NCAA Football

Young Ohio State Fan Asks Doctors If Heart Surgery Will Make Him a Michigan Fan

The rivalry between Ohio State and Michigan burns deep within fans of both sides, so much so that a young Buckeyes supporter had qualms about going under the knife for heart surgery.

Huh? Let the 10-year-old's mother explain, courtesy of Michigan's Health System blog:

As pediatric cardiologist Dr. Ronald Grifka showed 10-year-old Ivan Applin the wire-framed device that would be used to fix the holes in his heart, the Toledo fourth grader had just one burning concern.

"He asked if the Michigan doctors were going to make his heart love University of Michigan instead of Ohio State," his mother Jennifer laughs.

For a fourth-grade kid—or anyone, really—that's some serious fanhood. Upon looking at an apparatus that will go on his heart, little Ivan's biggest worry was about his beloved Buckeyes.

A word of advice to Ivan, though: If OSU quarterback Cardale Jones visits you, don't challenge him to a video game.

[Michigan Health Blogs, h/t SB Nation]

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Oregon Football: Depth Chart Analysis, Complete 2015 Preview and Predictions

For the second time in five years, Oregon spent the offseason looking back on a successful campaign but one that came up just short of the ultimate goal: a national championship. The Ducks' 42-20 loss to Ohio State in the title game in January made for an unsatisfying finish to an otherwise stellar 13-2 season.

But unlike after losing in the final moments to Auburn in the 2011 BCS championship game, the Ducks have to try to move forward with a very different team.

"It’s no secret there is a leadership void that must be filled at Oregon this fall," Ryan Thornburn of the Eugene Register-Guard wrote, noting the loss of starters on the offensive and defensive line in the secondary and most notably Heisman-winning quarterback Marcus Mariota.

Those departures have put an added emphasis on whether Oregon's "system" can continue to succeed even when so many significant pieces have changed from one year to the next. The offense has ranked in the top five every year since 2010, and during that span the defense has had 11 players taken in the NFL draft.

These losses, however, could be more significant than in the past.

Nevertheless, Oregon is still highly rated heading into the 2015 season, sitting at fifth in the Amway Coaches Poll and seventh in the Associated Press preseason ranking. The defending Pac-12 champions are also projected to win the North Division again, but conference media members have them losing to USC in the title game in December.

It will be far from a rebuilding year in Eugene, yet it also won't be one that's brimming with overconfidence.

Follow along as we take a detailed look at Oregon's 2015 team:

 

Coaches

The exact same staff members who were on the sidelines for last season's national title game at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas, will be wearing their school-issued polo shirts and khakis again this fall.

That shouldn't be a surprise. Oregon has traditionally had one of the most consistent sets of coaches in FBS, with five entering at least their 13th year with the program and four having logged more than 20 seasons.

Head coach Mark Helfrich is entering his third season in charge of Oregon, but he's been on staff since 2009. That's the same year current offensive coordinator Scott Frost joined the Ducks as receivers coach.

That coaching consistency will go a long way toward handling any issues that come with putting new starters in key roles such as quarterback and in the secondary, because the coaches handling those positions have been through such turnover several times before.

 

What to watch for on offense

Oregon's spread offense is as good as it gets in college football, having averaged more than 540 yards and 47 points per game over the past five seasons. The run-pass balance is exceptional, having produced a 2,500-yard passer and 1,000-yard rusher each year and having some of the most prolific dual-threat quarterbacks around.

The same is expected in 2015. We just don't know which quarterback will be putting up those numbers or whether it will be just one.

Mariota's jump to the NFL created a big opening for a new star to step in, and the Ducks have two great options: junior Jeff Lockie and senior Vernon Adams. Lockie served as Mariota's backup last season, while Adams starred for three years at Eastern Washington before joining the Ducks this summer.

Adams announced in February he was coming to Oregon, but because of unfinished classwork he didn't complete his degree (and thus wasn't able to immediately play as a graduate transfer) until Aug. 12 after passing a final class exam that had much of the college football world on the edge of its seat.

Many declared Adams the successor to Mariota months ago, based on the 5'11", 201-pounder's great numbers at the FCS level that included throwing for seven touchdowns in 2014 against Washington and accounted for 518 yards of total offense and six TDs in a 2013 upset of Oregon State. But Lockie took advantage of getting all of the first-team snaps during spring practice and showed he wasn't going to let Adams take the job without a fight.

As a result, Lockie appears to be the leader in the QB competition and in line to start Oregon's Sept. 5 opener against Adams' old team. No official decision has been made, however.

The rest of Oregon's offense also features an abundance of options, with the exception possibly being at running back. Sophomore Royce Freeman is firmly entrenched as the starter after setting a freshman school rushing record with 1,365 yards and 18 TDs a year ago, but after him there's uncertainty.

Thomas Tyner, who has run for 1,284 yards and 14 TDs in two seasons, is out for the year after needing shoulder surgery. This could lead to returning Byron Marshall (1,038 rushing yards, 14 TDs in 2013) to the backfield after he was Oregon's leading receiver last year, while freshmen Tony Brooks-James and Taj Griffin could also see significant action.

Oregon's receiving corps is also dealing with injuries to some key players from a year ago, but there are no shortage of weapons. That includes some first-year players from the Ducks' 16th-ranked recruiting class such as Malik Lovette, Kirk Merritt and Alex Ofodile, as well as junior Bralon Addison, who missed all of 2014 with a knee injury.

"Even with Darren Carrington facing a half-season suspension from the NCAA and both Devon Allen and tight end Pharaoh Brown recovering from knee surgeries, the Ducks are deepest at receiver," Andrew Greif of the Oregonian wrote.

The Ducks line battled through numerous injuries in 2014 but should still be this season, despite losing three starters. A healthy Tyler Johnstone at left tackle and the veteran play of Notre Dame grad transfer Matt Hegarty at center are huge boosts up front.

 

What to watch for on defense

Options abound all over for Oregon on the defensive side of the ball, but in most cases these are made up of mostly players who are getting rave reviews about their potential and promise rather than past performance. Six starters either graduated or turned pro, and many of those openings figure to be filled by players who didn't see much time in 2014.

There's thankfully at least one veteran returning at each level of the defense, led by defensive end DeForest Buckner. The 6'7", 290-pound senior led Oregon with 13 tackles for loss along with four sacks and 81 total tackles.

The linebacker corps is the most veteran unit on the Ducks' defense, with the quartet of seniors Tyson Coleman, Christian French, Rodney Hardrick combining for 40 starts a year ago. French, who was a reserve all year, led Oregon with 6.5 sacks.

It's a completely different story in the secondary, where safety Reggie Daniels stands. The junior had one interception last year—while departees Erick Dargan and Ifo Ekpre-Olomu had nine—and he'll be the veteran of a unit that might end up starting freshmen and sophomores at the other three spots.

 

What to watch for on special teams

Special teams haven't been a major strength for Oregon in recent years, though last season a solid punt return unit produced two touchdowns from Charles Nelson and a 12.89-yard average that ranked 12th in the country. Nelson should be back in that role again, as well as on kickoffs, while fellow receiver Bralon Addison figures to get a look as well.

The Ducks were one of the worst punting teams in the country in 2014, ranking 101st behind Ian Wheeler's 39.15 average. Then again, they only kicked it 47 times in 15 games, and with a tendency to go for it on fourth down, quite often there's not been much of a need for a great punting game.

Place kicking saw a major improvement last year in the form of freshman Aidan Schneider and sophomore Matt Wogan. The pair combined to make 18 of 21 field goals, the most for Oregon since 2008 when it required 27 attempts.

 

Injury news

Various projected starters and contributors have missed time here and there during training camp, but none of those injuries has risen to the level of where they will hinder a player from being ready for the regular season. All of Oregon's most notable injuries happened long ago and have lingered.

A shoulder injury sustained midway through the 2014 season caused running back Tyner to miss time, but he ended up starting the national title game against Ohio State. However, pain from that ailment never went away, and in early August he had surgery that put him on the shelf until 2016.

Allen injured his knee on a kickoff return in the Rose Bowl, and the receiver hasn't played since. Tight end Brown was hurt in a November win at Utah and almost needed to have his leg amputated as a result. Both hope to return at some point in 2015, though exactly when hasn't been determined.

 

X-factor

Even with uncertainty remaining at quarterback, Oregon's offense shouldn't pose a concern for anyone. Last year that unit showed that injuries on the offensive line and youth at the receiving corps couldn't slow it down, and similar questions to the 2015 offense figure to be answered with another set of scoreboard-abusing performances.

It's the Ducks' defense that might ultimately determine if they can return to the playoffs or have what would amount to a down year, which for Oregon might still result in 10 wins.

With that in mind, Helfrich recently labeled senior defensive end Buckner as the key to every positive that will happen for Oregon on that side of the ball.

"Ten guys can do their job perfectly, but DeForest Buckner is the ‘X’ factor and can just wreck shop and make a play," Helfrich said, per Ryan Kostecka of the Daily Emerald. "When one of your best guys is one of your best practice players, it means a ton."

Much like Mariota was to last year's team, Buckner is the player who will make or break this season for the Ducks.

 

2015 schedule

Oregon will again be involved in one of the biggest early-season nonconference games, making the return trip to East Lansing to face a Michigan State team it rallied to beat at home last September.

MSU is one of the most veteran teams in the country, with fifth-year senior starts at quarterback and on both the offensive and defensive line. The Spartans will serve as the first real test for whoever wins the Ducks' QB job.

After that, Oregon's schedule eases up for a long stretch, to the point that the team we see playing in various different uniform combinations over the final month of the season should be far more cohesive than the unit that's out there during the first month. From Sept. 19 through Oct. 17, the Ducks play five teams that combined to win 23 games last season, with the toughest foe (Utah) coming to Eugene for the Pac-12 opener Sept. 26.

Barring unexpected slip-ups in the middle of the year, the Ducks' season will come down to those final five games, a gauntlet that starts with a Thursday night trip to Arizona State and also includes a trip to Stanford for the annual de facto Pac-12 North title game. Oregon then finishes with a potential conference final preview against visiting USC before hosting Oregon State in the Civil War.

 

Prediction

Oregon has a streak of seven consecutive years with at least 10 victories, tied with Alabama for the longest active streak in FBS. This team is more than capable of added to that run, but it might require a bowl win to get there.

The early test at Michigan State will set the stage for the rest of the Ducks' season, particularly if the quarterback play in that game is uneven, but it won't dictate if they're playoff-worthy. Getting the defense to come together and improve on last year's No. 89 ranking will, though—they don't want to have to win shootouts all season.

If the light midsection of the 2015 schedule allows for growth and development, Oregon will be one of the most dangerous teams in the country down the stretch. But that doesn't necessarily mean it'll be able to beat everyone in the Pac-12, and winning the North Division isn't a certainty without a victory over Stanford.

 

Overall record: 9-3

Conference record: 6-2

 

All recruiting information courtesy of 247Sports. All statistics provided by CFBStats.com.

Follow Brian J. Pedersen on Twitter at @realBJP.

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Oregon Football: Depth Chart Analysis, Complete 2015 Preview and Predictions

For the second time in five years, Oregon spent the offseason looking back on a successful campaign but one that came up just short of the ultimate goal: a national championship...

Read the full article on Bleacher Report...

Michigan Football: Depth Chart Analysis, Complete 2015 Preview and Predictions

The University of Michigan football program is working to regain contender status, and the school believes new coach Jim Harbaugh is the man to guide the team back.

Following a disappointing 5-7 season, Michigan fired Brady Hoke and replaced him with Harbaugh, who played quarterback for the maize and blue in the mid-1980s. Harbaugh swiftly assembled an experienced and well-traveled staff, one that boasts 40 years of NFL coaching experience.

A strong returning defense gives the Wolverines hope to rebound in a big way after missing a bowl game for only the third time in the last four decades. However, Michigan's lackluster offense must improve dramatically while adapting to a new scheme.

Bleacher Report broke down everything worth knowing about the 2015 Wolverines in a complete season preview, capped by win-loss predictions from a collection of B/R analysts.

 

Coaches

Save for Greg Mattison, every single coach is occupying his position with the university for the first time. With that being said, there are a few ties to the school. Jim Harbaugh and Tyrone Wheatley donned the winged helmet, while Mattison, Kevin Tolbert and T.J. Weist have previously coached at Michigan.

Harbaugh helped San Diego become a respectable program, built Stanford into a powerhouse and coached the San Francisco 49ers to a Super Bowl appearance before returning to his alma mater.

The 51-year-old added longtime assistant Tim Drevno—who most recently coached at USC for one season—to help the Wolverines return to a run-focused system and Jedd Fisch, a terrific quarterbacks coach.

Tyrone Wheatley, the No. 5 rusher in Michigan history, Jay Harbaugh (tight ends) and Weist (senior analyst) round out the offensive staff.

Harbaugh retained defensive coordinator Mattison but shifted him to the D-line—a coaching job he held at U-of-M from 1992-96—and hired Florida's D.J. Durkin to replace Mattison. Greg Jackson and Michael Zordich lead the defensive backs.

John Baxter and Jay Harbaugh organize the special teams, while Tolbert handles strength and conditioning duties.

 

What to Watch for: Offense

Harbaugh and Co. have plenty to improve on the offensive side of the ball. Last season, Michigan ranked 111th in scoring (20.9 PPG), 64th in rushing (162.8 YPG), 112th in passing (170.2 YPG) and 115th in total offense (333.0 YPG).

Fortunately for the new staff, barring injury, the O-line is set. From left to right, Mason Cole, Ben Braden, Graham Glasgow, Kyle Kalis and Erik Magnuson will block for to-be-determined athletes. They combined for 47 starts in 2014.

At quarterback, it's a two-man battle between Iowa transfer Jake Rudock and junior Shane Morris, whose Michigan tenure hasn't exactly been sterling. Rudock seems to hold the edge since he protects the football, but Morris is still in contention for the job.

Rudock or Morris will hand off to a talented group of running backs, led by Derrick Green and returning leading rusher De'Veon Smith. USC transfer Ty Isaac is eligible after sitting out 2014 due to NCAA rules, while Drake Johnson could emerge as a No. 1 or 2 now that he's nearly recovered from an ACL injury.

Smith was the only one of the four who didn't miss offseason work due to injury, so he might have a small edge heading into the 2015 campaign. However, Green will likely overtake Smith in short order, and Johnson might cut into Green's carries later on this year.

Tight end Jake Butt and wide receiver Amara Darboh have locked up starting jobs, but two wideout spots remain up for grabs. Jehu Chesson figures to nail down the No. 2 wide receiver job, though Drake Harris is challenging, too. Freddy Canteen, Grant Perry and—to a lesser degree—Brian Cole are competing for the opening in the slot.

 

What to Watch for: Defense

Highlighted by a strong contingent of linebackers and defensive backs, the Wolverines' key to producing a surprising final record rests on their defense, the strength of the 2015 roster.

Michigan must replace leading tackler Jake Ryan, but linebacker Desmond Morgan is back after missing last season due to injury. Morgan joins Joe Bolden—who racked up 102 tackles—and James Ross III.

Cornerback Jourdan Lewis and safety Jarrod Wilson return, and highly touted 2014 recruit Jabrill Peppers will enter the lineup at free safety. Channing Stribling, Jeremy Clark and Stanford transfer Wayne Lyons are battling for the other cornerback slot.

When the Wolverines switch from Durkin's base 3-4 defense to the nickel, Peppers will slide into the Star position. Delano Hill is the favorite to replace Peppers at free safety in that situation.

"Every guy has certain strengths, and we don't try to fit everyone into one hole," Durkin said, per Mark Snyder of the Detroit Free Press. "Guys have their own way of doing things, and it's our job as coaches to evaluate what their strengths are and play to it, whether it's multiple in scheme or multiple in personnel."

 

Injury News

Bryan Mone, a sophomore defensive tackle who was expected to occupy a sizable role on the defensive line, sustained a broken ankle, per Scout.com's Andrew Gorringe.

According to Max Bultman on MLive.com, Darboh had a splint on his left pinky finger during Michigan's scrimmage last Saturday. Lewis, Canteen, Tyrone Wheatley Jr. and Patrick Kugler did not participate, either. Wilson and Mike McCray wore no-contact red jerseys.

Currently, it's unclear if anyone other than Mone will miss a significant portion of the season.

 

X-Factor

Michigan lacks playmakers on offense, so the best option might be utilizing a defender on occasion. That versatile player, of course, is Peppers.

The 6'2" talent spent time as a running back and receiver in high school, amassing 1,889 total yards and 23 touchdowns as a senior at Paramus Catholic (New Jersey). So, Harbaugh could utilize Peppers in a variety of fashions, which is exactly what Durkin can do on the opposite side of the ball, too.

According to Snyder, Durkin said he's communicating with defensive assistants about the places Peppers—who has questioned nothing—can be used.

"It's an ongoing discussion amongst the staff," Durkin said. "He's great about it. Whatever you ask him to do, he goes and does it, 100 miles an hour. Doesn't ask why or how or what about this. He just goes and does it and is very talented."

Additionally, Peppers can return kicks. It's safe to say that Peppers is the most important player to Michigan since he can impact the game in so many ways.

 

2015 Schedule

 

Make-or-Break Games

After opening the 2015 season at Utah, the Wolverines return to the Big House for three consecutive games that can set the tone for their year.

Oregon State shouldn't pose a massive problem, but the Beavers boast a few talented players at skill positions who will certainly test the Michigan defense. Dropping that matchup could open the floodgates for a dismal season.

Following a matchup with UNLV, the last outing of the homestand is opposite BYU. Taysom Hill, a dual-threat quarterback and Heisman hopeful, leads the Cougars. It's imperative the Wolverines topple both Oregon State and BYU, lest they enter Big Ten play needing to avoid a letdown simply to reach a bowl game.

After all, in addition to Maryland and Rutgers—two teams U-of-M fell to in 2014—Michigan State, Minnesota, Penn State and Ohio State remain on the schedule.

 

Prediction

First and foremost, Harbaugh needs to settle on a quarterback. That choice—whether it's Rudock or Morris—will dictate the course of the 2015 campaign.

Michigan heads to Utah for the season opener, which sets the tone for the brutal schedule Team 136 is preparing to face. Opening the year with a victory would be tremendously beneficial for the Wolverines, but make no mistake, the Utes are a difficult opponent.

Really, Harbaugh and Co. are only locked into a pair of victories against UNLV and Indiana. They'll likely be favored against Oregon State, Maryland, Northwestern and Rutgers—perhaps BYU and Penn State as well, depending on the direction the season takes.

  • Barrett Sallee: 8-4
  • Adam Kramer: 7-5
  • David Kenyon: 7-5
  • Michael Felder: 6-6

After 12 games, Michigan will be headed back to postseason play for a late-December bowl appearance.

Prediction: 7-5 (5-3 Big Ten)

 

All recruiting information via 247Sports. Stats from cfbstats.com. Quotes obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted. Follow Bleacher Report CFB Writer David Kenyon on Twitter @Kenyon19_BR.

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Will Connor Mitch Lead South Carolina to a Surprising SEC East Run?

Now that the dust has settled on the gridiron, it appears Connor Mitch has emerged as starting quarterback for the South Carolina Gamecocks.  Bleacher Report's college football analyst Barrett Sallee discusses if Mitch can be an X-factor for the Gamecocks to go on a run in the SEC.

Should Connor Mitch be the starter for the Gamecocks?  Tell us what you think in the comment section.  

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Centre College Football Team Pranks Quarterback During Practice

The Danville, Kentucky-based Centre College Colonels (Division III) know when it's time to play and when it's time to play around.

During a recent practice, the Colonels pulled the old "fall down at the snap" prank on quarterback Heath Haden. When everyone around him hit the ground, there was nothing Haden could do—so he punted the football.

This prank wasn't the only tomfoolery that the Centre College football team has been involved in recently. Colonels defensive line coach Jeff Collett got tased in front of the team to "boost morale."

The Colonels are the reigning Southern Athletic Association champions, so they know what they are doing.

[Centre College Football, @TheBuzzer]

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Hits and Misses from 2015 Preseason Coaches All-SEC Team

While the barrage of watch lists and all-conference squads ended last month, the coaches of the SEC play by their own rules.

On Tuesday, the conference unveiled its three coaches' All-SEC teams, which were voted on by the league's 14 head men.

Alabama and LSU led the way with 10 selections each, while every team in the SEC boasted at least a pair of players on the trio of squads.

The coaches' teams, as usual, differed in a few ways from the ones those who cover the conference put out at SEC media days. Most of the conference's stars made the first team, but a few who were higher up in the eyes of the media slid down a few spots—or out of the three teams altogether.

Here are some notable hits and misses from the coaches All-SEC teams. Sound off on how the ones in the headsets voted in the comments below.

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Notre Dame Stadium Renovations: Latest Details, Drawings, Comments

Notre Dame Stadium will undergo renovations to revamp the historic venue, with an emphasis on modernity and video presentation.

Continue for updates.

Notre Dame Announces Stadium Renovation Plans Tuesday, Aug. 25

Only 11 days remain until the Fighting Irish kick off their 2015 football season in South Bend against Texas, but Notre Dame has indicated its football stadium will undergo upgrades in advance of the 2017 campaign.

According to Fox 28's James Fegan, Notre Dame will add a video board in the south end zone, a vantage point in the stands that's been criticized for being too far away from the action. That is the most notable change coming as the venue that opened in 1930 becomes more contemporary.

Athletic director Jack Swarbrick spoke about the impending changes, expected to be completed by August 2017, per ESPN's Matt Fortuna.

"We are confident the introduction of video will significantly improve enjoyment of every aspect of a game at Notre Dame Stadium—including the ability to support game-day introductions and presentations with video elements, additional opportunities to promote the University, plus replays," Swarbrick stated.

Dan Wolken of USA Today reacted to Tuesday's developments:

Video boards will be installed in other areas of the stadium beyond the big board going in the south end zone. The wooden benches are going to be replaced with vinyl-clad seats as well to make fans comfortable and likely enhance the game-going experience.

Other alterations to support that theme include renovations on restrooms and concession stands. The upper and lower concourses are to be enhanced along with the venue's sound system.

Tuesday's announcement falls in line with the recent push to update Notre Dame Stadium, which installed artificial turf a year ago. Until construction begins on these impending modifications, Irish fans will continue attending in droves to support one of college football's richest traditions. 

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Texas Football: How Longhorns Can Turn 2016 Recruiting Class Around

Of the 191 teams included in 247Sports' team recruiting rankings for the Class of 2016, the University of Texas currently ranks 53rd.

That's one spot ahead of an SMU team that won one game last season, 35 spots behind the Big 12 leader in the rankings (No. 18 TCU), 25 spots behind one rival in No. 28 Texas A&M and two spots behind another in No. 51 Oklahoma.

Of the top 75 ranked teams, only three—Texas, Georgia Tech and Pittsburgh—feature a class without double-digit recruits thus far. Pittsburgh has nine commits, while Texas and Georgia Tech each have eight.

In short, things must change for the Longhorns on the recruiting front.

Fortunately for Texas fans, there is still plenty of time to make moves in the 2016 class—and there are more than enough quality athletes to land in and out of the state to quickly give Charlie Strong's new class added weight.

Texas is the primary example of the recruiting process being a marathon and not a sprint. It's in a good position to turn eight commits into 12, 15 or even 20 in a short amount of time.

Upcoming official visits—those already set and those in the works—will play a huge role from September through January.

In the quantity-vs.-quality battle, the Longhorns are struggling with landing numbers. From a quality standpoint, the team has offensive firepower in quarterback Shane Buechele and wide receivers Tren'Davian Dickson, Collin Johnson and Reggie Hemphill-Mapps.

Texas also has a 3-star defensive tackle in Gerald Wilbon, whom the coaching staff is very high on.

Still, the Longhorns' 2016 class is looking for that run of commitments that will help it compete for a top-15 or top-20 national finish in February. Texas' target list is strong, as 5-star athletes such as offensive tackle Greg Little and safety Brandon Jones are still available and interested in playing in Austin.

Landing the nation's top-ranked tackle and safety would jumpstart Texas' class without question. Adding 4-star athletes like wide receiver Devin Duvernay, offensive tackle Jean Delance and running back Devwah Whaley would give the offense major expectations for the future.

And there's still a chance the Longhorns could flip LSU 4-star receiver commit Dee Anderson.

Texas is looking to improve on offense, but the defensive side of the ball arguably is the primary target area for this class. Along with Jones, the secondary would benefit from 4-stars Deontay Anderson and Christian Wallace playing safety and also lining up in man-to-man coverage.

Wilbon is Texas' only defensive lineman committed so far. Strong and his staff are hoping to somehow sway the No. 1 player in Arkansas in defensive end McTelvin Agim, who has Arkansas, Baylor, Ole Miss and Texas A&M in his top four. He is scheduled to announce on Sept. 5.

Working in the 11th hour is something Strong has been known to do, which is why nothing is out of the picture with athletes the Longhorns are recruiting.

If Agim is unavailable, then there are still a handful of defensive prospects available.

Longhorns freshman Malik Jefferson has targeted the 4-star linebacker duo of Jeffrey McCulloch and Dontavious Jackson from a player-recruit standpoint.

While there are those who feel defensive end Justin Madubuike is leaning toward ultimately choosing Texas A&M, you can believe the defensive coaching staff in Austin is doing its part to sway the 4-star talent for when it's time to sign in February.

And let's not forget that there are out-of-state athletes willing to play for Strong. Wilbon and linebacker Shemar Smith will travel from Louisiana and Florida, respectively, to take scheduled official visits in late September.

Strong has excellent ties in the state of Florida, and 4-star receiver Darnell Salomon has expressed his interest in the Longhorns multiple times. One player Texas is hoping to impress and lure is 4-star defensive end Brian Burns, who picked up an offer in late May and has been doing research on the program since.

As the Longhorns prepare for the 2015 season, the month of September will be huge regarding the momentum of their 2016 recruiting class. Targets will be monitoring how the team opens the season and handles itself with a competitive schedule.

Landing a couple of big prospects in the next few weeks could lead to the Longhorns finishing somewhere close to where they finished last year. Texas ranked ninth nationally with its 2015 class.

The challenge right now is finding that spark to have similar success with this year's senior class.

 

Damon Sayles is a National Recruiting Analyst for Bleacher Report. All player ratings and information courtesy of 247Sports. Follow Damon via Twitter @DamonSayles.

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Connor Mitch Named South Carolina's Starting QB over Perry Orth

Head coach Steve Spurrier announced on Tuesday that Connor Mitch will be the team's starting quarterback for the opening game against North Carolina, according to David Cloninger of GoGamecocks.com.

The redshirt sophomore appeared in just two games last season, completing two of six passes for 19 yards. He beat out Perry Orth and Michael Scarnecchia, who were also vying for the starting job and apparently made the decision difficult for Spurrier, who waited well through the summer to make one. 

Combined, the three quarterbacks have attempted nine passes in their collegiate careers. Heading into the season, the player with the most pass attempts was wide receiver Pharoh Cooper with 11, so the Gamecocks were always going to have an inexperienced quarterback calling the shots.

Mitch is likely to concede at least some snaps to talented freshman Lorenzo Nunez, however. Nunez is a dangerous running threat and will likely have certain packages built around his skill set this season, and Spurrier already confirmed he'll play some role in the offense this season, via David Caraviello of the Post and Courier.

But Mitch was always the favorite to win this gig, and now he'll have to prove he can replace last year's starter, Dylan Thompson, as South Carolina looks to win the always-stacked SEC. Going from the accomplished Thompson to the relatively inexperienced Mitch will certainly be a major adjustment for the program.

 

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Florida Football: Depth Chart Analysis, Complete 2015 Preview and Predictions

The Jim McElwain era at Florida is about to begin in earnest. With it comes new hope that the Gators can get back to the glory days they most recently experienced under former coach Urban Meyer

There's work to be done, however, especially on the offensive side of the ball. A quarterback battle, a thin and inexperienced offensive line and the need for more playmakers at wide receiver means McElwain and Co. will earn their paychecks this year. 

The cupboard is not completely bare, however. And with an SEC East division that, once again, figures to be wide open, there's a chance for Florida to pull off some big wins right away. 

Below is the complete 2015 Florida Gators preview, where we break down the offense, defense, schedule and much, much more. 

 

Coaches

McElwain's staff, as you'd expect, is almost completely brand new. All but one member, offensive line coach Mike Summers, are in their first year with the Gators under McElwain. However, McElwain's coaching staff is heavy on SEC experience. Geoff Collins, Kirk Callahan, Greg Nord, Doug Nussmeier, Chris Rumph and Randy Shannon have each coached at least one year at an SEC school. 

That's McElwain's M.O.: build a staff with heavy recruiting ties to the area. It's what he did at Colorado State, and it's what he's doing now at Florida. Only Tim Skipper and strength and conditioning coach Mike Kent—and head coaches often prefer their own strength and conditioning guy—came to Gainesville from Colorado State. 

It's a solid staff, overall. Nussmeier lasted only one year at Michigan in the final days of the Brady Hoke experiment but previously had successful stints at Alabama, Washington and Fresno State. Nussmeier, in fact, succeeded McElwain as the play-caller in Tuscaloosa and with Fresno. 

Collins comes to Florida after four years with Mississippi State—the first two as a co-defensive coordinator and the final two as the sole play-caller for the Bulldogs defense. 

But perhaps the biggest assistant coaching hire was Shannon, the former head coach at Miami (FL). Shannon's resume as a defensive assistant is a lengthy one, and he's one of the top recruiters in all of college football. As B/R colleague Tyler Donohue wrote in February, Shannon's roots in south Florida should pay dividends for the Gators long term. 

 

What to Watch on Offense

This is easily where a majority of the questions lie, and the lack of an official depth chart from Florida shows just how fluid the situation is. 

Let's start with the quarterback spot because, well, why not? Redshirt freshman Will Grier and sophomore Treon Harris have been in a tight battle throughout the entire offseason, and there doesn't appear to be any major separation between the two just weeks ahead of the season. As such, McElwain says he's prepared to use both players in Week 1 against New Mexico State. 

"Those two guys are progressing," McElwain said via Edgar Thompson of the Orlando Sentinel. "No clear separation yet. And that's OK. That's alright. They're competing. They're working." 

There's also the matter of who's going to block for the quarterbacks. Depth along the offensive line isn't as dire as it was in the spring, but it's not ideal, either. True freshman Martez Ivey figures to see plenty of time at tackle if he's not on track to start. This is an inexperienced and thin group that will be thrown into the fire early. As of mid-August, few, if any, positions have been locked down as McElwain tries to find the five best guys

At receiver, the Gators need a complement to Demarcus Robinson, who caught more than twice as many passes (53) as the next-leading player in 2014. Brandon Powell's full-time transition to receiver has him lining up in the slot, and big things are expected of him this year. Can he be that No. 2 guy? Or will someone else step up at the other outside receiver spot? 

Outside of Robinson, no other returning receiver caught more than 15 passes a year ago, so there's sizable room to grow. Ahmad Fulwood and C.J. Worton are some of the names to keep an eye on here. 

 

What to Watch on Defense

Defense figures to be the strength of the Gators in 2015 and probably the side of the ball that will win games. However, the defense lost a major star in edge-rusher Dante Fowler Jr., who departed for the NFL.  

Florida does return a few key components, namely cornerback Vernon Hargreaves, an All-SEC and All-American player. Hargreaves is the cornerstone for what should be an outstanding, if not slightly under-appreciated, secondary. Jalen Tabor and Brian Poole won't get the attention that Hargreaves does, but they're every bit as important. Tabor specifically was a freshman All-SEC selection in 2014 and had one of the highlight interceptions of the season against Vanderbilt: 

Up front, the Gators should have a nice edge-rushing duo with Jonathan Bullard and CeCe Jefferson—the latter of whom was a heralded member of the 2015 recruiting class. Jefferson may not "start" or play every down, but the coaching staff is going to get him on the field in passing situations to take advantage of his athleticism. Nick de la Torre of Gator Country explains: 

"Jefferson will be used in a role similar to what Ronald Powell and Dante Fowler were used as freshmen. Jefferson will be used primarily on passing downs where the playbook for his position is simple; get to the quarterback quickly. As he learns and grows, that role with expand."

Beyond Hargreaves, there isn't a ton of star power on the defense—but don't confuse that with any negative connotation. The Gators are thriving with young talents who should emerge as major playmakers over the next two to three years. 

However, the defense is also missing its key middle linebacker. Speaking of which... 

 

Injury News

Antonio Morrison is still recovering from a severe knee injury he sustained in last season's Birmingham Bowl. He's had surgery on the knee twice and has been limited to no-contact work in practice. Ideally, Morrison will be able to play at some point this year, but McElwain isn't sure when—if at all. 

"It's too early to say if he'll play. The fact he'll be out there is short of a miracle based on that knee," McElwain said via Robbie Andreu of GatorSports.com. "A credit to how hard he has worked to be part of this family, and I just can't tell you how good that makes us all feel."

Jarrad Davis and Alex Anzalone are two of the players competing for reps in Morrison's absence. With the way Florida's defense is set up, there should be enough depth to account for the injury. 

"We may have two middle linebackers that may be the best two guys on the field," Shannon said via Scott Carter of GatorZone.com (h/t Fox Sports). "We have to play them. It may be two outside linebackers who are the best guys. We may have three linebackers in the game who are all weak-side linebackers. Whoever the best guys are at that point in time, that's who we're going to have to play."

 

X-Factor

There are so many questions that have yet to be answered for the offense, but one of the few steady components is running back Kelvin Taylor. The second-leading rusher a year ago now becomes the primary back with the departure of Matt Jones. Furthermore, the transfer of Adam Lane means there's even more pressure on Taylor to be the legitimate bell-cow running back. Freshman Jordan Scarlett will likely serve as a complementary runner, but this is undoubtedly Taylor's ground attack.

With a new quarterback and a thin offensive line, Taylor will be asked to do a lot in 2015. If Florida can move the chains consistently, it'll be in large part because of him.  

 

2015 Schedule

 

Make-or-Break Games

The month-long stretch from late September to late October is a critical time for Florida. In that span, the Gators play Tennessee on the road, Ole Miss, Missouri on the road, LSU on the road and Georgia. 

Yeesh. 

Make no mistake, early matches against East Carolina and a rising Kentucky program won't be gimmes—not the way Florida has played over the past few years. But that midseason stretch is going to tell us a lot about this Gators team and what McElwain has to work with. 

Can the offense establish a starting quarterback? Can the offensive line come together by this point in the season? These will be some of the questions that will likely be answered by this time. With any luck, McElwain will come away with positive answers. 

Otherwise, fighting for bowl eligibility could very well be the case come November. 

 

Prediction

Despite the numerous question marks on offense, Florida gets off to a 3-0 start. But remember that key stretch in the middle of the year? It proves to be every bit the headache it looked to be on paper, and the Gators go 1-4 during that five-game run. 

The good news is Vanderbilt and Florida Atlantic alone are enough to get Florida back to a bowl game. The offensive line won't get any deeper—on the contrary, it could have depth issues again if injuries pile up—but I like Grier to get things done at quarterback and for one more receiver to emerge alongside Robinson. 

Winning games with defense means things won't always be pretty for Florida, but it could still be effective. It might even be enough to take a game Florida isn't supposed to win. 

Overall Record: 7-5

Conference Record: 4-4

 

Ben Kercheval is a lead writer for college football. All quotes cited unless obtained firsthand.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Alabama Football: Depth Chart Analysis, Complete 2015 Preview and Predictions

TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — The University of Alabama football program won a title last season, two actually.

You wouldn’t know it by the way everyone has talked about the Crimson Tide since—media, fans, even students. If it was another sport, Alabama could raise banners for the Southeastern Conference’s West Division and the league championship, yet most consider 2014 to have been a down year due to the way it ended in the inaugural playoffs.

“I look at the ring every now and then, but it doesn’t feel like we even won,” senior center Ryan Kelly said. “It doesn’t. At the time it was an awesome feeling. We get the chance to play Ohio State.

“After we lost to Ohio State, I just, all that season was for nothing.”

That was rallying point throughout the offseason, with constant reminders that last year’s defense wasn’t good enough, nor the team’s finish, at least by Alabama’s standards under Nick Saban.

“We’re not allowed to have a bad season, because the fans will let you know when you’re playing badly,” senior linebacker Reggie Ragland said. “We have to have the right mindset at all times because the players that came before us instilled something that we have to keep finishing and keep going on.”

Alabama certainly has the talent to do so. Among the 85 scholarship players this summer, 18 had been rated by 247Sports to be 5-star prospects as recruits, with 47 4-star players. Combined, that’s 76 percent of the roster, meaning this team is arguably as talented and loaded as any Saban’s ever had.

 

Coaches

Saban is back for his ninth season at Alabama, which is nearly twice as long as anywhere else he’s coached, and he’ll turn 64 this fall, specifically on Halloween when the team is enjoying its bye.

Due to make more than $7 million this year, Saban’s the highest-paid coach in college football, and for once there appears to be no one looming to trying and pry him away or talk of a potential return to the National Football League.

Also back are both coordinators. Defensive coordinator Kirby Smart is looking for a bounce-back season while Lane Kiffin returned for what he called his “sophomore” year under Saban.

“There’s still so many things to learn from Coach,” the offensive coordinator said.

While Alabama can no longer claim to have five coaches on the staff with head coaching experience, as linebackers coach Kevin Steele left to be LSU’s defensive coordinator, it instead added a big-time NFL presence with Mel Tucker overseeing the defensive backs.

He spent the last two seasons as the defensive coordinator for the Chicago Bears and before that had the same position with the Jacksonville Jaguars (2009-12) and Cleveland Browns (2008). Saban gave him his coaching start as a graduate assistant at Michigan State (1997-98), and Tucker was his secondary coach at LSU (2000).

“Mel does a great job with the kids. He has a great demeanor. Kids really respect him. They know he’s got a lot of NFL experience,” Smart said. “When you turn on a clip of an NFL drill, eyes pop open a little more.”

Alabama’s other coaching move was to promote Tosh Lupoi to outside linebackers coach, a position he had previously held at California and Washington.

"Coach Tosh, he's energetic every day,” senior linebacker Denzel Devall said. “There's not a dull moment. He preaches on doing the right thing every play, looking at the right stuff, eyes at the right thing. Great hand placement. He's a technician. Effort, energetic guy, you know. I don't think I've ever seen him down. Just a great coach."

 

What to watch for on offense

Note: Alabama’s official offensive depth chart won’t be released until next week

Losing nine starters would mean disaster for most offenses, but Alabama’s style of play will likely lead to a bigger decrease in its statistics than the turnover in personnel.

With the quarterback competition possibly continuing into the regular season and the offensive line looking like it could be Alabama’s best in years, a bigger emphasis on ball control and the running game is expected.

“Obviously we want to be tough and physical and run the ball,” Kiffin said.

That begins with junior running back Derrick Henry, who ended up leading the Crimson Tide in rushing last season despite not being the starter.

Listed as 6’3”, 242 pounds, he’s physically similar to Eddie George when he played at Ohio State. At Yulee High School in Florida, he broke Ken Hall's 51-year-old national rushing record with 12,124 yards after rushing for 4,261 as a senior in 2012.

He’s gone from being a monster of a prospect to playing in 26 career games, for 1,372 career rushing yards (6.6 average per carry) and 17 touchdowns, with six receptions for 194 yards and three more scores.

Complementing him is senior Kenyan Drake, whom Kiffin has described as a Reggie Bush-type player. Alabama will line him up at running back and out wide to exploit mismatches in coverage.

“He has so many things that he does well,” Saban said. “He has great speed. He has very good running skills and running instincts, but he's a fantastic receiver.”

Although there’s obviously no replacing a wide receiver like Amari Cooper, who set numerous school records last season, ArDarius Stewart will be the primary wide receiver. Coaches hope that sophomore Robert Foster and junior tight end O.J. Howard have breakout seasons, but fans should also keep an eye out for promising true freshman receiver Calvin Ridley.

 

What to watch for on defense

Note: Alabama’s official defensive depth chart won’t be released until next week 

Led by its front seven, which returned nearly intact, Alabama’s defense hopes to draw comparison to the 2011 unit that led the nation in all four major statistical categories (total, scoring, rushing and pass-efficiency defense).

"That defensive line is a beast," Henry said. "You've got four or five big guys who dominate every play and give it their all every play, and that's all you can ask from the defensive line.”

Last season, Jarran Reed led the line with 55 tackles, which was the second most by a lineman during the Saban era (Wallace Gilberry in 2007). Thanks to a 15-tackle tally against LSU, which tied former middle linebacker Rolando McClain (vs. Auburn 2007 and Tulane 2008), for the most by an Alabama player under Saban, he edged out A’Shawn Robinson’s 49.

A preseason All-SEC selection, Robinson was once described by Senior Bowl director Phil Savage as a “man-child.” At the other end spot, Jonathan Allen has 49 career tackles with 14.5 tackles for loss and six sacks. An All-SEC selection by media last season, he’s already made 25 starts heading into his junior season. In 2014, he was second in team sacks with 5.5 and had seven hurries.

Meanwhile, Ragland might be the favorite for the Butkus Award after being a semifinalist last season.

“He's been one of our best playmakers on defense and been one of our most productive players,” Saban said of the unit’s anticipated leader—not just for the linebackers, but the entire defense.

Adding to Alabama’s optimism is that after having issues at cornerback during the past couple of seasons, not only does the Crimson Tide have quality starters there but depth.

Senior Cyrus Jones was named preseason All-SEC while Marlon Humphrey, Tony Brown and Minkah Fitzpatrick hope to start Alabama’s next wave of first-round draft picks among defensive backs similar to Mark Barron, Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, Kareem Jackson, Dre Kirkpatrick and Dee Milliner.

With coaches using converted cornerbacks Eddie Jackson and Geno Smith at safety, they figure to get a little more help on the edges as well. If so, Alabama should meet its targeted areas for improvement: turnovers, big plays and third-down defense.

  

Injury news

For the most part, Alabama emerged from training camp relatively unscathed in terms of major injuries.

Most notable were a toe injury that cost Coker three days during the heart of camp and a sprained knee to sophomore left tackle Cam Robinson.

“The injury wasn’t serious,” Robinson said. “It just scared me. It wasn’t that big of a deal.”

Although coming out of the spring the biggest concern was the health and depth of the running backs, that changed during training camp to the wide receivers. Junior Chris Black (ankle) and sophomore Robert Foster (sprained knee) both suffered camp injuries, sophomore Cam Sims (ACL) has only recently started practicing and junior Raheem Falkins (leg) is still out.

At running back, senior Kenyan Drake was already coming off last season’s fractured leg and dislocated ankle only to be limited by a hamstring issue during camp. Freshman Bo Scarbrough is coming off a spring knee injury but will be out four games anyway while serving an eligibility suspension in September.

Otherwise, coaches have been cautious with the running backs to try to keep them as fresh as possible entering the season.

At cornerback, Brown (shoulder) and Humphrey (pulled muscle) have been playing through injuries, while offensive tackles Dominick Jackson (shoulder) and Korren Kirven (sprained knee) are expected to be out a few days this week.

  

X-factor

Alabama’s pack mentality with the defense goes far beyond the players who will be listed as starters, especially with the pass rush. The Crimson Tide have 14 players who were in on a sack in 2014 and all but one of them is back looking for more.

“We have a lot of guys who can contribute,” Ragland said.

While Devall, Ryan Anderson and versatile Dillon Lee figure to be Alabama’s primary outside linebackers, behind them is a bunch of young fast “quick-twitch” players, including sophomore Rashaan Evans, redshirt freshman Christian Miller and junior Tim Williams. All could be poised for a breakout season.

“They always go out there and are always doing 110 percent, flying around, doing everything they can,” Lee said about his talented understudies. “We have people breaking on the ball really fast and are disruptive.”

Ragland believes Williams has the speed and size to top Xzavier Dickson’s nine sacks and 12.5 tackles for a loss last season and maybe even lead the nation in sacks if he’s hungry enough.

Although fans shouldn’t expect Alabama to match the numbers that Saban’s teams posted at Michigan State (for example, the 1999 team notched 60 sacks and 119 tackles for a loss), getting more pressure on the quarterback has been a priority and reflected in the latest staff additions of defensive line coach Bo Davis, Tucker and Lupoi.

Before serving as an Alabama analyst last season Lupoi was at Washington, which ranked fourth nationally in sacks per game (3.15) in 2013. One of his former players, outside linebacker Hau’oli Kikaha, led college football with 19 sacks in 2014. 

“What he brings to pass rushing and disrupting the pocket is really unbelievable,” Lee said. “Always aggressive.” 

 

2015 schedule 

 

Make-or-break games

There are two necessary elements in order to have what’s called a “trap” game: an overlooked opponent aided by timing.

Alabama doesn’t have to worry about that this season because there really aren’t any opponents to overlook. The schedule is that difficult and widely called the toughest in college football.

Going by the preseason Associated Press Poll, the Crimson Tide are slated to face seven different teams that were in the Top 25, in addition to the top two vote-getters among teams not ranked, Mississippi State and Texas A&M. Should they move up, Alabama could be looking at facing nine ranked teams plus potentially playing another in the SEC Championship Game.

Last year, Ohio State faced one ranked opponent during the regular season followed by three more at the end—in the Big Ten title game, the Sugar Bowl and the national championship. The total of four marked the fewest ranked teams a national champion had faced since Texas in 2005.

The record for most ranked opponents faced by a national champion is eight, LSU in 2007. So for Alabama to win the crown this season, it might have to accomplish something that’s never been done in the history of college football.

Nevertheless, Alabama’s schedule is so brutal that no one has to hear a player say they’re going to take it one game at a time because there’s really no other way to approach it.

Alabama opens in the marquee game of Week 1 against Wisconsin in the 2015 AdvoCare Classic at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas, and two weeks later gets a rematch with the only team that defeated it during the 2014 regular season, Ole Miss.

Things get tougher in October when the Crimson Tide could face four straight ranked opponents: at Georgia, Arkansas, at Texas A&M and Tennessee. November features the usual onslaught of LSU, at Mississippi State (which Alabama knocked from No. 1 last year) and finally at Auburn, which could again determine the division title.

As Saban would say, “It is what it is,” but there’s no doubt that the Crimson Tide will be tested.

 

Prediction

If Alabama doesn’t have its toughest schedule in program history, it’s definitely on the short list. If it makes the SEC Championship Game, it will probably have played 10 teams that were ranked at some point.

Saban has only had one undefeated team, the 2009 national champions, and the turnover on offense paired with the uncertainly at quarterback makes another unlikely. Yet a strong defense and running game alone make Alabama a strong contender assuming it can avoid key injuries.

If Alabama can get through the regular season with just one loss, it’ll be a shoe-in for the playoffs. The guess here is that it’ll lose two but still represent the West Division in Atlanta, where a win would earn a spot in football’s version of the Final Four.

Overall record: 10-2

League record: 6-2

  

Quotes were obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted.

Christopher Walsh is a lead SEC college football writer. Follow Christopher on Twitter @WritingWalsh.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Auburn Football: Depth-Chart Analysis, Complete 2015 Preview and Predictions

After exceeding all expectations in 2013 and making it to the national championship game, Auburn entered 2014 with a No. 6 preseason AP poll ranking and huge amounts of title hype.

Auburn fell well short of that mark, going 8-5 last season and dropping four of its last five games.

One would probably expect Auburn to start the ensuing campaign with tempered projections, especially with new starters at quarterback, running back, wide receiver, tight end, H-back, center, offensive guard, defensive tackle, defensive end, cornerback and safety.

But this is Auburn under Gus Malzahn, where average expectations are routinely ignored. 

Auburn will enter the 2015 season against Louisville in the Georgia Dome with the same No. 6 preseason ranking and some media picks to clinch a spot in the second College Football Playoff. Malzahn's explosive offense is set to take a different kind of look this fall, while the defense is making a high-profile transition to new leadership.

Less than two weeks away from the kickoff of the new season, here is Bleacher Report's complete preview of Auburn's biggest names and games for 2015.

 

Coaches

While Malzahn's offensive coaching staff stays intact for a third straight season, the major headline of the offseason was the change of command on defense.

In fact, the biggest change happened even before the Tigers closed the 2014 season. Malzahn fired Ellis Johnson and hired former Florida head coach and Auburn assistant Will Muschamp.

Since Muschamp's first full season as the defensive coordinator at Texas—the job he took right after he left Auburn—his defenses have all finished in the top 10 nationally. By comparison, Auburn's best performance in that timespan came in the national championship year of 2010, when the Tigers ranked 60th in total defense.

Needless to say, the expectations are extremely high for the fiery Muschamp.

"In my opinion, [Muschamp is] the best defensive mind in all of football, not just college football," Malzahn said at SEC media days in June. "Our defensive players have taken on his personality, which I really like."

Auburn retained Rodney Garner as associate head coach and defensive line coach after the transition to Muschamp, but the rest of his defensive staff is brand-new to the Plains this season.

Travaris Robinson, who played at Auburn from 1999 to 2002, was Muschamp's defensive backs coach at Florida. He immediately helped flip several defensive back recruits from his native South Florida and will be tasked with bringing new life to a thin secondary.

Then there's Lance Thompson, who was an ace recruiter for Nick Saban at Alabama. Thompson has ties to Muschamp from their days under Saban at LSU, and he brings a tremendous amount of experience from coaching and playing in the SEC.

"I'm very excited about our staff," Malzahn said at SEC media days, per Jim Kleinpeter of NOLA.com. "I would put this staff against any in college football, not just being great coaches, but great examples for our players, which is the most important thing for me."

 

What to watch for on offense

(Note: Both depth charts are based on the latest fall-camp projections from James Crepea of AL.com.)

While several SEC schools enter the 2015 season with uncertainty at quarterback, Auburn is supremely confident in its replacement for Nick Marshall: Jeremy Johnson, who almost beat Marshall out for the starting job back in 2013.

The 6'5" passer has had two seasons of preparation behind Marshall, and his efficiency in the limited work he's had as a freshman and sophomore has been nothing short of impressive. Johnson's career completion rate is a sparkling 73.2 percent, and he has a touchdown-to-interception ratio of nine to two.

"Yeah, he definitely is [as good as the hype]," wide receiver Ricardo Louis told Brandon Marcello of AL.com. "I've seen him make some throws that I've never seen any quarterback make, right on the money every time. He's consistent; that's what makes him better than most of the quarterbacks I've seen."

Auburn's offense will undoubtedly look different with Johnson at the helm instead of Marshall. While Johnson's rushing abilities have been undervalued heavily this offseason, his pocket presence is his best weapon, so Malzahn may go back to more of his passing roots this fall.

The Tigers have quite a fluid situation at receiver heading into the season. Star wideout D'haquille "Duke" Williams, who surprisingly stayed at Auburn after a bowl game suspension last year, missed several days of practice because of an undisclosed "discipline issue."

Williams' time away from the team—and continued practice time with the reserves as part of his punishment—could be a blessing in disguise for the rest of Auburn's wideouts. The offense needs to find a true No. 2 weapon alongside Williams out of Louis, Marcus Davis, Melvin Ray and several other reserves.

When the Tigers keep it on the ground, they'll have several highly touted players to choose from.

Auburn has had the SEC's leading rusher in back-to-back seasons. JUCO stud Jovon Robinson and star sophomore Roc Thomas look like the top candidates to take those spots for Auburn. Robinson is beginning to flash more of his elite all-around skill set after a slow start in fall camp, while Thomas has made an effort to become more of a complete north-south rusher.

The two former 5-stars will be backed up by sophomore Peyton Barber, who fits the mold of the powerful 3rd-and-short back and has the potential to be a surprise weapon this fall. Kerryon Johnson, Auburn's third straight Mr. Football winner from the state of Alabama, could be used as a speedy weapon in both the passing and rushing attacks.

The important H-back role will most likely be played by freshman Kamryn Pettway, who has received rave reviews in fall camp. The more traditional tight end is stocked with unproven youth, too, in Chandler Cod, Chris Laye and Jalen Harris.

Auburn's offensive line should be a strength once again amid all the question marks across the depth chart.

The Tigers return tackles Shon Coleman and Avery Young while welcoming back Alex Kozan to the left guard spot. The former freshman All-American missed all of 2014 after offseason back surgery.

Center will be taken by either Ole Miss transfer Austin Golson or senior Xavier Dampeer, who backed up four-year starter Reese Dismukes last season. The other guard spot will be manned by sophomore Braden Smith, whose freakish strength gave Auburn considerable depth last season.

"You can't have enough depth on the offensive line," Malzahn said last week, per Matthew Stevens of the Montgomery Advertiser. "We have as much depth, maybe more than the five previous seasons I've been here."

 

What to watch for on defense

Muschamp's first year with the Auburn defense has plenty of potential, as several veterans who have enjoyed some individual success are back for another season.

But as a whole, the Tigers have struggled mightily with limiting big plays and, especially in 2014, getting into opponents' backfields.

The latter issue will be addressed with the return of sophomore Carl Lawson, who looks stronger and faster after missing the entire 2014 season with an ACL injury and surgery. He excelled opposite Dee Ford in his true freshman season and will take over the pass-rushing specialist role in Muschamp's defense at "Buck."

"[Lawson's return] helps a lot because last year we needed some pass rush, and we didn't have that," junior defensive tackle Montravius Adams said, according to Alex Scarborough of ESPN.com. "Having everybody back, everybody pretty healthy, it's going to force people to free up somebody."

Adams will lead the traditional defensive line roles this fall. The versatile junior led all defensive linemen in tackles for loss and has the ability to line up at end. Senior DaVonte Lambert is set to take over an end spot, while redshirt freshman Dontavius Russell wowed coaches and teammates during the preseason at tackle.

Byron Cowart, one of the nation's top recruits in the class of 2015, could emerge as a starter by the middle of the season. His pass-rushing potential makes him and Lawson a dream pairing on the edges.

At linebacker, Auburn has two senior leaders in Cassanova McKinzy and Kris Frost. The two will enter their third straight season as starters, giving Auburn one of the best linebacking duos in the SEC.

"McKinzy and Frost will be expected to start every game and be the nucleus of a defense in transition under coordinator Will Muschamp," Crepea wrote earlier this month. "Since Muschamp is coaching the inside linebackers, there will be no group better school in his ways than his senior LBs."

The current leader for the third linebacker spot is JaViere Mitchell, as senior Justin Garrett has taken reps inside at middle linebacker during fall camp. Auburn has several bright young role players in the linebacker rotation, including sophomore Tre Williams and true freshman Jeff Holland.

The secondary is extremely top-heavy after a huge exodus of transfers during the offseason.

Jonathan Jones is an All-SEC performer at cornerback, and fellow senior Josh Holsey looks to be locked into the nickel role for the Tigers. Former All-Big Ten cornerback Blake Countess answered Auburn's call for help and will be a veteran presence as a graduate transfer.

Junior Johnathan "Rudy" Ford will man a safety spot once again as former Georgia transfer Tray Matthews becomes eligible to play for the Tigers this fall. Matthews is only a sophomore, but he was a starter for the Bulldogs before his dismissal in 2014.

The unit drops off in experience after that as Auburn will have to rely on several true freshmen to play behind Jones, Countess and Holsey. The safety positions also lack an established No. 3 option in case of injury.

Handling the lack of depth in the secondary will be paramount to Auburn's success in 2015. The Tigers' run defense and pass rush should be much improved, but cutting down those big plays through the air will be a work in progress for this defense.

 

Injury news

Auburn doesn't have nearly as many injury concerns as it did at this point last year, when both Carl Lawson and Alex Kozan were out with what would be season-ending health issues.

Even though he hasn't made a major impact in an Auburn uniform yet, T.J. Davis' absence is huge for depth purposes. Malzahn told Marcello in July the team hopes Davis can make his return from ACL surgery by October.

The only fall-camp injury of real note is the one for Matthews. The former Georgia safety has been limited this month with a nagging hamstring issue. If he isn't 100 percent by the start of the season, Auburn could move Countess to safety and line Holsey back up at cornerback—which is not the ideal situation for the secondary right now.

 

X-factor

Jason Smith transferred to Auburn from Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College in order to compete for the starting quarterback job. Smith was moved to wide receiver in the spring, but he didn't let the position change keep him down.

Smith will look to use his athleticism as a playmaker out wide and on special teams, where he is competing for the starting punt returner job. According to Johnson, his former competition at quarterback could still be a breakout star this season for the Tigers.

"He’s one of the guys that we can count on as a team to make a lot of plays," Johnson told Charles Goldberg of AuburnTigers.com. "He’s tremendous when he gets the ball in his hands. He makes a lot of big plays down the field. We feel really good about him, and he made that transition for the best of him and for this team."

For a defensive X-factor, look to a nontraditional spot—the punter.

Last season, kicker Daniel Carlson pulled double duty for the Tigers by punting the ball as well. His leg wore down during the season, and fatigue started to creep into his field-goal attempts.

This year, JUCO punter Kevin Phillips and true freshman Ian Shannon are battling to take that job.

"They're both competing," Malzahn said, per Marcello. "I think both of them are talented enough to do it. Hopefully in the next week we can make a call on that. That's another area that we feel like it's a good thing that we feel like we have two guys that can get the job done." 

With a dedicated punter, Carlson's big leg will be able to stay fresh well into the season. And if either Phillips or Shannon can develop a knack for pinning opponents deep in Auburn's own territory, it would be a big boost for a defense going through a major transition under Muschamp.

 

Make-or-break games

Auburn's 2015 schedule could be a lot tougher—since it's an odd-numbered year, the Tigers will host both rivals Georgia and Alabama this season. 

But life in the SEC West is still difficult, as Auburn must travel to LSU, Arkansas and Texas A&M in addition to a Thursday night contest at Kentucky.

The first true make-or-break game for Auburn will be against LSU in Baton Rouge. Auburn torched LSU on the Plains last season, but the Bayou Bengals haven't lost to the orange-and-blue Tigers inside Death Valley since 2000. While the afternoon time slot may take some edge off this road trip, this contest will set the tone for the SEC season.

The home game against Ole Miss on Halloween will be one of the biggest games of the entire SEC schedule, especially after the events of the Tigers' last-minute win in Oxford last season. The Rebels and a healthy Laquon Treadwell will be looking for revenge, and the Tigers will be coming off what should be a physical road matchup at Arkansas.

Finally, the Iron Bowl is as make-or-break as they come in the SEC West. The winner of this game has a streak of playing in the contest that decides the national title. If all goes according to projections for both teams, this one should determine the division champion, much like the legendary 2013 matchup.

Each of these three SEC West rivals has major question marks heading into the season, especially at quarterback. But, just like Auburn, they also have lots of potential—and they could easily turn a championship-bound season into another disappointing one on the Plains.

 

Prediction: 10-2 (6-2 SEC) 

I'm sticking with the two-loss projection for Auburn this season—with a caveat.

Auburn's offense should exceed the production of the last two seasons with Jeremy Johnson at quarterback. His arm makes Auburn a more balanced and more explosive football team, and he has the look of a leader who will cause everyone around him to play at a higher level.

I expect the running back rotation to be potent and the wide receiving corps to field a pair of breakout performers.

The defense, though, is still cause for concern. Yes, Muschamp should bring big changes from the days of Ellis Johnson, but issues at defensive back are quite alarming. While I predict Auburn will show improvement on the defensive side of the ball this fall, the matchups against teams that love to throw the ball will still be problematic.

I'm in "wait-and-see" mode when it comes to Muschamp's defense, especially with the depth of the secondary. If he can bring drastic, Malzahn-like change to the unit in year one, Auburn has the talent to run the table. Right now, a pass-happy Texas A&M and a deep Alabama are my picks for close losses.

But as the last two seasons of Auburn football have shown, this program doesn't like to stick to the script.

 

Recruiting information courtesy of 247SportsAll stats courtesy of cfbstats.com. All camp and practice observations are firsthand.

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

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Schools to Watch After 4-Star CB Troy Warner Decommitted from Oregon

Oregon’s 2016 recruiting class suffered a major blow when 4-star corner Troy Warner announced on Monday that he will re-open his recruitment.

The 6’0”, 185-pound California native committed to Ducks head coach Mark Helfrich back in April over schools such as BYU, Notre Dame and UCLA.

As Justin Hopkins of 247Sports noted, Warner will still consider the Ducks when it comes time to make a final decision.

However, a handful of schools figure to jump back into the race for the nation’s No. 22 corner and the No. 245 player overall in the 2016 class.

Which programs are the main ones to watch in Warner’s recruitment moving forward?

Let’s take a look at a few of his primary suitors.

 

BYU

As Hopkins pointed out, BYU was the original favorite for Warner because of the fact that he has a brother currently playing for the Cougars football team.

That connection may be enough for head coach Bronco Mendenhall and his staff to pull one of the top prospects from the Golden State.

Another factor working in the Cougars' favor is the fact that they were the first program to offer Warner a scholarship back in April of 2014, as noted by Barton Simmons of 247Sports.

While it will be tough to get him away from the clutch of a few Power Five giants, the Cougars figure to play a prominent role in Warner’s recruitment in the coming months.

 

Notre Dame

Notre Dame is a school that has continued to recruit Warner even after his initial pledge to the Ducks.

He took an unofficial visit to South Bend back in May, and as Tom Loy of 247Sports detailed, he was wowed by the atmosphere on campus.

“It was new, different and full of tradition,” Warner told Loy about his experience in South Bend. “It was a real humbling experience knowing that it’s a team that really wants me to be a part of their team. Knowing that is pretty cool. It means a lot.”

As Loy noted, the Irish staff will speak with Warner soon in an effort to get him to consider returning to campus for an official visit.

If the Irish are successful in that push, they could jump atop his list of favorites.

 

Stanford

Stanford jumped in the mix for Warner when it offered him back in March.

As he told Hopkins, the offer excited him because of the school’s academic reputation.

Despite his pledge to the Ducks, Cardinal head coach David Shaw and his staff have maintained contact with Warner since the spring, as Hopkins detailed

While Stanford already has four commitments from defensive backs in its 2016 class, it appears that Shaw and his staff would make room for Warner if he decides in favor of the Cardinal.

 

USC

One school that has yet to offer Warner that could factor into his recruitment is USC.

The Trojans only have one defensive back committed thus far in their 2016 class.

But, as Loy detailed, Warner has been intrigued by USC since the beginning of his recruitment.

Until they offer, the Trojans are more of a wild card for him at this point.

The next big key to watch for in his recruitment will be monitoring which schools are able to get an official visit from him.

Regardless, it appears that Warner will be a top target for a handful of elite programs in the months leading up to signing day.

 

Sanjay Kirpalani is a National Recruiting Analyst for Bleacher Report. Unless otherwise noted, all quotes obtained firsthand and all recruiting information courtesy of 247Sports.

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USC's Steve Sarkisian Seeking Help, Deserves Respect for Owning Up to His Issues

Admitting you fouled up a game plan in a football game is easy. Saying you didn't prepare your team well enough during the week is easy. 

What USC head coach Steve Sarkisian did Tuesday wasn't easy at all. 

Standing before reporters, Sarkisian opened the door to his personal life. He didn't elaborate on the details, and he didn't need to. That's not for anyone else to know or judge. But he did admit he's seeking treatment for alcohol. And that's enough. 

He also admitted what everyone already knew: that he was intoxicated at the recent "Salute to Troy" rally. But then he revealed something else: Before taking the stage at the school-sponsored event, he had mixed alcohol with medications. Everybody knows that's a bad combination. 

The result, as you've likely seen, was a slurred, embarrassing speech that reportedly required athletic director Pat Haden to remove Sarkisian from the stage, as SB Nation's Avinash Kunnath reported:

It wasn't Sarkisian's finest moment, and an apology was later issued through USC. The head coach also addressed his team before answering questions from the media. Undoubtedly, there will be more questions directed toward him and USC. This is the hard part: answering for your actions, over and over again, as a result of your personal choices. 

But he is giving answers, and that's worth something. As the head coach of a prominent college football program, Sarkisian is going to be subject to a different level of exposure and criticism. That's an unfortunate part of the territory when one makes a mistake, but a part of the territory nonetheless. 

This isn't a full-fledged defense of Sarkisian. Part of his job is to solicit money from donors. Making a fool of yourself in front of people who are likely to open their checkbooks for you isn't on the list of great ideas. Still, it's not the worst thing anyone's ever done, nor is it the first time it's ever happened. It's forgivable, especially when you own up to it.  

What matters now is how Sarkisian plans to deal with this going forward. Speaking with reporters, the 41-year-old coach said he will begin receiving treatment:  

Good for him. That's the only thing that can, and should, be said. 

The context clues were there following the incident. On Monday, Scott Wolf of the Los Angeles Daily News reported that alcohol had been banned from USC's locker room. That only ignited further questions. Was alcohol actually allowed in the locker room before? Was there alcohol before? 

The head coach himself clarified that alcohol was permitted in the coaches' locker room, but not the players', via Michael Lev of the Orange County Register. Obviously, that's not the case anymore. 

All the same, this is Sarkisian's issue now, and it became abundantly clear he needed help dealing with it. There's no shame in that. There never is. What kind of help Sarkisian will receive remains to be seen, but the important part is he's doing something about it. 

This isn't the time to crush USC for its previous laissez-faire attitude toward alcohol. The policy has changed; it's over. Still, others will take the opportunity to focus on Sarkisian's history with alcohol, as Danny O'Neil of 710 ESPN Seattle did: 

At some point, we just need to be human beings about this whole thing and recognize that this is a man's life.  

We know Sarkisian went through a divorce this year. We don't know if that's what drove him to mix alcohol and medication at a school event. We don't know if that's what drove him to drink before. Maybe it was something else entirely. Whatever it was, or wasn't, we don't have the right to know, either. Whatever it is Sarkisian is dealing with, here's hoping he gets the help he needs. 

Sarkisian owned up to his mistake and took it a step further by conceding that he can't do this by himself. That's a huge step, one that will only benefit him and USC. Instead of sidestepping the issue or trying to bury it, the man took responsibility for what occurred and is now trying to fix it. 

There may have been some initial jokes at his expense, but the feeling now should be that Sarkisian is doing what many people don't have the guts to do. 

So amid all the columns about what USC or Sarkisian should do, maybe the best course of action is to stop talking altogether. Maybe the best thing we can do is listen, for a change.

Because the last thing Sarkisian, or anyone in that type of situation, needs is for someone to laugh at him. 

 

Ben Kercheval is a lead writer for college football. All quotes cited unless obtained firsthand. 

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USC's Steve Sarkisian Seeking Help, Deserves Respect for Owning Up to His Issues

Admitting you fouled up a game plan in a football game is easy. Saying you didn't prepare your team well enough during the week is easy. What USC head coach Steve Sarkisian did Tuesday wasn't easy at all...

Read the full article on Bleacher Report...

USC Football: Depth Chart Analysis, Complete 2015 Preview and Predictions

It's fair to say that every college football team anxiously awaits the start of the 2015 season, but USC might be a little more eager than others to get to the games themselves—if only because it will turn the focus toward the on-field action rather than what's happening outside the lines.

The Trojans enter this fall with high expectations, both internal and in the form of high rankings in the polls—USC is eighth in the preseason Associated Press media poll and 10th in the Amway Coaches Poll. And the Pac-12 media picked them to win the conference title.

Yet that also brings extra scrutiny, something that's already high being in a major media market such as Los Angeles.

This came to a head on Saturday night when coach Steve Sarkisian was pulled off the stage during a speech at the school's Salute to Troy event after appearing intoxicated. He said Tuesday that the incident was the result of mixing alcohol and medication and that he will seek treatment for his alcohol use, per Gary Klein of the Los Angeles Times.

With the core of a team that went 9-4 last season back for another year, USC has the pieces in place to contend for a national title for the first time since losing to Texas in the 2006 championship game.

Below is our in-depth look at the Trojans heading into the 2015 campaign:

 

Coaches

USC's staff is still on the new side from an overall standpoint, as Sarkisian overhauled the roster with his own people when he took over the program in December 2013. Only offensive coordinator/quarterbacks coach Clay Helton and receivers coach/passing game coordinator Tee Martin remain from the previous regime, but that makes sense since the Trojans have been a pro-style team since the Pete Carroll days and continue to operate the same offense under Sarkisian.

The only staff change for 2015 was the hiring of Bob Connelly to coach the offensive line and coordinate USC's ground game. Connelly—who replaces Tim Drevno, now offensive coordinator and line coach at Michigan—spent last season coaching Oklahoma State's line, and he has previous stops at Arizona State, UTEP, UCLA, Alabama, Washington State and San Jose State.

Sarkisian, defensive coordinator Justin Wilcox, assistants Keith Heyward, Johnny Nansen, Peter Sirmon and Marques Tuisasosopo and strength coach Ivan Lewis have all been together since Sarkisian's tenure as Washington head coach. Their collective familiarity should be a major bonus for USC this season.

 

What to watch for on offense

With eight returning starters, expect USC to look and operate very much the same as it did in 2014 when that unit averaged 457.5 yards and 35.8 points per game. And as long as Cody Kessler is at quarterback, the Trojans can expect to be one of the most efficient teams in the country.

Last year Kessler completed 69.7 percent of his passes for 3,826 yards and 39 touchdowns, with just five interceptions on 452 attempts.

The fifth-year senior is the latest in a string of prolific passers for USC, dating back to Heisman winners Carson Palmer and Matt Leinart in the early 2000s, and he also finds himself in Heisman contention with 12-to-1 odds according to OddsShark.com. However, last year he was only an honorable mention on the Pac-12's all-conference team because of Oregon's Marcus Mariota and UCLA's Brett Hundley.

The Trojans did lose their top running back (Javorius Allen) and No. 1 receiver (Nelson Agholor), but neither position is thin in terms of available talent. JuJu Smith had a strong season as a true freshman, catching 54 passes for 724 yards and five TDs, and appears ready to take over as Kessler's top target, while Adoree' Jackson will see time at receiver in addition to his duties on defense and in the return game.

The running back situation isn't as clear, as either junior Justin Davis or senior Tre Madden will serve as the starter. Davis ran for 595 yards and five TDs as Allen's main backup last year, while Madden missed all of 2014 with a toe injury. True freshmen Dominic Davis and Ronald Jones, part of USC's second-ranked 2015 recruiting class, are also likely to see action early and often this fall.

USC returns its entire starting offensive line from a year ago, a group that was very young in 2014 with three freshmen but now is considered mature and experienced after holding up well together. The line is anchored by senior center Max Tuerk, who has also played guard and tackle in his Trojans career.

The only major question mark for USC's offense is at tight end, where the graduation of Randall Telfer, Bryce Dixon's dismissal and a second straight season with junior Jalen Cope-Fitzpatrick sitting out to focus on academics means it could end up starting walk-on Connor Spears. Another candidate is Taylor McNamara, a graduate transfer from Oklahoma who has one career reception.

Dixon, who caught four TD passes as a freshman last year, was expelled from USC in May for violating the school's sexual conduct policy but reinstated in early August. He hoped to return to the Trojans for 2015 but on Monday a Los Angeles Superior Court judge denied his request to hold the school in contempt for keeping him off the team, per Scott Wolf of the Los Angeles Daily News.

 

What to watch for on defense

USC ranked 78th in total defense last year, giving up 407.9 yards per game, but on a game-by-game basis the results were all over the place. The Trojans held Stanford to 10 points on the road, then a week later allowed Boston College to rush for 452 yards in an upset loss. Strong performances against Arizona State and Arizona's ground games were offset by lackluster pass defense, which enabled the Sun Devils to score three touchdowns in the final four minutes including on a horribly defended Hail Mary pass in another befuddling defeat.

Explosive defensive lineman Leonard Williams is no longer in the trenches for the Trojans, having turned pro after his junior year and going sixth overall to the New York Jets in the 2015 NFL draft. He is one of four starters that USC has to replace, along with leading tackler Hayes Pullard at linebacker and safety Gerald Bowman.

But USC still has its best all-around defender to lean on in junior Su'a Cravens. The former safety has made the full transition to outside linebacker, and last season he had team highs in tackles for loss (17) and interceptions (three). A potential high draft pick if he decides to leave school after this season, Cravens is instead focused on becoming more of a leader than what his pro future holds.

"I'm taking on the leadership by not focusing on just my game, but also on those around me, especially the young ones," Cravens said last month at Pac-12 Media Days in Burbank, California (h/t Julian Lopez of SB Nation). "Last year we were a young defense. This year, we are big on finishing, so when we get to the fourth quarter, we have to finish."

The Trojans defensive line will miss Williams' dynamic play, but senior tackles Delvon Simmons and Antwaun Woods are a strong core to build around while several veterans are ready to step in at the end positions.

USC's secondary has been boosted by newcomers, including 5-star cornerback Iman Marshall and 4-star safety Marvell Tell, to go with established starters in corners Adoree' Jackson and Kevon Seymour and safety John Plattenburg. Depth on the back line will make it possible for Jackson to spend more time on offense.

 

What to watch for on special teams

Sophomore Matthew Boermeester and junior walk-on Alex Wood are battling to replace longtime kicker Andre Heidari, who handled USC's field-goal and point-after duties from 2011 to 2014. He finished his career with 49 field goals and is the Pac-12's all-time leader in extra points with 187.

Punter Kris Albarado averaged 41.4 yards per attempt last season, up from 37.9 as a sophomore in 2013, and is set to handle that job for a third straight year.

Adoree' Jackson will be the main return man on both punts and kickoffs, after handling mostly kickoffs in 2014. He ranked fifth in FBS with a 29.7 average on kick returns, with two TDs. 

 

Injury news

USC has been fortunate to this point in that it hasn't suffered any significant injuries during training camp that will result in players missing extended time. Several key contributors have had minor bumps and bruises along the way, including running back Justin Davis (ribs), linebacker Lamar Dawson (ribs), safety Ykili Ross (shoulder) and offensive tackle Chad Wheeler (knee/head), but they're all expected to be available for the Trojans season opener.

The only notable player unlikely to be ready to go on Sept. 5 is senior defensive end Claude Pelon, who sprained a knee on Aug. 19 and underwent surgery. 

 

X-factor

USC is one of the more straightforward teams in the country in terms of its scheme—as close to a pro-style gameplan on both sides of the ball as any program around. The exception would be Adoree' Jackson, the multi-way threat who figures to be used all over this fall after showing what he was capable of last season.

The 5'11", 185-pounder started 10 games at cornerback, once at wide receiver—starting both ways against Notre Dame—and handling most of the Trojans kickoffs. He finished the year with five TDs, three via the pass and two on kickoff returns, while also registering 49 tackles and four tackles for loss.

According to Gary Klein of the Los Angeles Times, Jackson also apparently made a field goal during a practice this month, adding to his growing legend. 

Though his primary responsibility will be to cover some of the best wide receivers in the Pac-12, Jackson figures to get even more looks on offense than a year ago while remaining one of the most dangerous return threats in the country.

 

2015 schedule

USC gets the benefit of playing its first three games at home, but Sun Belt schools Arkansas State and Idaho don't figure to provide enough competition to have it battle-tested for the Sept. 19 conference opener against Stanford. A win in Palo Alto last year during Week 2 was supposed to be an early momentum-builder, but a week later the Trojans laid a stinker at Boston College to set the tone for an up-and-down season.

The first road game of 2015 will be a major challenge in that Arizona State is loaded on offense and defense and has the confidence that came from last year's comeback win in Los Angeles to feed off of. That outcome will either send USC into its lone bye week riding a high or looking to regroup.

The remaining schedule sets up as very winnable at home through October and early November but rigorous on the road. Visits to Notre Dame on Oct. 17 and a Halloween trip to California are both potential pitfalls, as is the Nov. 21 game at Oregon which could serve as a preview of the Pac-12 title game two weeks later in Santa Clara, California.

The Trojans end with the annual crosstown clash against UCLA, this time at the Los Angeles Coliseum. The Bruins have won three straight in the series for the first time since a streak of eight consecutive wins from 1991 to 1998, and this meeting could determine the South Division crown.

 

Prediction

There's no question the talent is there for USC to have a big year, which is why it's ranked so high and the division and conference predictions favor the Trojans. But the 2014 team was the same way, and it stumbled far too often to be considered a legitimate contender. That brought back talk of coach Steve Sarkisian's reputation for not being able to win big games.

Sarkisian went 35-29 in his five years at Washington, peaking at nine wins in his final season with a team that had three eventual first- or second-round NFL draft picks on defense. He's got even more talent with USC, but last season's results didn't match what the Trojans were capable of.

The coach's recent alcohol-fueled incident has suddenly added more concern over whether he was the right pick to take over the program following the Lane Kiffin/Ed Orgeron-led 2013 season, but ultimately he'll be judged on the wins and losses starting with those that occur this fall.

The veteran presence of Cody Kessler on offense and Su'a Cravens on defense will keep USC from slipping in most games, but the schedule is too daunting to expect perfection. Assuming the Trojans lose a few times, who those setbacks are to and when they happen will determine if they can land a playoff bid.

 

Overall record: 10-2

Conference record: 6-2

 

All recruiting information courtesy of 247Sports. All statistics provided by CFBStats.com.

Follow Brian J. Pedersen on Twitter at @realBJP.

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USC Football: Depth Chart Analysis, Complete 2015 Preview and Predictions

It's fair to say that every college football team anxiously awaits the start of the 2015 season, but USC might be a little more eager than others to get to the games themselves—if ...

Read the full article on Bleacher Report...

Dear Football: The 2015 Elite 11 Story | Ep. 8

Uninterrupted is a platform that allows personalities to connect with fans on a much deeper level, with insight and content not fit for other platforms, media outlets or channels.

Interested fans get a unique perspective that brings them closer than ever to the personalities they care about.

The Elite 11 camp brings together the top high school senior quarterbacks in the country in search of the best 11.

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Kyle Flood Under Investigation for Impermissible Faculty Contact

Rutgers University is investigating head football coach Kyle Flood for having impermissible contact with a school faculty member regarding the status of a player on the team.   

According to Keith Sargeant of NJ Advance Media, citing two sources, Flood could be facing a fine or a suspension for the incident:

The university's office of general counsel is investigating the severity of the alleged violation, which, the sources said, is focused on an email Flood allegedly sent from a personal account to a faculty member at the university's Mason Gross School of Arts regarding the status of Nadir Barnwell. The junior cornerback is reportedly in danger of being deemed academically ineligible.

Sargeant noted that if Flood is found to not be in compliance with school rules by trying to provide illegal benefits to a student-athlete, the discipline can range from a public reprimand to his contract being terminated. 

The report does note it's unclear if Flood is in violation of an NCAA or a Big Ten rule for having contact with a player's professor, though a Rutgers official added "the university's athletics compliance department prohibits coaches from communicating with instructors..."

Nadir Barnwell's status has been uncertain, as the junior told Sargeant on August 16 he couldn't discuss his eligibility: "Right now I really can't comment on that. Right now I'm just focusing on myself, just getting my body right to be honest with you, taking it day-by-day just trying to win every day.''

Barnwell has appeared in 17 games over the past two seasons, recording 64 total tackles and seven passes defended. 

Flood took over as head football coach at Rutgers in 2012 after Greg Schiano moved to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. He has kept the program at a steady level in his three seasons, winning at least eight games two times and playing in three bowl games. 

Rutgers will open the 2015 season on September 5 with a home game against Norfolk State. 

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