Feed aggregator

Tennessee Football: What AJ Johnson's Return Means for Vols Defense

The Tennessee Volunteers received some monstrous news Tuesday when All-SEC linebacker AJ "The Beast" Johnson announced on Twitter that he was returning for his senior season.

The 6'2", 245-pound middle linebacker's decision to stick around gives UT head coach Butch Jones and defensive coordinator John Jancek a centerpiece around which to rebuild the Vols defense.

Returning a three-year starter is like adding an extra on-field coach and can do nothing but ease the learning curve for some of the newcomers—especially when it's one who can back it up by being a tackling machine.

The news was met by immediate excitement from Jones, who knows the importance of having an upperclassman on the roster to help lead a young but considerably more talented unit than what UT placed on the field in 2013.

Getting another year out of Johnson was possibly Jones' biggest recruiting coup in a year full of them.

Johnson's return gives Jones and Jancek an all-conference stalwart to pencil into the lineup every week, allowing the Vols to bring along a young, talented recruiting class full of linebackers slowly.

Johnson electing to stick around for his senior season will coincide with the return of his classmate and best friend, Curt Maggitt, to the Tennessee linebacking corps. Maggitt was the Vols' most disruptive defender prior to tearing knee ligaments against Missouri in November of 2012.

He missed all of 2013 while recovering and has two years of eligibility. The good news for Vols fans is, if he returns to form, UT will be able to put a healthy, dynamic duo on the field for the first time since they each received freshman All-America honors in 2011.

The Vols have several athletic options to fill the other outside linebacker spot. Rising sophomore Jalen Reeves-Maybin was a special teams dynamo as a freshman and has shown glimpses of serious potential on the second level.

A duo of highly recruited outside linebackers—freshman Dillon Bates and junior college transfer Chris Weatherd—will compete with Reeves-Maybin for playing time at the other outside linebacker spot.

UT has some other incoming freshmen OLBs as well.

Those bountiful options should also enable Jancek to replace Johnson in passing situations, if that need arises. Though he improved in that facet of his game as the year progressed, the only knock on Johnson in the past has been his struggles in space and with covering receivers.

Strengthening that area of his game could really boost Johnson's NFL draft stock. Wes Rucker of 247Sports.com detailed where Johnson currently stands:

Most analysts seemed to suggest he’d be drafted in the fourth, fifth or six round of the upcoming NFL Draft, so he chose to return to school in hopes of bumping that grade after a second season with Jones and defensive coordinator John Jancek.

The Vols' defensive stalwart was not included in Bleacher Report draft expert Matt Miller's latest mock draft.

Johnson improved as he became more acclimated to his third defensive scheme in three years.

That bodes well for UT moving forward, but the biggest news out of all this is returning Johnson's production and emotional leadership. The Gainesville, Ga., native has amassed 324 tackles over the past three seasons, leading UT in that category every season.

With more speed and talent around him, Johnson will have more opportunities to shine and will not be asked to do as many things that take him out of his comfort zone.

Instead, he can focus on being a bruising, run-stuffing linebacker in the mold of New England Patriot Brandon Spikes.

Without Johnson's return, the Vols were going to be forced to play a newcomer in the middle of their defense or move somebody from their normal position. With him in the fold, they boast a leader who can impose his will on offenses and instruct by example along the way.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

After the Alamo and After the Announcements, It's Time to Recap the 2013 Season

The 2013 season didn't end the way many Oregon fans had been counting on after an 8-0 start. It did end with a third consecutive bowl win, which secured win No. 11 for head coach Mark Helfrich and the Ducks.

There were some questions regarding the leadership and the heart of the team after seeing their national title hopes disappear with an early November loss to Stanford, but the Ducks showed plenty of heart and desire in the regular season finale against in-state rival Oregon State.

Sure, the Ducks allowed over 200 yards on the ground to one of the nation's worst rushing attacks. The Ducks played flat on Senior Day, but in the end, the team rallied behind quarterback Marcus Mariota and senior Josh Huff.

The end result was a breathtaking drive in the final minute of the "Civil War." The last-minute win gave the Ducks their sixth consecutive win over their in-state rivals and secured another season with double-digit wins.

After being skipped over by the BCS in favor of Oklahoma, the Ducks were sent to San Antonio for their first appearance in the Valero Alamo Bowl against the Texas Longhorns.

With news and rumors about coaching changes and players leaving for the NFL, the Ducks came together and put on a defensive clinic in longtime defensive coordinator Nick Aliotti's final game as a coach.

The way things turned out, the Ducks finished with 11 wins for just the fifth time in school history. The win total allowed Mark Helfrich to surpass Chip Kelly's 10 wins for the most victories for a first-year Oregon head coach.

The Ducks received news that Aliotti would retire and that running back De'Anthony Thomas and cornerback Terrance Mitchell would leave school early for the NFL.

It isn't all bad for the Ducks who also learned that Mariota, center Hroniss Grasu and cornerback Ifo Ekpre-Olomu will all return to school for another season with the program.

It may not have been the fairytale ending that many had hoped for, but the Ducks are primed for another run toward the top in 2014. Ending the season on a high note was a good start to the offseason. 

Now comes the task of finishing off another stellar recruiting class, which will help build added momentum as the Ducks head into spring practice.

Begin Slideshow

After the Alamo and After the Announcements, It's Time to Recap the 2013 Season

The 2013 season didn't end the way many Oregon fans had been counting on after an 8-0 start. It did end with a third consecutive bowl win, which secured win No. 11 for head coach Mark Helfrich and the Ducks...

Begin Slideshow

Does FSU or Auburn Have Better Shot to Return to Title Game Next Year?

With the final BCS game in the rearview and the College Football Playoff commercials already consuming your television, the focus will turn to next season. After all, Florida State head coach Jimbo Fisher revealed his inner Saban when talking about preparations for the 2014 season, as Steve Greenberg of the Chicago Sun-Times reported.

Jimbo: "In two days, I'm gonna go get ready to try and win another one." #FSU

— Steve Greenberg (@SLGreenberg) January 7, 2014

Although the confetti has yet to be completely cleared from the Rose Bowl turf, it’s never too early to look ahead. More specifically, it’s never too early to look at what this year’s championship teams could provide eight months from now.

It hurts the soul just to type that. The offseason darkness is upon us.

For Auburn and Florida State—two teams that were flying under the radar heading into the 2013 offseason, one more than the other—the expectations will be drastically different heading into the spring. Each will enter the fall with their sights set on a spot in the College Football Playoff.

When taking a deep look into the crystal ball to see which team has a better chance to get there, however, you must start with the quarterbacks. Jameis Winston will be back at Florida State, and Nick Marshall will be back at Auburn.

That's a heck of a place to start.

Each player will benefit greatly from another offseason with brilliant teachers. Winston should build off of his Heisman season, improving some of the imperfections that became more pronounced later in the year. Marshall, who flashed moments of brilliance throughout much of the second half, will have the luxury of working with Gus Malzahn in spring and fall practice.

Auburn will return most of its offense, although it will be operating without at least one key piece.

Greg Robinson, the Tigers’ left tackle and a fast riser in the scouting world, announced on Twitter that he would forgo his senior year and enter the draft.

This was a tough decision but I have decided to declare for the NFL Draft.

— Greg Robinson (@GregRobinson73) January 7, 2014

Along with this key loss on the line, running back Tre Mason could test the NFL waters after closing strong, leaving at a time when his stock might be the highest it will ever be.

Neither is a given to stay or leave, but the majority of the weapons on offense will return.

Defensively, Auburn will lose Dee Ford and cornerback Chris Davis, two players that factored in enormously this year. It has plenty of youth to be excited about, however, and the development of defensive end Carl Lawson will be a joy to watch over the next few years.

Florida State clearly has more uncertainty and draft-eligible players who could stay or go.

We do know that talented linebacker Christian Jones and freakish defensive back Lamarcus Joyner are gone. Wide receiver Kenny Shaw also exhausted his eligibility, although this is an interesting position to keep an eye on.

Do Rashad Greene and Kelvin Benjamin come back? What about Nick O’Leary at tight end? And how about Devonta Freeman, Karlos Williams and James Wilder Jr. at running back? It would appear that Wilder is likely moving on, according to ESPN's Joe Schad.

FSU RB James Wilder will enter the next NFL Draft per source

— Joe Schad (@schadjoe) January 7, 2014

These potential departures and returns will be some of the early storylines to watch in the offseason. Expect the Seminoles to deal with a bit of both.

In terms of talent coming in and developing, both teams have recruited quite well in recent years. Auburn will continue to thrive on the recruiting trail, but Florida State has become almost Alabama-esque in the way it has stockpiled talent and filled openings over the past few seasons.

Returning to the championship picture is more than just returning or development, though. Much of this boils down to things outside of a team’s control, like the expected power of the conference, and more importantly, the schedule.

This is where Florida State separates itself as more viable repeat candidate, thanks in large part to ample questions in the ACC.

The Seminoles’ toughest road game next season will come against Louisville or Miami. They will also open against a rebuilt Oklahoma State team. And FSU will welcome Notre Dame, Florida and Clemson to Tallahassee, a favorable draw—from a great distance away—to say the least.

Auburn, meanwhile, will have to travel to Kansas State, Ole Miss, Mississippi State, Georgia and finish with a trip to Alabama. The Tigers will also welcome LSU, South Carolina and Texas A&M. There are many questions to be answered by the teams on tap, but the schedule doesn't look like much fun on paper.

At this point last year, however, Auburn was penciled in as a win for most teams that drew the Tigers. Look how that turned out.

Given the quarterback, talent in place, talent that could potentially return and the difficulty of the schedule, Florida State seems like the more likely team to find its way back into the championship picture.

With key pieces set to return for each team, however, it seems unlikely that either will fall out of the picture over the next eight months.

Oh, and the reality of the wait ahead has certainly set in, the most significant obstacle of them all.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Florida State RB James Wilder Jr. Reportedly Declares for NFL Draft

James Wilder Jr. is leaving college on top.

One day after being crowned a national champion, the Florida State running back is declaring for the 2014 NFL Draft, according to ESPN's Joe Schad:

Wilder Jr. was part of the Seminoles' explosive three-headed rushing attack, splitting time with starter Devonta Freeman and Karlos Williams throughout the year. He finished third among that trio with 81 carries, 563 yards and eight rushing TDs.

At first glance, that would seem to make Wilder's decision a curious one. If he couldn't even crack second-string on his college team, what makes him think he's ready for the NFL?

But it's more complicated than that. For one thing, Florida State is not your average backfield. All three of those guys could have an NFL future, so getting a light workload is far from indicting.

For another thing, Wilder Jr. has a daughter to support, according to Bud Elliot of Tomahawk Nation, which factors into his decision:

This move comes as little surprise due to those reasons, and also because he told a recruit he would be gone next season, according to Chris Nee of 247Sports. Much as Seminoles fans would like to have Wilder Jr. back next season, they've long known this day would be coming.

How does Wilder Jr. project at the next level? Despite getting far fewer carries than Freeman, the big, muscular running back (6'2'', 229) is considered a better pro prospect, according to Mike Huguenin of NFL.com. He doesn't have the speed to be a three-down runner, but he could be useful in short-yardage situations.

As for Florida State, the Seminoles should be just fine at the position next year. Freeman and Williams haven't declared their NFL intentions—though Freeman "hinted he could bolt," according to Matt Baker of The Tampa Bay Times—and incoming freshman Dalvin Cook, a 5-star recruit who flipped from the Gators to FSU, is supposed to be a game-changing talent from day one.

Jameis Winston will still have someone to hand the ball to next year.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Why College Football Programs Fire so Many Coaches Looking for "The One"

The late owner of the NFL's Oakland Raiders, Al Davis, had his "Just Win Baby" mantra, but perhaps he missed his true calling all along—that of a college football booster.

Judging by the number of coaches on the hot seat and being let go on an annual basis in college football, his penitent for firing coaches would've fit right in with the college football game of today.

Winning the majority of the games you play or doing things your university has never done before isn't good enough anymore—you better win, do it with style and keep the boosters, who keep the cash flowing, happy, or risk losing your job. 

This offseason, there have been 17 coaching changes to date, and of those changes, a full 10 have been due to "resignation" or the coach being let go. 

Sure, some of them have been for cause, with the group being let go holding a combined record of 168-254 as head coaches at their respective schools (minus Texas' Mack Brown, who went 158-48 before resigning at the end of the season).

That's a whopping .398 winning percentage for the nine coaches who handed in their resignation or were fired. Clearly, there was cause in most of those cases.

However, at the highest levels of the game, administrators and fans are on an ever-increasing hunt for the next big thing in college football. 

Win big at a school that normally doesn't do it, and all the eyes of a big university's boosters will turn to you at the first sign of weakness in the current regime. 

It isn't just at the five big conferences that made up the old BCS system, either; it's trickled down to the likes of the MAC and Conference-USA, too. 

Of the nine coaches let go this past offseason, six of them had been at their school for four years or less. 

Four of those six coaches gone this season were from so-called "mid-major" programs.

Ron English spent four years at Eastern Michigan (11-46), Don Treadwell managed to get fired in two-and-a-half years at Miami (OH) (8-21), Charley Molnar lasted two years in UMass' transition to FBS (2-22) and Carl Pelini "allegedly" smoked his way out of Florida Atlantic in under two years (5-15). 

No longer are you going to be allowed to build a program and cycle through at least one class, not with the money being spent and the boosters to keep happy (Yes, even at Eastern Michigan there are boosters to keep happy). 

Then, there are the special cases, the Lane Kiffin's and Mack Brown's of the world—two coaches who produced winning records at schools that expect greatness, and yet it still wasn't good enough. 

At Texas, it was Brown's 18-17 record in Big 12 play over the last four years that had multimillionaire donors screaming for his head. So, Brown did the classy thing and stepped down with grace and dignity at a university he loves because he knew how the game is played these days. 

For Lane Kiffin, it was going from No. 1 to unranked and then losing two Pac-12 conference games at the start of the season that left him alone on an airport tarmac while his team sped away heading back to campus.

When a rough patch hits, the grass is always greener on the other side to those who open up their wallets and expect a return on their investment.

At Texas, that meant going out and naming the price that the hottest name in college coaching the past three offseason's—Louisville's Charlie Strong—couldn't refuse any longer.

There's no doubt he was a great success at a school that struggled greatly before his arrival, but success at Louisville doesn't mean automatic success at Texas. 

Sure, Strong and Co. will be set up with every advantage to succeed, but let's remember Mack Brown had the same advantages throughout his 16-year career, and only the last four years mattered to the boys running the show—the boosters. 

Just because the grass appears to be greener doesn't mean it will actually work out. Just ask Tennessee or Michigan what it's like to push a proven winner out the door for the next "it" coach. 

Last time we checked, both were still struggling to be relevant since those firings. 

That's not to say that, in some cases, it doesn't work out, either.

Just ask Auburn, who let a national champion head coach (Gene Chizik) go just two years after the national title, only to see its new head coach, Gus Malzhan, lead the program from a 3-9 season (0-8 in SEC) to the SEC title and a berth in the BCS National Championship Game the very next season.

However, that has been the exception and not the rule. 

Just look at Kansas, who fired Turner Gill after one horrific season in 2011 and replaced him with the "hot name" of Charlie Weis, the ex-Notre Dame head coach. 

Since Weis has taken over, Kansas has amassed a grand total of one Big 12 victory (1-17) and is 4-20 overall. 

Kansas's boosters thought making a big-name hire would bring them closer to the days of historic success under Mark Mangino, only the return on their multimillion dollar investment has been rather poor.  

With another offseason of coaching changes upon us, we're reminded now more than ever that the almighty dollar is king of the mountain in college football—no matter what your resume is as a head coach. 

 

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

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Greg Robinson Officially Announces He Will Enter 2014 NFL Draft

The BCS National Championship was the last game of Greg Robinson's collegiate career, as the sophomore offensive lineman declared for the 2014 NFL draft.

Bleacher Report's Matt Miller shared the news via Twitter:

Robinson thanked the Auburn coaching staff and fans for this past season, in which the Tigers finished runners-up to the Florida State Seminoles.

Head coach Gus Malzahn was equally appreciative of what Robinson had done to help the team, per Charles Goldberg of AuburnTigers.com:

Greg played a big part in our success this season and I appreciate everything he did as an Auburn Tiger during his career. He has a bright future ahead of him at the next level and we wish him nothing but the best.

J.B. Grimes, Auburn's offensive line coach, raved about the star lineman ahead of the national title game, per NFL.com's Dan Greenspan:

I've not had one like him. I've had some really, really good players, probably coached somewhere in the neighborhood of 50 guys that have gone on to either play in the NFL or at least gotten into camps, but I've never had one with the skill set he has got.

[...]

Everyone can see the tape. He can get movement on the Berlin Wall, as far as the running game is concerned, but they haven't seen his pure athleticism yet.

It shouldn't come as a huge shock that Robinson has foregone his final two years at Auburn.

In his most recent mock draft, Bleacher Report's Matt Miller had the sophomore going at No. 15 to the Pittsburgh Steelers. While an extra year in college could help to hone Robinson's skill, he appears to be a lock for the first round as is. He did wonders for his draft stock after a great performance in the National Championship Game against what was a tough Seminoles front seven.

There may not be a better run-blocker in the 2014 draft class, Jake Matthews included. Robinson is so strong and technically sound that he can easily overpower defensive linemen and push them off the line of scrimmage.

Since he only has two years of college football under his belt, Robinson can sometimes fall prey to the kind of mistakes that only get corrected with more seasoning. One of his biggest problems is moving laterally to block quicker pass-rushers coming off the edge. Playing in Auburn's run-heavy offense, he didn't have a lot of opportunities to pass block.

Robinson is athletic enough that with the right coaching and more time in a more balanced offense, he should become a better all-round blocker.  

The sky is the limit for the sophomore, and he's only sure to rise on draft boards between now and May.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

How Oregon's Offense Will Look Without De'Anthony Thomas in 2014

Replacing junior running back De’Anthony Thomas, who declared his intention to enter the NFL draft, is more like replacing multiple players at once for Oregon head coach Mark Helfrich and his staff.

Thomas' departure leaves the Ducks with vacancies on special teams, in the passing game and in the running game, and no one player is going to fill that void. Thomas is the proverbial round hole on a roster of square pegs, as described by Rob Moseley of GoDucks.com. 

Such was Thomas' impact on the Oregon offense. He did a little of everything in his three seasons for the Ducks, debuting in 2011 as a kick returner and slot receiver, then making the move to running back to provide a change of pace to feature 278-carry workhorse Kenjon Barner. 

Quality over quantity, that's what Oregon loses with Thomas pursuing his NFL dream.

He didn't need to dominate the ball to make a game-changing play. Between 92 rushes and 45 receptions, Thomas scored 16 offensive touchdowns in 2012—one for every 8.6 touches.

Thomas was an ideal weapon in Oregon's offense because he has a type of speed perfectly suited to exploit mismatches and coverage in space.   

"He's the fastest player on the football field that I've had," Oregon running backs coach Gary Campbell said, via The Oregonian. "He plays a lot faster than he really is."

Thomas also used his speed to add a 7.6-yard per carry wallop to supplement No. 1 back Barner's 6.4 yards per rush, and in 2013, he demonstrated flashes of brilliance as a top back. 

But with the depth that the Ducks have at running back, their ground game is going to be just fine without Thomas. 

Thomas never fully materialized as a feature back. A Week 5 ankle injury that kept him out of four games and led to an early exit in another, no doubt affected Thomas' ball-carrying ability. He averaged 8 yards per carry in the first three games of the season, including his three-touchdown romp at Virginia, but he couldn't reach the 6-yard mark in any of his appearances after returning. 

By season's end, his rushing average was exactly the same as backfield comrades Byron Marshall and Thomas Tyner. 

Oregon's rush offense had an opportunity to adjust to life without Thomas as the game-breaker. Tyner and Marshall both showed star potential at times, a healthy quarterback Marcus Mariota concluded 2013 with his best rushing performance of the season and 5-star prospect Royce Freeman promises to add a power element to the Ducks' ground attack. 

Mariota may feel more of a squeeze in the passing game without his trusty target out of the backfield, as Thomas led the Ducks in receptions in 2012.

However in 2013, as Thomas' repetitions at running back increased, he was used less as a receiver. He had six games out of 13 with at least four receptions in 2012, but hit that same benchmark just three games out of nine this season.  

In that regard, Thomas was at times a man without a country. Because his skill set was so diverse and he could be plugged into any number of roles, he had no offensive specialty.

Consider wide receiver Bralon Addison, who took on a more prominent role and handled some of the responsibilities Thomas carried as the dynamic target in space. Addison wasn't also bearing the burden of carrying the ball 10-plus times a game, much as Marshall focused on his 15 or so rushes while also going out for passes.  

The area where Thomas could perhaps most be considered a specialist is as a kick returner, and that may very well be where his void is most felt. Starting in 2006 and through the 2010 season, Ducks kick returners combined for exactly one touchdown. Thomas ran at least one kickoff back for a score in each of his three seasons in Eugene, Oregon.

Keanon Lowe, Troy Hill, B.J. Kelley and the departing Josh Huff also fielded kickoffs in 2013. Not only does the Duck who takes over that job full-time have a high standard to meet, but he'll also be vital to Oregon's game plan.

A home-run threat in the return game gave Oregon's special teams an advantage that was parlayed into a decided offensive advantage via field position. FootballOutsiders.com reports Oregon enjoyed one of the best starting field position averages in the nation, and Thomas' electric kick-returning contributed.

A longer field can impact offensive coordinator Scott Frost's play-calling, in turn having a more profound effect on the Ducks offense than anything Oregon loses from Thomas as a running back. 

Of the multiple replacements Helfrich is plugging into Thomas' void, this is probably the biggest. 

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

How Oregon's Offense Will Look Without De'Anthony Thomas in 2014

Replacing junior running back De’Anthony Thomas, who declared his intention to enter the NFL draft, is more like replacing multiple players at once for Oregon head coach Mark Helfrich and his staff...

Read the full article on Bleacher Report...

Henry Josey Officially Announces He Will Enter 2014 NFL Draft

It wasn't long ago that Missouri running back Henry Josey's football career was very much in question, but Josey has overcome a great deal and will leave Mizzou on a high note after declaring for the 2014 NFL draft, according to Joe Walljasper of the Columbia Daily Tribune:

Josey's decision comes on the heels of a 92-yard, three-touchdown effort in the Tigers' 41-31 Cotton Bowl win over Oklahoma State. Josey ended the season with 1,166 yards and 16 touchdowns rushing, which is incredible considering the fact that he missed the entire 2012 campaign due to injury.  

Josey was enjoying an incredible 2011 season that saw him top 1,000 yards and average over eight yards per carry, but it was cut short after he tore his ACL, MCL and patellar tendon in a November 2011 game against Texas.

Knee injuries usually don't get much more devastating than that, and Josey's status for 2013 was very much up in the air. He managed to return to form, however, and was a driving force behind a Missouri team that shockingly reached the SEC Championship Game.

Not surprisingly, Josey has gained plenty of fans over the past couple years. Missouri assistant director of strategic communications Patrick Crawford is one of them, as he heaped praise on the resilient running back.

Missouri head coach Gary Pinkel clearly feels quite strongly about Josey as well.Following the Tigers' Cotton Bowl triumph, Pinkel waxed poetic about Josey's will to get back on the field and excel, according to Martin Rickman of SI.com:

He's special. That’s what you see on the field. But the reason he's special, he's got great athleticism, he's tough, he's strong, all those other things. But his heart, you can't measure how big it is, his determination, his perseverance. Once he overcame that injury, I mean, you know, you grow from those things. He's now different now. Remarkably he's an even better player now.

Josey's determination is undeniable, but NFL teams may be wary of selecting him considering his injury history. Also, he has plenty of competition in what figures to be a deep running back class that already includes Bishop Sankey and Lache Seastrunk, and could include Ka'Deem Carey, Tre Mason, Carlos Hyde, Andre Williams and a host of others.

With that said, Josey can't be blamed for declaring. He could have suffered another major injury while at Missouri and cost himself a lot of money, so he made the right move from that perspective.

Running backs have bounced back from major collegiate injuries and had great NFL careers in the past, with Frank Gore and Willis McGahee immediately coming to mind. Josey already has a leg up since he's two years removed from his injury, so perhaps someone will be willing to take a chance on him.  

 

Follow @MikeChiari on Twitter

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Pittsburgh Football Trending Upward Despite Mediocre 2013 Season

There will be no more meaningful college football played for well over seven months. Do you miss it yet? Understandably, many Pittsburgh fans might have been too busy cheering on the men's basketball team on its own maiden ACC voyage to care about what happened this past year, much less the finality of Monday night's instant classic in Pasadena.

Or maybe this ongoing polar vortex froze their tear ducts, thus preventing them from getting choked up about not being able to utter the phrase "Tommy Football" anymore.

Seriously, though, as one metal band reminded us in the 1980s, you don't know what you got til it's gone.

Sure, the Panthers mostly have plodded along as roadies, not rock stars, on the grand gridiron stage since then. And no matter what Cinderella says, a 7-6 finish in 2013 is hardly reason to measure oneself for glass slippers.

Striking down Bowling Green at a half-empty Ford Field the night after Christmas wasn't the endgame envisioned by the program when Paul Chryst inherited it over two years ago. 

However, lost in the ennui of another trip to another forlorn industrial city for another token bowl game were reasons to immediately look forward to the forthcoming fall.

When the Falcons first landed in Detroit, they upset No. 14 Northern Illinois, which was led by dual-threat quarterback and Heisman long shot Jordan Lynch, to win the MAC and earn favorite status entering the Little Caesars Pizza Bowl. It was a game Pitt, in order to earn respect after going 3-5 within the conference in its inaugural ACC campaign, needed to win but wasn't necessarily expected to.

Chryst had already collected a signature victory. Revisionist history says it came not in a smackdown of eventual conference rival Virginia Tech in his first year on the job, but on Nov. 9, when he got a tiny bit of revenge against No. 24 Notre Dame before a nationwide TV audience and a Heinz Field crowd much more voluminous than usual.

In case that defeat of the Golden Domers lost any luster, winning his first bowl game as a head coach further proved the program is not as allergic to success as perceived.

If anything, his players, some of whom had played under as many different people as toppings offered by Little Caesars, went into the bowl game nice and loose, knowing the coaching carousel was spinning on the opposite sideline for a change. They played with enough reckless abandon that BGSU interim boss Adam Scheier called them "the most physical team we faced all season" to Noah Trister of the Associated Press.

You're going to remember when that defense looked overwhelmed by ACC champion Florida State, and later, by dark horse Duke. Or when the Panthers sleepwalked through the second quarter against North Carolina. Or when they spotted Miami a 21-point halftime lead. Or when they simply ran out of steam in the final minutes at Navy.

Having said that, let us not forget how that same defense not only controlled the line of scrimmage against Bowling Green, but also controlled the damage done by Matt Johnson, sacking the sophomore seven times.

Let us also not forget that the face of the 2013 Panthers was, in fact, a defensive player: senior tackle and consensus All-American Aaron Donald.

No other Pitt defensive lineman in recent memory had drawn comparisons to the legendary Hugh Green, and, until Donald's final collegiate season, none had been as celebrated as Green.

Despite facing designed double- and triple-teams all season, the Penn Hills product led the nation with 28.5 tackles for loss, which comprised nearly half of his 59.0 total tackles. He won the Lombardi and Bednarik Awards, along with the Nagurski and Outland Trophies, becoming the first Pitt player ever to take home four postseason awards in a single year.

The fact that Donald, unlike Green, was not invited to New York City only underscores how aloof Heisman voters have become.

This program hasn't boasted such an outstanding player on a middling team since Larry Fitzgerald. Dragging down Johnson deep in the pocket to effectively end the Little Caesars Pizza Bowl was a nice way for Donald, the erstwhile FBS leader in career sacks by active players, to walk off into the sunset, as B/R Featured Columnist Alex Koza reported.

Once again, you don't know what you got til it's gone.

Speaking of Fitzgerald, the Panthers might have replicated him when they integrated pure freshman Tyler Boyd into their offense.

The newly anointed Freshman All-American looks to be every bit the blue-chipper after amassing 1,776 all-purpose yards and smashing Fitzgerald's team freshman records for catches and receiving yards. Even in his debut, that lopsided ACC lid-lifter against Florida State, the former Clairton (Pa.) phenom never appeared out of his league.

As satisfying as it must have been for Donald to end his college career on a high note, it was more important for Pitt to show the rest of the country there's food in the fridge entering 2014. While Boyd ate big chunks of yardage—a school bowl-game record 173 on eight grabs—and sliced through Bowling Green's special teams like a pizza cutter on a 54-yard punt return touchdown, fellow newcomer James Conner enjoyed his own progressive dinner party.

Pitt's previously inconsistent offense kept pace with the Falcons, one of the nation's five least scored-upon teams in 2013, because consistency was found on the ground. Conner, who scored the Panthers' first TD, stiff-armed his way to 229 yards—another school bowl-game record—on 26 carries.

He helped his team march into position for another freshman, Chris Blewitt, to rise above his name and win the game with a 39-yard field goal, and Conner ended his freshman campaign with 799 yards and eight touchdowns. Plus, in the wake of injuries and personal absences, his coaches were inspired to line him up at defensive end for the first time since he made all-state at Erie McDowell.

Chryst has not explicitly said whether or not we've seen the last of Conner as an ironman; nevertheless, the Panthers are prepared to move on without Donald up front.

Sophomore Darryl Render started to figure things out toward the end of the season (25.0 tackles, three pass breakups). Junior Bryan Murphy showed periodic promise in his second year as a starter (6.5 tackles for loss, 4.0 sacks). Freshman Shakir Soto was also noticeable (20.0 tackles, 4.0 tackles for loss), while Philadelphia area star Justin Moody and Pittsburgh City League standout Tyrique Jarrett paid their dues and may become impact players in the future.

On the other side of the line, redshirt freshman Adam Bisnowaty has nowhere to go but up after a back injury offset his early-season success at left tackle. The same can be said for another very highly touted local prospect, Dorian Johnson, who gained his first bit of experience at multiple spots in 2013.

That unit, which faced Bowling Green's defense without three regulars, paved the way for an offense that saw all of its points that night scored by freshmen, including late heroics by probable 2014 starting quarterback Chad Voytik.

For the first time since his stellar performance in the Blue-Gold Game, we caught a good glimpse of Voytik's abilities when the Cleveland, Tenn. native hurled a 62-yard sideline bomb to Boyd that set up his own score, a naked bootleg from five yards away for his first college touchdown. Imagine what those two could do together next season, considering such plays were par for the course for Voytik in high school.

I spent the last two months of the past year trying to get a read on these Panthers. I surmised they were still an average football team that hadn't learned how to take advantage of above-average opportunities, with that win over the Fighting Irish being the anomaly. Hopefully for their sake what happened in the Motor City was a sign post toward maturity.

"The program's definitely in good hands, especially with Coach Chryst being our head coach. The future's bright," Conner told Pitt LiveWire.

The gulf between the Panthers and the top teams in their new conference often seemed wide.

The linebackers, even with capable playmaker Todd Thomas roaming around, need better depth. In the secondary, potential leaders like Lafayette Pitts, who at times looked out of sorts in the more conservative schemes of novice defensive coordinator Matt House, need to find their form. The offense, which has only scratched the surface of how great its best players could be, needs to better value possessions and better protect whoever replaces Tom Savage.

If it's always darkest before the dawn, Pitt has not yet reached the dawn of a new era. Still, fans should be able to see rays of sunshine along the horizon.

In its first season of ACC play, Pitt played both conference finalists—to say nothing of the new national champion—closer and tougher than a number of its new neighbors.

It proved it still knows how to matriculate players to the NFL—Donald and all-time receptions leader Devin Street—who could have sustainable careers. Both men, along with Boyd, have brought positive national attention to a program mired in mediocrity.

(Oh, that reminds me...didn't that guy who won the rushing title used to loaf around here?)

There were three quality wins—over Duke, Notre Dame and Bowling Green—and, in fairness, at least one loss—to the 'Noles—that should be kept in perspective.

There were also three games in which the Panthers overcame second-half deficits, which is three more times than they did that from 2010 through 2012.

Things could certainly be better for Pitt. But they could also be worse, and those like me who grew up during the second Johnny Majors era will remind you that, once upon a time, they were.

"It's a great feeling just to know that the program is going back on top with Coach Chryst," Donald told Sam Werner of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. "That's a guarantee."

Coming from a reputable spokesman for a senior class previously hurt by deception and administrative incompetence, that praise should mean a lot.

In all, 12 pure freshmen saw action for Pitt in 2013. Eight different stats were led by freshmen, namely Conner and Boyd.

The former one-upped the greatest running back in program history in his first bowl game. The latter may be trying to one-up Fitzgerald on Sundays before you know it.

Like I said, you don't know what you got til it's gone...and that includes this ever-intriguing offseason, in which they'll have those seven months to evolve.

Bring on the Blue Hens.

Statistics courtesy of NCAA.com and PittsburghPanthers.com.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

College Football Conference Power Rankings Post Bowl Season

Florida State beat Auburn, 34-31, in the final BCS National Championship Game on Monday evening, snapping the SEC's seven-year reign with the crystal football.

But did it stop the SEC's reign atop the final conference power rankings?

During the last half decade, calling the Southeastern Conference the best in college football has become second nature. The other BCS leagues were always jockeying for second-best, playing on a different, lesser field.

Is that still the case, though? Even after Auburn and Alabama both went down in their BCS bowls, against teams from the ACC and Big 12? Did any conference do enough to raze the SEC's pedestal?

Here's a final look.

Begin Slideshow

BCS National Championship Game 2014: Breaking Down FSU's Game-Winning Drive

The Florida State Seminoles got the ball back with 1:19 to play and 80 yards to go, needing a touchdown to win the BCS National Championship. The team that many people questioned in the clutch would have to prove the doubters wrong if it wanted to hoist the crystal football.

That is exactly what Jimbo Fisher's team did, marching down the field in methodical fashion to score a touchdown and put away Auburn, 34-31 in Pasadena. Fisher bested Auburn defensive coordinator Ellis Johnson, and in the end, Fisher's team beat out Gus Malzahn's for the coveted trophy.

Florida State started on its own 20-yard line, looking for a way to kick-start its drive. The answer was the game's leading receiver, Rashad Greene. The quick hitter out of this formation gave quarterback Jameis Winston a little confidence and helped get the positives flowing for an offense that had been up and down all night.

Fisher followed up the quick hitter with another quick-ball-out situation for Winston. Auburn's front four had been getting pressure all night, and the sustained success in the FSU passing game had come not from going over the top but from quick passes that allowed the offense to get into a rhythm.

Unlike in most of the game, this slant to Greene would turn into a big play on the strength of a missed tackle. Auburn tackled well in space for much of the BCS Championship Game; however, poor angles led the two Tigers defenders to collide, while Greene squirted out for 49 yards.

After getting gashed and failing to bother Winston two plays in a row, Johnson dialed up the pressure by adding two rushers to the mix in an effort to rattle the Heisman winner. In response, Fisher called a double screen. Kenny Shaw went into motion and ran a wide receiver screen to the left of Winston, and Devonta Freeman set up with the offensive line for a running back screen to the right.

Auburn's Kris Frost, who played a solid game, showed athleticism in rerouting from the blitz to track down Freeman and make a tackle for a gain of just six yards. The screen was set up to go for a touchdown, if Frost had not redirected and used his speed to get to Freeman before the back could get started down the field.

That's three plays, three passes and three completions for Winston, who could not seem to find his targets earlier in the game. On the fourth play, the Seminoles went right back to the well with double slants.

The play worked earlier in the drive to Greene, who went for 49 yards after he slipped two tacklers. This time, Auburn's linebacker, after showing blitz, expanded to stop the quick hitter to Greene, which left the inside slant to Shaw unoccupied and yielded an easy first down.

On the next play, Winston went back to the well again, trying to hit Greene who was moving across the field on a shallow snag route, but the pass fell incomplete. What Winston did not see was a wide-open Freeman, who blew past Frost after stalling in the line to check for pass protection assignments.

After missing the running back in the interior, Winston found him on the checkdown to get to the sideline and put the Seminoles at 3rd-and-3 from the 5-yard line. Of course, the short distance for the first down and ultimately the end zone would be short-lived, thanks to a quick delay-of-game penalty for Winston.

The pass interference on the next play would be the most controversial call of the contest.

All game, the Big Ten officiating crew had let the teams play. The officials let close pass interference calls go on both sides. FSU and Auburn both got away with penalties, including a couple of facemasks and a horse collar that went without flags. Although the refs threw a flag on Freeman's celebratory act, they did not penalize Auburn's Tre Mason for a spike and Heisman pose on a later touchdown.

Given the way the passing game had been officiated all evening, the flag on Auburn's Chris Davis was somewhat questionable. Yes, there was early contact when Davis worked his guide hand on Greene's back in an effort to remain in contact as he swatted at the ball with his other hand. However, it was no more contact than when Jalen Ramsey collided with Auburn's Sammie Coates, which drew no flag.

With the penalty assessed, Florida State only had one thing left to do: find its way into the end zone from the 2-yard line. The 'Noles lined up in big personnel, while Auburn stacked the box and left Kelvin Benjamin outside against Davis.

The big redshirt sophomore climbed the ladder, and both Benjamin and Winston went from not performing up to expectations to being heroes who brought home a title.

This Florida State team answered the bell. In the very situation that people worried the Seminoles would have no answer for, Winston and his teammates prevailed. The 'Noles put it in the haters' faces—no close games all year, no problem.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

College Football: Who Will Be the Best Team in Alabama in 2014?

Will Alabama’s unproven talent be able to measure up to Auburn’s returning experience in 2014?

Coming off the highest-stakes Iron Bowl in series history, the question—which already hovers 365 days a year in Alabama—takes on greater national meaning. 

The two teams met on Nov. 30 with the SEC West in the balance. As it turned out, Auburn’s win propelled the Tigers—with help from Michigan State—into the BCS National Championship Game and ultimately mere seconds away from its second BCS title.

Picturing a similar scenario wherein the Iron Bowl determines the 2014 SEC West doesn’t require an abundance of imagination.

Auburn should be the better team from start to finish next year, but that doesn’t necessarily translate to another win over its nemesis.

With 2013 Home Depot Coach of the Year Gus Malzahn at the helm, Auburn fans have reason to believe their program is just beginning a spectacular run of its own.

Much of Auburn’s talent should return in 2014 as well, led by quarterback Nick Marshall and potentially the entire starting offensive line. Heisman Trophy finalist running back Tre Mason could also choose to return, but seems more likely to declare for the NFL.

Those quick to point out Auburn’s passing deficiencies in 2013 should remember that Marshall has yet to go through a spring practice with Malzahn. Rather than allowing Marshall to progress as a passer during the season—and incurring losses along the way—Malzahn chose to accentuate the Tigers’ strengths, focusing primarily on the run.

Look for Malzahn to install a more sophisticated passing game not so dependent on vertical passes next season.

Auburn’s returning talent seemingly matches up perfectly from a timing perspective with cross-state rival Alabama.

The Crimson Tide graduates quarterback AJ McCarron and linebacker C.J. Mosley.

It could also lose several additional key starters who seem likely to forego their senior seasons in favor of the NFL Draft. The list could include offensive tackle Cyrus Kouandjio, safety HaHa Clinton-Dix, linebacker Adrian Hubbard and defensive lineman Jeoffrey Pagan.

Don’t shed too many tears for Alabama coach Nick Saban, though.

Thanks to his superb recruiting since setting foot in Tuscaloosa, the Crimson Tide never lacks for talent. Saban currently has Alabama in line to win the 247 recruiting crown again this year.

Coaches all over the country would love the problem of having to replace someone of Mosley’s ability with a five-star stud like Reuben Foster.

The quarterback situation isn’t as clear, though rumors of Florida State backup Jacob Coker leaving the Seminoles to play right away at Alabama persist.

Even Saban, though, seems likely to take a step back while breaking in key starters and a new quarterback.

Malzahn’s team across the state knows the feeling.

The Tigers had to navigate a reasonable early season schedule while figuring out exactly how the coaches could manage to the team’s strengths.

Auburn, of course, won the Iron Bowl, but wasn’t really the “best team in Alabama” for the entire season.

Rather, it was a team that improved and hit its peak at the right time to the point that it could trade punches with—and ultimately defeat—the top-ranked Crimson Tide inside Jordan-Hare Stadium.

A similar situation could easily unfold next year.

However, once Saban and his staff get a grip on how to best coach their new collection of players, the Crimson Tide should be hitting on all cylinders by Nov. 29 when Auburn comes to town.

Giving a new quarterback the luxury of being able to hand the ball off to superstar running back T.J. Yeldon and beastly freshman Derrick Henry certainly helps.

Team a dominant run game with Kirby Smart’s ability to simply reload on defense, and forecasting a quick coming-of-age team becomes simpler.

Inexperience could cost Alabama. Road contests at Ole Miss and LSU, especially, loom as potentially difficult tests.

If Alabama can limit its number of missteps, it will find itself in the heart of the College Football Playoff conversation.

Auburn followed a similar blueprint by putting itself in contention for the BCS Championship Game.

The 2014 Iron Bowl might well determine which elite Alabama team reaches the Playoff.

Auburn will be the better, more consistent team in 2014.

None of that matters on Nov. 29, when it battles Alabama inside Bryant-Denny Stadium.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

News and Notes from Jimbo Fisher's National Title Presentation Press Conference

NEWPORT BEACH, Calif. — The final press conference of the BCS era took place on Tuesday morning, as Florida State head coach Jimbo Fisher was presented with national championship trophies from the Associated Press, FWAA and National Football Foundation.

How did Fisher celebrate? What did he think of quarterback Jameis Winston's performance? Was Auburn stealing signals?

Let's take a look at some of the final storylines from the final game of the BCS era.

 

Celebrate Good Times

A bleary-eyed Fisher took the stage at the Marriott, fresh off a few hours of sleep and a private celebration.

There was no wild party for the Seminoles' head coach. No private team function at the hotel. No confetti—well, except the small bit leftover from the Rose Bowl field.

Fisher and his inner circle stayed in his hotel room and reflected on what he just accomplished.

"We enjoyed it a little bit last night," Fisher said. "Mainly just come back and had family, and we didn't leave the room, and my mom and my family, my brothers, my friends, and my wife and my kids."

Just how subdued was the celebration?

"We just sat in the room and I half fell asleep, to be honest with you," Fisher said.

I'd say a nap is a deserved after that wild finish.

 

Jameis Winston Saves the Day

Winston's performance in the BCS National Championship Game didn't start out well. The 2013 Heisman Trophy winner was rattled by an Auburn defensive front that was able to bring pressure and get him off of his launch point early.

He settled down when it mattered most, though, leading his team on an 80-yard touchdown drive that culminated with a two-yard touchdown pass to Kelvin Benjamin with 13 seconds left to give the Seminoles the 34-31 win. 

Winston and the rest of the Seminoles overcame adversity on the field and played their best game of the season.

"The goal was to play our best game on Monday, and you're going to hear me say something that may sound funny to you. I think we did," Fisher said. "I thought our quarterback and our team, and overall—we all played the best game because it wasn't necessarily our 'A' game. We felt jitters, we felt guys wanting to win too much, become outcome oriented and just didn't do some things they did."

 

So, About That Offseason

Now that Winston has won the Heisman Trophy, capped off a 14-0 season and won the national title as a redshirt freshman, what will he do for an encore?

Maintaining a level head is job No. 1. 

Winston is draft-eligible after next season, and will have a full year of people telling him just how great he is before making the decision to jump to the NFL or stay in Tallahassee.

"I think he'll handle it very well. The thing about Jameis, he's a team-oriented guy and he's not worried about the NFL or anything else," Fisher said.

So just how sure is Fisher that Winston may jump? He joked with CBSSports.com's Dennis Dodd that a jump after the 2014 might not be in the cards.

"Don't assume, Dennis," Fisher said. "You know what assume stands for." 

 

Signs, Signs, Everywhere Signs

Florida State made a subtle adjustment in the second half vs. Auburn when it gave its reserve quarterbacks towels to hide its offensive play calls. Fisher had a hunch that Auburn had caught on to some of its signals, which allowed its defense to be a step ahead.

"They had some of our signals a couple of times," he said. "That's our fault."

Dirty? No, and Fisher agrees.

"You've got to change them, constantly rotate them, being able to get them in different ways. That's part of the game. I don't have a problem with that," he said.

 

Injured Reserve

The wild 18-point comeback and a fourth quarter that included 31 combined points took a toll on the head Seminole himself. 

Fisher was asked if he hurt himself on Kermit Whitfield's 100-yard kickoff return for a touchdown with 4:31 left that gave the Seminoles a 27-24 lead.

"I did pull a hamstring, but it wasn't on Kermit," Fisher said. "It was on Rashad Greene when he got horse-collared...badly."

Something tells me that crystal football he's bringing home from Southern California is the perfect remedy for a pulled hammy.

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

 


Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

BCS Championship 2014: Plays That Decided the National Championship

The BCS went out in style on Monday night. The Florida State Seminoles' 34-31 win was one of the most thrilling championship games you'll ever see. Jameis Winston and the Seminoles completed their perfect season by beating a tough and resilient Auburn Tigers team in Pasadena.

There were tons of big plays, but these are the ones that made the Seminoles' title a reality.

 

Marshall Misses an Opportunity

Florida State had to overcome an 18-point first-half deficit to emerge victorious. Before it began its resurgence, an underthrown ball from Auburn quarterback Nick Marshall gave the 'Noles a break.

Check out Marshall failing to get the ball to a wide open Ricardo Louis in the middle of the field. 

This should have been a touchdown. Instead, the Tigers had to punt and Florida State took an early 3-0 lead.

Obviously, Auburn would take control of the game and build a lead, but this was a missed opportunity to make the hill steeper for the Seminoles to climb.

 

Parkey Leaves it Short and Wide

In the second quarter, Cody Parkey missed a 33-yard field goal. Auburn was up 14-3 at the time, but again, this was yet another missed opportunity to pile on.

 

Well-Timed End Around

Just before the end of the first half, the Seminoles were trying to mount a drive. It appeared as though Auburn had forced another Florida State punt. Seminoles head coach Jimbo Fisher decided to be daring. He faked the punt and ran an end around with Karlos Williams.

The play went for seven yards and extended the drive.

 

Winston is Rumbling and Stumbling

The run by Williams helped set up Winston's rumbling 21-yard scramble that led to a much-needed touchdown before the half. Devonta Freeman's score made the game 21-10 and gave Florida State confidence heading into the second half.

 

Marshall's Poor Decision

After a third-quarter field goal, the 'Noles had cut Auburn's lead to 21-13.

Marshall was good most of the game for Auburn, but this ill-advised throw into double coverage was intercepted by P.J. Williams.

 

Abrams in for the Score

The pick set up this 11-yard touchdown pass to Chad Abram. After the extra point, the lead was trimmed to one, at 21-20.

Auburn's vicious running attack had many of the Florida State defensive linemen worn down. Even with reserves on the field, the Seminoles were able to hold the Tigers to a field goal on the drive after the Abram touchdown.

 

Levonte Goes to the House 

With the score 24-20 Auburn, Levonte Whitfield turned on the jets. He took the ensuing kickoff 100 yards to give the Seminoles their first lead since the first quarter. Florida State led 27-24 with just 4:42 remaining.

 

 

Rashad Greene Turns the Curl into Something Big

After a methodical drive was punctuated by a 37-yard touchdown run from Auburn's Tre Mason, Florida State again trailed 31-27. With just 1:19 remaining in the game, Winston and Co. started their game-winning drive.

The Heisman Trophy winner hit Rashad Greene on a curl route. Greene made a move and turned it into a 49-yard completion. Not enough people are talking about how huge that play was.

 

Hurtful Penalty 

From there, this costly pass interference call against Chris Davis put the ball on the 2-yard line. Davis was a hero in the Iron Bowl with his "Kick-6" return, but he had muffed punts and this key penalty in the BCS title game.

 

Benjamin Goes High

Davis' penalty set the table for the game-winner to Kelvin Benjamin. The 6'6" sophomore is a red-zone threat waiting to happen once he gets to the NFL.

Almost no one like the BCS, but almost everyone had to love this game—except Auburn fans of course.

 

Follow me. Sports are what I do.

 

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Jameis Winston and Florida State Will Be Favorites to Win It All in 2014-15

The Florida State Seminoles are the final BCS National Champions, and they have to be the early front-runners for next year's title as well.

It's tough to repeat in any sport. It's probably even harder in the realm of collegiate athletics, but with 2013 Heisman Trophy candidate, Jameis Winston, head coach Jimbo Fisher and a talented core returning, the 'Noles are looking pretty good for the 2014 season.

Kevin McGuire of NBC Sports isn't ready to call them the favorites, but he thinks they will at least be very tough to beat. He writes:

With four spots available for a playoff spot next season, Florida State should start high enough in the rankings to put themselves in a good position to grab one of the spots. Can they be as dominant as they were on a weekly basis in 2014? The odds would suggest not, but they will still be a darn tough team for most teams to beat.

Here's a look at the 'Noles on both sides of the ball next season.

 

On Offense

Turnovers on the offensive side of the ball could be an issue for the Seminoles in 2014. Junior offensive lineman Cameron Erving, one of three junior running backs (James Wilder Jr., Devonta Freeman and Karlos Williams) and junior tight end Nick O'Leary could leave the team for the NFL.

Senior receiver Kenny Shaw and center Bryan Stork are surely gone, but the Seminoles will still have protection and weapons to boost Winston.

Junior wide receiver Rashad Greene should be back. He and sophomore Kelvin Benjamin will be the leaders of a fierce and experienced receiving corps. Freshman Levonte Whitfield is very dynamic, and he proved that with his 100-yard kickoff return in the BCS title game.

It seems only a matter of time before he becomes a consistent playmaker from the line of scrimmage, as well as on special teams. 

Perhaps not all three junior running backs will bolt. Whomever stays will likely be the feature back for Florida State in 2014.

The offensive line is one of the biggest concerns. The Seminoles allowed more than two sacks per game this season. In the first half against Auburn, Winston was under durress.

If Erving joins Stork in the NFL, it will make the job of protecting Winston harder.

That being said, Florida State has players who are seemingly capable of stepping in for Stork and Erving—should he leave.

Juniors Tre' Jackson and Austin Barron are likely to return. That duo combined with sophomore Ruben Carter will help to maintain the chemistry of the unit.

 

On Defense

The Seminoles' defense was nasty in 2013. They had the third-ranked defense in the nation this season.

An already stellar unit could be even better next season. Defensive tackle Timmy Jernigan and third-year linebacker, Christian Jones are probably going to the next level, but Florida State is deep, athletic and well coached. 

Underclassmen like Eddie Goldman, Mario Edwards Jr., Terrance Smith and Ukeme Eligwe are superstars waiting to explode. That group combined for 8.5 sacks heading into the title game. Based on pure potential, they have the talent to make Florida State even tougher to beat in 2014.

 

Jimbo is Back

The Seminoles were able to accomplish everything they did this season in large part due to the direction of Fisher. With the 48-year-old signing an extension to remain the Seminoles head coach for at least three more years, the future looks especially bright for Florida State.

Fisher has built this program to withstand the attrition. He told Bob Ferrante of Fox Sports: 

We had 11 guys drafted last year, 14 guys signed pro contracts. We're able to come back with the senior leadership and some young guys that incorporate the program and our assistant coaches. And that's what we want. We want to be a program, not a team.

Per 247 Sports, the 'Noles have the fourth-best recruiting class this year. Expect to see the program stay in the top five or higher for the next three to five years—at least.

 

Follow me. Sports are what I do.

 

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Auburn vs FSU 2014: Breaking Down Wild BCS Title Finish

The BCS National Championship game between the Florida State Seminoles and Auburn Tigers had one of the wildest finishes since Vince Young led the Texas Longhorns past the USC Trojans in the 2006 Rose Bowl, but so much happened at the end that it's almost hard to keep track of.

Despite being down 21-3 in the first half, the Seminoles found a way to come back and win 34-31 over the Tigers. Jameis Winston was named the MVP of the game, completing 20 of his 35 passes for 237 yards and two touchdowns. Running back Tre Mason was also terrific for the Tigers, however, putting up 237 total yards and two touchdowns.

The fourth quarter is where things got interesting. Down 21-13, the Seminoles were able to drive down the field with Winston capping off the drive with a 11-yard touchdown to Chad Abram. Down two, the Seminoles could have gone for a two-point conversion, but a rather controversial 15-yard unsportsmanlike conduct penalty on Devonta Freeman forced them to kick an extra point instead.

AL.com's Andrew Gribble gave us Nick Saban's reaction to the penalty.

After a 22-yard field goal from Auburn's Cody Parkey, it was 24-20 for the Tigers, meaning that the Seminoles had to score a touchdown to go ahead. It didn't take long for them to do that, as Levonte Whitfield was able to burn past Auburn on this exciting 100-yard kickoff return for a touchdown.

The return left a lot of time for the Tigers to drive down the field, and they did just that. They were able to go on a drive that lasted more than three minutes and went 75 yards, ending on this 37-yard touchdown from Mason to put Auburn up 31-27 with just 1:19 remaining.

But Winston wouldn't go down quietly. He led his team down the field before finally finding Kelvin Benjamin in the end zone for the two-yard score to help give the Seminoles the national title.

According to ESPN, Winston went six-of-seven for 77 yards and that touchdown on the game-winning drive, proving to the nation that he could step up when it mattered.

Overall, it was an incredible ending to a great game, and it's one that Florida State fans likely won't ever forget.

Note: All videos courtesy of ESPN.com

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Love It or Hate It, BCS Format Delivered More Often Than Not

NEWPORT BEACH, Calif. — The BCS was more than a grand experiment. It was a bold attempt to break with college football's past, a system that was designed to remove the "mythical" prefix from the "national championship" through a novel concept of settling the title debate on the field.

By and large, the BCS was a success.

"I’m proud of our track record and I’m proud of the BCS," executive director Bill Hancock said Monday morning at the annual awards breakfast of the Football Writers Association of America. "It matched No. 1 and 2, enhanced the regular reason, improved the bowl system and introduced new schools to top-tier bowl games."

The BCS era ended Monday night with a spectacular finale at the Rose Bowl, in which Florida State overcame an 18-point deficit to defeat Auburn, 34-31, to complete a perfect season. While Hancock called the 16-year run "a golden era for college football," I probably would stop a bit short of that, even though you can count me as a late convert.

In the initial years, the BCS was fraught with problems. The first seven years of the BCS were wracked with controversy, as I've chronicled in the ongoing review series. The cause of all that could be squarely placed on one single thing—the convoluted first version of the BCS standings.

There was the Miami-FSU controversy in 2000, Nebraska fiasco in 2001 and then the mother of all debacles in 2003 when No. 1-ranked USC was left out of the BCS title game. The standings would undergo four revisions in five years until it settled on the final format in 2004.

That's when the BCS wised up. It quit monkeying around with the standings. And when Hancock, who built his reputation by running the NCAA basketball tournament for 13 years, came on board in 2005, the BCS finally had a trusted spokesman. It stopped knee-jerk reacting to every complaint or grievance and just let the public judge it on the outcome that was produced.

In that regard, the last nine years of the BCS, which began on the same Rose Bowl field with a different epic finish—Texas' 41-38 victory over USC—were better than just qualified success. There were minor controversies but no major meltdowns, and the championship matchups proved mostly just.

Had the BCS just used its final formula for all 16 years...heck, had the BCS just matched the No. 1- and No. 2-ranked teams in both the AP and coaches' polls every season, it never would've had to experience the massive growing pains of its initial years.

And now, as the BCS is consigned to the ash heap of history, to be replaced by the College Football Playoff next season, its legacy will remain unsettled for some time. Was it a stepping stone toward a multi-team playoff that inevitably will go from four to eight to even 16? Or was it the best college football could've done, leaving CFP and its successors to only ruin the best regular season in sports?

This much we do know: For better or worse, the BCS made an enormous amount of cash for college football's major conferences and their members, and raised the sport's profile manifold, as it is now only second to the NFL in America.

Without the BCS, there would never have been the 12-year, $7.3 billion contract ESPN signed to bankroll the CFP. The "golden age" of college football indeed.

Follow on Twitter @ThePlayoffGuru

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

What Charlie Strong's Hire Means for Texas Recruiting

Charlie Strong has left Louisville to become the 29th head coach at Texas.

Strong left the Cardinals after four seasons, leading them to four consecutive bowl appearances, including a huge upset win over Florida in the 2013 Sugar Bowl.

Strong brings a tough attitude to the Longhorns; he is known for his hard-nosed style of coaching and being a relentless recruiter.

What does Strong's hire in Austin mean to recruiting for Texas going forward? What are current commits saying? How are top targets reacting to Strong? Where will this recruiting class end up?

Bleacher Report's Reese Waters spoke with Horns247 recruiting analyst Jeff Howe (@JeffHowe247) to break down the latest with Texas recruiting.

Highlights courtesy of xosdigital.com

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Pages