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The Top 10 Plays of the Year in the Pac-12

As we continue our review of the 2014 Pac -12 season, it's time to have a look at the very best plays we saw from both sides of the ball...

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Ohio State Football: Joey Bosa's Crazy History with Nick Saban

COLUMBUS, Ohio — Joey Bosa still remembers his first scholarship offer.

It was the summer of 2010 and the 15-year-old man-child had just wrapped up a breakthrough season at Fort Lauderdale's storied St. Thomas Aquinas High School. Like many other elite prospects, Bosa hit the camp circuit in hopes of being noticed by college coaches.

Along with his father, former Boston College star and Miami Dolphins first-round pick John Bosa, Joey headed to Tuscaloosa, Alabama—a lengthy 765 miles away from their home in South Florida.

But the family trip to the Yellowhammer State proved to be well worth the distance, as Joey soon found himself face to face with the reigning national champion Crimson Tide's head coach after an introduction that he'll never forget.

"I had no shirt on because we just had camp, so I was [shivering] with a little towel," Bosa recalled, mimicking his cold sweat. "[Saban] called me up and I had no idea what it was going to be about...you're 15 years old and you're sitting in his office and he clicks his button that automatically closes his door.

"It was a super nice door."

Once Saban's Batcave-like door shut, he extended an offer to Bosa to join what would become a budding Alabama dynasty.

Excited with the prospect of affiliating himself with the Crimson Tide before the start of his junior season of high school, Bosa and his father headed to the local Buffalo Wild Wings, where they contemplated accepting the offer.

"I almost walked back and committed that day," Bosa said. "But we flew home and thought about it."

Bosa would have fit right in at Alabama, another 4-star prospect on a roster that he described as "just freaks all around." The Crimson Tide's 2013 class contained six 5-star players and 15 4-star prospects, giving Saban the country's top crop of recruits for that year.

But upon arriving back in the Sunshine State, Bosa opted to allow his recruitment to play out.

Over the course of the next calendar year, the 6'5", 270-pounder received offers by virtually every big-name program in the country, including the likes of Auburn, Florida, Florida State, Michigan and Tennessee.

It was Ohio State, however, which ultimately won the race for Bosa's services, with Urban Meyer and then-defensive line coach Mike Vrabel securing a commitment from the nation's 37th-ranked recruit in April 2012.

The rest, as they say, is history, as Bosa has since emerged as one of the country's most dominant players in the first two years of his college career.

After bursting onto the scene with 7.5 sacks and 13.5 tackles for a loss in his freshman campaign, Bosa was nothing short of spectacular in his sophomore season.

A unanimous All-American and the Big Ten Defensive Player and Defensive Lineman of the Year, he tallied 13.5 sacks and 20 tackles for a loss while helping lead the Buckeyes to the first ever College Football Playoff.

When Ohio State takes the field for the Sugar Bowl on New Year's Day, Bosa will find himself opposite the man who offered him his first scholarship behind automatic architecture.

Bosa and the rest of OSU's second-ranked 2013 class has undoubtedly played a key role in closing the gap between the Buckeyes and the Crimson Tide, who have won three of the last five national championships and enter the national semifinal ranked as the CFP's top team.

"There's a reason that they've been No. 1 for so many years and won as much games as they have," Bosa said of Alabama. "Obviously we're going to have to prepare a little different for this one."

But according to Bosa, preparation is going to be the only difference in the outcome of the battle in Bayou. "Personnel definitely isn't a problem when we look at the matchup," he said. That's because Ohio State has been on a roll of its own lately on the recruiting trail, despite Meyer's style differing from Saban's.

"Coach Saban's a little more intimidating. He doesn't joke around much," Bosa said. "Coach Meyer will joke around a little bit."

Bosa won't be the last member of his family whom Saban and Meyer battle over, as his brother, Nick Bosa, is a 5-star defensive end in the 2016 class with offers from both OSU and Alabama. "Everyone is," Joey joked when it was mentioned that the Crimson Tide are recruiting his younger brother.

And as Saban learned last time, it'll take more than the push of a button to seal the deal.

 

Ben Axelrod is Bleacher Report's Ohio State Lead Writer. You can follow him on Twitter @BenAxelrod. Unless noted otherwise, all quotes obtained firsthand. All statistics courtesy of cfbstats.com and recruiting information courtesy of 247Sports.

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Why Fiesta Bowl Matchup of Arizona vs. Boise State Will Be Best Bowl Game

The paths teams take to get to their bowl games often make for intriguing and entertaining anecdotes. For Arizona and Boise State, the stories are a part of why their meeting in the Fiesta Bowl should make for the most exciting and enjoyable non-playoff matchup of the postseason.

"Neither team probably expected to be here before the season," wrote Brandon Huffman of Scout.com.

At this time last year, Arizona was preparing for a late-December trip to Shreveport to play in a game few people not associated with the teams in the Advocare V100 Bowl cared about. Getting to seven regular-season wins for a second straight season was a huge step forward under coach Rich Rodriguez, who was tasked with rebuilding a program that had fallen on hard times.

Boise State, meanwhile, was in a state of flux as longtime coach Chris Petersen had moved to Washington. The school had already hired former assistant Bryan Harsin to take over, but the Broncos' trip to the Hawaii Bowl to face Oregon State would be overseen by interim coach Bob Gregory.

Now the Wildcats (10-3) and Broncos (11-2) are meeting in one of the most high-profile bowl games in this year's lineup, a place Arizona hasn't been in 20 years and where Boise's greatest postseason achievements have occurred.

Boise's rise from upstart lower-tier program to a perennial power reached its peak after the 2006 season, when it was among the first "BCS Buster" teams from non-power conferences to make a major bowl. The Broncos used trick plays to help knock off Oklahoma in overtime in the Fiesta Bowl that season and three years later beat TCU in another Fiesta Bowl.

Arizona played in the 1994 Fiesta Bowl and posted a 29-0 win over Miami (Florida) that led to Sports Illustrated picking the Wildcats No. 1 the following season. Instead of building on the previous season's success, Arizona went 8-4 and had only one season with more than eight wins between then and 2014.

"The Broncos actually provide something of a name-brand target, given their success over the last decade-plus," Pat Forde of Yahoo! Sports wrote.

Arizona is almost playing the role of Cinderella, while Boise State gets to take off those glass slippers and don the villain's black hat, a role reversal that only adds to this game's storyline.

Look across the 2014 bowl lineup, and you'll see a lot of stinkers—games that pit a pair of 6-6 teams or ones where at least one (if not both) schools have little interest in being there.

Do you think Arizona State and Duke want to be in El Paso for the Sun Bowl when a month ago both were in line to win their divisions and play for conference titles? And it's no surprise South Carolina is struggling to sell tickets to its Independence Bowl matchup with Miami, especially since the Gamecocks began the season in the Top 10 and had played in Florida-based New Year's Day bowls the previous three years.

But Arizona and Boise? Not only are they thrilled to be spending New Year's Eve in the Phoenix area—the weather, alone, will aid that—but their fans figure to snatch up every available seat.

"From a ticket standpoint, I think we're going to a full stadium and an exciting game," Fiesta Bowl Executive Director Mike Nealy told the Arizona Republic's Jeff Metcalfe.

A pair of overly motivated teams plus a packed house equals a big game—lack of playoff ramifications be darned.

And we haven't even gotten to what the teams will bring to the field.

Both are in the top 30 in total offense—Boise is 14th, Arizona tied for 27th—with balanced attacks that each feature a 3,000-yard passer, a running back with 1,200-plus yards and a deep receiving corp.

Boise scored 50 or more points five times in a seven-game stretch prior to beating Fresno State 28-14 for the Mountain West title. Arizona was blown out by Oregon for the Pac-12 championship, but prior to that the Wildcats had scored 42 in back-to-back games and only failed to reach at least 26 points one other time.

The scoreboard will get a workout in Glendale, which is often a great indicator of a must-see game when there's nothing really riding on the outcome.

"When we don't have an invested interest in one team, sometimes we're just looking for more visceral excitement, like tempo and big plays," wrote Bill Connelly of SB Nation, who ranked Arizona-Boise State as the fourth-best bowl in terms of excitement and No. 8 overall in how watchable it will be.

The defensive comparison isn't the same. Boise ranks 40th in yards allowed, and Arizona is seventh-worst among the 78 teams playing in bowl games.

But the Wildcats make up for it with arguably the best individual defender in the country. Sophomore linebacker Scooby Wright—a unanimous All-American who won the Bednarik, Lombardi and Nagurski awards—either leads the nation or is in the top three in four statistical categories.

Outside of the fans of the teams involved in a bowl game, there has to be a hook to get casual viewers interested. Announcers will do their best to make you feel like you really want to get pumped when Bowling Green and South Alabama play Saturday night in the Camellia Bowl, but it takes more than hype.

Arizona and Boise State want to be there. They both have something to prove, and they are the kind of teams that can make this an instant classic—or at least make it fun to watch them try.

  

Follow Brian J. Pedersen on Twitter at @realBJP.

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Michigan Fan Makes Jim Harbaugh Video Featuring Matthew McConaughey Voiceover

Given that Jim Harbaugh is a "Michigan man," Wolverines fans want to make sure the San Francisco 49ers coach knows it's OK to come back home.

In fact, "sometimes you gotta go back to actually move forward."

One fan has gone so far as to create a recruitment video in hopes of persuading Harbaugh to return to Michigan, where he excelled at quarterback before his first-round draft pick in 1987. The fan used a Matthew McConaughey Lincoln commercial for the voiceover to appropriately set the scene.

Regardless of whether Harbaugh takes the Michigan job, there's no doubt that Wolverines fans are going all out in their efforts to lure the high-profile coach to Ann Arbor.

[YouTube, h/t College Spun]

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USC Football: Whether He Stays or Goes, Leonard Williams Has Made His Mark

All-American defensive lineman Leonard Williams isn't ready to declare himself eligible for this spring's NFL draft, but the USC star is not announcing a return for his senior season in 2015. 

Following the No. 24-ranked Trojans' dominating win over Notre Dame to cap the regular season on Nov. 29, Williams said he needed time to weigh all factors before making his decision. 

Nothing has changed in the days since, though popular opinion is that one of the most remarkable defensive players in recent Pac-12 history is headed for the pros. 

If he stays or goes, Williams has already left an indelible mark on USC football. 

He garnered Most Valuable Player honors for 2014 at Wednesday's team banquet, per USCTrojans.com—just one more honor to add to the growing list of accomplishments. 

The lineman's junior campaign—and perhaps collegiate career—concludes Dec. 27 when the Trojans face Nebraska in the Holiday Bowl. 

If that Saturday night in San Diego is indeed the last time Williams wears USC cardinal and gold, it's fitting. He would then go out in the same game that launched 2009 Heisman Trophy finalist and one of the premier defensive linemen in recent memory—and a Nebraska Cornhusker coincidentally—Ndamukong Suh.  

Indeed, Williams' tenure at USC can be favorably compared to the careers of predecessors like Suh, Pittsburgh's Aaron Donald, Washington's Steve Emtman—some of the best defensive linemen the college game has had to offer in the last two decades. 

In certain ways, Williams stands out from the past elite at his position. 

Williams is a new breed of defensive lineman. With his 6'5" frame, Williams looks like he would be as comfortable playing on the low post for USC basketball coach Andy Enfield as he is on the line for coordinator Justin Wilcox. 

Williams certainly has the versatility for it—he played both on the interior and at end throughout his USC career, excelling both as a pass-rusher and run-stopper. 

And perhaps most impressive is that he did so battling injury for much of the last two seasons. 

Head coach Steve Sarkisian had to limit Williams' participation in practices for stretches of the 2014 campaign, the result of a shoulder injury that required surgery last offseason and an early-season ankle injury.

The ankle flared up in the Trojans' Week 2 win at Stanford. All Williams did that afternoon was make 11 tackles and sack Cardinal quarterback Kevin Hogan. 

"Quite honestly, an amazing performance," Sarkisian said. "Never mind having an injured ankle, for a defensive lineman to have 11 tackles and a sack is a great accomplishment." 

It's no wonder, then, that the NFL is high on Williams. 

B/R NFL Draft Lead Writer Matt Miller ranks Williams No. 5 on his most recent big board. CBSSports.com pegs him No. 2 overall. 

Thus, the choice may be an easy one. Moreover, Williams has little left to prove individually.

Perhaps the Heisman is an attainable goal, but when I asked him about the award earlier this season, he shrugged: "Well, I'm a defensive tackle," alluding to the difficulty defensive players have competing for the quarterback-dominated award.   

But as a member of a team? That's another story. 

"All these what-ifs," Williams said in summary of the 2014 season. 

One more win in Pac-12 play would have sent Williams and the rest of the Trojans to the conference championship game for the first time since its inception in 2011. And given USC lost two league games in the final minute, it's evident the program is on the brink. 

"We have potential," he said. "Now that we have scholarships again, USC is going to be back to dominance.”

Williams may not be around when that happens, but his name will certainly linger around the program for years to come.  

 

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

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USC Football: Whether He Stays or Goes, Leonard Williams Has Made His Mark

All-American defensive lineman Leonard Williams isn't ready to declare himself eligible for this spring's NFL draft, but the USC star is not announcing a return for his senior season in 2015...

Read the full article on Bleacher Report...

Inside the Crazy Life of an Interim College Football Head Coach

Imagine someone handing you the keys to a Ferrari. You're free to take it wherever you wish, driving it as hard or as cautiously as you feel necessary. The only stipulation is that these privileges can—and likely will—be revoked at any point no matter how well you drive.

Come to think of it, that's not the only fine print. Your old car—the one that drove just fine before this dream scenario fell into your lap—might not be yours by the time this is over. It may be broken down and sold for parts when this is all said and done, which is something you'll need to consider at some point. Maybe you already are.

It's the opportunity of a lifetime, although you can't help but wonder what's down the road. Deep down you realize this may not end well, but you really have no choice but to jump in and drive.

And, man. Look at that car.

Welcome to the life of Dave Baldwin, conductor of one of the nation's most potent and surprising offensive attacks, interim coach at Colorado State and proud driver of a new dark green Ferrari, at least for the time being.

"There are a lot of things going on," Baldwin told Bleacher Report. "But that's what the coaching world has become."

It is both an honor and a shock to the system to be promoted internally in the month of December. There is nothing routine about this regular arrangement, although the situation has become familiar nonetheless. The Silly Season—better known as college football's frenzied hiring and firing stretch—has turned this time of year into a spectacle of sorts.

We track planes. We crash message board servers. We obsess over Twitter rumors, each seemingly more outlandish than the next. We search for the biggest names and best fits. We play armchair athletic director, trying to serve as the sport's unofficial matchmaker.

What we often breeze right past, however, are the teams (and the people) that are left behind. For every school hiring who hopes he is his program's savior, there's a roomful of players and coaches trying to process their goodbyes.

For every Florida, there's a Colorado State. There are always two very distinct, personal sides to every hire.

"I certainly knew it was coming," Baldwin said on the coaching change. "I had communications there. When it happened, how long it took and the circus involved around it, I didn't know. But when it finally happened, we knew it."

Jim McElwain's departure from Colorado State wasn't a clean break. While both sides appeared to leave on positive terms, the discussions regarding the buyout in McElwain's deal prolonged the inevitable breakup.

Eventually both schools found a middle ground to the tune of $7 million, an incredible sum that the Rams stood their ground on. Once Florida agreed to the terms, McElwain departed for Gainesville after an emotional goodbye with his 10-win team.

"We all wished him luck," Baldwin said. "At the same time, we had bowl practices to get prepared for."

That's when Colorado State handed the journeyman Baldwin a team and the interim tag. After a brilliant season—one that resulted in nine consecutive wins thanks in large part to the nation's No. 12 total offense—the play-caller of such production got the call. Given his long history in the sport, the Rams couldn't have picked a better person.

Offensive coordinator/QBs coach Dave Baldwin (@CoachBaldwinTD) has been named interim head coach. #CSURamspic.twitter.com/0sD7x41DR5

— CSU Rams Football (@CSUFootball) December 4, 2014

The 59-year-old began his career at Granada Hills Charter High School (Calif.) in 1978. By 1981, he was coaching the wide receivers at San Jose State. By '85, he had worked his way up to the same title at Stanford.

After bouncing around the West Coast, Baldwin landed his first head-coaching gig at Cal State Northridge in 1995, where he spent two seasons. He then coached San Jose State from 1997 through 2000, where he beat Stanford three times in four seasons and came away with a win over TCU—the nation's No. 9-ranked team at the time—during his tenure.

Since leaving San Jose State in 2000, Baldwin has held assistant jobs at Cincinnati, Baylor, Michigan State, New Mexico and Utah State before arriving at Colorado State in 2012, where he served as the offensive coordinator.

"He's a teacher before he's a coach," Colorado State running back Dee Hart told Kelly Lyell of The Coloradoan. "He'll kind of try to tell you how to do it before hollering at you and yelling at you and stuff like that. He's a really good guy that I think fits this program."

For nearly 40 years, Baldwin has coached football and traveled all over the country in order to do. He has seen the highs, lows and long hours that come with working in this business.

Even for him—someone who has seemingly seen everything—this presented a much different challenge. Still, it was a challenge he willingly embraced.

"The first priority is always the student-athlete and how you're going to take care of them," Baldwin said. "I accepted this so we could keep these students in the same basis that we needed to win a football game. That's why we play. We want to win; we don't want to just be competitive."

With Colorado State locked in to play Utah in the Royal Purple Las Vegas Bowl this coming Saturday, December 20, Baldwin had little time to mull over the departure of his former boss and friend. But before any practice, recruiting meeting or bowl prep could take shape, Baldwin met with his players.

There were no radical changes to the plan. There were no new philosophies shared. This was not the time to begin tinkering with the system.

"You're 10-2 for a reason," Baldwin said.

Still, the meeting was necessary. A new voice—the new voice, albeit a familiar one—had to be heard.

"I walked into the meeting and told them that this is status quo," Baldwin said. "This is your football team. You got us to be 10-2. No head coach called a play, no head coach made a tackle. It was you as a unit that understood what we had to do and followed through, and these coaches are still here to do the same."

So they went to work, just like always. On the field, the team made the most of bowl practices. Off the field, it confronted a critical time in the academic calendar.

Practice times and schedules had to be managed—and in some cases shortened—due to finals. And while his players mixed in their playbooks with their studies, Baldwin continued to recruit, a seemingly impossible task given the circumstances. It was a challenge he embraced head on.

"Even though we didn't have a coach, we had two recruiting weekends and they were very successful," Baldwin said. "You're still trying to recruit in that short period."

When he wasn't selling potential future players on the program, Baldwin was ironing out the necessary details of the weeks to come. Things like practice schedules and game plans for the No. 22 Utes took a backseat, at least initially, for the simple but necessary items.

When will the team travel? What will we do for meals? How many buses do we need? And what time should curfew be?

It's not just a matter of bringing a team together or ensuring that the necessary game plan is implemented. Simply getting to where you need to be is a tremendous undertaking, one an interim coach has to navigate in a sea of change.

"There are more hats you put on," Baldwin said. "But when they asked me to do it, I was excited about it."

Regardless of the circumstances attached, there is euphoria in being called upon to lead a 10-win football team, especially for a coach who has explored all depths of the success threshold over the past few decades.

At the same time, Baldwin is not oblivious to the elephant in the room: Even after one of the most successful seasons the program has ever had, no job is safe. Not his or anyone else's on that staff, even after all the success they experienced. And as planning for the bowl game has transpired, the work behind the curtain—out of sight and out of mind—has also unfolded.

This is the cruelest aspect of a cruel profession—a reality that no matter how much you accomplish, it still may not be good enough.

Although Baldwin is the head coach of the team now, the interim tag is being utilized for a reason. It doesn't mean it can't (and won't) morph into something more stable and long term—and he's doing everything in his power to ensure that it does—although oftentimes that is not the case for coaches thrown into a similar situation.

"The insecurity of 10 coaches maybe not having jobs all of a sudden starts to set in," Baldwin said. "I'm fighting to keep a job here, and of course I want this job. I fought to get it. At the same time, you're trying to communicate and talk to people on the outside for other jobs just in case."

"Just in case" is a phrase all college football coaches know exceedingly well. It's why there's far more at stake than the possibility of a bowl win over a ranked opponent, an opponent Baldwin called "the best football team we've seen to date."

Coaches are trying to gauge their football futures. Families are putting their lives on hold, hoping they don't have to change schools, leave friends and change area codes. Lives are being impacted well beyond team meetings all because of one significant departure.

And yet, it is in the nature of the profession to put all distractions in the rear view for the people you've spent long hours with all season and for some much longer. It's the reason they signed up for the job in the first place.

Being an interim coach is a thankless exercise in nature, although these coaches aren't seeking applause. In many ways, they're acting out of instinct.

Baldwin, like every other interim coach this bowl season and beyond, will press on with the utmost appreciation of the opportunity he's been handed and a watchful eye on what's ahead. He will drive until he's told to stop, if he's told to stop, which is the only speed he has ever known.

"They asked me to do it, and I'm representing Colorado State University," Baldwin said. "I'm representing 114 young men who gave us a fabulous season. It may be ho-hum to a lot of people, but I have an opportunity to tell these players I want to continue on what you've done.

"That's special for me."

 

Unless noted otherwise, all quotes obtained firsthand. All stats courtesy of CFBstats.com.

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Urban Meyer Will Once Again Reload Ohio State Roster with Top-10 Class

Ohio State has been one of the biggest surprises in the 2014 college football season. The Buckeyes' success can surely be sustained with the 2015 recruiting class coming into Columbus.

Bleacher Report College Football Analysts Michael Felder and Adam Kramer discuss how the Buckeyes can continue to build on their success with recruiting.

What kind of season will the Buckeyes have in 2015?

Watch the video and let us know!

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Best Remaining College Football Head Coaching Candidates

Much like the toy store shelves in the days before Christmas, the selection is starting to thin out in terms of top-notch head coaching candidates for the dwindling number of remaining FBS college football openings.

With Paul Chryst leaving Pittsburgh for Wisconsin, the current openings are Chryst's old job with the Panthers—one that has turned over numerous times in the past few years—as well as Colorado State and Michigan. Others could come open, either after bowl season or when a seated head coach leaves for another gig.

The candidate pool isn't nearly as thin, but with many of this offseason's vacancies getting filled either by  assistant coaches or coaches from outside FBS—new hires include coaches from Division III and the high school ranks—the notable names floating around are few.

Here's a look at the best remaining FBS head coaching candidates, along with potential jobs to which their names have been linked.

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Bo Pelini Went Way Too Far with Vulgar, Anti-Nebraska Administration Rant

By now, you'd think former Nebraska coach Bo Pelini would have security guards frisk everyone in the same room as him for a recording device. Or he just doesn't care. It's probably the latter. 

Pelini was fired by athletic director Shawn Eichorst on Nov. 30 following a 9-3 season that, once again, fell short of higher expectations. But whereas Eichorst made the final decision, Pelini was intent on having the final say. 

The Omaha World-Herald obtained audio of a 30-minute rant by Pelini while he met with Huskers players on Dec. 2 at Lincoln North Star High School. Pelini has since been hired as the head coach at Youngstown State. 

"A guy like (Eichorst) who has no integrity, he doesn't even understand what a core value is," Pelini told his players on the audio tape. "And he hasn't understood it from the day he got here. I saw it when I first met with the guy."

That's one of the few quotes without an F-bomb. 

Pelini did what disgruntled employees across the country wish they could do everyday: mouth off about their boss—or former boss, as the case may be—in front of people who will listen.  

Interestingly, Pelini's rant wasn't a yelling match. Rather, the World-Herald describes Pelini as speaking "conversationally, seldom raising his voice." How Pelini spoke to his players hardly matters, though. What matters, as Tom Shatel of the World-Herald opines, is that Pelini dragged them into an ugly situation whether they wanted to be involved or not. 

If Pelini felt he was at war with NU, why put the young men in the middle of it?

Do any of those players really care about his relationship with his athletic director? How many of them care about the A.D. or chancellor? Not many.

In a statement obtained by the Lincoln Journal Star, Nebraska noted the alleged comments as another reason to move on: 

If these comments were, indeed, spoken by Mr. Pelini, we are extremely disappointed, but it only reaffirms the decision that he should no longer be a leader of young men at Nebraska. His habitual use of inappropriate language, and his personal and professional attacks on administrators, are antithetical to the values of our university. His behavior is consistent with a pattern of unprofessional, disrespectful behavior directed by Mr. Pelini toward the passionate fans of Nebraska, employees of the university and, most concerning, our student-athletes. This behavior is not tolerated at the University of Nebraska and, among many other concerns, played a role in his dismissal.

This isn't the first time Pelini has been recorded going on a profanity-laced tirade. Last year, an audio recording surfaced of Pelini blasting Nebraska fans and media in 2011. However, that was a private moment of frustration recorded without Pelini's knowledge. This is different; Pelini knew exactly what he was doing even if he didn't know he was being recorded. Chances are, he's not about to apologize for it. 

There's something to be said about a coach who speaks his mind, loves his players and doesn't give a single damn about what others think of him. That's Pelini. He's a player's coach, that's well-documented. When he was fired last month, players past and present took to Twitter to vent their frustrations.

Former Huskers great Ndamukong Suh even said that Nebraska's problems started higher up than the head coach's office.

That may be true. Pelini may be right about Eichorst, and there are probably players who agree with him. That doesn't mean the rest of the players who may not have an opinion need to be put in a situation where they have to take sides. That's the unfair part. 

Furthermore, none of that changes the fact that Pelini and Eichorst could never successfully coexist. Venting about it certainly doesn't get Pelini his job back. If anything, it throws up a red flag for Pelini down the road if he ever wants to get hired by a major program again. 

Pelini isn't a victim, if for no other reason than that term is thrown around far too loosely. Was Pelini unjustly fired? There are arguments to be made on both sides, but they are meant for another conversation. 

Ultimately, though, Pelini was probably fired a year too late. The marriage was never going to last, so cutting ties, however awkward, was the right call. It's over. What's unfortunate is that the ill will toward one another has been drawn out as long as it has. 

 

Ben Kercheval is a lead writer for college football.

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Alabama Football: Jalston Fowler the Ultimate Unsung Hero During Tide Career

TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — There was a time when Jalston Fowler thought none of this would be possible.

After sustaining a knee injury against Western Kentucky in the second game of the 2012 season, Alabama’s big, bruising running back considered leaving football altogether, with a painful rehab in front of him.

“I mean, back when I was in a relationship with my girlfriend, she had to just keep me going, keep me positive through the whole thing,” Fowler remembers over two years later. “Family and friends, too. Now that I look back on it, I'm happy that I didn't.”

Now, Fowler—or “Nudie,” as Alabama coach Nick Saban and his teammates call him—is one of the most versatile players on the Alabama offense. The ever-smiling Fowler is a fan favorite who was voted a team captain by his teammates. The Prichard, Alabama, native earned his master’s degree over the weekend.

He’s been the unsung hero for Alabama during his career, and his story is one that has even made Saban reflect on his famous “process.”

“When I see guys like Jalston Fowler who have matured and progressed here from sort of being a young guy coming in that had a lot of ability but now has matured into a fine young man who has graduated, has goals and aspirations for himself, does things the right way, affects other people in the right way, that’s what makes me believe the process works,” Saban said before the 2014 season.

“When you have guys that haven’t been in the program that make some mistakes, do the wrong thing, you get frustrated. But when you see the guys that have been here and gone through it, you see how they’ve matured through the years and what they’ve become, it really makes me feel like, ‘Hey, the process works.’”

Fowler was recruited to Alabama as a running back, but carrying the ball won’t be what he’s remembered for.

In 2013, his first season back from his knee injury, then-offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier used him primarily as a fullback and an H-back. He was a lead blocker for T.J. Yeldon and Kenyan Drake but was at his most effective as a receiver.

His signature play was a play-action swing pass on the goal line that he executed to perfection. He caught a touchdown against Texas A&M in 2013 that sealed the win in one of the biggest games of that college football season.

Fowler’s stat line from that year reads seven catches for 15 yards...and five touchdowns.

When Lane Kiffin was hired, he—like he has for so many players on this roster—found even more creative ways to use the 6’1”, 248-pound Fowler’s talents.

Fowler has lined up just about everywhere on the field except under center.

He’s carried the ball a handful of times. He’s played the fullback/H-back role, lead-blocking again for Alabama’s stable of running backs. His signature play hasn’t gone anywhere, catching two scores on the goal line.

But Fowler has been split out wide on a number of occasions. It’s mostly been as a decoy or as a blocker on screens for faster players like Amari Cooper or DeAndrew White.

Take this stat from TideSports.com’s D.C. Reeves from the SEC Championship Game:

So it’s clear that Kiffin has found a multitude of uses for Fowler. In the spirit of Christmas, Kiffin, as Fowler explains, is “just having a little bit of fun with the offense, with all his toys.”

So which toy is Fowler?

“I'm the big dump truck,” he says, once again flashing that contagious smile.

Fowler hasn’t made the eye-opening plays that Cooper or Yeldon routinely make, but he’s beloved by his teammates all the same.

He’s played a small role for a big guy but a role that has been critical nonetheless. And he’s earned recognition from his teammates because of it.

“Jalston's a great teammate, great leader,” Derrick Henry said. “When we get in the game, it's easy for him. It's nothing he can't do. That's what we expect out of him.”

 

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

Follow on Twitter @marctorrence.

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Texas A&M Football: Who Are Remaining Candidates for Aggie DC Position?

Texas A&M football head coach Kevin Sumlin dismissed defensive coordinator Mark Snyder on November 28, per Jerry Hinnen of CBS Sports. The Aggies have been searching for the right defensive coordinator to fix their struggling defense since that date, and they have a number of qualified candidates still available. 

The fact that multiple coaches have been hired in the past couple of weeks has whittled the potential list down some. Former Florida head coach Will Muschampaccepted an offer to return to Auburn as the defensive coordinator, per Brandon Marcello of AL.com. 

Missouri defensive coordinator Dave Steckel took over the Missouri State program as its new head coach, per Tom Fornelli of CBS Sports. Former Nebraska head coach Bo Pelini decided to return to his Ohio roots and took the head coaching job at Youngstown State, per Sam Cooper of Yahoo Sports.

There is no definitive timetable set for when the Aggies will announce their new hire. Sumlin and the football administration seem intent on taking their time to ensure they make the correct hire.

This is a look at some of the top candidates remaining for the Texas A&M defensive coordinator position.

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Predictions & Preview for the Biggest Recruiting Day of 2015 Thus Far

National signing day is still more than a month away, but fans and schools around the country will catch a glimpse of the madness yet to come on Friday when four recruits rated 4 stars or higher will announce their commitments. 

The standouts scheduled to announce include 5-star linebacker Malik Jefferson, 4-star linebacker Ricky DeBerry, 4-star all-purpose back Nyheim Hines and 4-star athlete DeAndre McNeal.

With the quality and quantity of prospects making their decisions known, Friday will easily mark the biggest day of this recruiting period to date.

Think of it as an appetizer before the feast that will commence.

But who are the main players for these studs and where will they land? 

 

Malik Jefferson

Jefferson is the nation’s top outside linebacker prospect, and he will enroll at his school of choice in January to get a head start on his college career.

The 6’3”, 215-pounder, who was recently announced as the winner of the Butkus Award, has Baylor, LSU, Oklahoma, Texas, Texas A&M and UCLA among his final group. 

However, his recruitment appears to be coming down to an in-state tug of war between old rivals in the Longhorns and Aggies—with the Bruins being a potential sleeper.

Considering that he rushes the passer off the edge and drops into coverage against running backs or tight ends with equal fluidity, Jefferson is the rare linebacker prospect who can stay on the field for three downs on the college level.

Regardless of where he lands, Jefferson is a special talent who can fit into any scheme thanks to his versatility.

While this his been a back-and-forth tussle between the Aggies and the Longhorns, the Aggies have the upper hand with current momentum on the recruiting trail. With Kevin Sumlin and his staff pushing for a second consecutive top-five class, adding Jefferson would seemingly cement the 2015 class as one of the nation's top groups.

Prediction: Texas A&M

 

DeAndre McNeal 

Considering that Jefferson and McNeal are prep teammates at Poteet High School in Mesquite, Texas, there is a strong chance they continue to play together at the next level.

In fact, according to Taylor Hamm of GigEm247 (subscription required), McNeal has stated his intention for he and Jefferson to attend the same school.

The 6’2”, 228-pounder, who accompanied Jefferson on a visit to UCLA last weekend, told Ryan Bartow of 247Sports (subscription required) that playing wide receiver instead of linebacker will play a big role in his decision.

He stands out as a jumbo receiver on offense who can overpower smaller defensive backs and make tough, athletic plays over the middle of the field. 

The loss of Texas A&M receivers coach David Beaty—who left to take the head coaching job at Kansas—is a negative for the Aggies.

However, Given that Sumlin’s offense has always been one that is friendly to receivers, the Aggies still have a lot of positives to pitch with the big-bodied pass-catcher.

Prediction: Texas A&M

 

Ricky DeBerry

DeBerry is perhaps the hardest to read in terms of pegging a favorite of the prospects announcing on Friday. 

In December alone, he’s received visits from the staffs at Michigan State, Texas A&M, Oklahoma, Alabama and Penn State, per 247Sports

Of that group, Bob Stoops and the Sooners are the only school without multiple pledges at linebacker in the 2015 cycle.

In fact, the Sooners have zero linebacker commitments. 

At 6’3”, 240 pounds, the U.S. Army All-American is one of a handful of 2015 prospects who are ready to make an immediate impact in college from a physical standpoint.

While schools such as Virginia and Tennessee are also involved with DeBerry, the Sooners seem to have the most momentum heading into DeBerry’s announcement.

Prediction: Oklahoma

 

Nyheim Hines

According to Bartow, it will be an ACC battle for Hines—with N.C. State and Virginia Tech neck and neck leading up to his decision. 

He visited Blacksburg last weekend and came away impressed with what he saw, per Bartow

The 5’9”, 187-pound spark plug is one of the nation’s fastest prospects with a recorded time of 4.34 seconds in the 40-yard dash.

As a junior, Hines rushed for 3,137 yards with 49 touchdowns while averaging more than 10 yards per carry. 

He’s also a potential matchup nightmare for defenses as a receiver coming out the backfield.

While the Hokies have some late momentum, Dave Doeren and the Wolfpack have done a great job with in-state prospects in this cycle as of late. 

Expect that trend to continue.

Prediction: N.C. State

  

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

 

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Michigan Risking Huge Embarrassment with Gigantic Jim Harbaugh Offer

Sometimes you arrive at desperation logically. Panic becomes the only sensible move.   

That's the best way to describe why Michigan is going so far overboard in trying to land Jim Harbaugh as its new football coach, after he already told the Wolverines no. NFL Network's Ian Rapoport reported Wednesday that Michigan is offering Harbaugh a six-year contract at $8 million a year, which is more than 10 percent higher than the $7.16 million that current NCAA highest-paid coachNick Saban makes and 60 percent more than Harbaugh's current $5 million yearly salary.

My first thoughts: desperation. Never going to get him. Going to end in embarrassment. Exactly the right play.

That Michigan feels it would take a ridiculous offer to interest a superstar coach who should have an emotional connection to the place shows just how far Michigan has fallen.

Harbaugh is now willing to think about it, according to ESPN's Adam Schefter. That would be great if I believed it for one second. No, it's a far better bet that he is using his alma mater as leverage for a few weeks until the NFL season ends, the San Francisco 49ers dump him and other NFL teams come after him. Now they can see how much it will take to get him.

I'm suspicious, too, about who leaked the news. If it was Harbaugh or someone from his camp, wanting NFL teams to know, then Michigan should already know it's being used. If it was Michigan, well, that's pathetic. It's an announcement to the world that Michigan can still be considered by the hottest coach in the country, like it wants all the kids in school to know that the popular girl is considering its invite to the prom. There's currency in that.

Either way, Michigan doesn't seem to be denying the report.

And it's just such a curious thing that Harbaugh is so hot. Every time a big opening comes up, Harbaugh's name immediately is leaked. Oakland Raiders, New York Jets, Chicago Bears. Michigan. Everyone wants this guy.

Everyone except for the guy who has him. And he can't wait to get rid of him.

Harbaugh has a shelf life. You love him when you get him because he's such a great coach and he instills discipline and toughness. And he wins. But he's sort of a prickly football genius who thrives on challenging people, pushing their buttons and making them uncomfortable.

In the pros, players are recyclable. And if they don't get along with Harbaugh, they can be dumped. In college, you can't just do that. And if Harbaugh makes everyone around him, including co-workers, uncomfortable, how will he do with Michigan's big alumni and boosters, and all those players' parents? What a mess.

So how can I say that Michigan is doing the right thing by going for him with such outrageous money?

Let's call is justifiable panic. The place is in a freefall and has no idea what it wants or needs. It tried to modernize by hiring Rich Rodriguez as the coach, and then started trying to force him out as soon as it shook his hand to welcome him. Then it went the traditional Michigan Man route in Brady Hoke, who failed miserably.

What's left? Tough love. Michigan is not a national program anymore. The Big Ten is slipping from national relevance overall, other than Ohio State and maybe Michigan State.

I've heard calls in Michigan for the Wolverines not to worry about name recognition in a coach, and to worry instead about building things slowly, and over the long term, like Mark Dantonio did it at Michigan State.

That is a different animal. Michigan is still trying to stay within shouting distance of the national stage. Get the wrong guy again, and that's over. It might never come back (see: Nebraska).

If getting a superstar coach is part PR, then fine. There is nothing wrong with PR. Michigan needs to think one way: How will we land the stud high school quarterback in Florida or Texas or wherever? Those kids are going to high-powered, fast-paced offenses in warm weather. They don't know who Bo Schembechler is. And everyone is on TV now, so Michigan has lost nearly all of its built-in advantages just for being Michigan.

Do you know what these kids do know?

Jim Harbaugh.

Michigan needs a big-name coach right away. It needs a reason for people to look at the Wolverines before everyone starts forgetting they're there at all. One of the big reasons Ohio State has kept its name while the entire Midwest fades is that Urban Meyer is its coach. Every recruit knows who he is.

Harbaugh has been to the Super Bowl, has developed Alex Smith at quarterback. He also worked a miracle at Stanford, taking a smart-kid team and turning it into a blood-and-guts place. No way would anyone have thought that would work there.

Meanwhile, all the other big-name coaches keep saying no to Michigan. Les Miles, Sean Payton, TCU's Gary Patterson, who got a contract extension out of Michigan's interest in him.

Reality sets in. Options run out. So Michigan took another run at the Big One. If it pulls this off, then Harbaugh will likely turn Michigan around quickly. But his shelf life will still be an issue. The clock is always ticking with him.

On the other hand, what if he turns down the job? What if he's only using Michigan as leverage? How will it look if Michigan couldn't even get a local boy to take the job as the richest coach ever?

Well, Michigan can deal with that later.

This is the time for panic.

 

Greg Couch covers college football for Bleacher Report. He also writes for The New York Times and was formerly a scribe for FoxSports.com and the Chicago Sun-Times. Follow him on Twitter @gregcouch.

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Who Are the Biggest Sleeper Recruits in the 2015 Class?

We all know about the big-name college football recruits, the guys who are atop the big boards and discussed by head coaches across the nation. But some players out there are under the radar and don't get much publicity.

Bleacher Report College Football Analysts Michael Felder, Adam Kramer and Barrett Sallee reveal their sleeper recruits in the video above.

Who is your sleeper? Check out the video and let us know!

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How South Carolina Can Round Out Strong 2015 Class and Finish in Top 10

Steve Spurrier and his South Carolina Gamecocks have hit the recruiting trail hard thus far, scooping up top-tier talent to address some of their pressing needs. 

Bleacher Report College Football Analysts Michael Felder and Barrett Sallee break down the class and what type of impact these recruits will have on the South Carolina program.

Has Spurrier done enough to bolster the Gamecocks roster? Check out the video and let us know!

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Why College Football Playoff Expansion Won't Be Happening Anytime Soon

ATLANTA — Proponents of College Football Playoff expansion are like kids on Christmas this holiday season.

They've ripped the wrapping paper off the gift, but before they open the packaging and play with the toy, they've moved on to unwrap the next present.

Here we are in mid-December, with the inaugural national semifinals and College Football Playoff National Championship Game looming, and calls for expanding the four-team playoff have already started.

ESPN.com polled 103 FBS coaches, and 44 percent of them were in favor of the postseason expanding to eight teams. That's not surprising, as bonus money would probably be due to most or all of those in favor if they earned a playoff spot.

President Barack Obama even chimed in on the side of eight teams on The Herd with Colin Cowherd on ESPN Radio earlier this month, via AL.com. "[Expanding to four] was the right thing to do," he said, "and I suspect it'll end up being eight teams, and that'll be just about right."

If you're hoping for the playoff to be expanded anytime soon, you're going to be disappointed this holiday season.

It's not happening. Not for this generation of college football players, anyway.

"It's a four-team tournament for 12 years," College Football Playoff Executive Director Bill Hancock told B/R. "There hasn't been any discussion in our group about expanding."

Preservation of the regular season has been a top priority of the College Football Playoff selection committee, and nothing that took place this season has suggested that an expanded playoff and the relevance of the regular season can coexist.

"Regular-season football is the best thing we have going for us in college athletics," Hancock said. "Nobody wants to erode that. There is a tipping point, beyond which the postseason would begin to draw life out of the regular season. Nobody knows what that tipping point is, but it's not four. We know that. It could be eight, and it could be 16."

If the playoff expanded to eight, it's unlikely it would be approved by the conference commissioners unless their conference champions were guaranteed automatic bids. That would almost certainly include one spot for the best team out of the "Group of Five," which would be Boise State this season.

Does an 11-2 Boise State team that's ranked 20th deserve a shot at the national title this year? Of course not. What about a Wisconsin team that won the Big Ten in 2012 with an 8-5 record and finished 4-4 in the conference? Nope.

The goal of the College Football Playoff should be to reward excellence, not grant access. Expanding to eight would favor access over excellence and permanently change what the goal should be.

A team that isn't deserving of being in the discussion getting hot and winning the title is far more detrimental to the sport and the regular season than a team that is deserving getting left out every once in a while is.

While the cries for expansion have been loud, they didn't come as a shock to Hancock or anybody associated with the College Football Playoff.

"It's not surprising," he said. "Within a couple of days of making the announcement about the playoff in June of 2012, people were already saying that it has to be more. Here we come out and have given folks the playoff they've been wanting, and they already wanted more."

Even though the quest for an expanded College Football Playoff will fall on deaf ears for the next decade-plus, the interest the four-team playoff has generated for college football fans and casual fans who simply tune in for the biggest games is good for the sport.

"It's a sign that people love the game," Hancock said. "They want more college football. There's just so much passion for it."

Could television dollars and ratings change the perception among the sport's powerbrokers before the end of the 12-year contract? Absolutely. 

The same tipping point in the fight to preserve the regular season would still exist regarding the value of regular-season television contracts, which skyrocketed under the old BCS structure. Scarcity of games in the postseason is a big reason why that interest and the dollars that come along with it exist in the first place.

College football just got a new toy, and it's going to play with it for 12 years.

Enjoy it for a little while before tossing it aside and moving on.

 

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

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

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Urban Meyer Has Tim Tebow Speak to Buckeyes Ahead of College Football Playoff

As the Ohio State Buckeyes prepare to take on the Alabama Crimson Tide in the Sugar Bowl for the inaugural College Football Playoff, coach Urban Meyer is doing everything he can to make sure his team is ready for the game.

On Wednesday night, Meyer had one of his former players—University of Florida legend Tim Tebow—come speak to his team.

It probably isn't a bad idea to have Tebow give the team a pep talk leading up to a huge game. Tebow did win two national championships and a Heisman Trophy during his Gators career. Oh, he also delivered one of the most memorable postgame speeches in recent memory.

[Urban Meyer]

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Semifinal Preview: Will Florida State Slow Down Oregon's Stellar Offense?

Florida State has had close games all season, and they have a good defense to thank for keeping them in most of those games.

Oregon's offense is one of the most potent in the entire country, though.

These teams square off for a shot at the national championship in the Rose Bowl on January 1. 

Bleacher Report College Football Analysts Michael Felder and Adam Kramer break down the national semifinal game. 

Who will win? Oregon or Florida State?

Watch the video and let us know! 

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Bowl Games Schedule 2014-15: Full College Football Postseason Slate and Picks

The initial College Football Playoff may overshadow the rest of bowl season, but there are going to be plenty of marquee showdowns that serve as enticing appetizers.

From a nationally ranked Utah team playing on the first day of the bowl season to clashes between Michigan State and Baylor, TCU and Ole Miss and Mississippi State and Georgia Tech, there is plenty to look forward to outside of the two playoff showdowns.

With that in mind, here is a look at the schedule and predictions for the entire bowl season.

 

Bowl Season Opening Day Game to Watch: Air Force vs. Western Michigan

Western Michigan and Air Force are not exactly unstoppable machines when it comes to postseason play. The Broncos have never won a bowl game in five tries; the Falcons have lost five of their past seven.

Something will have to give this season.

Western Michigan coach P.J. Fleck discussed the privilege of playing Air Force, according to STATS LLC, via ESPN.com:

It's an honor ever to play against a service academy. You talk about a true team—Air Force, Navy, Army...when those teams play, they play for their country, they play for each other. Our team can learn a lot from [the Air Force] football team.

Air Force makes no secret of what it wants to do on offense. It was eighth in the country in rushing yards per game and 118th in passing offense, largely because of the triple-option look it gives on nearly every play. 

The Falcons had nine players tally a rushing touchdown on the season, but it was running back Jacobi Owens who was most effective, with 1,082 rushing yards. Quarterback Kale Pearson contributed 758 rushing yards of his own and managed to throw for 14 touchdowns to just three interceptions when he did air it out.

Most passes came as a reaction to defenses committing too many defenders into the box in an effort to slow down the triple-option attack.

Western Michigan’s defense was a respectable 37th in the country against the run on the season and should be able to at least prevent the Air Force rushing game from completely dominating. That will help the Broncos get the ball into the hands of their formidable offensive attack.

Brent Briggeman of The Gazette of Colorado Springs noted that the experience on Western Michigan’s defense will help in the preparation for the triple-option look:

Granted, the Broncos will have two weeks to prepare for this game, but it's not like they were doing any offseason prep work for the Falcons. They had to formulate a game plan in a hurry, then hope they could simulate it with some degree of accuracy on the practice field.

It should help Western Michigan that its defensive leaders are veterans. On a roster largely dominated by freshmen and sophomores, the five leading tacklers are juniors and seniors.

When the Broncos have the ball, they bring a much more balanced attack to the table than Air Force.

Quarterback Zach Terrell threw for 3,146 yards and 23 touchdowns and finished third in the country in yards per pass (9.53) and 16th in total QBR (76.5). Throw in running back Jarvion Franklin’s 1,525 rushing yards and 24 touchdowns, which was third-best in the nation, and it is no wonder opposing defenses had so much trouble stopping the Broncos.

Terrell will look for wide receivers Corey Davis and Daniel Braverman early and often, considering Davis led the MAC with 12 touchdowns and was second with 1,232 receiving yards, while Braverman was sixth in the league with 912 receiving yards.

Air Force’s defense finished 101st against the pass this season, which could be a serious problem against Terrell, Davis and Braverman.

The Falcons may be able to put some points on the board with the triple-option, but Western Michigan’s defense is set up to stop Air Force much more effectively than Air Force is set up to slow down the Broncos' aerial assault. 

That will make the ultimate difference in this game

Prediction: Western Michigan 34, Air Force 20

 

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