NCAA Football

Nebraska Football: Week 2 Fall Stock Report

The second week of fall camp has brought two-a-day practices for the Huskers. After the first week brought too many injuries and even a suspension, this week has been much more calm.

Position battles are really heating up now. That doesn't mean Bo Pelini and staff didn't find some time for a little fun this week. And with media once again being allowed at practice, the media really showed up.

 

News from the Week

Another injury for Nebraska kicked off the second week of practice. On Monday, Pelini confirmed tailback Adam Taylor has suffered a broken ankle during the Aug. 9 practice, per Jerry Hinnen of CBSSports.com. While the news was disappointing, the Huskers still have Ameer Abdullah, Imani Cross and Terrell Newby healthy.

In fact, Abdullah had something to say about all the talent that surrounds him, per Hail Varsity's Grant Muessel.

Offensive coordinator Tim Beck feels good about where the offense is right now. He said during the Aug. 11 practices that he believes roughly 80 to 85 percent of the playbook is installed, per Nyatawa of the Omaha World-Herald. “Our guys started reviewing more than learning," he said. "And it showed on the field.”

It's not major news, but it still got plenty of attention during the Aug. 13 practice. Husker coaches faced off in a little dance competition. The photos truly are worth a thousand words.

 

Important Position Battles

The quarterback competition continues. While it's hard to see Tommy Armstrong losing the No. 1 spot by the first game, it's clearer than ever that it's not a cake walk for him, Ryker Fyfe or Johnny Stanton.

During the Aug. 13 practice, Pelini said who falls where. "Right now, obviously the top three are Tommy, Ryker and Johnny (Stanton). Probably in that order," Pelini said, per Jon Nyatawa of the Omaha World-Herald.

In the absence of Charles Jackson, Pelini expects Byerson Cockrell to now start at nickelback this season. That doesn't mean Cockrell won't have some competition, though. As the Lincoln Journal Star's Brian Rosenthal reported, Pelini believes that true freshman Josh Kalu “has made a big jump” at nickelback.

“I feel good about our nickel position right now,” Pelini said, per Rosenthal. “Those guys have really learned a lot, and we’re throwing a lot at them, so it’s good.”

 

Biggest Storylines

After the Aug. 9 practice, Armstrong was seen sporting the green non-contact jersey, according to Greg Smith of Black Sports Online. With the quarterback competition heating up, it was a bit of concern to fans as to how long he'd have to wear it. By Aug. 13, Nyatawa reported that Armstrong was no longer wearing it.

The defense definitely took a big hit during the first week of fall camp with injuries and a suspension. As a result, Pelini spent some extra time working with both the defensive backs and linebackers this week. Nyatawa noted that there was some good competition between the two units and quality reps as well.

As for special teams, there's a well-known player interested in helping out. That guy is Abdullah. He was seen taking punt return reps alongside Jordan Westerkamp, De'Mornay Pierson-El and Jordan Nelson, per Muessel. Abdullah explained:

I consider myself one of the better players on this team, so I want the best players out there at all times...Just because you play a pivotal role on the offense doesn’t mean you can’t contribute on special teams, because you want the best 11 out there at every phase of the game.

It should be interesting how it all shapes up in the next couple of weeks.

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LSU Football: Week 2 Fall Stock Report

The launch of ESPN's SEC Network on Thursday stole all of the college football headlines this week. And LSU was certainly not left out of the party. 

Head coach Les Miles was interviewed by the SEC Network's Peter Burns on Thursday. Two of the network's prominent analysts, former LSU All-American defensive linemen in Marcus Spears and Anthony "Booger" McFarland, made their debuts.

ESPN has also been at practice since the beginning of the week for an All-Access look at the Tigers. 

But outside of the bright lights of the worldwide leader, fall camp continued. 

Wednesday was an eventful day for LSU. The Tigers competed in their first scrimmage despite missing key players. Here are a few headlines from the entire week. 

 

Quarterback Battle Continues 

LSU's Wednesday scrimmage lasted approximately 50 plays, according to LSU Sports Information. Receivers Travin Dural and Avery Peterson both caught touchdown passes, though LSU would would not say which quarterback threw them. 

Miles said both sophomore Anthony Jennings and freshman Brandon Harris took an equal amount of snaps with the first and second units and played well 70 percent of the time. 

Judging scrimmage performances can be tricky. They are closed to the public and the media, which means all information is released from the team. 

Miles and offensive coordinator Cam Cameron will not make a decision on who will be under center until late August. 

 

Freshmen Injuries

Highly touted freshmen Leonard Fournette and Malachi Dupre were held out of Wednesday's scrimmage due to injury, per ESPN.com

Miles said the injuries are minor. He knows the importance of Fournette and Dupre to LSU's success this season. It will be their first time fighting through the grind of an SEC schedule, so staying on the side of caution is smart. 

 

Quentin Thomas Returns to Practice

The Advocate reported starting defensive tackle Quentin Thomas would be out for the season with torn biceps. Luckily for Miles, that looks like it will not be the case. 

Thomas returned to practice on Wednesday and Miles said he could possibly be back working out in full with the team, per The Times-Picayune.  

Miles will not need to rush Thomas back in to action. The Tigers have three talented redshirt freshmen that can fill the void in Frank Herron, Greg Gilmore and Maquedius Bain. 

 

Fall Camp Schedule

LSU will have split practices on Friday, with one practice in the morning and another in the afternoon. The Tigers will have a full padded scrimmage on Saturday and have an off day on Sunday.

Miles is heading into his 10th season in Baton Rouge. He understands the rigors of an SEC schedule as well as anyone. It is vital to have as many players healthy for the start of the season.

Fournette and Dupre probably could have played on Wednesday but risking their health in a meaningless scrimmage is unnecessary. Expect Miles to continue to be cautious with player injuries.

Here is LSU's schedule for next week, via The Advocate.

Monday, Aug. 18, 8:45 a.m. Practice & 4:15 p.m. Walk-through

Tuesday, Aug. 19 3:30 p.m. Scrimmage (closed)

Wednesday, Aug. 20 4 p.m. Walk-through

Thursday, Aug. 21 4:35 p.m. Practice

Friday, Aug. 22 4:30 p.m. Practice

 

Rankings and stats provided by cfbstats.com and 247Sports. Quotes were obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted. Follow me on Twitter @CarterthePower

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Georgia Bulldogs Football: Week 2 Fall Camp Stock Report

As another week of fall camp winds down, here's all the latest from the Georgia Bulldogs.

 

Merritt Hall's Career Ends

Last week, it became evident that Georgia's ongoing battle with the injury bug was far from over.  This week, that affliction vested itself in a medical disqualification for starting fullback Merritt Hall.  According to GeorgiaDogs.com, Hall suffered multiple concussions both in high school and in college, but the most recent (and final) injury occurred last week.

Hall's career ended all too quickly. He arrived in Athens, Georgia, as a walk-on, and after redshirting in 2011, he earned a scholarship and six starts in 12 game appearances in 2012.  Last season, he started one game and appeared in all 13 contests for the Bulldogs.

Statistics and participation, however, do not tell the whole story for Hall.  A fierce competitor, Hall was a tenacious lead blocker and pivotal in Georgia's success in the running game over the past two seasons.  

 

Depth Concerns

The premature conclusion of Hall's career makes the fullback position one of concern.  Currently, Taylor Maxey (a walk-on and a senior) and freshman Detric Bing-Dukes (who last week was a linebacker) are contending for the starting fullback spot.  This unexpected change in the depth chart was called "surreal" by Maxey (per Marc Weiszer of the Athens Banner-Herald) but has many fans uneasy.

Obviously, the urgency resulting from Hall's medical disqualification is heightened given Quayvon Hicks' new role as a tight end and H-back. Hicks' move has proved invaluable, as Georgia has struggled to keep tight end Jay Rome healthy and there is a general absence of experience at the position.

While the trickle-down effect of lacking depth may seem insurmountable, don't rule out some offensive variation from coordinator Mike Bobo.  If Hicks is able to line up as a true hybrid athlete in the backfield, new wrinkles can be rolled out.  This may also provide for less traditional backfields and the use of two true running backs in the backfield at the same time. 

 

Secondary Questions

Meanwhile, the defensive secondary remains a bit of a mystery as far as personnel is concerned.  New defensive coordinator Jeremy Pruitt is giving everyone opportunities, but nothing is yet settled.  Head coach Mark Richt told Seth Emerson of Macon's Telegraph, "We've got so many working parts there.  Jeremy's really put just about everybody out there."

In the mix for major playing time:

  • Damian Swann: projected starter at cornerback
  • Rico Johnson: cornerback
  • Devin Bowman: cornerback
  • Shattle Fenteng: cornerback and star position
  • J.J. Green: star position
  • Malkom Parrish: star position
  • Quincy Mauger: safety and star position
  • Dominick Sanders: safety
  • Aaron Davis: safety
  • Corey Moore: safety

At this juncture, it's hard to tell if these players are struggling to differentiate themselves because the talent pool is so deep or if they're failing to execute properly.  

 

Pool Day

On a lighter note, Georgia took their annual trip to the Ramsey Center for a day of high-diving on Tuesday.  

 

Week 3 Storylines

Obviously, tracking the development of Georgia's new fullback rotation will be worth keeping an eye on.  Bobo has typically relied heavily on a blocking back, so it would be premature to think that role will be diminished greatly—particularly if either Maxey or Bing-Dukes can demonstrate mastery of the position.

Additionally, the offensive line rotation should soon be cemented. Currently, several players are continuing to shuffle.

On the defensive side of the ball, expect to see a few more starters or "leaders" emerge in the secondary.  That may be not be vocalized by Pruitt, but rep distribution should soon begin to favor the projected starters.

Lastly, Georgia is holding a special teams scrimmage on Saturday night.  This should be a nice opportunity for athletes like freshman Isaiah McKenzie to show what they can do in live situations.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Florida Gators Football: Week 2 Fall Stock Report

Another week of practice in the books for the Florida Gators, another seven days that much closer to regular-season action. The Gators are now just 15 days away from their season opener against Idaho.

Florida’s second week of fall camp was once again heavily focused on the offensive side of the ball. With the defense set, the Gators continue to try and get their offense up to speed and to the point it can put points on the board on a consistent basis. There’s a lot of positive things going on offensively and a ton of confidence being displayed.

Here are the key updates from the second week of Florida’s fall camp.

 

These Aren't the Same Receivers

At times, it feels like Florida’s practices are all about quarterback Jeff Driskel. Everybody wants questions answered and updates on his progress. How is he going to pick up the new offense? Can he stay healthy? Is he really going to be that much better under offensive coordinator Kurt Roper?

Driskel is still improving and a lot of folks are impressed, which is something I wrote in last week's article.

However, what about the guys catching the ball? Last season, no Gator caught more than 44 passes, and there was only one receiver who had more than two touchdown receptions (Solomon Patton, who is no longer on the team).

A quarterback is only as good as his receivers, and those same receivers who weren’t contributing much a year ago have a different mindset this season, according to Edward Aschoff of ESPN.com.

"Since I've been here this is probably the most talented receiving group we've had," Quinton Dunbar said. "I feel like everybody is going to trust each other this year to get better. I feel like we've got depth, and a lot of people can make plays."

Andre Debose chimed in, per the report: "I feel like we can be great. We can be the best in the SEC. With the offense we have I feel like the coach puts us in a lot of good situations to make plays. I feel like with this offense we'll flourish."

That certainly doesn’t sound like a group of receivers who allowed Florida’s passing offense to rank 109th in the country. Then again, the Gators have been drenched in confidence all offseason and truly believe they can be the surprise team of the year that makes an honest run at an SEC title.

Speaking of Debose, he’s looked terrific in camp so far.

If Debose can remain healthy and productive, there's no question Florida's wide receiving corps will be light years better than last season.

 

Tempo, Tempo, Tempo 

If it’s not keeping an eye on every move Driskel makes, it’s making sure the offense is moving at a quick enough speed. Roper runs an uptempo offense that wants to get to the line quickly, gets a lot of plays off and simply wears down the defense by the time the fourth quarter arrives.

While things have progressed over the months, it’s not good enough yet, according to receiver Ahmad Fulwood, via Thomas Goldkamp of 247Sports.

The biggest step (left) I’d have to say is the tempo. We watched the film of Duke last year. I feel like we should pick up the tempo a little bit more. We’re running it fast, but coach Roper said we could always do it a lot faster. The less time the defense has to prepare, the better for us.

That’s typical coachspeak. No matter how perfect it may look on film or what the results are, a coach will always find something to push his players that much further. Truth is, the tempo can always be a bit faster, which is why the Gators have been going through a brutal conditioning program to prepare them for what’s to come.

With several months to prepare, the Gators' tempo is certainly faster than it was in the spring. Still, Oregon probably believes it could run its offense faster than it has in the past, and it's a unit that ranks at the top of every offensive category. 

The speed of the offense is without question going to be the top thing to watch in Florida's first game of the season. 

 

Injuries Won't Go Away?

The first week of fall camp involved the close call to cornerback Vernon Hargreaves III. Now, last Sunday’s scrimmage finished with a lot of bumps and bruises, according to Thomas Goldkamp of 247Sports, who listed all of the players' injuries and expected return.

Player (Injury) -- Projected Return

RB Kelvin Taylor (hamstring strain) -- Thursday or Friday 
RB Matt Jones (knee swelling) -- Tuesday 
RB Adam Lane (unspecified) -- Unspecified 
WR Andre Debose (knee swelling) -- Wednesday 
OL Trip Thurman (shoulder) -- Unspecified 
DE Alex McCalister (shoulder) -- Unspecified 
DE Taven Bryan (strep throat) -- Day to Day 
DE Bryan Cox Jr. (shoulder) -- Unspecified 
DL Jonathan Bullard (ankle) -- Tuesday 
DT Thomas Holley (hernia) -- Surgery Needed, Unspecified 
CB Vernon Hargreaves III (bone bruise) -- Tuesday or Wednesday 
S Duke Dawson (shoulder) -- Next Couple Days

Practicing in Non-Contact Jerseys

TE DeAndre Goolsby
CB J.C. Jackson 
S Marcus Maye

Yikes.

The good news is that the majority of those players have already returned to practice or are close to it. But Florida’s lengthy injury history and several incidents in just one scrimmage has the coaching staff thinking ahead. That’s why Dante Fowler was limited in Thursday’s practice due to a minor arm injury, according to Robbie Andreu of Gator Sports.

“Dante was in orange as a precautionary today,” UF defensive coordinator D.J. Durkin said. “He’s fine. He’s ready to go. He did some of practice, and some we held him out. That was just precautionary.”

This is too close to comfort for Florida fans, as the regular season can't get here fast enough.

 

Extra Point

Ever wonder what it looked like from the eyes of a quarterback? Now you know.

Until next week.

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Every College Football Playoff Contender's Secret Weapon in 2014

Every national championship contender needs stars to thrive, but each also needs a secret weapon.

The teams need a player who can seemingly come out of nowhere to rip off a 100-yard rushing game, make an 80-yard catch-and-run touchdown or carry a game-changing kick return 99 yards for a touchdown.

If you’re a hardcore college football fan, you know about the nation's best players. You know the stars: Jameis Winston, Marcus Mariota, Braxton Miller, Bryce Petty, Todd Gurley and more.

They’re the Heisman Trophy candidates, the players who grab the headlines, shine in the spotlight and are the first names off any color commentator’s lips on a crisp fall Saturday afternoon.

But they can't carry a team alone. They need help. 

Every great team has a guy waiting in the wings, in a secondary role that gets outshined by his team's biggest stars. Someone who might not be well-known right now but could become a household name by late November.

Here’s a look at every College Football Playoff contender’s secret weapon for 2014. For this list, we took the Top 10 teams in the Amway Coaches Poll and identified a player who might emerge as a secret weapon this fall. These are players who are entering their first seasons starting this fall or fighting their way up the depth chart, clawing for playing time. 

In this look, teams are listed alphabetically, not by their position in the preseason poll.

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Texas Football: Buying or Selling the Longhorns' Top Fall Camp Performers

Charlie Strong and his Texas Longhorns are almost through their second week of fall camp, and several players have made their unexpected case for a major role in 2014. As we hit the homestretch to the season, which ones are you buying and selling as true breakout candidates?

As expected, the stars have come in and handled their business. David Ash has been the best player on the field according to 247Sports' Jeff Howe, while guys like Cedric Reed and Malcolm Brown continue to set themselves up for nice senior seasons.

Those are the guys that Strong and his staff are supposed to be able to rely on. The surprises, such as walk-on Dylan Haines and freshman Armanti Foreman, are the ones that have the potential to help this team exceed expectations.

So far, these two are among several fall standouts that are ready to turn their solid camp showings into essential roles for the 2014 campaign. But not every camp standout is here to stay, as we will see with Jason Hall and M.J. McFarland.

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Braxton Miller's Health Most Vital Factor in Ohio State's 2014 Playoff Chances

Braxton Miller is accustomed to individual accolades.

He won the past two Big Ten Silver Footballs as the conference’s best player, has appeared on moreSports Illustrated covers than any Ohio State athlete in history (four) and is seen as a serious Heisman candidate heading into the 2014 season.

However, the only way he can take care of the team success vacancy on his resume this year is by staying healthy.

Miller had offseason surgery on his shoulder and missed spring practice. He has been limited in August training as well and is clearly easing back into things.

Co-offensive coordinator Ed Warinner didn’t seem particularly concerned, via Kyle Rowland of Eleven Warriors:

We’re kind of bringing him along slowly. I think we have a really good plan to get him where he needs to be Aug. 30. We definitely don’t need to rush it.

I love Braxton’s work ethic, his attitude, his mentality. His mindset is awesome. His understanding of the game is great, and his leadership has improved. We’re just letting him come along physically.

It’s part of the plan. There was no he got the hook in the middle of the day. It was all planned out. We’re doing that with some other guys who started a lot who are coming off injuries, just watching their volume until they build into it.

It’s certainly encouraging that things are apparently going according to plan, but any Buckeye fan who remembers Miller trying to push the ball downfield with a barely functioning shoulder in the Orange Bowl loss to Clemson knows Ohio State’s College Football Playoff hopes hinge on the signal-caller’s health.

Miller’s value to Ohio State is clear when we look at the numbers.

His completion percentage, passing yards and passing touchdowns have increased every year since he arrived on campus, and he posted 2,094 yards and 24 touchdowns through the air and 1,068 yards and 12 touchdowns on the ground in 2013. 

Austin Ward of ESPN noted that Miller’s abilities have landed him on preseason Heisman watch lists already:

However, that production—particularly the running—comes with a cost. Every time Miller tucks the ball away and takes off downfield, Buckeye fans (and likely coaches) hold their breath in anticipation.

The video game moves in open space are sometimes breathtaking, but Miller is vulnerable. It would probably be in Ohio State’s best long-term interest if Miller limited his running to the situations where the team really needed it. You don’t want to handicap his game, but he probably doesn’t have to be sprinting outside the pocket against Illinois or Kent State.

So we know Miller is capable of putting up incredible numbers and leading the Buckeyes, but his health is even more important this year because the luxury that was Kenny Guiton is no longer around.

Guiton tallied 749 yards and 14 touchdowns through the air and 330 yards and five touchdowns on the ground in 2013. He carried the Buckeyes to a blowout victory at California, rescued them against Purdue in 2012 and played valuable snaps when Miller was briefly injured in a victory in East Lansing against Michigan State in 2012.

It was easy to mistake Guiton for a starting quarterback because of his poise and passing abilities. In fact, he may have been the best signal-caller in the Big Ten outside of his own teammate a year ago had he been given a chance to start all season. There was a point when Guiton actually led the nation in touchdown passes.

Without Guiton, Cardale Jones and J.T. Barrett assume the responsibilities that come with being Miller’s backup.

Sure, the potential is there, but the lack of experience doesn’t exactly inspire a ton of confidence. National title expectations will be bearing down on the Buckeyes from the opening game, and Barrett and Jones have combined for zero meaningful snaps in their Ohio State careers.

Miller’s health is also incredibly important to Ohio State’s playoff chances because running back Carlos Hyde is no longer around.

Hyde barreled his way to 1,521 rushing yards and 18 total touchdowns in 2013 even though he missed three games. He was an absolute workhorse who took the pressure off Miller and the rest of the offense throughout the season.

Between Hyde’s absence and the fact that Ohio State is replacing four starters on the offensive line, Miller’s role is clear—playmaker and leader of the offense. He is the proven commodity in Urban Meyer's system and needs to stay on the field to prove it.

Despite the common narrative that the Buckeyes play a weak schedule, there will be plenty of tests in 2014. The Scarlet and Gray face off with dangerous Navy, Virginia Tech and Cincinnati teams in the nonconference portion of the slate and have to travel to Penn State for a game that will be the Nittany Lions’ Super Bowl under the lights.

The annual clash with Michigan is always a cliche throw-out-the-records showdown (just look at last year’s 42-41 thriller), but the one contest that every member of Buckeye Nation has circled is the rematch of the Big Ten championship game. Ohio State gets another crack at Michigan State, this time in East Lansing, after the Spartans ended its 2013 national title dreams in Indianapolis.

Considering the fact that the Buckeyes and Spartans are in the same division, the winner will have the inside lane to the Big Ten title game. Logic would dictate that in a four-team playoff with the SEC, Pac-12, Big 12, Big Ten and ACC vying for spots, any Big Ten representative will likely need to win the conference.

The only way Ohio State can beat the stout Michigan State defense and reach Indianapolis is if its playmaker shines under center. 

That will only happen if Mr. Miller is healthy.

 

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College Football Freshmen Turning Heads in 2014 Fall Practice

Not all freshmen are created equal, at least in terms of hype and expectation.

For every Leonard Fournette, Jabrill Peppers or Raekwon McMillan, dozens of other incoming recruits show up at fall practice with little to no fanfare. Though armed with the same full-ride scholarship, these less-heralded freshmen don't arrive with much hype, and because of this, their early promise comes off as somewhat of a surprise.

But that surprise is really only reserved for the general public, as any college football coach will tell you he wouldn't have recruited those players if he didn't think they could contribute.

Through the first two weeks of college football teams' training camp, several freshmen are getting noticed for the talent they possess and the push they're making to play right away. Some of them are well-known prospects in recruiting circles, while others are relative unknowns, but they all have one thing in common: They're turning heads.

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Nebraska Football: Special Teams Are Cornhuskers' Biggest Question in 2014

Nebraska football fans have been freaking out a little about injuries, and rightfully so. Over the course of the last week, Nebraska lost a likely starting nickel (Charles Jackson), "Mike" linebacker (Michael Rose) and backup I-back (Adam Taylor) to injury.

In addition, the Cornhuskers saw likely starting safety LeRoy Alexander suspended for the entire 2014 season.

The reaction was predictable:

These Nebraska football injuries need to stop, holy moly. Feel for the guys #huskers

— Brian McMahon (@B_MacMan) August 9, 2014

.@Pontifex Do you have any blessings that you can say for the Nebraska football team? Something for injuries would be best.

— Bo's cat Bo Purrini (@boshuskercat) August 9, 2014

Those losses are all important and could impact Nebraska significantly in 2014. However, there is one loss to injury that hasn’t gotten nearly enough attention—one that could cost Nebraska wins.

Gabe Miller.

Who, you might ask (go to 0:41 of the video for the uber-geek reference)? Well, he’s Nebraska’s long snapper, and Corn Nation's Brian Towle reports he’s going to be out for “a while.”

That’s bad news for a special teams department that should terrify Nebraska fans at almost every level.

About the only area where Nebraska excelled last season was on kickoffs courtesy of Mauro Bondi. Nebraska finished No. 10 nationally in touchback percentage on kickoffs at 61.54 percent. Nebraska was fairly average on kickoff returns (No. 41), opponents' kick returns (No. 41) and opponents' punt returns (No. 68).

And we know how disastrous Nebraska was at punt returns, where NU was No. 123 (!) nationally with 3.04 yards per return.

Former Nebraska coach Tom Osborne and Brandon Vogel of Hail Varsity have pointed out the critical importance of field position in a team’s ability to succeed.

So has this guy, but who has time for that?

The place-kicking job was already a huge worry. Nebraska coaches clearly did not have enough confidence in scholarship kicker Bondi, as they brought in transfer Pat Smith in 2013. He won the job—and ultimately the game for Nebraska at Penn State.

This year, the team has brought in another kicker in true freshman Drew Brown. While nothing has been announced yet, it’s hard not to see Brown having every chance to win the starting job.

That would mean Nebraska would be rolling into the 2014 season with a true freshman as a place-kicker. We saw last year how a win in overtime in a hostile environment rested on the foot of a kicker.

How much harder will that be if the kicker is less than a year removed from his high school senior prom—and with questions at long snapper to get him the ball in the first place?

So, let’s assess. Awesome at getting touchbacks on kickoffs. Average at best in other areas. Massive questions at place-kicker—either a true freshman or second-choice kicker and an untested long snapper—the one area where stability and confidence is desperately needed. Tack on a punt return game that was an unmitigated disaster last year.

Forget about worries in the secondary. If Nebraska fans are going to panic about something, panic about special teams.

 

For a different look at Nebraska football, check out The Double Extra Point.

Or you can use the Twitter machine to follow @DblExtraPoint.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Clemson Football: Week 2 Fall Stock Report

The Clemson Tigers just wrapped up their second full week of fall camp and are now just two weeks away from a trip to Georgia to open the 2014 season. After unseasonably cool temperatures at the beginning of the month, the heat picked up over the past week and so did the intensity.

After a scrimmage on Wednesday, the Tigers had a light practice on Thursday and plan to do the same on Friday. Saturday will be Clemson's next scrimmage, and head coach Dabo Swinney certainly hopes it goes much better than Wednesday's effort. 

"We would not have beaten anyone today," Swinney told the assembled media after practice, per Brandon Rink of the Anderson Independent Mail. "We had way too many mistakes. It has been a good camp until today, but there were just too many errors in all phases of the game."

What disturbed Swinney the most, however, was the amount of penalties on both sides of the ball:

We had situations where the offense jumped on third and one. We had a defensive back line up offsides. We had too many interference penalties on defense. We had a couple of running backs put the ball on the ground. I am glad we didn’t play a game today.

Was it simply a matter of players hitting the wall, or is it the sign of an undisciplined team? Fortunately for Clemson, it has 21 scholarship seniors on the roster—most ever under Swinney—and veteran teams are generally more mature and disciplined. 

 

Injuries

After two weeks of practice, of course there are injuries. The Tigers, though, are not in bad shape at the present time.

Left tackle Isaiah Battle was one player who returned to full participation this week after battling an ankle injury. Battle needs the practice time, as he's entering his first full year as a starter.

Tight end Stanton Seckinger is out for 3-4 weeks after suffering an ankle injury. Seckinger was third on the depth chart entering fall camp, and his absence has opened the door for sophomore Jay Jay McCullough behind Jordan Leggett.  

Fellow tight end Sam Cooper, also battling an injury, continues to improve and practice in a limited capacity this week.

Wide receiver Charone Peake, who missed the majority of last season with an ACL injury and had minor knee surgery at the end of July, continues to run on the side and should be ready to go for the season opener. 

 

Offensive Line Coming Together

Once the 2013 season ended, there were many concerns surrounding Clemson on the offensive side of the ball. Obviously, many wondered who would replace Tajh Boyd at quarterback and Sammy Watkins at wide receiver.

But what about the offensive line? The Tigers lost Brandon Thomas and Tyler Shatley from what was a strong group in 2013. 

Clemson returned a lot of experience along the offensive line in 2014, but the biggest questions centered around who would man each tackle spot. 

Battle is an extremely talented athlete. At 6'6", 288 pounds, he sometimes struggles to keep weight on and would like to start the season at close to 300 pounds. Battle sometimes lacks focus and was suspended one game last season for punching an N.C. State player. If Battle can put it all together, he could be an All-American left tackle. 

The biggest surprise of fall camp, though, has been right tackle Joe Gore. Throughout the spring, Gore was locked into a battle with Shaq Anthony to start on the right side. Gore, however, appears to have moved ahead of Anthony.

"Joe Gore has been outstanding," said Swinney, per Nikki Steele of TigerNet. "He's been as good as anybody in camp."

That was Swinney's response when asked about the right tackle position. No mention of Anthony. Expect this battle to continue into the season with Anthony suspended for the season opener. 

A plethora of experience returns to man the interior of the offensive line. Junior Ryan Norton returns at center, but he could also see time at guard. The offensive coaching staff has moved around each of the interior linemen throughout the spring and fall camp as a way to find the best five linemen. 

David Beasley, Eric Mac Lain, Jay Guillermo, Kalon Davis and Tyrone Crowder will also battle for time at the guard spots. For now, it appears that Beasley and Davis are the starters, but Crowder is a player to keep an eye on. 

 

Camp Standouts

The first name that comes to mind is sophomore tight end Jordan Leggett.

This is a recurring theme. Leggett was also terrific this spring.

On a team that lost over 50 percent of its receiving offense and lacks game experience at wide receiver, expect the tight end position to be heavily featured this fall. That's outstanding news for Leggett.

Wednesday's scrimmage may not have pleased Swinney overall, but Leggett didn't disappoint. The 6'5", 240-pounder caught seven passes and two touchdowns in the situational part of the scrimmage. Seckinger and Cooper's absences have also allowed Leggett to gain a rapport with quarterback Cole Stoudt. 

Offensive coordinator Chad Morris hasn't featured the tight end heavily during his time at Clemson, but that could also be a function of having so much talent at wide receiver. With the Tigers figuring out who will start at receiver, Leggett is showing coaches he may be the offense's most talented player. 

Another beneficiary of the injuries at tight end is McCullough. The 6'3", 248-pound McCullough is a talented athlete who can not only line up at tight end, but in the backfield, too. McCullough continues to rise up the depth chart.

In the team's first padded practice last week, McCullough put on a show. He had more than 100 receiving yards in the seven-on-seven drills and caught a touchdown in the 11-on-11 portion of practice. 

McCullough actually carried the ball in a game vs. Citadel last season, so he will allow Morris to be creative.

On defense, senior linebacker Tony Steward is having his best camp. Steward was once a top recruit, but he has struggled to stay healthy. Swinney is counting on Steward and Stephone Anthony at linebacker. 

All-American defensive end Vic Beasley continues to show why he is one of the top defensive players in the nation. In the scrimmage on Wednesday, Beasley had two sacks and two tackles for loss. He's poised for another big season. 

One of the biggest surprises of camp has been the emergence of redshirt freshman cornerback Ryan Carter. A high school teammate of Wayne Gallman, Carter entered camp at the bottom of the depth chart, but he has opened coaches' eyes by making several plays in practice, including a 50-yard interception return for a touchdown during the scrimmage. 

 

Dabo Having Fun

Professional billiards player Loree Jon Jones recently visited Clemson and provided some entertainment for the players, courtesy of the head coach.

Swinney laid down on the pool table and allowed Jones—a Clemson fan—to line up a trick shot off his lips. Once Jones took the shot, Swinney jumped up and asked if it went in.

It did, and Swinney displayed the same exuberance he does on Saturdays in the fall. 

Another reason why Swinney is beloved by his players. In the midst of fall camp and preparation for Georgia, the head coach took some time out to have fun with his players. 

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College Football Predictions 2014: Picking Top Teams for 2014 Playoff

That itch for actual football is finally about to be scratched.

After months of waiting for competitive football, the college season is nearly here. While spring football and the lead-up in camp are fun, nothing beats the real action on the field when the best programs hit the gridiron.

This year, the national championship will be decided in a completely different manner. Instead of just two teams competing for the title, four programs will have a chance to stake their claim as the best in college football in the first-ever College Football Playoff.

Before the season officially gets underway, here are the four teams that will ultimately make the College Football Playoff at the end of the year.

 

Florida State

This one might be the obvious choice, but it's one that almost goes without saying.

Florida State comes into the season as the defending champion and looks the part yet again. While players like Devonta Freeman and Kelvin Benjamin have moved on to the NFL, Jameis Winston is the quarterback and the defense is still stacked.

Everyone knows about last year's Heisman winner by this point, but he comes into this season even more comfortable after no battle for the starting position. How comfortable, exactly? He was even working on a new position, per Natalie Pierre of the Tallahassee Democrat:

Besides the offense, which still has a plethora of weapons outside of Winston, the defense will be loaded yet again. In 2013, the team ranked second in points scored (51.6) and first in points allowed (12.1) and return an immensely talented defense.

Of those, Mario Edwards Jr. is a player who comes in with plenty to prove after recording 3.5 sacks last season. Head coach Jimbo Fisher believes otherwise for the defensive end, per Andy Staples of Sports Illustrated.

“Sacks don’t equate to greatness,” Fisher said. “You’d better go watch that film. You watch that film? That guy’s a heck of a football player. You watch when the draft comes around where he’s at.”

As simple as it is to criticize a player for their statistics, Edwards makes a difference in several different ways. With his impressive play on the line and an all-around game that limits nearly any team, expect FSU to be in the running again.

 

Alabama

Of the four programs listed, Alabama has the toughest road ahead.

In a stacked SEC that includes the likes of Auburn, LSU, South Carolina and Georgia, the Crimson Tide will have to find a way out of the conference. Luckily, they face only LSU and Auburn in the regular season and must play the likes of Tennessee and Ole Miss.

Having won three of the last five titles, Nick Saban has his team ready to contend yet again. As for the consistency under Saban, College GameDay provides a look at just how great the Tide have been over that stretch:

The one question looming for the Tide is who will lead them under center.

Of course, the two candidates are senior Blake Sims and Florida State transfer Jacob Coker. But with the season fast approaching, neither has been named the starter for the opener against West Virginia.

Saban remained close-lipped about the situation heading into Saturday's scrimmage. The coach referenced the battle during an ESPN "All-Access" interview, per Andrew Gribble of AL.com:

Nothing (different). Nothing. I mean, I don't know. What do you want me to say?. They're both going to take an equal number of snaps, just like they did last week. And if you keep asking questions about it, we probably won't give you their stats again.

... We want to get an equal amount of play to where both sides get an opportunity to be evaluated and the players on both sides get an opportunity to be evaluated

Regardless of who eventually takes over, Alabama has plenty of time to round into form. After West Virginia in Atlanta, the Tide will face Florida Atlantic and Southern Miss at home. By the time Florida rolls into Tuscaloosa, Saban will have his quarterback and full control of his team.

Though it is always a dangerous team, Alabama has the makings of an undefeated season coming up. If it can survive tough games against the two Tigers of LSU and Auburn, an SEC and national championship might be in the future for Saban.

 

Michigan State

OK, now we're breaking slightly away from the mold.

Florida State and Alabama are the last two champions, but Michigan State comes into the season with confidence. Claiming both the Big Ten title and a Rose Bowl victory, Mark Dantonio's team was outstanding.

Oh, and it also returns Connor Cook, the Rose Bowl and Big Ten Championship Game MVP. Coming into the year, Cook is the No. 6 quarterback in the country, according to Brock Huard of ESPN Insider (subscription necessary):

Cook, like many on this list, spent time away from campus honing his fundamentals and technique. By all accounts, he has returned to East Lansing bigger, stronger, smarter and more determined than ever to prove he belongs in the top tier among his peers. While Cook will never put up the numbers of other spread QBs in stat-hungry systems, his rating of 135.5 (61st in FBS in '13) will have to improve for Sparty to repeat as Big Ten and Rose Bowl champs.

Needless to say, Cook finished the season strong. If he can put up similar numbers throughout 2014, the junior could emerge as a dark-horse Heisman candidate.

Rather than resting on his laurels, the signal-caller has been hard at work this offseason. Chris Vannini of 247Sports shared Cook's comments about his effort over the summer:

Cook isn't the only strength of the team, especially with a defense that comes in after allowing just 13.2 points last season. The loss of Darqueze Dennard and others will hurt, but talent on the line with Shilique Calhoun and Marcus Rush will wreak havoc in the pass rush.

The Spartans still have a hurdle in getting past Ohio State in the Big Ten but will be a stout team all season. If all goes right for Sparty, they will be contending for a title at the end of the year.

 

UCLA

The Pac-12 has two potential NFL quarterbacks looking to make their mark. Outside of just racing for the Heisman, both might also be contending for a chance to make the first College Football Playoff.

Marcus Mariota and Oregon are the trendy pick for both the Heisman and Pac-12, but it might not be that simple. Brett Hundley and UCLA will also be in the running for both, and the quarterback will lead his program to new heights in 2014.

ESPN College Football provides a look at just how well Hundley performed last season:

Though Mariota and Winston will likely get more attention throughout the year, Hundley deserves some attention for his efforts. In fact, NFL.com ranks him as the No. 13 college player, with Daniel Jeremiah providing his thoughts on the quarterback:

"He has a strong arm and he can extend plays with his athleticism," Jeremiah said. "He deserves a lot of credit for the turnaround in Westwood."

Along with Mariota, Myles Jack will look to explode again this season as a two-way player. His talents on offense make him explosive, but he's also stout as a linebacker for the Bruins.

With an offense and defense that can get the job done in the Pac-12, the Bruins will need to prove themselves against top competition. If they can survive huge matchups with Arizona State, Oregon, USC and Stanford, the Bruins have a shot at competing for the title.

As for that Heisman, ripping it from the hands of Winston will be easier said than done throughout the season. But hoisting the national championship trophy at the end of the season might be even sweeter for Jim Mora and his squad.

 

Follow @RCorySmith on Twitter.

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Miami Football: Week 2 Fall Practice Stock Report

Two-a-day practices and an intrasquad scrimmage highlighted the second week of the Miami Hurricanes' 2014 edition of fall camp.

The most exciting news is easily the quarterback race being narrowed down to two healthy gunslingers, but that's not the only important update from South Florida.

Al Golden and his coaching staff concocted the fall's first depth chart, and motivating players is an overwhelming factor once again. That, or Stacy Coley isn't as good as we think the sophomore is.

However, the 'Canes lost a projected starter for the season, so not everything was business as usual for Miami.

 

Brad Kaaya -OR- Jake Heaps

Yes, it's highlighted every week, but the quarterback battle is and will continue to be the No. 1 storyline at GreenTree.

In true Al Golden form, he unleashed the dreaded "-OR-" on the initial depth chart. Of course, the expected public indecisiveness did eliminate Kevin Olsen—now set to wear a headset once again—and Malik Rosier, a true freshman who was pegged to redshirt anyway.

According to Susan Miller Degnan of The Miami Herald, junior Dallas Crawford said Kaaya and Heaps were each picked off once during the scrimmage. However, senior Denzel Perryman remained impressed with the poise of both players.

"Just from what I've seen, and I've watched pretty much every minute of practice so far through the first week-and-a-half," Matt Porter of the Palm Beach Post told Jeff Fischel of the ACC Digital Network, "Kaaya is more talented. Really tall, about 6'4", throws a really nice ball.

"But Heaps is a veteran....He has the experience, he's started plenty of games. And to ask a true freshman to go up there to Louisville on Labor Day night—national TV, crazy crowd, all that stuff—ask a true freshman to do all that, and that's asking a lot."

Golden has about two weeks to decide which quarterback will lead his team into Papa John's Cardinal Stadium—whether that's Kaaya or Heaps.

 

Rayshawn Jenkins Out for the Season

On Monday, junior Tracy Howard said he was happy about Rayshawn Jenkins returning from an injury, per Christy Cabrera Chirinos of the South Florida Sun Sentinel.

Two days later, Jenkins announced he would not be playing this season, and Manny Navarro of The Miami Herald reported the safety will undergo back surgery.

A member of the 2012 recruiting class who played immediately, Jenkins is eligible to take a redshirt season and return as a junior in 2015. While his injury is unfortunate, if there is one positional unit at which Miami can afford to lose a starter, it was safety.

Between Crawford, Deon Bush, Jamal Carter and newcomers Marques Gayot and Kiy Hester, the Hurricanes are plenty deep at safety. Crawford shined during the scrimmage, accounting for five tackles, forcing a fumble and taking an interception 50 yards to the house, per a UM release.

Additionally, David Lake of InsideTheU (subscription required) believes Crawford and Carter will earn the starting nods for the 'Canes against Louisville. Should Carter overtake Bush, Miami has a rather talented, former freshman All-American as a second-stringer.

 

News and Notes

Last season, senior Rashawn Scott missed eight games due to a broken collarbone he suffered in the opener against Florida Atlantic. Per Miller Degnan, Golden said Scott was having an excellent camp, but the wide receiver again injured his collarbone.

The severity is still unknown, but it would be a shame for Scott to miss an extended period of time for the second consecutive year.

Kc McDermott opened the fall as the starting right tackle before an injury held him out of one practice. Trevor Darling replaced McDermott, who is now working at left tackle, and remained atop the position following the scrimmage.

Ultimately, the offensive line will continue fluctuating while injuries occur, but they shouldn't keep Ereck Flowers, Jon Feliciano or Shane McDermott from starting on Sept. 1. Everyone else, however, could be affected by missing practices.

Depth-chart wise, Golden is likely back at his usual tricks, listing expected starters in reserve roles. At this time, Coley, Feliciano, Clive Walford and Al-Quadin Muhammad appear to be the targets of the fourth-year coach's motivational tactics.

Eight true freshmen, including defensive end Chad Thomas and kick returner Braxton Berrios, were listed as second-teamers. Darling and Trent Harris (defensive end) are the first-year players currently named starters.

The second scrimmage, which is on Monday, will provide a better look at where individual Hurricanes stand.

 

All quotes obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted.

Follow Bleacher Report college football writer David Kenyon on Twitter: @Kenyon19_BR.

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Throwback Thursday: LSU's Miracle Hail Mary in the 'Bluegrass Miracle'

SEC football has a storied history as one of the most dominant conferences in any sport, and few moments are as exciting as what became known as the "Bluegrass Miracle."

Back on Nov. 9, 2002, LSU led Kentucky 21-7 in the third quarter, but after an impressive comeback by the underdogs, Taylor Begley's field goal put the Wildcats up 30-27 with 11 seconds left.

The Wildcats began celebrating as if they had won, dumping water on their coach on the sidelines. Much to their dismay, LSU's Nick Saban then pulled out a string of plays that would make history. 

After a connection across the middle and a timeout, Tigers quarterback Marcus Randall took a shotgun snap with two seconds left. He rolled to his right and threw a bomb down the field that somehow escaped the outstretched hands of the Kentucky defensive backs and into the hands of LSU wide receiver Devery Henderson, who scampered into the end zone for the 33-30 win.

Is it college football season yet?

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UCLA Football: Week 2 Fall Camp Stock Report

Week 2 hasn't exactly been kind to Jim Mora and the UCLA football team. As is the case with most squads, there have been a rash of injuries in this second stanza of camp. 

Most notably, the offensive line has been hit considerably hard by various bumps and bruises. Fortunately, there haven't been any serious injuries to date. 

Additionally, two true freshmen may have solidified starting gigs. One of those players was highly touted coming out of high school. The other was projected to potentially redshirt. Due to a strong fall camp, a starting spot looks likely. 

Three true freshmen—previously suspended from the team—made their way back to the team for the second week of fall camp. 

 

Injury Report

Reserve linebacker Cameron Griffin and walk-on wide receiver Sam Handler are out for the season. Handler suffered a torn ACL, and Griffin endured a shoulder injury. Neither were projected to contribute this season. 

The offensive line in particular has been hit very hard by the injury bug. Starting center Jake Brendel went down with a minor MCL injury. It doesn't appear to be overly serious. Left tackle Malcolm Bunche expects Brendel to be back for the Memphis game at the latest, per Ed Lewis of BruinSportsReport

The injury does cause a ripple effect of sorts. Projected starting left guard Alex Redmond has taken some snaps at center. He also has been in and out of camp due to heat-related issues.

Sophomore Scott Quessenberry has been battling for the right guard job and is also the true reserve to Brendel. However, a concussion has taken him out of practice (per Chris Foster of the Los Angeles Times).  

Both Conor McDermott and Carl Hulick have also been battling ailments. Hulick has been plagued by overheating, and McDermott is still coming back from shoulder surgery. Not to mention, Bunche, Caleb Benenoch and NaJee Toran have also dealt with minor nicks and muscle pulls. 

UCLA suffered a scary moment with projected top receiver Devin Lucien. On Tuesday, the Crespi High School product fell during practice on an attempted pass catch. It appeared initially as if he hit his head on the ground. An ambulance came onto the field and took Lucien to a local hospital. 

Thankfully, he was released shortly afterward. Foster reported Lucien went down (again) due to the heat. 

Starting safety Randall Goforth dinged up his shoulder in practice. An MRI was taken, and it was negative. Reserve corner Marcus Rios has been out due to a migrane problem

Fortunately, the rest of the roster appears to be relatively healthy. 

With the number of heat-related problems, it will be interesting to see whether or not the camp will continue in San Bernardino, Calif. The hot, rugged climate allows for the team to function outside of Westwood—without distraction. 

Mora obviously instilled this plan three years ago in order to create a culture built upon toughness and grit. At this point, I believe this specific "goal" has been achieved.

In the future, it could be a scenario in which the team practices in Westwood for one week, whilst using the second week of camp for team chemistry building in San Bernardino, Calif. 

It will be something to monitor heading forward. 

 

Freshmen Starters?

Both Toran and linebacker Kenny Young have taken gigantic steps in solidifying starting spots for the Bruins. 

Toran is undersized, at only 267 pounds. However, he makes up for his lack of relative size with heart, effort and aggression. The injury to Quessenberry has helped his cause in potentially winning a starting gig. The two had been battling against each other for the vacant spot up until Quessenberry's injury. 

The Texas native benefited from enrolling in school early. It enabled Toran to acclimate to the program at a quicker pace, and thus also allowed for a more advanced understanding of the offense. 

According to Toran (via offensive line coach Adrian Klemm), it sounds as if he will get the starting nod versus Virginia in the season opener. 

Young has been perhaps the most impressive freshman during the camp. The New Orleans native has displayed uncommon maturity for a young player. He's constantly communicating on the field and seemingly has a firm grasp on the defensive scheme. 

Mora has been effusive in his praise of the young linebacker. As defensive coordinator Jeff Ulbrich told Jack Wang of the Los Angeles Daily News"[Young] has an uncommon desire to be great."

Per David Woods of BruinReportOnline.com, here's an interview with Young and his impression of camp thus far. 

It would be a relative shock to not see Young start next to Eric Kendricks in the middle versus Virginia. 

 

Miscellaneous Items

Jordan Lasley, Dwight Williams and Aaron Sharp have all rejoined the team. Initially, the plan was to keep the trio out until after the first game of the season. 

However, Mora has relented and brought the crop into camp. It's interesting development for sure and one which will help the group get into football shape. 

Of the three, Lasley is potentially the one with the best opportunity to play this season. 

Fellow freshman Adarius Pickett has switched from corner to running back. In his short time with the offense, he's been impressive. Mora in particular has commented about Pickett's ability to "run hard. He's only 190 pounds, but he runs heavy. You can feel it when he runs."

Pickett can add an interesting dimension to UCLA's backfield. There isn't a prototypical big back on the roster, and the freshman from El Cerrito, Calif. could potentially fit the bill. In high school, he was a vaunted tailback. 

Lastly, the outside linebacker starting spot opposite appears to be clearing up a bit. One would assume Deon Hollins, Kenny Orjioke and Aaron Wallace will all play this year.

Hollins has a terrific first step. His quickness alone will get him on the field on third down situations. Wallace is the best of the three versus the run, and he is also the most experienced. Orjioke is by far the most impressive physically and athletically. 

At this point, it looks as if Wallace has the inside track at the starting spot. Surely, his experience as a redshirt junior has helped him inch ahead. 

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UCLA Football: Week 2 Fall Camp Stock Report

Week 2 hasn't exactly been kind to Jim Mora and the UCLA football team. As is the case with most squads, there have been a rash of injuries in this second stanza of camp...

Read the full article on Bleacher Report...

The Adjustment That Made 5-Star Iman Marshall the Most Feared CB in 2015 Class

Iman Marshall sensed he was on the verge of stardom after his sophomore season. Early scholarship offers from USC, Notre Dame, Tennessee and Florida State cemented his spot as a coveted cornerback recruit in the 2015 class.

However, his 5-star status simply wasn't enough. There was still work to be done.

Despite an array of accolades, the Long Beach, California, product known as "Biggie" recognized he remained a work in progress. His father, Tony Marshall, made sure he didn't forget it.

"I’m lucky to have a dad who really pays attention to the way I play on a daily basis and identifies what I need to work on," Marshall said. "I kind of struggled with tackling during my sophomore year. He noticed it and talked to me about how it was holding me back from reaching my full potential."

Since that epiphany, his progress has proven again you can't put a price on fatherly advice.

"Our conversations helped change my mindset about how to play the game," he said.

Marshall blossomed into a balanced defensive back during his junior campaign, shutting down opponents through the air and on the ground. The combination proved disastrous for opposing offenses. 

The 6'1", 190-pound Long Beach Poly High School standout earned 2013 Defensive Player of the Year honors from the Long Beach Press-Telegram. His improvement in perimeter and downfield run coverage resulted in a career-high 64 tackles, validating an altered outlook.

"I learned that you just can’t be afraid of contact," Marshall said. "You have to get your nose in there and get after the ball. That’s not what I always did before, but it's definitely the way I play now."

He also stymied aerial attacks with greater efficiency than ever as a junior. Marshall didn't allow a single pass completion in six Moore League matchups, each resulting in a victory.

His signature effort occurred during a pivotal 35-28 victory over perennial state title contender Corona Centennial. Marshall thrived in man coverage, shutting down 6'3" wide receiver Barry Ware, a 4-star prospect who signed with Washington State.

Part of his approach against taller receivers includes a relentless effort to fight for position and knock opponents off balance upon the snap. Unlike finesse cornerbacks, Marshall likes to mix it up early in the progression of a play.

"He's really impressive at the line," 4-star Texas wide receiver Ryan Newsome said at The Opening, an annual invite-only prospect showcase held each July at Nike's world headquarters in Beaverton, Oregon. 

"He jams you up and you can tell he's been working on that part of his game because the technique is solid. You have to respect him because he's a humble guy and lets his play do the talking."

Newsome, a burner who holds offers from Oklahoma, Texas, Oregon and UCLA, shared his assessment with several highly skilled receivers in Beaverton. Top-ranked pass-catcher Calvin Ridley earned seven-on-seven tournament MVP honors, but even he had to tip his cap to the smothering Southern California defender.

"Marshall is the No. 1 cornerback in this class," the Alabama commit said. "I caught a big pass against him but he was always right on me, fighting for the ball. He doesn't fall for any moves either so he stays with you the whole time."

His aggressive style of play puts passers in a precarious situation. When downfield targets struggle to find space, it creates opportunities for the defensive front to generate a pass rush.

"Receivers really have to fight to get open against him because he always seems to be on the attack," 5-star Alabama quarterback pledge Blake Barnett said. "He's pretty fearless. That definitely doesn't make it easy on us quarterbacks."

USC commit Ricky Town credits Marshall's intelligence as a key factor in his effectiveness.

"You can tell how much he understands the mental part of this game," the 5-star passer said. "A lot of defensive backs have the size and speed but get lost in coverage. He can do it all."

Marshell views himself as a student of the game. Countless hours of film study and playbook adjustments allow him to adapt on a game-by-game basis, consistently creating problems for opponents.

"Preparation is so important because it helps you react as quickly as possible and that’s what playing defensive back is all about," he said. "When you study something over and over again, nothing is a surprise anymore. You understand what’s coming—the formations, the schemes, everything."

Marshall is versatile enough to shadow receivers of all statures, from shifty slot guys to towering targets. His anticipation helps him maintain stride-for-stride coverage and disrupt passing lanes at various vertical points.

"I’m always trying to make the most of each play by competing at a high level, regardless of who's lined up across from me," Marshall said. "I can play press or man defense. I can handle big and small receivers. I can help the defense out at cornerback, safety or at the nickel."

His whatever-it-takes attitude has won over plenty of prospects and coaches on the recruiting trail. Marshall, rated sixth overall nationally in 247Sports' recruiting rankings, carries dozens of scholarship offers.

College programs across the country continue to pursue him with all their resources as time ticks toward national signing day. Pac-12 contenders USC, Stanford and UCLA loom large but make no mistake, this is a nationwide chase.

LSU, Texas and Notre Dame provide potential landing spots beyond state borders, while an SEC squad recently entered the equation, according to Marshall.

"Texas A&M is a team I’ve become interested in," he said. "They’re up-and-coming and I’ve had a chance to get to know some of their commits. The program stands out to me."

It's big news for the Aggies, as head coach Kevin Sumlin attempts to elevate a defensive unit that has lagged behind the team's explosive offensive attack in recent years. However, Marshall remains a long way off from any commitment and admits he may be waiting too long to focus on finding the right college fit.

"I’m trying to weigh it all out because I want to make a sure and sound decision," he said. "I want to feel like I dotted my I’s and crossed my T’s during the process. The last thing I want to do is rush into a decision then regret it later and change my mind. I’ve kind of kept recruiting on the back-burner but it’s getting to the point where I understand I really need to start making some moves. No more delaying."

Due to his uncommitted status and supreme skills, Marshall was the recipient of several sales pitches at The Opening.

"I don't think there's a guy in this class who wouldn't want to team up with Biggie at the next level," 4-star USC cornerback commit Isaiah Langley said. "Everyone is trying to get him on board, including me."

If he does end up wearing a Trojans jersey—which is projected to happen by 100 percent of predictions in 247Sports' Crystal Ball—it would set the stage for showdowns with 5-star UCLA pledge Josh Rosen.

"He definitely challenges you," the nation's top-rated passer said. "It forces you to bring your best on each and every play. You can't afford to make a mistake."

Abundant admiration from fellow competitors is greatly appreciated by Marshall. In fact, it's paramount among goals he aims to achieve throughout his playing career.

"The most important thing is earning respect from your peers," Marshall said. "It’s an honor to be considered a top defensive back by some of the best quarterbacks and receivers in the country. I feel blessed about that."

Marshall patterns his game after former cornerback Darqueze Dennard, a first-round selection in the 2014 NFL draft. He cites the former Michigan State playmaker's physicality and relentlessness as traits to emulate.

To this point, his imitation is Hollywood-worthy.

"He's No. 1 for a reason," 5-star Georgia receiver commit Terry Godwin said. "He's physical, fast and he's a competitor. I like that. He's the kind of player who makes this game special."

Alabama commit Minkah Fitzpatrick, one of Marshall's premier contemporaries at cornerback, lauded that physical nature.

"He's another one of those bigger corners who can impact the game with his size," Fitzpatrick said. "He roughs up receivers off the line. I also think his football IQ stands out."

Again, Marshall's smarts are routinely pinpointed as an asset.

"Biggie is the best cornerback I've faced by far," 5-star Arizona receiver Christian Kirk said. "When I go up against him, I have to pull out everything I can because I know he's going to be ready to react."

That isn't by coincidence, Kirk explained.  

"Every time there's new information available and a chance to work on his craft, he's all over it," he said. "He's a sponge when it comes to learning and understanding new stuff because he wants to be ready for what the offense is doing at all times. You've got to respect that competitive attitude."

Marshall underwent an upgrade during his junior season and must take another step forward this fall. Pressure is in place following the departure of 5-star Long Beach Poly defensive back John Smith, who is now a freshman at USC.

"It was his team last year, it’s my team now," Marshall said." I have to be a leader and set the example. We want to do big things this season, and it’s my responsibility to make sure we get where we want to be. I've prepared for this moment."

 

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

Recruit ratings courtesy of 247Sports.

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The Adjustment That Made 5-Star Iman Marshall the Most Feared CB in 2015 Class

Iman Marshall sensed he was on the verge of stardom after his sophomore season. Early scholarship offers from USC, Notre Dame, Tennessee and Florida State cemented his spot as a coveted cornerback recruit in the 2015 class.

However, his 5-star status simply wasn't enough. There was still work to be done.

Despite an array of accolades, the Long Beach, California, product known as "Biggie" recognized he remained a work in progress. His father, Tony Marshall, made sure he didn't forget it.

"I’m lucky to have a dad who really pays attention to the way I play on a daily basis and identifies what I need to work on," Marshall said. "I kind of struggled with tackling during my sophomore year. He noticed it and talked to me about how it was holding me back from reaching my full potential."

Since that epiphany, his progress has proven again you can't put a price on fatherly advice.

"Our conversations helped change my mindset about how to play the game," he said.

Marshall blossomed into a balanced defensive back during his junior campaign, shutting down opponents through the air and on the ground. The combination proved disastrous for opposing offenses. 

The 6'1", 190-pound Long Beach Poly High School standout earned 2013 Defensive Player of the Year honors from the Long Beach Press-Telegram. His improvement in perimeter and downfield run coverage resulted in a career-high 64 tackles, validating an altered outlook.

"I learned that you just can’t be afraid of contact," Marshall said. "You have to get your nose in there and get after the ball. That’s not what I always did before, but it's definitely the way I play now."

He also stymied aerial attacks with greater efficiency than ever as a junior. Marshall didn't allow a single pass completion in six Moore League matchups, each resulting in a victory.

His signature effort occurred during a pivotal 35-28 victory over perennial state title contender Corona Centennial. Marshall thrived in man coverage, shutting down 6'3" wide receiver Barry Ware, a 4-star prospect who signed with Washington State.

Part of his approach against taller receivers includes a relentless effort to fight for position and knock opponents off balance upon the snap. Unlike finesse cornerbacks, Marshall likes to mix it up early in the progression of a play.

"He's really impressive at the line," 4-star Texas wide receiver Ryan Newsome said at The Opening, an annual invite-only prospect showcase held each July at Nike's world headquarters in Beaverton, Oregon. 

"He jams you up and you can tell he's been working on that part of his game because the technique is solid. You have to respect him because he's a humble guy and lets his play do the talking."

Newsome, a burner who holds offers from Oklahoma, Texas, Oregon and UCLA, shared his assessment with several highly skilled receivers in Beaverton. Top-ranked pass-catcher Calvin Ridley earned seven-on-seven tournament MVP honors, but even he had to tip his cap to the smothering Southern California defender.

"Marshall is the No. 1 cornerback in this class," the Alabama commit said. "I caught a big pass against him but he was always right on me, fighting for the ball. He doesn't fall for any moves either so he stays with you the whole time."

His aggressive style of play puts passers in a precarious situation. When downfield targets struggle to find space, it creates opportunities for the defensive front to generate a pass rush.

"Receivers really have to fight to get open against him because he always seems to be on the attack," 5-star Alabama quarterback pledge Blake Barnett said. "He's pretty fearless. That definitely doesn't make it easy on us quarterbacks."

USC commit Ricky Town credits Marshall's intelligence as a key factor in his effectiveness.

"You can tell how much he understands the mental part of this game," the 5-star passer said. "A lot of defensive backs have the size and speed but get lost in coverage. He can do it all."

Marshell views himself as a student of the game. Countless hours of film study and playbook adjustments allow him to adapt on a game-by-game basis, consistently creating problems for opponents.

"Preparation is so important because it helps you react as quickly as possible and that’s what playing defensive back is all about," he said. "When you study something over and over again, nothing is a surprise anymore. You understand what’s coming—the formations, the schemes, everything."

Marshall is versatile enough to shadow receivers of all statures, from shifty slot guys to towering targets. His anticipation helps him maintain stride-for-stride coverage and disrupt passing lanes at various vertical points.

"I’m always trying to make the most of each play by competing at a high level, regardless of who's lined up across from me," Marshall said. "I can play press or man defense. I can handle big and small receivers. I can help the defense out at cornerback, safety or at the nickel."

His whatever-it-takes attitude has won over plenty of prospects and coaches on the recruiting trail. Marshall, rated sixth overall nationally in 247Sports' recruiting rankings, carries dozens of scholarship offers.

College programs across the country continue to pursue him with all their resources as time ticks toward national signing day. Pac-12 contenders USC, Stanford and UCLA loom large but make no mistake, this is a nationwide chase.

LSU, Texas and Notre Dame provide potential landing spots beyond state borders, while an SEC squad recently entered the equation, according to Marshall.

"Texas A&M is a team I’ve become interested in," he said. "They’re up-and-coming and I’ve had a chance to get to know some of their commits. The program stands out to me."

It's big news for the Aggies, as head coach Kevin Sumlin attempts to elevate a defensive unit that has lagged behind the team's explosive offensive attack in recent years. However, Marshall remains a long way off from any commitment and admits he may be waiting too long to focus on finding the right college fit.

"I’m trying to weigh it all out because I want to make a sure and sound decision," he said. "I want to feel like I dotted my I’s and crossed my T’s during the process. The last thing I want to do is rush into a decision then regret it later and change my mind. I’ve kind of kept recruiting on the back-burner but it’s getting to the point where I understand I really need to start making some moves. No more delaying."

Due to his uncommitted status and supreme skills, Marshall was the recipient of several sales pitches at The Opening.

"I don't think there's a guy in this class who wouldn't want to team up with Biggie at the next level," 4-star USC cornerback commit Isaiah Langley said. "Everyone is trying to get him on board, including me."

If he does end up wearing a Trojans jersey—which is projected to happen by 100 percent of predictions in 247Sports' Crystal Ball—it would set the stage for showdowns with 5-star UCLA pledge Josh Rosen.

"He definitely challenges you," the nation's top-rated passer said. "It forces you to bring your best on each and every play. You can't afford to make a mistake."

Abundant admiration from fellow competitors is greatly appreciated by Marshall. In fact, it's paramount among goals he aims to achieve throughout his playing career.

"The most important thing is earning respect from your peers," Marshall said. "It’s an honor to be considered a top defensive back by some of the best quarterbacks and receivers in the country. I feel blessed about that."

Marshall patterns his game after former cornerback Darqueze Dennard, a first-round selection in the 2014 NFL draft. He cites the former Michigan State playmaker's physicality and relentlessness as traits to emulate.

To this point, his imitation is Hollywood-worthy.

"He's No. 1 for a reason," 5-star Georgia receiver commit Terry Godwin said. "He's physical, fast and he's a competitor. I like that. He's the kind of player who makes this game special."

Alabama commit Minkah Fitzpatrick, one of Marshall's premier contemporaries at cornerback, lauded that physical nature.

"He's another one of those bigger corners who can impact the game with his size," Fitzpatrick said. "He roughs up receivers off the line. I also think his football IQ stands out."

Again, Marshall's smarts are routinely pinpointed as an asset.

"Biggie is the best cornerback I've faced by far," 5-star Arizona receiver Christian Kirk said. "When I go up against him, I have to pull out everything I can because I know he's going to be ready to react."

That isn't by coincidence, Kirk explained.  

"Every time there's new information available and a chance to work on his craft, he's all over it," he said. "He's a sponge when it comes to learning and understanding new stuff because he wants to be ready for what the offense is doing at all times. You've got to respect that competitive attitude."

Marshall underwent an upgrade during his junior season and must take another step forward this fall. Pressure is in place following the departure of 5-star Long Beach Poly defensive back John Smith, who is now a freshman at USC.

"It was his team last year, it’s my team now," Marshall said." I have to be a leader and set the example. We want to do big things this season, and it’s my responsibility to make sure we get where we want to be. I've prepared for this moment."

 

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

Recruit ratings courtesy of 247Sports.

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Tennessee Football: It's Now or Never for Starting QB Justin Worley

This is Justin Worley's last chance to make something of a mediocre career.

For the second consecutive season, head coach Butch Jones named the senior signal-caller as the Volunteers' starting quarterback, according to GoVols247's Wes Rucker. Jones made the less-than-surprising announcement Thursday at the annual preseason media day press conference.

If Worley doesn't find a way to build on the momentum he created in games against Georgia and South Carolina in 2013 before his season ended prematurely in a loss to Alabama, he never will.

With talent around him, in his second year in the offensive system and with more uncertainty surrounding candidates Nathan Peterman and Joshua Dobbs than him, Worley was the only choice—even if he isn't an exciting choice.

Even Jones' decision announcement Thursday seemed reluctant.

"Right now, Justin Worley gives this football team and this football program the best opportunity to win," Jones told the media.

Right now implies a current state that could change. Right now is far from final. Right now—at least on its surface—seems shaky, at best, and why shouldn't it?

There is a ton riding on Worley's 6'4", 220-pound frame, and there's also a lack of historical evidence that he will run with the job. That's a scary proposition for the Vols, whose season rides on him being able to orchestrate the offense much better than he did in 2013.

A season ago, as the hands-down favorite to win the job, he was named less than a week before the season opener. Three games into the season, Worley lost that job to Peterman, who handed it right back.

Worley's year ended after he had completed 55.6 percent of his passes for 1,239 yards, 10 touchdowns and eight interceptions.

Once healthy again this spring, Worley couldn't separate himself from Dobbs, Peterman or former UT quarterback Riley Ferguson. The inconsistency shadowed him into the first week-plus of fall practice.

But the past few days, Worley has reportedly played much better. His passes are crisper, and Rucker told Bleacher Report that the senior carries himself with a presence around practice and media opportunities like he is "The Man."

So, when Jones told the media Thursday, according to The Associated Press, via Dan Climer of USA Today, "I believe Justin is playing the best football that he's played in a long time," it holds much more water.

Perhaps that swagger Worley carries with him now is the element Jones had been needing to see. After all, he told Rucker (subscription required) back in late July that he'd name a starter "as soon as one person steps up and takes control of the offense and takes command of the program."

Command has been a struggle for Worley, even on the field. Last year, he grappled to grasp the tempo and timing of UT's transition offense, and the unit was constantly disjointed.

He looked like a different quarterback during the Orange and White Game, directing his receivers around with confidence and even throwing them open while methodically leading drives. Though he'll never be flashy, he distributed the ball to playmakers confidently.

Through an array of game-like situations thrown at the three quarterbacks in camp, Worley responded better than anybody else. That's an encouraging sign for a position that has been shaky for years in Knoxville.

A year ago, the Vols' quarterbacks had the world on their shoulders with the lack of a game-breaking ground attack and no other dynamic receivers to take the load off true freshman Marquez North.

This year, with all of Tennessee's new (albeit young) talent surrounding him, there are no excuses. Worley has the players in place to excel. He's in his final season on Rocky Top with a clear grasp of the playbook, and Jones' decision just announced to Worley and the world that this is his team to direct.

He will dictate the length of the leash.

 

All recruiting rankings and statistics courtesy of 247Sports Composite. All statistics gathered from CFBStats.com. Quotes obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted, and observations from spring were witnessed firsthand.

Brad Shepard covers SEC football and is the Tennessee Lead Writer for Bleacher Report. Follow Brad on Twitter here:

@Brad_Shepard

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7 College Football Teams Sure to Be 0-1 After Week 1

While some power schools like to schedule cupcake opponents in Week 1, others tend to pit themselves against marquee opponents as an early test of their squad's fortitude. 

The great thing about the College Football Playoff is that one loss to a good team in Week 1 is no longer a death sentence, so more and more power conference teams will start facing each other earlier on in the year as time progresses. 

But for this year, we've already got some high-profile games, including Oklahoma State vs. Florida State, Alabama vs. West Virginia and even an SEC match between Auburn and Arkansas. 

Unfortunately for some of those teams, among others, the cards aren't in their hands this year, and they'll be starting at an 0-1 record after the opening week. 

Let's check out which teams are doomed for that fate. 

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Why September Could Be Make-or-Break Month for Florida's 2015 Recruiting Class

The month of September will be critical for the future of Will Muschamp and the Florida program.

For starters, on the field, the Gators will get a chance to wipe away the taste of last year’s 4-8 debacle. Considering their first three opponents are at home against teams who combined to go 5-31 last season, the Gators have a chance to get off to a strong start before heading to face Alabama on Sept. 20.

However, on the recruiting trail, the Gators could take a huge step forward in righting the ship if they can land a pair of 5-star prospects—defensive end Byron Cowart and wide receiver George Campbell—who each hail from the metro Tampa area. 

According to Josh Newberg of Noles247 (subscription required), both Cowart and Campbell are both on the verge of committing soon.

Getting commitments from two top-10 in-state recruits, both whom hail from one of UF’s most traditionally fertile recruiting territories, would send a message to its rivals and the nation that the Gators are back on their way to becoming a powerhouse.

Florida—a program who has finished outside of the top 10 in recruiting rankings only once in the last decade—currently has a modest class that checks in at No. 24 in the 247Sports 2015 class rankings.

Furthermore, the biggest problem appears to be Florida’s lack of momentum with the elite prospects in its backyard. 

Currently, the Gators’ five highest-rated pledges all hail from out of state, and they have yet to receive a commitment from a player ranked among the Sunshine State’s top 50 prospects.

To put that figure in perspective, Florida State has commitments from four homegrown recruits ranked among the state’s top 25 players. Miami and Clemson each have three.

With the ‘Noles and ‘Canes claiming the upper hand in-state thus far in the 2015 cycle, the upcoming decisions of Cowart and Campbell becoming magnified for the Gators—who were the heavy favorites for both players earlier in the process.

As Chris Nee of Noles247 detailed, Florida was the perceived favorite for Campbell after his early decommitment from Michigan until FSU made a surge for his services. The Gators still claim 36 of the 39 projections on Cowart’s 247Sports Crystal Ball page

Of the two, Cowart is likely the safer bet to end up in Gainesville—even though he admitted that a visit to FSU last month gave him something to think about:

However, the Gators’ struggles on offense and the shuffle in Muschamp’s staff have made their pursuit of Campbell trickier. Specifically, the unexpected departure of receivers coach Joker Phillips in June—who was replaced by former Gators quarterback Chris Leak—has left the 6’3”, 184-pound playmaker with more questions than answers about the Gators.

“Me and coach Leak have talked and we’ve had our discussions and that’s pretty much it,” Campbell told GatorBait (subscription required) last week. “[He is saying] pretty much just keep in touch and watch the Florida Gators as they go through this season and check them out.”

Regardless of whether they can land one or both of Cowart and Campbell, a strong start to the 2014 season will be the best medicine for the Gators' recruiting efforts. As Jeremy Fowler of CBS Sports noted, Muschamp and his team have to show a sense of urgency in order to get he and his staff off the proverbial hot seat. 

As the chart above illustrates, the Gators have never had problems luring talent to The Swamp when the program has been on stable ground.

Assuming the Gators get back on track this fall, expect the Gators to re-assume their place as one of recruiting’s most powerful juggernauts.

 

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

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