We all do it, if we're being honest.

With the passage of each decade, each time our ages have a zero on the end -- or even begin to creep closer to it -- we take stock.

Where are we? What have we done? Where are we going? Are we where we want to be?

Often, it's a simultaneously rewarding and harrowing exercise. Even in the celebration of accomplishment, there's recognition that the climb is never complete. The mountain continues to rise, and rise, in front of us.

With that in mind, the magic number for the upcoming College Football Playoff is 39.

That's the age of four of the coordinators coaching in the semifinals: Alabama's Lane Kiffin and Kirby Smart, Oregon's Scott Frost and Ohio State's Tom Herman.

Kiffin, Smart, Frost and Herman will turn the Big 4-0 in 2015, and each man finds himself in a different phase of the wild, weird coaching life.

Their varied career stages illustrate hiring trends and the fact that most coordinators, including these four, have thought often of becoming a head coach.

One has already experienced it. And failed.

Click here to read the rest of the story.
BATON ROUGE, La. -- They aren't SEC superstars -- they don't even rank among the headliners on their own team -- but two of the unquestioned leaders on the conference's top defense are also its lone senior starters.

LSU's Jermauria Rasco and Ronald Martin will play together one final time in their college careers beyond next week's Franklin American Mortgage Music City Bowl -- when they compete in the East-West Shrine Game on Jan. 17.

[+] EnlargeLSU defense
Crystal LoGiudice/USA TODAY SportsLSU's Ronald Martin (26) will play with teammate Jermauria Rasco in the East-West Shrine Game on Jan. 17.
“It's just an honor. It's a blessing," Martin said of the invitation to participate in the all-star game, which will be played in St. Petersburg, Florida. “I thank those guys for giving me an opportunity to be a part of it and I'm just going to give my all and try to give my best impression."

Martin was a second-team All-SEC safety this season after ranking third on the team with 66 tackles and tying for the team lead with two interceptions and 10 passes defended. Easily his biggest play of the season was his game-saving interception at the goal line to clinch a win against then-unbeaten Ole Miss.

“He's really done a great job, been a great leader for us and played well and made plays -- made plays that were significant, certainly," LSU coach Les Miles said this week. “The interception against Ole Miss is something he'll remember for a lifetime."

While the statistics he compiled in his first season as a full-time starter were nice, Martin said he is just as proud of the leadership he displayed as the old man in the secondary. For instance, he heaped praise on freshman Jamal Adams for wanting to learn and said he took on a big brother role with his young position mate.

“That's the big thing, I was trying to be a leader for these guys this year and teach those young guys," Martin said. “Like I was saying about Jamal earlier, I really took that kid under my wing when he got here because I saw how hungry he was to want to play. So I took the time teaching him the plays, teaching him to try to get him prepared because I knew we were going to use him. So that's all I was trying to do, just do my part as a teammate."

Likewise, Rasco's value to the team is not adequately measured by simply looking over the stat sheet. The senior defensive end led the team with four sacks and eight quarterback hurries and is fifth with 63 tackles, but his knack for always being around the ball was a big factor in the Tigers' defensive improvement throughout the season.

“That's one thing that Coach Brick [Haley] preaches at practice," Rasco said. “That's one thing that has always been like that around here."

Rasco believes this was his best season at LSU, largely because he was finally healthy. He had surgery on injured shoulders in each of the previous two offseasons, but he was able to play full speed as a senior.

Now at the all-star game, he'll have a chance to show scouts that he can do more than just play defensive end should a pro team give him a shot.

“I feel like whether I'm on the ground or standing up, honestly I'm just ready to play ball," Rasco said. “After we finish up with Notre Dame, I'm just ready to have an opportunity to play ball. Wherever I'm at, I'm just going to take flight from there."

Showing some versatility during the week of practice might be necessary for Rasco. Listed at 6-foot-3 and 247 pounds, he doesn't have prototypical size for an NFL defensive end. But he believes he could also play outside linebacker in a 3-4 scheme and that his work dropping into coverage this season in the Tigers' “Bronco" package was good practice for that job.

“Coach Brick and [defensive coordinator John Chavis], they helped us out a lot trying to put a new wrinkle in there that would give us a chance to stand up and roam around a little bit and just bring a different look to the team and also help out the team," Rasco said.
Arkansas needed to upset LSU and Ole Miss. Texas had to knock off Texas Tech, West Virginia and Oklahoma State. Both did just that --and just enough to go bowling.

There is plenty at stake when these 6-6 teams square off at Houston's NRG Stadium on Monday night. Pretty simple, really: One team goes home with a winning record, the other doesn't. Which team will embrace the momentum-building moment?

ESPN.com's Greg Ostendorf and Max Olson break down the matchup.

How Arkansas can control the game: Run the ball and control the clock. This has been Arkansas’ strength all season. The Razorbacks have 14 touchdown drives of five minutes or longer, second most in the FBS behind only Georgia Tech. Running backs Jonathan Williams and Alex Collins each have more than 1,000 yards rushing. No other FBS team can say that. When the Razorbacks are gashing the opponent on the ground, they are hard to stop. -- Ostendorf

How Texas can control the game: Charlie Strong wins games with his stout defense, and when this group forces turnovers it can be awfully tough to beat. Texas had the Big 12's No. 1 total defense and pass defense, and the pressure that Malcom Brown, Hassan Ridgeway and Cedric Reed get up front ought to make running the ball a challenge at times. It's a bend-don't-break defense that will keep this game relatively low-scoring. -- Olson

Arkansas' X-factor: Trey Flowers has been a quarterback’s nightmare this season. The senior defensive end has 13.5 tackles for loss, five sacks and nine quarterback hurries. When he’s not chasing him down, he’s batting the ball down at the line of scrimmage. He has been the heart and soul of an Arkansas defense that allowed only 9.5 points per game in the month of November, and this will be his final game in a Razorbacks’ uniform. -- Ostendorf

Texas' X-factor: The play of Tyrone Swoopes, obviously. His five-turnover showing against TCU gave the Longhorns no shot and raised doubts among the fan base about whether he's "the guy" for the future. Swoopes can kill those questions with a bounce-back showing. He had one of the finest performances of his career (305 yards, two TDs, 72 percent passing) against Oklahoma State right before facing the Frogs. Can he bring his best against the Hogs? -- Olson

What a win would mean for the Razorbacks: The rebuilding process at Arkansas took a big step this season under second-year coach Bret Bielema. The Hogs won an SEC game, nearly knocked off the eventual conference champion, and now they are playing in a bowl game. A win could propel them into next season and validate them as a contender in 2015. -- Ostendorf

What a win would mean for Texas: The Longhorns got their recruiting momentum rolling last week with a commitment from elite linebacker Malik Jefferson. This 'W' can get the rest of the program rolling. An important win would aid an important offseason for growth, and the Horns badly need to move past the buzzkill of getting beat up by TCU. -- Olson

AutoZone Liberty Bowl primer: West Virginia vs. Texas A&M

December, 24, 2014
Dec 24
One week into the season, expectations soared for Texas A&M after the Aggies destroyed South Carolina on the road. That result, however, proved to be a bit of a mirage, as the Aggies struggled through the heart of their SEC schedule.

In Morgantown, expectations also ballooned after the Mountaineers knocked off fourth-ranked Baylor on Oct. 18. But two weeks later with ESPN "College GameDay" in the house, West Virginia couldn't hold on to a nine-point fourth quarter lead against TCU, which ignited a three-game November losing streak for the Mountaineers.

Still, in the AutoZone Liberty Bowl, both teams have the chance to finish their roller-coaster seasons with an eighth win and on a high note heading into 2015.

Below, SEC reporter Sam Kahn Jr. and Big 12 reporter Jake Trotter break down this Memphis matchup:

[+] EnlargeKevin White
AP Photo/Chris JacksonReceiver Kevin White has been the catalyst for West Virginia's offense this season.
How West Virginia can control the game: Getting All-American wideout Kevin White going early and often is key for the Mountaineers. As White goes, so go the Mountaineers. During White’s amazing seven-game 100-yard receiving streak to begin the season, the Mountaineers claimed one of the top offenses in the country. But late in the season, as White cooled off, so did the West Virginia offense, prompting the Mountaineers to drop three of their final four games. The Aggies are hardly effective defending the pass, with the SEC’s 12th-ranked pass defense. So West Virginia should be able to get White the ball in the opening quarter. That in turn should open up the rest of the offensive attack. -- Trotter

How Texas A&M can control the game: Getting off to a fast start is important for the Aggies. This season, when the Aggies have led after the first quarter, they are 5-1; when they’ve trailed after a quarter, they are 0-3. A team with young players at many key positions, particularly quarterback, the Aggies feed off the confidence of having a lead. Beyond that, though it’s known as a pass-happy offense, getting the running game going is critical for Texas A&M. In the Aggies’ seven wins, they averaged 182.8 rushing yards; in their five losses, they averaged only 86.8. Having success in the run game gives the Aggies some semblance of balance offensively and opens things up for quarterback Kyle Allen and his group of receivers to attack all areas of the field. -- Kahn

West Virginia's X factor: After suffering a concussion against Kansas State on Nov. 18, quarterback Clint Trickett is finally expected to play again in the bowl. Still, it remains unclear whether he will start, how much he will play and how effective he can be coming off the head injury. Trickett struggled late in the year before the concussion, but he was also a major reason why the Mountaineers were so successful during the first half of the season. If he can get back to that level when he was among the nation’s leaders in completion percentage, West Virginia will be tough to beat. But if Trickett is ineffective or can’t reclaim his early-season accuracy, the Mountaineers could be in trouble. – Trotter

Texas A&M's X factor: Run defense. The Aggies were been atrocious in this area in their final three games, allowing a whopping 360.6 rushing yards per game. They are 111th nationally and last in the SEC in rush defense, and though West Virginia throws it quite a bit, coach Dana Holgorsen won’t hesitate to run the football (the Mountaineers gained 195 or more rushing yards in four of their final five games this season). The Aggies moved true freshmen Otaro Alaka and Josh Walker into the starting lineup late in the season and saw linebacker play improve, but Walker will miss the Liberty Bowl with an injury, meaning someone like Shaan Washington will have to step up. If the Aggies can’t stop the run, they won’t be able to stop the Mountaineers, period.-- Kahn

What a win would mean for the Mountaineers: All in all, the Mountaineers have already exceeded preseason expectations. Given last season’s struggles and a brutal schedule, just getting to a bowl game seemed like it would be a stretch for this team. But after the surprisingly fast start to conference play, followed by the disappointing three losses in November, this season has a slight sour taste to it for West Virginia fans. A season-ending win against Texas A&M, however, would remove most of that bitterness while giving the program a boost going into the offseason. -- Trotter

What a win would mean for the Aggies: Ending the season on a positive note would be huge for Texas A&M, given how turbulent this season was. The season went sideways after 5-0 start, and there has been plenty of angst from fans in Aggieland as coach Kevin Sumlin has sought out, but has yet to hire, a defensive coordinator and lost out on two key defensive recruits in the process. Sumlin must also find new offensive line and receiver coaches, and next season is shaping up to be a critical one in College Station, as fans are looking for results from three consecutive top-10 recruiting classes as well as the investment of $500 million in football facilities upgrades and $5 million a year to Sumlin. Texas A&M needs to begin taking real, tangible steps toward SEC West and SEC title contention starting next season, and a win in the Liberty Bowl against a good West Virginia team would be a nice springboard into 2015.-- Kahn
The big guys battling up front mamight y be the ones with the most influence over the Allstate Sugar Bowl, but that’s certainly not the only matchup worth watching. And what happens when the ball is in the air could be every bit as crucial in determining which team moves on to play for a national title.

Obviously Amari Cooper is going to have something to say about who is advancing in the College Football Playoff. And the Big Ten’s most opportunistic secondary is going to have a chance to prove it’s really capable of delivering on the game’s biggest stage.

When the roles are reversed, can Ohio State’s athletic targets get the better of a secondary that has had some issues at times but traditionally ranks as one of the better units in the nation for Nick Saban’s program?

So, who has the edge in the passing game? Big Ten reporter Austin Ward and SEC reporter Alex Scarborough take a look at those matchups as the Allstate Sugar Bowl creeps ever closer.

Alabama targets: The Crimson Tide have the best receiver in college football. Cooper, for those who have been asleep at the wheel all season, is the real deal. Whether you play off coverage or press him at the line of scrimmage, he finds a way to get open. But the bigger story for Alabama might be everyone else. Outside of finding No. 9, quarterback Blake Sims has struggled to incorporate the rest of his passing targets. Wide receivers Christion Jones and DeAndrew White have gotten the ball more in recent weeks, but overall their production has been lacking. The same goes for tight end O.J. Howard, who is a freakish athlete but can’t seem to generate any consistency as a playmaker. -- Scarborough

Ohio State secondary: A new co-defensive coordinator, a more aggressive scheme and the maturation of a pair of talented young safeties have combined to turn Ohio State’s defensive backs into one of the most improved units in the nation. Vonn Bell and Tyvis Powell have combined for eight interceptions as they’ve grown more comfortable and confident at safety, and with Doran Grant locking down receivers at cornerback and chipping in five picks of his own, it’s becoming a dangerous proposition to throw on the Buckeyes. Only three defenses in the nation nabbed more passes than Ohio State did this season under Chris Ash, and he’ll be expecting more of the same against the Crimson Tide. -- Ward

Advantage: Starting with one of the best players in the entire country regardless of position is a good way to gain an edge, and Cooper should push Alabama slightly ahead in this matchup. But it’s closer than might be expected considering how much talent the Buckeyes have in the secondary and how well coached they’ve been under Ash and defensive coordinator Luke Fickell.

Alabama secondary: Outside of Landon Collins, there wasn’t much expected of Alabama’s secondary entering the season. Neither cornerback spot was settled and the second safety position opposite Collins was up in the air, too. But thanks to the steady play of Nick Perry and the emergence of Cyrus Jones, the unit has held its own. That doesn’t mean it’s without faults, mind you. Against Auburn, every flaw was exposed as Nick Marshall threw for 456 yards. The most concerning issue was the way the Tigers picked on cornerback Eddie Jackson, who was helpless against Duke Williams. The next week against Missouri, it wasn’t much better as Jimmie Hunt racked up 169 yards on six catches. Whether it’s Jackson, Bradley Sylve or freshman Tony Brown, Alabama needs someone to step up and round out the secondary at cornerback. -- Scarborough

Ohio State targets: Urban Meyer needed a couple seasons to acquire the kind of talent he needed to balance his spread offense with a consistent passing attack, but he certainly has all the tools in place now. Michael Thomas bounced back from a surprising redshirt season as a sophomore to become Ohio State’s most complete receiver, leading the team with 43 receptions and becoming a reliable option to move the chains with his sharp routes and strong hands. Devin Smith had already proven more than capable of burning secondaries deep as the home-run threat for the Buckeyes, but he has taken his game to a higher level as a senior and is averaging nearly 27 yards per catch. Throw in a wildcard such as Jalin Marshall as a hybrid weapon and a future NFL tight end in Jeff Heuerman, and Ohio State makes it impossible now to focus too much on stopping its powerful ground game. -- Ward

Advantage: The Buckeyes have enough weapons to keep even the best secondaries in the country busy, and this year the Crimson Tide aren’t quite living up to the high standard the program has established against the pass. Ohio State should have the edge.
With all due respect to the quarterbacks and other skill position players, the Allstate Sugar Bowl will ultimately come down to who wins the battle of the trenches.

If Ohio State can’t protect Cardale Jones, his youth will show.

If Alabama can’t give Blake Sims a clean pocket, he could struggle, too.

So which team has the edge in the battle of offensive line versus defensive line? Big Ten reporter Austin Ward and SEC reporter Alex Scarborough preview the matchup.

 Alabama OL: This isn’t the Alabama offensive line of two years ago, the one that consistently moved the line of scrimmage four and five yards ahead with each snap. Barrett Jones, Chance Warmack and D.J. Fluker have long since left the building. But while this season’s group hasn’t met that lofty standard, it has exceeded the nationally average. Just look at the past four games when the line surrendered only four sacks. And that was with a less-than-100-percent Cam Robinson at left tackle, who should be healthy again after a few weeks of rest. Robinson is still a true freshman, though, and starting right guard Leon Brown has been inconsistent, drawing penalties at some inopportune moments. -- Scarborough

Ohio State DL: The Buckeyes might not have lived up to the preseason hype as the best unit in the nation after losing star defensive end Noah Spence for the entire season (second failed drug test), but they’re pretty close. With three more surefire, high-round draft picks in the starting lineup, including perhaps the most disruptive pass-rusher in the country in sophomore Joey Bosa, there’s still no shortage of talent up front. Michael Bennett and Adolphus Washington make life miserable on the inside, and Bosa has shown signs of becoming a more complete, even more frightening defensive end late in his second year with the program. -- Ward

Advantage: It’s awfully close, but give the slight edge to Ohio State, which might have the best lineman on the field in Bosa.

 Ohio State OL: There was plenty of growing up to do for an offensive line that was replacing four starters while also moving the only veteran with first-team experience to a new position. But the Buckeyes zipped through the learning curve. The unit is virtually unrecognizable at this point when compared to the one that struggled mightily in a Week 2 loss to Virginia Tech. Left tackle Taylor Decker emerged as a cornerstone for Ohio State. He has both on-field ability and is a respected leader who helped usher those new starters through a rough patch and into players capable of keeping the highest-scoring attack in the Big Ten rolling. -- Ward

Alabama DL: Everyone who watched this team closely and followed its recruiting exploits over the past few years knew that this promised to be one of the most deep and talented D-lines in Nick Saban’s time at Alabama. Saban, of course, scoffed at the idea, and for the first few weeks of the season he looked to be right as the unit largely underperformed. But somewhere along the way things kicked it into gear. A'Shawn Robinson returned to his freshman All-American form, anchoring the interior of the line, and Jonathan Allen, Dalvin Tomlinson and others pitched in at defensive end. Throw in hybrid end/linebackers Ryan Anderson and Xavier Dickson, and Alabama has a wealth of options to rush the passer. -- Scarborough

Advantage: Another close call with both units steadily improving throughout the year, but we’ll give the nod to Alabama’s depth and ability to roll in fresh linemen.
Alabama and Ohio State meet in the Allstate Sugar Bowl on Jan. 1 (8:30 p.m. ET, ESPN) with a spot in the College Football Playoff national championship game on the line. So how do the two teams match up? Let's go to the tale of the tape:

Class Rankings: Dec. 23 update

December, 23, 2014
Dec 23

National recruiting analyst Craig Haubert joins ESPN’s Phil Murphy to break down updates to the ESPN class rankings for 2015 football recruiting. A wild Friday saw four of the nation’s top 150 players announce college decisions.

To read the full class rankings, click here.
A small but vocal percentage of Georgia football fans couldn’t wait to get rid of offensive coordinator Mike Bobo.

Now they’ll get to learn whether the Bulldogs will be as potent on the field -- and on the recruiting trail -- without him.

[+] EnlargeMike Bobo
Dale Zanine/USA TODAY SportsNot only did Mike Bobo prove to be an effective playcaller at Georgia, he also was a strong recruiter.
Bobo, a former Georgia quarterback and assistant coach at his alma mater since 2001, was named Colorado State’s new coach on Tuesday. Bobo, 40, replaces former Rams coach Jim McElwain, who left earlier this month to become Florida’s new coach.

It’s a calculated risk for the Rams. Like McElwain, Bobo directed a pro-style offense at an SEC school and doesn’t have any head-coaching experience.

Unlike McElwain, though, Bobo has spent his entire life in the Southeast and has few connections in the West. McElwain was a former assistant at Eastern Washington, Montana State and Fresno State, among other schools, before leaving his job as Alabama’s offensive coordinator to coach the Rams in 2012.

Bobo was regarded as one of the top recruiters in the SEC, helping the Bulldogs land star players like tailbacks Todd Gurley and Keith Marshall, quarterbacks Matthew Stafford and Aaron Murray, and receiver Malcolm Mitchell, among others. He’ll have to hire assistants familiar with California and Texas, which are traditional recruiting grounds for Mountain West Conference schools. At the same time, he’ll be able to extend Colorado State’s recruiting grounds into the Southeast.

Colorado State’s offense under Bobo will probably look familiar to the system McElwain installed there. After Bobo became Georgia’s offensive coordinator in 2007, the Bulldogs showed the ability to both throw and run the ball as well as anyone. This past season, the Bulldogs ran a hurry-up offense after losing Gurley to a suspension and knee injury.

With Murray under center, the Bulldogs set school records for points and touchdowns in 2012 and averaged 36.7 points in 2013. This season, No. 13 Georgia is on pace to shatter the school scoring record with 41.7 points per game, despite having a first-year starting quarterback, senior Hutson Mason, and having Gurley for only six games.

Still, Bobo’s work never seemed good enough for part of Georgia’s fickle fan base. He was heavily criticized for his play calling late in the fourth quarter of the Bulldogs’ 38-35 loss at South Carolina on Sept. 13.

Trailing by three points with 5:24 left, the Bulldogs faced first-and-goal at the South Carolina 4 after cornerback Damian Swann’s interception. On first down, Bobo called a play-action pass, and Mason was penalized for intentional grounding after being hurried. After Georgia gained only three yards on the next two plays, kicker Marshall Morgan missed a 28-yard field goal that would have tied the game.

Two days after the loss, Bobo accepted blame for the defeat.

“This is what I think: It’s a bottom-line business, and the bottom line is we had a chance to score and we didn’t get it done,” Bobo said. "We had three shots at it and we didn’t get it in the end zone. And so that’s ultimately my responsibility and my fault. But it was something that we thought would work at the time and it obviously didn’t work.”

Georgia coach Mark Richt defended Bobo, while admitting the Bulldogs should have tried to hammer the ball into the end zone with their running game.

“I just want to make it real clear that I think Mike Bobo is one of the best coordinators in America and one of the best playcallers, and I’ve got full faith in the guy,” Richt said.

Now the Rams are putting their faith in another SEC offensive coordinator. After 14 seasons at Georgia, it was time for Bobo to leave his alma mater. He earned $575,000 last year (after receiving a $240,000 raise in 2013), which ranked 40th among FBS assistants, according to a recent survey of salaries by USA Today.

Richt is expected to call Georgia’s offensive plays against Louisville in the Dec. 30 Belk Bowl in Charlotte, North Carolina. He’s already started a search for Bobo’s replacement, and former Florida and Duke offensive coordinator Kurt Roper is on his radar. Former Alabama and Michigan offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier is another possibility; he’s also a potential target for McElwain.

Georgia fans who wanted Bobo to leave had better hope his replacement is as good.

SEC rivalries that need to happen

December, 23, 2014
Dec 23
With the Allstate Sugar Bowl rekindling a great coaching rivalry in Nick Saban vs. Urban Meyer, it got me to thinking (shocker, I know): There are some SEC rivalries that I'd love to see take off in the near future.

What Saban and Meyer did -- and what Saban keeps doing -- in the SEC has changed the landscape of the league. And even though they met just three times in the SEC, we all wanted to watch when they did. So why not have a few games that we all get hyped up for when they come around?

I came up with five games that I want to see turn into or turn back into great rivalries to get your popcorn ready for. Of course, scheduling hurts most of these games, but maybe the right people will hear me out ...

Have a few of your own rivalries you want to see in the SEC? List them below!

1. Alabama vs. Florida: Remember when these two just couldn't stop playing each other in the SEC championship games in the 90s? Remember the Meyer-Saban days? Now, there's another ex-Saban assistant -- Jim McElwain -- coaching the Gators, and a chance of redemption in Gainesville. Saban and Alabama are the class of the SEC, just like Florida was in the 90s. Having these guys good at the same time and playing against each other, more often than not, is good for the league.

2. Arkansas vs. Auburn: OK, so these two play every year, but, man, amping up the Gus Malzahn-Bret Bielema storyline would be great. They've both exchanged words with each other, there's been controversy, and they are both the antithesis of each other when it comes to offensive philosophies. This game has the chance to be fun for everyone who cares anything concerned with SEC football. The quiet Malzahn vs. the brash Bielema is too good not to be on everyone's radar each year.

3. Georgia vs. LSU: The Tigers hold a 16-13-1 series lead over Georgia, and that 44-41 Georgia win in 2013 was one for the ages. These two are two of the best in their respective divisions, and should play a lot more than they do, but with the new scheduling format, we have to wait and wait. I mean who wouldn't want to see the laid back Mark Richt in his signature sunglasses taking on the Mad Hatter more? Two very different, yet very successful coaching styles meeting more often just needs to happen.

4. Ole Miss vs. Tennessee: These two went back-and-forth in the 1970s, but Tennessee has dominated the series. However, with Hugh Freeze at the helm in Oxford, this has the chance to be a fun little rivalry to keep an eye on. Why? Well, Freeze coached in the state of Tennessee for more than a decade and can recruit in Butch Jones' backyard when needed. The two played in a lopsided Ole Miss win this year, but with Tennessee trending up with its young talent, these two could have much more competitive games in the future.

5. Missouri vs. Texas A&M: I mean, they were together in the Big 12, and it only makes sense that they ignite those old bitter feelings for each other. Honestly, this game should be played every year because of that. You have two very impressive coaching résumés and two schools that entered the SEC poking their own chests out at the SEC elite. It's been great, so let's get them back on the schedule!

Honorable mention

Auburn vs. Florida: This was one of the great rivalries in the league before it was basically discontinued in 2003. There have been classics in the past and the 2000s brought us some nail-biters in this game, as well. It was sad for both fan bases when this game got cut from both schools' regular schedules, but now Will Muschamp is at Auburn, so hopefully these two can meet while he's still on the Plains.
Missouri head coach Gary Pinkel champions the player development within his program, often referred to with the tagline "Mizzou Made."

It’s fitting that the Tigers are going after a "Mizzou Made" coach to fill a key void at defensive coordinator, tabbing Memphis’ Barry Odom as the successor to outgoing defensive coordinator Dave Steckel.

The Tigers announced Tuesday morning that Odom, who spent the past three seasons at Memphis, will rejoin Missouri to replace Steckel, who accepted the Missouri State head coaching job. Odom is a Missouri grad who played for the Tigers from 1996-99 and spent nine years on the staff as an assistant (2003-11) in myriad roles before joining Memphis prior to the 2012 season.

[+] EnlargeBarry Odom
Stephen Lance Dennee/Icon SMIBarry Odom, who spent the past three seasons at Memphis, is returning to Missouri, where he played from 1996-99 and spent nine years as an assistant.
Steckel will join Missouri State once Missouri completes its season in the Buffalo Wild Wings Citrus Bowl. Odom will join Missouri after Jan. 1.

Pinkel often aims for continuity and stability in his coaching staff (evidenced by the fact that five of his nine full-time assistants, including Steckel, have been on the staff with him since his Mizzou tenure began in 2001) so it makes sense that he would bring back a familiar face in Odom. That said, Odom is plenty qualified for the position based on his recent success at Memphis.

This season, Memphis ranks 10th nationally in scoring defense (19.5 points per game allowed), 12th in yards per play allowed (4.74), 20th in rushing (121.54 yards per game allowed) and was in the top 25 nationally for third-down conversion rate, red-zone efficiency and goal-to-go efficiency.

Sure, Memphis allowed 48 points to BYU in its 55-48 Miami Beach Bowl victory on Monday, but Odom’s unit came up with four turnovers, including the game-clinching interception in the second overtime. The work of Odom’s defense has been a key part of Memphis’ success as it went 10-3 this season and earned a share of the American Athletic Conference championship.

"We're really excited to have Barry and his family back at Mizzou," Pinkel said in a statement. "He's done an outstanding job at Memphis these past three years. He's coached with us before, and it's great to see someone professionally advance himself and go do such a great job elsewhere. I know he was sought after by several other Power 5 schools recently, so we feel very fortunate to have him with us."

Memphis ranked 117th nationally in total defense before Odom’s arrival in 2012. In his first season, Memphis jumped all the way to 50th in the national rankings. According to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Odom is the sixth full-time assistant to rejoin the Missouri staff.

"It goes without saying how excited I am to have this opportunity," Odom said in a statement. "I have such a deep respect for the success that Coach Pinkel and his staff have had since I've been away. Transitioning to a new conference is very challenging, and all they've done is get better at everything. ... I'm excited to do my part to continue to add to that, and our family is excited to be part of it again."

Steckel, who was Missouri’s defensive coordinator for six seasons, oversaw a defense that was a critical piece to the Tigers’ back-to-back SEC East Division championships the past two seasons. His unit ranked in the top 35 nationally in scoring defense each of the past two seasons, ranked in the top half of the SEC in most defensive statistical categories this season, and was a turnover machine in recent years. He left big shoes for Odom to fill, but the 38-year-old looks like a good fit for the job.
It has been a whirlwind of recruiting news for Texas A&M over the last few weeks. The Aggies lost a commitment from five-star defensive tackle Daylon Mack and missed out on commitments from the No. 3-ranked outside linebacker in the country, Malik Jefferson, and four star athlete DeAndre McNeal, who chose the in-state Texas Longhorns when they announced their decisions.

Mack is just one of three prospects who have backed off their pledges to Texas A&M this football season. The others, Richard Moore decommitted on Dec. 3 and wide receiver DaMarkus Lodge opened up his recruitment on Sept. 18.

Not all has been bad news for the Aggies, however. The No. 3-ranked wide receiver in the country, Christian Kirk, gave his verbal commitment to Texas A&M last Wednesday.
There is a certain assurance, a tone of confidence when Joshua Dobbs speaks. The Tennessee quarterback has never been one to look over his shoulder, but he knows he’s the starter now and he knows that he will be the starter heading into next season.

That has not been the case in the past.

[+] EnlargeJoshua Dobbs
AP Photo/Richard ShiroJoshua Dobbs established himself as the Vols' QB of the future with strong play down the stretch.
At this time a year ago, Dobbs was coming off a game where he scored three touchdowns to lead the Volunteers past Kentucky. But he also knew that Justin Worley would return from a thumb injury in the spring and look to take back the starting job.

Worley was injured again this season, opening the door for Dobbs, but Worley isn’t coming back in 2015. He’s a senior. And it might not matter anyway. In the team’s final five games, Dobbs accounted for 1,470 yards and 14 touchdowns. Tennessee went 3-2 during that stretch and finished the season bowl eligible for the first time since 2010.

“I’ve just gone out, executed and played my game,” Dobbs said. “Obviously, the coaches have a lot of confidence, so my goal is just to execute the game plan.”

However, as the Vols prepare for Iowa in the TaxSlayer Bowl, the coaches also know that Dobbs still has room for improvement.

After one of Dobbs’ best games this season, a dramatic come-from-behind win over South Carolina, coach Butch Jones put the brakes on all the hype and called out his quarterback’s consistency in practice, saying he needs to play with great consistency "day in and day out."

“Coach just wants me to make the routine plays as any coach does,” Dobbs said. “He wants to push me every day, and he wants me to get better. Obviously, I want to make every play that’s given to me, so my job is to go out and execute the offense and execute the plays that Coach [Mike] Bajakian calls and do it to the best of my abilities.”

That’s why becoming bowl eligible was so important for Dobbs and this young Tennessee team. It was the next step in the rebuilding process, but it also gives the Volunteers more practice time and an opportunity for more reps.

Dobbs has already seen more reps since becoming the starter, and his game has taken off as a result.

“Where he benefited tremendously was just from gaining the extra reps that go along with being a starter,” Bajakian said. “Any player is going to improve as they get more and more reps, but in Josh’s case in particular, he seems to improve at an even higher rate than others when a high volume of reps is afforded to him.”

Now Dobbs has two weeks of bowl practice where he’s getting those extra reps. But rather than solely focusing on his own shortcomings, he’s working more on his timing with the wide receivers and understanding what the offensive line is doing on every play and making sure the offense is on the same page.

“We’re just continuing to grow together as a unit,” Dobbs said. “That’s what the whole offense is working on right now.”

Tennessee has a chance to make some noise in the SEC East next year -- the Vols return 10 starters on offense and eight on defense – but it hinges on the play of the quarterback. It’s up to Dobbs to be more consistent and take that next step.

And yet, he’s not feeling any pressure. He’s confident, eager for the next challenge.

LSU redshirt review: Defense

December, 23, 2014
Dec 23
BATON ROUGE, La. -- LSU got considerable production out of its vaunted freshman class this season, but some members of the class are still waiting to contribute.

On Monday and today, we looked at the freshmen who are in line to redshirt, as well as a couple who appeared in only a game or two. After focusing on the offense yesterday, today we turn to the defense.


Height/Weight: 6-1/186 pounds

ESPN prospect rating: Three stars, No. 26 safety

2014 in review: Battle played in the Sam Houston State game, so he might not receive a redshirt. He doesn't seem to have settled into a permanent position yet after working at both cornerback and safety during the season. His versatility should be an asset, though, as he has worked at both positions and in the nickel and dime packages in practice.

Teammate's comments: "Battle, he's going to be good. He's a very talented young guy. He's going to help us a lot. I don't think they've figured out what position he's going to be playing permanently yet, but he's real talented. He can play safety and corner, so wherever Coach [Corey] Raymond decides to go with him, I think he's going to be great." -- senior safety Ronald Martin


Height/Weight: 6-0/180 pounds

ESPN prospect rating: Three stars, No. 57 athlete

2014 in review: Gage played against Sam Houston State and New Mexico State, so he will not receive a redshirt. But he worked at cornerback throughout the season and will be part of the competition at the position next season, particularly if the Tigers lose one or two of the regular corners after the season. Jalen Collins is mulling early entry to the NFL draft and sophomore Rashard Robinson's status for 2015 is unclear while he serves an indefinite suspension.

Teammate's comments: "He's doing pretty good. He's an athletic guy -- one of the most athletic guys that I see that we have on the team. He's just learning and continuing to get his technique right. Once he gets on the field, he's going to be a big-time player. I can already see it." -- sophomore cornerback Tre'Davious White


Height/Weight: 6-2/242 pounds

ESPN prospect rating: Four stars, No. 31 overall prospect on ESPN 300, No. 2 inside linebacker

2014 in review: Garrett actually played twice (against Louisiana-Monroe and New Mexico State), so he might not be in line to receive a redshirt. One of the highest-rated defensive prospects in LSU's signing class, Garrett will be in position to compete with sophomore Kendell Beckwith for playing time at middle linebacker in 2015.

Teammate's comments: "His future's going to be bright. He's just got to come along a little bit faster. He works hard and he's going to be a great player. When he learns to get the plays down and everything, be smart -- he's the Mike 'backer, so he's got to know all the keys and all that. When he gets all that down, he's going to be all right." -- junior weakside linebacker Kwon Alexander


Height/Weight: 6-0/300 pounds

ESPN prospect rating: Four stars, No. 27 defensive tackle

2014 in review: LSU's coaches expected Lealaimatafao to contribute as a freshman, but a serious cut suffered during a summertime weight room incident delayed the freshman's progress. He will contend for playing time during spring practice and could be part of the rotation at tackle in 2015.

Teammate's comments: "For a guy to be so little, he's real powerful and he brings a lot to the table. [He and Travonte Valentine] are going to be the secret weapons for next year as long as they do what they have to do on and off the field." -- senior defensive end Jermauria Rasco


Height/Weight: 6-3/325 pounds

ESPN prospect rating: Four stars, No. 164 overall prospect on ESPN 300, No. 11 defensive tackle

2014 in review: Valentine was a late qualifier and his debut was delayed further while LSU worked to clear up the freshman's academic eligibility issues. He started practicing with the Tigers during the season, however, and he should be good to go during spring practice. The enormous defensive tackle would add a much-needed big body to the defensive tackle rotation if he's ready to play next fall.

Teammate's comments: "Tray Valentine, he's a true run stopper. He's got some juice in him in the pass rush. You'll see him in a game and you won't be expecting him to be able to move as good as he moves." -- Rasco
When Texas coach Charlie Strong looks across the field to see a pair of 1,000-yard rushers on Bret Bielema’s team during the Advocare V100 Texas Bowl, it will be hard for him not to be envious.

“If you can get that, you can win,” Strong said. “When you get the two 1,000-yard rushers, you know you're a physical football team and you're running the ball. It is all about ball control.”

Arkansas is in Year 2 of the Bret Bielema project, with the former Wisconsin head coach’s blueprint starting to see dividends with a bowl appearance, a pair of shutouts in Arkansas’ final three games, and one of the SEC’s best running games serving as the foundation. Johnathan Williams (1,085 rushing yards) and Alex Collins (1,024 rushing yards) have paced the SEC’s No.4-ranked running game heading into the meeting with its former Southwest Conference foe.

[+] EnlargeJonathan Williams
Jamie Squire/Getty ImagesArkansas running backs Johnathan Williams (pictured) and Alex Collins are the envy of a Texas team that wants to have similar success in the power-running game.
As envious as he might be, Strong has a blueprint of his own. From his highly publicized rules to his straight-laced honesty, the Longhorns CEO has shown he’s going to do it his way, with little regard to others' thoughts on the matter.

While Strong’s plan is different than Bielema’s blueprint, the similarities are stark. In an era of high-scoring offenses, big plays and offensive fireworks, Strong and Bielema aim to build around physical, running offenses that can control the game along with tough, versatile defenses than can adapt to the flurry of different styles present on any given Saturday.

UT wants to be known for its toughness, with a physical running gameone of the clearest signs of a team’s physicality. The Longhorns have a long way to go, averaging 146.67 rushing yards per game in 2014. UT averaged 176.33 rushing yards per game in its six wins and 121 rushing yards per game in six losses, including three games of less than 100 rushing yards.

“[We] could have played a lot better than what we played,” Strong said. “We lose six games, [that] would never be a standard here. We could have played a lot better at times than what we did. I think about those close games we were in.”

It’s a similarity Strong’s team shares with Arkansas, another sign both blueprints are starting to work despite being in the infant stages of their instillation. Both teams lost six games but can look back at the regular season and see an eight- or nine-win season just outside their grasp. The Longhorns can look back at games against UCLA, Baylor, Kansas State and Oklahoma as opportunities left on the table. The Razorbacks can look back at losses to Alabama, Mississippi State and Missouri and say the same.

“I think it's a really good football team,” Strong said. “But, at the right time, they didn't win those close games.”

Strong was talking about his opponent but might as well have been talking about his own squad. Many people point to the dismissals and departures that followed Strong’s installation of his rules as the culprit in the .500 season.

“It had nothing to do with the guys who we didn't have,” Strong said. “You're going to win with the ones you have and not with the ones you don't have. So with a lot of those players not being with us, playing with what we had, we were good enough. We just didn't play well. We didn't play well at the right time.”

Change didn’t come, but it was needed. UT took some lumps early this season with the hopes of a later payoff. That came in the form of three wins in the Longhorns’ final four games to secure bowl eligibility.

“I think that we needed him,” offensive lineman Sedrick Flowers said of his coach. “He came in here, and he's made us all humble ourselves. I know when I first got here, I wouldn't say I was an arrogant person, but in the program there was some arrogance. There were some players that were entitled, and he came in here and just took that all away. Everybody is on the same level. We all just want to work and get a championship.”

The foundation has been set, but the concrete is still drying. The will to have a physical running game is apparent, but UT’s 3.91 yards per carry, ranking No. 85 among FBS teams, is not the standard that will lead to championships or make anyone envious.

“Physicality is what we pride ourselves on,” tight end Geoff Swaim said. “Anytime you can impose your will on another team, it makes your job easier, makes the defense's job easier. I don't really get into the whole run/pass, all that kind of stuff. It's more about who can be more physical, who can do their job the best and which team is tougher.

“That's what we want to be and that's who we strive to be. It's a growing process. It's never something you just say this is who you are and it just becomes that. That develops and that develops; not only this year, but it'll develop next year and it'll just keep growing.”



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