NCAA Football

Breaking Down the Best Defensive Players in Each College Football Conference

Every conference lost some of its best defensive players from last season, but every conference returned some as well. Such is the natural ebb and flow of college football.

No league has been completely depleted at any layer of the defense—even if it lost every member of the first-team defensive line, linebacking corps or secondary. There will always be a group of players waiting to take those first-teamers' place the following season.

Here is a look at the projected top defensive players in each conference—one guy for each level of the defense.

Based on how they performed last season (or the last time they were healthy), how they have allegedly improved this spring and the players who were lost around them, they are good bets to be the top linemen, linebackers and backs in their respective leagues.

Sound off below and tell me whom I missed.

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Expect Notre Dame to Land 5-Star Recruits with Satellite Camps

Notre Dame recently announced that it will hold a satellite camp at Georgia State in an effort to land more recruits from SEC land. Penn State has had success in recent years with their satellite camp, and Notre Dame is looking to replicate this success and build their national brand. 

What does this mean for the top recruits in the south? How will SEC teams react to this plan?

Watch Barrett Sallee and Michael Felder discuss the Notre Dame Fighting Irish camp and how successful it will be. 

 

Highlights courtesy of XOS Digital.

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5 College Football Blue Bloods Primed to Re-Enter the Spotlight in 2014

2013 was a down year for some of college football's traditional powers. As a result, some coaches, like Texas' Mack Brown, lost their job. Others are now squarely on the hot seat heading into 2014. 

Can this be the year that Texas or Florida turn things around? Can Michigan finally start trending upward again with head coach Brady Hoke? Usually, talent isn't an issue at these programs. But because of injuries, coaching struggles or both, results haven't been up to par. 

The good news for these programs is that they can bounce back quickly.

Which five blue-blood programs are primed to re-enter the national spotlight this season? Our answers are in the following slides. 

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3 Reasons 4-Star DE Jashon Cornell Will Sign with Notre Dame

James Onwualu. Michael Floyd. Ryan Harris. Rashon Powers-Neal. Marcus Freeman. 

Notre Dame's pipeline to St. Paul's Cretin-Derham Hall has been open and flowing for over a decade, with Minnesota's top Catholic football program feeding a handful of players to the Irish. Head coach Brian Kelly has another big reason to head back to the Twin Cities, with current CDH defensive end Jashon Cornell among the top prospects in the 2015 recruiting cycle. 

Cornell made early waves when some recruiting services had him pegged as the top recruit in the country heading into his junior season. And while his rating bounced around a bit after an injury-riddled 2013 season, Cornell has taken to the recruiting circuit this offseason to reestablish himself as one of the country's top defensive linemen. 

Cornell was in Columbus, Ohio, this weekend at the Nike Football Training Camp, where he was named the defensive line MVP of the camp. He also punched his ticket to The Opening, Nike's top invite-only football camp of the summer. 

The competition will be steep for Cornell. With offers from just about every elite program in the country, the 6'4", 255-pounder will likely choose between Notre Dame, Michigan, Michigan State, Ohio State and Alabama. 

Here are three reasons why Irish fans should still feel confident that Cornell will end up in South Bend.

 

Recruiting Pitch Will Be Different with Brian VanGorder and Mike Elston 

News breaking this weekend has Ohio State fans feeling very good about Cornell's recruitment. That's because Cornell called his visit to Ohio State one of his favorites, pushing the Buckeyes into the lead group of schools. 

The Buckeyes are relatively new players in the Cornell sweepstakes, though a desire to play with Ohio State target (as well as key Notre Dame recruit) linebacker Justin Hilliard has Buckeye fans hoping to double down with two elite defensive prospects. And while new Buckeye defensive line coach Larry Johnson built a reputation at Penn State as one of the best defensive line recruiters in the country, Irish fans shouldn't lose sleep over another recruiting war with Urban Meyer

One thing going in the Irish's favor is the coaching changes on the defensive side of the ball for Notre Dame. New defensive coordinator Brian VanGorder will breathe life into Cornell's recruitment.

VanGorder's attacking schemes are much more appealing for pass-rushers like Cornell and better fit his body size. In former defensive coordinator Bob Diaco's scheme, Cornell likely would've been a 3-4 defensive end, growing into a 300-pounder like Kapron Lewis-Moore. Under VanGorder, Cornell can walk onto campus and fit in at defensive end, playing upfield and aggressively chasing quarterbacks as opposed to holding the point of attack. 

The Irish were one of the first teams to recruit Cornell, identifying him before his sophomore season at Cretin-Derham Hall. And while the continuity of building relationships for the long haul is helpful, in recruiting, fresh and new is sometimes most important.

Cornell recently mentioned that his relationship with defensive line coach Mike Elston is getting better. He also plans on spending time with VanGorder on his next visit to South Bend. Add to that Kelly is taking on Cornell's recruitment personally and it's clear that Notre Dame has made Hilliard one of its priorities.  

 

Seantrel Henderson's Nightmarish 3 Seasons at Miami Will Play in Notre Dame's Favor

There's no question that Cornell wants to be his own man. And blazing his own path at a different school could be appealing for the blue-chip defensive end. 

But the tumultuous three seasons Seantrel Henderson spent at Miami should likely weigh on Cornell's mind. Another Cretin-Derham Hall prospect, Henderson's free-fall from No. 1 recruit in the country to seventh-round draft pick is a cautionary tale.

Henderson severely underachieved at Miami, choosing to play for the Hurricanes after passing up Notre Dame and backing away from a commitment to USC. 

If you are looking for appealing college destinations, it's no surprise that Notre Dame finished behind Southern Cal and Miami for Henderson. And while Kelly has never backed away from the academic challenges that come with going to Notre Dame, he can point to the success he's had not just graduating his roster, but developing players for the next level, with the Irish's resurgence in the NFL draft the past few years a key data point.

Cornell should have candid conversations with former CDH athletes like Onwualu and Floyd. The latter can walk him through the challenges he faced at Notre Dame before coming out victorious, as Floyd battled through adversity before earning his degree and becoming a first-round draft pick. 

But Cornell should also seek Henderson's counsel as well. It will likely help him understand the road in front of him and hopefully help avoid some of the pitfalls that got in Henderson's way. 

 

When It Comes to Aligning Incentives, Notre Dame Offers Too Much of What Cornell Wants 

Getting a grasp on Cornell's top school is difficult work. 247Sports.com's most recent Crystal Ball has 36 percent of experts picking Ohio State, 24 percent choosing the Irish, 21 percent choosing Michigan State, 12 percent picking Alabama and 5 percent guessing Michigan. 

But Cornell has identified three key factors to picking a school: academics, early enrollment and an opportunity to play early. All three of those desires line up perfectly with Notre Dame.

Academically, Notre Dame is among the top schools in the country, and the top institutional match of football and education on Cornell's list. If early enrollment is a key factor, Cornell only needs to ask his cousin how that went, as Notre Dame sophomore James Onwualu was the first CDH student-athlete to graduate early and enroll at a college for the spring semester of football. 

And early playing time looks like it won't be difficult to predict. Right now the Irish have senior Ishaq Williams and junior Romeo Okwara starting at defensive end. Behind that is a question mark. While Notre Dame brought in a large collection of talented edge players in the 2014 recruiting cycle, none are as highly-rated as Cornell. 

There's a reason that Notre Dame has had success at Cretin-Derham Hall, and that Irish head coaches Bob Davie, Ty Willingham, Charlie Weis and Brian Kelly have all landed top prep prospects from there. It's the institutional fit that has many CDH and Notre Dame grads feeling like the college experience is an extension of the one they had in high school. 

(This writer included.)

Cornell has more trips scheduled for the summer, including visits to SEC country and Penn State. He's also set to return to South Bend in the next few weeks.

So while there are more than a few twists and turns left in his recruitment, expect Cornell to end up at Notre Dame in the end. 

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Florida State Football: Position-by-Position Preview of Seminoles' 2014 Roster

Florida State loses 10 starters from the 2013 national championship team. But the Seminoles were so deep (and ahead by so many points in many games) that they were able to extend playing time to second- and third-team players last year.

There are holes to fill, but none are insurmountable. Years of top-10 signing classes by Jimbo Fisher have ensured that he and his staff have plenty of options. 

With Jameis Winston and so many playmakers returning, FSU's offense should again be prolific. And the defense is expected to be just as stingy, which could help the Seminoles win the ACC title and earn a spot in the new College Football Playoff.

 

Quarterbacks

Projected starter: Jameis Winston

Backups: Sean Maguire and John Franklin III

Incoming freshman:JJ Cosentino

It's impossible to do better than what Winston accomplished on the field as a freshman, throwing for 4,057 yards and 40 touchdowns (a single-season school record)—and, of course, winning a Heisman Trophy and a national title. Expectations are high for Winston again.

His numbers may not be as high in 2014, especially with FSU replacing two starting receivers in Kelvin Benjamin and Kenny Shaw. 

After Jacob Coker's transfer to Alabama, Maguire has the inside track to win the No. 2 job ahead of Franklin III and Cosentino. But if Winston leaves early, that trio will be battling for the starting job in 2015.

 

Running backs

Projected starter: Karlos Williams

Backups: Ryan Green, Mario Pender, Freddie Stevenson and Nigel Terrell

Incoming freshman:Dalvin Cook (early enrollee)

Williams' move from safety to running back helped FSU overwhelm defenses on the ground in 2013. He was often the No. 2 or 3 option, though, and the majority of his 91 carries, 748 yards and 11 touchdowns came in the second half.

But Williams could enjoy a breakout season. He loves to run outside the tackles and use his burst to get into the open field, so he is a threat to score anytime he touches the ball.

The big question is: Who will be Williams' backup? It's likely that FSU will use a mix of Cook, Pender and Green (Stevenson should start at fullback over Nigel Terrell). Even with Winston throwing the ball, FSU found a way to run 505 times in 14 games. Jimbo Fisher will again hand off as much as he throws in an attempt to wear out defenses. It worked in 2013 … will it work again in 2014?

 

Wide receivers

Projected starters: Rashad Greene, Scooter Haggins and Jesus Wilson

Backups: Isaiah Jones, Kermit Whitfield and Christian Green

Incoming freshman:Travis Rudolph, Ermon Lane and Javon Harrison

FSU's season will hinge on finding a No. 2 receiver after playmaker Rashad Greene (1,128 receiving yards, 9 TDs). Winston and Greene have excellent chemistry and should again be able to connect frequently in games. But the No. 2 option could be a senior like Haggins or Green. Or one of the talented sophomores like Wilson, Jones or Whitfield.

If he stays healthy, Haggins could win the slot receiver job. Winston said after the spring game that Wilson was ahead of the other sophomores, so he could hold on through August to start the opener. But if they don't, Fisher has plenty of choices. The three freshmen should be able to contribute more as the season goes on (Fisher's playbook is very complex), and expect all three to be vying for starting jobs in 2015.

 

Tight ends

Projected starter: Nick O'Leary

Backups: Kevin Haplea and Jeremy Kerr

Incoming freshmen:Mavin Saunders and Ryan Izzo

O'Leary had 33 receptions for 557 yards and seven touchdowns, and his 11 career TDs are already the most by a tight end in school history. O'Leary could have better numbers in 2014 simply because he's FSU's No. 2 receiving option at the moment.

Haplea and Kerr both suffered season-ending knee injuries in the summer. But the healthy return of both means that Fisher will be able to use more sets with two tight ends. Haplea is an exceptional blocker, and the 6'5" Kerr was a strong blocker in high school. 

With a wealth of talent, Fisher will likely redshirt Saunders or Izzo (or both). Saunders has played just two seasons of football, one at receiver and another at tight end. But the former basketball star has soft hands and is exceptional in the red zone. Izzo had nearly 1,100 receiving yards his last two high school seasons.

 

Offensive line

Projected starters: LT Cameron Erving, LG Josue Matias, C Austin Barron, RG Tre Jackson and RT Bobby Hart

Backups: Wilson Bell, Ruben Carter, Ryan Hoefeld and Alec Eberle

Incoming freshmen: Kareem Are (early enrollee), Roderick Johnson, Derrick Kelly, Corey Martinez, Chad Mavety and Brock Ruble

FSU is loaded with playmakers, but the reason for the Seminoles' success is an offensive line that pass-blocks well and clears holes for the running game. The Seminoles had 7,267 offensive yards in 2013, and they could again have one of college football's top offensive lines.

Erving opted to return for his senior season, and it's a decision that should help him in the eyes of the NFL but will also protect Winston's blind side. The ACC's Jacobs Blocking Trophy winner in 2013, Erving could be a first-round pick in 2015.

Matias and Jackson have both been All-ACC picks, and they are physical blockers inside. Hart has struggled at times and needs to develop more of a nasty edge. Barron has five games of starting experience and should start at center. 

 

Defensive ends

Projected starters: Mario Edwards Jr. and Chris Casher

Backup: DeMarcus Walker

Incoming freshmen:Lorenzo Featherston and Rick Leonard

After bruising quarterbacks with pass-rushers like Bjoern Werner and Tank Carradine, FSU used linebackers and defensive backs to bring the heat in 2013. Of FSU's 35 sacks, just 6.5 came from Edwards Jr., Casher and Walker.

Edwards Jr. is a monster at 6'3" and 295 pounds, and he should increase his numbers from 29 tackles and 3.5 sacks. But he also likes to slide inside and play defensive tackle as FSU adjusts its fronts (a linebacker also often comes down to play on the line).

Casher didn't start in 2013, but he is in line for increased playing time. Walker earned valuable experience as a true freshman and will battle Casher for the starting job. Featherston was considered the top prep recruit in North Carolina by ESPN. Leonard was named Maryland's prep defensive player of the year in 2013, when he had 14 sacks.

 

Defensive tackles

Projected starters: Eddie Goldman, Nile Lawrence-Stample

Backups: Desmond Hollin, Keith Bryant, Derrick Mitchell, Giorgio Newberry and Justin Shanks

Incoming freshmen:Demarcus Christmas, Frederick Jones, Derrick Nnadi, Adam Torres and Arthur Williams

FSU will, of course, miss defensive tackle Timmy Jernigan, who was a second-round pick of the Baltimore Ravens. Eddie Goldman, who was considered the nation's top defensive tackle in the class of 2012, may be poised for a breakout season.

He has steadily improved (19 tackles, two sacks in 2013), and while it's not likely he will have a Jernigan-like season, Goldman could collapse the pocket from the middle and be an effective run-stopper. Fisher praised both Lawrence-Stample and Hollin in the spring, and both will be part of a deep rotation of defensive tackles.

FSU reloaded in February, signing five defensive tackles. Coaches clearly must redshirt some, but not after what should be an entertaining competition in August.

 

Linebackers

Projected starters: Terrance Smith, Matthew Thomas and Reggie Northrup

Backups: Ukeme Eligwe, E.J. Levenberry and Ro'Derrick Hoskins

Incoming freshmen:Jacob Pugh, Kain Daub and Delvin Purifoy

FSU loses its leading tackler and emotional leader in Telvin Smith (90 tackles) as well as hybrid linebacker/end Christian Jones (56 tackles). The Seminoles will start junior Terrance Smith (59 tackles) and then surround him with some rising stars.

Fisher and new linebackers coach Bill Miller have plenty of choices. Northrup didn't start in 2013 but still showed his playmaking ability and accumulated 46 tackles. Levenberry (39 tackles) and Eligwe (28 tackles) both saw significant playing time as freshmen. The best of the group may be Matthew Thomas, a 5-star prospect who missed most of 2013 with a shoulder injury.

Daub, Pugh and Purifoy are all highly regarded and could contribute as backups in 2014.

 

Defensive backs

Projected starters: Jalen Ramsey, Nate Andrews, Ronald Darby and P.J. Williams

Backups: Tyler Hunter, Nick Waisome, Keelin Smith, Lamarcus Brutus, Marquez White and Colin Blake

Incoming freshman:Trey Marshall (early enrollee)

FSU allowed a national-low 156.6 passing yards per game. And even after losing senior corner Lamarcus Joyner and senior safety Terrence Brooks, the Seminoles could still have one of the nation's top defensive backfields.

Darby and Williams are both lockdown corners that helped FSU hold opponents to just 14 passing touchdowns in 14 games in 2013. Ramsey is a fast, physical safety. Andrews said this spring that he thought he would be taking a redshirt in 2013 but instead led the team with four interceptions.

Fisher raved about Marshall's versatility in the spring, saying that he could play corner, nickel corner or safety.

 

Specialists

Projected starters: PK Roberto Aguayo, P Cason Beatty

Backup: P Jonathan Hernandez

Aguayo won the Lou Groza Award as a freshman, making 21 of 22 field-goal attempts. He's a confident kicker with a strong leg. If FSU struggles in the red zone with a new group of receivers, Aguayo could be called on more often to kick a few chip-shot field goals.

Beatty averaged 41.1 yards per punt but needs to be more consistent. If he struggles in the preseason or early in the year, Fisher could look to the walk-on Hernandez or even Cosentino, who was signed as a quarterback but has a strong leg and punted in high school.

 

Bob Ferrante is the Florida State Lead Writer for Bleacher Report. All quotes were obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted. Follow Bob on Twitter.

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Lane Kiffin Has Great RBs at Alabama, but He Took It Too Far with NFL Comments

It took a while, but we're finally getting a taste of the old Lane Kiffin we all know and love.

Alabama head coach Nick Saban generally doesn't let his assistants speak to the press very often, with the exception of once during fall camp and required press events leading up to bowl games. 

But Saban lets his assistants speak at select offseason events that, while they are public, technically aren't press events. 

New offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin was a guest speaker at the DEX Imaging 20th Annual L'Arche Football Preview late last week in Mobile, Ala. According to Mike Herndon of AL.com, the former USC, Tennessee and Oakland Raiders head coach had high praise for his running backs.

"As you guys know extremely well, I think the offense is led by the tailbacks," Kiffin said according to Herndon. "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."

Well hello, Mr. Kiffin. The college football world—and live microphones in general—missed you.

He's referring to his trio of running backs—T.J. Yeldon, Derrick Henry and Kenyan Drake—all of whom are talented and excel in different areas. That gives him the luxury of keeping any one of the three in as a feature back, but mixing and matching based on the scheme, strengths and weaknesses of the opposing defenses.

But better than NFL running backs?

Come on.

There's nothing wrong with Kiffin talking up his guys, but let's tone down the hype meter just a bit. 

Henry is going to be a superstar, and he will likely vault in front of Yeldon on the depth chart this fall—especially if Yeldon's fumbling woes continue. Drake has been solid as a backup and certainly has the burst to be a big-time weapon—especially when put in positions to succeed.

But better than NFL running back corps?

The Houston Texans had Arian Foster and Ben Tate in 2013, and the San Francisco 49ers currently boast Frank Gore, Kendall Hunter, LaMichael James, Marcus Lattimore and Carlos Hyde. They're just two of several teams who would vehemently disagree.

This is the same conversation that popped up last October, when the question of "Can Alabama beat the Jacksonville Jaguars?" first arose. John Ewing of Prediction Machine (via USA Today) shot that down in a hurry.

No, of course not.

Now, are Alabama's running backs the best group in the SEC?

With apologies to Georgia's Todd Gurley and Keith Marshall, as well as the small village Texas A&M boasts and Arkansas' trio of Alex Collins, Jonathan Williams and Korliss Marshall, yes, Alabama's running backs are the best.

With a new quarterback who's coming in during the summer in Jacob Coker, Alabama's running backs will be counted on to ease that transition. All of the eggs are in Coker's basket at quarterback, and if he struggles, the running back corps will be even more of an offensive focal point than it already will be.

Now they have some insurmountable hype to live up to on top of the razor-thin margin of error that exists at a place like Alabama, where championships are expected.

No pressure, kids.

 

* Barrett Sallee is the lead SEC college football writer for Bleacher Report. All stats are courtesy of CFBStats.com.


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Position-by-Position Preview of Alabama's 2014 Roster

You don’t want to say that any time the University of Alabama football program doesn’t play for the national championship under Nick Saban the season wasn’t a success, but last year essentially showed otherwise.

The Crimson Tide beat Texas A&M Johnny Manziel on his home field, won the always-difficult matchup against LSU and with an 11-0 start were incredibly close to being No. 1 from start to finish during the regular season.

Of course, the last time the Crimson Tide came up short they responded by winning the next two national championships, so Saban is hoping that history repeats itself. Even with major questions at quarterback and in the secondary, there’s no doubt that Alabama has enough talent to contend, so the big question this spring was if it had the right mental makeup.

“I’m very encouraged by the attitude that we have on our team,” Saban said.

So far Alabama has been able to avoid the major distractions it had to deal with a year ago and nearly everyone who signed on as part of the nation’s top recruiting class (the unanimous choice among top recruiting evaluators) are already on campus taking summer classes.

“Guys are just a lot more hungry,” senior linebacker Trey DePriest said. “We didn’t finish the season like we wanted to. Guys knew that and they just took a different approach to it, and are trying to get back to the standard to how we do stuff.”

Here’s a position-by-position look at the 2014 Crimson Tide:

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What the EA Settlement Could Mean for NCAA in Ed O'Bannon Lawsuit

Common sense—and a sense of right—prevailed months ago. Last September, Electronic Arts and Collegiate Licensing Company agreed to settle with current and former college athletes whose likeness was used in video games. 

The settlement felt inevitable. When gamers played as "Texas A&M QB No. 2" in the NCAA Football franchise over the past few season, for example, it was the worst-kept secret that they were playing as Johnny Manziel. But, because it wasn't actually Manziel—even though the avatar was clearly modeled after him—the NCAA, CLC and EA Sports didn't have to pay him a dime. 

That is no longer the case. 

The money that current and former athletes will rightfully receive has been determined. Tom Farrey of ESPN.com reported on Saturday that EA and CLC have agreed to a $40 million settlement.

How was the number determined? Who gets paid and how much? What does this mean for the ongoing Ed O'Bannon suit and the NCAA? 

Let's get to some answers. 

 

The Ruling

The settlement is relatively straightforward, but like many big legal cases it took a while to come to fruition.

CLC and EA agreed in principle to settle with plaintiffs last year, but because of various issues the outcome was delayed. In November, the NCAA sued CLC and EA over their intent to settle. CLC and EA were originally listed as co-defendants in the O'Bannon case along with the NCAA. But, as the lawsuit progressed the two companies opted to jump ship and settle on their own terms, leaving the NCAA to fend for itself. 

The $40 million settlement must be approved by U.S. District Court Judge Claudia Wilken. 

 

The Numbers

For all the hand-wringing about paying athletes for the use of their image and/or likeness, the individual payout doesn't amount to much. 

According to ESPN, athletes could receive as much as $4,000, though the Fort Worth Star-Telegram notes that individual payout could be "from as little as $48 for each year an athlete was on a roster to $951 for each year." 

These are just estimates. How many apply for payment, the number of game appearances per player and when that player appeared in the game are major factors in determining how much they'll get. 

Here's more from ESPN: 

The suits mostly cover players who were on the rosters of Division I men's basketball or Football Bowl Subdivision teams that appeared in the EA Sports video games since 2003. If approved by Wilken, players will be alerted to the availability of payments and will have to register to get paid, using a formula based in part on how many years they were on those rosters. Plaintiffs' lawyers estimate that there are approximately 140,000 to 200,000 annual roster appearances in all three classes.

O'Bannon, former Arizona State quarterback Sam Keller and former Rutgers quarterback Ryan Hart will receive $15,000 for taking the lead in their respective lawsuits. Former West Virginia running back Shawne Alston will receive $5,000 for similar efforts, and numerous other plaintiffs will receive anywhere between $2,500 and $5,000. 

According to Jon Solomon of CBS Sports, EA can cancel the settlement if a certain number of players "opt out." The number of players needed for that option was redacted from the public filing. 

If those numbers seem like small potatoes, it’s because they are. However, the $40 million settlement is only part of the formula. The O’Bannon case seeks so much more than monetary damages. It attempts to change or otherwise eliminate the rules that prevent athletes from monetizing off of their brand. 

For some players, that could be well beyond a few hundred bucks.

 

What Could This Mean for NCAA vs. O'Bannon Case?

It would be surprising—almost unfathomable, at that—for the NCAA to settle with the O'Bannon plaintiffs in the same fashion as EA and CLC. College athletic's governing body is the sole holdout in the case, which is scheduled to go to trial on June 9. (However, the NCAA has asked for a delay in the start date.) 

Fundamentally, the NCAA and EA/CLC are different. Therefore, plaintiffs want different things from each. Since all the latter can do is offer compensation for past wrongdoings, that's what plaintiffs demanded. 

But the O'Bannon case—and the NCAA's role in it—is bigger than video games. There is television revenue, rules and the power to make (or toss out) those rules at stake. As NCAA guru John Infante explained in a special contribution to the Sporting News in April, plaintiffs are looking for more than straight cash, homey. 

It's not that the NCAA would be unwilling to settle, either, but its terms likely wouldn't be enough to satisfy the plaintiffs, per Infante: 

From past cases, we know what the NCAA is likely to be willing to offer in settlement talks: a significant settlement fund ($100 million is more than doable for the NCAA) and relatively minor changes to NCAA rules like expanded benefits for athletes and cost-of-attendance scholarships. Maybe if push came to shove, the NCAA would take the significant step of offering to adopt rules allowing athletes to profit off their likeness or reputation.

But if you are the O’Bannon plaintiffs and are all but undefeated in the case, is that worth giving up what appears to be an increasingly likely shot at getting up to half of the millions in television dollars that the NCAA and conferences take in each year? For the O’Bannon plaintiffs, the only reasonable settlement discussion might be what percentage of television money athletes will receive, not whether they get any.

There are platforms—like cost of attendance—in which the NCAA has shown a willingness to negotiate. But there are also core principles of amateurism that are the reason the NCAA exists in the first place. Deviating from those in some capacity, while not impossible, is a last-resort move. 

And the NCAA likely won't budge from that position unless it is ordered to by law. 

 

Ben Kercheval is a lead writer for college football at Bleacher Report. 

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Texas Football: Position-by-Position Preview of the the Longhorns' 2014 Roster

The Texas Longhorns' next crop of freshmen arrives on June 3, officially locking in the players available to Charlie Strong and his staff this season. 

Because the Longhorns, according to ESPN, return the most starting experience of any Big 12 program, few of the incoming players project to start. But given the lack of depth at key defensive positions, guys like Edwin Freeman and Poona Ford may be thrust into key roles.

Then, of course, there is the looming possibility that Jerrod Heard could bust his way to the backup job and end up starting before season's end.

Broken down by starters, backups and projected redshirts, here's the outlook for Heard's and every other Longhorn's position in 2014.

Unless otherwise noted, stats and information for each returning player are courtesy of TexasSports.com. All recruiting information courtesy of 247Sports.com.

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AL.com Names Alabama, South Carolina Preseason Favorites for SEC Championship

There is still a month and change between now and SEC media days, but as an early-June treat, the conference has released its first set of (unofficial) preseason predictions.

According to Charles Hollis of AL.com, the sports information directors (SIDs) of all 14 SEC schools voted on how their opponents will finish, and Alabama and South Carolina came out as the favorites in the West and East, respectively.

Here is the full list of division predictions:

Auburn finished neck-and-neck with Alabama for the lead in the SEC West, slotting in slightly behind its rival despite having beaten the Tide in the Iron Bowl last season and won the conference at large.

Interestingly enough, though, not every SID was keen on the Tigers' chances. Per Hollis, they received mostly first-, second- and third-place votes but also one ninth-place vote that stuck out as an outlier.

That wasn't the only outlier, either. As noted by Bleacher Report's Barrett Sallee, one SID voted defending SEC East champion Missouri No. 13 in the conference—the lowest a team could be voted (as the SIDs were not allowed to vote for their own school):

This is an example of the variance in the SEC East, which also included a fourth-place Florida team that received one vote to finish last in the division. It seems like a free-for-all of sorts that any team could win.

But South Carolina is the small favorite, in large part—one has to assume—because of fifth-year senior Dylan Thompson, who is one of the most experienced quarterbacks in the conference despite spending much of his career behind Connor Shaw.

"We feel good with Dylan," said head coach Steve Spurrier, per Hollis. "He's a fifth-year player, and he wants to be our quarterback. He's played in some big games and played very well for us over the years."

As good as Thompson is, however, he was not voted to either of the two All-SEC teams by the SIDs.

Instead, Auburn's Nick Marshall checked in as the SEC's top signal-caller, and Mississippi State's Dak Prescott graced the second-team.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Georgia Recruiting: 5 Reasons 5-Star DT Trent Thompson Will Sign with the Dawgs

Trent Thompson is a big defensive tackle at 6’4” and 292 pounds (according to 247Sports), but he’s an even bigger recruit. According to the latest 247Sports Composite rankings, Thompson (an Albany, Georgia native) is the top overall prospect in the country.

Thompson has offers from many of the nation’s most elite programs. Alabama, Auburn, Florida State and others have all offered scholarships, but the home-state Georgia Bulldogs won’t disappear without a fight.

Here are five reasons why Trent Thompson will sign with the Dawgs.

Unless otherwise noted all recruiting rankings, ratings and stats courtesy of 247Sports.

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LSU QB Hayden Rettig to Transfer: Top 5 Potential Landing Spots

A former high school All-American is leaving LSU. Quarterback Hayden Rettig, who signed with the Tigers in 2013, will transfer elsewhere, according to Jim Kleinpeter of NOLA.com.

The 6'3", 205-pound passer spent his first season on campus as a redshirt reserve. Following spring camp, Rettig faced an uphill battle to supplant heralded true freshman Brandon Harris and sophomore Anthony Jennings atop the depth chart.

He enrolled at LSU as a 4-star recruit just 17 months ago, rated No. 9 nationally among pro-style quarterback prospects in 247Sports' 2013 composite rankings. The Southern California product threw for 3,400 yards and 40 touchdowns as a senior at Cathedral High School in Los Angeles.

The redshirt freshman finds himself back on the open market and may consider several schools for his second collegiate landing spot. We explore five programs that appear to present possibilities in terms of positional need and personal history with Rettig.

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Position-by-Position Preview of Auburn's 2014 Roster

Spring practices may seem like ancient history for Auburn fans who are anxiously awaiting the start of fall camp and the 2014 season.

The remaining members of Auburn's 2014 recruiting class have arrived on the Plains for summer workouts, looking for a chance to break into the experienced roster for the defending SEC champions.

Several position changes have been made since the Tigers ended their conference title-winning campaign in Pasadena, with a host of newcomers making an instant impact in spring practices and the annual A-Day Game. 

As the Tigers hit the weight room in preparation for fall camp, here is a position-by-position look at the names expected to make an impact this season, from the expected starters to the reserve role players (projected starters are in bold).

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College Football Blue Bloods with the Hardest Path to the Playoffs

We know a little but not much about the due process that will determine which teams play in the College Football Playoff.

Which isn't to say the selection committee has not been forthright. They have been. It is only to say that because the system is so new, and because there are pieces of the process that seem more subjective than the BCS, we will need to wait and see before we fully understand how it works.

Specifically, we will have to see how the committee balances on-field merit with on-paper resume. Committee head Jeff Long made waves in May when he told the media, "We don’t think in terms of most deserving on the resume. We’re focused on the best four teams and the best ranking in the [playoff] top 25. Again, our focus is the best, not deserving.”

This seems to open the door for potential biases.

The SEC is, in many peoples' opinion, the best conference in America, and this statute of "best, not most-deserving" could make it possible for a two- or three-loss team from that league to make it over a two- or one-loss team from another.

Which is why, for the purposes of this list, the SEC teams included were not all ranked at the front. They probably have the hardest schedules in America—i.e. the ones with the most SEC opponents—but because they might be granted slack for an extra loss here and there, they do not necessarily have a harder track to the CFP.

Furthermore, the only teams included on this list were ones with a realistic chance—as deemed by the writer—of making the CFP.

Teams with difficult opponents that never would have made it anyway were ignored. Tennessee, for example, probably has the toughest schedule in America, but it was not considered a modern "blue-blood" after posting four consecutive losing seasons.

This list is a group of teams that have found success the past few years, that are good enough—on paper—to make the College Football Playoff in 2014 but might have trouble because of whom they face and where they face them.

Sound off below if you disagree. 

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Meet the Next Deion Sanders, DeSean Jackson Combo: 4-Star WR Ykili Ross

2015 4-star wide receiver Ykili Ross is one of the top prospects in his class, and he has yet to decide where he will be playing his college football. The 6'2", 185-pound prospect has both the size and the athleticism to make an impact early at the next level.

Bleacher Report caught up with Ross, who discussed the schools he is interested in, what makes him such a great player and why he looks up to stars like DeSean Jackson and Deion Sanders.

What did he have to say about Jackson and Sanders? Watch the video and find out.

 

Highlights courtesy of XOSDigital.com

Rankings courtesy of 247Sports.com

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Top 4 College Football Recruits Who Could Be Selected in the 2014 MLB Draft

A generation ago, athletes played multiple sports as a way of life. The only thing that changed was the season, as football bled into basketball, which bled into baseball, which bled back into football.

Modern times have brought a trend of specialization. Today, young athletes are far more likely to pick one sport early on and stick with it, playing on travel teams, AAU squads and training in the offseason rather than broadening their horizons as multi-sport athletes.

However, a number of talented athletes have continued the tradition of multi-sport success.

Russell Wilson excelled at baseball and football at N.C. State. He even spent time in the minor leagues, with the Colorado Rockies, before transferring to Wisconsin and being drafted by the NFL’s Seattle Seahawks. He also spent time this spring in the Texas Rangers’ minor league camp.

Notre Dame receiver Jeff Samardzija turned down a shot at an NFL career to focus on a baseball career, and he is now a mainstay of the Chicago Cubs’ rotation.

2013 Heisman Trophy winner Jameis Winston excelled as a member of the Florida State baseball team this spring, compiling a 1-0 record with seven saves, a 1.08 ERA and 31 strikeouts in 33.1 innings as the Seminoles’ closer.

With the 2014 MLB draft set for this week, a handful of college football recruits are on a similar track.

While some will be early round selections and others later round choices, these players could have an interesting choice to make, or at least a nice footnote for their biographies.

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Position-by-Position Preview of Oregon Football's 2014 Roster

Consistent veterans and high-potential young talents combine to form the 2014 Oregon Ducks' identity. With proven stars like Marcus Mariota , Hroniss Grasu and Ifo Ekpre ...

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Rich Rodriguez's Unorthodox New Contract Could Open Pandora's Box

What if, as part of its courting of Nick Saban, Texas was able to offer him an enormous salary—say $7 million a season—and ownership in a handful of gas stations spread throughout the state as a cherry on top? What if—in an effort to keep Kevin Sumlin from dashing for the NFL—Texas A&M backed up a Brinks truck of guaranteed dollars and threw in a small percentage of ownership in a line of car dealerships spread throughout the Lone Star State?

Hypothetical? Certainly. Outrageous? Perhaps not anymore, or at the very least it appears to be where we’re trending.

In a decidedly copycat sport—from uniforms, to scheduling, to salaries, to facilities—Rich Rodriguez’s new contract at Arizona could serve as an icebreaker, a light-bulb moment for administrations and boosters to form an lucrative alliance.

The money, according to Sports Illustrated’s Andy Staples, is just lovely by its lonesome. Rodriguez’s new five-year contract will net him $2.2 million per season. This contract is also incentive-laced, including triggers like a $200,000 bonus for winning the Pac-12 South and a $1 million bonus for winning a national championship.

This is nothing groundbreaking, of course. Shoot-for-the-moon incentives have become a fixture in the coaching world, and the Rodriguez deal is no different. It’s the other aspect of this contract, however, that could soon set a blueprint to follow, for better or worse. At one point in time, incentives were a trailblazing addition to coaching fine print. Now, such contract clauses could have company.

An Arizona donor has helped pad this deal further, offering up equity to Rodriguez, basketball coach Sean Miller and athletic director Greg Byrne. This “major university benefactor"—as outlined by the Board of Regents—has offered 500,000 units of a master limited partnership. Each unit is currently valued at $35.36 for a total of $17,680,000.

Rodriguez was granted 175,000 units of the 500,000, which equates to $6,188,000 right now. The only caveat for him to cash in on such options is that he has to stay at the school for eight years to receive this payout, whatever that payout becomes. If the price of the unit goes up in that time, Rodriguez’s payout will go up; if the company struggles and the units drop in value, his payouts go down.

Unlike any coaching contract until now—at least the deals being celebrated publicly—this fluctuating incentive is not tied to record or national championships. It’s built on longevity, a strategic attempt to slow down the coaching carousel and keep the Wildcats coach on the same sideline a while longer.

It is both brilliant and vaguely alarming, mainly because there’s no telling what’s next. If there’s one thing we know about this sport, it rarely stops with the first move. The one-upping is consistent and expected, and that could certainly be the case here.

As FootballScoop.com points out, universities around the country are playing close attention:

Rodriguez could, in theory, be among the wealthiest coaches in college football - with only a small portion of that wealth coming from Arizona's athletic budget.

In talking with both coaches and agents within college football, there is no question how massive this contract clause could be within the profession. The word "game-changer" was used by multiple sources. It is impossible to overstate the proverbial eyebrow raise this news caused among college football's top-tier coaching ranks.

This sport has money buried in the mattress, tucked away in safes and stored out of sight in offshore accounts. It’s not just the coaches, athletics directors and television money padding the pockets of school employees, either. It’s the alums standing patiently on the sideline next to their Scrooge McDuck vaults, anxious to spend their money and perhaps buy a winning program.

It’s why stadiums are being upgraded around the country at a greater pace than ever; why college locker rooms now have waterfalls; and why football facilities are starting to look more like five-star hotels and less like buildings dedicated to collegiate athletics. The money is flowing—sometimes from relatively mysterious avenues—and teams are taking full advantage by spending it.

Even though booster impact has long been a part of college football, the ante has been upped in recent years. This latest move by Arizona brings the entities a little bit closer, however, and the results are to be determined.

If wealthy donors are poised and willing to offer up equity in their companies to individuals, the entire coaching landscape could theoretically change. In a sport built on competitive advantages—i.e. whoever has the most money—this is just another way to widen the gap between those programs with remarkable means and everybody else.

On the bright side, this newfound equity could help stabilize the coaching carousel, which has become especially active and volatile in recent years. If coaches have a reason to stay, then perhaps they won’t sprint from campus to campus as often.

Or, perhaps the booster involvement will escalate to the point where equity is now assumed in certain deals from certain teams—a part of the regular ol’ pitch to coaches during the yearly reshuffle. That’s where this brilliant endeavor could grow teeth.

It might not be a matter of where you are or how much your athletic department profited in a given season, but rather if you’re on the good side of a one-percenter willing to share. At a time where the sport is becoming seemingly more corporate, the direct influence of corporations becoming the negotiators only elevates this to another level.

Perhaps what’s most concerning, however, is that this sport rarely stops to admire moderation.

It doesn’t stop with 500,000 shares, not when there are wealthy alums sitting quietly in the back willing to double this investment if and when the time is right. With as much money and resources as some of these wealthy donors have to offer—some of the wealthiest individuals in the world—there’s no telling where this movement might take us.

If Rich Rodriguez—an outstanding college football coach—has already set a steep market, what happens when one of the nation’s elite signal-callers and recruiters get involved?

Eventually, we’ll likely find out.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Position-by-Position Preview of LSU's 2014 Roster

LSU head coach Les Miles is fortunate. 

Not every coach has the luxury of Miles, who always has the talent at his disposal to fill in holes when players jump to the pros. This year's roster is no different. 

The Tigers have a brutal schedule ahead of them, which includes eight SEC games and a tough nonconference season opener against Wisconsin. Miles will need both starters and productive backups in order to win to the conference.

Here is a glimpse of how the Tigers will look at each position.  

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Meet the Next Myles Jack, 4-Star LB Kyahva Tezino

2015 4-star linebacker Kyahva Tezino is one of the top players in his class, and he has yet to decide where he will be playing his college football. The 6'0", 192-pound recruit has the frame to get much bigger but also has the athleticism to play the safety position.

Bleacher Report caught up with Tezino, who discussed his top five schools, which university has the prettiest girls and why he believes his game will be successful at the next level.

What did he have to say about Myles Jack?

Watch the video and find out.

Highlights courtesy of XOS Digital.

Rankings courtesy of 247Sports.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

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