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Jim Harbaugh to Michigan Would 'Redefine Grand Slam Hires in College Ranks'

The Michigan Wolverines are in search of their next head coach. With a hungry fanbase and a legacy to protect, many are asking for a big-name hire.

Steve Lorenz247Sports Michigan Insider, joined Stephen Nelson to discuss who could potentially be the next head coach in Ann Arbor. 

Who should Michigan hire?

Watch the video and let us know. 

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Antonio Williams to Wisconsin: Badgers Land 4-Star RB Prospect

Wisconsin has landed its next potential star at running back. Antonio Williams announced his commitment to the Badgers on Thursday, choosing them over co-finalists Auburn, Duke, Notre Dame and Georgia.

Benjamin Worgull of Scout.com had the report:

A 4-star recruit from North Stanly (North Carolina) High School, Williams was considered a lock to attend Wisconsin for much of the process. 247Sports' Crystal Ball projections gave the Badgers an 82 percent chance of landing the commitment as of Thursday morning, with Georgia (12 percent) and Auburn (six percent) the only others receiving consideration.    

Wisconsin hosted Williams for his unofficial visit for its 34-24 victory over Minnesota on Nov. 29. An impressive trip to Madison undoubtedly left the Badgers an even bigger advantage; Williams very publicly bemoaned having to leave the campus:

Of course, that's all without mentioning their recent run of pro-ready running backs. Melvin Gordon is well on his way to a trip to New York City for the Heisman Trophy ceremony. Gordon has rushed 2,260 yards and 26 touchdowns heading into Saturday's Big Ten Championship Game and is considered a potential first-round pick, per CBSSports.com.

Wisconsin has produced at least one 1,000-yard rusher each of the last six seasons. Gordon will look to join Montee Ball and James White as the recent Badgers who are rumbling on Sundays. 

Auburn is the only other finalist that could boast about its recent running back success. Tre Mason, a Heisman finalist last season, is currently the starting running back for the St. Louis Rams. Notre Dame is one of the most storied programs in the country and Duke appears on the rise, but the line of logic is clear as to why most expected Williams to become a Badger.

Listed at 5'11" and 210 pounds, Williams is North Carolina's third-best player in the Class of 2016. Only outside linebacker Keion Joyner and defensive tackle Dexter Lawrence are higher on 247Sports' composite rankings. As a junior, he rushed for 2,852 yards and 36 touchdowns, per 247Sports. Competition level will be a bit of a question given the disparity between Big Ten play and his local high schools, but Williams appears to be developing into a star.

He doesn't boast elite speed but runs with a decisiveness and can overpower smaller defenders. Much more Ball than Gordon in terms of his downfield burst, Williams will need to prove he can handle elite college speeds before he becomes a contributor.

That said, he's still more than a year away from arriving in Madison. Thus far he's proven himself quite adaptable. 

 

Follow Tyler Conway (@tylerconway22) on Twitter

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Cardale Jones' Performance vs. Wisconsin Will Decide Ohio State's Playoff Hopes

Ohio State's playoff hopes were broken as soon as J.T. Barrett's ankle was. 

At least that's the common perception. 

The selection committee's job is to determine the best teams moving forward. Sure, the Buckeyes have won 10 in a row and scored 40 points in eight of those games, including a 49-37 thrashing of No. 8 Michigan State. But losing one of the most dynamic players in America at the most important position on the field changes things significantly. 

OSU is an unknown entity without Barrett, and with several teams deserving of the top four spots, the selection committee will find it difficult to advocate rolling the dice on the Buckeyes, who feature such a glaring variable. 

Fortunately for Urban Meyer, whose playoff hopes were already falsely terminated twice this season (once after Braxton Miller's injury, another after Barrett looked terrible in a loss against Virginia Tech), he still has a week to convince the committee of his team's merits for the top four.

Or perhaps more accurately, Cardale Jones has a week to do the convincing. 

The odds are stacked against him. He's a sophomore with 19 career pass attempts and very little game experience. Even Barrett, who we now know is as talented as anyone in the country, struggled to quickly acclimate when he was thrown into the fire. 

But Jones is no slouch. He's 6'5" and 250 pounds with athleticism and a rocket arm. While he isn't as quick, elusive or as accurate as Barrett, he is a physical, dynamic threat who can thrive in Meyer's offense. 

"Cardale is a great player," Barrett said, via ESPN.com's Austin Ward. "I honestly feel like if I wasn't starting this year, Cardale would have done the same things I did this year. Cardale is that talented. He definitely can do it."

While that's pretty basic teammate-speak, Jones has the perfect stage to put his talent on display. 

No. 12 Wisconsin, one of the hottest teams in the country, has won seven in a row and allowed just 17.6 points per game over that span. The game is also on a neutral field, and it's an opponent Ohio State has yet to play this season. 

The Buckeyes were already expected to leap-frog into the top four with a Big Ten championship win, which would vault them to 12-1. If Jones lights up the Badgers and leads his team to a statement win in arguably its second-most difficult game of the season, that's enough proof to suggest a major drop-off just isn't coming. 

Whether or not that happens is a different question entirely. But let's not erase Ohio State's playoff hopes quite yet. 

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Beware: This Isn't the Same 'Soft' Oregon Team

The assumption, even now, is that Oregon will eventually fail.

It’s why a team with all of the essential components—headlined by a create-a-player under center, a youthful bowling ball at running back and a wide receiver-consuming star at corner—is still soaring under the radar as it prepares for Arizona.

Everything is bright, quick and impossible to miss, and yet, we choose to miss it. Although Oregon has traveled light-years in the past decade while operating at lightning speeds, it still hasn’t earned our collective approval.

That can change this weekend when the Ducks plays for revenge, a Pac-12 championship and a spot in the College Football Playoff. Also on the line is an opportunity to silence all narratives that this team has been unable to shake.

“Internally, everybody probably knew what the perception was after losing to Stanford in back-to-back seasons and that overall style,” Andy McNamara, assistant athletic director for communications at Oregon, said. “It is kind of contrasting from a big-picture standpoint, but on both sides of the line we have guys who are pretty nasty.”

McNamara is not your typical university employee. Like everything else at Oregon, his title comes with flash. McNamara is a mouthpiece for the football team, releasing a weekly video on the Oregon website that highlights the latest happenings in the program, the Pac-12 and relevant national stories.

As part of this, McNamara watches a lot of football and, in particular, Oregon football. He has seen more than his share of immensely talented Eugene teams since arriving in 2005—the highlight being a three-point loss in the national championship back in 2011.

Over time, he has also watched the reputation of the program chameleon-ize: from the good (the facilities, the wins and the obvious national rise) to the bad (the idea that Oregon is still somehow “soft” or incapable of winning higher profile games with its unique style).

“It’s not a label that’s going to be easy to shake as long as we continue to put up points,” McNamara said. “We come across this perception all the time that it’s some gimmicky offense and the defense is sort of along for the ride. This is a really complete team in every facet.”

Oregon has the opportunity to showcase its completeness to the College Football Playoff selection committee on Friday. As the No. 2 team in the current Top 25, the Ducks will lock up a playoff spot with a victory over Arizona. They’re also in contention for the No. 1 seed.

On October 2, the night Arizona walked off the Eugene turf following its 31-24 victory, this end-of-season scenario never felt feasible, not after another crushing disappointment.

The Ducks, coping with substantial injuries to the offensive line and relying heavily on youth, had ample excuses as to why they were unable to overcome Arizona, a team that proved its worth over the course of the season.

Regardless of the circumstances attached, the “Same Ol’ Ducks” headlines poured in; narrative prevailed yet again.

Only days later, the offensive line started to return some key pieces, which helped Oregon power past UCLA the following weekend. Then the youth who struggled early on started to develop. Then Oregon hit its stride.

Since falling to Arizona 31-24 more than two months ago, the Ducks have averaged nearly 48 points per game and outscored their opponents 333-163.

“I think they’ve gotten more comfortable with some of the new guys they have in key roles, and I think they’ve gotten healthier in certain spots,” Arizona coach Rich Rodriguez said. “But they were really playing well before we played them. Now they’ve just been rolling right by people. In all three phases they’ve just been dominating.”

Rodriguez, like the rest of the football universe, can’t help but marvel at some of the things Marcus Mariota does with the ball in his hand. At the same time, his defense—led by the spectacular Scooby Wright, a Heisman contender in his own right—has been able to keep the quarterback in check its past two meetings.

Mariota’s health along with the health of those trying keep him upright played a role in these games. With that fine print considered, the Wildcats have found a formula most Pac-12 teams are still searching for.

26% of Marcus Mariota's turnovers in his college career have come against Arizona. 3 INTs and 3 fumbles.

— Daniel Berk (@DSBerk) December 1, 2014

Still, Rodriguez understands the obstacle ahead. The trick to shutting down Oregon begins in the most obvious of places. It’s also easier said than done despite the promising track record.

“I think Marcus has been one of the best quarterbacks in the country since probably the day he took his first start,” Rodrigeuz said. “If you didn’t have to play him, you’d love watching him. In my opinion, he’ll win the Heisman.”

Mariota, however, is not alone in his offensive efforts. The newest piece to the Oregon machine, running back Royce Freeman, has made a splash in his first season on campus. If you’re looking for a singular piece that single-handedly destroys all notions of being “soft,” look no further than the 229-pound true freshman.

Freeman has emerged as one of the most dangerous threats in the conference. He didn’t burst onto the scene out of the gate, although the timing of his surge should come as no surprise. As Freeman got going so did the Ducks.

“It was one of the runs against UCLA where it started to click,” Freeman told Bleacher Report in October. “I broke a good amount of tackles and finished a run hard. Every time I get the ball I need to have that attitude.”

Since the loss to Arizona, Freeman has hit the 100-yard mark in five of seven games and totaled 98 and 99 yards in the other two matchups. He’s also found the end zone 12 times, pushing his total touchdowns to 17 in his first season. His emergence as Stanford antidote has shown up in plenty of other situations.

The defense—as McNamara so aptly stated above—has remained the forgotten piece. While you won’t confuse Oregon with Stanford, the play has outperformed the perception yet again.

For the second consecutive year, the Ducks are No. 2 in the Pac-12 in scoring defense. In the past month, Oregon has given up more than 20 points only one time.

Defense will never be the bedrock of this team’s identity, even with a player like Ifo Ekpre-Olomu patrolling the back end, which will undoubtedly be tested on Friday. It also doesn’t have to be, at least not with the way this particular team is constructed.

This is by no means a perfectly balanced group, although no such team exists in 2014. Since its one and only loss to Arizona in October, however, Oregon has had the look of the sport’s most dominant team.

“Obviously there are a lot of guys who were a part of that,” head coach Mark Helfrich said. “Anytime you do something for a second time or you see somebody across the country do something you don’t want to repeat, hopefully you’re learning from those situations.”

The topic of revenge will be sold in (and throughout) the Pac-12 championship in bulk. With both teams vying for a playoff spot, however, no further motivation is necessary. That doesn’t mean you won’t be tired of the term halfway through the second quarter.

The reality, however, is that Oregon’s loss to Arizona earlier could end up being a blessing in disguise. While it originally drove a tired narrative home, it also served as a valuable turning point at a time when Oregon was still finding itself.

“I think the best thing that might have happened to us this year was losing that game to Arizona,” McNamara said. “Not that we were sloppy or played awful in that game, it really just refocused the team. They began to play a little bit looser and with more confidence, something that has continued to build since this season has gone on.”

Operating with a style that has made it unique and remarkably successful, Oregon will look to free itself of all narratives on Friday night. To do so it won’t suddenly change what got it to this point, nor should it.

"Dealing with success is sometimes harder than dealing with defeat," Helfrich said. "I think that’s been equally impressive."

With the necessary tweaks in place and the likely Heisman winner fully operational, Oregon will stay the course and incorporate the smaller, finer changes to its already successful blueprint. The overall identity of this team has not shifted.

It still wants to move as fast as it possibly can—faster than anyone it plays against. It wants to bloody teams with touchdowns and destroy scoreboards in tremendous and destructive fashion, operating in the most high-tech and eye-popping threads on the planet.

The new plan looks a lot like the old plan, which might ignite familiar reservations. There's only one way to change that.

Label this team, if you dare, at your own risk.

 

Adam Kramer is the College Football National Lead Writer for Bleacher Report. Unless noted, all quotes were obtained firsthand.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Beware: This Isn't the Same 'Soft' Oregon Team

The assumption, even now, is that Oregon will eventually fail. It’s why a team with all of the essential components—headlined by a create-a-player under center, a youthful ...

Read the full article on Bleacher Report...

Big Ten Championship 2014: Preview, Predictions for Ohio State vs. Wisconsin

The Ohio State Buckeyes enter Saturday's Big Ten Championship Game with an outside shot to qualify for the inaugural College Football Playoff. Standing in their way are the Wisconsin Badgers in what should be an epic matchup at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis.

Prior to the Buckeyes' victory over archrival Michigan last week, OSU figured to enter this conference-title clash with a big edge at the quarterback position. Unfortunately, J.T. Barrett, who did so well in Braxton Miller's stead, fractured his ankle versus the Wolverines.

That leaves former third-stringer Cardale Jones tasked with making his starting debut for the Scarlet and Gray on just about the most pressure-packed stage fathomable. Good luck, young man.

Below is an overall preview of Saturday's showdown, along with several predictions as to how Jones will fare, how the game will unfold and a final score projection.

Note: Statistics courtesy of NCAA.com.

 

 

Predictions

Ohio State Leans Heavily on Ezekiel Elliott

One may glean over the general statistics prior to the Big Ten title kickoff and be led to believe the Buckeyes have no chance to run on a Badgers defense that concedes just 3.03 yards per carry.

Bear in mind, though, that all of Wisconsin's ranked opponents that have run the ball well have been so one-dimensional that it could load the box and focus most of its efforts on clogging running lanes.

Jones must keep the Badgers secondary honest. With how dangerous the likes of Jalin Marshall, Michael Thomas and Devin Smith are in space, that shouldn't be too much of a challenge with the wide throwing windows the Buckeyes' spread system generates.

Then it's up to Elliott to pound the rock. OSU's strapping sophomore is an explosive, 225-pound ball-carrier who showed off his breakaway speed on a 44-yard touchdown run that sealed the Michigan win.

Big Ten Football notes how ball control will probably go a long way in determining the conference champion:

The Buckeyes' trademark read-option should also be effective, as Jones offers some serious might of his own at 6'5" and 250 pounds. It's going to be a far more physical festivity for Ohio State's offense than the speedier runners Wisconsin will deploy in an effort to knife through its adversary.

Don't be surprised if Elliott racks up close to 200 yards on the ground, depending on how often Jones keeps the ball. Based on how thin the Buckeyes are at QB, they'd probably prefer Elliott to be the predominant workhorse as is.

 

Melvin Gordon Continues to Shine

As bruising and toll-exacting both Elliott and Jones should be on Wisconsin's front seven, the big Badgers offensive line should do its fair share of brute-force combat in the trenches.

That will allow the likes of Gordon—holder of the NCAA single-game rushing record for one week, as outlined in the video above—to use his electric speed to rip off yards in chunks.

Elliott couldn't help but gush about Gordon, via OSU's official athletics department Twitter:

It doesn't seem to matter what opponents do. All Gordon does is find the end zone with regularity to bail out an odd, two-QB system that prevents Wisconsin from being a truly elite team.

Ohio State is just 40th in rush defense, so it figures to have a tough time dealing with arguably the best tailback in the game. The key will come down to stopping Tanner McEvoy on quarterback keepers to diminish the multifaceted nature of the Badgers' rushing attack.

Should Gordon not have success, Corey Clement is also a force to be reckoned with, as he's compiled 830 yards rushing and eight TDs of his own. Wisconsin's backfield depth will keep both primary backs fresh, contributing to a tight contest.

 

Cardale Jones Upstages Wisconsin QBs, Leads Buckeyes to Win

It's amazing to ponder that Jones, despite the huge stakes, such little experience and prior status as the No. 3 option on the depth chart, may be superior to the Badgers' two best signal-callers.

But it isn't too much of a stretch. McEvoy, who had played safety for Wisconsin the year prior, beat out previous incumbent Joel Stave in a QB competition before the 2014 campaign commenced.

McEvoy is now deployed as a rushing specialist because he has some of the least natural accuracy you'll ever see out of a college quarterback.

Ohio State can almost always presume McEvoy won't be airing it out when he's on the field, considering he has 21 carries and one passing attempt in his past four games. Meanwhile, Stave has been serviceable but not spectacular despite being complemented by an amazing runner in Gordon.

The good news for the Badgers is that Stave is coming off a big performance in the team's most recent win over Minnesota (11-of-18 passing, 215 yards and two touchdowns). However, he'll face a far tougher pass rush led by Buckeyes star Joey Bosa, as OSU ranks tied for 11th in the nation with 37 sacks.

Jones is facing a fourth-ranked scoring defense in Wisconsin, but as mentioned above, he'll have Elliott to lean on and brings his own blend of power and athleticism as a ball-carrier. It's feasible to believe that Ohio State will beat the Badgers at their own game, though it will be close thanks to Gordon's brilliance.

The deck is stacked against Jones. Even a decent outing under the circumstances may be skewed due to the difficult challenge Wisconsin's defense poses.

Although the numbers may not be all too aesthetically pleasing in the end, that Jones could come in and finish off a Big Ten title would have to help the Buckeyes' cause to ascend one spot into the Top Four.

It's on Ohio State to keep Gordon in relative check, make sure McEvoy doesn't get loose on the ground and to apply pressure on Stave to force turnovers and grind out a win in Indy. Based on the Buckeyes' better all-around talent on both sides of the ball and superior plus-five to minus-two turnover margin, they get the winning nod.

Prediction: Ohio State 27, Wisconsin 24

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

5 Most Important College Football Recruiting Visits of Week 15

National signing day is now just two months away, putting pressure on college football programs to stockpile talent. It's also crunch time for high school prospects, who must determine where they plan to spend the next stage of their playing careers.

Campus visits carry more weight with each passing week, and there are several worth watching in the coming days. Here's a look at five key recruits expected to embark on meaningful trips.

Begin Slideshow

Pittsburgh Football: (Sun) Devil They Know Is No Better Than Devil They Don't

Much has changed for No. 17 Arizona State in the three weeks since Bleacher Report national college football columnist Greg Couch hailed head coach Todd Graham as "The Smartest Bad Hire in College Football History."

Not much has changed for Pitt, however, in the three years since Paul Chryst took Graham's infamously vacated job. But I refuse to throw Chryst under the team bus for another regrettable regular season without making Graham grab a wheel.

At one point, ASU was 10 spots above its current spot in the AP poll, and the snake who got on the first plane to Tempe stood an outside chance of slithering into the inaugural College Football Playoff.

Then suddenly, Steel Citizens who couldn't find Corvallis without the aid of Google Maps most assuredly danced on the Sun Devils' grave by the pale moonlight as Oregon State, and later Arizona, knocked them out of Pac-12 contention.

Those spiteful Pitt fans haven't had as much to cheer about locally, save for transcendent individuals like ACC Player of the Year James Conner. Even with the nation's No. 4 rusher, the Panthers had to claw the bottom of the barrel for wins over Syracuse and Miami just to "achieve" a fourth consecutive 6-6 regular campaign and token bowl bid to be announced Sunday.

As recently as Week 12, ASU under Graham has become something that Pitt has not been under Chryst—relevant—hence the horn-tooting. But does he really deserve to be called a "smart bad hire"? Can ASU really have its devil's food cake—see what I did there—and eat it?

Graham should be judged on all his deeds, not just the ones that headline The State Press sports page. Certain deeds belie whatever genius a man possesses.

Couch said, love him or hate him, it's time to resign ourselves to the notion that Graham was "the right guy" after all. Just like Woody Hayes was the right guy for Ohio State...until he punched Charlie Bauman.

Just like Bobby Collins was the right guy for SMU...until his brazen cheating KO'd that whole program.

Just like Joe Paterno was the right guy for Penn State...until...well, you know.

"Graham is not a study in disloyalty or anti-commitment as people have labeled," Couch wrote.

Thirty-six months and 2,048 frequent-flyer miles ago, he was given a position of authority with which he loudly presented himself to his players as loyal. Those players, coincidentally, were then stabbed in their collective back by a small man with a red pitchfork.

There are over 120 teams in the FBS, filled with student-athletes working their tails off year-round in good faith because they all want to win just as badly as Graham does. Yet he decided one innocent group of student-athletes was more deserving of professionalism than another.

Isn't that the essence of disloyalty?

That decision exacerbated Pitt's ongoing run of mediocrity by stunting players' recruitment, development and, above all, trust. Chryst has simply tried to make the you-know-what sandwich left in his lunch pail more edible.

"Sure, he has done some sneaky things, treated his players poorly," Couch continued. "But coaches shouldn't be expected to stick around in any job longer than they want, longer than it seems like the right place to be."

Well, if nothing else, Graham has certainly demonstrated a better understanding of the new American way than his counterpart. Chryst has spent the last three years recruiting players who will love his program unconditionally and weeding out those who won't. Those who stick have come to expect their devotion to be reciprocated.

Oh, that unpatriotic scoundrel!

Seriously, though, if it's too big to ask for a grown man tasked with setting an example for young men to say what he means and mean what he says, then what does that tell you about the sorry state of his profession?

What does it tell you that Chryst doesn't see it that way?

"He isn't even a symbol of the greed of college football," Couch said of Graham. "He is just a guy who has left a job as soon as a better one came along. Be honest: You would do the same thing."

That's not what Chryst did. He humbly battled through his first year at Pitt with—generally speaking—an island of misfit toys. When his alma mater needed someone to replace Bret Bielema, just as some Pitt fans contracted Here-We-Go-Again Syndrome, Chryst publicly reaffirmed his commitment to their team.

One guy turned down, presumably, a dream job (as opposed to a "dream job") for the greater good. One guy did the polar opposite.

There will be blood on the hands of athletic director Steve Pederson, with whom Graham butted heads, unless Chryst wins at Pitt as consistently as Graham has at ASU.

Still, if you were Pederson, and you had a program-changing and potentially career-defining decision to do over, which personality would you put in charge?

One of the first players to take advantage of Chryst's open-door policy at Pitt was beleaguered quarterback Tino Sunseri, who was once called out publicly by Graham for an "average" performance after throwing for 419 yards in a win over Connecticut. 

When he would share stories with Chryst about his relationship with Graham, the two men could be heard sharing boisterous laughter.

Sunseri, following a wildly inconsistent junior season, had become a lightning rod for all Pitt's struggles. Sometimes it was called for, as Pittsburgh Post-Gazette columnist Ron Cook wrote at the time, but sometimes, as was the case with Graham's put-down, it wasn't. 

Under Chryst, Sunseri quietly threw for the second-most single-season yards in school history, and he threw 271 straight attempts without an interception at one point.

Lost in the disappointment of Chryst's .500 lifetime record at Pitt is the fact he got Sunseri's successor, Tom Savage, a hard-luck journeyman, to the NFL.

Though neither was a program savior, this noteworthy pattern continued as new starter Chad Voytik improved steadily this season.

The redshirt sophomore, who threw for 15 touchdowns against seven interceptions, registered seven TDs and just two picks in the second half of this season, while boosting his completion rate by almost 10 percent.

Voytik finished the regular season a respectable 30th among FBS passers with a 143.8 efficiency mark.

Chryst has not yet put a finished product on the field, as his vulnerable and inexperienced defense has demonstrated this year.

But between the annual maturation of his quarterbacks, the increased stubbornness of his offensive line (which has allowed fewer than half as many sacks as last year), the eye-popping playmaking of receiver Tyler Boyd and Conner's aforementioned accolade (or should I say, "ACColade"?), it's clear he's getting closer.

Furthermore, he's doing it with the youngest team in major college football. While Voytik's recruitment, retrospectively, might have been the only redeeming quality of Graham's stint, Chryst's recruiting classes are starting to bear fruit.

Highlighting his next one will be cornerback Jordan Whitehead of nearby Central Valley High School, arguably Pennsylvania's top prospect.

Fans bemoaning the decline of the program since the Dave Wannstedt era have to realize the program will be better off once Chryst has what Wannstedt had at his peak: a team chiefly featuring upperclassmen and boasting NFL-caliber talent at multiple positions.

That is not to say Pitt shouldn't be on a better trajectory than it is now. Every game—with the exception of that historically nightmarish homecoming date with Georgia Tech—was within the Panthers' reach. 

Losing at home to Akron is indefensible for all involved. Chryst's butchery of what should have been a quality win over Duke also underscores the growing pains he's been through as a game-day coach.

Graham, meanwhile, is coming off a 9-3 regular season with his own 11-man senior class that, along with Pitt's, is one of the least voluminous in the country.

"I don't mind growing pains if we're growing," Chryst said to flagship radio station 93.7 The Fan (KDKA-FM) midseason. "But if we're just going through pain for the sake of pain, not real smart."

Next year, Pitt needs to start showing tangible signs of growth. It wouldn't hurt if whatever defensive talent Chryst has to work with, such as Whitehead, starts making beleaguered coordinator Matt House look like an overnight genius.

Otherwise, Chryst's legacy will be tainted, and Pederson's seat should be piping hot, if it isn't already.

But for now, the pen is still very much in Chryst's hand. And we should be more forgiving of this coach, who came to town with a plan and stuck to it while holding players to rational standards, than the copperhead who bolted for The Copper State when he realized what he wanted wouldn't just be handed to him.

Pittsburghers, thirsty as a desert-dweller for the glory days, were willing to drink Graham's Kool-Aid. To hear a man make bold, "high-octane" promises who did not appear allergic to expectations was their ultimate refreshment after years of seeing their team underperform, or sometimes, barely perform at all.

Now that Graham has left with "speed, speed, speed," dealing with the mild-mannered Chryst has been an ironically nice change of pace.

One of my most vivid memories of working for the flagship for four years was its coverage of Graham's clandestine exit.

Late-night host Chris Mueller invited listeners to play "Name That Press Conference," a satirical game in which callers were asked to properly identify out-of-context yet eerily similar sound bites from Graham's introductory conferences at both Pitt and ASU.

Weekend host Bob Pompeani actually booked him on his show to give him a chance to account for himself. Graham backed out at the last minute, doing so—fittingly—by shooting Pompeani a text message that read, "That chapter of my life is over."

I'd like to believe that in another three years the book on Chryst will be easier for Pitt fans to digest. I'd also like to believe both Graham and his apologists will still appear vindicated. But it's not how you start. It's how you finish.

ASU, as Couch corroborated, has divorced itself from any previously harbored skepticism and made its marriage to Graham a happy one. I understand completely. I'm just bracing myself for the messier divorce that will ensue when Graham contrives a way to alienate that fanbase too.

If you're one of the fans who doesn't care how sausage is made, you can call Graham a "smart bad hire" until proven otherwise. If you're a true Pitt fan, you can call him addition by subtraction.

I can only wonder what he'll be called when the next "dream job" beckons.

 

Statistics courtesy of NCAA.com, CFBStats.com and the University of Pittsburgh Athletic Media Relations Office. Quotes obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted.

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Which 5-Star Recruit Is Top Priority for New Florida HC Jim McElwain?

Jim McElwain, newly hired head coach of the Florida Gators, has his work cut out for him in his attempt to turn around the Gator program. Florida has many needs, but none more pressing than at offensive line. 

Bleacher Report College Football Analyst Michael Felder was joined by GatorCountry.com beat writer Nick de la Torre to get a better feel for Florida's recruiting situation. 

What is Florida's biggest need?

Check out the video and let us know! 

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Florida State's Mario Edwards, Jr. First Showed Glimpse of Talent vs. GT

Mario Edwards, Jr. arrived on campus before the 2012 season overweight. The nation's top defensive end prospect had eaten his way out of potential playing time and it appeared a possibility that he would redshirt.

And then All-American Brandon Jenkins was lost for the season in Week 1 with a foot injury. While trying to slim down, Edwards would see some playing time as a reserve. But then another defensive end, Tank Carradine, suffered a torn ACL in the final regular-season game.

Edwards had his chance to not just play but start in the ACC championship game against Georgia Tech.

"That was my coming out game," Edwards said. "For me to do it in college was definitely big. I came in overweight, and for me to get my weight down and then go out and have a good game was definitely a confidence boost for me."

Edwards had seven tackles that day, helping limit Georgia Tech's triple-option offense to 183 yards on 52 carries. FSU needed a run-stopping defensive end, a player who would "set the edge" and not let any Yellow Jackets run wide and find green grass.

He did just that in his first start. It was something he had done on Friday nights but never in college.

"He played one heck of a football game for us," FSU coach Jimbo Fisher said. "You saw the potential and what he could be. To go out and perform like he did, in that game, was huge. And I think it really kicked his career off."

Now a redshirt junior, Edwards has developed into an All-ACC defensive lineman. He has 41 tackles and 11 tackles for loss going into Saturday's ACC title game against Georgia Tech.

The Yellow Jackets' triple-option offense is tricky, featuring far too many potential ball carriers for a defensive player to watch in the moments after a snap.

"You have four people in the backfield that can touch the ball at any given time and it's all tricks," Edwards said. "There are so many things you can do. If you're not assignment-sound or reading your keys, it will mess you up."

Current Georgia Tech quarterback Justin Thomas didn't play in the 2012 game against FSU. But Thomas has run for 861 yards and five touchdowns this season, leading the Yellow Jackets in rushing when he's not handing the ball off.

"He's shifty," Edwards said. "He's a real fast quarterback. He does good with faking it and then pitching it. You will guess that he's doing something and he'll make you pay for it."

Bob Ferrante is the lead FSU writer for Bleacher Report. All quotes obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted. Follow Bob on Twitter. Stats courtesy of seminoles.com, ramblinwreck.com or FSU game notes.

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Recruiting Awards for the Top 2015 Defensive Tackle Recruits

The 2015 class of defensive tackles is deep and talented. Distinguishing which player is the absolute best is a tough task with each recruit possessing specific skills sets needed to excel at the college level.

Bleacher Report College Football Analyst Michael Felder breaks down the skills of all the top defensive tackles of the 2015 class.

Which defensive tackle listed will make the most impact at the next level?

Check out the video and let us know! 

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10 Biggest Surprises of the 2014 College Football Season

Anyone who says they predicted even a few of the craziest things that have happened during the 2014 college football season is 1) a major fan of chaos and 2) probably lying.

The long offseason leaves plenty of time to guess what's going to happen during the fall, but while some things are easy to project—Nebraska will win nine games, Navy and Georgia Tech will run for a bunch of yards and at least one team ranked high in the preseason will fall way short of expectations—there will always be far more occurrences during the season that come as huge shockers.

The 2014 season was no different, as on a weekly basis something happened that had us all saying variations of "wow!" But looking at it from an overall perspective, here are the 10 biggest surprises of this season, ranked based on how unexpected they were either before the season or as the campaign progressed.

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5-Star CeCe Jefferson and Other Florida Recruits React to Jim McElwain Hire

Florida entered a new era Thursday when it finalized an agreement with former Colorado State head coach Jim McElwain. Despite success in Fort Collins, it's his former employer who recruits are most familiar with at first glance.

"He's coached under [Nick] Saban, so he has the experience," 5-star defensive end CeCe Jefferson told Bleacher Report.

The coveted Sunshine State standout is one of several prospects who've surveyed a tenuous situation in Gainesville during the past year. With Will Muschamp's star dimming as the 2014 season progressed, plenty of pledges jumped off the bandwagon while others held back commitments to see how things played out.

“When recruits my age were growing up, we saw that team dominate," Gators tight end target Daniel Imatorbhebhe said. "It was Tim Tebow running over people, Percy Harvin making big plays and just a ton of success. That’s not really how guys see the team anymore, and it's probably held them back from picking up some big-time players.”

So, is McElwain the man who can return Florida to those dominant days?

“I honestly don’t know much about Coach McElwain. I’m not even really sure what he looks like," Imatorbhebhe admitted. "Now that his hire is official, I’m going to start looking into it."

Star Tampa receiver commit Auden Tate was a bit more blunt.

“I’ve never heard of him," he told Luke Stampini of 247Sports (subscription required).

McElwain is a relative mystery man to most Florida prospects. SEC squads don't often cross paths with Mountain West Conference members on the recruiting trail.

Still, everyone respects victories, and those are exactly what he racked up at Colorado State. McElwain collected 18 wins during the past two seasons with a program that managed just 16 in the four years that preceded his arrival.

“I’ve heard that [Florida athletic director] Jeremy Foley doesn’t settle for anything but the best," Imatorbhebhe said. "If that’s the guy they wanted all along, then that means it was probably for a very good reason."

Foley explained the characteristics that drew him to McElwain on the team website.

"He has recruited the South and the state of Florida and has spent time coaching at the highest level in the NFL [with Oakland]," he said. “He has an engaging personality and is someone who can connect with a variety of audiences, and he operates with a high level of integrity."

McElwain's resume includes a four-year stay at Alabama, where he served as offensive coordinator during two national championship runs. Running back Mark Ingram earned the 2009 Heisman Trophy as a centerpiece in his attack, while Trent Richardson emerged as a finalist for the award two years later.

Both became first-round NFL draft selections—a rare feat for today's top college rushers.

Early benefit of the doubt is easier when your track record includes successful work with a legend like Saban, as Jefferson alluded. Recruits aware of his background appear impressed.

If you’ve done your research on him, he’s a great hire," Florida offensive lineman commit Tyler Jordantold Andrew Spivey of GatorCountry.com. "He’s a good offensive mind who has coached at the highest level before.”

Imatorbhebhe believes his accomplishments as an assistant command respect.

"He had a lot of success at Alabama and helped Saban win championships," he said. "That's pretty strong, and it's definitely a good sign for the Gators."

McElwain must elevate the team's on-field performance to validate the hefty price Florida paid for his services, but first the focus shifts toward a 2015 recruiting class that has fallen apart.

The group rapidly eroded during Muschamp's final campaign and currently includes just nine pledges. It rates 61st nationally in 247Sports' composite class rankings, listed below the likes of Louisiana Tech and San Jose State.

McElwain has two months to turn things around and salvage a successful signing day. His sales pitch should center on an opportunity for recruits to return a proud program to prominence, so the next eight weeks will speak volumes about how high school stars view Florida's new leader.

"We'll see what he's bringing to the table," Jefferson said.

 

Quotes obtained firsthand by Bleacher Report national recruiting analyst Tyler Donohue unless otherwise noted.

Recruit ratings courtesy of 247Sports.

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Ohio State vs. Wisconsin: How to Solve the Melvin Gordon Problem

COLUMBUS, Ohio — After watching film of Wisconsin in preparation of this weekend's Big Ten Championship Game, Ohio State linebacker Curtis Grant was left with one question: "Are we playing the Green Bay Packers or are we playing Wisconsin?"

This isn't a "Could Kentucky beat an NBA team?" scenario, but Grant's confusion between his college opponent and its professional counterpart isn't unfounded.

Watching the Badgers run the ball, it's easy to mistake them for an NFL squad—between both their star running back and the players blocking for him.

With only conference championship weekend standing between now and the presentation of the Heisman Trophy, Bodog (h/t Odds Shark) lists just two players with odds to take home college football's most prestigious individual award.

One is Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota, who's favored to take home the trophy with odds of 1-10.

The other? Wisconsin running back Melvin Gordon.

The Badgers back's 5-1 Heisman odds are well-deserved, too, seeing as Gordon leads the nation with 2,260 yards and 26 rushing touchdowns.

He also lays claim to the greatest single-game performance of any Heisman candidate, rushing for an NCAA record-breaking 408 yards and four touchdowns in Wisconsin's Nov. 15 win over Nebraska. That's the type of performance that the Buckeyes are dreading on Saturday, the type that keeps them up late at night longer than the unproven nature of first-time starting quarterback Cardale Jones does.

For Ohio State co-defensive coordinator Luke Fickell, Gordon's evisceration of the Cornhuskers conjured up memories of former Michigan running back Tim Biakabutuka, who gashed the Buckeyes for 313 yards when Fickell was a defensive lineman at OSU in 1995.

"I've been a part of one that's not been like that and I don't ever want to relive it," Fickell said. "I know as a defense, there's never any more of a sick feeling than to see things like that."

If there is anything that can give the Buckeyes defense confidence heading into Saturday's showdown, it's that while Wisconsin has seemingly always been well known for its rushing attack, Ohio State has had recent success bottling up the Badgers.

Two years ago, it was Montee Ball headlining the Wisconsin run game as an 1,800-yard rusher who would go on to be a second-round pick by the Denver Broncos. While he rushed for 191 yards in the Buckeyes' 21-14 overtime victory, it took him 39 carries to do so and he only managed to find the end zone once.

Last season, Ohio State got its first look at Gordon as a feature back, holding the then-sophomore to 74 yards in a 31-24 Buckeyes' win.

In fact, OSU limited the Badgers to just 104 yards in the last meeting between the two teams—well below Wisconsin's per-game average of 283.8 rushing yards in 2013.

"You look at last year, you look at two years ago, they've had great running backs there," Fickell said of the Badgers. "We've had success against it. It comes down to playing team defense."

But while the Buckeyes have been able to do just that recently against the Badgers, the same can't be said about their last month of the season. Starting with its Nov. 8 statement win over Michigan State, Ohio State has endured a disturbing trend of allowing big games to the Big Ten's stable of talented running backs.

It was on that day that Spartans back Jeremy Langford gashed the Buckeyes for 137 yards and three touchdowns. A week later, Minnesota's David Cobb ran for 145 yards and three scores in OSU's 31-24 win.

Indiana's Tevin Coleman tallied 228 yards and three touchdowns against the Buckeyes, and even Michigan's Drake Johnson ran for 74 yards and two touchdowns before tearing his ACL in the third quarter of last weekend's rivalry game.

Altogether, Ohio State has surrendered an average of 199.5 rushing yards per game in its last four contests.

So how does a struggling rushing defense contain the nation's best running back? Do the Buckeyes even have a chance to do so? Fickell insists they do.

While Gordon has rushed for 100-plus yards in all but one of the Badgers' games this season, the Ohio State co-coordinator has seen teams limit the 6'1", 207-pounder's big-play ability. Fickell knows that he'll need to get a similar effort from the Buckeyes this Saturday in order to keep Ohio State in the conversation for a spot in the College Football Playoff.

"The teams that have done as good of a job as they can—even last week [Minnesota] didn't let him out," Fickell said. "If you can force him to stay inside, you know he's going to get some yards, but you've got 11 guys that have to help get his ass down."

Buckeyes cornerback Doran Grant stated OSU's game plan is even simpler than that.

"Pursue him and get him on the ground," the defensive back answered when asked how the Buckeyes can stop Gordon.

Isn't that easier said than done?

"That's what we have to do," he replied.

 

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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