Big Ten: Pac-12

ESPN 300 receiver Van Jefferson is no longer committed to Georgia and the news was definitely disappointing for the Dawgs. So who’s in the driver’s seat now for the one of the best receivers in the country?

ESPN 300 tight end Chris Clark is down to Michigan and UCLA as his final two schools, and plans to announce his decision on signing day. The No. 4 ranked tight end only has a few weeks to make up his mind and weigh out the positives and negatives for each school.

There are similarities and differences, pros and cons of each school that stick out to Clark. To help wade through what he could be looking for, here are some of those aspects Clark will consider when making his choice.

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Few recruiting battles are more intriguing than the ones going on in Texas for high-profile players such as Daylon Mack, Soso Jamabo and Chris Warren III. What schools they pick could tilt recruiting supremacy in the Lone Star State moving forward

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Both Oregon's and Ohio State's high-powered offensive attacks are well stocked with stars, and the impact the quarterbacks can have on Monday night's College Football Playoff National Championship presented by AT&T (8:30 p.m. ET, ESPN) is well documented.

But winning titles usually requires some unexpected contributions, and with kickoff quickly approaching for No. 2 Oregon and No. 4 Ohio State, reporters Chantel Jennings and Austin Ward look at a couple of potential difference-makers for the huge showdown.

Ohio State H-back Jalin Marshall: Whether or not he’s needed to throw a pass, the redshirt freshman figures to play a crucial role for the Buckeyes if they’re going to spring one more upset. Of course, if the de facto backup quarterback is pressed into duty behind Cardale Jones, certainly his ability to handle the offense with a limited playbook would determine the outcome, but Ohio State would rather not test out an arm the coaching staff has called “better than you think.” Marshall has left little doubt the rest of his game has been undervalued. He emerged as a legitimate weapon as both a receiver and a rusher in the versatile H-back role after Dontre Wilson was injured in November, and Marshall's punt return for a touchdown was pivotal in sparking a second-half surge against Indiana. Cardale Jones looked for Marshall in some meaningful situations against Alabama and was rewarded with five receptions for 55 yards, and those totals could go up against the Ducks. -- Ward

Oregon WR/RB Byron Marshall: Marshall has been an interesting player for the Ducks all season. From an opposing defensive coordinator’s perspective, Marshall is a nightmare. He has the skills of both a wide receiver and a shifty running back. He began this season as the starting running back before being moved into more of a slot role, but opponents can’t count him out when it comes to carrying the ball. With receiver Darren Carrington not making the trip, Oregon offensive coordinator Scott Frost is going to look for those passes to go somewhere else, and the short-pass game is a likely possibility. In that case, look for Marshall to be the recipient. But just to mess with the Buckeyes' defense, he’ll also likely tote the ball quite a few times as well -- gotta keep those defenses honest. -- Jennings

National championship game predictions

January, 12, 2015
Jan 12

It's finally here: the College Football Playoff National Championship Presented By AT&T.

Behind Heisman Trophy winner Marcus Mariota, Oregon attempts to win its first national championship. Ohio State is seeking its first title since 2002 in just its third season under coach Urban Meyer.

This game has been sliced and diced and debated for the past 11 days. Now it's prediction time from the Big Ten blog, so let's get started.

Adam Rittenberg: Oregon has been my national title pick all season. It feels like the Ducks' season. And they have the best player in Mariota. Still, I'm going with Ohio State, which feels like a wild-card team hitting its stride at the perfect time. As long as the Buckeyes avoid turnovers, they'll rack up big yards and big points against Oregon. It will be a shootout, as expected, but Ohio State prevails behind another huge performance from Ezekiel Elliott. ... Ohio State 45, Oregon 42

Brian Bennett: I have picked against Ohio State several times this season: at Michigan State, versus Wisconsin in the Big Ten title game (yeah, good call there) and versus Alabama. I've been wrong each time and have learned my lesson about going against the Buckeyes. However, I also don't want to be responsible for changing this team's karma by suddenly picking Ohio State to win. Plus, I've had Oregon as my national title choice all along. So while I believe Urban Meyer's team has a great chance to win this one -- especially if Cardale Jones continues to play well and the running game keeps chugging along -- I'm officially sticking with the Ducks in what should be a great game. ... Oregon 42, Ohio State 38.

Austin Ward: By now, Ohio State has made it quite clear that betting against it is a bad idea. And there might not be a coach in the country any better at firing up an underdog than Urban Meyer, who is undefeated with the Buckeyes when they aren't favored to win. Jones has added another dimension to an already potent offense, stretching the field to let wide receiver Devin Smith do what he does best and making life miserable for defensive backs, and that is also freeing up room for the dynamic Elliott. Putting up points won't be a problem for Ohio State, and with a vastly improved defense capable of creating a couple turnovers, it should be able to slow down the Ducks enough to give Meyer another upset victory -- and a national title. ... Ohio State 45, Oregon 35.

Mitch Sherman: Despite Oregon's resounding win over Florida State in the Rose Bowl, momentum belongs to the Buckeyes -- and not just because they beat up on Alabama. Ohio State has proven the skeptics wrong at every turn, and I'm tired of questioning Meyer's team. I picked against it in the Big Ten title game and in the College Football Playoff semifinal. Even the past few days seem to have swayed in favor of Ohio State as Oregon lost a playmaker in Darren Carrington and the Buckeyes likely gained one in Dontre Wilson. At this point, little doubt exists that Ohio State is a team of destiny. All that said, I still like the Ducks, who are simply more explosive and more prepared for this moment. ... Oregon 38, Ohio State 27.

Dan Murphy: Ohio State holds a slight edge in my mind and the difference-maker will be the Buckeyes’ wet-behind-the-ears starting quarterback Cardale Jones. Oregon’s 111th-ranked passing defense gave up 44 passes of at least 20 yards already this season. Big plays are often the difference in close games, and as crazy as it seems to pick against the country’s best player, Jones and the talented crew around him are more dangerous home run hitters. ... Ohio State 38, Oregon 35

Big Ten morning links

January, 12, 2015
Jan 12
Seriously, what else is left to say? The big day is here. Mere hours remain until the College Football Playoff National Championship presented by AT&T.

Oregon and Ohio State take the field in North Texas at 8:30 p.m. ET. (And don’t forget, ESPN offers 12 ways to watch.)

In the meantime, here’s a rundown of some last-minute gameday banter:

The end of the college season always comes with a touch of sadness because of the reality that we must wait nearly seven months before practice opens in August. This year, I’ll miss the outrageous predictions of the writers nearly as much as the games -- well, maybe not, but I’ll miss them nonetheless.

According to the latest fearless forecast, the Buckeyes will block a punt, force two Marcus Mariota interceptions and get 300 yards rushing from Ezekiel Elliott. I’ll go on record and declare, if all of that happens, the Buckeyes will need an extra seat for this on the return flight to Columbus.

Before this 15th game of the season for Ohio State, I’ll join the party and predict, outrageous as it may appear, that OSU will stop an Oregon goal-to-go situation on Monday night.

Maybe it’ll force a field goal or get a turnover. I’m not going to venture a guess how it happens. But Ohio State will one time keep the Ducks out of the end zone after Mariota peers over the line of scrimmage on first-and-goal.

It’s outrageous, because the Buckeyes have not stopped one such situation this season. I’ve mentioned it before, but it bears repeating: OSU foes are 21 for 21 in scoring touchdowns after securing a first down at the 10-yard line or closer to the goal line. Ohio State is the only team among 128 in the FBS to allow a touchdown each time.

The streak ends Monday night.

Upon closer inspection, the Buckeyes own the edge over Oregon in seven of 10 matchup categories, finds Paul Myerberg of USA Today.

I don’t take issue with any of his conclusions, other than perhaps that Ohio State’s running backs deserve the check mark over Oregon, too, after Elliott’s performances against Wisconsin and Alabama.

And I think Ohio State could get the nod at linebacker because of the rise of Darron Lee and strong play of Curtis Grant.

Really, you could pick the Buckeyes in every category but quarterback. That Oregon remains a decisive favorite speaks to the massive value of Mariota and the QB position in general.

Speaking of Ohio State linebackers, keep an eye Monday night on Raekwon McMillan. Yes, he’s a freshman backup who played sparingly in the Sugar Bowl. But McMillan is a five-star talent.

It may happen on special teams if the Ohio State defensive coaches aren’t comfortable to remove Grant against an opponent that will make them pay for even a small mistake. But if given the chance, McMillan is athletically equipped to make a game-changing play on this stage.

More on the title game:

And finally out of the Buckeyes' camp, former Nebraska offensive coordinator Tim Beck is set to fill Tom Herman's spot on the Ohio State staff after the title game.

Some Nebraska fans are scratching their heads at this hire. Beck was a scapegoat in Lincoln for presiding over an offense since 2011 that often appeared to lack an identity. But how much was Beck held back by ex-Nebraska coach Bo Pelini? Possibly, a lot, if Beck's game plan in the Holiday Bowl -- after Pelini had been fired -- provided a glimpse of the offense he wanted to run. Nebraska accumulated 525 yards in the 45-42 loss to USC.

Beck ought to thrive with the Ohio State quarterbacks. (Who wouldn't?) He's a dynamic recruiter with ties to his native Ohio, plus Texas and other areas. And paired with Meyer, an offensive-minded coach, Beck, at 48 may finally find himself on the fast track to a head-coaching job.

Around the rest of the league:

Championship Game Media Day Wrap

January, 9, 2015
Jan 9
Ohio State and Oregon met the press Saturday morning, and the team was out in full force to cover it all.

No matter how many statistics, trends, storylines or betting lines we look at, no one truly knows which way the College Football Playoff National Championship Presented By AT&T will actually go.

So some of us resort to other options -- clairvoyance, the way the clouds are shaped, and so on and so forth.

But Jimmy Fallon decided he would turn to a sure-fire predictor that he believes to be more accurate than any of the above, and it's his show's secret weapon: golden retriever puppies.

On Wednesday night, "The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon" featured seven pups who had the opportunity to choose between an Oregon bowl of dog food and an Ohio State bowl of dog food.

A few spoilers:
  1. The Oregon bowl gets more puppies, so according to Fallon, the Ducks will win*.
  2. You might pass out from an overload of cuteness. Please make sure you're seated before watching the video.
  3. Gary Frick Jr. will not be tricked into such tomfoolery. He will not stoop to this level.

* Fallon says "there's a 5 percent chance that this will be correct," so Buckeyes fans, don't hate on the puppies.
In football, there are always teams that get out to better starts and those that are considered second-half teams. Up until about a week ago, Florida State was considered a fourth-quarter team; others such as Baylor are more considered for their quick starts.

But what exactly do the numbers say about Oregon? Where -- or more specifically, in which quarter -- do the Ducks “win” their games? Is there a consistency among the season? And what does that mean for the College Football Playoff National Championship presented by AT&T?

Unsurprisingly, the numbers do tell a story here.

For those who believe Oregon doesn’t get out to a fast enough start, you might be a little bit right. While the Ducks outgain their opponents by 38.8 yards on average in first quarters, they’ve only scored nine more touchdowns than their opponents in first quarters this season. Meaning, on average (assuming extra points or two-point conversions are made), Oregon only has a 4.5-point lead on its opponents heading into the second quarter.

Compare that to Baylor -- statistically the nation’s best offense. The Bears scored 16 more touchdowns than opponents in first quarters this season, meaning Baylor went into second quarters this season with an 8.6-point lead on opponents.

So then, what kind of trend do the quarter-by-quarter statistics present to us about Oregon?

For starters, the Ducks are the most “successful” in second quarters this season. They outgain their opponents by an average of 54.7 yards and have outscored their opponents by 21 touchdowns in second quarters this season. So that means that the 4.5-point lead Oregon had going into the second quarter becomes a 15.8-point lead heading into halftime -- a number that Oregon fans certainly feel more comfortable about.

The second quarter is when Oregon is the most lethal, when the Ducks are able to go for the jugular. With a 15.8-point lead heading into halftime, all Oregon needs to do in the second half is counteract opponents’ halftime adjustments, and the Ducks will be fine.

In the fourth quarter of most Oregon games this season, the starters -- for both teams -- were pulled, so the difference in yardage and scoring isn’t as reliable.

What does it mean for Monday night when the Ducks take the field against Ohio State?

The Buckeyes tend to get off to very strong starts. Their yardage differential of 72.4 yards is almost double what Oregon averages in the first half.

However, unlike Oregon, the Buckeyes tend to taper off, but it’s more from the offense’s yardage than the defense’s yardage. The Buckeyes' defense improves from the first to the second quarter and the third to the fourth quarter, meaning their in-game adjustments are solid. But it takes awhile to react to opponents’ halftime adjustments.

The Ohio State offense, on the other hand, tends to slow a bit from a yardage perspective, but not from a scoring perspective. Their touchdown differential doesn’t really spike in any particular quarter, unlike the Ducks. It’s more a constant-flow deal for Ohio State when it comes to responding to opponents’ scoring and getting in the end zone themselves.

So if Ohio State jumps out to a quick start against the Ducks, Oregon fans don’t necessarily need to be worried right away because the second quarter is when they tend to make their moves.

With less reliable statistical data for the fourth quarters for both of these teams, it would be interesting to see what happens if the title game comes down to a late-game play.

Could both be sneaky good fourth-quarter teams? Rather than letting the stats answer that, we can just wait for the real thing.

UA practice notebook: Day 2 

December, 30, 2014

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- Day 2 of the Under Armour All-America game practices was overcast and rainy, but the dreary weather didn't stop Team Armour and Team Highlight from having an exciting practice.

The two teams had a spirited first day of practice, however, two offensive linemen, Keenan Walker and Lester Cotton, suffered injuries and won't be able to play in the game on Friday. With the shortage of bodies along the offensive line, ESPN 300 offensive tackle Tyree St. Louis was asked to drive up from IMG Academy in Bradenton to fill in.

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UA Day 1: Best sights and sounds

December, 29, 2014
LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- Several players made incredible plays on Day 1 of the Under Armour All-America game practices. Byron Cowart had several sacks, quarterbacks Kyler Murray, Deondre Francois and Brandon Wimbush all made impressive throws, and Notre Dame commit Shaun Crawford had a big pass breakup. Here’s a closer look at some of the top plays caught on camera.

Notre Dame pledge Shaun Crawford with nearly perfect technique on a pass breakup of a pass intended for George Campbell.

Quarterback Kyler Murray with a beautiful touchdown pass.

George Campbell coming down with the catch.

Defensive tackle Christian Wilkins against Alabama recruit Richie Petitbon.

Georgia recruit Terry Godwin makes a catch against Iman Marshall.

Quarterback Deondre Francois with a nice touchdown pass over the middle.

UNC OL pledge Tommy Hatton winning a battle against the No. 1-ranked player in the country, Terry Beckner Jr.

Oregon recruit Canton Kaumatule with a great spin move to win his one-on-one battle.

Byron Cowart with a nice move on Drew Richmond for the sack of Blake Barnett.

South Carolina commit Arden Key with the tackle.

Brandon Wimbush with a nice touch pass.

Instant Analysis: USC 45, Nebraska 42

December, 28, 2014
videoSAN DIEGO, Calif. -- As new Nebraska head coach Mike Riley watched from the stands Saturday night, the team he's taking over couldn't cap a comeback against a team from his former conference. The USC Trojans held on for a 45-42 victory over Nebraska in a wild shootout in the National University Holiday Bowl. Here's how it all went down at Qualcomm Stadium:

How the game was won: On big plays -- because it was the Holiday Bowl. Defenses need not apply. The Trojans were the faster, more athletic team (though not by much), and it showed in the form of explosive plays. Adoree' Jackson scored on a kickoff return and a long touchdown reception. Buck Allen turned 4-yard runs into long touchdowns. Four of USC's touchdowns were 20 yards or longer. That's not to say Nebraska didn't have some explosive moments of its own, as the teams combined for more than 1,000 yards offense.

Turning point: Trailing 45-42 with 2:31 remaining, Nebraska went for it on fourth-and 3 at the USC 31 but was turned away. The Trojans took over and were able to milk down enough clock to preserve the three-point win. A last-second Hail Mary effort from Nebraska fell short as time expired.

Game ball goes to: Jackson, a true freshman, was the most dynamic player on the field. His 98-yard kickoff return for a touchdown gave the Trojans a 7-3 lead after Nebraska jumped ahead on a field goal. Then he took a Cody Kessler pass 71 yards that stretched USC's lead to 31-17 in the third quarter. Oh yeah, he also added six tackles on defense.

Key stat: The teams combined for 38 points in the third quarter, a Holiday Bowl record. Considering the Holiday Bowl's penchant for crazy, that's pretty impressive.

Play of the game: The Jackson kickoff return takes top honors in a game with a lot of big plays.

video What's next: Nebraska begins life anew with Riley running the show. Some Trojans -- namely, Leonard Williams, Nelson Agholor and Allen -- have some decisions to make about the NFL draft.
Late last week, Oregon State commitments and recruits were blindsided by the news that head coach Mike Riley was leaving for Nebraska. While some commits remained on board, others quickly straddled the line between staying and leaving. Two -- linebacker Tyrin Ferguson and safety Adrienne Talan -- announced their decommitments.

Less than a week later, those same Oregon State commits were blindsided yet again, but this time the news was far more positive. The Beavers announced former Wisconsin head coach Gary Andersen would be taking over in Corvallis.

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LINCOLN, Neb. -- Five Oregon State assistant coaches have been linked to Mike Riley’s new coaching staff at Nebraska, according to media reports.

Riley, at his introduction Friday, said he hoped to bring a portion of his staff from Oregon State, where he had coached since 2003.

[+] EnlargeHawaii Bowl
Marco Garcia/USA TODAY SportsDefensive coordinator Mike Banker (middle) is among the former Oregon State assistants reportedly following Mike Riley (right) to Nebraska.
Linebackers coach Mike Bray on Saturday helped deliver to Riley his first recruit at Nebraska as linebacker Tyrin Ferguson of New Orleans switched his pledge from the Oregon State to the Huskers. Bray also contacted safety prospect Kahlil Haughton of Waco, Texas, about Nebraska, according to Huskers Illustrated.

The 32-year-old Bray has coached the past two seasons in a full-time position at Oregon State. He recruited the Dallas metroplex and portions of southern California. Regarded as a top recruiter, Bray previously was linebackers coach at Arizona State.

Others reportedly headed to Lincoln from Corvallis include defensive coordinator Mark Banker, 58; special teams coach Bruce Read, 51; and offensive line coach Mike Cavanaugh, 51. All three coached for at least 10 years at Oregon State.

Read and Banker have a history with Riley that dates to their time together with the San Diego Chargers from 1999 to 2001.

Additionally, receivers coach Brent Brennan has been mentioned in reports as likely to follow to Riley. Brennan, a 1996 UCLA graduate, coached Brandin Cooks, the 2013 Biletnikoff Award winner, at Oregon State.

Riley said he planned to meet with the remaining coaches at Nebraska but that he could not assure any positions. Bo Pelini was fired Nov. 30 after seven seasons. Barney Cotton, assistant head coach under Pelini, will serve as interim coach for Nebraska's bowl game.

Riley will not be involved in bowl preparations.

National links: Calm before the storm 

November, 25, 2014
Let’s just get this out of the way: Last week in college football was kind of dull.

Unless, that is, you’re into watching the single-game FBS rushing record fall for the second straight Saturday. (So who breaks it this week?) Yes, last week was dull, unless, of course, you’re into Florida State’s weekly high-wire act, re-awakenings at Arkansas and Minnesota or UCLA’s continued stranglehold on Los Angeles.

My point is, the latest set of games didn’t significantly impact the College Football Playoff picture -- at least in comparison to the past few weeks. Barring some craziness at the selection-committee table, the top four on Tuesday night is going to look no different than last week’s edition.

But Week 13 was simply the calm before the storm. Not so sure? Check out first nine paragraphs Gene Wojciechowski’s BMOC column. The rocky road to Dec. 9 is enough to make a fan of any playoff contender choke on his or her turkey dinner.

And it starts in two days.

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