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Army All-American Bowl 2016: Commit Tracker and Recruit Highlights

The 2016 U.S. Army All-American Bowl kicks off Saturday at 1 p.m. ET, placing dozens of premier college football prospects on the same field. The action is expected to be scintillating in San Antonio, where eventual NFL stars such as Andrew Luck, Odell Beckham Jr. and Adrian Peterson once competed.

A new era of playmakers is prepared to take their talents to universities across America later this year, and some are set to finalize collegiate plans during the All-American Bowl. We'll find out that fate for five recruits Saturday, including four coveted wide receivers. 

Michigan, Notre Dame, Oregon, Georgia and Alabama are among programs aiming to add quality pieces to impressive recruiting classes less than a month shy of national signing day on Feb. 3. We've got you covered with updated commitment breakdowns, prospect analysis and video highlights right here.

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2016 NFL Draft: Buyer Beware on Memphis Quarterback Paxton Lynch

The NFL playoffs are underway for 12 of the finest organizations, but that leaves 20 other teams with an eye turned toward 2016.

Some franchises must rebuild from the ground up, and others are trying to upgrade specific positions so they can make a playoff push next year. One of the top needs for several of these teams is a quarterback.

A franchise quarterback can be defined many ways, including as being among the most elite of the NFL. This would be the top six or seven guys such as Tom Brady, Aaron Rodgers and players of that ilk.

My definition is a top-15 quarterback who can reasonably become a playmaker at the position to help win playoff games—and eventually a Super Bowl.

Since the elite quarterbacks are so difficult—and random—to develop, NFL teams must project collegiate talent and decide if there is someone they can build a winner around. Or will this quarterback be good enough to help take our team to the next level?

We’ve already broken down the game of California Golden Bears quarterback Jared Goff, and now it is time to look at Memphis Tigers quarterback Paxton Lynch.

I studied Memphis' offense in all but three games to get a good feel for Lynch as a player and prospect. (The three games I didn’t chart were those against Missouri State, Kansas and SMU.) After tracking his progression from even late 2014 to the end of his 2015 season, I concluded that franchises with a high draft pick should beware of Lynch.

We’re going to look at Lynch’s strengths, weaknesses and how he projects into the NFL. Let’s start with a broad view and then narrow down his specific traits.

 

Who is Paxton Lynch?

Lynch is listed at 6’7”, 245 pounds and was a three-year starter for the Memphis Tigers. He was a 2-star recruit out of Trinity Christian Academy in Deltona, Florida. Although he drew some attention from the University of Florida, Charlie Weis’ departure from the program in late 2011, when Lynch was a high school senior, led Lynch to sign with (former head coach) Justin Fuente and Memphis. 

With his height and thick, natural frame, the first obvious positive for Lynch is his size. He will face zero questions about his durability, as his build is similar to that of Cam Newton and Joe Flacco. Physically, he’s NFL-ready.

Player agent Leigh Steinberg recently tweeted: "#THE AGENT Interesting @PAXTONLYNCH fact-his hands are 11 1/2 inches, longest ever for QB, extra gripping capacity on a rainy day."

Lynch was relatively unknown among many draft outlets until this season. I ranked Lynch as my third-best draft-eligible quarterback prior to the season, with the hope that he would take another giant leap in development.

He did so and now ranks as a top-10 prospect overall, according to ESPN draft experts Mel Kiper Jr. and Todd McShay.

Not only has Lynch improved his tape and how he’s getting the job done, but his production has taken leaps as well. His 8.5 average yards per attempt is very impressive and has dramatically risen each season. He’s mastered the Tigers’ spread offense to the point where he is a very efficient player while still creating opportunities.

 

Downfield Accuracy

Memphis uses a spread offense based on concepts from Art Briles’ Baylor attack and Brigham Young’s 1970's West Coast offense. Fuente was part of the Texas Christian University offensive staff from 2007 until 2011 when TCU was turned into a powerhouse. He also saw firsthand what a spread attack can do for a quarterback, as Cincinnati Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton was a product of the system.

The West Coast principles that co-offensive coordinator Darrell Dickey employ play a major role in Lynch’s success as well. Memphis likes to dink and dunk before spraying downfield on occasion. The Tigers rely on Lynch’s strong arm and quick eyes to get the ball out to the open man. When the defense starts creeping up, the offense will manufacture space by attacking downfield.

I charted Lynch’s passes to determine what percentage of his throws were reasonably catchable. This is subjective and does not align with traditional statistics because I’m looking to add context to those numbers. But it also helps us see where Lynch excels and where he struggles.

I developed an accuracy chart for 2015.  

Most notable in the chart is how well Lynch attacks downfield. Memphis averaged just four passing attempts in the 11 games I noted, but he was very effective in throwing a catchable ball. His receivers had a 48.8 percent chance to reel in his 45 deep throws, which ranks second among the top four draft-eligible quarterbacks I charted this year.

The importance of the catchable-throws aspect is those throws give the receiver a chance without asking him to make a one-handed, circus-style catch. There are some incomplete passes that are accurate, just like there are some inaccurate passes that end up being caught because of luck or by an otherworldly receiver making an exceptional catch. Here’s an example.

Lynch maximizes the leverage his receivers create on deep passes. On the play below, watch as Lynch perfectly places his pass to the outside shoulder of his target. The cornerback does a good enough job working the receiver to the sideline, but the pass was indefensible. The catch wasn’t easy to make, but the excellent pass made it possible, even with great coverage:

Despite his size, Lynch does not have an overly powerful arm. We’ll touch on that more later.

But he has a good enough arm to hit any throw as long as he’s in rhythm. When he plants and drives the ball, he can put serious torque on his passes.

Some of this, as noted earlier, stems from his massive hands. With an incredible 11.5-inch hand length, Lynch can control the football as you or I could a Nerf minifootball. When everything goes reasonably well mechanically, Lynch is capable of hitting tight windows, like he did in the throw below, with proper timing and placement.

Hitting deep out routes is a massive positive for Lynch and the offense he’ll join. Memphis rarely tried these, which is probably more due to his receivers lacking the skill set needed to execute this play. Lynch’s above-average accuracy on intermediate and deep routes complement his excellent underneath throwing talent.

 

Comfort in and out of the Pocket

What separates Lynch from big, stiff signal-callers such as Flacco and Ryan Mallett is his athleticism. It’s rare to find men of Lynch’s stature playing quarterback in football and not forward in basketball. His ability in the pocket or to extend plays outside of the pocket will cause evaluators and coaches to drool over his potential.

Similar to Pittsburgh Steelers QB Ben Roethlisberger, Lynch can thrive in an offense that begs defenses to bring pressure. Since Lynch can brush off rushers, he buys time for receivers to spring free. He’s not a run-first player when the pocket breaks down, but he’s absolutely capable of gaining chunk yardage when he escapes the tackle box.

But just because Lynch can run doesn’t make him a running quarterback. As seen above, Lynch has a natural feel for the chaos around him. He doesn’t panic often and will rarely force bad passes. The above clip helps show his patience and eye level as he tries to give his receivers the chance to come free.

Even when facing better competition, Lynch’s athleticism sticks out. For example, he was masterful on the move against Ole Miss. This helps on third-down scramble drills that inevitably he will face in the NFL.

Offensive coordinators who are looking for a moldable talent to challenge how a defense prepares will also enjoy his red-zone capabilities. Lynch is a decent pocket passer in the red zone but really excels on the move. Changing his launch point is smart because he draws the linebackers toward him as soon as his legs start churning.

Mechanics on rollouts and speedouts is an area where Lynch showed improvement from the start to the end of the season. He began the year taking a flat, almost horizontal, line to the weak side of the field. This was an issue, as Lynch doesn’t have a strong enough arm to execute without his lower body helping to create torque.

As we can see against Auburn in the December 30, 2015 Birmingham Bowl (among other examples late in the season), Lynch bows out more and works upfield when he’s preparing to throw. The result of his pass is a more accurate and timely throw, but he also had the chance to run if he wanted to. The dual-threat aspect adds layers to defenders’ decision-making process.

 

System Transition

While Lynch has highly intriguing strengths, his weaknesses emerged as the season progressed. As defenses adjusted to Memphis’ offensive attack, Lynch was unable to adapt and his performance dipped. That's evident, per Lynch’s accuracy chart from before and after Week 11.

You’ll notice an excellent overall number of a 79 percent catchable-passes rate prior to Week 11. He had just one interception and three other interceptable passes. His efficiency and ability to protect the ball is a critical part of his projection into a more complex NFL system.

But things changed down the stretch of the season. The quality of opponents improved on a weekly basis, and the Tigers’ simplified offense bogged down and became more run-centric. Memphis’ playmakers weren’t getting wide open anymore, and Lynch struggled to adjust.

Remember, this accuracy chart has nothing to do with actual completions, but rather, it isolates the performance of just the quarterback. If the pass is accurate, it is tallied so, regardless of how the receiver plays the ball. There is no doubt that Lynch did not respond well when defenses took away the easy reads he previously had.

The big issue with Memphis’ and Baylor’s offense is how they are based around presnap reads. This exposes Lynch to some bad habits and poor decision-making. New York Jets’ and former Baylor quarterback Bryce Petty talked about his struggles adjusting to the NFL. Lynch will likely struggle with this as well.

Putting too much stock into one play isn’t fair, but one play can tell a story. In Lynch’s case, he repeatedly struggled with making the right decision in packaged plays such as the one above.

Let’s dig into this story.

We see the offense aligned with trips receivers on the top of the screen, another split on the far hash and one on the outside numbers. The numbers don’t make sense presnap to go to the trips screen, so Lynch rules out his first read without looking there postsnap. But he forces the throw to his slot receiver, who was smothered by the time the ball was released.

Since Lynch didn’t bother to read the defender’s first steps, he nearly throws an interception. This was avoidable since the far outside receiver is open with about six yards of cushion on a curl route. That was the correct read.

We have another example of getting stuck on his presnap read, this time against Auburn. Above we see a should-be interception, which could have been the third against Auburn, including dropped interceptions. This short-side throw is late, but it was always well-covered, as we can see below:

The screenshot taken is to highlight what Lynch should have seen before he starts his throwing motion. The red circle shows the cornerback in Cover 2, and he is clearly following the outside receiver upfield. With the safety roaming over the top, there is no reason Lynch should throw this pass. Factor in that he had a wide-open slot receiver who could have been off to the races with an accurate target.

 

Lack of Nuance

While the successful quarterback position doesn’t have to have perfect mechanics or a tight spiral on every throw, there is a certain level of nuance needed on a consistent basis. Aspects such as stepping into throws, reading leverage and working through progressions are incredibly important. Lynch struggles with his lower body quite often despite his experience.

As mentioned earlier, Lynch has a good but not great arm. He is unable to compensate for poor footwork, which can be said for all but a small handful of NFL quarterbacks. The margin for error rises when the ball flutters to the far side of the field.

This is a constant issue for Lynch. He is an effortless passer that can push the ball downfield, but when the windows shrink, he needs to put extra mustard on his throws to give his receiver time to create after the catch. If he steps into his throws and leads with his pivot foot, his accuracy will increase.

Watch Lynch’s pivot foot on the video above. He whips his front hip open to the sideline, and the ball comes out wobbly. This will be a pick-six in the NFL, as the defender was given way too much time to react. The ball was unpredictable as it left his hand because his lower body was not aligned to his target.

His horizontal step to the sideline with his leading foot is a habit that must end immediately. His throws cannot be late and to the wrong shoulder in the NFL with any regularity. Every quarterback makes mistakes, but poor ball placement and below-average velocity are two things that can't constantly show up at the next level.

 

Where He Can Improve

Lynch’s footwork must be the first area of improvement at the next level. While he is clearly a natural at the position, there are many missed opportunities that can push Lynch to franchise quarterback if he can convert them. Hitting wide open receivers in stride on intermediate routes is, at times, an issue for Lynch, and it has everything to do with his lower body.

Shoring up his footwork will also aid his arm. Lynch’s hands can be a good thing, but also a negative at times. He has an over-the-top delivery with his hand almost palming the football when he throws. This creates extra spin on the ball when Lynch is trying to throw too hard without his base aligned.

A new system may also bring challenges for Lynch. He did show a functional knowledge and understanding for leverage and positioning of his receivers and the defenders. But there is room for improvement with situational football. An example can be found on the third down below.

On 3rd-and-4, Lynch happily took the covered slot receiver for three yards, even though he was the most covered man in his progression. The zone-based defense had hoped for this, and the two underneath linebackers quickly smothered the receiver. See below for how the play unfolded:

Had Lynch recognized the zone coverage, the correct read was his streaking receiver, highlighted with an orange outline. The cornerback has overcommitted to his zone and turned his back to the receiver. With just one safety single high over the top, Lynch easily could have completed this for chunk yardage and a first down.

It’s a play like this that should cause concern for just how far Lynch is from becoming a viable starter in the NFL.

 

Projection

Lynch has the size that scouts dream of, and his breakout 2015 campaign was very encouraging for his outlook. He shows a natural comfort in the pocket that most quarterbacks could only fantasize about. His best plays strike up images of a young Roethlisberger.

Lynch's upside is significant, and it's why he’s been projected as a top-10 pick. But we cannot overlook the obvious weaknesses to his game right either. He’ll need at least a year to refine his footwork further and then adjust to an NFL playbook. The jump from the AAC to the NFL is steep.

Finding the best fit for Lynch is relatively easy, but he has a major buyer-beware sticker on his projection. Taking Lynch in the top half of the first round sets a high expectation that he will be a franchise quarterback at some point in his rookie contract. While he may get there, don’t expect that climb to come until the latter part of a five-year deal.

Comparing Lynch to recent prospects, he falls between Ryan Tannehill and Brock Osweiler. Tannehill and Lynch both excel on short and intermediate passes, and they use their mobility. But Tannehill improved quickly despite limited experience in college, and he seems to be, at worst, an average NFL quarterback. Osweiler has struggled when he’s played, but he needs more time to prove whether or not he can develop.

The top-10 hype on Lynch is simply too much. Dallas, with the No. 4 pick, is the only team drafting that high that should even consider him. The Cowboys offer a rare situation in which Lynch can develop. But it might be wiser to draft Goff, who is clearly the better quarterback prospect.

Lynch has franchise quarterback potential, but it’ll take a few years. If he’s afforded the time, he can greatly reward an organization. But the growing pains he will have may resemble those from his collegiate experience, which quickly peaked once things started clicking.

 

All stats used are from sports-reference.com.

Ian Wharton is an NFL Featured Columnist for Bleacher Report. 

 

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

USC Responds to Steve Sarkisian's Wrongful-Termination Lawsuit

The USC Trojans filed a response to former head football coach Steve Sarkisian's wrongful-termination lawsuit in Los Angeles Superior Court on Jan. 6, according to ESPN.com's Kyle Bonagura

Sarkisian is reportedly seeking $30 million after USC fired him despite having prior knowledge of his alcoholism, but the school's official response characterized the former head coach's claims as "half-truths and, in many cases, outright falsehoods," per Bonagura.

The response proceeds as follows, based on documents that ESPN.com obtained: 

It is absolutely false that Sarkisian ever admitted to having a drinking problem, to being an alcoholic or to needing to seek treatment. The truth is he denied ever having a drinking problem, but blamed his inability to perform the essential functions of his job on marital stress, lack of sleep and anxiety for which he was taking medication.

Sarkisian was fired in mid-October after the school asked him to take an indefinite leave of absence. At the time, athletic director Pat Haden told reporters it was "clear to me that he was not healthy," per ESPN.com

Shortly before the school fired Sarkisian, an unnamed USC player told ESPN.com that Sarkisian "showed up lit to meetings again today," while another source said the coach "appeared not normal" when he arrived for a practice. 

While Sarkisian—who is now sober, according to the lawsuit—is seeking a hefty sum, Bonagura reported the school is disputing the $30 million figure since the two sides agreed to settle terminations through an arbitration process when he signed his contract in 2013. 

Although the two sides are engaged in a legal battle, Sarkisian appears focused on making a return to the sidelines. According to ESPN's Adam Schefter, Sarkisian has done some exploratory work regarding possible employment as a quarterbacks coach or offensive coordinator in the NFL. 

With a resume that includes a stint as the Oakland Raiders' quarterbacks coach, Sarkisian is a compelling—and risky—candidate for teams that are piecing together fresh staffs for the 2016 season. 

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

USC Responds to Steve Sarkisian's Wrongful-Termination Lawsuit

The USC Trojans filed a response to former head football coach Steve Sarkisian 's wrongful-termination lawsuit in Los Angeles Superior Court on Jan. 6, according to ESPN.com's Kyle Bonagura ...

Read the full article on Bleacher Report...

Notre Dame Football: The Biggest Offseason Storylines for the Irish

SOUTH BEND, Ind. — We’re one week into the offseason, and Notre Dame football has already watched the initial personnel dominoes fall.

Let’s analyze the biggest offseason storylines for the Irish over the next few months. Notre Dame has plenty of holes to replace in 2016 (more on that below), but the Irish are coming off a 10-win season with a crop of returning cogs.

 

Draft Departures

The conveyor belt out of South Bend started less than 24 hours after Notre Dame’s loss to Ohio State in the Fiesta Bowl on New Year’s Day.

Redshirt junior running back C.J. Prosise, junior wide receiver Will Fuller, senior cornerback KeiVarae Russell all declared for the NFL draft following the loss to the Buckeyes, and redshirt junior left tackle Ronnie Stanley announced the same before the game.

Earlier this week, we broke down the departures of Prosise and Fuller and the impact on the offense. Fuller racked up 62 receptions for 1,258 yards and 14 touchdowns this season, following up a 15-touchdown campaign in 2014. Considering the Irish also lose Chris Brown and Amir Carlisle to graduation, Notre Dame’s receiving corps—while talented—will need to prove itself.

Prosise, meanwhile, eclipsed 1,000 rushing yards. But with true freshman Josh Adams impressing, especially down the stretch, and Tarean Folston potentially returning to full health, the Irish backfield should be able to weather the storm.

Cole Luke, Devin Butler and Nick Watkins return at cornerback, and Stanley—long expected to bypass a fifth season on campus when he announced his return for his true senior season last offseason—leaves a void at left tackle.

Of course, the Notre Dame community is still awaiting word from stud linebacker Jaylon Smith, who hasn’t announced a stay-or-go decision after his knee injury suffered in the Fiesta Bowl.

Smith’s decision and how the Irish replace those departed stars—whether that group includes Smith or not—will be keys for the Irish heading into 2016.

 

Defensive Growth

Notre Dame’s 2012 defense sure seems like a relic at this point.

That unit allowed an average of 12.8 points per game—the second-best scoring defense in the nation. In 2013, the Irish surrendered 22.4 points per game, 27th in the country.

The last two seasons, however, have been a drop-off for the Irish defense. The injury-ravaged group ranked 84th in scoring defense in 2014, allowing 29.2 points per game. Notre Dame fared better in 2015, checking in tied for 39th (24.1 points per game). Asked to evaluate his defense before the Fiesta Bowl, Irish defensive coordinator Brian VanGorder was blunt.

“Inconsistent, I guess, is probably the best word,” VanGorder told reporters. “We’ve played a lot of good football. We’ve had some plays that you just shake your head, both player and coach, when it’s all said and done.”

Why is that?

“These are young players,” VanGorder told reporters. “You’re constantly pushing on the idea of developing. They all develop at a different rate, a different process for all of them.

“A lot of those things come down to also focus. That’s, again, part of the development, part of the process, for somebody to focus through some 65 to 85 plays, for some it’s a challenge. That’s player responsibility, coach responsibility through a game to make sure we maintain a great concentration and a great focus.”

So how can Notre Dame start to construct an elite defense? That should be a focus this offseason.

 

Quarterback Competition?

Would it really be a Notre Dame offseason if we didn’t discuss the quarterback position and analyze the depth chart?

DeShone Kizer now boasts 11 career starts to Malik Zaire’s three. Zaire is nearly four months removed from the season-ending broken ankle he suffered in Week 2 against Virginia.

“It will be outstanding,” Irish offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach Mike Sanford said to reporters of the situation before the Fiesta Bowl. “Honestly, the room is in such a good position as far as those guys care for each other.

“It’s going to be competitive. We look forward to that. It already is. That’s what we want. We want a situation where each and every day you have to acquit yourself to be the leader of this football team and this offense. That’s what we look for out of that position on a daily basis, whether there’s a ‘quarterback’ competition or not.”

 

All quotes were obtained firsthand and all stats courtesy of CFBStats.com unless otherwise noted.

Mike Monaco is the lead Notre Dame writer for Bleacher Report. Follow @MikeMonaco_ on Twitter.

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10 Recruits in 2016 Class Who Have Freakish Measurables

The college football season will officially end in a few days with the national championship game, and then fans will be able to dive right into the final frenzied weeks of the 2016 recruiting cycle.

Every recruit will have to adjust to the new systems and practices of his school once he enrolls. But one thing that will set the elite recruits apart from day one is their measurables—their raw size, speed, strength and overall athleticism.

Here are 10 players who have stood out in this year's recruiting cycle for their freakish measurables. Some tore up national testing at The Opening this past summer, while others have blown away people at weigh-ins for national all-star games.

Of course, these are just 10 of the freakish recruits in this year's class—not necessarily the 10 freakiest. You can find incredible athleticism and size all over the country.

If you know of other 2016 recruits who should get noticed for their top-notch measurements, shout them out in the comments below.

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College Football Hall of Fame More Defined by Who's Not In, Rather Than Who Is

One of the best things the National Football Foundation has done in recent memory is team up with the College Football Playoff to host the annual announcement for the newest crop of Hall of Famers.

That was the case once again Friday afternoon at the media hotel for the national championship game, as the 2016 College Football Hall of Fame class was announced to the world in a televised program that had light-years more pomp and ceremony than previous announcements that most heard about through a boring old press release.

The 16-strong group who will be enshrined later this year in December was highlighted by recognizable names such as Florida State linebacker Derrick Brooks, UNLV’s Randall Cunningham, Purdue cornerback Rod Woodson and Ohio State star Tom Cousineau. Other worthy names who the casual college football fan may not recognize include Iowa State running back Troy Davis, LSU quarterback Bert Jones and Colorado defensive lineman Herb Orvis.

“This is a tremendous honor, of course. I think the football Hall of Fame and the NFF just does so many great things,” said freshly minted Hall of Famer Pat McInally, who might be better known for getting the only perfect Wonderlic score on his way to the NFL but also had an amazing career at Harvard during the 1970s. “Thank you. I was flabbergasted when I found out. Thank you.”

After the excitement and fervor had died down for this year’s class, however, it came time for the realization of who hadn’t made it. The 2016 class members richly deserve to be among the select few in the Hall, but one cannot help but wonder why some players were selected to be fast-tracked to Atlanta in lieu of others.

A lot of that blame can be placed right at the footstep of the National Football Foundation.

The easiest target is, of course, the selection criteria for players to even make it onto the ballot to begin with. To be eligible, players must have been named a First Team All-American by a recognized outlet, been out of college football at least 10 years and cannot be currently playing professional football.

It is the first bit of criteria that most people have a sticking point with, and for good reason. Joe Montana was unquestionably one of the greatest quarterbacks at any level, and his time at Notre Dame is still celebrated for some of his heroics on the field. Yet he can’t even make it onto the ballot. Joe Namath went 29-4 under head coach Bear Bryant at Alabama and won a national title. His fur coat and smooth talking won’t come anywhere near the Hall, however.

That’s to say nothing of recent players, such as Navy quarterback Keenan Reynolds, who will never get a chance. Reynolds has been exemplary as a college football player on (including several NCAA records) and off the field, but because he played at the same time as fellow quarterbacks Deshaun Watson, Marcus Mariota, Jameis Winston and others, he’ll never earn the recognition he deserves.

“I think it’s a standard. It’s something that has to be established,” Cunningham replied, diplomatically, when asked about the selection criteria. “At the same time, to be able to sit here and to be in is the most important thing. If I made it as the greatest trainer, it would be an honor. So it's just a blessing to be in.”

If you think that was punting on the question, you’d be right. It was appropriate, however, given that Cunningham—who almost everybody knows as a scrambling quarterback—will enter the Hall not because of his arm, but because he was named a First Team All-American punter.

“I think in any organization or school or life in general there's criteria. And we were fortunate enough to fit into the criteria that led to this selection,” McInally added. “I couldn't be prouder. And I've looked through the list of people that are in it, and I think it's—I'm very proud, humbled. But I think the selection process is pretty amazing.”

It’s an even crazier set of qualifications for coaches, who must have a minimum of 10 years and 100 games as a head coach, won at least 60 percent of them and be retired from coaching for at least three years unless they’re over 70.

That means Howard Schnellenberger (158 wins, but under the 60 percent mark) will tragically never even come up for a vote to get in, despite winning a national title and serving as a godfather for three programs (Louisville, Miami and FAU). Likewise, the builder of one of the greatest dynasties in recent college football, USC’s Pete Carroll (83 wins), will be on the outside looking in for the foreseeable future.

No offense to this year’s pair of coaches, Bill Bowes of New Hampshire and the esteemed Frank Girardi of D-III Lycoming College, but each should find himself in the same wing of the Hall as Schnellenberger and others, not there without those titans of college football history. Heck, it would have been perfect had former Clemson coach Danny Ford (who was on the ballot) been elected this year, but he’ll be back.

Just as puzzling is why the National Football Foundation insists on such a large ballot for voters. The list for the 2016 class included 76 FBS players and five coaches, plus another 92 players and 27 coaches from the FCS and below. Many are big-time names, others few know much about other than their biography line. A more focused and reasoned group could help the process as much as new selection criteria.

It was great to see the photos and highlights of some of those inducted following the announcement. Troy Davis was criminally underappreciated by non-Cyclones fans after a pair of 2,000-plus-yard seasons at Iowa State helped him get to New York for the Heisman ceremony. Seeing video of William Fuller chasing down quarterbacks at North Carolina and Wisconsin’s Tim Krumrie doing the same was great for those that need a history lesson on the game’s greats.

At the same time, though, their selections also made it more head-scratching for some of those that didn’t make it into the Hall ahead of them.

Look no further than Heisman winners Eric Crouch, Matt Leinart (first time on the ballot) and Rashaan Salaam having to wait until 2017 at the earliest to be selected. These were Heisman winners as the most outstanding players in college football for a season, and yet voters can’t tick their name off? Ridiculous. One could even argue that Leinart should be a first-ballot selection as one of the best to ever play the position at this level.

Those are not the only ones, however, highlighted by the fact that Eric Dickerson again didn’t make it in. He was only a two-time First Team All-American, holder of numerous Southwest Conference records, the leader of the infamous “Pony Express” and one of the best running backs at any level of football. Still, there he sits for another year.

All because of that gold Trans Am, no doubt.

Washington State’s Mike Utley had a distinguished career on the Palouse, but it’s hard to make sense of him getting in on the first ballot over Texas A&M linebacker Dat Nguyen, Kansas State quarterback Michael Bishop or Penn State signal-caller Kerry Collins. That’s also to say nothing of the big names still waiting on the elusive call from the Hall, such as Mark Carrier, Dennis Thurman, Raghib Ismail, Ray Lewis and others.

This year really did have a wonderful group of players and coaches selected. There are some great headliners, such as Brooks, Woodson and Cunningham, who pair nicely with underrated talents like Marlin Briscoe.

But with each passing election, and the more attention that is now being paid to the College Football Hall of Fame, one cannot help but notice that the whole thing is becoming more and more a story about who is not getting in.

And that is the biggest shame of it all.

Bryan Fischer is a national college football columnist for Bleacher Report. You can follow him on Twitter at @BryanDFischer.

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Alabama's Playing Like a Team on a Mission

TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — It may have been the breaking point.

Following another third-down failure against the University of Alabama defense last week, Michigan State senior quarterback Connor Cook was shown on the big screen at AT&T Stadium walking to the sideline, and everyone could easily read his lips.

“They’re [expletive] everywhere!” he said, which was both telling and accurate as the swarming Crimson Tide went on to enjoy a decisive 38-0 victory.

Not only was it the largest shutout ever in the Cotton Bowl, but it was just the second in recent history when so much was on the line. The other was when Alabama smothered LSU in the BCS National Championship Game at the end of the 2011 season, 21-0.

That’s what has Crimson Tide fans particularly excited about this team’s chances against Clemson in Monday’s College Football Playoff National Championship (7:30 p.m. CT, ESPN): They’ve witnessed this before.

Once again, Alabama is playing like it’s on a mission, just like it was when defeating LSU and Notre Dame to win back-to-back national titles in 2011-12. Neither game was close.

“The older guys on this team who were there in 2012 know the focus that it takes,” senior center Ryan Kelly said. “It’s a new week this week, but we’re going about it the same way we went about it against Michigan State. I think our team is really locked in.”

So does everyone else. You can see it when junior defensive lineman A’Shawn Robinson stands over a podium for a press conference and looks like he’s trying not to break it in half.

You can hear it when head coach Nick Saban’s asked how much advance work the coaching staff put in on Clemson and he responds, “We don’t look ahead, man. We were trying to beat Michigan State.”

Perhaps most importantly, it's something those around the program can feel, and when you combine that with Alabama’s talent and coaching, you’re talking about a combination that’s extremely difficult to defeat.

After all, there’s a reason why Saban has never lost when national title is on the line.

“Pete Carroll used to say that anyone can do it one time, but if you’re going to have a championship program, you have to do it again and again and again,” offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin said. “That’s the real sign.

“Here we’re in the middle of a dynasty because of the process with different players and different coaches. He’s had a number of coaching changes. It all goes back to Coach Saban and his philosophy, and the players buy into it.”

Have they ever this season, which was on display in the semifinal.

While Michigan State tried to out-Alabama Alabama, the Crimson Tide instead out-Spartaned the Spartans. In other words, Alabama simply did all of the things that Michigan State was known for doing well better than the Spartans.

The Spartans spent most of the game with negative rushing yards and finished with only 29 yards on 26 carries. After having just 12 giveaways in their previous 13 games, they lost the turnover battle.

MSU even got outplayed on special teams.

“You never expect that against a good team like that,” said junior linebacker Ryan Anderson, who had the first of Alabama’s four sacks. “That’s one of the best four teams in the country.”

Senior quarterback Jake Coker had a career day by completing 25 of 30 passes for 286 yards and two touchdowns to freshman wide receiver Calvin Ridley, who posted eight receptions for 138 yards.

The game was so lopsided that Alabama pulled its starters midway through the fourth quarter and still pulled off the shutout.

“The focus that they had for this game was completely different than what we’ve ever had before,” Saban said during his postgame press conference. “I think it paid off for them and we’re looking forward to trying to do the same in the next game.”

Michigan State ran into probably the best defense around, which looked as good as advertised. The Spartans reached the red zone just once. They managed just 1.1 yards per carry and essentially had a completion (19) for every Alabama tackle for a loss (six), turnover (three), broken-up pass (eight) and hurry (one) combined (18).

“We come into every game with a mindset of dominating,” senior cornerback Cyrus Jones said. “We don’t come in just trying to get by, we came in and wanted to stick it to them.”

The perfect example was the 867-pound backfield with defensive linemen Jarran Reed and A’Shawn Robinson both in at fullback for Derrick Henry’s one-yard touchdown plunge. Alabama wasn’t taking any chances, subtlety be damned.

Things got only more lopsided as the game progressed even though the Crimson Tide pretty much held the Heisman Trophy winner in reserve.

“You could kind of sense their frustration a little bit,” Jones said. “I could see it in their faces and it definitely gave us a little bit more hunger to keep going after them knowing that they’re getting affected by what we’re doing.” 

By the time Jones made the score 24-0 with his 57-yard punt return for a touchdown, Spartans fans were having flashbacks of the previous time the two teams met: the Crimson Tide’s 49-7 victory in the Capital One Bowl at the end of the 2010 season.

That beatdown only sparked Alabama’s back-to-back championship runs in 2011 and 2012.

Yes, it all seems so familiar.

“We're two different teams, but for the most part, the focus is the same as when we went to Miami to play Notre Dame,” senior linebacker Reggie Ragland said. “We knew that we had a chip on our shoulder this year, and then losing to Ole Miss, we knew we had to get the job done.

“It's just one game left. Either win it all or don't.”

 

Quotes were obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted.

Christopher Walsh is a lead SEC college football writer. Follow Christopher on Twitter @WritingWalsh.

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