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5 FSU Players Who Will Make or Break Jameis Winston's 2nd Heisman Quest

Winning the Heisman Trophy two years in a row is, to put it lightly, not one of the easier things to do in football. 

Which, should be noted, is a pretty hard sport to begin with. 

So much has to go right with the added bonus of having a target on your back. That's what Florida State quarterback Jameis Winston is facing in 2014 as he tries to become only the second player in history to win back-to-back Heismans. 

Can he do it? He's going to need help. Here are five players who can make, or break, those hopes. 

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Pac-12 Football to Move Championship Game to San Francisco 49ers' Levi's Stadium

The Pac-12 only started playing a conference championship game in 2011. Since its institution, it has been unique among power conferences for an easy-to-see reason: Unlike the others, which have taken place on a neutral field, the Pac-12' version has been played at one of the participants' home stadiums.

That will no longer be the case in 2014, as Michael Yam of Pac-12 Network announced Tuesday that the league will start holding its title game at Levi's Stadium in San Francisco, home of the 49ers:

According to a joint report from SI.com, Pac-12 commissioner Larry Scott confirmed "discussions" were going on before Yam broke the news but wouldn't confirm it for sure. The report also explains some of the logistical problems with the previous model, which ostensibly helped foster this change:

The league found difficulties for schools hosting the game on short notice. Ticket sales were rushed, and athletic directors voiced concerns about potential issues with luxury boxes and season tickets holders needing to be moved to make room for corporate entities. With a game branded in one city -- just like the SEC Championship Game in Atlanta -- the league can sell tickets to the event year-round, not exclusively as a game tied to two specific schools.

The Big 12 only has 10 members and does not play a championship game, but this new model falls more in line with the three power conferences that do: the ACC, Big Ten and SEC.

All three of those leagues don't use just any neutral field but an NFL stadium for their respective title games.

The ACC Championship Game is played in Bank of America Stadium (Carolina Panthers), the Big Ten Championship Game is played in Lucas Oil Stadium (Indianapolis Colts) and the SEC Championship Game is played in the Georgia Dome (Atlanta Falcons).

Now the Pac-12 can join the club—and in style. Levi's Stadium is brand new and considered one of the most modern football stadiums in the country. Even though some, such B/R's Ben Kercheval, were fans of the home-field championship game model, it is hard to argue with the Pac-12's choice of venue:

We'll keep you updated if/when this becomes official.

 

Follow Brian Leigh on Twitter: @BLeighDAT.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Pac-12 Football to Move Championship Game to San Francisco 49ers' Levi's Stadium

The Pac -12 only started playing a conference championship game in 2011. Since its institution, it has been unique among power conferences for an easy-to-see reason: Unlike the ...

Read the full article on Bleacher Report...

Brian Kelly Doesn't Want to Play Two QBs, but Here's Why It Could Work

When Brian Kelly says he wants to play one quarterback, we're supposed to believe him. But should we? 

Kelly's the coach that played musical chairs with his quarterbacks at Cincinnati. And looking back at the past four seasons, it hasn't been much different at Notre Dame. 

Granted, it hasn't been Kelly's fault. But after inheriting Dayne Crist and Tommy Rees (he was already committed to the Irish when Kelly was hired), we saw Crist, Rees and Andrew Hendrix get shots at becoming the Irish's starting quarterback before Kelly turned the keys over to Everett Golson in 2012. 

Even Golson couldn't hold onto the job, with an academic snafu and Gunner Kiel's transfer putting Rees back at the helm for 2013. But with Golson back and still capable of being a three-year starter, just about every sign points to long-awaited stability at the position. 

Last week, Kelly gave a few updates on the state of his quarterback depth chart. While talking at a charity event, the Irish head coach said he's still not quite ready to call the race between Golson and redshirt freshman Malik Zaire. 

"I’d rather clearly have somebody be the guy," Kelly said, according to Eric Hansen of the South Bend Tribune. "We’re not at that point, where there’s a clear separation between the two yet. I think that could happen, but it hasn’t happened yet.

"I think Everett has more games under his belt, but you still have to respond when the lights go on. Malik has shown the ability to play better than he practices. Everett has practiced better than he plays. And so we’ve got to continue to work through that and Everett’s got to — when it’s time to shine, he’s got to go take it over.

"We’ve got to get Everett to really grow and develop and then go from there. But nobody has really said yet, ‘Hey, this is my job.’ They’re still competing."

That competition can reboot this June, thanks to some tweaks to NCAA rules. But come August, even though just about everybody following the Irish expects Golson to be the starting quarterback, it might not be the worst idea in the world to keep opponents guessing and use Zaire in situational packages.

The most obvious reason to get Zaire playing time early is because the odds are he'll be seeing the field eventually. Even with 15 pounds of heft added to his frame, nobody is confusing Golson for an ironman. His playing style, not to mention Kelly's preferred offensive system, will have Golson taking hits as a ball-carrier and a passer. 

In 2012, Golson sat out portions of multiple games because of assorted injuries. He struggled to practice for most of the season. A concussion held him out of the end of the Stanford game and forced him to miss the following week's game against BYU as well. That was in an offense that didn't utilize Golson as a ball-carrier for the season's first month.

The quarterback will be a critical part of the run game in 2014, so dictating the terms for Zaire's debut are better than having an injury to Golson do it. Wouldn't it make more sense to script a series of plays for Zaire to execute against Rice than force him into a game on a moment's notice? 

There's also reason to believe that Zaire could help optimize the Irish offense. The past two seasons, Notre Dame has struggled in the red zone. While Golson led the Irish in rushing scores in 2012, the Irish were a horrible 112th in the nation in converting red-zone appearances into touchdowns.

With Rees, the Irish weren't much better, clocking in at 100th. One of the most adept option quarterbacks in his recruiting class, Zaire would immediately add a new wrinkle in the scoring area. (For reference, Navy has been in the top 25 converting red-zone touchdowns in three of the past five seasons.)

Perhaps the biggest misconception carried into this spring was Golson's readiness to come in and lead the Irish offense. Make no mistake, his freshman season was impressive. But after returning to campus and seeing the spread attack that Kelly wanted to fully install, it because clear that this was a steeper challenge than the one Golson faced as a first-year starter. 

Kelly spoke with Jack Arute and Gino Torretta on SiriusXM's College Sports Nation last week, detailing the work Golson still needs to do.

"He recognizes that in his first year here at Notre Dame he had training wheels on and we played to the strength of our defense," Kelly told Arute and Torretta. "Then he took a year off, and then when he came here, he didn't know as much as he thought he did. 

"So that's a real positive thing for a young man to come in and know that he's got a lot more to learn as it relates to the quarterback position ... Everett came in very humbled, knowing that he's got a lot to learn to be the quarterback he needs to be."

Playing multiple quarterbacks is a challenge for a variety of reasons, especially when it could signal a leadership void on offense. But even though he was gone last season, Golson has quickly earned back the respect of his teammates, especially as a senior on an offense filled with young talent. 

Just as important, Kelly has done this before. Pulling strings and swapping quarterbacks is a skill. For a head coach like Kelly or Steve Spurrier, it's business as usual. For a lesser established coach, it might be a problem. 

So while the opportunity to turn the keys to the offense over to Golson has to be tempting after four seasons of instability at quarterback, you can't help but wonder if Kelly embraces the chaos.

"Malik is a really good player, and that’s just the way it is," Kelly told the charity event. "And Everett’s just going to have to continue to grow, and that’s a good thing. I kind of like the fact that we have a guy that’s really pushing him."

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Nick Saban Is on the Right Track with Proposal to Change Bowl Selection Process

Alabama head coach Nick Saban didn't get his way and get a ninth conference game in the SEC's scheduling debate, but he's still campaigning for his vision of the future of college football.

Next on his agenda is apparently bowl selection.

According to Michael Casagrande of AL.com, Saban stumped for the College Football Playoff selection committee to not only decide the four best teams in the country, but place all teams in postseason bowls.

Saban explained his stance at the Montgomery stop of the Crimson Caravan tour (via Casagrande):

The committee that's going to pick the top four teams for the playoff are really picking the top 12 teams for all six sort of championship bowl games, whatever they call it now. Well, why don't we do it like basketball and let them pick all the teams for all the bowl games. Then it doesn't matter what your record is.

Saban's stance is simple. The selection committee is picking the four most worthy teams to play in the national semifinals, so why not do the same to create compelling bowl matchups in the middle- and lower-tier bowls?

He's certainly on the right track.

The SEC is already doing something similar starting after this season with six of its bowl games. After teams are selected for the national semifinals, the group of six bowls in the semifinal rotation and the Capital One Bowl, the conference will place teams in the Outback, Music City, Gator, Liberty, Texas and Belk Bowls based on matchups, locations and ticket sales.

Talking control of the selection process out of the lower-tier bowls themselves and giving more to the conferences or an independent group like the selection committee would, in theory, create compelling matchups throughout the bowl season.

Saban is on the right track, but he may be taking it a step too far.

Instead of letting a committee place all teams in bowl games, a better solution would be the road the SEC is going down with its "group of six" lower-tier bowls. Those games are tied into the conference for fans, coaches and recruits.

Why are there so many Big Ten versus SEC bowl games in Florida? It isn't just SEC schools that want to have a presence in the Sunshine State, the Big Ten does too. 

We've seen more options in the bowl process over the last few years outside of the SEC. Either the ACC or Big Ten will play an SEC opponent in the Gator and Music City Bowls starting after this season. Let's follow that same path and create more options with flexible conference tie-ins for licensed bowls without scrapping the tie-in format altogether.

The College Football Playoff selection committee—or another committee charged with placing teams in bowl games—would still have the ability to create compelling matchups across the board but would also have some structure to work with based on the desires of the conferences and bowls.

There will be a total of 40 bowl games following the 2015 season, which, as I wrote last month, is great for college football.

They'd be be even better with more matchup flexibility, which is the ultimate goal Saban has in mind.

 

* Barrett Sallee is the lead SEC college football writer for Bleacher Report.

 


Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Alabama Football: Crimson Tide's Entitled Season Turns into Entitled Draft

When the picks following University of Alabama linebacker C.J. Mosley as the 17th overall selection of the NFL draft by the Baltimore Ravens were announced, you just didn’t see anyone from the Crimson Tide smiling.

Safety Ha Ha Clinton-Dix hardly did when he went just four slots later to the Green Bay Packers, although that was probably due to the realization he would soon need to invest in a lot of sweaters.

Tackle Cyrus Kouandjio only did once, when reaching the podium at Radio City Music Hall and hugging the commissioner. He clearly wasn’t happy about when he joined the Buffalo Bills—in the second round.

“I have a lot more motivation now, I made it past the first round. I think I needed that. I’m ready to go,” Kouandjio said in an interview with the NFL Network’s Melissa Stark before even leaving the stage.

“Is that a warning to everybody else in the league?” she asked.

“Yes it is.”

That same evening, linebacker Adrian Hubbard and quarterback A.J. McCarron sent out tweets about being upset, only to come back during the subsequent days to say that they dropped due to health issues.

Both were correct to an extent but still came across as making excuses.

Rightly or wrongly, Alabama’s 2014 draft will go down as a disappointment, and not just because it failed to break the program record of having 10 players selected (1945).

Of the 12 who had been invited to the NFL combine, only safety Vinnie Sunseri, who showed enough during his knee rehab to be a fifth-round selection by New Orleans, went sooner than most expected.

Those who essentially went when everyone predicted were the first-round selections (give or take a few picks for Clinton-Dix, who some thought could go between 10th and 15th), wide receiver Kevin Norwood (who gets the benefit of the doubt for the fourth round) and Cody Mandell, who would have been a bit of a surprise to be drafted at all as a punter.

Everyone else dropped.

ESPN analyst Todd McShay explained why only eight Crimson Tide players were chosen when answering a question about a non-Alabama prospect during a conference call with reporters this week: “Teams weren’t willing to use draft picks on players if they had enough issues in measurables or in terms of durability or intangibles. Those were kind of the red flags.”

While the draft was loaded, Kouandjio (knee), McCarron (shoulder, foot), defensive linemen Ed Stinson (groin) and Jeoffrey Pagan, (shoulder), cornerback Deion Belue (foot), and guard Anthony Steen (shoulder) all had physical issues that kept them out of a combination of the Senior Bowl, combine workouts or pro day. Hubbard was told at the combine that he had a minor heart abnormality, for which he has since been cleared.

None of those things will matter in the National Football League, which is all about performing. If you don’t, for whatever reason, you’re gone. It’s that simple.

A perfect example is Green Bay, where Hubbard will try to latch on as a free agent. The Packers have a good history with undrafted free agents, with at least three making the team during each of the last four years. In 2013, safety Chris Banjo, outside linebacker Andy Mulumba and offensive lineman Lane Taylor were all on the 53-man roster.

However, Green Bay brings in free agents for evaluations on almost a daily basis, guys who are hungry and would do anything to stay. If one can do something better than a person on the roster, there’s no hesitation to make a change.

Moreover, consider what Bob McGinn, who may be the best NFL beat writer in the nation, wrote in in his draft preview for the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel about what various scouts said regarding Hubbard:

"Just stands and watches. He certainly looks the part, but he doesn't play the part. They tried to drop him some at the Senior Bowl and the guy struggled."

"He stinks. There's nothing to him. Low motor. No pass rush. Not very strong. Not explosive."

In 28 starts, Hubbard finished with 83 career tackles, 18 for a loss and 10 sacks. His best numbers were in 2012, and last year eight other Crimson Tide players had more tackles. He was named preseason second-team All-SEC, but nobody had him on their postseason team.

With a 3-4 defensive scheme Green Bay will keep approximately nine of the 16 linebackers already on the roster. The physically-gifted Hubbard has until the end of August to shed the underachiever label and earn one of those spots.

That’s harsh, but that’s the way it is in the NFL.

 

Christopher Walsh is the lead Alabama football writer for Bleacher Report. All quotes were obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted. 

Follow @CrimsonWalsh

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Future ACC Football vs. Power 5 Conference Games We'd Love to See

Following the SEC's lead, the ACC schools voted this week to stay with an eight-game conference schedule. And just like the SEC, the ACC is adopting an eight plus one format where each conference member is mandated to play at least one team from the Big Ten, Big 12, Pac-12 or SEC every season, beginning in 2017.

As is the case with the SEC (hear an echo?), the ACC wants other power conferences to do its dirty work while maintaining the ability to schedule non-power or FCS patsies to pat its member teams' records. We had a solution for that—the other conferences should boycott the SEC...as well as the ACC.

That said, we decided to help out the ACC, just as our colleague Barrett Sallee has done with the SEC, by mapping out an ideal annual interconference game for each school. While there are already permanent rivalries for four ACC teams, the other 10 teams can use some advice.

So in alphabetical order, these are contracts we'd love to see drawn up.

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Oregon Football: Breaking Down Marcus Mariota's Place on 2015 NFL Draft Board

Had he not opted to return to Oregon, Marcus Mariota may very well have been the first quarterback selected in last week's NFL draft. Thus, it's no wonder Mariota tops numerous, early 2015 big boards.

Mariota passed on the 2014 draft to continue pursuing goals at Oregon and hone his skills as a quarterback. He appeared on the April 23 edition of Pac-12 Networks' Football Weekly and addressed his decision to return. 

The redshirt junior scintillated audiences in his first two years commanding the Ducks' high-powered offense. With another year of refinement, the sky—and the No. 1 overall pick—is the limit for Mariota. 

 

Projections

Quarterbacks are often the first players selected. Since 2004, seven quarterbacks were taken first overall. The odds of Mariota going with that first selection are high, given that he tops many a list of draft projections for 2015 quarterbacks. 

One such big board belongs to B/R NFL Draft Lead Writer Matt Miller, who labels Mariota both the best runner and best potential quarterback of the 2015 class.  

Dane Brugler of CBSSports.com takes it one step further, writing: "[I]f Mariota had declared [this year], I think he would have been their [Houston Texans] No. 1 selection over Jadeveon Clowney."

Mariota may not go No. 1 overall—after all, the last two top selections were an offensive tackle and defensive end, and team oftentimes takes precedent. 

Chris Burke of Sports Illustrated tabs Mariota as the No. 3 overall pick, behind Texas A&M tackle Cedric Ogbuehi and Clemson defensive end/linebacker Vic Beasley.  

Mariota may not even be the first quarterback drafted. However, his place as a first-rounder appears to be as close to solidified as one can be a full year out from the draft.  

 

Why Scouts Are High on Mariota 

At 6'4", Mariota has prototypical NFL quarterback size. He came to Oregon spring practices last month at 218 pounds, with a goal weight of 220 pounds, per Andrew Greif of The Oregonian

The near-universal praise of Mariota points to the philosophical shift in the NFL. Playing in a no-huddle, spread offense was once a negative against NFL-aspiring quarterbacks.  However, the success of dual-threat quarterbacks Cam Newton, Colin Kaepernick and Russell Wilson has forced some scouts to rethink the parameters of what makes a great quarterback.  

Mariota fits the new mold. He is arguably the most dynamic, multifaceted quarterback in college football, able to extend plays and create opportunities where others might not. 

"He's really mobile and a heck of an athlete," one NFL scout told Pete Thamel of Sports Illustrated. "He can make all the throws and is a good leader."

Statistics only tell a part of the story, but what they do detail about Mariota speaks volumes. 

His passing improvement from 2012 to 2013 only scratches the surface. Mariota showed off his delivery and field-reading ability in this month's spring game, completing 6-of-7 attempts, including two touchdowns of 22 and 45 yards. 

Mariota also connected with a variety of receivers in his limited appearance. An ability to spread the ball among numerous receivers will be a driving force in Oregon's offensive strategy this season, and Mariota's resulting production should only improve his draft standing. 

 

Where Mariota Can Improve

"The most exciting dual-threat quarterback in the country must become more consistent," Frank Cooney of CBSSports.com writes

Indeed, Mariota's consistency is the likely to be the one recurring critique of his NFL stock during the 2014 season—particularly, his consistency with the deep ball. 

And while NFL offenses are more accommodating to dual-threat playmakers, proving his ability to run a pro style behooves Mariota. 

To that end, he took some snaps from directly under center during spring practices.

"Stuff that will help me get prepared for the future," is how Mariota described it to Aaron Fentress of CSNNW.com. "Just little things that can help."

 

Spring game statistics via GoDucks.com. Season statistics compiled via CFBStats.com

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Oregon Football: Breaking Down Marcus Mariota's Place on 2015 NFL Draft Board

Had he not opted to return to Oregon, Marcus Mariota may very well have been the first quarterback selected in last week's NFL draft. Thus, it's no wonder Mariota tops numerous, early 2015 big boards...

Read the full article on Bleacher Report...

Former 4-Star RB Ty Isaac Will Transfer from USC Trojans

Sophomore running back Ty Isaac, the No. 54 overall player on the 247Sports Composite in 2013, announced Tuesday that he is transferring after one season at USC.

Isaac is from Illinois and confirmed with Lindsey Thiry of Scout.com that his decision was not football related but rather because he is having family issues and wants to move closer to home.

"I have family stuff with my mom and want to be closer to home," said Isaac, according to Thiry. "I had a good time at USC. Last year's team was something really special ... When you pick a school, you don't foresee a decision like this happening."

Isaac was listed as an all-purpose back coming out of high school. At 6'2", he is tall for a running back, but he has good one-cut-and-go speed, solid power and is adept at catching the football.

Despite these gifts, however, Isaac found himself buried in a deep backfield rotation at USC. He finished fifth on the team with 40 carries and 236 rushing yards last season, but three of the players above him—Javorious "Buck" Allen, Tre Madden and Justin Davis—were also underclassmen.

USC will lean on that trio next season and be able to stomach Isaac's loss. Even though it hurts to lose such a promising young talent, the Trojans keep the cupboard stacked at tailback, and always have.

Of the notable schools close to Isaac's home state of Illinois, Notre Dame, Ohio State and Michigan pursued him the hardest coming out of high school, per 247Sports. Though nothing can be confirmed at the time, any of those would seem like reasonable destinations.

If he does go to one of those schools—or any other FBS program—Isaac would likely have to sit out next season, per NCAA transfer rules. If he goes to an FCS program, he will be eligible immediately.

We'll keep you updated as we learn more.

 

Follow Brian Leigh on Twitter: @BLeighDAT

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Former 4-Star RB Ty Isaac Will Transfer from USC Trojans

Sophomore running back Ty Isaac, the No. 54 overall player on the 247Sports Composite in 2013, announced Tuesday that he is transferring after one season at USC. Isaac is from Illinois and confirmed with Lindsey Thiry of Scout...

Read the full article on Bleacher Report...

Oklahoma State Football's APR Penalty Is Significant but Shouldn't Doom Cowboys

Just when the offseason news cycle was slipping into a peaceful slumber, the NCAA hit Oklahoma State with a wake-up bucket of ice-cold water.

According to John Helsley of The Oklahoman, Oklahoma State's football program will lose one practice day per week this season. The news was first reported by GoPokes.com (subscription required). 

The punishment reportedly comes as a result of the program's Academic Progress Rate (APR) falling below the NCAA minimum requirement, which is either 930 over a four-year period, or 940 over a two-year period.

From The Oklahoman

OSU fell a fraction of a point shy of avoiding penalty, with its number at 929.41 for the last four years. Had the Cowboys been at 929.50, the number would have been rounded up, meaning they missed by nine-one-hundreds of a point. The Cowboys avoided a more damaging postseason ban.

The program’s numbers were actually improved from a year ago, when OSU scored 926 over four years, but the NCAA raised its minimums for this season, from 900 for four years and 930 for two years, to 930 and 940.

This is obviously sobering news for the Cowboys. As B/R's Michael Felder, a former college player himself, tweets, there are only so many practices a week a team uses for game preparation. 

Losing a day is a disadvantage no matter how you slice it. However, it would be interesting to know if Oklahoma State can choose which day of practice it will forfeit. That could change the perception of the punishment's severity. 

As Andy Staples of Sports Illustrated notes, a good day to miss is Friday, when teams do little more than walk through everything from plays and packages to substitutions before Saturday's game. 

It is by far the easiest day of "practice" and could be moved to either Thursday or Saturday. Another possibility is eliminating Oklahoma State's Sunday practice. 

The thing to consider is head coach Mike Gundy has lightened up his in-season, on-field practice schedule (h/t Footballscoop.com). That makes the NCAA's punishment seem less dreadful than at first glance. 

"We started [compiling] all that about three years ago, and we started putting it in effect really this year," Gundy told ESPN's Ivan Maisel in 2011. "Last spring, spring ball, we did not scrimmage one time and tackle to the ground. This August, we did not scrimmage one time and tackle to the ground. Nothing."

None of this is ideal or to suggest losing a day of practice isn't significant. It is, especially if the NCAA is the one dictating the terms. 

But all things considered, it's not as devastating as it could be. 

 

Ben Kercheval is a lead writer for college football at Bleacher Report. All quotes cited unless obtained firsthand. 

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Meet Koa Farmer, Penn State's First Californian Recruit in Nearly a Decade

By now, new Nittany Lions head coach James Franklin has caught the attention of just about everyone that follows college football recruiting.

Penn State's current class ranks second in the country behind only Alabama, according to 247Sports, and Franklin has landed commitments from 16 prospects, including 13 recruits rated as 247Sports Composite 4-star players.

The first indication that Franklin could enjoy massive success recruiting at Penn State came in January, when 2014 safety Koa Farmer committed to the Nittany Lions on an official visit...from California.

In just over a month, Farmer will become the first player to leave a California high school for Happy Valley since Lydell Sargeant made the move in 2005.

Technically, Sargeant moved back to Pennsylvania, his home for 10 years, to graduate high school, but before that, he played his final three seasons of high school ball in California, thus making him a "California prospect."

Unlike Sargeant's situation, Koa Farmer didn't even have Penn State on his radar until a few weeks before signing day. 

"I thought I wasn't big-time enough to go to Penn State. Penn State to me is like an Alabama, USC, all those big time programs that have that legacy of football."

In the final winter of his recruitment, Farmer began drawing attention from all over, including Wisconsin, who wanted the 4-star safety to visit after his trip to Pennsylvania.

"I was getting these offers so late and I still had visits to take...it was hectic," Farmer says of the weeks leading up to his commitment, adding "The Wisconsin coaches were in my house, coach Franklin was in my house, it was just getting crazy."

Farmer claims that Franklin and his staff were recruiting him the hardest while they were at Vanderbilt and he was actually scheduled to visit Nashville the weekend that he ended up in State College, where he ultimately committed. 

"I give coach Franklin and that staff so much respect that I knew I had to visit those guys. They showed me the most love by far."

The admitted beach body who enjoys surfing knows what's in store for him in central Pennsylvania after his official visit in mid-winter, saying "I had never seen snow come from the side before." Still, he's looking forward to seeing four seasons and says "It will be something different but you just have to be mature about it."

Farmer played all over the field in high school but will arrive at Penn State as a safety and could play the "hero" position before potentially growing into an outside linebacker. 

I just won MT.SAC INVITATIONAL 200 seeded !!!! #21.73 🙌

— KOA (@KOAFARMER) April 20, 2014

A forensic science major who held offers from Yale and Harvard, expect Koa to pick up whatever the staff throws at him. 

If Penn State offering the specific major that Koa was looking for was the final straw, James Franklin built the rest of the bridge. Farmer says that while he was on his visit, Franklin gave a speech explaining to the the recruits that "PSU is unrivaled," saying that "once we get this thing going, ain't nobody messing with us. We're gonna be unrivaled."

DB Koa Farmer of Sherman Oaks Notre Dame said he has signed with Penn State. He said he "loves the energy" of Coach James Franklin & Co.

— eric sondheimer (@latsondheimer) February 5, 2014

The coaches then led the players down to the field to show off one of Penn State football's best assets. As Farmer puts it, "That stadium speaks for itself. That's what football is about."

 

All quotes obtained first hand, unless otherwise noted. Star ratings courtesy of 247Sports.com.


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The Best 2015 NFL Draft Prospect for Every Major College Football Team

Going through draft withdrawal?

Or maybe it's draft apathy. After having endured months of hype and speculation leading up to last week's three-day extravaganza of professional football potential, the last thing you want to think about is who's on the "big board" for the 2015 NFL draft.

Like it or not, such projections are already out there. But while most of those try to predict who's going to go in next year's first round—without knowing who will draft when and what their needs will be—or just listing the 10 or 20 best overall draft-eligible prospects, we've taken this concept and widened it a bit more.

Not every team is going to have someone taken in the 2015 draft (cough, Texas, cough), but every program from a major college has at least one player on its roster that's considered a viable prospect for next year. It could be that senior who's toiled for many seasons and will peak at the right time, or the hot junior who's ready to leave early to get the clock started on a pro career.

It might even be a redshirt sophomore, someone who, for whatever reason, wasn't used in their first year of college but then exploded onto the scene once given a chance to perform. We can think of at least one of those games, someone who's become quite...famous because of it.

Enough with the buildup: here's our list of every major college team's best 2015 NFL draft prospect.

 

(NOTE: All draft rankings are courtesy of NFLDraftScout.com)

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Sterling Johnson Commits to Clemson: What 4-Star DE Brings to Tigers

Sterling Johnson made up his mind to wear orange in college Tuesday but ultimately changed his desired shade by the end of the day.

The 4-star defensive lineman attempted to commit to Tennessee, according to Phil Kornblut of GoUpstate.com, but he was rebuffed by the Volunteers. He quickly turned his attention elsewhere, pledging to Clemson later in the evening:

All signs seemed to point to Knoxville for Johnson, a 6'5", 281-pound prospect from Clayton, North Carolina. He visited the Volunteers in April and immediately elevated Tennessee to the top of an expansive offer list.

"Tennessee, they’re a strong leader right now for me," Johnson told 247Sports reporter Ryan Callahan (subscription required).

Just as he was ready to accept an opportunity to play for the Volunteers, head coach Butch Jones and his staff pushed pause on the recruitment process. Per Kornblut's report, Tennessee is growingly content with its current crop of defensive tackles and preferred to wait and see Johnson at camp before moving forward with the process.

Less than an hour later, he had dropped Tennessee from consideration and committed to Clemson.

"I felt like it was God's plan," Johnson told Kornblut. "I really enjoyed our conversation (with Clemson coach Dabo Swinney) and I like the coaching staff because they are real people and work like everyone else."

He is the 14th member of the 2015 Tigers class and its top-rated defensive prospect. Johnson is listed at No. 10 nationally among strong-side defensive ends in 247Sports' composite rankings.

His junior season featured consistent displays of disruptiveness in the offensive backfield. Johnson tallied 80 tackles, including an incredible 51 for loss, and eight sacks in 2013.

Prior to his pledge to Clemson—and attempted pledge to Tennessee—Johnson considered several collegiate options. He weighed offers from Notre Dame, Florida State, North Carolina, UCLA and Alabama, among others.

He brings tremendous versatility to the Tigers defense. Clemson can utilize Johnson along the interior against the run, as he wreaks havoc destroying double-team efforts and uses rapid lower-body movement to force his way through space.

Johnson is rangy enough to set up shop along the outside edge when the Tigers install schemes built on a foundation of more formidable size on the defensive front. He can improve his set of pass-rushing skills but already displays superb closing speed once the pocket collapses and a quarterback is within striking distance.

He joins South Carolina defensive lineman Gage Cervenka as another member of Clemson's haul at the position. The class rates fourth nationally in 247Sports' composite teams rankings, sitting atop the list of all ACC squads.

 

Recruit rankings and statistics courtesy of 247Sports unless otherwise noted.

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Georgia Football: Poor 2014 NFL Draft Showing Hurts Dawgs in Recruiting

As if recruiting against football factories like Alabama, Florida, LSU and Auburn wasn’t difficult enough, the challenge for the Georgia Bulldogs was made all the more stringent by last week’s NFL draft.

As the SEC once again led all conferences with 49 players selected, former Dawgs did a lot of listening without hearing their names called.

By the time the Miami Dolphins made tight end Arthur Lynch the first Bulldog to be drafted with the 155th overall pick, a player from every other team in the conference had already been selected.

When Aaron Murray was drafted by the Chiefs eight picks later, he was the 32nd player from the conference—and the last Bulldog—to be snagged.

Georgia’s lack of representation in the draft could really put a damper on recruiting efforts.  After all, only three schools in the conference—Ole Miss, Mississippi State and Kentucky—had fewer players chosen than Mark Richt’s Bulldogs.

 

The Non-Strategy

Last year, Alabama famously employed what could be called the "$51.8 million strategy." The campaign, gaudy as it may have been, was actually quite simple in drawing attention to the then-recent draft-day success of nine former Crimson Tide football players.

“All nine member of the University of Alabama’s 2013 NFL Draft Class signed a 4-Year contract to play in the NFL,” wide receiver coach Billy Napier tweeted. “The combined worth of those contracts was in excess of fifty-one million dollars.”

Fake checks made out to former Alabama players made the backdrop for the image, and in the center of the page was an inescapable number: $51,810,000.

To be fair: one can debate the legitimacy of that number all day long.  Some of that money is not guaranteed, some is derived from performance-based bonuses.  Debate all you want, but good luck finding a high school athlete who’s ready to listen to your argument.

Ultimately, the message this pitch sent was loud and clear: At Alabama, recruits have a tremendous opportunity to earn a spot in the NFL and cash in on the wealth that accompanies such a distinction.

Georgia can’t send that message—at least not after this year's draft.

Head coach Mark Richt can’t compare his program’s ability to produce NFL talent to any of the aforementioned football powerhouses, because Georgia had fewer players drafted this year than Vanderbilt.

Tennessee, a program wrought with turmoil for much of the past few seasons, had more players drafted last week than Georgia.

 

Negative Recruiting Not Necessary

According to Will Brinson of CBSSports.com, this year's event was the most viewed draft (on television) in NFL history. As he pointed out, “It didn’t hurt, of course, that we had an exciting first round.  Or that Johnny Manziel fell far in the first round, causing people to tune in.”

People did tune in.

And as John Ourand of the Sports Business Journal observed on Twitter, more people watched the NFL draft’s first round than any other sports event that evening. Competition wasn’t even close.

While the NFL hijacked television sets on Thursday, Friday and Saturday, professional teams weren’t the only organizations getting good press in front of large viewers.

Major college football programs also enjoyed the publicity.

Three Texas A&M Aggies were selected in the first round. Though Manziel may have slipped further than some would have anticipated, highlights of him playing for A&M were shown countless times for recruits to see.

Opposing coaches won’t have to point to Georgia’s lack of presence in the 2014 draft. The Dawgs’ absence was noticeable to the millions of people—including potential recruits—who watched last weekend.

 

Prolonged Impact

Fortunately for Richt, this year’s draft futility is an anomaly within the context of recent history. Over the past five years, only two teams in the conference (Alabama and LSU) have had more players drafted than Georgia.

In fact, prior to this year’s draft, the Dawgs had seen draft numbers increase incrementally from five in 2010 to six in 2011, seven in 2012 and eight in 2013.

And with a host of stars eligible to go pro after next season, Georgia should once again be one of the leaders in the conference—both on the field and in the draft.

For Richt and his staff, two points of emphasis can be gleaned from the poor showing in this year’s draft. 

First and foremost, current and future Bulldogs alike need to recognize the importance of handling business on the field, in the weight room, in the classroom and in the community.

Several former Bulldogs, including running back Isaiah Crowell and cornerback Jordan Love, hurt their NFL chances by failing to maintain good standing within the Georgia program. 

This year's draft should serve as a point of accountability for Richt’s players moving forward. Actions have consequences—both in the short and long term.

Secondly, Richt needs to stress the oddity of this draft to recruits. Over the past five seasons, the average SEC team has had 3.64 players drafted per year. Georgia only failed to surpass that total once (this year) over that time period.

Furthermore, over the course of those five years—including this year’s poor showing—the Dawgs have had an average of 5.6 players selected annually.

That's the number to sell to recruits.

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Nick Saban Calls for Changing Bowl Selection, Wants It Similar to Basketball

Conference scheduling and the College Football Playoff selection committee have been two of the hottest topics this offseason, and Alabama head coach Nick Saban touched on both of them with one statement Tuesday afternoon.

Per Michael Casagrande of AL.com, Saban proposed that the entire system of bowl assignments be changed to something that resembles the selection process of the NCAA men's and women's basketball tournaments, where a selection committee chooses who gets in, who's left out and all the first-round matchups.

In Saban's own words:

I think we have to change the whole system. I understand everybody's point of view on this. Everybody wants to be bowl eligible, they look at it like if we have another conference game, that's seven more losses of everyone which would minimize the number of teams that could get in bowl games.

Well I think on the other end of it, the committee that's going to pick the top four teams for the playoff are really picking the top 12 teams for all six sort of championship bowl games, whatever they call it now. Well, why don't we do it like basketball and let them pick all the teams for all the bowl games. Then it doesn't matter what your record is.

I mean, who's to say having six wins and having a 6-6 season is what qualifies to go to a bowl game. If you play in the tough league and you play a tough schedule and you win a couple big games — RPI or whatever you want to call it — and even though you may lose to some very good teams, you should still have an opportunity to go to a bowl game because your team may be better than another team who played a lesser schedule.

In short, Saban is suggesting we rethink the definition of bowl eligibility. Instead of requiring a team to go .500 to make the postseason, why not allow the selection committee to select bowl teams on a case-by-base basis, rewarding, say, a 5-7 team that played a difficult schedule and proved it could beat quality teams.

Tennessee in 2013 jumps out as an example.

In Saban's mind, this would quiet the outcry against the SEC and ACC, two conferences that opted to keep an eight-game conference schedule over the nine-game model preferred by the Big Ten, Big 12 and Pac-12. If playing more non-conference cupcakes did nothing to improve a team's bowl chances, less teams would be inclined to do it.

At that point, more teams might be willing to schedule harder foes in non-conference play. Because wins would no longer be viewed without context, they would start searching for a quality victory.

"If we do that, then more people would not be so concerned about the type of schedule they played and the number of wins that they got," said Saban, per Casagrande. "Which, my whole thing is, improve the number of good games for the fans."

It sounds charming in the abstract, but a move such as this is unlikely to happen. The selection committee already has a discomforting amount of power, and this would only add to it.

Not all 6-6 teams are created equal, and a 5-7 team from the SEC is almost always better than a .500 team from the Sun Belt. But once you give the committee a chance to select each bowl team subjectively, it opens the flood gates to a slippery slope. It's not like the basketball model has been without controversy.

When Saban talks, the NCAA typically listens. It did for a while during the 10-second run-off debacle earlier this summer (allegedly), and it will continue to consider his proposals—as it should.

But this one seems a little too radical.

 

Follow Brian Leigh on Twitter: @BLeighDAT

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LSU: Breaking Down Where La'el Collins Landed on 1st 2015 NFL Draft Big Boards

LSU led all schools with nine draft picks in the 2014 NFL draft. But in all likelihood, the Tigers will not repeat their same success next season.

Les Miles will rely heavily on freshmen and true sophomores next season who will not be draft eligible for 2015, which is good news for the future of the program. With that said, LSU will have some talented players who will be playing their final season in Baton Rouge this year.

Left tackle La'el Collins made a surprising decision to come back for his senior season. Collins is taking a major risk by returning to the Tigers. Past offensive tackles such as Ciron Black and Chris Faulk made similar decisions, and neither were drafted.

Nevertheless, Collins is a different player than the offensive tackles before him. Here is a quick look at his 2015 draft stock.

Begin Slideshow

Jimbo Fisher's 5-Year Eligibility Proposal Could Have Several Positive Effects

If Florida State coach Jimbo Fisher had his way, football players would have five years of standard eligibility instead of four with the option to redshirt. 

Speaking with Dan Wolken of USA Today, Fisher says giving players an extra year of eligibility serves two purposes. For one, it allows younger players who may not be ready to play at the beginning of the year more time to develop. It could also take some of the pressure off of veteran players who are banged up by season's end. 

Here's Fisher's rationale: 

(A freshman) isn't ready at the beginning of the year, but you have to make that decision (to redshirt) by Game 5 or 6. Maybe by games eight, nine or 10 he's developed himself to go in there and give you 10, 12, 14 plays a game.

At the end of that season when those freshmen are ready to play and can help you on special teams or get 10 reps a game, it takes the pressure off a guy who's banged up and bruised up. The longer you go in these seasons, the more you have to look at those things as a health issue.

The problem with redshirting a freshman is that once it is burned—almost always out of necessity—there's no way to get it back. Thus, he essentially loses that extra year of eligibility, barring, say, a medical redshirt for an injury.

Giving an extra year of eligibility would give coaches greater flexibility to ease players into the college game. As John Infante of athleticscholarships.net tweets, Fisher's idea likely means the elimination of the redshirt altogether. 

In other words, it's as simple as players getting five years to complete five seasons of eligibility: 

The NCAA recently decided to do away with hardship waivers anyway. 

Infante goes on to ponder that, if five years of eligibility are on the table, why aren't six? Traditionally, Infante writes, "the rationale was that students generally take about five years to graduate and academic eligibility rules are based on a five-year graduation path, so athletes should be able to compete for five years."

But since the five-year clock rule for graduation is liberally enforced, six years of competition could be an intriguing possibility. Infante explains: 

There are two ways to do a sixth season of competition. Both would give all athletes five seasons of competition. One option might be to make a sixth season of eligibility a reward for graduating within five years. Then athletes can stay (or transfer) and start a graduate degree (or possibly a second undergraduate program). The other option would be to simply give all athletes six seasons of competition. Academic eligibility requirements would not change, aside from maybe giving the athlete more flexibility in the sixth year if he or she has not graduated yet.

The most immediate benefit for either five or six years of competition would presumably be better depth. First-year players who are ready to compete right away will still be able to, while others who need more time will naturally fall into reserve roles on the depth chart. Coaches can rotate players as they see fit throughout the season without worrying about burning a redshirt.

By season's end, two-deep players have taken fewer reps and developmental players have some experience under their belt. With so much concern over player safety, the fewer reps a player can take per year, the better. 

It brings to mind what the NFL may be facing if it ever goes to an 18-game schedule. The NFL Players Association would, in all likelihood, demand an expansion to the 53-man roster while receiving a larger portion of the league's revenue pot. That's another discussion for another day about another topic, but it all comes down to the number of snaps a player can realistically take in a year. 

However, because the 85-scholarship cap would remain in place, fewer athletes would pass through Division 1 Football Bowl Subdivision schools. There are also Title IX questions if this were to be proposed as a football-only idea. 

Additionally, don't expect there to be changes to transfer policies as a direct result of adding a year of eligibility. Schools would probably still have say over permission-to-contact and/or receiving a grant-in-aid, even if a football player is on his fifth or sixth year looking to pursue a graduate program elsewhere. 

However, an athlete with six years of eligibility may be able to pursue degree plans they might not otherwise have been able to fit in four or five years because of concerns over time consumption. 

There are pros and cons to every idea, but granting athletes another year or two of eligibility has a lot of upside to it.

 

Ben Kercheval is a lead writer for college football at Bleacher Report. All quotes cited unless obtained firsthand. 

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Power Ranking the Most Clutch Quarterbacks in College Football

With 75 seconds left in the BCS National Championship, Florida State needed a big drive. And quickly.

Auburn had just landed the latest punch of a wild fourth quarter: Tre Mason’s 37-yard touchdown run gave the Tigers a 31-27 lead, drawing them ever closer to their second national championship in four seasons.

In Florida State’s huddle, redshirt freshman quarterback Jameis Winston gathered his offense around him. “We didn’t come here for no reason,” he later told ESPN’s Tom Rinaldi. “We got this.”

He was right.

Winston led a remarkable 80-yard drive that concluded with the game-winning touchdown pass to a leaping Kelvin Benjamin with 13 seconds left, sealing the Seminoles’ 34-31 national title victory.

The concept of a “clutch” quarterback has been tossed about repeatedly over the past few seasons, a talking point beaten to death on talk radio shout-fests and TV debate shows.

The shouting can be tiresome, but applying numbers to the tumult adds substance.

Fortunately, we can do just that. The advent of specialized and advanced stats makes it easy to categorize which quarterbacks are truly “clutch".

Using CFBStats.com, we were able to break down quarterbacks’ performance by quarter, with a number of statistics (most notably quarterback rating) measured.

Who had the highest fourth-quarter quarterback rating? None other than Winston, who boasted a rating of 210.7. It was nearly 36 points higher than his full-season rating of 184.8.

Winston finished 10th overall in quarterback rating and was also third in third-quarter quarterback rating, rolling up a 193.5.

It is an interesting stat, given Florida State’s astounding dominance last fall. The Seminoles won 12 of 14 games by at least 30 points, six games by 40 points or more and five games by 50-plus points.

For Winston, the fourth quarter didn’t matter much. Before the BCS title game, Florida State won only one game by less than 20 points, a 48-34 comeback win over Boston College. That day, FSU outscored BC 10-7 in the fourth quarter. For the day, Winston completed 17 of 27 passes for 330 yards, four touchdowns and an interception. Even then, FSU entered the fourth quarter with a 38-27 lead.

But when Florida State needed him most against Auburn, Winston delivered, leading a pair of fourth-quarter touchdown drives and finishing a comeback from a 21-3 first-half deficit.

Who was No. 2 in fourth-quarter quarterback rating behind Winston? Another leader of a BCS contender: Oregon’s Marcus Mariota. Last fall, Mariota boasted a 207.7 fourth-quarter rating, with eight touchdowns, one interception and 455 yards while completing 74.5 percent of his passes.

Like Florida State, Oregon was largely dominant last fall. The Ducks won 10 of their 11 games by more than 20 points and won four games by 40-plus points. But when Oregon was challenged, Mariota was at the top of his game.

Oregon couldn’t have played more poorly in the first three quarters of its top-10 showdown against Stanford, entering the fourth quarter down 23-0. But Mariota led a pair of fourth-quarter touchdown drives bookending a blocked field goal returned for a touchdown, making a 26-20 loss look respectable.

In the regular season finale against arch-rival Oregon State, Oregon got the ball down 35-30 with 1:38 left. Mariota directed a touchdown drive capped by a 12-yard touchdown toss to Josh Huff with 29 seconds left, sealing a wild 36-35 win.

That came a week after a disappointing 42-16 loss at Arizona which ended the Ducks’ BCS hopes, thus enabling Oregon to end the regular season with some pride.

Are fourth-quarter stats a be-all, end-all way to determine clutchness? No.

New Clemson starter Cole Stoudt finished No. 28 last season in fourth-quarter rating with a mark of 152.89, tied with Louisville’s Teddy Bridgewater. But he threw only 31 passes in relief of senior Tajh Boyd, exclusively in games that Clemson had well in hand.

Winston threw only 36 fourth-quarter passes all season, spread over eight games.

Georgia State’s Ben McLane was 13th in fourth-quarter passer rating despite playing in only four games. Louisiana-Lafayette’s Brooks Haack was 15th, playing in only four games, and UConn’s Chandler Whitmer was 17th, playing in only three fourth quarters.

But the top 11 fourth-quarter passers all led postseason qualifiers, and they included some of the biggest names in college football and the recent NFL draft.

Behind Mariota, Alabama’s A.J. McCarron was third, with Boise State’s Grant Hedrick fourth, Baylor’s Bryce Petty fifth, Texas A&M’s Johnny Manziel sixth, LSU’s Zach Mettenberger seventh, Central Florida’s Blake Bortles eighth, Oklahoma State’s Clint Chelf ninth, Vanderbilt’s Austyn Carta-Samuels tenth and East Carolina’s Shane Carden eleventh.

Add in Winston and Mariota, and you have the last three BCS national championships, the last two Heisman Trophy winners, four of 2013’s BCS quarterbacks and two 2014 NFL first-round draft picks.

No wonder being “clutch” is so important.

And if the stats bear themselves out this season, you can count on Florida State, Oregon, Boise State, Baylor and East Carolina when the chips are down and the outcome really matters.

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