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Virginia Tech Football: 5 Games That Could Ruin the Hokies' 2015 Season

The Virginia Tech Hokies open the 2015 college football season on Labor Day night in Blacksburg against defending national champion Ohio State. Facing an opponent like the Buckeyes in the opener could ruin your season, but losing to the top team in the country on opening night is something that would happen to the majority of teams.

So, losing to OSU wouldn't necessarily ruin the Hokies' 2015 season. Most analysts and fans expect them to lose; however, it is important to note that Tech did defeat the Buckeyes in Columbus last season. 

Can that happen again? Tech's chances certainly increased this week when it was announced that four OSU players, including All-American Joey Bosa, were suspended for the season opener against the Hokies, per ESPN.com's Austin Ward. 

Even with Bosa and three important offensive contributors missing, defeating the Buckeyes will be extremely difficult. But what about the rest of Virginia Tech's schedule? Could the Hokies run the table in the season's final 11 games? After all, Tech doesn't have to play Florida State or Clemson in league play. 

Running the table won't be easy, either. Several opponents on Tech's 2015 schedule have given them problems at times over the years. Here are five potential games that could ruin Virginia Tech's 2015 season. 

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UCLA Football: 4 Games That Could Ruin Bruins' 2015 Season

The UCLA football team has four potential problem games within the 2015 regular season schedule. 

These opponents aren't necessarily the four most talented teams on the Bruins' upcoming slate. The appearance of the quartet of foes in this piece primarily coincides with the times in which the games will take place. 

One contest occurs against a talented nonconference program at the beginning of the season. Another kicks off the conference schedule. Two more games towards the end of the schedule versus fellow Pac-12 South competition could ultimately determine the division winner.

Here's a look at four games that could ruin UCLA's season in 2015.  

 

*UCLA's entire 2015 schedule can be found here

 

 

 

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UCLA Football: 4 Games That Could Ruin Bruins' 2015 Season

The UCLA football team has four potential problem games within the 2015 regular season schedule. These opponents aren't necessarily the four most talented teams on the Bruins' upcoming slate...

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LSU Reinstates Anthony Jennings, 2 Other Players: Latest Details, Reaction

LSU Tigers head coach Les Miles reinstated quarterback Anthony Jennings, defensive tackle Maquedius Bain and defensive back Dwayne Thomas to the football team Friday, according to Michael Bonnette, LSU's sports information director. 

Bonnette added that Miles plans for Jennings, Bain and Thomas to return Wednesday, with the trio facing further in-house punishment.

Miles placed the three players on an indefinite suspension in June after they were arrested on charges of unauthorized entry into an inhabited dwelling. Ross Dellenger and Maya Lau of the Advocate in Baton Rouge first reported on details surrounding the alleged incident:

The arrests of Jennings, Thomas and Bain stem from an event Friday, June 12. The three players and at least three more males entered a West Campus Apartment and broke into a bedroom, removing items from the room, a police report says. They did so with the presumed intent to retrieve items said to have been stolen from Jennings’ apartment on June 10 — a MacBook Air, three pairs of shoes and a PlayStation 4.

Earlier on Friday, NOLA.com's Jim Kleinpeter reported Hillar Moore III, the East Baton Rouge Parish district attorney, would no longer pursue any charges against Jennings, Bain or Thomas. Moore explained his decision:

It was a criminal case but it was going to be difficult to prove because of conflicting statements. It was more of a trespass than an unauthorized entry. The LSU Police did a great job taking statements, video tapes and police lineups. I believe LSU will sanction these students appropriately, the Dean of Students and the football coaching staff.

Glenn Guilbeau of Gannett believed Miles was right to bring the players off suspension:

Barring a U-turn from the head coach, the three should be available to play in LSU's season-opener against McNeese State on Sept. 5.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

4-Star Bryce Youngquist on Oklahoma Commitment: 'Best Place for Me to Succeed'

There are cases where Rancho Cucamonga, California, linebacker Bryce Youngquist wished he didn't have to choose one or the other. His highly competitive recruiting process was one of those cases.

The 4-star athlete, ranked the nation's No. 11 outside linebacker, had Oregon and Oklahoma on even pedestals through the latter part of his process. Both schools had everything he wanted in a program, and both have winning reputations on the field. He even went on to call the programs "identical" in his eyes.

But late Friday afternoon Youngquist made what he considered "the toughest decision of my life" and chose the Big 12 over the Pac-12. He verbally committed to Oklahoma and became the Sooners' eighth overall commitment and first linebacker pledge of the 2016 class.

"I've been recruited by some great programs and been around a lot of great coaches," Youngquist said. "I want to thank all the universities for their hospitality and interest in me. It was really hard, but I had to come to a decision.

"I felt this was the best place for me to succeed. That's the bottom line. I wish I could have more than one school, but I had to choose one."

Recruited by wide receivers coach Dennis Simmons and inside linebackers coach Tim Kish, Youngquist became the highest-ranked defensive prospect of Oklahoma's class. At 6'1" and 215 pounds, Youngquist can play both outside and inside linebacker. While he said the Ducks were looking to use him more on the inside in their 3-4 scheme, Oklahoma wanted him to play the outside backer spot.

"If it benefits the team, I'll play anywhere," said Youngquist, who added he's more comfortable as an outside linebacker.

Youngquist chose the Sooners over Oregon, as well as offers from Washington State, Arizona State and Wisconsin. He said he was a fan of the aesthetics and overall camaraderie of Norman, Oklahoma. He took in a campus visit two weeks ago.

"I really like Oklahoma. It's a clean campus, and everyone there is nice," Youngquist said. "I feel like I can just focus there and succeed as a person and on the football field. It felt like home when I visited.

"When you see the players enjoying it, it really makes your decision easy. There are no real distractions, and everyone's really supportive of the students and, especially, the football program. It's an awesome place to be."

The Sooners will get a linebacker who plays with great downhill acceleration and solid pad level. He has a nose for the football and is always on the hunt to make a play.

At The Opening regionals in Los Angeles and Oakland over the spring, Youngquist showed his speed, shiftiness, mental toughness and overall strength. He ran the 40-yard dash in 4.57 seconds and, arguably more impressive, threw the power ball 42 feet. At one of last year's regional events, Youngquist showed a vertical jump of 37.9 inches.

Youngquist is committed to Oklahoma, but he reiterated how difficult it was to choose between the Sooners and the Ducks. He was recruited to Oregon by defensive coordinator/linebackers coach Don Pellum, and he said Eugene, Oregon, has everything he wanted in a place to live.

"It was pretty much a personal preference in the end," said Youngquist, who visited Oregon in May during the team's spring game. "[Oregon] is a beautiful place, a quiet place," he said. "They give you that family type of atmosphere there. The coaches are supportive. Plus, they have so much academic support. I can't say anything bad about it."

But when it was time to make his decision, Youngquist said he was ready to wear Oklahoma crimson and cream rather than Oregon's green and yellow.

And now that the decision's out of the way, he's ready to get to work for his senior year and his future college football career.

"There's something for everyone," he said. "I know I picked an awesome place. It's a place where I know people will have your back."

 

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

 

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Why 2015 SEC West Will Be Toughest College Football Division Ever

For a literary equivalent, one could quote Thomas Hobbes’ statement about the life of man being "solitary, poor, nasty, brutish and short."

For a scientific reference, we could turn to Charles Darwin’s "survival of the fittest."

In terms of pop culture, we’re talking straight demolition derby, with cars ramming into one another until only one vehicle is still moving.

That’s what the Southeastern Conference’s West Division is shaping up to be like this season. It may not have many experienced quarterbacks or a player capable of winning the Heisman Trophy, but from a competitive standpoint, this might be the toughest division college football has ever seen.

"Everyone can be beat everyone" is something fans hear every year, but when Alabama linebacker Reggie Ragland recently stated so at SEC media days, it has never been more true.

Here are 10 reasons why.

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Michigan Football: Best Quotes and Key Takeaways from Big Ten Media Days

CHICAGO — As if there were any doubt he felt otherwise, Jim Harbaugh let it be known on Friday afternoon that he's ready for football season to begin.

"We feel like bulls waiting for a bullfight," the new Michigan coach said as he sat on stage at the Big Ten Kickoff Luncheon. "You're clawing. Snot bubbles are coming out. We're ready to get started."

Harbaugh can go ahead and wipe his nose, though, because football season might as well officially be underway with Big Ten media days in Chicago drawing to a close. And to the surprise of no one, it was Harbaugh who stole the show in the Windy City, his 15-minute opening press conference littered with stories of yesteryear and an enthusiasm previously unknown to mankind.

"The spirit, the energy has been tremendous," Harbaugh said of his first seven months on the job in Ann Arbor. "I think everybody involved in Michigan and Michigan football is hungry for the 2015 season."

Except Harbaugh wasn't the Wolverines' only representative in the Windy City this week, as Michigan also brought along linebackers Joe Bolden and James Ross III, as well as wide receiver Jehu Chesson to the annual kickoff event. Those players—and of course Harbaugh himself—had thoughts to share on a number of topics, but it wasn't any secret what the biggest story pertaining to the Wolverines program was.

 

Harbaugh Homecoming

The summer of Harbaugh may be winding down as fall approaches, but that didn't make the buzz surrounding the Wolverines' new head coach any less interesting to witness this week. Harbaugh, to his credit, downplayed the attention he's brought to his alma mater, deciding instead to focus on the product Michigan will be putting on the field.

"It's a work in progress, every single season, every single year. And that's what we're enjoying doing. And it's coming along," Harbaugh said.

"You go through the winter conditioning and then the spring ball, and then the summer conditioning. And now it starts. This is the beginning, the training camp. And the rebirth of football, the rebirth of the season. And then you watch and you watch and you observe. And you can learn—you can observe a lot by just watching. And I feel like I've been doing that. And I feel like our team is getting better every day. I really do."

That, however, didn't stop the new Wolverines headman from being the center of attention in the Windy City, something to which his players could certainly attest to.

"More times than I can count," Bolden answered when asked how many times he'd been asked about Harbaugh at media days. "And I can count pretty high."

And although Harbaugh may be shrugging it off, his players admitted to noticing a re-energized atmosphere in Ann Arbor. Whether or not that will affect them on the field once the season arrives is to be determined, but make no mistake—it's there.

"It's been pretty crazy," Ross said. "What I can say is the guys back in Ann Arbor have been putting a lot of hard work in each and every day and that's the most important thing."

 

Personnel Problems?

While the hype for Harbaugh has reached a fever pitch, the reality remains that there are plenty of questions that still exists about who will be on the field when the Wolverines kick off the season on Sept. 3.

Such is the case at running back, where the former San Francisco 49ers head coach didn't offer much clarity on who would be seeing the bulk of the carries between Derrick Green, De'Veon Smith and Ty Isaac.

"We're at the start of camp here. And there will be plenty of license and plenty of opportunity for one, two, three of our running backs to assert themselves, come to the fore and be counted on," Harbaugh said. "That we'll be watching very closely and hoping that occurs early here in camp."

Unlike the running back position, which can be played by committee, playing quarterback typically comes down to just one man. The Wolverines are still unsure of who will be taking snaps behind center this season, but the battle appears to have boiled down to junior Shane Morris and Iowa graduate transfer Jake Rudock.

As the offense waits for a leader, Chesson spoke of how he's been affected by Harbaugh's quarterback conundrum.

"As a wide receiver, you don't know who the quarterback's going to be. The thing that's tricky is you have to take reps with every single quarterback," said Chesson, who recorded 14 receptions for 154 yards in 2014. "I have to take as many reps with Shane as I do with Jake."

Having just arrived in Ann Arbor this summer, Rudock has seemingly acclimated well to his new surroundings. Whether or not that will work to his advantage in training camp remains to be seen, but with an experience advantage over Morris, the job could very well be the former Hawkeye starter's to lose.

"He's doing a great job. He's really impressed me," Chesson said of Rudock. "You can already sense that he has a wanting-ness to be a part of Michigan by committing himself to not just football. I really respect him. As a player, he's so good and so focused. Obviously he has a lot of experience. I think he's a very good addition to our program."

 

Early Expectations

Although plenty of newfound optimism now exists for a program just a year removed from a 5-7 season, the Wolverines will soon have to back up the buzz their head coach has built with their play on the field. In a division that also contains the defending national champion in rival Ohio State, that may ultimately be tough to do, as Harbaugh has yet to endure an entire recruiting cycle since returning to Ann Arbor.

But as so many coaches claim to be doing, Harbaugh says he's taking the season one game at a time.

"I don't compare really one game to the next, but it's big," Harbaugh said of the Ohio State rivalry. "And you know, the biggest one right now is Utah...I mean, that's—we've got the same type of opponent first game on our schedule. Great team. Did not fare well against them last year. We go out this year to play them first game in college football. I believe it's going to be the first game on September 3rd."

That type of attitude appears to have rubbed off on his players, with Chesson stating that a head coach can only be responsible for so much. Chesson said that it will be up to the players, not Harbaugh, to determine just how successful the Wolverines find themselves in year one of his regime.

"Self-police each other, hold each other accountable in every situation," Chesson said when asked what the Wolverines players have to do this season. "Coaches can't win championships for you. Coaches can't win games for you because coaches can't play. Coaches inspire, and Coach Harbaugh is really inspiring."

Now it's just a matter of how much of an impact that newfound inspiration in Ann Arbor will make in the coming months.

"The expectation is to be the best that we can," Ross said. "We want to be on top. Me, being a senior, I know I can speak for all my seniors when I say we want to go out as best as we can, as best as possible."

 

Ben Axelrod is Bleacher Report's Big Ten lead writer. You can follow him on Twitter @BenAxelrod. Unless noted otherwise, all quotes were obtained firsthand. All statistics courtesy of cfbstats.com. Recruiting rankings courtesy of 247Sports.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Biggest Winners and Losers of 2015 Big Ten Media Days

Big Ten media days are all wrapped up, as the various head coaches and star players took to the podium to share their thoughts.

Watch Bleacher Report National Lead College Football Writer Adam Kramer and Big Ten Lead Writer Ben Axelrod break down who the winners and losers were from the event.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Winners and Losers of 2015 Pac-12 Media Days

The Pac-12 held its media days on Thursday and Friday in Burbank, California, occupying a hangar-sized soundstage as well as various studio lots. Along with the Big Ten event in Chicago, it served as the final round of media gatherings for the power conferences in FBS with just over a month left before the 2015 season begins.

It was a mostly low-key outing for the league, which will be celebrating its 100th anniversary this year and is coming off a 2014 campaign that saw Oregon play for a national title and had five other teams win at least nine games. USC has been picked to win the conference, and the Trojans are one of six teams from the Pac-12 that were ranked in the Amway Coaches Poll preseason Top 25.

There weren't any major stories that came out of Pac-12 Media Days, but there were plenty of interesting things discussed during the two days. He's our look at who fared well and who isn't looking so good.

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Winners and Losers of 2015 Pac-12 Media Days

The Pac -12 held its media days on Thursday and Friday in Burbank, California, occupying a hangar-sized soundstage as well as various studio lots...

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Terrance Davis Releases Top 8: Odds on Where 4-Star OL Lands

Terrance Davis moved another step closer to his collegiate commitment Thursday morning.

The massive Maryland offensive lineman whittled a large collection of options to eight teams, sharing that shortened list on Twitter:

Davis, a 6'4", 305-pound senior at state title contender DeMatha Catholic, is concentrated on schools from three different Power Five conferences. The group consists of Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Maryland, Michigan, Ohio State, Tennessee and UCLA.

He isn't expected to announce a decision until at least December, according to Pete Volk of the Testudo Times.

This time frame allows Davis to orchestrate official visit plans with as many as five programs. He is already slated to attend the Nov. 28 showdown between Michigan and Ohio State in Ann Arbor.

Davis, rated second nationally among 2016 offensive guard prospects and 75th overall in composite rankings, left a few previous favorites off his list this time around. Arkansas, Penn State and Virginia Tech each remained under consideration in May when he previously updated his recruitment.

Bleacher Report national recruiting analyst Sanjay Kirpalani broke down the elements that make Davis such a coveted recruit in B/R's CFB Recruiting 200 series.

Davis is a versatile athlete who played tackle and guard on the offensive line as well as defensive tackle for his prep squad. That defensive influence is evident in how aggressive he is as a blocker. He possesses a solid frame, and he's got the tools to develop into a force at the guard position in college.

Now that he's narrowed things down, let's take a look at a few of his possible landing spots and forecast the likelihood that Davis will indeed play college football at the university.

 

Georgia: 5-1

This a huge twofold recruitment for the Bulldogs because of Davis' relationship with high school teammate Anthony McFarland. The top-ranked all-purpose back in the 2017 class is considered a prime target for Georgia, and he attended Dawg Night camp in Athens on July 18, alongside Davis.

Davis' choice could potentially serve as a precursor for where the prized junior signs two years from now.

Possible ripple effects aside, Bulldogs head coach Mark Richt remains in need of help along the offensive front. Davis would be an ideal prospect to round out a position that already features fellow 4-star tackle Ben Cleveland, along with a pair of 3-star in-state pledges.

We expect Davis to land in the Big Ten, but Georgia seems to be the strongest alternative route.

 

Maryland: 3-1

Have you heard about "The Movement"?

Terrapins fans are certainly familiar with the phrase, which emphasizes program growth through local recruiting in the "DMV" area comprised of Washington, D.C., Maryland and Virginia.

Dwayne Haskins, an Elite 11 finalist quarterback, committed to the in-state Terps this spring after considering Notre Dame, Rutgers and Florida. He expressed optimism in the team's ability to make a homegrown surge into Big Ten contention.

"It's definitely a big deal because 'The Movement' can be huge if it's something other players are willing to believe in," Haskins told Bleacher Report. "It could really change the way people view the program."

Wide receiver Darryl Turner and running back Lorenzo Harrison, both Davis' teammates at DeMatha Catholic, already elected to join The Movement by committing to Maryland. If there's one contender that could benefit from a little peer pressure, it's undoubtedly the Terps.

 

Michigan: 2-1

Michigan remains a steady top-tier favorite among Davis' choices. Experts anointed the Wolverines as the team to beat in 247Sports' Crystal Ball, which projects him to join Jim Harbaugh's class with a 76 percent confidence rate.

The Wolverines' new regime has been tremendously successful recruiting athletes from Mid-Atlantic territory, and Davis is one of Harbaugh's top remaining offensive targets. Previous on-campus experiences and a locked-in official visit set the stage for Michigan to seal the deal with Davis.

He identified the Wolverines as his No. 1 option in early July, according to Scout.com's Brian Dohn (via Scout.com's Sam Webb). Davis journeyed to Ann Arbor for the spring game in April.

Michigan already holds four 4-star offensive line commitments. Tackle Ben Bredeson and guard Michael Onwenu each rate among the top four prospects at their respective positions in composite rankings.

The team's established 2016 depth in the trenches may ultimately emerge as a deterrent for Davis, but Michigan continues to maintain a slight lead in this nationwide pursuit.

 

Quotes obtained firsthand by Bleacher Report National Recruiting Analyst Tyler Donohue. All player ratings are courtesy of 247Sports' composite ratings. Follow Tyler via Twitter: @TDsTake.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

USC Football: Best Quotes and Key Takeaways from Pac-12 Media Days

Friday's Pac-12 media day appearances for USC head coach Steve Sarkisian, senior quarterback Cody Kessler and junior linebacker Su'a Cravens represented a return to familiar territory for the program.

The Trojans are no strangers to the spotlight, and they faced the assembled media in nearby Burbank, California, as a favorite in the Pac-12.

After a few years of disappointment and rebuilding, USC is back to being talked about as a potential title contender.

USC's trio fielded plenty of questions about the preseason hype as well as the future potential of some of its star players. There was also some noteworthy talk about possible changes down the road to the program's classic cardinal-and-gold uniform sets.

Here are some of the highlights from USC's time at media days on Friday.

 

Trojans Shrugging off the Hype

On Thursday, USC was picked to win the Pac-12 in the conference's annual media poll. The Trojans, who are slotted behind Oregon in the Amway Coaches Poll, edged the defending champion Ducks by four votes.

Naturally, the poll was a major topic of conversation during USC's time at media days on Friday.

But the Trojans aren't paying any attention to the hype.

"We all came to USC to win," Sarkisian said, per Jacob Thorpe of the Spokesman-Review. "We didn't come here to be mediocre, we didn't come here be OK. We came here to win championships. … If the expectations were going to be too big, this wasn't the place for you."

Kessler had an interesting take on all the attention, per Reign of Troy and the Associated Press' Greg Beacham:

It's probably best for USC not to dwell on the high praise it's receiving from the rest of the country heading into 2015. After all, the last time the Trojans were picked to win the conference was 2012—a season in which they finished 7-6.

 

Cravens Focused on 2015

Cravens moved from safety to linebacker this offseason, but he told reporters (h/t Fox Sports' Bruce Feldman) on Friday that he's willing to play any position for the USC defense in 2015:

His versatility and athleticism could make the junior a strong candidate for early entry into the NFL draft after this season. Cravens has started every game of his collegiate career, recording 120 tackles and seven interceptions in the last two years.

Cravens said that while he recognizes his pro prospects, there's only one thing he focused on right now, and it's not the next level.

"Of course that's in the back of my mind," Cravens said, per Gary Klein of the Los Angeles Times. "But I can’t put too much focus on that until I see how the season goes and how we really do this year. I mean that's not my main priority. I want to win this year and that's really the only thing that's going to be on my mind."

Another interesting note from Klein is how Cravens now weighs 232 pounds. Because of "illness and dental surgery," Cravens weighed in at 198 pounds earlier this year.

But he's bulked up again and is ready to terrorize offenses this fall—no matter where the coaching staff puts him on the field.

 

Adoring Adoree'

Superstar sophomore Adoree' Jackson's move to play more on the offensive side of the ball this fall has garnered a lot of offseason attention for USC.

Sarkisian gave some of the highest praise to Jackson during his time at the podium by putting him on the same level as a former superstar running back, per the Los Angeles Times' Lindsey Thiry:

According to the Associated Press' Dan Greenspan and Reign of Troy, both Cravens and Kessler had their own stories about Jackson's freakish athleticism on Friday:

The three-way sophomore is coming off a huge season in both football and track. Jackson recorded five all-purpose touchdowns and won the Pac-12's long jump title.

"When the ball’s in his hands, you hold your breath," Sarkisian said, per Jack Wang of the Los Angeles Daily News. "You stop the conversation. You want to see what happens."

 

All About the Uniforms

A report earlier this week from Scott Wolf of Inside USC stated the program is looking to add an alternate uniform for the 2016 season.

From Wolf's report:

A Nike source tells me at least six designs are being considered by USC for an alternate uniform, with the boldest a bronze helmet, bronze uniform that is a type of tribute to Tommy Trojan’s outfit. There is also a white helmet, white jersey and white pants outfit. And a cardinal pants, cardinal jersey, cardinal helmet design.

The source said USC wants an alternate uniform for 2016. The reasons are the same as before: To impress recruits and keep pace with other schools. Call it the Oregon effect.

When asked about alternate uniforms on Friday, Sarkisian said USC would stick to the classics this season while taking a shot at the defending Pac-12 champions, per CSNNW.com's Brianna Amaranthus and Pigskin Grind's Lisa Horne:

Sarkisian's comments don't rule out the possibility of an alternate uniform in 2016, and Cravens had his own idea in mind for a new Trojans look.

"I love the shiny helmets," Cravens told Reign of Troy's Alicia de Artola. "I’m all about traditions, but I wouldn’t mind a matte black uniform. ... Uniforms don’t make the players great, the players make the team great. They just happen to look good while they’re doing it."

 

Justin Ferguson is a college football writer at Bleacher Report. You can follow him on Twitter @JFergusonBR.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

USC Football: Best Quotes and Key Takeaways from Pac-12 Media Days

Friday's Pac -12 media day appearances for USC head coach Steve Sarkisian , senior quarterback Cody Kessler and junior linebacker Su'a Cravens represented a return to familiar territory for the program...

Read the full article on Bleacher Report...

Preseason Coaches Poll: Teams That Will Be the 1st to Drop

The Amway Coaches Poll came out Thursday with traditional powerhouse programs making up the bulk of the list. However, multiple teams will see themselves drop early in the season, possibly even out of the poll entirely.

Teams like the Ohio State Buckeyes, TCU Horned Frogs and Baylor Bears have relatively light schedules in the early going, but other teams in the Top 25 do not have this luxury. There are multiple games in the first few weeks of the season that could shake up the rankings.

Four teams appear to be in danger of falling in the polls because of uncertainty and possible weaknesses in their own squads as well as tough early-season matchups. Let's take a look at why these programs will be among the first to drop from their rankings.

 

Clemson

Head coach Dabo Swinney’s Clemson Tigers return 11 starters from a team that finished 10-3 in 2014. 

Most of these returning players are on the offensive side of the ball, which is why Clemson enters the year at No. 12. Quarterback Deshaun Watson should be healthy, and the offense returns leading rusher Wayne Gallman as well as top receivers Mike Williams, Artavis Scott and Charone Peake. 

The Tigers should be able to score points if Watson can stay on the field. However, it may take a few games to find a rhythm since former offensive coordinator Chad Morris is now the head coach at SMU. Morris created one of the best offenses in the nation for four seasons. Clemson promoted running backs coach Tony Elliott and receivers coach Jeff Scott to co-offensive coordinators.

Defense is the major issue. Clemson loses most of its starters from a unit that finished as one of the best in the country. The team loses a ton in the front seven, including defensive end Vic Beasley and linebacker Stephone Anthony, though the pass defense should be solid, with cornerback Mackensie Alexander and safety Jayron Kearse returning.

Here is a look at the key losses on defense:

The Tigers face a tough stretch in Weeks 3 to 5, with a game at Louisville and then home contests against Notre Dame and Georgia Tech. All three of these teams boast strong offenses, which could spell trouble for Clemson.

Louisville will be a difficult game, but Clemson should have the edge based on pure talent. However, Notre Dame returns 19 starters and will be among the nation’s best teams. Georgia Tech returns quarterback Justin Thomas and four offensive linemen from a team that beat the Tigers in 2014.

The Yellow Jackets have also scored at least 28 points on Clemson in the last three seasons, and with the Tigers’ defensive issues, they should easily surpass that mark again, especially with Georgia Tech's powerful running game taking on a depleted Clemson front seven.

Clemson may not be fully clicking on offense, and the defense is sure to go through some growing pains. Thus, the Tigers will lose at least once to either Notre Dame or Georgia Tech—and possibly both. They seem likely to drop early in the coaches poll.

 

LSU

LSU is traditionally among the top programs in college football, which is likely why it sits at No. 13 in the coaches poll.

This is despite the fact that the team struggled immensely in 2014, finishing at 8-5. The Tigers look to be in danger of a similar fate this season.

Quarterback issues derailed the offense a year ago, and the same problems could persist. Starter Anthony Jennings is currently suspended, and backup Brandon Harris had a rough time last season. Overall, the Tigers finished 109th in passing offense.

Here are the quarterback numbers from 2014:

The quarterback spot should improve, but the massive uncertainty at the position puts the Tigers higher in the coaches poll than is probably warranted. The Advocate’s Scott Rabalais seems to agree: 

The Tigers’ early-season schedule is also less than favorable. LSU must go on the road at Mississippi State, a team that beat the Tigers in 2014 and returns Heisman Trophy candidate Dak Prescott. The next week, Auburn is in town with one of the nation’s best offenses.

LSU will show why it was overrated heading into 2015. The defense will be strong enough to keep the Tigers in each game, but an anemic offense will struggle to produce points. The Mississippi State and Auburn offenses will eventually break through, and the Bayou Bengals will start the season 1-2 and in legitimate danger of falling out of the coaches poll.

 

Oklahoma 

At 8-5, the Oklahoma Sooners experienced the program’s worst season since 2009 and return a decent 13 starters, so why are they ranked No. 19 over proven teams like Arizona and Missouri?

The most plausible reason is because Oklahoma is one of the most prestigious programs in America. However, the Sooners should not expect to be this high for long.

Head coach Bob Stoops’ team has one of the toughest nonconference road games in the country when it visits Tennessee in Neyland Stadium.

The Volunteers return 18 starters after a promising 7-6 season. This includes dual-threat quarterback Joshua Dobbs and one of the SEC’s best running backs in Jalen Hurd. Eight starters also return from a defense that finished 32nd nationally in total defense.

The entire situation spells trouble for the Sooners. Outside of running back Samaje Perine, Oklahoma has no threats on offense. Trevor Knight struggled last season, with only 14 touchdown passes and 12 picks, and Sterling Shepard is the only proven receiver. 

On defense, the Sooners could have some trouble stopping Hurd, as All-Big 12 defensive tackles Jordan Phillips and Chuka Ndulue are gone. This should allow Dobbs more time to throw or scramble, like he had in the play below: 

Especially with the game being in Knoxville, Tennessee should win.

Another loss against an always-strong West Virginia team two weeks later would put the Sooners outside of the Top 25. Normally, a team ranked No. 19 falling out of the coaches poll in the first few weeks is not too alarming. But the fact that Oklahoma is involved makes this a drastic possibility, especially since the Sooners have not been out of the Top 25 since 2009.

 

Oregon

The Oregon Ducks once again start the season in the Top Five of the coaches poll, and again they are set to take on Michigan State in a massive early-season showdown.

The Ducks were able to beat the Spartans 46-27 in Eugene last season, but this year, they must travel to Michigan State, which starts at No. 6 in the poll, on Sept. 12. 

Dynamic offensive playmakers are still abundant for head coach Mark Helfrich, but there are multiple questions for Oregon heading into this matchup.

The quarterback position is unsettled, as Jeff Lockie is battling graduate transfer Vernon Adams. The Eastern Washington transfer is a dual-threat quarterback who lit up the FCS and is expected to win the job, but his future may be uncertain. Adams has apparently not graduated from his previous school, and Helfrich gave a cryptic answer at Pac-12 media days regarding Adams, per USA Today’s Dan Wolken: 

Oregon’s offense relies on the quarterback to run the show and distribute the ball to his playmakers in space. Lockie played sparingly in 2014, but he is a big question mark and a relative unknown. This could hurt the Ducks offense, especially early on.

The other issue is in the secondary, where the team is young and must replace both cornerbacks from last season. This is bad news with Michigan State trotting out potential NFL first-round draft pick Connor Cook at quarterback.

These two factors, along with the game being in East Lansing, put Oregon in a tough spot, and it will be unlikely to end well.

This loss will drop Oregon out of the Top Five and possibly the Top 10. A game two weeks later against Utah, which finished 9-4 last season and returns 14 starters, will also be challenging. A trip-up there would send Oregon plummeting in the polls. The quarterback position will be a huge storyline for the Ducks this year.

 

All statistics are courtesy of ESPN.com.

Clemson defensive stats courtesy of ClemsonTigers.com.

All information regarding returning starters comes from Phil Steele's projections.

 

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Notre Dame Football: Biggest Storylines Heading into Fall Camp

SOUTH BEND, Ind. — It may still be July for a few more precious hours, but the calendar will soon turn and Notre Dame football will open up its fall camp next Friday.

We’re roughly five weeks away from the season opener against Texas, under the lights at Notre Dame Stadium. So with camp just days away, let’s look at the biggest Irish storylines heading into the start of fall practice, when the squad begins its quest for, well, what head coach Brian Kelly said.

 

Malik Zaire

Regardless of the logistics—who, when, how—quarterback talk was going to dominate Notre Dame’s offseason and fall camp.

With Everett Golson more than 900 miles away in Tallahassee, redshirt sophomore quarterback Malik Zaire grabs the bulk of that attention.

The last time we saw Zaire, the left-hander completed eight of 14 passes for 137 yards and two touchdowns—including a 68-yard strike to Will Fuller—in the spring game in April. He carried four times for 40 yards while splitting time with Golson.

How will Zaire look after a summer spent preparing as the starting quarterback? Is he ready to lead Notre Dame as a first-year starter with limited experience?

 

Offensive Identity

We likely won’t get a full taste of what to expect from Notre Dame’s offense through fall practice, but the unit will begin to take shape in the coming weeks.

First, new offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach Mike Sanford joins an offensive brain trust that includes Kelly and associate head coach Mike Denbrock. What adjustments will Sanford bring?

Moreover, with Zaire at the controls in the Music City Bowl against LSU, Notre Dame’s offense rushed 51 times for 263 yards. Zaire himself tallied 96 yards on 22 attempts, including one score.

We’ll see how much of that was derived from the opponent and timing and how much carries over into the 2015 season as a whole.

 

Defensive Growth

It’s no secret that Irish defensive coordinator Brian VanGorder’s defense was shredded down the stretch in 2014, as injuries took their toll and the Irish were gashed by the likes of North Carolina, Navy, Arizona State, Northwestern and USC.

Beyond health, Notre Dame needs improvement. After up-and-down seasons in 2014, safeties Max Redfield and Elijah Shumate drew plenty of praise in the spring from coaches and teammates alike. Can they continue to approach their high ceilings?

Plenty of true freshmen were thrust into duty in 2014. We’ll see how long the strides are made by sophomores Nyles Morgan, Andrew Trumbetti, Jay Hayes and Greer Martini, to name a few.

 

KeiVarae Russell and Ishaq Williams

We’re nearing the one-year anniversary of the news that headlined much of Notre Dame’s 2014 campaign. In mid-August last year, Notre Dame announced its investigation into suspected academic dishonesty. We’ll bypass a rehashing of the details, but cornerback KeiVarae Russell and defensive lineman Ishaq Williams returned to campus this summer.

Russell’s path is straightforward, as the athletic and loquacious corner will slide back into one of the starting spots on the perimeter, where he logged 26 starts in his first two seasons under the dome.

“He’s an alpha player,” Kelly said of Russell during the summer. “He’s got that warrior personality where he will hold others accountable. You add him to the mix with a Joe Schmidt. And you add him to a Jarrett Grace. That changes the personality of our defense from what it was late in the year when we really didn’t have those personalities on the field.

“And we all know what he has from an athletic standpoint.”

In June, Kelly said Williams was back in school at Notre Dame and participating in team workouts. While Kelly confidently said Williams will receive his degree from Notre Dame, the head coach said football is “a lot more complicated” and regards “NCAA eligibility.”

Other storylines to watch include the running back position, where Greg Bryant has reportedly been suspended to start the season; the new-look special teams without Kyle Brindza; and linebacker, where a healthy Schmidt and a healthy Grace could change the complexion of the entire defense.

And, no, Notre Dame’s independence won’t be the top storyline in South Bend.

 

All quotes were obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted.

Mike Monaco is the lead Notre Dame writer for Bleacher Report. Follow @MikeMonaco_ on Twitter.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

How the Big Ten Finally Cured Its Inferiority Complex

CHICAGO — When you're down and out, you usually rediscover your confidence slowly, with small victories piling up. It's a process. It takes time.    

For the Big Ten, that's not how it worked. There was no process. It happened in a moment:

January 1, 2015 at 3:39 p.m. ET.     

That's when Wisconsin kicked a field goal to beat Auburn in overtime at the Outback Bowl. SNAP. That was it: Big Ten football wasn't a joke anymore. Outsiders realized it, and more importantly the conference itself—deep in its heart—realized it.

It was just one moment, but people in the Big Ten will always remember where they were when it happened.

"We were walking into our team meal," Ohio State coach Urban Meyer told Bleacher Report on Thursday. The Buckeyes were set to play Alabama that night in the Sugar Bowl in New Orleans for a spot in the national title game. "It was like a shot of five-hour energy. That was our pregame speech right there."

Meyer joined his team, which was eating. He told them about Wisconsin and the Big Ten beating the mighty SEC. Now it was their turn. They could do it.

And they did.

And just like that, the Big Ten's inferiority complex is gone.

For the first time in years, the conference can go into a season not feeling embarrassed.

Look, this isn't just about confidence in football. It's about a belief in a way of life. For some reason, football seems to mean that much to us.

This is about validation in what the Midwest is all about: Work ethic, toughness, wholesomeness and white picket fences. Sure, there's a big element of BS in all of that—as I write it sitting here in Chicago, seat of the Midwest and also America's murder capital. Spike Lee is making a movie here called Chiraq.

But it's a belief system nonetheless. In fact, this time last year, I wrote about what had gone wrong with Midwestern football. It was outdated, playing big, burly football in a speedy spread-offense world. Big Ten teams traditionally were filled with hardscrabble kids of factory workers, mill workers, mine workers.And now all those places are going out of business, and even Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly talked about demographic shifts and the need to recruit in the south, and…well, nevermind.

The Big Ten is holding its annual media days Thursday and Friday in Chicago, the time when coaches try to pump up the conference. And usually nobody believes it. They tend to come across like a boxer who just got knocked out and then regained consciousness, stood up and talked about how great he is.

You do know we saw the fight, right?

Well, the college football world finally saw the Big Ten winning big fights at the end of last season. Not only did Wisconsin beat Auburn, but also Michigan State beat Baylor, which was running a modern spread and thought it belonged in the College Football Playoff. And, of course, Ohio State beat Alabama and then beat Oregon to win the national championship.

"We found out the Big Ten can play football after all," Meyer said, sarcastically.

You're told for years that you aren't any good, you can't beat the SEC and eventually it's only human nature to believe it.

Meyer talked about his first Big Ten media days in 2012: "The attitude just around here now compared to where it was 2012. … I was actually shocked. I remember the meeting—and I don't want to say disrespect, but it was just like the Big Ten was an afterthought."

I doubt he was shocked. He knew. And he started recruiting players out of Florida.

"I would definitely say that the Big Ten gets overlooked," Michigan State center Jack Allen said. "You get a Big Ten team playing against one of those spread run-around-you type of teams and, well, you saw the result."

Trash talking? From the Big Ten?

"The Big Ten's always been known for smashmouth football, and that's what's been working," Allen said. "Stick to it."

True, the Big Ten has been known for size and power and running over people, not around them like the Pac-12. But the game changed, and the Big Ten looked like a Neanderthal league. Stick with what's working?

The Big Ten hadn't won a national championship in 12 years. In 2010, it went 0-5 in New Year's Day bowls.

And look at Michigan: Rich Rodriguez—the no-huddle, spread-offense guru—was brought in as coach to modernize the place. He was met with, let's call it, cultural resistance. He once told me he wasn't accepted because he wasn't a "Michigan Man." So Michigan brought in Brady Hoke, a true smashmouth, Fred Flintsone of a guy who, it turned out, couldn't coach.

They ran off modern to keep old-fashioned. Now, they have hit it big by hiring Jim Harbaugh.

Even Wisconsin lost its coach, Gary Andersen, before the bowl game last year, thinking it was better to be at Oregon State. And that's why you have to see the symbolism in the picture at the end of the bowl win over Auburn. Longtime Wisconsin tough-guy coach Barry Alvarez, the school's athletics director, came back to coach that one game, and the players hoisted him in celebration.

You had the cliche of Big Ten smashmouth in Alvarez vs. the prototype modern-day coaching genius in Auburn's Gus Malzahn. Ohio State had just crushed Wisconsin. Wisconsin had lost four bowl games in a row.

There was no way Wisconsin was going to win that game.

"There's nothing like winning a game," Wisconsin quarterback Joel Stave said Thursday. "But I never thought winning a bowl game would be as sweet as that was. It really starts a whole different mentality going into the next year."

Stave said it ended his own confidence crisis. It ended Wisconsin's.

It ended the Big Ten's.

Meyer saw Wisconsin win that game and went right to his team, which had to face the closest thing college football had to a dynasty: Alabama.

"I can't necessarily repeat what he said," Ohio State linebacker Joshua Perry said. "He just said the tide's turning and things have changed and it's not what it was before. It's not what everybody wanted to call the big, bad SEC against the Big Ten, which can't hang and compete. You can do what you want to do."

Nothing to be ashamed of anymore about white picket fences and Mom's apple pie.

 

Greg Couch covers college football for Bleacher Report.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Tennessee Football: Biggest Storylines Heading into Fall Camp

The wait is almost over, and on Tuesday the Tennessee football team will take the practice field for perhaps the most highly anticipated season in a decade.

After a long offseason of having to deal with intensified media interest—something the Volunteers probably didn't mind much after several seasons far removed from the spotlight—it's finally time to see if the Vols are worthy of the exposure or exposed as a fraud.

With so much talent in place at key positions, UT has a ton of hope. Expectations will be high on Rocky Top, and though the experience isn't yet where it needs to be and depth doesn't exist all over the field, it is time for Tennessee to take a big step forward.

The start of fall camp will bring with it plenty of questions. Position battles will kick off all over the field, and several freshmen like Kahlil McKenzie, Shy Tuttle and Darrin Kirkland will be asked to play huge roles.

Entrenched skill-position players such as Joshua Dobbs, Jalen Hurd and Marquez North need to shed the training wheels and get ready to make big-time plays in vital early-season showdowns.

It's almost time for some fresh material to discuss, new worries to unfold and for the excitement to get stirring. Let's take a look at the top storylines for UT entering fall practice.

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SEC Football: Bold Predictions for 2015 Fall Camp

Pads are about to pop, and fall camps are about to get underway.

Fall camps are here, and with them will come some incredibly intense position battles that will define the seasons for some of the nation's top teams. 

What will happen in August?

Our bold predictions based on spring progress, position depth, talent and scheme are in this slideshow.

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The 10 Most Entertaining Personalities from College Football Media Days

With fall camps set to begin all across the country, "talking season" in college football is drawing to a close. Preseason chatter is moving over and making way for some actual action on the field.

The highlights of the long "talking season" each year in college football are media days, when conferences pool their head coaches and a few players and send them in front of the football-hungry media.

To be perfectly honest, most of these events are riddled with coach speak and boring answers. Some coaches and players treat media days like they're unwanted chores.

But some of college football's biggest personalities shine at these events, from a certain veteran coach in the SEC to a Big Ten lineman who will perform a weird feat with food. 

As the Big Ten and Pac-12 media days wind down today, let's take a look back at 10 of the most entertaining personalities from this month's events.

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Winners and Losers from the College Football Recruiting Trail for Month of July

July featured competitive recruiting showcases at camps across America, headlined by the annual invite-only Nike event The Opening. It also represents a final stretch of the cycle when players have the flexibility to travel without conflicting busy high school schedules.

Several programs capitalized during this period of time, gaining momentum toward national signing day as the season approaches. Other teams lost pivotal pledges or stumbled through the bulk of summer recruiting efforts.

Here's a look at how several marquee squads fared in July.

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