NCAA Football

Eric Swinney to Ole Miss: Rebels Land 4-Star RB Prospect

Ole Miss has added another impact player to its 2015 class in the form of 4-star running back Eric Swinney. 

Hugh Kellenberger of the Jackson Clarion-Ledger provided news of the prospect's decision:

His coach, Chip Walker, provided posted an image to Twitter of the announcement:

The Georgia native is one of the best running backs in his class thanks to his physicality. He might not have elite speed, but he hits the holes hard and punishes defenders who try to tackle him.

Walker explained it best to Todd Holcomb of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution:

Swinney is a downhill, hit-it-hard guy that’s going. Both can run around you and make you miss, and both can catch the ball really good, but Swinney is very physical when he runs the football. You can see times on tape last year in big games late where it looks like they don’t want to tackle him anymore.

The young player also has impressive vision that allows him to find the opening anywhere on the field. He follows his blockers well, which enables him to pick up more yards on plays than most other running backs would in similar situations.

Finally, Swinney has great hands that and is a useful receiver out of the backfield. Jeremy Crabtree of ESPN.com noticed this ability first hand:

In 2013, Swinney totaled 1,149 yards and 22 touchdowns rushing. He added 325 yards and four scores receiving as he continued to develop his game.

These skills have helped the 5'10", 188-pound prospect become the No. 12 running back in the country and the No. 12 overall player in the state of Georgia, according to 247Sports' composite rankings.

Swinney received scholarship offers from virtually every school in the Southeast and eventually narrowed his choice down to Florida State, Auburn, Georgia, Ole Miss and Tennessee in March. After much thought, he decided that he was going to play for the Rebels.

The running back has the talent to step in immediately for his new team, but he might be redshirted in his first year to put on a bit more weight and strength. With his style of play, getting some extra time in the weight room is vital.

Still, Swinney has the skill to break into the starting lineup before too long and become one of the best running backs in the conference. If he can continue to improve and he gets productive blocking in front of him, he will be a star at the next level.

 

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

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Penn State Football: Versatility Will Be Key for Linebackers This Season

For the first time in several years, Penn State will return just one seasoned vet among its linebacker unit and this time it will be without longtime respected position coach, Ron Vanderlinden.

What the Nittany Lions do have is a group of fast, athletic, versatile backers who are preparing for multiple roles in a new defense.

Mike Hull will be playing for his fourth defensive coordinator in as many seasons and he has been moved to the middle linebacker spot, a role usually reserved for big, run-stopping 'backers. At 6', 232 pounds, Hull doesn't seem to fit the mold.

Don't expect it to be a big hurdle for the team's most tenured linebacker.

According to Hull, the new staff doesn't approach the position much differently than his previous coaches. "This coaching staff emphasizes more blitzing techniques, getting downhill, making tackles for losses and big plays," Hull says, adding "It's still about getting proper leverage and staying inside out on the ball carrier."

Flanking Hull will be a diverse group of players that challenge the coaches to find their best roles. 

Veteran Ben Kline (6'2", 238 lbs.) is ready for whatever comes, saying "At the end of the day, football is football. We're all playing the same game."

Last season, Kline saw time on the outside but after missing time this spring he isn't sure where he'll be in 2014. "That's something we'll look at, have some meetings and talk about where I best fit in and see where it heads."

Nyeem Wartman has seen snaps inside and out the last two seasons and is a favorite to start at one of the outside spots in 2014. He agrees with Hull about the new staff's approach:

"I wouldn't say there's a different approach. I'd say they expect the same thing out of a Penn State linebacker. They expect a relentless pursuit to the ball and they expect us to pretty much be the heart of the defense It's really about the linebacker brand that we have here."

As for where he'll end up this season, Wartman just wants to play, saying "I'm really willing to play anywhere the need me. Right now they have me at the Will (weak outside linebacker) spot but I'm willing to play anywhere that they put me. Wherever I can get the most snaps or give my team the best opportunity to win."

True sophomore Brandon Bell made waves late last season and will likely be in the mix on the outside, as well.

The linebackers will be a favorite story for Penn State fans as the staff becomes more comfortable with the individual players. 

 

Great meeting Coach Pry today the new LB coach at #PennState . #LinebackerU will be in good hands

— Troy Reeder (@troyreeder9) January 18, 2014

 

Don't be surprised to see each linebacker play multiple positions during a game with Hull sliding outside on passing downs and Wartman or Kline manning the middle.

Incoming freshman Troy Reeder and sleepers Gary Wooten, Matthew  Baney and Von Walker could also be in the mix and they fit the bill when it comes to versatility.

Reeder was a star lacrosse player who was All-State at both linebacker and running back while Wooten is a former defensive end and Walker was moved from offense to defense this spring. 

There will probably be some growing pains this September as the players grow comfortable in their new roles but whatever mistakes are made will be made fast and aggressively. 

It's a new era at Linebacker U but this group has the tools to carry on the brand...regardless of where they line up on Saturdays. 


All quotes obtained firsthand.

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Florida Football: Realistic Expectations for the Gators' 2014 Season

It’s difficult to draw a pulse for realistic expectations for the Florida Gators this season. Yes, this is an extremely talented team with overwhelming upside and could end up legitimately competing for an SEC East crown. But following those thoughts, last year’s 4-8 record and no bowl appearance smacks you in the face.

Do the Gators really make an Auburn-like jump and go from worst to first in one season? Do things stay the same as last year and Florida fans take to the streets? Maybe somewhere in between?

Finding a happy medium isn’t always easy and can be even tougher for a Florida fanbase that usually has high expectations for its team.

With that said, here are five realistic expectations that should keep Florida fans happy if they are met.

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Georgia Football: 3 Freshmen Who Could Become Household Names in 2014

Back in 2012, Keith Marshall and Todd Gurley ran wild on SEC opponents as true freshmen and were big reasons why the Bulldogs won the SEC East.

Last year, J.J. Green and Brendan Douglas filled in for both Gurley and Marshall, as both players were injured, and earned the respect of their teammates and fans.

Those four players became very popular to Bulldog Nation because they produced as freshmen. And in order for the Bulldogs to have a great 2014 season, there will have a to be a few freshmen who not only contribute but also play at an All-SEC level if they want to win the conference.

Here are three freshmen that could be household names in 2014.

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Nebraska Football Recruiting: NFL Draft Results Should Be Boon for Bo Pelini

This year's NFL draft results will likely give Bo Pelini a little extra recruiting help, especially on the defensive side of the ball.

In fact, if any recruit interested in playing defense had any doubts about what Pelini's capable of, they just need to take a quick look at Stanley Jean-Baptiste.

Those are not bad statistics for Nebraska and Pelini. They're also numbers that Pelini and his staff should be mentioning while on the recruiting trail.

For many young athletes, the possibility of making it to the NFL weighs heavily in their decision to attend one school over another. When they see a particular program churning out results, it will at least spark their interest.

For Nebraska, the seven defensive backs drafted is creating buzz. It's not just because they were drafted either. It's because they typically go on to earn some serious playing time in the NFL.

Take Prince Amukamara, for instance. When the cornerback first arrived at Nebraska, he made an impact quickly by starting as a true freshman. And Pelini definitely saw the future potential for Amukamara.

By the time he graduated, Amukamara helped lead the Husker secondary to be one of the best in the country. Per Huskers.com, he limited opponents to only 18 pass completions in 52 attempts against him. His numbers were impressive, and the New York Giants took notice. Amukamara was drafted at No. 19 in the first round of the NFL draft in 2011.

Since then, Amukamara has made an impression in New York, earning a fair amount of playing time. 

And Amukamara and Jean-Baptiste aren't the only two Pelini can brag about, though. According to Nebraska Athletics, the Huskers have had 27 defensive backs drafted since 1990, not including Jean-Baptiste.

Even more impressive? "Nebraska has had a defensive player taken in the first three rounds of the NFL Draft in 23 of the last 29 years," per Nebraska Athletics. 

That's quite the talking point for recruiting purposes. With Nebraska's new secondary coach, Charlton Warren, still settling in, it definitely does not hurt to have these statistics to share.

As of now, the Huskers have one defensive back committed to the 2015 class. However, plenty more have been offered. And Warren must be saying the right things. Per 247Sports, he is now ranked No. 18 in recruiter rankings.

As Pelini and Warren work on finding the next big stars at defensive back for Nebraska, they have the NFL draft results to point to. After all, what recruit wouldn't be impressed by the pipeline of defensive backs the Huskers have sent on to the NFL?

It's a position Pelini knows well, and it shouldn't be a difficult position for the Huskers to recruit either.

 

Recruiting information courtesy of 247Sports.com.

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UCLA Football: Brett Hundley's Position on First 2015 NFL Draft Big Boards

In 2015, quarterback Brett Hundley could possibly be the highest draft choice for the UCLA football team since Hall of Fame offensive tackle Jonathan Odgen was taken fourth-overall in 1996. 

There's considerable buzz in regards to the quarterback position for next year's draft. Hundley, Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota and Florida State signal-caller Jameis Winston will all likely enter, and that doesn't even account for the likes of Baylor quarterback Bryce Petty or Oregon State signal-caller Sean Mannion. 

In short, it will be a far deeper and more talented group than the 2014 quarterback class. 

There are multiple Bruins with the potential to being drafted next spring. Malcolm Bunche and Eric Kendricks are likely mid-round picks. One sleeper to watch is Fabian Moreau, a cornerback out of Florida who has considerable upside. With a strong junior campaign, he could shoot up draft boards and become a potential high draft choice. 

ESPN analyst Todd McShay and Walter Cherepinsky of Walterfootball.com both recently released early mock drafts for 2015. Hundley was the only Bruin mentioned in either. 

McShay (subscription required) has Hundley going 16th overall to the Tennessee Titans. Similarly, Cherepinsky had the UCLA product going to the Titans at pick No. 18

The jockeying between Hundley, Mariota and Winston will last the duration of this upcoming season. With the quarterback position being such a vital entity in the NFL, it's very possible to think all three could be drafted in the top 10. 

Both Mariota and Winston are rated ahead of Hundley at this point. That's not to say Hundley can't be drafted ahead of either once the 2014 college football season plays out.

The Bruin signal-caller does have room for improvement, first and foremost his accuracy. Also, if the first option on a play is covered, he has the propensity to take off and run. Hundley can't necessarily do that at the next level. Going through his progressions will be an area on which he needs to work.

And his pocket awareness needs to be enhanced. In his two years as the UCLA quarterback, Hundley has taken some bad sacks on dropbacks where he should have thrown the ball away. 

He still has time to improve in those specific areas. For all of the nitpicking, Hundley does bring a lot to the table. It will be fascinating to see his development in the upcoming year. 

 

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

UCLA Football: Brett Hundley's Position on First 2015 NFL Draft Big Boards

In 2015, quarterback Brett Hundley could possibly be the highest draft choice for the UCLA football team since Hall of Fame offensive tackle Jonathan Odgen was taken fourth-overall in 1996...

Read the full article on Bleacher Report...

Pros and Cons to 4-Star OLB Osa Masina's Top Schools

Osa Masina is a versatile 4-star athlete who can play several different positions. While the Utah native projects best as an outside linebacker in college, he can also play running back, defensive end, tight end and even receiver.

Masina, who is 6'4" and 218 pounds, has many schools after him. However, he narrowed his choices to a group of eight schools in April, according to Justin Hopkins of 247Sports

As Masina goes through the recruiting process and examines the eight programs in contention for him, he will need to weigh the pros and cons of each school.

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What Wisconsin Football's 2014 Recruits Will Bring to the Team

Coming on the heels of a 9-4 season last year, the Wisconsin football team looks to build off last seasons' success while figuring out a new identity under coach Gary Andersen.  Andersen is faced with the task of replacing nearly the entire front seven, including Big Ten Player of the Year Chris Borland, while also dealing with uncertainty at quarterback, wide receiver and on special teams.

While Andersen swung and missed on a number of extremely high-profile recruits, he brought in a talented recruiting class, which features numerous players that can step in and contribute early in their collegiate careers.

The keystone of the recruiting class is offensive tackle Jaden Gault.  The top-ranked player in the state of Wisconsin who was the 10th-ranked offensive tackle, according to ESPN, was an important get for Andersen as in-state players have long been a focus when it comes to recruiting for the Badgers.  While Gault may be the highest-rated player, the freshman with the best chance of seeing snaps is Michael Dieter.  

With Dan Voltz and Dallas Lewallen missing the spring due to injuries, it was Dieter who stepped up and will likely compete for playing time along the crowded, experienced line.  In a February 2014 interview with Fox Sports Wisconsin's Jesse Temple, offensive line coach T.J. Woods said:

You look at a guy like Michael Dieter, who was going to get maybe half the reps with the twos.  Now all of a sudden he's getting all the reps with the twos and half the reps with the ones. That's a huge bonus for him. It turns the heat up on me and him both to make sure he's ready and make sure he can handle that.

Another 4-star recruit, the Badgers reeled in was quarterback D.J. Gillins out of Ribault High in School Jacksonville, Fla.  Gillins, who enrolled in January, was the first quarterback Andersen recruited himself and shows a shift in the philosophy of who will be playing quarterback for the Badgers while Andersen is coaching.  

Gillins, ranked the 17th dual-threat quarterback by ESPN, provides an aspect of mobility that few Badgers quarterbacks have had of late as Curt Phillips' numerous ACL surgeries negated much of his running ability, while Danny O'Brien and Joel Stave never looked to their feet as a weapon.  

Gillins will likely redshirt, something he told Luke Mueller of Bucky's Fifth Quarter in an April 2014 interview he'd be fine with.  "If I redshirt, I'll be satisfied," Gillins said. "It doesn't really matter. I wouldn't want the coaches to throw me out there if I don't know what I'm doing. Whatever coach Andersen and coach Ludwig have for me is fine with me."

The last spot on the offensive side of the ball where freshmen could step in right away is at wide receiver.  In the wake of Jared Abbrederis' departure to the NFL, this position group is certainly a spot where the Badgers will need more production.  With the top three receivers all departing, only one of whom was a wide receiver, look for the five freshman class of receivers to step in and play from Day 1.

The Badgers are bringing in 4-star athlete Dareian Watkins and four three-star receivers, Natrell Jamerson, Krenwick Sanders, Chris Jones and George Rushing.  While Watkins carries the most stars, it is likely Sanders who will compete for catches early on.  The former Georgia commit recorded 65 catches for 1,483 yards and 26 touchdown receptions plus 463 rushing yards and six touchdowns, according to the Badgers' site.  With limited experience returning, Watkins, Jamerson, Sanders or Rushing could come in and vie for snaps.

On the defensive side of the ball, two players have the potential to step in and contribute right away.  The first is Jeremy Patterson, a 3-star defensive tackle out of Georgia.  While it is unlikely he will play immediately, his size—he's listed at 315 pounds, according to Rivals.com—will make him a candidate to help plug the massive hole left by the departure of Beau Allen, who was drafted by the Philadelphia Eagles in the seventh round of the NFL Draft.

The other player who can contribute early in their career is Austin Hudson.  Hudson, who enrolled early—there is a trend here—got valuable snaps in the spring as last year's safeties either graduated (Dezmen Southward) or moved positions (Michael Caputo to linebacker and Tanner McEvoy to quarterback).  

Hudson, who was a 3-star safety only held offers from Florida Tech, Holy Cross and Jacksonville State.  Hudson's appearance on this list is indicative of his strong Spring as well as the relative dearth of returning talent to the secondary.

With the 34th-ranked class, according to ESPN, the Badgers addressed major needs at stocking their offensive line, loading up on talent at wide receiver and bringing in a number of other key contributors who can step in over their Badger careers and make an impact on the field.  

While very few of these players will see the field in their season-opening tilt against LSU at Reliant Stadium, don't be surprised if by the time the Big Ten season rolls around, Sanders or Dieter have made an impact.

 

Recruiting information courtesy of ESPN, unless otherwise noted. 

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Power Ranking the Top 10 2015 In-State Commitments So Far

When full recruiting classes are announced by head coaches in February of 2015, the bulk of each class will be made up of in-state commitments.

Among the first rules of recruiting for a program is to lock down its own state. With the 2015 class, some of the nation's best recruits have already chosen to stay home and play for programs inside their native borders.

A trio of elite quarterback recruits aren't going too far from home, while an SEC school has a pledge from a 5-star defensive tackle from inside its state. Also, a 4-star running back in Florida is staying inside the Sunshine State, but he's actually not going to one of the three powerhouse programs.

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

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5-Star DE Jashon Cornell Talks Recipe to Success

Jashon Cornell can’t help but laugh as he talks about his gameday superstitions.

Highlights include his lucky pair of socks, and the same breakfast and pregame meals every week. The pregame meal is a Chipotle burrito, chips with guacamole and coconut water.

But it’s his choice of pregame music that is perhaps most unusual.  What gets Cornell into a rhythm gives quarterbacks the blues.

“I usually listen to some R&B songs to get me hyped,” Cornell said. “I just love R&B music and that’s what gets me in my zone.”

It’s a recipe that has helped him become one of the nation’s most sought-after defensive ends. Over the last two years, Cornell has racked up 122 tackles, 29 sacks and five forced fumbles. Also an accomplished student with a 3.5 GPA at prestigious Cretin-Derham Hall High School in Saint Paul, Minn., Cornell aims to major in international business.

Although he dabbled with basketball and lacrosse in high school, Cornell’s passion for football was developed at an early age. It was the only sport he played from kindergarten until the sixth grade.

While his love affair with the game began early, his journey to becoming a 5-star recruit was far from smooth. As detailed by Steve Wiltfong of 247Sports, Cornell’s drive and work ethic—traits he inherited from his mother—are what turned a raw athlete into a powerful force as a pass-rusher.

Cornell chuckles as he recalls playing receiver simply because his coaches felt he was faster than everyone else.

“When I was at receiver, I was like, ‘yeah, this is not going to work for me.’” Cornell said. “I think around eighth grade, I decided to play defense. I knew I’d rather hit somebody than to get hit.”

His transformation into the hulking 6’4”, 255-pound defensive end with a 40-inch vertical and a 40-yard dash time of 4.6 seconds began a year after his epiphany to focus on defense.

That’s when, as a freshman in high school, he decided to go to a camp at Notre Dame with friends and fellow recruits such as Jeff Jones, James Onwualu, Khairi Bailey and Demetrius Cooper.  

“Watching those guys go through the process, I looked up to them,” Cornell said. “It made me want to become one of those players and become that prestigious athlete that every college in the country wants. I feel like ever since that first camp my freshman year, hopping in that car to go to camp with them, it was like my eyes opened wide to the college football world.”

It didn’t take much longer for the rest of the nation to take notice. Prior to the start of his junior season, ESPN tabbed him as the top overall prospect in the 2015 class, according to Marcus R. Fuller of the St. Paul Pioneer Press. Now, schools such as Notre Dame, Michigan State, Michigan, and Penn State are among the schools fighting to earn his commitment—which will come on Aug. 28.

Cornell realizes the hype and pressure that comes with such accolades.

Furthermore, since he hails from the same school that produced Chris Weinke, Michael Floyd and former No. 1 recruits like Joe Mauer and Seantrel Henderson, he wants to establish a tradition of excellence on the defensive side of the ball.

“CDH is known for their offensive players, so for me to be one of the top defensive players to come out of CDH, I feel like it’s my responsibility to show my talent and be the best player I can be,” Cornell said.  “I try to stay in the weight room and do all the little things and make sure that I’m not taking days off.

With that mindset fueling him as he approaches his senior season, his next challenge will be trying to help Cretin-Derham Hall capture its first state title since 2009.

“It’s my last high school season,” Cornell said. “As a team captain this year, I feel like it’s my duty to lead our team to a state championship. That’s the main goal.”

 

Sanjay Kirpalani is a Featured Columnist for Bleacher Report. Unless otherwise noted, all quotes were obtained firsthand. 

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Top 5 QB Recruits to Watch For at Oakland Elite 11 Regional

The Elite 11 Quarterback Camp rolls into Northern California on Friday, May 16, allowing another crop of premier passers to compete against their top contemporaries. The action features several standouts from the 2015 recruiting class, including a few who have already accepted collegiate scholarship offers.

The latest Elite 11 regional event also presents an opportunity for elite performers to advance into the national phase of competition. Notable Elite 11 alumni include eventual No. 1 overall NFL draft picks Matthew Stafford and Andrew Luck, along with reigning Heisman Trophy winner Jameis Winston.

With the Oakland roster unveiled, we highlight the top five quarterbacks to keep an eye on, ranking them in regard to skill set and high school success.

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Virginia Tech Football: Analyzing Hokies' Prospects in 2015 NFL Draft

With scouts already creating their 2015 NFL Draft big boards, a pair of Virginia Tech football players is starting to get some buzz heading into the new season.

Although the Hokies didn’t land any prospects in the first round of mock drafts like those by ESPN’s Todd McShay or Walterfootball.com’s Walter Cherepinsky, Tech does still have some players that will likely head to the NFL in 2015.

In particular, defensive tackle Luther Maddy and rover Kyshoen Jarrett have earned looks from around the league. 

Each considered entering the 2014 NFL draft but decided to return for their senior seasons, giving them another year to earn the attention of scouts and fans alike.

While Maddy and Jarrett might not be household names quite yet, many take them seriously as prospects, and they could vault into the national spotlight with big performances in 2014.

 

Kyshoen Jarrett

Jarrett has spent the last two seasons manning the rover spot for Bud Foster’s defense—which roughly translates into a strong safety position in the NFL—and it’s no mistake he’s getting some attention.

He made the 2013 All-ACC team as an honorable mention, made the Coaches All-ACC third team and has a reputation as a big hitter and ball hawk.

After all, hits like this one against Pittsburgh’s Devin Street prove that he is a force in the defensive backfield.

He’s currently rated as the eighth best strong safety prospect by CBS Sports, and it makes sense that he considered entering the draft in 2014.

“I definitely want to find out information of where I might go,” Jarrett told Mike Barber of the Richmond Times-Dispatch at the time. “Whatever benefits my family and I. But at the end of the day, my ties are here to Virginia Tech, and just playing ball. I would be grateful to be able to come back another year and be able to play ball with this great group of guys, coach [Torrian] Gray, coach [Bud] Foster.” 

He sat out spring practice after undergoing shoulder surgery, but he should be able to take advantage of another year at Tech to keep attracting attention.

Jarrett’s numbers were certainly good in 2013—he finished with 71 tackles and two interceptions—but he does still have some room to improve and drive his stock higher. 

Draftinsider.net rated him as a fourth-round prospect when he was initially mulling entering the draft, and if he performs up to his potential, he can hold his stock there or even better it in 2014.

 

Luther Maddy

Maddy has been dominant on the interior of Tech’s line for the last two seasons now, and he’s also earned some buzz for the next draft.

He had his best statistical year of his career in 2013, making 55 tackles and earning 6.5 sacks, so it’s no wonder that he nearly left the Hokies for the NFL last year.

"I think I was one of the better d-tackles in the nation," Maddy told the Roanoke Times’ Andy Bitter at the time. 

Scouts seem to agree. CBS Sports has him rated as the 10th best player at his position for the 2015 draft.

Maddy’s return in 2014 really helps the Hokies given the team’s lack of depth at the position, but he may find things more difficult on the inside now that Derrick Hopkins has departed for the NFL.

However, the coaching staff is singing the praises of his new partner at defensive tackle, Corey Marshall, so Maddy might be able to find the same kind of success on the inside.

Draftinsider.net called him a potential third round pick when scouting the ACC, but like Jarrett, he does have the ability to improve his stock this season.

Of the pair of Hokies, Maddy has the slightly larger national footprint at the moment. Viewers witnessed his dominance in nationally televised games against Alabama and Miami last season, while Jarrett is still a little more under the radar. 

But if Maddy and Jarrett can come out with strong performances and not slip from their previous levels of excellence, both could be NFL-bound next spring.

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Should Big 12 Football Add a Conference Championship Game?

The Big 12 stands alone, but it's not abundantly clear yet if this is a good thing or not. 

The Big 12 is the only one of the major conferences in college football that doesn't have a championship game at season's end. Not coincidentally, it's also the only one with a true nine-game, round-robin schedule. 

From the perspective of crowning a champion, the format is a relative breeze. If a team can get through the league either unscathed or with one loss in a wide-open year, playoff access seems like a sure thing.

Or, is it?

How much does that extra game help or hurt a team's chances? If a four-team playoff began last season (which it didn't) and Baylor and Ohio State were battling for that final spot (which they weren't), how much of a difference would the championship game make?

Or, better yet, how much would an extra game have helped 11-1 Oklahoma State in 2011, who watched Alabama and LSU play a rematch in the BCS Championship Game?

"We like our path to the playoff. I think it's a good thing we don't have our two best teams playing each other on the last date of the season," Big 12 commissioner Bob Bowlsby told David Ubben of Fox Sports Southwest. "One of them's going to lose, and sometimes it's not the right one." 

As Ubben notes, of five teams ranked in the top nationally, three lost in the Big 12 title game from 1996-2010. 

College Football Playoff is about access—and, in other ways, denying that access to others—and nothing more. It's not about strength of schedule, at least to the degree it has been for the past couple of years. The ACC and SEC have decided to stay at eight conference games, basically daring the College Football Playoff selection committee to force them to change. 

The ACC also drafted NCAA legislation that would deregulate conference championship games, according to Dennis Dodd of CBSSports.com. The Big 12 has since hopped on that train, supporting the legislation. Conferences must currently have divisions and 12 teams to stage such a game. If the legislation were to pass, conferences could do away with divisions or stage a championship game with only 10 members. 

"It doesn’t foretell any particular outcome for the Big 12," Bowlsby said, via Chuck Carlton of The Dallas Morning News. "It does give us some options that weren’t available otherwise.”

That's what the Big 12 does want: Options. In today's game of college football, conferences have shown a willingness to do whatever is in their best interest for playoff access—and their interest only. 

Imagine a year when, say, Oklahoma and Texas finish first and second in the Big 12 standings, respectively. The Sooners sit at No. 5 in the national rankings and have only one loss—to the Longhorns earlier that year. 

The Longhorns also had a good year with a 10-2 record, winning their last six games. Beating that Texas team in a rematch sure would look good on the Sooners' resume, wouldn't it? What better way to prove you're playing well at season's end than to beat a team who is one of the hottest in the country?

There are rematches in conference championship games all the time. Why would the Big 12's be any different?

These are the situations that make deregulating a conference championship game enticing to the Big 12. It's not that the conference needs to exercise its options; it's that it can if it ever needed to. 

But while the Big 12 is pushing for deregulation, don't expect the conference to change its format anytime soon. Like the ACC and SEC, the Big 12 is waiting to see what the selection committee values and by how much. 

It'd be great if every conference played the same number of league games plus a championship game every year. It makes the process that much more cut-and-dry. But college football is a sport where every conference is free to make decisions as it sees fit. 

Only when the Big 12 is left out of the playoff because of a lack of a championship game will it change. It's a different starting point from the ACC and SEC, but the end result is the same: Don't change unless forced. 

In that sense, the Big 12 is just like everyone else.

 

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

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Texas Football: 4 Freshmen Who Could Become Household Names in 2014

Texas football underwent a complete makeover with the hiring of head coach Charlie Strong and his staff, and with this makeover came a clean slate for the team.

The Longhorns had spring practice to prove themselves to Strong and his staff, and now the incoming freshmen will have to do the same thing.

Strong signed 23 athletes on national signing day, with three enrolling early and participating in spring practice. Of the remaining 20 signees who will come to Austin following high school graduation, here's a look at four Longhorns who could become household names in 2014.

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UCLA 5-Star QB Josh Rosen Talks Craziest Recruiting Story, Future on Wall Street

Class of 2015 5-Star quarterback Josh Rosen is the No. 1-rated pro-style QB in the country, per 247Sports, and will be playing his college ball at UCLA. Rosen was courted by most of the top programs in the nation but finally settled on the Bruins.

In the above video, Bleacher Report catches up with Rosen as he discusses coach Jim Mora's pitch, what he loves about UCLA, his future on Wall Street and an absolutely crazy recruiting pitch he received.

 

Highlights courtesy of XOSdigital.com.

 

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UCLA 5-Star QB Josh Rosen Talks Craziest Recruiting Story, Future on Wall Street

Class of 2015 5-Star quarterback Josh Rosen is the No. 1-rated pro-style QB in the country, per 247Sports , and will be playing his college ball at UCLA. Rosen was courted by most of the top programs in the nation but finally settled on the Bruins..

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Texas Football: Realistic Expectations for the Longhorns 2014 Season

The Texas Longhorns hired Charlie Strong, who overachieved at Louisville, to help them reach the expectations that they have have been unable to reach over the past four seasons. His debut season will fall short of the program's high standards but not without exhibiting progress.

“The last few years they've been knocked down," Strong told CBS Sports' Jeremy Fowler. “We need to get them built back up." 

Strong inherits 13 starters from last year's 8-5 squad, which is tied with 17 other programs for 69th in the nation, according to Phil Steele. Six of those returnees come from the offensive side of the ball, with another seven on defense.

Excluded from those figures is the murky quarterback position. Already a risk due to a history of concussions, David Ash suffered a Jones fracture in his foot late in the spring that could sideline him until the fall. 

Ash's latest complication leaves Texas with sophomore Tyrone Swoopes and incoming freshman Jerrod Heard as the only real options at the position. Their zero combined starts and an offensive line that is replacing three starters won't make for a winning formula in the Big 12.

Fortunately, the 'Horns will be able to lean on one the conference's best running games. All-Big 12 back Malcolm Brown returns for his senior year, and Johnathan Gray is expected back from his ruptured Achilles in mid-June. Together, Brown's power and Gray's elusiveness will provide a formidable one-two punch out of the backfield.

As for the defense, the front-seven will have to do much of the heavy lifting for Strong's area of expertise. Though not the deepest group, bookend Cedric Reed and tackle Malcom Brown will lead a stout defensive line that will be tough at the point of attack.

Backing up the frontline is a truly two-deep linebacking corps, where past injuries have allowed young players to gain valuable experience. Even if Jordan Hicks goes down for a third-straight season, there is enough talent here for Strong and his staff to work with.

In all, that leaves Texas with potential deficiencies chiefly at quarterback, but in the secondary and along the offensive line as well. Those are three areas where underperformance could be disastrous for the 'Horns.

Given the schedule, that leaves a best-case scenario at 9-3 with the worst outcome being a 6-6 finish.

 

Schedule

As shown above, Texas will play five teams that appear in B/R's Post-Spring Top 25. How the 'Horns fare against those five teams, as well as Oklahoma State, will determine the course of their season.

UCLA and Oklahoma represent the toughest matchups, returning a majority of their starters as well as electric quarterbacks Brett Hundley and Trevor Knight. The 'Horns will get each of them in an early four-week stretch that also includes Baylor, which returns Offensive Player of the Year Bryce Petty.

Following that stretch, Texas gets a one-week break against Iowa State before facing formidable road tests at Kansas State and Texas Tech, two programs that closed 2013 as hot as anyone in the conference. The Longhorns' last big test comes against Oklahoma State, who embarrassed them at home last season by a 38-13 margin.

Although teams like Kansas, Iowa State, West Virginia and BYU all gave Texas fits last season, these are the six games that Texas absolutely must play well to win. Because, and let's face it, there's no way Strong is going to let the Cougars' Taysom Hill rush for another 259 yards.

 

Worst-Case Scenario

It's all about the quarterbacks in the Big 12. And if Texas doesn't have one, then dropping those six key games to finish 6-6 is a real possibility. 

The Longhorns have other issues. The offensive line still need sorting out after giving up four sacks to the second team in the spring game. And safeties Mykkele Thompson and Josh Turner have never been sure tacklers in the open field.

All of those issues can, one way or another, be sorted out by the fall. Lacking a reliable quarterback, though, is no easy fix.

Of the past 10 recipients of the Big 12's Offensive Player of the Year Award, nine have been quarterbacks according to Sports-Reference.com. Per CollegeFootballPoll.com, eight of those quarterbacks led teams either to the Big 12 championship game or the outright title, with Robert Griffin III being the lone exception in 2011. 

Now, David Ash is not the best quarterback in the conference, but he is probably closer to that distinction than Tyrone Swoopes. Though he showcased some of his awesome potential in the spring game, Swoopes still threw two picks against the second-team defense. Those are the types of growing pains that Texas will have to expect with Swoopes, whereas Shawn Watson told Burn Orange Nation's Wescott Eberts that Ash was getting a grip on the offense prior to his injury.

Here is what I feel about it, David was beginning to get it. He has really worked hard in the offseason studying and I can't beat him out of my office, he is always there. He is like my chair in my office and every time I turn around he is in it. That's good because he has worked really hard at learning what we do and most importantly he is going to know how.

The worst thing that can happen to Texas here is for Ash to either be unavailable or go down with another ailment, then Swoopes prove unable to handle starting duties. Not only would Texas lose a majority of those six key games, but the pressure would be on to throw the freshman Heard into the fire.

And if all that happens, going 6-6 would be a distinct possibility.

 

 

Best-Case Scenario

Even though this a flawed team, a consistent quarterback makes it good enough for nine regular-season victories.

Since he was the guy through much of the spring, getting David Ash back to 100 percent is the best course of action for the program. He has the most experience and is the best passer on team.

That said, don't sleep on Swoopes either. The 6'5" sophomore adds a dual-threat wrinkle to the offense that the defense has to account for on every play, and his development as a passer gives him an outrageous ceiling. The bottom line is that if the coaches didn't think they could roll with Swoopes in Ash's stead, then they would have offered Max Wittek a scholarship.

As long as either Swoopes or Ash can effectively move the ball, Charlie Strong has proven he can get the chance to turn talent into Ws. The offensive line must improve, but is in good hands with coach Joe Wickline, and cornerback Quandre Diggs can cover up some of the deficiencies in the secondary. Not to mention that Strong can run his 3-3-5 defense with a hybrid linebacker, such as incoming freshman Edwin Freeman, to make up for his lack of size at safety.

Though this team will struggle with its early-season gauntlet of UCLA, Oklahoma and Baylor, the 'Horns have the talent to steal one of those games and then handle the rest of their schedule. With Strong running the show, ending up with nine wins and three losses is more than plausible.

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Alabama Football: Fall Down 2014 NFL Draft Boards Helps Many Tiders

When it comes to the National Football League draft, the prevailing thought nowadays is that teams need to come away with at least three starters every year and fill as many needs as possible.

That potentially put former University of Alabama wide receiver Kevin Norwood in a difficult spot. On the one hand there was a very deep pool of wide receivers to choose from this year, but when you talk about true team needs the position is often discussed long after left tackle, defensive line, cornerback, quarterback, etc.

Nevertheless, Norwood landed with a team in which he could immediately fit in as a third or fourth receiver, the reigning champion Seattle Seahawks.

“He’s a smart guy who’s ready to play in the league right now, knows how to run routes, very, very consistent catching the football and was probably at his best off-script with A.J. McCarron,” ESPN draft analyst Todd McShay said in a post-draft conference call with reporters this week. “You look at Seattle and where they have to excel and it’s when Russell Wilson gets outside of the pocket.

“He’s a smart receiver with a smart quarterback who likes to create when things break down. I think he’s going to become sort of a security blanket, or has a chance to become one for Russell Wilson.”

Although every player wants to be selected in the first round and get the biggest contracts, Seattle may have been be the ideal landing spot for Norwood, who was the 20th wide receiver to be selected at pick No. 123 in the fourth round.

The same holds true with many his other former Crimson Tide teammates. Even though the 2014 draft will be largely viewed as a disappointment for Alabama, with eight of its 12 combine invites selected and many not when expected, if one had sat down beforehand and attempted pick the best team for each player the list might have been very similar to where they all ended up.

Ozzie Newsome took linebacker C.J. Mosley in Baltimore. Ha Ha Clinton-Dix filled a huge need at safety for Green Bay. Arizona needs defensive linemen like Ed Stinson if it’s going to compete with Seattle and San Francisco in the NFC West.

Dallas brought in punter Cody Mandell to compete with Chris Jones, who as a rookie averaged 45 yards per punt (39.1 yards net) last year. Deion Belue singed with a team that needed some depth at cornerback and only took one in the draft, Walt Aikens of Liberty in the fourth round. ESPN commentator Matt Millen said on College Football Live that he could see free agent Anthony Steen starting for the Cardinals in a couple of years.

Even Adrian Hubbard might be in the right spot as he’ll have the chance to challenge former first-round pick Nick Perry be the understudy at the linebacker/defensive spot to mega free-agent signee Julius Peppers. Who better to learn from? Besides, the Packers call that tweener position “elephant.”

Buffalo wanted bigger offensive linemen and took three in the draft beginning with tackle Cyrus Kouandjio in the second round. He’s expected to challenge for the starting right tackle job.

“They’re rolling the dice,” ESPN’s Mel Kiper Jr. said about the Bills’ strategy, which led to taking Baylor guard Cyril Richardson in the fifth round and troubling tackle Seantrel Henderson in the seventh.

Perhaps Buffalo was hedging its bets a little considering the concern about how well Kouandjio’s knees might hold up over years, but considering his mauler potential the Bills felt that he was more than worth the risk.

“Makes sense, it really does,” McShay said. “Kouandjio is a big boy. He’s not there yet, but if he ever gets there they’re going to end up with a really good value at pick No. 44 overall. He’s long, he’s got 35 five-eighth-inch arms, 10-and-a-quarter hands. He had terrible 40 time and numbers at the combine, but if you watch him on tape he moves pretty well at almost 6'7".”

However, none of the former Alabama players may be in a better spot than McCarron in Cincinnati. Andy Dalton is heading into the final year of his rookie contract, Jason Campbell was brought in to serve as a sort of a mentor and reserves Zac Robinson and Josh Johnson have already been released.

“We thought he’d be a second-round pick, maybe a third-round pick,” Kiper said. “He goes to the perfect team.

“Andy Dalton in the playoffs is 0-3. He’s got a lot of talent on that team, the Bengals do, and they want to get to the playoffs and win a game. He’s been a good quarterback, but to be great you have to win playoff games. He has seven turnovers and one touchdown in the three playoff games.”

In addition to not being expected to jump in and start from day one, which has set back way too many quarterbacks over the years, the initial plan appears to be to have McCarron essentially redshirt a year as a No. 3 option. Cincinnati is talking contract extension with Dalton, but roughly half the league had a backup quarterback start at least one game last season.

Meanwhile, the Bengals don’t seem concerned with critics claiming that they only added another Dalton-type game manager, or reports that other teams bypassed on McCarron following his predraft interviews when he allegedly came across as “cocky.

“You know, a lot of people call me cocky,” Bengals quarterback coach Eric Zampese told reporters in Cincinnati. “I kind of like that in a quarterback.”

  

Christopher Walsh is the lead Alabama football writer for Bleacher Report. All quotes were obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted. 

Follow @CrimsonWalsh

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College Football Teams Whose Defense Can Carry Them to the Playoff

In the era of uptempo, no-huddle offenses, it may seem like "defense wins championships" is an outdated maxim. 

Auburn allowed 415 yards nine times, 450 yards seven times and 490 yards four times last season, and it still won the SEC title and came within 20 seconds of beating Florida State for the BCS National Championship. Welcome to 2014!

Still, although it is easy to forget, we are only three seasons removed from the Alabama-LSU national title game. A rematch of the 9-6 LSU win in the regular season, that game featured a Crimson Tide defense that didn't allow its opponent to cross midfield until midway through the fourth quarter. Defense, it seems, won a championship.

Alabama and Notre Dame met for the national title the following season after finishing Nos. 1 and 2, respectively, in national scoring defense. And Florida State, the team that beat Auburn for the final BCS National Championship, finished with the No. 1 defense in the country according to Football Outsiders' F/+ ratings.

Defense is still requisite for championships, and the teams on this list could all be proof of that in 2014. This is not a list of the seven best defenses in the country, necessarily, but a list of seven defenses whose teams can realistically hope for a spot in the College Football Playoff. They all have the pedigree and balance to get there.

But the defense will do the heavy lifting.

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