NCAA Football

Clemson Football: Early Game-by-Game Prediction for the 2014 Season

I know you're probably thinking it's way too early to be breaking down each game, but what better way is there to preview the season than break down the schedule?

Two of the games on this list have been marked as a push because they are too close to call at this point.

So kick back and take a look at how the Tigers' schedule looks for 2014.

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News, Notes and Analysis of the First Two Days of SEC Spring Meetings

Between trips to the golf courses and white sand beaches of Destin, Florida, SEC coaches, athletic directors and officials are getting getting work done behind closed doors, as the annual spring meetings session is taking place this week at the SanDestin Hilton.

Unlike recent years, there's no realignment talk, no conference schedule debate and no news of heated discussions related to NCAA investigations going on behind those doors.

There is, however, plenty of talk centered around out-of-conference scheduling, early signing periods and rules issues that could shape the future of the conference. Here's a quick snapshot of the first two days in Destin.

 

Out-Of-Conference Scheduling

Just because the conference schedule is set in stone through 2025, that doesn't mean scheduling talk is off the docket. 

In fact, there's still plenty to discuss out of conference, including the status of FCS opponents.

Several big-name coaches have come out against scheduling FCS opponents in the future, including Alabama's Nick Saban and Florida's Will Muschamp, according to Tony Barnhart of CBS and SECSports.com:

Alabama's Nick Saban believes all 12 games should be against Big Five conferences. Will Muschamp does not see Florida playing FCS teams.

— Tony Barnhart (@MrCFB) May 27, 2014

That's a tricky prospect though. Sometimes it's hard to line up games that make sense from a competitive standpoint, and if a team already has a road out-of-conference game on the schedule, getting a home game—any home game—keeps that bottom line healthy.

On top of that, the lower-level teams within the SEC footprint depend on those paycheck games to fund not just football, but other sports. There will be some pushback if there's ever a real movement to stop scheduling FCS opponents, and the decision-makers in college football know this.

On the other end of the nonconference spectrum, Georgia and Notre Dame seem to be coming close to finalizing a deal, according to Seth Emerson of Macon.com:

After previously downplaying potential Notre Dame series, Georgia A.D. now indicates it's on front-burner. http://t.co/X2vQ3uOVCZ

— Seth Emerson (@SethEmerson) May 27, 2014

Whether it's as a neutral-site game or a home-and-home, which athletic director Greg McGarity stated could be the case, this matchup needs to happen.

 

Early Signing Period

The prospect of an early signing period has been bandied about for quite some time, but now it appears that the rubber is meeting the road.

SEC coaches were unanimous in their support for an early signing day to take place the Monday following Thanksgiving (the week of the SEC Championship Game), according to Brandon Marcello of AL.com. The early signing day would only apply to prospects who don't take official visits during the fall.

"To me the early signing is designed for a guy who knows where they want to go to school," Mississippi State coach Dan Mullen told Marcello. "It alleviates the pressure for them to be able to sign, and all the other distractions in recruiting that come with it, and allow them to sign with that school and take all the other pressures off themselves."

Not so fast. 

According to Jeremy Fowler of CBSSports.com, commissioner the SEC attempted to slow down the early signing day momentum a bit:

SEC prefers to keep current recruiting calendar intact, but if it must change, it would like post-Thanksgiving signing

— Jeremy Fowler (@JFowlerCBS) May 28, 2014

Ultimately, the coaches' vote doesn't matter.

This is an administrative decision alone, and while it might make sense to coaches, it probably would make more sense to the SEC if the entire conference, including coaches and administrators, were on the same page before seriously pushing for an early signing day.

 

That Pesky 10-Second Rule

The 10-second rule reared its ugly head again, only this time, it wasn't as contentious, according to George Schroeder of USA Today:

Gus Malzahn says "healthy debate" about 10-second rule in SEC coaches mtg. "People didn't all agree, but that's ok. It was all healthy."

— George Schroeder (@GeorgeSchroeder) May 28, 2014

Arkansas head coach Bret Bielema, who is on the opposite side of the 10-second debate as his hurry-up peers, played down the controversy, according to Charles Goldberg of AuburnTigers.com:

Arkansas' Bret Bielema on concerns with Gus Malzahn's hurry-up offense: "That was probably played up a little more than it needed to be."

— Auburn Gold Mine (@AUGoldMine) May 27, 2014

This is how negotiations are supposed to go. You know, instead of being done behind closed doors without the input of the entire delegation at the coaches convention.

There could be a silver lining though, as this could lead to a rules committee formed within the SEC.

 

Looking Ahead

Is it too soon to start thinking about the opener?

Not for Texas A&M head coach Kevin Sumlin.

The third-year head coach of the Aggies isn't too happy about opening on the road in a conference game, according to ESPN.com's Ed Aschoff. He also knows that, when South Carolina head coach Steve Spurrier is quiet, that means trouble could be looming.

“A new challenge and we better get it going pretty quick because Coach Spurrier has been pretty quiet," Sumlin told Aschoff. "That means he thinks they’re pretty good. I’ve been around long enough to know that. He thinks they’re pretty good, and they are pretty good.” 

Spurrier isn't as focused on the opener, according to Josh Kendall of The State:

Spurrier asked if he's ready to turn attention to Texas A&M now: "Noooo. I am ready to turn my focus on golf tomorrow."

— Josh Kendall (@JoshatTheState) May 28, 2014

Let's be real, with Kelly Plantation just a few miles west of the hotel, there's a lot of people focusing on golf at the moment.

 

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Texas Football Recruiting: Former Blue-Chippers Who Will Shine in 2014

The state of Texas is full of blue-chip football players with potential to make it in college and the pros. And the Texas Longhorns have historically been successful in signing a number of those players almost every year.

Texas' ability to sign blue-chip recruits has dwindled a bit over the past two recruiting classes. It is no secret that Texas has struggled to develop talent in recent years, and the fact that zero Longhorns were drafted in the 2014 NFL draft proves that. But those times could be in the past with head coach Charlie Strong and his staff at the helm.

Even though Texas failed to finish in the top-10 recruiting class rankings over the last two years, the Longhorns still have a handful of blue-chippers who could become difference-makers this season.

Here's a look at four former blue-chippers who have the potential to shine in 2014.

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9 Teams with the Best Odds to Qualify for the 1st College Football Playoff

We are inching—inching—closer to the 2014 college football season, and our good friends at the sportsbooks have noticed.

Early last week, offshore betting outpost 5Dimes.com posted its first over/under win totals of the season, and now Bovada has followed suit with a few props on which teams will make the College Football Playoff (h/t Jerry Hinnen of CBSSports.com).

The nine teams posted are predictable—the biggest long shot is UCLA at 12-5 odds to make it and 5-19 to not. But it is interesting nonetheless to see where the juice lies on certain favorites.

All of these teams have the roster to win their conference and compete for a spot in the CFP. If they didn't, they wouldn't be listed here. But taking into account factors such as schedule and the lines that were posted, let's look at which bets seem smartest, which bets seem foolish and which bets should be avoided altogether.

Chime in below with where you disagree.

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How Kyler Murray's Texas A&M Commitment Could Hurt 2015 Alabama Recruiting Class

Look beyond the immediate ramifications of 5-star quarterback Kyler Murray's commitment to Texas A&M, and it's apparent that his decision resonates on different levels within recruiting departments far beyond College Station.

A massive domino just fell in the 2015 class, and its effects are being felt on football-crazed campuses like Tuscaloosa, Ala. and Eugene, Ore.

Sure, the primary storyline is apparent.

The Aggies landed a heralded in-state standout who hasn't lost a game in two seasons as a high school starter while accounting for 107 total touchdowns. He's also the son of former Texas A&M star quarterback Kevin Murray—a member of the Cotton Bowl Hall of Fame.

Head coach Kevin Sumlin has assembled a crop of quarterbacks that could allow Texas A&M fans to quickly move on from Johnny Manziel. Assuming the roster remains intact between now and next year, Murray will join top-ranked 2014 signee Kyle Allen and 4-star 2013 recruit Kenny Hill.

Aggies faithful, feel free to rejoice. You may have America's most talented group of passers entering the 2015 season.

Now let's shift the spotlight to a secondary storyline—one that revolves around Southern California quarterback Travis Waller.

The Anaheim standout has swiftly ascended on the recruiting board as his contemporaries continue to announce commitments. Waller, a 4-star prospect at Servite High School, may suddenly be the hottest commodity on the 2015 quarterback market.

The 6'3", 190-pound playmaker is less than two weeks removed from an outstanding performance at the prestigious Elite 11 quarterback camp in Oakland. That effort, combined with a junior season that featured nearly 3,000 total yards and 25 touchdowns, helped ensure that he would continue to attract significant collegiate attention.

Alabama extended an offer the very next day:

The Crimson Tide have struggled to secure a quarterback commitment during this cycle despite remaining on pace for a fifth consecutive No. 1 recruiting class.

Ricky Town, a 5-star California prospect, pledged to Nick Saban last summer. However, he flipped to USC in January and left Alabama with a substantial hole to fill in an otherwise well-rounded and deep class.

The Tide have attempted to fill the position with a series of players in past months, but each opted to commit elsewhere.

Jarrett Stidham joined Texas Tech in March and Brandon Wimbush went with Penn State in early May—just five days after receiving his Alabama offer. Zach Gentry chose Texas less than a week later.

Left looking for yet another option, Saban and first-year offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin again set their sights on the West Coast. Waller became the "next man up" in a growing line of quarterback targets.

However, the team's pursuit of the dual-threat passer became significantly more convoluted Wednesday when Murray spurned Oregon. The Ducks, the biggest threat to steal Murray away from his home state, are likely to turn to Waller in the aftermath of Murray's decision.

Experts project Waller to sign with Oregon in 94 percent of predictions that currently comprise 247Sports' Crystal Ball. Given his mobility (nearly 1,293 yards rushing in 2013) and regional proximity, it isn't hard to imagine him finding a fit in Eugene extremely soon.

Waller already has a rapport in place with the Ducks' staff.

He visited Oregon during the winter and should view the team's quarterback depth chart as desirable given the impending transfers of redshirt sophomore Jake Rodrigues and redshirt freshman Damion Hobbs.

Alabama's efforts to secure a commitment from Waller just became more difficult and the Tide can thank Texas A&M. Saban won't just have to contend with Murray on the field someday, he's now faced with an uphill battle for his latest primary passing target as a direct result of the Texas star's choice.

In the thick of a recruiting cycle that's seen so much go right for Alabama, locating a quarterback continues to be the Achilles' heel. 

Expect Texas A&M's big day to complicate things even more.

 

Recruit information and statistics courtesy of 247Sports unless otherwise noted.

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Kyler Murray to Texas A&M: Aggies Land 5-Star QB Prospect

Kyler Murray could very well be the next dual-threat dynamo to star as a college quarterback, and now the 5-star recruit has decided to commit to the Texas A&M Aggies for the next stage of his promising career.

Brent Zwerneman of the San Antonio Express-News broke news of Murray's commitment on Wednesday:

Murray spoke about his decision via Zwerneman: 

Zwernemen also reported that Murray got some help making his choice from a famous former Aggie:

Any premier program would have been pleased to welcome Murray to the fold thanks to his unique talents throwing the football and beating defenses with his feet. The pride of Allen High School in Texas could only choose one destination, though, and the Aggies have to be thrilled to have him.

According to 247Sports' composite rankings, Murray is the No. 1-rated dual-threat QB prospect and the No. 23 overall recruit in the class of 2015. As a junior, he threw for 3,669 and 46 touchdowns and scampered for 1,274 yards and 19 additional scores.

Murray's father, former Texas A&M quarterback Kevin Murray, runs the Air 14 Quarterback Academy and has evidently done an excellent job drilling his son on fundamentals. That should help ease Murray's transition to the college game on the field, as well as how to handle expectations and responsibilities away from it.

To give an idea of what Murray brings to the gridiron, one good comparison ironically rests in a recent Heisman Trophy winner: ex-Aggies superstar Johnny Manziel.

The chief and perhaps only significant concern about Murray—though it's a big one—is his diminutive stature. At 5'11" and 170 pounds, questions remain about his ability to absorb punishment in college. It does help that he's elusive and speedy, but he must put on more weight now that he'll soon be facing bigger, stronger and faster athletes.

What helps a lot is that Murray has already faced top-notch competition in high school and has thrived under the pressure.

Allen won the Texas 5A Division 1 state championship in Murray's sophomore and junior campaign, prompting this appropriate analysis from Sam Khan Jr. of ESPN.com:

On Murray's 247Sports profile, key attributes are rated on a scale of one to 10. Although he gets just a four for his size, Murray is also rated a perfect 10 on intangibles and receives scores of nine on accuracy, pocket presence, release, footwork and elusiveness.

That combination of skills should make Murray a force and perhaps an immediate starter if he can pack on an extra 15 pounds or so. Many mobile quarterbacks struggle with footwork and throw off platform, but that isn't a problem for the technically sound Murray, whose mechanics are further along at such an early stage of his career and should set him up for future success when his frame begins to fill out.

There aren't any holes to poke in Murray's game. His release is clinical, and despite his limited size, he still has a strong enough arm to make any throws required. Plus, when he's carrying the ball, he looks like a running back but has shown the ability to avoid big hits.

Murray is cerebral and has already shown that he can work through progressions and deliver on time and to the right spots. All of his skills translate well to any offense he runs, and he's equally dangerous from the pocket as he is as a ball-carrier. It is truly rare for that to be the case, but such is the truth when it comes to Murray and his incredible talent.

One potential concern looking ahead is that Murray plans to play baseball in college, which he made known before he decided on a school to attend.

"Wherever I go, I’ll be able to play [both]," said Murray, per an April 2 report by The Dallas Morning News' Greg Riddle.

Jameis Winston was able to win the Heisman and national title at Florida State as a freshman, and he also plays baseball. However, he and Murray are very different cases, since these two-sport superstars come along so rarely.

As long as he stays focused enough on football, gets into the weight room and bulks up without sacrificing any agility or breakaway speed, there's no doubt Murray will shine. He has the polish to be a Heisman Trophy contender at some point in college and the upside to be one of the better collegiate QBs in recent history.

Imagine how dangerous Murray will be with a little extra meat on his bones and perhaps an inch or two of growth, which is still possible at this point (he's not yet 17). Rarely does a quarterback display this much of a complete package so young, so the Aggies fanbase has to be thrilled that Murray is arriving with a ton of pedigree yet with room to become even better.

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Alabama Football: Scheduling Becoming More of an Issue for Tide, Nick Saban

Late last month, the Southeastern Conference announced that it would be sticking with an eight-game league schedule in football. Last week, it released a 12-year rotation so that its 14 affiliates could start locking up opponents.

That was the end of the discussion about scheduling, right?

Not even close.

With the conference gathering this week for its annual spring meetings in Destin, Florida, the biggest topic so far as been scheduling.

Some coaches want to do away with playing teams from the Football Championship Subdivision (formerly known as Division I-AA), while others are still upset about which non-division SEC team it has to annually face.

And then there’s Nick Saban.

The University of Alabama coach has long advocated going to a nine-game league schedule, which numerous other conferences have adopted.

In addition to preserving non-divisional rivalries like the one the Crimson Tide have with Tennessee, it would give players a chance to at least face every other SEC team during their careers.

“I’m saying the same thing as from a year ago,” said Saban. When the measure came up to a vote in 2013, the coaches casted their ballots 13-1—with Saban being the one.

However, with the power-five conferences (SEC, ACC, Big Ten, Big 12 and Pac-12) on the verge of being granted more autonomy by the NCAA, Saban is now also advocating that the teams in those leagues only play each other during the 12-game regular season.

No one would face an opponent from the American Athletic, Mountain West or, closer to home, the Sun Belt.

“There’s so much emphasis on the championship game and playoffs that more teams would be involved because you could lose a game or two if you played a really strong schedule and still have a chance,” Saban recently said at his final Crimson Caravan stop of the offseason. “Fans would have more interest that you still might have a chance to get into the mix.

“That’s just my opinion, but when I was in the NFL we had 32 teams and had to play someone every week among those 32. So I don’t know why it’s not a good thing for college.”

Saban would also like to do away with six-win minimum and conference affiliations for all bowls, with the NCAA selection committee deciding the playoff pairings and setting all bowl matchups.

That’s all obviously well beyond the scope of the SEC, and considering how long it took everyone to get on board for a playoff, there’s good reason why commissioner Mike Slive recently said, "Turning the NCAA is not unlike turning an aircraft carrier from north to south.”

It wasn’t until Missouri and Texas A&M had played two full seasons in the SEC that his own league could agree on a schedule format.

Although the strength-of-schedule component for making the playoff will hopefully lead to fewer teams facing FCS opponents, the recent flip side to that is it hasn’t been easy for the Crimson Tide to schedule nonconference games—period.

Last season was a good example.

Alabama had an open date after facing Virginia Tech in the neutral-site opener in Atlanta. It would have preferred that bye to be at almost any other time, but couldn’t get a game for that weekend.

When another opponent pulled out of its game, Alabama was in danger of not having a full schedule. It eventually approached former offensive coordinator Jim McElwain and Colorado State, who negotiated a two-game deal for $1.5 million per appearance.

"Look, it's difficult, all right, because if you're not willing to go home-and-home with somebody, if you're playing a neutral-site game you don't want to go home-and-home with other people," Saban said during a press conference in September 2012.

"You've got to get people to come here and play. That's been very difficult for the next few years because the SEC's got to tell us who we're going to play and when before we can go and schedule other games."

Next season, Alabama is set to return to the Cowboys Classic in Texas, where it kicked off its 2012 title run with a blowout victory over Michigan. This time, it’ll face Wisconsin.

It’ll also host Louisiana-Monroe, with Colorado State to return in either 2015 or 2017. That’s it so far.

According to the Virginian-Pilot's Harry Minium, Old Dominion, which is joining Conference USA this season, was recently approached about visiting Bryant-Denny Stadium in 2015 for $1.3 million. Who did the initial asking? ESPN.

Alabama and Georgia Tech had agreed to play in 2013 and 2014, but the series was later pushed back to 2019 in Tuscaloosa and 2020 in Atlanta, and then eventually cancelled.

A home-and-home series with Michigan State was also set for 2016 and 2017, again to be cancelled, partially due to the game’s changing climate, but Alabama and Southern California have confirmed that they're considering a possible 2016 meeting in Dallas.

Factor in tradition, the amount of money each home game brings in and all conferences not being equal, and the only conclusion one can draw is that the SEC’s recent announcements weren’t the end of the scheduling debate, but just the beginning.

 

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

Follow @CrimsonWalsh

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Oregon Misses 5-Star QB, Target 4-Star Travis Waller, Irish Commit Blake Barnett

With No. 1 dual-threat QB Kyler Murray committing to Texas A&M, Mark Helfrich must continue to search for Oregon's future QB. With Morgan Mahalak, No. 6 dual QB in 2014, already joining the Oregon offense, the Ducks are still looking to bolster their QB depth. 

What other top dual 2015 QBs are likely to land with the Ducks? Will Oregon find its future QB in the 2015 class?

Watch Adam Lefkoe & Andrew Greif of The Oregonian discuss The Ducks' remaining options at QB. 

Highlights courtesy of XOS Digital. Recruit rankings from 247 Sports Composite

 

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Oregon Misses 5-Star QB, Target 4-Star Travis Waller, Irish Commit Blake Barnett

With No. 1 dual-threat QB Kyler Murray committing to Texas A&M, Mark Helfrich must continue to search for Oregon's future QB. With Morgan Mahalak , No...

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5-Star QB Kyler Murray to Texas A&M, Has Intangibles to Be Next Johnny Manziel

The No. 1 dual-threat quarterback of the 2015 class, Kyler Murray, has committed to the Texas A&M Aggies, per The Dallas Morning News. The 5'11", 170-pound playmaker has incredible breakaway speed and the arm to make any throw on the field. 

Murray will inevitably draw comparisons to Johnny Manziel, as he has amazing football knowledge and intangibles. But does he have what it takes to compete with the No. 1 pro-style quarterback of 2014, Kyle Allen, for the starting role when he arrives on campus in 2015?

Watch Michael Felder break down what Murray means for Texas A&M in the video above. 

 

Highlights courtesy XOS Digital. Recruit rankings from 247 Sports.

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Notre Dame Readmitted DaVaris Daniels, Now He Needs to Dominate

Notre Dame officially confirmed wide receiver DaVaris Daniels' readmission to the university Wednesday, ending a forced sabbatical that had Daniels sitting out the spring semester for academic reasons. 

When contacted for an official update on the status of Daniels, the university's sports information department confirmed both the wide receiver's readmission and basketball guard Jerian Grant's. 

"The University recently granted readmission to a group of individuals, and that group included student-athletes Jerian Grant and DaVaris Daniels. Both will return to Notre Dame beginning with summer school next month."

While the return of Daniels seemed an eventuality, it's a critical piece to Notre Dame's offensive puzzle. The rising senior is the team's top returning receiver, ready to take over the No. 1 job after senior TJ Jones put together an excellent final season in South Bend. 

Without Daniels, the Irish wide receiving corps spent the spring basically getting an introduction to quarterback Everett Golson. Outside of Chris Brown's 50-yard reception against Oklahoma, no receiver other than Daniels had caught an official pass from Golson. 

That's quite an unknown for a position group expected to carry the Irish offense. And while Brian Kelly and new offensive coordinator Mike Denbrock hope for breakthrough seasons from sophomores Will Fuller and Corey Robinson, what they'll really need is a much better Daniels. 

On paper, there's nothing wrong with the production Daniels put up in 2013. His 49 catches, 745 yards and seven touchdowns were a huge step forward after an injury plagued redshirt freshman season. But the Irish receiver's inconsistency turned his stat line into a rather hollow exercise.

Comparing Jones' season to Daniels' is illuminating. For as impressive as Jones was with his 1,108 yards and nine receiving touchdowns, Daniels left an incredible amount of production on the table. As Jones served as the engine that powered the Irish offense, Daniels was actually targeted more often than Jones, his 111 targets two more than the Irish senior. That puts Daniels' 745 yards into context and is part of the reason the Irish coaching staff has pushed Daniels harder and harder to capitalize on his talents. 

With two seasons of eligibility remaining, Daniels isn't looking that far into the future. He toyed with declaring for the NFL draft after his suspension was announced, but ultimately decided to return to Notre Dame to become a better player. And if he puts up the type of numbers that he expects to in 2014, he'll likely leave South Bend with his graduating class. 

"Come back, become one of the top receivers in the nation and see how it goes after that,” Daniels told CBSSports.com's Jeremy Fowler.

According to Kelly, those goals aren't out of reach. But getting there will require the wide receiver to take a long hard look at the man in the mirror, as he said at a recent charity event:

He's immensely talented. But he's got to have his foot on the pedal all the time. If he does, he's as good as anybody out there that I've coached. But there's only so many times you can go to the whip... Sooner or later you gotta do it. I think this hopefully is that time where he goes, 'I've got to be cognizant of the fact I got a lot riding on this, I've got to be that guy every single day.'

Rejoining Golson will help. While nobody really noticed, the duo put together an excellent game against Alabama, with Daniels catching six passes for 115 yards against the national champs. With Golson in 2012, Daniels averaged a robust 10.7 yards per target, well above the 6.7 he plummeted to with Tommy Rees. 

After a semester away, Daniels will have the chance to make up for lost time with the coaching staff, with NCAA rule tweaks allowing the staff to spend time with players during the summer semester. And with the latest academic speed bump out of the way for the Irish football program, Daniels can spend the summer preparing for a breakout season that's overdue. 

"He's on the clock now," Kelly said. "He's gotta walk the line, he's gotta do things the right way. It's not just Notre Dame, it's his career, it's everything now. I think he knows that all eyes are on him."

 

*Unless otherwise noted, all quotes obtained firsthand. Follow @KeithArnold on Twitter.

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Michigan Football: Analyzing Wolverines' Top Five 2015 Recruiting Targets

Shaun Crawford's decommitment from Team 134 was the latest blow to strike Michigan's 2015 recruiting class. Jumping ship has been a mini-trend, and the 4-star cornerback was the third to do so since winter.

Three of the worst break-ups ever happened this year. George Campbell, Damien Harris and Shaun Crawford breaking up with Michigan.

— Wolverine Connection (@Michigander21) May 25, 2014

Despite three losses, the now six-man class remains sturdy. Wolverines coach Brady Hoke has an array of options when it comes to available prospects. As it stands, Michigan has roughly 10 scholarships to distribute. Expect about 16 recruits come national signing day. 

Starting with No. 1, this slideshow will take a good look at the top five prospects based on need, fit and interest. 

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Proving Auburn Was More Good Than Lucky in Unforgettable 2013 SEC Title Season

Rushing for 296 yards against one of the best rushing defenses in the country isn't luck.

Building a 27-7 lead by combining a hurry-up, no-huddle offense with a stifling defense that forced drives of three or fewer plays in four of the first five drives of a game isn't luck.

Yet when the story of the 2013 Auburn Tigers is told, "luck" seems to be one of the first things that pops up in the conversation.

Why?

Because the game-winning scores of those two games, Alabama and Georgia, respectively, were unlike two we've ever seen, and explaining them away with luck is the most convenient way to do so. 

Yes, Nick Marshall's 73-yard touchdown pass that was tipped into the hands of Ricardo Louis for the game-winning score of the Georgia game was lucky.

But Auburn put itself in position to make that happen with a remarkably dominant first half that had nothing to do with luck and had everything to do with players executing and coaches coaching at an extremely high level. That lead could have been even bigger had a close call on an incompletion from Marshall to Sammie Coates on the opening drive gone Auburn's way and led to a touchdown rather than a field goal.

Even if the "kick six" to beat Alabama didn't carry the ramifications it did, it would have still gone down as one of the most remarkable ways to end any game in college football history. Throw in division title, SEC title and national title ramifications, and it will be replayed for generations.

But it wasn't luck.

Auburn had a plan coming out of a timeout and executed it to perfection. Sure, it needed Adam Griffith to come up short on his 57-yard field-goal attempt, but both teams knew that was a legitimate possibility. Auburn was simply better prepared and properly executed the final play of the game.

It wasn't like it was a 34-point field-goal return either. Auburn actually played a good game for the first 59:59.

Auburn's offense clicked, its defense tightened up when it needed to, the team got a key field-goal block that set up the game-tying drive and ran it straight at Alabama, leading to the game-tying 39-yard touchdown pass from Marshall to Coates.

Not luck.

You're going to see Auburn dancing around many preseason predictions for the College Football Playoff this year, but it won't in all of them. Luck will be cited as a factor for not putting the Tigers in the top four.

What won't be discussed is the bad luck Auburn had last season. And yes, there was some.

Like the illegal touching penalty on a fourth-quarter onside kick with Auburn down two touchdowns with 6:33 to play (2:14:00 mark)?

The ball checked up a little more than anticipated just short of 10 yards, and kicker Cody Parkey touched it just shy of the 45-yard line. Had it not checked up as much, Parkey would have still recovered it, and Auburn would have had the ball with momentum and time on the clock for head coach Gus Malzahn to work with.

That's not to say Auburn would have won the game, but that was certainly one instance of an unlucky bounce that closed the door on Auburn's late-game surge on a sloppy field (also an unlucky break) in Baton Rouge.

Don't fall into the trap of writing off Auburn because "its luck will run out." That's just lazy.

Auburn won last season with a raw quarterback and a new head coach that fell into a play-calling groove unlike anything in recent college football memory. It isn't luck that nobody could stop it. The fact that it couldn't be stopped is a compliment to the skills of the players and coaches.

Good teams put themselves in position to get breaks. Show me a championship team that didn't get a little lucky along the way, and I'll show you a unicorn or Sasquatch—all of which are mythical.

 

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


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6 College Football Teams That Will Struggle to Replace Talent Lost to NFL Draft

Earlier this month, programs across the nation basked in the glory of their former stars as they were selected in the 2014 NFL draft.

From Jadeveon Clowney to Michael Sam, we spent three days watching highlights, charting draft risers and fallers and wondering how the new draftees would fit in at their new professional homes.

Here’s the other side of the equation: those left behind. Every NFL draftee leaves a large hole on his former college roster, ready to be taken by another player in need of coaching, encouragement and some polish.

Here is a look at six college teams that were hit hard by the NFL draft and will struggle to replace the talent lost to the pros.

*Connect with Greg on Twitter @gc_wallace

*Unless otherwise noted, all quotes for this article were obtained directly.

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Auburn Football: Analyzing the Tigers' Top 5 2015 Recruiting Targets

The Auburn Tigers had a successful spring out on the recruiting trail, picking up several commitments from some of the nation's top high school and junior college athletes. Auburn currently holds the No. 3 spot in 247Sports' Composite Team Rankings, which compiles ratings from the major recruiting services.

Now, summer has arrived on the Plains, with a large part of Auburn's 2014 class arriving on campus this week. The defending SEC champions will wrap up the eventful recruiting week with Big Cat Weekend, an annual invitation-only event for several of Auburn's top targets for the upcoming class.

Big Cat Weekend usually lands Auburn a commitment or two, and the coaching staff hopes a few of its major targets finish this weekend with the Tigers as their new leaders in the recruiting race.

Let's take a look at the top five targets left on Auburn's board, some of whom may be on campus in a few days for Big Cat Weekend.

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Every SEC Team's Strongest, Weakest Position Groups Heading into 2014 Season

After a high-scoring, uptempo, passing-fueled season that shattered the mold of SEC football, America's best conference should get back to its roots in 2014.

Perhaps the best class of quarterbacks in league history departed this offseason, and (partially) as a result, many of the projected top teams find their strengths along the offensive and defensive lines and in the offensive backfield.

That is not the case for everyone, however, and there are certain teams that will fly in the face of that style. Based on where their most talented players return, they will cater to their relative strengths.

The criteria for this list was rather simple: The strongest groups are the ones with the most talent, and the weakest are the ones with the least. The metrics used include a combination of how many players are returning, which players are returning, last year's performance and which players have been added during the offseason.

Chime in below to let me know where you disagree.

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South Carolina Football: Early Game-by-Game Prediction for the 2014 Season

It's almost summer, which means that the college football season is also not too far away for the South Carolina Gamecocks. 

South Carolina is coming off its third straight year of having a top-five ranking at the end of the season. The Gamecocks have quickly become an elite squad in the realm of college football, though this year's team could be more talented than the teams prior. 

Offensively, the Gamecocks pack a huge punch with a versatile rushing attack led by Mike Davis who works behind one of the country's best offensive lines. Defensively, South Carolina has some gaps to fill, but the athleticism is there to carry this team a long way. 

The Gamecocks still have their eyes set on an SEC title under head coach Steve Spurrier's era. And this could also be the year they make a run at the national championship in the new playoff format. 

It's early in the year with regard to college football, but it's time to start making picks. 

Here is my early game-by-game prediction for the South Carolina Gamecocks' 2014 college football season. 

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College Football Playoff Is Here to Stay for a While ... or Is It?

Like it or not, the College Football Playoff, set to debut this coming season, will be around until at least 2025. It will outlast the next Bush (Jeb) or Clinton (Hillary) administration.

At least that's what Bill Hancock, the CFP executive director, insisted will be the case when he spoke at the AWSM convention in Orlando over the weekend.

There's just one catch: While the CFP has signed over the entire postseason to ESPN in a 12-year, $5.64 billion deal, the contracts with the six bowls that will take turns to host the semifinal games remain unsigned just three months before the season will start.

CBS Sports' Dennis Dodd reported Wednesday that the bowls—Rose, Sugar, Orange, Fiesta, Cotton and Peach—have not yet come to terms with the CFP. The primary hangup appears to be that the bowls, which have long operated independently even during the BCS era, are having some second thoughts about surrendering all of their autonomy so they can be run in a centralized fashion much like the Final Four.

Hancock, however, told Dodd the contract holdup is only a formality and nothing to worry about:

"We're continuing to discuss the contracts," he said. "This is nothing unusual. We're just plugging away and everything will get finished."

That may be so, but the longer this drags on, the more likely the bowls will get cold feet. By submitting themselves to the CFP arrangement, each bowl already will lose its own uniqueness. The Rose Bowl, for example, may never get another matchup between the Pac-12 and Big Ten champions, as it did last season as well as every year after World War II and before the advent of the BCS.

Whereas the BCS mostly preserved the bowl system that has been in place for nearly a century, the CFP more or less will obliterate it. The big bowls used to send their representatives (sporting those tacky blazers) to games all over the country to scout teams that they might want to invite. Now teams will be assigned to them by a selection committee.

Though it's too early to speculate whether the entire CFP apparatus might fall apart before it even gets started, it's safe to say that the CFP is still a work in progress. While there has been much talk about expanding the playoff field to eight teams or even 16 teams, that is very much a non-starter, because we haven't even dotted the I's and crossed the T's for the the four-team CFP.

First things first.

Follow on Twitter @ThePlayoffGuru

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College Football's Best Passing Tandems for 2014

There were some truly outstanding quarterback-wide receiver tandems on display during the 2013 college football season.

Unfortunately, fans will never again see the powerful passing partnerships of Texas A&M's Johnny Manziel and Mike Evans, Fresno State's Derek Carr and Davante Adams, Clemson's Tajh Boyd and Sammy Watkins and LSU's Zach Mettenberger and Odell Beckham Jr., since all those talented playmakers have moved on to the NFL.

Luckily, though, there are still plenty of intriguing passing combinations to get excited about.

Here's a look at college football's best passing tandems for the 2014 season. 

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Nick Saban Says He Would Recruit Openly Gay Player at Alabama

Few college football head coaches have enjoyed more success than Nick Saban. So when the Alabama head coach speaks, people listen. That's why his comments about being willing to recruit an openly gay player to join the Crimson Tide are important.   

Antonya English of the Tampa Bay Times provided part of Saban's response about the topic, which has become one of the most talked about hot-button issues in sports over the past few years:

Mark Long of the Associated Press passed along further remarks:

The comments come after Michael Sam became the first openly gay player drafted into the NFL. The Missouri product was selected in the seventh round by the St. Louis Rams.

Jason Collins, Brittney Griner and Derrick Gordon are among the other athletes who served as trailblazers by publicly stating they are gay while still active in the sports world.

One of the most prominent discussions when it comes to gay players is the supposed distraction they will cause due to the added media coverage surrounding them. How that's any different from any other popular athlete who attracts widespread attention is unclear.

Saban, who knows a thing or two about building a program with sustained success, doesn't seem to believe that would be an issue. He's seemingly more concerned about building a strong relationship with the athlete than anything else.

Kevin McGuire of NBC Sports' College Football Talk believes Saban's response is a positive sign:

The response is everything you would hope to hear from a football coach. Saban is saying he would not be opposed to recruiting a gay football player as long as a comfortable environment can be created that works for everyone in the program. Though the quote may come off needing a little more polish, the sentiment is one that would apply to any football recruit. In recruiting, everybody needs to feel comfortable with each other, between coaching staff, players and family.

Over time, it's a sentiment that will likely spread throughout sports. Just like anything else, it will come down to whether players are capable of helping a team win games and not the off-field situation that determines whether they end up on a certain teams.

Whether that will take another year or another decade is the biggest question. Openly gay athletes like those mentioned above are helping show younger athletes it's possible to chase their dream while still being themselves. It's a trend likely to continue.

 

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