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Nebraska Football: Why Ameer Abdullah Was Right to Forgo NFL Draft

In a statement released by the team's official website, Nebraska I-back Ameer Abdullah announced on Thursday that he will return for his senior season.

After a quiet couple of weeks, the news did come as a shock to many. Some people believed that the lack of news from Abdullah was a bad sign for the Huskers. The I-back proved that notion to be wrong.

In his official statement, Abdullah made it clear that his education is more important than playing in the NFL. While the goal will still be there after next season, Abdullah has set his sights on his college degree.

Did the I-back make the right decision? All signs point to yes.

As long as Abdullah can stay healthy, the 2014 season will offer him a slew of opportunities. In 2013, Abdullah missed hitting the 100-yard mark in only two games. He can change that next season.

Additionally, Abdullah will likely get some buzz for many national awards in 2014. He earned first-team All-Big Ten honors and third-team AP All-American honors in 2013. He also was one of 10 semifinalists for the Doak Walker Award, given to the nation's top running back.

With top honors already under his belt, Abdullah will be in a good position to be recognized even more on a national scale in 2014.

All in all, the decision was a good one for Abdullah. While Husker fans would have supported him either way, it's hard not to be pleased with the choice he made.

There will be some concern around his health. Former Nebraska I-back Rex Burkhead faced injuries during his senior season with the Huskers. However, Burkhead was still drafted in the sixth round by the Cincinnati Bengals.

Another concern is Abdullah's draft stock. MLive.com's Mike Griffith reported that ESPN's Mel Kiper Jr. projected the I-back as a third- or fourth-round pick. Any injuries could drop him to a lower pick in 2015, but another strong season like 2013 could improve it.

Regardless, Abdullah is not worried about the NFL at this time.

"If playing in the NFL is truly in God’s plans for me, then God will again present this opportunity to me after I complete my college education," he said in his official statement.

If that's what matters most to Abdullah, then he made the right decision. The NFL will always be there next year.

For the time being, the Huskers get to keep their star.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Adjustments Kyle Allen Must Make to Land Texas A&M's Starting QB Job in 2014

The new era of college football in College Station began on Wednesday, when quarterback Johnny Manziel officially left Texas A&M in favor of greener pastures in the NFL.

The 2012 Heisman Trophy winner and 2013 Heisman Trophy finalist closed the book on his college career after writing chapter upon chapter littered with eye-popping statistics, mind-boggling highlights and, yes, quite a few parties.

So who's the next man up?

Matt Joeckel is the veteran, Kenny Hill—who I wrote should get the job—is the electrifying dual threat who's as much of a Manziel clone as there is on the roster and incoming freshman Kyle Allen is the new kid on the block.

According to 247Sports.com, Allen is a 5-star prospect in the class of 2014 and ranked as the top pro-style quarterback prospect in the country. He signed a financial aid agreement with the program, will enroll this semester and participate in spring practice.

What will it take for Allen to win the job?

 

He Doesn't Need to Be Fast, Just Quick

Head coach Kevin Sumlin has already has that he is willing and able to adjust his system to his personnel.

The wide-open, air raid attack he utilized with Case Keenum at Houston isn't the same as what he employed with Manziel over the last two seasons, even though they do share similarities. Sumlin adjusts to his personnel and his personnel is used to having a quarterback that can move.

Allen won't be breaking any records in the 40-yard dash, but can move enough to buy himself some time. He does have to work on his footwork, though.

When he gets moved off of his launch point, sometimes he takes a while to get going. That doesn't hurt him at the high school level all that much because his first option is usually open and he gets the ball there on time.

At the college level, however that will change. Defenses are faster and more creative, which means that he is going to have to react quickly when the heat gets dialed up. Consistently recognizing and reacting to that is job No. 1.

 

Familiarize Himself with the Playbook and Personnel...and Vice Versa

Sumlin has already proven that he can adjust to his quarterback, but can his players?

After two seasons with the most dynamic player in college football, the onus is also on them to get to know how each of the new quarterback contenders think and throw.

That's on them as much as it is on Allen, and despite having the luxury of going through spring, he'll be fighting an uphill battle against Hill and Joeckel, who are already relatively known commodities to the rest of the Aggie roster.

The door is open, and the one thing Allen—or any contender—doesn't want to do is have it shut with him standing on the outside. 

Manziel was great during his Heisman Trophy year of 2012, but progressed as a passer in 2013 due to his ability to go through his progressions quickly, without panicking, and find the open target—even if it was his third or fourth option. 

Allen doesn't have Manziel's wheels, so making sure he has this aspect of his game down during spring practice is imperative.

 

Find a Go-To Receiver

Manziel had his ultimate insurance policy in wide receiver Mike Evans, but the 6'5", 225-pounder will join Johnny Football at the next level.

Different quarterbacks click with different wide receivers and Allen can make up for the fact that he's the new kid on the block by developing that chemistry with a wide receiver early when coaches aren't around so that he has confidence once he hits the practice field.

If Allen can find one guy he has confidence in, it will provide him with a solid foundation to work off of once the battle begins.

He doesn't need to win the job this spring, he just has to be within shouting distance. If he can do that, he'll have a shot.

 

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Auburn Football: How Tigers Will Replace Tre Mason in 2014

Auburn's Tre Mason will forgo his senior season and make himself eligible for the 2014 NFL draft, the running back announced Thursday afternoon.

"It's been a dream since I was young," Mason said, via Alex Byington of the Opelika-Auburn News. "I'm a dream chaser, and now I'm just trying to make a dream into reality."

In 2013, Mason rushed for a school-record 1,816 yards—besting Bo Jackson's longstanding record from 1985—and a school-record 23 touchdowns. Mason led the Tigers all the way to the BCS National Championship Game, and scored a go-ahead touchdown on a 37-yard run with one minute and 19 seconds to play, which could have been the game-winner.

The Tigers ultimately fell short—but Mason will still be remembered for years to come on the Plains as one of the greatest running backs to ever play at Auburn.

That's pretty tough to do at a place they call "Running Back U."

But as Mason rides off into the sunset and joins the professional ranks, Gus Malzahn and the Tigers coaching staff will begin to contemplate just how they will manage to replace his production as Auburn looks to make another run in 2014.

For five straight years, Auburn has featured a 1,000-yard rusher, going through Mason and Mike Dyer back to Ben Tate in 2009. Even in the Tigers' dismal 3-9 season in 2012, Mason rushed for 1,002 yards.

But in 2014, it would appear that the Tigers will be forced to take a by-committee approach, without any proven workhorses projected for the fall roster.

That doesn't mean the Auburn run game is slowing down any time soon. What the Tigers will lack in star individuals, they will make up for with quality depth.

Rising seniors Cameron Artis-Payne and Corey Grant will be back to play a major role in Auburn's bid to repeat as SEC Champions—after each already rushed for 600-plus yards this season.

Artis-Payne arrived on the Plains last spring by way of junior college, contributing all this season in relief of Mason as a between-the-tackles runner. Grant, the speedy Alabama transfer, had a breakout season in 2013, fitting in Gus Malzahn's offense by taking carries around end and racing defenders to the edge.

If Malzahn chooses to play them that way, the one-two punch of Artis-Payne and Grant could emulate past tandems during Malzahn's tenure at Auburn as an offensive coordinator. Artis-Payne would act as the Dyer or Tate back, running between the tackles inside, while Grant compliments him and works the outside, a la Onterio McCalebb. 

Of course, at a more sturdy 210 lbs., Grant has shown more capabilities as a downhill runner than McCalebb—which should only prove to add to this tandem's flexibility in attacking SEC defenses in every-down situations in 2014.

Behind Artis-Payne and Grant, the 2014 Tigers will feature a wealth of talent rounding out the depth chart. Rising sophomore Johnathan Ford, who switched to cornerback for much of 2013 based on need due to injury, could return to the offensive side of the ball and vie for carries this fall. Running back Peyton Barber spent 2013 redshirting and playing on the Auburn scout team, but will hope to burst onto the scene in a big way in 2014.

Next fall, Auburn fans will also likely see the debut of 5-star running back recruit Racean Thomas, who is a firm Auburn commit with national signing day approaching on Feb. 5. Thomas, a highly-touted prospect and an Under Armour All-American, could see significant playing time even as a freshman in 2014.

Regardless of who is in the Auburn backfield on a given play next season, they will be lining up next to Auburn quarterback Nick Marshall—who rushed for 1,068 yards himself in 2013 as part of Auburn's zone-read attack. As a senior, Marshall will have an even better grasp of Malzahn's system in 2014, after having a chance to go through spring camp with the Tigers coaching staff for the first time.

If Marshall continues to improve, it can only mean big things for the Auburn running backs by proxy.

Auburn shocked the world in 2013, putting together a thrilling run to the BCS National Championship Game on the legs of one of the most potent rushing attacks that college football has seen in years.

While no one is going to be able to replace Mason right away, someone will find a way to step up and carry the load—the way Mason did after Dyer, and Dyer did after Tate, Tate after Kenny Irons, and Irons after Ronnie Brown and Carnell "Cadillac" Williams.

They always seem to find a way at Running Back U.

 

Justin Lee is Bleacher Report's lead Auburn writer. Follow him on Twitter @byjustinlee. All quotes are obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Improvements FSU QB Jameis Winston Must Make This Offseason

After capping off one of the greatest freshman seasons of all time with a BCS National Championship, Florida State quarterback Jameis Winston looks to baseball and, on the football side, improving his game. Even after a stellar year, the quarterback has to work on his footwork, pocket presence and continue to sharpen his decision-making process.

On the surface, Winston really achieved all he could in just his first season of college football. As Dan Levy points out, from an achievement standpoint there's not much more for the quarterback to do at the college level. Levy's absolutely correct; every trophy that Winston could claim has been grabbed by the now 20-year-old.

But, as far as his game goes, the third year in Tallahassee will be different from the first two. The initial year was about gaining command of the offense. Pushing to understand how head coach Jimbo Fisher wanted his quarterback to play. Year 2 was about finally stepping out of the redshirt shadow and into the spotlight. It was about the kid handling the car once he was given the keys.

Next fall, as Winston balances baseball and spring football, will be about taking the next step at the position. This year the nation watched Johnny Manziel go from playmaker to quarterback, and in 2014 Winston will be looking to make a leap of his own. The Seminoles signal-caller is already one of the nation's best pocket quarterbacks, and his next step will be growing his consistency in the little elements of the game.

Winston's initial drops are fantastic. He is a quarterback who gains ground on his steps away from the center, and he stands tall as he gets to the top of his drop. However, as the game happens around him, he is still working on sliding within the pocket:

The redshirt freshman campaign showcased a big kid in the pocket. That size and the ability to do things like that against Maryland led to Winston sticking in the mix longer than he should. Against Boston College, instead of stepping up here, the quarterback hangs in the pocket without moving up, allowing Kasim Edebali to get the sack:

Winston's clock runs a little slower than other quarterbacks because he's big enough to shake off tacklers. Moving into 2014, look for the quarterback to sharpen his clock, feel pressure coming from the edge or the interior, and respond accordingly. Although he will never be as elusive as other, quicker passers, he does have the athleticism and ability to move within the pocket and give himself space to make plays.

Fisher's quarterback has the skills and has shown the ability; it is simply a focus and consistency issue with Winston. The improvements in footwork will elevate his pocket presence and lead to the Seminoles surrendering fewer sacks than in 2013. With the offensive line going through some transition, it will be paramount for the quarterback to get the internal clock up and running.

The other big push for Winston will come in the decision-making process. Decision-making is not simply about interceptions. The quarterback only threw 10 picks in 2013; his touchdown-to-interception ratio of 4-to-1 is admirable in the grand scheme of things.

Rather, for Winston, decision-making speaks to the quarterback making his mind up and sticking to the decision he has made. Here, against Miami, people notice the interception, but the issue is Winston's double clutch in throwing the ball that creates the problem.

The hitch in his throw gives the high safety a chance to break on the ball, and as the ball comes out on the second attempt, the defender is in good position to make a play. The hesitation is merely indecision. The same thing happens here with Winston trying to decide whether to run the ball or stay behind the line to push it down the field with his arm.

Winston has to work to apply the same decision-making process that he has in the face of the blitz to his regular passing scenarios. The redshirt freshman showed no indecision as teams brought extra rushers, and he also was poised in working the two-minute drill for the quick passing game. That approach has to carry over to his play action and standard five-step drop work.

When Winston is going to throw, he needs to let the ball fly. When he elects to run, there is no need to hesitate and look one more time to pass; just get on the horse and get down the field. Whether it is run or pass, the point is for Winston to decrease some of the indecision and improve his footwork. Both will lead to even more success and fewer sacks.

Entering the 2014 season, the Seminoles quarterback will sit at or near the top of the quarterback heap. Making small improvements to his game will likely be the final push that cements him as the top player at his position for the 2015 draft.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

How BCS National Title Will Impact Florida State's Recruiting

The Coaches’ Trophy isn’t the only reward the Florida State Seminoles received from winning the 2014 BCS National Championship.

In fact, the team also received a significant boost in terms of its recruiting.

When Florida State outlasted the Auburn Tigers on Jan. 6, 34-31, the entire college football world paid close attention. But none watched with more interest than several of the top recruits across the nation.

For some—those who had already committed to joining the Seminoles next season—the victory served as vindication of a decision well made:

#WeCantBeStop🏈 #FSU #NoleNation 6_awol __magic4 lane_to_live We up next💯 http://t.co/3KVW1SIMwg

— Treon Harris (@t5_harris) January 7, 2014

But what about the players who had yet to commit to a school? How would Florida State’s triumph affect them?

For one such recruit—4-star defensive tackle Kendrick Norton of the Class of 2015—he saw it as the icing on the cake for his decision to commit to Tallahassee:

And don’t be surprised if more follow in the near future.

Over the years, winning the BCS title has typically been synonymous with recruiting success. In fact, the champions are almost guaranteed to land a top-10 class.

Just take a look at how the past 10 have fared:

*Class rank not final


As you can see, seven of those teams finished with the No. 1 class in at least one of the two seasons following their championship triumph.

For the Seminoles, this BCS title victory will be especially sweet.

From 1987 to 2012, the school had put together a remarkable 257-71 record. However, in those 26 years, Florida State had only managed to win two national titles.

For quite some time, that was a knock on the program to future recruits.

“Florida State has always been one of those marquee national programs, but recruiters were able to use the ‘they recruit well, but they never are able to win the national championship’ thing,” said ESPN recruiting writer Jeremy Crabtree, via The Palm Beach Post's Anthony Chiang. “That pitch to prospects is now thrown out the window.”

In its place, recruits will now see a Seminoles squad that will see the return of heralded quarterback and 2013 Heisman Trophy winner Jameis Winston along with other key playmakers on both sides of the ball next season. Furthermore, odds are high that the team will open 2014 as the preseason No. 1.

Who wouldn’t want to be a part of that?

Not to mention, after dominating the state of Florida over the last decade, the Florida Gators have seen their grip on recruiting loosen quite a bit. A 4-8 season tends to have that effect.

It’s already provided seismic results, as 247Sports’ No. 2-ranked running back Dalvin Cook recently flipped his verbal commitment from Florida to Florida State.

“Florida’s down tick and transition on offense, and Miami’s up-and-down season has really helped Florida State capitalize on the state of Florida, especially in South Florida,” Crabtree continued. “If you’re looking for a clear-cut winner of the Sunshine State this season, it’s absolutely Florida State.”

To date, 16 of the Seminoles' 29 verbal commits are from the state of Florida. In comparison, the Gators only have 12.

With every passing commitment, Florida State continues to re-emerge as one of college football’s national powerhouses.

As Winston said moments after winning the school’s third national title, “If we’re going to do it, then we’re going to do it big.”

By the looks of it, seems like the Seminoles have followed suit.

 

All stats and rankings used in this article are courtesy of CFBstats.com.

For complete coverage and everything college football, you can reach Sebastian on Facebook, on Twitter and via email at Sebastian.LenaBR@gmail.com.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Michigan Football: What Al Borges Departure Means for Brady Hoke

It all seemed to happen in a matter of seconds. On Wednesday, Jan. 8, Brady Hoke swiftly announced the firing of much-maligned offensive coordinator Al Borges and replaced him with a shiny new one in former Alabama OC Doug Nussmeier, as ESPN's Joe Schad initially reported. 

Enticing Nussmeier to leave Nick Saban's staff at Alabama is an impressive feat by Hoke and athletic director Dave Brandon. While Nussmeier won't be able to replace Michigan's offensive line with Alabama's, Nussmeier will bring a fresh perspective to an offense that has been wildly inconsistent. He's also a great recruiter and has an excellent track record of developing young quarterbacks. This is a great hire for Michigan. 

But looking beneath the surface what does Al Borges' departure really mean for coach Hoke? 

It means that he has no more excuses, and no more scapegoats. It's also a clear indicator to Michigan fans that the program won't settle for mediocrity and that regressing in back-to-back seasons won't be tolerated. 

It couldn't have been easy for Hoke to part ways with Borges, who becomes the first assistant to leave the program since Hoke's arrival in 2011. The move contradicts Hoke's statement to the press back on Dec. 2 at an event to support the National Child Identification Program, in which he said that he expected to retain his full staff of assistant coaches. 

Interestingly, when Brandon strongly backed Hoke as the "Right Leader for Michigan Football" in his Nov. 27 manifesto on mgoblue.com, there was no mention of Borges. Brandon did laud defensive coordinator Greg Mattison in his note, saying that, "The transformation and improvement of our defense under the leadership of coach Greg Mattison has been outstanding." 

Could Brandon have forced Hoke's hand on this matter? It's certainly plausible, but we'll probably never know the entire extent of their closed-door discussions at Schembechler Hall. 

What we do know is that Michigan has made a major decision to move away from Borges, and it will invest an even larger amount of money in Nussmeier. Bruce Feldman of CBS Sports reported that Nussmeier will be one of the five highest-paid coordinators in the country. But as salaries go up, so do expectations. Hoke and Nussmeier will be expected to make significant strides on offense next year—this can't be a multi-year process. 

So with no more potential scapegoats left in Hoke's cabinet, will he be able to deliver the necessary results in Ann Arbor in 2014? 

 

Follow Tom on Twitter @TomLogan_BR

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Why Tennessee Is the Most Surprising Recruiting Class in the Country

Tennessee's 2014 recruiting class is currently ranked No. 6 in the country, according to 247 Sports. How can a team that finished sixth in the SEC East bring in so much talent? 

For starters, the Volunteers landed Jalen Hurd, the No. 4-ranked athlete in the country. He is expected to put in time at running back and fill the shoes of senior RB Rajion Neal. What other strengths does the Tennessee recruiting class possess? 

Watch Adam Kramer, Barrett Sallee and Michael Felder break down the most surprising recruiting class in the country. 

 

Highlights courtesy of XOS Digital

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Every SEC Team's Biggest Concern This Offseason

Household names like Johnny Manziel, Aaron Murray and A.J. McCarron will no longer grace the sidelines of the Southeastern Conference due to a jump to the NFL or graduation, hailing an offseason that will bring significant changes not only to the SEC's teams but to its long-term power structure.

Following a season that will be remembered for its offense, half of the conference's teams lose their starting quarterbacks. Half of the SEC's leading wide receivers are also gone, as are a third of its top running backs.

As with any offseason, the coaches of the nation's most elite conference now turn their eyes toward player development and patching up holes left by departing players. Though some are still waiting to learn the fate of their most talented athletes, as many have yet to make their decision on whether to declare for the NFL draft, others are looking to make a leap up the ultra-competitive food chain with an experienced returning core.

Taking for granted that those who have not declared for the draft will return, we now look at what concerns each SEC team will need to address to stay competitive in both the conference and the nation.

Follow me on Twitter for daily commentary: @SEC_Nerd.

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Who Will Be Alabama's Quarterback in 2014?

AJ McCarron's career came to a disappointing end in the Sugar Bowl loss to Oklahoma, handing him the first back-to-back losses of his career with no chance to redeem them.

Still, McCarron's time in Tuscaloosa, Ala., is something to be celebrated. He won 36 of his first 38 games as a starter and left the program with three national championship rings on his fingers. That is the stuff of legends.

As with any legend, McCarron leaves big cleats to fill in the Alabama backfield. Whoever assumes starting duties will have the benefit of T.J. Yeldon, Amari Cooper, Derrick Henry and O.J. Howard—the latter two for more than one season. That's the good news.

The bad news is that with great weapons comes great responsibility. Alabama is expected to win every time it lines up, and with talent like that around him, the team's new QB will be blamed for every loss the Tide might incur.

But who might said quarterback be?

 

The Candidates

This was already a wide-open competition, and the departure of offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier, who reportedly accepted the same job at Michigan, opens it up even more. Last year's depth chart is no longer as applicable.

Walk-on Luke Del Rio, the son of famous coach Jack Del Rio, surprised many by winning the No. 3 job behind McCarron and Blake Sims last season. He was never pressed into action, allowing him to keep his redshirt intact, but the loss of Nussmeier would seem to hurt him more than anyone.

Though he was offered scholarships to Oregon State, UCLA and Oklahoma State (where he briefly committed), Del Rio is viewed as an inferior physical talent to some of the other quarterbacks in camp. He was Nussmeier's "guy" among the younger crowd, but now that title is more open.

Sims might seem an early and logical favorite, if not for any reason other than experience. He's been on this team far longer than any of the other candidates, spent the most time learning under AJ McCarron and generally has the best understanding of the offense.

But how high is his ceiling in that offense? Nick Saban has never employed a shorter, running quarterback full time, which is what Sims would be. He doesn't have the height to run a pro-style offense in a pro-style way, which casts his prospects into doubt.

"Not at all," Saban said, according to Andrew Gribble of AL.com, when asked if Sims was the natural successor to McCarron. "Not at all."

Alabama fans might be rooting for David Cornwell to step in and assume the job. He's the highest-touted quarterback recruit the Tide have landed in quite some time, and at 6'5'' with a massive arm, he probably has the best physical gifts.

Still, look at the trend among the candidates above. Not a single one of them saw the field as a true freshman, instead taking a redshirt. That includes AJ McCarron as well. With Cornwell rehabbing from a knee injury that ended his senior season of high school, can he really be expected to walk in and usurp this position?

According to Ryan Aber and Jason Kersey of The Oklahoman, Cornwell expects his knee to be fully recovered by spring camp, and he expects to make a run at the starting job. "A lot of [the other] guys have experience on me," Cornwell said. "It'll all start (in the spring) and then be won in fall camp. I'll build on that and make a run during the fall camp."

That type of confidence is not uncommon for players Cornwell's age—especially ones with his physical profile, who have been shredding high school defenses for the past few seasons. But that doesn't make him ready to win the job so soon at a school like Alabama.

His time might come at some point, but it will probably be later.

 

The Big Three

Despite some of the qualms laid out above, I expect this to eventually become a three-horse race by the second week of fall camp. Sims will be the tentative favorite, followed closely by Del Rio and fellow redshirt freshman Cooper Bateman.

Bateman is an interesting case. He was the No. 4 pro-style quarterback in the class of 2013, and though he didn't perform poorly in practice last season, it was a bit disheartening to see Del Rio beat him out for the No. 3 job.

Still, other than Cornwell, Bateman probably has the highest ceiling of any quarterback on the roster. It's hard to project if he'll make major strides from 2013 to 2014, and if he does, he might be a threat to steal this position. For now, however, he's my guess to end up at third string.

As for the starting job, I think Del Rio and Sims will be co-starters entering the season. So was the case after Greg McElroy left in 2011, when McCarron and another Sims, Phillip, split time in the opener against Kent State.

Soon it became apparent that McCarron was the better option, and history was written from there. If I had to predict now, though it's hard to be confident, I'd say that the same thing will happen during the first couple games of 2014.

And unthinkably, once again, I think a "Sims" will be relegated to second string.

"I like Luke a lot," McCarron said of Del Rio, according to Andrew Gribble of AL.com. "He’s always around me trying to learn everything. Sometimes you’ve got to try to hide from him, get away.

"He’s a really smart kid, throws a really good ball, and I think he’s going to be a heck of a player in the future. I really do."

Take this with a grain of salt, since the season is so far away. So much can change, and I could see any of five guys stepping up to claim the job.

But if forced to choose right now, give me Del Rio in a minor upset. Why not?

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Tre Mason Officially Announces He Will Enter 2014 NFL Draft

Fresh off a transcendent finish to the 2013 college football season, Tre Mason has declared for the 2014 NFL draft. 

Auburn football's Twitter feed gave a snapshot of the junior running back's announcement, while AL.com's Joel A. Erickson provided the quote:

Other than his Tigers eventually coming up just short against the Florida State Seminoles in the BCS National Championship, Mason really couldn't have gone out on much higher of a note.    

After a fairly up-and-down start to his season, including four of five games below the 100-yard rushing mark, Mason took it to an other-worldly level when the Tigers needed him most.

He gashed Alabama for 164 yards and a touchdown on the ground in the Iron Bowl, set five individual SEC championship game records with 304 rushing yards and four scores against Missouri, and tallied over 200 total yards and found the end zone two more times against FSU. 

Mason finished the year with 1,816 yards and 23 touchdowns rushing, and was a Heisman finalist. 

Of course, he's not just about stats. 

As he displayed in the title game, he has impressive burst, can hit holes in a hurry and can make defenders look silly with his cutting ability. At 5'10" and 205 pounds, though, his strength and toughness may just be his greatest attributes. 

If his bone-crushing touchdown run late in the championship game wasn't enough evidence of that, take head coach Gus Malzahn's word for it, via Erickson:

Mason reveals, per Erickson, how the NFL advisory board graded him:

CBS Sports' draft rankings slot Mason as the No. 2 running back behind Ka'Deem Carey and a projected second-round pick, while Bleacher Report's Matt Miller believes the top positional spot will come down to Mason and Ohio State's Carlos Hyde:

While his position makes it unlikely he will be a first-round pick, Mason has proven over the past several months that he is easily one of the best ball-carriers in this class. 

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Pac-12 Football: Who Has the Toughest Schedule in 2014?

In the Pac-12, nine is the magic number. It was the first of the power conferences to adopt a nine-game league schedule when the college football season expanded to 12 regular season games in 2006...

Read the full article on Bleacher Report...

LSU Football: 5 Recruits Tigers Must Land on NSD 2014

On the cuffs of reliving another exodus of juniors for an LSU team heading into 2014 national signing day, news of Jeremy Hill staying has propelled the expectations for the 2014 season. His decision to stay is great for the Tigers, but LSU's offseason can get even better with the signing of these five players by Feb. 5.

With Leonard Fournette and Hill in the backfield to go along with talent scattered throughout the defense, the Tigers should compete for a national title in 2014.

That is, of course, if LSU can fill the voids left behind by departing juniors. The defensive line needs to be attended to with Ego Ferguson and Anthony Johnson entering the NFL draft. The same can be said about a wide receiver position that's absent of the greatest tandem LSU fans have ever seen in Odell Beckham and Jarvis Landry.

It's no secret that wide receiver and defensive line are now the concentrated positions heading into 2014 national signing day. With that in mind, the Tigers must pursue these athletes to ensure a remarkable recruiting class addresses team needs.

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Michigan Football: Everything You Need to Know About New OC, Doug Nussmeier

Brady Hoke has replaced embattled offensive coordinator Al Borges with Doug Nussmeier, and in doing so lured one of the top offensive coordinators in college football to Ann Arbor.

Hoke announced Borges' departure on mgoblue.com:

"Decisions like these are never easy," said Hoke. "I have a great amount of respect for Al as a football coach and, more importantly, as a person. I appreciate everything he has done for Michigan Football for the past three seasons.”

Within hours, word leaked that Michigan had replaced Borges with one of the top coaches in NCAA football. Nussmeier is credited with helping Alabama set offensive records in his first season (2012) for touchdowns (68), total points (542), total offense (6,237) and passing touchdowns (31) while going 13-1 and winning the national championship. This season Alabama fell short of the national title game after Auburn returned a missed field goal for a touchdown on the final play of the game.

Hoke made the hiring official today on mgoblue.com:

"Doug is a highly respected offensive coordinator and has earned a reputation as being a great mentor to quarterbacks, specifically, where he's coached Pro Bowlers, top NFL draft choices and Heisman trophy finalists," said Hoke. "Doug has been successful at every coaching stop with his balanced and explosive offenses, and he brings national championship experience. He is an excellent addition to our coaching staff and football program, and we are excited to have Doug, Christi and their children join the Michigan family."

Nussmeier will have his work cut out for him, first needing to sort out the quarterback position between returning starter Devin Gardner and freshman phenom Shane Morris and most importantly shuffling an offensive line that loses two starters from a group that couldn't consistently pass block or open up running lanes last season.

The hiring of Nussmeier sends a clear message that Hoke will do what it takes to get his team back to the ranks of the elite—even if it means firing a loyal assistant.

Borges had coached with Hoke since 2009 starting with two seasons at San Diego State followed by three at Michigan. Borges initially found success in his first season at Michigan and was rewarded with a new contract making him one of the highest paid assistants in college football. But during the last two seasons, he came under fire for inexplicable play calling and the perception that he dodged responsibility for the failure of the offense.

Things to know about Doug Nussmeier:

 

He Played Quarterback in College and the Pros

Nussmeier played collegiately at Idaho and won the 1993 Walter Payton Award, presented annually to the Division I-AA player of the year. As a fifth-year senior in 1993, Nussmeier completed 185-of-304 passes for 2,960 yards and a school-record 33 touchdowns.

He still ranks among the NCAA I-AA all-time leaders in passing (No. 9 with 10,824 career yards) and total offense (No. 10 at 309.1 yards per game). He is one of only three quarterbacks in NCAA history to throw for at least 10,000 yards and rush for 1,000 yards (1,230), joining Alcorn State's Steve McNair (1991–94) and Central Florida's Daunte Culpepper (1996–98).

After college, he was selected by the New Orleans Saints in the fourth round of the 1994 NFL Draft and was the fourth overall quarterback taken. Nussmeier served as a backup quarterback for five seasons spending four years with New Orleans (1994–97) and one with Indianapolis (1998).

While in the NFL he played in eight regular-season games (46-for-82, 455 yards, one touchdown and four interceptions). Nussmeier finished his professional playing career in the Canadian Football League in 2000 and was the team’s quarterbacks coach in 2001.

 

He Knows Michigan

Not only was Nussmeier the offensive coordinator for Alabama when the Tide rolled all over Michigan 41-14 in 2012 he also coached at Michigan State from 2003-05. While at Michigan State, he never beat Michigan and most notably was on the losing end of the 45-37 3OT 2004 game at Michigan Stadium.

 

He Coached in the NFL

Nussmeier was quarterbacks coach for the St. Louis Rams in 2006-07 and helped Marc Bulger, a former sixth-round pick, become a Pro Bowl player.

 

He’s a Quarterback Guru

Nussmeier has a great record of working with quarterbacks; Alabama’s AJ McCarron, Washington's Keith Price and Michigan State's Drew Stanton and Jeff Smoker all improved under his coaching. He’ll have the opportunity to guide Devin Gardner and Shane Morris in Ann Arbor.

 

He Will be Highly Paid

Borges was one of the highest paid coordinators in college football but Nussmeier will make even more. According to CBS, Nussmeier will be one of the five highest-paid coordinators in the country.

 

He’s a Hot Commodity

Nussmeier is a future head coach and was in the running to be head coach at both Washington and Southern Miss. He’s probably not a long-term solution but his hiring shows that Michigan is interested in winning now and hiring the best coaches available.

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Michigan Football: How Hiring Doug Nussmeier Will Change Wolverines' Offense

Michigan coaches have long talked about being a physical run team, playing downhill and being a pro-style based team. However, that never really occurred over the past two years and it led to head coach Brady Hoke not renewing the contract (aka firing) longtime offensive coordinator Al Borges. 

It took only a few hours for the new offensive coordinator to be hired. Alabama offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier was named the new OC at Michigan with an official announcement Thursday morning

According to a report by CBSSports.com's Bruce Feldman, Nussmeier is expected to be one of the five highest paid assistant coaches in college football. 

With the hire, Michigan and Hoke are putting their chips all-in in an effort to get back to winning 10-plus games and becoming relevant nationally. 

The question is, exactly what will change under Nussmeier? He'll still be dealing with the same set of players Borges couldn't mold into some sort of style. 

More than anything else, that is what Nussmeier needs to change—Michigan's offense needs to have an identity. If it can find that in one offseason, Michigan could find success quickly under Nussmeier. 

Speaking of quick turnarounds, according to Feldman's report, Alabama's offense set all sorts of records under Nussmeier's tutelage in his first year: 

Under Nussmeier's guidance, Bama set records for offensive touchdowns scored (68), total points (542), total offense (6,237) and passing touchdowns (31) in the 2012 season--his first with the Crimson Tide.

Could Michigan see that kind of improvement in year one itself? It's a good question, especially given the most talented players on offense are gone in left tackle Taylor Lewan and wide receiver Jeremy Gallon. 

However, the good news is there are parts to work with, especially tight end Devin Funchess and a very talented incoming class of recruits on the offensive side of the ball. 

One area that will really help in creating an identity under Nussmeier will be the quarterback position. His hire could signal a real quarterback battle in Ann Arbor. 

Nussmeier is known as a great quarterbacks coach—developing names like Michigan State's Drew Stanton and Jeff Smoker, Washington's Jake Locker and Keith Price and Alabama's AJ McCarron.  

At Michigan, the question that needs to be answered is if Devin Gardner can be a true pro-style quarterback or if the Wolverines will look to shift to Shane Morris or the incoming Wilton Speight, who is enrolling early. 

Without figuring out who the quarterback is, an identity can't be formed. 

Michigan will also need to clean up the offensive line to allow it to be anything like Nussmeier's offenses at Alabama. 

To that point, Feldman's article shows he is capable of rebuilding an offensive line quickly: 

Despite a rebuilt offensive line, Bama ranked No. 6 in the nation this season in yards per play (7.15) and were ranked third in the nation in that stat in games against ranked opponents (7.59)

Luckily, Michigan has put some good effort into recruiting some more highly ranked offensive lineman in this class. 

They will bring in two 4-star tackles (Mason Cole and Juwann Bushell-Beatty), with Cole being one of the more intriguing early enrollees in the Big Ten this season.  

If Nussmeier can get a quarterback to his liking and rebuild a tattered offensive line (one that has the dubious record of blocking for consecutive negative rushing games for the first time in FBS play since 2000), the chances of finding that identity and righting the ship quickly increase. 

With the hire of Nussmeier, the time for talking about who Michigan is on offense is over—the Wolverines need to prove who they are on the field.

 

Andy Coppens is Bleacher Report's lead writer for the Big Ten. You can follow him on Twitter: @ andycoppens

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Alabama Football: Top 5 Replacements for Doug Nussmeier

With the news that offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier has left Alabama for the same job at Michigan, Alabama will now begin its search for a new offensive coordinator.

It remains to be seen which direction the Crimson Tide want to go on offense. Coach Nick Saban could opt again for another traditional, pro-style attack. He could, however, change things up a little bit.

Saban said this before the Auburn game about switching to a more hurry-up style:

We do it against each other a bit. Even though we don't choose to do it as a team that much, I think we are capable to do it, if we wanted or needed to. I really do think our team responded better against those types of teams this year than what we've done in the past. It has been our approach, how we practice, how our offense practices against us. All those things have helped. I think our offense could go out and do that same thing.”

With that in mind, here are five potential replacements for Nussmeier at Alabama.

 

Mike Groh

If Saban wants to go with someone he’s more familiar with, Groh would be a great fit.

Alabama’s wide receivers coach during the 2011 and 2012 seasons, Groh knows what Saban expects from his offense and is very familiar with the system. He left Tuscaloosa to become a wide receivers coach in the NFL with the Chicago Bears.

Groh would also be a welcomed asset on the recruiting trail.

He was named 247Sports’ Recruiter of the Year in 2013, as he was instrumental in locking down players like A’Shawn Robinson, Dee Liner and Altee Tenpenny.

 

Freddie Kitchens

The former Alabama quarterback will be a target for the job, according to Andrew Gribble of al.com.

Kitchens has spent the last year working as a quarterbacks coach for the Arizona Cardinals after spending six years with the Cardinals as a tight ends coach. Kitchens threw for 4,667 yards and 30 touchdowns as the Crimson Tide’s starting quarterback from 1995-1997.

Kitchens spent the 2000 season as a graduate assistant under Saban at LSU, and he has served as running backs and tight ends coach at Mississippi State for a year each.

 

Chad Morris

Clemson’s offensive coordinator is a rising star, and if Saban wants a change in philosophy, Morris is worth a look.

He helped develop Tajh Boyd into one of the premier passers in the country and led Clemson’s offense to top-10 finishes nationwide in yards per game for the last two years.

Morris would bring more of a spread and hurry-up look with him to Tuscaloosa and would bring fresh ideas to a team that has relied on largely the same system since Saban’s arrival in 2007.

 

Rick Neuheisel

Saban’s last two offensive coordinators have come from the West coast, and the Senior Bowl’s Phil Savage touted Neuheisel as someone to watch in the Tide’s search.

Neuheisel has made head coaching stops at Colorado, Washington and UCLA with a stint as the Baltimore Ravens quarterbacks coach, then offensive coordinator, in between.

The current Pac-12 Network studio analyst would bring a vast amount of experience at the college and pro levels with him to Tuscaloosa.

 

Lane Kiffin

While it seems crazy, Saban is very high on the former Tennessee and USC head coach. He had Kiffin come in and evaluate his offense after a 34-28 season-ending loss to Auburn in the Iron Bowl.

“Lane is a really good offensive coach, and I’ve always had a tremendous amount of respect for him,” Saban said at the time. “Just to come in and brainstorm a little bit, just some professional ideas with our guys, I think, is a real positive thing.”

Kiffin was also a great recruiter in his stops at Tennessee and USC, and while he would bring some baggage with him to Tuscaloosa, he has proven himself to be an adept offensive mind.

CBSSports.com’s Jeremy Fowler and TideSports.com’s Aaron Suttles both reported that Kiffin will interview for the job.

 

All quotes were obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted.

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Updates on Lane Kiffin's Candidacy for Alabama Offensive Coordinator Job

You have to give Lane Kiffin this—the man knows how to keep his name in the ring for some truly high-profile jobs.

According to ESPN.com's Joe Schad, Kiffin is interviewing Thursday, Jan. 9, at Alabama to become the team's offensive coordinator, following Doug Nussmeier's departure for Michigan, via the Associated Press. The report shares these additional details:

The 38-year-old Kiffin visited with Alabama coach Nick Saban prior to the Sugar Bowl "to share ideas and exchange ideas ... [for] professional development," Saban said at the time.

"Lane is a really good offensive coach, and I've always had a tremendous amount of respect for him," Saban said then. "Just to come in and brainstorm a little bit to get some professional ideas with our guys is a really positive thing."

Apparently, Kiffin impressed Saban enough to garner consideration for the team's offensive coordinator gig.

Kiffin has had some rocky times over the past several years. The Oakland Raiders hired him as their head coach in 2007, making him the youngest head coach (31 years, eight months) in the history of the NFL. He went just 5-15 in less than two seasons in Oakland, however, and the Raiders fired him after Week 4 of the 2008 campaign.

But Kiffin landed on his feet, getting hired as the head coach at the University of Tennessee in December 2008. Kiffin stayed for one season, leading the Volunteers to a 7-6 record in 2009, but he made national headlines when he accused Florida's Urban Meyer of recruiting violations.

Kiffin left the Tennessee job to take over as head coach of USC, where he had previously worked as an assistant coach. Kiffin took over the USC program in January 2010 amidst the school being hit with NCAA sanctions, leading it to a 28-15 record through three-plus seasons.

However, after a 62-41 loss to Arizona State on Sept. 28, 2013, USC fired Kiffin in the most unceremonious of fashions, pulling him off the team bus at the airport to inform him of his termination.

Scott Wolf of the Los Angeles Daily News detailed the events:

At Alabama, Kiffin would be able to focus solely on the X's and O's of the game, perhaps a welcome respite after failing to succeed as the head honcho in three head-coaching gigs. With Saban as the figurehead, Kiffin can simply run the offense and look to improve a reputation that has taken a bit of a hit over the years.

It's an interesting potential marriage, and one that will receive plenty of scrutiny if Alabama indeed hires him.

 

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Texas A&M OT Cedric Ogbuehi Tweets He Will Return to Aggies in 2014

The protection for Texas A&M’s next starting quarterback just received a significant boost on Thursday afternoon.

That’s because the team’s starting right tackle Cedric Ogbuehi announced that he would return to College Station for his senior season via his official Twitter page:

The news came as a shock to many.

Just last week, ESPN’s Alex Scarborough reported that Ogbuehi had reportedly received a first-round grade from the NFL Draft Advisory Board. The junior was expected to join fellow offensive lineman Jake Matthews—also projected to go in the first round—in leaving for the NFL.

That could have presented the Aggies head coach Kevin Sumlin with several difficulties.

After quarterback Johnny Manziel announced his decision to declare early for the NFL draft on Wednesday, via ESPN’s Sam Khan Jr., the team already had an uphill battle ahead of it in finding a replacement for the 2012 Heisman Trophy winner. Throw in losing two top offensive linemen in Matthews and Ogbuehi, and Texas A&M could have been looking at a nightmare situation.

Thankfully, the coaching staff and fans alike can breathe a sigh of relief.

With Matthews gone, Ogbuehi will move to left tackle. In fact, the opportunity to make the switch most likely played a large role in the Allen, Texas native’s decision to return to school.

That’s because given the position’s demand to protect the blindside of right-handed quarterbacks, left tackles come at more of a premium for NFL teams.

Furthermore, with Auburn’s Greg Robinson, Tennessee’s Antonio Richardson and Alabama’s Cyrus Kouandjio all declaring early for the draft, Ogbuehi immediately becomes the SEC’s top left tackle prospect in 2015.

 

All stats and rankings used in this article are courtesy of CFBstats.com.

For complete coverage and everything college football, you can reach Sebastian on Facebook, on Twitter and via email at Sebastian.LenaBR@gmail.com.

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Jalin Buie Commits to Auburn: Tigers Land 2016 RB Recruit

The Auburn Tigers landed a pledge from one of the nation's top underclassmen Thursday. Impressive running back prospect Jalin Buie gave his verbal commitment to the reigning SEC champions, according to ESPN reporter Derek Tyson.

He is the second member of Auburn's 2016 recruiting class, joining defensive end Landon Rice (Rome, Ga.). These players can't officially sign with the university until their senior year of high school.

Buie emerged as a nationwide target at Trinity Christian Academy in Jacksonville, Fla., where he led the team with 1,527 rushing yards and 12 touchdowns, per MaxPreps. The sophomore standout rushed for 98 yards and a score in the Florida 3A state championship game.

His efforts quickly warranted several scholarship offers. Buie's list of options currently includes South Carolina, Penn State, Louisville and Tennessee.

He announced his commitment Thursday, along with two Trinity Christian teammates.

Junior defensive back Deontai Williams pledged to Florida, and junior offensive lineman Kendrick Norton committed to Florida State.

Auburn currently has an excellent outlook at the running back position.

Heisman finalist Tre Mason may return to the team next season. If he decides to depart for the NFL, 5-star prospect Racean Thomas will be ready to take on an immediate role next fall.

With a commitment from Buie, the Tigers appear to be in tremendous shape in the backfield for years to come.

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Kendrick Norton Commits to Florida State: 'Noles Land Versatile 2015 4-Star

It hasn't taken long for the Florida State Seminoles to see their national title pay dividends on the recruiting trail.

As tweeted by Warchant.com, FSU added 247Sports composite 4-star lineman Kendrick Norton to its 2015 recruiting class.

The Jacksonville native claimed an enormous offer list but pulled the trigger for the 'Noles over Auburn, Florida, South Carolina, Tennessee and several others.

Warchant identified Norton as a defensive tackle, but 247Sports projects him as an offensive guard. He is listed as the No. 13 offensive guard for 2015 by 247.

At 6'2", 275 pounds, he has the size to fill either role.

Norton was one of three Trinity Christian Academy prospects to commit Thursday. Deontai Williams, a 3-star safety announced his pledge for Florida, while 2016 running back Jalin Buie announced for Auburn.

Buie is the younger brother of West Virginia running back Andrew Buie.

Norton's pledge marks the second 2015 haul in two days for FSU. The 'Noles brought in 4-star safety Calvin Brewton Wednesday.

Norton is the fifth member of Florida State's 2015 class. As of his commitment, the Seminoles were No. 1 in the ACC and No. 6 nationally in the 247Sports composite rankings.

It has been a remarkable month of January already for FSU. The Seminoles have accepted five early enrollees from their 2014 class, most notably 5-star running back Dalvin Cook. They also took verbal pledges from 4-star receiver Travis Rudolph and 4-star defensive end Lorenzo Featherston.

With Florida State's reign as champion only a few days old, look for the recruiting momentum to continue.

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Deontai Williams Commits to Florida: Gators Land 2015 DB Recruit

The Florida Gators secured their first (active) commitment in the Class of 2015 on Thursday, landing 3-star safety Deontai Williams from Trinity Christian Academy in Jacksonville.

Derek Tyson of ESPN had the news:

Williams isn't the sexiest recruit in the field, ranking No. 638 overall on the 247Sports composite, 38th among safeties and 79th among players from Florida.

Still, he's got decent height at 6'0'' and appears capable of adding weight to a slender 175-pound frame. He also has a whole year of high school football ahead of him, giving the rising senior a chance to improve his stock and rating.

More importantly, though, Williams is a teammate of 5-star outside linebacker Jeffery Holland, whom Florida would love to get its hands on. Holland is the No. 27 overall player on the 247Sports composite, and he would represent a major coup for Will Muschamp's staff on the heels of a turbulent season.

Florida and Auburn are currently the two favorites to land him. 

Four-star receiver Da’Vante Phillips, a top-60 overall player in the Class of 2015, had previously committed to the Gators but reopened his recruitment in December. According to Adam Silverstein of Only Gators, Phillips was a high school teammate of 2014 running back Dalvin Cook, who also recently flipped from Florida to Florida State.

With Phillips' decommitment, Williams is officially the only pledged member in next year's class for the Gators. Whether or not he can deliver Holland to Gainesville remains to be seen, but for now, at least Florida is back in the books.

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