Feed aggregator

Texas Football: 5 Longhorns Who Can Raise NFL Draft Status with Strong Bowl Game

Beating Arkansas in the Texas Bowl and finishing the season with a winning record would mean a lot to this entire Longhorn team. It could mean a whole lot more for the guys looking to make a strong impression on some NFL teams.

Defensive tackle Malcom Brown leads the crop of Longhorns with hopes of being an NFL draft pick this spring. Even as an underclassman, another impressive line from the junior would mean a likely first-round selection.

The rest of Texas' candidates have less certain futures. Quandre Diggs, Jordan Hicks, John Harris and Cedric Reed all have their flaws, but they have a golden opportunity to show off their talents against a quality SEC team.

Begin Slideshow

Scooby Wright Wins 2014 Lombardi Award: Latest Details, Comments and Reaction

Arizona linebacker Scooby Wright was named the 2014 Lombardi Award winner Wednesday, which is given annually to college football's best offensive lineman, defensive lineman or linebacker.

Wright was one of four finalists, coming out ahead of Ohio State defensive lineman Joey Bosa, Washington linebacker Hau'oli Kikaha and Clemson defensive end Vic Beasley.

The sophomore linebacker emerged as perhaps the best defensive player in college football in 2014, making 89 tackles and 14 sacks while leading Arizona to a surprise 10-3 regular season. Wright was one of a few shining lights on a defense that at times struggled to maintain consistent production.

The Pac-12 already honored him with its Defensive Player of the Year Award, and this week, Wright was named Bronko Nagurski Award winner as the nation's top defensive player

"Coming out of high school I didn't really have too many colleges knocking on my door—actually nobody really wanted me except Arizona," Wright, a lightly touted recruit, told reporters. "So I always have that little chip on my shoulder. You always remember those people who didn't think you were good enough. It still motivates me to this day."

Wright is the first player in Arizona history to win the Lombardi Award and second to take home the Nagurski. The last 10 Nagurski winners have gone on to be selected in the first two rounds of the NFL draft. The last Lombardi winner to not be selected in the first two rounds was Virginia Tech's Corey Moore, who won the award before the turn of the century.

While Wright will have to wait to play on Sundays—as a true sophomore, he's ineligible to enter the draft—he's unquestionably come a long way from a kid who had one FBS offer. Arizona fans will be eager to see what he can do for an encore next season.


Follow Tyler Conway (@tylerconway22) on Twitter

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Oregon Football: Are Ducks the Real Underdogs Despite the Spread?

Based on statistics alone, the second-ranked Oregon Ducks should be favored over Florida State in the Rose Bowl, and they are. However, based on history, tradition and experience, the Ducks should be considered as underdogs in the College Football Playoff. 

It’s a role that the Ducks should relish, not shun.

The Ducks and Seminoles will face off in the 2014 Rose Bowl on Jan. 1 in a game that features the 2013 Heisman Trophy winner, Jameis Winston, and the likely 2014 Heisman recipient, Marcus Mariota.

On paper, Oregon is the better team. Not only have the Ducks been destroying opponents over their last eight games by an average margin of victory of over 26 points, but also they’ve been doing it against some of the better teams in the country.

Moreover, the Ducks are statistically better than the Seminoles nearly across the board. Oregon leads the Seminoles in points per game, passing yards, rushing yards, total yards, yards per play, sacks, strength of schedule, turnover margin and a host of other categories.

Perhaps the one that stands out the most is the difference in points scored off turnovers. The Ducks have scored 428 points off of turnovers this year, while the Seminoles have only scored 83.

Not only do the statistics favor Oregon, Vegas and analytics do as well.

According to Odds Shark, the Ducks are currently favored by 9.5 points over the Seminoles. Ed Feng’s analytics website, The Power Rank, predicts that the Ducks will beat the Seminoles by 10.8 points at a neutral site and that Florida State has a 22 percent chance at victory.

Feng’s analytics also reveal that the Ducks should be ranked No. 1, as they are expected to have the largest margin of victory against an average team (27.91) in the nation.

To further this point, ESPN’s Football Power Index (FPI) also ranks the Ducks as the No. 1 team in the country, slightly ahead of Alabama. According to the FPI, Oregon’s 35.1 percent chance to win the national title is the best among the final four teams.

So then why are the Ducks the underdogs in the College Football Playoff?

Well, the reasoning mostly comes from the fact that the other three programs in the CFP—Alabama, Ohio State and Florida State—have been to the pinnacle before and have coaches who’ve won national championships. In fact, those programs have each won a national championship within the past 12 years.

Furthermore, the other three head coaches in the CFP—Jimbo Fisher, Nick Saban and Urban Meyer—have combined to win six of the past eight national titles.

Florida State, Alabama and Ohio State are three of the best football programs in the history of college football and have combined to win a grand total of 25 national championships.

While the Ducks have come a long way over the past decade, in part due to the influence and money of Nike and founder Phil Knight, they’re still on the outside looking in, and they’re doing it with a coach, Mark Helfrich, who is only in his second year at the helm.

We’re talking about an Oregon program that didn’t make it to a Rose Bowl from 1958 until 1994 and didn’t win a Rose Bowl from 1916 until the 2011 season. We’re talking about a team whose all-time winning percentage of 56.9 percent is ranked No. 46 in college football history.

Until 2007, Oregon’s overall record was 559-447-46, good for a winning percentage of 55.5. Since 2007, former head coach Chip Kelly’s first season (as offensive coordinator), the Ducks are 88-17, which is a 83.8 winning percentage.

The tide has turned quickly for the Ducks, and the program is now considered one of the finest in the nation. However, they’ve still yet to win a national championship, something that they’re reminded of every time they come close.

Oregon had an opportunity to win a national title in 2010 when it faced Auburn in the BCS National Championship. They lost on a last-second field goal, 22-19. It had a chance in 2012, only to have that opportunity evade them due a late-season loss to Stanford in Eugene.

The Ducks are creeping toward another shot at the title here in 2014 and with two more wins, will finally secure a spot as a true college football powerhouse. However, in order to get there, they’re going to have to take down the powers that be.

Perhaps it’s appropriate that in order for the Ducks to finally win a title that they’re going to have to do it by knocking off members of the college football hierarchy.

They’ll move one step closer to their goal of becoming a national power on Dec. 13 when quarterback Marcus Mariota likely raises the first Heisman Trophy in school history.

However, for now, without a national title under their belts, Oregon is still an outsider.

The Ducks are the underdogs. It’s a role they should cherish.


Statistics courtesy of cfbstats.com unless otherwise stated. All quotes obtained firsthand unless otherwise stated.

Jason Gold is Bleacher Report’s lead Oregon writer. Follow Jason on Twitter @TheSportsGuy33.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Oregon Football: Are Ducks the Real Underdogs Despite the Spread?

Based on statistics alone, the second-ranked Oregon Ducks should be favored over Florida State in the Rose Bowl, and they are...

Read the full article on Bleacher Report...

Nebraska Football: What Huskers Must Do to Prepare for USC Trojans

Practice has begun again for the Nebraska football team. This time, the Huskers are preparing for the Holiday Bowl, where the team will face the USC Trojans on December 27 at 8 p.m. on ESPN.

It's hard to predict how Nebraska's players will respond on the field to former head coach Bo Pelini being dismissed. Under the direction of interim head coach Barney Cotton, the Huskers will have a lot to prove in San Diego. So, what exactly must the Huskers do to prepare for the Trojans?

First and foremost, the Huskers offensive line needs to prepare for USC defensive lineman Leonard Williams. ESPN.com's Kyle Bonagura summed up Williams best:

Despite being possibly the best pro prospect in the country -- ESPN’s Mel Kiper Jr. has him No. 2 on his latest Big Board -- Williams has managed to fly somewhat under the radar. While other players in the Pac-12 put up massive sack numbers, the shared opinion among coaches and scouts is that Williams is the best defensive lineman.

Nebraska is going to need to run the ball in order to win. That means both I-back Ameer Abdullah and quarterback Tommy Armstrong will need a strong performance from the offensive line to make that happen.

After all, in 12 games only three opponents rushed for more than four yards per carry against USC, per Michael Castillo of FanSided. Williams will be out to limit Abdullah especially, so this is an immediate area that the Huskers should focus on in the next couple of weeks.

As for Armstrong specifically, he has the next couple of weeks to continue improving. There are no guarantees that he will be the starting quarterback next season, so a strong performance in the bowl game would be beneficial.

He primarily needs to work on having confidence and becoming more sound in his passing abilities, especially if USC forces him to win with his arm.

On the defensive side of the ball, the Nebraska secondary will have to prepare for USC's offensive game plan. Per NBC Nebraska, the Trojans are averaging nearly 300 passing yards per game. That means players like sophomore defensive back Nate Gerry will have to be able to make the necessary plays.

Gerry, for instance, has five interceptions on the season. To beat USC, the secondary will have to support Gerry and make those big plays. Failure to do so could result in a big night for USC quarterback Cody Kessler and his wide receiver Nelson Agholor.

Nebraska also must quickly adjust to the new leadership. The benefit is that the Huskers are familiar with and used to Cotton. That will help make things a littler easier.

However, it's unclear what fans can expect from Nebraska just yet. ESPN.com's Garry Paskwietz compared the Huskers' current situation to the one USC was in just one year ago:

From the outside looking in, it's hard to know if the response to the firing of Bo Pelini at Nebraska was as emotional as it was for the USC players when Ed Orgeron was let go, but it sure sounds like both teams took the news in similar fashion.

In USC's case in 2013, the Trojans easily handled Fresno State 45-20, proving the team could overcome all that had happened.

The Huskers must do the same. Failing to move beyond all that has happened could guarantee a loss for Nebraska.

The Holiday Bowl isn't going to be an easy victory for the Huskers. However, there are things Nebraska can do to get prepared. That preparation starts now.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

College Football Playoff: Are 8 Teams Really the Answer?

During this first playoff season in college football history, many people (including me) have maintained and complained that the four-team format must be doubled to eight.

But now that the dust has settled (except at Baylor and TCU) does an eight-team playoff still have the same allure?

When one looks at the final College Football Playoff rankings it’s easy to say yes.

First, having eight teams would have averted all the Baylor and TCU arguments. They both would have been in at Nos. 5 and 6, and the Big 12 would have been spared its embarrassing decision to not name a conference champion.

Also, No. 7 Mississippi State and No. 8 Michigan State are 10-2 teams from Power Five conferences, and everyone below them was clearly distanced by having a third defeat or being from a lightly regarded league.

But wait a sec.

What was the key to Mississippi State and Michigan State ending the regular season with only two losses? The fact that neither won its division and didn’t have to suit up during championship week. Yes, sitting on the sidelines is what would have allowed both back into an eight-team playoff.

Don’t get me wrong. Both of those MSU schools fielded excellent squads. Michigan State led Oregon late in the third quarter in their September meeting, and Mississippi State’s early play merited the No. 1 ranking it held for four weeks.

But Arizona, Georgia Tech, Missouri and Wisconsin also were 10-2 teams whose division titles sent them to conference championship games. There, they lost to the final four playoff teams and were punished in the final rankings, while other schools benefited from having a figurative bye.

Maybe Michigan State wouldn’t have been beaten 59-0 by Ohio State in the Big Ten Championship Game the way Wisconsin was. And maybe Mississippi State could have made it close against Alabama again.

But the college football championship shouldn’t be about mulligans and second chances.

It also shouldn't be about diminishing big regular-season confrontations. That's what would have happened if Alabama had been beaten by Auburn in the Iron Bowl. The Crimson Tide still would have had a top-eight spot, rendering the outcome of one of the nation's biggest rivalry games meaningless.

We probably also need to think twice before we ask college teams to adopt an NFL-like postseason. And as for the crowd that cries for fairness, this is the one and only time I'll quote Stephen A. Smith: "Fair is a place where they judge pigs."

So, what would an eight-team playoff have looked like back in 2013?

Pretty hazy, quite frankly.

Based on that season’s BCS rankings, Missouri would have been last in, grabbing the eighth spot with an 11-2 record. Four teams with 10-2 marks would have been left out: South Carolina, Oregon, Oklahoma and Clemson.

2012 would have had a similar problem, with No. 8 LSU getting in at 11-2. But there would have been several other schools from Power Five conferences that also had only two defeats.

Perhaps the most eye-catching eight-team playoff would have come in 2011 when Boise State would have squeaked in at No. 7 with an 11-1 record. But again, several twice-beaten Power Five teams like Wisconsin, South Carolina and Michigan no doubt would have protested heatedly.

Having eight teams would solve some arguments but also would just create new ones elsewhere.

The other problem is logistics. Finding four neutral sites for first-round games wouldn’t be hard, but how often can you ask college fans to pack up and travel?

Only 45,618 fans from Oregon and Arizona showed up at 68,500-capacity Levi’s Stadium for the Pac-12’s conference championship on a neutral field in Santa Clara, California. 

And it wouldn’t be surprising if many fans skipped first-round playoff games and saved their cash for the possibility of spending it on a title-game ticket.

The No. 2 Oregon-No. 7 Mississippi State game would have matched schools that are about 2,500 miles apart. Having the top-seeded teams host first-round games could solve that issue, but there likely would be resistance to giving away that big advantage in the postseason.

There's also the question of how to schedule an additional week of playoff games.

If they're put on the back end, further lengthening the season, the college game will finish in late January, and the current setup already means seasons are ending later than ever. And if they're put earlier, toward the end of December, the playoff games will be messing with Christmas, another factor that could ruin the attendance and, with it, the game-day atmosphere.

So instead of adding a third round of playoffs, maybe we need to realize there already is a third round, the conference championship week. That proved to be a knockout round for the losing schools, didn't it?


Tom Weir covered college football as a columnist for USA Today.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

UCLA Football: 5 Bold Predictions for Bruins' Bowl Game

The UCLA football team will play in the Valero Alamo Bowl on Jan. 2 against the Kansas State Wildcats. 

Led by famed coach Bill Snyder, the Wildcats are a tough, fundamentally sound and hard-nosed football team. Playing a quality team from the Big 12 Conference provides head coach Jim Mora and his squad with a huge opportunity. 

This piece will make five bold predictions in relation to the contest. Four of the five proclamations will directly deal with the game itself, while a fifth deals within the realm of recruiting. 

Surely, UCLA will look to begin its 2015 season on a positive note. 


*UCLA vs. Kansas State will begin at 3:45 p.m. ET on Jan. 2. The game can be seen on ESPN. 


Begin Slideshow

UCLA Football: 5 Bold Predictions for Bruins' Bowl Game

The UCLA football team will play in the Valero Alamo Bowl on Jan. 2 against the Kansas State Wildcats. Led by famed coach Bill Snyder, the Wildcats are a tough, fundamentally sound and hard-nosed football team...

Begin Slideshow

Is 4-Star RB Mike Weber's Flip to Ohio State Rock Bottom for Michigan Recruiting

It’s been a rough go for the University of Michigan on the recruiting trail in recent weeks, but the recent flip of former running back pledge Michael Weber to Ohio State may be a new low for fans of the Maize and Blue.

Weber—who committed to the Wolverines back in August before dropping his pledge in November due to the impending doom of the Brady Hoke era—will now head south to play for the Wolverines’ most hated rival.

“The main part is I like winning and didn’t think Michigan could get the job done,” Weber told Dan Kilbridge of SpartanTailgate following his decommitment.

While Weber’s statement is telling, his recruitment is simply the latest—and hopefully final—casualty of Hoke’s tenure in Ann Arbor.

He’s the latest high-profile defection from the Wolverines' 2015 class—which has seemingly lost enough commitments from top-flight recruits to field an all-star team.

To make matters worse, Michigan has yet to name a new head coach since Brady Hoke was fired earlier this month. Plus, the Wolverines' class has only six commitments remaining less than two months away from national signing day. 

In Weber’s case, losing a top-caliber in-state prospect to a bitter rival definitely stings.

However, once a new coach is hired the healing process will begin for one of college football’s most storied programs.

The key for the Wolverines is to bring in the right coach and preferably one who can energize the fanbase and help to build a buzz on the recruiting trail.

According to Clint Brewster of Wolverine247 (subscription required), the early list of candidates includes coaches with ties to the program and those who have had success at various levels.

For a glimpse into what new blood can do for a program, all Wolverines fans have to do is take the example of Florida, who is another powerhouse going through a similar transition in changing coaches.

The Gators have rallied around new head coach Jim McElwain, and he’s been able to create enough positive vibes in his first few days on the job to give Gators fans hope that their recruiting class can finish on a strong note.

Even Hoke—who went 11-2 in his first year after succeeding Rich Rodriguez—was able to change the fortunes of the program upon arriving at Michigan in 2011.

Given the history and tradition of the Wolverines program and the fact that Michigan was able to pull so many talented prospects before this season’s collapse, there’s reason to believe that things can turn around fairly quickly.


Sanjay Kirpalani is a National Recruiting Analyst for Bleacher Report. Unless otherwise noted, all recruiting information courtesy of 247Sports. 

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Is Michigan or Wisconsin the More Attractive Big Ten Head Coaching Job?

Just when you think you've seen it all this coaching silly season, something else comes along. And we're not even one week removed from the end of the regular season.

In a stunning move, Oregon State announced on Wednesday afternoon that Wisconsin head coach Gary Andersen had left Madison to take over the same job with the Beavers. The move comes less than a week after former Oregon State coach Mike Riley, in his own surprising move, left to take the same job at Nebraska. 

A statement from Wisconsin athletic director Barry Alvarez reads as follows: 

I began working to find a new head coach as soon as I spoke with Gary this morning. My first concern is taking care of the players on our current team, especially the senior class, and ensuring that their bowl experience is a memorable one. I will find a head coach to uphold the great tradition at Wisconsin, someone who is committed to excellence both on an off the field.

In a press conference, Alvarez said "I had no idea this was in the works." (H/t Bruce Feldman, Fox Sports.) 

Barring another dramatic and unexpected turn of events, Wisconsin and Michigan are the only two Big Ten programs in need of a coach. As Scott Roussel of Footballscoop.com tweets, expect Wisconsin to fill its vacancy first: 

According to Angelique Chengelis of The Detroit NewsMichigan interim athletic director Jim Hackett is using a search firm to assist in finding a new coach to succeed former coach Brady Hoke

Does that mean Wisconsin is the better job? Not necessarily. It's no secret that the gap between a traditional blue-blood program like Michigan and everyone else has closed. Furthermore, Michigan is recovering from the administrative blunders made by former athletic director Dave Brandon. 

There's a lot of change that's coming to Ann Arbor that doesn't solely revolve around the head coaching position. It wouldn't be a surprise if coaches aren't interested in taking a job when they don't even know who their new boss will be. 

Conversely, anyone who takes the Wisconsin job knows what he's getting in to—and that might be the issue. 

It's not that Wisconsin isn't a good a job. It is, and it's a place where a coach can win nine or 10 games a season like Andersen did and be in good standing. However, as Dan Wolken of USA Today notes, two coaches—Bret Bielema and now Andersen—have left Madison in the past two years. And not for the Alabamas or USCs of the world either. 

Bielema left for Arkansas at least in part because he didn't feel his assistant coaches were properly compensated. That's an argument Alvarez disputed in an interview with Wolken in 2013: 

I think there's a misperception there. Any time somebody interviewed, Bret thought if you just throw a pile of money at them, they stay. I can't do that. We have to work on a budget. You don't just keep throwing money, because then everybody has leverage on you. All you have to do is say somebody's interested and you double their salary. You can't operate that way.

Why Andersen left for Oregon State hasn't been said on the record yet, and that might never happen. Here's what we do know: Alvarez is a legend at Wisconsin, transforming a downtrodden program into a consistent winner as a former head coach from 1990-2005. As Steve Greenberg of the Chicago Sun-Times notes, Alvarez is a hands-on guy: 

Wisconsin is also a difficult place to recruit. Madison is a gorgeous town and a fine selling point, but the Badgers don't pull in top-25 recruiting classes regularly—or even sometimes

Even as Hoke slowly drove Michigan football to lowly depths, the man could recruit blue-chip kids to Michigan. With the exception of his first signing class in 2011, Michigan has had a top-25 recruiting class in each of the years Hoke has been the head coach, per 247Sports.com composite rankings. In 2012 and '13, Michigan finished with top-10 recruiting classes. 

Only this year, in the midst of the conjecture surrounding Hoke's ultimate termination, have the Wolverines suffered on the recruiting trail. 

Michigan made a bad hire with Hoke and probably wishes it hadn't let go of Rich Rodriguez, now at Arizona, so soon. There shouldn't be any argument that the last few years have been a low point for Michigan football. But the school still has a passionate fanbase, a national brand and tremendous resources to win. 

The gap may have closed, and Michigan may not have its man yet, but that doesn't mean it has fallen off of the college football map. 


Ben Kercheval is a lead writer for college football. 

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Wisconsin's Best Move Is to Hire Bo Pelini as Badgers New Head Coach

It might seem crazy, but Bo Pelini would look pretty good in Wisconsin red and white. He's already got plenty of that color pallet in his closet, not to mention the kind of coaching traits the Badgers should be looking for in their next coach.

The college football coaching carousel reached peak "silly season" with Wednesday's news that Wisconsin coach Gary Andersen had accepted the job at Oregon State.

Andersen's departure comes six days after Oregon State had a sudden opening, with Mike Riley leaving after 14 seasons to take the Nebraska job. That gig was open because the Cornhuskers decided Pelini, who had won at least nine games in each of his seven seasons, wasn't the answer.

One team's trash could be another team's treasure, especially with Wisconsin finding itself in need of a coach for the second time in three years.

While the scenario itself may never come to fruition, it's hard to imagine Wisconsin could find a better coach than Pelini, who went 67-27 at Nebraska and helped make the program's transition from the Big 12 to the Big Ten a seamless one. That move took the Cornhuskers farther from the Texas recruiting landscape they had cultivated for decades to one that relied more on finding diamonds in the rough and developing stars rather than landing them.

Two examples: senior running back Ameer Abdullah was a 3-star prospect from Alabama that picked Nebraska because Pelini wanted him as a running back while most other schools had him pegged as a cornerback, and junior defensive end Randy Gregory ended up with the Cornhuskers after washing out at Purdue and then spending time in junior college.

Wisconsin has ranked at a similar level as Nebraska on the recruiting trail, listed by 247Sports as having the No. 33 class in 2014 compared to Nebraska's No. 36 class, so Pelini would be a guy able to work with the same kind of talent.

Pelini also always had a standout rusher at Nebraska, with Abdullah the latest following the likes of Rex Burkhead and Roy Helu. Wisconsin is also a running back factory, so Pelini's offensive style would fit in Madison.

More than anything, what makes Pelini a great fit with Wisconsin comes in the reputation category. After seeing Andersen jump ship just two years after Bret Bielema abruptly left, it might be better off bringing in someone looking for redemption rather than a resume boost.

Andersen was at Wisconsin for less than two seasons, going 19-7 and showing little drop-off from the success that Bielema had from 2006-2012. Bielema shockingly left in December 2012 to take the job at Arkansas, and athletic director Barry Alvarez tabbed Utah State's Andersen as the successor.

Bielema was the heir apparent to Alvarez, chosen by him after Alvarez retired from coaching in 2005.

Pelini reportedly was offered the job at FCS Youngstown State, but Thayer Evans of Sports Illustrated tweeted late Tuesday that Pelini had denied such rumors.

Wisconsin crushed Nebraska 59-24 on Nov. 15, a game in which Wisconsin's Melvin Gordon ran for a then-FBS-record 408 yards. Pelini was fired two weeks later, despite a 9-3 record, while Andersen's Badgers won the Big Ten's West Division but then were dominated 59-0 by Ohio State in the conference title game on Saturday.

Alvarez has yet to name an interim coach to run the team for its game Jan. 1 against Auburn in the Outback Bowl, though Wednesday he did say "My goal is to have somebody in place before the bowl game," according to Bruce Feldman of Fox Sports.

Alvarez coached the Badgers in the 2013 Rose Bowl after Bielema left, losing 20-14 to Stanford.

Pelini would also bring some much-appreciated defensive grit. The Badgers ranked fourth in the country in yards allowed this season, even after getting run over by Ohio State, and Pelini's background has been on that side of the ball.

Nebraska struggled at times on defense this year, but from 2009-2013 his teams ranked in the top 40 in yards allowed every season.

Prior to running Nebraska, he spent five seasons as a defensive coordinator, including three years as Les Miles' DC at LSU from 2005-07.

That experience could bode well for the Badgers, who open the 2015 season in Arlington, Texas, against Alabama.


Follow Brian J. Pedersen on Twitter at @realBJP.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

How Lane Kiffin Became the Most Influential Assistant Coach in College Football

TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — If Nick Saban was trying to hire someone who was the complete opposite of himself, he wildly succeeded.

When Alabama’s search for an offensive coordinator started, Saban went right for the guy who had been left fired at a bus stop, a coach known for his brash interviews and bold statements that stirred up plenty of controversy. But he also went for the guy he had brought in as a consultant during bowl practice and had interacted with several times during his coaching career, a guy whose coaching acumen he greatly respected.

And in doing so, he wildly succeeded in bringing in the perfect guy to make his offense one suitable for the modern reality of college football.

The Lane Kiffin experiment has been a smashing success in Tuscaloosa. Not only has Kiffin engineered a record-setting offense—its 6,376 yards is the highest total in program history with at least one more game left to play—he’s done it while altering the style of play so that it is almost unrecognizable from what Alabama had done in the past.

And in turn, he became the most influential assistant coach in college football, working for a coach who is traditionally hard-and-fast set in his ways.

While Kiffin has changed almost everything about how the Alabama offense looks on the outside, the philosophy in terms of run/pass still remains relatively the same.

Consider these numbers from this season with 2013, Doug Nussmeier’s last year in Tuscaloosa and a season in which Alabama had passed more than any other year in the Saban era with quarterback AJ McCarron a redshirt senior and Eddie Lacy gone to the NFL.

The run-pass ratio has hardly changed. In fact, Kiffin and Alabama are running it at a slightly higher rate than last year.

So what’s been the difference? What’s made Kiffin’s offense so different and effective?

A good starting point has been the tempo.

The Crimson Tide haven’t gone all out and looked like Auburn or Oregon on offense. But a few times during a game, Alabama will hit the gas pedal, keeping a defense on its heels and helping its offense get in a rhythm.

You can see the difference in plays run increased dramatically over a 13-game season.

“It basically started out this season because of the personnel that we have,” Saban said before the SEC Championship Game. “The quarterback functioned better that way. He's functioned better that way all year. Because of that, our whole personality on offense has gotten to where we function better as a group when we play with some tempo and some pace. That doesn't mean that we're always going to do that, but it certainly has been something that has been beneficial to us.

“Our fastball plays that we do run have been effective. I think it's been a benefit to us and something that we'll continue to do.”

That’s a far cry from this offseason, when he was touting player safety and limiting exposure for players with fewer offensive plays.

Schematically, though, Kiffin has made subtle changes that changed the look of Alabama’s offense, no matter how fast it was running.

For one, he’s been maximizing his personnel. Wide receivers are doing more than traditional “wide receivers” and on down the line to the running backs, tight ends and even occasionally offensive linemen.

The best and most cited example of this came in the fourth game of the season against Florida, when Kiffin split speedster Kenyan Drake out wide and he caught an 87-yard touchdown to open the game.

When Drake got hurt against Ole Miss, Kiffin lost one of his favorite toys. Bleacher Report’s Ray Glier wrote that Kiffin had similar plays lined up for Drake the rest of the season.

Here's Kiffin talking about working in Drake during an interview with 103.7 The Buzz in Arkansas before the Broyles Award ceremony:

The amazing thing is, the most unique of all of them, Kenyan Drake, was injured in that Ole Miss game and was out for the year. He was kind of the Reggie Bush factor - the first play of the Florida game we threw to him as a wide receiver and stuff. The other guys are phenomenal running backs but really don't do the other stuff that Kenyan did, so it will be exciting to get him back next year. And I always, I shouldn't do it, but I think sometimes, imagine if we still had him. Just because he’s such a mismatch issue.

There are countless other examples of players getting used in nontraditional roles like that this year.

Fullback Jalston Fowler has been split out wide, too, to provide blocking on screen passes or go on passing routes himself.

Heisman Trophy finalist Amari Cooper has been used in just about every way possible, including coming out of the backfield, on reverses, screens, swings, anything to get Alabama’s best weapon the ball.

In overtime against LSU, he split left tackle Cam Robinson out wide and sent converted tackle/tight end Brandon Greene on a seam route that got Alabama to the 1-yard line. SB Nation’s Rodger Sherman had a great piece breaking down the depth of that play and all of the deception that went into it.

It’s all made for a fascinating conversion, watching a fairly predictable offense loaded with skill talent be transformed into a juggernaut that is one of the most effective in the country.

His influence has been very apparent and the most of any assistant coach in the country.


Marc Torrence is the Alabama lead writer for Bleacher Report. All quotes were obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted.

Follow on Twitter @marctorrence.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com