NCAA Football

SEC Football: 5 Best Candidates to Win 2014 Heisman Trophy

The SEC lost so many stars, it's going to be difficult to replace them all—much less conjure up candidates for the Heisman Trophy.

Johnny Manziel. Aaron Murray. Tre Mason. A.J. McCarron. Jadeveon Clowney. Mike Evans. Odell Beckham Jr. Michael Sam. Jordan Matthews. Connor Shaw. Jarvis Landry. Dorial Green-Beckham. Jeremy Hill. Donte Moncrief.

All gone.

Those guys aren't just one-year wonders, either. Many had record-setting careers that kept the spotlight on the conference as it churned out national champions.

But this is the SEC, where teams reload with top talent. While there will be a youth movement in 2014, the league is still top-heavy with worthy candidates for college football's top honor.

The award normally goes to a quarterback or running back, so this top five is heavy on those. But even beyond this list, the SEC has several prime possibilities with the talent to get to New York.

Let's take a look at the five most likely candidates to ultimately hoist the hardware.

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5 Players/Programs Under the Most Scrutiny for the 2014 College Football Season

With less than three months away from the start of the 2014 college football season, players across the country are preparing with numerous hours on the practice field and working out in the gym.

College football said goodbye to Johnny Manziel with his entry into the National Football League. With him gone to the pros, so go the drama and scrutiny that surrounded him during his final season at Texas A&M. 

Although he is gone, certain star players might still be under scrutiny from media and fans due to past arrests and various incidents that have affected their image. This offseason, 2013 Heisman Trophy winner Jameis Winston was in the media numerous times for the wrong reasons due to questionable actions.

Winston wasn't the only well-known college football player to have a negative spotlight associated with him since last season. Numerous other players and teams will be dealing with their public image and perception by sports fans.

Here are four players and one program who are under the most scrutiny heading into the 2014 college football season.    

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Jackson Harris to Georgia: Bulldogs Land 4-Star TE Prospect

Georgia has made a big addition—literally—to its 2015 class, securing the verbal commitment of 4-star tight end Jackson Harris on Thursday.

The Columbia Central (Columbia, Tennessee) star selected the Bulldogs over Alabama and Vanderbilt, according to 247 Sports' Barton Simmons:

247Sports' composite rankings list Harris as the 223rd-best overall prospect, 10th-best tight end and eighth-best prospect out of the state of Tennessee. Although with his kind of potential, it feels like those numbers are only going to improve with time. 

Although he still has another year of high school left, the 17-year-old already has the look of a SEC player. He is 6'6", 250 pounds and boasts impressive athleticism.

His size, at least for now, is his greatest attribute. He has the strength to make a smooth transition to the collegiate game as a blocker, and his height and length give him a massive catch radius that will be especially beneficial in the red zone. 

Don't think for a second this is just a big, lumbering load who's just going to try to out-muscle defenders, though. 

Harris displays good quickness (he runs a 4.85 40-yard dash) and hands for a player his size. While his route running needs some sharpening—not exactly a rarity for players his age—he has the look of someone who will be a productive weapon in the passing game at the next level. 

He recently earned an invite to The Opening—a showcase of the nation's top prospects: 

It's difficult to project a player who is still so far from stepping onto a college campus, but Harris' versatility is going to make it difficult for Mark Richt to keep him off the field for long. 

While he may not make an immediate impact as a freshman, his skill set is tantalizing. He's a true in-line tight end blocker but also has the amalgam of size and athleticism to create mismatches all over the field. 

It won't be long after he steps on campus before his presence is felt in the SEC. 

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Every Big Ten Football Team's Ace 2015 Recruiter

The Big Ten recruiting trail is awfully competitive. Head coaches can't do it all by themselves, so each of them must have at least one ace recruiter on staff.

Being an ace recruiter is a big job; that assistant coach is usually assigned to recruit the program's top targets. He is also expected to bring in the most commitments for his school's recruiting class.

With July not being too far away, the 2015 recruiting cycle is moving along. That also means ace recruiters in the Big Ten are starting to emerge.

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5-Star WR DaMarkus Lodge Changes College Announcement Date

Texas wide receiver DaMarkus Lodge has decided to alter his plans for a commitment announcement. The 5-star prospect will announce his decision Thursday, June 19, one day earlier than originally expected, according to The Dallas Morning News.

Lodge, a 6'2.5", 190-pound playmaker at Cedar Hill High School, emerged as a dominant force for the national powerhouse during his junior season. He capped off a breakout campaign with MVP honors in the Class 5A Division II state title game.

His championship effort featured 129 yards and two touchdowns on eight touches, including five receptions. Lodge finished the season with 72 catches for 1,255 receiving yards and 25 offensive scores.

His recruitment spans coast to coast, with several contenders still seemingly involved.

Notre Dame and USC extended scholarship offers in May, but they're late to a pursuit that started during his sophomore year. He has several in-state suitors, with Texas A&M, Baylor, Texas and Texas Tech each clamoring for a commitment.

Lodge could be tempted to seek opportunities beyond state borders.

Alabama, Ole Miss and LSU are potential landing spots in the SEC. Oklahoma and Oklahoma State present high-flying offensive attacks in the Big 12.

Lodge is rated No. 4 nationally among receivers in 247Sports' composite rankings. He is listed as the sixth-best rising senior in Texas.

With just one week remaining in his recruiting process, Lodge can expect attention from college coaches to hit an all-time high.

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

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Teams Whose National Championship Chances Are Undervalued by Vegas Lines

Vegas doesn't often make mistakes. When it acts, it acts with reason. Whenever a line that looks anomalous gets posted, you must pause and take a second to question: Why does it look anomalous? Is it supposed to stick out as anomalous?

Am I slowly being lured into a trap? 

In this regard, it is hard to name with confidence any teams that Vegas has undervalued. However, the exercise takes place every year.

Hindsight tells us that Auburn and Missouri would have been good bets last season; even Florida State, which dominated from the first to the final whistle, was not one of the favorites back in June.

Here are three teams that might make Vegas look stupid—if that is even possible—come January. One is a bona fide favorite whose numbers seems a bit inflated, one is a name-brand program whose reputation has fallen back a bit and one is a scrappy upstart with enough young talent and the lack of competition to make a run.

Check out the odds at Vegas Insider, and sound off below with whom you think has been undervalued.

 

Alabama 7/1

Think of what these odds really mean. If the 2014 season was played seven times, would Alabama win at least one national title?

The smart money says yes.

Alabama did, after all, win three of the final five BCS National Championships. If not for a late-game collapse against Auburn last season—and make no mistake, that's what it was—it would have had a shot at winning a fourth. The Tide might have even been favored to do so.

There are questions at quarterback. We know this. If you think the stories about Jacob Coker and Blake Sims have been overblown this winter, just get ready for what will happen at SEC Media Days and in the run-up to the season. It is all anybody will be talking about.

A healthy part of that is justified. Quarterback is the most important position on the field, and Alabama doesn't have a proven commodity to follow in AJ McCarron's footsteps. That is the reason, ostensibly, that you can get the Tide at 7-to-1 when they usually cost a great deal more: uncertainty.

What's not uncertain, though, is the rest of that Alabama offense.

Running backs T.J. Yeldon, Derrick Henry and Kenyan Drake might form the best backfield trio in America; the offensive line has a high ceiling and a great coach in Mario Cristobal; and according to Charles Hollis of AL.com, pass-catchers Amari Cooper and O.J. Howard were voted to the All-SEC first team by league Sports Information Directors.

On defense, the combination of tackle A'Shawn Robinson, linebacker Trey DePriest and safety Landon Collins gives the Tide a potential All-American at every level. Beyond them, there are questions, but Alabama has finished first in the country in recruiting the past four seasons, according to the 247Sports team rankings.

Do you really want to bet against Nick Saban and Kirby Smart coaching a defense filled with 4- and 5-star recruits?

Me neither. I would take Alabama on a neutral field against anyone.

(And no, commenters, I am not a fan of the team.)

 

 

USC 40/1

This seems like a pretty high number.

Despite coaching turmoil and uneven play at quarterback, USC was quietly one of the best teams in America last season. It finished No. 11 on the Football Outsiders F/+ ratings, two spots ahead of last year's Pac-12 South champion (Arizona State) and four spots ahead of this year's tentative Pac-12 South favorite (UCLA).

And both of those "despites" should be fixed. New head coach Steve Sarkisian comes over from Washington to provide some stability on the sidelines, and Cody Kessler—who, it should be mentioned, got better almost every week last season—has a full year of experience under his belt and looks like one of the Pac-12's best QBs.

And man, what about those skill players?

Nelson Agholor is one of the favorites to win the Biletnikoff Award, and he is just the tip of the receiving iceberg.

Sophomore Darreus Rogers, a practice favorite who has always been nicked up with injuries, appeared to be stronger than ever this spring and is drawing some flattering comparisons.

"He kinda reminds me of (NFL great) Sterling Sharpe," said receivers coach Tee Martin, according to Bruce Feldman of Fox Sports (then with CBSSports.com). "He really competes and challenges for balls (in traffic), has great hands and is a great route runner."

On defense, end/tackle Leonard Williams is one of the best players in the country, checking in at No. 3 overall on Rob Rang's first 2015 big board at CBSSports.com.

There is some intriguing young talent at linebacker, and the secondary—led by cornerback Josh Shaw and safety Su'a Cravens—was ranked No. 3 in the country in Phil Steele's 2014 College Football Preview.

The only thing holding USC back is the offensive line, and on that front, bringing in new position coach Tim Drevno could have a major impact. Drevno previously coached the O-line for the San Francisco 49ers since 2011, molding that unit into (probably) the best in the NFL.

At 40-to-1 odds, I am willing to bet he can make a difference.

 

North Carolina 110/1

North Carolina got off to a disastrous start last season, losing five of its first six games—including a 55-31 beat-down on its home turf against Conference-USA foe East Carolina. Woof.

But things turned around in the second half of the year, when UNC won six of its final seven games—including five in a row—before barely losing to ACC Coastal Division champion Duke in the regular-season finale.

In 2014, the Tar Heels could prove to be a lot like Missouri last season. They have two capable quarterbacks in Marquise Williams and Mitch Trubisky, a deep group of running backs, some good receivers and a scrappy upstart defense, and they play in the (much) weaker division of a power conference.

Bleacher Report's Adam Kramer wrote the following of North Carolina when the odds were first released, calling them a good value bet even when the number was 75-to-1 instead of 110-to-1:

For this season, North Carolina won’t be available at 200/1. At 75/1, however, the Tar Heels are intriguing and loaded with value. It’s a long shot, of course, hence the huge price. But there are a handful of items working in UNC’s favor.

For one, the College Football Playoff will open new doors. No longer a hunt for the two best teams in the sport, the four-team bracket will provide others a chance to play their way in. That’s significant, and it’s also why the days of live 150/1 and 200/1 shots for these bets are likely dead.

Yes, Adam, those days are dead and gone. But 110-to-1 is not the worst consolation one could think of—especially with a high-upside team such as UNC and a high-upside coach such as Larry Fedora.

Why not take a stab and let it ride?

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10 2015 Recruits Most Likely to Be Heisman Trophy Finalists

Few awards in sports are as hallowed as the Heisman Trophy, given annually to the most outstanding player in college football. The road to a championship requires constant effort from all 11 men on the field, but the trophy represents an unparalleled individual achievement on the game's grandest stage.

Past winners are as revered as the award. Players like Bo Jackson, Marcus Allen and Tim Tebow are eternally part of the Heisman lore. Long before they accepted the honor in New York City, these stars started their careers as coveted college prospects.

The 2015 recruiting class features a vast collection of athletes who could someday claim collegiate glory, from heralded 5-stars to underrated talents.

We examine players with the strongest possibilities of being invited to a Heisman Trophy presentation as a finalist at some point, giving a heavy nod to offensive playmakers based on recipient history.

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Tennessee Football Recruiting: 12 Commits and Targets to Watch at The Opening

Nike's prestigious The Opening training and competition event is rapidly approaching, and the Tennessee Volunteers have several commitments and top prospects participating. 

Under head coach Butch Jones, the Vols are recruiting at the nation's highest level.

As a result, many of the top players on their board will be among the 162 elite high schoolers who have received invitations to compete in the July 7-10 event in Beaverton, Oregon.

Two current UT commitments were selected by Student Sports following in-person evaluations at one of the nationwide events, according to the event website. Linebacker Cecil Cherry and wide receiver Preston Williams earned their invitations to compete against the nation's best.

The Vols are hoping another class catalyst in Kahlil McKenzie, who is scheduled to make his announcement at The Opening, chooses Knoxville as his future home.

Numerous other recruits with UT among their favorites will be worth watching as well. Let's take a closer look at 12 participants whom Tennessee covets.

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Predicting Which Team Will Finish Dead Last in Every College Football Conference

Less than a month ago, I made a far-too-early prediction on who would win every FBS conference in 2014. Today, it is time for the far-more-pessimistic converse of that article.

A look at who will finish dead last!

For the purposes of this prediction, nonconference games were not taken into account. It is only a look at who will finish last in conference playA 4-8 team with zero league wins would finish last behind a 1-11 team that beat a conference opponent. That makes more sense.

Also taken into account was the form of each team last season, the amount of turnover on the roster, new members of the coaching staff and—perhaps underrated—whom they get to play at home and on the road during the conference schedule.

Sound off below and let me know where you disagree.

 

Note: I didn't feel the need to waste a slide on the Independents, which only have four teams in 2014. Notre Dame, BYU and Navy are all quite good. Army is not. Army is my choice to finish last.

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Updated Recruiting Big Board for Ohio State Buckeyes

Ohio State is trying to put together a stellar recruiting class in 2015, and there are five names that are currently at the top of their list.

Bleacher Report's Adam Lefkoe checked in with Ben Axelrod of Scout.com to discuss the names atop the Buckeyes' big board, which recruit will most likely end up at Ohio State and who has the potential to have the most impact in Columbus.

Watch the video and learn the latest on Ohio State recruiting.

Highlights courtesy of XOS Digital.

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Texas A&M Football: Projecting Who Will Win Aggies' Open Starting Positions

The Texas A&M football team lost eight starters from the 2013 team to the NFL draft, graduation and disciplinary issues. The Aggies should not miss a beat on offense but have some question marks on defense when it comes to their starters. 

The Aggies defense was extremely poor in 2013. They need to improve their performance on that side of the ball if they want to compete for an SEC title in 2014. 

The Aggies lost three starters from the defensive side of the ball, but there will be additional shuffling at different positions to improve the level of play in 2014. Just because someone ended the 2013 season as a starter, it does not guarantee him that spot for 2014. 

This is a look at the players who will win the open starting positions on the 2014 Texas A&M football team. 

 

 

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Updated Recruiting Big Board for Oregon Ducks

The Oregon Ducks landed a solid 2014 recruiting class and are looking to build on that success in 2015. The Ducks love electric players on their offense, so which playmakers are they most excited for in this class?

Watch 247 Sports'Justin Hopkins break down Oregon's recruiting big board and which targets they are most likely to land.

 

Highlights courtesy XOS Digital. All recruit rankings from 247 Sports.

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Updated Recruiting Big Board for Oregon Ducks

The Oregon Ducks landed a solid 2014 recruiting class and are looking to build on that success in 2015...

Read the full article on Bleacher Report...

Updated Recruiting Big Board for Michigan Wolverines

Michigan is trying to put together a stellar recruiting class in 2015, and there are five names that are currently at the top of their list.

Bleacher Report's Adam Lefkoe checked in with Nick Baumgardner of MLive.com to discuss the names at the top of the Wolverines' big board and which recruit will most likely end up at Michigan.

Watch the video and learn the latest on Michigan recruiting.

Highlights courtesy of XOSDigital.com.

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Every SEC Football Team's Ace 2015 Recruiter

Every head coach in college football has at least one assistant coach on his staff who is his "ace recruiter." 

Ace recruiters are assistant coaches who are usually assigned to recruit the elite and most important prospects during a recruiting cycle. It can be a fluid position, as things can change year to year, depending on the recruiting plan.

As things are unfolding for the 2015 class, ace recruiters on SEC coaching staffs are starting to emerge. An offensive line coach has helped his team reach the No. 1 recruiting ranking in the nation, while a running backs coach is still maintaining his lofty status as his program's ace recruiter.

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Alabama Football: 5 Statistics That Will Look Drastically Different in 2014

If there’s been one constant with the University of Alabama football program under the direction of Nick Saban it’s that none of the teams have been alike.

Granted, they’ve all played in the same schemes, and some of the changes have been minimal, but each team has had its own identity.

A good example is with the three national championship seasons. The 2009 squad rode Heisman Trophy winner Mark Ingram and dynamic backup Trent Richardson. The 2011 defense might have been the best anyone’s ever seen in college football. The same could be said of the 2012 offensive line.

Alabama in 2014 will be no different in that respect, with the coaches trying to mold everything around the talent on the roster—and there’s a whole lot of it this year.

Here are five Crimson Tide statistical categories that could see sharp changes from 2013:

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Updated Recruiting Big Board for USC Trojans

The USC Trojans landed a huge 2014 recruiting class. Will first-year head coach Steve Sarkisian repeat that success with with his 2015 class? The Trojans traditionally target Los Angeles-area recruits, but which high-profile wide receiver recruit sits near the top of USC's must-get targets?

Watch Scout.com'sLindsey Thiry break down USC's recruiting big board and which targets they are most likely to land. 

 

Highlights courtesy XOS Digital. All recruit rankings from 247 Sports

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Updated Recruiting Big Board for USC Trojans

The USC Trojans landed a huge 2014 recruiting class. Will first-year head coach Steve Sarkisian repeat that success with with his 2015 class? The Trojans traditionally target ...

Read the full article on Bleacher Report...

Ohio State's Braxton Miller Hype Article Is Heisman Marketing at It's Finest

Ohio State is subtle, but not that subtle. 

The Buckeyes released an article on their official website Wednesday promoting quarterback Braxton Miller as basically the most clutch player in college football. 

In all, Ohio State credits Miller, a senior, with six game-winning touchdown drives in the fourth quarter or overtime. That number encompasses Miller's entire collegiate career and is one more than Navy quarterback Keenan Reynolds. 

"A survey conducted in the past week by Football Bowl Subdivision (FBS) sports information directors revealed an impressive statistical note about Ohio State University senior quarterback Braxton Miller," the first line of the article reads. 

If there was ever a preseason Heisman push that wasn't really an official preseason Heisman push, this is it. It's an innocent "Oh, hey, look at this." A not-so-coincidental "Huh, whaddya know about that?"

"Ohio State's protocol is to let our outstanding performer's play on the field drive the discussion, initially, regarding major national awards and honors," Sports Information Director Jerry Emig told B/R in an email.

Ohio State probably isn't the first program to publish something of this nature nor will it be the last. When it's crunch time, though, Ohio State wants you to know that Miller is the best in the country at getting the job done. 

It's a perfect time to blast out that little piece of information. It's June, and beyond the Ed O'Bannon trial, there's little else going on. 

It's the right angle, too. Big-time players make big-time plays in big-time games, right? So much is made of the so-called "Heisman moment" when everything is on the line. As Ohio State points out, Miller has two game-winning drives against Wisconsin, a Big Ten title contender, one against Northwestern, when the Wildcats were nationally ranked and undefeated, and one against Michigan. 

It's still an obvious promotional tool, but it's done a little differently than most offseason Heisman or award pushes. Miller already should be a preseason Heisman candidate, but this is the first major unofficial nudge of the summer. 

There's no doubt Miller is a gifted athlete who is crucial to his team's success, but improving as a passer is one way he can increase his Heisman chances (the other is stay healthy). It could also improve his NFL draft stock, as Mike Huguenin of NFL.com notes

Miller (6-foot-2, 215 pounds) is a great fit for Meyer's run-heavy version of the spread and is a true dual-threat quarterback. But NFL scouts will be looking for improvement from Miller as a passer this fall; the more he improves as a passer, the earlier he will hear his name called in the 2015 NFL Draft.

B/R colleague Adam Kramer says the last thing anyone wants to hear is a player's name in the summer, since surely nothing good can come of it. He's right—for the most part. This is the exception. 

And the Buckeyes accomplished their goal: We're talking about Miller. 

 

Ben Kercheval is a lead writer for college football. All quotes obtained firsthand unless noted otherwise. 

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Mike Leach and Washington State Staff Reel in Giant Fish

Judging by the pictures, Mike Leach and the Washington State coaching staff recently had a successful fishing trip on the Salmon River.

It may have started out as a way for the coaches to bond with each other away from the football field, but it ended up as a memorable experience, thanks to one big catch.

Check out just how long their catch was:

According to Football Scoop's Scott Roussel, the coaching staff says that the fish was a sturgeon.

[Twitter, h/t College Spun]

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