The fifth-ranked player in the ESPN 300 will announce his decision between Auburn and Florida next Wednesday on ESPNU but contemplated announcing early just to get the process over with.
Position to improve: Quarterback.
Why it was a problem: Missouri ranked 10th in the SEC in passing yards per game and 13th in yards per attempt. Against SEC competition (including the SEC title game), Maty Mauk completed only 48.9 percent of his passes and threw nine touchdowns to seven interceptions in those nine games. The Tigers want to take the next step from SEC East Division champions to SEC champions, and improved play at quarterback has to be part of that equation. Mauk is a playmaker who can make great throws, improvise with his feet and produce highlight-worthy plays, but more consistency is needed from him if the Tigers are going to move into elite status.
How it can be fixed: Gary Pinkel voiced confidence in Mauk, even during his struggles, saying, “He’s our guy” in the aftermath of the Tigers’ 34-0 loss to Georgia in October. The Tigers then reeled off six straight wins. It stands to reason that, barring unforeseen circumstances, Mauk will remain Mizzou’s guy heading into his junior season. So it’s on Mauk simply to play better in 2015. The Tigers are 14-4 when Mauk starts, so despite some shaky play at times, Missouri has still been successful with Mauk behind center. Backup quarterback Eddie Printz, a redshirt freshman last season, attempted only one pass in three appearances in 2014. Corbin Berkstresser, the No. 3 quarterback on the depth chart, will be a senior this fall. The Tigers are bringing in a highly touted prospect at the position, ESPN 300 quarterback Drew Lock, a four-star prospect who is the No. 107 overall player nationally and the sixth-ranked pocket passer. Lock, an in-state prospect from Lee’s Summit High, is a nice acquisition, but this will still be Mauk’s team going into 2015.
Early 2015 outlook: With an offseason to improve and 18 starts under his belt, next season has some potential for Mauk. Can he improve his completion percentage and lower his interception total? If he can without taking away from his improvisational ability and style that makes him compelling to watch, it would be huge for the Tigers’ offense. Missouri says goodbye to its three leading receivers from 2014 – Bud Sasser, Jimmie Hunt and Darius White – who were all seniors. Mauk has to quickly establish a rapport with the new crop of pass catchers, if he can, it bodes well for the Tigers. Moments like this one and the way he finished the Buffalo Wild Wings Citrus Bowl win over Minnesota provide optimism. If Mauk can play that way more consistently, the Tigers will be in good shape.
What he brings: Daylon Mack is a compact, but thickly built and powerful defensive tackle who is capable of being a disruptive force in the trenches. He lacks some in ideal height, but built like a powder keg the five-star can quickly explode off the ball and create problems. With a quick first-step and good snap anticipation, Mack is capable of blowing up plays in the backfield, but strong and with a low center of gravity, he is tough to move and control even when blockers can get a piece of him. He may be closer to his ceiling of development than most of the five-star prospects, but is a pretty darn good player at this stage. If he can continue to refine his technique and manage his weight, he has demonstrated the tools needed to be a handful at the college level and likely can begin causing havoc soon after hitting campus.
To continue reading this article you must be an Insider
Problem position: Quarterback
Why quarterback is a problem: There are plenty of places to look within a program that's won one Big Ten game over the past two years. Sometimes, though, the most obvious answer is the correct one. Purdue has coined itself as the cradle of quarterbacks, producing stars at the position such as Len Dawson, Bob Griese, Gary Danielson, Jim Everett and Drew Brees. When the Boilermakers find a gunslinger, all other problems fade into the background. It's struggling under Darrell Hazell to identify a reliable option. Austin Appleby was the latest to try, starting the final seven games as a sophomore with varied success.
How it can be fixed: Appleby had his moments in 2014, playing well against Illinois, Michigan State and Minnesota before the Boilermakers put too much on his shoulders in November. As his pass attempts rose, efficiency dropped. Purdue can help its quarterbacks by improving in the run game. Another offseason of work under Hazell and offensive coordinator John Shoop should help Appleby if he remains atop the depth chart, by no means a certainty.
Early 2015 outlook: Look for Appleby to face stiff competition in the spring from Danny Etling, another rising junior who started as a freshman in 2013 and for the first five games of 2014. He threw for 800 yards but committed seven turnovers. David Blough, a redshirt freshman, also enters the mix. Each came to Purdue as a solid prospect and recognized on the national level in recruiting circles. For Purdue to take the desired big step as a program, one of its quarterbacks must emerge as elite.
Position to improve: Offensive line
Why it was a problem: Injuries and graduation caught up with the Cowboys up front in 2014. And after longtime assistant Joe Wickline bolted for Texas, replacement Bob Connelly struggled to put a coherent offensive line together with a collection of unproven performers. Oklahoma State actually ranked next-to-last in the Big 12 in career offensive line starts heading into the opener. As a result, for much of the season, the Cowboys failed to keep immobile quarterback Daxx Garman upright, while the running game stagnated, as Oklahoma State dropped five games in a row.
How it can be fixed: The fix began to occur late in the season. Zachary Crabtree returned from an injury to give the Cowboys a solid pass-protecting tackle. And the emergence of Mason Rudolph at quarterback gave the Cowboys a little more mobility in the pocket, taking the pressure off the rest of the line. Other young players up front like center Paul Lewis and tackle Michael Wilson began to emerge at the end of the season. That culminated with Oklahoma State controlling the line of scrimmage in a 30-22 TicketCity Cactus Bowl win over Washington, which coming in boasted one of the top defensive fronts in the country.
Early 2015 outlook: The line should return to being a strength for the Cowboys again. Crabtree, Lewis, Wilson and guard Jesse Robinson are all back. Oklahoma State also expects to sign a total of seven offensive linemen, including a trio of junior-college recruits as well as transfer Victor Salako, who manned left tackle for UAB last season. Add that all together, and the Cowboys figure to be seasoned and deep in 2015.
North Carolina State Wolfpack
Position to improve: Wide receiver
Why it was a problem: Take a look at the final ACC stats, under receptions/game and receiving yards/game. You will find players from 3-9 Syracuse and 3-9 Wake Forest. But you will not find anybody listed from 8-5 N.C. State. The Wolfpack simply did not have a go-to guy in their group in 2014. Their leading receiver was a true freshman -- Bo Hines, with 616 yards and just one touchdown catch. Only three other schools had their top leading receiver finish with fewer yards: Boston College (a running team), Wake Forest (a team that was offensively challenged) and Virginia (not known for its passing offense). While it is true N.C. State likes to use its tight ends and backs in the pass game, there is no doubt the Wolfpack need a wide receiver to emerge in 2015.
How it can be fixed: Another year with quarterback Jacoby Brissett under center will help. One big area N.C. State hopes to improve is its deep passing game, which was virtually nonexistent a year ago. Brissett struggled to throw the long ball with accuracy; and the Wolfpack are in need of a dynamic receiver who can stretch the field. Coach Dave Doeren is also hopeful the addition of receivers coach George McDonald will help a young group returning as well. "He has a really good way about him of teaching the game," Doeren said recently. "With a young receiver corps, we need somebody who can take every detail of the position and get them to do it where they’re excited about playing the position and doing it the way we want to get it done."
Early 2015 outlook: Bo Hines decided to transfer to Yale after the season. Marquez Valdes-Scantling, third among the wide receivers, also is gone. So among the top three returners in receiving yards, only one is a wide receiver: Bra'Lon Cherry, with 27 catches for 354 yards. More will be expected of tight end David J. Grinnage. But among receivers, Cherry, Johnathan Alston, Maurice Trowell and Stephen Louis will be expected to increase their production. Also watch for true freshman Nyheim Hines, on the ESPN 300. Though he is listed as a running back, he could be a good choice to fill Bo Hines' spot at receiver. There are no seniors in the group of players mentioned above.
Andrus Peat, No. 9 in 2012 class
Coming out of Corona Del Sol in Tempe, Arizona, Peat’s recruitment was considered a toss-up with many predicting Nebraska early on because his brother, Todd Peat, played for the Cornhuskers at the time. While Peat officially visited Nebraska, his recruitment actually came down to Stanford, USC and Florida State along with Nebraska. Peat was part of a terrific offensive line class for Stanford with Joshua Garnett, Kyle Murphy and Nick Davidson.
Peat made his mark as a freshman for the Cardinal, playing in 13 games. He rotated at left tackle in 2012, playing more snaps as the season moved along.
As a sophomore in 2013, Peat began showing that he had a NFL future. He started all 14 games at left tackle, earning All-Pac-12 second-team honors from the league coaches, as well as Stanford’s Most Outstanding Sophomore Deswarte-Ellar Award.
Peat’s junior season would prove to be his best. After starting every game at left tackle for a second consecutive season, he was tabbed All-Pac-12 first team by the league coaches as well as numerous All-American teams by media outlets, including second team by the AP.
Peat chose to forgo his senior season and enter the 2015 NFL Draft, where he is expected to be drafted in the first round.
Honorable mention: Jimmy Clausen, No. 9 in 2007 class. Clausen played at Notre Dame and was drafted in the second round (No. 48 overall) in the 2010 NFL Draft by the Chicago Bears. Jelani Jenkins, No. 9 in 2009 class. Jenkins starred at Florida and was drafted in the fourth round (No. 104 overall) by the Miami Dolphins in the 2013 NFL Draft. Matt Elam, No. 9 in 2010 class. Elam played a Florida and was drafted No. 32 overall in the 2013 NFL Draft by the Baltimore Ravens. Derrick Henry, No. 9 in 2013 class, and Adoree' Jackson, No. 9 in 2014 class are both starring in college and expected to be drafted in the next two years.
Penn State takes its turn in the spotlight now.
Problem position: Offensive line
Why the offensive line was a problem in 2014: Everyone who followed the Nittany Lions worried about the O-line going into the season. Miles Dieffenbach suffered an injury in the offseason that would keep him sidelined most of the year, leaving left tackle Donovan Smith as the only experienced player on the unit. Depth was so thin that coach James Franklin and his staff had to flip a couple defensive tackles over to the offensive guard spots. The problems ended up being worse than just about anyone imagined, as Penn State fielded the league's worst rushing attack (101.9 yards per game) and gave up an almost unfathomable 44 sacks, which was more than every Power 5 team except Wake Forest. For comparison's sake, the 44 sacks were more than Michigan State, Wisconsin and Rutgers combined to allow in 2014. The line woes were encapsulated by this unforgettable image.
How it can be fixed (solutions on the roster): Smith played well despite the chaos and chose to enter the NFL draft rather than use his final year of eligibility. Dieffenbach, who missed the first eight games last season, also departs. Andrew Nelson showed promise as a redshirt freshman at right tackle and could move to the left side. Angelo Mangiro and Brian Gaia join him as returning starters. Penn State also redshirted four offensive linemen last season and will hope at least a couple of them are ready to contribute in 2015.
How it can be fixed (potential help from 2015 recruiting class): The Nittany Lions currently have four offensive linemen committed in this year's class, three of whom are in the ESPN 300: tackles Sterling Jenkins and Ryan Bates and guard Steven Gonzalez. The fourth is a junior college transfer: 6-foot-8, 300-pounder Paris Palmer, who could step in and start right away.
Early 2015 outlook: Franklin and position coach Herb Hand know offensive line is a major problem right now, and they have worked to address that in recruiting. Scholarship cuts from NCAA sanctions and injuries hit the unit hard, but help appears to be on the way. The line looks to be incredibly young in 2015, however, so some quick development will be needed to better protect quarterback Christian Hackenberg and establish a more reputable run game.
North Carolina Tar Heels
Position to improve: Secondary
Why it was a problem: North Carolina had issues all over the defense in 2014, but it was particularly vulnerable to the pass. No Power 5 team in the country allowed more yards per attempt (8.5), only Baylor and Fresno State surrendered more plays of 25 yards or more through the air, and only six teams nationally allowed more passing touchdowns (31).
How it can be fixed: The Tar Heels' biggest issue in the secondary may have simply been youth. There was just one senior -- safety Tim Scott -- on the team's two-deep, and the Heels started three sophomores in the defensive backfield. UNC finished 88th in sack rate, too, and the lack of pressure up front certainly didn't help the secondary. The pass rush did show some improvement as the year went along, and emerging stars such as Nazair Jones and Dajaun Drennon should continue to make an impact in 2015. The big change, however, is the man calling the plays. UNC hired former Auburn coach Gene Chizik to take over the defense, and his hard-nosed style promises to translate to a more fundamentally-sound secondary.
Early 2015 outlook: North Carolina should improve defensively in 2015 if for no other reason than it would be virtually impossible to be any worse. Still, it's going to be an uphill battle. Young players are going to need to take big steps forward this offseason, and it remains to be seen how Chizik's personality and style will mesh with the players already on the roster. The Heels have two four-star DBs committed, but adding more youth to the mix isn't necessarily an ideal scenario. Moreover, Larry Fedora's offense moves at lightning speed, and the result of that was that no defense in the country spent more time on the field in 2014 than UNC. That's asking a lot of a group that is young, lacks depth and had fundamental flaws routinely exposed. How much of that can Chizik clean up in 2015? How much might Fedora try to adjust his offensive pace to account for some of those defensive shortcomings? How much can the youngsters grow in one offseason? We may not have those answers for quite a while.
Position to improve: Defensive line. For the first time in several years, Stanford loses all its starters from the backbone of its defense -- Henry Anderson, David Parry and Blake Lueders are all gone. The Cardinal reloaded admirably following last season's departure of defensive star power, but they didn't have to replace all of their front-line strength. This is a new -- and perhaps more daunting -- challenge.
Why it was a problem: Parry, in particular, carried a massive part of the defensive load in 2014. The 305-pound lineman absorbed frequent double-teams, and that disrupted opposing offenses while opening things up for the rest of the Stanford defense. But Parry missed some time because of injury, and the otherwise dominant Cardinal defense immediately struggled (remember their troubles against Arizona State and Oregon). That's because Stanford's depth behind Parry was severely lacking -- a combination of bad luck (see Ikenna Nwafor's career-ending foot injury) and recruiting misses meant that true freshman Harrison Phillips, still about 40 pounds underweight for the position, was forced into premature action. With Parry and his fellow fifth-year senior starters now gone, Stanford's suspect defensive line depth is naturally shifting into the starting spotlight, so the need for improvement there is urgent.
How it can be fixed: This is a particularly critical offseason for revered sports performance director Shannon Turley and defensive line coach Randy Hart. If Stanford is going to have enough capable bodies to maintain success up front, Turley and Hart must succeed in further developing rising sophomores Phillips and Solomon Thomas, both of whom were touted recruits. They'll also have to maximize the productivity of seniors Aziz Shittu and Luke Kaumatule, two physical specimens who haven't yet blossomed to their full potential.
Early 2015 outlook: The Cardinal are in a precarious situation. They've developed many players remarkably well in the past several years, but they've also missed on some, and there's absolutely no margin for error in the defensive line room this offseason. This unit forms the bedrock of Stanford's 3-4 scheme, and it's losing a trio of fifth-year stalwarts who have provided toughness and blue-collar continuity within the program since the Jim Harbaugh days. The optimist will see this as a true opportunity for a new crop of trench talent to establish itself as the Cardinal's backbone at the line of scrimmage; the pessimist will predict that Stanford's well of beefy talent is running dry. This offseason will determine who's right, as the improvement of the Cardinal's defensive line talent represents a true hinge point.
That last line of defense wasn't nearly as dependable as it needed to be, whether it was making key tackles that could have prevented big gains or preventing opposing receivers from getting behind the coverage.
Position to improve: Safety
Why it was a problem: The Bulldogs were 114th nationally in passing defense, giving up 272.8 yards per game. It's true that their pressure style put the defensive backs in some tough spots, but too many times big gains turned into backbreaking gains or even touchdowns. In losing three of their last four games, the Bulldogs allowed 13 plays of 30 yards or longer in those three losses. Nine of the 13 were passing plays. Even in the loss to run-heavy Georgia Tech in the bowl game, the Bulldogs gave up a 41-yard touchdown pass to go down 14-0 and were later burned on a 69-yard touchdown run. Losing junior safety Kendrick Market to a torn Achilles in the first quarter against Ole Miss didn't help matters, and Justin Cox never developed into the kind of difference-maker the Bulldogs thought he would be when he came over from junior college. What's more, senior safety Jay Hughes was coming back from an Achilles injury that forced him to miss the final 12 games of the 2013 season.
How it can be fixed: The outlook overall in the secondary is better than some might think. In fact, the Bulldogs should be fairly strong at cornerback, which will only help as they sort out matters at safety. Taveze Calhoun and Will Redmond both return for their senior seasons at cornerback, and Redmond was playing as well as any of the Mississippi State defensive backs when the season ended. The Bulldogs will also get back Cedric Jiles, who missed all of last season with a hamstring injury. He's the kind of speedy athlete who will find his way onto the field somewhere in the secondary. Deontay Evans and Kivon Coman will both be juniors. They both played some this season, but will be counted on to move into bigger roles.
Early 2015 outlook: Manny Diaz is back as Mississippi State's defensive coordinator. He headed up the Bulldogs' defense in 2010 and was renowned for the way he attacked offenses with an array of different blitzes. To play that way, you're obviously vulnerable in the secondary at times, which means solidifying the safety spots will be critical. Market, coming off his torn Achilles, probably won't be fully recovered for the start of the season. It's a big offseason for redshirt freshman Brandon Bryant. The Bulldogs almost pulled his redshirt this past season. He has a nose for the ball and anticipates well. Evans and Coman will also factor prominently into the rotation, and one of the biggest names on the recruiting board is Jamal Peters, the No. 2 safety prospect in the country and a Mississippi State commitment. Several other schools are still in hot pursuit. The 6-3, 200-pound Peters is a big-time tackler and could help the Bulldogs immediately.
Moving in at No. 3 overall is former TCU defensive end Devonte Fields. The former Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year is spending the school year at Trinity Valley Community College, and appears ready to make the move back to the FBS ranks and play one more season before entering the 2016 NFL draft. Fields is scheduled to visit Louisville Jan. 30 with the Cardinals the heavy favorite to land the Under Armour All-American Game alumni.
To continue reading this article you must be an Insider
About a year ago, long before the first game that factored into the College Football Playoff and before his team played a down of Big Ten football, Rutgers coach Kyle Flood began to offer to recruits his vision of the era ahead.
In particular, Flood told them he found it difficult to believe that a one-loss Big Ten champion would miss the four-team playoff.
A month into last season, as the league sat squarely outside playoff speculation, Flood did not waver, bolstered by his confidence in Big Ten coaches and the respect he believed the league had earned.
“Players want to win championships,” Flood said. “They want to know if they’re on the right team and have the right season that they have access to a championship.”
His assertion proved correct, of course, as Ohio State roared to the finish, securing the fourth spot in the semifinals.
In recruiting, dividends pay immediately.
Some Big Ten coaches, back on the recruiting trail for the past two weeks in the push toward signing day a week from Wednesday, have noticed a change in attitude from prospects who had grown accustomed to watching the league struggle on a big stage.
“A part of recruiting is perception,” Indiana coach Kevin Wilson said this week as he drove to recruiting stops in Indianapolis. “The perception of the Big Ten is that it’s on the rise right now. We enjoy that. We embrace that. We’re excited about that.”
So does a rising tide lift all boats in Big Ten recruiting? No consensus exists among league coaches. Wilson, whose program has qualified for one bowl game in the past two decades, and others said they welcome the flood of media exposure around Ohio State and Michigan this month as impactful for the entire conference in attracting prospects.
Minnesota defensive backs and special teams coach Jay Sawvel said he has heard the stereotype that Big Ten programs lag in athleticism.
It was justified at times, Sawvel said.
But the narrative can change. This bowl season helped. The Big Ten and SEC split four postseason meetings.
In four years at Minnesota with Jerry Kill, Sawvel said, he has found the Gophers received well by recruits. That reception has improved as Minnesota notched wins in the past 15 months over Penn State, Nebraska twice and Michigan.
“Our conference is known everywhere,” Sawvel said, “but it needed a step up in legitimacy. I think Ohio State’s run and what happened in other bowl games helped that a little bit. But what has to happen for the conference as a whole is for one through 14 to step up.”
Illinois recruiting coordinator Alex Golesh sees a change, too.
“It’s raised some eyebrows,” said Golesh, an Ohio State graduate who coaches tight ends and running backs for the Illini.
Golesh said he’s happy to use talk of a general upswing among the Big Ten as a selling point for Illinois in recruiting. He won’t go much further, though.
For instance, he has not talked once about Harbaugh with a recruit. How about Ohio State, which plays at Illinois in November?
“You find out what’s going to make the kid tick. You sell your program, your product, your fit and your coaching staff,” Golesh said this week while recruiting in Nashville. “I don’t think we’d bring up the success of another school unless you absolutely have to.”
It’s no different at Michigan State, which claims four 11-win seasons in the past five years -- a record matched in the Big Ten only by the Buckeyes.
A lot of times schools from the South that come recruiting in our part of the country, part of their pitch is, 'If you want to play great football, you have to come to the South.' That's a tough sell nowadays. After this bowl season, you'd be hard-pressed to make that pitch to a recruit.- Rutgers coach Kyle Flood
“We’re selling results,” MSU coach Mark Dantonio said Tuesday. “When we first came here, we were selling hope. We’re not selling hope now. That’s probably as big a difference as anything. The results are there. We’re putting a lot of guys in the NFL. It’s not a myth. These things are happening.”
Hope isn’t always a bad thing to sell, though, especially if it’s justified. Wilson, entering his fifth year at Indiana, said the Hoosiers have upgraded recruiting significantly since 2011.
The former offensive coordinator at Oklahoma, Wilson watched Oklahoma State, Baylor and Texas Tech elevate their programs in recent years. Some of it came through recruiting success aided by competing every year with Texas and Oklahoma.
The Big Ten East necessitates a similar climb as top programs continue to raise the bar. Wilson said his staff doesn’t blink at the rising challenge.
“It enhances recruiting,” Wilson said. “Look at what Michigan State has done. At the end of the day, the power of the Big Ten is a positive. We have sold that in recruiting. Great players want a chance to prove themselves against other great players.”
Harbaugh’s staff, with barely a month to build a recruiting class, fights to finish in this last week as five Big Ten teams rate among the national leaders in ESPN’s class rankings. Ohio State is seventh, followed by Penn State (12th), Michigan State (28th), Wisconsin (29th) and Nebraska (32nd).
For Flood at Rutgers, the selling points of the Big Ten are no different. He believed in the league before its recent turnaround.
When he shared his feelings last year about a one-loss league champion, recruits believed him. Still, Flood said, he knows they heard a different message from coaches outside the conference.
“A lot of times,” Flood said, “schools from the South that come recruiting in our part of the country, part of their pitch is, ‘If you want to play great football, you have to come to the South.’
“That’s a tough sell nowadays. After this bowl season, you’d be hard-pressed to make that pitch to a recruit.”
Here are our favorite plays of the year:
Hail MarysBahamas Bowl miracle
Central Michigan trailed by 35 points entering the fourth quarter. It trailed by seven when it pulled off a 75-yard, three-lateral Hail Mary as the clock struck :00. The Chippewas failed on the two-point conversion, but their comeback and miracle finish was the craziest play of bowl season.
After blowing a 26-9 fourth-quarter lead, it looked as if Central Florida was done. But East Carolina mismanaged the clock -- taking three knees and a sack -- before giving the ball back to the Knights with 10 seconds left. One 51-yard score later, George O'Leary's crew was celebrating a share of a conference championship.
Arizona scored an absurd 36 points in the fourth quarter, capped by Anu Solomon hitting Austin Hill in the end zone on a 47-yard touchdown that gave the Wildcats a 49-45 win.
Big-guy touchdownsCome to Arkansas, where linemen throw TDs
Who said Bret Bielema offenses were old school? Arkansas' coach loves his linemen, and here he lets 350-pound guard Sebastian Tretola throw for a score in a 45-17 win over UAB.
Tretola's pass was nice, but how about seeing a 400-pounder go up the seam for an 18-yard score in a New Year's Six bowl game? That's what Art Briles and Baylor dreamed up, as Laquon McGowan scored to give Baylor a 20-point lead before Michigan State stormed back to win 42-41.
Boise goes back to the future
Everyone remembers Boise State's introduction to a national college football audience, upsetting Oklahoma with the Statue of Liberty in the 2007 Fiesta Bowl. Well, the Broncos brought it back for this year's game, as Jay Ajayi scored from 16 yards out in a 38-30 Boise win.
Fainting Goat gets its own category
Arkansas State can lay claim to the best worst fake punt ever. In theory, one player falls down, draws the attention of the defense and the Red Wolves get a first down. In reality, he got clobbered and Arkansas State's pass was intercepted. But that only made us love it more.
So does this Nebraska false start
Poor Jake Cotton. The Nebraska lineman was just trying to hold his stance, but once all 6-foot-6 and 305 pounds of him starting going backward, there was no turning back.
Year of the freshman RBLeonard Fournette runs over Texas A&M
It was an up-and-down year for the heavily hyped Fournette, but he certainly showed signs of why such big things were expected out of him. Just ask Howard Matthews, who got bowled over on Fournette's way to the end zone in LSU's 23-17 win.
Florida State had fallen behind again. This time, it was 23-10 to rival Miami. But Cook saved the day, with 44- and 26-yard scores to guide the Seminoles to a 30-26 victory.
Freeman could be a game-changer for the Ducks, the kind of every-down power back the team hasn't had in the past. And he can throw it too, as he proved with this touchdown toss to Marcus Mariota against Arizona.
Oklahoma's year certainly ended poorly, but the Sooners have hope for the future following the emergence of Perine. He set the single-game rushing record with 427 yards (and five scores) in a win over Kansas. This 64-yard TD scamper jump-started a comeback win for Oklahoma.
No Todd Gurley? No problem for the Bulldogs, who saw Nick Chubb announce himself as perhaps the best of all the freshman runners with a dominant 266-yard performance against a tough Louisville run defense. It was the most rushing yards by a Georgia back in a bowl and also a Belk Bowl mark.
More top playsNebraska's behind-the-back catch
It was all the way back in August, but this held up as one of the best plays of the year. Wide receiver Jordan Westerkamp went behind the back to grab a pass during a 55-7 Cornhuskers win over Florida Atlantic.
A running back on Joey Bosa? Yeah, that's not going to end well. As dominant as Ohio State was down the stretch, it wouldn't have happened had the Buckeyes not taken care of Penn State. Bosa made sure they finally did, with a 31-24 double-overtime win.
Of all the plays on this list, this is the most important. Trailing Alabama 21-13 in the final seconds of the first half, Evan Spencer took a handoff on a reverse and somehow found Michael Thomas in the corner of the end zone for a touchdown. The lesson? Even Ohio State's receivers are great quarterbacks.
Melvin Gordon's stay atop the record book for single-game rushing yards may have lasted only a week, but that does nothing to diminish his magical performance against Nebraska, when he ran for 408 yards and four touchdowns in a 59-24 rout of the Cornhuskers.
Minnesota may have lost its bowl game, but the Golden Gophers still had the highlight of the game, as tight end Maxx Williams hurdled two defenders en route to a 54-yard touchdown. So it's probably no surprise that Williams declared for the NFL draft after this game.
You can't do much more than a 99-yard touchdown return, and that's exactly what Shaq Thompson did for Washington to kick off the scoring in a 31-7 win over Cal.
Autonomy. Now that Power 5 conferences have the autonomy they wanted, there will be discussion about how any decisions made will impact both the league and member schools and their real-world applications. Cost of attendance is sure to be a topic, as schools try to figure out a way to pay for the added expense at a time when revenues do not meet expenses in many athletic departments. Boston College voted against cost of attendance legislation, though the school will go ahead and pay for the cost increases.
Television. There have been recent reports that the ACC Network is getting closer to reality. Florida State president John Thrasher seemed optimistic in recent comments. So did Virginia Tech athletic director Whit Babcock, who put a potential launch at 2016 or 2017. Television partners will be at the winter meetings, but they have annual face time with league reps. There is no set agenda for in-depth discussions about an ACC Network, but that doesn't mean plans are on the shelf. There has been progress made toward that end, but it would be premature to say the league was nearly ready to make a big announcement. League officials still have no timetable for when a network could come to fruition.
Scheduling. North Carolina and Wake Forest announced a nonconference series earlier this week that has drawn support from inside the ACC. Whether this becomes a trend remains to be seen, but surely athletic directors will have discussions about the pros and cons. However, the unconventional move does not mean the league is going to start rethinking how it handles its schedule. The vote last year to remain at eight league games has essentially put the scheduling questions to rest. Whether ACC schools want to schedule each other outside league play is an institutional decision.
One other topic that could come up is the College Football Playoff. Clemson athletic director Dan Radakovich served on the playoff committee, and several athletic directors have mentioned they want to get his perspective to perhaps get a better idea of what they should be looking to do with their programs moving forward. There is no set agenda for Radakovich to address the group, but it wouldn't be a surprise if smaller group discussions took place.