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LSU Football: 5 Biggest Concerns Heading into the Offseason

A makeover will inevitably occur on the LSU Tigers offense in 2014. Understandably, the new parts installed in the offensive system could provide Tiger fans with plentiful concerns.

No, the Tigers won't have Zach Mettenberger slinging the rock next season, and if Odell Beckham, Jarvis Landry and Jeremy Hill join him in the 2014 NFL draft, the Tigers will have to look toward multiple freshmen, both redshirt and true.

Anthony Jennings, who will be a sophomore next season, is the favorite to replace Mettenberger, but does his Outback Bowl performance against Iowa suggest he can fill that void properly?

And though much experience was gained on defense in 2013, junior and senior departures have defensive coordinator John Chavis looking toward his bench for eventual substitutes. Should LSU fans worry about any particular position? 

You betcha. Come on inside and embrace the panic.

 

 

 

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Auburn vs. FSU: Full Preview for 2014 BCS National Championship

When the No. 2 Auburn Tigers (12-1, 7-1 SEC) take on the No. 1 Florida State Seminoles (13-0, 8-0 ACC) Monday night in the 2014 BCS National Championship Game, the entire college football world will be focused on the event.

This is undoubtedly the biggest game of the year.

With a four-team playoff being implemented starting next season, this battle between the SEC and the ACC should be the perfect way to cap off the BCS era. The change will be welcomed by fans tired of the hypocrisy of the current structure, but the final matchup determined by the old system should make for an exciting championship game.

Here is all of the vital viewing information, key details and a full prediction for the biggest matchup of the 2013-14 season.

 

Where: Rose Bowl, Pasadena, Calif.

When: Monday, Jan. 6 at 8:30 p.m. ET

Watch: ESPN

Live Stream: WatchESPN

Betting Line (via Covers)

Over/Under: 67, Spread: Auburn (+9)

 

Auburn Injuries (via USA Today)

 

Florida State Injuries (via USA Today)

 

Top Storyline: Can Jameis Winston Complete the Perfect Season?

After finishing the 2013 season with an undefeated record and a berth in the BCS National Championship Game, Florida State quarterback Jameis Winston was awarded for his outstanding play with the Heisman Trophy.

Winston unquestionably deserved the award after not only leading the Seminoles to a perfect season but also amassing one of the most impressive statistical campaigns for a freshman in college football history.

Even Auburn defensive coordinator Ellis Johnson is impressed with Winston:

The quarterback connected on 237 of 349 passing attempts for 3,820 yards and an impressive 67.9 completion percentage. With just 10 interceptions compared to his 38 touchdowns and 190.1 passer rating, Winston’s ability to protect the football and make smart choices in the heat of battle has been his biggest strength.

Auburn’s tough SEC-style defense has given some of the best quarterbacks in the country fits this season—allowing just 24 points per game—but the Tigers have not faced a player with as much raw talent as Winston.

 

Prediction

Auburn deserves immense credit for its stellar season, including beating Alabama in historic fashion during the Iron Bowl, stopping Missouri in the SEC Championship and winning nine games in a row to end the year, but this is a year of destiny for Winston and the entire Florida State program.

Led by Winston and the impressively balanced offensive attack, the Seminoles have averaged an astonishing 53 points and 529.4 yards of total offense per game this season. As well as the Tigers have played defensively, the program has not played a team with this much depth and skill.

As well as Florida State’s offense has played in 2013, the real difference will be the team’s elite defensive unit. The Seminoles have allowed only 10.7 points per game during their undefeated campaign and have given up an impressive 17 or fewer points in 12 of 13 matchups.

When asked to talk about the comparisons between Florida State’s defense to SEC-style defenses, Nevada head coach Brian Polian told Paul Myerberg of USA Today about the similarities:

They physically look like an SEC football team. The one thing that struck me was that in today's world of spread-out, basketball-on-grass, they were physical in all three phases of the football game. They were physical in the kicking game, they were physical on offense and they were physical on defense.

They play SEC-type football, for what it's worth, whatever people think that means. They can line up with a fullback and come downhill and knock you backwards. In the ACC, where you see so much spread and people want to turn it into a space game, this team has the ability to line up and be physical with you on both sides of the ball.

Auburn has been one of the most impressive stories of the college football season, but history will be made when Winston and the entire Seminoles program cap off the perfect season with another victory.

Predicted Final Score: Florida State 38, Auburn 24

 

*Stats via CFBstats.com.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Jadeveon Clowney Hangs out with Jay Z at Charlotte Concert

Jadeveon Clowney may not have signed with Jay Z, but that didn't stop the defensive star from hanging out with the rapper after a concert in Charlotte.

Clowney posted a picture of the two on his Instagram account:

As Pro Football Talk's Mike Florio reported, Clowney picked sports agent Bus Cook over Jay Z and Roc Nation Sports to represent him.

 

Hat tip to Next Impulse Sports' Mike Johnson for the find.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

BCS Championship Game 2014: After a Month, Auburn and FSU Coaches Are Ready

NEWPORT BEACH, Calif. — The hype, the talk and the buildup are now in the rearview mirror. It's time for No. 1 Florida State and No. 2 Auburn to kick off the BCS National Championship Game on Monday night, with the crystal football on the line.

Both coaches are ready.

But are they too "ready?"

The monthlong layoff provided the Seminoles' Jimbo Fisher and the Tigers' Gus Malzahn plenty of time to hit the film room, but both coaches were wary of giving their staffs too much information.

"As far as the number of practices, what we did to game plan, and the other thing is not trying to do too much," Fisher said. "Sometimes you know so much about your opponent and you try to do too much. You have to play five more games to get all the plays in you want. You have to make sure you keep doing things you do well."

Malzahn agreed that overanalyzing the opponent could hurt a team once it takes the field.

"Anytime you have 30 days you're going to have all the information and then some, and then as a coach you've just got to filter all that and predict the best you can on what they're going to do offensively, defensively and special teams," Malzahn said.

Part of that time is spent going back to the drawing board for the coaches. 

It isn't so much what your opponent does as it is what's going on in-house that's important. What tendencies emerged during games? Which players showed signs of life late that could be X-factors in the title game?

"I think it's very important that you self scout yourself," Malzahn said. "So we've tried to do a great job of that, even like we're our own opponent just to see what they're seeing, and then you match up."

Filtering information is tough for a coaching staff for such a big game, which is why you should expect the BCS National Championship Game to feel more like an old-school heavyweight boxing match between two champions.

"The first quarter is a feeling-out time, and then after that things usually settle down and then you can actually get in a rhythm," Malzahn said.

The final pregame press conference of the year for both coaches served as a the final chapter of a novel filled with analysis. 

It's up to each one to decide which chapters to pay attention to and which ones to disregard. 

Whichever chooses best will be the one taking home that crystal football on Monday night.

 

*Barrett Sallee is the lead SEC college football writer for Bleacher Report. All quotes were obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted. 

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Cold Hard Fact for Sunday, January 5, 2014

Fact: The first bowl game, the precursor to the Rose Bowl, was played in Pasadena, California, in 1902 by Stanford and Michigan. Michigan wins by a score of 49 to 0.

Bleacher Report will be bringing sports fans the most interesting and engaging Cold Hard Fact of the day, presented by Coors Light.

Source: CNN

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Cold Hard Fact for Sunday, January 5, 2014

Fact: The team leading at halftime is 13-0 in BCS National Championship Games (in the 2009 game, Florida and Oklahoma were tied at halftime).

Bleacher Report will be bringing sports fans the most interesting and engaging Cold Hard Fact of the day, presented by Coors Light.

Source: BCSFootball.org

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

BCS National Championship 2014: Debunking 'If It's Close, FSU Will Lose' Theory

It is a theory that Auburn fans and many in the national media are clinging to in a major way: the idea that should the BCS National Championship Game be a close affair late, then Florida State is ill-equipped to win.

And it is a theory that needs to be stopped in its tracks.

Yes, Auburn has been locked into more close affairs that required the team to play in high-pressure situations. Yes, Florida State flies into Pasadena on the wings of a season full of stomping out opponents. Yes, it makes sense to look for a close game out of the Seminoles and the Tigers.

But, no, it does not make a ton of sense to assume Florida State will simply fold in a close game. The Seminoles have not had to manage end-of-game scenarios because they are the nation's most complete team, both physically and mentally. Jimbo Fisher's team ran opponents off the field because not only were they the better team, but they also played like it from the opening kickoff.

Keep in mind, this has absolutely zero to do with Auburn. The Tigers' experience in close games is tied to some of the deficiencies in the team. If Gus Malzahn's team could have blown every opponent out, it certainly would have. Winning by a few touchdowns is the ideal situation, not living on the edge hoping for good breaks late.

This theory is not about Auburn; it is about an effort to pull down Florida State rooted in, at best, a hope that this team cracks under a possible pressure situation. Why would Florida State, a team that has been so good in every scenario it has been presented, suddenly be bad in an expected football situation?

Nothing about this Florida State team speaks to the inability to handle pressure. This team has stepped out on to the field 13 times expecting to get its opponent's best shot, prepared to do whatever it must to get the W. It just so happened that Florida State was able to shut teams down and score points in a way that allowed them to avoid end-game scenarios.

But the Seminoles did not avoid pressure.

It's been casually dismissed on a large scale due to the final scores, but it does Florida State a disservice to deny that the team rose to every occasion and answered every bell in 2013. Starting a freshman on the road on Labor Day? Did that and responded well.

Starting safety goes down in the third game and the team is forced to move a true freshman corner to safety compensate? Did that and responded well.

Seconds away from going into halftime tied up in a game the team expected to roll in? Did that and responded well.

Taking on the No. 3 team in the nation, on the road, in a conference rivalry game in a loud and hostile environment? Did that and responded well.

Home game against a rival thirsty for resurgence and a marquee victory, ranked in the Top Ten? Did that and responded well.

Conference championship game against a team riding a major win streak and feeling good about itself? Did that and responded well.

Florida State has done everything that football has asked them to do. So why, pray tell, would this team stop responding to football situations in the BCS National Championship Game? Defensive tackle Timmy Jernigan expresses the same point to the Tallahassee Democrat's Natalie Pierre, saying the 'Noles are going to fight regardless of the scenario:

Fighting is what the Seminoles have done all season, and fighting is what teams have to do to win the BCS Championship. At no point in BCS history does the idea of a dominant team being wildly inept in a close end-game scenario hold water; why would it start now?

This chart shows the undefeated BCS Champions with the five highest margins of victory:

This chart shows the teams that entered the BCS Championship undefeated, only to lose, with the five highest margins of victory:

A look at the winners and the losers shows one major point: handling close, end-of-game situations is not the problem. The 2005 and 1999 seasons are the years where both opponents make the list for spending the season winning big. 

2005's end of game was an epic affair between Texas and USC where both heavyweights exchanged blows and Texas was the last team standing, despite USC having more "close game" experience. In 1999, there was nothing close about the game as the Seminoles dominated Virginia Tech on the way to a 46-29 victory in the Sugar Bowl.

In 2010, after beating everyone by an average margin of 28.3 points, the Ducks did not mismanage the end of the BCS National Championship Game. Rather, in losing to Auburn 22-19, Oregon had the score tied 19-19, looking to force overtime before a miracle run by Michael Dyer put Auburn in a position to kick a winning field goal.

In 2000, Oklahoma was a high-powered offense that only mustered 13 points as it rode the defense to a 13-2 win over the Florida State Seminoles. In a tight game through three quarters the Sooners, who were rarely tested on the year, were not bothered by the close margin of the game, and Bob Stoops' team found a way to win.

Perhaps some will point to the Miami Hurricanes, a team with a 19.1 average margin of victory, as proof that close games could be problematic. The problem is Miami responded well to the tight ball game, despite being a heavy favorite over Ohio State, and the controversial pass interference call, plus a critical injury and a well-timed blitz to end the game, went a long way in deciding that contest.

There is no reason, beyond wishful thinking, to believe that this Florida State team will not respond. Those before them have responded, and answering the bell has been a hallmark of the Seminoles' season. This team's focus has been its best weapon in 2013, something Lamarcus Joyner hit on and USA Today's Dan Wolken pointed out back in October:

Should the game be close and Florida State lose, it will be because they get outplayed, not because they are poorly prepared to play in a close game.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Pac-12 Football: Best and Worst Moments of the BCS Era

The Pac-12's investment in the outcome of this past Wednesday's Rose Bowl was immeasurable. The party celebrated both Granddaddy's 100th birthday and next year's inauguration of the College Football Playoff.

Bidding farewell to the infamous BCS, it's only fitting then that Stanford stabbed West Coast dwellers in the gut as those last few rose petals were plucked. Despite holding the upper hand in experience, Michigan State's No. 4 defense cooked up an upset with superior physicality, two key fourth-down stops and cushioning from freshman Connor Cook's 332 passing yards.

The loss was an eyesore for the Cardinal and the conference, and yet it failed to make our cut in the Pac-12's top-five worst BCS moments. Surprisingly enough, it isn't one of the best either.

The BCS has supplied college football fans with plentiful highs and lows—from thrilling game-clinching performances in the waning seconds to all of the heartbreaking snubs and blasphemous selections. Many a New Year's resolution ceased to exist as a result, and the Pac-12 will surely miss it.

No automatic-qualifying conference not named the SEC posted a better winning percentage in the BCS era. Most of that 13-8 record wasn't vacated and left to wither away in the bushes, so which moments will be remembered dearest in Pacific Standard Time?

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Pac-12 Football: Best and Worst Moments of the BCS Era

The Pac-12's investment in the outcome of this past Wednesday's Rose Bowl was immeasurable. The party celebrated both Granddaddy's 100th birthday and next year's inauguration of the College Football Playoff ...

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BCS National Championship 2014: Viewing Info, Projected Score for Auburn vs. FSU

The BCS National Championship Game kicks off at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, Calif. on Monday, Jan. 6, where the top-ranked Florida State Seminoles will try to stave off the resilient No. 2 Auburn Tigers.

There will be no shortage of storylines entering this one, but the headliners are Seminoles quarterback Jameis Winston and Tigers head coach Gus Malzahn.

FSU has an incredible team top to bottom, which ESPN Stats & Info indicates has led to a historic level of dominance this season:

The freshman Heisman Trophy-winning Winston is the leader of the bunch with his uncommon composure, incredible talent and advanced honing of the QB craft. Dan Wolken of USA Today Sports goes so far as to say that, with a win, the Seminoles would be considered arguably the greatest team ever:

Meanwhile, Malzahn has molded a program that was 3-9 a season ago into a national finalist, mentoring a talented but raw signal-caller of his own in Nick Marshall en route to the SEC title.

Let's take a look at when and where to catch the action for what should be an epic showdown, along with a projected final score and analysis.

 

Projected Score: Florida State 38, Auburn 31

What this really comes down to is whether or not the Tigers can succeed in spite of the stout Florida State rush defense, which has yielded only five touchdowns on the ground this season.

That has been the case for Auburn to date. No matter the opponent, the dynamic tandem of running back Tre Mason and Marshall seems to gash the opposition on a consistent basis.

Even the athletic, disciplined front sevens of Alabama and Missouri couldn't prevent Auburn from accumulating a whopping 841 yards over those two games to close out the regular season.

USA Today Sports' Paul Myerberg reveals that FSU middle linebacker Terrance Smith has a good grasp of what his defense has to do to stymie the Tigers:

Everyone's going to have to do their responsibility and take responsibility for their gap because they have a pretty good running back in Tre Mason.

To stop them you're going to need really good eye discipline. They try to mess you up with a lot of their different motions and a lot of their window dressing, to get you out of position and to hit the big plays. If we can stay sound and everybody does their responsibility I believe we'll be able to handle them.

However, it hasn't mattered that Marshall is still very much a project pocket passer—he's done enough to keep defenses honest to the point where he, Mason and a mauling offensive line can manhandle defenses.

Part of the reason Auburn has been so successful is because the offensive staff has played to the strengths of its personnel rather than trying to force-feed a certain philosophy.

Offensive coordinator Rhett Lashlee elaborated on that point in a report by AL.com's Brandon Marcello:

You still work on deficiencies and all those things, but you really try to accentuate the things they do well. I think so many times in our game you may see people that try to make a square peg fit in a round hole and make guys do things they want them to do but maybe they're not best at, and we just try to take the opposite approach with that.

Replicating that success on this big stage against the Seminoles will be difficult, though—especially with Winston set to face the Tigers' 103rd-ranked pass defense when he steps onto the gridiron.

Regardless of scheme, the Seminoles have the athletes to stack up with any team in the country and are stronger in more areas than their impending opponent.

Should Auburn fall behind by even a moderate margin, Marshall does not have near the firepower at the skill positions that Winston has at his disposal. Forcing Marshall out of his game plan and confining him more to the pocket would go against what Lashlee preached has been so critical to Auburn's resurgence.

Mason is a tough runner who should help the Tigers keep time of possession close or even in their favor, but he is likelier to become exhausted than the three-headed monster in the Seminoles' backfield.

Even in a pinch, however, head coach Jimbo Fisher told Auburn's official Twitter account that he is confident Winston won't wilt in the face of adversity:

Between Devonta Freeman, Karlos Williams and James Wilder Jr., FSU has three backs capable of alleviating the load on Winston's shoulders. In addition to that, Winston is very athletic and can keep plays alive for his receivers to get open down the field on Auburn's suspect secondary.

Winston has the clear edge over Marshall under center and the Seminoles will be just a bit too deep for the Tigers to handle in what will be a fantastic, thrilling conclusion to the college football season.

 

Team statistics are courtesy of NCAA.com.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

USC Football: 5 Biggest Concerns Heading into the Offseason

As USC embarks on the Steve Sarkisian era, the new head coach will lead an almost equally new staff into preparation for the 2014 season.

Along the way, Sarkisian will have to address an abundance of questions that face all new staffs as they endeavor to build their program.

However, this is USC, and as the leader of one of the most storied college teams in the nation, coach Sark will find that the learning curve to return the Trojans to prominence is much shorter than at other places.

Thus, it is under the auspices of increased pressure that the new head coach will formulate a game plan to get USC back where it expects to be—which is vying for a national title.

When Sark dives into the nuances of his Trojans for the upcoming year, he will find a team with some solid components and even more question marks.

As such, here are some of the concerns he must address.

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USC Football: 5 Biggest Concerns Heading into the Offseason

As USC embarks on the Steve Sarkisian era, the new head coach will lead an almost equally new staff into preparation for the 2014 season...

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Updates on Brett Hundley Reportedly Foregoing 2014 NFL Draft to Return to UCLA

UCLA quarterback Brett Hundley has the talent to play in the NFL, but the redshirt sophomore Bruins signal-caller reportedly will stay in school for at least another year. 

ESPN's Adam Schefter reported on Sunday that Hundley is expected to announce his decision this week to remain in college for his junior season and forgo the 2014 draft:

Hundley is one of several talented quarterbacks who have turned down the promise of going pro, joining the notable likes of Baylor's Bryce Petty and Oregon's Marcus Mariota, among others.

While there was some logic to his peers' decisions to return, Hundley's choice comes as a bit of a surprise. At 6'3" and 222 pounds with a big arm and awesome athleticism, NFL franchises desperate for an answer under center would have been hard-pressed to pass up on Hundley despite the fact that he's still rather raw.

Bleacher Report draft expert Matt Miller confirmed Schefter's assertion that Hundley is a top-10-caliber pick within the context of this year's QB class and the signal-caller's skill set:

The boundless potential Hundley possesses was on full display when he threw for 226 yards and two touchdowns while running for 161 more yards and two additional scores in the Bruins' 42-12 victory over Virginia Tech in the Hyundai Sun Bowl.

After that virtuoso performance on Dec. 31, the 20-year-old indicated he was uncertain about whether he'd declare for the draft, per Pro Football Talk's Michael David Smith.

"I’m going to sit down and talk to the right people and I’ll make [a decision] from there," said Hundley.

In his final six starts of 2013, Hundley accounted for 17 total touchdowns and threw just one interception, demonstrating that his decision making is progressing.

With another year to sharpen his skills at UCLA, it seems the sky is the limit for Hundley and his NFL future. Rushing into the pros can be a mistake, and the Bruins have to be pleased that their star QB is returning for what could be a Heisman-caliber 2014 season.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Auburn vs. FSU: Biggest Concerns for Tigers and Seminoles in National Title Game

Auburn and Florida State are rightful foes in the BCS National Championship Game. There was no need for controversy or outrage about the polls; the Tigers and Seminoles earned their berths in the title game with their play on the field, as it should be.

Now, with the biggest game of the college football season right around the corner, the two sides have just about finished their preparation. It all comes down to execution in key moments in what should be a close contest throughout.

The multitude of positive factors for Auburn and Florida State are clear, but each side also has a key question it must answer in order to win the championship. So let's check out the biggest concern for both teams heading into the title game.

 

 

Auburn: Did the extended layoff cause the Tigers to lose their edge?

If Auburn had a vote on when it wanted to play the title game it likely would have chosen the week after beating Missouri for the SEC title. The Tigers were riding a wave of momentum after beating top-five opponents in consecutive weeks, including the memorable finish against Alabama.

Instead, they were forced to wait a month before getting a chance to continue that impressive run of success against Florida State. Of course, that leads to questions about whether Auburn will be able to match the level of play it showcased in those big wins.

The coaching staff can try to ramp up the level of intensity in practice, putting players in as realistic of a game simulation as possible. In the end, however, there's no real way to make those training sessions feel anything like playing in the Iron Bowl, SEC title game or BCS National Championship.

Mike Szvetitz of the Opelika-Auburn News passed along comments from Auburn offensive coordinator Rhett Lashlee, who talked about the difficulty of keeping sharp during a layoff:

"I don't know if I can put my finger on it other than it makes sense maybe when you have – you get in a rhythm and you're playing well, and then all of a sudden you have 30 days off. Maybe it takes you a little bit of time to get going again," Lashlee said Thursday. "The thing about offense, it takes all 11 guys executing to perfection. You can have 10 guys do the right thing, and if one guy is off, the play won't work. The defense may stop you sometimes, but it may not be necessarily because they stopped you, you just mis-executed. You've got to execute at a high level on offense no matter who you're playing to be successful."

It's a unique situation, and while both teams have to endure the same long break, it would seemingly have a much greater impact on Auburn given the emotional wins it earned in the final weeks. And it's very difficult to maintain that edge for a month.

Pay close attention to the first couple drives for Auburn on both sides of the ball. If the Tigers come out sluggish, there's a very good chance the layoff will be to blame, and all they can hope at that point is that Florida State doesn't take advantage while they get back in rhythm.

 

Florida State: How will the Seminoles handle an increased level of competition?

It's impossible to deny Florida State's absolute dominance leading up to this point. The Seminoles ran the table and were rarely challenged even for a half, let alone for an entire game. Moreover, they rank first in both scoring offense and scoring defense.

The offense, led by Heisman Trophy winner Jameis Winston, looked unstoppable at times en route to some downright remarkable numbers. ESPN's Numbers Never Lie notes Florida State is on track to set an FBS scoring record thanks to an offense that hasn't slowed down once throughout the season:

Yet, there's also no doubt a favorable schedule played into those huge numbers. Aside from Clemson, which didn't play on a national title level but did have a very good season, Florida State was for the most part able to crush overmatched opponents.

Auburn represents the Seminoles' toughest foe of the season. And with a lack of competitive games during the regular season, the game's biggest unknown is how Florida State will handle the pressure if it's a close game in the fourth quarter.

This is a Tigers squad that scored an average of 46 points in wins over Alabama, Missouri and Texas A&M. It is more than capable of keeping pace with Florida State, which means it's unlikely the ACC powerhouse will be in complete control in the second half as was often the case this season.

In other words, the Seminoles will have to prove they can be just as effective if it's a tie game in the fourth quarter as they were during all of those blowouts. If Winston and Co. stand tall in the face of pressure, they will capture the title.

 

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

BCS Championship Game 2014: Can Jameis Winston Become the Next Bo Jackson?

NEWPORT BEACH, Calif.—There are only one or two legitimate dual-sport athletes per generation that can compete at the highest level of two major sports. 

Deion Sanders enjoyed successful Major League Baseball and National Football League careers in the 1990s, as did fellow Atlanta Falcons defensive back and Atlanta Braves outfielder Brian Jordan. 

Former Cleveland Browns running back Jim Brown was also a successful basketball, track and lacrosse player at Syracuse, and current Seattle Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson was once a middle-infield prospect in the Colorado Rockies organization and was drafted again by the Texas Rangers last month. 

But former Auburn running back Bo Jackson is perhaps the most notable two-sport athlete in recent memory. The 1985 Heisman Trophy winner was a star running back for the then-Los Angeles Raiders, rushing for 2,782 yards and 16 touchdowns in four seasons of playing football as "a hobby," according to The New York Times.

What was his day job? Oh, just an All-Star outfielder for the Kansas City Royals. In 1989, he was named MVP of the All-Star Game. 

A hip injury in January 1991 ended his NFL career and limited his ability as a baseball player, but Jackson is widely regarded as the top dual-sport athlete in American sports history.

Florida State quarterback Jameis Winston could be the next in line.

The redshirt freshman signal-caller of the Seminoles and 2013 Heisman Trophy winner doubles as an outfielder and pitcher on the Seminoles baseball team. He hit .235 with a .377 on base percentage in 119 at-bats while making 17 appearances as a relief pitcher, posting a 3.00 ERA and 21 strikeouts in 27 innings.

The Hueytown, Ala. native is a stone's throw across I-20/59 from Bessemer, where Jackson grew up. He possesses many of the same qualities as Jackson, especially his arm from the outfield, as you see above.

If that looks familiar, it should. Check out Jackson nailing former Seattle Mariners outfielder Harold Reynolds at the plate on June 5, 1989:

So could Winston be the next two-sport stud in the same vein as Jackson?

"A lot of people are going to say, 'No way. He's a quarterback. Bo Jackson was a running back," Winston said at a BCS National Championship Game press conference on Friday (password required). "The one thing I always seem to do is gain the trust of my teammates. Even being in the NFL, if I can convince those guys I can be your quarterback, I can go play baseball for the Atlanta Braves, New York Yankees, I can't talk about that, because I'm living in the moment right now."

He is not lacking confidence, but Winston has the utmost respect for Jackson.

"Bo Jackson, no one can beat Bo Jackson," he said. "If the guy wouldn't have got hurt, he probably would be in the Hall of Fame in both baseball and football."

Winston can come close, though.

In addition to his accolades this year on the gridiron, he was drafted in the 15th round of the 2012 Major League Baseball draft by the Texas Rangers and had the tools coming out of high school to go even higher, but his football future got in the way.

Would he have been a first-round draft pick had he not committed to playing football at Florida State?

"I would hope so," he said. "Obviously, I can't control none of that. I have to get better at baseball just like I have to get better at football."

While he may not know it, scouts recognize his upside as a baseball player.

"Winston could have been a first-round pick in the 2012 draft, but his strong commitment to Florida State as a dual-sport athlete, as well as the strict draft spending restrictions implemented in the first year of baseball’s new collective bargaining agreement, simply wasn’t worth the risk for teams in the early rounds," said Mike Rosenbaum, Bleacher Report's MLB prospects lead writer.

It isn't Winston's dual-sport ability that could conceivably scare off Major League Baseball scouts; it's his duality within the game of baseball itself. Rosenbaum notes that he's more of a prospect as a pitcher than an outfielder, and he would have to commit himself first as a full-time baseball player and then as a pitcher to have a shot at baseball superstardom.

"The arm strength Winston showcases behind center is equally impressive on the mound," he said. "Armed with a fastball that touches 97 mph and jumps on opposing hitters, the right-hander emerged as one of Florida State’s key relievers last spring as a sophomore."

"He’s more than just a flame-thrower, though; Winston also demonstrates a feel for a hard slider in the mid-80s, throwing it early in counts for a strike and burying it to induce whiffs. He also began developing a changeup this past season, which has the potential to be a highly effective offering if he can replicate the arm speed on his fastball."

But just how likely is Winston as a legitimate dual-sport star?

If the scouts are right and he projects as a pitcher, that would require an extraordinary amount of wear and tear on the throwing shoulder of a player whom one NFL general manager will likely give the keys to his franchise, along with a contract that will pay him millions.

Can you see an NFL quarterback missing a season due to Tommy John surgery sustained while playing baseball? A general manager would be crazy to even allow that to be an option.

But before he crosses that bridge, Winston isn't thinking about pro baseball just yet. A tiny little thing called the BCS National Championship Game on Monday night is occupying his time at the moment, but a baseball decision has to be made soon regarding his future in Tallahassee.

"Right now I got one thing on my mind, win the national championship on Monday," Winston said. "Tuesday comes, I be ready for it then. I'm pretty sure [Florida State baseball] coach Mike Martin, he'll talk to me about it then. I know he's not saying nothing about baseball to me right now."

He'll have to address it soon though, because while his stock on the gridiron couldn't be higher, that guaranteed money in Major League Baseball—especially for pitchers—is hard to resist.

 

Barrett Sallee is the lead SEC college football writer for Bleacher Report. Winston quotes obtained on location from his BCS National Championship Game media day, and Rosenbaum quotes were obtained firsthand.


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Nathan Starks to UCLA: Bruins Land 4-Star ATH Prospect

The UCLA Bruins have reportedly landed 4-star athlete Nathan Starks of Cherry Creek High School in Englewood, Colo.

FOX Sports' Brandon Huffman had the news:

USAAAB: Englewood (Colo.) Cherry Creek ATH Nathan Starks Picks UCLA http://t.co/ZygLBZTQhy

— Brandon Huffman (@BrandonHuffman) January 5, 2014

Starks is one of the most highly regarded prospects in the 2014 class and has excelled as both a running back and safety. As a junior in 2012, he ran for 1821 yards and 27 touchdowns on just 170 carries.

According to 247Sports.com's composite rankings, Starks is the No. 12 athlete and No. 185-ranked overall recruit in the country.

It's always a bit of a shock to see the 5'11", 200-pounder go down, because Starks packs a serious punch when he hits the hole. On almost every big run he shakes off contact from multiple defenders and displays outstanding balance.

But it doesn't end there. What separates a lot of great running backs from really good ones is the ability to finish runs. When Starks is already 30 yards down the field, he is still looking for ways to maximize the play and shows incredible fluidity and deceptive quickness in his lateral movements.

That combination, along with a strong understanding of blocking concepts, makes him a threat to find the end zone every time he touches the ball. His football savvy also translates to the defensive side, where he was a first-team all-state selection at safety, as noted on his 247Sports.com profile.

Detractors will note that the competition Starks is facing isn't exactly of the highest caliber. While that is a fair point to an extent, there is no denying how special Starks is with the ball in his hands.

The 4.46 speed that Starks has in the 40-yard dash could easily be improved upon; he seems to only get faster the longer he's on his feet.

Being gifted with a unique blend of top-end speed and agility should lead to Starks making an impact at the collegiate level very quickly for UCLA. It might be a bit of an adjustment for Starks because of the raised level of competition, and it remains to be seen which side of the ball he will ultimately be on.

What is clear is that he has the chops to play anywhere for the Bruins given his skill set and instincts on the gridiron.

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BCS Championship 2014: Jameis Winston Will Validate His Heisman Trophy with Play

The Florida State Seminoles' 13-0 record, the 3,820 passing yards, 68 percent completion rate and 38 touchdown passes earned Jameis Winston the Heisman Trophy. His performance in the BCS title game will prove beyond a shadow of a doubt how special the young man is.

As talented as the 'Noles are on defense, the Auburn Tigers will move the ball against them. The Tigers top-ranked rushing attack is too good to shut down.

In every other major contest this season, Florida State's defense has thwarted offenses that some thought would give them trouble. Auburn is different. Winston and the 'Noles will have to score points to win this game.

Luckily, that's nothing Florida State has had an issue with this season, and the Tigers' defense is only ranked No. 89 in the nation. The Seminoles are the highest-scoring team in the country at 53 points per game.

The difference between this and the other "big" games" is that Florida State will have to score under pressure. No team has scored more than 34 points or stayed closer than within 14 points in a game against them this season.

The team that stayed within two touchdowns and put up 34 points was the Boston College Eagles. They featured the nation's leading rusher, Andre Williams.

The Eagles' star had 149 yards on the ground against the Seminoles. Overall, Boston College ran for 200 yards in the game—it was the only team to reach that mark against Florida State.

Most would agree Auburn's run game is superior to Boston College—and every other rushing attack in the nation. As Auburn moves the ball and scores points, Winston and the offense will find themselves in their first shootout of the season.

In this pressure-packed situation, Winston will prove just how great he is now, and will ultimately be, once he has moved on the NFL.

Winston's leadership and positive demeanor are just as important as his arm strength and accuracy. Delice Coffey of Sports Psychology For Football says Winston "epitomizes mental toughness."

Winston told CBS Sports' Dennis Dodd this about how his experience in baseball has prepared him for football:

Baseball is the best sport for a quarterback to play. Because baseball is a game of failure. Playing quarterback you don’t want to fail, but you’ve got to have that baseball mentality. Next time, I can do it — the next play.

Winston has had amazing focus the entire season. He never allowed off-the-field issues to distract him or negatively impact his play. On Monday, he will stare down the Tigers' unstoppable run game and more than match their production.

 

Follow me. Sports are what I do.

 

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Power Ranking 2014 Big Ten Recruiting Classes Post-High School All-America Games

Big Ten bowl season is officially over, ending in yet another disappointing 2-5 record. That record shrinks down to 2-7 if you include its two incoming programs, Maryland and Rutgers.

Now, with 2013 in the past, it's officially time for Big Ten fans to look to the future and hope for brighter days ahead—something they are all too familiar with doing. But are there reasons now for genuine optimism?

There might be. Ohio State is killing it on the recruiting trail—what else is new?—and Michigan thinks it might have found the next Charles Woodson. Recruiting on the whole has been decent this current cycle, though nothing to write home about.

With the All-American Bowls now also in the past, along with all of their commitments, here's a look at how all 14 Big Ten teams stack up.

Note: All rankings, unless otherwise noted, via the 247 Sports composite.

Begin Slideshow

BCS Boss Bill Hancock Talks End of 1 Era and College Football's New Dawn

NEWPORT BEACH, Calif.—When Bill Hancock joined the BCS in 2005, his job was to catch flak and deflect it. The system, then eight-plus years old, was coming off two contentious seasons with a split national title in 2003 and unbeaten SEC champion Auburn hung out to dry in 2004.

And back then, he never envisioned that we'd be at the precipice of a new age eight years later. Monday's BCS National Championship Game at the Rose Bowl will mark the final game of the 16-year BCS era.

"We didn't envision how big the BCS would grow and all the great things it'd do for the regular season," Hancock, the BCS's executive director, said to Bleacher Report during the BCS National Championship Game media day on Saturday. "And for the conferences that didn't have a contract with big bowl games. We really thought the BCS would just be a refined bowl-selection process. We didn't dream what it's become."

The BCS had become a fact of life for college football, but not without some growing pains. As we chronicled during the past few weeks, criticism of the BCS reached a crescendo in the mid-2000s as the standings were constantly tweaked. A bestseller, written by three Yahoo! Sports reporters—Death to the BCS—was published in 2010. 

But under the stewardship of Hancock, who took on the title of executive director in 2009, the BCS has survived and thrived.

"In the beginning the BCS was extremely popular and well received," Hancock said. "And people were thrilled with that, because it's what they wanted, having No. 1 playing No. 2 every year. But then it became de rigueur to criticize the BCS, when in fact it's done a lot of really good things. I'm not hearing the criticism now—it could be because the playoff is starting, or it could be that we've been getting it right."

The BCS will give way to the College Football Playoff starting next season. Instead of two teams vying for the national championship, there will be four. The roster of top-tier bowls will increase from four to six, with the Cotton Bowl and Chick-fil-A Bowl joining the Rose, Sugar, Orange and Fiesta bowls to host the most lucrative games, including two national semifinals.

The new era comes with much uncertainty. The BCS standings, the formula for which remained unchanged for the last eight years of BCS's existence, will be discarded, with a 13-person committee taking over the duties of selecting the teams for not just the playoff but also the matchups for other major bowls.

Fans will miss the transparency and predictability of the BCS standings, as the committee will be the sole source of determining the four participants in the playoff. While four standings will be revealed during the season (presumably every other week starting at midseason, but still to be determined), the final picks will be completely at the discretion of the committee members.

Hancock said that members of the committee will be available to the media to discuss their participation throughout the season but that only he and chair Jeff Long—Arkansas' athletic director—will speak on the "actions and decisions" of the committee. He dismissed the idea that the committee should've revealed its picks for 2013, saying that it would have been a distraction to this year's proceedings.

While there's much unknown going into the 2014 postseason, there is one certainty, according to Hancock. The College Football Playoff, which will be in place for 12 years after signing a $7.3 billion deal to have all its games aired on ESPN, will remain a four-team format for its duration, even if there's a clamoring for an eight-team or even a 16-team playoff.

"We're committed to these four for the next 12 years, and it would be inappropriate for anyone to speculate what might happen after that," he said. "The things people don't realize and so many people misunderstand about BCS is that we believe the postseason and regular season are intrinsically linked.

"The people who say 'give us 16 teams' forget how important the regular season is. But those of us in the decision-making position can't forget that. We cannot and must not jeopardize the regular season, because it is the best regular season in sports."

 

Follow on Twitter @BCSGuru.

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Why Penn State Should Hire Al Golden to Fill Coaching Vacancy

In the wake of Bill O’Brien’s decision to depart Happy Valley for the NFL, a number of viable coaching candidates have been suggested for the opening at Penn State.

Over the past few days I’ve seen my fellow B/R writers make a case for Vanderbilt’s James Franklin as well as former Buccaneers’ coach Greg Schiano.

Other names, like Mike Munchak and Larry Johnson Sr., have been tossed around because of their strong ties to the university.

Munchak played offensive line at Penn State before going on to a successful playing and coaching career with the Oilers/Titans organization for over three decades in total.

Johnson Sr.’s been coaching defensive linemen at Penn State for nearly two decades and has been instrumental in the development of several NFL-caliber players. He was named the interim head coach after O’Brien departed and will surely receive strong support from fans and alumni alike.

However, it’s another former Nittany Lion who I think should be afforded the opportunity to lead his alma mater: Al Golden.

Golden played tight end at Penn State from 1987-91, and his playing days are best remembered for a game-tying touchdown catch against top-ranked Notre Dame. It should also be noted that Golden received the 1991 Ridge Riley award for “displaying excellence in scholarship, sportsmanship, friendship and leadership.”

One thing that should endear Golden to fans of “Linebacker U” is his experience coaching the position. In fact, Golden even returned to Penn State to coach linebackers during the 2000 season.

Unfortunately for Golden, he was a year too late to coach the likes of LaVar Arrington and Brandon Short. Nonetheless, he was able to get solid seasons out of Aaron Gatten (a career backup to that point) and Shamar Finney (career-high three interceptions).

From there, Golden took on the defensive-coordinator spot at the University of Virginia and proved to be worthy of the added responsibility. At the start of his tenure the Cavaliers defense ranked outside of the top 100, and over four seasons Golden turned it into a top 20 unit.

Because of this remarkable turnaround Golden was afforded the opportunity to prove he could lead a team with the Temple Owls. It took a while, but in 2009 Golden was eventually able to author another remarkable turnaround and coach the Owls to their best record in three decades.

In 2010, Golden opted to leave Temple to take one of the more high-profile jobs in college football as coach of the Miami Hurricanes. As if that weren’t pressure enough, Golden also had to contend with the 2011 scandal regarding booster Nevin Shapiro.

In the wake of that, Golden had to make the tough decision to opt out of bowl eligibility in 2011 and 2012 with NCAA sanctions pending. The move proved to be fruitful, as the Hurricanes weren’t docked any further bowl eligibility when sanctions were assessed.

Perhaps coincidentally, Golden coached the Hurricanes to their best record under him this season and advanced to the Russell Athletic Bowl.

What all this says to me is Golden doesn’t fear a challenge. He’s headed squads with miserable histories and others treading murky waters. And yet, he’s always shown the resolve to field competitive outfits.

If he's hired, leading Penn State would arguably be Golden’s biggest test to date. Nonetheless, with the resiliency he’s shown, it’d be foolhardy to bet against him.

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