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De'Anthony Thomas Officially Announces He Will Enter 2014 NFL Draft

Arguably college football's most explosive player is taking his talents to Sundays. Oregon running back/offensive weapon De'Anthony Thomas announced his intention to forgo his senior season and enter the 2014 NFL draft on Sunday.

He released a statement via GoDucks.com:

I am officially withdrawing from the University of Oregon to pursue a professional career in the NFL. I want to express my deepest appreciation and thanks to the University and all of my teammates, coaches and fans.  I look forward to staying connected to the University and visiting the sidelines as often as possible.

Ducks coach Mark Helfrich talked about Thomas' decision: 

De'Anthony has been a spectacular talent in college football and has been a part of some of the most memorable plays in the history of the University of Oregon. We wish him success going forward with his career.

Thomas broke out in Eugene as a freshman under then-head coach Chip Kelly, lining up at both running back and slot receiver while also becoming a dynamic return man. While he was never used as a primary running back—he never even came close to leading the Ducks in carries—what made Thomas special was his ability to break the big play.

He averaged a touchdown every 9.23 carries at Oregon, and 2013 was the first regular season of his career without double-digit total touchdowns.

In fact, Thomas' decision to enter the draft comes after a somewhat disappointing junior season.

Amid preseason Heisman buzz, the 5'9" speedster broke out with consecutive 100-yard rushing performances and had accumulated 338 rushing yards and six touchdowns through three weeks. However, an ankle injury suffered against Tennessee on Sept. 14 kept him out for more than a month and he struggled to regain his form.

Thomas went through a midseason stretch where he had 31 rushing yards or fewer in three straight contests. While he finished the campaign with solid outings against Arizona and Oregon State, it was clear by the end of the season he'd been usurped on Mark Helfrich's depth chart.

He concluded the 2013 regular season with 581 yards and a 6.2 yards-per-carry average, both career lows. Freshman Thomas Tyner and sophomore Byron Marshall both ended the regular season with more carries and yards per attempt than Thomas.

That probably played at least a part in his decision to enter the draft early.

Although his diminutive size and lack of natural position could give some teams pause, the success of Darren Sproles, Danny Woodhead and others with a similar skill set could make Thomas appealing.

Still, there seems to be a fracturing of opinion about how elite a prospect he is. CBS Sports currently projects Thomas as a fifth- or sixth-round choice, while ESPN's Scouts Inc. has him No. 37 overall.

Teams will also have to decide during the draft process whether they prefer Thomas at running back or lining up more like Tavon Austin, who was taken No. 8 overall by the St. Louis Rams in 2013 despite similar size concerns.

Where Thomas falls in May will have a lot to do with his combine performance. Austin was able to rise from a fringe first-round pick by wowing scouts with his speed and agility—something Thomas will have to show to fall on the upper end of his projections.


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Auburn vs. FSU: What Each Team Must Do to Win BCS National Championship

With only one loss between the two programs, the Auburn Tigers and Florida State Seminoles are accustomed to winning big games. However, nothing can prepare them for the BCS National Championship Game, which takes place on Monday, Jan. 6, at 8:30 p.m. ET at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, Calif. 

FSU enters the contest as the prohibitive favorite to win, as oddsmakers expect the Tigers to lose by 10 points, per Covers.com. It's not surprising, considering Jimbo Fisher's club finished the regular season with the top-ranked scoring offense and defense. 

However, Auburn's fateful path to this point in the proceedings (miracle wins over Georgia and Alabama) suggest this upcoming matchup could be a lot closer than some expect—at the least. Nobody should be surprised if this "David" slays that "Goliath." 

Here's what both teams must do in order to secure victory. 


FSU: Stop Auburn's Running Game

What? You thought there was something else the Seminoles needed to do? 

This one's simple: If FSU can shut down Auburn's option running game, then the Tigers have little-to-no chance of winning this upcoming game. 

But it's a lot easier said than done. 

Tre Mason and Nick Marshall combined to rush for 2,644 yards and 33 touchdowns in 2013.

Remember, Alabama was one of the top teams in the nation at shutting down the run (three yards per carry allowed) before Auburn ran over, around and through the Crimson Tide for 296 yards and two touchdowns.

Florida State enters the game with the country's No. 13-ranked run defense, allowing 116.5 yards per game. Head coach Fisher talked about his staff's familiarity with Gus Malzahn's offense, as relayed by David Leon Moore of USA Today:

We have a lot of guys on our staff that have played against Gus for a long time. They know a lot of his high school roots, a lot of people he was around and things he did. I keep a running record of all the guys we've played against and books on all the guys we've played against for the last 10, 15 years.

That familiarity could give FSU an edge, but then again, Alabama and Missouri both thought they had a chance:

If the Seminoles can't shut down the Tigers on the ground, then Auburn will have a shot to win. 


Auburn: Shut Down FSU's Three Elite Receivers

As good as Jameis Winston has been, he wouldn't have won the Heisman Trophy without his exceptionally gifted receiving corps. FSU had three receivers catch at least 50 passes for at least 929 yards and six touchdowns. 

No other team in the nation can boast such a stat, and there's no doubt Rashad Greene, Kenny Shaw and Kelvin Benjamin comprised the nation's top receiving trio. 

Greene was the team's top possession receiver, hauling in 67 passes for 981 yards and nine touchdowns. Benjamin was the top scorer and big-play threat, catching 50 passes for 929 yards and 14 touchdowns, which was the fifth-most of any receiver in the FBS in 2013.

Cornerback Jonathon Mincy, via Charles Goldberg of AuburnTigers.com, talked about the upcoming challenge: "It’s going to be a big challenge. That’s all I’ve been hearing about, is their wide receivers. It’s a great opportunity that we can go out there to show that we can be a proven defense."

Highlighting Auburn's secondary difficulties this past year, Bleacher Report's Barrett Sallee writes about what could potentially be a winning formula for the Tigers: 

The Tigers have given up an SEC-worst 27 passing plays of 30 or more yards and 14 of 40 or more yards. Conversely, Florida State led the ACC and is fourth in the nation in pass plays of 20 or more yards with 71.

Auburn bends but doesn't break, so when an opportunity presents itself, whether it's generated from pressure or not, the Tigers have to pounce—just as they've done all year.

The only problem with that formula is that FSU has been phenomenal all year long about taking care of the football, earning a plus-17 mark for the year. 

That means Auburn's secondary will likely need to win individual battles against the talented trio of Seminoles receivers, which hasn't worked well for any team to this point. 


Follow me on Twitter @JesseReed78 

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GoDaddy Bowl 2014 Arkansas State vs. Ball State: Live Score and Highlights

Ball State - 10

Arkansas State - 10

Early-Third Quarter 

Bleacher Report will provide live, in-game analysis and scoring updates, so stay locked in here.

Want your voice to be heard? Leave your thoughts in the comments section below.

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Blake Bortles Reportedly to Announce He Will Enter 2014 NFL Draft

Central Florida quarterback Blake Bortles reportedly will forgo his senior season with the Knights and enter his name in the upcoming 2014 NFL draft, according to Paul Tenorio of the Orlando Sentinel:

UCF quarterback Blake Bortles will declare for the NFL draft, a source with direct knowledge told the Sentinel on Sunday.

The redshirt junior will forgo his final year of eligibility with the Knights and turn pro. An official announcement is expected on Monday morning.

The news comes on the heels of his impressive performance in Central Florida's upset win over Baylor at the Fiesta Bowl. The junior signal-caller started slow with two interceptions, but bounced back in a big way to finish with 394 total yards and four total touchdowns in the Knights' 52-42 victory.

At 6'4" and 230 pounds, Bortles is projected to be one of the first quarterbacks off the board in May's draft, per Pro Football Talk's Mike Florio:

While it’s unlikely that he’ll be regarded as good enough to acquire with the first overall pick, the Texans could choose to trade down with a team like the Falcons at No. 6, which may decide to make a play for defensive end Jadeveon Clowney.

Of course, Bortles then would have to slide past the Jaguars at No. 3, the Browns at No. 4, and the Raiders at No. 5 before [Bill] O’Brien could put Bortles’ name on a draft card.  Big performances on the biggest stages in college football tend to boost a quarterback’s draft stock, giving scouts comfort that a guy won’t gack under pressure.

In addition to his prototypical size and frame, the Oviedo, Fla., native possesses tremendous athleticism rarely seen at the quarterback position. Keep in mind that he rushed for 15 touchdowns during his three seasons at Central Florida.

Though he was recruited by several schools as a tight end coming out of high school, Knights head coach George O'Leary recognized Bortles' athleticism and was one of few willing to give him a shot under center, per Zach Buchanan, writing for the Miami Herald:

If he didn’t play quarterback, he’d be a heck of a tight end. That’s what I looked at. When you look at quarterbacks, I look at them as can they play another position? I think the day of just strictly the dropback quarterback is over. I think the pass rush, the pressures they put on athletes today, you got to be able to avoid a rush and make a play, take a bad play, make a good play out of it.

Bortles redshirted in 2010 and played sparingly as a freshman in 2011, but he caught the attention of NFL scouts as a sophomore in 2012, when he threw for 3,059 yards and 25 touchdowns and rushed for eight more scores. 

However, his stellar play on the big stage in 2013—including his final act in Glendale, Ariz.—has to be even more encouraging for talent evaluators. Bortles' response after tossing his second interception in the first half of the Fiesta Bowl was near-flawless. He never blinked en route to leading his underdog squad to the biggest win in program history.

With the scouting combine and other workouts on the horizon, Bortles will have several more opportunities to impress scouts and boost his draft stock ahead of May 8. 


Follow Bleacher Report Featured Columnist Patrick Clarke on Twitter. 

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Big 12 Only Took Home 2 Titles in BCS Era, but Always Kept It Interesting

The final BCS National Championship features two non-Big 12 teams: Auburn and Florida State. In a way, that's indicative of the success the conference did, or didn't, have in the 16 years of the BCS. 

It's not that the Big 12 wasn't present in BCS bowls. It was. In fact, the conference made 22 BCS bowl appearances, if you include former members Colorado, Nebraska and Texas A&M, and totaled 10 wins and 12 losses.

That's not bad, though the conference only captured two national titles in seven championship games in that span: in 2001 when Oklahoma upended Florida State 13-2, and in 2006 when Texas stunned USC in an all-time thriller in the Rose Bowl, 41-38. 

The two BCS National Championship wins are actually good in context. The SEC's reign of dominance has led to nine BCS titles, while all other conferences (ACC, Big Ten, the now-defunct Big East and Pac-12) are tied at one. 

In any case, the Big 12 will forever have some of the most exciting moments in BCS history as it makes way for the College Football Playoff in 2014. Some moments were good; some were not so good, but they were meaningful nevertheless. 

For better or worse, the Big 12 always kept it interesting when it came to the postseason. Here are some of the most memorable moments from the last 16 years, including this year. 


Vince Young on 4th-and-5

Given Auburn's path to Monday night's BCS National Championship, the Tigers may find a way to pull out the best title moment in history. Still, it's hard to top the go-ahead touchdown run from Texas quarterback Vince Young against USC. 

Down 38-33 to the Trojans and facing fourth down and five yards to go with 26 seconds in the game, Young took the snap, dropped back and then took off to his right for the eight-yard score. Young scored again on the two-point conversion, and the Longhorns won 41-38. 

USC was loaded with NFL talent that season and riding a 34-game win streak. The star power on both sides, the setting and the play—it adds up to the greatest BCS championship moment ever. 


Three Plays that Shocked Oklahoma and College Football

Boise State wasn't supposed to keep it close with Big 12 champion Oklahoma, let alone beat the Sooners in the 2007 Fiesta Bowl. The Broncos, under first-year coach Chris Petersen, almost didn't after blowing an 18-point lead and allowing 25 straight points to fall behind 35-28. 

On 4th-and-18 with just seconds remaining, Boise State quarterback Jared Zabransky completed a 15-yard pass to Drisan James, who lateraled the ball to Jerard Rabb. Rabb scampered 35 yards for a touchdown. 

Facing a 4th-and-2 in overtime, Boise State again reached into its bag of tricks, and receiver Vinny Perretta completed a six-yard touchdown to Derek Schouman on what looked like a designed run. Then, on the ensuing two-point conversion, it was Zabransky to running back Ian Johnson on the Statue of Liberty.

Three plays no one saw coming, and Boise State topped Oklahoma 43-42 in overtime. It remains one of the most unlikely and heart-racing finishes of any BCS game. 


Colt McCoy Takes a Hit from Marcell Dareus

Talk about your "what if" moment. Driving deep into Alabama territory in the first quarter of the 2010 BCS National Championship, Texas quarterback Colt McCoy kept the ball on an option run to the left. Alabama defensive lineman Marcell Dareus hit McCoy in his right (throwing) arm, and McCoy immediately got up and ran to the sideline. 

McCoy did not return to the game, and Alabama claimed its first BCS title under coach Nick Saban, 37-21. Texas later released a statement that McCoy suffered a nerve injury that prevented him from throwing with strength or accuracy. There was no intent to hurt McCoy, yet Dareus hit him just right. 

Texas has yet to return to the BCS, and head coach Mack Brown "resigned" after his 16th season. 


Kansas Beats Virginia Tech 24-21

Perennial Big 12 doormat Kansas got a taste of the good life in 2007 when it won its first 11 games to set up a rare nationally relevant game against Missouri to end the season. Though the Jayhawks lost the Border War to the Tigers 36-28 and missed out on a Big 12 title appearance, they did get selected to the Orange Bowl as an at-large team. 

Quarterback Todd Reesing threw for 227 yards and a touchdown as Kansas held off Virginia Tech 24-21. Head coach Mark Mangino was fired two years later amid a probe by the university into Mangino's treatment of his team

The Jayhawks never had a season as successful as 2007, winning fewer and fewer games from 2008-12. Since the Orange Bowl appearance, Kansas is 22-51 and on its second coach in Charlie Weis


Oklahoma Loses in the Big 12 Championship...and Still Plays for the National Title

Nothing quite epitomized the absurdity of the BCS like 2003 when Oklahoma lost to Kansas State in the Big 12 title—and still played LSU in the Sugar Bowl for the national championship. 

And, really, the term "losing" doesn't do it justice. K-State leveled the Sooners 35-7. Still, Oklahoma retained its No. 1 ranking while one-loss and third-ranked USC went to the Rose Bowl, where it defeated No. 4 Michigan 28-14. 

Oklahoma lost to the Tigers in New Orleans, 21-14. Kansas State lost to Ohio State in the Fiesta Bowl, 35-28. 

Really, though, everyone lost. 


Texas Plays Michigan in the Rose Bowl Thanks to Mack Brown's Lobbying

Vince Young's BCS heroics weren't limited to the national championship against USC. The 2005 Rose Bowl against Michigan, which the Longhorns won 38-37, was a thriller too. Young led a nine-play drive late in the fourth quarter to set up Dusty Mangum's 37-yard game-winning field goal. 

But should Texas have been playing in Pasadena in the first place?

Texas, sitting at 11-1 at the end of the 2004 regular season after a 26-13 win over Texas A&M, still trailed behind Cal, also 11-1, in the BCS standings. But head coach Mack Brown did some heavy politicking, and the 'Horns were chosen over the Golden Bears to go to the Rose Bowl. 

"I thought it was a little classless how Coach Brown was begging for votes after the [Texas A&M] game," former Cal quarterback Aaron Rodgers said at the time, via The Dallas Morning News. "I think a team's record and the way you play should speak for itself, and you shouldn't have to complain about the BCS system."

Brown was forced to lobby for his team again four years later when the 'Horns were in a three-way tie with Oklahoma and Texas Tech for the Big 12 South title. However, the Sooners edged Texas in the BCS rankings and played Missouri in the conference title (and Florida in the national title).


Oregon Gets a One-Point Safety Against Kansas State

Official Ron Cherry said it all: "On the previous play, we have an unusual ruling." 

Up 31-10 on Kansas State in the 2013 Fiesta Bowl, Oregon's extra point attempt was blocked and recovered by the Wildcats, who then ran the ball into the end zone where it was ruled dead. 

The result was a rare one-point safety, so it basically acted as the extra point K-State blocked to begin with. Oregon won 35-17, but it was one of the more bizarre moments in BCS history. 


 Ben Kercheval is the lead writer for Big 12 football. You can follow Ben on Twitter @BenKercheval

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Alabama Football: 5 Biggest Concerns Heading into the Offseason

After ending their season with two consecutive defeats, Nick Saban and the Alabama Crimson Tide will enter the offseason with plenty of motivation to improve in 2014.

The main priority atop Saban’s offseason wish list will be finding a replacement for quarterback AJ McCarron.

However, there are other areas of the roster that will grab his attention before spring drills arrive.

What are the Tide’s biggest concerns heading into the offseason?

Begin Slideshow

Al Golden Says He Is Not Candidate for Penn State Head Coach Opening

Miami Hurricanes coach Al Golden will not become the new head of the Penn State football team.

Golden released a statement via the Hurricanes about the matter on Sunday, Jan. 5:

There has been much speculation concerning my future at the University of Miami.  While I am flattered that our progress at The U during an extremely difficult period of time is recognized, I am also appreciative of just what we have here at UM and I am not a candidate for another position. We are eager to welcome our student athletes back to campus next week and visit with prospective student-athletes and their families beginning January 15.

The Nittany Lions have an opening at head coach after Bill O'Brien accepted the same position with the NFL's Houston Texans. He replaced the legendary Joe Paterno, who ran the team from 1966 to 2011.

Golden is an alumnus of Penn State where he played tight end from 1987 to 1991. He also worked as a linebackers coach in 2000 for one year before becoming the defensive coordinator at Virginia.

In 2006, he became the head coach at Temple where he turned the team around from 1-11 in his first year to 17-8 in his final two. This led to a position with the Hurricanes, where he amassed a 22-15 record in three seasons.   

According to Christy Cabrera Chirinos of the Miami Sun-Sentinel, Miami did not think Golden would be going anywhere despite meeting with Penn State on Jan. 4. Athletic director Blake James stated, "Al and I are in regular communication. He is our football coach and I believe he will be our coach going forward."

James turned out to be correct as Golden decided to remain at Miami after three years with the program.

The 44-year-old coach was included alongside an impressive list of candidates for the Penn State job, according to ESPN's Brett McMurphy:

Golden would have joined a rebuilding effort at Penn State, which was left in disgrace after a scandal involving former assistant coach Jerry Sandusky. The NCAA ruled that the school would have reduced scholarships and a four-year bowl ban running through the 2015 season, although some of these penalties have been modified.

Miami was also ineligible for the postseason in the coach's first two years there. Kevin Negandhi of ESPN discussed this as a possible deterrent for accepting the Penn State job:

While Golden may have managed to steer the Nittany Lions around the sanctions, we'll never know as he will continue his rebuilding effort with the Hurricanes.  


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

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Al Golden Is No Fool, Miami Is a Better Job Than Penn State, Period.

When the dust settled, Miami's Al Golden remained Miami's Al Golden, not moving on to Penn State, instead sticking with the Hurricanes in Coral Gables. Despite the increased cash possibilities and the "dream job" status, Golden made the smart move by sticking in South Florida.

There was plenty of speculation that Golden to Penn State was a done deal in the days leading up to the coach confirming he was staying at Miami. Speculation ran rampant, as Penn State's Rivals site, Blue White Illustrated, reported that an agreement had been reached in principle, while Miami's Rivals site (subscription required), Cane Sport, reported that an offer was extended but no decision had been made.

Finally, Golden silenced the speculation by stating the following in a release from Hurricane Sports:

There has been much speculation concerning my future at the University of Miami.  While I am flattered that our progress at The U during an extremely difficult period of time is recognized, I am also appreciative of just what we have here at UM and I am not a candidate for another position. We are eager to welcome our student athletes back to campus next week and visit with prospective student-athletes and their families beginning January 15.

Golden remains Miami's guy, and that's not just a plus for the Hurricanes. It is a plus for the coach himself.

Certainly, there was a greenness to the Penn State pasture that Miami could not duplicate—the financial side of things. However, in the sum total of the positions, what Miami cannot cover in cash, it more than makes up for with recruiting resources, a clear path to success and just winning being plenty good for the fans.

Recruits are the lifeblood of a college program, and, as Golden's showing right now, per 247 Sports' Composite Rankings, Miami is still a place that can recruit at a high level.

After taking time to repair the damage done during the Randy Shannon era, Golden has the machine working again, and that means he's pumping good talent into the 'Canes program. It's talent that is largely located in the state he works in as well, making the job easier.

Aiding Golden in the recruiting surge is his school moving out of the shadow of the ominous cloud of the NCAA. Miami has moved past the sanctions and the bowl bans that plagued the program in recent years, now operating at almost full capacity. The nine lost scholarships over three years are a mere paper cut compared to the gash that Penn State is still set to experience.

Even though the penalties have been reduced for the Nittany Lions, weathering the storm does not make it any easier, especially for a coach like Golden, who spent his time at Miami operating with the NCAA looking over his shoulder. Although Penn State might be the dream job, living life with more NCAA issues certainly seems to be every coach's nightmare.

Penn State has the money and the facilities. It also has the NCAA issues and, as David Jones of PennLive.com pointed out, the entrenched boosters still hanging on to the Paterno Era. More money is nice, but for the coach making $2.15 million, avoiding the extras is a reward that is as good as cash in many instances.

If the playing field were level, perhaps the move to Penn State would make sense. Unfortunately, Golden is operating with the reality that right now, it will be a struggle to win eight games a season in Happy Valley. 

With a weak Coastal Division and plenty of talent coming in, Golden is hoping to elbow his way into the playoff, not just successfully navigate the sanction-infested waters in which Penn State will be swimming for the next few seasons.

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Arkansas Football: How Recruiting Strategy Has Changed Under Bret Bielema

Recruiting has developed into almost somewhat of a science. It is very meticulous, and coaches spend hours on end analyzing prospects to find guys that will best fit their game plan and style.

When a program changes head coaches, the new one comes in and implements his philosophy on the field and on the recruiting trail. Very rarely does the old coach's philosophy match the new one's, as was the case when Bret Bielema was hired to be the Arkansas Razorbacks head coach. 

After the now-infamous Bobby Petrino saga, the Razorbacks named John L. Smith as the interim coach for 2012 and he kept the style Petrino had in place. But, once Arkansas tabbed Bielema as the next Head Hog, he brought in a system much different from Petrino's pass-happy offense.

Bielema's Wisconsin teams were notorious for their ground-and-pound style on offense, big, husky linemen and physical defenses.

Him bringing that style to Arkansas has drastically changed the program's recruiting strategy. 

Under Petrino, the emphasis in recruiting was on the offensive side of the ball. Because his offense passed to open up the run, and not vice versa, the focus in recruiting was speed. That meant fast wideouts and running backs, as well as nimble offensive linemen who weren't as strong or as big as the guys on a Bielema-coached team.

Petrino also wasn't known to recruit great defensive players, though he did haul in some very talented defenders during his four years. 

With Bielema, the focus has shifted to recruiting players that are big, strong and physical. 

The biggest impact seen so far in the change in recruiting strategy, has been the influx of talented offensive linemen. In just two months on the trail after taking the job in December 2012, Bielema reeled in 4-star prospects Reeve Koehler and Denver Kirkland, and 3-star mammoth Dan Skipper, who stands at 6'10".

So far for the class of 2014, the Razorbacks have three O-linemen on board. Jovan Pruitt and Sebastian Tretola, both 3-stars, have great size and fit exactly what Bielema is looking for. The third is 4-star Brian Wallace, who chose the Hogs (subscription required) over Alabama and Iowa at the U.S. Army All-American Game. 

A big part of all the highly ranked linemen jumping on board has been thanks to O-line coach Sam Pittman, who the Hogs gave a hefty raise to $550,000 before he even coached in a game after Alabama made a run at him. As Trey Biddy of HawgSports.com wrote, Pittman has had a huge impact on the recruiting trail. 

There's also been a big change in recruiting on the defensive side, particularly for the defensive backs. In Petrino's five recruiting cycles, including 2012 before his fall from grace, the Hogs signed 19 defensive backs. Bielema has already landed nine, a number that could rise before the 2014 class is wrapped up. 

As stated, Petrino did land some very talented players on the defensive side of the ball, but there is a much bigger emphasis on defense with Bielema leading the charge. Petrino never recruited a ton of talent in the secondary or at linebacker, and it had a negative effect in Bielema's first season as both positions struggled mightily all year. Though Arkansas has just two linebackers currently committed, you can fully expect Bielema to make it a top priority leading up to national signing day and in future cycles.

The Razorbacks had a very rough season, but you have to remember that the players were playing in a whole new system. Many of them were recruited to Arkansas to fit Petrino's scheme and had trouble adjusting to Bielema's style, which is power football.

The change in recruiting strategy is going to bring in guys that are fit to play in Bielema's hard-nosed, physical style, instead of prospects that are more based in schemes for speed and finesse.

It always takes time for a program to fully grasp a new scheme and bring in prospects that fit it, but Bielema is working toward turning the Hogs into those country-strong teams that beat teams down physically while he was at Wisconsin. Rome wasn't built overnight, so have some patience because he's slowly reconstructing Arkansas to be what he envisioned when he took the job.

Bryan Heater is the featured columnist for the Arkansas Razorbacks football team. Follow him on Twitter @BHeaterRivals.


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Why Urban Meyer's Ohio State Squad Is Only Big Ten Team That Will Miss the BCS

Monday night will be reason to celebrate in Big Ten country, no matter what happens between Florida State and Auburn. That's because the three-letter word, B-C-S, has been most unkind to the majority of B1G schools. 

That is unless you are Ohio State, in which case you may very well be sad to see the BCS gone. 

Sure, recent BCS history hasn't been kind to the Buckeyes either, but who can forget the 2002-03 season and the last national champion to come from the Big Ten?

Despite the B1G not having a national champion since then, no other conference has played in more BCS games than the Big Ten (28), and no other team in the history of the BCS has made more appearances than OSU (10).

However, for the other 11 teams currently calling the Big Ten home, the death of the BCS and birth of the College Football Playoff is a dream come true. 

It's an opportunity to do what the vast majority of the Big Ten still has to do to get respect: earn it on the field.

The ugly truth of the BCS era for the Big Ten is that unless your ranking was followed by the words "Ohio State," your chances of being in a BCS game beyond winning the conference were pretty slim. 

Only three other Big Ten schools made appearances in non-Rose Bowl BCS games—Illinois to the Sugar Bowl once, Iowa to the Orange Bowl twice and Penn State to the Orange Bowl once. 

Notice something missing from those numbers, though? Not a single one of those extra appearances came via this thing called the BCS National Championship game. 

Only the Buckeyes of Ohio State can claim that happening, going to the title game three times since its inception in 1998. 

So, for the majority of teams in the Big Ten, the BCS era wasn't all that welcoming. 

Then again, the Big Ten has also progressively slipped down the totem pole of the college football world. It didn't exactly elevate a ton of teams to become BCS worthy. 

Additionally, the conference didn't help itself out with some archaic rules for selecting teams to BCS games and breaking ties for the conference title (before the 2011 season and start of the Big Ten Championship game).

No season underscored what was wrong with the system the Big Ten and the BCS created more than 2010.

Michigan State, Wisconsin and Ohio State all tied for the conference crown with 11-1 overall records and 7-1 finishes in Big Ten play. By rule, the highest ranked BCS team went to the Rose Bowl, and that meant Wisconsin, at No. 5 in the final BCS standings, packed its bags for Pasadena.

Michigan State, the team that beat Wisconsin, was left out of the BCS entirely as Ohio State was selected for the Sugar Bowl against Arkansas thanks to being ranked one spot higher in the BCS standings than MSU. 

See, the problem with the BCS is that it was never about creating a true national champion. It was a "money first, football second" operation from the very beginning, and Ohio State equalled major cash to the BCS and vice versa. 

Moving forward, the hope is that, with football people making the decisions about who's in and who's out of the College Football Playoff, the annual high school popularity contest will give way to what actually takes place on the field every Saturday.

For the rest of the Big Ten without the "name" of Ohio State or Michigan, that brings hope that results on the field matter more than where some writer or coach (who's likely never seen you play) ranks you.

With the start of division play in 2011 and the Big Ten title game that the 12-team conference began that year, the chances of making a BCS game became better for each of the participants. 

Yet, still, the elusive BCS National Championship game was out of reach for any team that would win the title game not named Ohio State. 

All one has to do is look to the Big Ten title game to see why the rest of the conference can't wait for the College Football Playoff to start. 

This last season saw Michigan State arguably earn its way into the national-championship discussion by beating No. 2 Ohio State in the Big Ten title game. 

It propelled them to the No. 4 ranking in the BCS, which in the new system would've qualified them for the playoff.

One could've argued the win over the Buckeyes was a fluke, until the Spartans went out on the field and proved it again in a Rose Bowl win over No. 5 Stanford. 

Looking forward, the Big Ten Championship game provides the extra opportunity for the rest of the Big Ten, not named Ohio State, to earn its way into the national championship discussion on the field—where it matters most. 

Now the question is: Will anyone be able to step to the plate and take advantage of those opportunities that the new era of college football could provide the rest of the Big Ten?


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

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Louisville Fan Wants to Bring Bobby Petrino Back

As the University of Texas posted on its website on Sunday, former Louisville coach Charlie Strong has bolted for the Longhorns. Now the Cardinals need to start looking for a replacement.

One fan wants a reunion with former coach Bobby Petrino, who coached the Cardinals from 2003 to 2006. The fan posted a sign on the building where athletic director Tom Jurich's office is, asking for Petrino to come back.

Petrino led Louisville to a 41-9 record during his four years as coach.


Hat tip to LostLettermen.com for the find.

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Good Riddance BCS: Why the Pac-12 Can't Wait for a Playoff

The last time the BCS Championship is awarded, it will happen in Pac-12 country. But in a finish to the 15 years of BCS football befitting the host conference’s fate, the Coaches Trophy will not go to a Pac-12 team.

In 16 BCS seasons, the Pac-12 played in all of three title games and won only USC’s 55-19 rout of Oklahoma in the 2005 Orange Bowl.

Whether it be the result of perceived league strength or missed opportunities, the BCS was not kind to Pac-12 teams with championship aspirations.

Based on the conference’s various near misses, the expansion of the sport’s championship round to include four teams instead of just two may not be a conference that benefits more from the beginning of the College Football Playoff than the Pac-12.

The quintessential example is USC in 2003, a team that opened the season with a 23-0 rout of Auburn in Jordan Hare Stadium.

USC was voted national champion by the Associated Press, forcing the only split in 16 years of the BCS with Championship Game-winner LSU.

"All I know is the powers that be selected us to be here," LSU quarterback Matt Mauck said per The Los Angeles in January 2004. "They just gave us the national championship trophy. I don't know how you couldn't consider us national champions."

The "powers that be," whether media, coaches poll voters or computers, just didn't quite like the Pac-12. Over the course of the last 16 years, the Pac-12 earned fewer BCS Championship Game bids than the SEC, Big 12 and ACC, and as many as the Big Ten and former Big East.

Before USC's snub in 2003 in favor of Big 12 title game loser Oklahoma, there was precedent for a Big 12 team that failed to win the conference playing for the BCS Championship ahead of the Pac-12 champion. Just two years earlier, Nebraska earned the privilege of being Miami's last victim despite losing in spectacular fashion to Colorado. The Buffaloes later lost the Fiesta Bowl to Oregon.

As the conference’s flag-bearer for much of the BCS era, though, USC accounted for the majority of the Pac-12’s BCS snubs. In 2007 and 2008, USC finished tied in the loss column with at least one of the two championship game participants.

Both seasons, an SEC team got the call while the Trojans went to the Rose Bowl.

The 2008 USC team may be the most egregious exclusion in BCS history. The Trojans boasted the nation's best defense and one of the stingiest units in college football history, and their sole setback was a Thursday night, early-season nailbiter at Oregon State.

Then-USC head coach Pete Carroll refused to politick after wrapping up the 2008 regular season, saying in a press conference he accepted the BCS system for what it was and had no alternative.

With the coming of the College Football Playoff, there is an alternative. But it's on the Pac-12 champion to seize the opportunity.

While USC was on the wrong end of national perception, the Pac-12 teams whiffed plenty, too. In the first year of the BCS, UCLA ran through its regular season slate undefeated, including a dominating win over a top-10 ranked Arizona team. But a hurricane pushed a non-conference date with Miami back to December, and on the regular season's final week, Edgerrin James and the Hurricanes blew away the Bruins' title dreams.

The Trojans also came up on the wrong end of a few perplexing losses that prevented them from punching their tickets to BCS title games—none more perplexing than the 2006 regular-season finale at UCLA.

Stanford, along with Oregon, picked up the mantle USC dropped after it was handed severe NCAA sanctions. At last summer's Pac-12 media day, Cardinal head coach David Shaw touted his team as a playoff team had the system existed in 2012.

Even in a system that invites four teams to play for the national championship, the Pac-12 champion cannot afford the confounding hiccups. To that end, Stanford would have been on the outside looking in in 2013, a campaign in which national pundits lauded the Pac-12 as one of the sport’s strongest conferences.

Because of two road losses, at Utah and USC, Stanford would have been eliminated from College Football Playoff contention. While a three-point defeat to a Top 25 team like USC is not too harsh of a blemish, Stanford’s 27-21 loss at Utah ostensibly scrapped the Cardinal’s championship resume. 

There’s no telling how different the conference’s place in the national landscape might be had it won more championships. Perhaps the groundswell that landed a record nine teams in bowl games and another record five with at least 10 wins would have started earlier.

Regardless, the BCS is soon to be in the past, and the Pac-12 is starting the new playoff era on the right path.


Quotes obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted.

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Good Riddance BCS: Why the Pac-12 Can't Wait for a Playoff

The last time the BCS Championship is awarded, it will happen in Pac-12 country. But in a finish to the 15 years of BCS football befitting the host conference’s fate, the Coaches Trophy will not go to a Pac-12 team...

Read the full article on Bleacher Report...

Florida State's Crack Coaching Staff Will Be Difference in 2014 BCS Championship

With a month between games, the BCS National Championship Game is an opportunity for coaches to show just how dialed in they are to both the opponent and their own team. When the Seminoles take the field against the Auburn Tigers, Jimbo Fisher, and the tremendous staff he's assembled, will get a chance to show why they are the most underrated commodity in the BCS Championship.

On the Auburn side of things, Gus Malzahn is widely considered a genius, and rightfully so. He's put together a phenomenal system that utilizes his pieces well and elevated a team with three wins in 2012, to a 12-1, SEC Champion and BCS Championship team in 2013. He's found a way to turn a hapless offense into a potent rushing attack, led by a quarterback who did not get to campus until the end of June.

Malzahn deserves praise, but Jimbo Fisher, as the man who revamped the Seminoles' program, also is deserving of ample love on the national scale. First and foremost, it must be acknowledged that Fisher did not just continue Bobby Bowden's success. The program Fisher built at Florida State only resembles Bowden's group thanks to the uniforms. This is, unequivocally, Fisher's team and the program that he built in Tallahassee.

In fact, if one is looking for a comparison, it is not the past Florida State teams, but rather the modern Alabama squads that Fisher's team favors. Which is why the Sunday-to-Friday prep has been phenomenal for the Seminoles and that pregame success will continue during the bowl layoff.

That prep success stems from Fisher's mentor, the best in college football, Nick Saban. Self-scouting and working to break tendencies, while presenting a game plan that taxes the opponent is a Saban staple. Now, Fisher, with a staff loaded with other Saban disciples, gets to show just how ready his staff is to prove Malzahn is not the only coach worth celebrating in this ballgame.

On offense, it starts with Fisher and his talented weapons. The head coach calls the plays and while Malzahn gets celebrated for setting his team up, it is Fisher's team that has the more multi-faceted attack. Look for Jimbo to work the run and the pass to expose Auburn's defense. Although Auburn has a solid defensive line rotation, watch for Fisher to try and limit its substitutions by working tempo at times and keeping his 11 personnel package in the game to run and throw.

The Seminoles offense, which gets all praise for being talented, but none for being well-schemed or for the play calls, will have to show up big against Auburn's vulnerable defense. While quarterback Jameis Winston will draw the celebration, it is Fisher who still makes things go with his decisions and how he's prepared his unit to succeed.

Defensively is where the Seminoles will get a shot to prove that mind-vs-mind Jeremy Pruitt, the defensive coordinator, is ready to match wits with Malzahn. As has been discussed here, look for Pruitt to work to make Auburn uncomfortable. Discomfort, for the Tigers, of course means throwing the football.

Although Nick Marshall has a very strong arm and boasts a completion percentage of 60.4, the fact is Auburn's quarterback has not shown consistency pushing the ball down the field. Pruitt is going to load up the box. Pruitt is going to make Marshall beat him through the air. Pruitt is going to make the genius that is Gus Malzahn, prove to the nation that he can adjust and beat a team that dares him to throw the football.

Jimbo Fisher and Jeremy Pruitt bring some elite level football minds to the table and this final edition of the BCS National Championship Game is far just the "Gus Malzahn is a Genius" show. The Seminoles have a ton of talent on both sides of the ball, but a win on Monday night will be as much about coaches putting them in a position to succeed, as the athletes carrying out the plan.

Fisher and his staff are the edge for the Seminoles. Those men on the sideline and in the booth are why Florida State's been phenomenal all season, and the Seminoles' prep for the title game should be no different.

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GoDaddy Bowl 2014: Key Players in Arkansas State vs. Ball State Battle

The 2014 GoDaddy Bowl will be played on Sunday, Jan. 5 at 9 p.m. ET, and it features two teams in Arkansas State and Ball State that have several top talents you've probably never heard of.

Arkansas State (7-5, 5-2 Sun Belt) enters 4-1 in its past five games. That being said, that loss came in its last game against Western Kentucky. The Red Wolves have been wildly inconsistent this season, though they did play very well against Sun Belt opponents.

Ball State (10-2, 7-1 MAC) is fresh off a 55-14 route of Miami (OH) on Nov. 29. Northern Illinois defeated it 48-27 in the previous week, however. The Cardinals scored 40.1 points per game (12th in the nation) this season. Their lowest point total (27) was matched three times.

The Red Wolves defense appears to have its hands full with the Cardinals' potent offense. Several key players will inevitably step up for each team, and here are the three top threats to keep an eye on.


Keith Wenning, QB, Ball State

Senior quarterback Keith Wenning is perhaps the top quarterback in the nation that you've never heard of. The relatively weak conference he plays in is likely the reason why, because his numbers this season were certainly worthy of national attention.

Wenning threw for at least 305 yards in 10 of his 12 games this season. His last game against Miami (OH) was easily his best in 2013, as he totaled six touchdown passes with 445 yards and just six incompletions.

With weapons around him and motivation to perform well in his final game with the Cardinals, look for Wenning to come out slinging. Ball State ranked No. 9 in the nation in terms of passing yards per game, and while most of that can be attributed to Wenning, a good portion of that needs to be attributed to the offensive scheme.

Wenning is in a situation that allows him to air it out with success. Look for him to do more of the same against the Red Wolves.


Michael Gordon, RB, Arkansas State

Arkansas State doesn't have a potent offense by any means, but perhaps its best weapon is running back Michael Gordon.

Gordon didn't get a ton of opportunities this season compared to other backs across the country, but he made the most of his chances. His mark of 6.8 yards per carry is evident of his motor and willingness to fight for tough yards.

The 5'9" sophomore is also coming off the best three-game stretch of his season. He totaled 362 yards and four touchdowns against the likes of Texas State, Georgia State and Western Kentucky. Ball State will throw different defensive schemes his way (including stuffing the box with linebackers), but Gordon has the speed and vision to break a few plays open.

The Red Wolves' strategy, according to Eddie Timanus of USA Today Sports, will be to use Gordon to eat time away:

Arkansas State isn't quite as prolific [as Ball State], but QB Adam Kennedy and TBs David Oku and Michael Gordon will try to control the clock as much as possible.

If Gordon can keep up this hot streak, then there's plenty of reason to believe that he'll do more than just play a part in clock management.


Willie Snead, WR, Ball State

Junior wideout Willie Snead is by far the best pass-catching option on either side in the GoDaddy Bowl. His numbers this season were superb, even if they were influenced by having Wenning throw the ball his way.

Like Gordon, Snead is hitting his stride of late. He posted 23 catches, 254 yards and two touchdowns in his past two games against Northern Illinois and Miami (OH). With Wenning throwing him the ball, Snead has the potential to keep it going against Arkansas State.

Mark Inabinett of AL.com breaks down Snead's place in Ball State history:

After catching at least five passes in every game this season, Snead stands second in Ball State history with 214 receptions, 2,904 receiving yards and 25 touchdown catches. He already holds the school record for 100-yard receiving games with 13.

Snead is dynamic in the vertical passing game. His speed and great hands make him an ideal target for Wenning over the top of opposing secondaries. His 5'11" frame isn't ideal for jump-ball scenarios, so expect Wenning to air it out when the ball is going Snead's way.

He'll certainly make his presence felt as his quarterback's favorite target.

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Louisville Football: Top 5 Replacements for Charlie Strong

Louisville athletic director Tom Jurich confirmed Sunday what had been reported over the past 36 hours: Head coach Charlie Strong was headed to Texas.

It's a tough loss for the Cardinals and a good, albeit interesting, acquisition for the Longhorns. Strong resurrected a Louisville program that had slipped under former coach Steve Kragthorpe, winning 37 games in four seasons. Strong is an excellent defensive mind and a relentless recruiter. 

It will be fascinating to see how Strong fits at Texas, but don't expect the 'Horns to give up 550 yards rushing—like they did to BYU this season—anytime soon. 

But Louisville should be fine post-Strong. Jurich is regarded as one of the best ADs in the country and money is not an issue for the Cardinals, who will enter ACC play for the first time in 2014. 

Louisville is a good job, and they can get an excellent coach out of all of this. Here are five directions Jurich may go with his upcoming coaching search. 

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6 Best Prop Bets for 2014 BCS National Championship Game

The BCS National Championship Game has been covered from every angle—twice, three times, maybe—which means there’s only one angle left to take. It also happens to be the most important angle of them all. 

Which prop bets should you make?

OK, so maybe it’s not the most important matter of the final BCS game to ever be played. But it will likely be the most entertaining.

Florida State has been bet up to a nine-point favorite against Auburn, at least that’s where the number has settled at most sportsbooks with plenty of bets to come in. The over/under will close somewhere in the high 60s—likely around 68—which means points are forecast in large amounts.

For those looking for other ways to make things interesting, however, the online sportsbook Bovada is here to help with a long list of fascinating prop bets to make things interesting.

As for some of those prop bets that are worth a look, let’s pick some winners. 

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Twitter Reacts to Charlie Strong Becoming Texas Longhorns Football Coach

First he was, then he wasn't, then no one had any idea what the heck was going on. But finally, after a couple days of widespread speculation and conflicting reports, Charlie Strong has left Louisville for the University of Texas' head-coaching vacancy.

Steve Patterson, the university's athletics director, announced the two sides had come to terms on Jan. 5. in a press release. Strong will not be officially introduced as head coach until Monday, but he seemed eager to embark on the new journey:  

I'm excited and my family is excited to have the chance to lead one of the premier football programs in the country. Texas is one of those places that is always on your radar and a program anyone would dream of being a part of because you have a chance to compete on a national level every year. It's special because it has such great history, pride, tradition and passion for football.

Strong, 53, went 37-15 during his four-year stint at Louisville, including a 23-3 record over the past two seasons. A burgeoning giant with the backing of a national television deal, Strong helped the Cardinals recover from the disappointing Steve Kragthorpe era and landed arguably the biggest recruit in school history with quarterback Teddy Bridgewater.     

With Bridgewater entering the 2014 NFL draft and Strong having proven himself able to handle head-coaching duties, going to a program like Texas is a natural next step. Strong takes over for Mack Brown, whose retirement was nearly as big of a fiasco as the school's coaching search.

Though Brown is arguably the second-most decorated coach in school history behind Darrell Royal, the program's struggles late in his tenure led to widespread criticism. Texas had at least four losses in each of the past four seasons, and will likely finish unranked for the third time in four years after losing to Oregon in the Alamo Bowl.

Still, this is the type of dream job coaches rarely turn down. Strong walks in with unprecedented financial backing buoyed by the Longhorn Network and other revenue streams, and should be able to bring the Longhorns back to prominence.

Chris Brown of OrangeBloods.com indicated Strong is the type of choice that should reinvigorate the program:

Retired Atlanta Braves third baseman Chipper Jones apparently has a different sport in mind for his children. While praising the Strong hire, Jones indicated the former Louisville coach is the type of man he wants taking care of his children—should they be good enough to get an offer:

As for the kids to whom Strong was actually responsible, well, that reaction was a little different. He did not meet with his Louisville players before departing for Texas for Monday's announcement, and quite a few Cardinals seemed unhappy with their former coach. Defensive end Lorenzo Mauldin called Strong out for lying and saying he would not leave:

Safety Calvin Pryor thinks that perhaps it's the players—not the coaches—who deserve credit for the Cardinals becoming a national power:

Louisville players aren't going to be the only ones missing Strong. As ESPN ACC noted, the head coach is leaving just before the program makes the move from the American Athletic Conference to the ACC:

On the Texas side of things, reactions were understandably positive. ESPN's Dick Vitale notes that there won't be many excuses—financial or otherwise—for Strong to not build a national title contender:

Roland Smith? He doesn't seem to think too much will change, even if he qualifies it by liking the hire:

At one point, Florida head coach Will Muschamp was tabbed as Brown's replacement in waiting. With the Gators struggling and Muschamp's job possibly in jeopardy with one more bad season, the SEC Logo wants to know whether he could get his old gig back:

On a more serious note, it's obvious Strong has national respect as a football coach. Greg Tepper of TexasFootball.com thinks the hire was solid—even if Strong wasn't the first choice:

No matter what comes next for Strong and the Longhorns, it seems the program's new coach wants to honor the past. Strong went out of his way to mention Brown and his legacy by name, per Sports Illustrated's Pete Thamel:

Whether Strong was a good or a bad hire, Texas fans are likely happy the whole process is over. From Nick Saban to Jim Mora to any number of other suitors, it seemed everywhere the athletic department went it was turned down. Strong, in the end, decided to take the next step.

The only question remaining is whether he's ready. 


 Follow Tyler Conway on Twitter:


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Louisville Head Coach Search: Latest Rumors and Buzz After Charlie Strong's Exit

Louisville is searching for a new head football coach after losing Charlie Strong to the Texas Longhorns, and there's already some chatter about who could potentially replace him.

The Longhorns on Twitter announced the news regarding Strong's new position on Sunday, Jan. 5:

Taking over for Strong could be intimidating, as the formidable head coach put together a stellar record during his tenure, as pointed out by SportsCenter Alerts:

Strong rebuilt this program into a national contender, which is what made him such an appealing choice for Texas. The Cardinals suffered through three miserable losing seasons before Strong arrived in 2010, and he turned them into winners.   

Louisville athletic director Tom Jurich talked about what he's looking for in a new candidate, as Dave Miller of the National Football Post relayed:

I’m a big person that believes in fit. I want somebody that fits here. You always say you want somebody who wants to be here. Does that mean five minutes? Five years? Five days? I want somebody who will look at this job as a true destination job, look at it as a long-term process. Somebody that wants to build it the right way and continue to build what Charlie did.

Miller also provided a list of candidates he believes would be a good fit for the Cardinals, including Chad Morris (Clemson offensive coordinator), Kirby Smart (Alabama defensive coordinator), Mark Hudspeth (Louisiana-Lafayette head coach) and others. 

Whoever jumps on board as the new leader at Louisville will be going forward without the program's top player, as quarterback Teddy Bridgewater has declared himself eligible for the 2014 NFL draft, as ESPN's Brett McMurphy reported:

While Louisville may not be as attractive a destination as Texas, USC or some of the other top programs in the country, there's no doubt this open position will be highly desirable for a coach looking to make his mark.

It will be hard following up Strong's act, but the groundwork has already been laid for long-term success.


Follow me on Twitter @JesseReed78 

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BCS Championship Game 2014: 5 Bold Predictions for Auburn

NEWPORT BEACH, Calif. — Destiny will battle perfection on Monday night at the Rose Bowl, as No. 2 Auburn will go up against No. 1 Florida State in the VIZIO BCS National Championship Game in Pasadena.

With all of the press conferences, practices and meetings in the books, what better time to step out on a limb and make some bold predictions?

Who will lead the Tigers in rushing? Can they rattle Seminoles quarterback Jameis Winston? Will they successfully stretch the field through the air?

Five bold predictions for the Tigers are in this slide show.

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