NCAA Football

Ranking Clemson's 2014 Schedule from Easiest to Toughest

As anticipation grows for the upcoming college football season, fans all over the country will break down the potential outcomes of their team’s schedule. While there’s no way of knowing how each game will play out, there’s no harm in getting a feel for the strength of the schedule.

Clemson’s 2014 schedule features some challenging games, but also a few games that fans won’t have to stress over as much.

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Power Ranking Miami's 2014 Schedule from Easiest to Toughest

Attempting to overcome a 10-year drought in the ACC's Coastal Division, the Miami Hurricanes will be tested nearly every weekend throughout the 2014 season.

The ACC improved with the addition of Louisville, and the 'Canes will travel to the Cardinals during their inaugural season in the league.

What's more, Miami faces one of the nation's toughest nonconference schedules, heading to Nebraska and hosting Cincinnati and Arkansas State.

Each game poses new challenges, but some opponents are more difficult than the others, and Bleacher Report is here to organize the chaos.

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Greg Mattison's 2014 Defense Will Remind Fans of 'Old Michigan' Teams

Prior to Greg Mattison’s arrival in 2011, Michigan’s defense had been giving up small fortunes each Saturday. However, these days, the coordinator’s men run a more efficient budget (they’re stingy).

Despite allowing 40 or better thrice in 2013, Team 134 actually held tight for a good portion of the season, ranking No. 13 nationally in terms of total defense, per NCAA.com. If not for a woeful offense, the Wolverines would have won at least nine games. That’s a guarantee.

Improvement under Mattison has been steady; in 2013, the secondary shifted into another gear and helped corral 17 interceptions, the second most in the Big Ten. The front four and linebackers contributed to an average of 4.93 yards surrendered per play, just about a half-yard more than the mark of Michigan State, which had arguably the best D in the land.

There are more than a few favorable stats and “good” reasons to believe that 2014’s defense has throwback qualities and far more than loose speculation surrounding the idea that Mattison’s guys have the potential to be one of his better collections this fall.

Why put stock into that? Because Mattison knows what he’s seeing at practice—and he loves what’s on the horizon.

“The thing that I’m excited about is watching our kids work out this summer—they remind me of the ‘old Michigan’ groups that we had,” said Mattison, who served as line coach and coordinator from 1992-1996.

“The thing that’s exciting is that there’s competition at every position—I mean, there’s guys on our team who have been starters for two and three years that are competing for starting positions. It’s very healthy. They all respect each other because they’re all working very, very hard together. I’m excited about the defense.”

 

D-Line Is Gearing Up

Mattison doesn’t have Buster Stanley or Will Carr this time around, but he does have a promising trio of redshirt sophomores to piece together up front: Willie Henry (6’2,” 297 lbs), Matt Godin (6’6,” 285 lbs) and Chris Wormley (6’4,” 292 lbs).

“The thing that people don’t realize is that so many of our kids played at a young age and with that is why you lose [four] games [in 2013] by a separation of 11 points—but now these are kids who are veterans, and they’ve had a lot of experience,” Mattison said. “That’s going to be a positive thing for us.”

A year ago, Henry appeared in 12 games. Godin played in six and filled in on special teams. Wormley got into 13. Granted, those aren’t career-starter numbers such as the ones put forth by Stanley and Carr, but they’re something to work with.

And then, take this into consideration: Mattison praised Godin’s dedication and said that “he wants it” as much as anyone. The former Detroit Catholic Central star is coming into his own and could be a major contributor to Team 135.

“He’s working extremely hard in the weight room,” Mattison said. “He’s becoming very, very strong, and he has great pride. He wants to be ‘that’ guy.”

So, who where the other players who were “that” guy?

Stanley was one of them. He was team MVP and co-captain in 1993. Of course, Godin is quite a ways from reaching that level. But the bottom line is this: He’s a hard-nosed, dedicated, team-oriented guy who competes. And along with ends Brennen Beyer, Taco Charlton and Henry Poggi, he’s giving Mattison a familiar, early-to-mid-1990s feeling.

 

Love for LBs

Although he’s not technically their “coach,” Mattison was quick to point out the advancements of the linebackers, saying that Joe Bolden “had the best spring practice of anybody” and continues to progress. He also said that he’s anticipating a strong return from Jake Ryan in addition to increased efforts from Ben Gedeon, Royce Jenkins-Stone and James Ross, who is excelling as a “Sam” linebacker.

At this rate, the middle of the field could soon be stacked with traditional, punishing Michigan linebackers. Jarrett Irons? Anyone? Even something close would suffice.

If Mattison isn’t the reason for the massive turnaround, then he’s 1B. And with his plan in motion, nearly anything seems possible for the Wolverines defense.

 

Follow Bleacher Report’s Michigan Wolverines football writer Adam Biggers on Twitter @AdamBiggers81.

Quotes were obtained firsthand by the writer.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Bleacher Report's Summer Predictions for Every Major College Football Award

There are still more than two months before the 2014 college football season finally welcomes us back with open arms, and we're doing our best to pass the time until those first kickoffs.

A lot of focus has been put on team expectations for this fall, with programs evaluated based on their chances of making the first-ever College Football Playoff. The quality of their rosters and coaching staffs factors into this process, but comparing individuals doesn't.

That's what the many awards given out are for.

Watch lists have already started popping up for the bevy of postseason college football awards given to the nation's best quarterbacks, linebackers, linemen and even kickers, not to mention for the best coach and several that honor the top overall player. The Heisman Trophy gets the most attention, but there are many more that are just as distinctive.

These awards will be based on the body of work put forth throughout the 2014 season, but it's never too early to start thinking who's going to take home some hardware in December.

Check out Bleacher Report's summer predictions for every major award, then give us your thoughts on who's worthy (or not so much) in the comments section.

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Predicting Where the Georgia Bulldogs Will Finish in the 2015 Recruiting Ranks

The Georgia Bulldogs are always going to be in the hunt for the SEC title as long as Mark Richt is the head coach. And the main reason for that is he has done a solid job recruiting the top players in Georgia and some of the top players in the Southeast.

It’s no different this year, as he signed a top-10 class, according to 247Sports, that is led by Lorenzo Carter and Nick Chubb. These two players, along with the rest of the 2014 signing class, are expected to be major players by 2015.

And speaking of the class of 2015, the Bulldogs are looking to have another great class in order with 12 players already committed. So the question is: Where will the Bulldogs rank in 2015 when it comes to recruiting?

It’s really going to come down to what happens with a couple of players the Bulldogs are targeting. One of the Bulldogs' top targets is defensive tackle Trent Thompson from Albany, Georgia. Thompson is considered the best overall prospect in the country, according to 247Sports, and he is really considering the Bulldogs as his college of choice.

Photo by @Mansell247: #UGA's Jeremy Pruitt with nation's No. 1 prospect Trent Thompson ... http://t.co/XRS8a5lChvpic.twitter.com/ewXNL8HhJZ

— Gentry Estes (@GentryEstes247) June 13, 2014

Another top target is Rashad Roundtree from Evans, Georgia. Roundtree is considered one of the five-best safeties in the country, according to 247Sports, and adding him would address a huge need for the Bulldogs next season.

On offense, the Bulldogs need some help on the offensive line, and the one player they would love to have is Chuma Edoga from Powder Springs, Georgia. He’s a USC commit, but Dawgs247 has reported (subscription needed) that he was in Athens last week, and he could make a return visit in the near future. Edoga is listed as the third-best offensive tackle in the country.

Last week was a vital one for the Bulldogs because they were able to get three players to commit. The first was Gary McCrae, who is an outside linebacker from Coolidge, Georgia. The next day, the Bulldogs got a verbal commit from tight end Jackson Harris from Columbia, Tennessee, and Deandre Baker from Miami, Florida. The Harris commit was big for Georgia because he is one of the 10 best tight ends in the nation, per 247Sports.

One of the reasons the Bulldogs have the eighth-best class is they have been able to get elite players like Terry Godwin, and Rico McGraw to commit. Godwin is a 5-star prospect, per 247 Sports, who can play a number of positions, and McGraw is a 4-star cornerback, per 247 Sports, who is one of the three best players in Tennessee.

So where will the Bulldogs recruiting class rank by February 2015? There is a lot that will happen from now to national signing day, but they have a very good chance of reaching the top five when it’s all said and done. If Thompson commits to the Bulldogs it will make the class an elite one, and the Bulldogs will be in the mix for the SEC title.

But we have seen some crazy things during signing day, so while the Bulldogs may be on their way to a top-five class, they have to make sure they keep the momentum, especially during the regular season.

 

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Scouting Report, Highlights and Predictions for 5-Star DL Rasheem Green

Rasheem Green is among the best players in the 2015 class. He is an athletic defensive lineman who can play both end and tackle.

Many schools from all over the country covet Green, but the California native doesn't seem likely to venture too far from the Golden State. Green has a bright future ahead of him, as he could be dominant in college.

He warrants a closer look.

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The Opening 2014: Breaking Down Each Top-25 Team's Commits, Targets in Beaverton

Perhaps the biggest event of the offseason for a recruit is The Opening. Set to take place July 7-10 in Oregon, 162 of the nation's top prospects will compete for several days in Beaverton.

Some recruits will come into the event already committed, while others will be top targets for programs. Looking at the final Top 25 AP Poll from last season, many schools have either a commitment or target who will be at The Opening.

Alabama has several future players scheduled to attend the event, while USC will likely be interested in hearing how a few of its targets fared. Plus, Michigan State has a quarterback commitment participating in the Elite 11 Finals.

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Big 12 Football: 10 Best Players from BCS Era

We are—thankfully—at the end of the BCS era and entering the dawn of the College Football Playoff. 

So as we do when any era draws its curtains, it's time to reflect on what the Big 12 produced during the time of the BCS. 

Some of the Big 12's best players ever made their mark during the era. There was of course Vince Young, who capped off his great career in Austin with a thrilling win over USC in the national championship. 

There was Adrian Peterson, who is almost undoubtedly the best running back to ever play at Oklahoma. 

The list goes on, and it's almost a shame that some guys are left off. But for now, let's take a look at the top 10 players of the BCS era from the Big 12. 

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Re-Evaluating Oklahoma's 2012 Recruiting Class

They say hindsight is 20/20, and that’s no truer than with college football recruiting classes.

Back in 2012, coaches of the Oklahoma Sooners scoured the country for the best and brightest talent around. These players would be handpicked and chosen with the expectation that they could help continue the tradition of one of the nation’s winningest programs.

According to 247Sports’ football recruiting team rankings, Oklahoma’s 2012 class ranked No. 12 and included 23 commitments—10 of which were 4-star prospects.

Join us as we take a look back and re-evaluate the class.

 

Note: There is no slide for linebackers or special teams because there were no recruits from the class at that position.

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College Football Teams with Most Upside on Their Roster

We have already heard—and will continue to hear—more than we can reasonably process about the eight or 10 favorites to win the College Football Playoff. They are the strongest, most complete teams in America, so their rosters deserve to be discussed and dissected more than other teams' do.

But the national title, as you've no doubt heard, is not crowned during the middle of the summer or the beginning of the fall. It is crowned at the end of the winter, after high-upside teams such as Auburn, Baylor, Michigan State and Missouri—to cite 2013 as one of many examples—have had a chance to realize their considerable potential.

There are teams off the current national title radar that will prove, in time, to have a realistic chance of winning it all. It happens every year. The difficult part is guessing who of the many candidates will actually put everything together and contend into late December.

For the purposes of this list, we have excluded any team with 25-to-1 odds or better to win the national title, per Vegas Insider. That means that the "top" 10 contenders in the country—Florida State, Oregon, Alabama, Ohio State, Auburn, Oklahoma, UCLA, LSU, Georgia and Michigan State—were all not deemed eligible for inclusion.

It did not feel right calling them "high-upside" teams when their potential has so nearly already been realized. Instead, the list focused on teams outside of that 10 that have recruited well the past few seasons but maybe not been able to put all their talent together.

That is, after all, what high-upside means—is it not?

Sound off below, and let me know where you disagree.

 

Note: Unless otherwise cited, all recruiting information courtesy of the 247Sports Composite.

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Where Monster WR Damarkus Lodge Will Play His College Football

Damarkus Lodge, a 5-star wide receiver, is one of the top receivers in the class of 2015 and has yet to decide which college he'll attend.

The 6'3", 190-pound athlete has a unique combination of great size and athleticism, making him an immediate threat at the next level.

Where will Lodge end up playing his college football?

Watch as Bleacher Report College Football Analyst Michael Felder breaks down how the star wide receiver would fit with Texas A&M, LSU, Baylor or Ole Miss and where he will most likely end up.

 

Highlights courtesy of XOS Digital.

Rankings courtesy of 247Sports.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Power Ranking Nebraska's 2014 Schedule from Easiest to Toughest

Nebraska football fans have already spent months digesting and analyzing the 2014 schedule. Which games will be the toughest? Which will be the most exciting? Which can I plan to have the in-laws over because the game won’t be close?

Well, never let it be said we don’t provide a public service. Here, ranked from easiest to most difficult, is a power ranking of Nebraska’s 2014 schedule.

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Power Ranking Texas A&M's 2014 Schedule from Easiest to Toughest

The Texas A&M football team will play one of the toughest schedules in the nation in 2014. The Aggies will play two bowl teams in non-conference play in addition to the gauntlet that makes up the typical SEC schedule. 

The Aggies return six starters on offense and eight starters on defense. They will be a young team in 2014, but they will have more game-tested depth than they did in 2013. 

Head coach Kevin Sumlin and his coaches have done a good job of turning the Aggies roster over with young talent that is physically more prepared to compete in the SEC. This should be the first year when Sumlin's recruits make a major impact on the field. 

The Aggies will match up well with some of their opponents, but they will still find themselves lacking in personnel when it comes to facing off against the elite teams. This is a look at how the Aggies' 2014 schedule ranks from the easiest games to the toughest. 

When looking at how tough an opponents is, the location of the game, the time of the season, the system the team runs and the returning starters the team has will be taken into account. 

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USC Football: Power Ranking Trojans' 2014 Schedule from Easiest to Toughest

USC's 2014 schedule and first campaign under new head coach Steve Sarkisian is an interesting mix of challenging—with nine teams that played in bowl games last season—but also manageable.

The Trojans miss Oregon and Washington out of the Pac-12 North, the division's second- and third-place teams in 2013, instead drawing fifth- and sixth-place finishers Washington State and Cal. 

In the nonconference, USC faces its customary demanding slate with the annual Notre Dame tilt, a road trip to Boston College and a return engagement of last December's Las Vegas Bowl with Fresno State visiting the Coliseum.

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USC Football: Power Ranking Trojans' 2014 Schedule from Easiest to Toughest

USC's 2014 schedule and first campaign under new head coach Steve Sarkisian is an interesting mix of challenging — with nine teams that played in bowl games last season — but also manageable...

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Could Joker Phillips' Departure Mean Suspension for Will Muschamp?

Whenever there's a coaching change during the summer, it will certainly raise eyebrows. Former Florida wide receivers coach Joker Phillips' departure from Florida late last week was no exception.

Phillips, who was entering his second season with the Gators after previously serving as the head coach of Kentucky, resigned his post in Gainesville for personal reasons according to a release from the University of Florida.

“I’m thankful for the opportunity that the University of Florida and Will Muschamp provided to me and my family, but at this time I have decided to step down from my position on the UF coaching staff for personal reasons," Phillips said.

After Phillips made the announcement, Charles Robinson and Pat Forde of Yahoo Sports reported that his resignation was related to a photo that surfaced of the coach meeting with a high school prospect in a restaurant during a recruiting dead period.

The abrupt resignation by Phillips speaks to the serious nature of the infraction, but just how serious could it be?

According to John Infante, author of The Bylaw Blog on AthleticScholarships.net, it could cause head coach Will Muschamp to be suspended even if it's considered a Level III violation rather than a Level II, thanks to the head coach responsibility bylaw.

Harsh? Yes.

Appropriate? Maybe not, considering Phillips' abrupt resignation. But suspension being on the table certainly is appropriate.

This is part of the new enforcement structure of the NCAA which was announced in October 2012. That structure, according to ESPN.com, diminishes a coach's plausible deniability and forces the head coach to prove that he didn't know of the transgression in order to avoid a suspension ranging from 10 percent of the season to a full season.

That's a good thing.

Coaches should be responsible for their assistants, and if they're breaking major recruiting rules, that's a program problem as it's an individual problem. The responsibility for maintaining an atmosphere of compliance does and should fall on the head coach.

Now it's almost impossible for Muschamp to prove he didn't know something happened, but Phillips' abrupt resignation will certainly signal that the head coach of the Gators isn't taking this lightly, and recognizes that something needs to be done.

Isn't that the goal of the new legislation?

Muschamp likely won't be suspended for the alleged incident unless more evidence comes to light, nor should he be.

But suspension being on the table at all is a sign that, despite a laundry list of missteps that has the NCAA in the crosshairs of lawyers around the country, at least one aspect of the new enforcement structure got something right.

 

Barrett Sallee is the lead SEC college football writer for Bleacher Report.


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2014 BCS Football Champions Florida State Unlikely to Visit White House

The Florida State football team earned the right to visit the White House and meet President Barack Obama by virtue of their national championship win over Auburn, but the Seminoles may not be able to accept the honor.  

According to Brendan Sonnone of the Orlando Sentinel, Florida State head coach Jimbo Fisher revealed that his team is unlikely to make the trip due to scheduling conflicts.

"We're trying. It looks like it's going to be hard because all the pro players are going, coaches are going on vacation," Fisher told Sonnone. "We've tried to give them a thousand dates, but we couldn't get it worked out."

According to Sonnone's article, nine of the last 10 BCS football champs have visited the White House by March and all 10 have visited at some point in the year that followed their triumph. It's already been five months since FSU beat Auburn at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena. 

A collegiate championship team tends to face more hurdles than professional teams in this regard since several of the Seminoles' key players from last season are now in the NFL, including wide receiver Kelvin Benjamin and defensive tackle Timmy Jernigan.

With so many important figures from the championship team spread across the country, getting everyone together has to be a massive undertaking. 

This wouldn't be the first instance of major sports champions passing on a White House visit, but most past examples have been far more controversial. Chief among them was goaltender Tim Thomas' refusal to visit in 2012 after he led the Boston Bruins to the 2011 Stanley Cup.

Former Pittsburgh Steelers linebacker James Harrison similarly snubbed the White House in 2009 after passing on the opportunity in 2006 as well.

There hasn't been any indication that Fisher and the rest of the Florida State football program have no desire to go to the White House; rather, they are simply struggling to coordinate everything.

If the Seminoles do officially turn down the chance to go to the White House, then there will inevitably be some who view it as a matter of disrespect. However, until they issue an official statement, all that is clear is that scheduling conflicts have prevented them from making the trip.

The fact of the matter is that Fisher would have to wrangle up more than 100 players and personnel members to ensure that everyone who had a hand in the title is present at the White House, and it just may not be in the cards. 

 

Follow @MikeChiari on Twitter

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What Michigan Can Learn from Alabama's Return to Football Glory

The score was 41-14, but it felt so much more like every gruesome death scene from Game of Thrones.

It wasn't just that Alabama clubbed Michigan to start the 2012 season. No, the scariest part was that Alabama made it look so easy, as if the Tide were unfazed by it all. The 14-point spread from Bovada was, in hindsight, farcical. 

It was a rude awakening for the Wolverines, one of college football's blue-blood programs. But it showed Michigan had a long way to go before it was back in the national championship conversation. 

Alabama was in that position not all that long ago. Before Nick Saban's arrival in Tuscaloosa seven years ago, the Tide hadn't won an SEC championship since 1999 or a national championship since 1992. Saban has since led Alabama to a pair of SEC titles and three national championships, not to mention the program is in the national title discussion every year. 

"In the SEC, it's all about national championships," said Chris Walsh, Alabama's lead writer at B/R. "And, for Alabama fans, it's Crimson Tide football all year long." 

Saban proved that one of college football's great programs could be resurrected. What can Michigan and head coach Brady Hoke learn from the Tide so that they too can return to the national stage?

 

Dissecting the Origins

Before diving into what notes Michigan needs to take from Alabama, it's important to identify how Michigan got here in the first place. 

It's been 10 years since the Wolverines won a Big Ten championship. At best, they've been second fiddle to Ohio State. At worst, they were losing to Appalachian State and Toledo, and missing bowl games in 2008 and '09. 

According to Phil Callihan, who contributes to UMGoBlue.com and B/R, the problems began with talent development under Lloyd Carr, who led the program from 1995-2007. It's also an issue Callihan sees with Hoke.

"Michigan needs to prove it can win and get players to the next level," Callihan said. 

When Rich Rodriguez inherited the program at the end of the 2007 season, he brought a different style of coaching and offense with him from West Virginia. 

Rodriguez was an offense-first guy who ran a zone-read and option attack with the Mountaineers. And he had a perfect tool for it: quarterback Pat White. There was no White on Michigan's roster. (There was, however, a freshman named Ryan Mallett.) 

Rodriguez recruited well at Michigan, hauling in the No. 8 class nationally in 2008. But he recruited players who were designed to fit his system. The offense almost always prevailed, too. Not only did Rodriguez recruit more offensive players than defensive players in 2008 and '09, the balance wasn't even close. 

By the time the more defense-heavy classes of 2010 and '11 were signed, it was too late. Rodriguez, now at Arizona, was never fully accepted at Michigan and he was let go after three years with a 15-22 record.  

For the first couple of years, Hoke had the responsibility of undoing Rodriguez's work. But Hoke was a branch in Carr's coaching tree, which earned him instant credibility among the fanbase and program. 

After winning 11 games in his first season, the program has trended down under Hoke. This season isn't considered a make-or-break year for Hoke, barring an epic disaster, but at a place such as Michigan, the pressure is always on. 

There's one group in particular holding back Michigan. That's where Hoke must commence the turnaround. 

 

Start From the Inside-Out

Everything good about a football team, and everything bad, starts up front. It doesn't matter what the offensive or defensive philosophy is. Win up front and all other things tend to fall into place.

Michigan's offensive line was a mess in 2013, which is astonishing considering it had two players—Taylor Lewan and Michael Schofield—taken in this year's NFL draft. Lewan, in fact, went 11th overall to the Titans and was the third tackle off the board after Greg Robinson (Auburn) and Jake Matthews (Texas A&M). 

But the Wolverines' other three spots along the interior of the line were occupied by a total of eight different players, including three freshmen, who rotated. That's where the trouble started. 

Although, really, the trouble started in 2011 when Hoke brought in just three offensive linemen in his first recruiting class: Chris Bryant, Jack Miller and Tony Posada. Miller has contributed at center, starting the first four games of last season. But Bryant had his career cut short by injuries and Posada left the program shortly after arriving. 

That lack of depth and experience put more pressure on Michigan's younger linemen, and the result was last year's 87th-ranked offense

So how does Alabama tie into this?

It's simple: Success starts in the trenches and Alabama has been excellent there under Saban. 

Consider the table above. The Tide had twice as many first-round selections as Michigan for offensive linemen. Another big difference came in producing all-conference players. Michigan had five different linemen selected as first-team all-conference and Alabama had nine. That part is subjective, but the numbers were based on selections from conference coaches. 

The offensive line is unique in that it really is a position of the sum of its parts. It takes reps, reps and more reps—together—to build the chemistry necessary to become a cohesive group. Ideally, freshman offensive linemen aren't called into duty to play right away. There's a lot of physical and mental maturation that has to take place. 

"The roster is in a good position, except the offensive line," Callihan said. "I don't know how they get better, either." 

That concern has validity. In April, Nick Baumgardner of mlive.com wrote following Michigan's spring game that the offensive line was still a major liability: 

This offense can be explosive. It has playmakers. Devin Gardner is still dynamic. Devin Funchess is a monster. Freddy Canteen looked pretty sharp (more on that soon), and Smith and Green both looked like real Big Ten running backs at times.

But if the offensive line isn't giving those playmakers a chance, then it doesn't matter. Tackles for loss and not being able to convert a 3rd and 1 are killers. 

Michigan was in the running to upgrade its O-line with Chad Lindsay, a transfer from Alabama, of all places. However, Lindsay chose to finish his career at Ohio State. That added insult to injury.

"He could have been a great locker room guy," Callihan said. 

Guys like Kyle Bosch, Kyle Kalis and Erik Magnuson are all young, touted players who have great potential. They're still learning, though, and now they're being asked to anchor the line with the departures of Lewan and Schofield. 

That development simply takes time. 

"I'm not sure Hoke has the time." Callihan said, "[Michigan] is always a year away." 

 

Develop an Identity and Stick to It

Having an "offensive identity" is a one-size-fits-all statement, but it helps to know what to expect from week to week.

"This isn't Madden. You can't just run any play you want," Callihan says.

Michigan didn't have much of an offensive identity last year, odd given that offensive coordinator Al Borges finally had the players to move away from Rodriguez's spread offense. Michigan couldn't run the ball successfully and moved to something that resembled the run-and-shoot offense—when it didn't resemble something else, that is. 

Whatever it was, it didn't work. That led the way to Borges being shown the door. It was a defining, albeit necessary, move for Hoke considering how close he is to Borges. But, according to Callihan, Borges was complicated for the sake of being complicated. 

Conversely, there's nothing convoluted about what Saban does at Alabama, and it starts with "the process." In his own words, the process is "really what you have to do day in and day out to be successful." (h/t Greg Bishop, The New York Times.)  

There's a lesson to be learned from Saban, and Hoke has already jumped on it. In January, Michigan hired offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier right out from under Saban. 

Nussmeier has a history of running a balanced offense with an emphasis on a solid running game. It's no coincidence that's what Hoke wants to accomplish with the Wolverines:

Run the dadgum ball. 

"Linemen love to run block; they hate to pass block," Callihan said. "They may take it on the teeth at first, but this can help the offensive line come together." 

Having an identity is what separates Ohio State from the Wolverines. It's also what separates Michigan State from Michigan. Not coincidentally, the Wolverines are 6-14 against the Buckeyes and Spartans over the past 10 years and haven't beaten both in the same year since 2003. 

It's one thing to lose to Ohio State, which Michigan has done plenty of recently. The Buckeyes are another one of college football's historically premier programs. The so-called Ten-Year War between Bo Schembechler and Woody Hayes featured some of the most memorable games between the programs. 

But Michigan State's rise under head coach Mark Dantonio? The Spartans land a few 4-star prospects every year and even the occasional 5-star player. But, largely, Dantonio and his staff find 3-star recruits who can play, fit their system and develop them. 

"It sucks," Callihan said. "They're just better." 

  

Pay Attention to the Details—All of Them

There is no other person like Saban in college football. Thus, there is no duplicating Saban.

"Their recruiting room looks like a war room in the NFL," Walsh said. "Everything is color-coded and it's updated constantly.

"In practice, everyone is always doing something. There will be six stations all happening at once." 

Saban is prepared for everything*, even his radio show. Beforehand, Walsh explains, Saban will write down a list of talking points he wants to get across. It doesn't matter what the questions are, he'll find a way to communicate whatever message he has in store. 

(*Except for a kick-six, as Auburn fans will gladly point out.) 

Everything is a teaching moment. 

Saban comes across as someone who says a lot without actually saying anything. As it turns out, nothing could be further from the truth. Because what he says is meant for a specific audience: his players. 

A prime example is the recruiting story about former Tide receiver Julio Jones. A 5-star recruit in 2008, Jones could have gone anywhere he wanted. Instead, he went to a place where nothing was promised to him. Via Jeff Schultz of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Growing up, I really didn’t watch a lot of college football. But one of the reasons I liked Alabama was when I went to visit coach Saban, he said, ‘Well you know, we want you here. But we’re going to win with you or without you.’ I was like, that’s me. I just want to win. I don’t like stuff just given to me.

The pitch happened to work for Jones, but the lesson is that even the best prospects are replaceable. 

Despite that attitude, Saban is described by Walsh as someone who doesn't cast people aside. Saban is tremendously loyal to his coaches and players. The narrative on Saban is that he's a nightmare to work for, but roughly half of the Tide's coaching staff has either been with Saban since 2007 or left, only to return to Tuscaloosa. 

Walk through the weight room and Walsh says you'll see a handful of former players on any given day. 

The coaches and players all have the same goal: win. This isn't unique to Alabama, of course. Everyone at this level of football works hard, but a relentless attention to detail is what makes Saban so good—and what makes Alabama so dominant. 

Saban's process has begun to filter into the rest of college football. Other coaches, such as Florida State's Jimbo Fisher, take principles from it and make it their own. 

With a 15-11 record the past two seasons, it's time for Hoke to reinvent how he operates on a day-to-day basis. Like other reinventions, it starts with the little things. Redo the schedule, shake up how practices are run, micromanage, even.

"Hoke is great at delegating," Callihan said.

Maybe it's time for a more hands-on approach.   

 

Think Progressive

Alabama's rise didn't actually begin with Saban. It began with former athletic director Mal Moore. 

Moore arrived in Tuscaloosa in 1999 and immediately began a colossal fundraising effort to renovate the school's athletic facilities. According to Alabama, Moore, who died in 2013 shortly after retiring, raised $240 million to improve facilities. 

Then, in 2007, Moore gave Saban a $32 million contract without a buyout. He handed the keys over to Saban—who was "not going to be the Alabama coach"—and walked away. 

"It showed the commitment—and probably the desperation—they had for him," Walsh said. 

Call it what you will, but Alabama put all its chips on red (or crimson) for a coach it believed in. In some ways, Michigan athletic director David Brandon is all-in with Hoke. 

That will likely change if the Wolverines continue their downward spiral. The question is how long it would take to make that change. Hoke is well-liked in Ann Arbor, but it's not a given that he'll turn the program around, let alone make it a national contender again. 

If Michigan eventually does go in another direction, it will have to get creative like Alabama without being scared of encountering another failed Rodriguez experiment. 

Callihan thinks Michigan's next coaching search—if and when that happens—will concentrate on landing a big-name coach, maybe someone from the NFL.   

"For as big as Michigan perceives itself, it has to be someone big," Callihan said. "I don't think it could be a young coach." 

The Wolverines reportedly made a run at then-Stanford coach Jim Harbaugh, a Michigan alum, in 2011 before hiring Hoke. Harbaugh, now with the San Francisco 49ers, has been connected to college jobs at Texas and USC, but remains in the Bay Area despite an alleged "rift" between him and the organization's front office. 

Harbaugh would be a great coach anywhere, but Callihan believes Michigan would have to seriously consider breaking the Wolverines lineage. The "Michigan Man" prerequisite, the silliest in all of college football, has to go. 

Then, Michigan has to have a hook, something with which to reel that big-name coach. The facilities are great, but the Rust Belt is an ever-shrinking recruiting ground. The brand of Michigan football is still dominant, but not as much as it once was. 

Splash hires are overrated, but if Hoke doesn't work out, that might be what Michigan needs to right a program that has slowly veered off course. And it might take an obscene amount of money to make it happen. 

For now, Hoke has a turnaround to orchestrate. He's already replaced one key staff member and may need to replace more if it means saving his job. 

But if Michigan really wants to be relevant in the national discussion again, it should take some pointers from the program that dismantled it two years ago. 

 

Ben Kercheval is a lead writer for college football at Bleacher Report. All quotes obtained firsthand unless noted otherwise. All stats courtesy of cfbstats.com. All recruiting information courtesy of 247Sports.com

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Bleacher Report went one-on-one with Peppers as he gets ready to leave for Ann Arbor, Michigan, to begin his college career.

What are his top 10 predictions for his freshman season?

Watch the video and find out.

 

Rankings courtesy of 247Sports.

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Defensive tackle Albert Huggins is a force to be reckoned with in the class of 2015. Programs from all over the country are drooling over the 6’3”, 279-pound stud from South Carolina.

Huggins has the skill set to come in and make an impact on any big-time program immediately. Which school do you think Albert Huggins will choose?

Watch College Football Analyst Michael Felder break it down and provide some clarity on where this physical specimen will end up.

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Rankings from 247sports Composite

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