NCAA Football

USC Football: Cody Kessler Can Erase Trojans' Bad Week

Week 1 of a new era in USC football is not off to an ideal start for Trojans head coach Steve Sarkisian.

Redshirt senior cornerback Josh Shaw was suspended for lying about the circumstances of his ankle injury, per Jordan Moore of USCTrojans.com. Then Thursday, former cornerback-turned-running back Anthony Brown lambasted Sarkisian in a social media tirade, captured by USCFootball.com's Ryan Abraham.  

It's been a week to forget for USC off the field. However, one Trojan can play a big part in making it a distant memory with his performance on the field Saturday against Fresno State: quarterback Cody Kessler. 

Sarkisian's first big splash as USC head coach was made in April, when he named Kessler the Trojans' starter. He wasn't exactly going out on a limb with the decision—Kessler started all 14 games and led USC to 10 wins a season ago. 

But with the buzz surrounding redshirt freshman Max Browne, Kessler also wasn't grandfathered into the No. 1 spot. His own performance in spring football and Sarkisian's vote of confidence made it official.

Saturday is Kessler's chance to validate his head coach's first major decision.  

"Cody has a chance to step his game up and go to a whole other level," Sarkisian said on Tuesday's Pac-12 coaches teleconference call. "Generally speaking, a quarterback in his second year starting really starts to see those strides."  

Kessler went to that next level in last year's season finale, a 45-20 rout of the same Fresno State team USC sees on Saturday. He went 22-of-30 passing and reached career highs with 344 yards and four touchdowns.  

It started from an opening drive in which Kessler hit wide receiver Darreus Rogers for 20 yards and Nelson Agholor for 14. That set the table for two scoring strikes of 40 yards. 

Kessler effectively buckled the Fresno State defense's knees with his big plays. Bulldogs head coach Tim DeRuyter said in his press conference on Monday said he's using last year's slow start as motivation, via GoBulldogs.com

"We did not compete as well as what we hoped to last December," he said. "We've challenged our team with that." 

Of course, Fresno State is seeing a much different USC offense than it did in the Las Vegas Bowl. Along his naming of Kessler the starting quarterback, the other big splash Sarkisian made in the offseason was his implementation of the no-huddle system. 

Saturday is the new offense's debut with Kessler at the controls. 

"I think he really has a nice grasp of what we're trying to do offensively," Sarkisian said. 

Fresno State sees a fair amount of no-huddle offenses playing in the Mountain West Conference, DeRuyter said. But USC's version poses a unique challenge to the Bulldogs defense. 

"I don't know that the tempo itself will be something new," he said. "The athletes they have doing it will be different than what we've seen in the past."

Perhaps more than anything else in last season's bowl win, Kessler made effective use of that athletic advantage. Six different receivers from three different positions caught at least two passes. 

Agholor will certainly get his targets Saturday, but look for Kessler to also hook up with sophomore running back Justin Davis. 

Sarkisian commended the speedy Davis' ability to catch the ball out of the backfield, which should develop into a fundamental component of the Trojans' hurry-up attack. 

As for Kessler, blocking out distraction is nothing new when it comes to running the new offense. In fact, he said it's a primary responsibility. 

"The tempo is awesome," Kessler said last month at Pac-12 media days. "Especially at the skill spots, you've got to be ready to go...You've got to be locked in and focused the whole time." 

Focusing this week could be a challenge, given all the negative outside attention drawn on the Trojans in the past few days. But should their collective focus manifest Saturday with another win over Fresno State, it would be a real testament to the team's leadership. 

If Kessler flourishes in the new offense, memories of last week should be wiped away, but memories of even longer ago should come flooding back.  

Kessler said he's taken the success of recent Trojans quarterbacks like Matt Leinart and Mark Sanchez as motivation heading into the season.  

"You expect to win every week. You expect to be in the national championship discussion because of everything that surrounds you. These guys have set the bar so high, you don't want to let them down." 

 

Quotes obtained firsthand unless otherwise cited. Statistics compiled via CFBstats.com

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USC Football: Cody Kessler Can Erase Trojans' Bad Week

Week 1 of a new era in USC football is not off to an ideal start for Trojans head coach Steve Sarkisian . Redshirt senior cornerback Josh Shaw was suspended for lying about the circumstances of his ankle injury, per Jordan Moore of USCTrojans .

Read the full article on Bleacher Report...

Auburn Football: What to Expect from the Tigers' True Freshmen in 2014

AUBURN, Ala. — A team that returns 14 starters and picked up several of the nation's top junior college players shouldn't be having a youth revolution.

That hasn't stopped the defending SEC champions.

Auburn's first two-deep depth chart of the season featured a surprising six true freshmen from a 2014 recruiting class that finished sixth nationally in 247Sports' composite team rankings.

Although the Tigers returned experience at every position on offense and defense, the coaching staff opened competitions for key spots on the depth chart, and several talented newcomers took advantage.

"They've earned it," head coach Gus Malzahn said Wednesday in his final press conference before Saturday's season opener against SEC West foe Arkansas. "We've put the ball down and given everybody an opportunity and those guys have earned the right to be there. There's nothing like true game experience, but we think all of them that are in the two-deep are talented enough and mentally tough enough to do it, too."

None of these true freshmen will be among the first on the field against the Razorbacks, but their places on the depth chart suggest they will play some role Saturday and in the weeks to come. Here's a look at what you could see out of these highly-touted newcomers this fall.

 

Braden Smith

Smith took the Plains by storm this fall and received universal acclaim from everyone associated with the program. He also received a handful of unique nicknames—"The Terminator," "The Hulk" and "Drago," to name a few—for his massive 6'6", 299-pound physique.

"That's a huge dude," senior defensive end LaDarius Owens said. "When I first saw him on his recruiting visit, I thought he was someone's dad."

But Smith, who was called "one of the strongest guys on the team" by sophomore guard Jordan Diamond, brings more to Auburn's veteran offensive line than raw power.

His position coach, 30-year collegiate coaching veteran J.B. Grimes, sees a complete physical skill set that has drawn comparisons to the Tigers' top offensive lineman from last season, No. 2 overall NFL draft pick Greg Robinson.

"He’s in the 99th percentile, maybe the 99-point-ninth percentile of guys who are strong enough, at the right size now, have the ability to bend—all of those things," Grimes said. "There might not be but 10 freshmen in the country who have what he has."

Smith will start the season as the backup to Robinson's successor, sophomore Shon Coleman, and he could see playing time in any lopsided games Auburn might play this season. He could serve as an extra tackle with an eligible-receiver number on certain running plays, a position Coleman played several times in 2013.

 

Roc Thomas

Thomas also is an offensive star the Tigers want to get into the open field this season.

"We have Roc Thomas," Malzahn said in his Tuesday press conference. "He has a chance to be in the game [at running back], and he also has a chance to play kick returner."

The 5-star running back will back up Corey Grant and Ricardo Louis on special teams, but he will also play a role not clearly defined on Auburn's depth chart: reserve running back.

With Grant and Cameron Artis-Payne serving as running backs "1A and 1B" on the roster, Malzahn confirmed Wednesday that Thomas will have a chance to be a valuable substitute for the seniors, along with redshirt freshman Peyton Barber.

"He's really good," Artis-Payne said. "Explosive, he's quick, he has good speed, he's everything he's advertised to be. He'll be a real good player here, I know that."

Thomas stood out to his new team this fall with his quickness and elusiveness—Malzahn referred to him as a player with those video game-type "B-button moves"—and he will be a key member of the running back committee and special teams unit in his first season.

 

Stanton Truitt

Another true freshman adjusting to a new role is Truitt, who arrived at Auburn in the spring as an early enrollee.

A former high school quarterback, Truitt took full advantage of extra practice time to lock down a backup slot receiver spot behind Marcus Davis, who made a similar move last season.

"He’s tough," offensive coordinator Rhett Lashlee said. "He’s smart. He played some quarterback in high school too so he really wants to do well. There is a chance Stanton could have a good role for us." 

Auburn's coaching staff is already drawing up ways to play the young speedster in the offense this season.

"Here's the deal with Stanton: He is super-fast," Malzahn said. "He's got electric speed. So finding ways to get him the ball in space or maybe in the return game or something like that, he's capable of taking it the distance anywhere on the field."

Truitt might not get a chance to catch a pass or grab a reverse handoff against Arkansas because of the veteran players in front of him, but he will be one to watch against teams like San Jose State and Louisiana Tech.

 

Tre' Williams

Auburn's top recruit on the defensive side of the ball will also get a chance to make an instant impact this season.

Williams' quickness as an all-around linebacker stood out to defensive coordinator Ellis Johnson this fall. The Tigers are looking for added depth behind starters Cassanova McKinzy and Kris Frost, and the veteran coach feels like he found it in the talented Mobile native.

"If I graded him out, he's probably about the fourth-best linebacker I've got," Johnson said. "Tre’ had two really good scrimmages, very good production picking up the scheme pretty quickly. He just seemed real comfortable out there."

Williams was one of the nation's top inside linebacker recruits last year, but he debuted on his first Auburn depth chart as the second-string weak-side linebacker behind Frost. He has been able to make that move, according to his teammates, because of how fast he has picked up the Tigers' defensive system.

"They just want to learn," McKinzy said about Williams and fellow true freshman De'Shaun Davis. "As far as them being physical...those guys are headhunters. Football, 90 percent of it is mental and the other 10 is physical. They've caught on real fast, and I've been very surprised."

 

Nick Ruffin and Stephen Roberts

The position switches continued on defense with Ruffin and Roberts, two highly-rated cornerbacks out of high school who have found backup roles in new spots on the secondary.

Ruffin was one of the tallest secondary players in Auburn's 2014 recruiting class, and he brings the physicality the coaches want to see out of the hybrid Star position. With senior Robenson Therezie still out indefinitely with "an eligibility issue," Ruffin will have to step up fast to provide depth behind junior Justin Garrett.

"He’s got a lot of the same skills that Therezie has," Johnson said. "He’s a natural DB. The biggest thing he’s had to improve on right now is the big receivers stock blocking him out in space or coming off the edge and having to take on a running back on a blitz or an outside run play. He’s kind of got DB skill sets and he’s looked very comfortable out there."

Roberts, who also played some quarterback in high school, will back up senior and longtime starter Jermaine Whitehead at free safety. The freshman from nearby Opelika will have chances to showcase his athleticism in the secondary and on special teams, as he practiced at punt returner during fall camp.

"Stephen Roberts is another guy that we felt good about, and I think as the season goes on you could possibly see him back there [at returner], too," Malzahn said.

 

Justin Ferguson is Bleacher Report's lead Auburn writer. Follow him on Twitter @JFergusonAU. All quotes were obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted. All recruiting rankings and information courtesy of 247Sports. All stats courtesy of CFBStats.com.

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Cold Hard Fact for Friday, August 29, 2014

Fact: Kenny Hill is the third quarterback in SEC history with 40 completions in a game. Tim Couch did it five times, and Eli Manning did it once.

Bleacher Report will be bringing sports fans the most interesting and engaging Cold Hard Fact of the day, presented by Coors Light.

Source: ESPN Stats & Info

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How South Carolina Can Rebound from Devastating Week 1 Loss

If you’re a South Carolina Gamecocks fan, there’s nothing else you can do except look at the positives.

At first glance, sure, it may be hard to find something to hang onto following Thursday’s 52-28 thrashing at the hands of SEC rival Texas A&M. However, once you weed through the plethora of points, the 680 yards of total offense and the seven touchdowns conceded, there is quite a bit of reason for optimism.

In fact, it’s enough to believe South Carolina will be back in College Football Playoff contention by the end of the month.

Coming into this season, one of the biggest question marks surrounding the Gamecocks was the offense. More specifically, how would senior Dylan Thompson handle the pressure under center?

After Thursday’s showing, it’s safe to say that the Boiling Springs, South Carolina, native will play a big role in the team's revitalization. 

Thompson completed 20 of 40 passes for career highs of 366 yards and four touchdowns—albeit some of it when the game was already well in hand. He also showed great vision, working the ball around to 10 different receivers while registering a quarterback rating of 154.9—the second highest in his career.

That’s pretty good from a quarterback who entered with just 1,827 yards and 14 touchdowns to his name over three seasons.

But Thompson wasn’t the only bright spot in the passing attack. Senior wide receiver Nick Jones had a good day too.

After averaging a mere 207 yards and two touchdowns per year over his first three seasons in Columbia, Jones hauled in five passes for 113 yards and a pair of scores on Thursday. That included bringing in a 69-yard strike from Thompson.

Given that South Carolina was expected to be carried by its rushing attack, the play of Jones and Thompson was rather surprising. But it quickly became a necessity when the ground game struggled to get going—the Gamecocks finished with just 67 yards on 22 carries.

As good as he was on Thursday, don’t expect Thompson to focus on anything else but the bigger picture.

“It doesn’t matter how I thought I played,” he said, per The Post and Courier’sDavid Caraviello. “The scoreboard tells the story.”

Premature or not, the poor showing by South Carolina in its opener has some questioning whether head coach Steve Spurrier’s window for an SEC championship has finally closed.

With clashes against No. 12 Georgia and No. 24 Missouri coming up in September, the Gamecocks SEC title hopes—along with any national championship aspirations—will certainly be on the line. But if anything else, that kind of schedule should only fire up the team.

Since 2010, South Carolina hasn’t lost more than two games in a season. Furthermore, over the last five years, the team is an impressive 18-3 in the month of September.

Nobody said 2014 would be a smooth ride for the Gamecocks. But if anyone can rally the troops from such a hole, it’s Spurrier.

 

All stats and rankings used in this article are courtesy of CFBStats.com.

Sebastian can be reached on Twitter and via email at Sebastian.LenaBR@gmail.com.

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The Weird Saga of Alabama's 2014 Quarterback Battle

Perhaps, as offseason chatter in need of definitive answers tends to do, media folks jumped the gun on anointing Florida State transfer quarterback Jake Coker the future at Alabama. 

On the eve of the Crimson Tide's season opener against West Virginia in Atlanta, head coach Nick Saban still hasn't officially announced a starting quarterback. He did, however, drop a hint that redshirt senior Blake Sims will take the field first.

Via Andrew Gribble of al.com: "We have faith, trust and confidence in Blake Sims. We're not going to evaluate Blake and he doesn't have to look over his shoulder while he's playing. I think there may be some occasion where the other guy deserves an opportunity at some point in time this season to show what he can do."

That quote was supplemented by a report from Jeremy Fowler of CBSSports.com, which stated that Sims would "start" against the Mountaineers—and "start" is a loose phrase. Coker could see the field in Week 1 as well, though that has not been confirmed either. As of Aug. 25, the two are listed as co-starters on the depth chart. 

It's been the most-watched quarterback battle in college football given Alabama's preseason No. 2 ranking in the Associated Press and USA Today coaches poll

That battle unofficially began when Alabama announced in January that it had signed Coker, who had lost the Seminoles' quarterback competition to eventual Heisman Trophy winner Jameis Winston the year before. 

Since the Tide were replacing AJ McCarron, who helped lead the program to a pair of national titles, the initial assumption was that Coker—a 6'5", 230-pound physical specimen with a great arm—would be the successor. And why not? Coker was immediately eligible upon his graduation at Florida State, and quarterback transfers have been a vogue trend lately.

For instance: Michael Brewer, the former Texas Tech quarterback, was recently announced as Virginia Tech's starting quarterback earlier this month. A graduate transfer quarterback is the most identifiable quick fix. 

So when ESPN college football analyst David Pollack said in June (h/t Knox Bardeen, Fox Sports South.), "You can go ahead and hand it (the starting job) to [Coker]," it fell in line with the narrative. 

But the longer the competition went on, the less the narrative played out according to plan. As Bleacher Report's Ray Glier reported earlier this month, Coker has had his struggles in practice: 

Judging from a pass-heavy Aug. 16 scrimmage, Coker, the transfer from Florida State, is not there yet. He was not Bradford, Luck or Bridgewater. He was just a new quarterback trying to learn a playbook in three weeks and find his way with a new set of receivers nine months after undergoing serious knee surgery (meniscus).

It is a daunting task, and Coker scuffled, according to various people who witnessed the closed scrimmage.

One practice doesn't make or break anyone's chances to start—Sims wasn't all that impressive in Alabama's spring game—but Saban has been high on Sims throughout the offseason. In a situation that lacks a definitive answer, this much is clear: Sims won't, nor was he ever going to, take a back seat to Coker. 

"Saban is giving Sims the first snap here because of his experience in the offense and his familiarity with the players," said Marc Torrence, B/R's Alabama Lead Writer. "His teammates love him, and they barely know Coker."

To be clear, Coker could still start for Alabama. His physical tools are obvious, and it could be a matter of the light turning on for him. It would appear, based on practice reports, that Sims has an edge, but that could change in live game situations. Though Sims is the "program guy," he's every bit as unproven as Coker.

It's Saban's job to find out which quarterback can prove himself. That could take a week, or a month. According to Torrence, Saban isn't in a major rush to name a starter (nor is he interested in hypothetical situations). Rather, he's content to let things play out. 

"The feeling is that they don't have to name a permanent starter until Florida [Sept. 20]," Torrence said. 

It wouldn't be the first time Saban has done this. In 2011, McCarron and another Sims—Phillip—split snaps in the Tide's season-opening win against Kent State. That season, if memory serves correctly, turned out alright. 

"Is Coker the better talent who will eventually win the long-term starter role? I think so," said Torrence. "Is Sims the best option right now, all things considered? Yes."

Alabama, along with the rest of the college football world, will find out Saturday. The quarterback two-deep may be a fluid situation, but Saban's history in Tuscaloosa suggests it'll level out eventually. Anxious minds just have to get on Saban's level of patience. 

  

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

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College Football Playoff 2014: Preseason Rankings and Postseason Predictions

The 2014 college football season is officially underway, and the talk has already begun regarding the new playoff system. With the archaic BCS gone and a traditional four-team postseason in its place, it’s an exciting time to be a fan of the sport.

After the final rankings of the year are released, the top four teams will be seeded in the semifinals of a bracket-style playoff system. The winners of each semifinal matchup then advance to the championship game January 12.

With plenty of teams fighting for the honor of being the first to run the college football playoff table, here are the preseason rankings and the postseason predictions.

 

*Full Amway Coaches and Associated Press Top 25 polls.

 

Breaking Down the Final Four

The departure from the traditional BCS postseason is a dream come true for most college football fans. While many were hoping for a more expansive playoffs (possibly eight or 10 teams), the fact that actual change was implemented is a step in the right direction.

Now, the focus shifts to which four teams will contend for the national title.

Last year’s defending champion Florida State Seminoles will be a favorite to repeat this season with Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback Jameis Winston under center once again. While the roster has encountered a high turnover after the NFL draft, the recruiting from Jimbo Fisher has helped the program replenish the voids.

Florida State starts the season as the No. 1 team in both the AP and the Amway Coaches polls. The pressure will be on the Seminoles from Day 1, but if the program can withstand the scrutiny throughout the season, Florida State will be tough to beat in the postseason.

One team who won’t let Florida State win without a fight will be the Alabama Crimson Tide.

While Alabama is known mostly for its elite play on the defensive side of the ball, the team boasts an underrated offensive unit this season that will shock the SEC. Led by senior quarterback Blake Sims, the unit also features talented running back T.J. Yeldon and standout wide receiver Amari Cooper.

The Crimson Tide may start the season as the No. 2 team in the nation, but with a more difficult schedule than Florida State (the SEC is superior to the ACC), expect the two programs to be fighting for the top spot in the nation throughout the season.

Another team looking to spoil the Seminoles attempt to repeat will be the Oregon Ducks, with quarterback Marcus Mariota leading the dynamic offensive unit against a tough Pac-12 conference schedule. If Oregon can beat the likes of Michigan State, UCLA and Stanford this season, there will be no doubt that the Ducks advance to the four-team playoff.

There are questions about how the Oregon defense will be able to withstand the talent of the tough competition on the schedule, but the program has the firepower to stun many of the top teams in the nation. If the Ducks beat Michigan State in Week 2, expect the team to remain part of the championship conversation all season.

One team not getting the love it deserves is the Auburn Tigers. After stunning Alabama last season, Auburn looks to capitalize on a schedule that doesn’t look as strong as it once did. While a meeting with Texas A&M could prove to be tough, matchups against rebuilding programs such as LSU and Ole Miss could help build confidence among the players in the program.

If the Tigers were able to knock off Alabama in the Iron Bowl to close the regular season, the team would be a serious championship contender. Even if Auburn loses the final game, a stellar regular season could still earn the program a berth in the postseason.

Regardless of which four teams make the new playoff format, the excitement from college football fans across the country will make it feel special. It’s good to have the BCS gone, and it’s even better to have a postseason format the fans can support.

Predicted National Champions: Alabama Crimson Tide

 

*Stats via CFBStats.com.

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Alabama Football: What to Make of Blake Sims Starting Reports and Other Notes

TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — Alabama coach Nick Saban all but laid out his plans for his quarterbacks Thursday night during his first weekly Hey Coach radio show of the season.

"We have faith, trust and confidence in Blake Sims," Saban said, according to Andrew Gribble of al.com. "We're not going to evaluate Blake, and he doesn't have to look over his shoulder while he's playing. I think there may be some occasion where the other guy deserves an opportunity at some point in time this season to show what he can do."

Reading between the lines, that looks pretty much like Sims is the starter, for now, while Florida State transfer Jake Coker will continue to be brought along and up to speed.

A few minutes later, CBSSports.com's Jeremy Fowler said that "barring any unexpected last-minute changes," Sims will start, but that Coker "is expected to play."

Fowler's report made waves through college football Twitter last night as everyone watched the late-night games. But it shouldn't come as any surprise, since that's very much in line with what Saban has said all throughout fall camp, most recently on that Thursday radio show.

There's been no indication whatsoever that Coker was going to start this game.

Sims' teammates love him, having known him for going on five years now. He's the epitome of a "program guy." Sims has changed positions a couple of times without complaint and has always been a helping hand and welcoming presence, even though he hasn't been a starter during his career.

He also has a much better understanding of the offense in terms of what Saban expects from a quarterback. At this point in the game, the coaches simply trust him more, a huge factor for Saban and his staff when deciding who goes out under center.

"Blake has a lot more familiarity with the system, having been here longer," Saban said Monday. "I think he's more comfortable in doing the things that we do and has done a really good job. Has played really, really well in this fall camp, has played well in the scrimmages. The team has had a good rhythm when he's in there at quarterback.

"Jacob is obviously the newer guy of the two, who doesn't have the same knowledge and experience. I think we're just trying to get him more and more familiar so that he plays with the rhythm that we need to play with offensively."

That's not to say that Coker is out of this, by any means. He just isn't quite where the coaches want him to be from a trust and confidence standpoint. The coaches know what they have in Sims. He's a proven commodity while Coker gets assimilated into the system.

"Starter" for this game is a fairly meaningless term, anyway. Yes, he'll take the first snap, but that doesn't necessarily mean that whoever it is has been declared the winner of the quarterback competition, or even will play 100 percent of the snaps.

Both guys will likely play, and this thing is far from over.

Here are some other notes before the Chick-fil-A Kickoff.

 

Freshmen abound

Alabama fans should get plenty of opportunities to see members of the Crimson Tide's No. 1 2014 recruiting class (per 247Sports) on the field Saturday. Alabama listed 16 players from that group on its official depth chart, including 14 true freshmen.

Several of those will play key roles.

Most notably, 5-star recruit Cam Robinson, the No. 4 overall player in that 2014 class, is expected to start at left tackle. The other starting freshman is JK Scott, who has handled punting duties during fall camp and could make a cameo at kicker if called upon.

Otherwise, Josh Frazier, Da'Shawn Hand and Rashaan Evans provide depth in Alabama's front seven, and those three could rotate in at some point up front. Cornerbacks Marlon Humphrey and Tony Brown, both 5-star recruits, could be called upon in the secondary, with Brown the early favorite since he enrolled in the spring.

Saban cautioned, though, against expecting any of them to light the world on fire from Day 1. This age of recruiting coverage, combined with the national exposure of college football, has placed tremendous pressure on the shoulders of 18- and 19-year-olds to perform right away, when in reality their full development as a college player takes a couple of years.

"We wouldn't put guys in the game if they weren't ready to be in there," Saban said. "We also don't expect them to play perfect."

 

Saban's country roads

Nick Saban isn't the least bit shy of his upbringing. He frequently cites his West Virginia roots and working at his dad's gas station as the foundation for his mentality and coaching philosophy that has brought him so much success.

It also means that his childhood college team growing up is the one his Crimson Tide will face Saturday.

"That was the biggest thing going when I was a kid, to go to Mountaineer Field and watch West Virginia play. That was like the highlight of my year," Saban said.

"I still have great memories of home and great memories of the people and relationships that I have at home. I've always kind of been a Mountaineer fan. I remember as a kid sitting in the old Mountaineer Fieldhouse. I used to sit in the upper deck with my feet hanging over the deck looking in between the rails watching Jerry West play. I remember that. I was probably only seven, eight, nine years old or something, but I remember that."

Saban still has plenty of relationships from those days, including U.S. Senator Joe Manchin, whom Saban nominated for his Ice Bucket Challenge.

TideSports.com's Tommy Deas traveled to Saban's hometown to report on a piece that is well worth your time and provides excellent insight into his childhood and what made him the way he is today.

"You don't forget stuff like that," Saban said. "But now I'm Alabama's coach. I'm an Alabama fan. We don't really have to be concerned about any of that. We want to do what's best for our team and the relationships that we have here.

"But we also respect their traditions and the relationships that we've developed through the years in West Virginia."

 

Marc Torrence is the Alabama lead writer for Bleacher Report. All quotes were obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted. All stats come from CFBStats. All recruiting information comes from 247Sports.

Follow on Twitter @marctorrence.

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Notre Dame Football: Brian Kelly's Final Thoughts on Irish Offseason

SOUTH BEND, Ind. — Notre Dame football kicks off its regular season Saturday when it battles Rice inside Notre Dame Stadium.

It’s been an eventful offseason for the Irish, especially over the past two weeks since news of the academic investigation broke. So while we have one final opportunity, let’s break down some of Notre Dame head coach Brian Kelly’s final thoughts on the offseason.

 

Everett Golson Named the Starting Quarterback

When Kelly named quarterback Everett Golson the starter just more than two weeks ago, the expectation finally became a reality. Asked this week how Golson has looked since being named the No. 1 signal-caller, Kelly pointed to the senior’s consistency.

“I think there is still room for growth there in that position, but consistency, decisiveness, those are good words to use with the quarterback's growth,” Kelly said Tuesday. “I think I've seen that. As a leader I think could probably use the same thing relative to consistency. He's consistently been that vocal leader on the offensive side of the ball.”

Kelly said the expectations for Golson don’t change even though his last live game action came during the BCS National Championship Game against Alabama—some 600 days ago. The head coach did say Notre Dame needs to be cognizant of the long layoff and focus on getting Golson back into an early rhythm.

“I think once he starts to get comfortable playing the game at a fast pace, then we just call the game like we normally would,” Kelly said.

 

Young Defense Will Be Tested

Six freshmen crack Notre Dame’s two-deep this week.

Six sophomores join them.

It became clear early in the offseason that Notre Dame would feature a remarkably young and inexperienced defense in 2014. For Kelly, while the unit is certainly green, he also highlighted the raw ability.

“Defensively it's one of the more inexperienced groups, but it's probably one of the more athletic groups, too,” Kelly said. “So there is a give and take there from that perspective.”

With all that youth on the defensive side of the ball, Kelly said Notre Dame must adjust the learning curve while also recognizing the need to play with a high level of sophistication.

“I think you're always teaching to the level that allows you to be successful,” Kelly said. “You can't say, well, we just have a bunch of young guys—we have to be basic. They've got to catch up to us.”

Kelly admitted there will assuredly be times when the Irish coaches are “gnashing our teeth,” but he said it’s important to trust the athleticism of the youngsters.

 

Early Expectations

It has been almost exactly eight months since Notre Dame last took the field, when it topped Rutgers, 29-16, in the Pinstripe Bowl at Yankee Stadium. A lot has changed since then, and a lot of work has been done.

So when the Irish square off with the Owls on Saturday, Kelly said he wants to progress from the offseason.

“You want to know that all the work that you put in is paying off a little bit, that we’ve put in since January,” Kelly said Thursday.

Kelly said he’ll look for a strong start. He wants solid fundamentals. He wants to avoid turnovers and sloppy football. In other words, Kelly wants what every coach wants in a season opener.

But he’s also looking for steady quarterback play from Golson and confidence for some of those aforementioned young defensive players.

“I think if that comes out of a win, obviously it’s going to be a great day for us,” Kelly said.

 

All quotes obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted.

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

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K.J. Hill to Arkansas: Razorbacks Land 4-Star WR Prospect

One of the top playmakers in the 2015 class is headed to Arkansas.

K.J. Hill had offers from dozens of schools across the country but had narrowed his decision down to Arkansas, Alabama, Notre Dame, Florida and Ohio State. In the end, he announced on ESPN's SpreeCast he wanted to play for the Razorbacks, according to John Talty of AL.com. 

The North Little Rock star posted huge numbers in high school as a big-play receiver who has shown the ability to score from anywhere on the field. Bleacher Report's Tyler Donohue takes a look at the player's production as a junior:

As he continued to move up in various rankings, Kipp Adams of 247 Sports explained why:

Hill is considered the No. 22 receiver in the nation and No. 1 player overall in the state of Arkansas, according to 247 Sports' composite rankings. He is a 4-star prospect in most publications and has the potential to be a true impact player at the next level.

While the 6'0" receiver does not have elite size or speed for his position, he has good agility that allows him to escape trouble. He is elusive in traffic and uses that ability to turn short passes into long plays, even without typical breakaway speed.

Many believed Hill was set to stay home and sign with Arkansas, especially after coming away so impressed with the visit. His stepfather Montez Peterson gushed about meeting coach Bret Bielema to Richard Davenport of the Arkansas Democrat Gazette:

Coach B made sure somebody reported to him about how they were doing and what they were doing while he was there. He doesn’t want anything to happen to our son while he’s there. And you factor all the other things with him saying the way K.J.’s character is and how he is as a person.

This ended up making a big impact on the player himself as he will now be a big part of the Hogs' future.

With Hill's strength and offensive impact, it would not be surprising to see the young player see the field early in his college career. The only thing that could hold him back is a lack of understanding the playbook. 

Either way, his new team will be thrilled to have him as he possesses as much upside as almost anyone else in the class. If he can continue to improve, he can become one of the best at his position.

 

Follow Rob Goldberg on Twitter for the latest breaking news and analysis.

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Michigan Football: Jabrill Peppers Ready for Prime Time

At some point during the first quarter of Michigan’s home opener, its defense will force Appalachian State into a fourth-down situation. A player wearing the No. 5 jersey will fall back and wait to receive the punt while 100,000 fans wait in breathless anticipation for the Jabrill Peppers era to begin.

Peppers began practicing with the team during fall camp—unlike teammates receiver Freddy Canteen and tackle Mason Cole, he didn’t enroll early.

Once he arrived on campus, he immediately showed why he was one of the top recruits in the nation. According to 247Sports' composite rankings, Peppers was a 5-star recruit and the No. 3 overall player in the 2014 class.

Brady Hoke was asked how he could place a true freshman back in a position to return kicks in his first collegiate game playing before the largest crowd in the United States.

“Watching him over the course of that last 27 days of practice, field punts, be in those situations, the confidence he has gives me confidence,” said Hoke.

Entering his fourth season in the wake of last year’s 7-6 finish, Hoke’s confidence is a big gamble.

Michigan faces a conundrum in its home opener versus Appalachian State—no win will be big enough to erase the embarrassment of the program’s last loss to the Mountaineers while any mistakes will add to perception that Hoke is on the hot seat.

Enter Peppers, the highly touted freshman recruit who will stand alone waiting to return the first kick of his collegiate career in front of the largest crowd of his life and a national television audience.

They'll all be waiting to see if he can live up to the hype of his recruitment and wondering if Appalachian State can deliver another upset.

The hype surrounding Peppers’ recruitment has been extraordinary, and he reveled in the attention. His recruitment was covered by The Washington Post and he blogged for USA Today.

As a potential two-way player, he was immediately compared to Charles Woodson, who won the Heisman Trophy at Michigan and continues to star in the NFL.

Peppers was tagged by Hoke to start the season as a nickelback, but he has worked his way into the rotation at cornerback by impressing defensive coordinator Greg Mattison.

"He’s played tremendously fast, he’s played with great confidence,” said Mattison. “He’s a very confident young man. Every practice he comes out with great energy. Everything we’ve done at practice, he’s been what we thought he would be.”

Hoke has repeated the “if you’re good enough, you’re old enough,” mantra several times during camp when talking about the progress of his younger players.

Peppers is a prime example of a freshman and sophomore class that “have a little bit more of an edge,” according to Hoke.

Peppers has been waiting for this moment since he committed to Michigan.

According to his coaches and teammates, he’s ready.

On Saturday, we'll get to see what everyone has been raving about.

 

Phil Callihan is a featured writer for Bleacher Report. Unless otherwise noted, all quotes in this article were obtained via press conferences or in person.

Follow @PSCallihan.

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Nebraska Football: What to Expect from Huskers in 2014

The Huskers enter the 2014 season ranked No. 22 in the AP Poll. That's not bad, but it doesn't tell fans much. As Bo Pelini prepares for his seventh season at the helm of Nebraska football, fans want to know what to expect.

So, what will Pelini and his team accomplish in 2014? Let's take a look at the top expectations fans can count on and look for during the new season.

 

Ameer Abdullah will Break 1,000 Yards (Again)

If there is one thing Husker fans can count on in 2014, it's that I-Back Ameer Abdullah will surpass 1,000 yards this season. If he does so, the senior will be the first three-time 1,000-yard rusher in school history.

Abdullah made it clear that he's about more than just the accolades. That doesn't mean he won't obtain those accomplishments, though.

The depth at the wide receiver position will likely have Abdullah's carries lower that in the past. However, an improved offensive line should still increase his production.

Needless to say, expect at least 1,000 yards from Abdullah in 2014. Don't be surprised if he smokes that number, though.

 

Improvement on Turnovers

It's no secret that turnovers have been an issue for the Huskers under Pelini. In fact, Hail Varsity's Brandon Vogel took a look at the issue in both 2012 and 2013.

During the 2014 offseason, turnovers were a focus. As Grant Muessel of Hail Varsity reported, John Papuchis is aware of just how important it is to fix the turnover problem:

One of the things that you hear a lot about our football program is our turnover margin, we’ve got to get better at it. Well, half of that is on us…getting takeaways is half of the battle in terms of the turnover margin, and we gotta hold up our end of the bargain. In some of the games where we may have had some turnovers and people point at that, we didn’t have very many takeaways either, so there’s a lot to be said for a defense equaling things out, so that’s something we’ve been stressing and harping on.

The time and attention during fall camp and the offseason should help. Plus, quarterback Tommy Armstrong now has some experience under his belt that should help potential turnovers.

While he had eight interceptions in 2013, per Huskers.com, Armstrong knows what he needs to do. He talked extensively about his role on the team during Nebraska's annual fan day.

Pelini also talked about the need to show improvement in this area during Friday's Big Red Breakfast.

What should fans expect? The easy answer is less turnovers. That's a simple expectation to have, but it's a major factor in keeping Nebraska from a Big Ten Championship title.

 

10 Wins or Bust

Pelini's first six seasons with Nebraska have had at least nine wins. That also means four losses. That's not bad, but it's not what fans want.

So, will 2014 be different? As CBSSports.com put it, "Aside from a quarterback who needs some seasoning (Tommy Armstrong), the Huskers have the goods to take the East (weaker of the two reconfigured divisions). Bo Pelini has loosened up to the point that a 10-win season - finally! - seems likely."

The 2014 season just feels like one where Pelini will finally break the nine-win trend. However, that could always mean it goes the other way, which would be a bust.

Fans can expect either a season that finally puts an end to the annual four losses or a season that falls apart at the seams. It just doesn't seem likely that the middle-of-the-road season (or nine wins) is on the agenda.

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Ole Miss Unleashes the Hit Stick on Boise State, Levels Every WR in Sight

Boise State received a violent gut check Thursday night.

The Broncos came into their season opener at the Georgia Dome looking for an upset. Instead they found Ole Miss lying in wait with a boom stick, fully prepared to dish out a painful and unceremonious welcome to the South.

Bystanders watched as the Rebels defense—a project long in the works—unloaded pound after pound of hurt on Boise State receivers.

Every time a Bronco caught the ball, a crimson blur snapped his body backward.

Vine user @sp0rts brings us footage of the carnage laid down by Ole Miss defensive back Cody Prewitt (No. 25), linebacker Keith Lewis (No. 24) and DB Tony Conner (No. 12).

They are terrifying men. Remember their names.

While it made for excellent television, Ole Miss' "destroy first, count the bodies later" defense came at a price.

An above-the-shoulders hit by Serderius Bryant on Boise State quarterback Grant Hedrick in the first quarter ended in ejection for the Ole Miss linebacker.

Officials flagged Bryant for targeting and sent him to the locker room to decompress. The linebacker maintains that he scarcely touched Hedrick.

"I barely even hit him, to tell you the truth," Brant told Chris Hays of the Orlando Sentinel. "If I had hit him hard, then I think it [would have been] worthy of a flag, but I barely hit him."

Here's a GIF of the hit, courtesy Nick Bromberg of Yahoo Sports. You be the judge:

In any case, this is not your typical Ole Miss defense.

This is an entirely different monster, and if Thursday night was any indication, more than one opposing receiver will leave Vaught-Hemingway Stadium icing his kidneys this season.

 

Follow Dan on Twitter for more sports and pop culture news.

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Meet QB Jarrett Guarantano, the Best First-Year Starter in High School Football

Years before he took over as a full-time high school starter, Jarrett Guarantano began receiving scholarship offers. The New Jersey quarterback now holds nearly 30 of them despite throwing just three varsity touchdowns.

Guarantano, a junior at Bergen Catholic High School, is among the most coveted class-of-2016 prospects and has a chance to match the hype this season as he assumes primary duties behind center. The 6'4", 200-pound passer began to see significant playing time during the final stretch of his sophomore campaign, closing out a frustrating two-win season with four starts.

He begins the fall on a mission to help a proud program rebound by meeting high individual expectations.

"This year is big for Bergen Catholic and for me," Guarantano said. "We both have a lot to prove."

 

Sky-High Potential

Guarantano finished the fall by throwing for a career-high 151 yards against Don Bosco Prep, per MaxPreps. His 449 total passing yards provided a small sample size of what he can do, though senior quarterback Colin McGovern (993 yards, six touchdown passes in 2013) received the bulk of snaps as starter.

Now the undisputed offensive leader, Guarantano has a chance to consistently show off skills that have colleges clamoring. He described those attributes during a self-assessment.

“I’m more of a pro-style quarterback who operates better under center then a guy who wants to take off running all the time," Guarantano said. "I can read coverage, go through my progressions and get the ball out in a hurry. But I can also use my feet when I need to. I’m a good enough athlete to get around the corner.”

He flashes a lively arm, above-average mobility and displayed improved passing mechanics during Nike's April football camp at the New York Jets' facilities. Those abilities have many anticipating a bounce-back season for his squad.

Expectations continue to mount as he finally takes the keys to Bergen Catholic's offensive attack. Early returns are impressive, including a 395-yard, four-touchdown passing performance in a scrimmage last Thursday, per JJ Conrad of NorthJersey.com.

"It's all about making improvements to get where you want to be," Guarantano said. "Proving yourself is important."

 

Focusing on His Finalists

Collegiate coaching staffs across the country are already believers. His offer list includes Penn State, Louisville, UCLA, Michigan State and Tennessee, along with several other Power 5 conference members.

Guarantano, the son of Rutgers Hall of Fame wide receiver James Guarantano, landed his first verbal offer from the Scarlet Knights as a rising freshman. Interest quickly spread beyond the state borders.

His recruitment became so regionally diverse that none of his four "finalists" share a conference.

He identifies Ohio State, Oklahoma, Clemson and Alabama as teams still under consideration. The choice to narrow his focus to just a few teams sends the message that Guarantano plans an early commitment.

"Cutting my list down to four teams gave everyone an opportunity to see that I’m really looking to reach a decision rather than wait a long time and have this process go into next season," he said.

Guarantano, rated sixth nationally among 2016 pro-style quarterbacks in 247Sports' composite rankings, is targeting late winter as the time frame to end his recruitment. There's plenty to consider before then.

"There's a lot to think about during the recruiting process," he said. "It's important to collect as much information as you can."

Guarantano has already been diligent in that regard, visiting three of his four finalists. Oklahoma is the one exception, though he can cross them off his list in September.

 

Oklahoma

He plans to attend the team's Sept. 13 matchup against Tennessee. It's a big weekend for the Sooners, who will also welcome 5-star Florida quarterback prospect Torrance Gibson to campus.

Guarantano views the program as a proven bridge between high school and professional football.

"Oklahoma always seems to produce NFL quarterbacks because of the way they use and prepare players at the position," he said. "My main goal after college is to play in the league, so Oklahoma stands out. I’m excited to get out there for a visit and see how they get their quarterbacks ready for games."

 

Ohio State

Guarantano already has a solid understanding of the process at Ohio State, where Urban Meyer made a strong impression on him during camp and throughout his recruitment.

“I’d have to say my closest relationship is with Coach Meyer," he said.

The two-time national champion has produced multiple first-round picks at the position and routinely puts quarterbacks in Heisman Trophy contention. Guarantano gained a strong indication of how the Buckeyes view him when Meyer compared elements of his game to two star quarterbacks he's coached.

"He made it clear to me that I’m more like Alex Smith with my passing abilities, but he thinks I’d also be able to run the read-option offense like Braxton Miller does," Guarantano said. "Ohio State likes that I can do both."

Guarantano admires the way Miller competes and is compelled by the offense partially because of his success in Columbus. He was saddened to hear the Buckeyes leader will miss this season.

“It’s just awful what happened to Braxton, especially right before his senior year," he said. "He could have been a Heisman Trophy candidate and helped get Ohio State to the national title game. He’s definitely one of the country’s best players.”

 

Alabama

Guarantano weighed in on another hot topic in preseason college football conversations: Alabama's quarterback battle. Nick Saban has yet to officially announce whether the Crimson Tide will roll with Jake Coker or Blake Simms.

“I think Coker will wind up as the starter," he said. "Alabama has handled the situation very well in my opinion. They’re letting things play out and giving both guys a chance to earn the job."

Whoever takes over the spot is in good hands with Lane Kiffin calling plays, according to Guarantano. The first-year offensive coordinator is a big part of the reason he views Tuscaloosa as a possible landing spot.

“USC was a team I always grew up watching because I loved their offense and what they did with quarterbacks," Guarantano said. "With Coach Kiffin in Alabama, I think it’s going to be a big deal, especially with all the talent they bring in down there.”

 

Clemson

He views Clemson as another program currently stockpiling playmakers on offense. The promise of a strong supporting cast with the Tigers presents an alluring opportunity.

“The amount of athletes they're getting at Clemson is pretty crazy," Guarantano said. "That definitely matters as a quarterback because you want to play with talented guys who can make big plays. The Clemson coaching staff is one-of-a-kind, and they're getting the job done."

 

Possibilities Loom Large

Though Guarantano is set on four finalists moving forward, he's leaving the door open for a pair of programs that could soon extend offers.

"Stanford and Notre Dame stand out," he said. "I’ve had a lot of contact with them lately, and I’d really like to get offers from both programs. Hopefully I’ll have a chance to earn those this season."

He hopes to visit Palo Alto sometime soon. Stanford recently offered fellow New Jersey quarterback Brandon Wimbush, a 2015 Penn State commit whose team faces Guarantano and Bergen Catholic on Sept. 11.

If the Cardinal decide to reach back into the Garden State for a 2016 passer, interest would be mutual.

“Stanford is one of the best schools to have an opportunity to attend because of their academic history," Guarantano said. "Their football team isn’t too shabby either. They’ve had a lot of success lately, and there’s a lot to like about the offense.”

The Fighting Irish are on his radar particularly because he likes the positional outlook. Head coach Brian Kelly may not pick up a passer in the 2015 class, creating an obvious need for 2016 recruiting efforts.

“Notre Dame’s depth chart at quarterback looks like I could have an opportunity to compete early," he said. "That’s important to me, and I think there’s some potential there."

Potential is the key word when breaking down Guarantano's game. We still aren't exactly sure what to expect from the coveted signal-caller this season due to limited reps at the varsity level.

Based on strides he made late last season and improvements that have followed during camp appearances and preseason scrimmage, Guarantano appears to be on the verge of validating early praise and earning his spot among America's elite quarterback prospects.

"I'm ready for the challenge, and I know my team is too," he said. "It's an opportunity I've been waiting for."

 

All quotes obtained firsthand by B/R national recruiting analyst Tyler Donohue unless otherwise noted.

Recruit ratings courtesy of 247Sports.

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Alabama Brewery Finds a Way to Work Lane Kiffin into 'The Birth of Venus'

Lane Kiffin has yet to be on the sidelines for an Alabama game, but one brewery has taken the liberty of turning the Crimson Tide offensive coordinator into a work of art.

The former Oakland Raiders head coach is known for being a good offensive mind, so someone decided to work him into Sandro Botticelli's The Birth of Venus. The new work of art is titled The Birth of Offense.

Given that Kiffin has yet to make an appearance with Alabama, it's a bold move to create a mural of the offensive coordinator. This shows just how much people in Alabama love their football.

[Twitter]

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College Football Rankings 2014: Updated Outlook Before Week 1 Saturday Games

Thursday’s packed schedule of college football games has created a genuine buzz among fans of the sport, and the start of the 2014 season has put the focus on the rankings as Saturday’s slate of games approaches.

With No. 1 Florida State, No. 2 Alabama and 19 other ranked teams in action on the first Saturday of the regular season, college football fans must find a comfortable chair, kick their feet up and enjoy a schedule full of action.

Here are the full Amway Coaches and the Associated Press Top-25 polls and a preview of Saturday’s most intriguing matchup.

 

 

Saturday’s Must-Watch Game: Penn State vs. UCF

One of the most intriguing games of the Week 1 schedule is the battle between Penn State and UCF Saturday morning at 8:30 a.m. ET in Croke Park, Dublin, Ireland. You read that correctly—these two teams will go to battle overseas to start the regular season.

The Nittany Lions are entering a new era under head coach James Franklin. The 42-year-old coach spent the last three seasons as the leader of the Vanderbilt Commodores and took the Penn State job during the offseason.

Franklin will be leaning heavily on sophomore starting quarterback Christian Hackenberg to start the year fast, but there are plenty of weapons on the offensive unit. With wide receivers like Geno Lewis and DaeSean Hamilton, plus a tough running back like Bill Belton, the Nittany Lions will be dangerous on offense.

While much of the focus for fans will be on the revamped Penn State offense, the defense has made strides this offseason as well. With several fifth-year seniors returning for one last shot at glory, the Nittany Lions could be a major contender if the chemistry is there from Day 1.

Using a strong defensive line to cause havoc in the rushing and passing attacks, the program’s vaunted linebacker group led by Mike Hull, Nyeem Wartman and Brandon Bell and a secondary that includes hard-hitting players like cornerback Jordan Lucas and safety Adrian Amos, Penn State should be able to pull out the victory on Saturday.

UCF will not go down without a fight, though.

The Knights will begin the season with redshirt freshman Pete DiNovo as the starting quarterback, so Penn State should be expecting a simplified offense for a player who has never taken a snap in college football before.

Look for the team to lean heavily on running backs William Stanback and Dontravious Wilson as DiNovo gets acclimated to the offensive system. A strong group of receivers, which includes Rannell Hall, J.J. Worton and tight end Justin Tukes, will help make the transition easier, but expect the Nittany Lions to bring pressure on the inexperienced QB early and often.

There will be no home-field advantage across the Atlantic Ocean, so the stage has been set for the best overall team to walk away victorious. While the Knights were the better team last season, the lack of Blake Bortles will doom UCF on Saturday morning.

Penn State should roll to a decisive victory.

Predicted Winner: Penn State 40, UCF 20

 

*Stats via CFBStats.com.

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6 Teams Struggling on the 2015 College Football Recruiting Trail

Recruiting is the lifeblood of every college football program, and success on the recruiting trail can often be an indicator of whether a team is heading in the right direction.

With national signing day a little more than six months away, a few marquee programs have work to do in order to put together a strong class for the 2015 cycle. 

A few schools that made coaching changes highlight the list of schools who fit this category, while other powers are just off to a slow start.

Which notable schools are in danger of landing a 2015 class that ranks below their usual standards?

Begin Slideshow

Florida State Football: Rashad Greene Could Be 'Noles Best WR of All-Time

If there's one thing missing from Rashad Greene's game, it's the flash. 

The Florida State senior will showcase his speed and soft hands. He's a smooth route-runner but also a tenacious blocker.

What's lacking is the flash. The prima donna mentality that is almost engrained in the DNA of an elite receiver is sorely lacking.

Greene has built quite the resume through quiet consistency. He's led FSU in receptions three straight seasons and could become the first Seminole to do that in four consecutive years.

He is fourth on FSU's all-time list for career receptions (171), sixth in career receiving yards (2,465) and seventh in career receiving touchdowns (22).

Greene, not surprisingly, isn't concerned with the fact that he's within striking distance of placing his name atop FSU's lists.

"It's definitely not something that I set up as an individual goal," Greene said. "It's just a part of the work that I put in, and that's the result. That's a great accomplishment, but at the same time I don't think it will hit me until I am done playing football."

Greene only needs 10 touchdowns to pass Peter Warrick for the all-time lead. That's more than Greene has ever had in a single season at FSU, but it's possible if he stays healthy, is productive and FSU could play a 15-game season if they reach the national title game.

Greene was an All-ACC pick in 2013, but his name was left off the major All-American teams despite grabbing 76 receptions (the second highest in a single season in school history) for 1,128 yards and nine touchdowns. The AP team, for example, selected a first, second and third team but did not mention Greene.

Part of that is Greene's consistency was often overlooked because he was part of a trio of talented receivers last year with Kenny Shaw and Kelvin Benjamin, both of whom are now in the NFL.

But ESPN analyst Desmond Howard, a Heisman Trophy winner and receiver at Michigan in the 1990s, loves Greene. Howard argues that there simply weren't enough receptions to go around between the trio—as well as standout tight end Nick O'Leary.

Still, Greene has been the primary target, first for quarterback EJ Manuel in 2011 and '12 and then for Heisman Trophy winner Jameis Winston last season. Greene missed a few games as a freshman with an ankle injury yet still led FSU in receptions with 38. He had 58 catches in 2012 before a breakout junior season.

"It's very challenging to do that year after year after year," Howard said. "That speaks volumes to me. After one season, if you're the leading receiver on a team, coming into the next season everybody's defensive scouting report is going to be, 'We have to take this kid away. He was the leading receiver a year ago, so we have to give him extra attention.'

"For him to be able to do that for three seasons is nothing short of remarkable."

His production year after year has put him in select company. The easiest of the records to break would be career receptions. Greene is just 42 away from Ron Sellers, and that's a number that he could reach in early November (he's averaged 4.6 receptions per game in his career but hit 5.4 catches per game in 2013).

Greene was a star prospect coming out of Fort Lauderdale's St. Thomas Aquinas in 2011. As a senior he had 43 receptions for 943 yards (21.9 yards per catch) with 13 touchdowns.

Yet Greene was often overlooked by fans who were more enamored with another receiver from the 2011 class: Benjamin. He was taller (6'5") and bigger (260 pounds) and physically looked like an impossible matchup for college corners.

But Benjamin turned out to be a project, a receiver who needed to redshirt and then more time to refine his skills. Greene, however, arrived polished and ready to contribute.

"In camp his freshman year, I realized that this kid was going to have a chance to be a good football player," said FSU receivers coach Lawrence Dawsey, who was a Seminoles wideout and played for seven seasons in the NFL in the 1990s. "I knew he had a chance to be special if he worked hard."

Greene did just that. He caught a touchdown pass in his first five games as a freshman and capped 2011 with 99 receiving yards and a 15-yard, fourth-quarter touchdown in a bowl win over Notre Dame.

In 2012, he became the first Seminole since Peter Warrick in 1999 to score receiving, rushing and return touchdowns in the same season. Greene contributed in every game as FSU won an ACC title, but it may not have happened had he not taken a short catch from Manuel and sprinted 39 yards in the final minute to defeat Virginia Tech on the road in November.

Last year, he had five 100-yard games and sparked FSU's biggest wins en route to a title. In an October top-five showdown at Clemson, Greene caught eight passes for 146 yards and two touchdowns. He added a season-high nine receptions for 147 yards against Auburn in the national title game, including a 49-yard catch-and-run down to the Tigers' 23 with 1:05 left. In a game full of big plays, that was right up there—and it set up Winston's game-sealing touchdown toss to Benjamin in the final seconds.

He has at least three receptions in 19 straight games.

"Consistency," Dawsey said. "Showing up in the big games. Making plays."

Greene contemplated (briefly) leaving for the NFL after his junior season. He knew Shaw was a senior and would be gone. Benjamin was a draft-eligible redshirt sophomore and was weighing his options.

But just days after the win over Auburn, Greene had made up his mind to stay.

"I considered it at one point, but then I realized that I could never get this time back," Greene said. "All of the advice that I got from people (was) it's no rush. You can never return to college and have that experience at any point in your life but you can always go to the NFL. I wanted to get my degree, that's something that my father wanted me to achieve."

Try picturing an FSU receiving corps in 2014 without Shaw, Benjamin and Greene. His decision to return was huge for Winston and the offense.

"It's real big," Winston said. "He's a true brother to me. When adversity hit our team, we got that brotherhood together. I love him."

Greene felt there was more to accomplish. A degree. Another national title. But Greene also wanted to take FSU's young wide receivers under his wing. He wanted to mentor sophomores like Kermit Whitfield, Jesus Wilson and Isaiah Jones as well as freshmen Travis Rudolph, Ermon Lane and Ja'Vonn Harrison.

Greene is extremely soft spoken. But he is a leader (often by example) and loves to teach.

"(I) just try to be a leader to those younger guys because I knew we were restocking at receiver," Greene said. "Show them the way so that they could always have that trait to pass it on and pass it on."

And thus Greene has a chance to pass all of the FSU receiving greats. Many of the numbers Greene is chasing belong to Ron Sellers, an FSU star in the 1960s. Sellers is atop FSU's career charts in receptions (212) and receiving yards (3,598). Greene is pursuing Warrick, who had 31 TD receptions from 1996-99.

"I think he's outstanding," Sellers said of Greene. "One of the greatest receivers of all time at Florida State."

Perhaps, by the end of the season, the greatest.

Bob Ferrante is the Florida State Lead Writer for Bleacher Report, all quotes obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted. Stats and records courtesy of FSU media guides. Follow Bob on Twitter. All recruiting information is courtesy of 247Sports.

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Florida State Football: Confidence in Coordinator, Player Talent Key for Defense

There’s a good reason why Florida State coach Jimbo Fisher isn’t worried about opening the season Saturday night with a new defensive coordinator for the third time in as many seasons. 

Actually, there are two good reasons:

 

1. Fisher is confident in Kelly

Fisher is undoubtedly comfortable with Charles Kelly, whom he promoted to Seminoles defensive boss earlier this year following the surprise defection of coordinator Jeremy Pruitt to the same position at the University of Georgia. Kelly was promoted to his current post after coaching the ‘Noles linebackers for one season.

“The guy is hired to do a job and he knows how to do it,” Fisher said this week. “I’m very comfortable with what he’s done. I know who he is and what he’s done. We’ve got a great staff. Charles has been in a lot of battles and situations throughout his career and I have a lot of confidence in him.”

Despite the change in coordinators, the Seminoles’ overall defensive scheme hasn’t changed.

With Pruitt in charge, FSU was much more aggressive defensively than when Mark Stoops was calling the plays. Pruitt may have replaced Stoops when the latter was hired to coach Kentucky, but it was Fisher’s decision to emulate Nick Saban's Alabama formula for defensive success and transform into a more multiple and attacking style of scheme—a choice that paid off last year when the Seminoles proved to be one of the nation’s premier defensive teams.

With Kelly, that mindset hasn’t changed; only the person calling the plays.

"We were a very tight-knit group last year, and I feel we're the same way this year," Kelly said at FSU’s media day earlier this month. "When you have the camaraderie or whatever it is that you manage and you're on the same page, when you hear ideas from other people ... just the trust factor and the more you're together, that's important."

Helping make the transition from coordinator to coordinator is made all the more easier by the quality of the coaching staff as a whole. Kelly has his own 20-year career of experiences to draw upon as he embarks on this new chapter, but having longtime coaching veterans like defensive tackles coach Odell Haggins, linebackers coach Bill Miller and defensive ends coach Sal Sunseri collectively working together makes for an ideal ingredient in the recipe for success.

Oh, and the quality of players doesn’t hurt either...

 

2. Fisher’s defense is loaded with talent

Terrence Brooks, Timmy Jernigan, Lamarcus Joyner and Telvin Smith are all now in the NFL, but FSU has the chance to be even better defensively than it was a season ago when the Seminoles faced a staggering 963 total offensive plays but allowed just 12.1 points per game.

There are some key players missing from that excellent effort, yes, but Florida State still returns a group of players who combined to register 521 total tackles in 2013. Despite not having a single senior starter on defense, the Seminoles have more than enough talent and experience returning in 2014 to pose problems for opposing offenses.

Fisher’s defensive secondary returns three starters (four if you count the healthy return of Tyler Hunter) in Jalen Ramsey, P.J. Williams and Ronald Darby, who contributed to the country’s best pass defense a season ago. Williams and Darby are widely considered to be the best cornerback tandem in the nation, and Ramsey could be on the verge of solidifying himself as a college football superstar.

Terrance Smith is an underrated starter with a lot of experience at the linebacker spot, and Fisher’s defense also features Mario Edwards Jr., who at 300 pounds has the ability to play effectively inside or outside on the defensive line. DeMarcus Walker, Reggie Northrup, E.J. Levenberry, Nile Lawrence-Stample, Chris Casher, Nate Andrews and several more defenders are each expected to step up and play at a sustained high level as well. 

“We have a lot of talented guys,” Goldman said. “Everybody knows what they are supposed to do and how they are supposed to do it. We definitely want to be better this year [than last year].”

Brandon Mellor is a Florida State writer for Bleacher Report. All quotes obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted. Statistics courtesy of Seminoles.com. All recruiting information courtesy of 247Sports.

Follow @BrandonMellor on Twitter.

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Ohio State Football: Realistic Expectations for JT Barrett in His Buckeyes Debut

Discussing what he expects to see from J.T. Barrett in the first start of his college career, Ohio State offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach Tom Herman used a mixed metaphor to explain the responsibilities of the quarterback in the Buckeyes' spread offense.

"We don’t do a whole lot on offense, despite what some think we may or may not do,” Herman said. “We don’t ask the quarterback to be a rocket surgeon by any stretch of the imagination."

But while Barrett won't be playing the role of "rocket surgeon" when Ohio State takes the field for the Buckeyes' season opener against Navy on Saturday, the redshirt freshman won't be without responsibility. No matter how much the OSU coaching staff downplays Barrett's role, the fact remains that he's the player tasked with replacing two-time Big Ten MVP Braxton Miller, who was sidelined for the season a week ago with a torn labrum.

And while it's far-fetched to think that Barrett could replace the 263.5 total yards per game that Miller averaged a season ago right away, there's no denying that a large burden of the Ohio State offense has been placed on the Wichita Falls, Texas, native's shoulders. 

So how does Herman plan on reconciling Barrett's obvious inexperience with his undeniable responsibility? It starts with a simple game plan that won't require a rocket surgeon to employ.

"You want to make sure that you call plays that maybe you guys might say are conservative, but yet don't have all the ifs, this's and thats attached to them," Herman told reporters. "We kind of live in that world anyways, especially with our tempo."

Keeping the X's and O's simple is one thing, but keeping Barrett's nerves intact? There's no accounting for that.

Just a month ago, Barrett was little more than the Buckeyes' third-string quarterback, a break-glass-in-case-of-emergency option at football's most important position. Now? That emergency has happened, and the redshirt freshman finds himself preparing for the first start of his college career—and on the road nonetheless.

To a certain degree, ESPN analyst Kirk Herbstreit knows exactly what Barrett is experiencing. An Ohio State quarterback from 1989-92, Herbstreit knows what it's like to be preparing for one's first start with the scarlet and gray—and all of the feelings that come along with it.

But asked by B/R what Barrett needs for a successful week, Herbstreit didn't add pressure to the second-year signal-caller. Rather, the College GameDay analyst said that this is where Herman and OSU coach Urban Meyer will earn their money as they get Barrett prepped for every possible predicament.

"If you’re worried about, ‘I’ve never seen this coverage last week in practice, I didn’t see this front with this coverage,’ if you get into that, that’s a slippery slope," Herbstreit said. "So, I think it’s really up to Urban and Tom Herman to put these guys in as many difficult situations as they can. If they do a good job of that, then you can just go out and kind of react to the game."

And if Barrett can do that, then surely Herman will feel much more secure with such an inexperienced player directing his offense. Right?

Wrong.

Not because Herman isn't confident in Barrett's ability—he's actually had nothing but praise for the former 4-star prospect this past week—but rather because there are certain situations Herman himself is rarely comfortable in. Asked if he's ready to see Barrett face his first third-down conversion attempt, the OSU offensive coordinator admitted he's not, but that would still be the case if it were Miller taking snaps for the Buckeyes.

"I haven't felt OK in 12 years in that scenario," Herman said with a smile. "It's no different than any other time."

So with so much unknown about both Barrett and the OSU offense heading into his first start, what are realistic expectations for both the Buckeyes and their new quarterback on Saturday? It's tough to tell. But Herman certainly likes what he has in his new starter, rocket surgeon or not.

"He's a grown man. He's a grown dude. And I know the enormity of the moment may or may not hit him at some point," Herman said. "I know there's a lot of schools that would take our scenario over what they got."

 

Ben Axelrod is Bleacher Report's Ohio State Lead Writer. You can follow him on Twitter @BenAxelrod. Unless noted otherwise, all quotes were obtained firsthand. All recruiting information courtesy of 247Sports.

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