NCAA Football

Rival Coaches Respond to UNC Coach Larry Fedora's 6-Pack

A recent picture of Larry Fedora at the beach revealed how the North Carolina football coach does a pretty good job of staying in shape. He's not the only ACC coach who was willing to show what he was working with, however.

Duke coach David Cutcliffe and North Carolina State coach Dave Doeren wanted Fedora to know that they each have six-packs of their own:

[ESPN, Duke Football; h/t SB Nation]

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Notre Dame Football: 3 Games That Could Ruin the Irish's 2014 Season

The beginning of August ushers in fresh optimism surrounding the Notre Dame football squad in 2014.

Fans heap high expectations on the Fighting Irish, with the hope of Notre Dame gliding on a magical season like that of 2012. This season, the Irish face a challenging schedule, highlighted by Michigan, Stanford, Florida State, Arizona State and USC.

Schools with the toughest strength of schedule this season, according to @ESPNInsider Brian Fremeau #CFBLIVE » pic.twitter.com/r7pzw7yfOj

— ESPN CollegeFootball (@ESPNCFB) July 24, 2014

Of the difficult 12-game slate, let’s highlight three games that could derail Notre Dame’s campaign. Now, a loss to, say, Florida State wouldn’t ruin the Irish season. Toss-ups or games in which the Irish figure to be favored can be more fittingly classified as potential derailments for Notre Dame.

Here we go.

 

North Carolina

Nestled between two powerhouse programs on Notre Dame’s schedule rests another solid school, one that figures to be waiting to clip the Irish in mid-October.

The Irish welcome Stanford to Notre Dame Stadium on Oct. 4 and travel to Tallahassee, Florida, to battle Florida State—the likely preseason No. 1 team in the country—on Oct. 18.

In between those two matchups, the Irish will square off with North Carolina.

UNC cracked the post-spring practice Top 25 of Bleacher Report’s Brian Pedersen at No. 16 in the country. The Irish will have to keep close tabs on UNC playmakers T.J. Logan, Quinshad Davis and Ryan Switzer. Their big-play ability could spell trouble against an aggressive Notre Dame secondary.

The placement of the matchup with the Tar Heels makes it even more difficult for the Irish. Notre Dame should benefit, however, from playing at home and not needing to hit the road following the Stanford tilt.

There’s a decent chance Notre Dame could enter the early-October Stanford game at 4-0 after opening the season with Rice, Michigan, Purdue and Syracuse. If the Irish defend their home turf against Stanford but fall to North Carolina, the loss could be crippling with the Seminoles looming the next week. All of a sudden, the Irish would sit at 4-2 with Arizona State, Louisville and USC, among others, still looming.

 

Louisville

The Irish will take the field at Notre Dame Stadium for the final time in 2014 when they square off with Louisville in the penultimate week of the regular season.

At that stage, Notre Dame’s season could be spoiled with a loss to the Cardinals, especially with a trip to USC the next week (more on that later).

Back for his second stint as the head coach, Bobby Petrino could have the Louisville offense rolling by that point in the season. Petrino may not have quarterback Teddy Bridgewater, but the offensive-minded coach has a trio of terrific playmakers in running backs Dominique Brown and Michael Dyer and wide receiver DeVante Parker.

Brown was the team’s leading rusher in 2013, while Dyer—who eclipsed 1,000 yards in his two seasons at Auburn—battled injuries in his first season at Louisville. Parker was Bridgewater’s top receiver but eschewed the NFL for one more season in Kentucky.

If Notre Dame somehow successfully maneuvers through the first 10 games of its gauntlet in 2014 with just one or two losses, a loss to Louisville at home on senior day would be a letdown.

 

USC

Speaking of late-season showdowns, Notre Dame closes out the regular season with the customary trek to California to face USC.

Recent history provides us with a good example of what could be at stake.

Two years ago—the last time the Trojans hosted the Irish—Notre Dame was undefeated heading into the rivalry game at USC. Had the Trojans been able to take down the Irish, Notre Dame’s national championship hopes would have crumbled right there at the finish line against one of its main enemies.

Now, it’s highly unlikely Notre Dame will be undefeated when the teams meet in this year’s rendition. But there still could be enough on the line for USC to ruin Notre Dame’s prospects of making the College Football Playoff or, more realistically, some of the other marquee bowl games.

In 2012, the Irish topped the Trojans, 22-13, behind five field goals from Kyle Brindza and 146 rushing yards from Theo Riddick. It wasn’t pretty, but Notre Dame never trailed and eventually got the job done.

The Trojans will be lurking again at the end of the home stretch.

New head coach Steve Sarkisian headlines this year’s USC squad, and the Trojans can turn up the offensive pace with quarterback Cody Kessler returning for his second season as the starter and wide receiver Nelson Agholor climbing to the top of the depth chart in place of Marqise Lee.

Defensively, USC boasts a standout at each level of the defense, with defensive end Leonard Williams, inside linebacker Hayes Pullard and defensive back Su’a Cravens.

 

All quotes obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted.

Mike Monaco is a lead Notre Dame writer for Bleacher Report. Follow @MikeMonaco_ on Twitter.

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College Football Recruiting TE Rankings 2015: Top 10 After the Opening

No position in football has evolved as quickly and fully as tight end. It demands versatility from players, requiring both downfield receiving and strong blocking abilities.

College programs pursue prospects who can exploit the seam on one play and then spring a big run by laying out a linebacker on the next. The 2015 class has athletes who can do both, though it's difficult to find a complete tight end at the high school level.

Many are wide receivers with tremendous size who will transition during the next phase of their career. Others are punishing blockers who haven't tapped into their potential as pass targets.

Multiple playmakers flashed impressive skill sets at The Opening, an annual July football showcase held in Beaverton, Oregon. Bleacher Report was on hand for the event while gaining familiarity with other recruits through game film.

Here's our breakdown of the top 10 tight ends in this recruiting cycle.

 

This article is part of Bleacher Report's CFB 200 Recruiting Rankings Series. The overall rankings are based on the 247Sports composite system, which takes into account every recruiting service's rankings. The positional rankings also correspond with those composite scores. Stay tuned over the next two weeks as we take an in-depth look at college football's stars of tomorrow.

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Oregon Football: Red-Zone Adjustments Fuel Evolution of Ducks Offense

For many offenses around college football, a 45.5-point per game average is cause for celebration. At Oregon, it's motivation to improve. 

Head coach Mark Helfrich said at Pac-12 media days that Oregon's "constant deal...is getting better."

Constant pursuit of improvement fuels the program. Despite being one of the nation's best for almost a decade, the Ducks offense is no exception.

"We have to finish drives," quarterback Marcus Mariota said. "Not leave points off the board."  

On the surface, it might seem the nation's third-ranked scoring offense could not possibly have left many scoring opportunities unfulfilled. After all, the 2013 season marked Oregon's sixth straight of ranking in the nation's top 10 for points scored per game.

And yet, with a 78.4 percent conversion rate, Oregon ranked No. 95 in the Football Bowl Subdivision for red-zone efficiency. Sixteen of its 74 trips into the red zone failed to yield any points, and four of those misfires came in the Ducks' two losses.  

The season's dynamic changes considerably if just one of those scoreless red-zone opportunities goes for a touchdown at Stanford. Convert on half of the 16 red-zone failures into touchdowns, and the Ducks' season average jumps to a hair below 50 points per game.

Oregon has operated in a hurry-up spread system since Chip Kelly's hire as offensive coordinator in 2007. Basic concepts remain the same, but each season, the offense evolves.

The next phase in that evolution is a more effective attack near the goal line. Helfrich and offensive coordinator Scott Frost will fine-tune elements that have powered the Ducks in the past, while introducing new dimensions.

Mariota is taking it upon himself to excel in one such facet.

"Specifically, our red-zone passing," Mariota said, stating his focus. "We understand that teams like to load the box against us, and we have to be able to be more efficient outside of it."

Attacking the perimeter is consistent with Oregon's typical game plan: force the action sideline-to-sideline to create space in the defense.

As red-zone touchdowns come through the air, opposing defenses will be forced to pull some of those extra players out of the box and into coverage. Look for the Ducks then to aggressively pound with the rush, as Helfrich discussed.

"That used to be one of the things people said about our league and other Western leagues," Helfrich said. "It's pass-happy and finesse. I think our rushing numbers can speak to that in a different way." 

Rush offense has not been an issue for the Ducks in recent years. An Oregon running back has eclipsed the 1,000-yard mark every season since 2007; returning Byron Marshall is the latest.

Marshall is a big-play threat, but before a late-season injury slowed his production, he proved consistent in the red zone. Eight of his team-leading 14 rushing touchdowns were scored from inside the opponent's 20.

Combine Marshall with dynamic sophomore Thomas Tyner, and Frost has the option of throwing more two-back looks at defenses.

That backfield then becomes a three-pronged attack, as the Ducks can also counter with Mariota's decision-making out of the zone read.

The quarterback is among the team's most dangerous ball-carriers, last season racking up 715 yards and nine touchdowns on the ground. It's no coincidence the Ducks' worst red-zone performances—against UCLA, Stanford and Arizona—occurred while Mariota played with a knee injury.

A healthy Mariota leaves defenses with a thin margin for error when anticipating zone-read plays.

If misdirection cannot get the Ducks in the end zone, the evolutionary step Oregon can take in 2014 is actually something of a throwback.

In addition to multiple-back sets, a stronger offensive line should allow Frost to play some power football near the goal line.   

Take offensive guard Cameron Hunt, who was thrown into the lineup as a freshman last season. Per 247Sports' Matt Prehm, Hunt arrived at spring practices 20 pounds heavier than his 2013 listed playing weight.

Hunt is the least experienced of the Ducks' starting offensive line. His work in the weight room should have him up to speed with the rest of the unit, and both Hunt and veteran Hamani Stevens should be effective pull-blockers.  

Oregon's physicality inside the 20 will be vital to its offensive evolution, but Helfrich addressed another area in which offseason gains made in the weight room should bolster the Ducks.

"On the scale, [the offseason weight room regimen] absolutely made a difference," Helfrich said. 

"With some guys, it's just confidence. If you weigh 12 pounds more than I do or I've seen you bench more than I do, whatever those things are, I'm going to be a little less confident," he added, speaking from the perspective of an opponent faced with a bulkier Oregon.

Should the Ducks improve their red-zone efficiency, it won't just be players' weight gain making Pac-12 defenses less confident.

 

Quotes obtained firsthand unless otherwise cited. Statistics compiled via CFBstats.com

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Oregon Football: Red-Zone Adjustments Fuel Evolution of Ducks Offense

For many offenses around college football, a 45.5-point per game average is cause for celebration. At Oregon, it's motivation to improve. Head coach Mark Helfrich said at Pac -12 media days that Oregon's "constant deal...

Read the full article on Bleacher Report...

LSU Football: 6 Tigers Primed for Breakout Seasons

LSU head coach Les Miles knows coaches are only as good as their players.

Miles deserves plenty of credit for LSU's success in his tenure. He has led the Tigers to 95 wins in nine seasons despite players leaving early. But there is no question his success is powered by his players, more often than not, being superior than their opponents. 

Luckily enough for Miles, talent-rich states such as Louisiana makes roster transformation easier. His 2014 recruiting class, arguably his best ever, has taken over the offseason buzz in Baton Rouge.  

Overall, Miles has a young, yet talented, roster. If LSU's youth play like veterans, they will be successful.

Here are six players, which includes two juniors, three sophomores and one freshman, that will breakout in 2014. 


*Rankings and stats provided by 247Sports.com and LSU Sports Information. Quotes were obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted.

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Every ACC Football Team's Odds to Make College Football Playoff

August will be here by the end of the week, and every ACC team's goal will be the same: Make the inaugural College Football Playoff and win a national championship.  Realistically, some teams have better odds than others of achieving that goal.  

Florida State, for one, begins its quest to repeat as national champs with a Heisman winner still in tow.  Plenty of other teams in the conference have the talent to make the Noles feel the heat as they pursue perfection again, and it's rarely the most cost effective solution to go with the favorite when it comes to Vegas.  

Here's a rundown of my odds for each ACC team to go dancing, in the football sense, come December, including the teams I'd put my money on for the most bang for my buck.  

The Favorite

This one's pretty clear.  Florida State will look to bring home another title to Tallahassee, and the odds seem to be in its favor, as it should be the favorite in each regular-season game this year.  

Repeating is a different animal though, and head coach Jimbo Fisher has repeatedly stated, according to 247Sports' Tim Linafelt (subscription required), that the team won't be trying to defend their title but rather pursue another in 2014.  

The Seminoles return Jameis Winston, and even a sophomore slump would still make him one of the best quarterbacks in the nation.  If he puts up similar numbers to a year ago, he could be walking away with similar hardware in 2014.  

Perhaps even more significant in Florida State's chance to repeat is the offensive line, which returns four of five starters.  The unit paved the way for a running attack that featured three of the top seven running backs in yards per carry last year, according to cfbstats.com.  The line did give up 33 sacks last year, but some of that can be attributed to a quarterback who loves to improvise and throw the ball downfield when things break down.

Don't think the new starters will hurt their team's chance of repeating either says Matt Brown of SportsOnEarth.com

Fisher has signed five recruiting classes since replacing Bobby Bowden, two of which finished in Rivals.com's top five and none of which finished worse than 10th.  Lose a bunch of all-conference players?  So what?  There are still eight (first-, second- or third-team) returning and plenty more likely on their way to that recognition.

The Noles will undoubtedly be among the most talented teams in the nation this year, and Jimbo Fisher has already proved he can win a championship.  What's scarier is that he looks poised this year to do something his predecessor never did: Repeat.

 

The Best Value

The Miami Hurricanes know a thing or two about recruiting the nation's best talent too, which is why I think they have the best value for making the College Football Playoff at 12-1.  

The scenario is easy to envision if Duke Johnson has an even more spectacular season than his first eight games last year when he rushed for 920 yards.  If he stays healthy this year, he may very well dethrone Jameis Winston as the ACC Player of the Year.  

Johnson has the ability to take over a game, and if he has the endurance to make plays in the fourth quarter, he could lead Miami to even more than a Coastal Division crown.

The brilliance of Johnson is somewhat expected this season though, and to sneak into the playoff the Hurricanes will have to surprise the country with a stout defensive performance in 2014.  Much of the fanbase in Coral Gables was hoping head coach Al Golden would replace Mark D'Onofrio at the end of last season, but the defensive coordinator is getting one more shot.  

He has plenty of talent to work with as well, with linebacker Denzel Perryman likely being one of the conference's top tacklers and a secondary that returns both Tracy Howard and Deon Bush at corner.  

The Canes will have to shore up the front four on defense and find a quarterback if they hope to be legitimate contenders for the playoff this fall, but this team is the definition of dangerous with a wide variety of weapons and talent on the field.  

 

The Sleeper

If there's one quality of every successful sleeper team, it's a great coach who can get the entire squad to believe anything is possible.  David Cutcliffe is a brilliant coach and a tough motivator, which is the primary reason the Duke Blue Devils are my sleeper team.  

It's hard to claim a team coming off a 10-win season is a sleeper team, but that was the first 10-win season in school history and their first appearance in the ACC title game.  What's more, the Dukies have the pieces in place to do it again.  

They return quarterback Anthony Boone, who may have even more to play for this season, per ESPN's Matt Fortuna:

Don't be surprised if Anthony Boone enters this season with a chip on his shoulder after seeing multiple preseason All-ACC teams list UNC's Marquise Williams ahead of him as the second-team quarterback. Boone took his Blue Devils into Chapel Hill last season and beat Williams and the Tar Heels, and Williams isn't even assured of starting this season.

Boone will have plenty of options to throw to as well, with Jamison Crowder vying to be the conference's top receiver.  He'll get help from tight end Braxton Deaver and an offensive line that returns three starters.  

In short, the offense shouldn't be a problem for the Blue Devils.  If they hope to make a Cinderella run to the College Football Playoff though, they'll need huge seasons from everyone in the talent-laden secondary to cover up an offensive line that only returns tackle Jamal Bruce.

Safety Jeremy Cash will have to at least duplicate his 121-tackle, four-interception season, and linebacker Kelby Brown will have to be a First Team All-ACC performer for Duke to have a shot.

Far-fetched?  Maybe.  But remember, it could happen.

 

 

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Florida Football: Gators Primed for Breakout Seasons

After a 4-8 season last year, the Florida Gators are going to need everybody to step up in order to bring about a turnaround.

That’s obvious, but the Gators also need breakout seasons from some underachievers.

That includes a quarterback who has been a turnover machine and never blossomed into that leader the offense desperately needs, and a receiver who has been with the team four years and has four receiving touchdowns.

If Florida is truly going to make a genuine run at an SEC East title, these players and others need to fulfill their potential.

Here are some of the players who you can count on having that breakout season.

 

Jeff Driskel, Quarterback 

If Driskel doesn't figure things out this season, there's always a baseball future to fall back on. 

Seriously, Kurt Roper’s offensive system was built for a quarterback such as Driskel. Spread the field, allow the quarterback to use his legs when needed, get the ball out quickly and allow the receivers to make things happen. In past years, Driskel was asked to do too much and wasn't able to take advantage of his athleticism. 

There's a reason Roper was drooling over Driskel the second he arrived on campus, according to Robbie Andreu of Gainesville.com. Roper said of Driskel:

He's really talented. I didn't get to see him much before I got here. I watched him in high school and knew he was heavily recruited and those things. I don't know that I was one of his choices, so now I get the luck of the draw here, I guess I should say.

But that's a big, powerful, fast-twitch, natural throwing motion. He's talented, folks. I mean we're sitting here talking about a guy that's really, really gifted. And his experience shows whenever we have conversations. He understands football. It's not his first rodeo.

Roper obviously sees something many others don’t about a quarterback who has 14 career touchdown passes and 10 interceptions.

These two should click and could bring Florida its most successful season from a quarterback since the Tim Tebow era.

Get excited. 

 

Jonathan Bullard, Defensive Lineman 

Sometimes that third year really is a charm. That's where Bullard comes in.

The versatile defensive lineman is capable of more than the three sacks and 7.5 tackles for loss that he's racked up in two seasons. Bullard has the size (6'3", 271 pounds,) explosiveness and the overall strength to be a monster in the SEC and possibly even make the all-conference team this season. His skill set is unique, and there are not many offensive linemen who can stop him when he's focused on the football field.

Being dialed in was a problem last season, as Bullard didn't enjoy moving from defensive end to defensive tackle. The switch inside really frustrated Bullard and didn't help his production, but he's made the proper adjustments in camp, according to Marty Cohen of 247Sports:

I’ve got the hang of it, I can read things better at D-tackle like I could at end. Now it’s kind of even and to be honest, I’m trying to embrace it, enjoy it, rather than last year not really wanting to but knowing I had to. Now I’m trying to embrace it and do it at a high level. Now I look at it as a plus because I can also play end and I can play inside and if I can do both at a high level it helps me in the long run.

Having a talented player along the defensive front who can play multiple positions only helps Florida's defensive line. Bullard is too gifted not to have that breakout season. Expect big numbers from the third-year defensive lineman. 

 

Andre Debose, Wide Receiver 

This will be the season Debose lives up to the hype.

Wait, haven't we heard this the past four seasons? Actually, it feels more like a decade. 

Debose, who tore his ACL last spring, has been cleared for full contact in the fall, according to Edward Aschoff of ESPN:

[Team doctors] didn’t think there was any way he’d participate in non-contact in spring practice, and right now he’s been cleared for everything in the summer. Here’s a guy who’s really worked his tail off to put himself back into position to do some things.

That's great news for a receiver who has been given a sixth year by the NCAA. Debose seems a sure bet to be successful, as—like with Driskel—Roper's offense fits him perfectly. He'll be asked to help spread the field and become that deep threat that has been missing from Florida's offense since Percy Harvin.

Debose will face many one-on-one situations, which you have to believe he'll be able to win due to his elite speed. Having Quinton Dunbar, Latroy Pittman and Debose on the field at the same time would cause headaches for opposing defenses. 

Debose, who was one of Florida's top recruits in 2009, hasn't contributed much on the offensive side of the ball. With the change at offensive coordinator and the drastic need for playmakers at wide receiver, that's likely to change this season.

Better late than never. 

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Will Lack of Experienced SEC QBs Hold Conference Back in 2014?

In the iron-sharpens-iron SEC football environment, only the battle-tested survive and rise to the top of national rankings.

So what happens when iron goes up against a weaker substance?

It cuts right through.

Therein lies the concern for SEC programs this season.

The normally star-studded league still features some of the country’s elite talent—players such as Georgia tailback Todd Gurley, Auburn receiver Sammie Coates and Florida cornerback Vernon Hargreaves.

For the SEC to be the top conference in 2014, though, it must do so with at least eight quarterbacks who will start the majority of their teams’ games for the first time this season.

More than half the league will turn to quarterbacks with six career starts or fewer, including recent powerhouses Alabama, LSU, Georgia and South Carolina.

Gone are Heisman Trophy winners (Texas A&M’s Johnny Manziel) and finalists (Alabama’s AJ McCarron).

So, too, are conference record-setters (Georgia’s Aaron Murray) and program record-setters (South Carolina’s Connor Shaw).

So the nation’s perennial top conference must reload at the game’s most pivotal position or risk falling back toward the middle of the pack in the college football landscape.

Right?

Well, that gets into what “holding back the conference” really means.

Do all the new signal-callers really mean the SEC champion will be kept out of the inaugural College Football Playoff?

Those odds are probably about as closer to zero as Kentucky winning the national title.

Face it: The SEC will get at least one team into the four-team playoff this year.

No matter how bold the College Football Playoff committee intends to be, it won’t be prepared for the backlash of leaving out the SEC champion—no matter how justified it might be in such a decision.

It seems more likely that two teams from the SEC would make the playoff than zero.

So from that perspective, inexperience at the quarterback position won’t impact the conference in any real way.

As long as the SEC remains at the top of college football in the court of public opinion, it will be difficult to erase the perception.

National championships certainly go a long way toward building a case for being the best league in America.

Then again, no sane person outside of the 14 ACC programs is arguing the ACC is better than the SEC based on Florida State beating Auburn last year.

With no football equivalent of the Big Ten-ACC Challenge in men’s basketball, all arguments against the SEC remain conjecture or speculation.

No matter what the eye test tells us about the Pac-12 and its experienced quarterbacks, such as Oregon’s Marcus Mariota and UCLA’s Brett Hundley, many fans will still side with the SEC.

The Pac-12 and Big 12—two of the leagues most likely to stake a claim for top-conference honors—will have a hard time proving on the field they’re better than the SEC.

Teams from the SEC play Big 12 opponents just four times during the coming regular season.

Two of those games feature Tennessee and Arkansas, who combined for two wins in conference play last season. They play at Oklahoma and Texas Tech, respectively—both of whom qualified for bowl games last season (and the Sooners reached the Sugar Bowl).

Meanwhile, Alabama should be a prohibitive favorite in a neutral-season opener against West Virginia.

Only the nationally televised Thursday night Auburn-Kansas State game should be evenly matched—and could easily be explained away by dismissive SEC defenders should the Tigers fall.

There are no SEC-Pac-12 matchups scheduled for the 2014 regular season.

Any “best conference in America” will be a matter of opinion.

Over the course of the last decade, the SEC has built enough of a reputation to earn benefit of the doubt in the “best conference” conversation.

Thus, inexperience at quarterback won’t hold the league back there, either.

Here’s where it could hurt the league—whether the SEC is “held back” or not: The best teams in the SEC might not emerge with the resumes they have compiled in recent years.

If LSU’s young quarterbacks struggle, a win over a 4-4 or 5-3 Tigers team won’t mean what it has in years past. Namely, beating Les Miles’ team won’t necessarily mean a program has a reasonable chance to make a run in its division.

Texas A&M could be in for a fall as well with Manziel now gone, weakening the SEC West, which is at very least a strong contender for best division in the country.

An SEC program will reach the College Football Playoff this year.

The league often represents well in big games—Alabama’s performance against Oklahoma notwithstanding.

This season will likely be no different.

New quarterbacks won’t hold back the SEC this year.

They could, however, lead to a weaker top-to-bottom conference in 2014.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

2014 Heisman Contenders: Analyzing Top Candidates for Prestigious Award

Heading into the NCAA preseason, and with media days behind us, there are a few players who stand out as compelling prospects to watch for the 2014 Heisman Trophy award.

To make matters more interesting, the two previous winners have been redshirt freshmen, and the trophy has been awarded to underclassmen more frequently since the early 2000s. That means the field of inclusion for the award is wider than ever—as long as you're a quarterback or running back. 

The following players' seasons will play an important role in the competition as they attempt to win their first—or perhaps second—Heisman.

 

Marcus Mariota, QB, Oregon

When head coach Chip Kelly departed Oregon prior to the 2013 season to coach the Philadelphia Eagles, many thought it would result in a hit to Mariota's stats and a less productive offense across the board for the Ducks. But new coach Mark Helfrich led the team to an 11-2 finish and emphasized the passing game. Mariota had 3,665 passing yards compared to 2,677 in 2012 under Kelly.

Mariota's accuracy decreased in 2013 from a 68.5 completion percentage in 2012 to 63.5 percent, but that's not unusual with 50 more attempts (h/t Sports-Reference.com). In 2014 he'll continue to benefit from the Ducks' high-octane spread offense, which should allow him plenty of opportunities to pad his stat sheet.

In 2013, Mariota demonstrated a keen ability to progress quickly through his reads. He lost two top targets from last season (Josh Huff to the NFL and Bralon Addison to a torn ACL in spring practice), but he has a corps of young talent in Chance Allen, B.J. Kelley and Dwayne Stanford.

The stats also suggest that Mariota's knee injury in Stanford game affected the rest of his season considerably. Though he hadn't thrown an interception to that point, he threw four over a two-game stretch against Arizona State and Oregon State, and he didn't rush for a single touchdown post-injury after scoring nine prior. Better health in 2014 should translate to better production from Mariota. 

If Mariota falls out of Heisman discussions, it'll likely be because the Ducks don't have the weapons he needs. But if he can match or exceed his production last season, and if the young receivers step up, he'll be at the front of the pack.

 

Todd Gurley, RB, Georgia

Despite only playing in 10 games last season, Todd Gurley racked up 989 yards and 10 touchdowns for the Bulldogs in 2013. He also dramatically increased his role in the passing game, notching 37 receptions for 441 yards compared to 16 for 117 in 2012. 

That increased production as a pass-catcher gave Gurley the opportunity for six additional scores, bringing his total to 16 over 10 games. 

What's really impressive about Gurley's 2013 campaign is that, as Tony Barnhart of the SEC Network pointed out, he only had four games last season with 20-plus touches. 

With Aaron Murray's departure, the Bulldogs will feature the ground game more prominently in 2014, and provided he can stay healthy, Gurley should have his best season yet. Being a high-profile player in a high-profile conference certainly won't hurt him either as Heisman discussions begin to gather steam. 

 

Jameis Winston, QB, Florida State

In 2014, Winston could make a legitimate push to be just the second player in college football history to win consecutive Heisman awards—a feat accomplished first by Archie Griffin in 1974 and 1975. 

If Winston can even come close to replicating his production in 2013, it's hard to imagine he won't be a frontrunner for the award. The Seminoles face a tough season opener against Oklahoma State, along with Notre Dame further down the stretch, but their conference schedule is winnable.  

Last year, in the best freshman season by a college quarterback on the books, Winston set single-season NCAA freshman records for passing yards (4,057) and touchdowns (40). Though he lost receivers Kelvin Benjamin and Kenny Shaw to the NFL, the Seminoles return top target Rashad Greene, while Isaiah Jones and Kermit Whitfield could fill holes on the outside and in the slot, respectively. 

It will be hard for anyone to touch Winston in the Heisman race if he repeats his performance from 2013. 

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Freshman QBs Who Will Win Starting Jobs This Fall

If there is a stigma in college football about starting a freshman quarterback, well, there shouldn’t be.

Just look at how the last two seasons have played out and any worries about youth should be totally debunked.

Two years ago, a previously unknown redshirt freshman named Johnny Manziel burst on the scene and won a Heisman Trophy for Texas A&M. Last fall, Jameis Winston emerged as college football’s most exciting player, winning a Heisman and leading Florida State to a BCS National Championship in his first season of college football.

Youth has been served in college football, and don’t be surprised if a number of freshmen emerge as stars this fall.
Here is a look at some freshman quarterbacks who would surprise no one by winning a starting role this fall.

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Bleacher Report's Preseason Top 25 at the Start of Fall Camp

Can you feel it? College football is right around the corner.

We've gone through the various media days for each conference, with coaches and selected players telling us how excited they are about the upcoming 2014 season. Some preseason all-conference teams and league-standings predictions have been made, and goals are being set for number of wins as well as division and conference titles and maybe spots in the first-ever College Football Playoff.

Preseason top-25 polls are the next step. The Amway Coaches Poll, which is the old USA Today poll but with a new sponsor, is set to release its initial rankings on Thursday, and the Associated Press will follow on Aug. 17 with its preseason media poll.

Ours is ready right now.

Here's Bleacher Report's Top 25 heading into the start of fall camp. The rankings are a projection of how teams will fare in the 2014 season based on returning players from the year before, incoming talent that is expected to contribute and offseason events which may have an impact on how a team will perform this fall.

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UCLA Football: 3 Games That Could Ruin the 2014 Season for the Bruins

There are three opponents in particular with the ability to upend a potentially special season for Jim Mora and the UCLA football team. 

Two of these contests exist on the road. One will test the Bruins' ability to not only travel a great distance, but to also compete against a less-than-ideal start time. The other road game will feature a daunting home crowd in addition to adverse weather conditions. 

Lastly, UCLA could theoretically be facing its biggest rival for a division championship. A loss in such an affair would likely rival a punch to the proverbial stomach. 

Here are three games that could ruin the 2014 season for the Bruins.

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UCLA Football: 3 Games That Could Ruin the 2014 Season for the Bruins

There are three opponents in particular with the ability to upend a potentially special season for Jim Mora and the UCLA football team. Two of these contests exist on the road...

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Ohio State Football: Best Quotes and Key Takeaways from Big Ten Media Days

Urban Meyer and a trio of his players—highlighted by quarterback Braxton Miller—represented the Ohio State Football team at the annual Big Ten media days in Chicago this week.

Ohio State is gearing up for another run at a national title after last year's quest fell short. Meyer has the pieces to contend, but fall camp will be a pivotal time for the Buckeyes to patch their remaining holes and really grasp the vision of the coaching staff.

Meyer and the players he brought with him to Chicago echoed that sentiment universally.

Here are the biggest Buckeyes-related takeaways from Big Ten media days.

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Brady Hoke Won't Quiet Hot Seat Questions Without Michigan Victories

Brady Hoke told reporters at Day 1 of Big Ten Media Days, including MLive.com's Nick Baumgardner, that he's not worried about his job security at Michigan. But that doesn't mean the questions are going to stop anytime soon. 

Athletic director Dave Brandon has dispelled notions that Brady is on the hot seat this season multiple times, most recently to Bob Wojnowski of the Detroit News. "I have all the confidence in the world that he’s bringing in the right kids, that he continues to do the right thing in terms of getting his staff lined up," Wojnowski said. "I’m convinced we’re heading to a very, very good place."

But the question is, what if Michigan doesn't get to that very good place by January? Hoke is coming off a 7-6 season entering his fourth year with the program. In a vacuum, his 26-13 overall record looks promising, but it doesn't tell the whole story.

After leading the team to a strong 11-2 finish in 2011, his squad dropped to 8-5 in 2012 before the dangerously-close-to-.500 2013 campaign.

That record included a strong undefeated start that went south quickly as the season progressed, as BTN.com's Tom Dienhart pointed out during Hoke's presser. 

And though the team was perfect at home under Hoke in each of his first two seasons at the helm, they dropped two at Michigan Stadium in 2013—including a game vs. archrival Ohio State on November 30, which has left a bitter taste in Wolverines fans' mouths. Hoke's gutsy decision to go for a two-point conversion rather than tie that game with an extra point fueled many fans' disenchantment. 

"I've done this at two other schools," Hoke said Monday, per Baumgardner. "You come in as a new coach, and you don't put a timetable on anything. Because you don't know." Though Hoke may not admit to having a timetable in place, rumblings about his days at the program being numbered will continue if the team doesn't make serious strides in 2014. 

There were some moments in the 2013 season Hoke would undoubtedly like to forget, such as the Wolverines' embarrassing loss to in-state rival Michigan State on November 2, in which the team rushed for a record-low minus-48 net yards. 

Last season's 7-6 record would have been more understandable in Hoke's first season. The Wolverines were transitioning from a spread offense under Rich Rodriguez (who, incidentally, went 7-6 in his last season in 2009 before Hoke was brought in), which is not a process that happens overnight. 

But the year-to-year decline in Hoke's squad's performance is what gives fuel to the hot seat questions, and not unfairly so. 

The expectations are elevated for the coach of the winningest program in college football, and Hoke understands that. Brandon told Wojnowski he doesn't have a target record in mind for the 2014 season because that would be "grossly unfair," but it's not hard to imagine he or the fanbase will be satisfied with another 7-6 or even 8-5 season. 

Three of Michigan's losses in 2013 were by four points or less, so the team has a foundation to build on. Hoke hired new offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier and opened competition at multiple positions, according to Baumgardner.

That includes the offensive line, for which Brady has yet to name the front five starters, and the receivers group, which lost Jeremy Gallon to the NFL and now includes Devin Funchess, Amara Darboh, Drew Dileo, Jehu Chesson and true freshman Freddy Canteen. 

Of course, some key factors aren't in Hoke's control, such as Devin Gardner's performance. 

He's moving things in the right direction for the Wolverines, but college football is a numbers game, and until Hoke can deliver a record that will please the fans and Brandon, the questions surrounding his job security will continue.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Miami Football: 5 Hurricanes Poised for Breakout Seasons

College football followers are familiar with Duke Johnson, Stacy Coley and Denzel Perryman, but five lesser-known Miami Hurricanes are poised for breakout seasons in 2014.

Youth, injury and nationally popular teammates have overshadowed the members of the list, keeping them as relatively unknown commodities beyond the conference landscape.

The following 'Canes are organized by position, not by a subjective interpretation of the respective performances each player is capable of this season.

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Georgia Football: 3 Games That Could Ruin the Bulldogs' 2014 Season

The Georgia Bulldogs could do a lot of special things this season.

If they can stay healthy and the defense improves from what it was last season, they could have a chance to not only win the SEC, but also be one of the four teams that reach the first annual College Football Playoff.

But the Bulldogs have been in position before to have a chance to be a national champion and came up short because they lost a game early or late in the season, and it came back to bite them.

So here’s a look at three games that could ruin the Bulldogs’ 2014 season.

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Biggest Storylines Heading into Clemson's Fall Camp

The Clemson Tigers are just days away from the unofficial beginning of the 2014 college football season. Fall camp opens, and the countdown is on for the Tigers' trip to Georgia on August 30 to open the new season. 

Much of the offseason talk has centered on Clemson's quarterback situation—and rightfully so. It's the most important position on the field, and the Tigers just graduated the top passer in the school's rich history. 

But even with the loss of Tajh Boyd and wide receiver Sammy Watkins, there is a palpable buzz around the program. The Tigers are coming off three consecutive 10-win seasons and are in position to challenge defending national champion Florida State for ACC supremacy despite the loss of some key personnel.

Can senior Cole Stoudt replace Boyd? Or will Clemson rely on one of the most experienced and talented defensive lines in the country to carry the team in 2014?

Here are four storylines Clemson fans should keep an eye on as fall practice begins. 

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Nebraska Football: 5 Cornhuskers Primed for Breakout Seasons

Nebraska football fans will be anxiously watching the 2014 season to see which players will become breakout stars. It’s the breakout stars, not the proven commodities, who can help propel a team like Nebraska from almost-there to contending for conference and national titles.

So which Cornhuskers are primed for breakout seasons? Here are five candidates.

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