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Florida State Shouldn't Panic About the Loss of Jameis Winston for 2015

Jameis Winston has played his final game in a Florida State uniform, leaving the program without an immediate answer at quarterback. But the Seminoles will be just fine without him.

Winston announced the news Wednesday in a statement through his agency, The Legacy Agency (via ESPN.com):

After weighing this decision with my family and friends, I have decided to declare for the 2015 NFL draft and forgo my remaining eligibility at Florida State. I reached this very difficult decision after careful consideration and long thought, realizing how difficult it would be to say goodbye to my family at Florida State. I am eternally grateful for the opportunity to wear the garnet and gold and have greatly enjoyed my time as a Seminole, both as an athlete and a student in the classroom.

… As I embark in the next challenge of playing in the NFL, I look forward to contributing to a long line of successful alumni at the next level. I want you all to know that I will make Seminole Nation proud and continue to bring the passion and love for the game you all have seen in Doak Campbell since my first day as a 'Nole. Thank you for making my time in Tallahassee some of the best years of my life.

Winston won the Heisman Trophy and the national title in 2013 and hadn't lost a game until his 27th career start against Oregon in the College Football Playoff. The way Florida State lost the Rose Bowl, 59-20, left an indelible mark on Winston's legacy but will not destroy the memories of the magical run he had the past two seasons.

Still, the way Winston's departure fits the "Ewing Theory"—Bill Simmons' long-running belief that certain teams improve after losing certain star players—is too spot-on perfect to ignore. The off-field headache he created was only worth it because the 'Noles kept winning; otherwise, the media attention was unbearable.

In many respects, this team will be better off without it.

To clarify: This team will be better off without the headache of Jameis Winston, not without the performance of Jameis Winston.

Even though his decision-making regressed in 2014, manifesting itself in 18 interceptions, Winston still made NFL throws in big moments and led FSU to a 13-1 record and an ACC championship. He played well in the Rose Bowl, too—or at least he did until that Yakety Sax fumble and the meltdown that followed thereafter.

Sean Maguire started but failed to impress when Winston was suspended for yelling obscenities on campus against Clemson. He is a rising junior and the tentative favorite to start next season—a safe albeit underwhelming option.

Behind him, J.J. Cosentino took a redshirt in 2014, and freshmen Deondre Francois (the No. 100 overall player on the 247Sports composite rankings), Kai Locksley and De'Andre Johnson will join the fray this fall.

But the real wild card is the so-called quarterback "free agents," a group Barrett Sallee of Bleacher Report called "one of the best crops of graduate transfers we've ever seen in college football." Braxton Miller might be on the market. Everett Golson might be on the market. Combined, those two went 23-0 as starters in the 2012 regular season.

If Florida State could land either, it would be golden.

Even if it can't, however, the presence of Jimbo Fisher provides comfort. Is there any head coach in the country—sans, maybe, Duke's David Cutcliffe—one would rather have developing quarterbacks?

Assuming Winston doesn't take a free fall, the last three passers Fisher has developed will all have been first-round draft picks:

*Note: Bleacher Report's Matt Miller has Winston going No. 6 overall to the New York Jets in his first official postseason mock draft.

But this article has less to do with how the 'Noles will replace Winston under center than it does with the rest of the offense. The point being that, regardless of who plays quarterback, there is enough talent on this roster for FSU to score points with efficiency.

Running back Dalvin Cook and receivers Travis Rudolph and Ermon Lane were all blue-chip recruits in 2014 and played meaningful snaps as true freshmen. You think that experience might help them? With 5-star receiver George Campbell enrolled for spring practice, this young group of skill players can rival that of any team in the country.

All the quarterback would need to do is be a game manager—the type of QB Fisher coached as the offensive coordinator under Nick Saban at LSU. Take care of the football, deliver your throws on time, don't try to make too much happen, let your teammates go win the game.

If Matt Mauck could do it, Maguire can too.

"These freshmen, they’re going to be the old guys," FSU receivers coach Lawrence Dawsey said of next year's team, per Tim Linafelt of Seminoles.com. "As [last] season went on and [Travis Rudolph] started making plays and then [Ermon] Lane started making plays like that, they both just got more confident."

"With all the talent we’ve got on this team, all the heart we’ve got on this team—we’re definitely going to make another push for it," added star defensive back Jalen Ramsey. "You can believe that."

The urgency in Ramsey's comment speaks to a key tenet of the "Ewing Theory." The Seminoles seemed a tad overconfident in 2014, and they had every right to be after a 14-0 national championship season in which they flattened pretty much every team they played. What they needed, more than anything, was a moment of humility.

Suffice it to say they got it.

The loss of Winston hurts for obvious reasons—quarterback is the most important position on the field, and anyone who takes over for Winston will almost certainly be a downgrade—but it helps because it puts the impetus back on this team to play like…well, a team.

With Clemson and Georgia Tech both finishing the season strong and returning a ton of offensive pieces—chief among them QBs Deshaun Watson and Justin Thomas—there's a chance some experts even peg the 'Noles as underdogs to win the ACC.

Weird as it sounds, that might be just what this program needs.

 

Follow Brian Leigh on Twitter: @BLeigh35

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Jameis Winston's Accuser Sues FSU: Latest Details and Comments

A federal lawsuit was filed against Florida State University trustees by the woman who accused Seminoles quarterback Jameis Winston of rape in 2012.

Brendan Sonnone of the Orlando Sentinel reports the woman, who's listed as Jane Doe in the complaint, is seeking unspecified damages for Title IX violations. She states the school didn't provide the necessary response to the alleged incident.

The complaint also argues Florida State purposely hindered an investigation by the Tallahassee Police Department to protect the football player, according to Sonnone:

The complaint states FSU intentionally hindered TPD's investigation 'so that Winston's FSU football career would be unaffected.' The FSU athletics department, according to the complaint, was in contact with TPD in January 2013 while senior associate director of athletic Monk Bonasorte and football coach Jimbo Fisher had knowledge of the rape accusation.

Winston's accuser is seeking a jury trial in the case. The report states she is seeking compensation including, but not limited to, education reimbursement, the expenses associated with the sexual assault, pain and suffering and a loss of future earnings.

The complaint does not list Winston or the TPD as defendants. The case is solely based on FSU failing to comply to the Title IX standards. From Sonnone:

'FSU became a sexually hostile environment where her rapist roamed free and could turn up at any moment, where she became the target of death threats and vilification campaigns,' the complaint states.

The lawsuit alleges the university violated two counts of Title IX federal statutes, providing a 'clearly unreasonable response' and creating a 'hostile education environment.'

Mark Schlabach of ESPN.com reported in December 2013 that state attorney Willie Meggs decided Winston would not be charged in the case. He faced potential felony charges, but the state attorney said there wasn't enough evidence to have a "reasonable likelihood of conviction."

Last month, Rachel Axon of USA Today noted Winston, who has maintained the encounter was consensual, was cleared of any student conduct code violations. Retired Florida Supreme Court justice Major Harding heard the case.

The latest complaint was filed in the U.S. District Court in Orlando on Wednesday. Florida State officials have yet to make any comment about the latest news.

 

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Which Team Will Close the Strongest Heading into National Signing Day?

The 2015 recruiting season is coming to a close, and many of the top recruits are still undecided. The top programs in the country are looking to close strong before national signing day.

Bleacher Report College Football Analysts Michael Felder and Barrett Sallee debate which team will close the strongest before national signing day. 

Which team will have the strongest close to the recruiting season?

Watch the video and let us know!

 

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Tennessee Football: 5 Takeaways from the Vols' Bowl Game

For the first time since January 2008, the Tennessee Volunteers enter the offseason with optimism and hope after a resounding 45-28 bowl victory over a solid opponent.

When the Vols found out they were playing in the TaxSlayer Bowl against the Iowa Hawkeyes, it looked like they might have lucked out given that their previously projected opponents included the Louisville Cardinals, the West Virginia Mountaineers and the Texas Longhorns.

However, after closer inspection, the Hawkeyes seemed to have everything the Vols didn't, including senior-led offensive and defensive lines. Common football knowledge dictates that the team that controls the line of scrimmage usually wins the game—and it looked like Tennessee would be on the losing end of that battle.

But it didn't take long for the Vols to completely take over the game. The defensive line constantly pressured Iowa's quarterbacks, and the offensive line played its best game of the season.

Ultimately, the Vols led 42-7 before allowing the Hawkeyes to add three touchdowns late in the game against their backup defensive unit. 

Tennessee's dismantling of Iowa showed that the Vols may be the SEC's most improved team in 2014, but what does it mean for the squad as it looks toward the 2015 season?

Here are five takeaways for Tennessee's future after its big win at the TaxSlayer Bowl. 

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Miami Football: 5 Recruits Who Fill Hurricanes' Biggest Needs

College football programs have less than one month until the most important recruiting time of the year—national signing day—which falls on Feb. 4.

The Miami Hurricanes are targeting five prospects who fit needs on the roster, hoping to receive commitments from the talented players in the class of 2015.

Al Golden and his coaching staff must address holes at the wide receiver position and at every level of the defense in order to replenish a team that underperformed last season.

Each player listed is a legitimate candidate to commit to the school, not simply a prospect who fits the Canes system.

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John Burt Decommits from Texas: What's Next for Longhorns, 4-Star WR?

Texas seemed hard-pressed to keep 2015 pledge John Burt on board through national signing day. The 4-star wide receiver confirmed those sentiments by cutting ties with the team Tuesday, per Colt Barber of 247Sports.

The 6'3", 180-pound Florida prospect initially committed to Texas in late July. He was one of Charlie Strong's earliest offers and grew up admiring the Longhorns. 

"Having an opportunity to go to college at Texas is surreal," Burt told Bleacher Report before his senior season. "I’ve been following the team for most of my life. I have family in Austin. My aunt works at the university and my grandmother was involved in the administration department there."

Despite his long-term verbal pact, speculation mounted during recent months that Burt was ready to explore other options.

He traveled to Auburn and Florida State multiple times during the season. The past 17 expert predictions in 247Sports' Crystal Ball projected him to flip before signing day.

Each of those picks have him landing at Auburn, where Burt spent an official visit in October. The Tigers have been at the forefront of his thought process since the early stages of this recruitment.

"I like Auburn a lot," he said last April. "(Wide receivers coach Dameyune) Craig talks with me a lot about what I could do there. The campus is small and the community really supports Auburn, which I like.”

Burt, a Tallahassee resident, could also revisit the possibility of staying home as a Seminole. He attended a few games at Florida State this past fall and could add to an impressive collection of pass targets. 

“I don’t have a problem with staying so close, but I need to figure out where I want to spend my college years," Burt said. "Whether I want to stay nearby or leave the area."

Of course, there remains a chance at reconciliation between Burt and Texas. Strong and company will continue to keep close tabs on him during the final stretch, though Barber points out he expressed concerns to the Longhorns staff about its vacant receivers coach position and quarterback situation.

Texas will certainly search elsewhere for options at the position. 

The Longhorns are a finalist for speedy in-state slot receiver Ryan Newsome, who announces his decision Jan. 23. Fellow 4-star Texan Damarkus Lodge, who decommitted from Texas A&M as a senior, is also a primary target.

Burt is rated 10th nationally among receivers in 247Sports' composite rankings. He caught 61 passes for 1,286 yards and 17 touchdowns as an upperclassman, per MaxPreps.

 

Quotes obtained firsthand by Bleacher Report national recruiting analyst Tyler Donohue. 

Recruit ratings and info courtesy of 247Sports.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Arden Key Decommits from South Carolina: What's Next for Gamecocks, 4-Star DE?

South Carolina’s 2015 class took another big hit when 4-star defensive end Arden Key announced his decommitment from the Gamecocks late Tuesday evening.

According to John Whittle of The Big Spur, Key has an official visit lined up on Jan. 30 to see Auburn. He also has visits scheduled for LSU on Jan. 16, Miami on Jan. 19 and South Carolina on Jan. 23.

Whittle reports that it's unclear whether or not Key will still take his visit to Columbia, but the 6’5”, 230-pounder noted that the Gamecocks are still his top school via Twitter.

It’s clear that there will be some twists and turns down the stretch of Key’s recruitment, but what’s next for South Carolina and the defensive lineman?

For starters, the biggest thing Steve Spurrier and his staff can do is simply plug the leaks and hold on to the current recruits they already have.

Key’s decommitment is the latest defection in a string of blows that have seen high-profile prospects such as 4-star corner Mark Fields and 4-star defensive end Chauncey Rivers bolt the Gamecocks' 2015 class

The good news for the Gamecocks is that Key hasn’t completely ruled out landing in Columbia when all is said and done. Whittle notes that Key had already decommitted once before, only to end up back with his original pledge.

Time will tell if history repeats itself.

Another plus for the Gamecocks is that their current class still has commitments from seven defensive ends—with JUCO transfers Marquavius Lewis and Ulric Jones scheduled to be on campus later this month as early enrollees.

Also, Lewis and Jones are two of five JUCO defensive ends in the Gamecocks class, which should provide an immediate boost next fall while softening the blow of losing a talented pass-rusher.

As for Key, with his commitment status no longer hindering him, he can find which school fits his talents the best.

Aside from the Gamecocks, Auburn, Georgia and LSU appear to be the three primary schools in the running for Key—with most of the smoke surrounding the Tigers and the Bulldogs.

According to Keith Niebuhr of Auburn Undercover (subscription required), new Tigers defensive coordinator Will Muschamp has made an impression on the Atlanta native.

Key told Niebuhr:

He talked to both me and my dad and told me about how he would use me in the defense there. I kind of like Muschamp. I think he is going to help out Auburn. And they're losing like eight defensive linemen so I can come in and play right away.

Regardless of how Key’s recruitment plays out, it’s clear that his recruitment will be one of the more intriguing battles to play out between now and national signing day.

 

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

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

College Football Championship 2015: Odds Outlook for Oregon vs. Ohio St.

Oregon obliterated Florida State. Ohio State sneaked past Alabama in a close one. One team has a Heisman Trophy winner at quarterback. One team is starting its third-stringer. One team has a coach who hasn't won a national championship. One team has a coach with two titles under his belt. 

Both teams have peaked at the right time this season, however, setting up what should be a memorable national championship. Below, you'll find viewing and odds information on this contest, along with an outlook for this matchup and a prediction of which team will win.
 

Game Information

 

Game Outlook

Ohio State was overlooked by more than a few folks ahead of its showdown against Alabama. It wouldn't be wise to overlook the Buckeyes heading into their contest against Oregon. 

The storylines for Ohio State might center on the legacy of head coach Urban Meyer or how the team was resilient enough to survive the loss of two quarterbacks this season or how tight-knit this group of players is. 

Make no mistake—all of the above might be true, but this is a really, really talented squad.

Devin Smith and Michael Thomas form an excellent one-two punch at wide receiver. Ezekiel Elliott might be the most underrated running back in the country. Defensive end Joey Bosa has 13.5 sacks this season. Quarterback Cardale Jones might be the team's third-stringer, but he'd start for most programs. Defensive tackle Michael Bennett has been downright dominant late in the season for the Buckeyes. 

Ohio State may have been the last team into the playoff, per the selection committee's rankings, but its talent was never in question. It won't roll over and die for the high-powered Oregon offense; that much is certain.

Ah, but that Oregon offense, led by Heisman Trophy winner Marcus Mariota, must be admired. The nation's No. 2 scoring offense blew past Florida State's defense, aided by an opportunistic defense. There is a tendency to sometimes credit Oregon's scheme for all of its success, but Bleacher Report's Matt Miller doesn't think you should overlook how good Mariota has been:

The one team that played both squads in the national title game, Michigan State, has a unique perspective on this contest. 

Adam Rittenberg of ESPN.com spent time talking to Spartans players and coaches, who identified some keys to the game:

Ohio State and Oregon rank third and fourth nationally in third-down conversions, so the team that better moves the chains will have a significant edge. Ohio State is better (20th nationally, 35 percent conversions) at preventing third-down conversions than Oregon (60th, 39.5 percent). 

"Third downs become very critical, whether it’s third-and-short or third-and-long," [Michigan State offensive coordinator Dave Warner] said. "When you get in the red zone, you want to get touchdowns, not field goals. Those things become even more important when you're going against a high-powered offense."

In many ways, Oregon and Ohio State are similar. They have excellent offenses and underrated defenses. They don't turn the ball over, and they keep drives alive. They have players who can change a game with one reception or carry. They have gotten progressively better as the season has gone on. 

This is going to be one heck of a game and one heck of a way to usher in the new College Football Playoff era. As for a prediction, Oregon's unique offense is firing all cylinders, and it is led by the best player in college football, Mariota, which will give the Ducks the slightest of advantages here. In a straight-up bet, Oregon is the way to go. But if you are playing the spread, take the points with Ohio State.

Either way, expect a game for the ages.

 

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

The Story Behind Oregon's High-Powered Offense

In 1988, the University of New Hampshire held a football clinic and 35 high school coaches showed up. Thirty-four went to a session on the designs of Jack Bicknell Jr., the Wildcats defensive line coach. He was well known in New England as a player at Boston College and was the son of BC's iconic head coach, Jack Bicknell Sr.   

That left one man, a 25-year-old high school coach, attending the session on offense. He stood at a blackboard for several hours with New Hampshire offensive coordinator Gary Crowton, 31, and discussed the concoctions of Crowton's spread offense passing game. It was just the two of them, Crowton said.

That was the day Crowton became friends with that revved-up young coach, Chip Kelly.

"I remember the first time I met Chip at that clinic in New Hampshire and we talked and talked and I was thinking, 'Man, this guy is a really good coach,' " Crowton said.

If you want to find the headwaters of the exhilarating Oregon offense you will see Monday night in the national championship game, that clinic for high school football coaches in Durham, New Hampshire 27 years ago is a good place to start.

Oregon head coach Mike Bellotti, the winningest coach in school history, decided in 2005 to install the spread offense, but Crowton's and Kelly's hands are all over the 2014 "Blur"….

….along with the hands of, among others, Bellotti, Rich Rodriguez, Randy Walker, Urban Meyer, Dennis Dixon, Alex Smith, John Hevesy, Steve Greatwood and, of course, current Oregon coach Mark Helfrich and quarterback Marcus Mariota.

The Blur started with Crowton's spread passing game 10 years ago and evolved into a scheme with a quarterback as a dual threat. And it got faster and faster and faster.

"Oh, yeah, sure I will," Crowton said when asked if he will recognize some of the plays Oregon will use against Ohio State. "We put them in 10 years ago. They have done a lot with it since then, but sure, I'll see some of the same stuff from 2005."

 

 

After Crowton left New Hampshire in 1990, he became the quarterbacks coach at Boston College. Then he was off to be co-offensive coordinator at Georgia Tech. He and Kelly, who had joined the Wildcats staff, stayed in touch talking offensive theory.

When Crowton became the offensive coordinator at Louisiana Tech in 1995, he got liberal with formations: three wide receivers to one side, or two wideouts to each side, an assortment of screens and other formations and line splits that spread out the defense. Crowton had "10 thoughts" on running the spread, which ranged from a quick game to beat leverage, to curls across the board, to motion and meshes to beat man coverage.

In 1998, when Crowton was head coach, Louisiana Tech put 569 yards on defending national champion Nebraska and Crowton flew up the charts as "the hot" coach in the game. The Chicago Bears hired him in 1999 to be their offensive coordinator.

The spread passing game was showing up in the late 1980s in NAIA small college football thanks to coach Hal Mumme, who took it to the University of Kentucky in 1996, but it was still considered too unorthodox to sink deep into NCAA play. Mumme and Crowton, among others, changed that.

Kelly and Crowton kept up their relationship, but Kelly also started visiting with Randy Walker, the head coach at Northwestern, and Rich Rodriguez, the offensive coordinator at Clemson. Crowton was a wizard with the pass, and Kelly was building a knowledge base on the run game, specifically using the quarterback as a dual threat with the zone read option.

After two seasons in the NFL, Crowton became the head coach in 2001 at BYU in his native Utah. In his first season, the Cougars were 12-2 and had the most points per game (46) and yards per game (542) in Division I. 

It went downhill from there. Crowton had three losing seasons and was fired in 2004.

Bellotti, who is in the College Football Hall of Fame, felt the West Coast offense had gone stale and he wanted to catch the wave of the next explosive offense. Think in more recent terms: Nick Saban hiring Lane Kiffin at Alabama. Bellotti saw Crowton's work at BYU and hired him. The two of them installed Crowton's spread passing game.

It was January 2005. The spread had touched down in Oregon.

Bellotti sent his coaches to study Randy Walker and Northwestern's run game. Walker had picked up parts of the scheme from Clemson offensive coordinator Rich Rodriguez.

Crowton and Greatwood went to see Urban Meyer, who was at Florida, and Meyer's offensive line coach, John Hevesy. While head coach at Utah, Meyer and quarterback Alex Smith drubbed Crowton in his last game as BYU coach.

The spread passing game and zone read option were married for the 2005 season with help from Walker, Rich Rod, Meyer and Hevesy. Oregon went 10-2. The only regular-season loss was to powerhouse Southern California, which was ranked No. 1. The Ducks averaged 34 points a game, up from 25 in 2004.

It is true that when Kelly arrived at Oregon in 2007, he slicked up the spread and it became "The Blur" offense. But before it was called the Blur, it was called "Fuji" in 2005, 2006 and 2007. Bellotti said Fuji was an acronym—he wouldn't say for what—but it basically meant, "Spot the ball, and get out of the way."

"We would run Fuji three days a week and we would get 14 to 16 plays every five minutes," Bellotti said. "My defensive coaches kept saying, 'You can't do that, it's not fair'. I told them 'It may not be fair, but I think we can do it.' "

Crowton coached quarterback Dixon as a sophomore and junior, but it was in 2007, as a senior under Bellotti and Kelly, that Dixon bloomed in the spread as the Ducks beat Michigan and zoomed as high as No. 2 in the polls. He was named the Pac-10 Offensive Player of the Year. 

Oregon had become a national power.

 

 

LSU pirated Crowton away with a $400,000 offer to be offensive coordinator for the 2007 season. Crowton said Bellotti tried to keep him, but the allure of the SEC and the money was too much. The Tigers won the national title in 2007 with Crowton as OC and set numerous school records for offense. He was nicknamed "The Wizard."

The door was opened at Oregon for another wizard, Kelly. Still an assistant coach at New Hampshire, he had come to Eugene in the spring of 2006 to scope out the offense and met with Crowton and offensive line coach Steve Greatwood. When Crowton left, he and Greatwood recommended Kelly as a replacement OC. 

After the 2008 season, Bellotti retired and Kelly became Oregon's head coach. In 2010, Kelly had the Ducks in the national championship game where they lost to Auburn. Now, here the Ducks are on the doorstep again.

Crowton, 57, who is originally from Orem, Utah, is now the offensive coordinator at Southern Utah. Bellotti is a television analyst. Kelly is the head coach of the Philadelphia Eagles.

Crowton and Bellotti will watch Oregon vs. Ohio State in the national championship game and see some of their handiwork in the first College Football Playoff title game. Head coach Mark Helfrich might put the finishing touches on a masterpiece, but Bellotti, Crowton and Kelly applied the first strokes.

 

Ray Glier covers college football for Bleacher Report.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

The Story Behind Oregon's High-Powered Offense

In 1988, the University of New Hampshire held a football clinic and 35 high school coaches showed up. Thirty-four went to a session on the designs of Jack Bicknell Jr., the Wildcats defensive line coach...

Read the full article on Bleacher Report...

Insider Buzz: Which Team Can Beat Alabama for Recruiting National Championship?

National signing day is quickly approaching in the world of college football, with many of the top players in the land yet to commit to the big-time programs.

Bleacher Report's Stephen Nelson joins 247Sports' National Recruiting Analyst JC Shurburtt to get an update on everything in the recruiting world.

Will any program overtake Alabama for the No. 1 class? Check out the video and let us know! 

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Georgia Football: These 5 Early Enrollees Could Make Huge Impacts in 2015

National signing day may still be four weeks away, but the Georgia Bulldogs' 2015 class is already making an impact on campus.

According to Seth Emerson of Columbus's Ledger-Enquirer, one transfer from UAB, one junior college transfer and six recent high school graduates enrolled in classes for the spring semester on Monday.  And while the biggest name in this class—5-star defensive tackle Trent Thompson and 5-star athlete Terry Godwin—won't sign until the first week in February, several of the early enrollees are primed for strong debut seasons in Athens.

Here's a closer look at five early enrollees who could make huge impacts for the Bulldogs in 2015.

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Projecting College Football's Final Top 25 Teams

It's hard to believe, but just one meaningful game remains in the 2014 college football season. All of the hype, all of the talk, all of the action, all of it is wrapped up in one game. When Oregon and Ohio State meet to decide the College Football Playoff National Championship on Monday night at AT&T Stadium, a most entertaining season will come to a close.

Tuesday morning, the Buckeyes or Ducks will sit atop the final Top 25 rankings. But how will the rankings shake out below the champion? Which teams made moves in the postseason and which teams slipped?

We decided to take a look at projecting the final Top 25 ranks. This is one person's opinion, with moves up and down based on teams' postseason performance. It is, by no means, a binding ranking, but rather a projection. As we've found out, the College Football Playoff selection committee's findings can be highly unpredictable.

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Ohio State's Defense Has What It Takes to Limit Oregon's Offense

There might not be a defense in the country that can shut down Oregon's high-flying offense.

Under the direction of Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback Marcus Mariota, the Ducks boast one of the nation's most potent attacks, ranking second in scoring offense and third in total offense. They've scored 38 or more points in all but one game this season—a 31-24 loss to Arizona in Week 6—with a 24.9-point margin of victory over their opponents.

It's hard to imagine Ohio State's defense putting together a dominant performance when it meets Oregon in the College Football Playoff Championship Game next Monday. However, the Buckeyes do have what it takes to limit the Ducks.

That may be enough for Ohio State to win its first national title since 2002.

It all starts up front for the Buckeyes with their star-studded defensive line. Unanimous first-team All-American Joey Bosa is a nightmare on the edge, and defensive tackles Michael Bennett and Adolphus Washington form one of college football's most formidable interiors.

Defensive end Steve Miller has stepped up opposite Bosa over the last few games, giving Ohio State a unit that could cause some problems for Oregon's offense.

That's because the Ducks have struggled when they've faced elite, physical defensive lines in the past. Teams such as Stanford, LSU, Auburn, Boise State and even Ohio State in the 2010 Rose Bowl have handed Oregon losses because they were able to win the battle in the trenches.

Sportscaster Mark Kunz reports Bennett, who's projected by the Chicago Tribune's Teddy Greenstein (subscription required) to be Ohio State's top NFL prospect in this year's draft, is confident in the Buckeyes' chances against Oregon:

That's easier said than done, of course. To Oregon's credit, its struggles against size in the trenches appear to be diminishing as the Ducks notched victories over Michigan State, Stanford and Florida State this season.

The only loss Oregon suffered this season came against a Wildcats team that took advantage of a banged-up offensive line.

The reason for Oregon's success this year is in large part the result of Mariota, who leads the country in pass efficiency by a wide margin. The junior signal-caller has thrown only three interceptions all season long, countered by 40 touchdowns.

Ohio State knows that defending Oregon starts with Mariota.

The key for the Buckeyes defense will be to generate as much pressure as possible in an effort to force turnovers. That, too, is easier said than done because Oregon leads the country in fewest turnovers this season, giving up the ball just 10 times through 14 games.

Will Ohio State be up to the task? According to ESPN's Brian Bennett, the Buckeyes' star defensive tackle believes his team is ready for Mariota and Oregon's uptempo offense:

Whether that's true or not will be revealed next Monday. But as the big game approaches, Ohio State feels it has what it takes to get the job done.

 

All stats via NCAA.com and Bleacher Report research.

David Regimbal covers Ohio State football for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter @davidreg412.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Tennessee Football: Vols Have Best Defensive Line Recruiting Class for 2015

When Kyle Phillips slipped a flat-billed Tennessee cap on his head during the first half of Saturday's U.S. Army All-American Bowl, his commitment solidified the best defensive line recruiting class in the program's history.

It's certainly the nation's best D-line class on paper for 2015. No other team can combine the number, rankings and variety of skill sets the Vols boast this cycle.

Veteran defensive line coach Steve Stripling proved his worth with on-field results this season, leading UT to the most sacks since 2001 with zero returning starters from last season.

Now, he has secured a sturdy foundation for the future of the defense with this class, and he had a hand in recruiting most all of them.

Phillips' pledge gives Tennessee seven defensive line commitments.

  • The class centerpiece is 5-star defensive tackle Kahlil McKenzie, who is the nation's 10th-ranked player, according to the 247Sports composite rankings.
  • After that, UT has four 4-star prospects, including Shy Tuttle (who is a 5-star on 247Sports) and Phillips. Following his performance in San Antonio, Phillips will be "at least in consideration for a fifth star," 247Sports' director of scouting Barton Simmons told GoVols247's Ryan Callahan (subscription required).
  • Two 3-star players round out the class, but after Marques Ford's performance at the Under Armour All-America Game, he could get a ratings bump, too.

Phillips was the door-slammer on an unbelievable class. His commitment provided a bit of a surprise as Ole Miss and LSU had been trending late in his recruitment.

But in the end, head coach Butch Jones was able to do what he's done so many times in his three years at UT: pull an in-state kid the Vols coveted.

The charismatic McKenzie jokingly tweeted that he had something to do with Phillips' pledge after recruiting him all week at the all-star game.

Throw the seven newcomers into a group that already includes star rising senior Curt Maggitt and freshman All-American Derek Barnett, and you've got the trappings of a franchise unit.

Moments after Phillips made it official, 247Sports' Ryan Bartow praised UT's defensive front class, saying it was loaded and telling the GoVols247 subscribers, "that's the No. 1 position you need to be good at to vault the program back into national contention."

It wasn't long ago that the Vols couldn't pull any defensive lineman of any consequence, and it has to be considered a major factor in the program's downfall.

A study of composite rankings from 2009 to 2013 showed that, of the 26 linemen who committed to UT, 10 didn't finish their careers in Knoxville. 

During that span, UT signed 12 defensive ends, and their average recruiting rating was 30th at their respective positions. Of the 14 players who wound up defensive tackles, UT's average positional rating was 31st.

In other words, sometimes Lane Kiffin and Derek Dooley signed players just to be warm bodies, and they predictably never panned out.

Whether or not this year's class lives up to the massive hype surrounding the prospects in it won't be known for another couple of years, but it is certainly lauded by experts.

Added Simmons in the article linked above:

I think with Tennessee, they did such a good job recruiting skill (positions) last cycle. And for them to now put together that group—three players that are among the best in the country at their position—I mean, that’s how you build a foundation for a program. I really believe this is sort of the piece of the puzzle they needed in this cycle, and I think that they couldn’t have asked for a much better result.

With Tuttle and especially McKenzie, the Vols have a pair of space-eating defensive force fields who are probably plug-and-play guys in a defensive tackle unit that is slim. UT returns just Danny O'Brien, Owen Williams, Trevarris Saulsberry, Dimarya Mixon and Kendal Vickers on the interior.

Andrew Butcher is a powerful, prototypical strong-side defensive end in the mold of former Vol Will Overstreet. Taylor and Ford are speed-rushing defensive ends who get off the edge in a hurry.

Phillips is the best of both worlds. He is one of the most well-rounded defensive ends in the country, as he displayed in the U.S. Army All-American Bowl, where he had a team-high five tackles, 2.5 tackles for loss and a sack.

Throw in Picou, who is a prospect with the flexibility to move inside to tackle or stay outside depending on where coaches need him, and the Vols are set along the defensive front for the future.

The linemen committed are a huge reason the Vols currently have the nation's fifth-ranked recruiting class. Following a season where they restocked the skill-position shelf, beefing up the defensive front is exactly what the Vols needed.

They did that, and then some.

After the year the Vols posted, where they improved in virtually every defensive category and went to the trail to snag a class such as this, it's hard to believe they aren't on the way back. With the talent they'll have staring down the opposing quarterback, how could they not be?

SEC powerhouses are forged in the trenches, and with the size and versatility of this class, UT should be able to make it difficult on offenses for years to come.

 

All recruiting information from 247Sports composite rankings, 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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Oregon vs. Ohio State: TV Info and More for College Football Championship 2015

This is uncharted territory for college football, and it couldn’t have asked for a better national championship game in the initial College Football Playoff.

Ohio State will bring its massive fanbase and decades of tradition to Arlington to face off against one of the powerful new-bloods in the sport in Oregon. The Buckeyes have the legendary coach in Urban Meyer, but the Ducks counter with this season’s Heisman Trophy winner in quarterback Marcus Mariota.

The fact that Ohio State lost two Heisman candidates of its own in quarterbacks Braxton Miller and J.T. Barrett makes the game all the more intriguing. As Matt Saracen of Friday Night Lights would say, Cardale Jones is QB1 for the Buckeyes, and now he has to go against the best player in college football to get the trophy.

Here is the schedule for Monday’s title game as well as a look at the key determining factor for the outcome.

 

2015 National Championship

Matchup: Oregon vs. Ohio State

Date: Monday, Jan. 12

Time: 8:30 p.m. ET

TV: ESPN 

Live Stream: WatchESPN

 

Determining Factor: Ohio State Offense vs. Oregon Defense

It’s time to accept this fact now, Buckeyes fans—Mariota and the rest of the Oregon offense are going to score points in the title game. The Ducks were second in the nation in scoring offense, 11th in passing yards per game, 18th in rushing yards per game and are a high-tempo machine when they get going.

Even though Ohio State may be the toughest defense the Ducks have faced this year on paper in terms of potential NFL talent, Oregon is too dynamic on offense to simply be stopped for four quarters.

That means the Buckeyes are going to have to outscore Oregon in much the same way Arizona did in a 31-24 victory back on Oct. 2

The best way to do that is by pounding the ball on the ground if Ohio State’s Sugar Bowl performance was any indication. Running back Ezekiel Elliott dashed the physically imposing Alabama defense to the tune of 230 rushing yards and two touchdowns.

The offensive line controlled the game with its run blocking, which was all the more impressive based on the fact it was going against the closest thing we have seen to a college football dynasty in the past 10 years.

Oregon was only 51st in the country against the run, so the Buckeyes should be able to move the ball on the ground.

It is critical that Ohio State moves the chains with the rushing attack and gives the defense some much-needed breathers from Oregon’s fast pace. Don’t be surprised if the Buckeyes go a bit slower than they usually do on offense in an effort to keep Mariota on the sidelines for that much longer.

As for the Ohio State passing game, you know the story by now.

Miller went down before the season with injury, and Barrett got hurt against Michigan. Not a lot of people expected Ohio State to even beat Wisconsin in the Big Ten title game with Jones under center, let alone knock off Nick Saban and the mighty Crimson Tide in the College Football Playoff.

All Jones did was throw for 243 yards and a touchdown against Alabama and 257 yards and three touchdowns against Wisconsin.

Statistically, Oregon’s pass defense is its most vulnerable unit. The Ducks were an abysmal 111th in the country against the pass and often gave up chunks of yardage to formidable opposing quarterbacks.

Wide receivers Jalin Marshall, Devin Smith, Michael Thomas and Evan Spencer are all legitimate weapons for the Buckeyes, and that’s not even mentioning the possibility of a healthy Dontre Wilson returning to the lineup for the first time since he broke his foot against Michigan State.

Wilson discussed his potential role, via Doug Lesmerises of Cleveland.com:

I can bring back some explosive plays. I can make some plays on special teams and offensively, and I can also be a motivational person. I'm very spirited, very high-spirited, I'm very passionate about football. I love this team.

So I think I can keep them up and keep their head above water. And if they need me, I'll get out there and do what I have to do.

There are deep threats in Smith and Thomas, a possession receiver in Spencer and speedsters in Wilson and Marshall listed there. Oregon’s secondary, especially without Ifo Ekpre-Olomu, will have its hands full Monday.

On paper, it looks like the Ohio State offense against the Oregon defense is something of a mismatch, especially since the Ducks struggle to stop the pass as drastically as they do. However, there are two important things to keep in mind with Oregon’s defense—scoring in the red zone and turnovers.

The Ducks did give up 528 total yards against Florida State in the Rose Bowl but only allowed 20 points because they stopped the Seminoles in the red zone and forced a ridiculous five turnovers.

The Buckeyes cannot settle for field goals like they did against Alabama on their first two scoring drives when they get in the red zone if they hope to topple Mariota and the Oregon offense. 

The Ducks were also No. 1 in the country in turnover margin at plus-20. While that is also a testament to how effectively Mariota and company protect the football, the defense is as opportunistic as it comes in college football. What’s more, Oregon takes advantage of those turnovers, as Matt McCoy of 610 WTVN noted:

Ohio State was impressive in its own right in that category, coming in at 15th in turnover margin at plus-10, so it will have to demonstrate the ability to hold onto the ball in the title game. A couple of turnovers against the Ducks attack can be downright crippling to a team’s chances. 

If the Buckeyes convert on their red-zone opportunities and don’t cough the ball up, the national title could come back to Columbus. Otherwise, Mariota and the Oregon offense will make Ohio State pay on the other side of the field.

 

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Baylor Football: Conversation with 5-Star Quarterback Jarrett Stidham

Ever since Robert Griffin III walked the Baylor campus, the Bears have had tremendous quarterbacks.  After Griffin took the program to unprecedented heights in 2011, winning the Heisman Trophy and leading the Bears to a 10-3 record, Nick Florence and Bryce Petty have been even more productive.

The Bears might have found the next quarterback in that line of signal-callers.  Jarrett Stidham, the third-ranked dual-threat quarterback, according to 247Sports, announced his commitment to Baylor back on December 19, when Baylor was preparing for its Cotton Bowl matchup against Michigan State.

This decision comes after he decommitted from Texas Tech in December via Twitter, thanking Tech while saying he was leaving "for various reasons."

While the move is demoralizing for head coach Kliff Kingsbury and the Red Raiders, the Bears add a terrific piece to their recruiting class.  The addition of Stidham gives Baylor the 40th-ranked recruiting class by 247Sports.

Stidham starred at Stephenville (Texas) High School this year, throwing for 2,934 yards and 35 touchdowns while rushing for 969 yards and 15 more scores.  He possesses a unique package of athleticism, speed and throwing ability that has scouts drooling.

His talent has never been in question, as he wowed scouts at Elite 11, which is one of the most prestigious high school showcases in the country and attended by several of the premier prep players in the nation.  Gary Laney of NOLA.com wrote that he thought Stidham was the most impressive quarterback at the camp.

"The Texas Tech commit was consistently solid in both days of the competition, and many think he had the best performance of the all-star crew," Laney wrote.  "Better than his fellow Texan [Kyler] Murray, and better than anybody else."

Shortly after Stidham's awesome Elite 11 performance, Kingsbury told Stidham that he could "change the program."  For a high schooler to earn this kind of praise from Kingsbury, who is revered as a quarterback guru, Stidham has all the tools to succeed at the next level.

His skills and incredible high school career earned him an invitation to the prestigious Under Armour All-America Game, which is held in St. Petersburg, Florida, and features some of the best high school players from around the country.  Stidham had sterling remarks about his time in the game, calling it a "once-in-a-lifetime experience."

"It was crazy, it was awesome," he said in a phone interview.  "Being around the best players in the country and getting to know them off the field and then getting to play with them, it was pretty cool."

He said he got to meet a lot of different people while in Florida, including Alabama quarterback recruit Blake Barnett, who Stidham said became a close friend.

After deciding against Texas Tech, Stidham was contacted by a host of big-time schools, including Baylor, Oregon, TCU, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State and Florida, but he narrowed it down to Oregon and Baylor. 

Stidham chose Baylor over Oregon for several reasons, but the most decisive one might have been its location.  Waco is only about 90 miles away from Stephenville, and Stidham said that factor was very important in his final decision.

"It came down to Baylor and Oregon, and Baylor is just close to home, and I couldn't really see myself going that far away from my friends and family," Stidham said.

He said that Baylor head coach Art Briles personally recruited him, but the majority of the recruiting was done by assistant coaches Philip Montgomery and Art's son, Kendal.  Montgomery, who was Baylor's offensive coordinator, left in favor of the head coaching job at Tulsa, leaving the younger Briles as the new offensive coordinator and quarterback coach.  Stidham was very complimentary of the 32-year-old Briles.

"He's a great dude," he said.  "He's real young, so he can relate a little better."

Stidham was also swayed by the opportunity to play in Baylor's wide-open spread offense.  The Bears have led the nation in total offense in each of the past two years, and Stidham is ecstatic to play in that type of system.

"I think it'll be good for me.  They like to get the ball out of the quarterback's hand pretty fast at times with laterals, their screen game and that type of stuff, but they also like to take shots down the field," he said.  "They have a lot of intermediate stuff that I like, and me being able to run the ball a little bit, I think that's going to add another element to the offense that we can use."

He also said that the offense he will be running at Baylor will have some similarities with the offense he ran in high school at Stephenville.

"There are some [similarities], some of the concepts route-wise are the same," he said.  "Most spread offenses in some way are kind of the same; there are just a few quirks here and there that make them all different."

Stidham chose to graduate from high school early and will enroll at Baylor in January so he can participate in spring practice and start working on his sports marketing degree.  Enrolling early will give him a chance to learn the nuances of the offense and get more comfortable with his coaches, his teammates and the campus.

Another factor that made Baylor enticing to Stidham was its quarterback situation.  Petty played his final collegiate game in the Cotton Bowl, and even though Seth Russell played exceptionally well in his opportunities while Petty was injured, the coaches have said they will give Stidham a shot to compete for the starting job.

"As soon as I step on campus next Monday, it's a full-on competition between me and Seth and the other quarterback they have, Chris [Johnson], so it's going to be a battle between us guys, and the best one is going to be the one that plays," he said.

Stidham was also adamant that he is not planning to redshirt at this point and wants to compete for the starting job immediately. 

What definitely won't be in question is who the Baylor quarterback will be throwing to.  The roster is loaded with explosive playmakers.  Antwan Goodley and Levi Norwood graduate, but Corey Coleman, KD Cannon and Jay Lee will all be back next year.  It is for this reason that Stidham thinks Baylor can continue to get even better.

"We've got a good class coming in this year even though we aren't taking as many guys," he said.  "But I know next year, we already have some of the top players in the country committed.  We have some really, really good guys coming, and we're just looking to keep building."

About next year's class, it's already shaping into one of the best in the nation.  Baylor already has commitments from five players in the 2016 class.  All five are at least 4-star recruits, and the class is ranked sixth in the nation, per 247Sports.

If Stidham's confidence and next year's recruiting class is any indication, the future is extremely bright for Baylor.  Its demoralizing bowl loss to Michigan State will only inspire the team more, and it won't be a surprise if the Bears work their way into the College Football Playoff sooner rather than later.

All quotes were obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted.

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B/R CFB 250: Top 15 Tight Ends

Bleacher Report's CFB 250 is an annual ranking of the best players in college football, regardless of NFL potential. Brian Leigh and Kynon Codrington have studied, ranked and graded the top athletes in the country, narrowed that list down to a mere 250 and sorted by position. Today, we present the Top 15 Tight Ends.

Other CFB 250 Positions

 

Tight end was one of the weakest positions in college football this season, but that was to be expected given how much talent left.

The top five tight ends from last year's CFB 250 are gone, and others who returned either missed the year with an injury (Braxton Deaver, Duke) or moved to wide receiver (Devin Funchess, Michigan).

But the position was not as weak as it might have been if not for some breakout performances. A number of tight ends made the proverbial "leap." And this year's list is loaded with underclassmen—three true sophomores in the top seven—so the future is in good hands.

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

Targeted skills, such as route running, are important at both levels, but there is a difference between college route running and professional route running. If a tight end can get open in the SEC or Big 12, it doesn't matter that he can't get open in the NFC North. At least not here, it doesn't.

This is all about his 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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College Football Championship Game 2015: Predicting Oregon vs. OSU Box Score

The 2015 College Football Playoff National Championship between the Oregon Ducks and the Ohio State Buckeyes is already the most anticipated matchup of the entire season, and the excitement is only growing.

Many fans expected Oregon to beat the Florida State Seminoles, but few saw the 59-20 final box score coming. On the other hand, few gave Ohio State a chance against the Alabama Crimson Tide, but Urban Meyer helped lead the Buckeyes to a title berth.

Here is all the vital viewing information for the 2015 College Football Playoff National Championship Game, the predicted box score and a breakdown of the matchup.

 

Where: AT&T Stadium, Arlington, Texas

When: Monday, January 12

Start Time: 8:30 p.m. ET

Watch: ESPN

Live Stream:WatchESPN

 

 

Breaking Down the Most Intriguing Matchup

There are many battles to watch on the field in the 2015 CFP National Championship Game, but the most intriguing is the mental battle between Ohio State head coach Urban Meyer and Oregon head coach Mark Helfrich.

Meyer won national titles during his time with the Florida Gators, and he is looking to become only the second coach in history to win a national championship with two different schools.

After beating Alabama and proving the team’s worth despite starting a third-string quarterback in Cardale Jones, the Buckeyes must be taken seriously. Ohio State finished the season with an average of 45 points per game (fifth in college football), but Oregon must also respect the defensive unit, which finished the year ranked 26th, allowing just 22.1 points per game.

The official ESPN College Football Twitter account shared Meyer’s impressive numbers with the Buckeyes:

While Ohio State may be coming into this matchup red-hot, the Ducks have just as much momentum and are looking to bring home the inaugural College Football Playoff trophy.

When asked about what it means to the program to reach the national title game, Helfrich told this to Carlos Mendez of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram (via NCAA.com):

It's huge, huge for the state -- huge, obviously, for our university, the community, everybody involved with that. The best thing we can do is stay focused on our process and our mission. But being part of this has been a ton of fun for the last several years. We know what it means to the various constituencies around this. Unfortunately, that doesn't mean much to Ohio State.

As well as the Buckeyes played this season, Oregon is the superior program on both the offensive and defensive side of the ball. Led by Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback Marcus Mariota and the play-calling of Helfrich, the Ducks finished the season second in points scored per game with 47.2.

Not only can the offense score in bunches, but the unit is also one of the most consistent in the nation.

Oregon’s defense proved its worth in the Rose Bowl when the team shut down former Heisman winner Jameis Winston and the Seminoles for only 20 points. Ohio State has a better overall offensive unit than Florida State, but the Ducks should be able to contain it.

Helfrich and Meyer may be on good terms coming into this game, but when the lights come up for the national title game, these two men will be engaged in a mental battle with the biggest prize in the sport on the line.

Predicted Final Score: Oregon 40, Ohio State 30

 

*Stats via ESPN.com.

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UCLA Football: 5 Takeaways from Bruins' Bowl Game

At times, the UCLA football team looked very impressive in its 40-35 victory over the Kansas State Wildcats in the 2015 Valero Alamo Bowl. 

There were multiple takeaways from the contest—both from a positive and negative perspective.

This game in particular highlighted the importance of a player headed to the NFL. It also demonstrated the emergence of a defensive player, as well as depicting shortcomings at two positions.

Lastly, the victory displayed a newfound change in culture for this program.

 

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