College football is a game driven by offense, seemingly as much as it ever has been. And yet, in our review of the best Power 5 coordinator hires in this cycle, eight of the top 10 coaches in new places are defensive coordinators.

Maybe that's because when offensive coordinators move, they become head coaches? Or maybe it's because the balance of the sport could eventually swing back toward defense? Or both?

Teams trending down post-signing day 

February, 10, 2015
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On Monday, I highlighted teams that are trending up because of the way they were playing at the end of the season and what has transpired since. Today, we look at programs heading in the opposite direction.

In many cases, as with the No. 1 choice here, it’s a matter of a coach who has been successful finding a way to turn things around and win big again.

1. Oklahoma
Coaches I talked to in the fall genuinely believed that it might be in coach Bob Stoops’ best interest to start over somewhere else. Florida, because his friend Jeremy Foley runs the athletic department, made a lot of sense.

In the next breath, though, most of those coaches also said they figured Stoops was too stubborn to walk away from Oklahoma. They were right.

Those comments came before the Sooners were flattened by Clemson in the Russell Athletic Bowl, but that didn’t really change the climate much in Norman; it was already bad. It’s a frustrated fan base that was spoiled by Stoops’ second-season national title.

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Teams trending up post-signing day 

February, 9, 2015
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Who needs the NFL, Los Angeles? With the way USC and UCLA are going, the city is just fine when it comes to football.

The Trojans and Bruins lead our look at programs trending up following the end of the season, the coaching carousel and signing day.


1. USC
The Trojans just signed their first full recruiting class since 2011, when they were hit by NCAA penalties. Finishing behind only Alabama and Florida State in ESPN RecruitingNation's rankings, it wasn’t just a matter of quantity for USC. Among the 16 ESPN 300 prospects signed, it added the country’s No. 1 cornerback, running back and inside linebacker. The Trojans are stockpiling at this point.

Beyond recruiting, quarterback Cody Kessler -- the country’s most underrated passer -- is back. So are sophomore stars-in-the-making cornerback Adoree' Jackson and wide receiver JuJu Smith.

Pac-12 coaches always believed the Trojans had as much talent as anyone in the country, not just the league. With the numbers bouncing back, now they have the depth to counter any rash of injuries.

Given all that, and the Holiday Bowl win against Nebraska, this is why a number of people -- myself, included -- see USC as a playoff-type team in 2015. The talent is there. Can Steve Sarkisian coach the Trojans to that level?


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videoCOLLEGE STATION, Texas -- Kevin Sumlin didn’t shy away from the notion that the next two or three seasons will likely define his time at Texas A&M.

“Yeah,” he said Wednesday, fiddling with a pen and a highlighter on his desk before looking up. “I think that’s fair.”

The honeymoon phase is most certainly over. Sumlin, entering his fourth season, is no longer new at Texas A&M. And Texas A&M isn’t new to the SEC.

Instead of everyone finding their footing, there is angst following an 8-5 season -- and a strange sensation that the Aggies are not all that close to the top of the SEC West. Difficult as the division is, they are entering a window in which they must perform. Now.

“Here’s where we are,” Sumlin said. “What do we need to do better?”

The offense has needed depth, he said. The defense has needed talent.

The coaching staff believes -- or at least hopes -- those needs have been addressed the past three signing days. Youth can no longer be a crutch for A&M -- not after signing ESPN RecruitingNation’s eighth-rated class in 2013, the No. 4 class in 2014 and the No. 12 class in 2015.

That sort of recruiting run means you either deliver soon and compete at a high level -- or risk being fired.


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National signing day, and the build up to it, is as close as Texas and Texas A&M get to actual football competition these days, to see who will in fact “run this state.”

Well, right now it’s neither school. The Lone Star State is run by Baylor and TCU, the Big 12 co-champs that narrowly missed the initial College Football Playoff field.

That’s why the 2015 recruiting class and the season are so vital to both the Longhorns and Aggies, with each power striving to re-establish itself -- not just regionally, but nationally.

Texas and Texas A&M lead off our look at programs and coaches that need the 2015 class to pay off, and the sooner the better.

(Note: The RecruitingNation ranking and number of commitments are updated as of Sunday evening.)

1. Texas
Ranking: 9
Commitments: 26

The Longhorns have secured a number of solid, team-building pieces in this class, and a few high-end targets -- DT Daylon Mack and RB Soso Jamabo, among them -- remain distinct possibilities to sign with Texas this week.

Still, Wednesday

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Looking ahead at potential playmakers in 2015, there should be two divisions: Ohio State, and everyone else.

[+] EnlargeEzekiel Elliott
Scott Clarke/ESPN ImagesEzekiel Elliott is among Ohio State's many offensive weapons returning for the 2015 campaign.
Heaven help Big Ten defensive coordinators trying to plan for a team that will have the power element of Ezekiel Elliott’s running complemented by the ankle-breaking athleticism and versatility of utility types Jalin Marshall, Curtis Samuel and Dontre Wilson. Oh, and there’s that Braxton Miller fella, should he return to OSU.

Jokes about “Big Ten speed,” or lack thereof, are hereby declared dead. They have ceased because of Urban Meyer and his staff’s recruiting.

Miller, the Buckeyes' quarterback from 2011-13, will be one of the country’s top playmakers regardless of where he plays. Most people in college football believe returning is his best option, even if it means a new, varied role.

Miller’s size (6-foot-2, 215 pounds) compares well to NFL running backs such as Matt Forte, Darren McFadden and Arian Foster, according to ESPN Stats and Information. Miller, though, needs to prove to NFL teams that he can play the position without injury. Miller’s ability in space is uncanny, but I was surprised to learn that he rushed for 701 yards between the tackles in 2013 (508 outside). One more Stats & Info nugget: His 7.3 yards per carry since 2011 puts him behind only Melvin Gordon (minimum 320 carries).So, yeah, it would be highly intriguing to add Miller’s skill to the elite-level playmaking talent that’s already present.

As a redshirt freshman, Marshall was the team’s breakout playmaker in 2014. He scored eight touchdowns (six receiving, one rushing, one punt return). If something happened to Cardale Jones in the postseason, Marshall likely would have played QB, too.

Samuel, a freshman this past season, and Wilson, a sophomore, are similarly versatile. They’re the team’s primary kick returners, averaging 22.8 yards per return last season. They’re nowhere near their ceilings, either. You think new co-OC and QBs coach Tim Beck entered into a good situation?

Here are playmaker standouts from the non-Ohio State crop

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Malzahn leads list of best playcallers 

January, 28, 2015
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This week, I asked a few coaches what constituted a good playcaller. Balance was one consistent element, both in terms of run and pass calls as well as taking shots downfield. Creating and leveraging mismatches, finding space for playmakers, was another.

Another characteristic -- confidence -- was a bit more abstract. Coaches said a proper playcaller has to take control of a game rather than allowing a defensive coordinator to get the upper hand.

It’s a chess game in the gladiator arena, and one coach said “bravado” is required.

“Always be on the attack,” he said, “regardless of down, distance, score or time of the game.”

Here are 10 playcallers -- coordinators and head coaches -- who most embody those elements.

1. Gus Malzahn, Auburn head coach
Even though the Auburn offense is built on the same few basic run plays, Malzahn continues to frustrate defensive coordinators.

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More breakout players to watch in 2015 

January, 26, 2015
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On Friday, we rolled out the top 10 breakout players to watch in 2015. But we have 15 more, including two more Big 12 quarterbacks (for a total of four), the next great defender at Michigan State and, like our No. 1 breakout choice, USC’s Adoree Jackson, a return game ace.

Check out the first 10 players, then read about the next 15:

11. Baker Mayfield, Oklahoma QB
Trevor Knight was a buzzy Heisman candidate last spring, yet rival coaches were talking about whether Mayfield, if he were eligible in 2014, would overtake him. It was made moot because the Texas Tech transfer didn’t get his waiver to play, but Knight’s up-and-down season has certainly opened the door for competition.

With an Air Raid-based offensive coordinator in Lincoln Riley coming in, Mayfield is perfectly suited to take over -- and flourish -- as QB1 in Norman.


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Breakout players to watch in 2015 

January, 23, 2015
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We're not far removed from the first College Football Playoff, but it's never too early for a look ahead at breakout players for 2015. This initial projection compiles input from coaches, recruiting evaluations and my ESPN.com college football colleagues.

There are five players from each of the Power 5 conferences, and then those players are ranked to create a top 25. I'm sure there will be some surprises -- there always are -- but last year's early breakout outlook included Mississippi State quarterback Dak Prescott and Florida State defensive back Jalen Ramsey.

Here are the first 10 players to watch for 2015, with 11-25 to follow early next week:


1. Adoree' Jackson, USC DB/WR
You'll notice a running theme in this post of jack-of-all-trades, two-way utility athletes, and Jackson is the best of the bunch.

The tug o' war will continue between the Trojans' offensive and defensive coaches, because he has the ability to change a game whichever side of the ball he is on. He mostly played corner, registering 50 tackles, but a 71-yard touchdown catch in the bowl win against Nebraska served as a reminder of the possibilities on offense.

And he will continue to impact a game in a third way, as he did when he returned a kick 98 yards for a score against the Huskers.

As valuable as he was as a freshman, relying often on instincts, Jackson could easily evolve into a Heisman-type player in the next year or two. This gen's Charles Woodson?

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Coaches pick out young players to watch 

January, 21, 2015
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A quarterback has won the Heisman Trophy each of the past five years and 13 of the past 14 seasons. However, judging by feedback from coaches during and after the 2014 season, 2015 could very well be the "Year of the Running Back."

Seven Power 5 freshmen running backs surpassed 1,000 yards in '14 -- Oklahoma’s Samaje Perine (1,713 yards), Georgia’s Nick Chubb (1,547), Arizona’s Nick Wilson (1,375), Oregon’s Royce Freeman (1,365), Northwestern’s Justin Jackson (1,187), LSU’s Leonard Fournette (1,034) and FSU’s Dalvin Cook (1,008).

Any one of those players could certainly find another gear and make a run at the 2015 Heisman. But the belief among coaches I’ve spoken with the past few weeks is that the best running back -- and player -- in 2015 will be Ohio State rising junior Ezekiel Elliott (1,878 yards this season).

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Jamie Squire/Getty ImagesOhio State running back Ezekiel Elliott racked up nearly 700 yards in three postseason games.
Coaches were raving about him at the American Football Coaches Association (AFCA) Convention, and that was before he bulldozed Oregon for 246 yards and four touchdowns in the College Football Playoff National Championship.


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Jim HarbaughGregory Shamus/Getty ImagesJim Harbaugh has his work cut out for him at Michigan, which just went 5-7.

Back in October and November, before Michigan officially had an opening for a head coach, its fans already started daydreaming about the possibility of prying Jim Harbaugh from the NFL.

The evolution of fantasy to reality of Harbaugh’s return to Ann Arbor, each day providing additional drama, ended up being one of the more fascinating coaching storylines of 2014.

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LOUISVILLE, Ky. -- Even in the hours before Monday evening's title game, coaches were fairly satisfied with how the initial College Football Playoff had worked out.

And, no, Baylor coach Art Briles and TCU coach Gary Patterson were not among those I asked.

Several coaches tried to project themselves in the place of Urban Meyer, even before the Buckeyes won later that night.

"[Ohio State] would not have sniffed it [in the BCS era]," one coach told me at the American Football Coaches Association (AFCA) Convention. "They wouldn't have had a chance. To say we're going to settle it on the field now, this first year has proved that. Teams that wouldn't have had a chance were given one."

Most project that Alabama, a one-loss SEC champ, and FSU, the undefeated reigning champ, would have been the teams to play for the crystal football under the previous system. So, yeah, Oregon and Ohio State -- the teams that wound up playing for the championship -- would have been left playing for the Rose Bowl trophy.

"There's no way FSU would have been left out," one coach said.

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Braxton MillerAP Photo/Jay LaPreteWhere will Braxton Miller play football next season?
LOUISVILLE, Ky. -- What will Braxton Miller do?

Not even those closest to the Ohio State quarterback seem to know for sure, though there’s no shortage of opinions here at the American Football Coaches Association convention.

Buckeyes coach Urban Meyer has said repeatedly in the past few weeks he expects Miller to return to Columbus. The distinct possibility remains Miller could transfer and play elsewhere in 2015. The slight chance also exists he could turn pro and enter the NFL draft.

Now, what should Miller do? That comes down to one question, really.


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Elliott/BoykinGetty ImagesOhio State and TCU are pegged as favorites heading into the 2015 season by opposing coaches.
LOUISVILLE, Ky. -- If you thought 2014 was a wide-open season in college football, wait until you look ahead to the second edition of the College Football Playoff.

I’ve asked a number of coaches in attendance at the AFCA Convention to handicap the 2015 favorites. The responses, especially when judging beyond the top two teams, have been all over the place.

As for those top two picks? Most everyone likes national champion Ohio State to again be among the four playoff teams.


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Back in August, I asked 20 coaches who they liked in the initial playoff.

Here’s how they fared: FSU, the eventual 3-seed, was on 19 of 20 ballots. Top-seeded Alabama was on 16 of 20. But those preseason favorites are now on the sideline.

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Greg Bartram/USA TODAY SportsUrban Meyer's colleagues point to his résumé as a reason to pick the Buckeyes over the Ducks.
Oregon, a touchdown favorite to win Monday’s title game against Ohio State, received 10 votes.

Most interesting: After Braxton Miller’s shoulder injury the previous week, only three of the 20 coaches stuck with Ohio State as a playoff choice.

One coach, I recall, was adamant that the Buckeyes would be fine, with or without their playmaking quarterback.

So I asked him this week why he was so sure. His answer was pretty succinct.

“They’re loaded,” he said. “They’ve got great players at every position.”

For that reason, a lot of coaches now reject the idea that Ohio State is “a year ahead of schedule.” Other than the quarterback mystery, there was always enough talent for this to be a playoff-type team. It’s not surprising that OSU is here, with the way Urban Meyer has recruited since arriving.

“Oregon is the faster team,” one coach said. “Ohio State is the more talented team.”

In fact, most coaches I talked with hinted they were leaning toward the underdog Buckeyes.

Here are some other thoughts on Oregon-Ohio State that I’ve heard this week

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