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Kevin Dodd Declares for 2016 NFL Draft: Latest Comments and Reaction

Following a dominant performance in the Clemson Tigers' College Football Playoff National Championship Game loss to the Alabama Crimson Tide, defensive end Kevin Dodd officially declared for the 2016 NFL draft Wednesday.

According to David Hood of TigerNet.com, Dodd released a statement explaining his decision to forgo his senior season through Element Sports Group:

After speaking with my family, I have decided to apply for early entry into the 2016 NFL draft. Leaving Clemson is an extremely tough decision, but I truly feel like I am physically and mentally ready for the next challenge. We had an amazing season. I am so proud of what we accomplished, and I am so thankful for the opportunity to play football here at Clemson. Thank you to my coaches, especially Coach (Dabo) Swinney, Coach (Brent) Venables and Coach (Marion) Hobby for all they have done for me. Thank you to my teammates and all of the academic and athletic staff here at Clemson as well. I will be staying in Clemson this spring in order to complete my degree and graduate this coming May. Clemson football has given me opportunities I never thought were possible. I am so proud to be a Tiger and will always be a Tiger! Clemson is truly a special place—thank you for everything.

Dodd finished the 2015 campaign with 62 tackles and 12 sacks, and he figures to be among the most highly sought-after pass-rushers in his class.

The Taylors, South Carolina, native dominated Alabama to the tune of three sacks on Jake Coker. While it wasn't enough to lift the Tigers to a national title, it undoubtedly improved his draft status.

Per Bleacher Report's Matt Miller, Dodd is a strong candidate to be selected within the first two rounds in April:

Dodd is somewhat of a late bloomer, as he didn't have a single sack in his collegiate career until 2015, but he broke out in a big way with 23.5 tackles for loss in addition to the 12 times he got to the quarterback.

While Dodd isn't quite at the same level as edge-rushers like Ohio State's Joey Bosa and Georgia's Leonard Floyd due to the fact that his resume is a fairly short one, his ability to perform on the big stage is something that should appeal to many NFL talent evaluators.

 

Follow @MikeChiari on Twitter.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Michigan Football: 5 Commits with Most Immediate-Impact Potential

Michigan football's highly rated recruiting class is full of untapped potential, but only a handful of currently committed players are ready to make an instant impact in 2016.

Now, expectations should be tempered. It's rare for a true freshman to perform well enough to immediately earn a rotational spot, let alone a starting role.

Enrolling early does help, however, and the Wolverines have welcomed seven new faces to campus during the spring semester. Not every player mentioned here is already in Ann Arbor, but most are.

The key factors used while creating the list were a given prospect's skill set, projected ability to adapt to the college game and roster need.

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Early Predictions for Biggest 2016 College QB Battles

As one college football season ends, we square our attention on another.

And where else to start but at quarterback?

Quarterbacks are football's leading men and make a disproportionate difference in an otherwise team-driven sport. Therefore, offseason quarterback battles are like casting decisions made public. It's an intrigue on par with almost any actual game.

Last year, I nailed most predictions, but also had big swings and misses. A lot of that concerned future transfer news, as Everett Golson joining Florida State (and leaving Notre Dame), Vernon Adams Jr. joining Oregon and Greyson Lambert joining Georgia changed the spectrum of those battles after my article was published.

This year, with pieces such as Texas Tech transfer Davis Webb and Pittsburgh transfer Chad Voytik on the board, I expect something similar to happen. Only this time, as it does, I will come back in and update my predictions to reflect the new battles.

Until then, this is based on the best information we have available at the time, plus my personal belief about certain quarterbacks.

Sound off and let me know where you disagree!

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Way-Too-Early 2016 SEC Football Power Rankings

Alabama is fresh off the airplane after toppling Clemson 45-40 in the College Football Playoff National Championship on Monday night, but it's never too early to start breaking down the 2016 season.

Will the Crimson Tide win their third straight SEC title? Who else will compete for the playoff? Which teams will regress?

Our way-too-early 2016 power rankings based on talent, returning starters and trajectory are in this slideshow. 

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Ohio State Football: Looking Ahead to the Buckeyes' Brutal 2016 Schedule

It feels like an annual tradition for fans of other teams to criticize the perceived weakness of Ohio State's schedule, but with the brutal slate that lies ahead of the Buckeyes in 2016, that custom should come to an unceremonious end. 

Urban Meyer's squad is already facing the mountainous task of replacing a load of NFL talent—an undertaking that will require finding eight new starters on each side of the ball. Many of those holes will be filled by underclassmen, so Ohio State will take on one of the most challenging schedules with one of the most inexperienced teams in the country.

Will Meyer be able to get his young Buckeyes ready for this gauntlet? 

 

The Nonconference Slate

Even the gimme games aren't really gimmes. 

The Buckeyes will open the season against Bowling Green, the reigning MAC champion and a team that knocked off two Big Ten squads in 2015—Maryland and Purdue. The Falcons will have to replace quarterback Matt Johnson, who piled up an incredible 5,105 yards of offense and 50 touchdowns as a senior.

A week later, Ohio State will host an explosive Tulsa team that ranked 13th nationally in total offense (averaging 507.4 yards per game in 2015) and 21st in scoring offense (37.2).

But those games will serve as a warmup to one of the most highly anticipated nonconference games of the year when Ohio State heads south for a showdown with Oklahoma. 

The Sooners—who were knocked out of the College Football Playoff by Clemson on New Year's Eve—are projected by Ryan McCrystal of Bleacher Report as the No. 2 team, and they are expected to make another playoff run in 2016. They return seven starters on both sides of the ball, highlighted by quarterback Baker Mayfield, who exploded for 3,700 yards and 36 touchdowns (against just seven interceptions) to complement 405 yards and seven scores on the ground last season.

Facing that veteran squad on the road in what will most likely be a prime-time game will be a stiff challenge for a green Ohio State team.

 

B1G Play

2016 is the year the Big Ten shifts to a nine-game conference slate, so Ohio State won't be able to squeeze in a tuneup game before league play.

Fortunately for Meyer, Ohio State will have a bye week following the big showdown with Oklahoma, then the Buckeyes open conference play against a rebuilding Rutgers team and an Indiana squad that's losing a ton of offensive firepower—namely quarterback Nate Sudfeld and running back Jordan Howard.

But things take a decidedly hard turn after the Indiana game, when Ohio State makes back-to-back road trips to two of college football's most hostile environments—at Wisconsin and Penn State. The Badgers surged under new head coach Paul Chryst, winning 10 games in 2015, and they'll be geared up to host Ohio State for the first time since 2012.

The Northwestern Wildcats aren't the walkover they used to be, and Ohio State will have to deal with them before kicking off November with a home bout against Nebraska. A week later, the Buckeyes will hit the road to take on Maryland before the most difficult stretch of the schedule.

Like in 2015, Ohio State will close out next season with back-to-back games against Michigan State and Michigan. Of course, with the alternate venues, it'll be the Buckeyes traveling to East Lansing to face the Spartans before coming home to host the Wolverines. 

Both Michigan State and Michigan will be breaking in new quarterbacks in 2016 but by the time November rolls around, both should be fully entrenched in their respective offenses. The Buckeyes will be looking to avenge the lone loss of their 2015 campaign, while the Wolverines will be gunning for revenge after the humiliating 42-13 blowout loss they suffered at the hands of Ohio State last November.

With these two games at the tail end of the schedule, it's likely that the East Division will come down to the wire—again—in 2016.

 

David Regimbal is the Ohio State football lead writer for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter @davidreg412.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

5 Dark-Horse Playoff Contenders for 2016 College Football Season

The 2015 college football season roared to a close Monday night with Alabama’s thrilling 45-40 national championship victory over Clemson. But if we’ve learned one thing about college football, it's this: The game never stops.

Recruiting bleeds into spring practice, which leads to summer workouts, which leads to preseason practice, and before you know it, the 2016 season will be here. So it’s never too early to start speculating about which teams will make a charge toward the brass ring next fall. Fox Sports' Stewart Mandel already offered his extremely early preseason Top 25. 

This season, we saw unexpected teams like Iowa fall just short of the College Football Playoff, with newcomers Clemson and Michigan State breaking through and Oklahoma rebounding from a down 2014 season to make the top four.

Which teams will surprise us all in 2016? Here’s a quick look at five teams that could be dark-horse playoff contenders. They’re teams that figure to begin the season outside the top 10 and the playoff picture but could make a case thanks to strong experience and favorable scheduling.

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National Signing Day 2016: News and Predictions for Top Available Recruits

With the college football season over following Alabama's triumph over Clemson, the college football world turns its attention to the recruiting battle. Winning a national title starts with finding and molding the best possible young talent. 

Alabama under coach Nick Saban is a prime example. The Crimson Tide have consistently brought in top-flight classes of recruits. The work done assembling all this talent clearly pays off, per Scout.com's John Garcia Jr.:

Many of the nation's top recruits have already made commitments well in advance of national signing day on February 3. However, quite a few guys from 247Sports' top 50 have yet to make a decision.

Here's a rundown of the latest news surrounding some of the best uncommitted players, with predictions on where they might sign in a few weeks' time.


Rashan Gary, Paramus Catholic (Paramus, N.J.), DT

Rashan Gary is the most coveted prep star in the nation. In fact, according to 247Sports' composite ratings, he's the consensus top prospect. Naturally, some of the top programs are in pursuit of him, but only one will win out. 

Michigan is leading the way, with 64 percent of analysts predicting he will sign with the Wolverines, per 247Sports. Scout.com's Yancy Porter reported Sunday that Gary isn't making any unofficial trips in January:

However, ESPN.com's Tom VanHarren reported later that day he is indeed making an unofficial stop in Ann Arbor:

Gary isn't planning on revealing his decision until signing day, so it's possible a program other than Michigan could sway him in the meantime. Predictions that Gary will sign with Ole Miss have rolled in at 247Sports this month.

It appears USC will have a chance at a late pitch, but it's tough to see any program prying him from coach Jim Harbaugh. Gary's lethal blend of power and agility would make him a dream fit in Harbaugh's aggressive defensive schemes.

Considering Harbaugh showed in 2015 how quickly he can transform a program, especially its defense, there probably isn't a more exciting program beckoning this elite prospect.

Prediction: Michigan


Lyndell "Mack" Wilson, Carver (Montgomery, Ala.), OLB

It seems inevitable that Lyndell Wilson is going to break an SEC program's collective heart. According to Amos Morale III of NOLA.com, Wilson is down to three choices: Alabama, Florida and Georgia. 

Since he's from Alabama, the Crimson Tide would appear to be the obvious, even inevitable, choice. Saban is clearly determined to keep Wilson from venturing out of state for his collegiate career, as Wilson tweeted that the esteemed coach gave him a call Tuesday, fresh off winning the national title: 

It's hard to beat Saban's persistence, though Florida would appear to have a good shot. According to GatorCounty.com's Kassidy Hill, a couple of Alabama recruits who are heading to Florida have been trying to convince Mack to join them in Gainesville: 

Lyndell, as his Christian name reads, is the No. 1 outside linebacker in the country and a native of Montgomery, Alabama.

In his own backyard is safety Jeawon Taylor and not far across the state is running back Lamical Perine, both of whom are committed to Florida already.

"Lamical Perine and Jeawon Taylor they tell me like ‘we need you’,” says Wilson.

Published on January 2, this little exchange between Hill and Wilson might worry some Bama fans, per Hill: 

When it comes down to it, that’s what matters most for Mack Wilson. Can he create a home and his own name with the Florida Gators? Can he become a part of a Bama takeover in Gainesville? Perine and Taylor say yes; and Wilson is starting to agree because two words said more than an entire visit or stage of recruitment could.

“If signing day was today, would you be a Florida Gator?”

His reply—“Yes mam.”

The pull from Florida is strong, but 71 percent of analysts in 247Sports' Crystal Ball believe he's headed to Alabama. Saban's program is the superior one at this point, as evidenced by the national title and Bama's big win over Florida in the SEC title game. Plus, Saban is clearly paying attention to the kid. The lure of all those championships is likely strong enough to keep Wilson in state.

Prediction: Alabama



Brandon Jones, Nacogdoches (Nacogdoches, Texas), S

It wouldn't be a recruiting article without a prep from the Lone Star State. Brandon Jones is the No. 1 safety and No. 15 overall player in the 2016 class. On 247Sports, 76 percent of experts predict Jones will go to Texas A&M, with the other 24 percent projecting Texas. 

According to ESPN's Gerry Hamilton on December 28, two other schools are still in the mix: Baylor and Oregon. The Ducks are probably the long shot here as they try to pry away Jones from three of the biggest programs in his home state. Jones still has official visits on the docket with Texas (January 11) and even Auburn (January 29). He is reportedly still looking to visit with Baylor, per 247Sports' Colt Barber: 

It's possible Baylor is in position to score a major coup here and sign Jones. Texas has played losing football in each of the past two seasons and has reached nine wins just once since 2010. The Aggies have undergone some upheaval as of late, most notably watching quarterbacks Kyler Murray and Kyle Allen transfer to Oklahoma and Houston, respectively.

The Bears can pitch Jones on a track record of recent success and potentially add him to what's shaping up to be an excellent recruiting class.

Prediction: Baylor



Mecole Hardman Jr., Elberton County (Elberton, Ga.), ATH

No matter what position he ends up playing, Mecole Hardman Jr. is going to make an impact at the next level. Hardman is the No. 1 athlete in the nation and No. 21 overall, with 68 percent of 247Sports experts predicting him to stick close to home sign with Georgia.

However, Hardman recently named Alabama as his top choice, per Raul Dominguez of USA Today. His reasoning was simple.

“They’re already at the top,” Hardman said. “Why not stay at the top with them?”

Alabama fans shouldn't be too quick to celebrate his words, as Hardman tweeted Tuesday that he is set to make something of a surprise trip to another powerhouse program:

Ohio State was at the top of the football world just one year ago, so it could be that Hardman is considering the Buckeyes for the same reasons he likes the Tide. It's also possible that Hardman sees himself as more of a wide receiver, especially after making casual plays like this one while prepping for the Army All-American Bowl, per Rivals.com: 

Ohio State could offer a quicker path to stardom at wide receiver, considering Calvin Ridley is set to command most of the attention in Alabama's passing game and the team is a run-first school year in and year out. Plus, according to Dominguez, Alabama wants Hardman to play defensive back. 

Tennessee is also apparently still in the mix, with Hardman telling SECCountry.com's Dave Hooker : "They've been there since the beginning." Hooker writes that the Volunteers give Hardman the chance to make a mark on either side of the ball.

"Tennessee could offer Hardman the opportunity to do both since receiver and defensive back are positions of need in the Vols’ 2016 signing class," Hooker wrote. "Most have Hardman pegged as a receiver. However, he has the ability to excel as a defensive back."

Alabama is on record as the top choice, but this trip to Ohio State is interesting considering it was mostly SEC schools on Hardman's radar. Ohio State is going to send tons of talent to the NFL in this year's draft, including potential first-rounders in wide receiver Michael Thomas and cornerback Eli Apple. Maybe Hardman wants to follow their path.

Prediction: Ohio State

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

B/R CFB 250: Top 250 Overall Players in College Football

Bleacher Report's CFB 250 is an annual ranking of the best players in college football, regardless of NFL potential. Through interviews with B/R Experts Matt Miller, Michael Felder, Barrett Sallee and Adam Kramer, authors Brian Leigh and Brian Pedersen have studied, ranked and graded the top athletes in the country, narrowed that list to 250 and sorted by position. Today, we present the Top 250 Overall Players.

 

CFB 250 Positions

 

The previous 12 installments broke down the top 250 players by position. This final installment is the big one. 

The capital-T Top 250.

Remember that these players were graded as college prospects, not as NFL prospects. You'll see markedly different rankings on draft boards. Undersized or "system" players might not project well to the pros, but college performance was all that mattered here.

Actually…not all that mattered. They also had to play enough. If they appeared in half of their team's regular-season games, they were eligible for this list. If they missed more than half of the regular season—e.g., Laremy Tunsil—they were omitted from the rankings.

Sound off at the bottom and let us know what you think! 

 

Note: If two players finished with the same grade, the authors made a subjective call on which player they prefer.

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Georgia Football: 5 Reasons the Bulldogs Should Be Optimistic About 2016

The 2015 college football season has officially come to a close, and the Alabama Crimson Tide are the national champions. That's exactly where the Georgia Bulldogs want to be a year from now, so starting this week, head coach Kirby Smart will be hard at work trying to nail down more recruits by national signing day.

The Bulldogs finished the 2015 season with a 10-3 record, but all three losses came in conference play, which led to them missing the SEC title game for the third consecutive year. And of those three losses, two of them came against Alabama and Florida, the two teams that later faced off in the SEC title game.

However, as disappointing as last season was for Georgia fans, 2016 looks very promising, and the Bulldogs have a great chance to make a lot of noise next season.

Here are five reasons why the Bulldogs and their fans should be optimistic about 2016.

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Tennessee Football: Why Hiring Bob Shoop Is a Gamble, but One Worth Taking

Earlier this week, Tennessee athletic director Dave Hart told GoVols247's Wes Rucker that new defensive coordinator Bob Shoop's decision to take care of his buyout with Penn State was a "very, very loud statement" about how much he wanted to be at UT.

On Tuesday came the question.

Apparently, Shoop's new three-year contract at Tennessee—which reportedly will pay him $1.15 million annually—does not include a buyout, which Patrick Brown of the Times Free Press pointed out: 

That footnote should not be taken lightly when projecting Shoop's long-term potential at Tennessee.

While the lack of a buyout doesn't guarantee Shoop is only making a pit stop on his way to being a head coach, it certainly gives him free rein to jump ship whenever another opportunity comes along. 

Considering coach Butch Jones parted ways with longtime defensive coordinator and de-facto security blanket John Jancek, who'd been with him at his three head coaching stops, in favor of a possible one-year wonder is somewhat of a gamble.

After all, Shoop told reporters two weeks ago he hoped Penn State would have him "forever and ever and ever" and then bolted. So, expecting him to be a bastion of loyalty in Knoxville is a bit of a stretch.

It's coaching, not clergy.

But Jones' roll of the dice is one that comes with a high reward and, ultimately, not a whole lot of risk. That little bit of concern Tennessee fans may have should be offset by Shoop's upside.

The Vols have a ton of talent returning on defense in 2016. That stable of stars got a lot more impressive on Tuesday when unit leader and rising senior outside linebacker Jalen Reeves-Maybin announced on Twitter he was returning for his final season on Rocky Top:

The insertion of a mad-scientist coordinator who gets mad results everywhere he goes is a perfect formula for Tennessee's success next year. When he told reporters at his press conference he would field a "championship defense," that didn't ring hollow.

Shoop's defenses ranked no lower than 23rd nationally in each of the past five seasons. The experiences he encountered recruiting while at Vanderbilt will pay big dividends at Tennessee considering he is already familiar with UT's roster.

You always expect a big-splash coordinator will stay at least a couple of years, but even if Shoop winds up a one-and-done coach in 2016, it's an ideal season for Tennessee to employ a defensive guru.

With players such as Reeves-Maybin, defensive end Derek Barnett, tackles Shy Tuttle and Kahlil McKenzie, middle linebacker Darrin Kirkland Jr. and perhaps even undeclared junior cornerback Cameron Sutton returning, the Vols defense could be special. Shoop should enhance that.

Secondly, stealing Shoop from Happy Valley sent shockwaves throughout the college football stratosphere, and that's exactly the kind of noise Tennessee needs to be making.

Tennessee's athletic department operated in the red throughout the past half-decade, thanks to coaching missteps and a botched handling of funds throughout former AD Mike Hamilton's tenure. Hart worked to free UT from the doldrums, and hiring Shoop is a clear sign those days of frugality are over.

If UT wants to be a championship football program, it had to pony up. And it did. 

The kind of money it took to lure Shoop will make Tennessee a destination spot for the majority of defensive coordinators around the country. So, even if Shoop were to leave, hot coaching commodities will be lining up to line their pockets. 

Tennessee's pool of candidates this time around was rumored to include Gene Chizik, Brady Hoke and Todd Orlando. That's fishing in the champion's run of the river, and there's no reason to think the Vols can't continue to do that, even if Shoop's time in Knoxville is short.

To further that point, let's say Shoop gets the opportunity to be Vanderbilt's next head coach, just for example. (He was the DC there under James Franklin and even mentioned in his press conference that his youngest son may attend Father Ryan High School in Nashville, Tennessee).

Would a coordinator getting a head coaching gig not make the position a lot more attractive for prospective replacements?

Opposing schools weren't beating down Jancek's door, even though he'd proven to be a solid coordinator at UT. You always want assistants other teams want because that means they're doing a good enough job to be coveted. 

Top programs replace top coaches every year and get other top coaches. Rinse, repeat. 

Finally, the biggest message this sends to everybody is Tennessee is ready to win right now and will do whatever it takes to get there. That's a strong statement to the college football world, and it's even stronger to a hungry fanbase ready for bigger and better things.

Early in the season, Jones took a few knocks nationally for his conservative play-calling on the field. This off-field move was about as bold as you can get.

Shoop is a superstar, respected all over the country for his prowess calling defenses, attacking opponents and tailoring his scheme to fit his players' strengths. He's the kind of coordinator teams will come after every single season.

In the Southeastern Conference football's arms race, Tennessee just hired a big gun to take its defense to a completely different level. Whether or not he's a mercenary is the only question.

However, it's one where the tradeoff is worth the uncertainty.

 

All quotes and information gathered firsthand unless otherwise noted. All recruiting information gathered from 247Sports, unless otherwise noted. All statistics gathered from CFBStats.com, unless otherwise noted.

Brad Shepard covers SEC football and is the Tennessee lead writer for Bleacher Report. Follow Brad on Twitter @Brad_Shepard.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Alabama Players Withheld NFL Draft Grade Feedback Until After Championship Game

The Alabama Crimson Tide outlasted the Clemson Tigers in Monday’s national championship game, 45-40, and may have been more focused on the outcome of the contest than they were during last year’s College Football Playoff.

Joe Schad of ESPN.com reported Saturday that Alabama tight end O.J. Howard said “the team took a vote to withhold NFL draft grade feedback until after the championship game.”    

That decision came after Crimson Tide head coach Nick Saban made headlines last year after his team lost to Ohio State in the College Football Playoff semifinal matchup. Mark Schlabach of ESPN.com noted in July that “Saban isn’t happy that NFL draft grades were delivered to juniors on Dec. 15. Said players played not to get hurt, ran out of bounds.”     

While it seemed like sour grapes at the time considering the Crimson Tide watched the No. 4 seed Buckeyes win that game and eventually take home the national title, seven Alabama players were taken in the 2015 draft, per NFL.com’s draft tracker. Among them were critical contributors, such as wide receiver Amari Cooper, running back T.J. Yeldon and safety Landon Collins.

It could have theoretically impacted the game if even one of them had one foot out the door with eyes on the NFL.

That overlooks the team on the other sideline, though, as Josh Alper of Pro Football Talk pointed out, “Ohio State had plenty of NFL hopefuls of their own, of course, so there’s a chance that Saban’s just looking for a convenient excuse for why his team lost.” (Five Buckeyes were taken in the draft, a number that figures to be much higher this year after nine underclassmen declared.)   

Saban did offer his program’s take on the draft on Tuesday after his team won the national title this season, per Dan Parr of NFL.com: “We try to emphasize with our players that if you're a first-round draft pick, the business decision is you should go out for the draft. If you're in a position in the draft where you can enhance your value by staying in college, then maybe you shouldn't go out for the draft.”

Mike Florio of Pro Football Talk did not seem pleased with Saban’s explanation and system:

That’s an unrealistic assessment, given the current state of player compensation in the NFL. Before the rookie wage scale was implemented in 2011, a player could make a lot of money by spending another year in college and working his way from a second- or third-round pick into round one. Indeed, a player prior to 2011 could make a lot of money simply from going from the bottom of round one to the top of it.

The current rookie wage scale places less of a premium on playing another year for free in the hopes of making more later. It’s actually better, if the player is destined to become a good-to-great NFL player, to start putting in years now toward the potentially far more lucrative second NFL contract.

Moreover, it’s always better to be a high second-round pick than a low first-round pick, because teams control the rights to first-round picks for five years. Second-round picks are eligible for free agency after four.

[...]

That’s why Saban’s rule of thumb doesn’t work for the players. But it definitely works for Saban, who benefits from the players choosing to continue to work for him at no cost to Alabama. And the ensuing Jedi Mind Trick also works well for Alabama, which can continue to justify paying millions that otherwise would go to the players to the coach who has convinced them to keep working for free.

It worked enough to earn Alabama a national title this year, largely because of the contributions of Howard.

However, Howard probably helped his own status as well with his performance Monday. He earned Offensive Player of the Game honors after he tallied 208 receiving yards and two touchdowns on five catches. His final score that broke a fourth-quarter tie proved to be the game-winner, and his speed in the open field at 6’6” and 242 pounds surely turned heads in the NFL.

Howard’s actual position in the draft—should he choose to leave school—will likely be higher than his draft grade he elected not to look at before the game.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Power Ranking All 128 Teams After the 2015 National Championship

The 2015 college football season is officially over, though there's probably still some confetti left on the field at University of Phoenix Stadium after Alabama's win over Clemson in the national championship game. The Crimson Tide's 45-40 victory marked the end of a five-month saga that was jam-packed with excitement and thrills, the kind that now must serve as fuel to get through the long offseason.

The final Bleacher Report power rankings can also help.

The Bleacher Report power rankings are comprised of an average of five sources: B/R's weekly Top 25, the Associated Press Top 25, the Amway Coaches Poll, ratings guru Jeff Sagarin's computer rankings and the author's personal rankings for every FBS school. The top 50 teams are broken down individually, while the rest of the 128 FBS teams are summarized in a few easy-to-digest chunks.

Check out where everyone ranks after completion of the 2015 season. Then, give us your thoughts in the comments section.

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How Alabama's 2015 Title Team Compares to 2014 Champion Ohio State Buckeyes

The Alabama Crimson Tide joined the most exclusive club in college football when they defeated the Clemson Tigers by a score of 45-40 on Monday night.

The Crimson Tide will stand in history as the second team to ever win a national championship in the College Football Playoff era, joining an Ohio State team that beat them last year en route to its own title. 

On the surface, that's where the similarities seem to begin and end for the two powerhouses.

Nick Saban's Alabama team primarily runs a powerful pro-style offense and wants to choke teams out with its elite defense. Urban Meyer's Ohio State team looks to hurt the opposition with blinding speed on both sides of the ball.

And there's the fact that the two coaches have been rivals for the title of best coach in college football, sharing a history that goes back for most of the last decade.

But the 2015 Crimson Tide and the 2014 Buckeyes have more in common than you may think. Here are five ways in which these two championship-winning blue bloods compare.

 

 

Rebounded from early defeats

Going undefeated and winning the national championship is becoming a rarity these days in college football.

Thankfully for both Alabama and Ohio State, the playoff system makes sure that losses aren't fatal to your title hopes.

However—as this year's Buckeyes squad learned—if you lose, you better lose early. Give yourself time to work out the kinks and impress the committee late in the season.

Ohio State lost on September 6, 2014, tossing three interceptions in a 35-21 loss to Virginia Tech at home. The next weekend, the Buckeyes shut out a Group of Five opponent in Kent State.

Sound familiar? Alabama threw three interceptions of its own (and fumbled twice) in a 43-37 home loss to Ole Miss on September 19. One week later, the Crimson Tide blanked UL-Monroe before starting a tough October slate.

Of course, these comparisons aren't perfect. Ohio State lost to a nonconference team that finished 7-6 on the season, while Alabama lost to a divisional foe that eventually played in a New Year's Six bowl. Alabama needed some help from Ole Miss' later opponents in order to win the division.

More importantly, though, these two September letdowns became turning points in the paths to a national championship. Both Ohio State and Alabama looked sharper after those defeats and rode that motivation to the biggest stage of them all.

"We control our future," Alabama defensive back Eddie Jackson said after the Tide's SEC title win, per Alex Scarborough of ESPN.com. "The way we bounced back after Ole Miss, people didn’t expect that to happen. People didn’t expect us to be here."

Ohio State's players looked to the Virginia Tech defeat the same way in their own playoff push.

"What it has done is make everybody become more aggressive, on offense, on defense, the offense is scoring, the defense is playing better," Ohio State safety Tyvis Powell said in October 2014, per Doug Lesmerises of Cleveland.com. "Basically show the people who are going to pick the [playoff teams] that you deserve to be in that game."

By the end of their respective seasons, there was no doubt Alabama and Ohio State deserved to be in the title game—even after early disappointment.

 

Similar point and yardage differentials 

Alabama and Ohio State both had great playmakers on both sides of the ball during their championship runs, but they were different in how they beat teams.

Ohio State was more of an offensive power than Alabama with Meyer's fast-paced spread system that made him such a high-rising star in the coaching world.

Alabama was stronger on defense than Ohio State, tending to win games in typical Saban-like fashion behind the strength of a star-studded defensive front and opportunistic secondary.

What was similar, though, is the overall dominance these champions had on their schedule outside of their previously mentioned losses and few close victories.

Both Alabama and Ohio State averaged beating their opponents by around three touchdowns.

The Buckeyes' point differential was boosted by a 66-0 rout of Kent State and a 59-0 beatdown of Wisconsin in the Big Ten title game. Alabama's biggest wins came against Charleston Southern (56-6) and Michigan State (38-0).

Yardage differentials were similar, with Ohio State edging Alabama by 0.4 yards per play and almost 19 yards per game.

It's also worth noting that Ohio State's slightly better numbers came against an easier schedule, according to final totals from Jeff Sagarin at USA Today.

But while the styles and competition differed, these two champions were similar in how much they dispatched their opponents by in victories.

 

Led by coaches with outstanding title game experience

Meyer and Saban are the only head coaches who have held the oddly shaped CFP national championship trophy in victory, and they both had plenty of practice doing that with the old crystal football.

As Bleacher Report's lead Big Ten football writer, Ben Axelrod, noted on Twitter before the championship game, seven of the last 10 national championships have been won by either Meyer or Saban:

In the two title games of the College Football Playoff era, championship experience has won out.

Meyer, who won two BCS championships with Florida before his arrival at Ohio State, led the Buckeyes to the title last year against Oregon and relatively new head coach Mark Helfrich.

Saban took special note of the Ohio State coach's experience in title games after the playoff semifinals last year.

"He's been here before," Saban said, per Chris Low of ESPN.com. "His experience in these types of games helps in making sure your players maintain that focus and don't get sidetracked by any of the other stuff going on, and you see that in the way his teams play."

On Monday night, Saban showed his experience against Clemson's Dabo Swinney and pulled out a few surprises.

When the game veered away from the typical Alabama affair of grind-it-out football, Saban's team made key adjustments on the fly. Alabama looked like your standard no-huddle offense at times. Saban even called an onside kick that changed the game.

"No matter how you slice it, the call was out of Saban's comfort zone in every way imaginable," Bleacher Report's Adam Kramer wrote. "From the personnel to the call itself, this was not part of the process. This was gunslingin' at its finest."

Even though their players had never been in national championship games before, they could lean on the experience of their head coaches. Meyer and Saban know what it takes to be the one standing on the stage as confetti rains down.

 

Built by recruiting dominance

For a sport that embraces upsets and underdogs, college football is ultimately won by those who have the best talent.

As Bud Elliott of SB Nation explains, every national championship since 2002 has been won by a team that signs more blue-chip (5- and 4-star) recruits than lower-rated ones—and Alabama and Ohio State are the best at doing just that:

There are few surprises. Nick Saban's Alabama has signed the No. 1 class for five consecutive seasons. Alabama inks better players than anyone else. Its 78 blue chip signees in the last four classes is 11 more than any other school. ...

Ohio State has signed the second most elite players (67) over the last four years, and it has hit home runs at QB. And it's only getting better, as Ohio State is one of the favorites to stop Alabama's run of No. 1 recruiting classes.

In the four recruiting cycles leading up to its 2014 national championship season, Ohio State's worst recruiting class was ranked seventh nationally in 2011, per 247Sports. That was one year before Meyer arrived in Columbus.

Alabama's streak of "recruiting national titles" should end in the 2016 cycle, according to the latest standings from 247Sports' Composite Rankings. The Tide will be just fine, though, as more than half of their current commitments are blue chips.

Although teams such as Michigan State and Oregon climb into the national championship picture without consistent highly ranked classes, those who dominate recruiting are the ones who win it all in this current age of college football.

It's a mostly foolproof blueprint for success, and Alabama and Ohio State both followed it to a T in their title campaigns.

 

Won it all with inexperienced quarterbacks 

Both this year's Alabama team and last year's Ohio State team won the national championship as part of a growing trend in college football—overwhelming success for new quarterbacks.

According to Brad Edwards of ESPN.com, Alabama's victory Monday night marked the sixth time in the last seven seasons that a team has won a national title with a first-year quarterback:

Alabama's Jake Coker lost his first position battle in Tuscaloosa after transferring from Florida State and looked shaky at times in his one and only season as a starter.

But when his team needed him the most, he had back-to-back career performances in the playoff semifinal and title game. He set a career high in yards (286) against Michigan State and broke it with his big-play day (335) against Clemson on Monday night.

"Five years ago, I never though I’d be here, that’s for sure," Coker said, per Bleacher Report's Christopher Walsh. "When you win a national championship with Alabama, that’s about all you can ask for. That’s the top for me. I couldn’t be more proud."

In a somewhat similar fashion, Ohio State got two wonderful performances from Cardale Jones in the playoff last season.

Jones, who had to replace another first-year quarterback in J.T. Barrett for Ohio State, had 280 yards of total offense in both wins over Alabama and Oregon. He became an overnight sensation, flirting with the possibility of entering the NFL early before deciding to stay at Ohio State.

Alabama and Ohio State both got legendary performances from rather unlikely sources in their respective title wins. They both proved you don't need a veteran quarterback to reach the mountain top.

 

Justin Ferguson is a college football writer at Bleacher Report. You can follow him on Twitter @JFergusonBR.

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Report: Jim Harbaugh to Watch Movies, Have Sleepover with Penn State Recruit

Michigan Wolverines coach Jim Harbaugh will do whatever it takes to get a recruit, even if it means sleeping over at the recruit's house and going to class with him.

Seriously. That is not a hyperbole.

According to Allen Trieu of Scout.com, Harbaugh is going all-out in an effort to flip No. 1 kicking recruit (per 247Sports) Quinn Nordin from his commitment to Penn State over to Michigan. The Wolverines coach even told the recruit he'd be spending a full day with him—sleepover and all.

Nordin appears to get a kick out of the Michigan coach's tactics, per Trieu:

Under the exact rules, he's going to be at my house at 12:01 he said. That's when it's legal for him to be at my house. He said we can watch a movie, see how well we gel and he said he would sleep over after that.

I was in tears laughing when he said that. He said the next day, if my parents didn't want me to miss school, he would go to every class with me and go to lunch with me. I was laughing so hard.

It's not even like Harbaugh is demanding a bed or anything. According to Trieu, all the coach is asking for is a "six-foot, three-inch piece of carpet." Hopefully, they will surprise him with bunk beds—everybody loves bunk beds. 

Now before anyone questions Harbaugh's methods, as long as everyone involved is cool with it and it's not a violation, there's nothing wrong with a coach doing everything he can to land a recruit.

This plan apparently comes right out of Harbaugh's playbook, according to Nick Baumgardner of MLive Media Group:

If this is what it takes to win games, Wolverines fans aren't going to judge. All they care about is bringing a championship to Ann Arbor.

[h/t College Spun]

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Power Ranking Top 10 College Football National Championship Games of All Time

With Alabama's 45-40 win over Clemson in the second College Football Playoff National Championship, the offseason has officially begun. 

But before moving on into that vast desert, it's time to take a moment and recall just what happened between the Tide and Tigers Monday night. The game was everything it was advertised to be. These were undeniably the two best teams in college football in 2015, and they battled it out until the final seconds. 

But where does the 2016 national championship rank all time? It was entertaining and heart-stopping at the same time. Does that put it among the 10 best national championships to ever be played in college football? 

With that in mind, we've power ranked those great national championships over the years. Many of them, you'll find, are classics that came down to a final play or a tight score. Usually, too, there were big-picture storylines (dynasties, upstart programs getting an upset, first-time meetings between blue-blood programs or iconic head coaches). 

Did the '16 national championship fit those descriptors? Check out the following top 10 and share your favorite games in the comment section below. 

Begin Slideshow

Can Any Coach Join Nick Saban, Urban Meyer in Dominating College Football?

The smiles are infrequent, the scowls are everlasting and the chase for the next one is a reoccurring game played out 24/7/365 that begins just as soon as the past one ends.

The life of Alabama coach Nick Saban isn’t easy, but he is one of the few—in any profession—who can not only handle the rigors of the demanding job that he has but thrive at the same time. That’s a good reason why he held up another national championship trophy on Monday night after escaping a very good Clemson team with a superstar quarterback in Deshaun Watson.

In short, the process he has developed works spectacularly at a place like the one he rules over in Tuscaloosa, and there appears to be no sign of the Crimson Tide slowing down any time soon.

Saban captured his fifth title to close out the 2015 season, marking the fourth time in seven years that he captured a trophy for an Alabama program that has long been established as a blue blood of the sport.

Adding in his first championship at LSU, the five rings he can put on for recruits represent the most of any coach not named Bear Bryant.

That is likely why, as the confetti was still falling on Monday night, there was plenty of talk of Saban being the greatest of all time—given not only the rings he has but the fact that he’s consistently won at a high level in the modern era of college football, when success is much more difficult to sustain.

That conversation may be best saved for another day to add a bit more historical perspective rather than in-the-moment awe, but there is little question that Saban’s juggernaut at Alabama is dominating the sport unlike many others before.

“I know you all think I'm a little bit crazy, so I'll just go ahead and be crazy. I think that sometimes success can put a distorted perspective on things for you to some degree,” Saban said at his celebratory press conference on Tuesday morning. “I can't really talk to you much more about the perspective and the significance of this, because moving forward, it doesn't really mean a lot.”

Despite the overwhelming numbers that tilt toward Tuscaloosa, it’s not a one-man game in college football. This past season’s championship run allowed Saban to wrestle back the title of "best active college football coach" away from the man who beat him a year ago in Urban Meyer.

The Ohio State coach’s year did not go according to script in 2015 despite a vast collection of NFL talent and a championship pedigree on hand.

Still, it’s not hard to see that the pool of national title winners has been decidedly limited as of late.

Is there anybody who can challenge the sport’s top dogs? Here are a few candidates.

 

Jimbo Fisher, Florida State

Fisher, a Saban disciple who has successfully taken “the Process” to the ACC, is one of the few coaches in the past decade to have broken through to win a national title.

The Seminoles are annually found in the top 10 when it comes to recruiting, and it appears Fisher is in for the long haul after shunning overtures from other programs recently and getting his yearly salary bumped into the $5 million range.

The question marks surrounding the facilities at FSU are getting answered and the team should once again be in the mix for a playoff spot in 2016. Ring No. 2 only seems like a matter of when—not if—for Fisher.

 

Dabo Swinney, Clemson

Swinney spoke at length prior to Monday’s game about knowing that the Tigers would be in a national title game when he took the job and had slowly been building toward that moment.

While the team came up just short in a instant classic of a game, it seems pretty clear to everybody in the sport that Dabo has his program in the upper echelon of college football and ready to stay for a long while.

He’s unique in being so trusting with his assistants when it comes to true X’s and O’s compared to some others, but it’s an approach that has worked for him and Clemson.

Given that Deshaun Watson and others return in 2016 and recruiting is going well, it seems likely that Swinney will remain in the playoff conversation for the foreseeable future until, maybe, he returns to his alma mater to take over for Saban one day.

 

Tom Herman, Houston/???

There was no hotter name on the coaching carousel this offseason than Herman’s, and for good reason. He took a good team and made it great during his first head coaching stop and likely positioned the Cougars to make a serious run at the Top Four next season given who is on their schedule (namely Oklahoma and Louisville).

As Ohio State’s 2015 season proved, he was a big piece of winning a title as an assistant, and the feeling many have is it’s only a matter of time before the guy who simply “gets it” wins one as a head coach.

Many expect him to move up the road to Texas after next year, and if that’s the case, he may very well have a program to go on a Saban- or Meyer-like run.

 

Jim Harbaugh, Michigan

The Wolverines exceeded expectations in their conquering hero’s return to Ann Arbor in 2015, and it’s quickly been apparent just how good a coach the former quarterback is when comparing Michigan to the past few years under Brady Hoke and Rich Rodriguez.

The recruiting is already there and it won’t be long—as in this upcoming season—before playoff talk will begin for Harbaugh and company.

The presence of Meyer in Columbus will provide plenty of challenges, but if there’s somebody with the acumen and drive to match Saban, it’s clearly the man in maize and blue.

 

David Shaw, Stanford

A spot in the championship game is just about the only thing missing from Shaw’s resume after building a West Coast dynasty at a place where sustained success hasn’t, well, been sustained.

He gets graded a bit on a curve as a result, but it’s not hard to see why the Cardinal will be a team in the national conversation for years and years to come.

 

Gary Patterson, TCU/Art Briles, Baylor

After this season, it’s pretty clear that these two Big 12 coaches are near the front of the list when it comes to best coaches to have never won a national title.

Still, as evidenced by recent bowl games and recent results, both of these small private school coaches have done a tremendous job without the resources that some of their peers on this list have. If one of them can truly break through and win a national title in a state like Texas, it might be the start of a budding Lone Star dynasty.

One still has to get over the hump, however, and the top dogs in college football show no signs of slowing down.

Both the Buckeyes and Tide appear to be locks to start the next several seasons in the Top 10 based on reputation alone, and for good reason.

There’s still time to decompress from the 2015 season and soak in another title for the sport’s equivalent of title town, but the more things change, it appears the more they stay the same.

“It's not just winning the game. It's not just winning the championship. It's always the goal as a competitor, but there's a lot more things that are very positive in terms of what you try to do internally in your organization to help people, build relationships, and I think that's the fun part of being a part of a team,” Saban added on Tuesday.

But for those outside the high walls surrounding the practice fields in Tuscaloosa and Columbus, the game is mostly just about winning. And right now, it’s very much a two-man game.

 

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

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CFP National Championship 2016: Stats, Box Score for Alabama vs. Clemson

In a thrilling back-and-forth contest that more than lived up to the hype, Alabama defeated Clemson, 45-40, on Monday to win the 2016 College Football Playoff National Championship, the school's fourth national title in seven seasons.

The game featured massive performances from the usual suspects, such as Bama running back Derrick Henry and Clemson quarterback Deshaun Watson. There were also superlative displays from less likely sources, such as Crimson Tide tight end O.J. Howard and Tigers walk-on freshman Hunter Renfrow. 

Fans were also treated to a game that had just one turnover, few penalties and key special teams performances, including the platonic ideal of an onside kick. Alabama and Clemson were mostly operating at the peak of their respective capabilities, much to the delight of a rapt nation.

After such a fantastic testament to the sport of football, there's just so much to take in. Here's a look at the box scores and key team stats for the national title contest.


Box-Score Breakdown

The first thing that might jump out at you is Alabama's passing numbers. Jake Coker trafficked almost exclusively in big plays on Monday, with the most important of them going to Howard. The junior tight end has struggled to take advantage of his excellent athleticism in his college career, but he was in perfect position to make plays in this game.

Both long touchdowns came on busted coverages, and his 63-yard scamper up the sideline led to Henry's third score and put Alabama up two scores late in the contest. Here's a look at that latter play, per ESPN Stats & Info:

For his efforts, Howard was named offensive MVP. Not bad for a guy who came into the game with 394 receiving yards on the season and hadn't scored since 2013.

There was but one turnover in a clean contest, and it came courtesy of a second-quarter interception from Alabama safety Eddie Jackson. Ladies and gentlemen, this is why you do the high-point drill, per SEC Network: 

Following the pick, Alabama marched to a Henry touchdown to tie the game at 14-14. Jackson was named the game's defensive MVP.

Although Jackson got the better of him on one play, Watson was the game's best overall player for much of the evening. Running into the teeth of a fearsome Alabama front seven, he ground out plenty of key yards. As a passer, Watson was superlative, finding Renfrow on the edges and guys such as Charone Peake and Jordan Leggett up the seams. 

ESPN Stats & Info put his huge yardage total into context: 

Deadspin's Tom Ley raved about his performance: 

Watson wasn’t just busting up an all-world defense, he was exerting complete control over the game. He escaped blitzes, rifled perfect throws all over the field, and never once wavered, despite the defense and special teams unit repeatedly shooting their own dicks off. Watson was in the zone, and it showed on almost every throw he made.

According to B/R Insights, Watson also became the first FBS player to top 4,000 yards passing and 1,000 yards rushing in a single campaign. 

In the end, though, the Heisman finalist's team lost to the Heisman winner's side. Henry pounded out 158 yards on the ground and scored three touchdowns, bringing his season totals to 2,219 and 28 in those categories. The towering running back was quick to compliment his talented teammates after the game.

"I don't want to make this all about me," the 6'3", 242-pound Henry said, per AL.com's Joseph Goodman. "It's my teammates, and I couldn't have done it without them, and they made this possible. That's something I will hold for them forever, and it's so special."

Special thanks should go to his understudy, running back Kenyan Drake, who returned a kick 95 yards to the house in the second half, putting Bama up 38-27 at a time when Watson was doing well to exert his control over the game. Here's the monstrous special teams play, per ESPN:

Clemson defensive end Kevin Dodd was another player often overshadowed by a famous teammate—in this case, Shaq Lawson—who played out of his mind on Monday. Dodd had three sacks in the game, and his end-of-season string of awesome performances caught the attention of some in the NFL, per Fox Sports' Bruce Feldman: 

NFL riches likely await several of the players mentioned above, and that doesn't even include guys such as Mackensie Alexander, Jayron Kearse, Reggie Ragland and A'Shawn Robinson.

When you have two teams stocked with as much pro-caliber talent as Alabama and Clemson, you're pretty much bound to get the type of phenomenal contest we saw on Monday evening. This College Football Playoff thing is working out pretty nicely. 

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SEC Football Q&A: Can Florida Make a College Football Playoff Run in 2016?

Well, that was fun, wasn't it?

The college football season came to an end late Monday night in Glendale, Arizona, with the Alabama Crimson Tide's 45-40 win over the Clemson Tigers in one of the most dramatic championship games in the sport's history. 

Now on to the offseason, where virtually every SEC team is littered with questions that need to be addressed over the next nine months.

To help hold you over, we address some of those questions in the weekly Bleacher Report SEC Q&A:

Winning the College Football Playoff might be a little too aggressive in year two for head coach Jim McElwain because, while his Gators did win the SEC East in 2015, it was more than just a quarterback issue that led to the three-game losing streak to close the season.

Treon Harris wasn't great, don't get me wrong. He threw more interceptions (six) than touchdowns (four) over the final six games of the year, completed just 47.8 percent of his passes, and regressed from his first start after Will Grier's suspension he threw for 271 yards and two touchdowns in a pinch at LSU.

He will be joined in the offseason battle for the top spot on the depth chart by former Oregon State/Alabama quarterback Luke Del Rio, Purdue transfer Austin Appleby and true freshman early enrollee Feleipe Franks, so consider that battle as wide open as it possibly can be.

The offensive line sputtered as well. After progressing over the first two months of the season, it gave up 24 sacks over the final six games of the year, allowed far too much penetration on running plays and put Harris in bad situations time and time again.

Most of those players—like Martez Ivey—are youngsters who will get better with time. In time to make a title game run in 2016, though? That's too much, too soon.

In a down SEC East, the Gators still will have to contend with a loaded Tennessee team and a talented Georgia team. They draw LSU and Arkansas out of the West, have the regular-season finale vs. Florida State on the road and a very small margin for error in order to make a national title run. 

Just worry about the SEC East and offensive consistency first, and then talk about the playoff.

Not to be "Buzz Killington," but no, I don't think LSU will get back to Atlanta under head coach Les Miles.

I wrote in "Bold Predictions for SEC Football in 2016" last week that Miles will be fired mid-season for repeating the same mistakes that nearly cost him his job in November 2015, which, obviously, would make it impossible for him to lead the team to Atlanta next year.

Even if I'm wrong about that (and LSU fans certainly let me know how wrong they think I will be), LSU still has a major Alabama problem. The Crimson Tide simply don't lose games to teams that play their style, which is all LSU knows. That's a big reason why they've topped the Tigers five straight times and shut down superstar running back Leonard Fournette last year in Tuscaloosa.

If LSU can't beat Alabama and can't find enough offensive consistency to take care of business in its other big games—as has been the case the last couple of years—it won't be playing in the SEC Championship Game anytime soon.

A big part of the problem is quarterback, where aside from Zach Mettenberger's senior year in 2013, LSU really hasn't had a difference-maker at the position. Miles doesn't need to find a superstar out there, just somebody who can look like one enough to keep defenses honest and away from Fournette and the rest of the running backs.

Considering Ole Miss and Arkansas have improved, Alabama's cooking, Auburn's high ceiling and Mississippi State's sustained success, Miles simply can't win unless he becomes a little more dynamic on the offensive side of the ball. 

Until that happens, expect more frustration.

I'm a little more optimistic with Ole Miss having success in 2016, despite losing talented junior defensive tackle Robert Nkemdiche, wide receiver Laquon Treadwell and offensive tackle Laremy Tunsil.

We already know they can clear the Alabama hurdle after toppling the Tide in each of the last two seasons, including in Tuscaloosa at night in 2015 without Tunsil in the lineup. Quarterback Chad Kelly will return, plus they get Alabama at home in Week 3 of 2016 when the Tide still might be figuring out their identity.

Quincy Adeboyejo, Damore'ea Stringfellow and others should be able to pick up the slack for Treadwell as youngsters like Van Jefferson and DaMarkus Lodge take on more of a responsibility at wide receiver. The defensive line is still loaded with underrated players like Breeland Speaks and Marquis Haynes, and producing top-tier defenses is something that has become a staple of head coach Hugh Freeze's teams.

Their cross-division road game is at Vanderbilt, Georgia will still be building when the two teams meet in Oxford in late September and the bye week comes in Week 6, right before a critical stretch that pits the Rebels against Arkansas, LSU and Auburn. 

If I had to make a pick right now, I'd say Ole Miss doesn't make it to Atlanta next year because Alabama will find a way to solve the Rebel puzzle in Week 3. That game will decide the division, though.

Alex Collins is the loss that will draw the most headlines after he topped the 1,000-yard mark on the ground for the third straight season. But Kody Walker is solid, Rawleigh Williams III could be back after last season's neck injury, commit Devwah Whaley is solid and the one thing we know about Bret Bielema-coached teams is that they pound the rock no matter who's back there.

The loss of Denver Kirkland and Sebastian Tretola up front hurts, but Bielema has mixed and matched up front before and should be able to do it again. Hunter Henry's early departure is devastating on paper after he caught 51 passes for 739 yards and became one of the nation's most feared tight ends in 2015. But tight ends grow on trees in Fayetteville, Arkansas, so Jeremy Sprinkle should be just fine.

The loss of quarterback Brandon Allen, though, is the biggest issue facing Bielema. Allen capped off his up-and-down career on fire, tossing 30 touchdowns on the year including 15 in his final five games. The good news is that USC transfer Ricky Town will be in the mix, along with Austin Allen, Rafe Peavey and Ty Storey—all of whom have considerable high school accolades in tow. 

Arkansas needs to find a quarterback who can just be slightly more than a game manager early on to allow the running game to grow. If that happens, it won't miss a beat.

 

Quotes were obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted. Statistics are courtesy of cfbstats.com, and recruiting information is courtesy of 247Sports.

Barrett Sallee is the lead SEC college football writer and national college football video analyst for Bleacher Report as well as a host on Bleacher Report Radio on SiriusXM 83. Follow Barrett on Twitter @BarrettSallee.

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Alabama vs. Clemson 2016: Comments, Reaction After College Football Championship

After a forgettable bowl season, fans were treated to a show in the national championship game as the Alabama Crimson Tide held on for a 45-40 win over the Clemson Tigers.

The matchup featured just about everything you would want to see in a title game. There were heroic performances on both sides of the ball, huge plays that will be remembered forever and two teams that simply wouldn't quit. Although the favorite came out as the winner, there were twists and turns throughout with the outcome not decided until the final moments.

Jason Whitlock of Fox Sports 1 might have been the most excited in describing the game:

The win for Alabama continues a dynasty in Tuscaloosa, giving the school four national titles in seven years. Head coach Nick Saban also has a title with LSU, totaling five in 11 years for the historically good coach.

"I think this is the most impressive run of the modern era," former Florida State coach Bobby Bowden said, per Pete Thamel of Sports Illustrated. "I think it all goes back to Saban. He’s the most complete football coach in the nation today, and maybe ever."

Considering how many wins Bowden had in his career, this is pretty high praise for Saban.

Although the current Alabama coach remains behind Bear Bryant with six national championships, you could argue what Saban has done is even more impressive in this era of parity. ESPN's Mike Greenberg didn't hold back in his assessment of the coach:

Pretty much every NFL fan wants him to leave to coach for their team, but it seems much more likely he will close out his career doing what he does best: leading college teams to championships.

He was proud of the effort displayed from the current group in overcome obstacles from earlier in the year:

It certainly didn't seem like the Tide were winning a championship after a home loss to Ole Miss in September, but improvement is one of the keys in any sport. One man who showed this off more than anyone was O.J. Howard, who was the star of the day for Alabama.

Although Howard came to Tuscaloosa as one of the top recruits in the nation, the tight end hadn't been used much in his first three years. He had 394 receiving yards coming into the game but blew that away with five catches for 208 yards and two touchdowns in the win over Clemson.

Outside linebacker Tim Williams—who also finds a way to put up big numbers despite little playing time—provided his thoughts on Howard after the game, per Matt Zenitz of AL.com:

They didn't have no answer for him. O.J. only caught the ball like six times before this game, so we knew they didn't have any film on him really ballin' and stuff like that. It's a mastermind, our offensive coordinator, Lane Kiffin. He knows that the team didn't even game plan for O.J., and O.J. had five receptions for 208 yards. That's crazy. That's crazy.

Saban joked after the game that it was all part of the play, per Stewart Mandel of Fox Sports:

Howard wasn't the only star to show up Monday night. Heisman Trophy winner Derrick Henry somehow had a "quiet" 158 rushing yards and three touchdowns, including a 50-yard scamper into the end zone early in the game. 

Dave Pasch of ESPN was impressed watching the big man run in the first half:

Quarterback Jake Coker also finished with solid numbers after a poor start to the game, totaling 335 passing yards and two touchdowns in the win. As ESPN's Stephen A. Smith noted, he also had some clutch plays to help the team win:

Despite all the numbers from Alabama's players, they were all arguably overshadowed by the performance of Heisman runner-up Deshaun Watson, who had himself quite a day in a losing effort.

The Clemson quarterback finished with 405 passing yards, four touchdowns and just one interception to go with 73 rushing yards all against an elite defense. One of ESPN's broadcasts showed head coaches in a film room discussing the game, and no one had a legitimate answer for how to stop Watson, according to Chris Burke of Sports Illustrated:

Former Heisman Trophy winner Tim Tebow praised Watson despite the loss:

On the plus side for the Tigers, Watson is only a true sophomore and likely to return to school for at least one more year. This certainly gives head coach Dabo Swinney confidence in coming back to this point, per Sports Illustrated:

There’s no doubt that we will be back. It won’t be 34 years before we’re going to be back, I promise you that. ...Our team is built to sustain success. We’ve got the right ingredients from a toughness standpoint, talent standpoint, and then just, again, the will to win and the culture that we have in our program.

The scary thing is when Watson asked where he can improve, he responded, "Just my whole game," per to Ted Miller of ESPN. You can imagine just about every FBS coach shivering at the thought of a quarterback of this ability getting better.

With all the comments and reaction from this game, there were still some great moments where no words were needed, like this hug between Henry and Watson after the game:

Two top competitors putting it all on the line for 60 minutes before having nothing but pure respect afterwards is really what sports are all about. The only hope is that every other title game in the future can match the battle Alabama and Clemson provided.

 

Follow Rob Goldberg on Twitter for year-round sports analysis. 

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Jeff Long Leaves as CFP Selection Committee Chairman: Latest Comments, Reaction

On the heels of Alabama's College Football Playoff National Championship Game victory, Arkansas athletic director Jeff Long will not return as the director of the playoff selection committee next season.   

ESPN.com's Brett McMurphy reported Tuesday that Long would not keep his post in 2016. Selection committee chairman Bill Hancock confirmed Long's move to Dennis Dodd of CBSSports.com.

Long has been the CFP selection committee chairman since it was first established in October 2013. He was part of a 13-member panel that was used to determine which four teams would compete in college football's newly established College Football Playoff. 

After last year's inaugural playoff, Long was unanimously re-elected as the committee's chairman by the other members of the group.

Before his re-election, per ESPN.com's Heather Dinich, Long said the entire selection committee felt the weight of what its decision meant to teams and the sport: 

Most of the people in that room came from the background of student-athletes and players, and there was a sense of, 'We need to get this right for those four teams and those student-athletes and how hard they worked and prepared.' Only four teams could make it, and we felt -- I did -- it felt heavier as we got closer to that championship weekend.

The selection committee has endured its share of criticism during its brief two-year run with Long at the helm, but there's no denying how well things have worked out. 

Ohio State was a controversial choice to make the final four two years ago, but it rode Ezekiel Elliott and Cardale Jones to a national title with wins over Alabama and Oregon. Alabama and Clemson were the two best teams in college football this season and met in the title game, with the Crimson Tide prevailing 45-40 on Monday.

Given the unusual structure with college football's postseason system, finding a 100 percent consensus is virtually impossible. Long was able to lead a diverse group of people and got them to work as one, deciding who had earned the right to compete for the sport's biggest prize. 

The next person to hold Long's chair does not have an easy task, though they have been given a strong template to build upon. 

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