Feed aggregator

Predicting Every 2016 College Football Conference Champion

Every FBS football team has hopes of winning the College Football Playoff National Championship, but this isn't a realistic goal for most schools. Only a select list of contenders are truly in the running each year, leaving the rest to strive for other achievements.

Such as winning a conference title, a goal that's well within reach of every team in the country.

There are 10 conferences at the FBS level—five so-called "power" leagues and then five more lumped together on a second tier known as the "Group of Five." Compare and contrast them all you want, but each is its own entity, and thus whoever wins that conference stands out from the rest of the pack.

As part of the long list of "way-too-early" pieces that come out during college football's offseason, we've predicted the winner of all 10 FBS conferences for the 2016 season. Check them out, and if you think otherwise, let us know in the comments section.

Begin Slideshow

Rashard Lawrence Sets Commit Date: Which School Has Best Shot to Land 5-Star DT?

The LSU Tigers and Ohio State Buckeyes currently occupy two of the nation’s top three recruiting classes, and their battle over 5-star defensive tackle Rashard Lawrence could help the winner take a big step forward toward landing the nation's top overall class.

Lawrence announced via Twitter that he will make his decision on Jan. 22—with the Tigers and the Buckeyes representing his two finalists.

The 6’3”, 305-pounder took an official visit to Columbus last October, and he will be on LSU’s campus this weekend—which will represent his last trip before he announces his commitment.

Which program has the best shot to land Lawrence next Friday?

LSU has been the overwhelming favorite to land Lawrence and with good reason.

Lawrence, who is the Pelican State’s top prospect in the 2016 cycle, the No. 5 defensive tackle and the No. 22 player overall, admits that he’s close to Tigers head coach Les Miles and defensive line coach Ed Orgeron, according to Sonny Shipp of Geaux247.

"I think Coach Miles is a great guy,” Lawrence told Shipp. “The players love playing for him. To see him not there would be completely different for the program. I'm glad he stayed because it did help my process and probably other kids around the nation. I'm glad he stayed."

In addition to his relationship with the coaching staff in Baton Rouge, Shipp also notes that Lawrence has grown close to current Tigers such as defensive linemen Davon Godchaux and Christian LeCouture.

Considering he made multiple visits to Baton Rouge last year, Lawrence is very familiar with the inner workings of the Tigers program.

Miles and his staff will try to seal the deal with Lawrence this weekend, but it’s tough to discount Buckeyes head coach Urban Meyer in any recruiting battle.

In addition to his official trip last fall, Lawrence also visited the Buckeyes for their summer camp.

Similar to the bonds that tie him to the Tigers, he has a strong relationship with the man that would be his position coach in Columbus if he elects to leave his home state for school.

“[Defensive line] Coach [Larry] Johnson, me and him have an excellent relationship,” Lawrence told Shipp. “From Day 1, whenever I told him I was interested, he soaked it all in and really recruited me hard. He doesn’t pressure me into anything and is a really great guy. He’s really the only one I talk to, and he’s a special man and definitely develops them.”

Since Meyer has taken over the Buckeyes program, he’s been able to recruit in foreign territories such as Florida, Georgia and Texas with great success. Still, he has yet to land a Louisiana native in that same span.

The Buckeyes make a fairly dangerous underdog in the race to land Lawrence, but the arrows in his recruitment seem to point toward him staying close to home in college.

 

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

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Derrick Brown Reveals Top 5: Which School Is Best Fit for 5-Star DT?

Coveted defensive tackle recruit Derrick Brown doesn't plan to deliver his collegiate commitment until national signing day, but he provided some insight on the decision Thursday afternoon.

The 6'4", 317-pound prospect revealed five finalists from the SEC that will compete for his Feb. 3 pledge:

Auburn, Alabama, Georgia, Mississippi State and Tennessee remain in the mix for Brown, who began receiving scholarship offers as a sophomore. This list excludes plenty of programs that pursued him during different stages of the process, including Clemson, Stanford, Texas and Florida.

Brown visited Bleacher Report's New York City offices last month and expressed intentions to finalize his college choice at least a few days before signing day, when he will publicly share a destination. In the meantime, there's a lot to look into here as he sorts through options. 

It speaks volumes about annual coaching staff shifts in college football that none of his five finalists will enter the 2016 season with the same defensive coordinator as 2015. 

Kirby Smart left his post at Alabama to become head coach at Georgia, where he hired former Crimson Tide colleague Mel Tucker as defensive coordinator. Alabama replaced Smart with former Bulldogs defensive coordinator Jeremy Pruitt.

Tennessee unveiled a new defensive coordinator earlier this week, landing former Penn State defensive coordinator Bob Shoop. Mississippi State saw defensive coordinator Manny Diaz depart for the same position at Miami and recently replaced him with USC linebackers coach Peter Sirmon. 

Former Florida head coach Will Muschamp lasted just one season as defensive coordinator at Auburn, bolting in December for a return to head coaching with South Carolina. 

Now that the dust has settled from staff perspectives, it's time for teams to present their very best sales pitch to one of America's most prized uncommitted talents.

Brown, rated No. 3 nationally among defensive tackles in composite rankings, is considered the No. 8 overall prospect in the 2016 recruiting class. He is fresh off the most dominant season of his high school career.

The Lanier High School (Buford, Georgia) standout secured 106 tackles—42 for loss—and 12 sacks as a senior. Brown was the lone defensive prospect named a U.S. Army All-American Player of the Year finalist.

He may join the winner of that award, 5-star quarterback Jacob Eason, at Georgia later this year. The top-rated passer enrolled early in Athens, headlining a Bulldogs recruiting class that's still chasing three in-state 5-star prospects.

There's no bigger Peach State target, figuratively and literally, than Brown. He is considered Georgia's top overall talent in this cycle and is set to spend an official visit in Athens this month, presenting the new regime an opportunity to impress.

“It’s definitely going to be something new at Georgia. I think I’ll make my final thought about the situation when I go up for my official visit in January," Brown told Bleacher Report.

The Bulldogs landed top-ranked defensive tackle Trent Thompson last signing day and carry 2016 commitments from a pair of 4-star defensive linemen. Smart opted to retain defensive line coach Tracy Rocker, providing continuity for Brown. 

The positional coach also plays a pivotal role at Auburn, where Rodney Garner leads the defensive front. Brown didn't seem pleased with the departure of Muschamp, but consistency remains in place at a pivotal spot for his relationship with the Tigers, and Garner has been a fantastic recruiter here.

Alabama defensive coordinator Jeremy Pruitt previously helped spearhead recruiting efforts at Georgia, so a strong sense of familiarity is already in place. The newly crowned national champions welcomed Brown to Tuscaloosa for an official visit last month.

When it comes to Mississippi State, the ties go beyond football coaches and facilities. Brown's parents both graduated from the university, according to Chris Kirschner of DawgNation.com. Starkville was actually his first home.

“I would feel great if he went to Mississippi State because he would be near relatives, but this is Derrick’s life and our thing is to help guide him toward his decision. We want to help guide him toward his own path," his mother, Martha Brown, told Kirschner. 

Georgia is the runaway favorite in Brown's crystal ball on 247Sports. He is projected to sign with the Bulldogs by 96 percent of 28 experts' predictions and, ultimately, Georgia looks like the probable pick.

Tennessee, expected to be his fifth and final stop on a whirlwind official visit tour, could be a wild card worth watching closely as Feb. 3 approaches. While discussing his potential collegiate landing spots, Brown displayed particular affinity toward Knoxville.

“It is like no other place I’ve been to," he said. "You can feel it in Knoxville. They call it VFL—‘Vol for Life’—and at the end of the day, those people really are Volunteers. They’re not Georgia fans one week and Florida fans the next week. Those people are Volunteers.”

With trips to Tennessee, Georgia and Auburn slated to occur during the next three weeks, expect a fluid situation to become more clear in the aftermath of those visits. Brown projects as an absolute force in SEC trenches, but it remains to be seen which uniform he will wear during those battles.

 

Quotes obtained firsthand by Bleacher Report National Recruiting Analyst Tyler Donohue unless otherwise noted. All player ratings are courtesy of 247Sports' composite ratings. Follow Tyler via Twitter: @TDsTake. 

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Who Will Be the out-of-Nowhere College Football Playoff Contender in 2016?

There's one team every year.

No matter the season, one perceived bottom feeder emerges from the benthos and becomes a national title contender.

Consider Auburn's turnaround three years ago. Consider TCU in 2014. Consider the fact that Iowa just started 12-0!

From all those massive turnarounds, we can gather certain insights and attempt to predict the next out-of-nowhere College Football Playoff contender. My past two attempts included only teams with losing records, but Iowa and North Carolina, which both just played de facto playoff quarterfinals, forcing me to reconsider and at least include 7-6 teams.

Sound off below and let us know which teams you would add! 

 

1. The Performance Factor

"The strongest indicator of how a college football team will perform in the upcoming season is their performance in recent seasons."

The above quote is a "basic" at Football Outsiders. If you think it makes no sense, click away. It's OK to disagree (as long as you have your reasons), but this idea provides the basis of my theory.

If you haven't clicked away yet, let's explain the methodology of that quote. Here's how Football Outsiders elaborated: 

It may seem strange because graduation enforces constant player turnover, but college football teams are actually much more consistent from year to year than NFL teams. Thanks in large part to consistency in recruiting, teams can be expected to play within a reasonable range of their baseline program expectations each season.

Our Program F/+ ratings, which represent a rolling five-year period of play-by-play and drive efficiency data, have an extremely strong (.76) correlation with the next year’s F/+ rating.

Basically, instead of analyzing numbers from just last season, the idea is to analyze numbers from the past five seasons. Proceeding this way would have helped predict Auburn's breakout two years ago and TCU's breakout last season.

Because of that, I always start this process by computing Football Outsiders' average F/+ ratings over a five-year sample. I want a team that won seven or fewer games in 2015 but has still been a top-50 program since 2011.

From there, it's time to look at just this past year's performance.

For the sake of being faithful to the headline, I want a team that actually turns its season around. I don't want a team that was deceptively pretty good in 2015. That goes against the spirit of this concept.

Here's how those 12 teams fared in 2015:

From that list, you'll notice one major outlier.

Despite its 7-6 record, Washington finished No. 13 in the country—nine spots ahead of a Utah team that beat it in Husky Stadium, 10 spots ahead of an Oregon team that beat it in Husky Stadium and 37 spots ahead of an Arizona State team that beat it in Tempe.

How is that possible? It's a matter of consistency and ceiling. Washington lost six games and deserved to lose all six, but when it won, it really won. In six of the Huskies' seven wins, they performed above the 90th percentile, according to SB Nation's Bill Connelly.

The one in which they didn't was a road win at USC.

How does this factor into our analysis? I suppose that's a matter of semantics.

It's hard to call the 13th-best team in the country—even if it's only by one metric—an out-of-nowhere candidate. If I had to pick one team from that list to compete for next year's playoff, I'd choose Washington without thinking twice. It's just wrong to say the Huskies are coming from nowhere.

Similarly, I refuse to cast Texas and its Powerball-jackpot bankroll as an underdog. According to USA Today's finance database, the Longhorns rank No. 2 in athletic department revenue. The only team with more is Oregon, which has Phil Knight pulling the strings as a benefactor.

Texas can't come from nowhere, because it's coming from a throne made of money.

Eliminated Teams: Washington, Texas

 

2. The Luck Factor

Luck is what happens when a 50-50 factor skews away from that even center. Good luck is when it skews one way in your favor. Bad luck is when it skews one way in your disfavor.

Turnovers are not entirely luck, but elements of turnovers are. Fumble recoveries and interceptions per pass defensed are the two main stats to examine. Connelly explained this in his theory of adjusted turnover margin:

[Adjusted turnover margin is] what a team's turnover margin would have been if they had recovered exactly 50 percent of all the fumbles that occurred in their games, and if the INTs-to-PDs for both teams was equal to the national average, which is generally around 21-22 percent.

If there is a huge difference between TO Margin and Adj. TO Margin (in other words, if fumbles, dropped interceptions, or other lucky/unlucky bounces were the main source of a good/bad TO margin), that suggests that a team's luck was particularly good or bad and might even out the next season.

Another big stat that regresses to the mean is close-game luck.

Over time, teams win roughly half of their one-score games. Because so few happen during a 12-game season, the sample allows for meaningful outliers. Had you looked at that after the 2012 season, when Michigan State lost five conference games by 13 combined points, you might have predicted, as some did, that the Spartans would make a run to the 2013 Rose Bowl.

On that note, let's examine how the remaining 10 teams fared in terms of close-game and turnover luck: 

Of that list, only Nebraska endured double bad luck.

Everybody knows about the close-game failings—the Hail Mary against BYU, overtime against Miami, buzzer-beater losses against Wisconsin and Illinois—but it also suffered horrible luck on turnovers.

Based on how it played, it should have finished with a plus-0.5 turnover margin, according to Connelly's numbers. Instead the Huskers finished with a minus-12 turnover margin. Tack on nearly five points per game, and they would have finished 9-3 or 10-2.

Other teams, however, have fewer reasons to expect progression. Missouri and Arizona can't use on-field luck as a scapegoat.

Missouri can blame unique off-field distractions, while Arizona can maybe blame injuries. But for the purposes of this article, they are not prime bounce-back candidates. 

Eliminated Teams: Missouri, Arizona

 

3. The Schedule Factor 

If Iowa and North Carolina taught us anything, it's the importance of evaluating schedules.

We can only predict so much in the offseason—especially when it's three days old—but the Big Ten West and ACC Coastal were objectively bad divisions. It looked that way 12 months ago, it looked that way five months ago and it looked that way all year.

Iowa, for example, won 12 games despite ranking No. 38 in F/+. It started 12-0 because it failed to play a single top-30 team.

North Carolina, meanwhile, made Iowa's schedule look fierce. Of its 10 wins, two came against FCS teams and eight came against teams with five or more losses. It didn't beat a single four-loss team!

We can't anoint the next UNC or Iowa by looking at schedules, but we can eliminate teams from realistic playoff contention. Certain divisions will probably struggle as much as the Big Ten West and ACC Coastal, but other divisions will never be that bad.

Here is how next year's schedule breaks down, with "Top 25 opponents" referring to Ben Kercheval's super-early B/R poll:  

And here are the opponents that yield those three red X's:

  • Arizona Stateat USC, vs. WSU, at ORE, at UW
  • Kansas State: at STAN, at OU, vs. OKST, at BU, at TCU
  • Auburn: vs. CLEM, vs. LSU, at MISS, at UGA, at ALA

Nebraska (Big Ten West), South Carolina (SEC East) and Virginia Tech and Georgia Tech (ACC Coastal) move on thanks to traditionally soft divisions and favorable home schedules.

Penn State (Big Ten East) is in a loaded division but gets three of its four best opponents—Ohio State, Iowa and Michigan State—in Happy Valley. It almost got the X, but for now, let's keep it alive.

Eliminated Teams: Arizona State, Kansas State, Auburn

 

4. Stopping the Fight

Other crucial factors such as scheme change, returning starters and quarterback situation play a role in contending from nowhere, but let's spare those and stop the fight.

One team has led this battle from wire-to-wire, meeting every single benchmark on the list.

  • It was better than its record last season.
  • It has been a top-25 team since 2011.
  • It suffered horrible turnover luck.
  • It suffered horrible close-game luck.
  • It plays an easy schedule.

It's Nebraska!

The Huskers snuck into a bowl game at 5-7 but made the most of their good fortune and beat UCLA, 37-29. 

They lose some important pieces, especially on defense, but return a four-year starting quarterback and basically every skill player.

One of those skill players, receiver De'Mornay Pierson-El could totally change the ceiling of this outlook.

He broke out as a freshman in 2014, ranking No. 1 in the nation in punt return average, but missed the start of last season with a foot injury and the end of the season after tearing up his knee against Purdue. He's expected to play next season, although his health will be a story all summer.

"You want him out there, but I want him to be healthy so I don't want to rush him," receivers coach Keith Williams told Steven M. Sipple of the Lincoln Journal Star. "I don't want to push it. If he's not ready to go, you just have to adjust and deal with it."

If Pierson-El returns, he'll join a loaded group of receivers alongside Jordan Westerkamp, Brandon Reilly and Stanley Morgan. If ever senior quarterback Tommy Armstrong, whose best days look as good as his worst days look bad, were to post a consistent season, now would be the time.  

The schedule is navigable but tricky. Oregon visits Lincoln in September, and road trips to Wisconsin, Ohio State and Iowa loom large. This team will have to start games faster, finish games stronger and play games cleaner than last year.

It's unlikely, but the numbers say it's possible.

 

Brian Leigh covers college football for Bleacher Report. You can follow him on Twitter at @BLeigh35

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

10 Best Uniforms from 2015-16 College Football Season

Uniform design is becoming a bigger deal each season in the world of college football. What a team wears can affect recruiting, create national attention or be a great way to honor individuals.

The 2015-16 college football season featured a massive amount of design tweaks or entire new uniforms for teams all across the country. According to Paul Lukas of ESPN.com, 80 of 128 teams made uniform adjustments before the season even started

Since then, plenty of teams have surprised players and fans alike with new uniforms for specific game days. There seemed to be something beautiful or bizarre coming out each Saturday this fall, with most of the latter category brought to you by to the folks overatAdidas.

Here are my personal top 10 picks for the best uniforms that debuted this past college football season. Again, this is one writer's personal preference, and everyone has their own opinion on what makes a uniform great or grotesque.

Give us your own top-10 list from the 2015 season in the comments below and tell us who you think needs to take a page from these teams with a different look in 2016.

Begin Slideshow

Bret Bielema Is the Perfect College Football Coach to Get His Own Reality Show

It's the offseason, which means you desperately need something to hold your college football attention over the next nine months.

After all, conference championship deregulation, way-too-early top-25 rankings and the impending talk of satellite camps (which will pop up again during the spring meeting cycle) can only go so far, right?

Don't worry, Bret Bielema is here for you.

The affable fourth-year head coach of the Arkansas Razorbacks will star in a web-based reality show from Bo Mattingly of Sports Talk with Bo, a statewide syndicated radio show, as well as Little Rock-based production company JM Associates.

The trailer for the show, which is appropriately called Being Bret Bielema, hit YouTube this week and looks like one of the can't-miss programs of the offseason.

There is no other coach in America who deserves a reality show more than Bielema.

"I've never seen anybody spend 10 minutes with him and say that they don't like the guy," Mattingly told Bleacher Report. "He's so personable and engaging. I guess growing up on a farm, he learned some characteristics on how to treat people. It doesn't matter who he's around, he's the same guy."

Judging from the trailer, it's everything you'd expect from Bielema...and more.

After all, how many coaches would ride shotgun around Memphis prior to a bowl game and randomly shout out battle cries—in this case "woo pig"—at unsuspecting fans of both Arkansas and Kansas State?

One.

How many head coaches would randomly spout a Christmas truth about why eggnog should not be exclusively a holiday drink?

One.

How any head coaches describe a quarterback kneel to end a bowl game as "borderline erotic," as Bielema did during 2015 SEC media days in reference to his team's victory over Texas in the 2014 AdvoCare V100 Texas Bowl?

One.

"I thought people would find it fascinating to see how he is in his everyday life," Mattingly said. "The more we can show him not coaching football and show more of his personality, his music, his flip flops, his joking, his idiosyncrasies and superstitions, the better. He's just a unique guy."

Can you imagine what Bielema might say at a recruiting event to a bunch of Hog fans? What about when he's hanging out by the pool?

The possibilities are endless.

"At Fleming's steakhouse in Memphis, they had a coaches dinner with the wives," Mattingly said. "Bielema's got this room at Fleming's, and he's buying steak for everybody. He just invites the bus driver to come in and eat with them. So the bus driver is sitting next to a staff member, just hanging out like it's no big deal. Bielema introduced him to everybody. He's just always like that."

This series comes at the perfect time for the SEC, too.

The SEC lost one of its greatest quote machines in October when former South Carolina and Florida head coach Steve Spurrier abruptly resigned from the Gamecocks, and that void needs to be filled.

Bielema is doing just that.

The show, which is still shooting, will be released as five-minute shorts starting in February and is still in production. It could land a bigger platform as interest grows.

"Right now, we are planning a miniseries release on YouTube," Mattingly said. "Who knows where else it will go. This really happened fast. We will probably have about five, five-minute shorts on YouTube. There's so much stuff, and we are still shooting, so it may become something more than that."

The perfect production plan for the unpredictable Bielema.

"We didn't want it to be in a box," Mattingly said. "We just wanted to roll some stuff out and show people some different scenes of him being Bret Bielema."

 

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.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Odds on Where 5-Star LB Lyndell “Mack” Wilson Lands on National Signing Day

A trio of SEC powerhouses are battling for the right to land 5-star linebacker Lyndell Wilson on national signing day.

The Alabama Crimson Tide, Florida Gators and Georgia Bulldogs are the finalists for the nation’s top outside linebacker prospect in the 2016 class.

As detailed by BamaOnline’s Hank South, the 6’2”, 220-pounder will take an official visit to Athens this weekend before seeing Alabama next weekend and taking his final trip to Florida the last weekend before signing day.

The Crimson Tide have long been the perceived favorite to keep the star linebacker from escaping the state.

However, with former Tide defensive coordinator Kirby Smart taking over the Georgia program and Florida making a big push to land other prospects from the state of Alabama, Wilson heads into the stretch run of his recruitment as far from a sure thing to land in Tuscaloosa.

What are the odds for each of Wilson’s finalists?

Let’s break down the chances for the main players in his recruitment.

 

Georgia 10-1

The Bulldogs are somewhat of a late entry to the Wilson sweepstakes, mainly because of Smart’s relocation from Tuscaloosa to Athens, as noted by South.

“It really helps them out because me and Coach Smart have a really good relationship together,” Wilson told South. “We’ve been at it since the ninth grade and he’s like a father figure to me. It’ll help Georgia out a lot, so that’s why I’m gonna give them the chance to recruit me and take my visit.”

Additionally, as shown by Ourlads, the Bulldogs will lose three of their four starters at linebacker—which should make for an appealing depth chart in their pitch to Wilson.

The Bulldogs are in the race thanks to Smart’s presence. However, Wilson's visit this weekend will go a long way toward determining just how much of a factor they become in the final days leading up to his decision.

 

Florida 7-1

The Gators will get the chance to make a final impression on Wilson just days before he announces his decision.

Working in head coach Jim McElwain’s favor is the fact that the Gators have a pledge from 3-star corner Antonio Nelson—who is a teammate of Wilson’s at Carver High School in Montgomery, Alabama.

Additionally, 3-star safety Jeawon Taylor—who is also visiting Georgia this weekend with Wilson—is another Gators commit from Montgomery that could help reel Wilson in if he sticks with his pledge.

As GatorBait’s Thomas Goldkamp reported, Wilson has made it clear he’s open to the idea of leaving his home state for college. 

While it will be a tough pull, the Gators are very much in the running for Wilson in the late stages of his recruitment.

 

Alabama 5-1

Even with the Bulldogs and the Gators making a strong push for Wilson, it would still be a minor upset if he landed anywhere other than Tuscaloosa on signing day.

As South explained, Wilson made it clear he was supporting the Tide all the way in their run to the program’s 16th national title. Furthermore, he admitted the Tide were on the list of programs that he dreamed of playing at when he was younger.

“It’ll be one of those schools that I dreamed about going to since I was little,” Wilson told South. “It’ll be a great decision for me, also. It’s not too far from home; my family can get to my games and everything. It’ll be a good decision if I chose to go to Alabama.”

He’s clearly a top priority for Tide head coach Nick Saban, who made a call to Wilson one day after the Tide’s triumph over Clemson in the national title game, according to Matt Hladik of CollegeSpun.

While the Gators and the Bulldogs are in the mix, it’s hard to bet against Saban when he zeroes in on a top in-state prospect such as Wilson.

 

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

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Does the Big 12 Really Need a Conference Championship Game?

The Big 12 now has options regarding a 13th conference championship game. The question is whether it actually wants to exercise them. 

On Wednesday, the NCAA DI council announced the approval of the long-awaited proposal allowing Football Bowl Subdivision conferences with under 12 members to hold conference title games in football. The two adopted policies are: 

  • A game between division champions of a member conference that is divided into two divisions (as equally balanced as possible), each of which conducts round-robin, regular-season competition among the members of that division; or,
  • A game between the top two teams in the conference standings following a full round-robin regular-season schedule of competition among all members of the conference.

What this means practically for the Big 12 is it can place its top two teams in a 13th game after the regular season to determine its "One True Champion," as the conference likes to parade. Whether it will go through with this won't be decided right away, according to a statement from commissioner Bob Bowlsby via the Big 12 website

I appreciate that what was acted upon today takes into account our unique 10-team, full round-robin scheduling model. However, this vote does not automatically mean the Big 12 will implement a football championship game. Our membership will continue to analyze its pros and cons, as we now know the requirements should we decide to go down that path.

The Big 12 is right to marinate on this for a little while longer. Critics of the conference's nine-game, round-robin format called for an immediate change—be it expansion or otherwise—after the Big 12 was left out of the playoff two seasons ago.

Yet, conference brass decided to hold off on any drastic decisions. That turned out to be the right move, as 11-1 Oklahoma made the 2015-16 playoff as a No. 4 seed. The very thing that hurt the Big 12 in 2014 turned out to be beneficial the next year. 

Tacking on a conference title game to the end of the regular season could have financial benefits but also presents serious risks and logistical problems the Big 12 needs to consider.

The simplest concern is that it creates a potentially awkward and unnecessary game. The benefit of playing a round-robin schedule is that there are no guesses. Everybody has played everyone else. The results are what they are. (The Big 12 also clarified its co-champion scenario by updating its tiebreaker procedures this past offseason.) 

Now imagine if Oklahoma and Oklahoma State, who finished No. 1 and No. 2 in the final Big 12 standings, respectively, played one week after the Sooners beat the Cowboys 58-23. This year, the Bedlam game was for the Big 12 title, as ex-Grantland writer Matt Hinton pointed out: 

Would a 13th game have benefited the Sooners? Absolutely not.

There's also the matter of finding a place to host the game. AT&T stadium in Arlington, Texas, always seems like a natural destination, but would fans travel to see a week-old rematch that was already decided convincingly? Would viewers tune in at home, especially in the wake of declining TV numbers, for major bowls/playoff games? 

These are the things the Big 12 has to mull over when proceeding with an extra game. Per Bowlsby, finding a stadium for a deregulated conference title game in 2016 would be "one of the biggest logistical considerations" (h/t Chuck Carlton, the Dallas Morning News). 

The 2015 season is just an example. There would obviously be years in which the top two teams would have met in, say, mid-October, and not in the final week in November. Rematches are not unprecedented in conference title games, either. 

But allowing deregulated title games for round-robin schedules is, and it never seems like the Big 12 gets enough credit for playing everyone top to bottom. 

Still, the Big 12 might consider embracing its newfound awkwardness if it means validation of the all-important phrase: "Controlling your destiny."

Playoff inclusion is ultimately what a 13th game boils down to. Or, put another way, the Big 12 wants to be in the same position as the other power conferences without changing its membership. Any extra money the conference might make by fielding a title game is secondary. 

By having the title of the Power 5's smallest conference with a format all its own, it feels like the Big 12 is consistently at a disadvantage relative to playoff inclusion. Whether perception matches reality is another story; there is an example of when it hurt and when it helped. 

What the Big 12 has to decide is whether the 13th game provides the same advantage as the other four power conferences. Historically, however, that hasn't been the case as Dennis Dodd of CBS Sports observed:

Basically, the possibility of the top-seeded team playing its way out of the national title race is not only there, it's proven. (The other side, of course, is the No. 2 seed could play its way into the playoff field.) 

Understand that the Big 12 is in a tough spot and there's no easy answer for what to do. The most logical thing would be to expand back to 12 teams, but that's simply not going to happen. With apologies to BYU, Central Florida, Cincinnati, Houston and any other team hoping to land in the Big 12, the conference just doesn't feel the same way.

If it did, it would already be up to 12 teams by now. There isn't enough value in the available expansion targets, and no amount of debate that will change this fact. 

With expansion off the table—keep in mind if it ever does come to fruition, the likes of BYU, Central Florida and Houston will still be available—the Big 12 had to get creative. 

Playing an extra game hasn't proven to be necessary for playoff inclusion, but the Big 12 now has the option if it wants to proceed with it. When weighing a 10th conference game guaranteed to be a rematch vs. the possibility of equal footing in the playoff arena, the risk is awfully high. 

The conference might take it anyway out of desperation. But you already know how that smells. 

 

Ben Kercheval is a lead writer for college football. All quotes cited unless obtained firsthand. 

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

No. 1 ATH Mecole Hardman Jr. Talks Player Ranking, Upcoming Visits

Contrary to popular belief, being the No. 1 athlete in the country isn't something Mecole Hardman Jr. aspired to be.

For Hardman, the objective every time he steps on a football field is to be a better player than he was the day before. Being No. 1 isn't the main priority.

But sometimes, things like that just happen. Consider it an added bonus.

"I'll be honest: I just wanted to get better every day," Hardman said after competing at the U.S. Army All-American Bowl last week in San Antonio. It was a game where the 5-star prospect contributed stats in rushing and receiving, as well as on special teams as a kickoff and punt returner. It also was a game where, because of depth, Hardman didn't take a snap at cornerback, a position he believes he could excel at in college.

"Long term, I think I'll play corner," he said, "but I think I can play corner or receiver easily at the next level. I've been getting extra conditioning after practice and just doing the mental stuff."

It's a testament to the player Hardman has become. He's a 5-star player—one of only two 5-star players classified as "athlete" in the current recruiting cycle (the other being Demetris Robertson)—and the No. 21 player in the 2016 class. Hardman's ability to excel at multiple positions throughout his high school career has made him a very wanted prospect.

How wanted? Hardman has 32 reported offers from coast to coast.

"It's been fun. I'm enjoying it all," Hardman said of his recruitment, which will include two official visits and a final all-star game before national signing day on Feb. 3. "You just have to take your time with everything. You can't rush it."

Hardman is preparing for his first January official visit, a trip to Ohio State this weekend. It was a visit he called "a surprise" earlier this week. The following weekend, Hardman will take an official visit to TCU. That will be his final official visit, as he will be in Arlington, Texas, the weekend of Jan. 29 in preparation for the 2016 International Bowl, featuring Team USA against Canada.

A decision, Hardman said, will take place on national signing day. Whichever school lands him will get a do-it-all athlete who can play multiple skill positions.

For someone who had to split time with a number of athletes at several positions, Hardman put up noticeable numbers at the U.S. Army All-American Bowl, particularly in the return game. He averaged 28.5 yards on two punt returns, and he averaged 22.5 yards on two kickoff returns.

As a receiver he caught three passes for 36 yards. He also rushed once for five yards.

"It was great. I had fun the whole week," Hardman said of the experience. "I didn't get a chance to play defense, but other than that, I thought I had a good performance. I had an excellent time with all of the players."

Hardman knows that he's looked at by many athletes as the player to catch in the rankings. The top four players classified as "athletes" were in San Antonio competing, and the ones ranked below Hardman were competing to show they deserved the No. 1 spot.

"When you look at it, it's good to be No. 1, but you don't put all your eggs in the basket with it," Hardman said. "Rankings can change any day. I think I showed it out there, but that's not for me to say.

"I got to play running back, wide receiver, punt return and kick return. I got to show my whole athletic ability and what I can do on the field, but I really try not to pay attention to [the rankings]." 

The next couple of weeks will be big for Hardman, arguably even more for the schools recruiting him. The dead period for recruiting came to an end Thursday, which means college coaches are going to go all-in on the athletes they want.

Schools like Alabama, Georgia, Tennessee, Clemson and Michigan are very much alive in Hardman's process. He announced a top six at the beginning of the year.

Add in the upcoming official visits to Ohio State and TCU, and expect the next couple of weeks to make for entertaining times with Hardman.

And expect Hardman to keep everyone on their toes.

"Right now, I'm just chilling," Hardman said. "I'm not looking for anything specific with any of the schools. I just want to get that gut feeling with a school and have some fun with it all."

 

Damon Sayles is a National Recruiting Analyst for Bleacher Report. All quotes were obtained firsthand. All player ratings are courtesy of 247Sports.com's composite ratings. Follow Damon via Twitter: @DamonSayles

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Ohio State's Road Back to College Football Playoff

COLUMBUS, Ohio — As the confetti fell from University of Phoenix Stadium on Monday night celebrating Alabama's win over Clemson in the College Football Playoff championship game, Ohio State's reign atop the college football world came to an official end.

It's been one year since the Buckeyes beat Oregon in Arlington's AT&T Stadium, capturing the inaugural College Football Playoff championship in the process. Ohio State was a heavy preseason favorite to defend its crown, but as what Urban Meyer deemed "The Year of Stuff" followed their defeat of the Ducks, the Buckeyes found themselves on the outside looking in of this year's playoff.

"I think we won it last year on January 12," the Ohio State head coach said. "This started on January 13. 'The Year of Stuff.'"

That "stuff" Meyer is referring to includes the realities of having a roster full of 18- to 22-year-olds fresh off a national championship season in a rabid football town. Star running back Ezekiel Elliott filed for trademarks. Cardale Jones became college football's biggest offseason celebrity. Maybe even Meyer's midseason bye week book tour belongs in that category.

It included the in-season arrest of quarterback J.T. Barrett for operating a vehicle while impaired, a particularly ugly loss to Michigan State in a de facto Big Ten East Championship Game and culminated in the days following Ohio State's season-ending Fiesta Bowl victory, when nine underclassmen declared to enter the NFL draft.

But with the Crimson Tide's victory on Monday night, the Buckeyes' "Year of Stuff" was brought to a much-needed end.

Welcome to "The Year of Development."

It may not sound as sexy or exciting, but it's exactly what Ohio State will need to once again topple Alabama and reclaim college football's throne.

"I compare it, as I've discussed with our staff, very similar to the 2014 team," Meyer said of his 2016 outlook. "That was a team of development." 

Replacing 16 starters—eight on each side of the ball—the Buckeyes will need to follow a similar track in 2016 that they did two years ago, which led to not only a national title for Ohio State, but the mass exodus of NFL talent that it currently finds itself replacing. The potential is there; Meyer has recruited four top-seven classes since arriving in Columbus in late 2011 and will add another in three weeks.

But the Buckeyes will once again need current unknowns to become household names over the course of the next year, much like Darron Lee, Jalin Marshall, Michael Thomas, Vonn Bell and Eli Apple did two years ago.

It's too early to tell who those players will be—that's why those players are currently considered "unknowns"—but Meyer has already singled out junior H-back Curtis Samuel, redshirt freshman running back Michael Weber, senior H-back Dontre Wilson and redshirt freshman wideout K.J. Hill as players he has his eye on for breakout seasons in 2016. Sophomore wideout Noah Brown belongs on that list as well after the 6'2", 222-pounder enjoyed an impressive fall camp last August before a broken leg brought his 2015 season to an end before it began.

"You guys never got to see him in that camp," Meyer told reporters. "He was one of our one, two, three best receivers on our team before he got hurt."

On the offensive line, where Ohio State will be replacing three of its five starters, Meyer has already penciled in sophomore Isaiah Prince and junior Jamarco Jones as his starting tackles. "Isaiah Prince has gotta make a huge jump," Meyer said. "Jamarco Jones is a key cog to the wheel."

On the defensive side of the ball, the Buckeyes will be replacing the potential No. 1 overall pick of the upcoming NFL draft in Joey Bosa, as well as potential first-round picks in Adolphus Washington, Lee, Bell and Apple.

But Meyer has already named middle linebacker and Ohio State's leading tackler from 2015, Raekwon McMillan, a captain and will return defensive ends Tyquan Lewis and Sam Hubbard, who finished first and second, respectively, in sacks for the Buckeyes this past season.

In the back seven, Meyer named linebackers Jerome Baker and Chris Worley and safeties Erick Smith, Cam Burrows and Malik Hooker as players who will need to step up in the coming year.

The Buckeyes roster will also receive a boost on national signing day in three weeks, with Meyer currently slated to land the nation's third-ranked recruiting class. Seven of the Buckeyes' 18 commits are already on campus as early enrollees, including 5-star defensive end Jonathon Cooper and 4-star wideout Austin Mack.

From a scheduling standpoint, Ohio State will face 2015 playoff participant Oklahoma in the third week of the season, providing the Buckeyes with an early opportunity to either make a statement or put their season on thin ice. But as OSU proved two years ago, you can suffer an early-season loss and still bounce back to not only make the playoff, but win the whole thing.

After the pressure of defending their title in 2015, perhaps a year of being the hunters and not the hunted is just what the Buckeyes need.

Asked by a reporter if this will be "fun," Meyer let out a laugh. As the names of the players leaving and the opponents on the 2016 schedule ran through his mind, "fun" may not have been his word of choice, but much like he did two years ago, the Ohio State head coach found a way to make it work.

"'Fun.' You use that word sometimes—'fun,'" Meyer said. "It'll be a challenge and challenges are fun."

 

Ben Axelrod is Bleacher Report's Big Ten lead writer. You can follow him on Twitter @BenAxelrod. Unless noted otherwise, all quotes were obtained firsthand. All statistics courtesy of cfbstats.com. Recruiting rankings courtesy of 247Sports.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Deshaun Watson Wins 2015-16 Manning Award: Latest Comments, Reaction

Deshaun Watson of Clemson was announced as the winner of the 2015 Manning Award as the top quarterback in college football Thursday.

Bruce Feldman of Fox Sports passed along word of the selection by the Sugar Bowl Committee. Watson led the Tigers to a 14-1 record, with the only loss coming to Alabama in the national title game.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

SEC Extra Points with Barrett Sallee: Alabama's Title, SEC Pride and Perception

As the confetti fell to the floor of University of Phoenix Stadium in Glendale, Arizona, late Monday night, and Alabama celebrated its fourth national title in seven years, the echoes of the "S-E-C" chant began to grow louder and louder.

For the first time since Alabama hoisted the crystal football three years ago in South Florida after dominating Notre Dame, the national title was back in its rightful home.

The SEC.

The Crimson Tide's 45-40 win over Clemson capped off a stellar 9-2 bowl season in which every SEC favorite won, every underdog lost and the margin of victory for the SEC's winners was a whopping 23.6 points per game.

Arkansas head coach Bret Bielema made sure to point out just how good the SEC is following his team's romp over Kansas State in the AutoZone Liberty Bowl (via Bo Mattingly of Sports Talk with Bo).

It was a massively important bowl season from a perception standpoint, which matters immensely in the world of college football. The SEC hadn't won a major bowl game during the previous two seasons, and Alabama's title coupled with Ole Miss' demolition of Oklahoma State, and the rest of the dominance in December and January, pumps the brakes on the "downfall of the SEC" talk that became pervasive over the last 11 months.

That's all it does, though. 

As I pointed out two weeks ago, we didn't learn much about any of the triumphant teams that we didn't already know over the holiday season, and there's plenty of work to do for those teams to help the conference get back to the true dominance it enjoyed in the late 2000s and early 2010s. 

We won't have to wait long, because one look at the Week 1 schedule in 2016 will provide another important barometer for conference power.

As I pointed out in the link above, bowl season wasn't a referendum on conference power because conference power in the offseason doesn't matter. 

It does matter in the regular season, though, especially in November, when the members of the College Football Playoff selection committee are sitting in that room in Grapevine, Texas, judging just how good these teams really are.

The perception that the SEC is back, at this point, is nothing more than an offseason talking point to hold us over through the next nine months. It's the equivalent of Congress bringing a proposal to the floor.

That proposal will be voted on over Labor Day weekend and could dramatically change the way the selection committee and the public views the conference.

 

Smart Laying the Groundwork

New Georgia head coach Kirby Smart was introduced to the world in December when he took the job, but he immediately went back to work at Alabama, as the Crimson Tide began preparation for their national title celebration.

Now, he's all Bulldog.

Smart flew cross-country from Arizona to Athens immediately following the College Football Playoff National Championship, and he got to work.

Smart commented on his whirlwind week, according to quotes emailed by Georgia:

I cannot explain how well I slept last night. Number one, we won the national championship at the University of Alabama. To be able to finish that the right way was a relief. Obviously we did not perform the way I wanted to perform, but we won the game. To know that those players achieved what they wanted to achieve, and then to get into this room yesterday and meet with this team, the University of Georgia team, my team—everybody told me when you get to do that finally, and it’s the only thing you have to worry about, it would be a great relief. A burden off your shoulders. That’s what it’s been for me. I feel much more relaxed. 

Job No. 1 for Smart is fixing an offense that was woefully one-dimensional a year ago, and that starts with the quarterback. Last season's starter, Greyson Lambert, and backup Brice Ramsey are back, and they are joined by 5-star early enrollee Jacob Eason.

"Ultimately, we’ve got to do what’s best for our offensive system and what we have," Smart said. "What we have here right now, a situation with our quarterback environment where we’ve got to compete to find the best guy for the job.

"You do whatever you have to do to win the game. If that becomes a dual-threat quarterback, then we cross that bridge when we come to it."

If that seems like a coach speaking in code, it absolutely was. By not promising any quarterback anything and going as far as to suggest that Georgia could go with a dual-threat quarterback, Smart is essentially telling Eason that nothing will be handed to him and that he's nothing more than a freshman looking to make an impact.

In reality, he's not. He is the future of the Georgia football program, and he likely will become the starter at some point during the 2016 season if he doesn't win the job beforehand.

 

The Sequel to Swag

Chad Kelly went from virtual unknown to the SEC's record books in 2015, totaling 4,542 total yards—the third-best single-season mark in conference history behind former Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel's 5,116 yards in 2012 and 4,873 yards in 2013.

He'll have a chance to top "Johnny Football" in 2016.

According to Tim Graham of the Buffalo News, Kelly will return to Oxford for his senior season in the hopes of helping the program take the next step and earn its first SEC West title in its history.

"It feels great to be a part of a winning team for a school with such a rich history," Kelly said, "but I realize that there’s still a lot of learning and growing that I can do with this team.

"It will take the hard work and commitment of everyone involved, but I believe that we have a committed coaching staff and some of the best players in college football. I can’t wait to see what we can do together in 2016."

It's a great move for Kelly personally and huge for Ole Miss in 2016. 

Kelly was awesome in 2015 but took far too many risks and needs to cut that out as a senior. His 13 interceptions were the second-most in the conference behind former Kentucky quarterback Patrick Towles, and that has to change if he wants to impress NFL scouts who will have their eyes on him this year.

For Ole Miss, it didn't just get an experienced quarterback who knows how to win with plenty of the same weapons around him. It got back one of the primary running threats. 

Kelly finished the season as the Rebels' second-best rusher with 500 yards and 10 touchdowns, and will enter 2016 as the team's leading returning threat on the ground. 

Could he be better as a senior? The loss of wide receiver Laquon Treadwell hurts, but don't be surprised if Kelly takes on even more responsibility and becomes a Heisman Trophy contender.

 

Rocky Top Return

While the rest of the college football world came down from the high of watching one of the most entertaining national championship games in recent history, Tennessee got some huge news.

Linebacker Jalen Reeves-Maybin—the Volunteers' leading tackler from a year ago with 105 stops—announced that he's returning to school for his senior year.

How much did it resonate in the college football world? Oklahoma Ty Darlington, who played against Reeves-Maybin and Tennessee in Week 2, did his best to put his return in proper perspective.

He will be the centerpiece to new defensive coordinator Bob Shoop's first defense on Rocky Top, which should be one of the nation's best. 

In addition to Reeves-Maybin, the Vols will return stud defensive end Derek Barnett, a stellar interior line that includes Kahlil McKenzie and Shy Tuttle, and a secondary that has to fill a couple of holes but is still loaded with experienced players thanks to injuries that forced youngsters into the lineup.

He's one of the most underrated players in the country, and head coach Butch Jones getting another year out of Reeves-Maybin is the equivalent of signing a 5-star prospect who will make an immediate impact.

 

Quick Outs

  • Alabama head coach Nick Saban got the traditional phone call from President Barack Obama following his fourth national title under Obama's presidency. I wonder if they are running out of things to talk about? "So, Nick, how's the golf game?"
  • Alabama corner Marlon Humphrey, who caught the onside kick that turned the tables in the title game, had a little fun with Fox Sports college football analysts and vocal SEC critics Colin Cowherd and Joel Klatt following Alabama's win. Well done, Marlon.
  • OddsShark.com released its 2016 national title odds, with Alabama and Clemson leading the way. If you're looking for value, though, don't sleep on Florida State (+1600), Ole Miss (+2200) and Tennessee (+2200).
  • The recruiting dead period ended at midnight, so from Thursday until Feb. 2, the race is on. Let's get weird.

 

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.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Pages