prospect from the state of Virginia.

His father, Ricky DeBerry Sr., told Taylor Hamm of GigEm247 (subscription required) that Oklahoma made a lasting impression in its recruitment of his son:

Oklahoma has been, wow, it’s hard to even describe it. No matter where we have visited, no matter where we have gone, no matter when we reach out to them, no matter what has taken place, they’ve always been there. When you call, they respond. When you tweet, they respond. When you email, they respond. It’s not two or three days later either. It’s like immediately.

DeBerry becomes Oklahoma’s first commitment at linebacker, which is a huge need for the Sooners in the 2015 cycle.

According to Ourlads, Stoops will lose two linebackers to graduation, with another three players slated to enter their senior seasons in 2015. Included in that group is All-American linebacker Eric Striker, who could test the NFL draft waters in the offseason.

Given DeBerry’s size and skill set, he is a prime candidate to see the field early upon arriving in Norman. 

Factoring in the need at linebacker and DeBerry’s immense potential, his commitment gives Stoops his biggest victory to date on the recruiting trail in the 2015 cycle.

 

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

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Ricky DeBerry to Oklahoma: Sooners Land 4-Star LB Prospect

Ricky DeBerry, a 4-star outside linebacker from Atlee High School in Mechanicsville, Virginia, announced his commitment to the Oklahoma Sooners on Friday.

ESPN's Tom VanHaaren reported the news:

According to 247Sports' composite rankings, DeBerry is the No. 71 overall prospect in the class of 2015 and is rated as the seventh-best outside linebacker. To provide an idea of his versatility, though, his profile for the site notes he can play as a weak-side defensive end as well, mentioning that he also runs a 4.60 40-yard dash at 6'2.5" and 240 pounds.

That type of positional flexibility and combination of size and speed should allow DeBerry to get on the field sooner rather than later for Oklahoma despite the big step up in competition.

One big deciding factor that went into DeBerry's final decision was how he would fit in schematically, which proves that he has a strong understanding of concepts and a desire to delve into the playbook.

DeBerry discussed this in a report by Rivals.com's Adam Friedman (subscription required, h/t Mike Herndon of AL.com):

I want to look more at the defensive schemes of these schools and figure out what they would really have me doing. I'm not one of those guys that doesn't like to be in pass coverage. I feel like one of my strengths is being a pass rusher. When I'm on these visits I'll be asking about how they use their outside linebackers and that will help me narrow this down again down the road.

It's a good sign that DeBerry entered this arduous decision-making process with an open mind and was willing to be malleable and coached up based on what teams were planning to do with him.

That seems to indicate DeBerry is willing to be a team player and someone worthy of all the top-tier programs offering him scholarships.

Eric Kolenich of the Richmond Times-Dispatch provided his analysis on the skills DeBerry possesses:

DeBerry [...] can rush the quarterback like a charging bull. But he also can drop back into zone coverage and cover a receiver man to man. Recruiters see him as an outside linebacker in a 3-4 defense, or a defensive end in a 4-3. Offensive lines frequently double-team him.

Such an assessment is an adequate summary of what DeBerry brings to the gridiron, and it makes sense that he commands a double-team because of how much force he generates with his strength and speed. Since he's so quick and crafty on the edge, he's extremely difficult to block while he's standing up.

Opposing quarterbacks have to know where he is at all times, because DeBerry can just as easily scream in off the edge as he can slip unseen on an underneath route and snag an interception. The highest marks DeBerry receives on his 247Sports profile's key attributes, rated on a scale of one to 10, are in instincts, where he gets a nine, and scores of eight on athleticism, pursuit and reactive quickness.

All of those skills combined indicate that DeBerry is good at taking the proper angles and not overrunning the play, has a nose for the ball and can make split-second, decisive cuts and moves to beat his opponents.

Oklahoma is fortunate to have DeBerry, because he is not only naturally gifted in many ways, but he also has the upside to be molded into an all-around excellent linebacker. The Sooners could even let DeBerry have his hand in the dirt at times, especially if he bulks up and adds 20 pounds or so of muscle, which is a feasible possibility.

Since DeBerry has previously hinted at his openness to playing anywhere on the field, he can be a dynamic special teams player to start his collegiate career if he's not ready to crack the starting lineup. However, Oklahoma should also deploy him as a situational pass-rusher in his freshman campaign, and if all goes well, DeBerry should be starting by no later than his sophomore season.

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Texas' Charlie Strong Proving He Can Recruit and Keep Elite Talent in State

Charlie Strong sent a message to rivals in the Lone Star State and beyond Friday morning, securing commitments from two of Texas' finest 2015 talents. The first-year Longhorns coach reeled in top-rated linebacker Malik Jefferson and 4-star teammate DeAndre McNeal during an announcement ceremony at Poteet High School, per ESPN's Damon Sayles:

Less than 48 hours after Texas A&M landed 5-star Arizona wide receiver Christian Kirk, the Aggies appeared on the verge of challenging Alabama for the nation's No. 1 recruiting class. However, coach Kevin Sumlin needed to seal the deal with the defensive duo, who were both projected to head to College Station in 247Sports' Crystal Ball forecast.

Instead, Strong pumped the brakes on Sumlin's expanding bandwagon and served notice that his squad still carries clout:

Texas has reached outside state borders for a few key pledges this year—namely New Mexico quarterback Zach Gentry and Florida linebacker Cecil Cherry—but the foundation for any program rebound in Austin will be built with recruiting efforts on home turf. The Longhorns took a significant stride in that regard Friday.

Jefferson, a 5-star defender with dozens of offers, focused on Texas, Texas A&M and UCLA for his final decision. He was recently given the high school Butkus Award, which is annually bestowed upon the nation’s top linebacker.

The 6'2.5", 215-pound playmaker clocked a 4.39 in the 40-yard dash this summer at The Opening, providing evidence of his freakish athleticism. Jefferson is capable of chasing down even the most mobile quarterbacks and contributes in downfield pass coverage.

He's further along as a downhill run-stuffer at this stage, but his versatility sets him apart from the pack in 2015 linebacker rankings. Jefferson should immediately vie for a role in Texas' defense as an early enrollee and gives Strong a stud who can eventually take on leadership duties at the heart of a reconstructed Longhorns attack. 

McNeal, a 6'2", 228-pound prospect, drew collegiate interest as a jack-of-all-trades. Given his size and quickness, potential roles at receiver, tight end and linebacker have been mentioned during the recruitment process.

He is likely to land on defense in Austin, reuniting with Jefferson. 

McNeal can develop into a disruptive edge defender and provides Texas with another game-changing option in the linebacker corps. Aside from Texas A&M, he considered Alabama and UCLA, among others.

Texas may have gained an edge due to the Aggies' lack of a defensive coordinator. Texas A&M dismissed Kevin Snyder in November and remains in search of a replacement.

Meanwhile, the Longhorns defense is led by Vance Bedford, who followed Strong from Louisville. Jefferson carries plenty of respect for the veteran defensive coordinator, he told Ryan Autullo of the Austin American-Statesman.

“He’s strict. He’s like that mean godfather you have in your life. Not a bad thing," Jefferson said. "He’s a good coach."

Bedford and Strong surely celebrated in some fashion Friday morning, exchanging a sign of the horns hand gesture at the very least. These pledges are arguably the biggest success so far for a new regime facing plenty of pressure to improve things in a hurry.

With Jefferson and McNeal now on board, Texas can turn its attention toward other in-state standouts. Expect Strong and company to press hard chasing the likes of cornerback Kendall Sheffield, receiver Ryan Newsome and running back Chris Warren as national signing day nears.

The class currently includes 22 commits, climbing to 14th overall in 247Sports' composite rankings.

Momentum has turned at Texas with a pair of pivotal pledges. If Strong can string together a few more recruiting victories in the coming weeks, it bodes well for his development as the Longhorns leader.

 

Recruit ratings courtesy of 247Sports.

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Jarrett Stidham to Baylor: Bears Land 5-Star QB Prospect

One of the prized quarterbacks in this year's recruiting class is no longer on the market, as Jarrett Stidham has reportedly decided to attend Baylor.

According to Chuck Carlton of the Dallas Morning News Stidham made the decision following a short deliberation period after the Texas native re-opened his recruiting. 

On December 13, Stidham tweeted out that he'd decided to decommit from Texas Tech due to "for various reasons:"

Stidham, who is the 25th-ranked recruit overall by 247Sports.com, was going to be the future at Texas Tech. His decommitment caused the Red Raiders to drop 17 spots in the national recruiting rankings, from 29th to 46th. 

According to David Ubben, Stidham's decommitment is more surprising than usual because of how far into the enrollment process the quarterback got:

The dual-threat star has been described as a nightmare to stop, at least that's essentially what Big Spring high school football coach Phillip Ritchey said to Oscar LeRoy of The Midland Reporter-Telegram after Stidham torched his team for 443 total yards and seven touchdowns in a regional game:

"It’s a nightmare," Phillip Ritchey. "You can try everything in the book. You can pressure him and they get rid of it quick. He’s athletic enough that he can scramble and keep plays alive. Their receivers are good, their offensive line is good. I don’t know how somebody is going to stop them."

That nightmare will be taking himself to college looking to make an immediate impact. Stidham has room to grow into his 6'3", 190-pound frame, but the ability to throw and pass made him one of the most sought after players available in this class. 

Stidham, like so many recruits, may have committed too early to feel confident in his original decision. He went through the process again and now appears to have found the ideal spot for his unique talents. 

 

If you want to talk sports, hit me up on Twitter. 

 

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Nebraska Football: How Mike Riley's Recruiting Approach Differs from Bo Pelini's

Mike Riley hit the recruiting trail running for Nebraska. With the Dec. 13 deadline for contacting a recruit in mind, the new head coach had no time to lose.

So far, so good for Riley. He made as many stops as he could, re-securing commitments from defensive tackles and twin brothers Khalil and Carlos Davis and defensive backs Eric Lee, Avery Anderson and Aaron Williams.

And as it all took place, Riley gave fans a front row seat thanks to social media. When able, Riley tweeted updates on recruits and his time out on the road. It's something that sets Nebraska's new head coach apart from its previous.

"The biggest noticeable difference has been the use of social media on the recruiting trail," Michael Bruntz of 247 Sports told Bleacher Report. "With the previous staff, there would be a flurry of 'Boom' tweets when a recruit pulled the trigger for Nebraska, but Riley did a nice job of building buzz on the recruiting trail as he was going to see committed prospects. That’s kind of taking a step forward in building buzz and showing the fan base the work that’s happening out on the recruiting trail."

It was clear to fans that Bo Pelini was not keen on social media. Looking solely at his Twitter account, the former head coach tweeted less than 50 times in 2014, with a handful of those coming as retweets from others. Compare that to Riley who tweeted the same amount between September and December alone. Social media just wasn't Pelini's thing.

Steven M. Sipple of the Lincoln Journal Star looked at the negative impact social media could have had on Nebraska's staff in 2013.

"Make no mistake, fan/media negativity concerns Pelini and his staff, especially from a recruiting standpoint, but also because of the way it impacts current players," Sipple wrote.

That's likely what turned Pelini off from social media. As for Riley, he views social media differently, which has been seen quickly since he took the job at Nebraska. Bruntz acknowledged how important that acceptance and understanding is for a head coach.

"The head coach really needs to be the arrow of the spear so to speak on the recruiting trail. James Franklin at Penn State is a great example. That includes setting the tone in both evaluating prospects, the importance of recruiting and on social media," said Bruntz.

"I think you’re seeing that now. Riley and his staff’s approach really shouldn’t come as a big surprise. They did a great job of using social media at Oregon State, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see the staff leverage the resources already in place in Nebraska’s digital communications department to take things up a notch." 

As Bruntz pointed out, Riley has a lot of resources at his disposal. It would appear that he's already started to use them, which has to get fans excited about what he'll be able to do with a little more time under his belt.

Riley isn't wasting any time, though. As a result, the 2015 recruiting class is quickly taking shape. Some of Pelini's recruits will remain, but Bruntz believes Riley has quite a few additional players that his staff will target.

"This was always going to be a smaller class anyways, so there won’t be too mad of a dash to the finish line to fill 2015 spots, but Riley and his staff already have a couple irons in the fire heading into the dead week," said Bruntz.

He continued, "San Ramon (Calif.) tight end Matt Snyder is currently committed to Oregon State, but officially visited Nebraska on the weekend of Dec. 13. He’s a perfect fit for Riley’s offense and already has an established relationship with this coaching staff. Adrienne Talan, a linebacker from Ft. Lauderdale, Fla., had been committed to Riley and his staff at Oregon State, but decommitted in early December. He visited the same weekend as Snyder and the 247Sports Crystal Ball points to him ending up at Nebraska. Not a flip per se, but an important position for Riley’s new staff."

As Riley targets these players, social media looks to be a focus. If nothing else, that will be the biggest difference in his approach at impressing recruits to Pelini's approach.

"Social media is certainly a big part of [recruiting], and this new staff seems to get it," Bruntz said. "Credit part of that to Director of Player Personnel Ryan Gunderson, who is the point man for a lot of that."

It's good that the new staff "gets it," too. Other coaches, like LSU's Les Miles have used Twitter to make news and gain the attention of potential recruits. While there are specific rules about when and how a recruit can be directly mentioned, there's nothing that says a coach cannot "subtweet" a player.

Miles' subtweet may not have sold running back Leonard Fournette on the Tigers alone, but it likely didn't hurt. After all, Fournette is now at LSU and making a name for himself. Riley has shown that he also doesn't mind vaguely mentioning players on Twitter in a similar fashion, either.

Beyond social media, there is one more area where Riley's approach could be different from Pelini's. That is the use of satellite camps.

"Something else to watch going forward is whether Riley and his staff at Nebraska take advantage of satellite camps in the same way they did at Oregon State," Bruntz noted.

"They worked camps in the Houston area that allowed them to get out and evaluate players in person that would have otherwise been difficult to see. That’s one way for northern teams to even things a bit with teams in the sun belt. If you can’t go out on a Friday night and see 25 prospects, do it in the summer and start building those relationships."

Relationships will be key for Riley. Whether it's through social media or through satellite camps, both approaches could bring a lot of talent to Nebraska.

Pelini may have been hesitant to really embrace social media for what it was. Riley is not. Fans have to be excited about this difference in approach.

Recruits have to be, too.

 

All quotes obtained firsthand, unless otherwise noted.

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Inside Cardale Jones' New Life as Ohio State's Starting Quarterback

COLUMBUS, Ohio — With the succession of injuries and obstacles that the Ohio State football team has had to overcome this year, it wouldn't be a stretch to say that this has been a storybook season for the Buckeyes thus far. And while it's become cliche to compare sports stories to movie scripts, OSU safety Tyvis Powell doesn't disagree with that notion.

"Twelve" in this case is Buckeyes quarterback Cardale Jones, who finds himself leading Ohio State into the first-ever College Football Playoff only after Braxton Miller and J.T. Barrett each went down with season-ending injuries. The situation isn't all that different than Beamen's (played by Jamie Foxx) was in the 1999 cult classic, when the former third-stringer helped lead the fictional Miami Sharks to the fictional Pantheon Cup.

"Isn't it like that?" Powell responded when asked about his cinematic comparison. "We're down to our third-string quarterback and Cardale's going in and making plays like Willie Beamen."

In Any Given Sunday, Beamen is surrounded by newfound fame, not unlike what Jones is currently experiencing in football-crazed Columbus. This is a city where Ohio State's quarterback is the third-most powerful man in town, behind only the Buckeyes' head coach and the mayor—in that order.

Miller saw it firsthand in three seasons as Ohio State's starter and Barrett learned it in the three months that comprised his Heisman-caliber freshman campaign. Jones admitted to being noticed more often when out and about town following his MVP performance in the Big Ten Championship Game two weeks ago but downplayed his new status as a celebrity.

"I'm still the same guy," he insisted.

Powell, however, wasn't as subtle when it came to talking about how life has changed for Ohio State's new starting quarterback, who also happens to be his roommate.

"Absolutely," Powell answered when asked if Jones has been recognized around campus more in the past two weeks. "Cardale is the freaking man on campus. I'm just that guy now that stands with him. I just hope when he gets big time, he doesn't forget about me."

It might be a little late for that, as buildings around campus are already informally being renamed in Jones' honor, but that doesn't change the fact that the biggest game of his life is a mere two weeks away. Facing top-ranked Alabama, Jones certainly has his work cut out for him, curbing his enthusiasm for his unlikely recent rise.

"It's not like it's going to stop me from preparing for this next game," Jones said.

But the fact that he's even in the position that he's in is somewhat of a victory in and of itself, given where he was a mere two years ago. Best known for an ill-advised and infamous tweet, Jones was once described by head coach Urban Meyer as being on track for a "one-way ticket back to Cleveland."

According to Powell, that notorious tweet was just the result of the playful nature of Jones, the same guy who went through his first two years on campus refusing to clarify whether his name was actually "Cardale" or "Cordale." Back in his prep days at Cleveland Glenville, Jones was frequently confused with teammate Cordale Scott, so he took to adopting the future Illinois wide receiver's first name.

"He just kind of let it stick with him," Powell said. "Cardale's a weird guy, man. He does things where it's like, 'Really Cardale? For what?'

But with age has come maturity for Jones, according to Meyer, although he admitted that his transformation is not yet complete. Nevertheless, it remains a remarkable turnaround story, given Meyer's doubts that Jones would ever start a game at Ohio State.

"Cardale is a great story. It's still in process now. He's not the grown man that he needs to be, but he's getting close," Meyer said. "The whole 180, I'm not sure I've experienced one like that."

And yet here Jones sits, Ohio State's final hope at capping what's been the unlikeliest of runs toward a national title. It almost seems like a tale that's too layered to make up—except of course, in the movies.

 

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 and recruiting information courtesy of 247Sports.

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Sugar Bowl Prep Is the Perfect Time for Lane Kiffin to Create 'Blake Sims 2.0'

Alabama's magical run to its 24th SEC championship is complete, and the top-ranked Crimson Tide has begun preparing for fourth-ranked Ohio State in a semifinal showdown in the Sugar Bowl.

For quarterback Blake Sims, it also serves as a chance to take a breath.

The questions surrounding Sims' ability to run the offense only amplified when, during the spring game, Sims completed just 13-of-30 passes. That prompted a 10-year-old to ask head coach Nick Saban if there was a quarterback better than Sims on the roster, according to Charlie Potter of 247Sports.

The redshirt senior entered fall camp embroiled in a battle with Jake Coker—the graduate transfer from Florida State who arrived in the summer and supposedly pushed eventual Heisman Trophy winner Jameis Winston at Florida State in 2013.

In the season-opener vs. West Virginia, Sims and Coker were supposed to split snaps. 

That didn't happen. 

With a very conservative game plan, Sims completed 24-of-33 passes for 250 yards in the 33-23 win over the Mountaineers.

At that point, Kiffin and Sims were off and running together. 

Sims proved in games vs. Florida (445 yards) and Auburn (312 yards), that he's more than a game manager. He's a gunslinger who can stretch the field through the air and also stress the defense with his ability to make plays on the ground.

Now he has something that should terrify Ohio State and, potentially, either Florida State or Oregon in the College Football Playoff Championship Game.

Time.

For the first time in his five-year Alabama career, Sims is getting camp-like snaps as the unquestioned No. 1 quarterback for the Crimson Tide. That gives Sims and Kiffin the chance to take a step back, work on specific areas that need to be improved like chemistry with other receivers if the Buckeyes take away Amari Cooper and unleash "Blake Sims 2.0" in the Sugar Bowl.

What exactly will that entail?

More looks for wide receiver DeAndrew White, more targets to stud tight end O.J. Howard and more designed runs could be in the works. Alabama, of course, will always be a run-first system as long as Saban is there, but the small break before game-prep allows Kiffin and Sims to expand the playbook and hit Ohio State with a few new wrinkles in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome.

Would the small break halt the momentum of the Tide's offense? Not according to Sims.

"Offense got better, defense got better, we were on each other," Sims said according to Duane Rankin of Gannett. "Leaders were calling everybody out. I think Coach Saban liked (what) he saw in practice. Even if we did things (wrong), he liked the way the leaders were trying to get on everybody and try to let everybody know we were trying to keep the same rhythm we left off with."

How long will the camp-like setting last?

Not long. Ohio State prep will begin in earnest this weekend, according to Marq Burnett of the Ledger-Enquirerbut the extra time to prepare will give Sims plenty to think about during practices, time when the coaches aren't on the practice field and during the down time without classes getting in the way.

Sims was everything Alabama fans could have hoped for and more in 2014, and the month layoff will make him even better heading into the playoffs.

 

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

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

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Tennessee Football: Vols Need WRs to Step Up Against Iowa's Vaunted Pass Defense

When Tennessee coach Butch Jones announced redshirt sophomore Jason Croom would miss the TaxSlayer Bowl after suffering a knee injury in Sunday's practice that will require surgery, receivers coach Zach Azzanni had to be thinking, "Again?"

Wide receiver injuries have come at a rapid-fire pace for the Vols this year.

Way back when camp started, reserve Cody Blanc was lost for the season. Then, Von Pearson suffered a high ankle sprain in the second game of the year against Arkansas State and missed a swathe of the season.

Star sophomores Marquez North and Josh Smith have injuries that cut their seasons short. Now, Croom does, too, and his is reportedly going to be a lengthy recovery.

Considering the Vols are facing the nation's eighth-ranked pass defense in Iowa with seven healthy receivers (and without three of their top five playmakers), UT needs those available to step up.

"Well, we can kind of wallow in it, wallow in our misery having four season-ending surgeries or we can (say), 'Next man up' and coach 'em real hard," Azzanni told Volquest's contingent of writers (subscription required). "It's a good opportunity for some other guys to step up. That's how we've got to look at it."

The one constant who has elevated his game with all the wounded teammates surrounding him is Pig Howard. A study of official statistics on UTSports.com shows Howard averaged 3.75 catches and 36.5 yards per game during the season's first eight games.

In the final four, he caught 5.5 balls per game, and his yards-per-game average skyrocketed to 74.25.

Still, Howard is more of a glue guy than a home-run threat. He's only reached the end zone on one catch and two rushes all season.

The game-breakers who've not really blossomed yet for the Vols are Pearson and freshman Josh Malone.

Are the Vols asking too much of a couple of first-year players? Probably. But that's just where the program is right now. The bottom line is UT must get more production from the tandem.

Pearson is a potentially dangerous weapon in the open field. He doesn't run the best routes and hasn't proven to be a capable threat on the deep ball, but offensive coordinator Mike Bajakian must find ways for Joshua Dobbs to get the football to Pearson in space and let his athletic talent do the rest.

Malone, on the other hand, is a huge X-factor. He's long, lean and fluid with the football. Yet, while battling through injuries during the last half of the season, he's managed just three catches in the past five games. During three of those games, he was shut out in catches.

After his five-catch, 75-yard performance against Ole Miss, many thought Malone was about to turn a corner. Instead, he turned off production.

Malone told The Daily Times' Grant Ramey he injured his groin right before the game against Alabama, and it affected him throughout the stretch run of the season. After the time off, Jones has praised one of his prized freshmen:

"Coming out today, Josh Malone looked like the Josh Malone that we saw in training camp and the middle of the year," the coach said this week. "I think he’s really benefited from the extra time off. He's done a great job also in the training room."

Another pair of freshmen will now be counted on, too.

Iowa defensive coordinator and secondary coach Phil Parker is highly regarded, and his unit allowed just 175.8 yards per game and very few big plays. The Big Ten Network's Tom Dienhart listed Parker as one of his top assistants in the conference.

The numbers for that group are extremely impressive, but a closer look suggests the Hawkeyes defense is far from elite. IsSportsWeb's Austin Kreber noted in his season review of Iowa's defense:

The defense isn’t bad, it isn’t good either. They dominate the horrible offenses in the Big Ten, and get dominated (well, scored on a lot) by the offenses that have at least some talent, like Nebraska, Maryland, Minnesota, and Indiana (yes, Iowa held them through the air but that was because they were playing an athlete at quarterback).

So in conclusion, this year’s defense wasn’t awful, it just wasn’t great. Iowa benefited by playing some weak offensive teams, as well as some teams with injuries at important positions like quarterback and running back.

Tennessee has gotten consistently strong play from running back Jalen Hurd, and its offense has been on an uptick since Dobbs took over at quarterback. But the Vols still have to generate some yardage downfield, something that has been nonexistent in the absence of North.

With Howard, Wharton and Jenkins being mostly slot players, the onus will fall on Pearson and Malone.

There's so much for UT to work on between now and the date with Iowa on Jan. 2 in Jacksonville, but near the top of that list must be finding some playmakers downfield that can loosen up a defense and keep the Hawkeyes from stacking the box.

Iowa isn't good at stopping the run, but if it doesn't have to worry about Dobbs' arm or any of the weapons around him, the Hawkeyes can focus on making UT's offense one-dimensional.

The Vols can't let that happen, and the only way for that to occur is Malone and Pearson living up to their billing as top playmakers. They're never needed more than now.

 

All stats gathered from CFBStats.com or UTSports.com, unless otherwise noted.

Brad Shepard covers SEC football and is the Tennessee Lead Writer for Bleacher Report. Follow Brad on Twitter @Brad_Shepard.

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Malik Jefferson to Texas: Longhorns Land 5-Star LB Prospect

Malik Jefferson, who is the No. 1-ranked outside linebacker in the class of 2015 in 247Sports' composite rankings, bolstered the Texas Longhorns' crop of recruits by announcing his commitment to play in Austin.

ESPN's Damon Sayles reported the news when Jefferson decided on Friday:

The pride of Dr. Ralph Poteet High School (Mesquite, Texas) had offers from a myriad of big-time programs, but in the end the 5-star Jefferson wound up deciding on Texas. With that massive decision made, now he can focus on preparing himself for the collegiate level and the greatness that seems destined to follow.

Jefferson is listed at 6'2.5" and 215 pounds on his 247Sports profile, and his freakish athleticism allows him to make impact plays all over the field.

At the 2014 Nike Football Training Camp in Dallas, Jefferson won the linebacker MVP and was among the top athletes in SPARQ rating, which combines the 40-yard dash, agility testing, kneeling power ball toss and the vertical jump (h/t Nike.com).

Former professional scout Wescott Eberts provided context for those numbers:

Jefferson ran a 4.56-second 40, ran a 4.40-second 20-yard shuttle, had a 35.8-inch vertical leap and had a 38-foot power throw, per ESPN.com.

That all backed up a strong junior campaign that featured 105 tackles (24 for loss) and seven sacks, per EJ Holland of TexasFootball.com. In that report, the young prospect spoke about his excitement regarding his senior season in Mesquite:

We’re going to be good. Honestly, it’s all on us seniors. We all have to take leadership roles. We have a lot of young guys, so we kind of have to be there for them like dads. We’re young, but we’re going to have some experienced linebackers, so we won’t be too shabby.

It is positive for Jefferson's image to exude an air of leadership about him, but that has to be easier to do when he's dominating the competition to the extent that he is in such a strong high school football state. Now Jefferson will get a shot to perform on an even bigger stage, with all signs pointing to him succeeding.

Nothing Jefferson did as a senior diminished the immense hype he's deservedly garnered, and now it's up to Texas to get the most out of his incredible potential.

While he does leave something to be desired in terms of tackling properly, that often doesn't matter since Jefferson is always in such good position to make plays. That can be coached in college, and when he gets it corrected, it's exciting to project how great Jefferson could be.

What stands out most about Jefferson on tape is his acceleration and agility off the edge. That allows him to be both an effective bull-rusher and also play bigger than his frame.

Jefferson has excellent closing speed and does a good job of manipulating blockers, setting the edge to string out running plays to the perimeter. Rarely does he let a ball-carrier slip through his grasp.

The floor doesn't seem low at all for Jefferson, and his ceiling seems borderline limitless. He figures to put on 15 pounds or so at least when he starts to really focus on the weight room in college, so Jefferson should get bigger and stronger without sacrificing any of his sensational speed.

Even if he is brought along slowly, there is reason to believe Jefferson will see the field as a true freshman. His quickness and knack for delivering a big hit can fire up his teammates, and he can be a dynamic player in special teams coverage at the very least. More likely, he will work his way into the linebacker rotation and perhaps even as a situational blitzer or pass-rusher off the edge.

But with how well Jefferson plays versus the run, the Longhorns will be hard-pressed to keep him off the gridiron. Jefferson is just that good, and should eventually prove that at Texas since there are few flaws in his game and he has the natural instincts to continue shining as a linebacker for years to come.

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5-Star LB Malik Jefferson Commits to Texas: Immediate Impact for Longhorns

Malik Jefferson has committed to Texas. A 5-star linebacker, per the 247Sports composite rankings, he is the top-rated player at his position in the class of 2015. 

Bleacher Report College Football Analyst Michael Felder breaks down what kind of player he can be with the Longhorns.

What kind of impact can Malik Jefferson have on Texas?

Watch the video and let us know! 

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DeAndre McNeal to Texas: Longhorns Land 4-Star Athlete Prospect

A steady rise up the rankings made DeAndre McNeal one of the most intriguing prospects in the 2015 class. Now the athlete, who's excelled at both linebacker and wide receiver, has committed to play college football at Texas.

247 Sports confirmed the decision:

The hype surrounding McNeal didn't begin as early as it usually does for most top recruits. The Poteet High School (Texas) product was more of a late-rising commodity, but the offers from elite programs started pouring in as he continued to showcase his potential.

He's now listed as a 4-star prospect, according to 247Sports' composite rankings. The outlet rates him higher than the national consensus and also notes he received interest from more than two dozen schools before making the final choice.

McNeal even personally pointed out how much things changed during the process:

Now the question is where he'll have the best chance to succeed over the long haul.

Right now, he's a player with plenty of upside thanks to an impressive combination of athleticism and playmaking ability. Those two traits are often enough to stand out at the high school level, but technique and understanding schemes becomes more important in college.

He's a raw talent and it's likely going to take some time for him to fully complete the transition. In turn, early expectations should be kept within reason.

McNeal does have the tools to eventually make an impact at either position, though. Greg Powers of Scout watched him back in October and came away dually impressed:

In an era where getting after the quarterback is crucial, outside linebacker seems like the position from which he could make the biggest impression. He'll need to add more power to his frame and moves to his repertoire, but his speed off the edge can cause major problems for opponents.

Defense would probably allow him to crack the lineup quicker, as well. He could be used as part of the linebacker rotation for passing downs before earning more responsibility as he gains experience.

Should they decide on the wide receiver route he figures to project as an outside speed threat. He's displayed good hands and has the size to develop into a reliable red-zone option. But again, there's work to do in terms of route running and learning the other fine points of the position.

Ultimately, it could take a couple years and maybe even a position change before fans see the best of McNeal. It's not a question of talent, but rather figuring out how best to utilize his skill set, which takes time and coaching.

The high ratings and widespread interest illustrate what type of player he's expected to become, though. One that's going to make a lot of key plays and prove his rise over the past year was no fluke.

 

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College Football Playoff Championship 2015: Date and Predictions for Title Match

The 2014 college football season began with every team, realistically or not, dreaming of a national championship. As we enter bowl season, that dream is alive for only four teams, and the initial College Football Playoff could not have scripted a more enticing group. 

The defending national champion Florida State Seminoles are in the field. The Heisman Trophy winner and the rest of the Oregon Ducks are in the field. The mighty Alabama Crimson Tide are in the field. Finally, the Ohio State Buckeyes, playing the unusual role of underdog with a third-string quarterback, are in the field.

The two semifinal showdowns and eventual national championship game are sure to thrill fans across the nation. Here is a look at the schedule and some predictions for the College Football Playoff.

 

2015 Rose Bowl: No. 2 Oregon vs. No. 3 Florida State

When: Thursday, Jan. 1, 2015

Where: Rose Bowl Stadium, Pasadena, California

Start Time (ET): 5 p.m.

TV: ESPN 

Live Stream: WatchESPN 

 

2015 Sugar Bowl: No. 1 Alabama vs. No. 4 Ohio State

When: Thursday, Jan. 1, 2015

Where: Mercedes-Benz Superdome, New Orleans

Start Time (ET): 8:30 p.m.

TV: ESPN 

Live Stream: Watch ESPN 

 

2015 National Championship

When: Jan. 12, 2015

Where: AT&T Stadium, Dallas

Start Time (ET): 8:30 p.m.

TV: ESPN 

Live Stream: Watch ESPN 

 

Predicted Title Game Participants

The Rose Bowl is traditionally a clash between the Big Ten and the Pac-12, but it had to settle for the Pac-12 and the ACC instead.

Matching the last two Heisman Trophy winners in Florida State’s Jameis Winston and Oregon’s Marcus Mariota is surely an impressive consolation prize.

The Ducks are seen as the favorites because the Seminoles sneaked past so many overmatched opponents, such as North Carolina State, Clemson, Notre Dame, Miami and Florida, this season. Still, Florida State has not lost in the past two seasons and has championship experience that Oregon does not yet have.

Florida State will have to find a way to slow down Oregon’s high-octane offensive attack, which was led by Mariota’s 3,783 passing yards, 38 touchdown throws, 669 rushing yards and 14 rushing touchdowns this season. Royce Freeman added 1,299 rushing yards and 16 touchdowns as the physical presence alongside Mariota.

That rushing game could be a problem for a Florida State squad that gave up 331 rushing yards to Georgia Tech in the ACC Championship Game.

Florida State should counter with plenty of points of its own. Winston is the marquee name, but freshman running back Dalvin Cook gave the Seminoles an extra dimension down the stretch with 392 rushing yards in his last two games.

Oregon’s defense was also a dismal 103rd in the nation against the pass, and that was with standout cornerback Ifo Ekpre-Olomu, who is now done for the season with a torn ACL. That means wide receiver Rashad Greene and tight end Nick O'Leary could have their way against an overmatched Ducks secondary.

With two powerful offenses and a vulnerable Oregon defense (statistically), there will be some firepower in this game. However, the Ducks’ ability to force turnovers will be a major storyline. They were eighth in the country in points off turnovers, while Florida State was an abysmal 116th in the country with 27 turnovers.

A late Florida State turnover will be the ultimate difference in a back-and-forth game. Mariota will take advantage of the short field in the fourth quarter and clinch a spot in the title game. 

Prediction: Oregon 34, Florida State 24

As for the Sugar Bowl, Ohio State’s offense, which was fourth in the nation in points per game, will present a challenge to Alabama’s stiff defense, which was fourth in the nation in points allowed per game.

If the Buckeyes are going to pull off the upset, they will need to attack through the air against Alabama’s 60th-ranked pass defense with receivers Devin Smith, Jalin Marshall and Michael Thomas. 

A few big plays in the passing game could open up some running lanes for Ezekiel Elliott and the Ohio State rushing attack. Elliott torched Wisconsin for 220 rushing yards in the 59-0 win in the Big Ten Championship Game and drew some praise from Dom Tiberi of 10TV in Columbus:

Still, the Crimson Tide were second in the nation against the run, which means third-string quarterback Cardale Jones may need to make some plays with his arm. That is exactly what he did against Wisconsin, but going up against the Crimson Tide is an entirely different task.

Nick Saban and the Crimson Tide coaching staff have plenty of time to draw up a game plan for a quarterback making his second career start, which is a worrisome proposition for Ohio State fans regardless of how many weapons Jones has at his disposal.

It’s not as scary as facing Heisman Trophy finalist wide receiver Amari Cooper and his 1,656 receiving yards and 14 touchdown catches, though. That is what Ohio State cornerback Doran Grant will be asked to do, although he will likely get some help from his safeties. 

Ohio State defensive coordinator Chris Ash discussed the prospects of facing Cooper, via Ohio State’s official Twitter account:

A few big plays downfield to Cooper will open up the rushing attack for T.J. Yeldon and Derrick Henry against a Buckeyes defense that allowed more than 200 yards on the ground to Indiana and Minnesota. Yes, Ohio State shut down Melvin Gordon, but that was partially because Wisconsin found itself behind by so much in the first half and had to go away from the running game.

The Buckeyes will have to pick their poison on defense against a number of future NFL players. That will ultimately prove to be too much in an otherwise close game, especially since Jones has not faced any real adversity yet in his young quarterbacking career and won’t be able to counter in the final minutes. 

Prediction: Alabama 31, Ohio State 28

 

Predicted Championship Game Matchup: Oregon vs. Alabama

 

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B/R CFB 250: Top 12 Offensive Tackles

Bleacher Report's CFB 250 is an annual ranking of the best players in college football. Brian Leigh and Kynon Codrington have studied, ranked and graded the top athletes in the country, narrowed that list to 250 and sorted by position. Today, we present the Top 12 Offensive Tackles.

Other CFB 250 Positions

Offensive tackles almost never become superstars.

Unlike their skill-player teammates, they are often at their best when they are talked about the least. The more a tackle gets mentioned on a broadcast, the more likely it is he messed up.

But don't let their anonymity fool you. Any fan worth his salt knows that having a great tackle is just as important as having a great quarterback. Without the former, the latter cannot exist.

Even Heisman Trophy winner Marcus Mariota did not look right when his blind-side blocker—whom we'll get to in a bit—was injured in 2014.

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

Targeted skills such as power are important at both levels, but there is a difference between college power and professional power. If a tackle can drive defenders backward in the SEC or the Big 12, it doesn't matter that he can't drive defenders backward in the NFC North. At least not here, it doesn't.

This is all about college performance.

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

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