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Jameis Winston: Latest Comments, Speculation Surrounding 2015 NFL Draft Decision

Florida State quarterback Jameis Winston will be one of the most talked about prospects in the 2015 NFL draft should he decide to make the jump. That said, a final decision on his status reportedly isn't expected until after the National Championship Game.    

David M. Hale of ESPN.com reports the latest comments from the redshirt sophomore's father, Antonor Winston, suggest no announcement will come before the title game between Oregon and Ohio State:

"Antonor Winston said the timetable for an announcement will be sometime after Monday, which means at least another week of waiting for Florida State fans, many of whom have already assumed the star quarterback will depart," Hale reported.

Winston is an interesting case. He was nothing short of outstanding during his freshman campaign en route to winning the Heisman Trophy. His numbers dipped this season, however, which along with some off-field issues could raise flags for front offices around the NFL, as the report notes.

It would be a major surprise if he decided to return to the Seminoles, though. He's still considered an elite prospect who will likely battle with Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota to become the first player at the position off the board this spring.

Safid Deen of Nole Sports states FSU director of compliance Derrick Coles had sent out a message of support for three underclassmen, including Winston, believed to be strongly considering going pro. It was quickly removed:

Going back to school would represent a serious risk for the quarterback. If the decline continued, he would be putting himself in position to see his stock drop off considerably.

It sounds like a final decision should come early next week. The absolute latest date for Winston to make a choice is Jan. 15, the deadline for underclassmen.

 

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Texas A&M Football: How John Chavis Will Fix Aggies Defense

The Texas A&M football team made a monumental statement when it went out and hired John Chavis to coach its defense. Chavis will fix the defense in 2015 and make the Aggies into a championship contender.

The Texas A&M offense under head coach Kevin Sumlin has had elite offenses. The defense has struggled to stop opposing teams, and that necessitated a change at defensive coordinator.

Sumlin fired defensive coordinator Mark Snyder and replaced him with John Chavis. The decision to go out and hire one of the top defensive coordinators in the country is a testament to the commitment of Sumlin and the Aggie program to winning.

Chavis' defense coupled with a typical Sumlin offense should make the Aggies competitive for SEC and national championships every year. His hire will be a game-changer for the Texas A&M program.

This is a look at how Chavis will mold the Aggies defense into one of the best units in the country.  

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Can Former Texas DC Manny Diaz Succeed in the SEC?

Fair or not, most people have already made up their minds on whether new Mississippi State defensive coordinator Manny Diaz is a good defensive coordinator.

Some remember him for his work at Mississippi State in 2010 when his Bulldogs forced 28 turnovers—the third-most in the SEC—and held opponents to 19.8 points per game and the second-best red-zone touchdown percentage in the conference (42.5 percent).

Others, on the other hand, remember his demise.

Lured away by Texas following the 2010 season, the Longhorn defense got progressively worse under Diaz, and it culminated when Texas gave up 679 total yards—550 of which were on the ground—in a road loss to BYU on Sept. 7, 2013.

Diaz was fired the next day, but his resume as a hotshot coordinator who couldn't live up to the hype was etched in stone.

Or was it?

Diaz was hired for his second go-round at Mississippi State on Monday, replacing Geoff Collins, who left to become Florida's defensive coordinator.

"When you look at the new standard Mississippi State has set and the national prominence that has come with the accomplishments of 2014, we want to continue to raise the bar here," Diaz said in a release from the school. "This is a tremendous place to develop players on and off the field and ultimately compete for championships."

It's a fantastic move for Diaz and for Mississippi State. 

This is the place where Diaz really made a name for himself, and he did it shutting down potent offenses.

Auburn won a national championship that season with quarterback Cam Newton at the helm, but Diaz held the Tigers to just 348 yards in Starkville and was a big reason why Mississippi State had the ball late with a chance to tie or win. 

Kentucky's offense finished the season averaging 427.8 yards per game behind quarterback Mike Hartline, running back Derrick Locke and wide receiver Randall Cobb. Against Mississippi State, the Wildcats managed just 347.

Those were two of the more creative offenses in the SEC at the time, and over the last four seasons that number has only increased.

As former Bulldog quarterback Matt Wyatt of Head To Head radio in Mississippi notes, he was a tremendous coach during his lone season in Starkville:

There will be some speed bumps. 

Continuity played a big role in Mississippi State's success in 2014, and that won't continue in 2015.

P.J. Jones, Kaleb Eulls and and first-team All-SEC defensive end Preston Smith will all be gone from the defensive line, first-team linebacker Benardrick McKinney could jump early and two starters in the secondary—Jamerson Love and Jay Hughes—have exhausted their eligibility.

That doesn't mean Diaz can't recapture the magic.

There's still a solid foundation up front with former 5-star recruit Chris Jones at defensive tackle and a leader at linebacker in Beniquez Brown, who finished second on the team in tackles (62). 

Diaz can build around them and continue the tradition of Mississippi State producing physical and punishing front sevens. After all, he was one of the men who helped build the tradition.

Don't be fooled by Diaz' time at Texas. It was a sinking ship at the time, and Diaz was thrown off before it went under. He can still coach, and will succeed at Mississippi State during his second stint in Starkville.

 

Barrett Sallee is the lead SEC college football writer and video analyst for Bleacher Report, as well as a co-host of the CFB Hangover on Bleacher Report Radio (Sundays, 9-11 a.m. ET) on Sirius 93, XM 208.

Quotes were obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted. All stats are courtesy of cfbstats.com, and all recruiting information is courtesy of 247Sports. Follow Barrett on Twitter @BarrettSallee.

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'Finish' Is Keyword for USC Football in 2015 Season

As is often the case with departing seniors, linebacker Anthony Sarao left his USC football teammates with some words of wisdom after his final game, a 45-42 Trojans win over the Nebraska Cornhuskers on Dec. 27—or, more accurately, one word of wisdom.

“If you really think about our team and this season, finish has been the word in our locker room,” Sarao said. “That’s been the story of our team: Arizona State, we didn’t finish. Utah, we didn’t finish.”

Those losses to which Sarao referred both came on the final possession of each game. Had USC closed out either contest successfully, it would have faced Oregon in the Trojans’ first-ever Pac-12 Championship Game appearance.

“It took until the last game for our team to come together and finish, and it's great to see," Sarao said. 

He added that the positive trend from the Holiday Bowl should "roll over into the next year." 

Parlaying USC’s successful close of its last game of 2014 into the 2015 season “will be a huge focus…throughout this entire offseason,” according to head coach Steve Sarkisian.

“The one consistent we can get out of this: [If] we want to be a championship-caliber football team, we have to be better in the fourth quarter,” Sarkisian said.

Sarkisian was an assistant coach on the last championship-winning USC team. The 2008 Trojans claimed the conference title with an overall, fourth-quarter edge of 105-32.

When the 2004 USC team won the program’s last national championship, it outscored opponents 110-26 in final frames.

This year’s Trojans were on the wrong side of a combined 86-72 fourth-quarter disparity.

However, the fourth quarter was merely the culmination of a trend. Season-long point totals show a quarter-by-quarter regression: from USC advantages of 167-53 in first quarters, to 117-96 in the second, to 110-92 in the third and the fourth-quarter disadvantage.

The decline suggests USC's sanction-thinned roster did indeed impact the Trojans over the course of games, though Sarkisian did not offer this conclusion. 

"Maybe there’s a sense of maybe not being quite as aggressive in the fourth," he said. "Maybe we’re just not doing a well enough job of getting our players to understand some of the adjustments we’re making, so we’re not getting the execution we want."

Execution is critical in end-of-game situations, and the Trojans showed improvement to this end in the Holiday Bowl. For example, wide receiver Nelson Agholor was on the field for Nebraska’s final heave, giving USC an additional player with a nose for the ball to attack.

And attack he did, batting down the Cornhuskers’ Hail Mary to avoid a repeat of the Arizona State finish.

But complicating the process of remedying its fourth-quarter woes is that the nature of these struggles varied from game to game.

“We have to be better offensively in our ability to score points,” Sarkisian said. “And we have to be better defensively at getting those critical stops at the most critical moments.”

Scoreless stretches late made otherwise dominant games against Arizona, Cal and Nebraska a bit too close for the Trojans' comfort. USC also failed to capitalize on opportunities in fourth quarters, such as Agholor's fourth-down run at Utah that would have likely iced a win. 

But then, there was the Arizona State game, in which the Trojans scored twice and amassed 150 yards of offense. The failure of that game was giving up 20 points, 13 of which came in all of 42 combined seconds.

Since the struggles were all-encompassing, so too will be how the USC coaching staff addresses them in preparation for next year. 

“It won’t just be physically, it won’t just be emotional,” Sarkisian said. “It will also be tactical.”

 

Quotes obtained firsthand unless otherwise cited. Statistics courtesy of CFBstats.com.

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'Finish' Is Keyword for USC Football in 2015 Season

As is often the case with departing seniors, linebacker Anthony Sarao left his USC football teammates with some words of wisdom after his final game, a 45-42 Trojans win over the Nebraska Cornhuskers on Dec...

Read the full article on Bleacher Report...

TCU's Claim to the 2015 National Championship

Oh, yes. The hype machine for TCU in 2015 has been warmed up. A sharp pull of the starting lever, a quick whiff of ozone and it's up and ready to go. 

That's the result of the Horned Frogs' 42-3 rout over Ole Miss in the Peach Bowl. With the exception of Oregon's 59-20 victory over Florida State in the Rose Bowl, it was as impressive a showing as anyone in the postseason. 

It also added more ammunition to the debate over whether TCU should have been included in the playoff. Heading into the final week of regular-season games, the Frogs appeared to be securely ranked at No. 3 before falling a whopping three spots even though it took care of business against Iowa State. 

Was it a matter of TCU's "brand" not being strong enough? Did the Big 12 co-champions title/lack of a conference title game hurt? There are a lot of theories out there. 

Know this, though: TCU, projected to finish seventh in the Big 12 this past season by media members, won't sneak up on anyone in 2015. Quite to the contrary, the Frogs are already bathing in preseason hype. Nationalchamps.net has TCU as its preseason No. 1 team. 

Among those looking at TCU as a playoff contender in 2015 is Sports Illustrated's Andy Staples

The Horned Frogs could return as many as 16 starters from a team that went 11-1 during the regular season, so they’ll probably be the preseason favorite in the Big 12. And if you read this week’s Punt, Pass & Pork, you know Boykin is basically in the same -- albeit healthier -- place that Oregon’s Marcus Mariota was at this time last year.

Staples points out a key distinction about preseason expectations. Bowl season "momentum" is largely a myth. Yes, it ends the year on a positive note and it gives head coaches a drum to beat in the offseason booster/alumni circuit. Offseason workouts are a little more enjoyable. Any carry-over from a performance standpoint, though, is nonexistent. At some point, the game is in the past and forgotten. 

Oklahoma, which had lofty playoff expectations after beating Alabama in the Sugar Bowl last January, sputtered to an 8-5 season and got clocked in the Russell Athletic Bowl by Clemson. Offseason hype didn't exactly help the Sooners there. 

"I talked to them [TCU players] about teams that had great seasons, that were highly ranked, that weren't there anymore," Frogs coach Gary Patterson said after the Peach Bowl (via Carlos Mendez of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram). "The common mistake that those teams make is that they don't think they have to go back to the beginning. We'll go back to the bottom."

All anyone can look at is what TCU has returning, which is 10 of 11 offensive starters plus co-offensive coordinators Doug Meacham and Sonny Cumbie. The addition of Meacham and Cumbie last offseason proved to be incredible and the results showed immediately. This past season, TCU's offense finished third in the country with 46.5 points per game; that's three full touchdowns more than 2013's total (25 points per game). 

Beyond the numbers is the development of a sleeping giant on offense, starting with quarterback Trevone Boykin. Boykin, who in two years had to play the role of reliever rather than starter, once appeared bound for a position change. Instead, and with a full offseason as the No. 1 guy, he led the Big 12 in total offense (354.5 yards per game).

In many ways, Boykin became the dangerous offensive weapon many thought Oklahoma dual-threat quarterback Trevor Knight was going to become after his lights-out Sugar Bowl performance. 

The development goes beyond Boykin, though. TCU's wide receivers, an underachieving group in 2013, became one of the more productive units in the Big 12. In the absence of injured starting running back B.J. Catalon, Nebraska transfer and former blue-chip recruit Aaron Green finally emerged with four 100-yard performances in the final six games. The offensive line, a revolving door in '13, was finally healthy with the first team starting all but one game together. 

All of those players return. That's nightmare fuel for opposing defensive coordinators, and it's also why TCU might rely on some traditional Big 12 shootouts to win another conference title next season. 

TCU's key losses are on defense—and at every level. Gone are defensive tackle Chucky Hunter, linebacker Paul Dawson, defensive back Kevin White and safety Sam Carter. That's the team's anchor in the trenches, leading tackler and two great defenders. That's a lot of star power to replace. 

Patterson is a defensive guy, and 2015 will test his abilities once again to coach up another crop of players. 

The path to the playoff is the intriguing part for TCU because it's so similar to 2014—and everyone saw how that went. A road game at Minnesota remains the key nonconference game and a season-ending home game against Baylor could once again decide the Big 12 picture. If there's one thing that potentially hurts TCU, it's that the Frogs do not play in the first weekend of December. Should TCU be in the playoff conversation, would it be out of sight, out of mind? That won't be known for another year. 

With a loaded offense returning, though, TCU should be preseason favorites to win the Big 12. Win enough games along the way and the Frogs will without a doubt be in the playoff picture. There's no secret about what TCU will offer in 2015: lots of offense with perhaps some defense to boot. 

The question is whether that will that be good enough next time around. How things shake out from a strength-of-schedule perspective is always a wait-and-see thing. But the perception of TCU football has changed in a hurry, and for the better. Another successful season and the Frogs will have some credibility, some staying power on their side. That could be the biggest difference. 

 

Ben Kercheval is lead writer for college football. All stats courtesy of cfbstats.com

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Dorial Green-Beckham Will Enter 2015 NFL Draft: Latest Details and Reaction

Supremely talented wide receiver Dorial Green-Beckham is set to put a troubled collegiate career behind him as it was announced Tuesday that he will declare for the 2015 NFL draft.    

According to Jason Kersey of The Oklahoman, University of Oklahoma head football coach Bob Stoops made the announcement:

Green-Beckham began at the University of Missouri in 2012 as perhaps the most highly touted recruit in the country. He racked up nearly 900 yards and 12 touchdowns as a sophomore in 2013, and he seemed destined for greatness with the Tigers.

Things changed shortly thereafter, however, as he was dismissed from the team following an alleged assault. DGB subsequently enrolled at Oklahoma, but he was ineligible to play for the Sooners in 2014.

Even so, he was able to practice with the team, as pointed out by Rotoworld's Josh Norris:

Former Oklahoma wide receivers coach Jay Norvell revealed in September that the initial plan was for Green-Beckham to remain at Oklahoma for the 2015 season, per Dean Blevins of News9.com:

He's made a commitment to be here, he wants to go to school here and he wants to play football here at Oklahoma, so obviously we are going to help him improve here every day. This is not a year off for him, he's out there working every day, he's helping on the scout team and he's also trying to improve his skills as a receiver, as well as the off the field things, so it's an important development time for him.

Things may have changed after Norvell was fired Monday, though, according to Norris:

With that said, Stoops denies that Norvell's status impacted DGB's decision, per Ryan Aber of The Oklahoman:

Whatever the case, Green-Beckham is prepared to pursue an NFL career. He obviously enters the league with some character concerns, but his talent is undeniable.

If he can prove that he has improved as a person, then one can only assume that a team will take a chance on him fairly early due to his difference-making ability.

He is a true boom-or-bust prospect, but the potential payoff is certainly tantalizing.

 

Follow @MikeChiari on Twitter

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Best Candidates to Replace John Chavis as LSU Defensive Coordinator

It has been a rough couple of weeks for LSU head coach Les Miles. The Tigers not only lost to Notre Dame in the Music City Bowl, but they also saw their most talented coach leave. 

Defensive coordinator John Chavis has bolted to take the same position at Texas A&M, though the Aggies have yet to make it official. The news was first reported by 104.5/104.9 ESPN Baton Rouge's Jordy Culotta before the start of the Music City Bowl. 

Chavis was dominant as LSU's "Chief" of the defense. Since taking over in 2009, the Tigers never finished below fourth in the SEC in scoring defense. He helped develop All-Americans Patrick Peterson, Tyrann Mathieu and Eric Reid. 

The move for Chavis had more to do with LSU's struggling offense than it did the slight pay increase, a source told Jim Kleinpeter of The Times-Picayune. No matter the reason, The Chief is gone, and the Tigers must move swiftly and thoroughly to replace him. 

Chavis' departure will be brutal in the short, and possibly the long, term for LSU. The Tigers were hoping to land more elite defensive recruits for the 2015 class, but that becomes more difficult as one of college football's brightest minds is heading to a rival SEC West school.  

The search for finding Chavis' replacement will be an arduous one for Miles. Former Florida head coach Will Muschamp has already taken over as Auburn defensive coordinator. Former Nebraska head coach Bo Pelini has taken the same job at Youngstown State. Both Muschamp and Pelini were former national championship-winning defensive coordinators at LSU and could have potentially fit back in nicely in Baton Rouge.

Since those high-profile names are off the table, here are some other candidates Miles could possibly be evaluating in the next couple weeks.  

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Will Oregon's Defense Slow Down Ezekiel Elliott and Surging Ohio State Offense?

Ohio State's offense is on their third-string quarterback, but it doesn't seem to matter. The Buckeyes continue to be explosive, and they continue to show they're one of the most dangerous teams in college football.

Bleacher Report College Football Analysts Michael Felder and Barrett Sallee debate if the Oregon defense can stop the Ohio State offense. 

Who has the edge: the Ohio State offense or the Oregon defense?

Watch the video and let us know!

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

5 Best Candidates to Take Oklahoma Offensive Coordinator Job

Oklahoma has fired its second co-offensive coordinator in less than a week, this time sending a pink slip to school legend Josh Heupel—who quarterbacked the Sooners to a national title in 2000—per Thayer Evans of SI.com.

Heupel confirmed the news with a letter to the fans on Twitter.

Heupel joins Jay Norvell as collateral damage after an 8-5 season that ended in ugly fashion against Clemson in the Russell Athletic Bowl. The Tigers beat OU 40-6 in front of a national audience and sent the Sooners spiraling into an offensive identity crisis.

Head coach Bob Stoops has lost some luster this past half-decade, and the failure to maximize what appeared to be a talented roster in 2014 has led to anxiousness down in Norman.

Where might the head coach look to replace Heupel and Norvell?

Here are five names to keep an eye on.

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College Football National Championship 2015: Latest Odds, Preview for Title Game

The 2014 college football regular season was one of the wildest in recent memory, and the road to the 2015 national championship has been just as unpredictable, with the Oregon Ducks and Ohio State Buckeyes advancing to the title game.

With Oregon, Ohio State, the Alabama Crimson Tide and the Florida State Seminoles all making the inaugural College Football Playoff, fans were treated to two intriguing semifinal battles that have spawned a dream championship.

Heidi Burgett of Nike revealed the uniforms for both teams in the national championship:

Here is all the vital betting and viewing information for the 2015 College Football Playoff National Championship.

 

Where: AT&T Stadium, Arlington, Texas

When: Monday, January 12

Start Time: 8:30 p.m. ET

Watch: ESPN

Live Stream:WatchESPN

 

*Betting information via OddsShark.com (as of Jan. 6 at 11 a.m. ET).

 

Quick Preview of Oregon Ducks vs. Ohio State Buckeyes

After Ohio State made it into the College Football Playoff bracket as the No. 4 seed, few fans gave the Buckeyes a legitimate shot to beat Alabama in the semifinal.

Not only did Ohio State beat the Crimson Tide, but the team also managed to do it in convincing fashion, racking up an impressive 42-35 final score. Even with third-string quarterback Cardale Jones at the helm, the Buckeyes managed to knock off the No. 1 team in the nation.

One of the reasons for Ohio State’s success this season has been the high-speed pace of the offensive unit and the havoc that has caused on opposing defenses. Whether it was in the Big Ten or against the vaunted SEC, the Buckeyes wore their opposition down, just like Oregon.

When asked about his relationship with former Oregon and current Philadelphia Eagles head coach Chip Kelly, Ohio State’s Urban Meyer explained to George Schroeder of USA Today what aspects of the high-paced offense he has incorporated, saying:

I just like their approach. When I went out there, I brought back with me that there's an unbelievable culture. This is the way they do their business. Everyone is aligned. I brought that back to our place.

John Buccigross of ESPN shared some interesting stats about the Buckeyes and the Ducks:

There are similarities between the two programs, but while Ohio State is trying to emulate what Oregon is doing on offense, the Ducks have spent years mastering the game plan on and off the field.

Offensively, Oregon is one of the most dangerous teams in the country due to the 11th-ranked pass attack (averaging 311 yards per game) and the 18th-ranked run game (averaging 241.9 yards per game), and the team’s average of 47.2 points per game is good enough for second overall.

The Ducks offense will push the Buckeyes defense to its limit.

As great as both offensive units have been this season, the real difference will be the underrated Oregon defense. With nine straight victories and the team’s defensive unit holding opponents to 20 or fewer points in six of the last eight games, Ohio State will have a hard time developing a rhythm.

If the Ducks play the way they did when they beat Florida State, 59-20, in the other College Football Playoff semifinal, Oregon should have the firepower to hold off the very talented Buckeyes in the national championship.

Predicted Final Score: Oregon 40, Ohio State 30

 

*Stats via ESPN.com.

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7 Reasons the SEC Will Be Back in the National Title Game in 2015

For the first time since the Rose Bowl following the 2005 season, the SEC won't place a team in the national title game. Instead, Ohio State will take on Oregon after the Buckeyes took down Alabama 42-35 in the Allstate Sugar Bowl national semifinal.

Is that an anomaly or the start of a trend?

Ohio State has built an SEC-style monster in the Big Ten, which is widely regarded as a weaker conference top to bottom. Florida State, which won the title following the 2013 season and lost to the Ducks in the Rose Bowl national semifinal, has followed the same path to success.

Out west, Oregon has branded itself as the Pacific Coast power in a Pac-12 that is on the rise with potential powers USC, Arizona, Arizona State and UCLA.

Will the SEC get back to the title game following the 2015 season? Here are seven reasons why it could.

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Which Recruits Are the Biggest Freak Athletes in the 2015 Class?

Every recruiting class is filled with superior athletes who are faster, stronger and smarter than those who came before them. But the 2015 class is full of dynamic youngsters intent on making their marks at the next level.  

Bleacher Report College Football Analysts Michael Felder, Barrett Sallee and Adam Kramer dish out which recruit they believe is the most explosive.

Which 2015 recruit is the best athlete? Check out the video and let us know! 

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Meet Jarrett Stidham: The King of Friday Night Lights and Texas Football

The end of each week in the Fall means only one thing to so many communities across this nation: Friday Night Lights.

And in Texas, where cities and towns alike are woven so tightly by football, those lights seem to shine just a bit brighter, just a bit hotter, than anywhere else.

Stephenville, Texas is one of those towns. It's located 90-miles west of the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex, but seemingly serves as the heart of the state's football identity.

Stephenville is the home of the five-time champion Yellow Jackets, and currently, the No. 1 dual-threat quarterback in the country - Jarrett Stidham.

Given his stature and talent, Stidham is one of the most sought-after high school quarterbacks in the country and the hope of a football-crazed town seeking glory.

In this video, you'll meet Jarrett, hear why he's so talented and join him on his pressure-filled journey toward a coveted sixth state championship.

 

Some video courtesy and a special thank you to:
Stephenville High School
Wayne Trimble
Cliff Jones

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Fact or Fiction Leading Up to National Signing Day 2015

National signing day is nearly upon us, and many of the nation's top high school football players remain undecided about where they will be playing football in 2015. 

Bleacher Report College Football Analysts Michael Felder, Barrett Sallee and Adam Kramer debate the biggest topics heading into national signing day. 

Who will have the nation's best recruiting class?

Watch the video, and let us know!

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Oregon vs. Ohio State: Matchups to Watch in College Football Championship 2015

The national championship showdown between Oregon and Ohio State is being billed as a clash between the Heisman-winning Marcus Mariota and the third-stringer Cardale Jones or the historically dominant Urban Meyer against the up-and-coming Mark Helfrich. 

However, the two quarterbacks (or the two coaches for that matter) are not on the field at the same time. The outcome will ultimately come down to more immediate and direct matchups between different units that actually square off with each other.

With that in mind, here is a look at a couple of marquee matchups to watch in the title game.

 

Ohio State Red-Zone Offense vs. Oregon Red-Zone Defense

Oregon’s offense is getting plenty of attention heading into the national title game, and rightly so, but Ohio State brings one of the country’s best units to the table as well. The Buckeyes were fifth in the nation in scoring offense, 10th in rushing and just dropped a cool 42 points and 537 total yards on Alabama’s supposedly shutdown SEC defense.

However, the Buckeyes had to settle for two field goals after getting stopped inside the 10-yard line on their first two scoring drives in the Sugar Bowl.

Oregon’s defense, on the other hand, epitomized the bend-don’t-break approach against Florida State in the Rose Bowl, allowing 528 yards of total offense but only 20 points. Included in that effort was a fourth-down stop of Jameis Winston at the goal line and five forced turnovers, many of which ended promising drives.

Statistically, Ohio State was 54th in red-zone scoring percentage, but a more impressive 20th in touchdown percentage, while Oregon’s defense was 56th in opponent red-zone touchdown conversions. 

Ira Schoffel of Warchant.com and Fox Sports 1 and Greg Biggins of Scout.com pointed out the importance of Oregon’s defensive efforts in the red zone, while Corey Clark of the Tallahassee Democrat noted that the Ducks defense was different closer to the end zone:

That last tweet from Clark highlights a key issue in the title game. Ezekiel Elliott and Cardale Jones should be able to run the ball on the Ducks considering they just dominated Alabama on the ground, but Florida State was able to move the ball on the ground as well. You saw how well that worked out for the Seminoles when they couldn’t convert with touchdowns.

It is nearly impossible to topple the Ducks and their high-flying attack by settling for field goals on the offensive side. 

Mariota and company are going to score points, regardless of how impressive Ohio State’s defense can be at times. The Buckeyes have to take advantage of their own scoring opportunities more effectively than Florida State, otherwise they will find themselves behind early and fighting an uphill battle all game.

 

Marcus Mariota/Oregon Offensive Line vs. Ohio State Defensive Line

Everything Oregon does on offense relies on two things—the offensive line’s ability to give Mariota the time to make decisions and Mariota’s ability to escape pressure and make the correct reads.

Mariota’s decision-making on read-option plays is the engine that drives the Ducks. Even some of Oregon’s pass plays are read-option type of designs where Mariota has the choice between handing it off, keeping it himself or throwing to the receiver in the flat or up the seam. Considering he won the Heisman Trophy and has his team in the title game, he usually makes the right decision.

Ohio State coach Urban Meyer discussed Mariota on the ESPN telecast after the Sugar Bowl, via Bill Bender of Sporting News: “I think their quarterback is outstanding. I love their people. It’s a program I have a lot of respect for.”

For as excellent as Oregon’s quarterback is, decision-making is much more difficult when you are under constant pressure. Ohio State’s loaded defensive line could make life particularly difficult for Mariota if it plays up to its capabilities.

The Buckeyes feature Joey Bosa, Michael Bennett, Steve Miller and Adolphus Washington as one of the best groups in the country, and their pressure up front forced Alabama quarterback Blake Sims into a number of crippling mistakes in the Sugar Bowl.

Bosa (13.5 sacks, first-team Associated Press All-American) and Bennett (third-team Associated Press All-American) get most of the credit as the two superstars and future NFL players, but Miller turned in the critical pick-six in the Sugar Bowl against Alabama, while Washington often took advantage of the two blockers on either Bennett or Bosa and generated a push up the middle.

A consistent pass rush will give the Ohio State secondary a better chance to keep up with Oregon’s speedy wide receivers (just like it helped the corners at least contain Amari Cooper from going off in the Sugar Bowl) and possibly even force Mariota into a rare mistake. What’s more, a consistent push against the run will give the linebackers more freedom to operate in space and potentially put the Ducks behind the chains on first and second downs.

Oregon’s offensive line was only 86th in the country in sacks allowed, but that is a bit misleading because the Ducks were without multiple offensive linemen because of injuries earlier in the season. The unit is largely healthy now and protecting Mariota much more effectively.

However, Ohio State’s defense is eighth in the nation with 43 sacks, so Oregon’s front is going to have its hands full.

The Ducks are one of the most dynamic offenses in all of college football (second in scoring, 11th in passing and 18th in rushing), but even they will have trouble moving the ball without proper protection up front.

The main reason Ohio State beat Oregon in the 2010 Rose Bowl was the defensive line’s ability to dominate up front. LaMichael James, Jeremiah Masoli and company only racked up 260 yards of total offense, which was shockingly low for the Oregon attack. 

Granted, that was a much different Oregon team, but if Bosa and the rest of the Buckeyes defensive line can dominate up front like their 2010 counterpart did, we could see a similar result.

 

*Stats are courtesy of cfbstats.com.

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Ranking the Top 10 Plays from the 2014-15 College Football Bowl Season

With 38 bowl games played over 13 days, you caught every single great play…right?

Just in case you couldn’t break away from your Yule log or glass of bubbly long enough to tune in to every one of the 2,280 minutes of regulation play, check this out.

It’s 10 of the best of the best, the cream of the crop—the highlight reel for the 2014-15 bowl campaign.

Some decided the outcome of a game, while others represented nothing more than a jaw-dropping individual moment. All are worth a second look.

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College Football Championship 2015: Unheralded Players Who Will Decide Title

Whether or not you predicted it (probably not), Oregon and Ohio State will now compete for a national championship.

The Ducks were led by yet another great performance from Heisman Trophy winner Marcus Mariota, who threw for 338 yards in a 59-20 win over Florida State. Meanwhile, the Buckeyes came through with a 42-35 upset win over Alabama behind 230 rushing yards from Ezekiel Elliott.

When these two teams battle in the final game of the college football season, fans should expect more big efforts from star players. However, this matchup will also come down to the performances of a few competitors who might not be household names.

These players have not always been in the spotlight, but they will be vital for each team's chances of victory.

 

Darron Lee, LB, Ohio State

Ohio State's biggest strength is clearly the defensive line behind Joey Bosa, Michael Bennett and others. Opposing teams have to focus on keeping those players out of the backfield in both runs and passes.

However, teams that use double- and triple-teams to stop those players will be forced to give up a free lane to sophomore Darron Lee. The linebacker played a big role in the Sugar Bowl, finishing with seven tackles, three for loss with two sacks.

Pete Thamel of Sports Illustrated noticed the play of the talented youngster:

While Bosa led Ohio State in both sacks and tackles for loss, Lee was right behind him to rank second on the team in each category. He gives the defense yet another weapon that can penetrate past the line and disrupt the offensive game plan.

If he can help pressure Mariota and stop him from running wild, the Buckeyes will have a much better chance of winning.

 

Dontre Wilson, RB/KR, Ohio State

Everyone knows at this point that Ohio State has struggled with injuries to quarterbacks Braxton Miller and J.T. Barrett. However, another major injury was that of running back Dontre Wilson.

The versatile sophomore has 400 yards from scrimmage this season, averaging more than 10 yards per touch in nine games. He also makes a big impact on special teams, where he averages 9.7 yards per punt return and 24 yards per kickoff return.

Only Elliott averages more total yards per game than Wilson's 118.2.

However, the speedster has been out since Nov. 8 with a foot injury. He had a chance to compete against Alabama in the Sugar Bowl but apparently wasn't 100 percent.

The good news is he should be ready to compete against Oregon. When asked about the chances he will play in the upcoming game, Wilson responded, "100 out of 100. I'm back. I'm back," via Ari Wasserman of the Northeast Ohio Media Group.

On a team full of big-play threats, such as Devin Smith and Michael Thomas, Wilson will give the team yet another weapon.

 

Erick Dargan, S, Oregon 

The Oregon secondary suffered a huge blow when Ifo Ekpre-Olomu suffered a knee injury that knocked him out of the national semifinals. However, Erick Dargan has picked up the slack.

Dargan helped seal the win over Florida State with an interception in the fourth quarter, continuing a run of big plays in big moments:

Only two players in the nation have more interceptions than Dargan's seven. He also ranks second on the team behind Troy Hill with 13 passes defended on the season.

While Dargan has been getting it done all season long, he will be even more important against Ohio State. The Buckeyes love to throw the ball down the field, especially to Smith, who has five catches of 39 yards or more in the last two games.

If Oregon is going to slow down the Ohio State offense, Dargan will have to be all over the field and make sure no one gets behind him. If the safety can force some turnovers in the meantime, it will be even better.

 

Hroniss Grasu, C, Oregon

Like Wilson, Hroniss Grasu has missed much of the season due to injury. The difference is that he was able to play in the national semifinals against Florida State.

After so much time lost, he felt good getting back into the action in the Rose Bowl, via Ryan Thorburn of The Register-Guard:

This is big for Oregon, as the senior center is a leader on the offensive line. He keeps things together on pass plays and can clear space for Royce Freeman and Mariota to boost the rushing attack.

Of course, things will not be easy against the Ohio State defensive line. Bosa, Bennett and Adolphus Washington are all likely future NFL stars and will not be pushed around easily in this game.

Grasu needs to come through with his best effort to help the Oregon offense move as well as usual.

 

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

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Georgia Football: The Biggest Offseason Storylines for the Bulldogs

The 2014 season has come to an end, and the Georgia Bulldogs were able to finish the season with a 10-3 record. Despite missing the SEC Championship and despite not having Todd Gurley for half the season, the Bulldogs showed  they are still a team to watch in the SEC moving forward thanks to the play of young players such as Nick Chubb, Sony Michel, Isaiah McKenzie, Brandon Kublanow and Leonard Floyd.

Watching the young players develop will be one of the things to watch this offseason. But is that one of the biggest offseason storylines for the Bulldogs?

 

Finding an Offensive Coordinator

One of the first things the Bulldogs need to do is find an offensive coordinator to replace Mike Bobo, who is now the head coach at Colorado State. Bobo was able to lead a Georgia offense that was first in the SEC in terms of points scored and points scored per game.

According to Seth Emerson of the Columbus Ledger-Enquirer, former Florida offensive coordinator Kurt Roper will interview for the open position this week. Roper is possibly the best fit because he uses a pro-style offense, which is the same style of offense Georgia has used for years.

However, another candidate to look at is Mike Bloomgren, who is the Stanford offensive coordinator. The Cardinal were ranked 77th in the country in total offense, but Bloomgren has history with Richt because when Richt was the offensive coordinator at Florida State, Bloomgren was a graduate assistant. Also, Bloomgren is the offensive line coach at Stanford and the Bulldogs need a new offensive line coach because Will Friend went with Bobo to Colorado State.

Hearing Kurt Roper interviewing for UGA OC job early this week. Western Kentucky's Tyson Heton also a possibility

— Mark Schlabach (@Mark_Schlabach) January 4, 2015

It will be interesting to see whom Richt decides to go with. Roper seems like the likely choice, but the Bulldogs can go a different direction and hire somebody out of left field.

 

Replacing Hutson Mason

Once the offensive coordinator is in place, that person will have to find a new quarterback, as Hutson Mason will not be back. Brice Ramsey was Mason’s backup, and he was solid whenever he had a chance to get snaps. Ramsey finished the season with 333 passing yards, three touchdowns and two interceptions.

Then there’s Faton Bauta, who was the backup for Mason in 2013. Bauta’s skill set is different because he’s built like Tim Tebow. But he’s strong and athletic, and he plays well in a pro-style offense.

Jacob Park will be coming off a redshirt season and probably is the most talented of the three. Park has a strong arm, has quick feet and makes good decisions. He has a good of a chance as anybody to be the starter, especially with a new offensive coordinator in the mix.

 

The Early Dawgs

Park was the only recruit last year to enroll early. That will not be the case this offseason, because eight of the committed players have now enrolled to get a head start.

Of the eight early enrollees, six are from high school, one is a junior college transfer and the other is a transfer from UAB (which shut down its football program after the end of the 2014 season).

The one early enrollee to watch from high school is Jonathan Ledbetter, a defensive lineman from Tucker, Georgia. Ledbetter has the size, speed and toughness to start in the defensive line this upcoming season. The defensive line itself was a mixed bag, to say the least. Adding a guy like Ledbetter will give them a chance to be much improved.

Another transfer to watch is former UAB linebacker/safety Jake Ganus, who was the leading tackler for the Blazers this past season. It will be interesting to see how he fits in with the defensive scheme. Ganus recorded 70 tackles, 16.5 tackles for loss and six sacks in 2014.

 

Marshall's Final Stand

One of the veteran players to watch this offseason is Keith Marshall. With Todd Gurley going to the NFL, it will more than likely be the Nick Chubb and Sony Michel show in 2015. But if Marshall can get healthy this offseason, he will be in the mix as well.

It has been an up-and-down career for Marshall in Athens. After a very successful 2012 season, Marshall missed nearly all of 2013 and 2014 due to various injuries. It’s important for him to have a productive offseason so he can end his career in Athens on a high note and give the Bulldogs another weapon in the run game.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Nebraska Football: Ranking the 5 Best Redshirt Freshmen for the Cornhuskers

Nebraska football fans have long memories—long enough to remember the recruiting hype for the freshmen who redshirted last year and have extended their careers in Lincoln as a result.

Of course, there is no real data available to make any kind of informed analysis about where the redshirt freshmen stand. 

Having said that, we do have recruiting rankings available to give at least some idea of a player’s potential.

We can also look at the opportunities available to the players—from roster attrition and a new coaching staff—and make informed projections about how these players might fit in next season.

 

Recruiting ratings courtesy of 247Sports.

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