NCAA Football

North Carolina Investigating Hazing Within Football Team

The North Carolina Tar Heels football program is under internal investigation for a reported hazing occurrence, which then culminated in a physical confrontation.

Eric Adelson and Pat Forde of Yahoo Sports reported news of the alleged fall training camp event on Tuesday. Assistant athletic director for communications Kevin Best addressed the hazing issue through a statement that was included in Yahoo Sports' exclusive story.

"We are aware of an incident involving members of the UNC football team that took place earlier this month. We take this allegation seriously and the University is conducting a thorough review," said Best in the statement.

It is unclear which members of the team were allegedly involved in inflicting the assault, but the one who reportedly caught the brunt of it was walk-on receiver Jackson Boyer.

Sources told Adelson and Forde that the redshirt freshman was beaten to the point of suffering a concussion in an altercation at Chapel Hill's A-Loft hotel in the first week of August.

Jonathan Jones of the Charlotte Observer offered his take on the matter:

This Tar Heels program has undergone adversity outside of this severe case in recent years. UNC had its wins from 2008 and 2009 vacated, along with three years' probation and a 2012 postseason ban as part of NCAA sanctions for various rules violations.

The UNC athletic department has been under fire as much as any in the country—for its more highly regarded basketball program, too. An investigation into academic fraud was reopened this summer.

Former Miami Dolphins offensive tackle Jonathan Martin created controversy by bringing to light a bullying saga that shook the franchise and raised awareness about the concept. Player safety, particularly with regard to head injuries, has been an emphatic area of focus at all levels of football to make the game safer.

Boyer's case encompasses the worst of both worlds. Not only was there an apparent negligence to Boyer's well-being with regard to his alleged injury, but this report documents a nightmare scenario of hazing that was not addressed at all, by the team or an alternative party.

While it is a positive development for North Carolina to look into this matter, there appears to have been some deference, delay and a dereliction of duty for events to unfold this way. 

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USC Football: How Josh Shaw's Injury Impacts Trojans' Defense

Details behind USC senior cornerback Josh Shaw sustaining two high ankle sprains over the weekend are unclear. Also unclear is when the Trojans can expect their co-captain back in the lineup. He's "sidelined indefinitely," per Jordan Moore of USCTrojans.com

One certainty for USC head coach Steve Sarkisian, however, is that his team's secondary has a major hole to patch in preparation for a Fresno State team that led the nation in passing offense a season ago. 

Shaw is a proven veteran and among USC's top returning playmakers. He recorded 67 tackles a season ago to go with four interceptions—one of which came in the Trojans' 45-20 Las Vegas Bowl rout of Fresno State. 

Regardless of the position, injuries will test USC more than any other team in the Pac-12. The Trojans enter 2014 with fewer than 70 scholarship players on the roster, the result of NCAA-mandated scholarship reductions in the previous three seasons.

"It's not about the overall numbers [or] sheer depth," Sarkisian said on Tuesday's Pac-12 coaches teleconference call. "We will be a little bit inexperienced [at cornerback]—perhaps a little bit more inexperienced than we'd like to be." 

Indeed, the collective experience among this group declines dramatically with Shaw out of the lineup.  

"Kevon Seymour is a pretty good, experienced player for us at the corner spot," Sarkisian said.  

The junior Seymour started 11 games opposite Shaw a season ago. Otherwise, there is a whole lot of youth in the USC secondary. 

Many of the Trojans who must now take on more prominent roles are making their collegiate debuts Saturday, including redshirt freshman Chris Hawkins. 

Hawkins, listed No. 2 behind Shaw on the depth chart, like jumps into the starting rotation, the official USC Athletics account tweeted Sunday. 

Sarkisian called him "one of the most improved players...from spring practice to training camp." 

Whether it's Hawkins or a teammate making the start Saturday, the entire USC depth chart at cornerback now reshuffles. 

"This allows for opportunities for young guys to play at corner, whether it's Adoree' Jackson, Jonathan Lockett, Lamont Simmons," Sarkisian said. 

Jackson came into fall camp as the most recognized of USC's true freshmen defensive backs. A 5-star recruit from Southern California prep powerhouse Junipero Serra High School in Gardena, Jackson is listed second behind Seymour at the other cornerback spot. 

This reordering of the lineup puts the spotlight more on Lockett and Simmons. 

At 6'2", 185 pounds, Simmons' size stands out among the USC cornerbacks. He gives defensive coordinator Justin Wilcox matchup options against bigger receivers. 

Speed, however, may prove to trump size in Saturday's contest. 

Fresno State offensive coordinator Dave Schramm operates a system that produced 1,088 snaps a season ago, fifth-most in the nation. The Bulldogs lost leading wide receivers Isaiah Burse and Davante Adams, but top returner Josh Harper caught for more than 1,000 yards and 13 touchdowns. 

The sheer volume of plays Fresno State runs guarantees there will be plenty of passes for the young Trojans cornerbacks to defend. Simmons explained to Lindsey Thiry of the Los Angeles Times how practicing against USC's new no-huddle offense prepares him. 

"Our offense is very fast,” he said. “After the deep ball you got to come right back to the line and get ready to press another guy."

The most significant change USC faces against this year's Fresno State team is with quarterback Derek Carr gone, the Bulldogs will be going more to the ground. 

"Offensively, where they could be different from [2013] is the athleticism of the quarterbacks," Sarkisian said. "[Brian] Burrell and [Brandon] Connette, both of [whom] are athletic, big, strong guys [who] can run the ball. That's where things can change most dramatically, how they use the athleticism of the quarterback." 

The spread principles Fresno State employs, including the potential for designed runs for the quarterback, likely means a lot of zone coverage from the Trojans Saturday. 

It's a fitting introduction for the first-year players. Between Pac-12 South counterparts Arizona, Arizona State and UCLA alone, USC will be seeing a lot of that style of offense throughout the season—with or without Shaw. 

 

Quotes obtained firsthand unless otherwise cited. Statistics compiled via CFBstats.com. Recruiting rankings and information culled from 247Sports.com composite scores.  

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USC Football: How Josh Shaw's Injury Impacts Trojans' Defense

Details behind USC senior cornerback Josh Shaw sustaining two high ankle sprains over the weekend are unclear. Also unclear is when the Trojans can expect their co-captain back in the lineup...

Read the full article on Bleacher Report...

Notre Dame Fighting Irish vs. Rice Owls Complete Game Preview

After an eventful preseason camp, Notre Dame will kickoff its 2014 season when Rice visits South Bend on Saturday afternoon. Coming off a 10-win season, David Bailiff's Owls hardly resemble the previous Rice squads that went winless against Notre Dame, with those past teams only managing a single touchdown in the four games between the two programs. 

For Brian Kelly's Irish, it's an opportunity to see Everett Golson back on the football field, his first game in over 600 days. It's also the debut of new coordinators Mike Denbrock and Brian VanGorder, with expectations set for both units if Notre Dame wants to challenge for a spot in the College Football Playoff.

With Kelly pronouncing that the Irish's four academically suspended players will miss Saturday's game on Tuesday, it means the team will be without starters DaVaris Daniels, KeiVarae Russell and Ishaq Williams. But Rice has suffered a few injuries during fall camp, including a foot injury to star receiver Jordan Taylor that has him still questionable for Saturday. 

The last time Notre Dame played Rice, Lou Holtz's Irish squad kicked off their 1988 national championship season with a 54-11 victory. Let's take a closer look at Saturday's matchup. 

 

Date: Saturday, Aug. 30

Time: 3:30 p.m. ET

Place: Notre Dame Stadium, Notre Dame, Indiana

TV: NBC

Radio: IMG College Sports, SiriusXM Channel 129

Spread: Notre Dame -21, according to Vegas Insider

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5 Bold Predictions for Tennessee Volunteers' 2014 Season

It's finally game week for the Tennessee Volunteers, and that means it's time to do the one thing we writers do best: put on our Nostradamus hats and predict the upcoming season. 

Part of the fun of college football is its uncertainty. For every game that plays out exactly the way Vegas said it would, there's another massive upset where a three-touchdown underdog blows out their opponent. 

Tennessee isn't getting much respect from the oddsmakers or the experts this season, and for good reason: The Vols are one of the youngest teams in the nation, and they're replacing their entire offensive and defensive lines. 

That simply isn't a winning formula. 

But it's not all doom and gloom. Tennessee has enough talent and experience at those positions to be competitive throughout their brutal schedule, and the Vols' skill position players are some of the best (and youngest) in the conference. 

The roster certainly has the potential to carry Tennessee to six or even seven regular-season wins, along with some surprise end of the year stats and conference recognition along the way. 

Here are five bold predictions for Tennessee's 2014 season. 

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Georgia's Front 7 Will Be the X-Factor vs. Clemson

Georgia's defense was more punch line than power in 2013, but new defensive coordinator Jeremy Pruitt was brought in to fix the glitch.

He'll have a tough test in the season opener against Clemson and offensive coordinator Chad Morris—the highest-paid assistant coach in the country, according to USA Today's coaching salary database.

This isn't your ordinary Clemson offense, though. The Tigers are replacing quarterback Tajh Boyd, wide receivers Sammy Watkins and Martavis Bryant, running back Roderick McDowell and tackle Brandon Thomas.

They also recently lost running back Zac Brooks to a season-ending foot injury suffered late in fall camp.

Cole Stoudt will step in at quarterback, Charone Peake and Adam Humphries at wide receiver, D.J. Howard at running back and Isaiah Battle at tackle.

As Aaron Brenner of The Post and Courier notes, Clemson's starting offensive line has 25 career starts with two starters—left guard Reid Webster and right tackle Joe Gore—making their first career starts.

It won't be easy in the trenches for the Tigers.

Georgia's problems on defense stemmed from scheme and uncertainty in the secondary. At times last season, it looked like the Bulldogs' secondary was doing aerobics before the snap trying to get on the same page.

Up front, though, there's plenty of reason for hope.

Five of the six members of the defensive line are upperclassmen, including senior nose guard Mike Thornton, junior defensive end Sterling Bailey and defensive tackles James DeLoach and Ray Drew. Drew was a starter last year and notched six sacks.

The front three is loaded—and is actually the weaker portion of the front seven.

You'd be hard-pressed to find a more talented group of linebackers in the entire country. Inside linebackers Ramik Wilson (the SEC's leading tackler last season with 133) and Amarlo Herrera return, along with outside linebackers Jordan Jenkins and Leonard Floyd. The latter led the Bulldogs with 6.5 sacks last year.

There was one major surprise up front with sophomore Tim Kimbrough listed ahead of Wilson—a preseason first-team All-SEC selection—at "Mike" linebacker, according to Tanya Sichynsky of The Red & Black:

Of the changes to Georgia's depth chart for Clemson Saturday, Ramik Wilson not listed as a starter has to be the one that sticks out most.

— Tanya Sichynsky (@tanyasic) August 25, 2014

Will it last? Probably not. Pruitt came in and gave the entire defense a clean slate.

"Coach Pruitt told the guys that, 'I'm not going to give you what you want—I'm going to give you what you earn,'" head coach Mark Richt said during Pruitt's introductory press conference in January. "I think that resonated with all of the guys in the room, and I think they were very excited about it."

Since Wilson has missed several practices during fall camp with a concussion, it's not surprising that he is a little behind. If he's healthy by game time, don't expect him to sit for very long.

Current Bulldogs accounted for 26 of the team's 33 sacks a year ago, which was the second-best mark in the conference.

If they can repeat the feat against an new-look Clemson offense, it will help out the rebuilt Georgia secondary—which could use some turnovers to boost its confidence.

Everybody is going to focus on "strength vs. strength" in this matchup, with Georgia's powerful offense going up against Clemson's loaded defense. That won't decide the game, though.

Georgia's front seven holds the keys to the matchup, and its ability to rattle Stoudt will have a huge impact on the outcome of the game.

Don't be surprised to see the Bulldogs defense bounce back in a big way and set the tone for a title run

 

Barrett Sallee is the lead SEC college football writer for Bleacher Report. Quotes were obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted. All stats are courtesy of CFBStats.com, and all recruiting information is courtesy of 247Sports.


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Texas A&M vs. South Carolina: Key Matchups to Watch

The Texas A&M football team will play the South Carolina Gamecocks in a clash between two top-25 teams on Thursday, August 28. The game will be decided by which teams win the most individual matchups on the field. 

Football is a team game that requires all 11 men on the field to do their job for the team to have success. You can have 10 people do their job correctly, but if one offensive lineman misses a blocking assignment, the play can be screwed up. 

So while football is played by 11 per side on the field at one time, the game can be won or lost by the individual battles that take place all across the field. 

This is a look at the individual battles that will determine the outcome of Texas A&M's game against South Carolina. 

 

 

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4-Star WR K.J. Hill Sets 5 Official Visits: Where Would He Fit Best?

Explosive Arkansas wide receiver K.J. Hill holds an expansive list of scholarship offers but recently narrowed his focus to five programs. The 4-star prospect plans to spend official visits at Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Notre Dame and Ohio State, per his high school.

Hill, who caught 63 passes for 1,143 yards and 16 touchdowns in 2013, is rated 22nd nationally among receivers in 247Sports' composite rankings. The North Little Rock High School senior holds the distinction of consensus No. 1 recruit in Arkansas.

He's expected to announce his decision date following a Tuesday evening scrimmage, according to Dudley Dawson of Scout.com, setting the timeline for teams to make an impact in this recruiting process. Hill, also a highly regarded guard on the basketball court, is a key target for the in-state Razorbacks, but other options in the SEC and beyond present possibilities.

The 6'0", 190-pound playmaker impressed at The Opening, an invite-only July football showcase at Nike's world headquarters in Oregon. He teamed up with USC quarterback commit Ricky Town to reach the championship game of a talent-laden seven-on-seven tournament.

Hill's big-play ability and reputation for plucking the ball away from his body make him a candidate to compete for early playing time in college. Each team in his top five presents a unique opportunity.

 

Alabama

Nick Saban has the Crimson Tide cruising toward a fifth straight No. 1 recruiting class. Naturally, that success creates a crowded and talented depth chart.

Receiver is no exception, as Alabama holds commitments from two of the nation's top 20 prospects at the position. Calvin Ridley (No. 1) and Daylon Charlot (No. 16) pledged earlier this cycle, while 2014 signees Cameron Sims and Derek Kief were 4-star recruits.

Hill spent time in Tuscaloosa for the team's spring game and returned earlier this month. First-year offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin inherited a plethora of playmakers and could add Hill to the stockpile if he can convince him there's an opportunity to compete for early consideration in the receiver rotation.

There's a lot to like about the Tide's aerial attack moving forward, especially with 5-star California quarterback Blake Barnett on board. Hill might not emerge as the No. 1 target at Alabama but would lend versatility to a loaded group.

 

Arkansas

The Razorbacks didn't exactly set the world on fire during Bret Bielema's first season at the helm, losing nine straight contests to close out the season. The head coach and his staff are in the process of reshaping the roster and perimeter offensive players are imperative.

Hill, who received an Arkansas offer early last season, has the skill set to contend for a sizeable role with the Razorbacks in 2015. The team landed multiple receivers in its 2014 class, but none commanded the attention Hill has received during his recruitment.

In-state pass target Deon Stewart, ranked 88th nationally among receivers, stands alone as Arkansas' only 2015 pledge at the position. Hill has been a top priority for the Razorbacks since last September and is the kind of talent Bielema can't afford to let leave state borders.

Arkansas holds a commitment from 4-star quarterback Ty Storey, who has tossed 100 touchdown passes during the past two seasons. Expect him to work on selling a fellow homegrown product to join team up together with the in-state program.

Hill visited the Razorbacks with uncommitted 4-star tight end Will Gragg last weekend. Both players have the potential to change the dynamics of Arkansas' offense.

“It was nice,” Hill told Richard Davenport of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. “It really did put something in me, in my heart about staying at home. It was a good visit.”

 

Florida

Gators fans are clamoring for signs of explosiveness from the Florida offensive attack, which struggled mightily last autumn due to injuries and lack of execution. An unproductive 2013 campaign concerns recruits, many of whom have shared they're taking a wait-and-see approach before pulling the trigger on a commitment.

Will Muschamp needs a strong year to restore faith, which could help land a much-needed playmaker in Hill. The Gators have lost pledges this summer from multiple prospects at the position, though the late July addition of 3-star in-state receiver Kalif Jackson eases the sting a bit.

Florida lost 5-star pass-catcher Ermon Lane during the final stretch toward last signing day when he flipped to Florida State. His departure created a need for an infusion of top-tier talent atop the depth chart in coming years.

Hill would have every opportunity to claim an expansive role with the Gators as a true freshman.

The Gators landed Elite 11 quarterback Sheriron Jones in June and have celebrated 2014 signees Treon Harris and Will Grier waiting in the wings, so there is promise for sustained offensive success moving ahead.

Another disappointing season could spell doom for the current Gators coaching regime, but a bounce-back effort would reinvigorate a program that has major potential for growth in this recruiting class. Hill added an offer from the team in April and is interested enough to visit The Swamp.

 

Notre Dame

The Fighting Irish may not come away with a top quarterback in this class (or any passer at all perhaps), but Brian Kelly has done a nice job assembling a solid collection of receivers. Speedster C.J. Sanders, 6'4" target Miles Boykin and Texas standout Jalen Guyton give the team a trio of options.

Hill, rated higher than each of them, would create excellent depth at the position if he heads to South Bend. The Irish continue to maintain contact but haven't yet hosted him on campus.

“Coach Kelly just wants me to get up there to get the environment,” Hill told Christian McCollum of IrishSportsDaily.com. "When I get up there, I just want to see if that’s me. I want to see if I can fit in up there, if the coaches are down to earth and if I can play for them.”

Notre Dame faces a challenge in terms of proximity, as Hill is largely expected to stay in SEC territory. Still, Kelly is a coach who likes to get vertical on offense, and that's appealing for a playmaker who excels when called upon to attack the secondary.

 

Ohio State

The Buckeyes must also overcome a regional disadvantage in the race for Hill's commitment. Urban Meyer has shown time and time again the ability to reach back into the southeast for talent, and he'll need to do the same in this instance.

Ohio State stocked up with receiver talent during the 2014 recruiting cycle but is still searching for its first 2015 commitment from a pass-catcher. The team was a finalist for 4-star recruit Van Jefferson before losing out to Georgia for his pledge Monday.

Hill, who added an offer from the Buckeyes in March, could see a fit in Columbus and arrive on campus as the team's unquestioned top incoming receiver. Ohio State seems to be a lock for 5-star dual-threat quarterback Torrance Gibson and remains in good shape with top-ranked running back Damien Harris, setting the stage for an explosive attack in Meyer's offensive scheme.

The Buckeyes also bring back Heisman Trophy contender Braxton Miller in 2015, giving Hill a chance to run routes for a proven passer. Few coaches can sell a player on their offensive vision like Meyer, and there appears to be plenty for him to pitch in that regard these days.

 

Verdict: Arkansas

Florida could threaten the Razorbacks here if things get back on track for the Gators this fall, but the home team is on top right now.

Arkansas has been at the forefront of Hill's recruitment for a while, establishing outstanding rapport along the way. It's difficult to lock down a key commitment when you're riding a nine-game losing streak so signs of improvement are imperative for Arkansas to convince prospects the program is worth an investment.

Hill would have a clearer path to playing time in Fayetteville than other potential landing spots, allowing him to emerge as a potential No. 1 option in the passing game before the end of his sophomore season.

The Razorbacks have collected an impressive stable of quarterback prospects, and Bielema is building things up in the trenches. It's time for Arkansas to secure a true difference-maker on the outside, and Hill fits the bill.

 

Recruit ratings courtesy of 247Sports, unless otherwise noted.

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What QB J.T. Barrett Must Do to Restore Confidence in Ohio State's Playoff Hopes

The Ohio State Buckeyes have quarterback J.T. Barrett leading the way during the 2014 season. Bleacher Report College Football Analyst Michael Felder discusses some key points to watch for during the Buckeyes' first game versus Navy. How well do you think Barrett will do this season?

Watch the video and let us know.

 

Rankings courtesy of 247Sports' composite system.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

LSU vs. Wisconsin: Who Will Emerge as Victors in Cross-Conference Battle?

The LSU Tigers and Wisconsin Badgers are battling in Week 1 of the 2014 college football season. Bleacher Report's College Football Analysts Michael Felder and Barrett Sallee discuss a few key points heading into this game. Who do you think will come out on top?

Watch the video and let us know.

Rankings courtesy of the 247Sports Composite.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Which Freak Athletes Will Explode Week 1 of the 2014 College Football Season?

The college football season is set to get underway with some of the biggest names looking to prove themselves in 2014. Bleacher Report's College Football Analysts name who they think will explode this week in college football. Who do you think will have monster games in Week 1?

Watch the video and let us know.

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Big Programs with Big Questions at QB: College Football's Quarterback Crisis

Once again, the soul of Goliath is about to be revealed.

The Southeastern Conference had its year of merriment, its orgy of quarterback stats in 2013. Now we're about to see the SEC ruled once again by the baddest men on the planet, defensive linemen. We're about to see the true marrow of the SEC, the two-deep offensive lines and four-deep running back rotations. Here comes downhill Rock'em, Sock'em football.

Yet, in this era of quarterback-centric offenses, can the SEC afford to have obscure quarterbacks for very long this season? Does it need the next Johnny Manziel, Aaron Murray or Zach Mettenberger to emerge sooner rather than later to apply the cosmetics of points galore to impress the Playoff Selection Committee (or whatever it's called)? 

Starting Thursday, the committee pulls out its notebooks and revs up its DVRs. The shine always blots out the substance, I'm afraid.

The committee members, as far as I know, are not going to show up at LSU's practice one day and take stock, face-to-face, of the Tigers' physical talent, and then jet off to Oregon to compare the Tigers with the Ducks. They are going to watch games, not practice. Will they be putting their noses to the TV screen to analyze whether a Pac-12 left guard would be able to whip an SEC defensive tackle?

They'll probably try, but what the committee/voters will see more easily is the smoothness of offense. You can't help it. And the SEC has lost some of its smooth. Its array of quarterback name guys—Connor Shaw, James Franklin and AJ McCarron are gone, in addition to Manziel, Murray and Mettenberger—is diminished. Is this a problem for college football's blue-blood programs?

The old school says that the SEC will be just fine with game managers—or a dazzling runner like Auburn's Nick Marshall—and that voters will be impressed by the conference's defensive lines, linebackers and offensive lines, or the reputations thereof. It says that the SEC will have four teams in the Top 10 in midseason, as befits the talent level.

I wonder about that. I look at these teams like Oregon and Baylor and their quarterbacks slinging the ball around and the oooohs and ahhhhs, and I wonder if the SEC had better throw the rock around and not merely turn and stuff it into the gut of a 225-pound running back. Somebody is going to say, "Oklahoma is going to stack defenders at the line and make the SEC team throw it, and they can't"—and the next guy will say, "That's right, you have to pass the ball to get in the playoff. Can't be too one-dimensional."

All this means is that when LSU and its new quarterbacks play Wisconsin on Saturday, the Tigers' tandem better look sharp. Alabama better have a presence at QB against West Virginia, whether it's Jake or Blake. The Tide out-talent the Mountaineers all over the field, but you can bet all eyes will be on the quarterback. 

Nothing can ruin a team's rep more than a shaky-looking quarterback. Georgia hosts Clemson with a new quarterback, Hutson Mason. The Bulldogs have a veteran offensive line, and there is nothing friendlier to a new quarterback than pass protection and nothing more toxic than a pass rush. What's he got? We'll be watching. If the Dawgs lose, it will be his fault, right?

There were eight defensive players drafted out of the Big 12 in 2014. There were 19 taken out of the SEC. There were five offensive linemen taken out of the Pac-12. There were 11 taken out of the SEC, including two in the first six picks. The SEC simply has a deeper talent pool to choose from in its region. Is it easy to see who has better talent when the other conferences "look" sensational throwing the ball while the SEC grinds?

But if the Pac-12 and Big 12 quarterbacks hog the spotlight and attract all the chatter, it could obscure the overall picture. The SEC, for now, has a wart in the middle of its forehead for the bathing suit part of this contest. Its new quarterbacks better apply some cosmetics to the beast.

Here is a rundown of other quarterback issues around D-1:

 

Ohio State

Now we're going to see just how good of a recruiter Urban Meyer really is. We have heard it for years: "Nick Saban and Meyer rule signing day." Let's see if the offensive line Meyer recruited can ease the way for rookie starter J.T. Barrett, who takes over for Braxton Miller, knocked out for the season with a torn labrum. Let's see if the O-line can open up holes and drive the ball to take the pressure off Barrett. Let's see if the receivers are NFL-quality and make plays on bad throws.

The SEC and ACC programs have been gearing to replace quarterbacks since the end of last season. Ohio State has had to do it in a week. Pages will be ripped out of the playbook—for a few games at least. The offense has to be scaled back. The other offensive players might not be confident in the new guy, at least not at the start. The defense might suddenly say, "We have to make more plays," and that could lead to it instead making more mistakes.

"Next man up" is a fine slogan when you are talking about a lineman or linebacker. It is a little more complicated when you are talking about a quarterback, the face of the program. Miller accounted for more than 3,000 yards in 2013. The "next man up" better be damn good to match that and get the Buckeyes back in the national championship discussion.

 

Notre Dame

Notre Dame's Everett Golson will be back at starter after a year off. He learned his lesson about academics, but did coach Brian Kelly learn his lesson about getting bigger and faster at other positions? When Alabama and the Irish kicked off for the national championship two years ago and the two kickoff teams ran toward each other, you gasped. Bama was so much bigger and faster as the two sides collided. The game was over.

It was going to take at least two years for Kelly to get some reinforcements and improve height, weight and speed. Has he done it? His quarterback is depending on it. If Kelly's recruiting did not get better, Golson will need to be a sensational playmaker.

 

Michigan

Quarterback is a big deal for the Wolverines because the defense will be one of the best in the country. What UM doesn't need is Devin Gardner—working behind an unknown offensive line—throwing interceptions and making bad reads. In comes Doug Nussmeier, the former Alabama assistant coach. His qualifications: coaching AJ McCarron on reading defenses pre-snap and a history of coaching quarterbacks not to plague the defense with a short field because of turnovers.

The Big Ten really misses Michigan. The conference profile has fallen off dramatically. Michigan State is very good, but the Big Ten needs Michigan. It needs Gardner not to be a ball-and-chain. He has to be a playmaker with his arm and help the conference that can't count restore its glory.

 

Oklahoma 

Trevor Knight beat Alabama in the Sugar Bowl. Threw four touchdown passes against the Crimson Tide. Kingpin of the Sooners offense, right?

Not so fast. Let's see more. Knight threw three touchdown passes against Louisiana-Monroe to start 2013. He threw just two more the rest of the regular season against the bad defenses of the Big 12. He hurt his elbow. Lost his job. 

Sure, Knight carved up Alabama, but the Tide stunk at cornerback, and when a national championship is not on the line, Bama seems less ferocious. Knight looked good in the Sugar Bowl. He has the ingredients. Let's see him turn it loose for 12 games.

 

The ACC

Florida State won eight regular-season conference games by an average of 39 points. FSU still has the best offense in the conference with Jameis Winston, while most of the rest of the conference is wondering how things are going to turn out at quarterback. It could be ugly again.

Virginia Tech is relying on a transfer, Miami is relying on a freshman, North Carolina State is relying on a transfer, Boston College is relying on a transfer…and on and on. Clemson has the most talent in the ACC of any team other than FSU, but the Tigers have a new quarterback, too.

 

Ray Glier is a journalist based in Atlanta. His work has appeared in USA TODAY, The New York Times, CNN, The Washington Post and Al Jazeera America. He is a 1981 graduate of West Virginia University.

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5 Teams That Could Surprise College Football World and Crash the Playoff

With the 2014 football season just days away, every fan and media outlet have likely put their playoff predictions on the record. Ralph Russo of The Associated Press, for example, has Florida State, Alabama, Ohio State and Oregon as his final four. 

(For what it's worth, #FSUTwitter, Bleacher Report's Adam Kramer went out on a limb and predicted the Ducks would win it all.) 

For the most part, playoff predictions have included those teams or some variation of Auburn, UCLA, Michigan State and Oklahoma. But which teams could come out of nowhere to crash the playoff party? Picking these teams is even harder since they (1) have to exceed expectations and (2) need some things break their way schedule-wise. 

Here are five programs poised to do it, though. 

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NCAA Football Rankings 2014: Full List of Preseason College Polls

After what felt like an endless wait over a lengthy offseason, we finally find ourselves on the periphery of the 2014 college football season. On Wednesday, Week 1 will officially commence when Abilene Christian visits Georgia State in the first FBS game of the year.

Even though a single team has yet to take the gridiron, a pecking order has already been established. Two separate polls have been released—the Amway Coaches Poll and Associated Press Poll—giving us the nation's Top 25 teams, according to eligible voters.

These rankings are certainly highly debatable, as we have yet to witness the 2014 versions of these squads—every team is in flux over the offseason due to key departures and new arrivals. That said, let's take a look at both polls, note the differences and let the debate rage on into the regular season.

 

Coaches Poll

 

AP Poll

 

Analysis

It's difficult to argue the fact that the Florida State Seminoles begin the season as the nation's top team. The reigning national champions will be carrying over a great deal of their talented 2013 roster—most notably Heisman-winning quarterback Jameis Winston.

Nick Saban's Alabama squad is one of the country's top teams each year. Despite a quarterback controversy, the Crimson Tide's depth and experience make them a logical selection for the No. 2 team on each poll.

Here's where things get interesting.

While the coaches poll saw Oklahoma claim the No. 3 spot—and gain three first-place votes in the process—the AP poll concluded with Oregon obtaining the third ranking. This appears to be a debate between offense and defense.

Marcus Mariota and the Ducks ran the nation's second-most prolific offense one year ago, averaging 565 yards per game. This high-octane style of play could be even more dangerous in 2014 due to the team's well-rounded signal-caller.

Bleacher Report's Matt Miller thinks rather highly of Mariota, pitting the quarterback first in his 2015 draft rankings:

On the other hand, we have Oklahoma's 20th-ranked defense from last season. The team allowed an average of 350.2 yards per game despite playing against several talented offenses. The question mark here could be the progression of quarterback Trevor Knight.

Ohio State and Auburn swap the No. 5 and No. 6 positions in the two polls, with the Buckeyes claiming the fifth seed in the AP poll and the Tigers on top in the coaches poll.

Both of these teams have some quarterback trouble heading into the season. Nick Marshall will be suspended for part of Auburn's first game due to a citation for possession of marijuana. Ohio State is in far worse shape after news broke that quarterback Braxton Miller will miss the 2014 season due to a torn labrum in his throwing shoulder.

Head coach Nick Saban is still confident in new starting quarterback J.T. Barrett, according to Ben Axelrod of Bleacher Report:

We'll see if these teams can maintain their poll positions in the absence of their starting signal-callers.

The final debate over varying positions in these polls is the absence of Missouri in the coaches poll and Texas in the AP poll.

Missouri finished 26th in voting in the coaches poll, obtaining 126 points and missing out on a Top 25 ranking by 16 points—Texas was ranked 24th. On the flip side, the Longhorns were the 28th-ranked squad in the AP poll with 86 points, finishing behind unranked UCF and Florida—Missouri was ranked 24th.

Many observers felt the Tigers deserved a Top 25 ranking due to a strong showing in 2013, finishing 12-2 while defeating five ranked teams along the way—including Oklahoma State in the Cotton Bowl.

Sports Illustrated sure feels good about Missouri, ranking the team 22nd in their power rankings:

While Missouri did lose some talented players over the offseason, the team appears to be more deserving than a Texas team that was crushed by a score of 30-7 by Oregon in the Alamo Bowl. This, like every other preseason rankings scenario, is highly debatable.

Luckily, the regular season is just around the corner, and we're about to receive some clarity.

 

All poll information courtesy of ESPN.com unless otherwise noted.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Redemption for a Dynasty: The 2014 Alabama Hype Tape

The University of Alabama is looking to come back stronger than ever in 2014. Head coach Nick Saban and the Crimson Tide are poised to make a run for the national championship. How well do you think they will do next year?

Watch the video to see the ultimate Alabama hype tape for 2014.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Texas vs. North Texas: Complete Game Preview

College football is in the air in Austin, Texas, as the Longhorns hope to begin the Charlie Strong era on a positive note against North Texas.

This offseason has been anything but ordinary for Texas football, which said goodbye to legendary coach Mack Brown and welcomed Strong and his new staff.

Now, the time has finally come for Texas football to show the college football nation what it can do under its new leadership.

 

When: Saturday, Aug. 30, 8 p.m. ET

Where: Darrell K Royal-Texas Memorial Stadium, Austin, Texas

TV: Longhorn Network

Austin radio:  KVET 98.1/1300

SiriusXM satellite radio: XM 202, Sirius 117, Internet 969, Spanish 550

Last meeting: Sept. 2, 2006, Darrell K Royal-Texas Memorial Stadium

Last meeting outcome: Texas 56, North Texas 7

Spread: Texas (-25), per VegasInsider.com

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Rapid-Fire Questions with Michigan Freshman Stud Jabrill Peppers

Michigan cornerback Jabrill Peppers is looking to make a huge impact for the Wolverines in his freshman year. He took some time to answer rapid-fire questions with Bleacher Report about everything from his favorite food to his goals at Michigan.

How well do you think Peppers will do in Ann Arbor?

Watch the video and check out this future star.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

College Football Betting: Gamecocks, Buckeyes Favorites in Week 1 Odds

The 2014 college football betting slate kicks off this week with the South Carolina Gamecocks pegged as 10.5-point favorites over the Texas A&M Aggies.

Quarterback Kenny Hill is expected to get the start for the Aggies ahead of Kyle Allen, replacing Texas A&M legend Johnny Manziel in the process.

Meanwhile, South Carolina running back Mike Davis is considered probable for Thursday night as he recovers from a rib injury. Davis, who rushed for 1,183 yards and 11 touchdowns last season, is currently at 33-1 in college football player props betting to win this year’s Heisman Trophy.

The Aggies were winless against the spread (0-4 ATS) on the road last season, while South Carolina has won 18 straight home games since Oct. 2011, according to the college football database at Odds Shark, the lines provider to Bleacher Report.

The Ohio State Buckeyes open an uncertain 2014 season as 13.5-point favorites over the Navy Midshipmen on Saturday at Baltimore’s M&T Bank Stadium. The Buckeyes have seen their betting odds tumble since last week’s news that QB Braxton Miller, previously considered a serious Heisman Trophy candidate, will be out for the season after suffering a shoulder injury.

The Buckeyes had been considered a favorite to win the national championship, with odds as short as 10-1 in college football futures betting. However, since Miller’s injury was announced Ohio State has tumbled to 25-1 in national championship betting, to go along with 11-4 odds to win the Big Ten conference championship this season.

The Midshipmen are coming off a solid finish to their 2013 season, winning six of their last seven games SU while posting a 7-1 record ATS in their last eight outings.

The Florida State Seminoles will be looking for their 17th consecutive win when they take on the Oklahoma State Cowboys on Saturday night at Arlington’s AT&T Stadium. The defending national champions are 17.5-point favorites over the Cowboys. It’s the 27th consecutive game in which the Seminoles have been college football betting favorites.

Florida State will once again be led by QB Jameis Winston, who enters the new season as the favorite to win a second straight Heisman Trophy with 9-2 odds in college football player props betting, while the Seminoles are strong 4-1 favorites to repeat as the national champions.

In other opening-week action, the Louisville Cardinals make their ACC debut as three-point favorites over the Miami Hurricanes. Miami is 7-2 ATS in their past nine games as road underdogs and 5-1 ATS in their past six season openers and the Odds Shark computer is predicting a high-scoring game (46-32).

As well, the Auburn Tigers, who open their season as a 9-1 national championship futures bet, are 21-point favorites over the visiting Arkansas Razorbacks.

 

Stats and odds courtesy of Odds Shark.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

College Football Rankings 2014: Top 25 Teams That Will Surprise This Season

Will anyone capture the magic of the 2013 Auburn Tigers this college football season?

Even the staunchest Tigers supporters couldn't have foreseen a run to the national championship that involved running back a missed field goal for the game-winning touchdown at the end of the Iron Bowl.

Every year, a handful of teams play way above expectations and flirt with either a national championship or a bowl game. 2014 should be no different.

Here's a look at the two preseason polls heading into Week 1.

The three teams below are all lurking down the standings. They aren't national title contenders, but they could be looking at impressive seasons.

 

Texas Longhorns

Texas is a major wild card this year. Charlie Strong should be an upgrade over the last year of Mack Brown in terms of coaching, but do the Longhorns have the personnel to actually play above expectations?

Quite a bit hinges on the performance at the quarterback position. David Ash has the early edge, but Tyrone Swoopes is waiting in the wings. Strong may get both guys on the field in the opener Saturday against North Texas, per Taylor Gaspar of Orangebloods.com:

Even if Swoopes and Ash struggle, the Longhorns have one of the best running back tandems in Malcolm Brown and Johnathan Gray.

Defensively, Texas is one of the strongest in the Big 12. Cedric Reed and Quandre Diggs are the standouts, and both are capable of making the All-America team this year.

When you look at the schedule, there's no reason Texas cannot win nine or 10 games.

The Longhorns get Baylor, West Virginia and TCU at home, while UCLA is played at a neutral site (Arlington, Texas) that should be more like a home game. Playing Oklahoma State and Kansas State on the road could be tricky.

Their hopes of winning the conference hinge on the Red River Showdown Oct. 11.

 

Texas A&M Aggies

It's entirely possible that Texas A&M could lose Johnny Manziel, Mike Evans and Jake Matthews yet still post a better record than it did last year. The Aggies defense should be much better, while younger, offensive playmakers like Kenny Hill, Speedy Noil and Ricky Seals-Jones should improve as the year goes on.

Noil is one of those guys tailor-made for a Kevin Sumlin offense. The A&M head coach has no doubts about whether the freshman wideout will hit the ground running, per the team's Twitter account:

Having a stronger defense means that Texas A&M shouldn't need to score 40 points a game in order to win. That would, in turn, place less pressure on the inexperienced offense.

Starting off with South Carolina is brutal for the Aggies, and they remain outsiders for that one. Texas A&M also gets Alabama and Auburn on the road this year, but those come later in the season, by which time any sort of transition period should be over.

An SEC Championship Game appearance looks out of the question for Texas A&M, but 10 wins could be within reach, which would be a massive accomplishment given the Aggies' personnel losses and daunting conference schedule.

 

North Carolina Tar Heels

The scheduling gods did North Carolina a bit of a favor this year. The Tar Heels do play Clemson, Notre Dame and Miami (FL) on the road, but they also get critical ACC games against Georgia Tech, Pittsburgh and Virginia Tech in Chapel Hill.

The ACC still goes through Florida State, but North Carolina looks to be the class of the Coastal Division. The Heels are very good across the board. Aside from their defensive line—where they lost Kareem Martin and Tim Jackson—they don't have a major area of weakness.

North Carolina became a different team last year when Marquise Williams took over for Bryn Renner. He passed for 1,698 yards and 15 touchdowns in addition to 536 yards rushing, which led the team. ESPN.com's David Hale believes that Jameis Winston is the only ACC quarterback with a better resume than Williams, and yet, Williams still doesn't have a grasp on the starting job:

The junior is battling with redshirt freshman Mitch Trubisky, per Inside Carolina:

Assuming Williams is the guy, he and Quinshad Davis will form a lethal combo through the air.

North Carolina hasn't won nine games since the Mack Brown era, but that could change this year.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

6 Teams Heavily Recruiting 2015 JUCO Prospects

While recruiting at the prep level is the backbone of every college football program, a handful of teams rely on supplementing their roster with potential instant impact players from the JUCO ranks.

Nick Saban has made a habit of scouring the JUCO scene in search of filling an immediate hole, while Bill Snyder at Kansas State University has built his program largely off importing JUCO players and plugging them in right away.

Additionally, Auburn’s Gus Malzahn has found instant success with each of the last two JUCO quarterbacks—2010 Heisman Trophy winner Cam Newton and current preseason All-SEC selection Nick Marshall—he’s brought to the Plains.

Which programs are actively targeting JUCO prospects in the 2015 cycle?

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