NCAA Football

Where Will No. 1 Tight End Isaac Nauta Take His 5th Official Visit?

Top-rated 2016 tight end recruit Isaac Nauta spent eight months committed to Florida State but enters his senior season still searching for the right college fit.

He plans to take all five official visits before making a final decision following a late July decommitment from the Seminoles. Nauta announced four of those campus trips earlier this month, leaving the fifth and final destination undetermined.

It appears the 5-star IMG Academy (Bradenton, Florida) senior is ironing out that detail.

Nauta discussed possibilities with Jeff Sentell of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. He identified Alabama, Oregon, Oklahoma State and Ole Miss as programs under strong consideration for a closer look. 

The 6'4", 237-pound prospect is already scheduled to attend four games this season while examining potential collegiate landing spots. Georgia, Michigan, TCU and USC will welcome him during a whirlwind tour.

Nauta, who holds more than 40 scholarship offers, is the No. 1 overall pass target in composite rankings. He's listed 12th overall among high school seniors and dominated this summer at The Opening, an invite-only player showcase held at Nike's world headquarters in Oregon.

His size, athleticism and polished skill set as a receiver set the stage for Nauta to make an instant impact within a college offensive scheme. He could compete for significant snaps as a true freshman and eventually challenge for John Mackey Award consideration if his trajectory remains on track.

Naturally, a number of teams are still vying for his attention. It seems eight schools stand above the rest, with four already locking in official visits and the rest still hoping to separate from a crowded pack of contenders.

Among interested programs, Alabama emerges as a squad that's relatively new to the party. Crimson Tide head coach Nick Saban and his staff came on strong during the final stretch of summer.

“Alabama is a school that really didn’t recruit me while I was committed. But since I decommitted they have been all over me," Nauta told Sentell. "[Offensive coordinator Lane] Kiffin hits me up all the time on Twitter so they are definitely a school that is going to be contender for that fifth spot.”

The Crimson Tide carry the components of a dynamic attack in coming years with 5-star 2015 signee Blake Barnett and 4-star 2016 commit Jalen Hurts presenting promise at quarterback. Alabama signed the top-ranked wide receiver and running back last cycle and holds three pledges from premier rushers in its 2016 and 2017 classes.

Nauta would further solidify this group by immediately bolstering an outstanding tight end depth chart in Tuscaloosa. His advanced blocking ability and precise route-running approach make him a candidate to carve out a role at Alabama from his first day of training camp.

Another intriguing opportunity for Nauta is found in Oxford, Mississippi. IMG Academy teammate and 5-star quarterback Shea Patterson pledged to Ole Miss last winter, becoming the face of an impressive Rebels recruiting class that continues to improve.

The Elite 11 MVP would love to add Nauta to a 2016 Ole Miss offensive haul that also includes top in-state wide receiver DeKaylin Metcalf and 4-star running back Justin Connor. Though Nauta and Patterson are playing together for the first time this fall, there's a longstanding relationship between him and the Rebels.

“It's a school where I could come in right away and make an impact. That’s a school that was in my Top 4 when I originally committed," he told Sentell.

The history of mutual interest bodes well for Ole Miss, currently rated seventh nationally in composite class rankings.

Ultimately, we expect another SEC team to enter the equation for Nauta's official visit outlook. Expect Alabama or Ole Miss to claim that final spot, with Patterson potentially providing the Rebels with a pivotal edge.


Tyler Donohue is a National Recruiting Analyst for Bleacher Report. All player ratings are courtesy of 247Sports' composite ratings. Follow Tyler via Twitter: @TDsTake.

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Georgia Football: Justin Scott-Wesley's Injury Puts Pressure on WR Terry Godwin

"I'm not sure if we'll see Justin for a while, if at all."

Georgia head coach Mark Richt provided a little cryptic foreshadowing on Saturday afternoon on the knee injury that has prevented 5'11", 201-pound senior Justin Scott-Wesley from practicing during the latter stages of fall camp. 

Now the receiver himself has added fuel to the fire, hinting that his playing days might be over.

While there hasn't been any official confirmation on the extent of Scott-Wesley's injury and what his future holds, it's safe to connect some dots and assume that whether he's out for a few games or the season, something's up.

If Scott-Wesley can't go for part or all of the season, that will put enormous pressure on true freshman Terry Godwin.

The 5'11", 174-pounder from Hogansville, Georgia, may seem like a prototypical slot receiver based on his stature, but the former 5-star prospect in the most recent recruiting class has been impressing the coaches during his first fall camp.

"Terry is obviously a terrific playmaker, he’s a guy that’s picked up the system really well, pretty fast," offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer said, according to Jason Butt of the Macon Telegraph. "We’re asking him to do quite a bit, moving him around in different spots, which is a compliment to him. He’s been attacking the playbook in the classroom and being able to put it on the field."

That's enormous, because he's going to be a big piece of the Bulldogs' receiving puzzle whether he's ready or not.

Senior Malcolm Mitchell is the only known commodity in the receiving corps. The Valdosta, Georgia, native caught 31 passes for 248 yards and three touchdowns last season, and, when healthy, is a bona fide top-tier receiver. 

The biggest issue for Mitchell, though, is the injury bug. According to John Taylor of, he tore his ACL in the season opener in 2013, sat out spring 2014 with a leg injury suffered in the first practice and had his knee scoped last August, which kept him out of the first month of the season.

Behind him, though, there's slot receiver Isaiah McKenzie (who's back after missing some time with a pulled hamstring this month), juniors Reggie Davis and Kenneth Towns and a few other role players who have limited playing time. Combined, receivers other than Mitchell and Scott-Wesley had a total of 28 catches a year ago for Richt's crew.

Simply put, Godwin needs to be one of the stars right away for the Bulldogs.

He has the most upside of any receiver on the roster, is much more physical than his 174-pound frame suggests and already looks the part of a reliable option for the Bulldogs, as Radi Nabulsi of indicated with this video from practice on Friday.

Wide receivers aren't going to be the focal point of the Georgia offense.

That responsibility falls on the capable shoulders of stud running back Nick Chubb, and tight ends Jeb Blazevich and Jay Rome will certainly help in the passing game up the seam. But outside, somebody has to step up alongside Mitchell and in case the injury bug bites Mitchell yet again.

Godwin isn't that guy yet, but if he becomes that guy and helps put stress on opposing secondaries, it'll take pressure off of Chubb and the eventual winner of the three-man quarterback battle taking place among Faton Bauta, Brice Ramsey and Greyson Lambert.


Quotes were obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted. Recruiting information courtesy of 247Sports. Statistics courtesy of

Barrett Sallee is the lead SEC college football writer and national college football video analyst for Bleacher Report as well as a host on Bleacher Report Radio on SiriusXM 83. Follow Barrett on Twitter @BarrettSallee.

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15 College Football Players Who Will Make Names for Themselves in 2015

While the upcoming college football season looks to have plenty of returning star power, from quarterbacks such as Trevone Boykin and Cody Kessler to defensive greats Joey Bosa and Scooby Wright, new stars are destined to break out this fall.

With the constant turnover of college rosters, rising players are always asked to step up into starting roles. Others who are coming off good debut seasons are looking to take the next step and become household names in 2015.

This season, a pair of college football playoff contenders will turn to established backups with loads of potential at quarterback. Down south, several defensive backs are primed to become breakout stars for their respective powerhouses. Others across the country look to live up to their growing hype out wide or in the trenches.

Here are 15 players who look ready to become stars this college football season based on their projected roles, previous successes on the field and reports from those who have covered them in fall practices.

These athletes aren't completely unknown quantities, but they aren't mentioned in the same breath as those who dot All-American teams—at least not yet.

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Tennessee Football Recruiting: Vols 2017 Class off to Hot Start

One day after landing 5-star quarterback Hunter Johnson, Tennessee’s 2017 recruiting class added another major piece when 4-star receiver Tee Higgins announced his commitment to the Vols on Monday.

With two prospects who rate among the nation’s top 50 overall prospects in the 2017 class already bound for Knoxville, Volunteers head coach Butch Jones and his staff are clearly making a splash in the early phases of next year’s cycle.

Considering the Vols had yet to secure a commitment from any rising juniors as of last week, the two newest commits represent a huge surge for Tennessee on the recruiting trail. 

With the dynamic pass-catch duo in the fold, what’s the outlook for the remainder of the Vols 2017 class? 

There’s still a long way to go, but Jones and his staff have a strong foundation to build off with Johnson and Higgins.

Higgins—who represents the top prospect from Tennessee in 2017—chose the Vols over offers from powers such as Alabama, Clemson, Florida State, Georgia, LSU and Ohio State, among others. 

According to Ryan Callahan of GoVols247, Jones was ecstatic when Higgins told him he wanted to commit to the Volunteers. 

“I just felt like it was right,” Higgins told Callahan. “Me and my mom have been talking about it for a while, and I decided I wanted to do it today. I had no clue I was going to do it this early. I just felt like it was time.”

The 2017 flurry hasn’t come out of nowhere. Instead, it’s the continuation of a theme of growing optimism surrounding the future of the Vols program under Jones.

Jones signed the No. 4 class in the nation in February, and the Vols 2016 class is currently sitting at No. 15 in the nation—with plenty of elite prospects who are heavily considering Tennessee left on the board.

If Tennessee finds success on the field this fall, where they are expected to contend for the SEC’s Eastern Division crown, the fruits are likely to be found in future recruiting classes.

As Steve Wiltfong of 247Sports details, Johnson’s pledge is likely to resonate with other top 2017 prospects who have Tennessee high on their respective lists.

Higgins leads a deep in-state crop for 2017, with nationally elite talents such as 4-star athlete Maleik Gray, 4-star running backs Ty Chandler and Cordarrian Richardson and 4-star defensive end Isaiah Stokes among the homegrown standouts that Tennessee is hoping to keep close to home.

With the momentum the Vols are building on the recruiting trail, Jones and his staff have Tennessee primed to land another loaded class in 2017.


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

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Steve Sarkisian Will Enter Treatment for Drinking After Salute to Troy Event

USC head football coach Steve Sarkisian once again apologized for his actions at Saturday night's Salute to Troy gathering and announced Tuesday he's seeking treatment in the wake of the incident.  

Brett McMurphy of noted the 41-year-old coach, who's heading into his second season leading the Trojans, isn't sure whether he has a drinking problem: "I don't believe so, but I'm going to find that out. I'm going to treatment."

Sarkisian admitted his actions over the weekend were completely out of line and hopes the treatment can help him avoid similar problems in the future, per McMurphy: "The way I acted was irresponsible. There are things we're going to work on for me, moving forward."

He also provided some further details about the reason for his actions: "The moral of the story is if you mix meds w alcohol, you say things or do things you regret," per Stewart Mandel of Fox Sports on Twitter.

Sarkisian previously apologized for the situation Sunday when reports began to surface of a speech where he slurred words and used profanity, according to Dan Wolken of USA Today. The report notes both the coach and athletic director Pat Haden confirmed they spoke about the situation afterward.

Quarterback Cody Kessler said Sarkisian accepted punishment from the players, doing a series of up-downs, per Mandel. The quarterback believes the situation could actually help the team in the long run, as reported by McMurphy: "He apologized to us as a man. He earned more respect. It brought us closer together as a team. We support him 100 percent."

Sarkisian deserves credit for addressing the situation swiftly and starting the process of getting the consultation he needs to ensure this issue isn't repeated. It should help the team move past the incident so it can focus on the new season.

He didn't say whether he would be forced to miss any coaching duties as a result of the upcoming treatment, and he returned to the practice field to resume business as usual after meeting with the media.

USC is set to open the 2015 campaign against Arkansas State on Sept. 5.


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Steve Sarkisian Will Enter Treatment for Drinking After Salute to Troy Event

USC head football coach Steve Sarkisian once again apologized for his actions at Saturday night's Salute to Troy gathering and announced Tuesday he's seeking treatment in the wake of the incident...

Read the full article on Bleacher Report...

Cyrus Fagan Names Leaders: Which Program Is Best Fit for 4-Star DB?

Standout Florida defensive back Cyrus Fagan is focused on a pair of college football programs that contend for championships on a perennial basis.

The 4-star safety identified Alabama and Florida State as front-runners for his commitment during a discussion with Ryan Bartow of 247Sports. His decision, however, won't arrive for at least another 16 months.

Fagan, a junior at Mainland High School in Daytona Beach, doesn't intend to announce collegiate plans until after the 2017 Under Armour All-American Game. This approach allots him two full football seasons to weigh a list of scholarship options that includes more than 20 universities.

The 6'0", 170-pound prospect picked up offers from the Seminoles, South Carolina, Clemson, West Virginia, USC and Wisconsin last winter. Alabama entered the race shortly after his sophomore year.

Fagan, rated fifth nationally among safeties in 2017 composite rankings, collected 83 tackles and five interceptions in 2014. He also tallied three touchdowns for the Sunshine State powerhouse.

The Seminoles have been an outright favorite in this recruitment for quite some time. It was a school he eyed earlier in this process, even prior to a Florida State offer. 

"I like them a lot and that's where my mom wants me to go," Fagan told Chris Hays of the Orlando Sentinel in January.

His affinity for Florida State continues to develop, as the Seminoles have been a publicly declared leader for months.

“It’s right down the road from the home, great program, I like how Jimbo [Fisher] coaches, and I grew up loving them," he told Luke Stampini of 247Sports this summer.

Former high school teammate A.J. Westbrook is a freshman defensive back at Florida State. The duo dominated together at Mainland and could reconnect in Tallahassee.

"He's like a big brother to me and he took me to a couple of FSU games with him so I can get that experience early," Fagan told Hays.

He expects to visit the Seminoles at least once this season. Fagan aims to attend Florida State's Oct. 17 game against Louisville, per Bartow.

Florida State enjoys significant depth in the defensive backfield, highlighted by 5-star 2015 signees Derwin James and Tarvarus McFadden. The Seminoles claim commitments from several secondary standouts in the 2016 cycle, including top-ranked cornerback Levonta Taylor.

Fagan would also encounter a crowded depth chart in Tuscaloosa after Crimson Tide head coach Nick Saban signed eight 4- or 5-star defensive backs during the past two cycles. Alabama already holds six commitments in its 2017 class, which sits atop SEC class rankings.

Alabama extended a scholarship in late May and immediately captured Fagan's attention. He traveled to the university this summer for a camp and told Bartow the school is his second option behind Florida State.

"It's just wonderful there," Fagan said. "It's all about Alabama. It is a football state."

If Fagan lands in the SEC, Alabama appears to be the likely destination. Expect Crimson Tide conference rivals Florida and LSU to continue chasing the coveted safety.

Fagan, who rates 75th overall in 2017 composite rankings, firmly looks like a Florida State lean at this stage. The Seminoles present an outstanding match when it comes to defensive schematics and program familiarity.

Seemingly destined for a lengthy recruiting process, Fagan may factor in other emerging contenders moving forward. For now, Florida State is the prohibitive favorite and an excellent fit for the in-state ball hawk.


Tyler Donohue is a National Recruiting Analyst for Bleacher Report. All player ratings are courtesy of 247Sports' composite ratings. Follow Tyler via Twitter: @TDsTake.

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Urban Meyer's Secret Weapon

COLUMBUS, Ohio — With a combined 38-3 record in the three seasons since he arrived at Ohio State, Urban Meyer has the Buckeyes sitting atop the college football world. And as his team enters the 2015 season as the first-ever unanimous preseason No. 1 team in the Associated Press Top 25, that's not something that figures to be changing for Ohio State anytime soon.

But while Meyer serves as the face of the Buckeyes program—and to a degree, college football—the three-time national champion head coach credits a large portion of his success to a confidant, friend and right-hand man whom he's known for nearly 30 years. 

And while Mickey Marotti is rarely seen or heard from publicly, the stories about him have already become the stuff of legend in Columbus. That's why he was the first call Meyer made when he took the Ohio State job nearly four years ago, as Marotti has become the secret weapon for college football's budding dynasty.


"That’s When It Happened"

When Jalyn Holmes committed to Ohio State in the summer of 2013, he was the embodiment of what Meyer looks for in a recruit.

A 4-star prospect by way of Norfolk, Virginia, Holmes was a top-100 recruit and the fourth-ranked weak-side defensive end in the 2014 class. At 6'5" and 225 pounds, Holmes possessed the ideal frame for adding weight and was lauded for his size, speed and athleticism as a prep player.

One trait, however, missing from Holmes' recruiting profile was his punctuality—or more accurately, his lack thereof—which he would soon learn wouldn't fly at his new school upon arriving in Columbus.

"I came late, and right off the plane I went straight to workouts," Holmes told Bleacher Report of his first day as a college student. "And that’s when it happened."

What Holmes was referring to was an event that has become somewhat of a rite of passage for Ohio State players in the Meyer era. Because like most players who have entered the Buckeyes program in the past four years, Holmes' first workout under the direction of Marotti was certainly a memorable one—and for all the wrong reasons.

"We had to do lunges with weight I could not lift. I looked at him like, 'No, I can’t lift it,' and he made me do it, and I’m like falling on the ground," Holmes said. "And he’s like, 'You p----!'"

"I had never been called a p---- before. For a minute, I thought I was a p----."


"He Does It All"

Talk to any player on the Buckeyes roster, and they'll undoubtedly have a favorite Marotti story, from the still-shell-shocked freshmen to the seniors who can now manage to crack a smile while recounting them.

But perhaps nobody has more Marotti stories—anywhere—than Meyer.

With a relationship nearly 30 years in the making, Meyer has treated Marotti as his confidant, strength coach, psychiatrist and right-hand man—sometimes all at the same time. He has also made it clear that Marotti has earned every bit of his official title as Ohio State's Assistant AD of Football Sport Performance, describing his role in the Buckeyes program as more than just that of a traditional strength and conditioning coach.

"He’s not a strength coach, he does it all," Meyer said of Marotti. "Anybody who has their hands on our players, not necessarily reports to him, but they have a meeting. The trainers, the doctors, the nutritionists, the equipment guys, everybody reports to Coach Mick...he’s not just a strength coach, he’s a motivator. And he’s tremendous."

Meyer and Marotti first met in 1987, although the two were hardly best friends at the time. Each trying to launch his respective career at Ohio State, Meyer was the Buckeyes' wide receivers coach under Earle Bruce, while Marotti was serving as a graduate assistant strength coach.

"We were not close," Meyer said.

Any sort of relationship that was formed, however, would seem to have been short-lived, as Bruce's firing at the end of the 1987 season left Meyer looking for a new job before ultimately landing at Illinois State before rejoining Bruce at Colorado State in 1990.

Marotti, too, would soon find a new gig, taking over as the head strength and conditioning coach at the University of Cincinnati, following a brief stint as a strength assistant at West Virginia.

Soon, word of Marotti's intense workouts spread across the country.

Meyer, a former Bearcats defensive back, took note.

"I first started hearing about him when he was at Cincinnati. I’m an alum," Meyer said. "I would go down there, and I would just watch him."

Meyer, who took over as Notre Dame's wide receivers coach in 1996, was so impressed that he soon found himself vouching for his former co-worker. When the Fighting Irish were in need of a new director of strength and conditioning in 1998, Meyer went to his boss with a suggestion, imploring him to interview Marotti, who had just finished his ninth year at Cincinnati.

"One of our strength positions opened up, and I went to our head coach, Bob Davie, and I said, 'I know the guy we need to hire,'" Meyer recalled. "He came up to interview, and he blew it away and became our strength coach and made an immediate impact.

"And that’s where it started.”


Kicking and Screaming

When you get a Marotti story from a player, it usually follows the same formula: There's some profanity, a moment of weakness, more profanity, sometimes some humor and then an uplifting moment.

That was the case with Holmes, who, despite his first encounter with Marotti, soon saw the value in his new strength coach.

"Coach Mick really cares about everyone in this program, he just wants to see you do good," Holmes said. "If he feels like you’re not giving it your all, he’s going to let you know. He’s the most honest person I know. I thank him for everything."

Those were the same sentiments shared by Buckeyes quarterback Cardale Jones, who when asked to share his favorite Coach Marotti story responded with: "Do you want a good one or a bad one?"

When prompted for the latter, Jones recalled a tale from the first season of his college career, which happened to coincide with Meyer and Marotti's arrival at Ohio State.

"I hurt my knee in a drill going against Braxton [Miller]. I don’t know why they had me going against Braxton, no clue. I still won’t understand it to this day," Jones said, referring to the difference in speed between himself and the Buckeyes' quarterback-turned-wideout.

"[Marotti's] screaming at me, 'Get up!' ... All he knew was I didn’t play last year. So he was just screaming at me to get up, and I’m thinking I just broke my leg and I was so freaking hurt I was about to cry, and he’s just screaming at me, ‘Get up! You’re soft! You’re soft!’ And I’m like, 'I can’t move!'"

For Jones, who spent his share of time in Meyer's doghouse early in his career, perhaps it took a little longer to come around on Marotti. But when the 6'5", 250-pounder found himself thrust into the starting lineup as the Buckeyes were on the verge of capturing a College Football Playoff spot at the end of the 2014 season, it was Marotti who served as one of his biggest cheerleaders.

"He’s just so intense, and it’s crazy how much potential he sees in us," Jones said. "Basically saying, 'Do what you came here for. Be yourself. We believe in you, we have trust in you, so be you.'"

Jones did just that, leading Ohio State to a Big Ten title game win over Wisconsin, before defeating Alabama and Oregon en route to capturing the first-ever CFP National Championship.

With that, Meyer captured his third national championship as a head coach, each of which has come with Marotti on his sideline.


"The First Phone Call I Made"

Despite having known each other for nearly 30 years, Meyer can't recall a specific moment where Marotti earned his trust.

What he can do, however, is point to a two-game stretch where Marotti vindicated his belief that he is the best strength coach in college football, which occurred during their second national title run together in 2008.

Coaching a Florida team that had rebounded from an early-season loss to Ole Miss, Meyer had the Tim Tebow-led Gators on the verge of clinching what would be the Gators' second national title in three seasons. All it would take would be a win over Nick Saban and No. 1-ranked Alabama in the SEC title game, before facing Oklahoma and Heisman Trophy winner Sam Bradford in the BCS National Championship Game.

In essence, fourth-ranked Florida was taking part in a playoff six years before the official format came into existence.

And just like they would do in 2014, Meyer and Marotti came out on top.

Despite trailing the Crimson Tide heading into the fourth quarter, the Gators pulled out a 31-20 victory in the SEC title game, thanks in large part to a go-ahead one-yard rushing touchdown by running back Jeff Demps in the fourth quarter. A similar script would play out against the Sooners in Miami, with Florida scoring a 24-14 victory to capture the national title.

When Meyer looks back on those crucial consecutive games, it's Marotti's work that stands out the most.

"At one point we were behind in both games, and it was line-of-scrimmage games, and that's how you evaluate your strength coaches," Meyer said. "Injury No. 1—is it a healthy, fresh team? And then how's the line of scrimmage?"

The answer to those questions were self-evident, just as they were in 2006 when Florida captured its first national title under Meyer and Marotti's direction with a dominating defensive performance against Ohio State in the BCS title game.

Two years prior, the two had been reunited, their time in South Bend having come to an end after three seasons when Meyer left to take over as the head coach of Bowling Green and then Utah, programs that didn't possess enough prestige or big enough budgets to also hire away Notre Dame's strength and conditioning coach.

That changed when Meyer accepted the head coaching job in Gainesville in 2005, giving him an SEC platform to place a call to his old buddy.

"He was the first phone call I made at Florida when I was leaving Utah to go to Florida," Meyer said. "And he was the first call I made when I came here."


"Forged in Iron"

Although Marotti was crucial to the Gators success, he didn't seem to publicly receive the same praise that he has for helping Meyer turn around Ohio State upon their arrival in Columbus in 2012. Perhaps that's because rebuilding the Buckeyes required a more significant undertaking, as Ohio State dealt with sanctions stemming from NCAA violations committed by former coach Jim Tressel and members of the Buckeyes' 2010 team.

Getting their new team to buy into a new regime would require breaking old habits, something Ohio State players learned the hard way.

"Our first year here, our coaches kind of didn’t like us," Jones said. "They were establishing a new culture here."

Especially in the offseason, that meant plenty of work for Marotti, who routinely butted heads with established team leaders. Such was the case when then-senior fullback/linebacker Zach Boren chose to stand up to the new staff in the midst of a particularly tough 5 a.m. workout.

"Zach was yelling, 'You will not break us!'" Buckeyes defensive tackle Adolphus Washington recalled. "And Coach Mick was like, 'Oh yes we will!'"

Despite enduring its fair share of growing pains—and plenty of games that were too close for comfort—that 2012 Ohio State squad came together, putting together a perfect 12-0 record before sitting out the postseason due to the NCAA sanctions. Meyer, however, wasn't always optimistic that his debut season in Columbus would work out that way, which perhaps marked the first time he had overlooked his strength coach.

"I saw guys punking out at practice during training camp, I didn’t feel it at all. I said we’re gonna be 8-4, stay positive, we’re on a journey and not a sprint," Meyer said of 2012. "I undervalued the critical leadership. I give Mickey credit. Because it happened. That team by the end of the year was very good. That team at the beginning of the year was really bad, something happened along that journey, and Mickey was really involved in that.”

"Very involved" is a phrase that seems to go hand in hand with Ohio State and Marotti, whose fingerprints are all over the Buckeyes program. That's especially true in the offseason, where NCAA rules limit the contact coaches have with players, making the strength coach the de facto head man.

That means that from the end of spring practice until the start of fall camp, it's Marotti who's in charge—which can be either good or bad, depending on where you're standing.

"If you’re in the front two rows, you’re gonna get spit on. He does that all the time," left tackle Taylor Decker said of Marotti's yelling habits. "We’re there laying underneath him and just getting rained on—and he knows it."

But with a track record that speaks for itself, it's a small price to pay. Besides, it's not like the Buckeyes really have a choice in the matter. 

"Coach Mick is basically Coach Meyer when Coach Meyer's not around," linebacker Joshua Perry said. "He handles a lot of stuff, he's with us all the time, he gets to know the players really well. Everything he does with us is imperative to our success. He takes care of so much stuff."

And as was the case when he first exchanged unpleasantries with Holmes last summer, there always seems to be a method to his madness. Perhaps that's what appeals most to Meyer, who has found a steadying hand in what's been an unpredictable navigation through the college football landscape.

But regardless of how many reasons he has for it, Meyer's admiration for Marotti is apparent in the way he speaks of his "right-hand man."

"That one’s forged in iron. That one—he understands his value, and he’s earned the respect he has," Meyer said of his relationship with Marotti. "He's the best."


Ben Axelrod is Bleacher Report's Big Ten lead writer. You can follow him on Twitter @BenAxelrod. Unless noted otherwise, all quotes were obtained firsthand. All statistics courtesy of Recruiting rankings courtesy of 247Sports.

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While QB Search Continues, South Carolina Will Lean on Pharoh Cooper

At this point during fall camp, it's safe to say that South Carolina's offense is a work in progress.

The 2015 Gamecocks quarterback battle remains unsettled, but head coach Steve Spurrier is pleased with the way junior Perry Orth, sophomore Connor Mitch and freshman Michael Scarnecchia played during Saturday's scrimmage.

"The quarterbacks did a lot of good things," said Spurrier, according to quotes released by South Carolina. "I wish one of them outplayed all the rest, but when you look at the stats, they're probably pretty similar. Hopefully we'll find out something early this week.

"Nothing keeps happening. When you look at the stats, they're all about the same right now. It would be easy for all of us to say `this is the guy,' let's go. But then you've got to be fair and keep competing. We'll know something maybe by the middle of this coming week."

That timetable is a bit accelerated for the Gamecocks, because technically their gameweek starts on Friday, with the season-opener vs. North Carolina in Charlotte taking place Thursday, Sept. 3.

The beauty of South Carolina's offense this year is that Spurrier has the ultimate safety net in star wide receiver Pharoh Cooper.

Cooper is the SEC's leading returning receiver after hauling in 69 passes for 1,136 yards and nine touchdowns for a Gamecock offense that, very quietly, finished second in the conference in passing a year ago, with 282.4 yards per game.

But it's not just outside where Cooper shines.

He rushed for 200 yards and two touchdowns, completed five of eight passes for two touchdowns and returned 15 punts for 75 yards a year ago.

"He can play receiver, shotgun, quarterback, throw, run," Spurrier said at SEC media days ."He's really an All-American type player."

He's not lying. In fact, he's likely to be an even bigger part of the offense in 2015 on a team that has a quarterback battle, shuffled some pieces around an offensive line and have to replace running back Mike Davis.

"Teams are going to be keying on me, so I'm going to have to get the ball a lot more out of the Wildcat position," Cooper said at SEC media days. "I'm still going to do the same things as last year and still could throw the ball. I'll probably be in the backfield more this year."

Special teams is included in that mix. As David Cloninger of The State notes, Cooper will return the majority of the punts this year.

Is that a risk for Spurrier? A little bit.

Any time you put your best player on special teams, you're running the risk of getting him hurt. But for this South Carolina team—with an abundance of offensive questions—having Cooper back there would be incredibly beneficial. After all, an extra 10 yards on a punt return is a first down that the offense doesn't have to worry about.

He's the ultimate equalizer.

It's not like he was a secret last year. Teams keyed on him and he still wound up on the coaches' first-team All-SEC team, and that was with Davis, a solid offensive line and veteran quarterback Dylan Thompson on the roster.

He's up for the challenge and will be the focal point of the new-look Gamecock offense. The combination of Cooper's versatility and Spurrier's creative play-calling will keep opposing defensive coordinators guessing all season.


Quotes were obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted. Recruiting information courtesy of 247Sports. Statistics courtesy of

Barrett Sallee is the lead SEC college football writer and national college football video analyst for Bleacher Report as well as a host on Bleacher Report Radio on SiriusXM 83. Follow Barrett on Twitter @BarrettSallee.

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B/R CFB 250: Top 7 Tight Ends

Bleacher Report's CFB 250 is an annual ranking of the best players in college football, regardless of NFL potential. Through interviews with B/R experts Matt MillerMichael FelderBarrett Sallee and Adam Kramer, authors Brian Leigh and Brian Pedersen have studied, ranked and graded the top athletes in the country, narrowed that list to 250 and sorted by position. Today, we present the Top Tight Ends.


Other CFB 250 Positions


How a team uses its tight ends says a lot about the style of offense it likes to play. It also speaks to the kind of talent it has at this underrated and unappreciated position.

The skill set needed to be both an adept blocker and an effective pass-catcher—while often being the size of a small lineman—rarely gets its due. Most tight ends toil in relative anonymity, except for those that made our list.

And it's a relatively small bunch compared to our last list, partly due to five of the top eight players graduating or turning pro. What remains, though, is still a strong group of all-around tight ends.

The following ranks are based primarily on players' skills in college, rather than how they'd fare in the NFL. Though they may be using this time to develop their game for the pro level, first and foremost their goals are centered around helping their teams succeed.

The rankings are based on a tabulation of five different categories (hands, route running, blocking, release and speed) and on evaluations made by our writers in conjunction with Bleacher Report football experts.


NOTE: Any ties in overall grade were broken based on which player would give a hypothetical college all-star team the best chance to win.

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Tennessee Football: Depth-Chart Analysis, Complete 2015 Preview and Prediction

Expectations are both exciting and dangerous endeavors for a long-suffering program like Tennessee football.

It can ignite a firestorm of enthusiasm around a football team that can captivate a fanbase, and a young team like the Volunteers can feed off that and excel.

Or, they can materialize as largely unrealistic and cause a overly enthusiastic subset of fans to come after the coach with torches and pitchforks after a subpar season.

Welcome to 2015, Vols coach Butch Jones!

Following a frenetic 4-1 finish that included a resounding TaxSlayer Bowl victory over Iowa—remarkably the Vols' first bowl win since the 2008 Outback Bowl—and the discovery of a budding star in quarterback Joshua Dobbs, everybody is drinking the orange Kool-Aid entering this season.

The Vols are a trendy pick for the top 25 in most polls, including the just-released Associated Press poll, and a few national pundits even consider UT a contender for the SEC East crown instead of favorite Georgia.

Jones has built a talented and potentially dynamic roster through elite recruiting, but the vast majority of UT's playmakers are underclassmen. The lack of experience is alarming up and down the board.

When you toss in a difficult schedule and the fact that the Vols already have suffered three season-ending injuries this fall camp, including year-enders to starting left guard Marcus Jackson and nickelback Rashaan Gaulden, there are concerns.

But there's oh-so-much talent. From Dobbs to running backs Jalen Hurd and Alvin Kamara to a full stable of talented receivers to a defense that is loaded on the line and in the secondary, there are reasons across the board for excitement.

Can the Vols put it altogether and have the kind of season that announces their re-emergence in the national picture? That remains to be seen, but below, Bleacher Report will break down all you need to know about UT's hype-heightened 2015 season.



Jones' cohesive clique of coaches that has stayed fairly intact over the course of much of his career took a bit of a shot this offseason when longtime offensive coordinator Mike Bajakian bolted Knoxville to fulfill his dream of coaching in the NFL.

Rather than go out and make a sexy hire for a big name, the Vols instead replaced the new Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterbacks coach with one of Jones' mentors in Mike DeBord, a man with whom he helped develop Jones' power-spread offense during their time together at Central Michigan.

Though the hire was met with little fanfare, the early returns have been promising, from Jones to the players to the assistants to the fans.

"It was a good fit," UT running backs coach Robert Gillespie told Chattanooga Times Free Press reporter Patrick Brown this spring. "I can see exactly why Coach Jones thought so high of him. He's a great coach, a really, really brilliant mind and a very, very technique-driven coach both up front with the offensive line, the running backs, the receivers. He's brought a fundamental game to the offense, and it's been good."

DeBord wants to bring an even faster and more furious tempo to UT than what Bajakian tried to run, and he has his maestro in Dobbs. The two have hit it off, and the Vols seem primed to break out offensively. The Sports Animal's Jimmy Hyams passed along Dobbs comments regarding DeBord's conversation as it relates to plans for the passing game:

The only question (and it's a huge one) is what kind of groove can DeBord get in calling plays within the rhythm of a game, something he hasn't done since 2007? It's going to be interesting to watch.

For everybody else at every other position, nothing's changed.

It's the same staff coaching the same positions, and that continuity should benefit UT, especially on defense where a simple-yet-multiple approach from John Jancek last year yielded improvements across the board.

The Vols were exceptional in third-down defense and also excellent in getting after opposing quarterbacks. With a talented, veteran group leading the way on that side of the ball, UT looks ready to take a huge step forward defensively. 

There's reasons for optimism with the leadership such as Curt Maggitt, Cameron Sutton, Jalen Reeves-Maybin and Brian Randolph essentially becoming an extension of Jancek's philosophy. That entire defensive coaching staff has been coaching a long time, so that appears to be a major combination for the Vols. Per Tennessee FB, Jancek noted he was pleased with the team defense "collectively":

As far as the head man, Tennessee fans are thrilled with what Jones has accomplished thus far in promoting the program, getting a much-improved product on the field and especially in recruiting.

But the expectations in Big Orange Country go beyond TaxSlayer championships. Jones knows it, and he and the players are saying all the right thing about embracing those lofty aspirations. He appears well on his way to building a powerhouse upon the ashes of a once-great program.

The next step is the biggest.


What to watch for on offense

Beyond the enigma that is DeBord's play-calling skills after so many years without doing it, the Vols' next two biggest storylines also are on offense.

The first question everybody wants to know is: Can Dobbs take the massive leap from being a talented athlete to being a championship-level quarterback?

Secondly (and this one may be the biggest issue on the entire team), is Tennessee's offensive line any better than it was during a miserable 2014?

Simply put, UT's season outcome hinges on positive answers to all three.

Starting with Dobbs who has gotten as much publicity as any SEC player this offseason not named Nick Chubb, huge things are expected. He has a strong arm, had plenty of "Wow!" moments down the stretch a season ago and tends to make things happen with his arm or feet when it matters most. The Big Orange Report shared some Dobbs highlights:

But he still hasn't beaten anybody of any consequence yet. 

The ugly truth for him and the Vols is their biggest victory a season ago came against 7-6 teams South Carolina and Iowa. When Dobbs had the opportunity for a resounding, welcome-to-the-show win against Missouri in Neyland Stadium, the Vols couldn't get the job done.

Now, UT is expected to win some of its marquee matchups this year. Can the Vols exorcise the 10-year Florida demon? Can they register a signature victory at home against one of its rugged early-season foes Oklahoma, Arkansas or Georgia? Do they have what it takes to win road games at 'Bama or Mizzou?

Dobbs holds the key. If he can take a step similar to what Mississippi State quarterback Dak Prescott did a season ago, UT may have a special season. He's already getting plenty of lip service this spring.'s Rob Lewis passed along Jones' comments regarding Dobbs, confirming he has been impressed by his performance:

With all the potential playmakers UT has on offense in the running back duo of Hurd and Kamara, a wide receiving corps that can go nine- or 10-deep and a rising star in tight end Ethan Wolf, it just needs somebody who can consistently get them the ball.

Dobbs is going to be closely scrutinized this season, and he's reportedly off to a sterling start.

On the flip side, the offensive line has yet to draw many rave reviews from anybody. Coaches have been shuffling players everywhere, trying to find the best five a year after the unit was the weakest link on a mediocre team.

According to Tennessean columnist David Climer:

With the season-opener against Bowling Green less than three weeks away, the Vols have yet to finalize a starting five in the offensive line. They’re not even close. And for all the talent and depth elsewhere on the roster, the uncertainties up front on offense are cause for caution.

In short, if UT’s offensive line were up to traditional standards, you could make a case that the Vols could challenge Georgia in the SEC East. But until the offensive line questions are answered, it’s tough to make a call. There are too many unknowns.

The Vols have to be worlds better than they were a season ago when they tied for 122nd nationally in sacks allowed, per, and consistently failed in opening holes for Hurd and Co.

If not, they can forget about beating the Georgias and Alabamas of the world.


What to watch for on defense

Forget last year's razor-thin unit that struggled and slowed at times because of a lack of depth; the Vols are loaded on defense.

If they can get adequate middle linebacker play from that wide-open battle and stay healthy at cornerback, they've got a chance to field one of the league's top-three or top-four units.

The excitement starts with a pass rush that should be among the nation's best. Sophomore Derek Barnett has one of the quickest first steps you'll ever see and is trying to duplicate or improve upon a Freshman All-America season that saw him register 20.5 tackles for a loss.

Opposite him is senior hybrid defensive end/strong-side linebacker Curt Maggitt, who'll be getting ready to wreak havoc in the NFL this time next year. The most talented end is true freshman Kyle Phillips, who can't even crack the rotation because of those in front of him.

Throw in ballyhooed freshman defensive tackles Kahlil McKenzie and Shy Tuttle, and you can understand why UT is excited about the present and future along that offensive front.

The second level is where leader Jalen Reeves-Maybin resides, roaming sideline to sideline from his weak-side linebacker position and leading a unit that is young but promising.'s Chris Low selected Reeves-Maybin as the player to "explode this season": 

Freshman Darrin Kirkland Jr. has been recently making noise in the middle and may hold the current edge to start over junior Kenny Bynum and sophomore Colton Jumper.

All three should play.

On the back level, UT has the senior duo of Brian Randolph and LaDarrell McNeil at safety and potential All-American Cameron Sutton at cornerback. Throw in speedy sophomore Emmanuel Moseley who has been one of the Vols' brightest stars during camp, and that group looks strong.

JUCO transfer Justin Martin has an elite skill set, but he's just raw. He'll have to play a big role now, however, with nickelback Rashaan Gaulden out for the year with a broken foot.

The Vols need to stay healthy at the position for the defense to be strong. There aren't a ton of bodies at corner.

Strong recruiting has built a really sturdy group on defense that made a big move a season ago. If this unit makes the same progression in 2015, the Vols are going to be stout.


Injury News

This facet of the game hasn't been good to Jones' boys since the start of camp.

Tennessee needs to go ahead and have a revolving door to the training room installed in its plush new football facility. It seems the walking wounded are a veritable who's-who of the team's playmakers.

While most of the injuries aren't going to keep anybody out for an extended period of time, UT has suffered three season-ending injuries.

Gaulden's is the biggest with the position's lack of depth and because it takes such a unique skill set to play nickel. Perhaps the defense's best option is to move Sutton over there to replace him, but that takes a star from his comfort zone.

The Vols are going to have to find some answers quickly.

Injuries also have racked the offensive line, an area of concern to begin with. Fifth-year senior left guard Marcus Jackson is going to be difficult to replace. He is out for the year after tearing his biceps earlier this month.

Jackson had more starts and experience than anybody else on the unit. Though he wasn't the most talented lineman, the elder statesman was a leader and a quality player.

Redshirt sophomore Austin Sanders would have provided depth, but he too tore his biceps in what continued an odd stretch of injuries. Jones told GoVols247's Ryan Callahan that UT is looking into the recent rash of injuries:

I have a five-year study on injuries, and I can tell you this: The last three years were about the same — where we’re at in terms of individuals being held (out of practices), individuals kind of being status pending going into practice. We research everything, and there’s so much that goes into it, so we’re still in the process of researching it.

Regardless, UT must deal without those three. The Vols can ill afford to lose any other major contributors. They're a program on the upswing, but the depth isn't there to overcome any big losses.



On offense, there are a few different options such as tight end Ethan Wolf and head-turning freshman receiver Jauan Jennings.

But the easy answer here is Kamara.

There just aren't many athletes like the 5'10", 215-pound sophomore JUCO transfer who began his college career at Alabama. He's dynamic, and ever since he arrived on Rocky Top this spring, he has done crazy things with the ball in his hands.

After admittedly having some maturity issues in Tuscaloosa that led to his transfer, he's embraced and is being embraced by his new teammates. Most importantly, he's making a difference on the field and off. Jones had some high praise for him recently (via Dustin Dopirak of the Knoxville News Sentinel). 

Hurd may be the starter, but Kamara is Option 1B, and he's the ideal back for Jones' system. He can hit a seam or the sideline, turn it up a gear and get to the end zone.

If the Vols' offensive line is any good at all, AK is going to be fun to watch.

Defensively, there are also several quality choices, but the nod here goes to Martin.

He's listed as a 6'1", 183-pound cornerback, but the JUCO transfer sophomore looks taller, and he's so fluid out there it's hard to believe he's in the secondary. With his size, length and speed at the position, he hearkens back to some of those special Vols legends of old.

It may seem ridiculous to make a comparison to Dale Carter, but he made a massive impact after coming in from JUCO, and Martin has the same sick skills. GoVols247's Wes Rucker's also believes Martin is a huge asset and has great potential:

With Gaulden out, he'll get every opportunity to start and excel. Once he gets acclimated to SEC play, his instincts will take over, and he'll fit right in in a strong secondary.

Missing a couple of weeks of fall drills with an injury won't help at all, but Martin has the ability to come back and be one of UT's three or four best defensive backs.


2014 schedule

Make-or-break games

The Vols load up on some extremely important games early in the season, beginning with a revenge match against Oklahoma on Sep. 12 when the Sooners travel to Neyland Stadium.

Win that game and the nation will take notice. Emerge victorious and a bunch of young pups that have been hyped by the media may begin to realize if they buy in, the sky is the limit.

But there is no game bigger than the one in the Swamp on Sep. 26.

The Gators own Tennessee, having won a decade's worth of games. With all of Florida's offensive issues, injuries in the defensive front seven and breaking in a new coach with a new offensive philosophy in Jim McElwain, everything points to UT being the favorite here.

That hasn't mattered recently. The Vols blew a 9-0 lead against UF in Knoxville last year, and it seems they just can't get the albatross off their back. Now's the ideal time to do it.

If they win that game, the Georgia battle in Neyland may be for the SEC East crown, and though Tennessee hasn't beaten the Dawgs since 2009, when Lane Kiffin was the head coach, the past three have been one-possession losses.

If they can break through with a win, they'll be in the driver's seat in the division, and that, in turn, will make the late-season showdown in Columbia, Missouri, massive as well.

There are plenty of potential "games of the season" for the Vols, but if they can go ahead and beat Florida, it'll go a long way in determining the season's long-term tenor.



I may admittedly be a little Kool-Aid-drunk myself when it comes to looking at the Vols this year, as I picked them to win nine games this season.

The past two seasons, I've correctly guessed 5-7 and 6-6, but there's just something about this season. Yes, the injuries are more than mildly concerning, and there are plenty of strong opponents on the schedule.

But the way the Vols melded together down the stretch last year, got better and then dominated Iowa in the bowl game, they just looked like they began to believe.

"We played pretty well toward the end of the season, and a lot of guys, myself included, we wish we could have had that mindset or playing that way throughout the whole season, and now we know what a little bit of success feels like," Maggitt told Bleacher Report this spring. "I know we're not to our goal yet, but we know what it feels like a little bit.

"So we've got to keep that momentum rolling through the offseason and training camp."

There are major offensive line issues, and those are never a good thing. But the Vols have talent there. With a running quarterback in Dobbs, they'll be able to manufacture plenty of yards on offense.

Defensively, they've got the potential to be really, really good.

Yes, there will be some stumbles, but there are also going to be some big wins that prove these guys are on the cusp of returning to the conference conversation. Eight wins is probably the safe bet, but I'm going to go on the high side of optimism for a change.


Overall Record: 9-3

Conference Record: 6-2


All quotes gathered firsthand unless otherwise noted. All recruiting information obtained from 247Sports unless otherwise noted. All stats gathered from unless otherwise noted. 

Brad Shepard covers SEC football and is the Tennessee lead writer for Bleacher Report. Follow Brad on Twitter @Brad_Shepard.

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

Fall camp is in the books, and it's on to the regular season for the Texas Longhorns.

Charlie Strong's team is young, passionate and ready to turn things around. The addition of the 2015 freshman class has made that official, infusing a different intensity to fall camp. Even oft-criticized Tyrone Swoopes has picked up a new edge, as noted by his coaches.

But even with those traits working for this team, its youth will keep it just one step away from competing for anything beyond a bowl appearance.


Offensive Depth-Chart Analysis

If you've been following fall camp, nothing of what you see on Texas' offensive depth chart should surprise you.

Swoopes will take the first snap against Notre Dame. He dominated fall camp, and this will be his job until he shows that he can't handle it. Strong insists that Heard will still play in the opener, but the redshirt freshman will likely see five snaps or fewer.'s Chip Brown shared Strong's quarterback projections:

Running back is also a no-brainer at this stage. Johnathan Gray's the driving force of this offense, with powerful sophomore D'Onta Foreman stepping into Malcolm Brown's complementary role. Freshman Chris Warren will mix in as well, with Kirk Johnson being the fourth option.

Receiver looks a little different than expected, but Armanti Foreman, freshman John Burt, Marcus Johnson and Daje Johnson are having by far the best camps of anyone on the roster. They'll be the guys when Texas goes four-wide, and just about all of them can mix and match, as Strong said on Saturday:

At the wide receiver position, 7 [Marcus Johnson] is playing really well for us, he's doing a really good job. Foreman, 83, Armanti's doing a really good job for us. That's going to be the position there because Daje [Johnson] has come alive here the last week or so and then you have [John] Burt outside.

So many weapons there at the wide receiver where you can place guys and you can move guys.The good thing about it, they have to learn all four positions so you can just move them around and try to get the ball in the playmaker's hand.

Behind this crew, Ryan Newsome, Jacorey Warrick and former tight end DeAndre McNeal, per's William Wilkerson, will fight for snaps. Newsome and Warrick are both inside receivers, but the 6'1" McNeal could be interesting. He's extremely versatile despite being a bigger body, and Texas could use him to create a variety of mismatches.

Tight end's the only real mystery left on this side of the ball. Blake Whiteley's injury clears the way for Andrew Beck, but Caleb Bluiett's position change could make things interesting. Burnt Orange Nation's Wescott Eberts envisions Bluiett as a "potential contributor at TE":

Lastly, we hit the offensive line, which remained unchanged from the spring until Patrick Vahe blew things up halfway through fall camp. The highly regarded freshman worked in with the ones the rest of the way, pushing Kent Perkins to right tackle and Connor Williams off to the blind side. Center Taylor Doyle confirmed Vahe's work with the ones, per the Statesman's Ryan Autullo:

Senior Marcus Hutchins looks like the odd man out and will likely work in along with swing guys Brandon Hodges and Tristan Nickelson. Overall, this should be one of the team's most improved groups, thanks to the physical young players who have burst into the mix.


Defensive Depth-Chart Analysis

Even after almost a month of fall camp, the defense is much more difficult to pin down than the offense. Every one of these positions has high potential for being changed up, which isn't necessarily a bad thing.

The defensive line will be the bread-winner for this side of the ball. Strong trusts just about everybody on the roster there, and for good reason. Poona Ford might the second-best lineman on the team, yet he's a backup because of Hassan Ridgeway

In fact, this group is so stacked, it might consider parting with one of its best athletes.'s Chip Brown reports the rangy "Fox" end Naashon Hughes could move back to linebacker to help with depth, where he would challenge Peter Jinkens to play in nickel sets. Standing 6'4" with elite speed, Hughes will excel wherever he ends up.

Until that situation becomes more clear, Jinkens told Brown he's battling Malik Jefferson to be the middle linebacker. Jefferson's the better athlete and fits the new trend of teams putting their most physically gifted defenders in the middle of the defense. He's not going anywhere.

The secondary's an even bigger mess. Dylan Haines and Jason Hall are set in stone at safety, but there's a battle royale for all the corners not named Duke Thomas.

Holton Hill was the odds-on favorite to assume the role opposite Thomas before an injury interrupted his fall camp. That opened the door for Davante Davis, John Bonney and Kris Boyd to get work at that spot, with the latter two also trying out the nickel spot. Strong expressed how impressed he had been with Hill's on-field performance, per Ebert:

Bryson Echols will probably get the start at Notre Dame, but all of these guys will be competing on a weekly basis. Eventually, Hill, Boyd and Davis will have their day.


Special Teams Depth-Chart Analysis

Nick Rose will resume kicking duties after showing some improvement this offseason. Until Australian Michael Davidson settles down at punter, Mitchell Becker will do his best to help the defense out. Becker's a below-average talent, so this will be a problem area while the team works on Davidson.

Return duties seem pretty wide-open as well. Daje Johnson's the name that comes up most often in both phases of the return game, and it's hard to imagine Ryan Newsome and Armanti Foreman won't get their cracks as well.

No matter what, Texas needs more from its entire special teams unit. Jeff Traylor's had his work cut out for him with this group.


Preview and Prediction for 2015

One thing's for sure about these Longhorns—they're going to fight.

"There is such a different team chemistry and energy this year compared to last year," said safety Dylan Haines at the end camp.

Renewed competitiveness and sense of team have been recurring themes this offseason. The practices have been intense, and the players are taking pride in the team's improvement, which center Taylor Doyle elaborated upon as well:

Every day we're trying to get better as individuals and as a team and guys are playing well and grinding. I'm really happy with how the freshmen have come in and worked and the older guys also. Everyone has come in to work and is positive and it's really exciting to be around.

Whether that improved team attitude will lead to wins is another question. Not only is this team replacing 10 starters, but it also has a tough nonconference schedule before it dives straight into some unforgiving Big 12 play.

Just because this team wants to improve doesn't mean it will. So much of its success in this conference depends on a quarterback finding his way. And for all the praise for Swoopes' improvement, he still has a lot to prove before he's considered trustworthy.

Then there's the fact that so many of the team's best players are in their first year playing. There are 15 true or redshirt freshmen up there in the two-deep, and it's only reasonable to expect that some of them will act like, well, freshmen at times.

Still, this team will play hard for Strong and his staff. It won't be able to hang with teams such as Baylor, TCU or Notre Dame, but it's good enough for 7-5. These Horns will pull off a surprising win or two before the season's done on their way to bigger things in 2016.


Unless otherwise noted, all stats and information courtesy of

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Virginia Tech Football: Week 3 Fall Camp Stock Report

The Virginia Tech Hokies completed Week 3 of fall camp Saturday with a scrimmage, likely the last open one before the season begins.

Fortunately for the Hokies, they remained essentially injury free last week, with no new injuries reported. It's a welcome departure for head coach Frank Beamer and his staff as the Hokies have dealt with numerous season-ending injuries in fall camp in recent years. 

Attrition once again reared its ugly head, though, as a pair of redshirt freshmen departed the program, per Mike Barber of the Richmond Times-Dispatch. Holland Fisher, a former 4-star recruit from Midlothian, Virginia, requested his transfer, as did cornerback Shawn Payne. Payne wasn't as highly recruited as Fisher, and his departure likely won't be felt as Tech has several talented cornerbacks in the pipeline ready to contribute.

Fisher and Payne's departures come on the heels of C.J. Reavis' dismissal in July, although that situation was a bit different as Reavis was dismissed by the student conduct committee. Fisher and Payne's situations appear to be more about academics. 

As disappointing as it is to see a former top recruit depart without reaching his full potential, running backs coach Shane Beamer says that's the way it is everywhere, per Andy Bitter of the Roanoke Times:

I think that’s recruiting. You look across the country, all these highly recruited guys that may not turn out to be great players and guys that weren’t recruited at all who turn out to be great players. That’s just part of the recruiting aspect of it. You hate it from a standpoint of you want guys when you bring them into your program to have success, and disappointed that it didn’t quite work out for Holland and Shawn because they’re good kids and they’re really good football players.

What else went on with Virginia Tech during Week 3 of fall camp?


Freshmen DBs Ready to Contribute

As disappointing as it is to see promising, young players leave, it opens the door for other talented newcomers. In Tech's case it is a pair of true freshmen: cornerback Mook Reynolds and rover Adonis Alexander.

If Reavis were still on campus, there's a good chance Alexander may have redshirted. Tech would've had Desmond Frye and Donovan Riley—also a cornerback—behind Reavis at rover. However, Alexander took advantage of his opportunity and most likely will see the field this fall and could end up overtaking Frye as the starter at rover. 

Alexander has the size (6'3", 193 pounds) and athleticism coaches covet for the safety position. He also enrolled in January and has a strong grasp of defensive coordinator Bud Foster's defense. 

Reynolds figures to see his initial playing time at nickelback behind sophomore Greg Stroman. Reynolds, of course, could play in relief of Kendall Fuller and Brandon Facyson on the outside at cornerback, too. 

Regardless, Reynolds is ready and understands the coaching staff may call on him this season.

“No one has said it,” Reynolds said, according to Norm Wood of the Daily Press. “It’s understood. I know what kind of impact I had in the spring coming in early, and I know how high I set the bar for myself. Everybody wants to reach the bar that they set and go a little higher. I’m not the kind of guy to set a bar and then go low.”

That confidence is one of the many reasons why coaches love Reynolds and Alexander. 


Offensive Line Still Not Set

For most of the offseason, it was widely assumed Tech had its starting offensive line set in stone. Fall camp has shown us that isn't entirely true, though.

Right tackle Wade Hansen has missed some time with an injury, opening the door for Parker Osterloh, a 6'8", 323-pound sophomore. Osterloh has impressed coaches filling in for Hansen, while also spending some time at left tackle and inside at guard. It's that type of versatility Osterloh believes will help him see the field this fall, per Barber.

“I really, every day, have played at least two positions,” Osterloh said. “It’s sort of challenging, just being able to flip sides and flip plays in your head, but I pride myself on trying to be able to do the best I can wherever Coach needs me.”

Hansen's starting job doesn't appear to be in jeopardy at this time, but Osterloh has shown coaches that if Hansen does go down, he's capable of stepping in and not missing a beat. 

Wyatt Teller, the returning starter at left guard, practiced with the second-team offense at times last week, leading to speculation that perhaps he'd been replaced in the starting lineup.

That isn't the case, as it appears to be a case of Teller not finishing plays in practice as strongly as coaches would like and he was pushed to the bench. Teller's insertion into the starting lineup last season coincided with VT's re-energized running game. He has the ability to be a dominant player. 

If Hansen or left tackle Jonathan McLaughlin struggle this fall, keep an eye on true freshman Yosuah Nijman.

Nijman is 6'8" and 273 pounds with the athleticism of a tight end. He's also new to the position, as he was recruited as a defensive lineman and made the switch to offense in the spring. He's picking up the position fast and will be a starter at some point early in his college career. 


Other News and Notes

Redshirt freshman running back Travon McMillian continues to impress coaches. In Saturday's scrimmage, McMillian ripped off a 70-yard touchdown run, displaying his outstanding athleticism in the process. With his speed and shiftiness, McMillian brings a different element to the position and could help the offense this fall.

McMillian's rise also gives the coaching staff some time with rising sophomores Marshawn Williams and Shai McKenzie. Both second-year players tore an ACL last fall and could be redshirted in 2015 with J.C. Coleman, Trey Edmunds and McMillian in the mix. 

Former Hokie legend Bruce Smith was named to the 75th anniversary All-America team last week. It was yet another honor for Smith, who still tops Tech's record books with 46 career sacks and 71 tackles for loss.

Country star Brad Paisley will hold a free concert in the Cassell Coliseum parking lot September 6—the night before Tech's season opener against Ohio State. 

Athletic director Whit Babcock said this concert was a way to thank Virginia Tech fans for their passion and dedication, per the school's official website:

Hokie Nation supports us with tremendous passion and dedication. The opportunity to bring a Grammy award-winning artist like Brad Paisley to the Virginia Tech campus is great way to thank our great fans and kick off an amazing weekend. We appreciate IMG helping make this memorable event possible.



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Georgia Southern Kicker Performs Wild Trick Field Goal, Finishes with a Backflip

Kickers are evolving.

Once viewed as a nonmember of the football team, the iron-legged beasts have gone from knocking in 20-yard field goals to nailing unbelievable, what-did-I-just-watch feats of kicking skill.

Like this one.

Georgia Southern kicker Younghoe Koo, a New Jersey native, got the pigskin spinning with some swift touch and then drilled it through the uprights while performing a backflip.

Let's see the so-called "skill" positions do this.


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Tee Higgins to Tennessee: Volunteers Land 4-Star WR Prospect

The Tennessee Volunteers added an explosive playmaker to their already promising 2017 recruiting class Monday in the form of wide receiver Tee Higgins.

Ryan Callahan of 247Sports noted Higgins committed to the Volunteers despite scholarship offers from more than 12 other teams, including powerhouses such as Ohio State, Alabama, Clemson, Florida State, Georgia, LSU and Oklahoma.

It is no wonder so many blue-chip teams recruited the 6’4”, 185-pound Higgins. He is a 4-star prospect, per 247Sports’ composite rankings, and the No. 43 overall prospect, No. 8 wide receiver and No. 1 player in the state of Tennessee for the class of 2017. 

Here is a look at Higgins explaining his rationale behind his college choice, per his Twitter account:

Ultimately, the lure of playing near home as a Tennessee native certainly helped the Volunteers in their pursuit of Higgins. Paul Fortenberry of Rivals passed along a quote from the receiver underscoring the importance of staying in-state:

The local CBS affiliate in Knoxville, Tennessee, pointed out the importance of this acquisition for the Volunteers:

Tennessee finished its 2014 campaign with a decisive victory over Iowa in the Gator Bowl and open the 2015 season at No. 25 in the Associated Press Top 25 and Amway Coaches Poll Top 25. There is plenty of momentum within the program under coach Butch Jones, as his success on the recruiting trail highlights.

Higgins joins pro-style quarterback Hunter Johnson in the Volunteers’ 2017 class. Johnson is a 5-star prospect, per 247Sports’ composite rankings, and the No. 1 pro-style quarterback for 2017. It is not difficult to envision Higgins and Johnson connecting for a number of touchdowns for years to come in the SEC, particularly if Tennessee continues to add talented pieces around them.

Things are moving in the right direction for the Volunteers, especially after they added Higgins Monday. 

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Dalvin Cook Found Not Guilty of Misdemeanor Battery: Details, Comments, Reaction

Florida State Seminoles running back Dalvin Cook was charged with misdemeanor battery last month for an alleged incident with a woman June 23 at a Tallahassee bar.

Safid Deen of the Tallahassee Democrat reported Cook was not guilty of battery and tweeted video of the verdict being read:

"I'm thankful and blessed the truth came out," Cook said upon being exonerated, per ESPN's Jared Shanker. Cook also added, "I know I didn't commit no crime or did no wrong. ... I was making peace."

Following the news, Florida State released a statement reinstating Cook, adding he would be immediately eligible to return to practice, per Jared Shanker of The running back had previously been indefinitely suspended by the FSU program in July.

Sports Illustrated's Stewart Mandel implied the proper call was made based on the allegations leveled at Cook:

The Seminoles have been under fire in recent years for their players' off-field issues. Former star quarterback Jameis Winston had multiple mishaps away from the gridiron. Video footage of freshman quarterback De'Andre Johnson punching a woman at a bar surfaced, prompting his dismissal from Florida State in July.

Cook was cleared after the jury deliberated for less than 25 minutes, according to Deen.

Cook ran for 1,008 yards and eight touchdowns and added 22 receptions as a freshman in 2014. He also beat out current NFL player Karlos Williams for the majority of touches.

Winston's departure to the pros will make the rushing attack all the more critical to Florida State's success in the coming years. Cook can help the cause as the primary back.

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Why Big Ten Football Can Survive Another Slow Start

We're coming up on nearly a year—14 days, in fact—Sept. 7, 2014: the day, as B/R colleague Adam Kramer wrote at the time, the Big Ten died

The losses, you know by now, were cringe-worthy: Virginia Tech 35, Ohio State 21; Oregon 46, Michigan State 27; Notre Dame 31, Michigan 0; Northern Illinois 23, Northwestern 15; Central Michigan 38, Purdue 17.

Even some of the wins weren't much better: Nebraska 31, McNeese State 24; Iowa 17, Ball State 13; Maryland 24, South Florida 17; Rutgers 38, Howard 25.  

Of course, we also know that the Big Ten was never really dead. Temporarily flatlined, maybe, but not fully gone. Ohio State would rally from its early-season loss, slide into the playoff field as a No. 4 seed and win the national championship. 

This isn't intended to be a "gotcha" moment with hindsight being perfectly clear. Plenty of people thought the Big Ten's playoff hopes were dead following Week 2 of the 2014 season. Just as many played into its status as college football's piñata: 

However, it was a teachable moment. As we came to find out, writing off many teams, let alone an entire conference, from playoff consideration in Week 2 is a setup to be proved wrong. That's why the Big Ten could theoretically survive another disastrous start to the 2015 season. 

Or, more specifically, why individual teams can survive. 

Here's a look at the games on schedule through the first few weeks of the season:

Other than some cupcakes against Football Championship Subdivision opponents, there are plenty of coin-flip games on the slate. It's not an official prediction, but it wouldn't be unforeseen if the Big Ten went under .500 against Power Five opponents right out of the gate. 

If that does end up happening, the question becomes: Have we learned our lesson, or will the Big Ten be swiftly thrown back under the bus (which may, or may not, have Jim Harbaugh khakis painted on them)? 

The answer, as usual, is in the details. 

First of all, it's universally agreed upon that Ohio State and Michigan State are the Big Ten's best playoff hopefuls. If Northwestern loses to Stanford, it's not an indictment on the Big Ten's playoff chances. If Maryland beats South Florida, it's not a boost to the Big Ten's hopes. Not everything means something on a big-picture scale. 

But let's say Ohio State does drop its second straight game to Virginia Tech in stunning fashion. Let's presume Michigan State can't get revenge on Oregon at home. What then?

Those are wasted opportunities to land quality nonconference victories, to be sure, but recent history shows those aren't a season-defining moments. At the time of the first College Football Playoff rankings, Michigan State remained a top-10 team while Ohio State was ranked at No. 16. Two weeks later, the Buckeyes were considered a top-10 team. By the end of the year, both teams were ranked in the CFP top 10. 

But what was true last year might not be true this year, right? To an extent, yes; there is no magic formula for playoff selection. But that's why the whole season needs to play out. No one knows how things are going to go.

There's no denying Ohio State's strength of schedule on paper leaves much to be desired. If the Big Ten gets off to a bad start against Power Five opponents, it won't help the matter. However, as David Hale of tweeted earlier this month, it's possible for a great team (Ohio State, Florida State) to make a championship run even if the conference it represents falls short. In that sense, strength of schedule hasn't been the be-all, end-all factor some thought it would be.

"Conference champions are going to get the first tiebreaker consideration and strength of schedule is going to get the second," Big Ten Commissioner Jim Delany told Ralph Russo of the Associated Press last month.

Who knows, the Big Ten could come out of the gate swinging and land several marquee nonconference wins in the first few weeks—and yet no one from the conference could make the playoff. Conversely, the opposite could be true. It was last year.

Count out the Big Ten (or any other conference) at your own risk. It's already shown to be an unwise move. 


Ben Kercheval is a lead writer for college football. 

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No. 1 JUCO OLB Tyree Horton Tweets Official Visits List

Top JUCO outside linebacker Tyree Horton may be committed to Florida State, but the 4-star Florida native is still going to hit a quartet of powerhouse programs with official visits.

Horton, who is rated as the No. 7 overall JUCO player in the country by 247Sports' Composite Rankings, tweeted Monday afternoon he would be visiting Alabama, Auburn, Florida and TCU sometime this fall:

Alabama, Auburn, Florida and TCU are among the 15 scholarship offers Horton currently holds. All four schools offered Horton in March shortly after he committed to Florida State.

Recruits can take a maximum of five official visits, and Horton took one to Florida State in June.

"I pretty much got to see the coaching staff, meet [Florida State head coach Jimbo Fisher], and just got to know the inside of the program," Horton told Chris Nee of 247Sports. "Everything else that I didn't know about FSU, I now know. I also learned about the academic programs and things like that."

Florida State recently dipped into the JUCO ranks for linebacker talent by signing former LSU player Lorenzo Phillips in the 2015 recruiting cycle.

But Florida State needs more instant-impact players at the position for the future.

"He said that I was needed, that they have a big need at that position," Horton told Nee. "They want me as an outside linebacker... They want to use me as a guy that can go from sideline-to-sideline. They want me to roam. Come up and make big plays. They want me to use my speed and instincts."

Bleacher Report's Michael Felder raved about Horton's talents shortly after his commitment to Florida State in March.

"[Horton] brings experience, and I think this guy can be an anchor for this defense as they continue to add depth," Felder said. "They're going to rotate linebackers, and I think he can be a big part of that rotation. He's a guy who will come and understand what's being asked of him, and he has the athleticism to get the job done."

Horton had 63 tackles, 15 tackles for loss, 6.5 sacks, three interceptions and a fumble recovery for a touchdown last season for the Highland Community College Scotties in Kansas.

While Horton told Nee in June he was "100 percent" committed to Florida State, he will use all five of his allowed official visits.

But Horton's choices for official visits were up in the air a couple of months ago.

According to Colt Barber of 247Sports, Horton tweeted in June that he had a date set for an official visit to Baylor. He later deleted the tweet, and it now appears the Bears won't be receiving an official visit from the elite linebacker during the upcoming season.


Recruiting information courtesy of 247Sports.

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

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Notre Dame Football: Week 3 Fall Camp Stock Report

SOUTH BEND, Ind. — With its Friday afternoon practice inside Notre Dame Stadium, Notre Dame football closed out its fall training camp.

After a few days off over the weekend, the Irish are transitioning toward an in-season approach this week. Classes begin Tuesday, and Irish head coach Brian Kelly emphasized the importance of building a routine, with afternoon practices replacing the late-morning sessions.

Notre Dame used Friday’s practice to zero in on, among other things, end-of-game situations, including special teams work, as position battles continue.

“We’ve got a lot of competition, a lot of depth that keeps that competition keen,” Kelly said to reporters. “We’re not in a situation where guys are just going through the motions in the last four or five practices because they know there’s nobody to push me.”

Let’s look back at the past week.


Shaun Crawford

Late Wednesday night, Notre Dame announced freshman cornerback Shaun Crawford suffered a torn ACL during Wednesday morning’s practice and will be out for the 2015 season.

Crawford had impressed throughout camp and had earned reps as the first-team nickelback.

Notre Dame does boast depth at cornerback, but Crawford was certainly in line to contribute as a rookie. Now the Irish will shuffle the defensive backs. Kelly said Friday that top cornerback KeiVarae Russell will serve as the nickelback, with junior Devin Butler stepping in on the perimeter in some situations. Kelly said Russell brings much-desired versatility to the nickel position, giving defensive coordinator Brian VanGorder the ability to play man coverage or blitz, for example. Butler, meanwhile, is now Notre Dame’s third corner.

“If we were handicapping the corners, we would not have thought that he’d be our third corner,” Kelly said. “He’s had a really, really good camp. He plays with so much more confidence, speed. He’s a different player than he was last year—really pleased.”


Freshmen Continue to Impress

Two of Notre Dame’s top offensive freshmen, tight end Alizé Jones and wide receiver Equanimeous St. Brown, have flashed throughout the fall.

“They’re guys that are going to be very difficult to keep off the field because of their ability,” Kelly said. “Certainly where they play, they make for difficult matchups.”

Jones fits into an Irish tight end group that still lacks clarity (see below), while St. Brown is part of a deep receiving corps.

“They’re both extremely gifted players athletically,” Kelly said.


Tight End Options

Notre Dame brings back minimal production at tight end—one reception for seven yards—from last season. But the Irish have options at the position, and Kelly said there’s still uncertainty with roughly two weeks until the season opener against Texas.

As of Friday, junior Durham Smythe was still not at 100 percent health. Sophomore Tyler Luatua, redshirt freshman Nic Weishar, fifth-year senior Chase Hounshell and Jones are all potential contributors, too. Kelly said Notre Dame can use its different tight ends situationally.

“We’ve got some really good flexibility,” Kelly said. “I think at the end of the day, we can really do some things with those tight ends to keep teams off balance.”

Asked if the Irish can employ two tight-end sets, Kelly thinks they can deploy three.


Quick Hits

Third-year wideout Torii Hunter Jr. can play all three receiver positions for the Irish, Kelly said, not just the slot.

“Torii’s a playmaker for us,” Kelly said. “We’ve gotta be able to get some touches for him.”

Irish offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach Mike Sanford will work from the press box during games, Kelly said.

Redshirt freshman left guard Quenton Nelson has made the most progress in pass protection, Kelly said, aided by the man to his left: standout tackle Ronnie Stanley. Kelly reiterated that fellow redshirt freshman Alex Bars will play and be a part of Notre Dame’s offensive line rotation.

On the other side, right guard Steve Elmer has “really improved his game physically,” per Kelly. The junior drew praise for his improvement moving in space, reaching the second level, sustaining blocks and staying on his feet.

“I think there’s been a huge elevation there,” Kelly said.

Kelly said redshirt freshman DeShone Kizer is “moving in that direction” when asked if Kizer had solidified the No. 2 quarterback job over true freshman Brandon Wimbush.

Senior running back C.J. Prosise (hip flexor) was scheduled to be “full-go” at Monday’s practice, Kelly said Friday.


All quotes were obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted.

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

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Steve Sarkisian Reportedly Angered USC Alumni, Boosters with Comments

Just one year after taking over as the head football coach of the USC Trojans, Steve Sarkisian may be on the hot seat after his comments at Saturday's Salute to Troy donor event.

According to Lost Lettermen(Warning: Link contains NSFW language), Sarkisian disparaged many of USC's Pac-12 foes, used profanity and needed to be escorted off the stage by Trojans athletic director Pat Haden and John McKay, the senior associate athletic director for football.

The Orange County Register posted a short clip from the event in which the head coach can be heard swearing to the assembled crowd.

As a result, TMZ is reporting people connected to the USC football program are calling for Sarkisian's ouster:

Multiple high-ranking USC sources tell us ... ever since reports surfaced about the USC head football coach slurring and cussing at a major USC function Saturday night, the powers that be at SC have been getting complaints from the people who back the program.

One high-ranking USC source tells us ... "I've been getting a flurry of phone calls this morning from people who want him out. They feel he's an embarrassment to the program and the community."

Speaking on College Football Live, ESPN's Shelley Smith also seemed to indicate this story won't soon fade from the spotlight:

Sarkisian has since issued an apology.

"I sincerely apologize to my players and staff and to our fans for my behavior and my inappropriate language at our kickoff event Saturday night," he said in a statement on USC's official athletics site. "I have a responsibility to all of them and I let them down. Pat Haden talked to me after the event about my actions and I assured him this will not happen again."

USA Today's Dan Wolken wondered whether Sarkisian's apology will fully atone for his misstep, especially after the video surfaced.

Bleacher Report's Mike Freeman was one of many taken aback by what he had seen:

In the school's press release, Haden said he had had a talk with Sarkisian, during which he verbally reprimanded the coach. Haden finished his statement by saying, "I am confident he heard my message loud and clear."

While it would appear the school has no intentions of punishing Sarkisian, that could change should the boosters and alumni continue placing pressure on the program.

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