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Auburn vs. FSU: Predicting Final Stats for Jameis Winston and Top Star Players

On the surface, the VIZIO BCS National Championship Game will be a dogfight between the Florida State Seminoles and the Auburn Tigers to decide which team is the best in college football. While that may be true, the BCS title game is really a battle to see which group of playmakers can put up the best numbers.

Auburn and FSU are two teams comprised almost entirely of stars on the offensive side of the ball. With that being the case, the final score will be dictated by how well (or how poorly) each standout performs.

Of course, Heisman winner Jameis Winston will be at the main focus of the contest. The redshirt freshman put together stellar numbers in his first season under center for FSU. But what should we expect from him against Auburn?

Winston and the Seminoles haven't really faced as tough a team as Auburn this season, so it will be interesting to see how well he fares against a strong opponent. The same can be said for the rest of the stars in this one.

This is what some of their final stat lines might look like.

 

Jameis Winston, QB, FSU

Winston has been the most consistent, prolific quarterback in college football this season—hence his Heisman trophy. The freshman has shown great poise and leadership under center, and his unwavering demeanor while on the field will be put to the test against the Tigers.

Auburn has taken care of Johnny Manziel, A.J. McCarron and Aaron Murray this season. While Winston is another level above those stars, the fact remains that Auburn has shown that it can beat great quarterbacks.

I expect Auburn to throw creative blitz packages at Winston throughout the first half. If it works in keeping him honest, then expect more of the same in the second half.

The Auburn defense is of the belief that it has a fail-proof plan of slowing him down. Auburn defensive end Dee Ford told Joel A. Erickson of AL.com of the unit's plans: "Pressure makes any quarterback average. We definitely want to put pressure on this quarterback, really affect his decisions."

The pressure might get to Winston early, but don't expect it to limit his production when it's all said and done.

 

Nick Marshall, QB, Auburn

Auburn's No. 1 rushing attack is headlined by the two-headed monster of Nick Marshall and Tre Mason. But, before we get to Mason, let's focus on Marshall.

Marshall racked up 1,023 yards on the ground and 11 rushing touchdowns on the season. Compare that to his 1,759 passing yards and 12 passing touchdowns, and it's clear that Marshall isn't your typical quarterback. The read-option is his best friend, and offensive coordinator Rhett Lashlee has done a great job of putting Marshall in situations to succeed.

He'll have trouble against the Seminoles' aggressive defense, though. Rushing the ball in between the tackles will prove to be a struggle, and FSU's linebackers and defensive ends have the speed to catch up with him along the outside.

Passing the ball, Marshall will need to be crisp and limit mistakes. Establishing the run will be key in this regard. Setting up the play-action pass early on is of the utmost importance. Wideout Sammie Coates has big-play potential in the vertical passing game, but Marshall needs to get him the ball.

When the run game breaks down, Marshall might be forced to make more passes than he is accustomed to. That spells bad new for Auburn as well as Marshall's numbers.

 

Tre Mason, RB, Auburn

Heisman finalist Tre Mason must post big numbers if his Auburn team is going to have a chance of keeping up with FSU's No. 1-ranked offense.

Mason is a workhorse, and there's no doubting the fact that he'll continue to run the rock—even if he's struggling. He told Andy Staples of Sports Illustrated, "I wasn't going to stop until the clock hit zero and we won; I wasn't tired. Even after the game, I was celebrating. I was happy. I probably could've went another game."

Even if his motor doesn't slow him down, the FSU defensive linemen will. Mason needs to be able to bump the ball outside to pick up yards. His frame won't allow him to run the ball through the teeth of a strong, fast FSU defense.

If Mason carries the ball 46 times like he did against Missouri in the SEC Championship Game, then there's a good chance he'll put up decent yards. His yards-per-carry average won't be very pretty, however, and Auburn is looking for consistent movement on the ground—not just yards.

Mason's numbers will either be great or terrible. There likely won't be a middle ground.

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National Signing Day 2014: Breaking Down Top Uncommitted Prospects

There are still many top prospects who have yet to commit to a college football program heading into national signing day, which officially kicks off on Wednesday, February 5, 2014.

Not surprisingly, Alabama, Ohio State, Texas A&M and Florida State have dominated recruiting heading into the final month of courting. However, there's still plenty of time for other teams to land a few top players and sneak into the upper echelon of recruiting classes.

Here's a look at the top players who have yet to make a commitment, along with the latest buzz surrounding their upcoming decisions.

 

Note: All rankings based on composite numbers from 247Sports.com.

 

Marlon Humphrey, Cornerback (No. 5)

Running back Bo Scarbrough recently paid Marlon Humphrey a high complement, highlighting him as one of the toughest defenders he'd seen, as relayed by Derek Tyson of ESPN.com: "I just think that he has great defense and you have to be really physical when you going against Marlon Humphrey."

The No. 5-ranked prospect in the nation, Humphrey, at 6'1" and 175 pounds, has the size, speed and physicality programs drool about in a defensive back. 

Alabama and Florida State seem to have the best shot at landing Humphrey, with Mississippi State as a potential dark-horse candidate. However, it appears 'Bama could be in the lead, as Andrew Bone of Rivals.com relayed:

One thing's for certain: The team that lands Humphrey will be in great shape in the next few years when it comes to its defensive secondary. 

 

Adoree' Jackson, Cornerback (No. 7)

Whereas Humphrey offers elite size and physicality, Adoree' Jackson brings a different skill set to the table. 

At 5'9.5" and 182 pounds, Jackson is quicker and faster than Humphrey, and he possesses an extraordinary ability to leap for balls in the air.

This trait was clearly seen during the Under Armour All-America Game, when the cornerback made a tremendous play on an interception, showing his unique athleticism and ball skills. 

After the game, Jackson tweeted out the six schools still in the running for his services:

Given the fact that he hails from California, USC or UCLA would be logical destinations for the talented young star in the making. However, the lure of the SEC could prove too tempting to pass up. 

 

John Smith, Athlete (No. 13)

John "JuJu" Smith is an intriguing athlete who will likely find his place in the college ranks as a safety, and the 5-star athlete is being pursued by some of the top schools in the country. 

USC, Alabama, Notre Dame, Oregon and Ohio State are in the running to sign him, but it could be tough to lure him away from the West Coast, according to Ari Wasserman of the Northeast Ohio Media Group:

“It’s a tough battle for all of us,” Smith told Cleveland.com in an in-person interview late last week. “For kids from places like Florida and California (to imagine leaving for a colder climate), its hard. This is home.”

That said, Smith's receiving overtures from Jamarco Jones, an offensive tackle who's already committed to Ohio State, as noted by Luke Stampini of 247.com:

It'll be interesting to see if any cold-weather school can lure Smith, who's a California boy, through and through. 

 

Follow me on Twitter @JesseReed78 

 

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Adonis Jennings Commits to Pitt: Panthers Land 4-Star WR

Wide receiver Adonis Jennings announced his college choice Sunday night in front of a national television audience. The 4-star New Jersey product pledged to Pittsburgh during the Semper Fidelis All-American Bowl on FOX Sports 1.

Jennings, who previously committed to Rutgers, provides the Panthers with versatile offensive playmaking ability. He is the second-highest rated prospect in a 22-player class, according to 247Sports' composite rankings. 

The 6'3", 185-pound pass target ultimately picked Pittsburgh over Arkansas and Iowa. His offer list also included Arizona, Kansas, Clemson and Boston College.

Jennings, a standout at Timber Creek High School (Sicklerville, N.J.), initially opted to stay in his home state. He committed to Rutgers in June but backed off that decision in early November.

Jennings enjoyed a dominant high school career. He helped lead the Chargers to three straight sectional championship games.

As a senior, Jennings earned First-Team All-State honors. He caught 83 passes for 1,434 yards and scored 15 total touchdowns.

Defenders had trouble keeping Jennings under wraps throughout the season. His stat sheet is filled with impressive performances.

Although he isn't a burner, Jennings gains position with physicality and excellent leaping ability. He attacks the ball at its highest point and picks up speed in the open field with powerful strides. 

Pittsburgh gains a player with instant-impact potential at a position of need. Expect Jennings to contend for playing time early in his Panthers career.

"I think I fit well in that offense," Jennings told Fox Sports 1 following his announcement. "I'm going to come in ready to compete, and that's all it comes down to."

Jennings spent an unofficial visit on campus in November. He will use an official visit at Pittsburgh later this month, per 247Sports.

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Jameis Winston's Girlfriend Breion Allen 'Anxious' Before 2014 BCS Championship

Florida State Seminoles quarterback Jameis Winston has been as cool as can be amid incredible hype and expectations in leading his top-ranked team to a BCS title game matchup Monday, Jan. 6 with Auburn. 

The game is close to getting underway, and while the reigning Heisman Trophy winner is likely relaxed and making his final preparations, his girlfriend, Breion Allen, is feeling a little uneasy.

Allen took to Twitter Saturday, Jan. 4, to express her anxiety about the impending matchup at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, Calif.

The sophomore guard for the Rice University women's basketball team is acquainted with the demands of being a collegiate athlete, but even she is having a hard time relating to this type of pressure.

It's difficult to blame her, because Allen's significant other is about to lead a Seminoles squad that is heavily favored into a clash with a Tigers team that made it through the gauntlet of SEC competition to get to this stage.

According to Bovada, Florida State is favored by nine points even though Auburn hails from what is widely perceived as the best conference in college football.

If the rest of the season has been any indication, Allen doesn't have much to worry about with regard to how FSU or Winston will perform while competing for the Coaches' Trophy.

Winston has been the catalyst for a balanced, explosive offense that ranks fifth in the country in total yards per game. The freshman phenom has thrown for 3,820 yards on 10.95 yards per attempt with 38 touchdowns and 10 interceptions.

Given that Auburn fields the nation's 102nd-ranked pass defense, it's a pretty safe bet that Winston will fare just fine and that Allen will be able to calm her nerves by the time the national championship has been decided.

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Jimmie Swain Commits to Oregon: Ducks Land 4-Star OLB

Just a day after losing star running back De’Anthony Thomas to the NFL, via Goducks.com’s Rob Moseley, the Oregon Ducks got some good news in the form of linebacker Jimmie Swain.

A 4-star recruit, Swain has decided to take his talents to Eugene in 2014, via 247Sports’ Justin Hopkins:

Swain later made the news official on his Twitter page:

It’s a much-needed boost to an Oregon program that will need to recover quickly after losing Thomas for next season. Not to mention, the school was recently left off of the final six by highly touted 5-star cornerback Adoree Jackson last week, via his Twitter account.

Regardless, Swain’s commitment makes him the Ducks’ eighth 4-star recruit according to the 247 composite rankings. His addition also brings the school’s 2014 class up to No. 15 in the nation.

For Swain, the deciding factor came down to the men roaming the sidelines.

“At Oregon it’s the whole coaching staff,” he told ESPN’s Damon Sayles (h/t The Dallas Morning News’ E.J. Holland). “My mom really enjoyed them when she came to visit. They’ve been at Oregon so long, and the football there speaks for itself, when a 10-2 season is considered a bad season.”

At 6'2", 229 pounds, Swain has all the physical traits of an explosive defender. Just from watching his tapes, the Olathe, Kan., native displays the instincts and assertive edge that was lacking from the Oregon defense in 2013.

Aside from the Ducks, Swain also considered Texas A&M, Arkansas and Michigan State.

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Jimmie Swain Commits to Oregon: Ducks Land 4-Star OLB

Just a day after losing star running back De’Anthony Thomas to the NFL, via Goducks .com’s Rob Moseley , the Oregon Ducks got some good news in the form of linebacker Jimmie Swain ...

Read the full article on Bleacher Report...

Notre Dame QB Commit Blake Barnett Becomes First Player Invited to 2014 Opening

The last of the premier high school showcases for the Class of 2014 came to an end on Saturday, when the Army All-American Bowl was played in St. Petersburg, Fla.

Now, though not quite at the finish line, it's officially time to start looking ahead at the next batch of recruits.

Class of 2015 quarterback Blake Barnett, a Notre Dame commitment, became the first official invitee to The Opening and the Elite 11 finalist on Sunday, according to The Opening's twitter account:

Hailing from Coronoa, Calif., Barnett is the No. 135 overall prospect and No. 6 pro-style quarterback on the 247Sports.com composite. He has good height (6'3'') and arm strength with sneaky athleticism outside the pocket, despite being labeled a pro-style passer.

Among the top 10 pro-style quarterbacks in the Class of 2015, Barnett is one of just four who have already committed to play somewhere, joining No. 2 Ricky Town (Alabama), No. 4 Ty Storey (Arkansas) and No. 9 Tyler Queen (Auburn).

Unsigned Josh Rosen checks in at No. 1 in the class. He is choosing primarily between UCLA, Cal and Stanford at the current moment, though so much can still change during his recruitment.

It remains to be seen who else from this group will be invited to The Opening and Elite 11 finals. Barnett earned his spot in the Elite 11 finals by winning a regional competition at Santa Monica City College. Here's a short video of the event:  

The Opening, described as "four days of dynamic training, coaching and competition for many of the country's elite high school football players," will take place in July of 2014, though no official date has yet been set. 

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South Carolina vs. Clemson: Debate over Better Season Rages on

COLUMBIA, S.C. — South Carolina and Clemson each finished 11-2 this season, both had bowl victories over quality opponents, and it would take the wisdom of Solomon to decide which team had the better season.

The debate rages on between the schools' fans, not to mention the coaches.

Granted, South Carolina beat Clemson head-to-head, which probably gives the Gamecocks the edge, but it wouldn't be a total surprise if Clemson's Orange Bowl triumph over Ohio State is enough to vault the Tigers ahead of their bitter instate rival in the final standings.

Even if it doesn't, the schools will likely be close enough in the final rankings for the debate to continue.

Clemson fans are claiming their BCS triumph, the only one in history by a school from the state of South Carolina, as clear evidence of a superior season.

South Carolina fans view Clemson's presence in a BCS bowl more as a flaw in the system that allowed the Tigers to benefit from being in a weaker conference (ACC) than the SEC.

The Gamecocks point to their 31-17 triumph over the Tigers, and their current five-game winning streak against their archrival as clear evidence of superiority.

Perhaps the fans of the two schools would have gone about their business, each enjoying the success of their respective seasons without sniping at the other.

South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier made sure that wouldn't happen.

After the Gamecocks beat Wisconsin in the Capital One Bowl, Spurrier couldn't help but fire a small salvo at their in-state rival.

Taking note of the fact that South Carolina has won two out of the last three Capital One Bowls, Spurrier added, "and that state championship ain't bad either."

Clemson coach Dabo Swinney simply couldn't let that go.

After the Tigers beat the Buckeyes, Swinney countered.

"We're the first team from South Carolina to ever win a BCS Bowl," Swinney said, via Kevin McGuire of College Football Talk.

But Spurrier wasn't through.

In a follow-up story, via Connor Tapp of SB Nation (h/t The Atlanta Journal-Constitution), Spurrier threw out the ACC as the weaker conference argument and also marveled at the fact that Swinney didn't mention the obvious—Clemson's national championship in the Orange Bowl in 1981.

The reason is clear. Swinney's ego. The national championship and the majority of the Tigers' accolades occurred before he got to Clemson, and his 1-5 record against Spurrier seems to bother him worse than it does the Clemson faithful.

Swinney had to find something that happened on his watch that he could boast about.

If that's his best shot, Swinney is likely to keep losing to Spurrier off the field as well as on it.

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Auburn vs. Florida State: Why Tigers Won't Be Able to Keep Pace with Seminoles

The final year of the BCS in college football has granted fans what's sure to be a thrilling finale, featuring the No. 1 Florida State Seminoles and the No. 2 Auburn Tigers in the national championship game. 

Auburn has had a tremendous run full of twists and turns, miraculous plays and the climactic dethroning of the No. 1 Alabama Crimson Tide—a team that had won 24 of its previous 25 games dating back to 2012—on a 107-yard missed-field-goal return by Chris Davis.

However, as they say, all good things must come to an end. And Auburn's run will end in the wake of the high-powered Florida State Seminoles.

The 'Noles have been machine-like, scoring 40 or more points in all but one contest en route to an undefeated season and their second consecutive ACC title. What's more, FSU is averaging an earth-shattering 41.5-point margin of victory and has won by 27 or more in all but one game.

Auburn's defense has yet to see an offense of this caliber. The 102nd-ranked passing defense has allowed 260.2 yards per game through the air—second to last in the SEC.

One player that the Tigers will have a very difficult time accounting for is wide receiver Kelvin Benjamin—particularly in the red zone. This year, inside the 20-yard line, Florida State has come away with points 97.1 percent of the time—the best red-zone percentage in the country.

Auburn's cornerbacks have been exposed this year. In fact, Jonathon Mincy and Chris Davis have accounted for just one interception between them. The taller of the two, Davis, likely to get the assignment of the 6'4" Benjamin, stands at just 5'11".

Beyond Benjamin, the Tigers must also monitor receivers Rashad Greene and Kenny Shaw—both of whom have caught over 50 balls for at least 900 yards.

Early passing success for the 'Noles should set up running back Devonta Freeman, who's poised to eclipse 1,000 rushing yards on the season.

While acknowledging the nation's top-rushing offense in Auburn, Florida State will also be one of the two best rushing defenses the Tigers will have seen in the 2013 season, along with Alabama.

The Crimson Tide didn't stop the Tigers offense, but they did slow them down. Unfortunately for Alabama, the offense wasn't available to back up the defense. The same won't be true for Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback Jameis Winston and the Florida State offense.

Neither team will have trouble putting up points, but in the end, Florida State will get a few key stops, and it'll prove to be more than enough.

Prediction: Florida State 42 Auburn 28

 

Unless otherwise mentioned, all stats gathered via NCAA.com

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Jameis Winston Will Lead Florida State to BCS Title vs. Auburn

Jameis Winston has had one of the most memorable freshman seasons of any quarterback in college football history.

The reigning Heisman Trophy winner gives the Florida State Seminoles an edge at the most important position, which will help guide the No. 1 team in the country to the BCS title over the second-ranked Auburn Tigers.

Nick Marshall is just getting acquainted with playing quarterback in his first year as a starter for Auburn, making the Tigers more of a one-dimensional attack. That hasn't really stopped them all season, but against the likes of FSU, it might be a bit of a different story.

As long as the Seminoles can at least somewhat contain Marshall and star running back Tre Mason, it will be up to the Auburn signal-caller to make some key throws from the pocket.

Not only is Winston facing a far more favorable defensive matchup than Marshall and Co. are, but he also has superior weaponry in the receiving corps and a deeper backfield to complement him.

Although Florida State is loaded across the board with arguably the most all-around talented roster in the country, having a quarterback to make everything run smoothly is vital. Winston has lived up to his massive hype and even exceeded it in becoming just the second freshman ever to win the Heisman.

In a season of incredible scrutiny under the spotlight, nothing has been too overwhelming for Winston to handle. That's a testament to his moxie and mental fortitude, characteristics that often separate the great quarterbacks from the good ones.

In that context, it comes as no surprise that Winston is full of confidence ahead of the Monday, Jan. 6 showdown in Pasadena, Calif. Clark Spencer of the Miami Herald reported what Winston had to say about the prospects of a blowout on Friday, Jan. 3:

The NCAA has all these rules, but it does not say you cannot blow out everybody you play. Before we played Clemson, before we played Florida, before we played Miami … I said "Guys, where in the rulebook does it say we can’t blow out everybody that we play?"

...Alabama blew out Notre Dame in the championship game last year. We can do anything we want to do.

ESPN insider Brett McMurphy recorded another bold statement from Winston, implying that his team's dominance—rather than strokes of fortune Auburn has benefited from—has gotten the Seminoles to the brink of a national championship:

No one has given up fewer rushing touchdowns than the Seminoles' five this season, per NCAA.com, which is sure to test Auburn's top-ranked ground game.

That should leave it up to Winston to make the most of a shaky Tigers secondary that ranks among the worst defenses in the country against the pass.

As if upperclassmen Kenny Shaw and Rashad Greene won't create enough problems, 6'5" sophomore Kelvin Benjamin is bound to win his battles with Auburn defensive backs using his size and speed, too.

All Winston has to do is continue to be himself, stand and deliver in the pocket and make things happen when the play breaks down. Winston controls his own destiny and the fate of his team, which is why Florida State will be hoisting the Coaches' Trophy on Monday, Jan. 6.

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Auburn vs. FSU 2014: Examining Each Program's Journey to BCS Title Game

If you're looking for a reason to denounce preseason college football rankings an arbitrary, nonsensical process, look no further than Monday night's BCS National Championship Game. 

No. 1 Florida State, perhaps the most dominant regular-season team of the BCS era, was ranked No. 11 by the Associated Press and No. 12 by the coaches. Florida—yes, the team so talented and well-coached that its linemen once decided to block one another rather than an opponent—was ranked ahead of the Seminoles in both polls. The coaches thought Notre Dame was better.

Whoops.

The skepticism regarding No. 2 Auburn in the preseason was more understandable but no less amusing in retrospect. The Tigers, coming off a horrifying 3-9 season, did not receive a single preseason vote in either poll. I'm not going to list the teams that were included on some preseason Top 25 lists, but suffice it to say going here is an amusing exercise.

But despite the best efforts, the final year of the BCS should come to a proper end. Though they weren't included in the preseason national championship picture, the Seminoles and Tigers are unquestionably the best teams in the nation. Among major-conference teams, only Rose Bowl winner Michigan State has any true stake in the crown.

Nevertheless, with the national championship game mere hours from mercifully ending the 2013 college football season, it's important to look back on how these teams got here. With that in mind, let's check in with a retrospective on both programs. 

 

Auburn

You would have to parse college football history and individually study each situation, but Gus Malzahn's one-year rebuilding effort ranks among the best ever. At this time a year ago, Auburn was watching on as Alabama won a third national championship in four seasons and had ended its season with a demoralizing loss to the Crimson Tide. What once was a rivalry had regressed to a big brother-little brother relationship, with Nick Saban maniacally laughing at the thought of losing to the Tigers.

One Gene Chizik extraction and a controversial hiring later, and Auburn is back atop the college football landscape. It seems almost quaint now that Malzahn was seen as a controversial hire by the school. With Malzahn being Chizik's offensive coordinator until he took a one-year detour as the Arkansas State head coach, some wondered what could possibly change from the previous regime.

It turns out a ton. Rebuilding the program in his image, Malzahn stripped down the complexities, installed a world-beating running game and developed one of the most unstoppable offenses in the nation. Although there were some notable struggles early in the season—like, you know, nearly losing to Washington State and Mississippi State and actually losing to LSU—the Tigers got better as the campaign went along. 

Auburn is averaging 40.2 points per game, ninth-best in the nation, but that almost understates its recent excellence. Since another close call against Ole Miss on Oct. 5, that average has increased by more than a touchdown, with the Tigers never scoring fewer than 34 points. 

With each improvement came wins more improbable than the next. First, there was outdueling Johnny Manziel in College Station with a three-touchdown fourth quarter. Then, a 73-yard touchdown heave from Nick Marshall to Ricardo Louis answered the Prayer at Jordan–Hare against Georgia. Then, Chris Davis provided college football with the play of the year. And, finally, there was Tre Mason's record-setting rushing effort against Missouri.

The latter three efforts came in consecutive weeks. Each was seemingly more improbable than the next. Heading into the national championship game, the Tigers are at a distinct talent disadvantage on both sides of the ball—and yet it feels short-sighted to count them out. The seemingly impossible has brought out the best in Auburn all season long. We'll have to see if it can happen one more time.

 

Florida State

Speaking of rebuilding a program in a coach's image, suffice it to say Jimbo Fisher had an even more difficult time than Malzahn. Not necessarily because of any talent problems, of course; Florida State will never have trouble in that regard. But replacing a legend in Bobby Bowden is arguably the most difficult thing in all of sport—and Fisher has established his own reputation in a mere four years.

Grantland's Chris B. Brown did an excellent job of establishing how Fisher returned the Seminoles to national prominence. Taking an old-school SEC-type stance, Fisher recruited physical specimens, put athletes everywhere on the defensive side and held the belief that only the most elite should be held on the offensive side.

The strategy worked last season, with Florida State pulling off an Orange Bowl victory. Florida State's defense ranked among the best in the nation, but there was something keeping the team from true national title contention—a superstar at quarterback. Christian Ponder and E.J. Manuel were first-round draft choices, but neither signal-caller spent their careers in Tallahassee blowing anyone out of the water.

Jameis Winston tossed a grenade on all expectations. A highly touted freshman with superstar potential, Winston was viewed as a possible cornerstone sometime down the line. No one expected him to finish with the second-best quarterback rating in college football history, become the second freshman to win the Heisman Trophy and lead the nation's highest-scoring offense.

That, of course, is exactly what Winston did. The Seminoles come into the national title game averaging an FBS-high 53 points per game, and that strategy of saving only the undeniably talented for offense has paid off. Devonta Freeman, Karlos Williams and James Wilder Jr. give Florida State and elite running back trio that each averages at least 5.8 yards per carry, while Winston's stable of wide receivers is filled with NFL talent.

Then, there's the defense. The still-awesome, world-beating defense. The Seminoles have given up more than 17 points only once all season—their 48-34 win over Boston College...in September. In the nine games since, opponents have scored single-digits five times and double-digits four. Their last five opponents scored 34 points total

You should be unsurprised that the Seminoles got to the national title game by pulverizing everyone. Stomping on throats. Kicking people while they were down. Backhanding opponents for even thinking they deserve to be in the same building. Florida State's 42.3-point average margin of victory is two touchdowns better than any other team.

Perhaps the only hole you can poke in Fisher's squad is its schedule strength. Clemson, Miami and Duke represented the high water marks on the slate—not exactly the toughest "big tests" other than the Tigers. Auburn represents a unique challenge unlike anything Jeremy Pruitt's defense has seen all season, and if there is any shortcoming on that unit, it's run defense.

But when capturing the Seminoles' journey to Monday night, there is only one word: dominant.

 

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Auburn vs. FSU Predictions: Projecting Quarter-by-Quarter Box Score

The No. 2 Auburn Tigers (12-1, 7-1 SEC) take on the No. 1 Florida State Seminoles (13-0, 8-0 ACC) Monday night in the 2014 BCS National Championship Game, and the focus has shifted to the predictions for the matchup.

College football fans are desperate to see how each team will perform under the intense scrutiny of the main event stage and how the quarter-by-quarter box score will shake out.

Here is a look at the projected box score and how the programs will arrive at this conclusion.

 

 

First Quarter: Florida State 7, Auburn 7

There are many college football analysts who expect this to be a high-scoring game or a lopsided blowout, but neither Florida State nor Auburn has the kind of defensive unit that will fold under the bright lights of the national stage.

The first quarter should be a feeling-out process that features both defenses stiffening up when tested and forcing several early three-and-out drives. While the Seminoles and the Tigers have the offensive firepower to rack up big points, the most each program should hope for in the first quarter is a touchdown apiece.

 

Second Quarter: Florida State 17, Auburn 7

Once both teams find their comfort levels, it will be time for Florida State’s Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback, Jameis Winston, to prove his worth as the best player in the nation.

Auburn will rack up a touchdown at some point in the second quarter due to the sheer amount of raw talent on the roster, but Winston will steal the show using the accuracy and power he showcased when he threw for 3,820 yards, 38 touchdowns and just 10 interceptions in his freshmen season.

Winston helped lead the Seminoles to incredible averages of 53 points and 529.4 yards of total offense per game, and the Seminoles should head into the locker room at halftime with a 24-14 lead.

 

Third Quarter: Auburn 7, Florida State 0

Auburn didn’t make it to the BCS National Championship Game on luck. The Tigers are one of the most resilient teams in the nation and will make the adjustments during halftime to keep themselves in the game.

Led by the elite rushing ability of running back Tre Mason and dual-threat quarterback Nick Marshall—2,644 combined yards and 33 touchdowns—Auburn will be able to control the clock and limit Florida State’s opportunities offensively.

Add in the fact that the Tigers’ stout defense has only allowed an average of 24 points per game this season, and the unit will step up big, stifle the high-powered Seminoles in the third quarter and make it a one-score difference.

As well as Auburn should play Monday, Florida State knows how to close in the fourth quarter.

 

Fourth Quarter: Florida State 14, Auburn 3

Led by Winston, the Seminoles have finished too strong this season to fold in the fourth quarter on the biggest stage.

With the ground attack finding more holes as the defense slows down—running back Devonta Freeman’s bruising style will wear the Tigers out over the course of the game—the entire Florida State offense will be able to find a rhythm and control the pace of the matchup.

Auburn has played well throughout the 2013 season, but the program’s lack of a consistent pass attack will give the Seminoles the chance to rack up points early in the fourth quarter and give their defense the chance to shine.

After allowing just 10.7 points per game and 17 or fewer points in 12 of 13 matchups this season, Florida State’s defense should be able to stiffen up during the key moments and pull out the decisive win.

 

*All stats via CFBStats.com.

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FSU vs. Auburn: Under-the-Radar Players That Will Impact BCS Title Game

In a BCS National Championship Game full of stars—Jameis Winston, Kelvin Benjamin and Tre Mason, just to name a few—it will be the under-the-radar players that decide the outcome of the Florida State-Auburn clash.

Lesser-known players have the ability to make huge impacts on games. Opposing teams don't always prepare well for their exploits, as coordinators generally dedicate their focus to slowing down the game's top players. This is when under-the-radar guys step up and take over.

The following players are guys you can expect star-like numbers from in the BCS title game—even if they don't get the recognition the top stars do.

 

Nick O'Leary, TE, Florida State

Nick O'Leary, the grandson of legendary golfer Jack Nicklaus, has every trait that NFL teams love to see from tight ends. Should he declare for the draft, he'll likely go off the board as the No. 4 or No. 5 tight end.

The junior can do it all. Wide receivers coach Lawrence Dawsey told Dan Greenspan of NFL.com that "[O'Leary] has probably some of the best hands on the team."

As a pass-catching option for Heisman-winner Jameis Winston, O'Leary is especially a threat in the red zone. He hauled in seven touchdowns on 33 receptions this season, and while all the attention is focused on Kelvin Benjamin, Rashad Greene and Kenny Shaw, O'Leary could very well do damage against the Auburn defense.

He isn't just a one-trick pony in the passing game, though. Greenspan notes that FSU center Bryan Stork views O'Leary as a member of the offensive line because of his proficiency at run-blocking. At 6'3", 248 pounds, O'Leary has the size to match up against guys on the edge. When doing so, he almost always finds success.

NFL teams will likely be watching O'Leary closely Jan. 6 when these two teams meet. Auburn should also pay him close attention. Otherwise, the Tigers could get burned.

 

Sammie Coates, WR, Auburn

Auburn loves to run the ball—a lot. That makes its top receiving threat, sophomore Sammie Coates, a major X-factor in the BCS title game. In passing situations, he needs to come up clutch.

He has been especially useful this season in the vertical passing game, as Brandon Marcello of AL.com points out:

Coates is also the Tigers' top receiver, and his proven to be one of the best deep-play threats in the country. He's averaging 22.1 yards per catch, which ranks second in the country behind Baylor's Tevin Reese.

When defenses stuff the box to try to slow down quarterback Nick Marshall and Heisman-finalist Mason, Auburn has shown the ability (at times) to torch them over the top. Passing isn't Marshall's strong suit, though, and it will be his effectiveness at hooking up with Coates over the top of the secondary that keeps Auburn in the game.

FSU knows this. When the Seminoles inevitably stuff the box to slow down the run game, expect them to keep a corner or safety deep that can keep up with Coates. The wideout has speed to burn, but a defensive back capable of contesting the ball in the air should give him problems.

Look for Coates to have an impact on the game—one way or another.

 

Devonta Freeman, RB, Florida State

Running back Devonta Freeman has the chance to make a real impact on this game. He's a very special talent in terms of rushing the ball, but he also has a good head on his shoulders, and he does whatever his team needs to win.

Mike Szvetitz of Opelika-Auburn News recently chronicled how Freeman is willing to fall short of a 1,000-yard rushing season if it means helping his team win the BCS title game:

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. I just want to win. It's something that hasn't been done in a long time.

The last Seminole to reach the 1,000-yard mark on the ground was Warrick Dunn in 1996. He also accomplished the feat in 1994 and 1995.

Freeman will be relied upon heavily when Winston isn't picking apart Auburn's secondary. The key to any good passing team is how effectively they can keep the chains moving with the running game. Freeman has shown the chops to push the pile and pick up extra yardage this season, and that will be a big key for FSU's attack.  

Even if he doesn't top 1,000 yards for the season (he only needs 57 more), expect him to make his presence felt.

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BCS Championship 2014: Players to Watch in Florida State vs. Auburn Clash

The No. 1 Florida State Seminoles and the No. 2 Auburn Tigers will do battle at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, Calif., on Monday, Jan. 6, at 8:30 p.m. ET to determine which team is crowned champion before the BCS takes a bow.

Big names such as Heisman winner Jameis Winston are obvious ones to watch. The Florida State quarterback, along with Auburn quarterback Nick Marshall, is a player who will most impact the outcome of the game.

But there are a few other weapons to keep a close eye on in the contest, as they contain game-breaking ability. The bowl season has been anything but predictable, so one of the following names may take control in what should be a shootout.

 

Devonta Freeman, RB, Florida State

Winston is backed by Devonta Freeman, whose production all year helped keep defenses honest.

The junior rushed for 943 yards and 13 touchdowns in 2013 but also caught 19 passes and turned it into 257 yards and another touchdown.

The NFL has its eyes on Freeman should he declare for the 2014 draft, as Rotoworld's Josh Norris explains:

Believe the hype. Freeman has been held back a bit this season, as he had five games with less than 10 carries. Eight saw him carry the rock less than 15 times.

Expect Freeman to see an uptick in opportunities as the Seminoles look to keep the Tigers offense off the field. Freeman is more than capable of having a big day in a coming-out party of sorts.

 

Tre Mason, RB, Auburn

Flip to the other side of the running back matchup, where Auburn's Tre Mason is a bit more nationally known than Freeman.

While Marshall was Auburn's second-leading rusher with 1,023 yards and 11 scores, much of his success depends on Mason's ability to find room. Mason did just that as a workhorse with 283 carries for 1,621 yards and 22 touchdowns.

That ability to keep defenses on their toes is what Mason says allows the Tigers offense to be so formidable, per Kareem Copeland of the Associated Press:

I feel like we're pretty good at what we do, and that's what got us here. That's our edge, running our plays at a fast pace, and a very high tempo. We feel like that's our edge, getting the ball snapped before they're even ready or realize. When we play that fast, I feel like it's hard for them to determine where the ball is at.

Mason leads the nation's No. 1 rushing attack, which averages 335.7 yards per game. His 46 carries for 304 yards and four scores in the SEC Championship Game against the Missouri Tigers put him on the map, but now Mason has a chance to steal the spotlight on the biggest stage of them all.

 

Kelvin Benjamin, WR, Florida State

While only Florida State's second-leading receiver behind Rashad Greene, sophomore Kelvin Benjamin is the piece that allows the Seminoles offense to churn consistently.

Standing at 6'5" and 234 pounds, Benjamin is a rare breed of physicality and speed that is nearly impossible to stop at the collegiate level.

Benjamin caught just 50 passes in 2013, but they translated to 957 yards and 14 touchdowns—with an average of 19.1 yards per catch. The definition of an elite weapon, Benjamin has recorded four games with multiple touchdowns—three of which have come in his last three games.

Against an Auburn defense that allows an average of 24 points per game, Benjamin is in for another massive performance and is a sure thing to garner national attention before he potentially takes his talents to the next level.

 

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Auburn vs. FSU: Predicting Final Score, Top Performers for 2014 BCS Championship

The two top college football teams in the nation close out what's been a wild bowl season when No. 2 Auburn (12-1) and No. 1 FSU (13-0) battle for the 2014 BCS National Championship on Monday, Jan. 6 at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, Calif. 

Offensive fireworks should be commonplace when these two powerhouses clash.

Florida State, led by Heisman-winning quarterback Jameis Winston, finished the regular season with the nation's top-ranked scoring offense, while Auburn, led by speedy signal-caller Nick Marshall, finished with the No. 9-ranked scoring offense. 

Both teams have been unstoppable for most of the season, winning their games by huge margins throughout the year. Auburn won by an average of 16.2 points per game, while FSU won by a staggering amount of 42.3 points per contest.

Here's a final prediction for the championship game, along with projections for the top performers. 

 

Game Prediction

As much as Auburn's season appears to be fated for glory—given the team's miraculous wins against Georgia and Alabama in consecutive weeks—this game is FSU's to lose.

On paper, the Seminoles appear to have a huge edge, featuring the nation's top scoring defense. Much like Alabama's championship defense in 2012, FSU's defense has no obvious weaknesses.

Auburn's offense has been a veritable juggernaut during the final stretch against Tennessee, Georgia, Alabama and Missouri, however, and should provide a unique challenge to the Seminoles in this upcoming game.

Alabama's defense had allowed just three yards per carry before Auburn shredded it for 296 yards in the 2013 Iron Bowl.

For this reason, FSU defensive coordinator Jeremy Pruitt is looking to that game's tape to find answers for his defense, as relayed by Brendan Sonnone of the Orlando Sentinel: "Schematically, obviously us and Alabama are very similar. So how [Auburn coach Gus Malzahn] attacked Alabama, what he had success with, what he didn’t have success with."

The Seminoles will do a better job than Alabama of keeping Marshall from ripping off huge gains, thanks to the team's athletic defensive front.

On the other side, Auburn must do something no team's been able to do this season: The Tigers must somehow find a way to shut down FSU's top-ranked scoring offense.

Bleacher Report's Barrett Sallee pointed out Auburn's biggest challenge: "If Auburn can't get pressure with four and is forced to blitz and open up passing lanes, quarterback Jameis Winston and these receivers are going to pick this defense apart."

Missouri's big receivers gave Auburn's secondary fits in the SEC Championship Game, and FSU's trio of Rashad Greene, Kenny Shaw and Kelvin Benjamin will do the same in this upcoming contest. 

Final Score: FSU wins, 49-35.

 

Projected Top Performers

Passing: Jameis Winston, FSU

Auburn's Marshall passed for over 300 yards just once in 2013, and his highest touchdown total the past year was two, which he achieved four times. 

Conversely, Winston topped 300 yards on seven occasions, and he threw three or more touchdowns eight times. 

The Heisman winner has three receivers at his disposal who caught at least 50 passes for at least 929 yards and six touchdowns. There's little doubt Winston will finish the game as the top passer unless he gets injured. 

Should Marshall outgun his opponent, then it will be one of the biggest shockers of the entire 2013-14 college football season. 

 

Running: Tre Mason, RB, Auburn

Thanks to FSU's athleticism up front on defense, nobody should expect Nick Marshall to break out with 200-plus yards on the ground like he did against Tennessee. He'll be lucky to crack 100 yards, as you can be sure the Seminoles will be working hard to keep him in the pocket. 

But Tre Mason could have another tremendous game between the tackles.

Consider these jaw-dropping stats: During Auburn's final five games, Mason carried the ball 30.8 times on average per game, gaining 868 total rushing yards and scoring 13 touchdowns. 

He's likely feeling spry heading into this game, too. After his incredible run to close out the season, Mason commented on the toll it took, via Auburn Gold Mine:

With a month to rest up, Mason will look to keep Auburn in the game with a huge game on the ground. 

 

Receiving: Kelvin Benjamin, FSU

It's likely another receiver will catch more passes than Benjamin, but the freakishly athletic sophomore will finish the game having made the biggest impact on the scoreboard.

At 6'5" and 234 pounds, Benjamin is a tremendous red-zone threat. He's also pretty impressive to meet in person, as pointed out by Bruce Feldman of CBS Sports:

His 14 total receiving touchdowns tied for fifth in the nation, and he put on a remarkable three-game run to close out the season, catching 17 passes for 392 yards (23 yards per catch) and seven touchdowns. 

He's become Winston's favorite target in big-game situations down the home stretch, and Benjamin should have a field day against Auburn's secondary.

 

Follow me on Twitter @JesseReed78 

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Michigan Football: Michigan State, Not Ohio State, Will Be Toughest Game of 2014

After Michigan running back Mike Hart famously referred to Michigan State as "little brother" in 2007, a stoic, unamused Mark Dantonio didn't hesitate to respond. 

"Just remember, pride comes before the fall," Dantonio said during a press conference, via YouTube. "I'm telling them: It's not over." 

Dantonio's words foreshadowed a dramatic shift in the rivalry. After the 2007 contest, Michigan had emerged victorious in six straight and eight out of 10 contests against the Spartans. 

Since then, Michigan State has taken five of the last six.  

What has traditionally been a relatively innocuous rivalry has suddenly grown fangs, and the battle for the Paul Bunyan Trophy is now more contentious and personal than ever before. Constant trash talking is now the norm, and Michigan State in particular has played with new levels of ferocity and hunger in the series. 

The Spartans are fresh off of a spectacular 13-1 season that was capped by their first Rose Bowl victory in 26 years. They'll likely finish the season ranked third in the country, and on top of that they'll finish with the nation's top-ranked defense

While playing Ohio State in Columbus next year will be a daunting task, playing on the road at Michigan State will once again prove to be Michigan's toughest game. 

Due to a shakeup in the Big Ten next year with the addition of Maryland and Rutgers, the Wolverines will be forced to play back-to-back road games in East Lansing. 

Michigan will have to return to the site of one of their ugliest losses in recent program history, when they rushed for an embarrassing minus-48 yards and generated just 168 yards of total offense in a 29-6 loss. 

Over the last two contests, Michigan has scored just 18 points against its in-state rival and has struggled mightily to move the football. The Wolverines have amassed just 494 yards combined in these two games, and they've looked completely outmatched against the physical Spartan defense. 

The Wolverines have moved the ball much more effectively against Ohio State in their last two meetings, racking up 882 yards of total offense and scoring 62 combined points. While Michigan State's offense has continued to develop and will return the majority of its starters next year, it's Ohio State that will prove to be a tougher test for the Michigan defense. 

Although 1,000-yard rusher Carlos Hyde is set to graduate, the Big Ten's two-time Graham-George Offensive Player of the Year, Braxton Miller, has said he'll return for his senior season. Miller has been a nightmare for the Michigan defense, rushing for 153 yards and three touchdowns and passing for 133 more in their most recent meeting. 

But the Michigan offense simply hasn't proven that it can score points on Michigan State, and I see little reason to believe that this trend will end next year. 

Armed with a shiny new contract extension, Dantonio is in a position to lead the Spartans to even greater heights in 2014. They've surpassed Michigan in terms of national relevance, and they'll be the favorite to emerge as Big Ten champions yet again.

While "The Game" will continue to weigh heavier on the minds of Michigan fans, it's the battle for the Paul Bunyan Trophy that'll prove to be the toughest test for the Wolverines in 2014. 

 

Follow me on Twitter @TomLogan_BR

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Boise State Football: 5 Biggest Concerns Heading into the Offseason

Boise State football finished the 2013 season with an 8-5 overall record. To put that into some perspective, it is the worst record the Broncos have had since going 6-5 overall as members of the Big West in 1998.

However, to give you a greater idea of just how unusual losing that many games in a single season is to the tradition-rich program, it takes a bit more history.

Since the Broncos began playing football in 1933 as a junior college, and even after the school became a four-year institution in the 1960s, from the Big Sky to the Big West to the WAC and now the Mountain West Conference, the Broncos have only lost five or more games in a season 12 other times.

Those are pretty impressive totals, and it should be a reminder to anyone writing off the Broncos now that Chris Petersen is gone. After all, this program has been around for 80 years, and in that time, it has continued a level of excellence beyond any single player, coach, administrator or generation of fans.

As the programs now moves forward into 2014, the goals, purpose, expectations and standards have not changed.

In fact, if anything, the bar just keeps getting higher.

With Bryan Harsin now leading the charge as head coach, the new year brings renewed hope and optimism. He and his new staff have a challenging journey ahead, but they seem very capable of climbing the mountain set before them. 

Let's look at some of the most immediate concerns this new staff must tackle and what they mean for the state of the program.

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BCS: The Most Intriguing Stories Heading into Florida State's Clash with Auburn

With the BCS National Championship game between the Florida State Seminoles and the Auburn Tigers set to take place on Monday evening, there are a few storylines that you will need to keep close attention to during the game.

The Seminoles have been dominant throughout the entire season. The Tigers have been the beneficiary of Lady Luck's love.

Which team will prevail?

The following subplots will likely decide the winner. Each subplot was ranked by how they would each impact the outcome of the game.

Begin Slideshow

Penn State Football: 3 Biggest Concerns Heading into the Offseason

There hasn't been much for Penn State football fans to cheer about so far in 2014. 

In the past few days, new concerns have emerged that affect both the immediacy and longevity of Nittany Lion football. Recent events have sent shockwaves through the program, some even signaling a new era.  

While the magnitudes vary, all are key issues that Penn State needs to address before its 2014 football season gets underway. 

Here are the three biggest concerns for the Nittany Lions this offseason. 

Begin Slideshow

Alabama Football: Reasons to Be Optimistic About Tide After Disappointing 2013

It’s hard to look at an 11-2 season as anything except a success, but for Alabama, it almost seems like the end of the world.

Nick Saban has built Alabama into such a high-caliber program that fans expect national championships year in and year out, and rightfully so. This year, the team was certainly primed to win it all again, but it just didn’t happen.

While fans may be upset at the current state of things—AJ McCarron and C.J. Mosley leaving, the defense seemingly baffled by the hurry-up offense, a lack of dominance on the offensive line—there is still much to be optimistic about.

All is not lost in Tuscaloosa. In fact, things look pretty darn good. Here are five reasons fans should feel good about the Tide heading into the offseason.

 

Derrick Henry

The freshman running back saw his first significant action of the season and more than lived up to the hype he brought in—if that was even possible.

Henry touched the ball nine times for 161 total yards, including a touchdown run of 43 yards and a 61-yard screen pass TD.

The Yulee, Fla., native who broke multiple high school rushing records is primed to see significant carries in 2014 and could even take over as the No. 1 back.

By the second half of the Oklahoma game, he was drawing comparisons to another great SEC back who opened eyes as a freshman.

 

Freakish Defensive Line

Nick Saban doesn’t like to talk about sacks, but rather the need to "affect the quarterback.” Still, he can’t deny what freshman A’Shawn Robinson did this season.

Robinson led the team with 5.5 sacks and added five quarterback hurries on the season. He and fellow freshman Jonathan Allen found themselves in the regular defensive line rotation, which can go six and seven deep, and were a disruptive force up front all year.

Add to that a 2014 class that includes 5-star pass rushers Da’Shawn Hand and Christian Miller, 4-star defensive tackle Josh Frazier and the possibility of adding 5-star Matt Elam, and the Tide looks set for a few years up front.

While the pass rush has been a concern this year across the board, it doesn’t look like it will be in the future.

 

Amari Cooper Leads Stud Receivers

Amari Cooper didn’t quite live up to the hype he brought after his freshman season, putting up “only” 736 yards and four touchdowns. But after foot injuries hampered him during the year, he finished strong with 299 yards in his final two games and looks primed for a huge junior year.

And he’ll be surrounded by a star-studded supporting cast.

Only Kevin Norwood and Kenny Bell leave a group that will include the returning DeAndrew White, Christion Jones and rising redshirt sophomore Chris Black. Three 2013 signees—five-star Robert Foster, four-star ArDarius Stewart and four-star Raheem Falkins—all redshirted this year and will look to contribute this year.

The Tide will also add four-star Cameron Sims and four-star Derek Kief to an extremely talented group. Whoever the new quarterback is won’t lack for targets.

 

Saban’s Record with New Quarterback

Speaking of a new quarterback, Saban has done pretty well with rookie signal-callers.

Granted, he’s only had to break in two (Greg McElroy in 2009 and AJ McCarron in 2011), but he has set them up for success by leaning on a talented running game and lockdown defense.

He’ll have the running game with Derrick Henry, T.J. Yeldon and Kenyan Drake all returning, and the defense will have the potential to succeed.

The options he has to pick from are a talented bunch, with rising senior Blake Sims, rising sophomore Alec Morris and a trio of talented freshmen who all redshirted. He’ll also have freshman David Cornwell coming in and could look to potential transfers for more help.

Replacing McCarron will be very difficult, but Saban has a pretty good track record of breaking in new quarterbacks.

 

Back to Square 1

While it seems crazy to say, the reality check that the end of 2013 provided could turn out to be a good thing going forward.

Like in 2010, when the Tide lost three games with a very talented squad, Alabama will come away hungry and will have something to point to what happens when things go wrong.

Only a handful of seniors on this year’s team were around for that season while the rest only knew seasons that ended in national championships. That won’t be the case anymore.

After finishing a season like they did this year, the players will only be motivated to not let it happen again.

 

Unless otherwise noted, all recruiting info comes courtesy of 247Sports.com.

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