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Big 12 Wins NCAA Vote for Right to Hold Championship Game: Details, Reaction

After playing the last five years without a conference championship game, the Big 12 will bring it back after winning an NCAA vote.    

Brian Davis of the Austin American-Statesman reported Wednesday that the NCAA vote granted the Big 12 its right to stage a title game featuring the top two teams in the conference during the regular season. 

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Power Ranking Top 25 College Football Coaches

Alabama coach Nick Saban claimed his fifth national championship on Monday night, the fourth with the Crimson Tide in just the last seven seasons. That puts him in elite company, as only legendary 'Bama coach Paul "Bear" Bryant has claimed more national titles.

With this latest championship in hand, Saban is sure to rank among the greatest coaches in college football history when his career is done. But what about among current FBS head coaches?

We've listed the 25 best coaches who will be on the sidelines for the 2016 season, their ranking determined by a combination of overall success, what they've done recently and how well-regarded they are in the industry. Only coaches who were in their current job in 2015 were considered, since the likes of Justin Fuente (Memphis), Bronco Mendenhall (Virginia) and Mark Richt (Miami, Florida) have yet to show what they can do in their new gig.

Check out how everyone stacked up, then give us your thoughts in the comments section.

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TE over DE: 4-Star ATH Devin Asiasi Looking to Play Offense in College

With a little more than nine minutes remaining in last Saturday's U.S. Army All-American Bowl, 4-star athlete Devin Asiasi caught a 25-yard touchdown pass from Stanford Cardinals quarterback commit K.J. Costello to extend the West's lead over the East. The touchdown capped a 37-9 West win.

The touchdown helped support the "pro" argument of Asiasi playing tight end at the next level. The "con" argument involves putting the 6'3", 270-pound athlete on the defensive line as a defensive end.

For Asiasi, convincing everyone that he can play tight end has been a little tougher than originally expected. Asiasi wants to play tight end in college, even though many are still saying that he'd make more of an impact on the other side of the ball.

"In general, people think I'm going to be a D-end. I want to play tight end. That's where my heart's at," said Asiasi, who played both positions for De La Salle High School in Concord, California. "I'm going to come out every day and prove myself that I can be a tight end at the next level. That's where my mentality is every day."

Asiasi said he's considering schools that will allow him to live out his college dreams of becoming a reliable offensive option. On the weekend of Jan. 15, he will make the first of three official visits this month, as he takes in Washington. Asiasi, who has 22 reported offers, will visit the Michigan Wolverines the weekend of Jan. 22, and he'll visit the USC Trojans the weekend of Jan. 29.

A fourth school to keep an eye on is UCLA. Asiasi took an official visit to UCLA last month, and with Asiasi's recruiting contact from USC, Marques Tuiasosopo, leaving the Trojans to become the quarterbacks coach at UCLA, the Bruins are a team to watch for national signing day. Prior to Tuisasosopo's departure, USC was considered a favorite to land Asiasi.

The new national champion Alabama Crimson Tide round out Asiasi's top five. All five schools are solid options. And, perhaps more importantly, all of the schools are allowing Asiasi to play on the offensive side of the ball.

"I come out every day working hard to get blocking techniques down and schemes down," he said. "I'm going to prove I can do it every day."

De La Salle won the CIF Open Division state championship last month, and Asiasi, used more as a blocking tight end, caught 17 passes for 311 yards and five touchdowns this season, per MaxPreps.com. Defensively, Asiasi finished with 49 tackles, five pass deflections and four sacks as a defensive end.

Because of his versatility, Asiasi is listed as a jumbo athlete and is ranked No. 4 in the 2016 class among all athletes. He is ranked No. 51 overall in the class.

Statistically, it's easy to see why many feel his ticket to early playing time in college would come as a defender. To Asiasi, however, playing tight end fulfills a dream he said he's had since he was a young boy.

For now, it's all about finding the right place to fulfill that dream.

"I'm just looking for a good position coach, someone who can get me ready for the next level," Asiasi said. "I want to be around good people and be at a place where I can graduate in three-and-a-half years. Life after football is important to me."

"The winning school will get everything I can provide. Whatever the coaches want me to do, that's what I'll be there for. Hopefully, I can elevate my game to the next level."

 

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

 

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Super Early Top 25 Preseason Poll for 2016 College Football Season

The 2015-16 college football season is officially in the rearview mirror. So, what do you do now? Stare longingly out a window for eight months? Pick up a couple of new avocations? Re-watch highlights on YouTube all day?

There's no wrong answer, but you can also take a blindfold and start throwing darts at a board to project next year's Top 25. That's what we're doing.

(Kidding. This is a touch more scientific than that.)  

After all, it's never too early to look ahead. Otherwise, what else would we talk about in the offseason?

As with every way-too-early Top 25, this is not a projection of how teams will finish the season or their path to the College Football Playoff/national championship in 2016. On the contrary, it's a ranking of the teams right now heading into the offseason based on who's coming back from a coaching and personnel standpoint. 

With that said, take a gander at B/R's official way-too-early poll and sound off in the comment section below. Then, you can go back to looking out your window. 

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What's Left for Alabama's Nick Saban to Do in College Football?

It took until his third head coaching job, but in 2004, at the ripe old age of 51, Nick Saban had finally arrived atop the mountain. Holding up the crystal ball after beating Oklahoma in the BCS National Championship Game at the Sugar Bowl, few could have predicted the wild ride the then-LSU coach was about to embark on over the next decade-plus.

But here we stand. That one title led to an NFL gig, which later begat an escape from the league to the comforts of Tuscaloosa. The rest, as they say, is history, and things continued to roll right along for Saban as he put the finishing touches on his fifth title Monday night in dramatic fashion against Clemson.

The resume is now an all-timer for the son of a West Virginia gas station owner, putting Saban one ring behind fellow Alabama titan Bear Bryant for most in history by a college head coach. Considering Saban’s five came in the modern era of 85-man scholarship limits, 24/7 coverage and national recruiting competitiveness, one realizes that all that "greatest of all time" talk is both real and warranted.

That’s why, after he stood on the stage at University of Phoenix Stadium to collect that shiny new national championship trophy once again, one cannot help but wonder: Is there anything left for Saban to accomplish in college football?

When asked about his legacy at his press conference following the title game, Saban said:

I really haven't thought about it. After somebody asked me that question the other day, the first thing that came to my mind was my first game at Michigan State when we played Nebraska, when Tom Osborne was the coach, and we got beat like, 56-7, and I had been in the NFL for four years, and I'm saying, 'We may never win a game as a college coach.'

I learned a lesson that day, and you know, as long as you do this, it's always about your next play. It's always about the next game. So I've never really ever thought too much about all that. I have a tremendous amount of appreciation for all the players who have played for us, came to our school, bought into our program, did the things that they needed to do to have a chance to experience a championship, whether it was at LSU or the four at Alabama.

That's where most of my appreciation lies, with the players.

Let’s start with those players, and the fact that Saban is pretty good at identifying great ones and making them better. The seeds of this year’s title came from the quick development of his 2015 recruiting class, ranked No. 1 in the country in the 247Sports composite team rankings. That's an impressive accomplishment, but it's overshadowed by the fact it was the fifth straight year Alabama finished No. 1 overall.

Nothing encapsulated Saban’s dominance in recruiting more than during a key stretch in the fourth quarter of this year’s title game. After storming back to take a 31-24 lead, the Tide were in danger of letting Clemson retake momentum as they marched down into the red zone following O.J. Howard’s second score of the night.

With most of the defensive line huffing and puffing from the Tigers’ uptempo attack, Alabama rotated in defensive end Da’Shawn Hand. A former 5-star recruit who was ranked by some recruiting services as the No. 1 player in the country, Hand tracked down heroic quarterback Deshaun Watson to drop him for a loss that effectively killed any momentum Clemson had.

The defensive stand eventually led to a field goal, which Alabama responded to with a 95-yard touchdown return by Kenyan Drake, a 4-star tailback back in high school who had to find carries behind a few first-round picks and a Heisman Trophy winner in his college career. That stretch all but put the game away halfway through the fourth quarter.

There’s depth, and there’s Alabama depth. Nobody in college football comes close to the latter.

Then there’s the hardware to go with that. And no, we’re not just talking about the championship rings.

Running back Derrick Henry won the Heisman Trophy this season, the second such player to win that prestigious award under Saban during his time in Tuscaloosa (the school had zero before his arrival). Additionally, Crimson Tide players have taken home the Maxwell (twice), Walter Camp, Doak Walker (twice), Biletnikoff, Butkus (twice), Outland (twice), Rimington (twice) and Johnny Unitas Golden Arm awards. Saban himself has won every major coaching award.

The only hole, if you want to call it that, is the fact that no defensive back (Saban’s coaching specialty) has won the Thorpe Award.

Accepting the Grantland Rice Trophy at another press conference, the coach added:

You remember all the lessons that you learned in terms of developing a process that works for young people to have a chance to be successful, a team dynamic that gives you a chance to be successful, and right now as long as I'm going to continue to do this, I'm going to keep things in perspective and look forward and not backward.

I think it's a tremendous accomplishment by a lot of great people, a lot of great coaches and a lot of great players, a lot of whom were at the game last night. That really makes us proud that they're great ambassadors for the university and always happy to come home.

But I can't really talk to you much more about the perspective and the significance of this, because moving forward, it doesn't really mean a lot.

That’s the Saban we are all used to, the one who watched film of the national title game on the plane ride home and who was no doubt fired up for Wednesday morning’s staff meeting. He is relentless and shows no sign of slowing down to keep the Alabama dynasty on top.

This is not a column arguing for the greatest college football coach in history to give it another go in the NFL. The open New York Giants job would be interesting, no doubt, but the college game is better with Saban in it.

Many within the industry believe the next stop for Saban is College GameDay or a similar broadcasting gig, not a different sideline.

The fact is Saban belongs in college football's Mount Rushmore of coaches. The problem with standing on the mountaintop for so long, however, is that there is nothing left to climb. When one is a perfectionist whose whole process is dedicated to taking the next step, that might be an issue.

Yet it isn’t for the uniquely wired Saban.

He’ll still be recruiting a top class for February and will still field a top-five team in September with designs on another title. There may be nothing left to add to that illustrious resume beyond a sixth ring to tie Bryant and leave no doubt as to who is the GOAT. Even then, it wouldn’t add much validation to the already impressive job the head coach has done in his stops across the college football landscape.

There’s simply nothing left for Nick Saban to do in college football, and yet we shouldn’t be surprised at all if he winds up back on that big stage once again in the near future, accepting another trophy. That’s what he does, as the chase for another begins again in 2016.

 

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

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10 Best Teams That Lost College Football National Championship Games

History is indeed written by the victors, and in college football, history can often forget those who came the closest to putting their own names into the books.

Since the arrival of the BCS in the 1998 season, there have been 18 national championship games in college football. Many of the 18 winners are well-known for their excellence, but what about those who fell short of winning it all?

Where does this season's Clemson team rank compared to other runners-up?

Here are the top 10 teams that lost either a BCS or a College Football Playoff National Championship. These rankings were determined by three factors—average point differential (the difference between scoring offense and scoring defense), strength of schedule (a given number rating from Sports-Reference.com) and the quality of the teams' losses.

It's difficult to try to objectively compare teams from different seasons, but this list is based on which title-losing teams were the most dominant with respect to the quality of opponents they faced that year. 

Tell us how you would rank the teams that lost title games in the BCS/CFP era in the comments below.

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Breaking Down Florida's Wild Offseason QB Battle

During a typical offseason, if a team returns a quarterback who finished each of the last two seasons as a starter, it would qualify as a pretty strong foundation no matter what other pieces are around him.

Florida's offense this offseason, though, is anything but stable.

Junior Treon Harris will return after ascending to the top spot on the depth chart in the middle of each of the last two seasons, but he completed just 47.8 percent of his passes once the calendar changed to November and seemed like a square peg in a round hole in head coach Jim McElwain's system from the jump.

Will Harris win the job out of fall camp, or will another contender out of a group step up? 

Let's break down the contenders:

 

Junior Treon Harris

Harris obviously has the most experience, which will be beneficial for McElwain's crew considering the woes of the offensive line and the absence of last year's starting running back, Kelvin Taylor. Having somebody back there who has been through the rigors of the season, knows the speed of the game and is comfortable with the simple things like getting plays in and players lined up is important.

But Harris' upside simply isn't there.

He is erratic with the football, struggles to go through reads and doesn't have the touch that McElwain-coached quarterbacks need to be successful.

As former Missouri wide receiver T.J. Moe pointed out on Twitter, Harris has the kind of reputation no player wants.

Experience matters, as does his elusiveness and ability to create behind the line of scrimmage when the protection breaks down. 

Will that be enough to earn him the starting job? Probably not. He is going to have to improve his decision-making and his accuracy if he wants to win the job coming out of fall camp.

Outlook: Not likely the starter

 

Junior Luke Del Rio

The long and winding patch to Gainesville for junior Luke Del Rio has taken the California native to Alabama and Oregon State, but after sitting out his transfer year in 2015, the former Elite 11 quarterback is ready to contend for the starting quarterback job at Florida.

Does he have what it takes?

The 6'1", 216-pounder has a big arm, experience in a variety of systems, knows what to expect out of McElwain after spending time on the Gator scout team a year ago and will likely enter spring practice as the top contender to earn the job.

As GatorCountry.com's Nick de la Torre pointed out during Florida's Buffalo Wild Wings Citrus Bowl loss to Michigan, Del Rio has fans in the Gators coaching staff.

The journeyman has seen a lot but doesn't have a ton of experience. He completed just eight of his 18 passes for 141 yards as Sean Mannion's backup in 2014. That's not a lot to work off of.

He's much more of a natural fit for McElwain's offense than Harris, and the experience he gained last year while sitting out should allow him to hit the ground running and become one of the favorites exiting spring practice provided he stays healthy.

Outlook: Probable starter

 

Senior Austin Appleby

If McElwain wants a quarterback who has the arm and stature to stand tall in the pocket, Purdue graduate transfer Austin Appleby might be his guy.

The 6'5", 239-pound former starter for the Boilermakers made 11 starts, threw for 2,777 yards and tossed 19 touchdowns over the last three seasons, but he lost his job to hotshot freshman David Blough in 2015.

A former Elite 11 finalist, Appleby isn't as familiar with the system as Harris or Del Rio, but he has had more success at the college level than Del Rio and is a much better fit for the ideal Gators offense.

With Blough out with a concussion, Appleby got the start in Purdue's final game of the regular season against Indiana. He went out with a bang, as Brady Ackerman of Florida Sports Talk and the Gator Radio Network noted on Twitter:

He'll have to learn the system on the fly in a crowded race, which is never an easy thing to do. If he picks it up, though, he could turn out to be one of the most important graduate transfers of the offseason.

Outlook: Possible starter

 

Freshman Feleipe Franks

True freshman early enrollee Feleipe Franks is the future of the quarterback position, and one of the biggest questions facing McElwain this spring is deciding whether the future is now.

The U.S. Army All-American from Crawfordville, Florida, flipped from LSU to the Gators last fall and has everything the staff wants from a quarterback. At 6'5", 210 pounds with a big arm and solid accuracy, he is a perfect fit for the Florida program.

It's not a matter of "if," but a matter of "when" for Franks. 

The beauty of Florida's current quarterback battle is, while the position has been a sore spot since Tim Tebow moved on after the 2009 season, Del Rio's eligibility and the decision to transfer to the program by Appleby actually gives McElwain some flexibility on how he fits his future quarterback into the mix.

"When" might not be the first series against UMass on September 3, but he will likely be part of the game plan in some capacity as the season goes on. He has all of the talent to be a superstar, and the staff will find out just how ready he is during the season and usher him along as needed.

Outlook: Won't start but could end the season as starter

 

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

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

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Jayron Kearse Declares for 2016 NFL Draft: Latest Comments and Reaction

Clemson Tigers safety Jayron Kearse won't return for his senior year, opting instead to enter the 2016 NFL draft.

Kearse took to Instagram to announce his decision Wednesday. He wound up with 62 total tackles (6.5 for loss), six passes defensed and one interception in his final college season, per CFBStats.com.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Way-Too-Early 2016 Big Ten Football Power Rankings

The 2015 Big Ten season is officially in the books and although the conference doesn't once again find itself the home of the defending national champions, it'd be hard to look at the past year as anything but a step forward for the league.

From the resurgence of Michigan under its new head coach to 10 teams finding themselves participating in bowl games and the emergences of several new stars and an unlikely playoff contender, there was no shortage of positives to be found in the Big Ten in 2015. But although bowl season just ended, it's never too early to start looking ahead to the future, as spring practice for the 2016 season will be here before you know it.

Who will dominate the headlines for the conference in the coming year? That remains to be seen.

But while we're waiting, here's a look at some way-too-early Big Ten power rankings for 2016.

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Shaq Lawson Declares for 2016 NFL Draft: Latest Comments and Reaction

Clemson Tigers defensive end Shaq Lawson announced Wednesday he will skip his senior season and declare for the 2016 NFL draft:  

The 6'3'', 275-pound junior is No. 14 on Matt Miller of Bleacher Report's big board and the No. 2 overall defensive end prospect.

Dane Brugler and Rob Rang of CBSSports.com described Lawson as having a "terrific motor:"

Lawson's compact frame and power make him equally effective against the run and the pass, where he shows surprising initial quickness and agility as well as a terrific motor. He has quick, strong hands to create push with his upper-body strength, showing the fluid lower body to drive his legs and smoothly change directions based on his reads.

Lawson is terrific leveraging blocks off the edge, using an iron shoulder and natural body flexibility to dictate his path and beat single blocks. Does a nice job setting the edge and playing contain, working off his blocks to the outside and finishing in space.

Lawson, a 2015 Consensus All-America selection, had a combined 7.5 sacks his first two years before registering 12.5 this season as Clemson made it to the final of the College Football Playoff where it lost to Alabama.

Lawson battled a knee injury during the latter stages of the campaign. At one point, he listed the pain from the ailment at an eight on a 10-point scale, per College Football 24/7. He fought through the issue to register four tackles and two sacks in the team's loss to the Crimson Tide in the national title game.

NFL teams will surely want to take a look at the medical information during the draft process to see if there's any reason for long-term concern stemming from the knee problem.

He's got a terrific opportunity to land in the first half of Round 1, and potentially even inside the top 10, if there are no lingering health issues. His combination of size, power and small-space quickness makes him an ideal edge-rusher in today's NFL.

Lawson must continue to improve against the run, and he'll likely need to add some more moves to his arsenal in order to make a consistent pass-rushing impact at the next level. Those are not uncommon areas of concern for an incoming rookie, though.

The more important thing is his skill set, which is highly impressive. He's capable of stepping right into the lineup on Day 1 and steadily developing into a force off the edge over the next few years.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Follow @MikeChiari on Twitter.

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Michigan Football: 5 Commits with Most Immediate-Impact Potential

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

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

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

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

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Early Predictions for Biggest 2016 College QB Battles

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

And where else to start but at quarterback?

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

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

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

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

Sound off and let me know where you disagree!

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Way-Too-Early 2016 SEC Football Power Rankings

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

The Nonconference Slate

Even the gimme games aren't really gimmes. 

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

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

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

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

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

 

B1G Play

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

5 Dark-Horse Playoff Contenders for 2016 College Football Season

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Prediction: Michigan


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

His reply—“Yes mam.”

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

Prediction: Alabama



Brandon Jones, Nacogdoches (Nacogdoches, Texas), S

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

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

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

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

Prediction: Baylor



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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Prediction: Ohio State

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

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

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

 

CFB 250 Positions

 

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

The capital-T Top 250.

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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