NCAA Football

2015 College Football Recruits with Best Kick-Return Skills

A big part of the game of football is special teams, especially the return game. Recruits who have the skills and potential to also help a team as punt returners or kick returners only see their value increase.

Looking around the 2015 class, several prospects appear to have the needed skill sets to excel as returners. Explosiveness, elusiveness, vision, awareness, quickness, agility, creativity and speed are traits a top return man needs to have.

Whether it's a 4-star running back from Texas looking like a potentially dynamic kickoff returner, or an explosive 4-star athlete from Ohio with excellent punt return skills, the 2015 class features a ton of future returners.

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

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Notre Dame Football: How 4-Star Travis Waller Would Fit in QB Depth Chart

Even in June, recruiting chaos can take hold of the college football world. And the last week has put the quarterback carousel into quite a spin. In less than 48 hours, Notre Dame went from having one of Southern California's best quarterbacks top-lining their recruiting class to having another top SoCal signal-caller in their crosshairs.

Even though the Irish coaching staff thought it was finished recruiting quarterbacks when Blake Barnett committed to the Irish back in November, less than 48 hours after Barnett's decommitment, the Irish put out three offers and became the favorites to land Travis Waller, arguably a better prospect than the one the Irish started the week with. 

So with Barnett gone and Waller trending toward the Irish, let's take a step back and see how one crazy week impacted the Irish quarterback depth chart. 

 

What Just Happened?

If you took off on your summer vacation last week, you might have missed everything. So just in case you did, let's go over the highlights. 

  • Around this time last week, Barnett was saying all the right things about his commitment to Notre Dame. He even talked up his upcoming June visit to South Bend with Rivals.com's Adam Gorney (subscription required). 
  • But behind the scenes, Barnett had planned an unofficial visit to Oregon, and fresh off of it, 247Sports' Justin Hopkins first reported that Barnett decommitted from the Irish. He also cancelled the June visit to Notre Dame, eliminating the Irish from consideration.  
  • The Irish coaching staff reopened its quarterback recruitment by taking aim at three top prospects: Travis Waller, Texas Tech commit Jarrett Stidham and Florida quarterback Deondre Francois.
  • Waller posted a cryptic tweet Monday that had many thinking he was ready to commit to Notre Dame, sight unseen.
  • Instead, Waller named his four finalists, with Notre Dame, Northwestern, Ohio State and Alabama in the final grouping. He'll decide on July 1. 

In a matter of days, Notre Dame rebooted its quarterback evaluations, targeted three elite players and made well-received offers for all three. Even Jared from Silicon Valley would've been impressed at the Irish's pivot. 

 

How Waller Compares to Barnett

It's no surprise that Notre Dame would be interested in Waller. He's a perfect system player for the Irish offense. He comes from a Notre Dame pipeline school in Anaheim's Servite, which most recently produced former tight end Troy Niklas.

Waller also works out with noted quarterback guru Steve Clarkson, Jimmy Clausen's personal quarterback coach. The South Bend Tribune's Bob Wieneke caught up with Clarkson and asked about his most recent star pupil, and as you'd guess, Clarkson gave Waller a glowing review

One of the things that Clarkson pointed out is how Waller has played against big-time competition, listing national powers Long Beach (Calif.) Poly, Concord (Calif.) De La Salle and Las Vegas Bishop Gorman as teams Servite has tangled with.

"And he's been a dominant player in those games," Clarkson said." He'll fit in at any system. He's what I like to call a pro-style athlete. He can operate out of a pro system but also is your new-wave spread quarterback. He's very gifted athletically. he's extremely accurate as a passer."

Clarkson said Waller is hopeful to make a visit to ND soon and expects a decision within weeks. A top four or five could be announced this weekend.

"He's a great kid, he's an outstanding football player," Clarkson said. "If Notre Dame is fortunate enough to get him, they're not going to be ... they're not going backwards that's for sure. The kid's one heck of a football player."

It's worth noting that Clarkson has worked with both Waller and Barnett, so he's seen the apples-to-apples comparison of both quarterbacks. His last comment is likely an evaluation as well as a statement of support for Waller. 

On the field, Waller fits the mold of recent Irish quarterback recruits, capable of being both a dynamic runner and passer. Playing some of the top prep competition in the country, Waller shows a great deal of talent doing both—and doing so from a spread offense that's highly evolved. 

"He's a very dynamic kid running the ball," Servite head coach A.J. Gass told AL.com on May 20. "Athletically, he's like a linebacker in the backfield. When he's got to stand back and throw, he's got great arm strength and tremendous accuracy. He's truly one of the best dual-threat quarterbacks in the nation."

From a prospect perspective, Barnett's raw abilities seem to project a higher upside, and they've been a big reason why his ranking shot up during this summer evaluation period. Barnett has a big arm and a little bit more size and speed than Waller. But he's also a far less finished product and plays in an inferior high school program as well. 

 

How Does Waller Project in Notre Dame's QB Depth Chart...If He Chooses the Irish?

If Waller does pick the Irish on July 1, he'll enter the same competitive situation that Barnett had signed on for. Everett Golson is a senior on paper but will have a fifth year of eligibility in 2015. Both Malik Zaire and DeShone Kizer enter the 2014 season with all four years of eligibility. Unless something drastic happens, Kizer will redshirt, giving him four years at the start of 2015 as well. 

On paper, Waller—just like Barnett—is a higher-rated recruit than either of the Irish's young quarterbacks. But as Brian Kelly showed with Tommy Rees, Dayne Crist and Gunner Kiel, star ratings don't matter once the ink is dry on a letter of intent.

Still, Waller is another custom-made quarterback for what Brian Kelly wants to do with his offense, likely part of the reason the Irish were so quick to offer and recruitniks were so quick to connect the two prospects. 

While over 80 percent of 247Sports' Crystal Ball predictions have the Irish landing Waller, it'll be a fierce competition for his signature as well. As the Irish make up for lost time, it's also worth noting that the tectonic shifts among elite quarterbacks has added some interesting twists to a handful of recruitments. 

Some believed Waller would end up at Oregon...until it looked like Barnett was ready to commit to the Ducks. Now, Barnett wants to visit (subscription required) Alabama, Georgia and LSU before making a decision, putting Oregon's quarterback choice likely on hold for a bit longer as well. 

Alabama had 5-star quarterback Ricky Town committed until Lane Kiffin became the Tide's offensive coordinator (Town's now committed to USC). That leaves Nick Saban still looking for a quarterback, with one additional target off the board after Quinten Dormady pledged to Tennessee on Monday, per his 247Sports page. 

Deondre Francois is interested in both Alabama and Florida State, and there's a good chance he wants to come up and see Notre Dame as well. His high school coach, Chris Weinke, has ties to FSU, where he won a Heisman. He also has great respect for Notre Dame and is a part of the Cretin-Derham Hall family that has supplied so many players to the Irish in recent years. 

For the past seven months, the Irish have felt good about their quarterback situation in the 2015 recruiting class. They still could by the end of the month if Waller commits, which certainly would be no consolation prize after losing out on Barnett. 

But with three offers out and a dozen elite quarterbacks still trying to decide on a college, Waller's decision is one of the many dominoes yet to fall.

(And another reason why following college football is so fun.) 

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

USC Football: Players and Fans React to the End of NCAA Sanctions

As of today, the book penned by USC during the four years of its sanctions finally comes to a close. 

What a relief. 

As much as USC has done to shake the weight of what are now considered to be some of the most vindictive sanctions in sports history, it feels different to formally be able to break the chains that confined the Trojans to mediocrity. 

For the students, fans and student-athletes who went through the sanctions, Tuesday marks an important turning point for the program.

“When I was deciding, one of the main things was I wanted to go to school with a lot of school spirit and sports," said Taryn McNamee, who graduated from USC in 2013.  "When I was in high school, I liked going to football games, so I wanted to go to a football school."

McNamee's first year of USC football was defined by the Trojans going 9-4, and Pete Carroll leaving for the NFL. And that was only the beginning.

“I loved going to the games. The student section was live. The whole ‘Big Balls Pete thing’, it was all good times," McNamee said. "I felt like the whole school was together as one during those games.”

Then, everything changed.

“I was already sad at the end of our first season because we didn’t go to the Rose Bowl. And then the next year, they didn’t have a bowl, so I was like, ‘Are you freaking kidding me?’ All of sudden, we couldn’t go to anything."

She wasn't the only one who felt that way.

For those first two years, USC's student population was in flux; is it worth it to go to games when the team can't play for anything?

Zack Jerome, owner of the LostAngeles blog and USC alumnus, had the answer. 

"I noticed when looking through Facebook and Twitter," Jerome said, "there were so many younger students coming in that were not excited about going to games. And not in a bad way, but in that general malaise around the fact that the games wouldn't count.

So I got frustrated that people weren’t excited about walking down Trousdale and going to games. The championship is such a small part of the experience," Jerome said.

USC students over the sanctions years will remember Jerome's weekly posts leading up to and recapping Trojan football games during the two seasons the bowl ban was in effect. He got students riled up, excited for the possibility of sticking it to the NCAA.

And it worked wonders. 

"When I saw how the posts went, and seeing people use my signs on game day and when players were buying the shirts, when that stuff started happening, I was like, ‘I struck a nerve,'" he said. "I felt a deep sense of community."

For two years, USC students eagerly awaited Jerome's posts, donned his shirts with slogans that read "Bowls are for salad" and "You can't sanction the endzone", and embraced the us-against-the-world mentality that Jerome encouraged.  

"I thought I just had a good beat on what our team and our fans and what our school wanted to say if they could, so I took that role very, very seriously," Jerome said. "To me, that time will always be the most special."

In a sense, the whole four-year period that USC went through was special. Special for the extremely difficult situation the Trojans were in, and special for the way the Trojans responded to it all.

"For those of us who worked so hard to get to USC, football was supposed to be a bonus," McNamee said.  "So you feel bad for the guys on the team who committed to go there and got crushed. They just had to deal with it all, but they did it well."

For veterans like tight end Randall Telfer, the USC he came into four years ago and the program he represents now are completely different. But even through it all, he's proud to have been a part of this era in Trojan history. 

"I grew up watching USC to a certain extent," Telfer said. "My cousins went there and my aunt worked there, so I would come to 'SC every now and again to hang out. But before high school, I was playing soccer and basketball so I didn’t follow it a lot."

Once he got to high school and started taking football more seriously, he knew there was nowhere else he wanted to go. He saw Troy get crushed by the NCAA his senior year of high school, but that didn't turn Telfer away.

"Unless USC went up in flames, I was gonna attend USC."

So he did, though he didn't fully anticipate just how devastating the sanctions would be on his tenure there. 

"I didn’t know all that it entailed or what damage it would do. I was like 30 scholarships over three years; how bad can that be? No bowl games, whatever. It didn’t really hit me."

It didn't take too long for him to understand, however.

"When I really realized it was 2011 when we went 10-2. That’s when it really hit me. I was so excited; we’re winning, we kicked UCLA’s butt. We should be playing for a Pac-12 championship or in a cool bowl, and then nothing. That’s when it hit me. Like, dang, we’re sanctioned."

As we know, it went all downhill from there. 

After the first two years, USC really started to feel the debilitating impact of the scholarship reduction, which completely decimated the Trojans' depth across all positions.

"Our staff was struggling," Telfer said.  "Especially at tight end. We didn’t have many to begin with. So reps that would've been taken by the 3rd or 4th string guys in practice were taken by first string ones."

At the college level, it's normal for guys to want to take more reps, to have more of a role in helping the team. At the same time, they need to take care of their bodies. The sanctions prevented USC's players from doing that. 

"Naturally, we are going to come up with injuries that wouldn’t have happened had there been there depth. That’s where it really hurt us. D-line, O-line...a lot of guys had to take reps they would’ve foregone," Telfer said. 

Over the past few seasons, USC had an ungodly number of players go down with injuries. So many that the Trojans had just 44 scholarship athletes available when it entered its Las Vegas Bowl against Fresno State, which USC ultimately won.

It was another instance of sticking it to the NCAA, something the Trojans had gotten used to doing while going 35-17 during those sanctioned years.

Some teams would kill to post that record in a four-year period under normal conditions. USC did it while severely limited, and in the eyes of die-hard Trojans, it wasn't good enough.

That's a hard feeling for Telfer to shake.

"It sucks that my class and I couldn’t get 'SC to a greater level," Telfer said. "I feel like I let some people down. Yeah, there were some years a bowl game was out of the question, but after that…we let some people down."

He also feels like his class in particular wasn't given a fair shot, given the circumstances.

"To a certain extent, I feel like my college experience was taken from me. I will tell you that the 'SC I committed to is different than it is now. I expect that. I expect programs to change. I didn’t get to experience a post season for my first few years and it sucks.

We got to go to one after that, but it would’ve been interesting to see where we would’ve been had we had those scholarships, if we didn’t have those bowl bans."

Having gone through it all puts Telfer in a prime position to lead the next generation of Trojans through what will be a completely clean state. New coaches and the end of probation signal a new beginning, and it's one Telfer and the other veterans embrace.

"I feel like I've got a lot more experience than the average vet just because we have seen a lot, we've been through a lot," he said. "Some kids will play for the same coach throughout their whole career. I got recruited by Pete [Carroll], [Lane] Kiffin was my coach, then O [Ed Orgeron], then [Clay] Helton in the bowl game, and now Sark [Steve Sarkisian]. That’s unheard of."

And even beyond the coaching changes, Telfer has changed a lot as a player.

"I've got a lot to teach the younger guys. I've played, I've started, I've been injured and now I'm back from that. So I plan to lead by example of what it is to be a Trojan," he said.

Telfer said the team hasn't given much thought to their sanctions being lifted, a testament to just how over the whole ordeal they are. They're ready to grind and learn under Sarkisian, and put forth a great effort in 2014.

But if you would have told Telfer he would have witnessed USC get sucker-punched by the NCAA, only to see the Trojans bounce back relatively unscathed, he wouldn't have believed it could be done.

But USC proved otherwise.

"For the old guys like me, it sucks that our careers were under the sanctions, but ultimately it feels good. It feels like we have a lot to prove, a lot to gain this season. Our program has been up and down, especially with this past season. But we were able to compete with every other team in the nation," Telfer said.

And that ability to still contend with the best is something Telfer—and the Trojan Family as a whole—are particularly proud of.

"That’s a testament to what 'SC’s about," he said. "But at the same time, we hold our team to the highest standard. We got guys who are capable of going the distance and for a year or two we fell short. But in light of the sanctions, we accomplished a lot and I am very proud of this team."

Looking ahead to the future, Telfer just has one thing in mind.

"We put our heads down, do work and win games," he said.

It's that kind of toughness that enabled USC to succeed so much pre-sanctions, and a return of that mentality could serve the Trojans well going forward into this new era. 

Four years ago, Trojan fans were very angry about what had happened to their program. And in the wake of other, arguably more egregious violations committed by the likes of Oregon, Ohio State, and Miami, many Trojan fans are still angry about it.

But for most, the past four years are bittersweet.

"It was a moment that I look back and reflect upon," Jerome said.  "Like wow, that was crazy; what a journey. To go from the Roman Empire to the fall of Rome, to being back again in some form. That was crazy, looking back on everything that happened."

For Jerome and many others, the way USC weathered the storm makes them feel proud to be Trojans.

"I think for me, it makes me really proud that we took literally the best punch that the NCAA had. And in the end we were a winning program that had to sit out of bowl games. Nothing they did stopped us from being there. I look at our record and I'm very proud," he said.

Jerome does point out, though, that the chain being lifted doesn't mean USC is ready just yet to return to full prominence.

"It'll probably be another two years before our deck is stacked enough. But it's nice to know that that part's over. At the same time, the world is so much different. We have changed the way people feel about how college sports are covered.

Even people that hate USC, that were the most excited when they got hit. Now, you’d be hard pressed to find an educated college football fan that thinks it was right. So I think that's one of those things where we changed the climate of how things are," he said.

In four years, USC went from being the program that got what it deserved to being the victim of the NCAA's vendettas. The team and the fans had to come together in ways they hadn't had to previously, bringing new meaning to the Trojan Family. Is USC better for it? Definitely, and they will continue to be going forward in this rebuilding process. 

And is college football better for it? Well, Jerome has an answer for that, too.

"Anyone can win a bowl game, or a championship, or a Heisman. But very few people can win the battle of public opinion against their captors," Jerome said. "And that’s what gets me fired up every time I hear the fight song. It’s so cool."

 

All quotes were obtained firsthand, unless otherwise stated.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

USC Football: Players and Fans React to the End of NCAA Sanctions

As of today, the book penned by USC during the four years of its sanctions finally comes to a close. What a relief...

Read the full article on Bleacher Report...

Why SEC Has UCLA to Thank for Its Legacy of BCS Dominance

The SEC dominated the second half of the BCS era, winning seven championships and firmly establishing itself as the premier conference in college football. That has led to an expansion of its footprint, added riches from television contracts and a nascent network to be launched this August.

But none of it happens without the biggest upset in BCS history, a game that took place on the West Coast on the final day of the 2006 regular season. The end of one dynasty begot another.

USC entered its annual rivalry game in 2006 ranked No. 2 in the BCS standings. The Trojans were poised to appear in an unprecedented third consecutive BCS title game, and all they had to do was handle their downtrodden 5-6 crosstown rival. And why not? USC had won seven straight in the series and mauled the Bruins the year before, 66-19.

A simple USC victory would've set up a BCS title game against Ohio State, leaving Florida (and the SEC) on the sideline. It would've been an eighth consecutive season without an undisputed national title for the conference. After Tennessee won the first championship of the BCS era in 1998, the SEC only appeared in one title game in the subsequent seven seasons, and that resulted in LSU's split title with USC in 2003.

There was little doubt that USC would go on to trounce the Buckeyes in the BCS title game, as Florida eventually did. The Trojans would've won their third national title in four years and left little doubt as to who truly rules the BCS. They likely would've gone to another one or two BCS title games in the following two seasons.

But that dynasty inexplicably got derailed on that December afternoon at the Rose Bowl by the underdog Bruins. USC's high-powered offense was totally stifled and shut out in the second half. It was the only time in Pete Carroll's final eight seasons at USC that his team would be held under double digits.

USC's 13-9 loss not only opened the door for the SEC to return to the BCS title game, but it gave birth to a new narrative. After Florida ascended to No. 2 and then routed undefeated Ohio State for the national championship, the argument that the SEC as "the toughest conference" began to take hold. 

That in no small part contributed to the SEC's earning of a spot in the BCS championship game for both 2007 and 2008. In both seasons, the SEC won the title after sending a second-ranked team that edged teams from other conferences with the same number of losses.

In both seasons, one of those teams was USC. Had the Trojans won the 2006 title, it's easy to see how the narrative and argument would've gone very differently. USC probably would've been the one that beat out the other two-loss teams for No. 2 in 2007. And in 2008, the one-loss Trojans might've gone on to play in their fifth consecutive BCS title game.

The SEC can thank Karl Dorrell and DeWayne Walker, whose game plan in that fateful 2006 game teed up the conference's enduring run in the second half of the BCS era. They're both actually working in the neighborhood now, as Dorrell is the offensive coordinator at Vanderbilt and Walker the defensive backs coach for the Jacksonville Jaguars.

 

Follow on Twitter: @ThePlayoffGuru.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

USC vs. Stanford: Where Should Big-Time CB Iman Marshall Play College Football?

Iman Marshall is projected to be a starter from day one for whichever program he chooses. The 5-star cornerback is being pursued by some of the top schools in the country, with Stanford and USC leading the pack. 

Where will Iman Marshall decide to play college football, and who will benefit from his talents and skills?

Watch B/R's Michael Felder make his prediction on where Marshall will land and where he will contribute the most.

 

Highlights courtesy of XOS Digital. All recruit rankings from 247 Sports' composite rankings.

 

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

QB Hutson Mason Has Experience and Weapons to Lead Georgia to National Title

With Aaron Murray heading to the NFL, Georgia head coach Mark Richt will look to his next play-caller, redshirt senior Hutson Mason. After coming off a stellar spring, Mason will look to bring Georgia back to its national title goals. 

Will the tandem of Mason and running back Todd Gurley be enough to bring the Bulldogs back to a national championship? 

Watch B/R's analysts Michael Felder and Barrett Sallee make their projections on Mason's 2014 season. 

 

Highlights courtesy of XOS Digital.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Michigan Head Coach Brady Hoke Cancels Senior Retreat

During the summers of 2012 and 2013, Michigan head coach Brady Hoke gathered his rising seniors for a short trip to San Diego, where they met with a group of Navy SEALs to learn leadership tactics and bond with one another.

Hoke is doing away with that tradition in the summer of 2014, however, because he does not like how it affected his previous two classes.

"To me, it was just something (that) had run its course a little bit, and maybe (created) some entitlement (for the older players)," said Hoke, according to Nick Baumgardner of MLive.com. "We need to stay here, and stay together. I think guys just thought that was part of being a senior. They've got to earn it."

Hoke is hoping the focus on team—not class—leadership and bonding will help do away with the slog of the past two seasons.

After going 11-2 and winning the Sugar Bowl in his first year with the Wolverines, Hoke lost 11 games in 2012 and 2013. No Michigan coach besides Rich Rodriguez has had such poor back-to-back seasons since Bump Elliott in in the mid-1960s.

After former offensive tackle Taylor Lewan, a senior in 2013, questioned Devin Gardner's leadership skills on the radio Tuesday morning, Baumgardner reminded us that Hoke thinks last year's team suffered from veteran entitlement issues:

Lewan's claim that the team "got comfortable" after beating Notre Dame in Week 2, per Baumgardner, helps validate that notion.

That is why Hoke's decision to cancel the retreat makes sense. His attempts to foster cohesion and leadership the past two years have resulted in entitlement, which many would argue is the opposite of leadership. And he is not too proud to admit when he's erred.

Whether things will improve is a different story. Plenty of ideas look good on paper but don't pan out on the field.

This change will send minor shock waves through the Michigan program, and it will humble the seniors and embolden the younger players. But only time will tell if those things will result in victories.

Hoke cannot afford for them not to.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Why Sheriron Jones Is the Future of the Florida Gators Program

Four-star dual-threat quarterback Sheriron Jones has committed to play his college football with the Florida Gators.

The 6'3", 192-pound stud is just the kind of QB new offensive coordinator Kurt Roper is looking for. Jeff Driskel will helm the Gators offense in 2014, but look for Jones to take over the starting role when he arrives on campus in 2015. 

Watch as Michael Felder breaks down what Sheriron Jones means to the Florida Gators. 

 

Highlights courtesy XOS Digital. All recruit rankings from 247Sports

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Predicting College Football's Top Stat Leaders for 2014 Season

Though football is a team sport, individual stats matter, especially in a league of 128 teams with full rosters.

Predicting which single guy will lead an individual statistical category is a bit like forecasting the weather for next November, but history and current trends can give us a decent idea in both cases.

Here’s a look at seven major stats and the guys with the best chance of being at the top of the heap.

 

Passing Yards

The No. 2 passer in yards last season—Oregon State’s Sean Mannion—is on pace to eclipse the 5,000-yard mark in 2014.

Though the Beavers bid farewell to Brandin Cooks—their top receiver from a year ago—the No. 2, No. 3, No. 4 and No. 5 targets are all back this season.  This, along with three starters from the offensive line, bodes well for Mannion to be the No. 1 passer in yards in 2014.   

 

Rushing Yards

The last time Alabama had a back rush for more than 1,600 yards was in 2011 when Trent Richardson racked up 1,679 yards as the offensive cornerstone of the Tide’s national championship run.

It’s no coincidence that Richardson’s prolific season coincided with quarterback AJ McCarron’s first year as the starter.  The same scenario played out in 2009, when Mark Ingram rushed for 1,658 yards—and a Heisman—during quarterback Greg McElroy’s first season as the starter.

With Alabama debuting a new quarterback in 2014, look for T.J. Yeldon to build on his 1,235 yards from last season and perhaps lead the nation in rushing yards.

 

Receiving Yards

The top receiver from the No. 5 passing offense in 2013, Baylor’s Antwan Goodley is set for a huge senior season in 2014. The biggest plus for Goodley is the return of quarterback Bryce Petty, the No. 2-rated passer in the nation last season. 

Goodley caught 71 passes for 1,339 yards and 13 touchdowns in 2013, making him the No. 13 receiver in yards and the No. 8 guy in scoring. Watch for Baylor coach Art Briles to put his foot on the gas this season and Goodley’s numbers to explode.

 

Tackles

As a sophomore last season, Temple’s Tyler Matakevich finished No. 6 in the nation in total tackles with 134 and No. 1 in solo tackles with 106.

This is all the more remarkable given that the Owls went 2-10 last season and ranked No. 81 in scoring defense.

In 2014, Matakevich will lead a unit that returns a whopping seven starters, including five of the front seven.  Look for him to improve on his huge numbers from last season.

 

Tackles for a Loss

What will new head coach Charlie Strong mean to Texas’ No. 57-ranked scoring defense from last season?  Well, hopefully he’ll take talented athletes like defensive end Cedric Reed and help them reach their full potential.

Reed registered 16.5 tackles for a loss as a junior last season, earning him the No. 24 slot in the FBS.  What he’ll accumulate under the maestro that engineered Louisville’s No. 2-ranked scoring defense in 2013 is unknown. We’ll assume it will be big time, especially given the seven Longhorn starters due back on D.

 

Sacks

Hidden somewhere in all those delicious layers of Clemson’s No. 8-ranked scoring offense from last season is a defense that ranked No. 24 in scoring.

Leading the way in sacks and tackles for a loss was junior defensive end Vic Beasley with 23 tackles for a loss, 13 sacks and a fumble return for a touchdown.  This was enough for a No. 3 finish in the FBS in sacks, second to only Stanford’s Trent Murphy and Louisville’s Marcus Smith.

In 2014, Beasley will have six other starters to help him launch a stellar senior season.

 

Interceptions

Though TCU’s safety Sam Carter finished tied for No. 18 in the FBS in interceptions last season, only three picks separated him and national leader Anthony Harris of Virginia with eight.

In 2014 Carter will be a senior, a leader on a defense that returns eight starters and plays in the most pass-happy league in big-time college football, the Big 12.

Can he lead the nation in interceptions?  Absolutely. This is a guy who will have more chances than virtually any other defensive back in the nation, and he’s got the skills to go along with the volume.

 

Statistics courtesy of CFB Stats, returning starter data courtesy of Phil Steele.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

5 Most Likely Matchups for the 2014 Pac-12 Championship Game

The college football postseason is going to be something special in 2014, especially with the addition of a new four-team playoff. However, winning your own conference should still be the primary goal, as higher goals aren't usually attainable without the league belt.

In the Pac-12, all of your regulars are sitting at the table hoping for more than just a piece of the pie. The past two years have seen Stanford take home the prize while the three years before that, it was all Oregon. UCLA is also a strong contender, and there's a growing buzz about Washington with Chris Petersen at the helm.

The rules are pretty simple, and you're likely returning from a four-year expedition with no cell service or Internet if you're just now hearing about the Pac-12 title game. The winner of each division, the North and the South, will meet up in Santa Clara at Levi's Stadium (this part's new) for the right to be called conference champion.

So which teams will face off on that special December day? Will it be a surprising newcomer unfamiliar with competing for titles in recent years? Or will it be a matchup so obvious that we can predict it six months ahead of time?

Here are the five most likely matchups for the 2014 Pac-12 championship game.

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5 Most Likely Matchups for the 2014 Pac-12 Championship Game

The college football postseason is going to be something special in 2014, especially with the addition of a new four-team playoff...

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Quinten Dormady Commits to Tennessee: What 4-Star QB Brings to Vols

With one Tennessee-themed tweet Monday, Texas high school quarterback Quinten Dormady sent a sigh of relief across Rocky Top.

Suddenly, head coach Butch Jones and the Volunteers went from watching quarterback dominoes fall off their board to landing a significant target with a high ceiling.

Dormady's pledge fills a massive need in Knoxville.

After the surprising decision by UT redshirt freshman Riley Ferguson to transfer, the Vols have just three scholarship quarterbacks. One of them is senior Justin Worley, so getting more arms on campus was a necessity not only for competition but depth.

Dormady ultimately chose UT over Alabama following a three-day visit to Knoxville that ended Saturday. It probably didn't hurt that Jon Gruden (a former UT assistant) was on campus to speak and teach at the coinciding camp.

"It is hard to overstate the importance of this commitment for Tennessee," GoVols247 recruiting analyst Ryan Callahan told Bleacher Report. 

"Tennessee's coaches already were high on Dormady before his visit last week, but they really liked what they saw from him at their camp over the weekend. And Jon Gruden apparently spoke highly of him, too, after seeing him work out.

"He's a really talented kid who should have a bright future at Tennessee."

UT coaches didn't mask their enthusiasm, taking to Twitter with not-so-subtle responses to Dormady's announcement.

After Zach Gentry committed to Texas and Sheriron Jones pledged to Florida, the Vols were down to just a handful of viable targets with UT offers remaining on the board.

With Torrance Gibson and Deondre Francois not expected to decide soon, Dormady represented Tennessee's best chance to secure a high priority early in the process. 

Here's a deeper look at what the impact of Dormady's commitment means for the Vols.

 

Untapped Potential Is the Biggest Upside

The 6'4", 208-pound signal-caller from Boerne, Texas, is still a somewhat unknown commodity in recruiting circles.

Tearing a labrum and missing your entire junior season will do that to a prospect's stock, and that's exactly what happened to Dormady.

Once 247Sports analysts watched him throw at the Dallas Nike Football Training Camp, however, they elevated him to a 4-star prospect and the nation's fifth-ranked pro-style quarterback.

Dormady is a strong-armed slinger who is ideally sized for the position. Though he's primarily a dropback passer, he does have athleticism necessary to move the pocket, evidenced by him commandeering a spread offense in high school. 

Tennessee offered Dormady on May 28, soon after watching him throw in person. Six days later, Dormady traveled to Alabama where he worked out for Nick Saban and Lane Kiffin and was offered.

Oklahoma State, Kentucky, Vanderbilt, TCU, Indiana, Houston and Texas-San Antonio also had extended offers.

The nation's elite teams were beginning to take notice, and UT offensive coordinator Mike Bajakian deserves credit for securing his commitment.

With a strong senior showing, Dormady could wind up one of the most coveted quarterbacks in the class.

 

Another Huge Recruiting (and PR) Win

Tennessee was nowhere near panic mode when Dormady pulled the trigger, but his commitment was important for other reasons besides his on-field impact.

The Vols hadn't received a verbal commitment since April 12 when running back Rocky Reid pledged after the spring game. For a fanbase spoiled by Jones' consistent success on the recruiting trail, two months was a long time to wait.

After UT failed to sign a quarterback during the 2014 cycle, there were legitimate concerns about whether Bajakian could lure a top-shelf gunslinger to Knoxville.

Dormady's commitment puts those worries to rest.

Also, any time UT can beat Bama at anything, it makes the fans happy.

With the Vols failing to best UA on the field since 2006, winning a head-to-head recruiting battle against Saban for a crucial commit (not to mention offensive coordinator Kiffin, who has a bit of history with UT, if you haven't heard) is huge.

"They needed a quarterback pretty badly," Callahan said, "and for the Vols to get one of the top guys on their board—and to beat out Alabama to do it—at this point in the summer is pretty impressive."

 

Variety Is the Spice of Life

Following Ferguson's transfer, there was no way Jones could wait on 5-star top quarterback target Gibson to make a decision that could drag all the way to national signing day.

Especially considering UT is currently neck and neck with Auburn for his signature, according to AL.com's Wesley Sinor.

If the Vols put all their eggs in Gibson's basket and he chose somebody else, the egg would wind up on Jones' face.

Waiting wasn't an option.

Whether Dormady's commitment hurts UT's chances with Gibson or not doesn't matter. The dual-threat quarterback was actually visiting Knoxville on the day Dormady announced he was committing, so he remains interested in the Vols.

Gibson's other co-leader, Auburn, has a QB committed already as well in Tyler Queen. For that matter, so do the Vols.

Murfreesboro, Tennessee, athlete Jauan Jennings may project to various positions on the next level, but his progression at quarterback has been lauded. Barton Simmons of GoVols247 praised Jennings' film recently (subscription required).

This past weekend, Jennings participated in UT's quarterback camp alongside Dormady and was critiqued by Gruden. He told GoVols247's Callahan (subscription required):

"I felt like I did good," Jennings said. "They felt the same way."

Teaming Dormady with Jennings gives UT a nice one-two punch with diverse skill sets. If their commitments stick, the duo can provide Joshua Dobbs with some strong competition to be the future leader of Tennessee's talented offense.

The importance of Dormady's decision could be felt in Knoxville for years to come and may be one of the biggest puzzle pieces to Jones putting Tennessee football back on the map.

 

All recruiting rankings and statistics courtesy of 247Sports.

Brad Shepard is the Tennessee Lead Writer for Bleacher Report. All quotes were obtained firsthand, unless otherwise noted. Follow Brad on Twitter here: 

@Brad_Shepard

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Clemson Football: Projecting Who Will Win Tigers' Open Starting Positions

The Clemson Tigers released their first depth chart of the offseason just two weeks ago. The updated depth chart features 13 players atop the two-deep who were either starters or co-starters from last season's Orange Bowl-winning team.

Clemson's biggest test will be who replaces record-setting quarterback Tajh Boyd and All-American receiver Sammy Watkins.

At quarterback, senior Cole Stoudt takes the reins. Stoudt's position atop the depth chart is not in question, as head coach Dabo Swinney has emphatically stated the senior will be the starting quarterback in 2014. 

While quarterback and left tackle—where Isaiah Battle has the position locked up—are settled, competition remains strong at several positions. 

Who will replace Watkins? Or who will replace Bashaud Breeland at cornerback?

Here is a look at five positions that remain hotly contested even with the updated depth chart.

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4-Star QB Travis Waller Tweets Out His Top 4 Schools

Travis Waller took to Twitter on Monday night to narrow down his list of potential suitors. The 4-star quarterback announced that Alabama, Northwestern, Notre Dame and Ohio State remain:

According to 247Sports' composite rankings, Waller is the 79th-best player in the country and fourth-best dual-threat quarterback in the class of 2015.

Jimmy Hyams of The Sports Animal in Knoxville, Tennessee, thinks the Crimson Tide sit in pole position at the moment:

The Fighting Irish are also considered top contenders to secure the 4-star quarterback. Their interest was renewed after Blake Barnett decommitted last week. With Notre Dame also pursuing Waller's high school teammate, Equanimeous St. Brown, the two could join up in South Bend, per Irish Illustrated:

Waller tweeted out back on June 5 that he officially received an offer from Notre Dame:

It's easy to see what all the fuss is about for the star signal-caller. 247Sports rates his pocket presence and intangibles a nine out of 10, and his accuracy and delivery are both at eight. While labeled as a dual-threat QB, Waller can fit into any offensive scheme. His underrated passing ability would allow him to thrive in even a more pro-style system.

You can see a Vine of Waller in action below at the 2014 Air Strike passing tournament, courtesy of ESPN's Blair Angulo:

The competition to land the Servite High School star will only heat up now that he's shrunken down his list of schools. The Fighting Irish, Buckeyes, Wildcats and Crimson Tide will go the extra mile to ensure he commits.

Whatever team does land Waller will be getting one of the most athletic quarterbacks in the 2015 class. He should take little time blossoming into a star.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Virginia Tech Football: Recapping the Biggest 2014 Offseason News so Far

Between the hiring of a new position coach, the commitments of some prominent 2015 recruits and the developing intrigue at the quarterback position, it’s been quite the 2014 offseason for the Virginia Tech football team. 

This offseason might not have been quite as eventful as last year’s when the team replaced the bulk of its offensive coaching staff, but it’s still been a busy one.

In particular, the search for Logan Thomas’ replacement has captured national headlines, even if the staff says it won’t name a new starter for another couple of months.

Even still, the last few months have been eventful for the program. Read on for a quick recap of the news that’s captivated Hokie fans recently.

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Michigan Football: Projecting Who Will Win Wolverines' Open Starting Positions

Pretty soon, that 80-something-day countdown is going to dwindle down to about 10 days. 

And then there'll be three. And then, next thing you know, it'll be time for Michigan's season opener versus Appalachian State at The Big House. 

But right now, it's only early June—so there's plenty of time to analyze, discuss, think about, ponder and pontificate all things Wolverines football. Of course, one of the hottest topics is always one about starters—as in, who'll be the No. 1s heading into 2014. 

By breaking down position groups, this slideshow will present a look at potential starters. 

Fall can't get here soon enough, can it?

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5 2015 College Football Recruits Who Are Better with Pads on

Some of the nation's best players do not look impressive at offseason events, as they are better when helmets and pads are on in real games.

Looking at the 2015 class, several recruits likely can't wait until summer is over and fall is here.

A 5-star dual-threat quarterback will not be able to fully show off his entire skill set for another few months, while a pair of rugged linebackers can't hit anybody in seven-on-seven games. Plus, a powerful running back looks bored during passing league games.

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10 Best Recruits Nick Saban Has Lured from Alabama's Bordering States

If you look at a map, Tennessee, Mississippi, Georgia and Florida all border the state of Alabama. While Nick Saban has the ability to recruit exceptionally inside his state and anywhere else in the country, he also has done a great job of luring talent from the states around his borders.

Since arriving in Tuscaloosa as head coach in 2007, Saban has arguably put together the greatest recruiting run in college football history. Alabama has signed countless talented prospects, plus it has put many players into the NFL.

A great deal of the Crimson Tide's top players in the Saban era are from nearby bordering states. Here are 10 recruits from just outside of the state of Alabama who standout.

 

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

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10 Most Wide-Open 2015 College Football Recruits Right Now

When a recruit is said to be wide open, it means he is still considering a big group of schools. This time of year usually is when prospects start to narrow their lists, but several players in the 2015 class still do not have any favorites.

A 4-star outside linebacker doesn't seem to be leaning in any direction, while a 5-star cornerback maintains he is totally open to everyone.

Plus, a 4-star offensive tackle just recently cut his list down to a modest 15 schools.

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

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