Feed aggregator

College Football Playoff Rankings 2014: Selection Committee Top 25 for Week 15

The College Football Playoff Top Four had a major change in Week 15.

TCU, buoyed by Mississippi State's loss at rival Ole Miss, has jumped to No. 3 ahead of No. 4 Florida State. Alabama is No. 1 for the third straight week, followed by Oregon.

As for the two squads jockeying for position behind the Top Four, here is how Ohio State and Baylor landed, along with the remainder of the Top 25:

With only one week to go before the committee makes its final selections, it appears we have a pretty good outlook on where teams stand. The Bulldogs' surprising road loss at Ole Miss knocked out the biggest potential source of controversy.  

It would have seemed curious to have a one-loss SEC team on the outside looking in, but the committee was facing a Catch-22 with three potential conference champions sitting right behind.

As it stands now, though, it's hard to see the committee changing its mind if each of the top six comes away with a victory. TCU has consistently been ranked ahead of Baylor from the outset of these rankings, and the Horned Frogs have looked like the far superior team of late. Their 48-10 thrashing of Texas in Austin came two days before Baylor needed to stop Texas Tech from converting a two-point conversion to escape with a 48-46 win at AT&T Stadium.

The Bears have looked less than stellar in two straight home games following their 48-14 win over Oklahoma. Their season-closing game against Kansas State will provide a chance for a resume-solidifying victory, and some have wondered if Baylor's head-to-head victory over TCU will play a factor in the final decision.

Baylor athletic director Ian McCaw told reporters the head-to-head win gives the Bears the strongest resume among one-loss teams.

"It is an incredible platform for us to make our case," McCaw said. "We would be a Big 12 co-champion with a tiebreaker over TCU. It would give us three top-15-quality wins. We would have the strongest resume among those under consideration."

Big 12 commissioner Bob Bowlsby said Monday the conference would present the two teams as co-champions should they both be victorious this weekend. That means the decision will ultimately be up to the committee about which of the two is more deserving. TCU plays 2-9 Iowa State this weekend, so style points will likely be of the essence.

Not mentioned much in this equation is Ohio State, which may have been dealt a fatal blow over the weekend through no fault of its own. Quarterback J.T. Barrett suffered a fractured right ankle in last Saturday's 42-28 win over Michigan that will keep him out the remainder of the season. Cardale Jones, the Buckeyes' third-string quarterback at the beginning of 2014, will take over for the Big Ten Championship Game against Wisconsin this Saturday.

It's impossible to tell how big the drop from Barrett to Jones would be over the long term, which makes the committee's job even more difficult. In theory, it's supposed to choose college football's four best teams, via a combination of resume, win-loss record and talent. We've seen injuries in the past affect seeding in the NCAA basketball tournament; odds are we'll see the same logic play out here.

Ohio State head coach Urban Meyer, as one would expect, sees it differently. The third-year Buckeyes coach told reporters it would be "wrong" if his team was downgraded due to Barrett's injury and said it should be a testament to his program's depth.

“You lose one Heisman Trophy candidate before the season starts, and then another guy in game (12) who’s also a Heisman candidate,” Meyer said. “That’s a positive that your team can still function. It tells you about the talent and depth on your team.”

Meyer may have a point about his squad's depth, but it's unlikely to matter. Only losses by Baylor and TCU would likely send the Buckeyes to the playoffs—or some other two-team combination.

For Alabama, Oregon and Florida State, the journey is self-explanatory: Win and you're in. Each of the three teams has a ranked opponent on its slate and should advance to the playoffs regardless of the final score.

Florida State would actually be earning its best win of the season should it get past Georgia Tech in Charlotte, North Carolina. The Yellow Jackets showed their strength their last two games, blowing out Clemson and earning an impressive road takedown of rival Georgia. 

Alabama probably caught a break by facing a Missouri team that's lucked into a weak schedule, but the Tide have faced a gauntlet down the stretch. The Tigers will be their fourth ranked team in their last five games. 

Oregon may actually be the team most prone to being upset, with Arizona's high-powered offense advancing to the Pac-12 Championship Game. The Wildcats represent the Ducks' lone loss of the season, a 31-24 thriller in October. 

We'll just have to see how it all plays out. With the committee setting the tone Tuesday night, each of the six teams in contention knows the task ahead.


Follow Tyler Conway (@tylerconway22) on Twitter

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Michigan Recruits React to Brady Hoke Firing

Michigan punctuated a football season filled with disappointment and uncertainty by firing head coach Brady Hoke on Tuesday afternoon, as reported by Bruce Feldman of Fox Sports. His four-year tenure featured fewer wins each fall and ends with the latest Wolverines recruiting class stuck in a downward spiral.

Michigan, once a popular destination for the country's premier high school players, currently rates 86th nationally in 247Sports' composite class rankings. That's further down the list than the likes of Florida Atlantic, Louisiana Tech and a San Jose State squad that finished the season on a six-game losing streak.

“Michigan has normally been known as a powerhouse so six or seven wins each year isn’t going to get it done in the eyes of the people in charge," coveted 2016 Georgia wide receiver recruit Josh Imatorbhebhe told Bleacher Report.

Interim athletic director Jim Hackett confirmed that sentiment when he stepped up to the podium and spoke on behalf of "the people in charge":

Michigan and its supporters hope this moment is eventually viewed as the launch of a program rebound. Imatorbhebhe, who received an offer from Hoke in May and visited campus this summer, believes it was a necessary step despite affection for the ousted leader.

"Coach Hoke is a great person; he's shown that to me and he's shown that to plenty of other players over the years," Imatorbhebhe said. "It's a sad thing to have happen, but Michigan is trying to steer things back in the right direction, and obviously, this was something they thought they needed to do.”

The Wolverines are 20-18 since 2012 and just wrapped up a second straight losing season against Big Ten opponents. As the 2014 campaign progressed and things worsened, Michigan's recruiting efforts suffered.

Decommitments decimated a 2015 class that once appeared primed for greatness in Ann Arbor. By the time Hoke was relieved of his duties, the group included only seven pledges.

Quarterback Alex Malzone, an Elite 11 finalist who committed in May, plans to stay on board.

"I'm committed to Michigan 100 percent," he told Bleacher Report. "It's tough to see Coach Hoke go, and I only wish him the best in the future."

The 4-star passer saw the writing on the wall earlier this fall and understood that only victories could salvage the situation.

"I think Coach Hoke has this team playing its heart out right now, but it's important to win games," Malzone said in October. "The recruits know that. I know that. The coaches know that. If Michigan doesn't start picking up some wins, they could be in trouble. That's just the way it is."

Less than two months later, he's willing to move forward with a program now searching for its fourth coach since 2007. It remains to be seen how many fellow commits feel the same.

Top tight end prospect Chris Clark backed off his verbal pledge shortly after the announcement. He explained the reasoning on Twitter, citing "the unfortunate change in coaching" that ended "unbelievable relationships with Coach Hoke and his staff."

Though Clark stated he is "still very interested" in Michigan, he'll now explore other options. Those are likely to include USC, North Carolina, Texas and South Carolina.

He joins a list of former Michigan commits that already features 5-star running back Damien Harris, Notre Dame-bound defensive back Shaun Crawford and Florida State receiver pledge George Campbell.

Imatorbhebhe, who still has more than a year until he signs with a college team, empathizes with the remaining members of Michigan's 2015 class.

"If they don’t make that coaching change quick, as a 2015 prospect, it would be hard to stick with the program," he said. "You want time to feel settled with a coaching staff and not feel like you’re committing to a temporary package. The situation has to be settled in order for a recruit to be all-in.”

Things have been far from settled at Michigan for some time, evidenced by a Tuesday morning visit from Wolverines receivers coach Jeff Hecklinski at North Gwinnett High School. The assistant, a member of Hoke's staff since 2004 at Ball State, expressed concern about the regime's longevity during a conversation with Imatorbhebhe.

"It was definitely a little strange because Coach Hecklinski told me that a meeting was happening at Michigan today and he kind of hinted that the current staff probably wouldn't be around much longer," he said. "It's tough because I have a lot of respect for those guys."

Clark also received visits from Michigan offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier and tight ends coach Dan Ferrigno on Tuesday:

Whoever is hired to turn things around at Michigan will certainly face pressure to improve play on the field, but a major recruiting test comes first. He'll be charged with the task of piecing together a quality recruiting class with just weeks to work.

It's a group of incoming players that will be counted on to contribute toward the turnaround of a program grasping for positive momentum.

"They need to find recruits with confidence and courage who believe in what they're selling," Imatorbhebhe said. "College football is always unpredictable. Teams go through periods of bliss and periods of struggles. It's going to take the right pieces—new coaches and prospects—to revamp enthusiasm for the program."


Recruit ratings courtesy of 247Sports.

Quotes obtained by Bleacher Report national recruiting columnist Tyler Donohue unless otherwise noted.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

The Biggest Disappointments for the Tennessee Volunteers in 2014

The Tennessee Volunteers are 6-6 after defeating the Vanderbilt Commodores Saturday evening and heading to their first bowl game since 2010. 

Despite ending the regular season on a high note, it's important to take stock of the season as a whole. And when viewed in its entirety, there were plenty of crushing disappointments to go along with the obvious signs of improvement shown by Tennessee throughout the course of the season.

Credit Butch Jones and his staff, as well as the players they coach, for rallying from a 3-5 record to win three of their four remaining games to lock up a postseason matchup. 

While the 2014 season may ultimately be considered a success, there is still plenty to improve on in 2015 and beyond if Tennessee wants to continue its slow and steady climb out of the SEC gutter.

Here are four of the biggest disappointments the Vols faced in 2014 that the coaching staff will look to alleviate next year. 

Begin Slideshow

What Went Wrong for Brady Hoke at Michigan

Michigan's valiant effort versus Ohio State wasn't enough to save Brady Hoke's job. 

The school announced Tuesday that it had let its head football coach go, calling a 4:30 p.m. ET news conference to "discuss the state of the football program," per USA Today's Nicole Auerbach.

His final game versus Ohio State mirrored the disappointing arc of his Michigan tenure: a great start followed by an epic collapse.

Hoke's fate was sealed on Sunday night after the Ohio State game.

"I believe that Brady and our coaching staff had enough time to produce results, and unfortunately they are not there," said interim athletic director Jim Hackett during Tuesday's press conference.

Hoke, who was hailed by fans upon his hiring, failed in his quest to return Michigan to glory. His failure should serve a cautionary tale for whoever succeeds him in Ann Arbor.

Here's what went wrong.

Not Michigan's First Choice

Michigan hired Hoke to be the antidote to Rich Rodriguez (15-22, 6-18 Big Ten), whom the school fired after he struggled to field a competitive defense while failing to embrace the Michigan football culture.

Many fans greeted Hoke's initial hiring with mixed emotions, as most hoped for a higher-profile hire. His overall career record (47-50) was underwhelming, but he had the support of former Wolverines Tom Brady and Charles Woodson, who had played for him when he was a Michigan assistant coach.

Steeped in Michigan tradition, Hoke bled maize and blue and had a reputation as a tireless recruiter.

He was also more affordable than fan favorites Jim Harbaugh and Les Miles, who either passed on the job or weren't seriously pursued.

Hoke won over many fans with an impassioned introductory press conference.

"We would have walked [here] from San Diego…This is Michigan, for God's sake," said Hoke.

He wasn't their top choice, but his "Michigan Man" rhetoric endeared him to fans hungry for a return to the glory days of Wolverine football.

Hot Start, High Expectations

Hoke's first season at Michigan was magical. An 11-2 (6-2 Big Ten) run followed by a last-second win in the Sugar Bowl made fans in Ann Arbor giddy with anticipation of future Big Ten titles and national championships. 

He and his staff did a great job of rallying a team stocked with Rodriguez's former players.

The biggest improvement was on the defensive side of the ball. Under Rodriguez, the defense surrendered 450.8 yards per game in 2010, but it experienced a quick turnaround under Hoke and Mattison, giving up only 322.2 yards per game in 2011.

On offense, Hoke and offensive coordinator Al Borges inherited the keys to a high-octane attack powered by Heisman candidate Denard Robinson.

Michigan fans believed that the sky was the limit for their team and its leader, who eschewed headsets and communicated with a steady stream of cliches.

But Hoke would never repeat the success of his first season.

No Identity

After Hoke's first season, the team transitioned away from Rodriguez's spread option and began to implement a more traditional offense. Robinson was moved under center and transformed from a Heisman candidate into a mediocre dropback passer.

Hoke declared his intention to return to a power running attack but never seemed committed to actually doing so. A pattern began to emerge, as Michigan's offense became a nebulous collection of plays that ultimately revolved around the quarterback running for his life.

The offense sputtered, and an injury to Robinson forced Devin Gardner to move back to quarterback from wide receiver to finish the season.

The team finished 8-5 (6-2 Big Ten), but with Gardner returning, expectations were high for 2013 even after the Wolverines dropped a New Year's Day bowl game to South Carolina.

Decline and Disaster 

After initial success during the 2013 season, Gardner flailed behind a bad offensive line and a nonexistent running game. He also threw 11 interceptions and struggled with ball security as a runner.

Michigan finished 7-6 (3-5 Big Ten), and Hoke was officially on the hot seat. A sluggish bowl loss to Kansas State didn't help.

Following the 2013 season, Hoke hired Doug Nussmeier from Alabama to fix the problems on offense.

The move didn't help, however.

One of the major what-ifs revolves around the firing of Al Borges. Could Hoke have survived had he parted with Borges a year earlier?  

Gardner's downward spiral continued during 2014, and with no suitable backup ready to take over the offense continued to struggle. 

As Steve Wiltfong of 247Sports tweeted, a lack of player development ultimately undermined everything Hoke hoped to accomplish at Michigan: 

Hoke's attempt to replace Gardner with backup Shane Morris resulted in a misdiagnosed concussion that put the program under intense national scrutiny. Athletic director David Brandon resigned in the aftermath of the incident.

Michigan ultimately finished 5-7 (3-5 Big Ten), ending its season and Hoke's tenure.

His desire to rebuild Michigan was undermined by a staff that didn't have the ability to develop talent, especially on offense, despite securing top recruiting classes annually.

Hoke was also undone by the perception that he was out of touch with game-day decisions.

His refusal to wear a headset was particularly baffling. Virtually every other top coach insists on monitoring his assistants during games. A more savvy coach would have just worn the headset out of solidarity, but Hoke stubbornly refused to give in.

The image of Hoke clapping on the sidelines during games drew the ire of fans who questioned his game management, and his poor record versus key rivals underscored the program's decline.

Hoke is gone because despite having outstanding facilities and virtually unlimited resources, he didn't make the changes necessary for Michigan to compete at the highest level.

ESPN's Colin Cowherd summed up Hoke's failures well:

Being a "Michigan Man" couldn't save him from his own bad decisions. He has no one to blame but himself.

Phil Callihan is a featured writer for Bleacher Report. Unless otherwise noted, all quotations obtained firsthand. All season statistics from MGoBlue.com, the official University of Michigan athletic department website. 

Follow @PSCallihan  

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Nick Saban's Surprising Connection to Gary Pinkel

TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — Nick Saban and Gary Pinkel are pretty familiar with each other.

The pair faced each other two years ago in Missouri’s first year in the SEC and are both veterans of the profession. But their relationship goes back further. Much further.

Saban and Pinkel share similar beginnings and a common past. They both point to the same coach as a mentor, from whom their philosophies and principles originated.

When former Kent State and Washington coach Don James died a little over a year ago on October 20, 2013, each coach lost a little piece of his past and a trusted friend.

And when Alabama and Missouri meet in the SEC Championship Game on Saturday, it will be a coaching matchup years in the making. The two have met before but never on a stage this big or with stakes so high.

“We probably all have three or four really significant people in our life that you say that having a relationship with this person really impacted the direction of my life, the quality of my life, a lot of the personal decisions that I made and philosophically the way you live your life, the way you do your job. All kinds of things get affected by those people. Don James was certainly one of those people for me,” Saban said last year shortly after James’ death.

“I have as much respect for him as a person and as a coach, the job that he did, the organization that he had. To this day, a lot of the things that I learned being a graduate assistant for him are still things that we implement in our program philosophically.”

James was hired by Kent State in 1971, when Saban was a senior defensive back and Pinkel a sophomore tight end.

When Saban graduated, he didn’t know what he wanted to do with the next chapter of his life. But his new wife, Terry, still had a year left of school.

James asked Saban if he wanted a position as a graduate assistant. Saban had never thought about coaching before and didn’t really want to go to grad school, but he gave it a shot anyway.

“I never really wanted to be a coach,” Saban said. “I really liked it. I have thanked Coach James many, many times for inspiring me into the opportunity to do it; also [for] a lot of the lessons that I learned from him starting out as a young coach.”

Saban ended up spending three seasons as a graduate assistant under James. When James left to be the head coach at Washington, Saban was promoted to defensive assistant and thus began one of the most successful coaching tenures in college football history’s career—with James’ fingerprints all over it.

“It starts with how we recruit players, how we evaluate players, character and attitude, how those things sort of play into it, how you sort of try to find out those things about players so you get the kind of guys that are a good fit for your program. That was a big thing that Don always emphasized,” Saban said.

“There's quite a bit of stuff. Don was one of the best coaches, to me, of all time. He was my coach, had a great impact on my life. I certainly appreciate him more than anyone could know for the start that he sort of inspired me to have as a coach.

“A lot of his influences really affected our coaching career.”

Pinkel spent a little bit more time in James’ tutelage.

He played his last three years under James and then was also retained as a graduate assistant. Pinkel followed James to Washington, where he was a tight ends coach for a year. After a two-year stint at Bowling Green, Pinkel and James were reunited at Washington.

Pinkel was James’ wide receivers coach for five years and was promoted to offensive coordinator for seven more. In 1991 he got his first head coaching job at Toledo, where he stayed until he was hired at Missouri in 2001.

“I guess the thing that Coach James was, he was an organizational genius,” Pinkel said. “The detail of organizing every little tiny aspect of your football program, having a plan in place for everything, evaluate everything you do after you do it. I've been a head coach for 24 years now. We have an infrastructure in place.

“I would say that in itself is probably as important as anything I've done, I've learned from him; not only having this detailed infrastructure, but constantly evaluate yourself to make yourself better and to learn, in everything we do. Those things are very invaluable to me as a head coach and our organization.”

If you notice similar threads in Saban and Pinkel’s coaching philosophy, that’s not a coincidence. That attention to detail, CEO-like mentality, constant thoughts of improving: Those were all James staples that were passed down to his coaching disciples.

"They're both like sons," James told The Columbia Tribune’s Dave Matter in 2012 before Alabama played Missouri that year. "You follow them, you cheer for them. But I don't know what to do this week."

It’s safe to say he would have similar feelings this week, when so much more is on the line.


Marc Torrence is the Alabama lead writer for Bleacher Report. All quotes were obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted.

Follow on Twitter @marctorrence.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Michigan Should Be Thinking Les Miles or Bust After Firing Brady Hoke

Michigan’s first, second and third order of business should be to gas up the private jet, table its fear of being rejected (again), and fly down to Louisiana to convince Les Miles—a Michigan man, eater of grass and overall unparalleled teacher of football—that he is the perfect candidate (at the perfect time) for the now-vacant position in Ann Arbor.

At the very worst, they Wolverines’ brass will enjoy some fabulous Cajun cuisine during the trip. And if this particular recruiting mission goes better than it did in 2010—the last time the Wolverines tried to lure Miles away from his Baton Rouge home—Michigan could finally find the stable ground it has so desperately been seeking.  

Such stability was never attained under the leadership of Brady Hoke, who was relieved of his head coaching duties Tuesday. This offseason’s most expected coaching change came a few days later than many anticipated, but the change was inevitable.

University of Michigan interim director of athletics Jim Hackett announced the news at a press conference and in a statement:

I met with Coach Hoke today and informed him of my decision to make a change in the leadership of our football program. This was not an easy decision given the level of respect that I have for Brady. He has done a great job of molding these young men, making them accountable to their teammates, focusing them on success in the classroom and in the community. I wanted to make sure that Brady received adequate time to exhibit the results that would come from his effort and I believe that Brady and our coaching staff had enough time to produce those results and unfortunately they are not there. In the end, I feel that moving in a different direction is the right decision. I wish Brady and his family all the best in the future.

After debuting in 2011 with an 11-2 season and a Sugar Bowl victory over Virginia Tech, Hoke never won more than eight games in a season over the next three years. Despite delivering a string of quality recruiting classes and seemingly upping the Wolverines' talent level during his tenure, the results—outside of his first year—never followed.

Even more concerning was that the overall state of the program seemed to worsen under his guidance, especially over the past two years. And on the day former Michigan head coach Rich Rodriguez was named Pac-12 Coach of the Year for his breathtaking turnaround at Arizona, the Wolverines—for the third time in a decade—have decided to reboot once more.

It comes at a time when Michigan’s football program is at a crossroads. It is still widely viewed as an elite job—as it should be—although the shine on the program has worn off. As a result, you could argue that this is the most important hire the program has ever had to make, especially if it hopes to hang onto its elite status.

That’s where Miles comes in. It’s why Michigan should fly down to his home in Baton Rouge, blank check in hand, and convince the coach that now is the right time to make this move, a move many have linked the head coach to for some time.

To put Miles’ greatness into context, let’s first start with a number: 18.

That’s the number of games the head coach of LSU has won over the past two seasons. This also just so happens to be the number of Tigers underclassmen who have declared early for the NFL draft over the past two years. No other school comes close to matching these early departures, and yet, Miles has done what he does better than just about anyone: recruit and develop.

Bigger than any connection to the program—and we’ll get to that—is Miles’ uncanny ability to attract marquee talent and then get the most out of it when it arrives. This, in many ways, has served as the origin of Michigan’s recent football failures. And there is no better realistic remedy than Miles, who has expressed interest in the position before.

There’s good reason for this. Miles played at Michigan, coached at Michigan (twice) and studied under the great Bo Schembechler. The 61-year-old is a "Michigan Man" in every sense, which has historically been a critical part of the hiring process time and again.

To add a little more fuel to the speculation fire, Miles passed along his praise and admiration for the Wolverines this past weekend as they readied for Ohio State. Oh, you poor message board servers.

Geaux Blue!!.... Beat em in the Horseshoe!!!

— Les Miles (@LSUCoachMiles) November 29, 2014

Temper your conspiracy theory connections. While the timing of his social media drop-in was certainly interesting, it’s unreasonable to draw much from his latest Michigan cameo. Miles has never masked his love for the program, so there’s no reason he should start now.

Whether the two can somehow find common ground when it comes to filling the position is another hurdle—and a major one at that—entirely. Scott Roussel of Footballscoop.com, an invaluable resource this time of year, recently touched on this connection:

It is our understanding from sources at Michigan that there is significant disagreement within the building in Ann Arbor regarding the potential candidacy of Les Miles. Hackett very much considers Les a friend and a candidate he would like to pursue. Others in the department do not believe this is in the best interests of Michigan and fear that Les would publicly acknowledge their interest but ultimately choose to remain at LSU, giving the Michigan search a very public black eye.

This is not a time to worry about striking out. This is also not the time for emotion to get in the way of savvy business, if these matters are poised to get in the way of a reunion.

There’s much more that goes into it, of course, including the most important aspect of any coaching search: money.

Miles, in his present position, makes plenty of it. According to USA Today, Miles took home $4.3 million in total compensation in 2014, putting him at No. 7 in the nation and No. 3 in the SEC. Michigan certainly has the financial means to offer a salary north of this, and it absolutely should.

We’ve been down this path before—back in 2010, when Miles and Michigan flirted briefly—and it didn’t work out. That might be the case four years later, although Michigan, at the very least, needs to kick the tires.

Miles might simply decide he doesn’t want to leave his new home for his old home. Or perhaps the next batch of talented players currently on the roster—players like star freshman tailback Leonard Fournette—will be too enticing to walk away from. Or maybe he’ll turn this opportunity into another nice raise at his current school.

Regardless of the circumstances, Hackett should focus his search on one person, at least to start. Forget about the Harbaugh brothers, who have become a media-driven dream more than anything else. Forget about everyone else for that matter. Miles should be Option A, B and C.

"I want to get rid of the term 'Michigan Man,'" Hackett said at his press conference on Tuesday.

If that is indeed the case, college football’s wackiest uncle—along with one of its finest leaders and developers of talents—should fit just fine. And he’s only a phone call or chartered jet away.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Power Ranking College Football Conferences Post 2014 Regular Season

College football is entering championship weekend, which means only one conference can claim the regular-season title as 2014's best in the nation.

Obviously, it's the Southeastern Conference, right? As ESPN's Lee Corso says, "Not so fast, my friend."

For this exercise, each conference's best teams were pitted together in an imaginary matchup, followed by the second-best, third-best and so on. Competition level, nonconference wins, bowl eligibility and contention for the College Football Playoff also factor into the rankings.

Since everyone will surely agree on the final results, please add your pleasantries in the comments section below.

Begin Slideshow

UAB Players in Tears, Fans Curse at President After Football Program Eliminated

It's a rough day to be a UAB football player or a Blazers fan.

On Tuesday, UAB President Ray L. Watts announced in a statement that the school would be eliminating its football program in order to put more funds toward other athletic programs. 

The news of the program being shut down left players and fans angered and upset. In fact, some players were brought to tears by the news.

Seeing college students go through something like this is incredibly heartbreaking.

As President Watts made his way through a crowd after the news broke, fans booed him and cursed at him. Warning: Video contains NSFW language.

The university's decision to eliminate the program was clearly tough for many in Birmingham to handle.

At 6-6, the Blazers are eligible for a bowl game. After devastating news like this, it would be great to see the players get the chance to play in one more game.

[Twitter, Instagram; h/t College Spun]

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Ohio State Needs Michigan to Replace Brady Hoke with a Winner

The Ohio State-Michigan rivalry is losing its intensity. 

It might not feel that way to those closest to the fire. For some, that heat is fueled by decades of animosity—passed down through generations like some prized family heirloom. 

For the uninvolved, though, it's hard to feel or even see that fire. It's so distant that it fails to register, especially as the Alabama-Auburn feud rages on with a frightening and captivating ferocity.

That's why Ohio State needs its archrival to find a winner. 

Michigan announced the end of the Brady Hoke era on Tuesday, officially terminating the head coach after four years of diminishing returns. The once proud program will ramp up a coaching search for the third time in seven years, desperately needing a leader who can pull Michigan back into relevance.

The Wolverines, who haven't claimed a Big Ten title since 2004, have struggled through years of mediocrity and frustration under coaches who couldn't maintain—and more importantly, enhance—Michigan's proud history and success. Rich Rodriguez and Hoke combined to turn one of the nation's strongest programs into a middle-of-the-pack team in a slumping conference.

Forty-six victories. Forty-two losses. That's what Michigan has produced since the start of the 2008 season.

The Wolverines deserve better. So do the Buckeyes.


The B1G Needs a Boost

Michigan hasn't been in the national title picture since 2006, when it surged to win its first 11 games by an average of 17.2 points. The Wolverines used one of the nation's strongest defenses and a balanced offense to climb all the way to No. 2 in the national rankings. 

That contributed to a banner year for the Big Ten. Ohio State entered the season as the country's top team and maintained that ranking all year, setting up a titanic regular-season showdown.

On November 18, 2006, all eyes were on Columbus as No. 1 Ohio State battled No. 2 Michigan. The Buckeyes came out on top of an instant 42-39 classic that lived up to a season's worth of hype.

But both teams slipped badly in the postseason. The Wolverines went on to face USC in the Rose Bowl, where they were blasted in a 32-18 beatdown. Ohio State advanced to the BCS title game for a matchup against the Florida Gators, who rolled to a laughable 41-14 blowout victory.

It was a devastating blow to the Big Ten's perception—a punch it's still trying to recover from eight years later. 

The Buckeyes have maintained a high level of play. Since falling in the title game to Florida, Ohio State has gone 85-18—a record that includes a vacated 12-win season in 2010, as well as a 6-7 campaign in 2011 under interim head coach Luke Fickell. 

But the rest of the Big Ten has deteriorated. The league has lost 35 of its 54 bowl games over the last seven years, and three of its 19 victories have since been vacated. 

The conference's poor reputation directly impacts Ohio State. In 2013, the league's overall lack of quality had voters openly challenging the Buckeyes' strength despite ripping off 24 consecutive victories. This year has been no different—the Big Ten is ranked fourth by ESPN among Power Five conferences, just barely ahead of the ACC. 

Michigan's woes have contributed to the Big Ten's recent downturn. A resurgence in Ann Arbor could trigger a much-needed recovery.


The Game Needs to Be The Game Again

Ohio State has absolutely dominated Michigan since 2001, winning 12 of the last 14 matchups. With Rodriguez and Hoke at the helm, the Wolverines have managed just one win over the Buckeyes while losing the other six games by an average of 16 points. 

But that's not hurting the rivalry's intensity as much as Michigan's general decline.

John Cooper put together a brilliant run for the Buckeyes during his 13-year tenure. From 1988-2000, he made Ohio State a consistent contender, going 111-43-4 while winning three Big Ten titles. But he struggled mightily against Michigan, claiming victories in just two of his 13 games with one tie. 

The rivalry thrived during that stretch, though, because both teams were elite. 

Beating up on bad Michigan teams may feel good for Ohio State fans, but it dilutes the significance of The Game in the long run. As Bob Wojnowski of The Detroit News wrote last week, Ohio State doesn't benefit from feasting on a faltering Wolverines squad.

The truth is, the rivalry passion has seeped out, like chaw juice dribbling down a Buckeye's chin(s). Beating Michigan is neither the challenge nor the point anymore. Nobody wants to admit it, but this is the problem with Michigan's inexplicable de-emphasis of tackle football: A wobbly conference that desperately wants to be considered better than it is, no longer can count on the program renowned for inflated self-worth. 

Face it, folks. You want Michigan on that Blue Wall. You need Michigan on that Blue Wall.

How can the Wolverines claw their way back to prominence? It starts with the crucial first step of finding the right leader. Michigan needs someone who can coach—and win—at the highest level, because its last two hires flopped during their time in Ann Arbor.

Is that Jim Harbaugh or Les Miles? Could the Wolverines succeed with someone like Dan Mullen or Pat Narduzzi at the helm?

Whoever Michigan settles on, he has to be a winner. 

If he's not, the Big Ten will continue to suffer, and the fire fueling one of college football's greatest rivalries will continue to fade.


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

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Texas A&M Football: Why the Aggies Should Pass on Hiring Brent Venables for DC

Texas A&M football head coach Kevin Sumlin is in the market for a new defensive coordinator after Mark Snyder was let go the day after the Aggies' 23-17 loss to LSU.

Sumlin will make a mistake if he hires Clemson defensive coordinator Brent Venables to take over the same position in Aggieland. 

The Aggies finished the 2014 regular season with a 7-5 record. The Aggies' biggest issue for the last two seasons has been a defense that has struggled to stop the opponent. The new Aggie defensive coordinator will need to build a defense that can consistently stop the run. 

The Aggies are allowing 223.5 yards per game rushing and 5.1 yards per rushing attempt. In 2013, the Aggies defense allowed 222.3 yards per game rushing and 5.4 yards per rushing attempt. It is impossible to consistently win games in the SEC when you cannot stop the running game. 

When a defense can consistently stop the run, it can force an offense to become one-dimensional, which makes its play-calling more predictable and easier to defend.

Ideally, the defense is the foundation of the team. The offense can have an poor day, or weather can limit what an offense can do during games. A strong defense should be the one consistent element that a team can rely on.  

Sumlin has the opportunity to make a splash hire that will get the attention of recruits and turn the defense around. That hire is not Venables for a couple of reasons.


Coaching Shows Up when Talent Is Similar 

You want your defense to show up every week and display the ability to shut the opponent down. Venables' Clemson defense was able to do this in 2014 against the weaker teams, but it struggled against the top teams on the schedule.

In losses to Georgia and Georgia Tech, the Clemson defense allowed an average of 289.5 yards rushing and 6.4 yards per rush attempt. In a 23-17 loss to Florida State, Clemson only allowed 13 yards rushing in the game, but it allowed the second-string quarterback to pass for 304 yards. 

Clemson's defense has obviously struggled to show up against teams who are able to match the Tigers in talent. 

In Venables' last season as the defensive coordinator at Oklahoma in 2011, his defenses were lit up by Baylor, Texas Tech and Oklahoma State. Venables' Sooners defense allowed an average of 43.3 points and 561 yards per game in those three losses. 

When the talent is similar, the difference between the teams will be the coaching, and Venables proved lacking in that area. 

Great coaches will find a way to put their players in a position to be successful. Average coaches can get elite results with elite talent. Great coaches find a way to coax elite results out of average talent. Venables has not proven he is capable of this. 


2014 Results May Be Fool's Gold

The 2014 Clemson Tigers defense currently leads the country in total defense. While that is impressive, that is an outlier on Venables' coaching record. 

In 2010, Venables' Oklahoma defense allowed 361.9 yards per game and 4.1 yards per rush attempt. In 2011, the Sooners allowed 376.2 yards per game and 3.7 yards per rush attempt.

In 2012, Venables went to Clemson, and the Tigers defense allowed 396.2 yards per game and 4.2 yards per rush attempts. 

In 2013, the Tigers allowed 357.1 yards per game and 3.7 yards per rush. In 2014, the Tigers are allowing 259.6 yards per game and 2.78 yards per rush attempt. It is pretty obvious that Venables has coached good, solid defenses at the major college level. 

The results he is getting in 2014 may be related more to a favorable schedule than coaching prowess. Because of conference scheduling and Jameis Winston's suspension, the Tigers only faced one of the top five passing quarterbacks in the ACC in 2014. 

The Clemson defense allowed 35 points and 478 total yards to North Carolina and their quarterback Marquise Williams in a 50-35 win for the Tigers. 

The Aggies need a defensive coordinator who is going to build a defense that is going to get the opponent off the field consistently. They do not need someone who will shut down the bad teams but let the good ones go up and down the field on them. 

Venables is a solid defensive coordinator who has done a very good job at Clemson in 2014. But he is not the right man to get the defense turned around in College Station. 

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Pac-12 Football: The Conference All-Senior Team in 2014

With all but two Pac-12 teams having completed the regular season, it's time to honor the seniors who have made the biggest impact on the field in 2014.

Just a week ago, we took a look at projections for the All-Conference team with no regard for class or experience. The best of the best made the cut, plain and simple. This time around, we're giving a special nod to the seniors by redoing the All-Conference team to include those players who have left it all on the field for at least four years.

Some of the list will look the same, but you'll also see some new faces getting their due. The only requirement here is to have a senior standing on campus or in football, so we're including redshirt juniors as well who may either be declaring for the draft or returning for a final season in 2015.

Take a look at the All-Senior team from the Pac-12 as we get set to put a bow on another thrilling year in college football.


All Stats via cfbstats.com. * = Redshirt Junior

Begin Slideshow

Pac-12 Football: The Conference All-Senior Team in 2014

With all but two Pac -12 teams having completed the regular season, it's time to honor the seniors who have made the biggest impact on the field in 2014...

Begin Slideshow

UAB Ends Football Program: Latest Details, Comments and Reaction

As a result of financial cutbacks and poor attendance, the University of Alabama at Birmingham is shutting down its football program. The school announced the decision in a press release on Tuesday:

As part of the University of Alabama at Birmingham’s campus-wide strategic planning process, President Ray L. Watts, M.D., today announced the results of the Athletic Department’s comprehensive review.

Designed to identify areas of excellence and set priorities for investment and growth, UAB’s strategic process requires leaders across campus to identify priority programs for future investment. The Athletic Department engaged highly knowledgeable outside experts and advisors from CarrSports Consulting, a leader in program advancement in intercollegiate athletics, to assist in the in-depth review and inform analysis and planning.

In order to more effectively invest in the success of priority programs that are most likely to bring national prominence relative to the necessary investment, the Athletic Department has determined that the final seasons for UAB football, bowling and rifle will be in the 2014-2015 academic year.

Earlier in the day, Kevin Scarbinsky of The Birmingham News was the first to report news of UAB dissolving its football program.

Coach Bill Clark released a statement on today's news via John Talty of AL.com:

This is one of the most difficult days I have had to endure in my personal as well as coaching career. 

I am absolutely heartbroken for my players and assistant coaches. These coaches and players have done a tremendous job and worked extremely hard for this university, to achieve six wins and be bowl eligible. 


There is no doubt in my mind that we were in the process of building something special at UAB. This goes further than our football team, the athletics program, or the university as a whole. This team is Birmingham -- we represent Birmingham and this community. 

It is unfortunate that it has come to this. But again, it is a decision that has been reached and I must respect it and will move forward. 

Thank you Birmingham and the UAB Community for everything you have done for our players, this coaching staff and me personally. 

According to a report from ESPN.com, reasons for the program shutting down include playing in a crowded football market and not having a stadium on the campus in Birmingham: "Playing in the shadows of Alabama and Auburn and lacking an on-campus stadium, UAB has struggled to develop a fan base and consistent attendance in the nearly two decades since it joined the Football Bowl Subdivision."

Scarbinsky added another note about the player's scholarships and coaches contracts: 

Stewart Mandel of Sports Illustrated relays what the NCAA has decided regarding the future of current players looking to transfer: 

On Nov. 5, Scarbinsky wrote that a few former UAB players were fearful "that the results of a study that's part of a university-wide strategic plan could lead to the elimination of the school's football program."

Per SportsCenter's official Twitter account, this will be the first time since 1995 that an FBS (Division I-A) program has shut down:

There's also the potential for larger ramifications as a result of this decision. Per the ESPN.com report, losing football does "jeopardize UAB's membership in Conference USA and associated programs including the school's marching band."

In addition to the school's membership in Conference USA, Matt Scalici of AL.com ponders what the end of UAB football will mean for the team's home at Legion Field:

UAB has played at Legion Field since its inception in 1991, and the stadium has hosted various sporting events over the years that include first-round soccer matches during the 1996 Summer Olympics, according to the UAB athletics website

Per John Talty of AL.com, the UAB football program was marginally profitable from October 2013 through September 2014:

UAB spent $8,956,079 on its football program and generated $8,980,301 in revenue during that time. The football program represented approximately 29 percent of the entire athletic department's revenue, per Equity in Athletics.

The athletic department posted a profit of $636,635 once all revenue and expenses were added up. 

However, as Talty also noted, a vast majority of money came to UAB's athletic department through $18.1 million in subsidies:

However, neither the football program nor the UAB athletic department is self-sufficient. Both benefitted greatly from $18.1 million in subsidies during the 2013 fiscal year, according to the school's NCAA financial report.

The subsidies represented 64 percent of revenue from 2012-13 and without them the athletic department would run at a nearly $17.5 million deficit. 

Talty did go on to say that subsidies of that size aren't unusual for smaller schools, and "without subsidies the University of Alabama would be the only profitable in-state athletic department." He goes on to note that Auburn "had a deficit of $3.7 million" before subsidies were factored in. 

According to Alan Collins of Fox 6 in Birmingham, members of the UAB football team planned a march on the campus to protest the decision:

CBS Sports' Jon Solomon and Kyle Burger of WVTM-TV provided photos of the players after they were told of the decision:

Despite the uncertainty around the football program, head coach Bill Clark was able to get the Blazers bowl eligible at 6-6 in his first season. It's not known if UAB will play in a bowl game, though the ESPN.com report states players will meet to decide if they want to participate should the university be invited to a postseason game. 

This is the first year UAB is bowl eligible since 2004 and just the fourth time finishing the regular season with at least a .500 record since becoming an FBS team in 1996. Its only bowl appearance to date was a 59-40 loss against Hawaii in the Hawaii Bowl in 2004.


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

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Notre Dame Football: Biggest Questions for Irish in Bowl Season

Following what Brian Kelly called a “red-letter day” for Notre Dame Football against USC on Saturday, when the Irish were “punched in the nose,” it’s time to start picking up the pieces off the bloody floor.

Notre Dame’s 49-14 loss to the Trojans was more than just a run-of-the-mill nosebleed. It was a hemorrhage on a big stage against a big rival. Naturally, Notre Dame has a slew of questions to answer heading into the bowl season.

We’ll take a look here at the biggest questions facing the 7-5 Irish as they embark on a few weeks of practice leading up to their 2014 finale.


What happens at quarterback?

The percolating swirl of discussion surrounding quarterbacks Everett Golson and Malik Zaire took a turn Saturday when Zaire—finally, for some Irish fans—replaced Golson late in the first half. Golson committed two first-half turnovers, his 21st and 22nd of the season, before his exit.

Upon his arrival, Zaire spearheaded an expedited three-play, 58-second scoring drive that ended with his 11-yard touchdown rush. He finished 9-of-20 for 170 yards.

“We tried to get a spark offensively, and I think Malik gave us that spark,” Irish head coach Brian Kelly said to reporters after the game. “We had a couple of drops on one drive, could have kept the drive alive, [then] we missed the field goal. I really don’t think we punted when he was in the game."

“So he did some pretty good things. He missed some things in the red zone, which is to be anticipated with it really being his first significant time.”

The game was essentially over at that point, of course. The question is really what happens next.

“I really don’t have an answer for you,” Kelly said. “I really will need some time before I make any decisions on the quarterback.”

It’s certainly the highest-profile decision Kelly faces, and it’s likely to be the most important, too. Who will start in the bowl game? Will the other play? How do things stand heading into the offseason?

Kelly really hasn’t had any large degree of quarterback stability through five seasons in South Bend. The quarterback position is up in the air until further notice.


How healthy can the Irish get?

The injuries piled up throughout November, but those had the biggest impact (of course) on the regular-season games already in the books. Sure, there will be multiple weeks to heal up and recover before the bowl game, but just how healthy can Notre Dame get?

That question might not matter as much in the context of who trots out on the starting defense in the bowl game. The question has more to do with which young players will be healthy enough to get the necessary reps in bowl practices that are quite valuable.

Last year, Notre Dame was able to fit in 10 total practices before the Pinstripe Bowl in late December. Following the first day of bowl practices last season, Kelly highlighted some of the importance of the sessions—even though the Irish were sitting at 8-4 at the time.

“I was able to work in the 11-on-11 today, which is our ones and twos working,” Kelly said to reporters in early December last year. “I was able to get 20 reps of really good work with Malik today. The young guys get a lot of work. Torii Hunter and Malik work[ed] together today. Max Redfield played virtually all of seven-on-seven. Those kind[s] of guys [got] out there today.”

Redfield is one player in particular who could benefit from this bowl season. But the question comes back to health for the second-year safety, who suffered a broken rib against USC, per Kelly, and was set for an MRI to ensure there was no laceration to the liver or spleen.

Freshman defensive lineman Jay Hayes (high-ankle sprain), sophomore defensive lineman Jacob Matuska (stinger-like injury) and freshman linebacker Greer Martini (quad) were all banged up Saturday and would benefit from ample time on the practice field.

Outside of, say, Joe Schmidt, Notre Dame’s injury concerns relate more now to how much the youngsters can glean from the bowl season.


How does Notre Dame respond?

After the utter demolition at the hands of USC, Notre Dame has plenty of time to think…and think. In many ways, Notre Dame is at a crossroads—a team ripe with young talent but mired in a four-game losing streak that has raised countless questions.

What sort of response the Irish show in their bowl game could set the tone for the program heading into next season.

“We can’t lose sight of today,” Kelly said Saturday. “We have to remember where we are after today’s loss. It’s a red-letter day for our football players, coaches alike. Two years ago we were playing for a national championship. And today we got our butts beat. And it wasn’t as close as the score.”

Looking beyond the quarterback and injury questions, there are plenty of uncertainties with the rest of the squad. Will the receivers bounce back after what Kelly called a disappointing performance littered with drops? Will the offensive line show a nasty streak after forcing another shift along the unit? Will the safeties, if healthy, earn the trust of the coaches?

“They got punched in the nose today,” Kelly said. “You want to see a response too. They’re young, but I want to see some bite too. I want to see some bite. The bowl preparation, we’re gonna have to see a response. All jobs are available, and we’re gonna have to see something from this group.”

“We have a lot of young players, and I’m very confident as to where they want to go,” Kelly added. “And they want to get better. We expect to be back in the spot we were a couple years ago.”

We’ll see.


All quotes obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted.

Mike Monaco is a lead Notre Dame writer for Bleacher Report. Follow @MikeMonaco_ on Twitter.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Brady Hoke Fired by Michigan: Latest Details, Comments and Reaction

After much speculation, the University of Michigan has reportedly decided to fire head football coach Brady Hoke

Bruce Feldman of Fox Sports provided news Tuesday of the team's decision:

Nicole Auerbach of USA Today confirmed the report via a press conference announcement:

The Wolverines have struggled mightily this season, falling to 5-7 following Saturday's loss to Ohio State. Michigan righted the ship a bit after starting the season 2-4, but it has settled for a malaise of mediocrity under Hoke. 

Losing wasn't the only issue plaguing the Michigan program under Hoke. After a Sept. 27 matchup against the Minnesota Golden Gophers, he came under fire for allowing quarterback Shane Morris to remain in the game after sustaining an apparent concussion. The coach received plenty of criticism in the ensuing days, forcing him to release a statement, via Auerbach:

Still, it was almost surprising at the time for the coach to keep his job, as Paul Finebaum of ESPN argued:

Nick Baumgardner of MLive.com and Jon Solomon of CBS Sports provided comments from Hoke regarding his decision to let Morris continue playing. The coach insisted he wouldn't have kept Morris on the field had he felt the player's health was at risk.

Michigan athletic director Dave Brandon released a statement and cited a "serious lack of communication" for how the situation was handled, via MGoBlue.com.

Hoke, 56, got off to a great start at Michigan after coming over from San Diego State in 2011. The Wolverines went 11-2 in his first year at the helm, including a win over Virginia Tech at the Sugar Bowl. Since then, however, things have gotten progressively worse, with an 8-5 record the following season and then a 7-6 mark in 2013.

Fans started to shower him with boos during the poor start to the 2014 season, although he refused to acknowledge it.

"I didn't hear it. When you're in the moment, you really don't," he said after the loss to Minnesota. "This is a big-boy business."

Unfortunately for Hoke, the school agreed with the rest of the fanbase and removed him from his position. Beating the Buckeyes almost certainly wouldn't have saved his job, but losing to OSU by 14 points only served to make his departure even more of an inevitability.

The defeat also meant Hoke wouldn't have the satisfaction of finishing his Michigan career with a bowl game. 

After going almost 40 years without a losing season under Bo Schembechler, Gary Moeller and Lloyd Carr, Michigan has dealt with plenty of mediocrity under Rich Rodriguez and Hoke. It is clear the program would like to hire someone capable of turning things around in a hurry.

With this being the case, do not be surprised to see the school go all out in an effort to bring in a high-profile hire who can help both the team and Michigan's image. 


Follow Rob Goldberg on Twitter for the latest breaking news and analysis.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Who Should Replace Brady Hoke as the Michigan Wolverines' Next Head Coach?

Brady Hoke is officially out as head coach of the Michigan Wolverines, per ESPN.com. During his time in Ann Arbor, Hoke accumulated a 31-20 record, including a 2011 Sugar Bowl victory.

Bleacher Report College Football Analysts Barrett Sallee and Michael Felder debate who should be the next coach at Michigan.

Who do you think should fill the role of head coach at Michigan? Check out the video and let us know! 

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

USC's Stacked 2014 Signing Class Proved Trojans Have Championship Foundation

At this time last year, many of the players in USC's 2014 signing class were ending their prep football tenures playing for city championships. 

It was no different on Nov. 22. 

"I looked up last Saturday," USC head coach Steve Sarkisian said. "We’re playing UCLA and we had three true freshman [offensive] linemen [Toa Lobendahn, Damien Mama and Viane Talamaivao], a true freshman tight end [Bryce Dixon] and a true freshman wide receiver [John "JuJu" Smith] on the field all at the same time...then you throw in [cornerback] Adoree’ [Jackson] on offense." 

OK, so maybe this particular city championship had some higher stakes than the high school contests in which USC's freshman class was playing a season ago.

The winner gained the inside track on the Pac-12 South's berth in the conference championship game as well as bragging rights in one of the nation's most heated rivalries. 

UCLA came out on top and eliminated USC from Pac-12 title contention, but for the freshman Trojans, experience gained in 2014 is a crucial building block for something greater—much greater, as Mama described. 

"National championships," he said. "Just like every other year."

For the Trojans of the 2014 signing class, the future is about the past. 

"We look at the past teams, past players and past coaches of USC and we live up to that," Mama said. "[Offensive coordinator Clay] Helton really emphasizes that we're not just competing against a team. We're competing with the past." 

This group is rife with the kind of talent necessary to replicate the championship play of Trojans teams past.

Take Smith, who emerged as one of quarterback Cody Kessler's top targets this season. He put together one of the best debut seasons for a USC wide receiver and looks like the program's next star at the position. 

A true jack-of-all-trades, Jackson added seven receptions with two touchdowns and a kickoff returned for a touchdown to his duties as lockdown cornerback. 

Jackson broke up nine passes, forced a fumble and recorded 42 tackles. 

Meanwhile, Kessler has credited the offensive line of Mama, Lobendahn and Talamaivao for doing its part in the quarterback's 36-touchdown season.  

The offensive front paved the way for Kessler's six-touchdown performance last week in a 49-14 rout of Notre Dame, USC's big rebound from losing the city championship. 

Sarkisian said the line accepted his challenge to step up after a rough outing at UCLA, and the youngsters delivered. 

"People don't talk about it, but we're starting three true freshmen up front. I don't know of any other team in the country that's doing that," he said. 

The fact that freshmen played starring roles in the 2014 season may not be all that surprising. Sarkisian landed the Pac-12's top-rated signing class despite having just 15 scholarships available—the result of NCAA-imposed sanctions.

Pushing the Trojans to that conference-leading ranking was Sarkisian's final flourish just before national signing day, when he gained commitments from 4-star Mama and 5-star prospects Jackson and Smith.

But this talented corps was not content relying on its prep accolades or potential to succeed in the college game. 

"Knowing we came in as a great class, we didn’t let it get to our [heads]," Mama said. "We just wanted to come in, compete and contribute to the team in any way we could."  

Mama said that mindset is reflected throughout the freshman class, including among those in less prominent roles.

"As you can see, we have Uchenna [Nwosu] and Buddha [Olajuwon Tucker], who don't get much playing time on defense but contribute on special teams," he said. "[That] is a big factor for all us, just to be able to help the team." 

USC also had defensive backs John Plattenburg, who stepped into the starting rotation midway through the season, and Jonathan Lockett provide depth down the stretch. 

With Jackson and redshirt freshman Chris Hawkins, the Trojans secondary was the youngest in the Pac-12. But next year, it will be among the most experienced. 

And as Smith noted, it's the same across much of the roster. 

"A lot of young guys and we're not very experienced," he said. "We got our first season out of the way, and next season we're going to be even stronger." 

And as the 2014 class grows stronger, so too will the Trojans. And it won't just be city championships they're after.  


Quotes obtained firsthand unless otherwise cited. Statistics via CFBstats.com. Recruiting rankings and information courtesy of 247Sports.com

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

USC's Stacked 2014 Signing Class Proved Trojans Have Championship Foundation

At this time last year, many of the players in USC's 2014 signing class were ending their prep football tenures playing for city championships. It was no different on Nov. 22. "I looked up last Saturday," USC head coach Steve Sarkisian said...

Read the full article on Bleacher Report...

2015 Recruits Who Could Be Affected by Bo Pelini's Firing at Nebraska

Nebraska dismissed head coach Bo Pelini on Sunday, ending a seven-year tenure that featured consistent victory totals but few signature wins.

"We weren't good enough in the games that mattered," athletic director Shawn Eichorst stated during his press conference with the media (h/t 247Sports).

The move raised expectations at Nebraska and created a high-profile vacancy in Lincoln:

While fans and players provided a variety of reactions that ranged from supportive to outraged, it's always important to keep an eye on how potential prospects view coaching changes in college.

Members of the team's 2015 class have dealt strictly with Pelini and his staff throughout their relationship with the university. Now they must determine whether to remain on board with an incoming regime.

The same questions also face uncommitted recruiting targets, who've maintained conversations with a group of Nebraska coaches headed toward the exit door. Stable situations elsewhere may sway many of them away from the Cornhuskers, as Nebraska defensive back Josh Mitchell expressed:

With that in mind, let's look at how the firing could influence key Nebraska prospects and the fate of a 2015 class that currently rates 47th nationally in 247Sports' composite rankings.


Running back Kendall Bussey (New Orleans, Louisiana)

The Newman High School speedster initially committed to the Cornhuskers in February, becoming a foundational member of the class. However, he didn't hesitate to shake things up following the news.

Bussey, the latest addition in a respectable pipeline between Lincoln and Louisiana, tweeted a message detailing his decision to explore other collegiate options:

Coach Pelini is a great man and a big reason why I found Lincoln to be a good home for me. While I have not entirely closed (the) door on Nebraska, I feel that it is in my best interest to reopen my recruitment.

The 5'8", 192-pound playmaker was viewed as an eventual game-changer at running back, drawing comparisons to current Nebraska star Ameer Abdullah. His presence seemed to stabilize depth at the position in upcoming years.

"They told me I’m the first running back on their board,” Bussey told Sam McKewon of Omaha.com after his commitment.

Bussey had more than 1,000 rushing yards and 30 total touchdowns before November, per Garrett Galuszka of NOLA.com. Though Nebraska remains in the mix, a recent visit to Tennessee has him trending toward the Volunteers in 247Sports' Crystal Ball.

It's imperative for Nebraska's new coaching staff to identify a replacement at running back if Bussey turns his back on the team. Other rushers remain available, but that list will continue to dwindle as signing day approaches.


Defensive end Reuben Jones (Lakeland, Florida)

The 6'3", 223-pound defender is a recent addition to the class, so this news comes at a particularly frustrating time for the promising pass-rusher. Jones pledged to the Cornhuskers just two weeks prior to Pelini's dismissal.

He expressed confidence in that commitment on Twitter but wouldn't rule out alternative possibilities:

Jones possesses the athleticism and physical frame to play multiple positions in college. He was viewed as one of the program's premier defensive targets during the final stretch of this cycle.

Nebraska hosted him for an official visit in September and battled with the likes of Central Florida and West Virginia for his services. Jones could now choose to revisit the idea of playing for one of those programs, though his most recent official visit took place at Big Ten foe Michigan State.

Jones told Alex Lantz of the Lincoln Journal Star:

I want to go to Nebraska and I like the school; I just need to make sure I have a connection with the new coaches. They might not even like me, so I might be forced to look somewhere else.

If they want me to take (defensive end) Randy Gregory's place, I need a coach who I know is going to help me do that.

He tallied 71 tackles, including 14 for loss, and a team-high 10 sacks this season, per MaxPreps. Jones has nearly 200 tackles and 25 sacks since 2012.


Wide receiver Stanley Morgan (New Orleans, Louisiana)

Much like Bussey, he distanced himself from his Nebraska commitment but didn't slam the door on a possible reconciliation. Regardless, the St. Augustine High School star is officially open to other programs just weeks after he looked like a major component of the Cornhuskers class.

That doesn't bode well for a Nebraska team that could use a productive pass-catcher of his stature. The 6'0", 185-pound playmaker spent much of his high school career serving as an explosive secondary weapon in an offensive attack that featured top overall 2014 prospect Leonard Fournette.

While defensive game plans focused on slowing the prolific running back, Morgan did plenty of damage. He caught 127 passes as a sophomore and junior, racking up 1,883 yards and 26 scores.

Though he dealt with a shoulder injury this season, Morgan compiled 46 receptions for 891 yards and eight touchdowns through October, per Andrew Lopez of NOLA.com.

Pelini secured his commitment last month. If he rules out Nebraska, expect Tulane and Florida to emerge as possible destinations.


Recruit ratings and information courtesy of 247Sports.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Jim McElwain Wouldn't Be a Sexy Hire, but He'd Do Great at Florida

Florida is undoubtedly one of the top programs in the country, and its coaching vacancy will certainly cause even the stablest candidates to at least listen to what athletic director Jeremy Foley has to offer.

Is that why Ole Miss coach Hugh Freeze got his raise and extension to stay at Ole Miss? Pat Dooley of the Gainesville Sun reported on Monday night that the two sides never met and an offer was never extended.

Fair enough. But just because you don't propose doesn't mean you haven't flirted.

With Freeze off the table, all eyes shift toward Fort Collins, Colorado, where third-year head coach Jim McElwain has his Colorado State Rams at 10-2. Until last week's loss at Air Force, they were in the mix to earn the "Group of Five" conferences automatic bid into one of the "New Year's Six" bowls.

A two-time national champion as offensive coordinator at Alabama from 2008-2011, McElwain was mentioned by Yahoo! Sports' Pat Forde as "a leading candidate" for Florida on Sunday.

ESPN's Brett McMurphy took the talk to the next level on Tuesday, when he reported that McElwain is Florida's top candidate:

With names like Freeze, Oklahoma's Bob Stoops, Philadelphia Eagles head coach Chip Kelly and others being thrown around, McElwain landing the job would probably be like ordering a filet mignon at a 5-star steakhouse and getting a half-eaten veggie burger instead.

It shouldn't happen.

McElwain would be a tremendous hire for Foley and checks off all the boxes Florida needs from its new head coach, as Bleacher Report national college football columnist Ray Glier points out:


No doubt.

McElwain's Colorado State offense moved from ninth in the Mountain West in total yards in 2012 (339.0 yards per game) to fifth in 2013 (471.6) to second this year (497.8). When he was the offensive coordinator at Alabama, he produced an offense that finished in the top four in the conference in passing efficiency in each of his four seasons.

A consistent, effective passing game? Seeing one of those from the orange and blue in "The Swamp" would be like seeing the college football version of Sasquatch.

A proven head coach?

Yep, McElwain checks off that box too.

No, it's not at a traditional football power like Oklahoma or even an up-and-coming program in a tough conference like Ole Miss. But McElwain took a team that was 3-9 and 1-6 in the Mountain West in the year prior to his arrival, and built the Rams into a power.

They've won 18 games over the last two seasons, finished above .500 in the Mountain West and have played a big part in the effort to build a new on-campus stadium.

A proven head coach who wins on the field and off it? What's not to like?

SEC experience?

Two national titles at Alabama operating under the Nick Saban—the unquestioned best coach in the country—will do nicely for both program and recruiting prestige.

McElwain is credited for recruiting several Alabama stars over the years, including former safety Ha Ha Clinton-Dix and former running back (and current Colorado State running back) Dee Hart—both of whom hail from Orlando, Florida.

He has experience coaching and recruiting in the SEC, and specifically recruiting in the state of Florida. 


The $7.5 million buyout that Forde mentioned might be a bit of an obstacle, but there's always room to negotiate or find creative ways to work around that if McElwain is the guy for Foley and Florida.

He would not the sexy hire, but he would be the right hire.

The latter, of course, is much more important.


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