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Bo Pelini Takes Multiple Shots at Nebraska, Insults Athletic Director

Bo Pelini was introduced Wednesday as the new head coach at Youngstown State, where he was hired by former Ohio State head coach and current YSU president Jim Tressel.

In his first public appearance since being fired as head coach at Nebraska, Pelini wasted no time taking a shot at his former chancellor, Harvey Perlman, per Adam Rittenberg of ESPN.com:

But that was just the tip of the iceberg.

Pelini's public comments might as well have been "I love you" compared with what he said behind closed doors. 

When Pelini left Nebraska, he called a players-only meeting to say goodbye to his team. Pictures from the meet-up surfaced quickly, but we didn't know until Wednesday what he said to his players.

On Wednesday, however, Dirk Chatelain of the Omaha World-Herald acquired an audio recording of Pelini's final speech. There was a lot—I mean, a lot—of NSFW language, which has been censored below.

Here is what Pelini said about athletic director Shawn Eichorst:

A guy like (Eichorst) who has no integrity, he doesn’t even understand what a core value is. And he hasn’t understood it from the day he got here. I saw it when I first met with the guy.

To have core values means you have to be about something, you have to represent something, you have to have something that is important to you. He is a [expletive] lawyer who makes policies. That’s all he’s done since he’s been here is hire people and make policies to cover his own [expletive].

…I didn't really have any relationship with the A.D.. The guy, you guys saw him (Sunday), the guy is a total [expletive]. I mean, he is, and he's a total [expletive].

But Pelini did not stop there.

According to Chatelain, he says he saw anger in administrators' faces after Nebraska beat Iowa in the regular season-finale. They didn't want the Huskers to win—the implication being that they knew Pelini was a goner and would have preferred to fire him after a loss.

This is how Pelini described his final exchange with Eichorst:

He goes, I disagree that I haven't supported you. I said, 'Hey bud, you can't support someone under a [expletive] rock.' I said, to do your job at this level, in a place like this, you gotta be a grown-[expletive] [expletive] man...to lead something. I said you can't lead anything under a [expletive] rock. I said you don't spend any time with us. Our players don't even know who you are. That isn't leadership.

And he said, 'Well I appreciate (your) advice.'

I said, 'I suggest you take it, but see you later.' And that's how it went down.

There's a lot more if you're inclined to keep reading. My personal favorite quote concerns Eichorst's "team of people," to which Pelini says: "I’d rather [expletive] work at McDonald’s than work with some of those guys.

"Not that there is anything bad about working at McDonald’s."

Pelini was fired in November after seven seasons with the Huskers, all of which were more or less the same.

An optimist would argue that he never won fewer than nine games. A pessimist would counter that he never lost fewer than four.

Regardless, the move was met with mixed reviews, especially once Nebraska hired former Oregon State head coach Mike Riley. Riley won nine or more games just four times in the past 11 seasons.

Pelini is a divisive figure who at one point dared Nebraska to fire him. His playful, charming, cat-loving persona is contrasted with his sometimes-hot temper. He is not afraid to say what's on his mind, which in many cases makes him more endearing.

But it also sometimes lands him in trouble.

One has to wonder, then, if Thursday will play a role in Pelini's coaching future. Nothing he said at the presser is factually untrue—Tressel won a national title with OSU and almost certainly knows more about football than Perlman—but he still probably shouldn't have said it. And he definitely shouldn't have said that stuff to his players. 

Youngstown State is a not a destination coaching job, even for a Youngstown, Ohio native such as Pelini. One has to assume he plans on coaching at the FBS level again in the future.

The question is whether any FBS president will ever want to hire him. At this point, his chances look bleak. What school would hire a guy with a reputation for bashing administrators (and a nasty little habit of being recorded)? Why would they risk ending up on the wrong side of one of his diatribes? 

The only cure at this point might be winning.

Winning has a way of curing everything.

 

Follow Brian Leigh on Twitter: @BLeigh35

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Rasul Douglas to West Virginia: Mountaineers Land 4-Star JUCO CB Prospect

After a successful tenure at Nassau Community College, JUCO cornerback prospect Rasul Douglas signed with West Virginia on Wednesday afternoon. Douglas was recruited by several other Division I teams like Florida State, Louisville and Rutgers before committing to the Mountaineers.     

Douglas made the news official on Twitter:

A 4-star player, according to 247Sports' composite rankings, Douglas is rated as the No. 4 cornerback among JUCO recruits in the Class of 2015. Louisville was the perceived favorite to land Douglas, per the 247Sports Crystal Ball, which gave the program a 60 percent chance at signing him.

Nick Burch of ESPN680 offered his take on the situation:

Prior to making his decision, Douglas told Brian Dohn of Scout.com of West Virginia, "They have big needs for me. They have been recruiting me the longest and I know them the best."

Standing at 6'3", 200 pounds, Douglas offers the kind of size that defensive coordinators covet at the position. He's a big player who will match up well with more physical receivers.    

The Mountaineers went 7-5 this season and will play Texas A&M in the Liberty Bowl on Dec. 29. But after finishing 61st in the country in points allowed (26.2 per game), Douglas can help the Mountaineers secondary next season.

 

Follow @RCorySmith on Twitter.

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Loss of Ifo Ekpre-Olomu Not a 'Death Sentence' for Oregon's Championship Chances

According to Yahoo Sports' Rand Getlin, Oregon star defensive back Ifo Ekpre-Olomu left practice on Tuesday with what appeared to be a knee injury.

Bleacher Report College Football Analyst Michael Felder discusses what this means for the Oregon Ducks' bowl game against Florida State on January 1.

Can the Ducks recover from this loss?

Watch the video and let us know!

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Loss of Ifo Ekpre-Olomu Not a 'Death Sentence' for Oregon's Championship Chances

According to Yahoo Sports' Rand Getlin , Oregon star defensive back Ifo Ekpre -Olomu left practice on Tuesday with what appeared to be a knee injury...

Read the full article on Bleacher Report...

College Football Recruiting 2015: 5 Classes Coming on Strong to Finish the Year

National signing day is rapidly approaching, and a handful of schools around the country are preparing for a huge close to the 2015 cycle.

Nick Saban and the Alabama Crimson Tide are once again sitting in the pole position atop the 247Sports Team Rankings.

However, with a number of top prospects still undecided, teams have a chance to make a move over the next few weeks. 

Which programs have classes that are coming on strong as signing day nears?

 

*Schools listed in alphabetical order.

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Gary Andersen's Son Found out Dad Was Leaving Wisconsin Job During Team Meeting

Even though he was the coach's son, Wisconsin linebacker Chasen Andersen was treated no differently than any other player while his father was in the process of changing jobs. And that was the way his father wanted it.

Last week, Gary Andersen left his job as Badgers head coach to become the new coach of the Oregon State Beavers. That seems like a decision a person would share with his or her entire family, but that wasn't the case here.

Chasen—a walk-on freshman—found out his dad was leaving Wisconsin for Oregon State at the same time the rest of the team did. Here's what Coach Andersen recently said during an appearance on The Jim Rome Show, (transcribed by Coaching Search):

It was hard for Chasen. I felt he needed to be educated in that process. He was on that team and part of that team, and I wanted Chasen to be educated in that process the way the rest of the team was.

He is a young man now. He is not a 13- or 14-year-old kid. He is not going to be living with us here and is out on his own. He was given an opportunity to hear it just like the rest of the team was. I think that took him a little bit by surprise, and I get that, but that is just what I thought was best as a dad and I thought that was best as a coach.

It's hard to argue with that reasoning. Chasen is an adult and may be better off seeing how this kind of stuff goes down in the real world. However, one could argue that a coach should inform his son—and player—about a move that impacts the entire family as soon as a decision is made. 

Should Coach Andersen have told his son that he was changing jobs before he told the rest of the team?

[h/t The Big Lead]

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Ifo Ekpre-Olomu Injury: Updates on Oregon Star's Knee and Return

Oregon cornerback Ifo Ekpre-Olomu suffered a serious knee injury at practice on Tuesday, according to Rand Getlin of Yahoo Sports:

Aaron Fentress of CSNNW reports that the injury will force him to miss the rest of the season. 

Viewed by most evaluators as a first-round pick, Ekpre-Olomu is in the midst of a strong senior campaign. He's continued to establish his reputation as one of the nation's best cornerbacks and currently sits No. 23 on Todd McShay's big board (ESPN Insider required).

The only major setbacks have come in the form of injuries, mostly to his left foot. Ekpre-Olomu missed nearly all of Oregon's 51-27 victory over Utah after going down with an injury to his big toe. 

"I'm not really too concerned, especially having an extra week off, but I think I'll be all right," Ekpre-Olomu told reporters then. "I've been dealing with a lot of different foot injuries on this same foot but I'm all right. I just tweaked my toe, my big toe."

Losing Ekpre-Olomu for an extended period would be a sizeable blow to Oregon's hopes within the College Football Playoff. The Ducks' biggest weakness all season has been their shaky defense. Ekpre-Olomu's absence strips Oregon of its best defensive player and makes Mark Helfrich's team far more vulnerable over the top.

With the injuries piling up, it'll also be interesting to see if NFL teams start scrutinizing him more heavily.

 

Follow Tyler Conway (@tylerconway22) on Twitter

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Ifo Ekpre-Olomu Injury: Updates on Oregon Star's Knee and Return

Oregon cornerback Ifo Ekpre-Olomu suffered a serious knee injury at practice on Tuesday, according to Rand Getlin of Yahoo Sports: Aaron Fentress of CSNNW reports that the injury will force him to miss the rest of the season...

Read the full article on Bleacher Report...

SEC Extra Points with Barrett Sallee: Dan Mullen, Lateral Moves and Perspective

Much Ado About Nothing

The Internet exploded on Tuesday when Mississippi State head coach Dan Mullen commented on Geoff Collins—his defensive coordinator—taking the same role on Jim McElwain's new staff at Florida.

"I hope our guys have opportunities to go be head coaches more than leaving for lateral positions," Mullen said, according to Michael Bonner of the Jackson Clarion-Ledger. "I think (with) success, I hope we do have opportunities."

Is that a shot at Florida? A shot at Collins?

No. It's neither. In fact, it's not a big deal at all.

Collins' move to Florida is, by definition, a lateral move. Sure, program prestige and the power of Florida probably make it a slightly better job than Mississippi State. But what do you expect Mullen to say?

He and Collins just helped Mississippi State post its third 10-win season in program history, attained the No. 1 ranking in program history and earned an Orange Bowl berth for the first time since January of 1941. Meanwhile, Florida has been spinning its wheels for the last two seasons and was forced to make a coaching change.

Mullen should perceive this strictly as a lateral move for Collins, because Mullen has pride in what he has built in Starkville and recognize that, in the current landscape of college football, his Bulldogs are sitting pretty.

It won't always stay that way, and the chance to coach and recruit in Florida is certainly a draw for Collins—as it would be for most coaches. 

Collins is a rival now, though. He's an adversary. He's a coach who will battle Mullen on the recruiting trail for players who might be considering both programs. 

Good for Mullen for standing up for his program. He may not recognize the same definition of "lateral move" as the vast majority of college football players, coaches and fans, but he's not supposed to. 

It'd be a much bigger problem for Mullen and for Mississippi State had he conceded that his program was a stepping stone.

 

Bobo on the Go?

The coaching carousel may be spinning in northeast Georgia.

According to Chip Towers of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Georgia offensive coordinator Mike Bobo is interested in pursuing the head coaching job at Colorado State—which came open after Jim McElwain left the Rams for Florida earlier this month.

"Mike is taking advantage of the opportunity to go visit, and right this minute he's our offensive coordinator and we're planning on him being here at practices," head coach Mark Richt said in quotes emailed by Georgia. "We'll see where everything goes. Obviously if there's an opportunity for a staff member to do big things, you want to give him that opportunity."

If Bobo lands that job, it'd be a huge loss for the Bulldogs.

Richt handed over play-calling duties to Bobo prior to the 2007 season. The program has finished in the top four in the SEC in yards per play four times in the last five seasons and led the conference twice—2012 (7.09 YPP) and 2014 (6.82 YPP).

It's a big deal for an offensive-minded head coach like Richt to swallow his pride and hand over the keys to the car to somebody else, but Bobo not only earned that trust but kept it in cruise control, as the Bulldogs consistently produced elite offenses.

Through it all, Bobo has become a lighting rod for criticism. The decision not to spike the ball late in the 2012 SEC Championship Game might have cost his team a national title, but it wasn't Bobo's fault that quarterback Aaron Murray's pass was tipped. He gets heat when he calls draws on 3rd-and-long deep in his own territory, even though that's a smart call and helps in the battle for field position. 

This year, the decision not to run with Todd Gurley late in the fourth quarter at South Carolina when his team was inside the 5-yard line was just the latest point of contention. But a naked boot to a dragging tight end is still a safe play call, plus the intentional grounding call that pushed the Bulldogs back and eventually led to a missed field goal should not have been called since the pass deflected off a South Carolina defender's thigh (44:15 mark).

If a new offensive coordinator comes in, he's going to have to earn Richt's trust and live up to the legacy that Bobo has built. 

That won't be an easy task.

 

Match Made in Heaven

In its first full season as a major bowl, the Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl landed one of the most compelling non-playoff matchups of the bowl season.

TCU—the nation's second-ranked scoring offense (46.8 points per game)—will square off against an Ole Miss defense that's tops nationally in scoring defense (13.8 points per game).

"To have the No. 2 scoring offense against the No. 1 scoring defense, and No. 6 (TCU) vs. No. 9 (Ole Miss) with the passionate fan bases that they have, all of that together is a recipe for a great bowl game," Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl president and CEO Gary Stokan told Bleacher Report.

But how did it get to this point?

Ole Miss beat Boise State in the Chick-fil-A Kickoff Game to open the season, and a return trip to the Peach State to tie a bow on the season was viewed as a benefit for the College Football Playoff selection committee when it was making selections and slotting teams in the "New Year's Six" bowl games.

"We talked about it," College Football Playoff executive director Bill Hancock told B/R. "We have several considerations. We try to avoid rematches of regular season games and last year's bowl games. Geography is a factor, as well as the matchups. We did talk about Ole Miss playing here once before during the season, and determined that it wouldn't trump the other factors."

For the bowl itself—which rose to prominence as an ACC vs. SEC matchup that was played unopposed on New Year's Eve night—keeping some of its roots intact for this year's matchup, which will be played at 12:30 p.m. on Jan. 31, was important.

"Having an SEC team in Atlanta makes a lot of sense from a fanbase perspective," Stokan said. "To have the No. 9 team in the country that was ranked No. 3 at one time and, with a bounce here or there, could be playing in one of the semifinal games, is huge for the bowl."

It's huge for Ole Miss, too.

Head coach Hugh Freeze has put the program on the map, taking it to three straight bowl games after the program totaled just one SEC win in the two seasons prior to Freeze's arrival in 2012. It now gets to play in a major bowl in a recruiting territory that's important to the sustained success of the program against a team that narrowly missed the College Football Playoff.

That's not just a small step forward, it's a major leap.

 

Thunder and Lighting

Junior college national signing day was Wednesday, and the future of Tennessee's ground game looks incredibly bright.

We all saw true freshman Jalen Hurd explode onto the scene this year, rushing for 777 yards on 174 carries for three touchdowns on the ground. Hurd had three 100-yard games in his inaugural season in the SEC—all against SEC opponents (Georgia, South Carolina and Kentucky), and the 6'3", 227-pounder proved that he can handle the punishment between the tackles and be a force in space.

A newcomer could take some pressure off of him next year, though.

Tennessee signed 4-star running back Alvin Kamara from Hutchinson (Kansas) Community College on Wednesday. You may remember Kamara as part of the small village of running backs that made its way to Alabama in the class of 2013. 

He left the program in January and promptly rushed for 1,253 yards and 18 touchdowns for Hutchinson in 2014. At 5'10", 210, he's more dangerous in space but can take the punishment as well.

Hurd and Kamara are both complete all-purpose backs who excel in different areas, which will allow offensive coordinator Mike Bajakian and head coach Butch Jones to get creative with how they call games.

Tennessee already loaded up with superstars at the offensive skill positions, and Kamara is just the latest to join. Now only if the Vols can figure out that pesky offensive line problem.

 

Quick Outs

  • Junior college transfer running back Jovon Robinson scored a touchdown in his first practice with Auburn, according to Brandon Marcello of AL.com. It won't be his last. The No. 1 junior college prospect in the class of 2015 is a 225-pound monster who should be able to slide in and be a star in head coach Gus Malzahn's offense.
  • Texas A&M got a commitment on Wednesday from 5-star wide receiver Christian Kirk. Before everybody freaks out and asks if he can play defense, just stop. Kirk has all the makings of a superstar, and any program would be lucky to have him. But yes, Texas A&M still needs to fix its defense. 
  • LSU redshirt sophomore receiver Travin Dural said this week that he will return to the program instead of declaring for the NFL draft, according to Jim Kleinpeter of NOLA.com. That's the right move for Dural. He caught 37 passes for 758 yards and seven touchdowns this season in an offense that struggled to find any consistency in the passing game. Another season—and some help from his quarterbacks and offensive coordinator—could make him a high draft pick after his junior campaign.
  • For four hours on Christmas morning, the SEC Network will air video of a fireplace accompanied by a mix of holiday music and fight songs. That sounds like a wonderful idea now, but LSU fans might lose their minds when "Yea Alabama" comes on immediately following "Rudolph The Red-Nosed Reindeer."

 

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

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

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Where Auburn and Arizona State Turn After Missing on 5-Star Christian Kirk

Christian Kirk kept everyone guessing throughout his recruitment process, but the Arizona wide receiver was ready to deliver a decision Wednesday. The 5-star prospect announced his intentions to attend Texas A&M during a ceremony at Saguaro High School in Scottsdale, Arizona:

Kirk, rated fourth nationally among receivers in 247Sports' composite rankings, picked the Aggies from an expansive collection of scholarship offers. Several teams were turned away in the process, including top contenders Arizona State and Auburn.

The Sun Devils and Tigers miss out on arguably the nation's most versatile offensive weapon.

He compiled three straight 1,000-yard receiving seasons at Saguaro and stepped up as a rusher during the past two campaigns. Kirk recorded 2,300 receiving yards, 2,500 rushing yards and 72 total offensive touchdowns as an upperclassman, per MaxPreps.

The 5'10", 191-pound playmaker heads to College Station, where he'll join forces with top-ranked 2014 receiver Speedy Noil. That's great news for heralded freshman passer Kyle Allen and 5-star Aggies quarterback commit Kyler Murray.

Meanwhile, it's a time to reassess for Arizona State and Auburn. Both teams are still pursuing multiple options at the position.

The Sun Devils hope to reunite quarterback commit Brady White with Trent Irwin, his top receiver at Hart High School in California. The duo posted prolific statistics together, as Irwin became the state's all-time leader in receptions (285) and receiving yards (5,272). 

The 4-star prospect is expected to decide between Stanford and Arizona State.

"It would be great to play together at the next level and have a chance to be successful as Sun Devils," White told me before the season.

Damarkus Lodge, a 5-star receiver who decommitted from Texas A&M this season, could also end up in the desert. He's explored several possibilities since backing off his verbal pledge, including Ole Miss and USC and LSU.

The Sun Devils will look to line up an official visit with the Texas standout, who seeks a second straight state title with Cedar Hill High School this weekend. Lodge has 59 catches for 1,118 yards and 23 touchdowns through 15 games, per MaxPreps.

Arizona State already hosted 4-star receiver Cordell Broadus on campus for a weekend in October. The son of hip-hop icon Snoop Dogg helped lead Las Vegas powerhouse Bishop Gorman High School to a state title this fall, finishing with 39 receptions for 602 yards and 11 touchdowns. 

Auburn will say goodbye to standout receiver Sammie Coates after this season, and D'haquille Williams could follow him to the NFL, so added depth is imperative for the Tigers. 

Florida product John Burt is currently committed to Texas, but he's expressed interest in Auburn throughout his recruitment. He visited the Tigers twice during the regular season and could be a candidate to flip before national signing day.

"I like Auburn a lot," Burt told me earlier this year. "(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."

Auburn appeared to be firmly in the mix for 5-star New Orleans receiver Tyron Johnson just a few weeks ago. However, Johnson told Sonny Shipp of 247Sports this past weekend that his top-three list now features LSU, Oklahoma State and Texas Tech.

The Tigers are still alive in that hunt, but momentum appears to trending in a negative direction. Johnson racked up more than 1,600 yards as a senior at Warren Easton High School.

Jacksonville receiver Dexter Carter doesn't carry the same recruiting clout as other Auburn targets in this class, but the 3-star playmaker holds an offer. The Tigers are viewed as a strong favorite in 247Sports' Crystal Ball, but North Carolina is expected to host him for an official visit shortly before signing day.

Kirk may be the most multidimensional receiver in this class, so it's difficult for Auburn or Arizona State to truly fill that void. Still, with several receivers still undecided, neither team lacks for alternatives.

 

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

Recruit ratings courtesy of 247Sports.

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UCLA Football: 2015 Recruiting Class Shows Mora Building Bruins Strong

UCLA football's regular-season ending loss at Stanford may have felt like an end to some. But with the Bruins returning a veteran roster, and with head coach Jim Mora putting together an impressive 2015 recruiting class, the program's recent run of success may just be the beginning. 

"It’s a constant. It never stops. You’re always striving to be better," Mora said. "No matter what you accomplish, you're trying to accomplish more." 

This year, UCLA accomplished its third consecutive nine-plus-win season—the first time in program history that's happened. But falling short of a Pac-12 Conference title, Mora and the Bruins must continue to build. 

That starts on the recruiting trail. 

"We're on the right path, we just got to keep going in this direction [and] recruiting the right athletes," Mora said. "We're making progress." 

The 2015 recruiting class is Mora's fourth since becoming UCLA's head coach. Each of his previous three classes finished ranked No. 19 or better nationally, and a furious finish for this signing class could give Mora his best signing day crop yet. 

The build to February and signing day has already started, with the Bruins scoring three pledges in the last three weeks. 

Octavius Spencer was the most recent, committing on Tuesday. Spencer is the second cornerback prospect from Southern California to commit to the Bruins this month, joining Colin Samuel of Long Beach Poly. 

The Bruins stand pat at No. 2 in 247Sports' Pac-12 rankings, just behind rival USC. And though UCLA may trail the Trojans, Mora scored a major victory over his cross-town foe. 

On the same night the Bruins beat the Trojans 38-20, Nov. 22, they landed 5-star defensive end Keisean Lucier-South. 

Lucier-South is the second 5-star recruit in the fold for 2015, joining ballyhooed quarterback Josh Rosen. And UCLA could secure a third such commitment this week.

UCLA is a finalist for linebacker Malik Jefferson, a 5-star target out of Poteet High School in Mesquite, Texas. UCLA faithful will learn if the below image of Jefferson in Bruins blue will be reality on Friday, when the linebacker makes his announcement.  

Signing Jefferson would mark a major milestone in Mora's recruiting efforts. The coach has expanded UCLA's reach since taking over before the 2012 season, and the Lone Star State is a priority.

Last year's signing class included linebacker Zach Whitley out of Houston. This year's group already features cornerback Will Lockett, and along with Jefferson, Mora could also sign 5-star running back Soso Jamabo out of Plano West, Texas.  

The 2014 Bruins may have fallen short of expectations, but in that failure, linebacker Myles Jack has a pitch for future teammates:

"I see the program on the brink of being something great. I see the program just right there," he said. "That's what I'd say to [recruits]." 

 

Quotes obtained firsthand unless otherwise cited. Recruiting rankings and information via 247Sports.com

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

UCLA Football: 2015 Recruiting Class Shows Mora Building Bruins Strong

UCLA football's regular-season ending loss at Stanford may have felt like an end to some. But with the Bruins returning a veteran roster , and with head coach Jim Mora putting ...

Read the full article on Bleacher Report...

LSU Football: Early Look at Tigers 2015 Roster

LSU head coach Les Miles should be ecstatic about his team's future.

The Tigers were a young team in 2014 that showed flashes of excellence. They will return an abundance of talent on both sides of the ball next season that should challenge for an SEC crown.

Miles will be under immense pressure. The Tigers have not been to the SEC Championship Game since 2011, and this will be the first season since 2009 in which he's failed to reach a double-digit victory total. 

Coaches can only do so much, though. Players are what win championships. 

Here is an early preview on how the 2015 LSU Tigers will look. 

 

Offense

The first order of business will be quarterback. Will LSU be led next season by Anthony Jennings or Brandon Harris?

Jennings and Harris' struggles in 2014 are well-documented. It is unlikely either will be named the starter in the spring, so fans must be prepared for more quarterback purgatory. 

LSU's backfield will lose running backs Terrence Magee and Kenny Hilliard as well as fullback Connor Neighbors, but the Tigers will be just fine without their services. Their departures, though, increase the pressure on Leonard Fournette to carry the load. 

Fournette rushed for 891 yards and eight touchdowns in the regular season. The expectations for next season will be a run for the Heisman Trophy. 

Fournette will have help, as running back Darrel Williams and fullback Melvin Jones return. The Tigers also have 2015 4-star prospects Derrius Guice and Nick Brossette committed to LSU. Guice and Brossette both posses the talent to contribute right away. 

Travin Dural led all receivers in catches, yards and touchdowns. Miles breathed a huge sigh of relief when Dural said he would return next season, per WBRZ's Michael Cauble:

LSU WR Travin Dural says he'll be back next season, even though he's draft eligible. @LSUfball

— Michael Cauble (@MichaelCauble) December 16, 2014

The Tigers will have promising freshmen Malachi Dupre, Trey Quinn and John Diarse returning as well, with Dupre having the most star potential. His 5-star talent flashed throughout the season, evidenced by his five touchdown receptions.

LSU has a receiver commitment from 4-star Jazz Ferguson, but the coaching staff has its sights set on bigger prospects. The Tigers are in the running for 5-star talents Tyron Johnson and Damarkus Lodge

Miles will have to replace senior All-SEC left tackle La'el Collins and center Elliott Porter. There is an outside shot right tackle Jerald Hawkins and left guard Vadal Alexander declare for the NFL. 

Offensive line coach Jeff Grimes will have to decide if he wants to make returning starter Ethan Pocic a center or keep him at right guard. Either way, expect Will Clapp, Garrett Brumfield, K.J. Malone, Andy Dodd and Jonah Austin to be in the mix. There is a chance incoming 5-star freshman Maea Teuhema could start right away. 

 

Defense

LSU's defensive line in 2015 will be a mystery.

The Tigers will return starting defensive tackle duo of Davon Godchaux and Christian LaCouture. Quentin Thomas should provide some depth. 

Defensive line coach Brick Haley will look to develop more depth at the position. Maquedius Bain, Greg Gilmore, Frank Herron and Travonte Valentine must take a step forward to help the unit. 

Haley will lose productive senior defensive end Jermauria Rasco, and junior Danielle Hunter could leave as well. Hunter's decision will weigh heavily on the Tigers. Backups Tashawn Bower, Lewis Neal, Sione Teuhema and Deondre Clark did little though on limited snaps. 

LSU only has one defensive line 2015 commit in 3-star defensive end Isaiah Washington. Haley will hit the recruiting trail hard after bowl season with his sights set on 5-star defensive tackle and Texas A&M commit Daylon Mack. Barton Simmons of 247Sports believes the Tigers have a chance at getting Mack to Baton Rouge. 

LSU will return middle linebacker Kendell Beckwith, who has had a spectacular season since taking over the position from D.J. Welter. Weak-side linebacker Kwon Alexander has been even better as the team's leading tackler, but the junior could enter the NFL draft in the offseason. 

Lamar Louis will likely return as the strong-side linebacker, which leaves defensive coordinator and linebacker coach John Chavis only looking for one possible replacement starter. Duke Riley and Deion Jones have played well in their limited time given. 

The player to keep an eye on is 2014 5-star recruit Clifton Garrett. Garrett redshirted this season and has the potential to crack the starting lineup. 

There is no excuse for LSU to not have the best secondary in college football next season. It is defensive backs coach Corey Raymond's job to best use his embarrassment of riches. 

Cornerback Tre'Davious White returns after a stellar sophomore campaign. Jalen Collins could declare for the NFL draft, but Ed Paris and Dwayne Thomas would step in just fine. Former starter Rashard Robinson is currently suspended, but his possible return to the lineup in 2015 would be an extra boost. 

Raymond's commits in the class of 2015 could also make a massive impact. Kevin Toliver II and Xavier Lewis both proved to B/R's Michael Felder at "The Opening" they have elite ball skills and physicality. 

Raymond will lose starting free safety Ronald Martin. Junior Jalen Mills could possibly follow in Martin's footsteps. But the position will be in good hands regardless with sophomore Rickey Jefferson and dynamic freshman Jamal Adams.

Former LSU Heisman finalist Tyrann Mathieu has high hopes for Adams next season, per NFL.com:

Tyrann Mathieu: LSU freshman will be CFB's best safety in 2015. http://t.co/8RnnskPjDKpic.twitter.com/msAmAcgHqn

— CollegeFootball 24/7 (@NFL_CFB) December 12, 2014

Chavis loves to use his 3-2-6 "Mustang" package on passing downs, which requires six defensive backs on the field at once. He will have plenty of ammunition to choose from next season.

 

Special Teams

LSU will have an intense kicking competition.

Starting field-goal kicker Colby Delahoussaye had a shaky end to the regular season, which opens the door for kickoff specialists Trent Domingue and Cameron Gamble. Domingue and Gamble will also battle for the role of primary kickoff specialist.

Junior Jamie Keehn will return as the punter in 2015, with Domingue as his backup. Deep snapper Reid Ferguson will also come back for his senior season.

White and Fournette's roles as punt and kickoff returner could respectively change. Miles might not want to risk injury to arguably his two most important players.

Special teams coach Bradley Dale Peveto has a wide range of options to evaluate as returners. Peveto does, though, have the comfort in knowing most of his kick and punt teams featured underclassmen.    

 


Stats, rankings and additional information provided by cfbstats.comESPN.com and LSU Sports Information. Recruiting information provided by 247Sports.

Quotes were obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted. Follow me on Twitter @CarterthePower.   

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The Georgia Tech Wreck Parade: One of College Football's Most Unique Traditions

One of the more unique school traditions is Georgia Tech's Wreck Parade. Dating back to 1929 and brought back by student demand in 1946, this parade shows off the engineering skills of Georgia Tech's students.

Check out what the Wreck Parade means to Georgia Tech.

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

Let us know what you think in the comments below.

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Miami vs. South Carolina: Complete Independence Bowl Preview

The Miami Hurricanes and South Carolina Gamecocks will meet in Shreveport, Louisiana, for the Duck Commander Independence Bowl on Saturday, Dec. 27.

Miami (6-6, 3-5 ACC) finished its season on a three-game losing streak and is looking to end a four-bowl, eight-year losing streak in the postseason.

South Carolina (6-6, 3-5 SEC) battled through a disappointing year in the lackluster SEC East Division, dropping six contests for the first time since 2009.

Kickoff is scheduled for 3:30 p.m. ET on ABC. Neither team is favored according to Odds Shark, though the Hurricanes have a slight edge at other books.

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College Football Playoff 2014-15: Schedule, Updated Odds and Predictions

While the season-long narrative in NCAA football focused mainly on how and why the playoff committee would choose the four teams to contest the inaugural College Football Playoff, those plot points are moot, and the discussions surrounding them have fallen by the wayside.

The matchups are set in stone, and there are plenty of intriguing storylines heading into the playoff, as all four programs are steeped in history and prestige, with monumental figures that dominate the NCAA sports landscape.

Alabama (12-1, 8-1 SEC) will take on the Ohio State University (12-1, 8-0 Big Ten) in the Sugar Bowl. All eyes will be on the gridiron in that contest, but the coaches pacing the sidelines make the matchup all the more intriguing, as the game renews a rivalry of sorts between Nick Saban and Urban Meyer.

Saban and the Crimson Tide squared off against Meyer's Florida Gators in the 2008 and 2009 SEC Championship Games. The Gators won the first contest 30-21, while Saban got his revenge a year later in a commanding 32-13 win.

As for Oregon (12-1, 8-1 Pac-12) and Florida State (13-0, 8-0 ACC), who will do battle in the Rose Bowl, it's Heisman vs. Heisman under center. Ducks quarterback and 2014 Heisman Trophy winner Marcus Mariota will try to outduel Florida State signal-caller Jameis Winston, who won the award—and the national championship—in 2013.

Here is the schedule for the College Football Playoff, the latest odds, predictions for each game and an early preview of the two semifinal contests. 

 Note: Odds courtesy of Odds Shark and updated as of Wednesday, Dec. 16 at 4 a.m. EST.

 

Sugar Bowl: Alabama vs. Ohio State

Alabama might be the No. 1-ranked team in the country heading into the playoff, but Ohio State could make a claim to be team 1-A if one based things solely on their superb second half of the season.

After escaping with a double-overtime win against Penn State on Oct. 25, the Buckeyes scored 42 points or more in five of their last six games. As we all know, this culminated in the most complete performance of any FBS team this season, the 59-0 laugher over Wisconsin in the Big Ten Championship Game.

Cardale Jones started for the first time at quarterback in place of an injured J.T. Barrett and threw for 257 yards and three touchdowns against one of the best defenses in the nation. 

Meyer and offensive coordinator Tom Herman have devised a diabolical uptempo, no-huddle offense that could give the Crimson Tide fits. Unlike the regular season, Alabama will have had three weeks to focus solely on stopping the Buckeyes' attack.

Of course, Ohio State has the same amount of time to add new wrinkles to the attack with Jones at the helm, something Saban is taking into account.

"The one thing he did really well was pass the ball," Saban said, referring to the Big Ten Championship Game, per Cleveland.com's Bill Landis. "He made some good throws in the Wisconsin game, some big plays downfield. We feel like philosophically, they're going to run their offense, it's just what part of it they might feature a little differently, that's the part we're not sure about."

The Crimson Tide defense didn't fare well against Auburn's no-huddle attack in the 2014 Iron Bowl, giving up 630 total yards, but a unit featuring players like Landon Collins, Reggie Ragland and Xzavier Dickson is talented and athletic enough to make an adjustment.

Alabama's best course of action is to shut down Ezekiel Elliott and force Jones to beat them. Jones never had to worry about trading blows in the Wisconsin game thanks to a phenomenal performance from the Buckeyes defense.

In that contest, Elliott busted an 81-yard touchdown run early and kept the Badgers defenders on their toes. This won't happen against Alabama, who allowed just 2.81 yards per carry and three rushing touchdowns this season, per NCAA.com. 

If the Buckeyes are going to score enough to keep up with 'Bama, they will have to do so mostly through the air, and chucking the ball up to Devin Smith can only work so many times before a team catches on.

Alabama, on the other hand, can hurl the ball in wide receiver Amari Cooper's direction as many times as they like. The 2014 Heisman Trophy finalist has been pretty much unstoppable this season. NFL Network's Ian Rapoport passed along this appraisal of the Biletnikoff Award winner:

Cooper, whom Grantland's Charles P. Pierce called the "the best college football player in the country by a country mile," racked up 115 receptions this season for 1,656 yards and 14 touchdowns. Those receptions happened to account for 42.9 percent of the passes completed by quarterbacks Blake Sims and Jake Coker this season.

The Buckeyes will know what's coming when Sims drops back, but they won't be able to stop it. It will be up to sack-master Joey Bosa and company to try to disrupt Sims before either Cooper or DeAndrew White can create separation.

Ohio State did a great job of shutting down Melvin Gordon in the Big Ten Championship Game, but the run defense wasn't quite impenetrable down the stretch. Indiana's Tevin Coleman put up 228 yards on 8.4 yards per carry on Nov. 22, while Minnesota put up 218 team rushing yards on Nov. 15.

Besides, Alabama features not one, but two lethal backs in T.J. Yeldon and Derrick Henry. With a decent passing attack keeping the Buckeyes honest, the two-headed monster in the 'Bama backfield should have little trouble keeping the chains moving and finishing off drives in the red zone.

Meyer and Saban are two of the best coaches in college football with top-tier staffs supporting them. This game will likely be a back-and-forth, punch-counterpunch battle, one that will see 'Bama narrowly edge its opponent by taking Elliott out of the game and getting another stellar display from Cooper.

Prediction: Alabama 28-24 OSU

 

Rose Bowl: FSU vs. Oregon

The Seminoles can't afford to get behind the Ducks' high-octane attack early. Oregon, behind numerous superlative performances from Mariota, finished third in the nation in scoring (46.3 points per game) and spent much of the latter stages of the season jumping out to big leads on hapless defenses.

The Ducks held 30-3 halftime leads over Colorado and Oregon State in consecutive games in November. They also enjoyed a 23-0 halftime lead in the Pac-12 Championship Game against Arizona, a team that held the Ducks to 24 total points earlier in the year.

The turnover battle will be key to watch in this game. The Seminoles forced their fair share of turnovers this season (24), but joke's on them, Oregon doesn't make mistakes. Mariota threw just two interceptions in 372 pass attempts, and the Ducks finished third in the country in turnover margin at plus-17.

The Ducks' ability to maintain pressure on Winston and force him into making mistakes will be key to their chances in this contest. Winston bumped the curbs an awful lot this season in commandeering the Florida State offense. After throwing just 10 picks in 2013, Winston had 17 passes end up in enemy hands this season. 

And yet, Florida State just didn't lose. Part of this is due to the weapons surrounding Winston on offense, which might be an even better crew overall than last season.

One holdover from last year's title-winning squad is tight end Nick O'Leary, a security blanket worthy of Linus van Pelt who scored six touchdowns and finished second on the team in both receptions (47) and yards (614). Rashad Greene proved to be nearly as money as Alabama's Cooper this season, racking up 93 receptions on the year.

Karlos Williams is a tough featured running back, but there is also freshman tailback Dalvin Cook, who at times seems to do more gliding out on the grass than actual running. Cook averaged 5.8 yards per carry this season and came up big in the ACC Championship Game, carrying the ball 31 times for 177 yards in the 37-35 win over Georgia Tech.

ESPN's David Hale noted on Dec. 7 that Cook was one of the best bets in college football to chew up big chunks of yardage:

He could be a problem for an Oregon defense that gave up 4.12 yards per carry this season, per NCAA.com.

Of course, the Noles' own defense will have a whole host of uber-skilled athletes to contend with when they're on the field. 

Mariota has the luxury of throwing to players like Byron Marshall, Devon Allen, Dwayne Stanford and Darren Carrington and hardly seems to rely on any given receiver to carry him through a contest. Those four wideouts had just seven 100-yard receiving games between them this season. There really isn't a specific pass-catcher for the Seminoles to hone in on and try to disrupt Mariota's flow.

Running back Royce Freeman put up 1,299 yards on the ground this season, and even if the Seminoles bottle him up, Mariota can help out his own cause and keep the Seminoles defense honest thanks to his ability to improvise on the ground. 

 

Oregon's offensive line is rather suspect, so Florida State would do well to cue up a few blitzes when possible and coax strong performances out of Eddie Goldman and Mario Edwards Jr., who will need to focus on putting pressure on Mariota while still maintaining containment. 

It's certainly a daunting task for the Seminoles to contend with this hyper-kinetic attack, but linebacker Reggie Northrup insists his team is up to the challenge.

"Everybody has their strengths and weaknesses. Oregon is a great team. There's a lot of stuff that we see that is pretty exciting. It's exciting to play them. There's a lot of stuff that we'll see that we have an edge on. You just try and clean it up," he said, via the Orlando Sentinel's Brendan Sonnone.

Florida State is chock full of professional-grade talent, but the statistics show Oregon has done quite well against teams that rank highly in the Defensive Fremeau Efficiency Index (FEI), via Sonnone:

Northrup is right in implying that Oregon has not seen a defense with so many future NFL players in the lineup. And while the Ducks have not played many top-end defenses, they have faced three teams that field a similarly-ranked defense in the FEI as FSU’s:  Stanford (11th), Utah (14th) and Washington (16th).

In those contests, Oregon scored 45 points, 51 points and 45 points, respectively. When facing top-end defenses that are comparable to FSU’s, the Ducks have scored at a rate similar to their season average.

If Oregon plays as well as it usually does against top-rated defenses, don't expect the Noles to keep up in the first two quarters.

Winston's usual second-half heroics will give the Seminoles a fighting chance in this contest, but a hot start from Mariota and the Ducks will give the defense plenty of cushion to stifle a late comeback.

Prediction: Oregon 42-FSU 31

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Christian Kirk to Texas A&M: Aggies Land 5-Star WR Prospect

Texas A&M's latest big-time commit comes at wide receiver, as Saguaro standout Christian Kirk committed to the Aggies on Wednesday, according to Jason Jewell of 247 Sports:

Kirk received dozens of scholarship offers from all over the country, and he chose Texas A&M over an impressive finalist group that also included Arizona State, Auburn, UCLA and Ohio State.

As has become typical in wide receiver recruitment, Texas A&M was viewed as the favorite throughout much of the process. 247Sports' crystal ball put a 48 percent chance of Kirk signing with the Aggies as of Wednesday morning, with Arizona State a close second at 44 percent.

Since Kevin Sumlin arrived at College Station, the program has been a hotbed of pass-catching talent. Mike Evans was at times the best receiver in college football in 2013, and the team's 2014 class included Frank Iheanacho and Speedy Noil. Coupled with 2013 top recruit Ricky Seals-Jones, there may be no better crop of young receivers in the entire nation.   

Kirk is coming off a senior campaign in which he often carried the Saguaro offense. He compiled 1,187 yards and 17 touchdowns on 61 catches as a receiver, while also adding 1,692 yards and 25 touchdowns as a running back. The offense was designed around getting him the ball in any way possible and then allowing him to go to work.

Kirk, a 5-star talent who also played cornerback on defense, is considered the 27th-best player nationally by 247Sports' composite rankings in the Class of 2015. He's rated as the No. 4 receiver behind only Calvin Ridley, Tyron Johnson and Deon Cain and is considered the best player in the state of Arizona.

While he has some work to do in a few areas, Kirk is as close to an instant contributor as one can get coming out of high school. Listed at 5'10" and 191 pounds, he's not huge but possesses a steady frame and runs a 4.49 40-yard dash, per his 247Sports profile. Playing against SEC competition isn't going to result in many injury issues—even as a freshman. 

The Aggies should look to use Kirk in a Percy Harvin-esque role. He probably grades out as less of a No. 1 receiver type than someone who just makes plays every time the ball is in his hands; he's nearly as talented as a rusher as he is a receiver. Equipped with good speed and off-the-snap quickness, Kirk should be able to move back and forth between the slot and outside receiver positions.

The coaching staff will also have to work with Kirk on becoming a more consistent receiver. There is a danger here that he could become a jack-of-all-trades-master-of-none prospect and frustrate with what becomes unusable talent. 

But finding ways to harness Kirk's talent is a problem plenty of teams would love to have. Already a college-ready athlete with room to grow into something special, Kirk is the exact type of recruit who can help head coach Kevin Sumlin continue diversifying his offense. The constant threat of him being able to beat opposing defenses for big plays as a receiver or running on reverses or out of the backfield makes for an interesting fit.

Now comes the hard part: proving the hype is real on the field.

 

Follow Tyler Conway on Twitter:

 

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5-Star Christian Kirk Commits to Texas A&M, What Impact Will He Have in 2015?

Christian Kirk, a 5-star athlete out of Scottsdale, Arizona, has made his commitment, and the talented wide receiver has chosen the Texas A&M Aggies for his college career.

Bleacher Report College Football Analyst Michael Felder breaks down Kirk's game and what type of impact he'll have at Texas A&M.

What type of impact will Kirk have for the Aggies?

Check out the video and let us know!

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Gus Malzahn and Will Muschamp Are the Next Nick Saban and Lane Kiffin

Some of the most exceptional football minds who have ever nervously paced a sideline have publicly admitted that they need help. They’re tossing egos aside. They’re tapping enormous financial reserves. They’re acknowledging their weaknesses in plain sight.

As a result, help is coming. In some places, it’s already there.

The latest arms race in college football isn’t about state-of-the-art weight rooms, luxurious locker room waterfalls or excessive mass-recruiting mailers printed on premium parchment. It’s about investing in the sideline and seeking out the appropriate sidekicks required to break through.

When Auburn announced it had hired Will Muschamp as defensive coordinator last week—reportedly to the tune of $1.6 million per season, according to AL.com—it added an enormous personality to its team. It also, more importantly, addressed its most glaring weakness with a deafening response.

By adding Muschamp, the Tigers acquired the mindset and influence that has been absent of late. And to put that robust salary to good use beyond the practice fields and game days, they also landed a 5-star recruiting weapon.

"I'm excited to welcome Will back to Auburn as our new defensive coordinator," Malzahn said in a statement released by the school. "Will is a one of the top defensive minds in college football who has great passion and energy for the game. He is a tremendous addition to our staff."

That undisclosed but heady salary undoubtedly will make Muschamp the highest-paid coordinator in college football. While life as a head coach didn’t pan out in Gainesville, a buyout of more than $6 million on top of a lucrative new salary will make for a jam-packed Christmas tree in the Muschamp household.

More significant than the enormous wealth being tossed in his direction is what it signifies and the precedent it is poised to set: powerful, revenue-churning programs are diving into their rainy-day suitcases filled with cash and adding known assets without hesitation.

Although compensation for assistant coaches was already skyrocketing, this is about more than the finances attached. Larger-than-life personalities are willingly hopping in the sidecar and tossing on their helmets while giving a simultaneous thumbs-up. This is radical change from where we were not too long ago.

Following the Iron Bowl, a game in which Auburn allowed 55 points and 539 yards in a loss, it became abundantly clear that change was necessary for the Tigers. Even before this regular-season destruction, you had a sense that new leadership was likely imminent.

With competition and vacancies at Texas A&M and South Carolina—two other SEC schools with robust personalities in place, blank checks and defensive coordinator spots to fill—Auburn aggressively secured its most significant recruit of the year.

In doing so, it followed a blueprint laid out by its rival less than a year earlier.

After offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier left Alabama for Michigan following the 2013 season, Nick Saban used the opportunity created by the surprising departure to overhaul his team’s offensive philosophy.  

Lane Kiffin, seemingly untouchable and radioactive at the time, was paid the modest sum of $680,000 to reshape the Alabama offense. This yearly salary made him the No. 25 highest-paid assistant coach in 2014, according to USA Today.

At the time, the hire wasn’t given its true appreciation and dissection. It was difficult to see beyond the overall shock value of having two of the most polarizing figures operate on the same sideline for the same football factory.

“We are excited to have Lane join our staff,” Saban said in a statement when the Kiffin hire became official [via AL.com]. “He is an outstanding and creative offensive coach who has great experience both at the college and NFL level. He has a very good understanding of the game and I have always been impressed with what I saw in the games he called."

This personnel decision identified perhaps the lone weakness in Saban’s game—if you can even call it that. As brilliant as he is in so many arenas, Alabama has lacked ingenuity on the offensive side. Kiffin was brought in to change that.

More significantly, he was hired to win games like the Iron Bowl, 55-44 marathon matchups that Saban has openly anguished over. Still, even for a program that consistently attracts, recruits and develops top-tier defensive talent, the occasional shootout in this era of the sport is not inevitable.

“The way we’re headed in college football, there are going to be games like this,” Saban told ESPN.com’s Alex Scarborough following the Iron Bowl victory, bringing the Kiffin hire full circle.

Even though Kiffin will take home less than half of what defensive coordinator Kirby Smart made in 2014—the second-highest-paid coordinator, according to USA Today—his hire was significant given his high-profile, on-the-tarmac firing at USC.

He was perceived to be damaged goods, and yet, the nation’s most consistently astute evaluator of talent brought him in knowing the attention and potential scrutiny that would follow.

The decision, as it turns out, worked brilliantly. Even without a starting quarterback defined in the spring, Kiffin helped mold Blake Sims into one of the conference’s most electric talents with the helping hand of wideout Amari Cooper. Most importantly, Alabama is headed to the first College Football Playoff as the No. 1 seed.

Auburn hopes it has found its answer to Kiffin in Muschamp, an unproven commodity as a head coach—like Kiffin—but a master when it comes to his side of the ball. How these hires impact the sport’s most fascinating rivalry is certainly a story that will garner plenty of attention, although this is not a trend that will be limited to the state of Alabama.

It wasn’t long ago that $1.6 million was a robust salary for a head coach. Now, in a booming, paycheck-packed time for the sport, it’s no longer unreasonable to see teams dole out that money to coaches down the organization chart.

With so much money pouring into schools through newfound revenue streams—thanks in large part to conference-centric networks—power programs now have the financial freedom to pay coordinators like head coaches. It’s still an enormous gamble, but the financial ramifications aren’t as significant to the bottom line as they once were.

For high-profile coordinators like Muschamp and Kiffin—along with the big names to follow—latching on to a favorable coordinator job in a well-funded program offers tremendous perks.

Beyond the obvious dollar signs, it offers a far less pressure-packed spotlight from which to polish a tarnished image. It’s a place to reboot and regroup. While expectations will remain robust, they’ll be tempered in their new role.

And for the leaders of these enormous businesses, the prospects of teaming up and putting all emotionally driven interests aside has become a no-brainer. Hiring the premier specialists to work their magic is not a knock at their own value as head coach; if anything, this open conversation only drives home just how much winning matters.

Job security, more than anything, is what Saban, Malzahn and the next batch of coaches are after. It’s why they’re seeking out the appropriate tag-team member and, in many ways, their anti-self.

The personalities will get bigger, and the paychecks will continue to blossom. The state of Alabama is ahead of the curve in college football’s wingman era, but it likely won’t be for long.

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Why Arizona State Is Poised to Shock the College Football World in 2015

Here's what Arizona State could be without in 2015: its starting quarterback, leading receiver, leading rusher, leading tackler and sack leader. 

Still, because of the experience on the roster, the Sun Devils could surprise everyone and win the Pac-12. Think it's impossible? Who saw Arizona as this season's Pac-12 South champions with a starting 22 full of freshmen and sophomores?

College football is good for at least one or two teams to come out of nowhere in any given season. Arizona State has developed a strong reputation under head coach Todd Graham, but Arizona and USC should be strong candidates to be preseason Pac-12 South favorites. 

That leaves the Sun Devils with a lot to prove. Here's how they get it done. 

 

Offense: Replacing Offensive Weapons is Key

Making assumptions is dangerous. With that in mind, let's make one anyway. 

Wide receiver Jaelen Strong and running back D.J. Foster haven't officially declared for the NFL yet. As Doug Haller of azcentral.com reports, however, both have submitted feedback on their prospects:

A small group of ASU players – including Strong – have requested feedback from the NFL Draft advisory board. They have not yet heard back. Players have until Jan. 15 to apply for the draft. The NFL is scheduled to release the official list of underclassmen Jan. 19.

For what it's worth, B/R's Matt Miller listed Strong as the No. 6 receiver in this year's draft, but he does not have Foster ranked among top running backs. To have one or both of those players return for one more year would obviously be a huge boost for Arizona State.

In the event that doesn't happen, though, the Sun Devils should still be in good shape at the skill positions. 

Arizona State would lose two things from Strong: production (75 catches, 1,062 yards and 10 touchdowns) and the ability to make highlight-reel catches. The receiving group can pick up where it left off in at least one of those categories.

Cameron Smith, Gary Chambers, Ellis Jefferson and tight end Kody Kohl combined to catch 74 passes and 14 touchdowns. With the exception of Chambers, that group is made up of freshmen and sophomores. 

Potentially replacing Foster could be its own challenge because of the versatility he brought to the offense as a running back and receiver out of the backfield. As a freshman, though, Demario Richard was second on the team with 437 yards and rushed for two touchdowns. Graham told Tyler Lockman of Fox Sports Arizona that he's been impressed with Richard's ability to perform in crucial situations: 

It's hard for a young man that's 17 or 18 years old to come in here and do that. I'm really proud of his mental maturity and his toughness. That's the thing that has really impressed me -- his durability and toughness. We knew he was a great back, and he's really done well.

Interestingly, perhaps the position of least concern is quarterback. Taylor Kelly will depart, but junior Mike Bercovici played well in three starts this season while Kelly nursed a foot injury. Bercovici doesn't bring the same mobility to the quarterback spot that Kelly does, but he can sling the ball. According to his ASU profile, Bercovici's 488 passing yards against UCLA were the most by a Sun Devil quarterback making his first career start. 

Bercovici will be protected by an offensive line that should return most of its two-deep, minus its two tackles, Jamil Douglas and Tyler Sulka. The Sun Devils finished 11th in the Pac-12 with 3.08 sacks allowed per game, but they still won nine games. Barring injuries, this unit can't get much worse. 

The Sun Devils could have as many as six key contributors on offense depart, but turnover doesn't mean lack of experience. This is when Graham's recruiting efforts should mean little-to-no drop-off. 

 

Defense: Experience Must Pay Off

Whereas Arizona State's offense will have to reload, the Sun Devils defense has already gone through that transition. The knock on Arizona State heading into the 2014 season was the massive turnover on that side of the ball. Nine starters were gone, including Pac-12 defensive player of the year Will Sutton. 

The results ended up being better than expected, however. Though the numbers in major categories (points per game allowed, passing defense, etc.) were pedestrian, the Sun Devils ranked near the top of the Pac-12 in sacks per game (3.25) and tackles for loss per game (8.08). 

That aggressiveness was well-documented by Dan Wolken of USA Today in November: 

Two weeks ago in a victory against Utah, Arizona State blitzed on 68 of 78 defensive plays, often sending multiple linebackers or defensive backs. Then in last Saturday's 55-31 victory against Notre Dame, arguably the biggest win of Graham's career, Arizona State blitzed on 62 of 79 plays, disorienting quarterback Everett Golson so badly that he threw two interceptions for touchdowns and committed a pair of turnovers deep in his own territory.

Nearly all of Arizona State's defensive starters should return in 2015 to make up a junior- and senior-laden group. What little this defense does lose is noteworthy, though. Defensive end Marcus Hardison, who led the team in sacks, and safety Damarious Randall, who led the team in tackles, will be gone. 

That's where players like linebackers Salamo Fiso and Laiu Moeakiola, who combined for 21.5 tackles for loss, have to step up. 

 

Schedule: Important Home Games

The Pac-12 has established itself as arguably the second-best conference in college football next to the SEC. Particularly, the Pac-12 South was deep in 2014 with five bowl-bound teams with at least eight wins.

It's in a tough division, but Arizona State has a schedule that sets up nicely next season. Sometimes that's a necessary part of a title run.

USC, Oregon, Washington and Arizona all come to Tempe, per FBSchedules.com. Additionally, the Sun Devils have an attractive and potentially playoff-enticing nonconference game against Texas A&M in Houston in Week 1.

Every year is different, but the Pac-12 could set itself up again to where a one-loss team is playoff-bound. With a reloaded offense and a more experienced defense, Arizona State has the makeup of a team that can surpass expectations despite losing its statistically best players. 

 

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

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