NCAA Football

SEC Football: 9 Most Crucial 2014 Fall Camp Battles

SEC football programs across the country open fall camp this week—many with substantial questions yet to be answered.

Some of those answers won’t come until the season begins.

The vast majority, though, will be discovered during fall camp. Whether coaches decide to make public what might be obvious during closed practices, naturally, varies from program to program.

Today, we will focus on positions that see few substitutions, thus making the starting competitions more important.

Of course, quarterbacks will get the most attention—typically only one can play at a time and coaches are hesitant to give more than one player significant practice repetitions.

Other positions that will get the most attention include offensive line and safety.

While competitions such as the tailback race at Auburn might be intriguing—largely to figure out who might be a potential breakout star of the year in the SEC—it isn’t a crucial battle.

Remember, Tre Mason hadn’t locked down the starting job by the season opener last year, and he finished as a Heisman Trophy finalist.

If numerous players stand to receive numerous opportunities, the importance of who “wins” the job fall camp diminishes greatly.

Here is a look at our nine biggest position battles entering fall camp.

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Every Big 12 Football Team's Odds to Make College Football Playoff

With the Big 12 being one of the best conferences in the country, its champion is almost guaranteed a spot in the inaugural College Football Playoff. 

The Oklahoma Sooners were picked as the league favorite in the preseason poll with 47 first-place votes, with defending champion Baylor projected to finish second with nine first-place votes. Kansas State, Texas and Oklahoma State rounded out the top five. 

As wild as the Big 12 can be, the preseason poll means almost nothing in the grand scheme of things. However, certain teams like Kansas, West Virginia and Iowa State are at extremely long odds to make the playoffs. 

With that, let's check out every team's odds to make the College Football Playoff. 

 

The Favorite

Picked as the preseason league champion, the Oklahoma Sooners have the best odds in the Big 12 to make the College Football Playoff at 2-1. The Sooners have a ton of talent coming back, including linebacker Eric Striker and defensive back Zack Sanchez. 

The biggest question mark for the Sooners surrounds quarterback Trevor Knight. Wildly inconsistent during the regular season, he ended last season on the best note possible by throttling the Alabama secondary in the Sugar Bowl. Which Knight the Sooners get this year will determine how well they perform this season. 

The Sooners also have a very advantageous schedule, with home games against Tennessee, Texas, Kansas State, Baylor and Oklahoma State. Their toughest road game is their trip to Lubbock, Texas, to face the Texas Tech Red Raiders on November 15.

With a favorable schedule, as well as arguably the best coach in the conference in Bob Stoops, there's no question that the Sooners are strong candidates to make the playoffs.

 

The Best Value

This year, it seems that Big 12 pollsters finally figured out to not bet against Bill Snyder and the Kansas State Wildcats, placing them in the third spot in the preseason poll. 

After a rough start to last season, the Wildcats ended the season on a 6-1 tear, capped off with a Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl victory over Michigan. 

Now with the Wildcats loaded on both sides of the ball, they're projected to be one of the top contenders in the conference. And at 11-3 odds, they're also the best value bet in the league. 

The best thing going for K-State is the passing tandem of quarterback Jake Waters and wideout Tyler Lockett. Both are among the best in the Big 12 at their positions, with Lockett being possibly the best receiver in the nation. 

The Wildcats' first big test comes in Week 3, where they'll host reigning SEC champion Auburn under Thursday night lights at Bill Snyder Family Stadium. Adam Kramer of Bleacher Report made the case for this game being the best of the year in all of college football, writing: 

"It’s not circled four times with oversized exclamation points on your schedule—at least not yet—although it should be. And on that note, clear your calendar accordingly. Avoid all obligations and make it to Manhattan, Kansas, on this date if you can."

If the Wildcats can grab an upset win that night, they'll be on the inside track to the playoffs. 

K-State's biggest concern is at running back, where they'll have to replace three-year starter John Hubert. DeMarcus Robinson, Charles Jones and Jarvis Leverett are all in the running, and they all could end up being utilized by Snyder. Either way, the Wildcats routinely rely on a strong run game, so Snyder will need a quality back to take the load off of Waters. 

 

The Sleeper

If you're looking to cash in on a sleeper in the Big 12, look no further than Stillwater, Oklahoma. 

The Oklahoma State Cowboys have been routinely one of the Big 12's best teams in recent memory. They won the conference in 2011 and were one win away from claiming the league again last year before losing to Oklahoma in the Bedlam game. 

Last season, the Cowboys spoiled Baylor's bid at a perfect season and what would've almost certainly been a ticket to the final BCS National Championship. They also were the Big 12's representative in the Cotton Bowl. 

The Cowboys, as always, have plenty of offensive firepower this year, including quarterback J.W. Walsh and wideout Jhajuan Seales. Plus, with Mike Gundy's high-powered air raid offense, you can never count the Cowboys out of a contest. 

Florida State faces off against Gundy and Co. in Week 1 of the season, so that'll be as good an early-season test as you can get. Should the Cowboys upend the reigning national champions, they could find themselves on the inside looking out when it comes to making the playoffs. 

 

The Best Long Shot

The magical touch of Kliff Kingsbury could not only turn around Texas Tech this season, but make them dark horses in the Big 12.

The Red Raiders started last season 7-0 before dropping their last five games. But with Davis Webb now the bona fide starter in Lubbock, and all the first-year jitters worked out of Kingsbury, Texas Tech could very well shock fans around the Midwest. 

At 64-3 odds, you shouldn't put your smart money on the Red Raiders to make the playoffs. But as always with college football, anything goes. 

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Ohio State Football: 3 Buckeyes Primed for Breakout Seasons

With Braxton Miller at quarterback, Ohio State has a chance to make a serious run at major college football's first-ever playoff.

For Urban Meyer to get his team to the big show, however, other players will need to have breakout seasons for the Buckeyes.

That's especially true when you factor in who Ohio State must replace. Players such as Carlos Hyde, Ryan Shazier and Bradley Roby—in addition to four senior starters along the offensive line—have Meyer searching for playmakers and leadership heading into the 2014 season.

Whether they're stepping in for a new starter, looking to boost an unproductive unit or eager to explode in an expanded role, these three players are primed for big seasons.

 

Ezekiel Elliott

With Hyde rushing his way into the Ohio State history book, there weren't a lot of opportunities for other ball-carriers in 2013.

That was especially true for Ezekiel Elliott, a former 4-star running back out St. Louis, Missouri. The speedy playmaker saw action in half of Ohio State's 14 games, rushing for 262 yards on just 30 carries (8.7 yards per rush) to complement three total touchdowns.

On the brink of his sophomore season, Elliot's role is expanding in a big way.

The search for Hyde's replacement started in the spring, when candidates such as Rod Smith and Bri'onte Dunn had a chance to shine. Elliott seized control, though, and set himself up to become the Buckeyes' starting running back this fall.

Even though he played sparingly, Elliott's limited playing time a season ago gave him confidence heading into his second season.

"Getting out there and playing helped a lot, just getting those jitters out," Elliott said, according to Brian Bennett of ESPN.com. "Hopefully this year, I'll be ready to go."

 

Vonn Bell

It may have come late in the season, but Ohio State fans got a glimpse of the future when Vonn Bell got his first start against Clemson in the Orange Bowl last January.

The 5-star safety was the crown jewel of Ohio State's 2013 recruiting class, but he saw close to no action for most of his freshman season. His lack of playing time was a puzzling development, especially as the team's pass defense sunk to the bottom of the national ranks.

Bell got his chance in the Orange Bowl, and even though Ohio State's defense got torched, he made one of the best plays of the game when he picked off Tajh Boyd to prevent an easy touchdown.

He plans to use that game as a launching point for a big sophomore season, according to Doug Lesmerises of The Plain Dealer.

It was really hard for me to not play as much as I wanted to. It's something I can learn from and use to motivate me through the spring. That's every young guy. It's a little bit frustrating but you've always got to be patient and wait for the right time. So I was always ready.

Bell proved that last January, and even though he missed spring practice with a knee injury, he should bounce back and make a huge impact for the Buckeyes this fall.

 

Dontre Wilson

The hype was there last season—the production just didn't follow.

It seemed like everyone was talking about Dontre Wilson throughout fall camp last season. The electrifying freshman (and one-time Oregon commit) dominated the headlines the same way he flashed in Ohio State's practices.

When the season finally came, though, he found himself playing the role of decoy as most of the action was designed for Hyde in the running game and Corey Brown in the passing game. He still managed to pile up 460 total yards and three touchdowns, but that fell wildly short of the expectations most had at the beginning of the year.

Both Hyde and Brown are gone, so Meyer will need Wilson to step up and make plays for the Buckeyes this season. 

The blazer out of DeSoto, Texas, is looking forward to his expanded role.

"I felt like a decoy [last year]," Wilson said, according to Daniel Rogers of The Lantern. "But now, things have changed, so now I’m getting my chance and I’m making the best of it.”

Wilson was named the starting H-back in the spring. In an offense designed to get the ball on the perimeter more often, he could be on the verge of a huge season.

 

All recruiting information via 247SportsStats via NCAA.com.

David Regimbal covers Ohio State football for Bleacher Report. 
Follow him on Twitter @davidreg412

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Texas Football: 5 Longhorns Primed for Breakout Seasons in 2014

It's been a tumultuous week for the Texas Longhorns, who now need breakout seasons from players like Edwin Freeman more than ever.

Following the arrests and indefinite suspensions of receivers Kendall Sanders and Montrel Meander, Charlie Strong has dismissed running back Joe Bergeron along with safeties Josh Turner and Chevoski Collins for violating team rules.

The suspensions and dismissals leave Texas with holes at receiver and safety, but provide ample opportunity for other promising talents to prove their worth. 

So long as they survive Monday's meetings, these five players are due for a breakout season based on talent and opportunity.

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Big Ten Football: 10 Most Crucial 2014 Fall-Camp Battles

The impending start of fall camp can only mean one thing: position battles.

There are certainly many returning stars in the Big Ten who, barring major injury, will be full-time starters. There are also several hotly contested position battles that we'll outline for you here.

Players like Braxton Miller or Connor Cook are clearly central to their respective teams' chances of success, both in the past and in 2014, but some of the great championship teams often rely on unexpected contributions from underclassmen or previously unknown players who were buried on the previous season's depth charts.

With several roster spots opening up for these potential stars, we'll take a look at the looming position battles we'll see around the Big Ten during fall camps in the run up to the 2014 college football season.

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Predicting Every Power-5 College Football Team's MVP for 2014 Season

Football is a team sport, but like most others it's defined by its individual stars. College football is no different, and with training camps about to begin for the 2014 season, it's time to start identifying who to look out for on the field this fall.

The superstars will be everywhere, with the best teams having far more standouts than you'd think possible. But there's one thing every team will have: an MVP, that one player who can make or break the season based on what he is (or is not) able to do.

The MVP doesn't have to be the best player on the roster, just the one who is most important to overall success. We've made our picks for who will win MVP honors for every power-conference team, as well as BYU and Notre Dame, choosing these players based on what is expected of them in 2014 and how much those performances will mean to their individual teams.

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Georgia Football: 5 Bulldogs Primed to Have Breakout Seaons

There is no question the Georgia Bulldogs have a talented group of players that have a chance to win a lot of games this season if they learn how to play together.

Guys such as Todd Gurley and Leonard Floyd know what’s expected of them because they have proved they can produce at a high level.

But there are a few Bulldogs who are just as talented but have not had that breakout season yet because of injuries, being too low on the depth chart, etc. But this season is a different story, and if the Bulldogs are going to have a chance to reach the College Football Playoff, it will be because of the few players who had breakout seasons.

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Georgia Football: Biggest Storylines Heading into Bulldogs' Fall Camp

With fall camp just a few days away for the Georgia Bulldogs, it's finally time for Dawg fans to begin talking about football.  After a long offseason of coaching changes and off-the-field distractions, that's good news.

Here are the four biggest storylines for the Bulldogs as the first practice approaches.

 

New Defensive Regime

Defensive coordinator Jeremy Pruitt and his assistants plan to do big things with a Georgia defense that struggled mightily in 2013.  Unfortunately, the challenge for Pruitt has been exacerbated by what Seth Emerson of Macon's The Telegraph called an "unintended overhaul."  A few noteworthy departures from Georgia's defense:

  • Josh Harvey-Clemons, Safety: Dismissed
  • Shaq Wiggins, Cornerback: Transferred
  • Tray Matthews, Safety: Dismissed
  • Jonathan Taylor, Defensive Tackle: Dismissed
  • Brendan Langley, Cornerback: Moved to Offense

Despite this unanticipated turnover, expectations are high for Pruitt in his first season if for no reason other than the fact that he is not Todd Grantham.  Grantham and his scheme—which was widely viewed by fans as ineffective—left for Louisville and gave way to Pruitt, who should simplify things.

But offseason anticipation means little relative to on-field performance.  Now, it's time for Pruitt to earn his keep.

 

Offensive Stars Coming Back

Some familiar faces will be back at full speed for Georgia's offense this fall.  Running back Keith Marshall and wide receivers Malcolm Mitchell and Justin Scott-Wesley are all anticipated back during fall camp.

Georgia head coach Mark Richt told Edward Aschoff of ESPN.com that Mitchell "looks great" and offered glowing remarks about Marshall's progress:

Keith looks great. I've watched him run straight ahead; he looks outstanding in that area. I don't know if he'd say he's 100 percent today, but he has no limitations whatsoever in his training. He can run routes, he can pass [skeleton], he can do anything. We think Day 1, he'll be 100 percent, ready to compete.

Georgia's offense was already expected to be one of the most explosive in the Southeastern Conference, but the return of these stars will greatly benefit quarterback Hutson Mason in his lone season as a full-time starter.

 

Lorenzo Carter's Debut

Lorenzo Carter, the nation's 18th-best prospect according to the 247Sports Composite, was the crown jewel of Georgia's 2014 recruiting class.  He won't get a prolonged welcome party, though.  On the contrary, the Dawgs need him ready to work on Day 1.

With Davin Bellamy's arrest for driving under the influence over the weekend, per Chip Towers of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Georgia is now in desperate need of a backup for Jordan Jenkins at outside linebacker.  Carter will be called upon to fill that void for the first two games while Bellamy serves the standard Georgia suspension of two games for an alcohol-related offense.

At 6'5", 230 pounds, Carter has college-ready size, strength and athleticism.  Over the coming weeks he'll need to master Pruitt's defensive playbook, but more importantly, he'll need to soak up everything defensive line coach Tracy Rocker can teach.  Rocker, who boasts an impressive collegiate and professional coaching resume, was instrumental in Carter's recruitment.  Not he'll have his chance to shape his prized pupil. 

 

Need for a Fast Start

With Clemson and South Carolina on the schedule, Georgia once again opens the season with a staggering one-two punch from the Palmetto State.  Accordingly, there is very little margin for error during fall camp for the Bulldogs.  

On one hand, two such challenging games present an exciting opportunity for Georgia to capitalize on diligent preparation.  On the other, shortcomings and a 0-2 start could halt the Dawgs in their tracks and rudely awake the team from dreams of an SEC championship and a bid in the inaugural College Football Playoff.

On the defensive side of the ball, Pruitt must identify a firm depth chart and find answers to last year's problems—particularly in the secondary.  Offensively, coordinator Mike Bobo won't be haunted by 2013's missed opportunities, but he'll need to have any new additions installed and perfected in time for the Clemson and South Carolina games. 

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Alabama Football: 5 Tiders Poised for Breakout Seasons

One of the main areas Nick Saban and his staff have excelled is in their ability to develop new faces into stars quickly.

In 2013, former impact recruits such as defensive end A’Shawn Robinson and safety Landon Collins burst onto the scene and became household names.

One year later, a handful of Tiders fit the bill as potential candidates to break out by season’s end. 

A trio of heralded members from the 2013 class will look to join Robinson among the nation’s elite at their respective positions, while one true freshman and a much-hyped transfer are among the newest additions hoping to lead Alabama back into the national title picture.

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10 Uncommitted 2015 Recruits Who Are Locks to Sign with Pac-12 Teams

All Pac-12 teams are hustling hard on the 2015 recruiting trail to sign the best players they can find. Among the top recruits in the country, several appear certain to sign with a Pac-12 school.

Whether reading between the lines, looking at their favorite schools or surveying their finalists, we can tell that the following recruits on this list are definitely headed to the Pac-12.

A quartet of 5-star prospects will sign with one of the Los Angeles programs, while Stanford could land a 4-star defensive back and a 4-star receiver. 

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John Burt to Texas: Longhorns Land 4-Star WR Prospect

John Burt, a 4-star wide receiver in the 2015 class, announced his verbal commitment to the Texas Longhorns, bolstering their already strong class.

ESPN Texas reported the commitment following the announcement:

Burt's decision to attend Texas comes much to the chagrin of 21 other programs that were recruiting him. Those schools include Florida State, Auburn, Alabama, Florida and several other powerhouses in college football.

Prior to his commitment, Burt spoke about wanting to make sure the time was right to announce, per Chad Simmons of Scout.com:

"I am just going to commit when it is the right time," said Burt. "It could be before the season or it could be closer to signing day. I just have to feel ready -- when I do, I will just go ahead and commit."

The rising prospect finished last season with 37 receptions for 713 yards and nine touchdowns. He was invited to The Opening over the summer and excelled with a four-flat time in the 20-yard shuttle and a 36.5-inch vertical leap, per Zach Shelton of Bleacher Report.

Burt also made an impression during the event, as Keith Niebuhr of 247Sports notes, "People at The Opening were impressed by his frame (he’s 6-foot-3) and fluid routes."

He showed off his explosiveness during offseason workouts, via Derek Tyson of ESPN.com:

Leading up to his commitment, Burt made it very clear that he planned to play with Texas, per Simmons:

Texas is my No. 1 school. They are recruiting me very hard and I talk to them a lot. I like the coaching staff, the facilities, and I was always a fan of Texas growing up with family working there.

I will be spending some time out there the last week of July and I am looking forward to that. Texas is a little ahead right now.

The Longhorns are getting a standout player. Burt is 6'3", 180 pounds and looks primed to be a playmaker. He's ranked as the 13th-best wide receiver prospect in the country and is rated No. 127 nationally overall in his class, per 247Sports' composite rankings. With his size and speed, Burt has a chance to make a huge impact at the next level.

Texas is a program entering a new era and looking to find resurgence. Adding players like Burt and having the No. 1 class in the Big-12 Conference shows they are on the right path.

With a class that already includes quarterback Zach Gentry along with running backs Jordan Stevenson and Tristian Houston, Texas has plenty of talent on offense. Now it's time to see what head coach Charlie Strong can do with those weapons.

 

Follow @RCorySmith on Twitter.

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Big 12 Football: 5 Most Crucial 2014 Fall Camp Battles

With media days behind us, the 2014-15 season is rapidly approaching—thank God. 

In a few weeks, fall camp will begin for teams around the country as they look to prepare for the first season of the College Football Playoff. The Big 12 is bound to have a few contenders for the playoff, but nearly every team has yet to solidify who exactly will take the field in Week 1. 

Around the conference, there are plenty of position battles to be settled. At Iowa State, Paul Rhoads has yet to settle the quarterback race. Bill Snyder hasn't found a replacement for running back John Hubert at Kansas State, and TCU coach Gary Patterson is now scrambling to find someone who could end up being a permanent replacement for the embattled Devonte Fields. 

With that, let's checkout the top five position battles in the Big 12 this fall. 

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Biggest Storylines Heading into Texas A&M's Fall Camp

The Texas A&M football team will report for fall camp on July 31. The Aggies will begin their first practice on August 1 with a number of questions facing the team. 

The Aggies will be a young team in 2014, but they will be more experienced than the 2013 squad that finished 9-4 in 2013. The Aggies will only start seven seniors, with only one in their front seven on defense. 

The Aggies have to find answers at multiple positions during fall camp. There are some depth issues that need to be addressed and some starters who need to be named. 

This is a look at the biggest storylines for the Aggies heading into fall camp. 

 

 

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Pittsburgh Post-Gazette's 'Woman' Headline Highly Questionable

This headline could have been better.

The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette has quickly received quite a bit of criticism after their unfortunate headline regarding Penn State hiring Sandy Barbour as their new athletic director. Their headline simply reads, "PSU Selects Woman to Head Athletics".

While Barbour is now one of just a handful of women athletic directors at major universities, the newspaper definitely could have worded their headline differently.

[Twitter, h/t College Spun]

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Tennessee Restaurant Sign Shows Vols Fans Are Still Upset with Lane Kiffin

After spending just one season as the head coach of the Volunteers before leaving for USC in 2010, Lane Kiffin has created quite a reputation in the state of Tennessee.

Because of this, one establishment decided to make fun of the former head coach. Moe's Southwest Grill near Tennessee's campus posted a message on its sign earlier in the week, reading, "Lane Kiffin? Never heard of her."

Volunteers fans will likely have some big plans for when Kiffin comes back to Knoxville as the offensive coordinator for Alabama on Oct. 25.

[Twitter, h/t College Spun]

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Michigan Football Recruit Commits with LeBron James-Like Message

As one of the top cornerback recruits in the state of Michigan, Brian Cole made a big decision on Saturday to commit to play for the Michigan Wolverines—and he decided to do so by taking a page out of LeBron James' playbook.

Cole tweeted a picture of himself in a tribute to LeBron's announcement in Sports Illustrated that he was coming home. Cole put his own spin on the announcement, stating, "I'm Staying Home."

[Twitter, h/t College Spun]

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Daelin Hayes to USC: Trojans Land 4-Star LB Prospect

USC made a big recruiting splash on Saturday, as 4-star linebacker prospect Daelin Hayes of West Bloomfield, Michigan, verbally committed to play for the Trojans.

Hayes announced his commitment to play football in Southern California via Twitter:

The 6'3", 225-pound linebacker was exuberant in his praise of the vaunted football institution, committing just two days after his lone unofficial visit to the campus.

"Everything from start to finish was hands down amazing," Hayes told Steve Wiltfong of 247Sports.com. "USC is the perfect fit for me as a student, as a player and as a person."

Hayes is rated the No. 6 outside linebacker in the class of 2016 by 247Sports and No. 1 in the state of Michigan. The sturdy defender can also play running back.

He is the first USC commitment in the class of 2016. According to 247Sports.com, Hayes spurned interest from the likes of Notre Dame, Illinois and Michigan, among other top schools.

Scout.com's Mike Wilson noted Hayes' decision to play for the Trojans was a significant blow to Michigan State's recruiting plans:

Considering Hayes still has another two years of prep football to play at Orchard Lake St. Mary's before heading out to the West Coast, it will be interesting to see if in-state schools like Michigan and Michigan State try to change the young man's mind.

The journey to USC would take Hayes far from his family, but the opportunity to play under a head coach like Steve Sarkisian is a tantalizing one for any young gridiron talent.

 

Star rankings courtesy of 247Sports.

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Daelin Hayes to USC: Trojans Land 4-Star LB Prospect

USC made a big recruiting splash on Saturday, as 4-star linebacker prospect Daelin Hayes of West Bloomfield, Michigan, verbally committed to play for the Trojans...

Read the full article on Bleacher Report...

Oklahoma Commit Austin Seibert Hits 66-Yard Field Goal

The Oklahoma Sooners have a tough conference in the Big 12 over the next few seasons, but it looks like they'll have a future kicker with an extremely strong leg.

Oklahoma commit Austin Seibert looks like he's ready to kick at the college level, hitting a 66-yard field goal in the video above. If that's the kind of range he has, the Sooners could have a solid option at kicker when Seibert joins Oklahoma.

[YouTube]

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Oregon QB Marcus Mariota Taking 2 Classes This Fall, Golf and Yoga

After being a potential top-10 draft pick at the end of last year, Oregon Ducks quarterback Marcus Mariota is looking to be the first quarterback taken in next year's draft, so he made sure to have an easier class schedule to focus on football.

According to ESPN's Ted Miller, Mariota will be taking just two classes this fall, with those two classes being yoga and golf.

Mariota put up 40 total touchdowns in 2013, but he'll be looking to score even more this coming season as he tries to make a case to be the No. 1 overall pick in the 2015 NFL draft.

[Twitter]

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