NCAA Football

Nebraska: Best Quotes and Key Takeaways from Big Ten Media Days

Nebraska fans got their final look at the team as head coach Bo Pelini and members of the team appeared at Big Ten media days in Chicago this week. While these can be pretty scripted and buttoned-down affairs, there’s always a few interesting morsels of news that come out. Here are a few of the most interesting pieces of information.

Unless otherwise noted, all quotes are from the Big Ten’s official transcripts of Bo Pelini’s presentation.

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Miami Football: 5 Games That Could Ruin the Hurricanes' 2014 Season

Five games on the 2014 schedule could derail the Miami Hurricanes' chances at a Coastal Division title, which is the program's most realistic goal for the upcoming campaign.

Due to parity within the division, "The U" should be targeting six conference victories to earn a spot in the ACC Championship Game for the first time in program history.

A loss to rival and preseason No. 1 Florida State in mid-November will not necessarily ruin the 'Canes' season, but that's why the following contests are so important.

All quotes obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted.

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Evolution of Team Recruiting Camps Leads to Commits in Huge Numbers

For 2016 quarterback recruit Jacob Eason, an early commitment was the last thing on his mind.

"I went down there just thinking I was going to check it out, have a good time," Eason told Bleacher Report of his visit to Georgia's "Dawg Night" camp, which concluded a Southeast swing that also featured Alabama and Florida State visits.

"But I just knew it was the place. When I went down there, I felt at home."

On the night following the camp, Eason—the nation's second-ranked pro-style quarterback in the 2016 class, according to the 247Sports' composite rankings—verbally pledged to the Bulldogs. So did 5-star 2016 offensive tackle Ben Cleveland and two other camp participants.

Any time a school can get four verbal commitments from an event, it's considered an immense success. But Georgia's huge haul at "Dawg Night" has become par for the camp course this summer.

The practice of morphing camps into specialized, school-branded recruiting events is yielding commitments in huge numbers.

So, what is the formula?

Though nobody wants to give away secrets, a picture of this new breed of camp became clearer in the details offered by the coaches who host the events and the players who attend them.

These intimate environments allow the players and their families to spend time with coaches and players. Many are under the lights in the stadiums with jumbotrons, scoreboards and music blaring. Others thrive on competition; all thrive on peer recruiting.

No one camp has all those elements, but several of these characteristics are shared by all.

This is far from a new concept, but it didn't become must-attend until Urban Meyer's "Friday Night Lights" at Florida in 2005. Georgia's "Dawg Night" followed suit three years later.

These days, it seems everybody has a unique event.

Now at Ohio State, Meyer's "FNL" event last weekend produced two commitments.

At Tennessee, "Orange Carpet Day" resulted in seven commitments over two one-day events. Mississippi State had the most shocking camp commitment haul when eight players pledged to the Bulldogs during the "Big Dawg Camp," and another participant committed shortly after.

The list goes on and on.

"'Friday Night Lights' under Urban Meyer at Florida was the event that first had the biggest impact on the Richter scale, so to speak," said Barton Simmons, 247Sports' national director of scouting. "Meyer was smart enough to transition a college instructional camp into a showcase, an event. Kids started flocking, and back before events like The Opening sprung up, 'Friday Night Lights' was one of the best events in the country from a talent perspective. Now, almost all major programs have some sort of version of that.

"Every program's recruiting culture is different, so I don’t think an elite event is a necessity. Penn State has killed it recruiting under James Franklin this year without an under-the-lights type of event. Alabama is the best recruiting program in the nation and [Nick] Saban doesn't have a single 'Dawg Night'-style event. But when you look at Mississippi State adding seven or eight commits in one day at their 'Big Dawg Camp' or Georgia adding two five-stars in the class of 2016 in one evening, it's hard not to see a serious benefit to a well-run event."

 

The Forefathers of Showcase Recruiting Events

Georgia recruiting coordinator Bryan McClendon remembers when head coach Mark Richt and his staff were in the early stages of discussing a showcase recruiting event.

The rival Gators had changed the recruiting game with "FNL," and the Dawgs had all these resources they wanted to show off, too. Before long, the elements started coming together.

It would be a night camp under the lights at Sanford Stadium. They'd turn on the scoreboard and even open it up to media so the kids who didn't show could get a glimpse of what they missed. It would also be scheduled at a time when they weren't competing with AAU basketball or track for players' attention.

Most importantly, they'd make it cost-efficient.

"To be honest with you, one of the things we always want to do—and it's very, very tough to do now—is try to make it as cheap as possible," McClendon said. "This is a camp where you know you’re not going to get any kind of profit from in that regard. It's very available to them, and you’re able to attract people and say, 'This is too good of a deal to pass up.' It’s the cheapest camp we have.

"We wanted to make sure the bang for your buck was too good to pass up for people out-of-state to pass us to go do something else."

Almost immediately, Georgia had an immense success on its hands. It didn't take long for rivals to know it was time to worry if a target was heading to Athens that weekend.

This year, UGA made two important tweaks, splitting the event into a two-session, all-day camp, according to GoDawgs247's Rusty Mansell (subscription required). The Bulldogs also used utilized modern technology to sell it.

While "Dawg Night" has enjoyed major staying power, the pedigree from Florida's forerunning camp is unprecedented. From the year it started in 2005, "FNL" has become a national showcase.

The camp has featured 13 first-round NFL draft picks and 36 players taken in the draft, according to GatorBait's Thomas Goldkamp (subscription required). Several of those participants became Gators, especially in Meyer's tenure. That's a big reason he won two national championships in Gainesville.

Though Will Muschamp's uncertain future led to less star power than normal this year, according to ESPN.com's Derek Tyson, the Gators still hosted plenty of elite players like Martez Ivey, Jeffrey Holland and Byron Cowart.

These recruiting events aren't just huge recruiting tools for locals, either.

"The competition level down there (the Southeast) is just really not comparable to here," said Eason, a Lake Stevens, Washington, resident.  "You have guys from Florida, Alabama, Georgia at the (Dawg Night) camp—everywhere you go, the competition is pumped up.

"Everybody plays at a higher level down there, and you could really see it."

The best want to play with the best, and Eason said that played a factor in his ultimate decision to head south for his college career. Now, the quarterback becomes part of the camp's pedigree, woven into the fabric of why future prospects will keep thinking "Dawg Night" is special.

"Kids look forward to it every year," McClendon said. "Certain coaches look forward to it every year. As soon as it’s over with, guys are asking about when’s the next one we’re having. It’s one of the premiere camps in the country. It really is.

"It's kind of like that one party nobody likes to miss out on."

 

'Shocking the World'

Mississippi State—a school in the sticks of the state, far from any big-city lights—had its own recruiting party July 18 when the Bulldogs received eight commitments at its annual "Big Dawg Camp."

The historic haul elevated the Bulldogs from the nether regions of the recruiting rankings all the way up to 11th place, according to 247Sports Composite. It was the kind of day that veteran recruiting coordinator Tony Hughes said in more than 20 years of coaching he'd "never seen happen before."

"It was just one night that it all came together," Hughes said. "It was work over a long period of time, not just the one night. It's just like that one game you get in and you've got that great opponent and every play you call works and it's executed, and you say, 'Wow! Look at that!'"

The MSU coaches didn't do anything different this year, Hughes said. Like always, they turned on the lights at Davis Wade Stadium, lit up the scoreboard and the jumbotron and coached the prospects like they would if they were their own players.

The intensity level elevated, the swagger followed and, before long, multiple players began committing to spend the next four years in Starkville.

It was the kind of night reserved for the white-collar world of college football—teams such as Alabama, Ohio State, Southern Cal, Texas and Florida.

Perhaps it wasn't a surprise because of that last example. You see, MSU head coach Dan Mullen was on Meyer's staff when "FNL" originated.

There are elements from that foundation camp nearly a decade ago present in MSU's version.

"We try to be different and out-in-front, and you have to be at Mississippi State," Hughes said. "You have to use your imagination and do things to reach out. We can’t do what Alabama does, or what LSU does or Georgia does because we don’t have the same clientele, the same finances, the same budget, you know? If we can be different and use our imagination, we can shock the world like we did that weekend.

"Ours is the real deal because it comes from the original. Coach Mullen understands how it works and how to make it an event."

Another coach who obviously understands the gauntlet of SEC recruiting is Tennessee coach Butch Jones.

In his first two full recruiting classes at UT, Jones has escalated the talent level on Rocky Top. Already on campus are 32 signees from a class ranked seventh in the 2014 cycle. Joining them in the '15 class are 22 verbal pledges in another seventh-ranked group.

Eleven of UT's commitments have come since June 9, fueled by two "Orange Carpet Day" events that produced seven pledges, including 4-star former Alabama running back Alvin Kamara.

Though some "Orange Carpet Day" details are kept quiet, tight end commit Kyle Oliver said the players didn't even work out for UT's coaches. Instead, the event was set up to impress the prospects and to enable them to spend one-on-one time with Jones and his assistants.

It was also a paparazzi-style atmosphere, Oliver said, treating the players as if they were already stars.

"When I got there, there was an orange carpet waiting for us, and they took a lot of pictures," Oliver said. "It did set them apart. It was a very great experience, and I couldn't see a reason why I wouldn't want to commit.

"It was like a family day type of thing, and that's what I really wanted when I was looking for a college. I feel like it played a big role for me."

Jones reiterated the Vols tried to make both of their summer events a down-home atmosphere. It was such a success the first time, UT held another one in July.

These types of intimate settings have been staples at all three of Jones' head coaching stops, he said. Each year, they'll switch things up a bit, but the ultimate goal never changes.

"The big thing for the 'Orange Carpet Day' was geared toward a lot of these individuals have been here a number of times, so how can we make it different?" Jones said. "But really, it’s just an opportunity to spend quality time, get to know one another, and have fun; kind of like a family reunion, so to speak.

"That's what it's all about—them getting to know us as people and coaches."

That family feel is something many coaches try to recreate. Few succeed.

Auburn, for instance, does it well at its "Big Cat Weekend," which has been a cornerstone of its recruiting success. AL.com's John Talty said the weekend is "essential" to the Tigers' recruiting philosophy.

Pick [a] Southeastern Conference school and they inevitably have their own catchy recruiting night. The difference is that Auburn's Big Cat Weekend doesn't focus much on football; it's all about bonding. During past Big Cat Weekends, top recruits participated in scavenger hunts and water balloon fights.

When the atmosphere strikes a chord with the players present, they take to Twitter, go to national camps and tell everybody about what is happening at School X. Before long, an event makes a name for itself.

With the world of recruiting shrinking, everybody talks to everybody else. That word-of-mouth buzz is the best advertisement colleges can get. If your camp is something kids are talking about, it spreads like wildfire.

Then, coaches know they've got a keeper.

"It's less of a cattle call and more of a true interaction with the coaching staff and a showcase of the best versus the best," Simmons said. "These events are the camp version of a VIP section. It's a velvet rope event for the camp season."

 

Imitation Is the Truest Form of Flattery

As long as these on-campus event camps are producing commitments, the concepts are going to be copied.

While recruiting is mostly about relationships, there's also a major element of not falling behind.

"A program's 'cool factor' has never been a bigger deal in the recruiting process than it is today," B/R recruiting analyst Tyler Donohue said. "Social media changed the game, and every team is trying new things to keep the attention of prospects."

With recruiting, it's difficult to find exclusive territory.

If one school sends 100 handwritten letters to a recruit, 10 more do the same. Georgia had a fresh idea with the hand-drawn portraits of players, and soon, others were doing the same thing with a different spin.

Camps are no different.

"Like anything and everything in our program, you're always looking to grow it, always looking to elevate it," Tennessee's Jones said. "We quality-control everything and ask, 'How do we make it better?' And we take input from our players as well, so there’s a lot that goes into the overall structure.

"It's pretty much standard at every school now. At the end of the day, it's just being who you are but spending that quality time just talking and maybe not just talking football but talking about life; getting to know aunts and uncles and grandparents."

McClendon is a guru at utilizing cutting-edge recruiting tactics and coming up with new ideas, and he was named 247Sports' recruiter of the year in 2014 for his success. It doesn't bother him that other schools out there have taken the "Dawg Night" concept and morphed it into their own.

Recruiting is a dog-eat-dog world, and one of the Dawgs who goes to war on the battlegrounds every day knows it as well as anybody.

"Once people see it, other people are going to copy it; it doesn’t surprise me at all," McClendon said. "But you're always trying to find a new way to kind of stand out to people, to grab people's attention and to keep Georgia on their mind."

These specialized camps may work for others, but it's still doing just fine for Georgia, too.

After all, Eason visited the past two national champions, Alabama and Florida State, prior to setting foot between the hedges. At "Dawg Night," he saw what he needed to see to ensure it was where he wanted to play his college football.

After all these years, that original concept is still producing Bulldogs.

"Part of me wanted to wait [the recruiting process] out, and another part of me wanted to get it over with," Eason said. "But Georgia came, and I thought, 'Why wait?' I wanted to commit to them before anybody else got that spot.

"A lot of the actual players were out there and down on the field. You look around and see all this competition, and there's music playing and a D.J., and it's just a fun environment to be around. I just knew."

 

All quotes gathered firsthand unless otherwise noted. All recruiting rankings and statistics courtesy of 247Sports composite. All statistics gathered from CFBStats.com.

Brad Shepard covers SEC football and is the Tennessee Lead Writer for Bleacher Report. Follow Brad on Twitter here:

@Brad_Shepard

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Winners and Losers from the Recruiting Trail for the Month of July

July is over, which also signals another month of college football recruiting has concluded. Although July Fourth is a great day of celebration, several schools had fireworks go off at other various times of the month.

Other programs are happy to see August has arrived, as they took some lumps on the recruiting trail in July. Clemson and USC scored a few key commitments, while Northwestern and Notre Dame saw key prospects opt against joining them.

Plus, July was a big month of recruiting news for Ohio State.

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Ohio State LB Joshua Perry Has Added a Lot of Muscle to His Body in 2 Years

If you saw a picture of Ohio State linebacker Joshua Perry from 2012 and one from this summer, you probably wouldn't know that you were looking at the same person.

The Buckeyes linebacker has done a lot more in the past two years than just get a haircut. He is now 31 pounds heavier than he was at the beginning of 2012, and judging by the picture, he's put on a lot of muscle.

This is just another chapter added to the Ohio State-Michigan rivalry. Last week, Michigan's Jabrill Peppers showed off how much muscle he has added in just four weeks. Some believed that Peppers' lack of flexing at the beginning may have made the final result look much better.

There's no denying that Perry's hard work has paid off. 

[Joshua Perry, h/t College Spun]

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Texas A&M Unveils Incredible New Locker Room for Football Team

Texas A&M is giving Kyle Field a $450 million makeover, so that means the Aggies football team is going to see a lot of cool new perks.

The team's locker room and football headquarters received a nice upgrade as well. From 100 flat-screen televisions to waterfalls to luxurious meeting rooms to a barbershop, there was a lot of money put into the football facility.

Judging by the pictures, the school got its money's worth: 

The players were big fans of the upgraded football facility:

It looks like Johnny Manziel picked a bad time to leave College Station.

[The Dallas Morning NewsAggieFBLifeCollege Spun]

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What 4-Star Rico McGraw's Flip from Georgia to Alabama Means for Dawgs, Tide

Alabama added its second 4-star defensive back commitment this week Thursday, while swiping a key prospect away from an SEC rival. Cornerback Rico McGraw decided to flip his pledge from Georgia to the Crimson Tide, he confirmed to Barton Simmons of 247Sports.

The 6'0", 190-pound Tennessee prospect initially committed to the Bulldogs in January. However, recent visits to Tuscaloosa and Knoxville suggested he may be open to joining another program within the conference.

His declaration Thursday ended speculation and provides Nick Saban with yet another blue-chip defender. Alabama landed former North Carolina commit Ronnie Harrison, a 4-star safety, on Tuesday.

McGraw made up his mind after substantial internal deliberations with family members.

"My mom and my parents have always thought Alabama was the best decision for me," he told 247Sports. "I finally decided to hear them out."

McGraw, a rising senior who intercepted three passes for state powerhouse Ensworth last season, adds to a 2015 class that continues to strengthen its stronghold atop 247Sports' composite class rankings. Alabama is well on its way to a fifth consecutive No. 1 recruiting class, stockpiling abundant talent in the secondary.

Harrison and McGraw join a group of defensive backs that already featured 5-star cornerback Minkah Fitzpatrick and No. 2 overall safety prospect Deionte Thompson. Alabama signed a pair of 5-star cornerbacks during the 2014 recruiting cycle (Marlon Humphrey and Tony Brown).

McGraw isn't the first cornerback to switch allegiances to Alabama from another SEC competitor. Montrell Custis flipped from Kentucky to the Tide in April.

Alabama's latest gain is Georgia's loss.

The Bulldogs netted a commitment from McGraw shortly after first-year defensive coordinator Jeremy Pruitt arrived from Florida State. Now the former Saban assistant must search elsewhere for a solution in the secondary.

Throw in the fact that 5-star athlete Terry Godwin could also jump ship and there's a definite need for defensive secondary talent.

Godwin, who could excel at wide receiver or cornerback in college, could also end up in Tuscaloosa.

"There's been a lot of guys talking to me about my commitment and my recruitment," Godwin said at The Opening. "They're saying 'Come to Auburn', or 'Come down to Alabama' or 'We need you at Tennessee.' A lot of stuff like that. It'll come down to Feb. 2 (signing day)."

Georgia holds just two 2015 commitments from prospects definitively destined to compete in the defensive backfield. Florida products Deontai Williams and Deandre Baker—both 3-star recruits—pledged earlier this summer.

Pruitt and head coach Mark Rich must attempt to make inroads with other secondary targets in the class. In-state prospects Rashad Roundtree and Micah Abernathy present 4-star options on home turf.

Florida cornerback Tarvarus McFadden remains a prized uncommitted player but Georgia appears to be chasing at least LSU and Florida State in that pursuit. Don't be surprised if the Bulldogs adopt Alabama's approach and attempt to reel in a player currently committed elsewhere.

Georgia's 2015 class now rates 14th nationally in 247Sports' composite team rankings. The Bulldogs are listed eighth among SEC squads.

 

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

Quotes obtained firsthand by B/R national recruiting writer Tyler Donohue unless otherwise noted.

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Previewing 2014 Fall Camp QB Battles to Watch

Not every quarterback battle was decided by the end of spring practice. Then again, what fun would that be? What would fans and media alike have to talk about?

Preseason quarterback battles are still going on all over the country as fall camp gets underway. Ideally, coaches would like to have those battles figured out sooner rather than later. The quicker one player emerges from the pack, the quicker the offense will know who to look to and the quicker it can come together. 

To be sure, some quarterback battles will bleed over into the regular season. That's unavoidable. 

Which quarterback battles will gain the most attention this August, and why? The answers are in the following slides. 

 

Ben Kercheval is a lead writer for college football at Bleacher Report. All stats courtesy of ESPN.com.

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Biggest Storylines Heading into Nebraska's Fall Camp

Nebraska begins fall camp this weekend. That means all of the questions that remained after spring practice will have a chance to be answered.

Bo Pelini will also be able to show off the changes he boasted about at Big Ten Media Days. With practice now open to the media, it will be easier than ever to see just how key storylines evolve before the first game of the season.

Here are five storylines to keep an eye on during the Huskers' fall camp.

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NCAA Football Preseason Rankings 2014: College Teams with Title or Bust Outlook

The Amway preseason college football rankings have been released and there are no real surprises at the top of the polls. 

The defending champion Florida State Seminoles are No. 1 and perennial national championship contenders, the Alabama Crimson Tide are No. 2. The Noles and Tide are just two of the teams that must have their seasons end with a title to call the campaign a success.

More than ever, these early rankings are to be seen, but not relied upon with too much confidence as it relates to college football's bottom line. 

Ultimately, the College Football Playoff Committee will decide which four teams vie for the national championship in January. Nevertheless, here's a look at the preseason Top 25:

 

Opening Amway Preseason Coaches' PollRankTeam 1 Florida State 2 Alabama 3 Oklahoma 4 Oregon 5 Auburn 6 Ohio State 7 UCLA 8 Michigan State 9 South Carolina 10 Baylor 11 Stanford 12 Georgia 13 LSU 14 Wisconsin 15 USC 16 Clemson 17 Notre Dame 18 Arizona State 19 Ole Miss 20 Texas A&M 21 Kansas State 22 Nebraska 23 North Carolina 24 Texas 25 Washington

USA Today

 

Run it Back

When a team has gone undefeated the previous season and returns the reigning Heisman Trophy winner, as well as several other offensive weapons and disruptive forces on the defensive side of the ball, anything short of a repeat national championship would be an epic failure.

That is, of course, the situation the Seminoles find themselves in heading into the 2014 season.

Jameis Winston is headed for his sophomore campaign and is expected to be even better than he was when he earned college football's top prize. 

Winston was already a leader for his team last season, but judging by this tweet from teammate Tyler Hunter, Winston is taking the next step in the leadership department:

The Noles' schedule features just two teams that are ranked in the top 25 in the preseason poll: Notre Dame and Clemson—and both of those games are at home. As Steven Lassan of Athlon Sports states, the Noles are properly set up to repeat:

The Seminoles own arguably the No. 1 roster in college football for 2014, one of the nation’s top coaches in Jimbo Fisher, and the defending Heisman Trophy winner in quarterback Jameis Winston. With a favorable schedule and a loaded roster, Florida State is positioned to repeat as college football’s national champions.

In some respects, the new playoff format makes it easier for a team like the Noles. If they do experience one week of flounder and drop a game. It's unlikely the committee wouldn't consider them a top-four team in the nation.

Thus the Noles would still get an opportunity to defend their title in the postseason.

 

Same Ol' Bama Expectations

Every year Alabama is expected to vie for a national championship. It's one of the most automatic things in all of sports. Credit head coach Nick Saban for the team's success. 

The Crimson Tide has rarely disappointed. Because of how dominant Alabama has been, last season's berth in the Sugar Bowl was a bittersweet consolation prize..

The 45-31 loss to the Oklahoma Sooners in the game made it simply bitter. When a team is as good as Bama, critics expect the wins and overreact to the losses.

The team has won three of the last five national championships and despite losing A.J. McCarron and others to the NFL, Bama will still boast one of the most stacked rosters in the nation.

According to 247 Sports, Alabama has had the No. 1 recruiting class ever since 2010. Even then the program was ranked No. 5. Bama is set up to seriously contend for a national championship for the next four years, and there's no sign of the expectations dropping.

The Tide have already received commitments from three 5-star prospects and are currently ranked No. 1 in the 2015 team recruiting rankings.

What's new?

 

High Pressure in the Northwest

With a legitimate Heisman candidate in Marcus Mariota and returning players like Arik Armstead and star defensive back Ifo Ekpre-Olomu, Oregon is again expected to do well.

Unfortunately for Duck Nation, the program has fallen short of the lofty expectations that have accompanied a proven offensive philosophy, and a solid stream of talent over the last five years.

The key game on the Ducks' schedule again this year will be against the No. 11 Stanford Cardinal.

The last two seasons Stanford has handed the Ducks their first loss of the season when the team seemed to be sailing toward a potential berth in the national championship game.

This year, Oregon's schedule is brutal. Before the team even faces the Cardinal, it will play two top-10 squads in Michigan State and UCLA, and No. 25 Washington. If the Ducks are still undefeated by the time they play Stanford it seems almost certain that they will be amongst the top-2 teams in every poll.

Getting over the Cardinal red hump in the road may be the last impediment toward reaching the playoff bracket. Stay tuned.

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Does Oklahoma Deserve to Be Ranked No. 3 in Amway Coaches Poll?

The 2014 Preseason Amway Coaches Poll was released Thursday afternoon, and listed at No. 3—directly above the Pac-12 favorite (Oregon) and the reigning national runner-up (Auburn)—sat Bob Stoops' Oklahoma Sooners.

This is not altogether surprising given how OU finished last season. The Sooners snuck into the Sugar Bowl after beating Oklahoma State in Bedlam, and despite entering as heavy underdogs, they took down an Alabama team that some still considered the best in the country.

Did the Crimson Tide bring their A-game to New Orleans? It's debatable. Nick Saban said he had trouble motivating his team to "play in a consolation game," per Brett McMurphy of ESPN.com, but the energy it played with against Oklahoma suggested otherwise. That was not a team that looked like it was sleepwalking.

Still, there's a reason Oklahoma had to sneak into the Sugar Bowl in the first place. Its full, 13-game sample from 2013 was not that of a team that should debut at No. 3 the following season, and it definitely wasn't that of a team that warrants three first-place votes.

Oklahoma has the defense of a top-three team and national title contender. Outside linebacker Eric Striker made a name for himself with three sacks against Alabama, Charles Tapper is a force along the defensive line, inside linebacker Frank Shannon is the top returning tackler in the Big 12 and Zack Sanchez heads a talented secondary after making last year's FWAA Freshman All-America team.

Oklahoma's offense, however, is a major work in progress. It has the most offensive questions of any team in the top five and arguably even the top 10 (depending on how you feel about Michigan State).

The crux of those questions is quarterback Trevor Knight, a redshirt sophomore who starred in the win over Alabama. Before that, though, he had his ups and downs, oscillating in and out of the lineup with newly converted tight end Blake Bell.

On the whole, Knight threw only 134 passes last season. He had just 1,264 total yards (455 coming on the ground). Compare this with the four quarterbacks whose teams are directly behind Oklahoma:

*Note: Knight did not take enough snaps to qualify for the official Total QBR Rankings at ESPN.com, but this is where his score would have placed.

Football is the consummate team sport.

Quarterback play is not the only thing that matters, but it is, in many cases, the thing that matters most. Knight has only played two good games in his career (the other coming against Kansas State), and this year he loses his two leading rushers, Brennan Clay and Damien Williams, along with his leading receiver, Jalen Saunders. 

Would you really take OU over Marcus Mariota's Ducks, Nick Marshall's Tigers, Braxton Miller's Buckeyes or Brett Hundley's Bruins on a neutral field? Are we sure Knight can be trusted to keep up?

Of course, Knight could easily prove all this skepticism wrong. The physical tools are there for him to do so (remember, he showed well as the scout team's version of Johnny Manziel before the 2013 Cotton Bowl). It just seems like people are chugging his Kool-Aid instead of sipping it…and that's an easy way to end up with a brain freeze.

Even FoxSports.com's David Ubben, who covers the Big 12 primarily, admitted that the Sooners seem over-ranked:

The best thing Oklahoma has going for it this season is its defense, which should give it a chance to win any game, no matter how Knight and the offense fare. But a close second to the defense is the schedule, which sets the team up well to win the conference.

Of the three other Big 12 teams that were ranked in the coaches poll—No. 10 Baylor, No. 21 Kansas State and No. 24 Texas—two come to Norman and one, Texas, will play the Sooners on a neutral field. Texas Tech and…um…TCU, I guess, are the biggest road-game threats.

Because of that schedule, and because they are a legitimate top-10 team, Oklahoma should be considered a favorite to make the College Football Playoff. It has a good chance to finish the season in the top four created by the CFP selection committee.

But this poll is not supposed to be a ranking of teams that are likely to make the playoff; it's supposed to be a ranking of the best teams in order. Placing OU at No. 3 seems like a conflation of the two.

ESPN host Dari Nowkhah helps explain the difference:

The fact of the matter is this: Oklahoma was very good, but not great, during the lion's share of last season. It was very nearly great—but still not quite there—against Oklahoma State, and then it played one truly great game against Alabama.

That it finished the season on an upward trajectory and returns nine defensive starters is important; faring well in December/January and maintaining continuity is a proven recipe for offseason hype. It plays to all of our most overreaction-prone tendencies.

But let's not forget that Oklahoma was lucky in those final games, too. Bill Connelly of Football Study Hall harped on this point in his preview of the Sooners, saying he "can't get past" the fact that OU recovered all nine fumbles during the last three games of its season.

Recovering a fumble is "almost entirely random," as Football Outsiders puts it, so even recovering five or six of nine is considered lucky. Recovering nine of nine is considered very lucky, and Connelly explains why we should be wary of Oklahoma because of it:

If Oklahoma had recovered only six of those nine fumbles, it might have cost the Sooners one of the last three games. Recover only three of those nine, and they probably lose two of three without changing any other aspect of their performance. Yes, they won each of those games by more than one possession. But on a per-play basis, they were outgained in each one -- 7.3 to 6.5 against KSU, 5.7 per play to 4.9 against OSU, and a whopping 7.9 to 5.8 against Alabama.…

If Oklahoma doesn't benefit from epic fumbles luck in the last three games of the season, then heading into the 2014 season, we're looking at them as a solid team. They're definitely ranked in the preseason, perhaps in the No. 15-20 range. We're definitely talking about their strong offensive line, their great sack rates, their potentially excellent secondary, and maybe their potential-heavy sophomore quarterback.

But we would also be talking about their wholly mediocre run defense and the fact that they must replace virtually every skill position weapon. The limitations they showed in blowout losses to Baylor (understandable) and Texas (not so much) would be the focus of our attention. But in part because of nine fumble recoveries, they're supposed to be a national title contender. It's hard for me to buy that.

The coaches poll matters even less in the post-BCS era than it did in the previous almost-decade (when it was used as an element of the BCS formula). No matter where Oklahoma—or any other team from a power-five conference—got ranked Thursday afternoon, how it plays on the field will be the thing that defines its season.

Not where it starts in the polls.

Still, it feels wrong to see the Sooners above Oregon and Auburn when they'd probably be underdogs against them on a neutral field.

Isn't that technically what these rankings should reflect?

Hopefully, all will go according to plan, and OU and Oregon can settle this dispute on the field. Before that, though, the Sooners have to prove they've fixed the problems—inconsistent quarterback play, run defense, etc.—that cost them the Big 12 last season.

The proving process starts against Louisiana Tech on August 30.

 

Follow Brian Leigh on Twitter: @BLeighDAT

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Alabama Football: 5 Questions Everybody Wants to Ask Lane Kiffin

This weekend, we’ll see something on par with a sighting of Bigfoot or the Loch Ness Monster.

It’s the only time of the year that Alabama coach Nick Saban makes assistant coaches available to the media. The only other opportunity comes during the bowl games, when bowls traditionally mandate press conferences with coordinators.

But the start of fall camp marks Alabama’s annual media day, where in addition to a bevy of players and Saban himself, each coordinator takes questions for about 15 minutes or so at the podium at the Naylor Stone Media Suite inside the Mal Moore Athletic Facility.

Defensive coordinator Kirby Smart will make his seventh appearance in the pre-fall camp press conference, but there’s no doubt that the attention will be squarely on new offensive coordinator and lightning rod Lane Kiffin.

Kiffin has already had a few months in Tuscaloosa to get acclimated  and put players through spring practice. But outside of a fundraiser in Mobile over the summer, Kiffin hasn’t made any public comments since being hired.

Here are five questions that everybody will want to ask Kiffin.

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Deondre Francois to Florida State: Seminoles Land 4-Star QB Prospect

Following a long recruiting process that was whittled down to just two teams earlier this week, Deondre Francois verbally committed to the Florida State Seminoles Thursday afternoon.

Noles 247 reported the news following the announcement:

Josh Newberg of 247 Sports shared a vine of Francois sporting the FSU hat:

Newberg also revealed how Francois perceived today's commitment of Kai Locksley, another 4-star quarterback:

Francois is a 4-star player who ranks as the No. 6 dual-threat quarterback in the 247Sports Composite Rankings. The site also lists him as a pro-style signal-caller, showing his ability to throw from the pocket or create with his legs.

Prior to his decision, Francois spoke about what went into his final announcement, per Keith Niebuhr of 247Sports (subscription required):

Right now, it's between Florida State and Auburn. It's really a no-brainer what my top two schools are. I'm probably going to commit on the 31st [of July]. I'm just going to take this week to soak everything in, call some people, talk to my family and then commit.

After that week of taking it all in, it appears the rich keep getting richer.

With Florida State adding Francois to its already strong 2015 class, it now has a chance to replace a great signal-caller with another potential star.

Leading up to Francois' commitment, one quarterback already planning to play for FSU made it clear that he planned on beating him out. De'Andre Johnson, the No. 14 dual-threat QB, according to 247Sports, told Rivals.com what would happen if Francois came to Florida State:

That triggered a response from Francois later Monday afternoon:

Oh, we should mention that Johnson was left off the Elite 11 list. Let's just say the second was another shot fired at Johnson.

Following all of the buzz, Tyler Donohue of Bleacher Report believed it would end in good news for the Tigers:

Apparently, Francois chose to embrace the drama with his commitment to the Seminoles. While nearly every quarterback battle is interesting, the one that will take place soon for Florida State could get nasty. Francois is the better prospect for now, but rankings don't always translate into great college careers. For Johnson, he will have to live up to those words after missing out on the Elite 11 while Francois made the cut.

Following in the footsteps of Heisman winner Jameis Winston won't be easy, but the Seminoles now have options. Whichever signal-caller rises to the top, many coaches would love to be in Jimbo Fisher's shoes.

Along with Francois and Johnson, the ACC powerhouse has two outstanding defensive prospects in Derwin James and Tyrek Cole in the 2015 class. Whichever quarterback takes over, the future looks bright for the 2013 national champions. 

 

Follow @RCorySmith on Twitter.

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Elite QB Deondre Francois Commits to FSU; Meet the Future Jameis Winston

Deondre Francois is a top quarterback in the 2015 class out of the Sunshine State and has officially committed to the Florida State Seminoles.

Jimbo Fisher and his staff should be thrilled about having this stud head to Tallahassee. His athleticism and arm strength will allow for him to compete for the starting spot as soon as Jameis Winston heads to the NFL. 

How well do you think this stud will do at the collegiate level?

Watch Bleacher Report's Barrett Sallee break down exactly what Francois' commitment means to FSU.

 

Rankings from 247Sports' composite rankings

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Ohio State Defensive Line Will Be Urban Meyer's Best Since 2006 BCS Championship

When Urban Meyer looks back on the best defensive lines that he's coached, one in particular stands out to the Ohio State head coach.

Unfortunately for Buckeye fans, it's the same one that stands out to them, but for all the wrong reasons.

While Chris Leak, Tim Tebow and Percy Harvin may have been the headliners, it was really Florida's D-line that led Meyer and the Gators to the 2006 BCS National Championship.

Nobody knows that better than Ohio State, who saw Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback Troy Smith sacked five times, held to minus-29 rushing yards and complete just 4-of-14 pass attempts in what was ultimately a 41-14 Gators victory over the Buckeyes in the national title game.

Jarvis Moss, Derrick Harvey and Ray McDonald. Those were the names that Ohio State fans heard early and often on that fateful January 2007 night in Glendale, Arizona—three players who would each go onto enjoy starting stints in the NFL.

Add in future NFLers Steven Harris, Joe Cohen and Jermaine Cunningham and it's easy to see that Meyer's 2006 defensive line was his best, as Ohio State knows from first-hand experience.

"I had an idea," Meyer responded when asked if he had an inkling that his 2006 Gators defensive line was going to have its way with the Buckeyes. "But not to that extreme."

Eight years later, that national title game remains a sore spot for some Ohio State fans, even after Meyer traded in his Florida blue and orange for scarlet and gray. But good news for the Buckeyes could be on the way, as the 13-year head coach believes that his 2014 defensive line in Columbus has a chance to challenge his 2006 unit for the best he's ever had.

"This one, if they all perform and stay healthy, could be at that level," Meyer said. "It's game-changers upfront."

Those "game-changers" include CBSSports.com's top-ranked defensive tackle for the 2015 NFL draft in Michael Bennett, a pair of former 247Sports 5-star prospects in Noah Spence and Adolphus Washington and arguably the most dominant freshman defensive lineman in Ohio State history in now-sophomore Joey Bosa. Rather than face the wrath of Meyer's recruiting prowess, the Buckeyes are now benefitting from it, perhaps in no place more than their defensive front-four.

The elder statesman of the group is Bennett, the lone senior who also finds himself on no less than four major preseason award watch lists. The 6'2", 288-pounder recorded 42 tackles—11.5 of which came for a loss—and seven sacks in 2013, but Meyer believes that the Centerville, Ohio, native's best football is still ahead of him.

"He played the first five or six games like an All-Big Ten player," Meyer said of Bennett's 2013 campaign. "The last half of the season he had some shoulder issues and did not play like that. This is his last call. He could be as high as an early draft pick to a free agent. That's up to him."

The same could be said for Washington, who entered last season with sky-high expectations but was ultimately replaced in the starting lineup by Bosa after suffering a groin injury in the second game of the year. Limited to situational packages upon his return, Washington never regained his starting status, but the 6'4", 288-pounder now finds himself penciled in as one of Ohio State's starting defensive tackles.

Moving Washington back inside from strong side defensive end was a move made to help bolster the Buckeyes' pass rush, but the Cincinnati, Ohio, native still has much to prove to Meyer. Washington's 2013 campaign—which included 36 tackles and two sacks—was an apparent step back in the progress of his college career, but 2014 offers him a shot at redemption.

"Adolphus is the one that hasn't played up to [his potential]," Meyer said. "If he ever gets it all figured out, he could be as good as any I've ever had. He's still a work in progress."

While Washington remains the lone question mark on—and perhaps key to—Ohio State's defensive line, Meyer knows what he has in Spence, an All-Big Ten performer as a sophomore who recorded a team-high eight sacks in 2013. Only Ohio State will be without the 6'3", 252-pound defensive end for the first two games of his junior season, as he continues to serve a suspension stemming from a failed drug test at last season's Big Ten Championship Game.

Spence, who like Bennett projects as a first round pick next spring, is a big reason why Ohio State's defensive line finds itself so highly thought of heading into 2014. But the junior will have to return to his 2013 form following his suspension if the Buckeyes' D-line is going to live up to Meyer's lofty praise.

And then there's Bosa, who Meyer said at Big Ten media days could be "the best of the bunch."

"And he's only a sophomore," the third-year Ohio State head coach also reminded reporters.

Indeed he is, but the 6'5", 285-pound defensive end hardly looked like a freshman a season ago, when he racked up 44 tackles and 7.5 sacks en route to earning FWAA Freshman All-American honors. It's rare that a freshman defensive lineman starts at Ohio State and even rarer that one makes the impact that Bosa did last year, which is why so many in Columbus are excited about his seemingly limitless future.

If Bosa can build on his already promising career, Spence can bounce back from his suspension and Washington and Bennett can find the consistency that their head coach is asking for, then the Buckeyes could be in store for a season as special as the one that Meyer's dominant Gators D-line helped wreck at Ohio State in 2006. But Bennett, the unit's unquestioned leader, isn't interested in dealing with ifs, as he'd rather see an absolute come to fruition.

"It shouldn't be a question that we're the best at the end of the season," Bennett said. "It should just be obvious."

If Bennett's right, then Meyer will have a new defensive line to put at the top of his list.

"You think about those four starters, they're all extremely highly recruited guys. They're fast, we want fast players. Now we have [new defensive line coach] Larry Johnson coaching them. That should be a real strength," Meyer said. "They have a shot to be in that same conversation."

 

*All quotes, unless noted otherwise, obtained first-hand.

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Texas A&M Football: 4 Games That Could Ruin Aggies' 2014 Season

The Texas A&M football team will play one of the toughest schedules in the country in 2014. There are multiple games on the Aggies' 2014 schedule that could ruin their dreams of a championship season. 

The goal of every team is to win enough games to qualify for the four-team College Football Playoff at the end of the year. In order to do so, the Aggies will likely have to win the SEC title or turn in an 11-win regular season. 

That means the Aggies can only lose one game in 2014. That is a tall order while playing in the SEC West. 

There are a couple teams on the schedule that are more talented than the Aggies, and a couple that have the ability to beat the Aggies on any given day. There are teams on the schedule that, if Texas A&M were to lose to them, it would be deemed acceptable by the playoff committee. There are also those that would be considered a bad loss.

This is a look at the teams who could ruin the Aggies' season. 

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Why Auburn RB Cameron Artis-Payne Will Take the SEC by Storm in 2014

One of the dominant storylines to come out of SEC media days in Hoover, Alabama, was the absence of star power like Johnny Manziel, AJ McCarron, Tre Mason, Aaron Murray and the crop of last year's superstars.

Auburn running back Cameron Artis-Payne will fill that void.

The 5'11", 210-pound senior from Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, is one of the leaders of the Auburn running back corps heading into fall camp, along with speedster Corey Grant, redshirt freshman Peyton Barber and true freshman "Roc" Thomas.

A preseason third-team All-SEC running back, according to Phil Steele, Artis-Payne started in the mix with Mason last year but took a back seat as Mason emerged during Auburn's run to the SEC title. Despite being relegated to backup status, Artis-Payne topped the 100-yard mark in two games (Arkansas State and Western Carolina) and finished the season with 610 yards and six touchdowns.

Head coach Gus Malzahn let Mason, Artis-Payne and Grant, who's more of an edge threat, sort their roles out as the season went on last year, and according to offensive coordinator Rhett Lashlee, per James Crepea of the Montgomery Advertiser, it's likely that Artis-Payne will slide into the 1A slot with Grant still being the home run hitter.

Lashlee told Crepea:

Cameron, he's a good all-around back. he's a good guy on first down all the way to third down. I think he is a good downhill runner and he'll be good like Tre was in the short yardage but he's leaned up a little bit and showed some quickness and agility in space. They can do a lot of the same things, but they still kind of complement each other well to where it's almost 1a and 1b and it may never change. Corey is a little more of a big-play guy, Cam is going to kinda wear on you. I think that's just probably the way it goes.

Expect big things from Artis-Payne, because he's the perfect back in the perfect system to become a star. What makes him so good?

 

Vision

For a bigger running back, Artis-Payne has remarkable vision. 

He's light on his feet, anticipates holes developing and hits them quickly, turning short gains into long gains.

Check out the highlight below from Auburn's spring game (3:09 mark). Artis-Payne takes the handoff on the zone read, sees a hole developing and is through to the second level before the defense knows what hit it.

Once he's in the secondary and in traffic, he sees the safety (12) dropping down and his wide receiver, "Duke" Williams (1), locked up with a corner outside. He cuts it outside and turns what would have been an impressive 10-yard run into a 28-yard run that set the offense up for a score.

Having that vision and awareness in traffic is huge for Auburn's offense—an offense that's predicated on taking what the defense gives it through the zone read. This vision will also help in the screen game, where running backs are counted on to set up blocks in space.

 

Power

Much like Mason, Artis-Payne packs a mean punch. 

He angles himself so well that he rarely gets hit hard, but when he does, he's capable of running over, through or with defenders on top of him.

Check out the video below of Auburn's game last year vs. Florida Atlantic. Artis-Payne again gets to the second level, sheds a linebacker in traffic and then carries four defenders inside the 5-yard line.

This is what to expect from Artis-Payne. He's a true all-around back who can handle the load between the tackles but also hit the home run if he gets the chance. He'll get plenty of chances this fall, which brings us to the next point.

 

System

Last season, Mason was a great running back in a great system. The second part of that equation remains intact. Malzahn has produced 11 1,000-yard rushers in eight seasons as a college head coach or assistant.

Yes, starting left tackle Greg Robinson and fullback Jay Prosch are gone, but the Tigers return basically everybody else who played a role in their success on the ground last year, including four offensive linemen, H-back Brandon Fulse and 1,000-yard rusher Nick Marshall at quarterback.

It's a system that's ready-made for instant success, just as we saw last season when the Tigers rushed for 328.29 yards per game, tops in the nation. Mason got hot in that system last year, and the Tigers rode him to within 13 seconds of a national title. 

But Artis-Payne was neck and neck with the Heisman finalist as late as mid-September, and another year in that system should work wonders for his development.

It's no secret that Malzahn wants to throw more in 2014. 

"That was really probably the No. 1 priority in the spring, to be more balanced," Malzahn said. "We led the country in rushing last year. When you do that, defenses have to take some chances. We've got to do a better job this year of making them pay when they do take chances."

If that happens—and judging from Marshall's progression in the spring game and the presence of Williams alongside veteran receiver Sammie Coates—there's nothing to suggest that it won't. The holes for Artis-Payne to weave through will be even bigger.

If that doesn't scare opposing defensive coordinators, I'm not sure what will.

 

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


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Winners and Losers for Preseason Coaches Poll

What's the biggest surprise from the first Amway coaches poll of the 2014 season?

Watch Bleacher Report's Barrett Sallee break down the winners and losers of the coaches poll.

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Amway Preseason Coaches' Top 25 Poll: Biggest Snubs and Surprises

Auburn caught just about everyone—fans (outside The Plains) and media alike—off guard last year. The Tigers came out of nowhere to win the SEC and nearly added another BCS national championship to their trophy case.

Not surprisingly, Auburn was not ranked in last year's USA Today Sports Coaches Poll. It's hard to call it a snub, even in hindsight, given that the program finished 3-9 and winless in the SEC the year before. 

That speaks to the vulnerability of preseason polls. They're a lot of fun to dissect, but ultimately offer little more than that. They're an interesting mixture of the previous season's results with the upcoming season's expectations. 

And with the upcoming College Football Playoff, the new Amway Coaches Poll will no longer be used in determining the Top 25 like it did with the BCS. (However, it will be interesting to see if these polls rub off on the selection committee in any way.) 

Still, 62 Football Bowl Subdivision head coaches casted their preseason Top 25 teams. Not surprisingly, Florida State, the defending national champs, were No. 1. Who else made the cut? Which teams surprised? Which ones were snubbed? The answers are in the following slides. 

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College Football Rankings 2014: NCAA Preseason Top 25 After Amway Coaches Poll

On Thursday, 62 head coaches of Bowl Subdivision schools revealed their collective thoughts regarding the 2014 NCAA preseason rankings, revealing the top 25 teams of the Amway Coaches Poll.

Here's how the scoring works: Each coach submits a top 25, voting for a first-place team through a 25th-place team. A vote for first place gives a team 25 points, a second-place vote gives a team 24 points, and that trend continues down to one point for a 25th-place vote.

Last year, preseason voting wasn't exactly accurate, with a bevy of shifts ongoing throughout the season. So let's take a glance at this year's voting and see if the coaches got it right.

Florida State's No. 1 ranking shouldn't come as a surprise. After all, the Seminoles are the reigning national champions, and Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback Jameis Winston will be taking the reins of the offense again this year.

While wide receiver Kelvin Benjamin has departed to the NFL, this high-octane offense should continue to pose a severe threat with Rashad Greene still in the mix. This team should be expected to remain atop—or at least near the top—of the rankings throughout the season.

Although, Jon Solomon of CBS Sports tweeted a fair warning:

Despite the loss of quarterback A.J. McCarron, the Alabama Crimson Tide will begin the season ranked No. 2. Obviously, coaches seem to have plenty of faith in the team regardless of its ongoing quarterback competition between Jacob Coker and Blake Sims.

Perhaps that quarterback controversy is a reason why the team didn't record a single first-place vote. After all, Michael Carvell of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution tweeted an interesting fact involving the competition:

Rounding out the top three is Oklahoma—the only team aside from Florida State that received multiple first-place votes.

It could be speculated that the return of Trevor Knight under center is a big reason for the team's preseason ranking. Knight had a breakout performance in the Sugar Bowl against Alabama, completing 32 of his 44 passing attempts for 348 yards and four touchdowns for a 164.6 rating.

Also, according to a tweet from Eric Bailey of the Tulsa World, this ranking isn't anything new for a Bob Stoops-coached team:

Oregon, Ohio State and South Carolina were the three other teams to receive a first-place vote.

The No. 4-ranked Ducks will be relying heavily on its fast-paced offense with the experienced Marcus Mariota under center and the speedy Thomas Tyner in the backfield. No. 6 Ohio State was a win away from a BCS championship berth last season and will aim for the big dance again with Braxton Miller at the helm. South Carolina comes in at No. 9 but will be without quarterback Connor Shaw and defensive end Jadeveon Clowney.

Teams that just missed out on the rankings are Missouri with 126 votes, Florida with 122 and Central Florida with 102 among others, via USA Today.

Of course, arguments over these rankings will rage on until the first games of the season reach their conclusions.

Did the coaches get it right? Let the debate commence.

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