NCAA Football

Christian Bell Commits to Alabama: What Versatile Defender Brings to Tide

Nick Saban scooped up another commitment from a promising defensive prospect Wednesday when in-state standout Christian Bell pledged to the Crimson Tide. The Birmingham product revealed his intentions on Twitter:

The Hoover High School junior played a pivotal role throughout his team's journey to 2013 national championship honors. Bell, a 6'4", 220-pound defender, recorded nine sacks last fall, per AL.com.

He capped off an impressive campaign with two sacks in the state title game, a 20-3 victory over Auburn. Hoover captured a second straight state championship and extended its win streak to 30 games.

Bell developed into a legitimate high-level FBS prospect during his sophomore season. He tallied 39 tackles and two sacks as one of the youngest members of a talent-laden Buccaneers defensive unit.

Scholarships from Mississippi State, South Carolina and Southern Miss arrived last spring. After several campus visits, Alabama officially joined the chase in February by extending an offer during a junior day event.

Just a few days later, Hoover teammate Marlon Humphrey—a 5-star 2014 cornerback prospect—signed with the Tide. Bell now plans to reunite with him in Tuscaloosa, despite earlier allegiances to the other in-state powerhouse.

"I grew up an Auburn fan and when I was a little kid there was no way I was ever going to play football at Alabama," he told AL.com reporter Jeff Sentell.

Instead, he'll look to wreak havoc against the rival Tigers for years to come.

Bell made significant strides as a pass-rusher last fall, utilizing increased strength and hip fluidity to penetrate the offensive backfield on a regular basis. His physical frame continues to expand, so there's reason to believe he'll pack on pounds and additional height before his arrival at Alabama.

Bell, rated No. 15 nationally among weak-side defensive end prospects in 247Sports' composite rankings, displays serious versatility. Several college programs, including Alabama, view him as a strong-side linebacker, which Rivals.com reporter Andrew Bone was quick to point out:

Bell follows in a long line of large, disruptive outside linebackers at Alabama. He'll eventually be relied on to provide stout run support, intermediate pass coverage and an effective rush off the edge.

It's not an easy position to grow acclimated to in Tuscaloosa, so expectations for immediate playing time might be unrealistic for Bell. He'll have to contend with a stockpile of talent that has been built up through four consecutive top-ranked recruiting classes.

Alabama already holds commitments from 4-star defensive ends Mekhi Brown (Columbus, Ga.) and Jonathan Ledbetter (Tucker, Ga.). Anfernee Jennings, a 3-star in-state end, pledged to the Tide last month.

Those players figure to spend their days in Tuscaloosa along the defensive front. Bell will certainly be called upon to spend plenty of snaps near the line of scrimmage, but he'll also be asked to adapt by playing at the second level.

He draws comparisons to 2014 signee Christian Miller (Columbia, S.C.), and the two could contend for the same role in the near future. Hoover head coach Josh Niblett told AL.com he expects Bell to excel in Alabama's defensive scheme.

The sky is the limit for him and that's what makes him so special. The physical ability he has to have the length that he has and do what he can do at defensive end and be a guy that if you have zone blitzes and have to drop in space and be able to make plays and not just drop in space and take up space. He runs well and understands leverage and I'm excited for him and I think Alabama is getting a great player that I think fits really well in the scheme that they run.

Bell is the 15th member of the Tide's 2015 recruiting class. Saban has now collected five commitments since last Saturday, when Alabama hosted annual "A-Day" spring game festivities. The class rates No. 1 nationally in 247Sports' composite rankings.

 

Recruit information and statistics courtesy of 247Sports unless otherwise noted. 

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Early 2014 College Football Point Spreads for Week 1 Released

College football is still four months away—sorry to be the bearer of bad news—but at least now we have something new to squabble about, to keep us distracted from stupid, non-football things such as the beach throughout the summer.

Offshore betting outpost 5dimes.eu released early point spreads for the best Week 1 games in 2014, which are, to my knowledge, the first of their kind (h/t Adam Kramer).

Here's a look at what was posted:

Based on the spreads, the least one-sided high-profile games in Week 1 should be Penn State vs. UCF (in Dublin, Ireland), LSU vs. Wisconsin (in Houston, Texas) and Miami at Louisville.

As for the interesting big spreads, Vanderbilt is laying 21 points against Temple in its first game post-James Franklin, Notre Dame is laying 21 points against a team (Rice) that won its conference last season and Alabama is laying 23.5 points with a new quarterback against a team (West Virginia) that beat Oklahoma State in 2013.

Just saying.

Like Kramer, I also find it hard to resist Utah State laying 6.5 points at Tennessee. I know about the Vols' vaunted freshmen and the whole revitalization of Neyland Stadium, but Utah State has been one of the best, most underrated teams in the country in each of the past two seasons. Tennessee has been, well, decent…to put it kindly.

It's important not to take these lines and sit on them. As the market moves, so too will the numbers; if you like something you see (and, of course, if you live in a state that allows sports betting), you'd be wise to scoop it up quick.

Florida State has already been pumped from -11.5 to -13.5 against Oklahoma State, and Kramer thinks the spread could get over 17 (which is a key number in handicapping) by kickoff:

Which early spreads do you think look promising? Sound off in the comments below.

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Scout.com's Lindsey Thiry Breaks Down USC QB Battle Between Kessler & Browne

The USC Trojans are set to begin their 2014 campaign and are looking to improve on their 10-4 season last year with new head coach Steve Sarkisian at the helm.

Coach Sarkisian recently announced that redshirt junior Cody Kessler would be the starting QB heading into next season, but redshirt freshman Max Browne is sitting at the No. 2 position and is every bit ready to step up if his name is called.

Watch as B/R's Adam Lefkoe caught up with Scout.com's Lindsey Thiry, who broke down which of the two QBs had the edge when it came to arm strength, accuracy, decision making, intangibles and who was the overall man for the job.

Highlights courtesy of XOs Digital

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Scout.com's Lindsey Thiry Breaks Down USC QB Battle Between Kessler & Browne

The USC Trojans are set to begin their 2014 campaign and are looking to improve on their 10-4 season last year with new head coach Steve Sarkisian at the helm...

Read the full article on Bleacher Report...

SEC Football: Incoming Freshmen Who Will Flourish in 2014 Fall Camp

Several members of the class of 2014 have already made an impact, as some early enrollees have staked their claim to positions in the fall around the Southeast.

Texas A&M quarterback Kyle Allen, Alabama offensive tackle Cam Robinson, Crimson Tide cornerback Tony Brown and Auburn wide receiver D'haquille "Duke" Williams all made waves during spring camp.

But what about the prospects in the class of 2014 who are coming in this summer?

While some positions have been settled in the spring, many more doors are open for incoming freshmen to become stars in the SEC sooner rather than later.

Which incoming freshmen this summer will flourish in fall camp in 2014? Our top five are in this slideshow.

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Alabama 'On Their Way' to 5th Straight Recruiting Title After Huge Weekend

The Alabama Crimson Tide landed some huge recruits at their spring game this past weekend. Nick Saban pulled in one 5-star and three 4-stars and continues his amazing recruiting streak. 

Minkah Fitzpatrick, a 5-star cornerback, is one of the hottest recruits in the 2015 class. He will contribute much-needed depth to Alabama's secondary. Fitzpatrick chose the Tide's offer over pretty much every other program in the country. 

Watch Matt Scalici from AL.com break down Alabama's huge recruiting weekend with Adam Lefkoe

 

Highlights courtesy XOS Digital. Recruit rankings from 247Sports

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4-Star RB Rodney Anderson Decommits from Texas A&M Aggies

Texas A&M's 2015 recruiting efforts took a hit Wednesday night when Houston area running back Rodney Anderson decommitted from the class. Aggies head coach Kevin Sumlin originally landed the 4-star prospect last August, but that verbal pact failed to survive his junior year:

Anderson, a 6'0.5", 204-pound standout at Katy High School, has been one of the most productive offensive players in Texas during the past three seasons. He serves as a catalyst on a squad that has reached two consecutive state title games, including a championship effort in 2012.

Rated No. 15 nationally among all-purpose backs in 247Sports' composite rankings, Anderson emerged as a force in 2011. He rushed for 1,167 yards and 14 touchdowns as a freshman.

Through three high school seasons, he has more than 4,000 yards and 64 scores on the ground. Anderson enjoyed his best campaign last fall, rushing for 1,967 yards and accounting for 40 total offensive touchdowns.

He is a proven receiving threat out of the backfield, exhibiting outstanding hands and shiftiness in the open field. Anderson caught 36 passes for 685 yards and 12 scores during the past two seasons combined.

His skills also translate well on special teams, as he's returned four punts for touchdowns since 2012. He is rated No. 14 overall among junior Texas prospects in 247Sports' composite rankings.

An elite blend of power and speed make Anderson a balanced running back and coveted recruit.

Texas A&M extended a scholarship during his sophomore year. Offers from Michigan State, Texas, Texas Tech, Baylor and Auburn soon followed. Alabama, Oklahoma, LSU and Oklahoma State have also entered the picture, per 247Sports reporter Taylor Hamm.

His departure leaves Texas A&M with eight committed players in its 2015 class and continues a tumble for the team in national recruiting rankings. The Aggies, who sat atop class rankings throughout much of this offseason, have suddenly plummeted to No. 6 in 247Sports' composite team ratings.

Texas A&M hasn't added a prospect since February and now must find a replacement at running back, though committed 4-star recruit Jay Bradford is expected to land in the offensive backfield.

If the Aggies still aim to bring in two capable rushing threats, expect the team's interest to heat up for in-state prospect Soso Jamabo and Louisiana playmaker Kirk Merritt. Both backs already hold offers from Texas A&M.

 

Recruit information and statistics courtesy of 247Sports unless otherwise noted.

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Thanks to Notre Dame, the ACC Doesn't Need to Enter the 9-Game Discussion

The ACC stands as the only member of the Big Five group of conferences that should be able to get away with only scheduling eight league games, and that is courtesy of Notre Dame. Thanks to the partial addition of the Fighting Irish, a deal that will pay dividends for the conference and individual schools, sticking at eight games makes the most sense for the ACC.

As B/R's Barrett Sallee pointed out and the Atlanta Journal-Constitution's Andy Johnston noted, the SEC should have more than just Alabama's Nick Saban pushing for a nine-game schedule. The Big 12 and Pac-12 have been operating on the nine-game standard already and, in 2016, the Big Ten is making the transition to the nine-game format as well.

That leaves the SEC and the ACC as the two conferences sitting at eight-game schedules, each with 14 teams in its league.

However, the ACC sits in a unique position to fight off the eight-game conference schedule thanks to the welcoming of Notre Dame into the fold. Starting with this coming season, the Fighting Irish will battle ACC teams as an additional, built-in portion of the schedule. Unable to get out of a game to take on five in 2014, the Irish play six ACC teams in 2015 before settling into the five-team rotation wholly in 2016.

On the Notre Dame side, it gives them access to more bowls and helps flesh out a schedule, something becoming a bit more difficult as major teams move to nine-game schedules. For the ACC, it means five of the league's teams will have nine games against quality competition a season. In the case of teams like Florida State, Clemson and Georgia Tech, that means 10 quality contests, thanks to the addition of in-state rivals.

As ESPN.com's Heather Dinich noted, the coaches are split on the decision, although most lean toward eight games over nine, thanks largely to the Notre Dame addition. A nine-game schedule means an 11-game slugfest for Clemson and Florida State in the seasons where Notre Dame is on the schedule. Nine ACC games plus the Irish and South Carolina or Florida, respectively. Great for the media. Great for fans. Great for ticket sales. Great for television.

But not something coaches are signing their own teams up for, as evidenced by the total absence of any schedule that would appear to qualify as congruent in the current landscape of college football. 

The conference is working with Notre Dame to schedule games out in advance; that means the nine teams without the Irish on the schedule in the coming seasons will know for which seasons an extra quality game is required. For seasons where Notre Dame is absent, teams must schedule up to avoid a weakness in the schedule that could hurt its playoff contention. 

College football is transitioning to a playoff, and the first seasons are going to be a proving ground—not only for the teams, but for the system itself. Plenty of people talk strength of schedule, but until it bears itself out, the ACC is in a good position with Notre Dame to continue playing an eight-game schedule.

Down the line, it may be in the conference's best interest to shift to a nine-game schedule. Until that day comes, unlike the SEC, the conference is in a good position playing its eight-game slate. 

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Why Kentucky Wildcats Should Start Freshman QB Drew Barker in 2014

Quarterback battles were all the rage this spring, as seven teams entered spring with unsettled quarterback situations and four more—Florida, Georgia, South Carolina and Missouri—were breaking in known commodities who entered their first full spring practice sessions as the No. 1 guy.

One of the more intriguing battles was at Kentucky, where Jalen Whitlow, Patrick Towles, Reese Phillips and Drew Barker began the spring sharing first-team snaps, and Maxwell Smith waited in the wings recovering from shoulder surgery.

That four-man battle dropped down to three mid-spring, when Whitlow announced that he is transferring from the program.

That left Towles, Barker and Phillips fighting it out for supremacy. 

Towles is a 6'5", 236-pound redshirt sophomore with a big arm who came to the program under former head coach Joker Phillips as part of the class of 2012 as a 4-star prospect. He completed just 19 of 40 passes for 233 yards, one touchdown and tossed one pick in his one season of action in 2012, but he has the skills to be successful in the system employed by second-year head coach Mark Stoops and offensive coordinator Neal Brown.

Phillips is a 6'2", 222-pound redshirt freshman from Signal Mountain, Tennessee. The former 3-star prospect is another pro-style signal-caller who is accurate underneath and has improved this spring, according to Kentucky's official athletics site.

There's a problem, though; the hotshot newcomer has a lot of the same attributes as both Towles and Phillips, but with more upside.

Barker, a 6'3", 216-pound true freshman early enrollee who was also a 4-star prospect, also has the big arm, is accurate downfield and has tremendous pocket presence for his experience. Barker, who hails from Hebron, Kentucky, was the centerpiece of Stoops' first full recruiting class, which finished 22nd in the nation, according to 247Sports.com.

Who should be the No. 1 signal-caller in the Bluegrass State?

It should be Barker.

The biggest benefit of enrolling early is becoming acclimated, which is something that Barker accomplished in a hurry.

"You could've watched some of those other guys and thought, 'OK, they're young; they're making some mistakes,'" Brown told Ben Roberts of the Lexington Herald-Leader last week. "Well, Drew, you would've thought he was here for a year, he'd been here for a while."

Barker is Brown's guy. 

He has all the tools to be successful in this air-raid system—particularly on short and intermediate routes. When he takes something off, he doesn't lose accuracy. That's very important in any system, but particularly in a pass-heavy scheme that relies on the quarterback to move the chains more than other systems.

Plus, this staff can afford to take its lumps with a freshman if it benefits the team long-term.

Kentucky is coming off its second straight 2-10 season, but with momentum generated from Stoops' second year at the helm and an unusually strong recruiting class. But unlike other schools where a "win now" mentality exists, Stoops and his staff have the luxury of patience—something that will be even more prevalent if a true freshman takes the snaps.

He's the future of the program at quarterback.

Because of that, let him learn on the job. Learning the college game is important for any quarterback, but learning what not to do is even more critical to a young quarterback's development.

Kentucky can afford to gamble a bit at quarterback, so trot out Barker and see what happens. Who knows? Stoops could catch lighting in a bottle.

 

* Barrett Sallee is the lead SEC college football writer for Bleacher Report. All recruiting information is courtesy of 247Sports and all college statistics are courtesy of CFBStats.com.

 


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Every Top 25 College Football Team's Spring Practice MVP

Spring practice is almost wrapped up for the 2014 college football offseason, and we've learned just about as much as we possibly can from a series of practices involving partial rosters and spring games that hold little resemblance to an actual competition.

Still, each team had at least one player who stood out during this period—someone who would earn an MVP award if such things existed for spring football.

Using Bleacher Report's preseason top-25 rankings from the start of spring ball as a starting point, here are the unofficial most valuable players from each of the country's best teams based on their spring practice performance and effort.

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Boise State Football Recruiting: Breaking Down Top 2015 Target at Each Position

The Boise State Broncos seem to be off to a good start when it comes to the 2015 football recruiting class. According to 247Sports, head coach Bryan Harsin and his staff have secured five verbal commits thus far.

There is obviously a long way to go until those players and others sign on the dotted line to play for the Broncos. However, the early commitments by very talented players have given the Broncos momentum and have sounded the alarm to the rest of the Mountain West Conference that Harsin and his assistant coaches are a force to be reckoned with.

Recruiting has to be a grueling process for any coaching staff. The time and effort they put into the entire process is nothing less than remarkable. In fact, just this week Coach Harsin sent his entire staff out to 130 high schools in Idaho to make sure and lock down the state.

There will no doubt be some in-state talent signing to play for Boise State in 2015, but realistically, most of its future roster will come from various locations around the nation, with the majority of them coming from California and Texas.

Let's look at the 2015 recruiting list for the Broncos in an effort to determine the top targets this staff has identified and what the chances are those athletes will play their college ball on The Blue.

 

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Pros and Cons of 5-Star DT Trent Thompson's Top Schools

Trent Thompson is a 5-star defensive tackle from Georgia. He is the No. 1 recruit in the 247Sports Composite Rankings. At 6'4" and 292 pounds, the Peach State native has the quickness and power to do whatever he wants at the snap.

Thompson is wanted by just about every major program in the country. However, he told Kipp Adams of 247Sports (subscription required) earlier this spring that he has several schools in front of the rest of the pack.

Thompson will have to continue to narrow his list, and he'll have to weigh the pros and cons of each school before arriving at a final decision.

 

All recruiting ratings and rankings are from 247Sports' Composite Rankings.

Player evaluations are based on review of tape at Scout.comRivals and 247Sports

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Pac-12 Football: 5 Fastest Freshmen Heading into the 2014 Football Season

The recent trend of no-huddle offenses in the Pac-12, combined with an uptempo formula that barely gives defenses a chance to set up for the next play, has led to an increased importance on one athletic trait in particular: speed.

While speed alone is never enough to create one of the best players in the country, it's almost a requirement for making plays in 2014. Those who bumble and stumble their way down the field, breaking tackles and dragging defenders along the way, still have a place in the game.

But more appealing to college coaches is the guy who can simply take the ball and outrun anybody trying to catch him. Measuring speed is one of the more inexact sciences in sports. You'll hear about a guy running a 4.3 40-yard dash and then look up his official time, which happens to be in the 4.5-4.6 range.

In ranking the five fastest freshmen in the Pac-12, we're using a combination of on-the-record times from the track (be it a 40-yard or 100-meter dash) as well as what players look like carrying the ball. De'Anthony Thomas wasn't the fastest running back at the NFL combine, but anyone who saw what he did to Wisconsin as a freshman knows he's one of the fastest players in the game when the helmet goes on.

Take a look now at the five fastest freshmen in the Pac-12 conference.

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Pac-12 Football: 5 Fastest Freshmen Heading into the 2014 Football Season

The recent trend of no-huddle offenses in the Pac-12, combined with an uptempo formula that barely gives defenses a chance to set up for the next play, has led to an increased importance on one athletic trait in particular: speed...

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10 Most Outrageous Stat Lines from 2015's Top Recruits

The 2015 recruiting class features some exceptionally productive recruits. People who follow recruiting forget prospects are also players who produce and play for teams in the fall.

Some prospects, however, are just more productive on the field right now than others. A 4-star quarterback threw for almost 6,000 yards as a junior, while a 4-star defensive tackle had a jaw-dropping amount of sacks.

Plus, a pair of 4-star teammates were a dangerous combination for opposing teams last season.

All recruiting ratings and rankings are from 247Sports' Composite Rankings. Player evaluations are based on review of tape at Scout.comRivals and 247Sports.

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Top 10 Veteran College Football QBs Entering 2014 Season

Having a veteran quarterback doesn't necessarily indicate whether a team is going to be successful. The past two Heisman Trophy winners—Johnny Manziel and Jameis Winston—were redshirt freshmen when they took home the award. 

That said, a veteran quarterback knows his way around the offense, assuming he's had the same coaching staff. A veteran has seen it all, the good and the bad. He's better equipped to handle adversity. Hopefully, he's a better player than he was when he first arrived on campus. 

Which teams have the best veteran quarterbacks heading into the 2014 season? The only rules are that the following selections are at least juniors and have at least one year of starting experience.

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New Mexico RB Crusoe Gongbay Arrested on Suspicion of Rape and Kidnapping

Crusoe Gongbay and two accomplices allegedly forced a female student into a car before proceeding to rape her, hold a gun to her head and terrorize her for multiple hours earlier this month, so say court documents related to the multiple charges facing the suspended New Mexico running back.   

In public records obtained by TMZ Sports, a woman alleges Gongbay and two other males kidnapped her at a university parking lot on April 13. The first man forced her to perform oral sex before raping her, while Gongbay and the other watched and served as accomplices. Gongbay then proceeded to do the same.

According to the allegations, Gongbay and the first accomplice were later dropped off at an unknown location. The third accomplice, yet to be identified by police, then held a gun to the female's head and forced her into oral sex before raping her again. The woman has identified two of the men, Gongbay and another male, but the third remains unknown.

Gongbay, a junior, was arrested Tuesday and charged with second-degree criminal sexual penetration and one count of kidnapping, according to university police records. Lieutenant Tim Stump told Joseph J. Kolb of Reuters that Gongbay was still being held in jail while awaiting $50,000 bond.

Gongbay was immediately suspended from the New Mexico football team, and his status with the university remains uncertain. 

“Due to the obvious serious nature of these charges, he has been suspended indefinitely from the team,” head coach Bob Davies said in an official statement, via Kolb.

The other identified perpetrator, Ryan Ruff, has also surrendered to police on similar charges. Ruff, 21, is being held on $100,000 bond. He is not a New Mexico student, nor does he have any known connection to the football program.

Expected to be the Lobos' starting running back as a senior, Gongbay rushed for 592 yards and six touchdowns last season. He has played an integral role in New Mexico's offense in two of his three college seasons and was one of the Mountain West Conference's most explosive backs in 2013. New Mexico went just 3-9 last season but averaged 308.8 rushing yards per game, fourth best in the country.

The allegations, if true, would undoubtedly end Gongbay's football career and put his freedom in jeopardy. Criminal sexual penetration to the second degree is a multi-layered crime that includes "force or coercion when the perpetrator is aided or abetted by one or more persons," under New Mexico law

If convicted, Gongbay faces up to nine years in prison and a $10,000 fine for each count of criminal sexual penetration—synonymous with rape in New Mexico. It is a second-degree felony. Kidnapping is a first-degree felony in New Mexico that comes with a maximum of 18 years in prison and a $15,000 fine.

There has been no preliminary hearing date set at this time. Gongbay has not commented publicly on these charges, nor is it known if he has obtained representation.  

 

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Breaking Down 5-Star Recruits in 247Sports' 1st Class of 2016 Rankings

The recently revealed 247Sports rankings provide an early glimpse at the 2016 football recruiting class. Sophomores throughout the nation are beginning to feel the spotlight shine brighter as collegiate interest builds at a rapid pace.

We analyzed the early ratings position by position to break down prospects labeled "elite" after two high school seasons. The list features 42 5-star talents, already exceeding a 2015 class that includes 34 players with that rating.

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SEC Football: 5 Biggest Storylines Remaining in 2014 Offseason

April is starting to wind down, and unless you're a Kentucky or Arkansas fan, your team has already wrapped up spring practice. That means several offseason questions—including Georgia's stability at quarterback, Florida's offense and Alabama's new-look defense—have already been answered.

But several others remain, many of which will have a direct impact on the division, conference and national title races.

What are the top five offseason storylines remaining in the SEC? Our picks are in this slideshow.

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Big Ten Football: 10 Freshmen Who Will Steal a Starting Spot in Fall Camp

Spring football is all but over in the Big Ten with only Iowa, Michigan State and Rutgers left to put their teams out for the public to see. One thing most watch for in spring ball is how the youngsters are looking, and in 2014, there is no shortage of impressive players already on campus from the freshman class. 

History tells us there will be plenty of freshmen who take off from their spring experiences and become starters once the games are for real. Last season, it was Christian Hackenberg (Penn State) and Sojourn Shelton (Wisconsin) to name just a couple of impressive performers. 

Who are the Hackenbergs and Sheltons in the Big Ten this year? If spring is any indication, there are plenty of open opportunities for players on campus and those yet to start their collegiate journey. 

Let's take a look at 10 freshmen who are likely to come out of fall camp as starters. 

 

*All recruiting information courtesy 247Sports.com.

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