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Auburn vs. FSU 2014: Last-Minute Predictions for BCS National Championship

If you're looking for any defense during Monday night's game between Florida State and Auburn, good luck finding it. The BCS National Championship promises to be a shootout.

That's just one of the many predictions you can make heading into the finale for the 2013-14 college football season. Both the Tigers and Seminoles have Heisman finalists on offense and boast no shortage of stars capable of turning the game on its head with one play.

Beyond that not-so-bold forecast, it's difficult to make any major guesses for how the night will shake out. Auburn's entire season has been one big fairy tale, and with the results of the previous four BCS games, who knows whether Florida State—the favorite—will come good.

As Rowdy Roddy Piper famously said, "Just when they think they got the answers, I change the questions."

Against my better judgment, here are three predictions heading into the game.


Florida State's Running Backs Will Steal the Show

Everybody's focusing on Jameis Winston, Nick Marshall and Tre Mason. Flying under the radar is Florida State's three-headed monster at running back—Devonta Freeman, Karlos Williams and James Wilder Jr. The trio combined for 2,190 yards and 32 touchdowns on the ground. None of them averaged fewer than 5.8 yards per carry.

Gus Malzahn and Ellis Johnson have had a month to devise a plan to stop Winston. While it likely won't be entirely successful, it could thwart the Heisman winner just enough to make the Seminoles look elsewhere for yards.

That's where Freeman, Williams and Wilder come in.

Of the three, Freeman is most likely to take some of the spotlight away from Winston. The junior running back has been very good all season, and like many of Florida State's offensive stars, his numbers (943 yards, 13 TDs) were hindered by the fact that many of the team's games were over at halftime.

Although Freeman's on the precipice of eclipsing 1,000 yards, which would make him the first Seminoles back to do so since Warrick Dunn in 1996, he is more focused on winning, per Brendan Sonnone of the Orlando Sentinel:

"I think we could, but 1,000 yards for me is just an individual goal, and a championship for us is a team goal. I put that aside for the team goal,” Freeman said. “I just want to win. It's something that hasn't been done in a long time."

Maybe Freeman can have his cake and eat it too.


Nick Marshall and Tre Mason Will Have Big Games on the Ground

No matter what Jimbo Fisher and Jeremy Pruitt have drawn up between Dec. 7 and now, there's almost no chance they'll prevent Marshall and Mason from getting a combined 250-300 yards rushing.

Auburn have become scarily good at running the football. The way the Tigers decimated Missouri in the SEC Championship served as a stern warning to Florida State. The SEC runner-up had a strong run defense coming into the game, and still surrendered 545 yards.

Malzahn's offense isn't intricate in that you see tons of different plays every game. But he knows what his team does well and plays to those strengths.

There should be little doubt as to the success of the Tigers' running game on Monday. It's the passing game they have to worry about. Bleacher Report's Barrett Sallee wondered how much having a month-long layoff would help Marshall's passing skills:

Head coach Jimbo Fisher's crew has a solid secondary led by cornerback Lamarcus Joyner and safety Terrence Brooks, and those guys are going to be counted on in run support at times. If Marshall can develop as a passer during the layoff just enough to keep that secondary honest, it could spark even more life into that punishing Auburn offense.

Florida State needs this time to prepare for Auburn, but Marshall needs this time to improve.

An improved Marshall could be the difference between the crystal football taking up real estate in Auburn or Tallahassee.

Selling out against the run could open up some space in the secondary, but Florida State is first in both interceptions (25) and passing efficiency defense. The Seminoles should have enough defensive strength to defend the pass and limit the running game, just enough to secure the victory.


Auburn's Magic Will Run Out

Auburn has lived a charmed life this season, with the "Prayer at Jordan Hare" and the "Kick Six." Of course, it's helped that the Tigers have such a good running game and tough pass rush, but there's no doubt that a lot of luck has played into their success.

The problem with riding your luck so much is that sooner or later, it's going to run out.

On Monday night, pure talent and personnel advantages will be the difference.

The Seminoles are the favorites for a reason. They have one of the best defenses in the country and their offenses offers impressive balance. It's a testament to the quality of this team that it hasn't truly been challenged this season.

The ACC may not be the SEC, but it isn't that easy. Those lopsided wins over Clemson and Duke are looking better following the Tigers' and Blue Devils' respective performances in bowl season.

FSU should be able to exploit Auburn's defensive deficiencies and hold out enough defensively to see itself through on Monday.

Final Prediction: Florida State 37, Auburn 28

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

College Football Teams Happy to See the BCS Era End

The 2014 BCS National Championship Game between the Florida State Seminoles and Auburn Tigers will mark the final chapter of the BCS era.

Since 1998, the BCS has provided college football with drama, controversy and at times, complete and utter chaos. But throughout that span there have been several teams that just never quite seemed to get it right in the BCS bowls.

These teams are most likely happier than most that the BCS will be no more following the conclusion of Monday night’s game.

Join B/R as we take a closer look at five of these teams.

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Auburn vs. FSU: Lesser-Known Stars Who Will Break Out in Title Game

The focus in Monday night's BCS National Championship Game will fall primarily on Heisman Trophy-winner Jameis Winston, as well as Auburn's dynamic rushing duo of quarterback Nick Marshall and running back Tre Mason.

But those aren't the only players who will make an impact in the game. Let's look at a couple of players from each team who could make a contribution, despite flying under the radar a bit during the season.


LaDarius Owens, DE, Auburn

With Auburn's offensive dominance (40.2 points per game, ninth in the FBS) and their defensive struggles (38th in points against), not too many of its defensive players get recognized for their performances this year.

But Owens has played exceptionally well, with 11 quarterback hurries, 4.5 tackles for a loss and a pair of sacks.

After redshirting and then serving as a backup, Owens finally settled in at defensive end this year. He'll also be facing Winston for the third time in his life. According to Alabama Crimson Tide Sports, Owens and Winston faced each other twice during their times in high school, and their teams split the matchups.

"It's for old-times sake," Owens said of Monday's BCS Championship Game, via al.com. "He texted me and said y'all got some ugly buses. I told him y'all can have the cute buses, our hands will be looking better than yours on Monday."

If Owens can back up his talk and put some pressure on Winston on Monday, Auburn could be in line for the championship.


Corey Grant, RB, Auburn

Mason and Marshall should rack up the majority of Auburn's yards on the ground on Monday, but don't forget about Grant.

The junior running back accounted for 650 rushing yards and six touchdowns in 2013, including 65 yards and a touchdown in the SEC title game against Missouri. In total, Grant has a pair of touchdowns in his last three games while averaging 9.73 yards per carry during that span.

That's actually a step below what he's accomplished this year, however, as he's averaging an even 10.0 YPC this season. His ability to consistently rack up big gains, combined with his breakaway potential (75-yard TD run in Week 1) means Grant could have more of an impact than one might expect on Monday night.


James Wilder Jr., RB, Florida State

Like Grant, Wilder Jr. plays a backup role on his team. In fact, he's third on the Seminoles in carries. But Wilder also has potential to contribute in Monday's matchup.

For one, he's excellent at finding the end zone when given the opportunity. During the four-game span from FSU's Nov. 2 game against Miami to their matchup against Idaho on Nov. 23, Wilder Jr. averaged an incredible 10.36 YPC while scoring six touchdowns.

Look for Wilder Jr. to find the end zone again on Monday.


Florida State's Offensive Line

Florida State's offensive line doesn't get enough credit for how much of a role it played in Jameis Winston's success (and FSU's success as a whole) this year. For one, Winston was sacked only 23 times, just the 40th-highest total in the FBS.

Also, as the San Diego Union-Tribune notes, Florida State's offensive line is giant. In fact, they average 317 pounds per lineman, while Auburn's defensive front stands at only 263 pounds per player.

Assuming Auburn focuses much of their defensive attention on stopping Winston's passing attack, the success of FSU's running backs (Devonta Freeman, Karlos Williams and Wilder Jr.) will be key. If FSU can beat Auburn at the line of scrimmage, it will be a long day for the Tigers.


All statistics courtesy of ESPN.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Lache Seastrunk Officially Announces He Will Enter 2014 NFL Draft

Baylor Bears star Lache Seastrunk said goodbye to Waco on Jan. 6, when he officially announced he's entering the 2014 NFL draft. 

The junior running back released a statement, per Yahoo! Sports' Rand Getlin:

Playing in the NFL has been a lifelong dream of mine, and I'm fully prepared to take the next step toward realizing that goal. I'm excited for the opportunity to compete in the NFL draft process. I look forward to giving teams every ounce of energy I've got and proving to them that I'm a good person, a relentless competitor, and a great player, too.

Despite Bryce Petty and Antwan Goodley getting much of the attention this past year, Seastrunk played a huge role in the Bears' success. He led the team in rushing with 1,177 yards and 11 touchdowns on 158 carries. In Baylor's 52-42 loss to the UCF Knights in the Fiesta Bowl, the junior had 117 yards rushing on 17 carries.

Seastrunk is listed at 5'10" and 210 pounds on Baylor's site. Despite being a bit undersized, he should have no problem succeeding in the NFL.

Before the season began, CBS Sports' Bruce Feldman placed Seastrunk on his list of "The 20 craziest athletes in college football." Feldman wrote:

Seastrunk's vertical, which was an impressive 42.5 inches last winter, is now 44.2 inches. He also broad jumped 11-4 — five inches more than in 2012. His 40 time: 4.36.

It's quite an improve from Seastrunk's days at Oregon when he ran a 4.63 electronic 40 and had a 34.5” vertical two winters ago.

In what is presumed to be a weak overall running back class, Seastrunk should get selected in the first few rounds. In his most recent mock draft, Bleacher Report's draft guru Matt Miller had the Baylor star going with the seventh pick of the third round to the Cleveland Browns.

Seastrunk has the upcoming NFL combine and Baylor's pro day to wow scouts and coaches with his supreme physical gifts. Between that and his improvement with the Bears, he could easily sneak into the second round.

No matter where he is selected in the draft, Seastrunk could be one of the most electrifying offensive players to come out of this year's class.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Nebraska Football: Meet Bo Pelini's Favorite Graduate Assistant, Joe Ganz

Joe Ganz doesn't need an introduction. Nebraska fans know exactly who he is. They're also big fans of his.

After five seasons as a Nebraska football player and two seasons as a graduate assistant for the Huskers, head coach Bo Pelini likely is too.

However, Pelini was only able to work with Ganz for his senior season as Nebraska's quarterback.

On the heels of former head coach Bill Callahan's firing, Pelini took over Nebraska in 2008. Ganz had only snagged the starting position late in the 2007 season.

So for both the head coach and quarterback, 2008 was really their first year.

By the end of the 2008 regular season, the Huskers were 8-4. Pelini and his team were Gator Bowl bound and set to face the Clemson Tigers.

After a four-game winning streak to end the regular season, Ganz had a lot of momentum following him to Jacksonville, Florida.

That momentum was quickly killed when Ganz fumbled late in the first half, allowing the Tigers to return the ball 28 yards for a touchdown. Then just prior to halftime, he threw an interception that was returned for 63 yards.

Ganz and the Huskers faced a 14-3 deficit that seemed unlikely to come back from.

Despite all odds, that's exactly what Ganz did.

The quarterback rallied, despite a scary moment in the second half that left him sprawled out on the ground. With trainers hovering over him, it was unclear what would happen. In hindsight, the quarterback sustained a concussion.

But Ganz fought through it.

After shaking it off on the sidelines, Ganz returned to the game. He led the Huskers to a 26-20 comeback win over Clemson, earning him the game's MVP title.

Five years later, Ganz is still proving just how tough he is.

In his second year as a graduate assistant for the Huskers, Ganz has been tasked with tutoring the quarterbacks. It all began for him when Pelini called the year after he graduated to offer him an intern position. That position evolved to where he is today.

He has worked with senior quarterback Taylor Martinez, redshirt freshman Tommy Armstrong and countless others. His knowledge has been invaluable on the sidelines.

He's also been a big motivator for Nebraska's quarterbacks. During many tough games, Ganz was often on the sidelines building the players up, especially Armstrong. When the young quarterback took over for Martinez, mistakes happened.

But Ganz kept working with him. By the 2014 Gator Bowl, Armstrong had matured greatly. A lot of that can be credited to Ganz's leadership.

However, the time has come for Ganz to leave his graduate position. He must now look for a full-time coaching position. According to the Omaha World Herald, Ganz has an open mind. He's considering offensive coordinator, quarterback coach or possibly a high school head coach.

"I've talked with Tim [Beck] about his time as a high school coach in Texas," Ganz told the Omaha World Herald. "He said I can't be afraid to try something like that. I just want to coach."

Ron Kellogg III, a quarterback he helped tutor, will take the open GA position.

When Ganz was handed the MVP trophy at the Gator Bowl in 2009, he didn't head to the locker room too fast. Instead, he stuck around on the field for awhile.

"I thought I might get a couple of looks in the NFL, but I kind of knew that would be my last game," Ganz told the Omaha World Herald. "So I hung around there for a long time, running around, talking to people. I didn't want to leave."

Five years later, standing on that same field at the Gator Bowl, Ganz is once again at the end of one road. However, much like it was then, there are a lot of opportunities out in front of him.

One of those opportunities just might keep him at Nebraska.

As reported by Brian Christopherson of the Lincoln Journal Star, defensive backs coach Terry Joseph has been offered a position at Texas A&M. While Joseph has yet to accept the position, Husker fans have begun to speculate what might happen if he leaves.

Hail Varsity pointed out that the vacancy could make room for Ganz as an assistant. Pelini, with help from graduate assistant Austin Cassidy (a former Nebraska safety), could manage the defensive backs. It's not clear how likely the situation is but it's one that could keep Ganz around.

Pelini has always been a fan of Ganz, too. He was a quarterback that helped make Pelini's first season a positive one. He also worked very hard as a graduate assistant for the head coach.

If Joseph leaves, Pelini will likely consider the possibility of keeping Ganz. Many fans have asked for a more dedicated quarterback resource for the Huskers. That person could be Ganz.

It's purely speculation at this point but message boards are filled with discussions on the topic. Regardless of what happens, Ganz has been a big benefit to the Huskers, and Pelini, over the years.

If he leaves, Husker fans and the staff that got to know him will be sad to see him go. However, there will never be any denying the impact he made as a Husker.

Nebraska fans won't be forgetting him any time soon.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Louisville CB Andrew Johnson Rips Charlie Strong on Twitter

Count Louisville Cardinals cornerback Andrew Johnson as one of the few not laughing, joking and smiling when Charlie Strong was officially introduced as the next head coach of the Texas Longhorns football program on Monday.

Instead, the junior let his feelings be known about his former coach on Twitter:

It’s not the decision alone that got Johnson so riled up. According to him, Strong initially informed the players that he would be returning for the 2014 season:

Given some of Strong’s previous statements to the media, one can see the anger and betrayal Johnson must be feeling.

In December, Strong told Jeff Greer of The Courier-Journal that he wasn't considering the possibility of taking the Texas job. 

I don’t even think about it. I have a really good job here. There’s a lot of work to be done here. The only thing I can control is what’s happening right here.

Less than one month later, Strong was named the 29th head coach in Texas history, per Texassports.com.

All in all, it’s another disappointing loss for the Cardinals, who just lost starting quarterback Teddy Bridgewater to the NFL on New Year's Day, via ESPN’s Brett McMurphy.

Still, a lot of talent remains for a Louisville squad that finished 2013 at 12-1. More specifically, Johnson will look to help strengthen a defensive unit that finished No. 1 in total defense and No. 2 in scoring defense.

This is just the latest episode of players feeling scorned, betrayed and disappointed after the departure of a head coach.

Ask the Washington Huskies players how they felt after head coach Steve Sarkisian bolted to USC.

Strong was 37-15 in four seasons at Louisville.


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

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

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

In 2014, Will Notre Dame Win More Games or Fewer Than 2013 Season?

Notre Dame took a big-but-expected step backward in 2013, one year removed from running the table in the regular season and making the BCS National Championship Game against Alabama.

Manti Te'o, the heart and soul of that defense, graduated and left for the NFL, while starting quarterback Everett Golson was suspended for academic reasons, leaving the offense in the rarely capable hands of Tommy Rees.

A 9-4 record wasn't great, but wins over Michigan State—which beat every other team on its schedule—Arizona State and USC still provided cause for optimism moving forward, as did the development of future stars like linebacker Jaylon Smith. Which begs a legitimate question:

Does this team win more or less games in 2014?

The obvious answer is "more," since Golson has been re-admitted to the university and appears to be a much improved quarterback. He's been working with quarterback guru George Whitfield—a man who's helped refine Ben Roethlisberger, Cam Newton, Andrew Luck and Johnny Manziel, among others—and should be a better player because of it.

According to B/R's Keith Arnold, who spoke with Whitfield, the teacher has seen a transformation in his pupil. "He just absorbs everything," Whitfield declared. "That’s the longest I’ve ever spent with a quarterback in a one-on-one setting. We just came through a 10-week run. And he just absorbed everything."

If Golson comes back better than ever in 2014, Notre Dame will have fixed its biggest, most glaring problem from this past season—uneven player under center. Ipso facto, it should be able to improve upon its 9-4 record...right?

It's not quite that simple. In its first season of partial-ACC membership, Notre Dame gets to avoid potential pitfalls like Michigan State, but it still has one of the hardest projected schedules in college football:

If Notre Dame finishes with two or less losses, unlike recent seasons, nobody will be able to complain about its strength of schedule. It might not make the national semifinals with a 10-2 record, but something like the Peach Bowl, which is part of the College Football Playoff, would still be in play.

That's the good news. 

The bad news is that going 10-2 will be difficult. That schedule includes five of the 20 best teams in college football this past season, according to Football Outsiders' F/+ ratings. Some, like Louisville, are poised for regression after losing a quarterback and head coach. But others, like USC, only stand to improve with another year of experience and some stability on the sidelines.

Elsewhere, teams like Michigan and Northwestern should return to the form of previous years in 2014, making neither the pushover it was this season. UNC was one of the hottest teams in football toward the end of 2013, and Navy plays the Irish tough every single year. Same goes for Purdue, the only true pushover on the schedule, and Rice just won Conference-USA.

Where are the guaranteed wins?

In order to improve on last year's record, Notre Dame would need to (a) beat at least one team out of Stanford, Florida State, Arizona State and USC, and (b) take care of business against every other team on the schedule. No matter how much they improve, doing so would be a very difficult task, especially with guys like Stephon Tuitt, Louis Nix III and Prince Shembo leaving the defense.

My prediction? Notre Dame will improve on the field but not in the standings. It will finish with a better body of work but not a better record. Instead, I think another 9-4 season is on the horizon, only this one will be more impressive:

Despite the ever-lofty expectations in South Bend, a season like that would be something to build on. And that's just a conservative estimate. The 2013 season has only just ended; so much can change between now and each of those games.

If I had to pick between "more wins" and "less wins," despite the difficult schedule, my gut would lean toward the former. I have faith in Everett Golson to catalyze this offense, and I have faith in Brian Kelly to ease the transition at both coordinator spots.

Plus, getting games like Michigan, UNC, Northwestern and Louisville at home is deceptively important. Those teams might be roughly equal to the Irish next season, so the crowd at Notre Dame Stadium could make all the difference.

Still, at the end of the day, this schedule doesn't appear conducive to a run at the first College Football Playoff. It's not the news Irish fans want to hear, but it's the hard-to-face reality.

Maybe in 2015?


Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Virginia Tech Football: 3 Biggest Concerns Heading into the Offseason

After another season full of missed opportunities, the Virginia Tech football team is searching for offseason answers once more.

This year’s 8-5 finish surely isn’t as disastrous as 2012’s 7-6 campaign, but the program is still in a very transitional period headed into 2014. 

The new offensive coaching staff had its ups and downs this season, but with a promising recruiting class bound for Blacksburg, there is some reason to be hopeful about the team’s future prospects.

It will be a big challenge indeed for Frank Beamer and company to replace some of the stellar players that will be gone next season.

This coming offseason might not be a program-altering one like last year, but there are still a few concerns that will undoubtedly keep coaches up at night.


Restocking the Front Seven 

In 2013, the defensive line and linebackers might have been the two deepest and most talented positions on the whole football team.

Now, the Hokies will have to lean on that depth and hope they can develop the next great batch of Virginia Tech legends to replace their departing stars.

With defensive tackle Derrick Hopkins, defensive ends J.R. Collins and James Gayle and linebackers Jack Tyler and Tariq Edwards all graduating, there are going to be some gaping holes in the front seven in 2014.

This particular group tallied a total of 923 tackles, 154 tackles for loss, 68 sacks, five interceptions and seven forced fumbles in their careers at Tech; saying that production will be difficult to replace seems like a bit of an understatement.

There is hope for the future, though.

If there’s one thing Bud Foster knows how to do, it’s develop front-seven players for his system, and it does seem like he’s got some tools to work with in the offseason.

Defensive end Dadi Nicolas got a fair bit of playing time this season, even starting one game, and he revealed both his abilities and limitations as a player. 

When Foster deployed him as a blitzing outside linebacker against the Pittsburgh Panthers, he wreaked havoc. When he was forced to play more of a traditional end position, though, he struggled to shed the blocks of offensive linemen.

He could easily be the next Collins. It’s all a matter of how he develops this offseason.

Nicolas will benefit from the return of redshirt junior Corey Marshall on the other side. Marshall struggled when he was moved to tackle in 2012, but he has serious athleticism when playing at end.

Just watch the way he can pursue on the outside. 

Similarly, Foster has to hope that tackles Woody Baron and Nigel Williams develop into dependable players. Each looked promising in their limited time this season, but they have big shoes to fill.

The Hokies are fortunate in that it seems like star defensive tackle Luther Maddy will return. He filed his papers for consideration for the NFL draft, but he doesn’t seem particularly set on leaving.

The team will also bring in some talented recruits on the line; 3-star Ricky Walker has already committed, and most services consider the Hokies the leader in the clubhouse for 4-star Derrick Nnadi.

Linebacker is a different story entirely. The team will benefit in a big way if outside linebacker Ronny Vandyke can come back from shoulder surgery healthy.

Vandyke played really well as 2012 wore on, and his absence forced Foster to rarely utilize his “whip” linebacker position since backup Josh Trimble didn’t seem up to the task.

The real problems will come in the middle; Tyler and Edwards each had years of playing experience, leaving their backups on the bench. Redshirt junior Chase Williams seems like a good bet to take over for Tyler given his time in the system, but the other position is up in the air. 

With the Hokies’ remaining talent in the front seven and the excellence of the secondary, Tech should have no trouble reassembling a competent defense. It’s just a matter of whether or not Foster can help the unit even approach the heights it reached this year to carry the team once more.


Quarterback Controversy?

Now that Logan Thomas is gone, the Hokies have to think long and hard about who will start under center in 2014.

Redshirt junior Mark Leal seems like the team’s preferred option, given his experience, but his performance in relief of Thomas in the Sun Bowl didn’t exactly inspire confidence. 

He was certainly thrown into a tough situation against a good UCLA Bruins defense, but he still really struggled, as The Roanoke Times’ Andy Bitter details.

Leal performed adequately at times, completing all three of his passes on his first full drive and getting the Hokies to the UCLA 25 before a holding penalty and a sack forced a punt.

Late in the third quarter, he threw a good ball on a fade pattern into the end zone after UCLA muffed a punt near its goal line. D.J. Coles couldn’t haul it in over the Bruins defender and Tech settled for a field goal that cut UCLA’s lead to 14-10.

Things snowballed in the fourth quarter, however. The Bruins took a 21-10 lead, then went all out after Leal in obvious passing situations. While trying to avoid a sack, he flipped the ball out at the last second, right into the arms of UCLA linebacker Myles Jack, who returned it 29 yards for a touchdown.

Later in the fourth, Leal underthrew a pass that Zumwalt intercepted and returned 43 yards to the Hokies’ 10, setting up another Bruins touchdown as the rout was on. 

“I’m disappointed that Mark didn’t play better,” Beamer said. “I’ve got a lot of confidence in him. I think there’s a lesson in there: Be ready to play each and every week. And he did a couple things really nice and really good and made a couple throws that weren’t so good. But you’ve got to be ready to step up.”

Despite these issues, Leal will almost certainly receive reps with the first team headed into spring practice. That doesn’t mean he won’t have plenty of competition, though.

Redshirt freshman and third stringer Brenden Motley is regarded as an athletic option, while incoming recruits Andrew Ford and Chris Durkin were recruited by offensive coordinator Scot Loeffler himself.

Leal might have the experience, but Loeffler might be anxious to install a guy who better fits the kind of offense he wants to run. 

Loeffler certainly adjusted his offense to fit Thomas’ style in 2013, but that yielded mixed results. Will he be willing to do the same with Leal, or will he roll the dice with a freshman?

No matter which player the team picks, the Hokies will have to make the decision carefully. Thomas was the linchpin of last year’s offense, and his production will be truly difficult to replace.


Running Back Depth

Running back Trey Edmunds had a rocky season as a freshman, but he seemed to finally start figuring things out by the back half of the season—just in time to break his leg and go out for a few months.

In his absence in the Sun Bowl, the running game had to rely on option plays with Jerome Wright and jet sweeps with receiver Carlis Parker to generate a ground game.

Loeffler deserves credit for his creativity, but he has to focus on finding answers beyond Edmunds at running back.

Sophomore J.C. Coleman has plenty of ability, but he has rarely translated it into success on the field. He has good speed, but his vision and indecisiveness certainly need some work.

Far too many plays ended like this one, with Coleman falling flat at the line while failing to make a good cut.

Wright’s success may indicate that he’s destined for more carries in 2014, while Chris Mangus can provide some help on passing downs or outside runs. 

Loeffler and Shane Beamer, the Hokies' associate head coach and running backs coach, will really need to work on finding a more consistent answer behind Edmunds, especially if his injury holds him back initially. 

The team has plenty of incoming talented running back recruits, particularly 4-star Shai McKenzie and 3-star Marshawn Williams, who could see the field immediately.

The backfield will be crowded, so some players will ultimately end up redshirting, but if the coaches can get some talented freshmen to complement the veterans at the position, the offense will be much better off. 

With a new quarterback, the offense will need to lean on the running game and the defense to be successful.

The days of depending on Thomas and his veteran leadership or the consistent play of guys like Tyler and Hopkins are gone; the team is going to have to make some big adjustments for 2014.

It may be difficult at times, but this team has the depth to make next season more memorable than its last two.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Arkansas DE Trey Flowers Announces He Will Return for Senior Season

Thanks to defensive end Trey Flowers, 2014 is already looking up for the Arkansas Razorbacks.

Speaking at a press conference on Monday afternoon, the junior pass-rusher decided to return to school for his senior season, via Sportinglifearkansas.com:

Arkansas defensive end Trey Flowers announced Monday he was returning to the Razorbacks for his senior season after considering early entry into the NFL Draft.

“I have made the decision to stay at Arkansas for my senior season,” Flowers said. “Coach Bielema was very supportive throughout the process and helped me and my family navigate this decision. I still have goals on and off the field I want to accomplish at Arkansas, beginning with graduating, and want to continue pursuing those. On the field, I am excited about the program being built and wanted to help the Razorbacks back in 2014. Even though my draft grade was good, I believe another year with Coach Bielema will help improve my draft status. I am looking forward to another season at Arkansas, where we have support from our administration, some of the best fans in the nation and a bright future for the football program.”

That’s great news for an Arkansas football program trying to regroup from a disappointing 2013 campaign. One that saw the team follow up a 3-0 start by losing each of its final nine games.

But believe it or not, expectations are higher for the Razorbacks in 2014.

Flowers’ presence on defense is surely a large factor in that.

In 11 games this past season, the Huntsville, Ala., native recorded 44 tackles (13.5 for loss), 5.0 sacks, forced three fumbles and intercepted a pass. That came a year after Flowers broke onto the scene in 2012 with 6.0 sacks and 13.0 tackles for loss.

All in all, Flowers was a leader on this team and will be looked on to anchor the Arkansas defensive line with seniors Chris Smith (8.5 sacks) and Robert Thomas (3.5 sacks) set to graduate.

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

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

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Auburn vs. FSU Predictions: Projecting Top Performers in 2014 BCS Championship

The wild bowl season is in the books, which means it is time for the nation's top two teams to clash in the 2014 BCS Championship. The No. 2 Auburn Tigers (12-1, 7-1 SEC) and the No. 1 Florida State Seminoles (13-0, 8-0 ACC) will collide at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, Calif., on Monday, Jan. 6, at 8:30 p.m. ET.

Such a matchup only seems fitting for the final iteration of the BCS. Auburn pulled off a miracle victory over then-No. 1 Alabama and proceeded to trounce then-No. 5 Missouri in the SEC Championship to make it to this point.

On the flip side is Florida State, which dominated not only the ACC, but college football in general behind the arm of Jameis Winston, the second freshman Heisman winner in as many years.

Like all championship gridiron bouts, a few names will rise above the rest.


Projected Top Performers

Jameis Winston, QB, Florida State

It is difficult not to love what Winston brings to the table despite his youth. The freshman threw for 3,820 yards with 38 touchdowns and 10 interceptions on the year.

The leader of the nation's No. 1 offense, that averages 53 points per game, Winston is in for a colossal performance on the biggest stage of them all against an Auburn defense that allows an average of 24 points per game.

That Auburn defense is led by coordinator Ellis Johnson, who is also impressed with Winston, per ESPN's Travis Haney:

Perhaps most impressive of all, Winston takes care of the football. He completed 67.9 percent of his passes on the season and recorded a completion percentage north of 70 in five games.

Against a strong Auburn offense that will surely put points on the board, Winston's ability to match and not turn the ball over will make him the star of the game.


Nick Marshall, QB, Auburn

Much of the attention when one looks at the Auburn offense should go to running back Tre Mason, who will surely have a big impact on the game after a season in which he carried the ball 283 times for 1,621 yards and 22 scores.

But fans would be wise to not overlook junior quarterback Nick Marshall. The dual-threat weapon threw for 1,759 yards and 12 touchdowns to five interceptions in 2013, but also served as the team's second-leading rusher with 156 carries for 1,023 yards and 11 touchdowns.

Marshall is tasked with taking down the nation's No. 1 defense that allows an average of 10.7 points per game. He is clearly focused on doing so, as Brandon Marcello of AL.com provides this gem that occurred leading up to the big game:

"I saw that his teammates were taking pictures of everything and posting them on Facebook and Instagram," said Shalena Cliett, Marshall's mother. "I said, 'Nick, why are you not taking pictures?' He says, 'Mom, I came out here for one reason and one reason only, and that's to bring home the crystal.'"

Despite the attention and distractions of a national stage, fans can expect Marshall to have a major game thanks to his versatile traits. 


Kelvin Benjamin, WR, Florida State

Coming in at 6'5" and 234 pounds, and possessing jaw-dropping speed for his size, it is all too obvious that Seminoles sophomore receiver Kelvin Benjamin will have a major impact on the outcome of the title game.

If Benjamin sounds a bit like the Detroit Lions Calvin Johnson, that is because he is. Benjamin even admits he watches Megatron in order to be a better player, per ESPN's Joe Schad:

After a season in which he caught 50 passes for 957 yards and 14 touchdowns, Benjamin may be taking his talents to the next level in the wake of the destruction he is about to cause in the title game.

Auburn has plenty of talented defensive backs, but like most teams in the country, the Tigers simply will not have an answer for Benjamin.


Game Prediction

Again, this is a matchup that is ultimately fitting in the BCS' final act, but it will not be as close as it appears on paper. 

Florida State is simply a powerhouse that has laughed any and all competition out of the building this season. The Seminoles defeated four ranked opponents by a combined score of 200-35 in 2013.

Winston is an elite player in his own right. He is also backed by the nation's best defense, two running backs with more than 700 rushing yards and three receivers with more than 900 receiving yards.

Kudos to Auburn for a season that seems destined to end in the glory of a title win, but the Tigers will simply not be able to score enough to pull out a victory.

Prediction: Seminoles 49, Tigers 34

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FSU vs Auburn: Keys for Tigers to Pull Upset over Seminoles

The BCS No. 2 Auburn Tigers have had their fair share of dramatic finishes this season en route to a national championship matchup with the top-ranked Florida State Seminoles on Monday, Jan. 6.

As underdogs in this contest at Pasadena's Rose Bowl, the resurgent Tigers will need some more magic to hoist the Coaches' Trophy.

Florida State is a more talented and balanced team across the board, but head coach Gus Malzahn has found a way to get Auburn to this point with his outstanding game plans and gutsy players executing big plays down the stretch.

Many predict the nine-point favorites (h/t Bovada) to run away with this one, including former college football head coach Rick Neuheisel, per James Crepea of the Montgomery Advertiser:

Having said that, at no point this season were the Seminoles in true danger of losing, which could be a big benefit for the Tigers if this becomes a close one down the stretch.

In order for Auburn to remain within striking distance, though, here are some keys that can position them to pull off the upset.

Note: Team statistics are courtesy of NCAA.com. Individual defensive stats were obtained via CFBStats.com.


Apply Pressure to Jameis Winston

One of the big disadvantages for the Tigers is their inability to account for all of Florida State's weapons on the outside. Kenny Shaw and Rashad Greene are both friendly targets for Heisman Trophy winner Jameis Winston, but the big matchup problem is 6'5" sophomore Kelvin Benjamin.

Plus, there's gritty tight end Nick O'Leary and a strong running game backing Winston up.

As cool and calm as Winston has been in the pocket this season, Auburn must find a way to knock the freshman off his spot and force him to make difficult throws in the face of pressure.

The problem is that Winston is very athletic, even though he looks to run often as a last resort. That isn't discouraging Tigers defensive end Dee Ford from coming hard after him, per CBSSports.com's Bruce Feldman:

Ford leads Auburn with 8.5 sacks and will need to get at least a handful of hurries on Winston to knock him out of rhythm and give the Tigers a shot to win this one.


Win 3rd Down Battle

The play-calling head coaches in Malzahn and FSU's Jimbo Fisher have both had immense success this year. Both deploy complex systems that are multifaceted but in different ways.

Fisher has the luxury of balance with both the run and the pass and has a great feel for what to call in critical situations. He explained how he juggles both coaching and calling plays to the USA Today's Dan Wolken:

I always thought it would be easier to call plays as a head coach because you know exactly how you want the game to go, what you're anticipating, when to take chances, when not to. Sometimes when you're a coordinator, you may call something and the head coach says, "Oooh, I didn't really want that right now." Well, it's too late.

That's helped the Seminoles convert third downs at a 55.2 percent clip—third in the NCAA. 

Malzahn's rather one-dimensional ground-and-pound style features a lot of different blocking schemes and formations to throw opponents off. Auburn's success rate of 45.6 percent is a respectable 27th but not quite as consistent.

Bringing pressure and stuffing the box in these scenarios may be the only option the Tigers have to contain the physical style Florida State sports from its backfield, which features Devonta Freeman, Karlos Williams and James Wilder Jr.

Leaving Auburn's secondary exposed on the outside against such a talented receiving corps is dangerous. However, that's the way it is with the Seminoles: Pick your poison.


Play Relentlessly to Strengths

Or: stick to the game plan—one that should feature minimal passing, plenty of possession time and ball protection.

Boston College came closest to beating Florida State this season, losing 48-34. What helped the Eagles stay close was a continual reliance on running the ball with Heisman finalist Andre Williams, and they totaled 45 carries for 200 yards for the game.

Even better production will be necessary for Auburn, as will another monster performance from its own Heisman contender in running back Tre Mason.

The junior scampered for a whopping 304 yards in the SEC championship win over Missouri and has found pay dirt 22 times on the ground this season. Something will have to give when he faces a defense that has yielded a nation-low five rushing TDs.

Nick Marshall is a quarterback the likes of which the Seminoles haven't faced. He is still raw and is almost more of a threat with his feet than with his arm, but his accelerating improvement should strike fear into defenses when he does pull up to pass.

Though what makes Auburn tick is the read-option between Mason and Marshall—and Mason described the innate chemistry he and is QB have in terms of decision-making at the mesh point, per the team's official Twitter account:

By sticking with Mason, his fellow back Corey Grant and Marshall, the Tigers should be able to produce substantial yardage, keep the ball away from Winston and Co. and wear FSU down by the fourth quarter.

From there, it comes down to making plays in the clutch—something Auburn has done in the face of adversity and amid this stunning turnaround from a 3-9 campaign a year ago.

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What Recruits Are Saying About Charlie Strong as New Texas Head Coach

Texas officially concluded a high-profile nationwide coaching search Sunday. The university hired former Louisville head coach Charlie Strong following flirtations with Alabama's Nick Saban, UCLA's Jim Mora Jr. and Baylor's Art Briles.

Strong spent four seasons with the Cardinals, taking over in 2010 after serving as defensive coordinator at Florida. He led the team to 23 victories in the past two seasons, including bowl wins over Florida and Miami, and he gained increased exposure due to the popularity of potential No. 1 overall NFL draft pick Teddy Bridgewater.

As Strong gets underway with his new role in Austin, recruiting immediately emerges as a top priority. National signing day is fast approaching, and a top-10 class is still within reach for if he can convince prospects that Texas remains a desirable destination.

Several Longhorns commits and targets have already reacted to the hiring. Here's a glimpse at how some of the nation's premier junior and senior high school standouts initially feel about Mack Brown's replacement.


4-star QB Jerrod Heard (Denton, Texas)

2014 Texas commit

Jerrod Heard committed to Texas as a sophomore and has long been viewed as the team's quarterback of the future. He admires the way Strong increased the level of competition at Louisville.

"(Texas) definitely got a good coach," Heard told OrangeBloods.com reporter Jason Suchomel. "How he turned Louisville around into one of the top schools, he's a great recruiter, got some good guys in and I think that's what he's going to do at Texas. It's heading to the right track."

He also expressed excitement in Strong's willingness to open up the playbook for dynamic passers. Heard appreciated the way he allowed Bridgewater to flourish at Louisville.

"He lets the quarterback work," Heard told 247Sports reporter Blake Munroe. "That's the kind of offense I like.”


4-star RB Donald Catalon (Houston, Texas)

2014 Texas commit

Donald Catalon rushed for nearly 3,000 yards since his sophomore season. The running back pledged to the Longhorns prior to his junior year and seems undaunted in his commitment to Texas.

“He seems to be a great coach," Catalon told 247Sports. "I know he’s done some great things with Louisville and with Florida, so I’m really looking forward to playing for him. I’m excited about it.”


3-star DT Trey Lealaimatafao (San Antonio, Texas)

2014 Texas commit

Defensive tackle Trey Lealaimatafao didn't sound quite as ready to buy into the Strong era as some of his fellow commits.

"I don't really know him too well. We'll just have to restart this recruiting process," he told OrangeBloods.com. "It's (a) soft (commitment), but I'll have to talk to (Strong) first before I do anything."

Lealaimatafao is also considering UCLA, Oregon and Texas Tech.


4-star DE Derick Roberson (San Antonio, Texas)

Dominant defensive end Derick Roberson reacted with a heavy dose of excitement on Sunday. He committed to Texas in August 2012 and clearly can't wait to get to campus with a new coach.

Texas is going to be too too RAW next year ❕❗️🐂😁🙌 I cant wait 😏

— D-RO (@DerickJRoberson) January 5, 2014


3-star LB Andrew Beck (Tampa, Fla.)

2014 Texas commit

Plant City High School standout Andrew Beck is an outstanding tackler who projects as an outside linebacker at the next level. Strong primarily worked with linebackers during his tenure at Florida, so it will be interesting to see what kind of imprint he makes on the position in Austin.

Beck is on board with the hire and ready to compete for a defensive-minded coach.

“I think it will be good for the university and for me personally," Beck told 247Sports. "He seems like a great guy and a great coach who obviously has turned things around at Louisville, so he knows what he is doing. He also seems like a high energy coach, so I’m excited.”


4-star LB Otaro Alaka (Houston, Texas)

2014 Texas commit

Texas would love to pair Otaro Alaka with Beck in the linebacker corps, but Strong may have some work to do during the final stretch of his recruitment.

"I would like to talk to him before I make any decisions," he told 247Sports. "I still may take some visits but want to speak with him first.”

Alaka, a Texas commit since April, holds offers from Arkansas, Baylor, LSU and several other schools.


4-star TE Blake Whiteley (Arizona Western College)

2014 target

Blake Whiteley is rated the nation's No. 1 junior college tight end prospect by 247Sports. He received an offer from the Longhorns in early December, and the team quickly rose to the top of his list.

However, with a new regime in place, he wants questions answered about Texas' revamped offensive game plan.

"I do think coach Strong is a great coach. However, for me as both a blocking and a pass-catching tight end, I still need to hear what kind of offensive philosophy and coordinator he is going to choose," Whiteley told OrangeBloods.com.

Virginia, Purdue and Arkansas are likely Texas' stiffest competition for his commitment.


4-star LB Cameron Townsend (Missouri City, Texas)

2015 target

Ridge Point High School junior Cameron Townsend is considered one of the top linebacker prospects in the 2015 class. He will be one of Strong's top in-state targets during his first full recruiting cycle at the helm, competing with the likes of USC, Oklahoma and Michigan.

Despite some unfamiliarity, Townsend has lofty expectations for Strong.

"I don't know much about him, but seeing the things he did at Louisville makes me think he can make Texas a national championship contender again," Townsend told OrangeBloods.com.

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Why Did Hundley and Mora Both Pass Up a Ton of Cash to Stay at UCLA?

All too often in college football, pundits and fans are focused on the next big thing for players and coaches: The next job for coaches, and the next level for players. It's a narrow scope view, which blocks the big picture. 

The big picture at UCLA is big enough that it attracted quarterback Brett Hundley back to the program for 2014, spurning NFL riches and a likely first-round draft pick for one more year in pursuit of the Bruins' first conference championship since 1998—and, perhaps, the program's first national championship in 60 years. 

"I told [my dad] I came to UCLA for this specific reason: Bring this program back to national prominence," Hundley said at a news conference Monday. "That was the one thing that stuck in my head [during the decision-making process]."

The NFL and professional riches will still be there for Hundley next season, but in rejoining head coach Jim Mora for another season, he could make some UCLA football history on his way out.  

The Bruins won 10 games this season, the program's most since 2005, and did so despite playing as many as 18 freshmen throughout the campaign. A favorable schedule awaits the battle-tested Bruins in 2014, and the pieces are in place for what Hundley called "something special." 

Hundley will captain the Bruins offense for a third season. Among the Pac-12, only Oregon's Marcus Mariota, another highly coveted draft prospect who put off the NFL for one more season, has much experience as his team's exclusive quarterback.

Surrounding Hundley is a bevy of similarly experienced talent on both sides of the ball. His deep receiving corps returns notable names like Devin Fuller, Thomas Duarte and Devin Lucien, all of whom caught multiple touchdown passes in 2013. 

Surely there's individual motivation behind Hundley's decision to return to UCLA. The evolution of professional offenses to integrate more freedom from quarterbacks makes the dual-threat Hundley a more viable first-round option than he may have been 10 or even five years ago.

Combine that with his sky-high potential, and it's no wonder NFL scouts are high on Hundley. But he also has room for improvement, as B/R draft guru Matt Miller and others note. 

Hundley said his draft advisory board assessment was all over the map, from second to as far down as fourth round. He sometimes struggled in the pocket in 2013, appearing indecisive against the pass rush. 

Some of the first major strides in Hundley's passing game were taken in UCLA's 42-12 romp over Virginia Tech in the Sun Bowl. After sending the Hokies' vaunted rush defense back on its heels as a ball-carrier in the first half, Hundley unleashed his arm on their secondary.

He finished with 226 yards passing and two touchdowns to go with 161 yards rushing and another two scores. Following such a strong performance, making the choice to turn pro could have been that much easier—UCF quarterback Blake Bortles, for example, opted to make the jump following his stellar Fiesta Bowl.  

And Hundley said his leaving was as close as "a coin flip" at one point. 

"After a big-time game like that and everyone’s giving you praise…you need to let it settle," Hundley said. "It’s a big decision, but I’m happy I made this decision." 

Hundley said former teammates and 2013 NFL rookies, running back Johnathan Franklin and defensive end Datone Jones, helped him through the decision. 

"When you go to that next level [of the NFL], it’s different than having that brotherhood [in college]," Hundley said.  

Brotherhood is a theme that Mora has emphasized in his time at UCLA, and the coach has practiced what he preaches via his dedication to the program. 

In much the same fashion Hundley said "no, thanks" to the next big thing of the NFL, Mora turned down the next big thing in coaching—an opportunity to lead Texas, one of the game's most historically rich programs and a flagship for the sport. 

"It is always flattering when someone is interested in you. But I am committed to being the UCLA coach," Mora told the Los Angeles Times.

After turning down Washington, his alma mater and a job he once called a "dream," Mora has rebranded UCLA. His passing on what is considered a top-tier collegiate coaching job to remain in Westwood, Calif., sends a message that UCLA is itself a top-tier destination. 

And why not? The Bruins are positioned in one of the nation's deepest recruiting pools, are in the nation's second-largest media market and play their home games in one of college football's premier venues. 

With no NFL franchise in Los Angeles, USC is the only local competition, and UCLA has won the last two head-to-head meetings to claim the city's bragging rights. 

There will be plenty more interest in Mora as UCLA continues to win. His pedigree is in the NFL, and another opportunity to lead a professional franchise may be just around the corner. After all, three of the 12 coaches to lead teams into this season's NFL playoffs were in the Pac-12 no more than just four years ago. 

But Mora stressed this season how much the bond between players and coaches at the college level means to him. 

"I love Coach Mora to death," Hundley said. "He loves us not only as football players, but as young men."

For coach and quarterback, that relationship and the shared dedication in building the next big thing transcends chasing the next big thing. 


Quotes obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted. 

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Why Did Hundley and Mora Both Pass Up a Ton of Cash to Stay at UCLA?

All too often in college football, pundits and fans are focused on the next big thing for players and coaches: The next job for coaches, and the next level for players. It's a narrow scope view, which blocks the big picture...

Read the full article on Bleacher Report...

Notre Dame Football: How Stephon Tuitt's Departure Will Impact Irish Defense

Defensive end Stephon Tuitt decided three years was enough at Notre Dame. The standout defender, who was the Irish's leading sack artist the past two seasons, will declare for the NFL draft. Tuitt spoke with SI.com about his rationale while thanking fans on Twitter for his three years in South Bend. 

Tuitt joins defensive tackle Louis Nix III in leaving Notre Dame with eligibility on the table, with both players a good shot to be drafted in the first round. Their departure from the Irish's defensive front leaves two gigantic holes to fill.

It's a true changing of the guard for the Notre Dame defense. Coordinator Bob Diaco is now running the UConn football program. And when the Irish take the field this spring under new coordinator Brian VanGorder's direction, they'll have a front seven that features only Sheldon Day from the group that opened the 2013 season.

Diaco's departure alone signaled change to the defense. But the personnel on the Irish roster, as well as Kelly's hiring of VanGorder, a coordinator known for his attacking, 4-3 defense, gives us a few hints as to what the defense will look like.

The secondary should remain constant. While the Irish need to replace Bennett Jackson, freshmen Cole Luke and Devin Butler saw early playing time, and there's confidence that the young cornerbacks will be capable to fill Jackson's shoes. The safety play also needs to improve, but there's plenty of available talent to elevate the position.  

Yet, the front seven remains a mystery, both because of schematic changes and unproven personnel. That's not to say there isn't talent. Anchoring the group will be linebacker Jaylon Smith. After earning a spot on 247Sports' True Freshman All-American Team, Smith will enter next season as one of the country's elite defensive playmakers. 

Leading the defensive line will be Sheldon Day. Plagued by a lingering ankle sprain most of the season, Day failed to take a step forward during his sophomore season, but the defensive staff believes they have an elite player in Day. 

Where he plays remains to be seen. At 6'2" and 290 pounds, Day has the size to be a disruptive defensive tackle, though not the type of two-gap, run-stopper that Nix was. Day doesn't have the ideal length to play defensive end, and a slide inside (not to mention a scheme change) could actually benefit his production. 

But behind Smith and Day are mostly question marks. Inside linebacker Jarrett Grace looked like a future building block, but he's in the middle of a long recovery after breaking his leg against Arizona State. Ben Councell is rehabbing a torn ACL as well. Ishaq Williams enters his senior season with no roadblocks in front of him, but he has yet to play anywhere close to the 5-star ranking he brought with him to South Bend. Romeo Okwara is another intriguing piece at outside linebacker, though he's only played sparingly in his first two seasons. 

On the defensive front, key veterans Tony Springmann and Chase Hounshell are both coming off major injuries. They'll be counted on to play big minutes. First year players Jarron Jones and Isaac Rochell did some nice things during their debut seasons but will need to take huge steps forward. And a journeyman like Justin Utupo might have earned a fifth year, with the defensive line in desperate need of veteran leadership. 

The wild card in all of this is a talented recruiting class. Early enrollee Andrew Trumbetti is coming off an impressive week at the Under Armour game and will be one of the early benefactors from Tuitt's departure. A handful of other edge players like Grant Blankenship, Jonathan Bonner, Matt Dickerson and Jhonathon Williams could play as well.

Five freshman linebackers enter with something to prove. US Army All-American Nyles Morgan could be an immediate contributor at inside linebacker. Richard Yeargin III held his own in San Antonio as well. While Bob Diaco was slow to trust freshmen as anything more than complementary parts, the verdict is still out on how quickly VanGorder will use young players.

Talent doesn't seem to be the problem. Just about every defender on this roster was handpicked by this staff and highly recruited. But after having some key pieces in place for a few seasons, 2014 will be a new-look group, with Tuitt's departure the final brick.

Still, you can't help but look at the past two seasons and understand that things don't always go as expected. In 2012, the Irish rode a rebuilt secondary and unproven starters like Nix, Tuitt and Danny Spond into the school's record books. In 2013, preseason expectations for Nix, Tuitt and Prince Shembo all went unfulfilled as the defense crumbled

After getting four seasons from Zack Martin, Manti Te'o, Tyler Eifert, Harrison Smith and Michael Floyd, Tuitt is the first three-and-out player since Kyle Rudolph was the first tight end taken in the 2011 draft. His departure opened the door for Eifert, who seized the opportunity and became the Irish's next All-American tight end. 

Tuitt leaves a gaping hole in the defense. But great players leave. Finding his replacement will be one of the key's to the Irish's future. 

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Johnny Manziel Starts 'The Chop' with FSU Fans at Hollywoood Party

Stop me if you've heard this one: "Johnny Manziel walks out of a bar..."

Granted, that's a story nearly as tired as anything to do with signatures or tantalizing touchdowns, but there is something new to offer: Johnny Football is an equal-opportunity party reveler. 

Thanks to TMZ and the advent of social media, we get to see Manziel perform the Florida State Seminole chop before, we assume, he heads off to bigger lights, fatter paychecks and grander parties. 

Thanks to Twitter user Cate Bevans, we get to see what an extremely happy Manziel looks like. Forget getting all bent out of shape over the Seminole tomahawk chop, because that face should receive all of your energy. 

It's OK, Mr. Football. We all get one mulligan. 

Man, I wish there was video, possibly one with NSFW language. Hey, thanks to ESPN Radio Tallahassee's promotions director Alicia Cross for providing just that with this Instagram video

Forget Flavor Flav, because Manziel is the ultimate hype man. 

Now if you are wondering about the where and when behind all the festivities, TMZ was there to catch the Texas A&M star quarterback as he was coming out of the nightclub. 

Here is the video, featuring a confused Manziel who really just wanted to find out where his buddy on the other side of the phone was. 

According to the report, Manziel was at the Emerson nightclub in Hollywood on Sunday, partying it up with an already excited Florida State contingent. 

As you are no doubt aware, the BCS Championship Game takes place on Monday night at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, Calif. The No. 2 Auburn Tigers take on the No. 1 Seminoles, and it's clear who the Aggies QB is pulling for—or at the very least was pulling for on Sunday night. 

If he does stiff arm the NFL and comes back to school, it's probably smart to keep his rooting interest outside the conference.

As TMZ notes, Manziel, who is coming off a come-from-behind win over Duke in the Chick-fil-A Bowl, did manage to toss one big shout out to his fellow Aggies: "I love my teammates—always and forever."

Not done with the classy shout-outs, Manziel tweeted out the following: 

The Houston Chronicle's Brent Zwerneman reports fellow Aggie Ricky Seals-Jones believes Manziel has already left the college life in spirit, stating simply, "Johnny's gone. He’s gone."

If so, you can't blame the kid for taking a victory tour of sorts. He has to get an early push on NFL parties, which we are confident he will enjoy. 


Hit me up on Twitter

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John Plattenburg Flips Commitment from UCLA to USC

Steve Sarkisian continues to do well for himself on recruiting, as the USC Trojans reportedly have flipped UCLA Bruins defensive back commit John Plattenburg Jr. on Monday.

FOX Sports national recruiting analyst Greg Biggins reported the news and a quote from Plattenburg: 

The 3-star cornerback out of Houston, Texas committed to UCLA back in November, but it appears the changing of the guard at USC has had an impact on his allegiance to the Bruins. New defensive backs coach Keith Heyward recruited Plattenburg hard while at Washington, and his presence at USC has had an influence on Plattenburg's change of heart, according to FOX Sports' Brandon Huffman:

His 5'10", 179-pound frame gives him good size, and he will only fill out more as he develops in college. Aside from the threat he provides in coverage, Plattenburg is an asset on kick returns and has a penchant for making quarterbacks pay for badly thrown balls. 

Plattenburg's commitment to USC is a godsend for the Trojans, who have just two other defensive backs in the ranks for 2014. With Dion Bailey electing to enter the NFL draft, USC has just Josh Shaw and the freshman phenom Su'a Cravens as reliable starters for next season. Kevon Seymour is developing into a real talent at cornerback, but injuries have decimated the rest of the secondary. 

Redshirt junior Anthony Brown, redshirt sophomore Ryan Henderson, redshirt freshman Devian Shelton, sophomore Ryan Dillard, freshman Chris Hawkins, freshman Leon McQuay III and senior Gerald Bowman are all waiting in the wings for USC, but injuries have prevented any of them making significant contributions to Troy. 

Despite the work Clancy Pendergast did with the secondary, making the unit more respectable than it has been in years, the lack of depth and skill there still reared its ugly head in long-ball situations.

Even in his introductory press conference, Steve Sarkisian noted that USC's secondary has been one of the biggest victims of the NCAA sanctions, forcing players onto the gridiron before they are ready. He said he wanted to bring in more talent there—and flipping Plattenburg achieves that purpose.

With Plattenburg now in the ranks, USC secures more depth, and in return he gets the chance for early playing time. 

The Trojans now have 17 of their 19 scholarships filled for 2014, but expect a few decommitments before national signing day arrives in February. According to FOX Sports' Lindsey Thiry, there are still some last-minute fireworks that could still go off at USC:

Buckle up, Trojan fans. Things are going to get very interesting for USC down the homestretch. 

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John Plattenburg Flips Commitment from UCLA to USC

Steve Sarkisian continues to do well for himself on recruiting, as the USC Trojans reportedly have flipped UCLA Bruins defensive back commit John Plattenburg Jr. on Monday...

Read the full article on Bleacher Report...

Brett Hundley Officially Announces He Will Stay at UCLA for 2014 Season

The speculation can finally stop: Brett Hundley will not enter the 2014 NFL draft. 

UCLA's dynamic sophomore quarterback has been at the center of "will-he-won't-he" talk for several months now, but after seeking feedback from those closest to him, he finally made the decision to stay at Westwood.

Edward Lewis of Rivals.com provided the news and a photo from Hundley's announcement:

This is undoubtedly a major win for the Bruins, as many believed he would take his talents to the pros. Instead, Hundley follows in the footsteps of fellow highly acclaimed sophomore Pac-12 quarterback Marcus Mariota and will return to school.   

Hundley said that his draft projection was a wide range when he explored the possibility of going pro:

Still, according to Abbey Mastracco of FoxSportsWest.com, Hundley talked about hos close he was to entering the draft:

How close was Hundley to leaving? He said, "It could have been a coin flip at one point in time." #UCLA

— Abbey Mastracco (@AbbeyMastracco) January 6, 2014

Hundley still has areas that need improvement, and despite the fact that the Chandler, Ariz., native had a tremendous year he felt he needed more time at the college level to refine his skill set.

In leading UCLA to a 10-3 overall record, Hundley completed 67.2 percent of his throws for 3,071 yards, 24 touchdowns and nine interceptions. He also ran for 748 yards and added another 11 scores on the ground. 

While Hundley is still a work in progress, he possesses the physical traits—arm strength, dual-threat ability, elusiveness in the pocket—that can't be taught, and it gives UCLA a major boost for next season.

The redshirt sophomore was gaining momentum as one of the top quarterbacks in college football, including Teddy Bridgewater, Derek Carr and Johnny Manziel, Blake Bortles and Zach Mettenberger.

Hundley's decision is one that will have a major impact on the quarterback class and the Pac-12.

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Cold Hard Fact for Monday, January 6, 2014

Fact: Florida State has not trailed in a game since they were down 17-10 to Boston College in the 2nd quarter of their game on September 28. That's a span of 571 minutes and 49 seconds game time. 

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

Source: Florida Today

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