NCAA Football

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

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

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

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

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

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

Lashlee told Crepea:

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

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

 

Vision

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

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

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

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

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

 

Power

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

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

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

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

 

System

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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


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Winners and Losers for Preseason Coaches Poll

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Begin Slideshow

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Biggest Winners and Losers of the 2014 Preseason Coaches Poll

The first Amway Coaches Poll has officially been released, displaying the top 25 teams heading into the 2014 season. Florida State is in the top spot coming off a national championship, but there are a few surprises heading down the list. 

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

Watch Bleacher Report lead college football writer Barrett Sallee break down the winners and losers of the coaches poll.

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Why Georgia Bulldogs Should Have Cracked Top 10 in 2014 Preseason Coaches Poll

When the season’s inaugural Amway Coaches Poll was released Thursday afternoon, the Georgia Bulldogs found themselves ranked 12th.  While there’s great value in flying relatively under the radar, the Bulldogs deserve a top-10 ranking.

Obviously, the 2013 campaign did not go according to plan for  Mark Richt’s Bulldogs.  The goal was Pasadena for the BCS National Championship Game, and the achieved reality was Jacksonville for the Taxslayer.com Gator Bowl.  Between the preseason hype and the disappointing season-ending loss to Nebraska, Georgia’s offense was ravished by injuries, and a young defense’s development was stunted.

But in college football years, that’s ancient history.  Much more relevant at this time is Georgia’s returning personnel and generally favorable schedule, which merit a top-10 preseason ranking.

 

Personnel

On the offensive side of the ball, the Dawgs return as many playmakers as any team in the country.  Todd Gurley is a Heisman candidate, and his backfield mate Keith Marshall is healthy from a torn ACL. 

They’ll be joined by two of the best freshman running backs in the country in Sony Michel and Nick Chubb (ranked third and sixth respectively at their position by 247Sports' Composite Ranking) and Brendan Douglas, who ran for 345 yards and three touchdowns as a true freshman in 2013.

Hutson Mason, a fifth-year senior, will be a full-time starter for the first time of his career, but as Richt pointed out a few weeks ago at SEC media days (per ASAP Sports), this isn’t a new offense for Mason:

The blessing for us is Hutson Mason being in the program going into his fifth season, a guy that got to watch Aaron's work ethic, to see how he ran the off‑season program, how he would organize pass skeleton and those types of things.  Just the fact that Hutson has the respect of his teammates, the confidence of his teammates and coaches, to take on that leadership role. 

And those teammates will prove invaluable in offensive coordinator Mike Bobo’s balanced attack.  Malcolm Mitchell and Justin Scott-Wesley will return from knee injuries of their own to aid a passing attack that returns its two leading receivers from a year ago (Chris Conley and Michael Bennett).

This offense will run the ball effectively and spread the ball around in the passing game.  It will move the chains and score points in a manner that now typifies Georgia football.

Defensively, the on-field product has to be better under new defensive coordinator Jeremy Pruitt.  The Bulldogs’ season may have come off the tracks when the offense was battered by injuries in 2013, but four of Georgia’s five losses came as opponents scored more than 30 points.

There will be a transition time and learning curve as Pruitt replaces Todd Grantham, but in some ways, that’s exactly what the defense needed.  As senior cornerback Damian Swann pointed out to Seth Emerson and Athlon Sports, “A lot of guys probably needed a fresh start.”

For some of those guys (like Josh Harvey-Clemons, Tray Matthews, Shaq Wiggins and Jonathan Taylor), that fresh start will come with another program.  For others, like Swann and a front seven that is largely still intact, that new beginning comes with Pruitt, who has had a hand crafting each of the past three national champions.

All though there's still work to be done, Georgia returns plenty of experience in the secondary thanks to players Swann and safeties Corey Moore and Quincy Mauger, who have all played significant snaps.  

The defensive line and linebackers will be led by the SEC’s leading tacklers in 2013 (Ramik Wilson and Amarlo Herrera) and a number of capable pass-rushers, including Leonard Floyd, Jordan Jenkins and Ray Drew.

On both sides of the ball, this Georgia team possesses too much talent and experience to be taken lightly.

 

The Schedule

Combine that talent and experience with a generally favorable schedule, and this team is undoubtedly deserving of a top-10 ranking. 

Georgia’s out of conference slate features in-state rival Georgia Tech and an opener against Clemson, but the Yellow Jackets have come up short against Georgia in each of the past five seasons, and home field and revenge should factor into the Dawgs’ bout with the Tigers.

Within conference play, Georgia dodges Alabama, LSU, Texas A&M and Ole Miss from the West, gets Arkansas as a non-recurring cross-divisional game and will finally get Auburn in the confines of Sanford Stadium. 

An early season trip to Columbia, South Carolina, is by far the the Dawgs’ most challenging trip.  The Bulldogs’ other road games come against a rebuilding Missouri team, Arkansas and lowly Kentucky.

 

Season Outlook

Admittedly, preseason polls are based too much on conjecture to be taken as the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth.  Last year, Auburn was not ranked heading into the season by the coaches, and the Tigers rallied to an SEC Championship and trip to Pasadena.

That being said, Thursday's poll releasing doesn't give Georgia's talent and schedule its due.

Georgia’s 2014 schedule features only two opponents—South Carolina (No. 9) and Auburn (No. 5)—ranked higher than the Bulldogs. 

The matchup with the Gamecocks will be tough on the road, particularly as a new quarterback continues to settle in and a defense begins to mold.  But, it’s a winnable game as South Carolina looks to replace one of the most productive quarterbacks in its program’s history (Connor Shaw) and the best defensive player in college football (Jadeveon Clowney).

As for Auburn, Georgia gave the Tigers all they wanted on the road in 2013.  It’s not unrealistic to think Georgia could turn a heartbreaking defeat into a victory at home in 2014.

But even if Georgia were to drop games to South Carolina and Auburn, a 10-2 record would likely merit a top-10 finish.  And while other teams—particularly Clemson and Florida—will push the Dawgs, Georgia should be favored in those battles.

If the Bulldogs handle things on the field, they’ll earn respect in the polls.

 

Unless otherwise noted, all quotes obtained firsthand.

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Every Big Ten Football Team's Odds to Make College Football Playoff

At the start of the College Football Playoff era, it is hard to make sense of the Big Ten; one of the sport's most profitable and recognizable conferences has struggled to win big games against power-five teams and has become a bit of a punchline.

At the same time, the B1G still had two teams—Michigan State and Ohio State—play in a BCS bowl last season, and both debuted in the Top 10 of this year's preseason Amway Coaches Poll, per USA Today. Wisconsin looked unchanged without Bret Bielema, and if Penn State, Michigan, Nebraska and Iowa (none of which has fallen too far) can gain back some traction, that would give the league seven formidable programs.

Further complicating matters is a final bit of conference realignment, which this year introduces Maryland and Rutgers to the conference via the ACC and AAC, respectively. Both will join the newly formed East Division, which was divided from the West on a purely geographical basis (and appears to be much stronger in 2014).

But what does this all mean for the 2014 season? Will the new-look Big Ten forge a new, more-respected identity in the post-BCS college football world? And which teams are most likely to carry the banner?

Let's take a look at the odds board.

Note: These odds reflect the author's point of view on how likely each team is to make the CFP. They have not been crafted in the same way as Las Vegas lines: with the intent to draw action on certain sides. Instead, they represent how many times the season would have to be played for Team X to make the playoff once.

 

Full Odds Board 

 

The Favorite

This one is pretty close.

Unlike the Big 12 and ACC, which begin the season with either large (Oklahoma) or overwhelming (Florida State) favorites, a good case could be made for two Big Ten teams as the lead dog entering 2014.

Unsurprisingly, those are the two teams that met in last year's conference championship game, Michigan State and Ohio State. But even though the Spartans won that evening, and even though that win was not a fluke, and even though the Buckeyes travel to East Lansing this season, the safe money remains on Urban Meyer.

Now entering his third year in Columbus, Meyer has a team that is far from perfect but less flawed than his previous OSU sides. Especially if new co-defensive coordinator Chris Ash can patch up the secondary (where he specializes), a defense led by a terrifying front line might become the best in the conference.

Leading that front line is a trio of All-America candidates: Michael Bennett, Joey Bosa and Noah Spence. Together they combined to put up 39 tackles for loss last season, 24.5 of which came in the second half of the schedule, once Bosa—then a true freshman—turned the proverbial corner and began to look unblockable.

Guys who weigh 285 pounds should not be able to do this:

Also returning is quarterback Braxton Miller, the two-time reigning Big Ten Offensive Player of the Year and a logical favorite to repeat for a third time this season. Now a senior, his experience and his knack for conjuring plays from thin air should help an offense that lost running back Carlos Hyde, receiver Corey Brown and the majority of an offensive line that might have been the best in the country.

The Buckeyes finished No. 4 in the preseason S&P+ projections at Football Study Hall, trailing only Florida State, Alabama and Oregon. That's nine spots ahead of Michigan State (No. 13). No other Big Ten team besides Wisconsin ranked in the top 30.

It is close—and the numbers reflect that—but going with Ohio State as the preseason favorite always feels pretty safe.

 

Best Value

Northwestern won 10 games two seasons ago and started last year 4-0. Its fifth game was the Big Ten opener against Ohio State, and Evanston, Illinois—of all places—was the site of College Gameday.

The Wildcats led that game by three points, 30-27, with less than six minutes on the clock. Eventually, Hyde and the Buckeyes' offensive line became too powerful, OSU took the lead with 5:22 remaining and eventually won by 10 points, 40-30, after a meaningless touchdown on the game's final play.

That turned out to be a portent for Northwestern: both losing close games and allowing teams to score with zero seconds on the clock. The latter happened in a much-less-meaningless way at Nebraska:

And again the following week against Michigan:

All things told, the Wildcats lost seven straight games and missed the postseason in what was supposed to be a seminal year for the program. Unlike last year, they do not enter 2014 with much fanfare, and have actually found themselves in the news for off-field reasons (Kain Colter's push for unionization) instead of on-field ones.

But overlooking a Pat Fitzgerald-coached team would be unwise. Northwestern has always done better as an underdog—a role it has perpetually occupied—and injuries forced a ton of young players to see the field last season. According to Phil Steele's blog, the Wildcats return the 12th most experience in the country.

The most important returnee didn't play much in 2013, either. Running back Venric Mark, one of the most explosive scat-backs and punt returners in the country, missed most of the season with a fractured ankle but was granted a medical redshirt to return in 2014.

"He's trending to be ready to go for the season and things are moving in a positive direction," said Fitzgerald of Mark's status, per Skip Myslenski of NUSports.com.

Boy, what a boost that would be.

Together with senior quarterback Trevor Siemian (513 pass attempts since 2012), a massively underrated group of receivers and an offensive line that returns 100 career starts, Mark—if healthy—would help Northwestern field a dangerous offense. If his players can remain on the field, Fitzgerald always grooms a solid defense, too.

More than anything, though, the Wildcats have a nice schedule. Playing in the weaker West Division, they get two of their top competitors, Wisconsin and Nebraska, at home, and the one that they play on the road, Iowa, is a team they have always fared well against.

If they hold serve at Ryan Field and go 2-1 in road games against Iowa, Penn State and Notre Dame, Northwestern could enter the Big Ten Championship Game with one loss and a chance to crash the CFP.

It is likely? No. But it's not altogether unlikely, either. If you played out the season 35 times, I think it would happen at least once.

Note: For my more thorough breakdown of the Wildcats, click here.

 

Biggest Sleeper

One of these years, it'll happen. It almost has to happen.

Maryland cannot keep suffering injuries at such a disastrous clip. Two years ago, it was forced to play a walk-on freshman linebacker at quarterback, and last year—among many, many other things—it lost star receivers Stefon Diggs and Deon Long to the same season-ending injury (a broken leg) in the same game against Wake Forest.

On paper, what the Terps return in 2014 is among the best in the conference. As Bill Connelly of Football Study Hall explicates:

Ignore everything you know about recent injuries, and see what the Terrapins return. A well-seasoned dual-threat quarterback. Starting running backs from both 2012 and 2013. The aforementioned five-star receivers (Stefon Diggs and Deon Long), plus the three exciting receivers who thrived in their absence. Five players with starting experience on a solid offensive line. The top five tacklers on a solid defensive line. Eight of last year's top 10 linebackers. Five of last year's top six defensive backs, plus the aforementioned 2012 starter (Jeremiah Johnson). A smattering of well-touted freshmen and redshirt freshmen. Basically everybody from a top-20 special teams unit.

College football is a complicated sport to predict; there are too many factors at play. But among the things we know for near-certain are that balance and experience matter. To compete, you must have players who have already competed, and in most (but not all) cases, they must be well dispersed over every position group.

In theory, Maryland has this. It has enough potential star power, too. Diggs was the No. 8 overall prospect in the 2012 recruiting class and has looked the part when healthy. C.J. Brown put up legit Heisman numbers in the first four games of last season. Andre Monroe had more tackles for loss (17) in 2013 than any returning player in the country other than Vic Beasley and Ryan Mueller.

The only thing holding this team back is injuries—which are supposed to be random from year to year—and a brutal schedule. The East Division is not as forgiving as the West, and cross-division games against Iowa and at Wisconsin are an unlucky draw.

Even if Maryland stays healthy and plays well all season, the schedule precludes it from reasonable CFP contention.

But this is a longshot bet; it isn't supposed to be reasonable. We don't know for sure what the ceiling on this group of players is, because they have never stayed together on the field for long enough. Why not take a shot on the unknown?

"Randy Edsall, despite what some say, is a good coach," said an opposing Big Ten assistant in the Athlon Sports 2014 College Football Preview magazine. It wasn't so long ago (2010-11) that he had UConn playing in the Fiesta Bowl.

And this team has a lot more talent than that UConn team.

 

Follow Brian Leigh on Twitter: @BLeighDAT

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Preseason College Football Rankings 2014: Analyzing NCAA Top 25 Standings

One of the best parts of summer is the start of the college football preseason. And the release of the Amway Coaches Poll rankings, via USA Today, has the sports world buzzing about potential matchups and possible upsets.

With top powerhouses such as the Florida State Seminoles, Alabama Crimson Tide and Oklahoma Sooners looking for a national title, the 2014 college football season will be even more entertaining now that there is a playoff system in place.

Here is the first Top 25 of the season and a full breakdown with analysis.

 

 

Breaking Down the Top Championship Contenders

The addition of a playoff system has shaken college football to its core, but it has created genuine excitement among fans. With the BCS drawing so much animosity, the hope is that a more classic postseason format will add intrigue to the already enthralling sport.

The road to the playoffs begins with the release of the Amway Coaches Poll.

After winning the BCS National Championship, Florida State is back again this season in the No. 1 spot. Led by Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback Jameis Winston, the Seminoles return 13 starters from last year and look to become first winners of the college football playoffs.

Winning a second-straight national championship won’t be that easy.

Florida State has serious competition in 2014. Not only are Nick Saban and the No. 2 Alabama Crimson Tide looking to bounce back and win another championship, but the No. 4 Oregon Ducks are packed with high-powered weapons who will keep the team at the top of the polls each week.

Two teams that Alabama has come to fear over the past year are the No. 3 Oklahoma Sooners and the No. 5 Auburn Tigers. After each knocked off the Crimson Tide late last season, the programs are brimming with confidence and look to translate that to success on the field.

While all of the teams mentioned could be considered serious championship contenders, there are several programs with the talent and coaching staff to make a run in their respective conferences and push for a berth in the playoffs.

Elite schools such as No. 6 Ohio State, No. 7 UCLA, No. 9 South Carolina, No. 10 Baylor and No. 11 Stanford are all bringing teams with the senior leadership and raw talent to make a splash in the Top 25 rankings.

Add in the SEC teams undergoing major changes this offseason (namely No. 12 Georgia, No. 13 LSU and No. 20 Texas A&M), and there is a cloud of uncertainty around many of the programs ranked high in the preseason poll.

With a clean slate and every team starting from the same point, there are many universities across the country looking at the playoff system as their way to get into a NCAA National Championship game.

College football fans should be ready for a wild year.

 

*Stats via CFBStats.com.

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Amway Preseason College Football Rankings 2014: Complete Order Released

College football fans have long awaited a definitive pecking order entering the 2014 season, and now they have one, as the Amway Coaches' Poll was officially released Thursday.  

The College Football Playoff committee will ultimately decide which four teams deserve to vie for the national title at the end of the season, but this poll provides a jumping-off point. It also goes to show that there are plenty of potential championship contenders with a legitimate chance to win it all.

Some of the teams near the top of the poll will fade, while others will very much be in the mix when the season concludes. If nothing else, the Amway Coaches' Poll allows observers to get an idea of what they can expect in 2014.

Here is a full rundown of the season's first official Top 25 ranking, courtesy of USA Today.

Brett McMurphy of ESPN broke down the first-place voting in the poll:

 

Teams to Watch

Florida State

On the heels of an undefeated 2013 season that culminated in a national championship, it comes as little surprise that Florida State tops the initial poll. The Seminoles certainly lost some talent to the NFL in the form of wide receiver Kelvin Benjamin, defensive tackle Timmy Jernigan and several others. Even so, Florida State is a stacked team boasting the reigning Heisman Trophy winner.

Quarterback Jameis Winston was labeled the best player in college football last year, and it is difficult to argue with that notion. He shined as a freshman, throwing for over 4,000 yards and 40 touchdowns while adding another four rushing scores to his total.

In fact, perhaps no single player was more vital to his offense last season than Winston, as seen in this graphic courtesy of ESPN College Football on Twitter:

As important as Winston was, it will take more than a great season from him for the Seminoles to repeat. The coaches clearly feel as though there is enough talent in place, and Florida State head coach Jimbo Fisher feels the same way, per Natalie Pierre of the Tallahassee Democrat.

"Everybody talks about Jameis and he is the best player in college football in my opinion, there's no doubt," Fisher said on ESPN's Sportscenter. "We're much more than Jameis Winston. ... We're lots more. I'm very confident in our team."

Perhaps the biggest thing working in Florida State's favor is the fact that it resides in a fairly thin ACC. The Seminoles don't figure to face many big challenges on their conference slate, which gives them a golden opportunity to potentially get back to the National Championship Game.

Florida State is the team to beat, and the rankings certainly reflect that fact.

 

Alabama

Alabama has consistently been one of the top teams in the nation throughout Nick Saban's tenure as head coach. The poll suggests that things will be no different this season, but the Crimson Tide are far from a sure thing in 2014.

After losing quarterback AJ McCarron to the NFL, Bama has been placed in the unenviable position of replacing a proven leader and winner.

It remains to be seen who will be under center when the season starts, but Florida State transfer Jacob Coker is the presumed favorite. Whoever ultimately wins that job will be surrounded with talent in the form of running back T.J. Yeldon as well as wide receivers Amari Cooper and Christion Jones.

The offense should be explosive, but Alabama's defense wasn't as dominant last year as observers have grown accustomed to. Even Saban himself acknowledges the fact that some aspects of his team are shrouded in uncertainty, per ESPN College GameDay on Twitter:

Alabama is used to roster turnover, though, and always manages to reload due to Saban's superior recruiting ability. That is largely why the Tide have dominated many of the premier programs in college football over the past several seasons.

As pointed out by Bill Bender of Sporting News, no other team has had as much success against highly ranked teams in recent years than Alabama:

If Bama is going to qualify for the College Football Playoff, it will have to earn it in the difficult SEC. With teams like Auburn, Georgia, South Carolina and LSU hoping to reach the pinnacle of college football as well, Alabama can never afford to let its guard down.

Provided Saban's team plays up to its potential, though, it should be one of the best.

 

Ohio State

Last season Ohio State was one win away from playing Florida State for the national championship, but a final-week loss to rival Michigan State sent the Buckeyes to the Orange Bowl instead.

Ohio State is considered the class of the Big Ten once again this season, and the expectation in Columbus is that the Buckeyes will make the College Football Playoff at the very least.

If they do, then it will almost certainly be thanks to the play of quarterback Braxton Miller. The skilled senior is coming off the best season of his collegiate career, as he racked up well over 3,000 total yards and 36 touchdowns. He is a major threat as both a passer and a runner, which is what makes Ohio State's offense so difficult to contain.

As good as Miller was last year, head coach Urban Meyer seems to believe that he is in position to perhaps be even better in 2014, according to ESPN.com's Brian Bennett:

If Miller improves as a passer and remains healthy throughout the season, then it is tough to bet against the Buckeyes as a national title threat. The loss of running back Carlos Hyde to the NFL could hurt, but Ohio State has plenty of depth on offense and a defense that is coming into its own as well.

The Big Ten has some solid teams, but there aren't a ton of threats to Ohio State. The Buckeyes aren't a perfect team by any means, but Miller's presence makes them a force to be reckoned with.

 

Follow @MikeChiari on Twitter

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Oregon Ducks Football Ticket Will Feature Scratch-and-Sniff in 2014

The Oregon Ducks just found a way to stay a step ahead of the rest of college football.

Everyone already knows about the Ducks' modern uniforms and innovative offense. Now, Oregon fans are being treated to something even crazier this year: a scratch-and-sniff ticket.

On the ticket to the team's game against Michigan State, the scratch-n-sniff part features a burger from Carl's Jr.

This scratch-and-sniff ticket definitely shows that the Ducks continue to think outside of the box and amaze us with their creativity.

[Oregon Duck Tickets, h/t Reddit and SB Nation]

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

The 6 Most Entertaining Personalities from College Football Media Days

The chairs have been tucked away. The microphones and cameras have been stored in their mobile hiding places—at least for now—as they wait for what comes next, just like us.

College football’s media-day circuit has come and gone. The most exciting and interesting personalities in the sport flocked to their conference’s destinations, which included stops in Hoover, Dallas, Los Angeles, Greensboro and Chicago, among other places.

They talked. They joked. They jabbed. Some of them (cough, cough...Mike Leach...cough, cough) even excelled in the prop department.

Of course, included in these various stops were unique presences primed for the occasion. Some of these coaches have established themselves as being a character in the sport they teach; others are simply getting started. 

Who entertained the masses this year at media days? Let’s have a look.

 

Adam Kramer is a lead writer for college football at Bleacher Report. All quotes obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted. All stats courtesy ofCFBStats.com.

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College Football Recruiting DE Rankings 2015: Top 10 After The Opening

Headlined by the nation's top-ranked recruit, the 2015 class of defensive ends should make life miserable in offensive backfields for years to come. College prospects from across the country bring rare blends of athleticism and size to the position, providing pass-rushing prowess and run-stuffing skills.

Dominant defensive ends can impact the game today more than ever, as offenses increasingly rely on keeping the quarterback upright in air-oriented attacks. Playmakers who can consistently pursue and harass the passer alter the fortunes of a defensive unit and force opponents to rewrite their game plans.

This recruiting cycle isn't lacking for talent at the position. A versatile mix of athletes attended The Opening in early July, testing their skills during a three-day showcase at Nike's world headquarters in Beaverton, Oregon and providing us a glimpse of several premier prospects.

Based on what we witnessed in Beaverton and have identified during game-film breakdowns, here's our examination of the top 10 defensive ends in America. 

 

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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College Football Playoff 2014: Breaking Down New Format and Rules

Finally.

Finally, college football has a playoff. Finally, the BCS reign of terror is behind us. Finally, we're one step closer to the results on the field truly deciding who the best team in the country is, not a series of rankings. 

While college football's new system likely isn't perfect in the eyes of many, it's a huge step in the right direction. Below, we'll break down how the new system works and will be implemented in the 2014 season. 

 

The Format

It's pretty simple, really—the team deemed to be No. 1 in the country at the end of the season will play the team deemed to be No. 4 in one semifinal, while the Nos. 2 and 3 seeded teams will play in the other semifinal. The winners of those games will compete for the national championship. 

As per the old bowl format, the semifinal games will be played on a rotating basis at one of six traditional bowl games—the Peach Bowl, Fiesta Bowl, Orange Bowl, Cotton Bowl, Rose Bowl and Sugar Bowl. These games will be played on either New Year's Eve or New Year's Day. This year, the semifinals will be the Rose and Sugar Bowls on New Year's Day.

The national title game will be held on Monday, Jan. 12th this year, giving the competing teams a little under two weeks to prepare. Each national championship game will be played at an independent site.

It's important to note that there are no automatic bids or limits on the four teams that reach the playoffs (though the Big Ten, Big 12, SEC, ACC and Pac-12 all are guaranteed at least one team in one of the six major bowls, while the best team out of the American Athletic Conference, Mountain West, Sun Belt, Conference USA and Mid-American will receive an automatic bid to one of the six big bowls). 

Winning a conference title does not automatically mean that a team will be one of the top four in the rankings. In fact, while unlikely, four teams from the same conference could theoretically comprise the four playoff teams.

It's also important to note that the major bowls that aren't a part of the semifinals will revert to traditional pairings. So, for example, while the selection committee will generally choose the teams for the major bowls, the Rose Bowl will remain a Big Ten versus Pac-12 matchup in years it isn't hosting a semifinal.

 

The Selection Committee 

Ah, but how will the top four teams be decided?

Rather than rely solely on a complicated computer program to determine rankings, under the new system a selection committee has been put in place to rank the teams in the country on a weekly basis and ultimately decide who the top four teams in the nation are at the end of the season. 

Neil Greenberg of The Washington Post has more on how the voting will work:

1. Each committee member will create a list of the 25 teams he or she believes to be the best in the country, in no particular order. Teams listed by more than three members will remain under consideration.

2. Each member will list the best six teams, in no particular order. The six teams receiving the most votes will comprise the pool for the first seeding ballot.

3. In the first seeding ballot, each member will rank those six teams, one through six, with one being the best. The three teams receiving the fewest points will become the top three seeds. The three teams that were not seeded will be held over for the next seeding ballot.

4. Each member will list the six best remaining teams, in no particular order. The three teams receiving the most votes will be added to the three teams held over to comprise the next seeding ballot.

5. Steps No. 3 and 4 will be repeated until 25 teams have been seeded.

This year, the first rankings of the year will be released on Oct. 28, with new rankings being released every week on Tuesday until the end of the season. The 13-member committee is comprised of Jeff Long, Pat Haden, Dan Radakovich, Barry Alvarez, Oliver Luck, Tom Osborne, Tyrone Willingham, Archie Manning, Mike Tranghese, Lt. Gen. Michael Gould, Tom Jernstedt, Steve Wieberg and Condoleezza Rice.  

It's a diverse group of folks with various experience levels in the college game, so there should be plenty of differing perspectives. And of course, the group will be privy to top analytics and trends throughout the year, helping them come to a decision. 

"I think the powers to be will do a good job and figure out who those top four teams are," Purdue coach Darrell Hazell said at the Big Ten media days, via Erik Prado of The Daily Illini. "But I think it will add another element to college football that'll be exciting at the end of the year."  

That is certainly the hope. It's a new day for college football, and for fans who want the championship to be decided on the field, it's a better day as well. Plus, with two semifinal games and the four biggest bowls all coming in two days around New Year's, the start of January will truly be college football's holiday.

At some point, perhaps we'll get an eight- or 16-team playoff. With the current system likely locked in place until 2026, it will be awhile until that potentially happens. But this is certainly a step in the right direction.

 

 

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Every Pac-12 Football Team's Odds to Make College Football Playoff

If you were to place a bet today that a team from the Pac-12 would reach the inaugural College Football Playoff, you'd probably get pretty decent odds given the squads that schools like Stanford and Oregon have produced in recent years.

Winning the conference in 2014 will be no easy task, and the likelihood that someone will reach December unscathed is slim. However, the gauntlet each team faces should be formidable enough that whoever is holding the trophy after the conference title game will have earned a spot in the final four.

To the surprise of no one, the Pac-12 media poll listed Oregon as the league favorite entering the season, with the Ducks garnering 37 of the 39 first-place votes in the North Division and 24 of the 39 votes for who will win the title game.

UCLA, a team trending up at the moment, also received 37 first-place votes in the South Division. The only other programs to receive a first-place vote for the Pac-12 championship game were USC and Stanford, with one each.

While the preseason pecking order has been made clear, rarely does the plot move forward without any twists or turns. With the ultimate goal being a spot in the College Football Playoff, let's take a look at every Pac-12 team's odds to wind up in the top four and earn a trip to the semifinals.

 

The Favorite: Oregon Ducks

Some folks despise preseason pieces that go the expected route in terms of highlighting the best teams and the best players, but you have to find some pretty wild reasons not to see Oregon as the favorite in the conference right now.

Among those doubts could be skepticism about Mark Helfrich, the glaring lack of depth in the front seven or perhaps the spring injury to Bralon Addison that left the receiving corps as inexperienced as ever.

But quarterback Marcus Mariota makes up for all of that and then some. No, he won't ever line up at nose tackle and wreak havoc in the backfield, but the star dual-threat signal-caller has thrown for 63 touchdowns and just 10 interceptions the past two seasons. He's also rushed for nearly 1,500 yards and 14 scores in that same time frame.

He returns as one of the preseason Heisman Trophy favorites, and he'll be guarded by perhaps the best offensive line in the conference, led by the anchor in the middle, Hroniss Grasu. The Ducks are deep at tight endm and though Keanon Lowe is the only returning wideout with over 200 career receiving yards, young talents like Devon Allen and Darren Carrington are waiting in the wings.

The defense has a few question marks at every level, but Ifo Ekpre-Olomu at cornerback isn't one of them. He's one of the nation's best in the secondary, and the linebackers should be much better than the 2013 group with the maturation of Derrick Malone and Rodney Hardrick.

One reason the Ducks feel like the favorite to reach the College Football Playoff out of the Pac-12 teams is that the schedule sets up nicely. They'll get a September visit from a highly touted Michigan State squad, and a win would make one of the early statements of the year.

Stanford, Washington and Arizona all travel to Autzen, while the Ducks miss both USC and Arizona State on the schedule. Trips to UCLA and Oregon State figure to be challenging, but Helfrich's squad would probably still land in the Pac-12 title game with one loss, and then you have to figure the conference champion will have a place in the final four.

 

The Best Value: USC Trojans

Before you scoff at the notion of a team like USC being a great value bet to make the College Football Playoff, understand that the Trojans are roaring back whether you like it or not. They toppled Stanford last year en route to 10 wins, though you'd hardly know the win total with all of the attention on Oregon and UCLA.

As for talent, well, no team in the league can match USC. Depth, however, is another matter. Still dealing with the aftermath of crippling sanctions, new coach Steve Sarkisian's team will be thin across the board, and a rash of injuries could turn "best value" into "Las Vegas nightmare."

But quarterback Cody Kessler figures to be much improved after a solid first season, and the running back stable looks stronger than ever with the trio of Javorius Allen, Tre Madden and Justin Davis. Nelson Agholor leads a talented receiving corps, and if the offense can jell under Sark, there's no reason to think it can't score 35-40 points per game.

On defense, Leonard Williams is the big name to watch up front, but safeties Leon McQuay III and Su'a Cravens could be the scariest duo of the past decade by the end of the season, and that's saying something given the Trojans' history at the position.

The schedule isn't terribly difficult, though trips to UCLA and Stanford won't be easy. Then there's Notre Dame in nonconference play, but the Irish travel to Los Angeles. With the showdown against the Cardinal coming in Week 2, we'll have a good idea of what this team is capable of right away.

The main reason USC is the best value bet: If the talent comes together, the Trojans have the players to make a championship run. That's a monstrous "if" to be sure, but no one's eyes would pop out if it happened.

 

The Sleeper: Stanford

How can the reigning two-time champions of the conference be the sleeper to make the playoff? Start with the fact that Oregon and UCLA finished 1-2 in the preseason media poll. David Shaw could probably care less what the media thinks, but the questions about Stanford seem to be growing in number throughout the offseason.

It started with your basic doubts about how the team will replace its veteran leaders like Shayne Skov and Trent Murphy. Then, as the Ducks and Bruins began garnering buzz, the Cardinal's quarterback situation started to look shaky, the running back depth turned into a major concern, and the defense got younger and more inexperienced.

There's no reason to view this Stanford team any differently than you did back after it lost the Rose Bowl to Michigan State, but the fact is that running back Tyler Gaffney is gone, Kevin Hogan does lack the dynamic abilities of Brett Hundley and Mariota (or he hasn't shown it yet at least), and both Skov and Murphy were hugely important over the past couple seasons.

All of that said, this team knows how to win and has a system that allows it to do so. While the players on offense may be young and green, they aren't lacking talent. Wide receiver Ty Montgomery is one of the best all-around pass-catchers in the country, and according to Bryan Fischer of NFL.com, David Shaw recently compared Andrus Peat to Jonathan Ogden, probably the best offensive tackle of all time.

So while Oregon and UCLA are the sexier picks to reach the College Football Playoff, don't be surprised to see Stanford sneak up yet again and earn a trip to the final four.

 

The Best Long Shot: Oregon State

Any time you're evaluating a team that can score points, you can throw the rule book out the window. It doesn't matter that the Beavers didn't beat anyone of note in 2013, and the fact that receiver Brandin Cooks is gone won't hurt as much with quarterback Sean Mannion back and ready to roll.

The defense is full of questions, especially up front, but the secondary led by cornerback Steven Nelson looks quite strong. None of it amounts to what you would call a dangerous team or even a program worthy of being on the national radar.

But the Beavers simply know how to score and score often. And with Mannion boasting an NFL-caliber arm, no defense is safe. When things come together on offense for Mike Riley and company, Oregon State is going to put up some scary numbers. You can take it to the bank that it'll knock off a ranked team or two in 2014.

If things come together and manage to stay together, that's when we could see some special things happen. You aren't going to bet on Oregon State to make the playoff, but crazier things have happened. Actually, they happen every year. Will we see some of the magic appear in Corvallis?

 

All stats via cfbstats.com. Unless otherwise noted, all quotes obtained firsthand.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Every Pac-12 Football Team's Odds to Make College Football Playoff

If you were to place a bet today that a team from the Pac-12 would reach the inaugural College Football Playoff, you'd probably get pretty decent odds given the squads that schools like Stanford and Oregon have produced in recent years...

Read the full article on Bleacher Report...

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

While a conference's media day—or days, in some cases—will occasionally provide a sound bite worth talking about, the Big Ten's provided nary a morsel for hungry journalists to chomp on.  No more was this true than with the cohort from Madison, Wisconsin.

With that being said, I was able to parse through the mountains of "coach speak" that littered podiums across Chicago to find four of the tastiest nuggets for your reading pleasure.

From the recruiting front to scheduling and, of course, the quarterback competition, I used the highly refined scale of what I figured you, the reader, would care about in determining how important each of the things head coach Gary Andersen said were.

So as to not drone on too long, let's get to the main course of this and dig into the best of what Andersen and the rest of the Badgers contingent had to say in Chicago at the Big Ten's media days.

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Texas Football: 3 Games That Could Ruin the Longhorns' 2014 Season

Entering fall camp, expectations are tougher to assess than ever at Texas. On one hand, you have a new head coach in Charlie Strong who knows how to motivate talent. Then again, the 'Horns are down eight starters, per PhilSteele.com, and "The Purge" has left them without some valuable depth.

But given the talent that still remains untapped on this team and the current health of quarterback David Ash, there is no excuse for a lack of improvement on last year's 8-5 record. Especially when you consider the 21.6-point average margin of defeat in those five losses.

Looking at this season's schedule, a 9-3 regular season seems like the ceiling in Strong's debut. The team can afford losses to top-15 teams Oklahoma, UCLA and Baylor, per Bleacher Report's latest Preseason Top 25. Road games against Kansas State, Texas Tech and Oklahoma State round out the toughest games on the schedule.

Of those six contests, Texas has to find a way to get at least two victories and be competitive in all losses to prove there has been progress since last season. So long as that happens, losing one in particular is no more detrimental to the season's hopes than any other.

But the timing and circumstances of their tilts with BYU, Iowa State and TCU have the potential to ruin Texas' season if it fails to pull out victories.

 

Sept. 6: vs. BYU Cougars

Texas' 40-21 loss to the Cougars last season was rock bottom for the program, and all the proof needed to argue for the switch from Mack Brown to Strong. This season's matchup will gauge how much it paid off.

Since the Cougars embarrassed the Longhorns with their 550-yard rushing exhibition, this game has been circled. The players have been hearing about for the past 11 months, and it's been motivational gold for the coaches, according to both Quandre Diggs and Cedric Reed:

With all of that pent-up frustration from last year's matchup, there cannot be any more incentive for this team to play the best game of football its played in five seasons. Anything less would be disappointing, and a loss would remove the luster from Strong's tenure before he even hits the meat of his schedule.

 

Oct. 18: vs. Iowa State

After BYU, the Longhorns hit their most brutal stretch of the season with three of their next four games against UCLA, Oklahoma and Baylor. Losing all three is possible, which makes taking care of Iowa State at home necessary for a successful second half of the season.

Kansas looks like the trap game between UCLA and Baylor, but the Longhorns must be wary of the Cyclones. They gave the 'Horns all they could handle last season in Ames, losing because an irreversible call happened to go initially in Texas' favor.

Much like Strong with BYU, Paul Rhoads will have his team motivated to get revenge this time around. If Rhoads succeeds, it could easily be the Longhorns' fourth loss of the season right before two brutal road games against Kansas State and Texas Tech.

This is one of the last games the Longhorns should be comfortably favored, and they can't afford to screw it up with five games left on their Big 12 schedule.

 

Nov. 27: vs. TCU

TCU on Thanksgiving is Texas' last game of the regular season—and a win the Longhorns will need in order to end it on a high note.

The 'Horns have lost each of their last four regular-season finales, punctuated by their most recent 20-point face-plant against Baylor that cost them the Big 12 title. Though Texas should be bowl eligible, limping into the postseason sets a bad tone, especially on the recruiting trail.

There's also the matter of the seniors, who have endured nothing but disappointment since they joined the program. This is their last home game, which had better yield an inspired effort from their teammates.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Michigan Football: Brady Hoke Right to Cool Jabrill Peppers Hype

The first question lobbed at Brady Hoke after he finished his opening statement at Big Ten media days was about a player who had yet to play a down at Michigan.

Given a tumultuous offseason that saw the hiring of offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier, the arrest of offensive lineman Graham Glasgow and a potential quarterback controversy, the question might have surprised Hoke if he hadn’t been fielding questions about top recruit Jabrill Peppers since signing day.

Hoke did his best to put the brakes on the hype while confirming that Peppers is projected to get reps at nickelback when fall practice begins.

“I think we’ve got to be careful about anointing any true freshmen starting their college career,” he said.

Hoke is doing his best to dial down expectations, but fans and media won’t be satisfied until the talented Peppers takes the field. The challenge for Hoke is to balance the needs of the team and Peppers’ desire to play.

“Are we excited about what we’ll be able to see in the next couple weeks? No doubt about it,” said Hoke. “But I don’t think it's fair...to say he’s going to do this or be that. I don’t think that’s fair.”

Michigan is projected to be solid on defense, but questions abound on offense.

Does Hoke risk letting Peppers learn (and get beat) on the job when his team might have trouble scoring points implementing a new offense?

There are opportunities for him to play on special teams or offense while getting up to speed on defense. Hoke himself floated the possibility of Peppers playing offense earlier this spring. Looking at the need at receiver, it’s not hard to imagine him getting reps, even if it’s only as a distraction for opposing defenses.

Hoke may be trying to downplay Peppers’ ability, but fans and media aren’t the only ones eagerly waiting to see him play. Quarterback Devin Gardner told Mark Snyder of the Detroit Free Press that Peppers is already making an impact on the team:


I don’t know how he is about learning the defense and knowing where he has to be and things like that. But as far as being a competitor and being a great athlete, he’s up there with the best I’ve ever seen. He’s one of the ultimate competitors I’ve ever seen. He brings a fire and an intensity to our team that we really need.

Peppers has never shied away from the spotlight—but everyone, including Devin Gardner, will have to wait until Brady Hoke determines when and where he’s ready to play.

 

Phil Callihan is a featured writer for Bleacher Report. Unless otherwise noted, all quotations in this article were obtained via press conferences or in person.

Follow @PSCallihan.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

10 Most Underrated Defensive Recruits in Class of 2015

The 2015 recruiting class is full of outstanding defensive recruits. However, some are not ranked as high as they deserve to be.

Looking at the 247Sports composite rankings, several defenders can be deemed "underrated."

These prospects show better skill sets on tape than their ranking would indicate. Instincts, quickness, tackling ability, speed and awareness are all key traits for a defensive player.

Alabama has a 3-star pass-rusher who should be commanding more attention, while a ball-hawking safety is underrated mainly due to suffering an injury as a junior. Plus, a pair of 4-star cornerbacks actually deserve more praise than they are receiving right now.

All recruiting ratings and rankings are from 247Sports' composite rankings.

Player evaluations are based on review of tape at Scout.comRivals and 247Sports

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USC Football: 5 Games That Could Ruin the Trojans' 2014 Season

Before we start this slideshow, let me clarify something that you may already be thinking:

Any loss for the Trojans in this or any other year has the potential to ruin their college football season—that is the cost of defeat for a proud program such as USC.

Having put that profound truism to bed, the purpose of this slideshow isn't necessarily to state the obvious but rather offer some games that USC would really, really hate to lose.

The criteria for inclusion in this slideshow varies from logistically important games within the conference to traditionally critical games that bear historic significance.

While each and every game is important and the Trojans will strive to win them all, there are some games that are crucial for USC to win.

And here they are...

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