NCAA Football

UCLA Football Recruiting: 3 Reasons Keisean Lucier-South Will Sign with UCLA

California resident and 5-star defender Keisean Lucier-South is a highly coveted target for Jim Mora and the UCLA football team. 

His potential addition would be a gigantic boon for the program. Lucier-South is regarded as one of the most talented prospects on the West Coast in the 2015 class. 247Sports.com ranks the Orange Lutheran product as one of the top five prospects in the entire state. 

There are three reasons in particular as to why he will ultimately sign with the Bruins in February. These specific thoughts will be delved into in the proceeding slides.

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UCLA Football Recruiting: 3 Reasons Keisean Lucier-South Will Sign with UCLA

California resident and 5-star defender Keisean Lucier -South is a highly coveted target for Jim Mora and the UCLA football team. His potential addition would be a gigantic boon for the program...

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Clemson Football Recruiting: Tigers' Best Signees from Last 10 Years

While the Clemson Tigers are having success in the 2015 recruiting cycle, it's important to remember the top prospects who were signed and have either graduated or are still currently on the roster.

It's very exciting when a program can land a 5-star top prospect who has been coveted by the best schools in the nation. All 13 of these guys brought excitement to Clemson fans when they pulled the trigger and committed to the Tigers.

Before reading this, take note that this list isn't how well the prospects turned out. I looked at both Scout.com and ESPN.com and wrote down the position ranking that was the higher of the two for each player.

Then I put together a list that mirrored the highest-ranked players. I think some of you will be surprised at which players made it high on the list and which players came out toward the bottom.

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Alabama Football: Nick Saban's Contract the Leading Gauge to Price of Success

Contrary to popular belief, University of Alabama coach Nick Saban does take vacations. With his wife Terry urging him to schedule more downtime, the family is getting ready for its annual retreat to Lake Burton, Georgia, which is becoming college football’s version of Camp David. It gets the Crimson Tide’s leader away from the daily grind, but work is never too far away.

But before going, Saban had one last thing he had to do this week, host the eighth annual golf fundraiser for his Nick’s Kids Foundation, which raises and distributes money to those in need and was named in honor of his father.

It’s not something that he has to do, but every year he calls the day they hand out the checks his favorite of the year. Since the Sabans arrived at the Capstone in 2007, the foundation has given out more than $4 million and played a major part in rebuilding 15 homes—one for each championship— following the devastating 2011 tornado.

In typical Saban fashion, when he arrived at Old Overton Golf Club in Vestavia Hills (just outside of Birmingham), Alabama, on Thursday, he was thinking about ways to improve.

“We went to the Dick Vitale thing this year, Jimmy V [Foundation], it raised over 2 million dollars for pediatric cancer,” said Saban, who made a $50,000 donation at the May gala in Sarasota. “I’ve been pretty satisfied so far with what we’ve been able to do, but after seeing that and seeing the kids, this is something we’d like to do even more in the future.”

However, this year the timing of Saban’s golf outing could have been a little better because it came just a couple of days after the compensation committee for Alabama’s Board of Trustees approved the contract extension that will essentially pay him $7 million a year.

Specifically, Saban has a base salary of $245,000, with a “talent fee” of $6.255 million, plus gets an annual $400,000 “completion bonus” at the end of each season.

Numerous bonuses, from $400,000 for winning the national championship (although this year a “playoff” clause was inserted for the first time), to $100,000 if the Crimson Tide’s graduation rate is in the top 25 percent of the Southeastern Conference, remain, and the length of the contract was extended through the end of the 2021-22 season.

“Well, you know, we really made a commitment to be here at the University of Alabama for the rest of our career, and we certainly appreciate the fact that the University made such a commitment to us,” Saban said.

"We certainly look forward to trying to create the value that we've been able to create with the program, how it affects the University, how we support the university and make the people of our state and our fans proud of the program that we have. And we're going to continue to try to do that in the future at the same or better standard than what we've tried to do it in the past. 

"There's a lot of competition out there, and we certainly look forward to the challenges that we have. So we appreciate it very much. Thank you.”

Unlike his previous deals, like when agent Jimmy Sexton negotiated the initial eight-year, $32 million contract in 2007 that was actually a significant pay cut from what he made with the Miami Dolphins, this one wasn’t extensively criticized.

It's easy to see what Saban means to the university, and it's not just because of the three national championships over a four-year span. His arrival coincided with Alabama going from an enrollment of roughly 20,000 to 35,000, while simultaneously increasing the school’s academic standards over a decade.

According to its own financial reports, Alabama's athletic revenue has increased by 43 percent since 2009 and 112 percent since 2006.

For the fiscal year 2013 it spent a whopping $122,542,043—of which roughly 10 percent went to the football coaching staff (but that doesn't include strength and conditioning coach Scott Cochran, due to earn $395,000 next year or the other support staffers)—while making $143,776,550, resulting in a surplus of $21,234,507.

On top of that, a week ago the SEC announced at its annual spring meetings that for 2013-14 it would distribute $309.6 million to its 14 schools, resulting in a record-high average payout of $20.9 million. In August, the league will add its biggest cash cow yet, the SEC Network.

Things have arguably never been better at Alabama, one of the few schools with a financially self-sustaining athletic department, although the number is obviously on the rise. According to USA Today, in association with Indiana University's National Sports Journalism Center, 23 of 228 athletics departments at NCAA Division I public schools generated enough money on their own to cover their expenses in 2012.

Nearly all use government subsidies and student fees to make ends meet and have figured out what CBS announcer Gary Danielson said last year when asked about the SEC’s formula for collecting national championships: “(It) starts with money I think.”

Thus, the cost of coaching contracts is on the rise. According to the USA Today database, in 2013 Saban ($5.5 million) was one of eight college football coaches to make $4 million or more, the others being Mack Brown, Bret Bielema, Butch Jones, Bob Stoops, Urban Meyer, Les Miles and Brady Hoke.

Rounding out the top 10 were Kirk Ferentz and Charlie Strong. Combined, the other nine made $40.9 million and had won a collective five national championships (adjusted to four titles and just under $40 million with Brown no longer coaching at Texas and No. 11 Mike Gundy added to the mix).

The only two other active coaches who had lifted a crystal football were No. 12 Steve Spurrier and No. 117 Larry Coker at Texas-San Antonio, who made just $350,000 with the startup program.

Meanwhile, Duke basketball coach Mike Krzyzewski recently received a big raise to $7.2 million annually, making him the highest-paid coach in collegiate sports. This year he might make the annual list of the 10 highest-paid coaches in American sports that Forbes does, which in 2013 was topped by New Orleans Saints coach Sean Payton at $8 million a year.

However, neither Coach K nor Saban will be close to the top 10 coaching salaries in the world, which are all in soccer and averaged $11.3 million last year. Topping that list is Bayern Munich’s Pep Guardiola, who is making $24 million annually, following Guardiola are Chelsea’s Jose Mourinho ($17 million) and Guangzhou Evergrande’s Marcello Lippi ($14 million).

In his first year Guardiola led his team to the Bundesliga title, the UEFA Super Cup (a first for a German team) and the FIFA Club World Cup.

Consequently, Saban can go on break with one less thing to worry about, although no one would be surprised if his contract gets reworked again in the near future. That’s just reality due to the rising price of success in college football.

“Vacation I think is an important time for all of us to sometimes just be able to think, reassess the way we do some things,” he said. “I really enjoy it, because it’s a lot of quiet time for me to be able to even do work on the season without having lots of interruptions.”

 

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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Hits and Misses of Phil Steele's 2014 Preseason All-SEC Team

Your summer has started, which means it's time to hit the newsstand and grab your preseason magazine of choice. After all, you have to spend that quality pool and beach time studying up on the 2014 college football season.

One of the most prominent preseason magazines is published by ESPN's Phil Steele. 

His annual encyclopedia of college football knowledge will hit the shelf within the next few weeks, but he gave the world a sneak peek by posting his All-SEC team on his website Friday.

What are some of the hits and misses of that All-SEC team?

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Kansas Football: Can Jayhawks Become Bowl Eligible in 2014?

Kansas football has not been bowling since the 2008 season, and it feels like decades ago since that year's Insight Bowl victory over Minnesota.

The Jayhawks' 27-game conference losing streak was widely publicized and the brunt of many jokes in Big 12 country, but other mind-boggling numbers include the following:

Last road win: September 12, 2009 at UTEP.

Last road Big 12 win: October 4, 2008 at Iowa State.

The Jayhawks have gone just 9-46 since starting 5-0 in 2009—only three more victories than what is required to become bowl eligible in just one season.

A quick and novice review of Kansas' 2014 schedule reveals a chance, albeit very slim, of reaching six wins for the first time since 2008.

A loss to Southeast Missouri State in the season opener would be more shocking than Turner Gill's ingloriously pathetic debut loss to North Dakota State in 2010. A second victory should come when a mediocre Central Michigan team arrives in Lawrence two weeks later, but the assumed wins stop there.

Those nonconference games are sandwiched with an unexpectedly difficult road test against a suddenly fired up Duke program. But is it winnable? Yes. Especially with some roster turnover and changes on Dave Cutcliffe's Duke coaching staff among unrealistic expectations for their second straight upper-tier bowl appearance.

The Blue Devils will enter as a double-digit favorite, but an upset victory is certainly feasible.

However, Kansas will not win at Baylor or Oklahoma in 2014, and, therefore, there is no sense in wasting our time in analyzing those matchups.

The winnable conference games include home dates with Iowa State and TCU along with a road game at West Virginia—a team that graciously snapped KU's infamous 27-game Big 12 drought in 2013. Improved QB play and responsible defensive decision-making makes the Jayhawks competitive in each of those three games. A 2-1 record would be ideal—leaving Charlie Weis at four wins if we count out Duke.

Kansas outplayed Texas for 59 minutes at Memorial Stadium in 2012 before an odd meltdown (triggered by a blown 4th down on defense and an odd use of timeouts) gave the Longhorns an unimpressive victory.

Expectations remain cloudy for Charlie Strong's first year in Austin, but coaching changes routinely bring a baffling egg or two during the first campaign. A tired Jayhawks fanbase needs to hope Strong lays the first egg in Lawrence during the Big 12 opener on September 27.

This leaves us sitting at four-to-five wins with a home date versus Oklahoma State and road games at Texas Tech and Kansas State.

Kansas will undoubtedly enter each of those contests as heavy underdogs (likely double-digit spreads), but one victory could spell B-O-W-L for Charlie Weis if they wiggle an upset against Texas.

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5 Biggest Michigan vs. Ohio State Recruiting Battles for the Class of 2015

Michigan and Ohio State will forever harbor a mutual disdain for as long as they play each other on the college football field. Of course, the Wolverines haven't exactly lived up to their end of the bargain, winning just thrice since 2000. They are in need of a boost if they wish to earn bragging rights in late November.

Winning on Saturday is the goal, and if Brady Hoke wants to maintain the Maize and Blue's 58-45-6 series advantage, he must continue beating Urban Meyer's program on the recruiting trail, which is something he's done for the past three years. 

This slideshow will present five athletes who are torn between Michigan and Ohio State. They're 4- and 5-star recruits who list each school in their top five as of early June. 

Some of them are native Ohioans and Michiganders, but there are others from around the country who would love to take part in one of the NCAA's most passionate rivalries, regardless of side. One or two of those guys might make the list too. 

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5-Star LSU Commit Leonard Fournette Races Master P

One of the top high school recruits of his class, LSU Tigers commit Leonard Fournette is generating a ton of buzz in Baton Rouge, as he is expected to take college football by storm at the running back position.

While attending an AAU basketball tournament over Memorial Day weekend, Fournette happened to run into rapper Master P. The two decided to race. As you can see in the video below, Fournette burned Master P, even though it looked like he wasn't giving it his all.

[NOLA.com]

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Will College Football Playoff Leave Independents out in the Cold?

The pleas for help have officially begun. 

As college football inches toward its four-team playoff, access—or, the ability to deny access—has become a focal point.

As it stands, BYU, an independent, is in a no man's land of sorts. The Cougars aren't in a so-called "Power Five" conference, nor are they in a non-power conference like the Mountain West. 

Nor are they Notre Dame. BYU is just...there, which is unfortunate given the program has a history of a national championship (1984) and a Heisman winner (Ty Detmer). The only thing known about BYU's place in college football is that the ACC doesn't consider the program to be a Power Five opponent for scheduling purposes. 

If BYU coach Bronco Mendenhall had it his way, that would change. The Cougars would be in the Big 12 or any other power conference interested enough to take them. 

Speaking to Brian Davis of the Austin American Statesman on Thursday, Mendenhall made his case: 

We would love to be in the Big 12. I would love to be a member of that conference. I think that would make a lot of sense. In fact, if that was your headline, that would be great. We have a chip on our shoulder. I could have given you that instead of the longer answer. I’m just wondering who fights for us as an independent?

First, it's important to point out that, according to Davis, the Big 12 has no plans to add BYU—or anyone, for that matter. Like all other conferences, the Big 12 is in a wait-and-see mode in regards to the playoff. All changes, from adding a deregulated conference championship game to adding members, are probably being tabled until the league has a better understanding of how playoff selections will be made. 

That's bad news for Mendenhall's cause, which, should be noted, may not necessarily reflect BYU's thinking.

But Mendenhall brings up an intriguing question: "I'm just wondering who fights for us as an independent?"

The answer, of course, is no one because no one in college athletics is obligated to fight for anyone else. Contrarily, college athletics—football in particular—is a sport of self-interest where everyone does what's best for them.

Including BYU. As Stewart Mandel of Sports Illustrated noted in his recent mailbag, BYU's move to football independence was fueled by the opportunity to develop its own TV deal with ESPN:

BYU as an institution is unique in that its core mission is to spread the message of the LDS Church. Its nationally respected football team provides a means to do that. In 2010, the school was frustrated by the Mountain West's disastrous TV deals at the time, and it felt it would gain more exposure and revenue by striking its own deal with ESPN. That rationale proved accurate. 

It also could prove to be challenging. Television networks want as much compelling inventory as possible, and BYU is given the task of scheduling what amounts to 12 nonconference games each year. Not every one of those games is going to make for great television, but enough have to. 

When the ACC and SEC voted to stay at eight conference games and play at least one Power Five opponent each year, BYU fell on the wrong end of the deal.  

This doesn't mean that ACC or SEC teams will never schedule BYU—the Cougars opened the 2013 season against Virginia and have future games against the Cavaliers—but it does provide less incentive to do so. 

(Dennis Dodd of CBSSports.com recently wrote a post explaining the challenges of running a true independent in the playoff era.)

It's not that BYU will never be able to fill a schedule with compelling games. BYU and UCLA agreed to a home-and-home series in 2015 and 2016. For that matter, a quick glance over the Cougars' future schedules (courtesy of FBSchedules.com) shows plenty of big-time opponents. 

It doesn't make the process any less challenging, though, especially when other conferences are making labels for who's who. 

Meanwhile, Notre Dame, another football independent, has a membership to college football's country club. The Irish will also play five games against ACC opponents as part of a partial membership, which takes some pressure off of scheduling, and have a tie-in to the Orange Bowl. 

Even a similar scheduling/bowl agreement with, say, the Big 12 or Pac-12 would help BYU tremendously. 

Life's good when you get in with the right people. If you don't, good luck. As far as major college football is concerned, BYU is a good program, but just not good enough. 

The backhanded compliments can be summarized by one Big 12 source who spoke to Davis. 

"Outside of the 65, they could be the best program out there," the league source said. 

Outside being the operative word. 

 

Ben Kercheval is a lead writer for college football at Bleacher Report. All quotes cited unless obtained firsthand. 

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Oregon Football Recruiting: Position-by-Position Preview for the Class of 2015

The potent offense on which Oregon has staked its reputation in the last half-decade looks poised to continue its success based on the first four commits to the program's 2015 signing class.

The foursome currently pledged to the Ducks represent the various offensive strengths at Oregon in recent years: running back, tight end and offensive line.

Oregon's 2015 class is currently ranked No. 50 in the nation and No. 7 in the Pac-12 according to 247Sports, but head coach Mark Helfrich and his staff are still very early in the process. Building from what they have in place now, the Ducks could put together a strong group in the months to come.

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Oregon Football Recruiting: Position-by-Position Preview for the Class of 2015

The potent offense on which Oregon has staked its reputation in the last half-decade looks poised to continue its success based on the first four commits to the program's 2015 signing class...

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SEC Football Q&A: Will Nick Marshall or Jacob Coker Be Better in 2014?

You have SEC questions, and I have SEC answers. Thank you for your questions. If I didn't get to them this week, they will be saved and used in the future.

And we're off!

@BarrettSallee Who puts up better passing numbers Coker or Marshall?

— The Game (@TheGameWDGM) June 6, 2014

Auburn quarterback Nick Marshall, for sure.

Assuming Jacob Coker wins the Alabama job, he's still very much a mystery at this point. But even if he's an AJ McCarron clone, it's unlikely the Crimson Tide will air it out all over the field considering they have a new quarterback and a running back corps about which offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin just said "there probably aren't three more talented tailbacks in the NFL on a roster than we're fortunate to be able to work with at Alabama," according to Mike Herndon of AL.com.

Now that's a complete exaggeration, of course. But it certainly speaks to the confidence Kiffin has in running backs T.J. Yeldon, Derrick Henry and Kenyan Drake. They're going to get the ball early and often, which will prevent Coker from putting up gaudy numbers on the stat sheet.

Marshall is a different story.

We are just talking about passing numbers here, but I think Marshall is set up for a huge season through the air. You know he can stretch the field with Sammie Coates just as he did last year, and now he has Duke Williams lining up opposite Coates to put a tremendous amount of stress on the defense.

He's the first quarterback head coach Gus Malzahn has ever had return for a second year in the system, and Marshall's progress showed in the spring game where he showed touch over the middle, the ability to go through progressions and great timing with his receivers.

Auburn's offense is more likely to have a quarterback—and really anybody, for that matter, put up video game statistics. We already know Marshall can light up the stat sheet on the ground. He'll do it through the air in 2014 as well.

 

@BarrettSallee Is the recent UGA dismissal simply just addition by subtraction, or will this greatly affect their defense?

— John (@jnorris10000) June 6, 2014

It's a big loss in the sense that Tray Matthews was going to be one of Georgia's starting safeties. No, he wasn't great last year. In fact, sometimes he was downright awful (looks repeatedly at the "Miracle on the Plains"). But he and fellow dismissed safety were still starters on a defense that just needs to be adequate for the team to be contenders.

They can still be adequate without Matthews back there.

Quincy Mauger had plenty of playing time last year splitting time with Matthews, Corey Moore could play either safety spot and new defensive coordinator Jeremy Pruitt could reach back over the offense and bring former defensive back Brendan Langley back after he moved to wide receiver.

Matthews' absence is a big deal, but there are options—several of whom have comparable experience to Matthews—perhaps just not the upside. It will impact the defense, but how much remains to be seen.

Pruitt has participated in this song and dance before. He took a Florida State defense last year that struggled to force turnovers and helped them lead the nation in interceptions (26) in 2014 and turned them into national champs.

Considering all the weapons on offense, all this defense has to be is opportunistic for the Bulldogs to be successful. That's still very realistic.

 

@BarrettSallee How many TFLs/Sacks does Myles Garrett get this year?

— Carlos Toraño (@catorano) June 6, 2014

Oh man, he could be a force on that Texas A&M defensive line. But just how much will he play?

The nation's No. 2 overall player in the class of 2014 will arrive in College Station with a ton of pressure on his shoulders. He's the centerpiece of the defense for years to come, and that defense needs to take a gigantic leap forward right now in order for Texas A&M to be competitive in the SEC West.

Garrett has all the talent in the world, but a lot of his production depends on Julien Obioha. Ideally, the coaching staff would like the 6'4", 236-pound junior to slide to the other side of the line and make room for Garrett at rush end. But is that the best move for the entire line?

If Obioha succeeds, it will allow more opportunities for Garrett to get after the quarterback. That will happen a little bit, but I see Garrett more as a situational pass-rushing specialist early in his career and evolving more into an every-down role toward the end of the season.

I'll go with nine tackles for loss and 5.5 sacks during his freshman campaign. Would that be what Texas A&M fans expect? Maybe not. But it'd still be a very solid freshman season.

 

Do you have a question for next week's Q&A? Send it to SEC Lead Writer Barrett Sallee on Twitter at @BarrettSallee

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

 


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USC Football: 5 Offensive Players with the Most to Gain from Summer Workouts

Summer workouts are underway at USC, providing us with some insight as to how the players are coming along in the wake of spring camp. 

The coaches aren't around, but head coach Steve Sarkisian spent the final days of spring camp showing the team how to run summer sessions, with great detail. The veterans are running the ship in their absence, leading their teammates through various light drills and 7-on-7 sessions. 

For the handful of Trojans that missed the spring, these summer sessions are particularly important. Players will have the opportunity to show their growth during these organized sessions, which could have implications for their respective positions on the depth chart in the fall.

Let's take a look at the five Trojans that have the most to gain from summer workouts, and what they can do to showcase their strengths before August.  

 

All quotes obtained first hand, unless otherwise stated. 

 

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USC Football: 5 Offensive Players with the Most to Gain from Summer Workouts

Summer workouts are underway at USC, providing us with some insight as to how the players are coming along in the wake of spring camp...

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Why Pat Fitzgerald and Northwestern Will Shock the Big Ten in 2014

It was not so long ago that all of us, for once, were ready to take Northwestern seriously as a football program and a potential multi-year contender in the Big Ten.

Specifically, that seemed to be the consensus at the start of last season, when Northwestern was coming off a 10-win campaign and its first bowl victory since the Truman Administration, and it was ranked No. 22 in the country in both major preseason polls.

What happened in between makes the dissonance separating last year's June opinion of Northwestern and this year's June opinion of Northwestern understandable. Pat Fitzgerald's team was not able to profit from that momentum, losing seven consecutive games during Big Ten play and not qualifying for the postseason despite a 4-0 start.

However, even with the graduation of quarterback Kain Colter and the sure-to-be-distraction of the union talks he has spearheaded, there are signs indicating Northwestern can bounce back and compete for a Big Ten title—and that it can do so as early next season.

It happened with Michigan State last year, didn't it?

 

Welcome to the Big Ten West!

This is the shortest but most important section of this article.

It feels like the right place to start.

Northwestern has the good fortune of being located in Evanston, Illinois, which itself has the good fortune of being located west of Bloomington, Indiana.

Which means the Wildcats are not in the newly formed Big Ten East—the division that includes Ohio State, Penn State, Michigan State and Michigan. Instead, they find themselves in the opposite division, the West, which includes (chiefly) Nebraska, Wisconsin and Iowa.

With #NoDisrespect to those programs, Northwestern has a real, better-than-people-realize chance of winning this division. That holds doubly true when you consider its cross-division schedule, which does not include the Buckeyes or the Spartans.

That sounds a lot like a certain 2013 Big Ten Champion—those very same Spartans—who got to avoid Ohio State and Wisconsin. Without having to play the two best teams in the conference (sans itself), Michigan State won every Big Ten game by double digits.

Nebraska has to play Michigan State in East Lansing, Wisconsin in Madison, Northwestern in Evanston and Iowa in Iowa City. Wisconsin and Iowa both also avoid Michigan State and Ohio State, but the Badgers play Northwestern in Evanston, and the Hawkeyes have lost four of their last six and six of their last nine to the Wildcats.

Northwestern may never be as good, technically, as last year's Rose Bowl Champion, but it will not have to be to win its division.

What it needs is something far saner: to be good enough in crunch time to win close games over opponents that are—as we'll discover later—essentially evenly matched.

It needs to get lucky in those late-game situations, but so does every team that wants to win its conference in 2014.

If only there was a sign that it was in for improved luck…

 

Close-Game Progression to the Mean

Late-game failure defined Northwestern's 2013 season.

Not long after a deceptively close, soul-crushing, College Gameday-featured loss to Ohio State, the Wildcats lost four straight one-score Big Ten games against Minnesota, Iowa, Nebraska and Michigan.

The last two of that group were particularly heart-rending. Nebraska beat Northwestern with a "Hail Mary" as time expired:

And Michigan beat Northwestern with an aptly-nicknamed "Turbo Field Goal" to send the game into overtime:

A win in either of those games would have made Northwestern bowl-eligible and likely would have sent it to the postseason.

Which is redolent of what Michigan State did in 2012—one season before it won the Big Ten and the Rose Bowl. Sparty didn't win its sixth game until the regular-season finale against Minnesota that year, owing its poor record to a similar deficiency in one-score games:

(Note: I'm going to count Ohio State's 10-point victory as a one-score game because the Buckeyes scored a defensive touchdown on the pointless final play [and sent Brent Musberger into a gambling tizzy]. If you want to accuse me of gerrymandering the numbers, so be it. I stand by the decision.)

Success in one-score games takes a decent amount of skill; it is not entirely luck. It is, however, a trapping of luck, which is why it tends to normalize from season to season.

Teams that struggle in close games one year are statistically favored to progress toward the mean the following year. Which is why Brian Fremeau of Football Outsiders, writing for ESPN.com (subscription required), projected MSU would win the Big Ten Legends last year in August:

According to our data, Michigan State had unusual luck work against it in close games and played more like a nine-win team last season than a seven-win one. That works in its favor in the projection model, as events like turnovers and close-game success tend to even out over time.

According to Fremeau's model, Northwestern didn't play like a nine-win team in 2013 the same way Michigan State did in 2012. It finished last year No. 60 in the country with an FEI score of 0.11, while Sparty finished 2012 No. 23 with an FEI score of .142.

However, those numbers only account for what a team did on the field, disregarding off-field factors such as injury luck. Injuries are another thing that normalize from year to year, and Northwestern was among the most-injured teams in America last season.

Injuries are bad, obviously, for the short term, but they have a hidden benefit over the long term: cultivating depth. Northwestern played a lot of guys last year who would otherwise be untested.

Which reminds me…

 

Talented, Experienced and Well-Coached

In the well-known magazine that bears his name, Phil Steele's 2014 College Football Preview, Phil Steele ranks Northwestern the No.  27 team in the country and the second-best team in the Big Ten West. Wisconsin checks in just three spots ahead at No. 24, with Nebraska and Iowa not far behind at No. 30 and No. 32, respectively.

Steele's magazine also makes note of the 14 senior starters returning to Northwestern next season—second-most in the country (behind UTSA) and most among teams from power conferences. Because of this, he lists the Wildcats No. 3 behind TCU and Florida on his annual projection of most-improved teams from one season to the next.

Last year, Missouri, Duke and Auburn all appeared on that list.

Steele's predictions are not gospel—he did, in the interest of full disclosure, think Texas would win the Big 12 last year—but they represent a partial confirmation of the point this article is trying to make: Northwestern is being overlooked for one bad (and unlucky) season and has a truckload of experience returning.

So much experience that it can't not be better in 2014.

The key returning piece is running back Venric Mark, who was one of the best players in the country two seasons ago and was granted a sixth-year due to medical hardship after missing most of last season with a fractured ankle, per Chris Huston of College Football Talk.

According to Teddy Greenstein of the Chicago TribuneMark was sprinting, running and cutting in April, even though he was, by his own admission, "supposed to be in a (walking) boot."

He is not over-exerting himself to a perilous degree—he is simply ahead of schedule.

Mark will be running behind an offensive line that returns 100 career starts, according to Steele's College Football Preview. Trevor Siemien returns at quarterback after platooning with Colter for much of the past two seasons, and so do four of last year's five leading receivers.

The secondary is deep and talented, and although there are questions in the defensive front seven, that unit is led, at the very least, by Chi Chi Ariguzo, who might be best linebacker in the Big Ten.

More importantly, the unit is led by Fitzgerald, who at this time last year was being mentioned for some of the top potential coaching vacancies in the country. A Northwestern lifer who won the first two Chuck Bednarik Awards in 1995 and 1996, Fitz is a former linebacker and born leader who can shape this defense into a viable unit.

And the smart money says that he will.

 

The Elephant in the Room

Let's pause now for a lengthy, nuanced discussion about labor reform in college athletics!

[everybody reading this article shuffles slowly out of the room.]

OK. I digress.

We won't get into the nitty gritty of Colter's petition to the National Labor Relations Board, which granted Northwestern players the right to unionize as employees of the university—but only if they want to be acknowledged as such.

Just know that the story exists. And that it's big. And that, for obvious reasons, it's expected to cast a dark cloud over Northwestern's season, to serve as a ruinous distraction.

But what if the opposite happens?

What if, by some chance, this veteran-laded team can turn the odds against it into a positive? Grantland's Bill Simmons has referred to this as the "nobody believes in us" theory, and it is something Northwestern's players are used to.

They are, after all, at Northwestern.

"At the end of the day…everything outside of our locker room is outside of our locker room," said Mark of the potential for union distraction, per Matt Fortuna of ESPN.com. "…Now it's time to get back to work. We have a job here, and we understand that."

"Kain's no longer on this football team."

Mark is right, you know. Colter is very much gone. But with himself, Fitzgerald and a whole slew of seniors returning, the presence of leadership is not. Between that, a favorable schedule, a winnable division and the potential for better close-game luck, this team is lurking in the weeds for a run to the Big Ten title game.

And from there, well, anything can happen in 60 minutes.

 

Follow Brian Leigh on Twitter: @BLeighDAT

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Auburn Football: 5 Power-Conference Teams the Tigers Could Play in 2016 and 2017

While this Auburn offseason has been newsworthy for recruiting battles, summer workouts and discussions on retroactive claims of national championships, another key issue came up at last week's SEC spring meetings in Destin, Florida.

Auburn has its opponents set for its 2015 schedule, which includes a Chick-fil-A Kickoff Game against Louisville in Atlanta, but its nonconference slate past next season still looks bare, as Arkansas State is the only confirmed opponent for 2016 and beyond.

Auburn athletic director Jay Jacobs wants to fix that soon. Jacobs told AL.com's Brandon Marcello that the Tigers are attempting to finalize a contract with a Power 5 conference opponent for a 2016 home game and a 2017 road game geographically close to Auburn. If a home game cannot be settled, Jacobs said Auburn "may do a neutral site game in '16 and come back home in '17 or vice versa."

According to Marcello, Auburn's discussions have included teams in the ACC, but the school is open to other conferences. Jacobs also said he would love for the Tigers to play "Notre Dame, Michigan (or) Florida State. All those teams that are traditionally good teams" in the future.

While many of the country's top programs have finalized their opponents for 2016 and 2017, there are a few power-conference teams that have some empty spaces in their schedules. Here's a look at five premier opponents Auburn fans could see down the road.

 

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LSU Football: Just How Great Will Freshman QB Brandon Harris Be?

Freshman Brandon Harris will be LSU's starting quarterback. 

Harris is currently in a battle with sophomore Anthony Jennings to win the job. Harris outperformed Jennings in the LSU spring game, combining for four touchdowns while Jennings threw two interceptions. 

Sure, it was just one scrimmage. This is why Les Miles and offensive coordinator Cam Cameron said after the game they are in no rush to name a starter. 

"I think both of those guys are good enough to be our starting quarterback," said Miles. "We're going to let this competition continue and see how this thing plays out."

While it is smart to not make a decision based on one spring game performance, Harris did every aspect of quarterbacking better than Jennings. 

Harris went 11-of-28 for 195 yards. The low completion percentage is deceiving, as his passes to the second-team players were accurately put to where only his receivers could make the catch. Also, he showed amazing decision-making and elusiveness inside and outside of the pocket.  

Expectations are high for Harris. The 4-star gunslinger earned high praise from ESPN's National Recruiting Director Tom Luginbill. 

SEC Lead Writer Barrett Sallee saw the potential in Harris since the beginning of spring. Sallee not only expected him to win the job, but have a spectacular freshman campaign. 

Throwing for 2,700 yards, as Sallee suggests in the above video, seems to be a stretch. For comparison's sake, that would be 253 yards more than what South Carolina senior Connor Shaw accomplished last season. 

Harris will be a stud. But his hype will not exempt him from growing pains. He will struggle like most true freshmen quarterbacks do, most of which will not be his fault.

In Sallee's defense, 2,700 yards would be attainable if the Tigers returned Odell Beckham Jr. and Jarvis Landry. Unfortunately for Harris, both star receivers bolted to the NFL this offseason. Instead, his top targets will be sophomore Travin Dural, redshirt freshman John Diarse and true freshman Malachi Dupre. 

LSU will also run the ball heavily next season behind an offensive line that returns four starters. Miles will get back to his old ways by playing primarily ground-and-pound football.  

And the Tigers also have this Fournette guy coming to town to help carry the load. 

There will be times Harris makes questionable decisions with the football, which will then make Jennings the most popular man in Baton Rouge. Harris' growing pains might force Miles to play both, which he is not opposed to doing, according to Scott Rabalais of The Advocate

Reasonable expectations for Harris would be just over 2,000 total yards and 17 total touchdowns. He might not be able to lead LSU to a SEC Championship berth, but 10 wins is certainly a reasonable total.

 

*Stats and rankings via 247sports, cfbstats.com and LSU Sports Information. Quotes were obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted. Follow me on Twitter @CarterthePower.  

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Big Ten's Commitment to Indianapolis Title Game Perfect Move for Conference

The Big Ten has the reputation—fair or not—of being stuck in the past. However, Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany has been progressive about conference expansion and stipends for athletes. 

But when it comes to the Big Ten Championship Game, conference presidents and chancellors are taking an "if it ain't broke, don't fix it" mentality. 

The conference announced Thursday that the football championship game would continue to be held in Indianapolis at Lucas Oil Stadium through the 2021 season. 

Via ESPN's Adam Rittenberg, Delany explained that the football championship game is still in its relative infancy. Thus, expanding the site outside the traditional geographical footprint isn't a priority—yet.

We're not at the stage of experimentation with respect to indoor quality, the centrality of it; it's a new event. We've been cautious in trying to grow it, trying to understand it. We always thought it will be central. By the time we’ll finish up [the agreement], it will be 11 years there. 

After 11 years we’ll figure out how successful it’s been, how much it’s grown, whether that kind of alternative venue makes sense. But at this point, we're building it, stabilizing it, creating a great brand around it, making it as accessible as possible.

Delany's logic makes sense. While relocating the conference's basketball tournament to Washington, D.C., in 2017 is a clear sign the Big Ten is moving East, it's not forgetting its origins. Furthermore, Indianapolis is a good city, one that's more than capable of hosting an event like this. 

The travel is doable too. The conference title game takes place one week after the end of the regular season. Unless divisions have been locked up ahead of time, there's not a lot of room for extensive planning from a fan's perspective. Since there are only two teams involved, the location needs to be as accessible as possible. 

Keeping the location centralized in an area where it can, for the most part, be reached by driving or short flights is a reasonable call. Really, only Maryland and Rutgers are at a geographical disadvantage here. 

Of course, there are other neutral-site locations in Big Ten territory that could host the game: Minneapolis (with its new stadium), Detroit and Chicago are on the short list. 

Keeping the game inside is another good idea, even though the idea of it all is very anti-Big Ten. Although Chicago has received consideration before (via ESPN's Rittenberg), playing indoors provides teams and fans with ideal conditions. 

Yes, sub-freezing temperatures and snow is football weather—when you're watching the game from the comfort of your climate-controlled home. 

This isn't to say the site won't change down the road, but the Big Ten has found a site that works. The SEC found one with Atlanta, and the Pac-12 recently moved its title game to Santa Clara, California. 

To deviate from what works isn't on the agenda for the Big Ten. Nor should it be.

 

Ben Kercheval is a lead writer for college football at Bleacher Report. All quotes cited unless obtained firsthand. 

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Florida State Football: Plan in Place to Improve Doak Campbell Stadium

Just five months after winning a national championship, you can’t blame Florida State for wanting more. And not just another title.

Coach Jimbo Fisher has rebuilt the program from a struggling, fading dynasty into a national champion. And now, FSU administrators and the Seminole Boosters are working to fund a plan that will improve the look of FSU football, including dorms, locker rooms, coaches' offices and Doak Campbell Stadium.

In the next few years, pending approval from the Board of Trustees and the Board of Governors this month, plans are in place to build a premium club seat section in the south end zone of Doak Campbell that will help to fund some of football’s facility needs.

Picture an indoor/outdoor experience, where fans can hear the roar of the crowd from cushioned chair back seats and enjoy the comfort of air-conditioned spaces with views of the field. Think “great rooms” where friends can gather, talk and watch football games from around the nation, while eating and drinking and keeping an eye on the field below.

Doak Campbell Stadium looks impressive from the outside, a picturesque building that was decades ago called an "erector set" before it received a stylish brick facade in the early 1990s. Judge a stadium by its cover, and it’s certainly attractive. Inside, a football team that is 45-10 under Fisher is a compelling reason in itself to show up seven Saturdays each fall.

But flip open the first page, and the introduction is less than appealing. The concourses under Doak Campbell are mostly gray. There is rust, there are old bathrooms, there is no way to escape the extreme heat with a cool zone.

College football fans have choices on Saturdays. One of them is simply staying home and watching games on HDTVs, saving hundreds of dollars in gas, food and hotels.

So, school officials and boosters decided to put a plan into action. And buoyed by the success of the product on the field, Doak Campbell will get some needed improvements that will modernize the stadium and also improve the fans’ experience.

The campus, especially the areas close to Doak Campbell, have already changed in the last year. FSU completed the construction of Fisher’s longtime No. 1 wish, an indoor practice facility, in August 2013. The IPF was used frequently to keep the team’s practices on schedule when thunderstorms hit the area. And the boosters opened College Town, a mixed-use development that generates additional money for FSU athletics. Finally, the boosters broke ground on an apartment complex to house the football team. The complex, now named Champions Hall, will also house other FSU students (in compliance with NCAA rules).

The next phase was to address the football team’s facilities, specifically the locker room, players' lounge and coaches' offices, and that work began in late April after FSU's spring football game. FSU isn't adding square footage to these areas as part of the remodeling. But at $5 million to $6 million, FSU should get plenty of bang for its buck.

"With a championship comes many expectations," FSU senior associate athletics director Monk Bonasorte said. "When you're trying to recruit the best athletes in the country and our recruiting has gotten to where it is now, you've just got to stay at that level and maintain that level in all areas of your department. The locker room and the players' lounge, players' meeting rooms, coaches' offices, it's just the total picture of the program as being an elite program."

One of the most striking locker room displays will be statues that pay tribute to FSU players that have retired numbers. Jerseys for players like Chris Weinke, Charlie Ward and Deion Sanders will be displayed and permanently lit. The goal is to display the jerseys like works of art but also motivate current players to strive for individual and team success.

Names and numbers of those who wore that specific number will be on current players' lockers to remind them about FSU's football history.

"The number will always be lit," Bonasorte said. "And that's the belief behind the fact that you're sharing a locker with all the great players who have played here at Florida State."

Minor repairs to Doak will take place this summer but the heavy lifting—sandblasting, removing rust, welding, replacing steel plates, priming and painting—will be put off until money to fund those projects has been secured. Boosters plan to launch the "Champions Campaign" this summer, which will address all of FSU football's facility needs, according to Jerry Kutz, Sr. Vice President of Seminole Boosters, Inc.

"The first stage of the Champions Campaign will address all areas within our football program that coach Fisher and athletic director Stan Wilcox have identified—areas where our players live, work and play," Kutz said. "The second stage of the Champions Campaign will come this fall after the athletic department's comprehensive needs assessment for all sports is complete. Wilcox will prioritize that needs list and the boosters will add those priorities to our Champions Campaign fundraising efforts."

A key component of the Champions Campaign's fundraising efforts will be the Champions Club premium seat section, as the project will require a capital gift to qualify for a seat purchase. Those gifts, as well as the revenue generated by the club seats themselves, will fund many of the improvements needed in other areas of the stadium and within football facilities.

"We're looking to build the Champions Club in the south end zone of Doak because there are natural synergies to be realized with the existing University Center Club amenities, the large rooftop decks, and massive spaces under those decks which lend themselves to a 30,000 square-foot air-conditioned club with views of the field and of campus," Kutz said. "Our architects plan to turn an undervalued piece of the stadium into beachfront property."

The two rooftop areas that flank the University Center Club, with temporary tents on game day, will be modified to have a permanent cabana roof with bathrooms, bars and televisions. An extension of that covered, outdoor deck would add more deck space and a dozen rows of wide, cushioned chair back seats with extra legroom, replacing what is currently the 300 section of the stadium. A second tier of club seats of similar size will replace the 200 section.

Club seat holders on both levels will have access to eight diverse indoor and outdoor experiences. In addition to outdoor club seats and the rooftop cabanas, they can enjoy gathering in the 30,000 square foot air-conditioned club on the fourth floor, which features a long glass wall with a view of the game, plus another 25,000 square feet of air-conditioned space on other floors.

"We've surveyed our Seminole Booster members, ticket holders and former ticket holders, asking them what improvements they'd like to see us make to Doak. Those are the guidelines they gave us and we passed on to the architects who drew the conceptual drawings," Kutz said. ''Our members want chair back seats with leg room, where they can be a part of crowd, hear the Warchant and see the pageantry of Osceola and Renegade but be able to escape from time to time to enjoy air conditioning, adult beverages, elevators and upgraded bathrooms. The architects returned a plan to us that incorporates all of those things plus movement between experiences without losing visual contact with the field."

Kutz envisions fans enjoying the club for more than just game days, seeing the possibility for them to enjoy the club area Friday-Sunday on game weekends.

"Champions Club seat holders can entertain guests on Friday for any number of events, perhaps a meet-and-greet happy hour with former players or a party with live entertainment," Kutz said. "Our club seat holders will also be able to entertain guests on Saturday before and/or after the game or for Sunday brunch. That’s a huge feature that’s unique in college athletics."

Granted, the improvements affect less than 10 percent of the seats in Doak Campbell Stadium, reducing capacity to about 80,000. But school and booster officials believe that the Champions Club, if successful, will become an important revenue driver to improve all the seats within the stadium.

While the seat on the couch is always a comfortable option, the improvements will make for a better game day experience; one that could make the trips to Tallahassee more worthwhile—and enjoyable—for years to come.

Bob Ferrante is the Florida State Lead Writer for Bleacher Report, all quotes obtained first-hand unless otherwise noted. Follow Bob on Twitter

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The Opening 2014: One Player to Watch at Every Position

After a nationwide tour of Nike football camps, the grand finale is nearly here. A collection of America's elite high school football talents will assemble for "The Opening", an annual showcase that continues to gain prestige each summer.

The event takes place July 7-10 at Nike World Headquarters in Beaverton, Oregon. A compelling slate of action includes intense linemen matchups, star-studded seven-on-seven drills and SPARQ testing competitions.

More than 150 of the country's most coveted college football prospects are expected to take part in this year's edition after receiving invitations at past camps. It's the culmination of years of work and presents an opportunity for each player to live up to his billing as one of the nation's best.

The 2014 roster features plenty of future college and NFL standouts, with many still deciding where they'll spend the next phase of their football careers. Based on the list of invitees, we highlight one player to watch at each position because of the skill set and intrigue he brings to the field.

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