NCAA Football

What 2015 QB Recruit Sam Darnold's Commitment to USC Means for Trojans

The mystery man of this recruiting class is staying in Southern California. Quarterback Sam Darnold , a San Clemente High School prospect with fewer than 800 career varsity passing yards, committed to USC on Friday...

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Texas Football: 5 Toughest Players Longhorns Will Face in 2014

Football season is a little more than a month away, and the Texas Longhorns will need to prepare for the talent they will face in 2014.

Head coach Charlie Strong's team has a decent number of questions that will need to be answered soon in order to keep up with the competition.

According to CBSSports.com's Jerry Palm, the Longhorns' schedule is the toughest in the Big 12. Nonconference opponents BYU and UCLA will be no walk in the park, and many of Texas' conference opponents have returning starters who have a history of producing against the Longhorns.

Here's a look at the five toughest players the Longhorns will face in 2014.

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Bold Predictions for Top College Football Freshmen in 2014

It was a good year for blue-chip true freshmen in 2013.

Of the top 22 players on the 247Sports composite rankings, 18 saw at least a fair amount of playing time—everyone except for Reuben Foster, Matthew Thomas, Kenny Bigelow and Max Browne—and appear to be on track for nice college careers.

Further down the list of top 50 overall prospects, players such as Alabama defensive end A'Shawn Robinson, Ole Miss safety Tony Conner, Ohio State defensive end Joey Bosa and Arkansas running back Alex Collins also flashed signs of nascent superstardom.

In order to enjoy such a promising freshman season, a player must have a mix of talent, opportunity and health. Those were some of the factors in constructing this list, which takes a look at 2014's top prospects and attempts to predict the unexpected.

Keep in mind that not all of these are actually likely. Otherwise they wouldn't be bold. But they aren't exactly far-fetched, either.

In the case of true freshmen, it's always hard to tell.

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Notre Dame Football: Freshman Jonathan Bonner Was the World's Best Eighth Grader

When Jonathan Bonner signed with Notre Dame, it didn't give the Irish much of a bump in the recruiting rankings.

A 3-star prospect from Missouri, Bonner only checked in at 599th on the 247 Sports composite rankings. While he had offers from the home-state Tigers and Michigan State, his offer and commitment after attending the Irish summer camp raised a few eyebrows. 

But Bonner was a late-bloomer on the football field. He was named the St. Louis Post-Dispatch's 2013 Defensive Player of the Year, and a first-team All-State player. 

Yet upon signing Bonner, Notre Dame's staff was incredibly impressed by not just the player on the field, but the student-athlete off of it. Veteran defensive coach Bob Elliott had this to say about Bonner, per Notre Dame Football's site. 

This is one of the great stories in my 35-year college career. As we were walking back to our car, Coach Kelly and Jonathan in front and I was behind with the parents and coaches. As we turned down the hall and around the corner, we came right by the lunch room. And in the lunch room of his high school Parkway Central, there were probably 300 kids eating at the time. And when they saw Jon walking around the corner with Coach Kelly, they all stood up and applauded for Jon Bonner. It was maybe the most impressive thing I've ever seen, a testament to a kid who is so highly respected and loved in his school.

Yet more impressive than anything Bonner has done on the field is a letter he wrote himself in the eighth grade. Part crystal ball, part maturity and wisdom beyond words, Bonner shared the typed letter he sent himself on the eve of high school and posted it on Twitter

Dear self, 

This is you from eighth grade. I hope you're doing okay. Off to college, huh? You better be. Think about how much freedom you'll have. You've grown up and now you're off on your own. You have a lot to look forward to. 

It's almost the end of your eighth grade school year. Right now you were looking forward to summer, high school, and the biggest thing, football. You need to get either that TE or DE position. Did you get it? Right now what you don't what being a freshman will be like but you are anxious. Hopefully you played hard enough to go off to Notre Dame. If not, you better at least be going off to college. 

In college there are some things you must avoid. First off, stay away from drugs and alcohol. If you have touched a drug I consider you a failure and you better change now or you are wasting your life. Same thing with alcohol, it will make you do stupid stuff and you will end up in bad situations. Second, stay away from knuckleheads (words from mom). They will get you into trouble. Finally, try to stay away from weapons. The only reason you should be using one is if you are going off into the army or you are in physical threat. DON'T LOOK FOR REVENGE! Use your hands if necessary. This should also be a last resort. 

Here are some things you need to work hard at. First and most importantly, school. You will not get anywhere without it. Second off, work hard at football so, you can get yourself off to the NFL and make some money. You must also be respectful and responsibility to others and they will do the same to you. Your main goal is just to succeed. 

Someone you need to be nice to is your sister. At this age in eighth grade she means everything to you and if you have lost her, you have lost yourself. You need her almost as much as you need yourself. She has been there for everything and your entire life so don't even try to bail on her. Who knows? You may need her someday. 

As you should see you have grown and you have a lot of life left. Make it worthwhile and don't screw up. 

Yours Literally, 

Jonathan Bonner

Bonner might not turn into an All-American at the college level. But that doesn't mean he's not the perfect role model. 

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LSU Football: Best Quotes and Key Takeaways from SEC Media Days

SEC media days are over. And Les Miles, yet again, was one of the brightest stars of the show. 

Miles gave updates on all three of his kids, "Smacker," Manny and Macy, multiple times throughout the day before briefing the media. He also shared his affinity for the World Cup and New York Yankees shortstop Derek Jeter's performance in the MLB All-Star Game.

Miles' also shared a story of a family vacation to Austin, Texas. He said conditions were not ideal. 

"It was miserable. I hated it. But we it was great fun. I meant, it was not a beach, it was not sand, but it was my family, and that was the best," said Miles.

But Miles and three of his seniors, left tackle La'el Collins, linebacker D.J. Welter and running back Terrence Magee, also addressed topics regarding their football team. Overall, there was no breaking news to share, but there were some interesting comments regarding the 2014 Tigers.

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Wisconsin Football: 4 Backups Critical to Wisconsin's Success in 2014

With so many departures from last year's Wisconsin football team, depth becomes something of an issue throughout the team.  As the Badgers' talent level continues to increase, who fills in those key backup spots will be important as they look to improve off last year's 9-4 season.

With a lot of the starting spots still up for grabs, let's take a look at four players without a home in the starting lineup that will be vital to the Badgers' success if they are to return to Indianapolis for the Big Ten Championship and potentially progress to the inaugural playoff.

 

DE Alec James

While Alec James may be the odd man out when it comes to a starting spot, his skill set as either a linebacker or on the end will prove extremely valuable for the Badgers this season.  Both him and Chikwe Obasih are incredibly talented and will prove a formidable tandem going down the road, but for this season, James can provide the type of pressure defensive coordinator Dave Aranda is looking for.

James was highly touted out of high school. A 3-star player out of Brookfield, Wisconsin, he held offers from a number of top programs, choosing to stay in-state over Oregon.

If James can rotate in along the line and provide some hurries on the quarterback to go along with strong run support, he will quickly find himself in the situation that Tyler Dippel was in as the third defensive end that played as much as the starter.

 

WR Robert Wheelwright

Robert Wheelwright could find himself on the outside to start the season; however, injuries throughout the spring will probably hold him back from taking that role.  With that being said, Wheelwright is far and away the most talented of the returning receivers.

Wheelwright had two catches last season for nine yards, and with a dearth of proven receivers, he will show in due time that he can be a solid option for whomever ends up at quarterback—whether it's Joel Stave or Tanner McEvoy.

Depth at this position will become even more important with the report that both Chris Jones and Dareian Watkins will not join the team due to various reasons, as per Benjamin Worgull of Scout.com:

 

TE Austin Traylor

With the departures of Jacob Pedersen and Brian Wozniak, both of whom currently find themselves vying for a spot on the Atlanta Falcons, the depth at the tight end position will be tested this season.  Sam Arneson will likely be the starting tight end, leaving Austin Traylor as the key backup at this position.

The Badgers employ quite a few two-tight end sets, and Traylor is certainly in line to pick up his first career grab.  The 3-star recruit looked pretty good in the spring and has the frame at 6'3", 243 pounds, to provide a big body and a good target in the passing game.

 

CB Devin Gaulden

With the departure of Nate Hammon, depth in the secondary could be a concern, but at cornerback, the Badgers have depth beyond their wildest dreams.  Sitting behind the dynamic duo of Sojourn Shelton and Darius Hillary is Devin Gaulden.

Gaulden has struggled with injuries, tearing his ACL in 2012 and sitting out 2013; however, throughout the spring, Gaulden looked like one of the best and most experienced players on the field.  Gaulden in the nickelback role, where he can both line up in coverage and as a blitzing corner on the edge, will be an invaluable asset to the Badgers defense.

 

Recruiting star rankings and information via 247Sports unless otherwise noted.

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USC Football: Which Trojans Must Step Up on Defense to Stop Uptempo Offenses

A point of pride for USC in 2013 was overcoming its limited numbers. The toll of NCAA-mandated scholarship reductions, combined with the typical build-up of injuries during a season, left the Trojans' roster thin. 

The number 13 is now etched in USC lore, roughly equivalent to the 300 of Sparta. Thirteen is the number of defenders USC played in its upset of then-No. 5 Stanford last November—and as Reign of Troy notes via Twitter, the Trojans' ranks were actually closer to 12 that night: 

Playing such a truncated rotation just isn't feasible for an entire season. Head coach Steve Sarkisian is implementing an uptempo offense that promises to keep the Trojans defense on the field longer than the 26:56 it averaged a season ago. 

More importantly, USC needs both depth and strong performances from its starting defense to contain the Pac-12's hurry-up opponents. After all, Stanford has become something of an anomaly by continuing to huddle.

Even the Trojans spurned the traditional strategy, joining Arizona, Arizona State, California, Oregon, UCLA and Washington State among the Pac-12's uptempo ranks. Sarkisian also introduced a similar philosophy a season ago at Washington. 

Such systems have presented the Trojans with problems in recent years. Pac-12 South foes Arizona State and UCLA combined to score 97 points against USC, resulting in two of its losses. 

 

CBs Kevon Seymour and Josh Shaw 

In 2014, the Trojans face four of the five teams with the most pass attempts in the Football Bowl Subdivision a season ago. Three—California, Fresno State and Washington State—play an uptempo style. 

USC fared well defensively against all three last season, but a thin rotation of defensive backs must be ready for a peppering of passes once again in the coming season. 

USC has some of the top secondary talent in the Pac-12 with safety Su'a Cravens and the cornerback tandem of Kevon Seymour and Josh Shaw. The issue for the Trojans isn't the quality, but rather the quantity. 

Depth at cornerback in particular could be an area of concern. Josh Shaw moved to cornerback from safety to address the issue and performed admirably. His four interceptions a season ago were tied for second most on the team.

Seymour is developing into a potential shutdown-style cornerback on the other side.     

Behind them, however, the outlook is murky. Anthony Brown moved to running back, and incoming prospect Adoree' Jackson's role is unknown. Jackson was a star recruit at cornerback, but could play wide receiver. 

With the Trojans boasting one of the stingiest rush defenses in the Pac-12, opponents must test the secondary. That means both Seymour and Shaw will get quite a workout throughout the 2014 campaign. 

 

DT Delvon Simmons

Stopping the run is critical to USC containing the conference's uptempo offenses, and the Trojans need Texas Tech transfer Delvon Simmons to emerge up front. 

New defensive coordinator Justin Wilcox told Caroline Deisley for USCTrojans.com that Simmons made considerable strides during spring workouts:

Delvon has improved daily, and he's played obviously in college football before, but I think he's a guy who will continue to develop and get better and better. He just needs to continue to develop fundamentally, but I think he's a guy that can definitely help us.

Simmons is a big body capable of plugging gaps. Last season against uptempo teams, the Trojans were at their best when meeting ball-carriers at the line, thus forcing opponents to abandon the run early. Simmons could play an integral part in that process now that he's eligible after a mandatory redshirt season.  

 

LB Scott Starr 

The injury bug plagued Scott Starr for much of his USC career, but a clean bill of health in 2014 could make him a key for the Trojans pass rush.

Starr explained the benefit of a healthy offseason to Keely Eure of Annenberg TV News:   

To have a full offseason [for the first time] since I've been at SC, it's proven to be very helpful. I can have a full offseason [strength] coach Ivan [Lewis] to get stronger in the weight room and be out here [on the practice field to practice my technique. 

Starr shined in the Trojans' spring game. He has positive momentum on which to build in preseason camp and could challenge J.R. Tavai for a starting job. But no matter his place on the depth chart, Starr's ability to pressure opposing quarterbacks is crucial with Wilcox implementing a new, 3-4 base scheme. 

Starr must also be able to drop back into pass coverage, a key trait Devon Kennard brought to the position a year ago. 

 

Statistics compiled via CFBStats.com

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USC Football: Which Trojans Must Step Up on Defense to Stop Uptempo Offenses

A point of pride for USC in 2013 was overcoming its limited numbers. The toll of NCAA-mandated scholarship reductions, combined with the typical build-up of injuries during a season, left the Trojans' roster thin...

Read the full article on Bleacher Report...

Arkansas Coach Bret Bielema Appears to Be a Fan of Bijhon Jackson's Body

Arkansas coach Bret Bielema may have given us the best sports quote of the year during a media session Wednesday. 

When talking about freshman defensive tackle Bijhon Jackson, Bielema had nothing but good things to say about the player—or at least his body. The Razorbacks coach's quote definitely makes for an awesome Vine.

Arkansas players should be able to have some fun with both Bielema and Jackson about that fantastic quote.

Warning: Vine contains NSFW language.

[Vine]

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Ohio State Football: Urban Meyer's 5 Breakout Players to Watch in 2014

The notion that Urban Meyer is obsessed with speed is more of a fact than it is an opinion. A year ago, I was watching high school prospects run 40-yard dashes at Ohio State's summer camp when a recruiting reporter turned to me following a particularly impressive showing.

"Urban's not going to be able to help himself," the reporter said with a smile.

No more than 10 minutes later, wide receiver Terry McLaurin had a scholarship offer from the Buckeyes.

But while Meyer's need for speed may be the worst-kept secret in Columbus, circumstances have diverted the attention of the third-year Ohio State head coach elsewhere for the foreseeable future. Because after the Buckeyes' disastrous defensive showing in 2013, it's clear that it's been "D" and not speed that's been on Meyer's mind lately.

So much so that when Meyer was asked to name a few breakout players for the upcoming season two weeks ago, the first three that came to mind were from the defensive side of the ball. Sure, some offensive options followed, but when it comes to what Meyer has had his eyes on this offseason, the message was clear: Beware of the Buckeyes defensive backfield.

What follows are the five (really, six) players Meyer mentioned when asked which Buckeyes will have breakthrough seasons in 2014.

 

Vonn Bell

A former 5-star prospect, as per 247 sports, Vonn Bell served as one of the headliners of Ohio State's highly touted 2013 class. A rangy safety with a knack for making the big play, Bell chose to play for the Buckeyes over the likes of Alabama and Tennessee.

But when the Rossville, Georgia native showed up in Columbus, his immediate impact was minimal. As Ohio State struggled to the nation's 76th-ranked pass defense, Bell predominately watched from the sideline, with the majority of his presence being made on special teams.

That all changed in the Orange Bowl, however, when Meyer decided that he had seen enough from the old guard and inserted the true freshman into the Buckeyes' starting lineup. Facing Clemson's pass-happy offensive attack, Bell responded admirably, recording seven tackles and an interception in his starting lineup debut.

Bell appeared to have the Buckeyes starting free safety spot locked up heading into the offseason before an MCL injury kept him out of the majority of OSU's spring football session. He'll battle with classmate Cameron Burrows come training camp, but all indications are that Bell will be given every chance to realize his seemingly limitless potential on the Buckeyes defense this fall.

 

Doran Grant

While Bell will attempt to bring something new to his unit, Doran Grant will try to bring something better. The cornerback from St. Vincent-St. Mary endured an up-and-down junior season in 2013, but Meyer has been given reason to believe that Grant's senior season could be something special.

"Doran Grant has been the most impressive guy in spring and summer workouts from what I'm hearing," Meyer said at his annual youth football camp in July.

A big senior season from Grant would provide an obvious boost to the Buckeyes, which are now without first-round pick Bradley Roby at the cornerback position. That means that the ultra-athletic Grant will have plenty of chances to show the strides he's made, as he'll often match up with opposing teams' top receivers.

 

Tyvis Powell

Regardless of whether it's Bell or Burrows starting at free safety for the Buckeyes, they'll have an experienced running mate in strong safety Tyvis Powell. Ohio State's nickelback a season ago, Powell recorded 48 tackles, one interception and defended three passes in his redshirt freshman campaign.

But the Bedford, Ohio native provided Ohio State with perhaps its most important moment of the 2013 season. With 32 seconds left on the clock in Ann Arbor, it was Powell who intercepted what would have been a go-ahead two-point conversion in the annual Michigan game, preserving the Buckeyes' undefeated season in the process.

The big play clearly instilled a newfound confidence in Powell, as evidenced by his impressive sophomore spring. Meyer said that you can go ahead and etch his name in the starting lineup with ink for the fall and expects big plays to be the norm from the big 6'3", 205-pound Buckeyes safety.

 

Jeff Heuerman/Nick Vannett

It's an annual tradition in Columbus: hyping up Ohio State's tight end position in the preseason and receiving minimal returns from it in the fall. But both Jeff Heuerman and Nick Vannett showed enough last season to prove that this year will be different as Meyer aims to add flexibility to his spread attack.

"We have two really good tight ends," Meyer said. "We're not a big (two-tight end team), but we will be."

Last season, Heuerman was the Buckeyes' third-leading receiver with 26 catches for 466 yards and four touchdowns. Playing more sparingly, Vannett added eight catches for 80 yards and a score in 2013.

Both big bodied and capable blockers, Heuerman and Vannett will only see their respective roles increase with the departure of leading receiver Corey "Philly" Brown from last year's squad. Heuerman has already proven to be one of Braxton Miller's favorite targets but should be featured more prominently as a senior, while Vannett could slide into Heuerman's old role as the Buckeyes' de facto safety valve.

 

Ezekiel Elliott

Ezekiel Elliott, the sophomore running back from St. Louis, Missouri, has been chosen by many as a breakout player for the Buckeyes, and Meyer apparently agrees. He only saw limited playing time as a freshman behind Big Ten Running Back of the Year Carlos Hyde, but when he was on the field, he showed both the size and the speed that made him one of Ohio State's top recruiting targets in 2013.

Appearing in seven games as a running back a season ago, the true freshman rushed for 262 yards and two touchdowns on just 30 attempts. That may not be enough of a sample size to truly judge how effective Elliott can be at the college level, but the fact that he has already managed to jump elders Rod Smith, Bri'onte Dunn and Warren Ball on the Buckeyes depth chart is telling.

He may not have a stranglehold on Ohio State's starting running back spot just yet, but that shouldn't be the case for long. Having added 15 pounds of muscle since the end of his freshman season (now up to 225 pounds), look for Elliott to provide the dynamic of speed and power in the Buckeyes backfield that Meyer so desperately covets.

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4 Issues We Would Love Oregon's Mark Helfrich to Address at Pac-12 Media Days

For Oregon head coach Mark Helfrich, the 2013 season was about settling in and getting a feel for his new role. His second year is more about putting his own signature on the Ducks after following the tough act of predecessor Chip Kelly.

"When you go through something more than once, you better be more efficient and better," Helfrich said on the coaches teleconference call in May, via Pac-12.com

Helfrich is through his second spring practice season, and next week in Hollywood is another major milestone: Helfrich's second Pac-12 media days.

The coming campaign is one of high potential and high expectations for Helfrich's Ducks. Oregon is a popular pick for the new College Football Playoff, but qualifying likely means Helfrich winning his first Pac-12 championship. 

Media days should offer insight into the Ducks' preparation for the season and continued acclimation to their no-longer-so-new leader.

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4 Issues We Would Love Oregon's Mark Helfrich to Address at Pac-12 Media Days

For Oregon head coach Mark Helfrich, the 2013 season was about settling in and getting a feel for his new role. His second year is more about putting his own signature on the Ducks after following the tough act of predecessor Chip Kelly...

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Alabama Football: Best Quotes and Key Takeaways from SEC Media Days

Alabama's turn finally came on Day 4 of 2014 SEC media days, and with only Kentucky—a team that hasn't won a league game since 2011—in the room during their session, the Tide had the lion's share of the spotlight to themselves.

Nick Saban and his three carefully selected players held court in their home state after what has been an interesting offseason. Most of the players on this team are used to ending the season with a national championship trophy—not a humbling loss in the Sugar Bowl.

With another No. 1 recruiting class and a controversial new offensive coordinator (to put it lightly) joining the program in 2014, there was no shortage of things to talk about in Hoover Thursday afternoon.

Here are some highlights from the session.

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Brandon Kennedy Commits to Alabama: What 4-Star OG Brings to Tide

Alabama beefed up its offensive line again Friday morning, adding a fourth 4-star commitment to its ranks. Brandon Kennedy, an in-state 2015 standout, chose the Crimson Tide over Auburn during an announcement ceremony at Wetumpka High School:

The 6'2.5", 295-pound prospect provides Nick Saban with yet another option in his expansive arsenal of elite blockers. Kennedy, rated 16th nationally among offensive guards in 247Sports' composite rankings, pledged to the program one month after receiving an offer while attending a camp in Tuscaloosa.

He landed an Auburn offer the same day, setting the stage for the latest skirmish in a series of recruiting showdowns between the bitter SEC rivals. The teams routinely go toe-to-toe for Alabama's top talent.

Alabama gained an edge in this battle thanks in large part to offensive line coach Mario Cristobal, who continues to emerge as a highly effective recruiter.

"It was good to talk to (Cristobal)," Kennedy told Charles Power of 247Sports (subscription required). "He's always fired up and intense. Great guy."

Cristobal is in an enviable position when it comes to depth along the offensive line.

Kennedy joins fellow 4-star Crimson Tide commits Richie Petitbon, Dallas Warmack and Lester Cotton in a class listed No. 1 overall in 247Sports' composite team rankings.

Alabama welcomed five freshman offensive linemen to campus this summer, including four 4-stars and top-ranked 2014 tackle Cameron Robinson. Dating back to 2013, Saban has secured commitments from 10 4-star offensive linemen and two 5-stars.

Clearly, Kennedy isn't afraid to compete for playing time.

He projects as a stout interior lineman who is already a polished run-blocker. His hand placement is consistent and he's quick to get his paws on an opponent, gaining immediate leverage.

Kennedy doesn't rely on his size to do the work for him, persistently pushing defenders downfield with a strong base. It's also important to note his aggressiveness, which shines on game film and provides an indication that he's intent on finishing off plays through the whistle.

He displays enough short-area quickness to disengage from his initial assignment in time to take out a linebacker or safety at the second level. Kennedy's biggest improvement must come as a pass-blocker, but he'll have the benefit of spending at least a few seasons polishing his overall technique as a reserve.

Alabama could implement Kennedy as a center or guard at the next level, depending on roster needs.

Wetumpka head coach Tim Perry praised his diligence.

"He works hard and is very coachable," Perry told John Talty of AL.com. "He's a very conscientious athlete. He wants to improve, pushes himself and does everything that you ask him to do."

That effort earned Kennedy a vast collection of offers that includes Clemson, Louisville, Tennessee and Ole Miss.

The Tide have now landed four pledges this week. Kennedy joins 4-star 2016 prospects Shyheim Carter (cornerback), Demetris Robertson (athlete) and Benito Jones (defensive tackle) as new additions.

 

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

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Best Value Bets for Every Power 5 College Football Conference

It would be easy to circle the conference favorites, light up premature victory cigars and call it a day. But where on earth is the fun in that?

Let us dig deeper—much deeper—and search for the longshots with the kind of value that could lead to the backyard swimming pool Clark Griswold committed kidnap over.

As the college football world braces for actual football, the sportsbooks—in Las Vegas and online—are prepping for games by offering up point spreads and betting options on players, teams and conferences.

The latest odds posted by Bovada.lv (h/t Kegs ‘n Eggs) center on the power-five conferences, and more specifically, the chances each team has of coming away conference champion. From Florida State at a value-drained 4/11 in the ACC to Purdue at a robust 250/1 to win the Big Ten, the brands that will soon consume your Saturdays are all included.

And while it’s difficult to bet against a handful of these favorites—they are the chalk for good reason—the search for value is far more entertaining and rewarding. In an effort to find a big score (and hopefully a pool with a diving board that won’t break after a few faulty cannonballs), here are a handful of teams down the oddsboard that could make noise if things go their way.

 

Big Ten

The Value Pick: Iowa (14/1)

At first glance, it's almost as if a portion of the schedule was somehow cut off. Maybe the Internet stole it; maybe your dog ate it, or maybe the Scheduling Gods decided it was time to throw Kirk Ferentz a bone.

The Hawkeyes won’t play Ohio State or Michigan State. They will play Wisconsin and Nebraska, although both games will come at home to close out the year. This, more than some intriguing pieces in place, is why Iowa makes some sense. Well, that and the division.

Remember: Legends and Leaders is no more. The Big Ten is now geographically set with East and West, which means the Hawkeyes need to beat out Illinois, Indiana, Minnesota, Nebraska, Northwestern, Purdue and Wisconsin. That’s not a given, but it certainly helps to be across from Ohio State and Michigan State in a year such as this.

In the end, winning the West won’t cash in 14/1. But all you want is a shot and a trip to the championship game.

Led by Brandon Scherff at left tackle—arguably the best offensive lineman in the country—and a backfield that is talented, versatile and (for now) healthy, the offense has a chance to be one of the best Iowa City has seen in years. Jake Rudock, who was quietly efficient at quarterback a season ago, should be much better than he was a season ago.

Defensively, Carl Davis will anchor a line that could be one of the better units in the conference. It’s not on Ohio State’s level in terms of talent and depth, but almost everyone from last year’s more-than-stellar group is back.

Overall, it remains unlikely that Iowa will conquer the more talented teams if it comes to that. At 14/1, however, this is an off-the-pack team that figures.

 

SEC

The Value Pick: Missouri (30/1)

Ole Miss at 12/1 and Florida at 15/1 are appealing, although let’s dig a little deeper. Down the oddsboard we go, and we stop at the Missouri Tigers.

It’s easy to forget that Missouri represented the SEC East in the SEC Championship. It’s also easy to lose sight of the fact that the Tigers were a blown field goal away from an undefeated regular season. Of course, it would be an unfair not to highlight that this season occurred with the likes of Kony Ealy, Michael Sam, Dorial Green-Beckham, L'Damian Washington and Henry Josey, none of which will be back for 2014.

You cannot replace talent like this with a snap of the finger, and I will by no means paint a picture that says otherwise. Missouri, however, does have some things working in its favor.

For starters, this is the side of the SEC you want to be on. While South Carolina, Georgia, Florida and others present a challenge, the SEC East is still ripe for the taking. It may not open up as it did last year for Mizzou, but nothing is decided. It remains wide open.

Helping the Tigers is a schedule that isn’t horrible by SEC standards. Games at South Carolina and Florida are no fun—neither is a home game against Georgia and a tricky late visit to Texas A&M—but there are much worse SEC slates.

And then there is Maty Mauk, the nation’s ultimate wild card. In limited time at quarterback last season, Mauk looked the part of a future star. How he performs over the course of an entire season will dictate how far Missouri can take yet another underdog role.

 

ACC

The Value Pick: Louisville (15/1)

Here’s the reality of the ACC: Each team not named Florida State—including North Carolina, Clemson, Virginia Tech and Miami—should be considered enormous underdogs. The only difference between these teams and everyone else is that they’re not getting true underdog odds.

That’s where Louisville comes in at 15/1; the great unknown in a conference that many have already decided on.

It’s hard to argue with. The talent gap between Florida State and every other ACC team—maybe even nationally—is significant. But because betting the chalk is incredibly boring and not all that lucrative, let’s bet on Bobby Petrino instead.

The truth is we don’t know much about Petrino’s second stop in the City of Bourbon, especially as he inherits a roster he is still learning. We do know that few coaches can teach offense like he can, however, which is a great place to start.

Gone are Teddy Bridgewater, Calvin Pryor, Marcus Smith and Preston Brown—four players that were integral to the Cardinals’ success over the past two seasons. The cupboard has been cleaned out, but it is nowhere close to empty.

Even without Bridgewater, the offense is in wonderful shape. DeVante Parker is one of the nation’s premier pass-catchers, while Dominique Brown and Michael Dyer should be one of the better duos in the conference. There are weapons everywhere—particularly at wideout and tight end—which is a great way to set the table.

The real question, of course, comes at quarterback, where Will Gardner is expected to take over. His 32-of-37 spring game was certainly an encouraging start, although take from that what you will.

The defense has enormous holes to fill, but there is talent on this roster. More importantly, there is value in a team that doesn’t have a tough road slate and will at least get Florida State at home on an unassuming Thursday. Look out for that one.

 

Big 12

The Value Pick: Kansas State (10/1)

This is, without question, the least value-packed selection of all five picks. While Oklahoma and Baylor are considered the chalks of the Big 12—and rightfully so—plenty of prognosticators will tab the Wildcats as their preseason pick. No one will laugh at them for doing so.

When you can get 10/1 on a team ripe with offensive promise and a coach who has achieved wizard status, you take it. And that’s exactly what we’ll do here.

Unlike every other conference, the Big 12 comes with a caveat: There is no championship game, which means the work will have to be done in the regular season. Because of this, scheduling is critically important.

Now, Kansas State is not perfect. The offensive line is under construction while running back doesn’t have a convincing fix yet. But even with these holes, there should be a flood of optimism.

Tyler Lockett is the nation’s most productive wide receiver, and Jake Waters is poised to star at quarterback now that the job is all his. He flashed glimpses last year, finding the end zone 18 times in his final seven games.

The schedule, which includes an early out-of-conference game against Auburn, is not easy. K-State will travel to Oklahoma and Baylor, and the Wildcats also draw Texas and Oklahoma State at home in back-to-back weeks.

As tough as it may seem, Oklahoma and Baylor—while loaded—are beatable. Kansas State should at least be mentioned with these two when talking about the cream of the conference, and that’s exactly why we're happy with 10/1.

 

Pac-12

The Value Pick: Arizona State 12/1

Does it feel good to bet against Oregon, UCLA and Stanford? Not particularly, but we're going to do it anyway today.

The chalk in the Pac-12 is pretty defined. Oregon is just about even money—meaning 1/1—while UCLA, Stanford and even USC are all 6/1 or less. For our Pac-12 pick, however, we're doubling those odds and tabbing Arizona State at 12/1 as a team that fits what we're looking for.

Let us not forget that this team represented the Pac-12 South in the Pac-12 Championship last year. Many of the offensive players that made this possible will be back in 2014.

Quarterback Taylor Kelly will have DJ Foster and Jaelen Strong—two of the conference’s premier playmakers—at his disposal yet again. If Kelly can improve on his play just a little bit (and he has already been quite proficient), this offense could be one of the nation’s best. That’s the good news.

The bad news is the defense, and this is why Arizona State checks in at 12/1 and not 6/1. The Sun Devils have to replace just about everyone, including defensive tackles Will Sutton and Davon Coleman along with linebacker Carl Bradford. Todd Graham has a handful of intriguing JUCO players he hopes to lean on, although these won’t be easy voids to fill.

On the schedule front, Arizona State also has work in front of it. The month-long stretch between September 25 and October 25 includes a home game against UCLA, a trip to USC, a home game against Stanford and a road trip to Washington. We’ll learn a lot about Todd Graham’s team in that point, and the Pac-12 South will take shape sooner than later.

It’s by no means impossible—especially with this offense—but that 12/1 will have been earned. 

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Breaking Down New No. 1-Ranked HS Recruit in Country, Freak Athlete Josh Sweat

Defensive end Josh Sweat is now the No. 1 overall recruit in the 2015 class, according to 247Sports' composite rankings. The 6'5", 240-pound athlete is an absolute monster.

He ran a 4.46 40-yard dash in the SPARQ event at The Opening in Beaverton, Oregon, and obviously has the potential to immediately impact whichever college program lands his talents in 2015.

What makes him so special? What is the best part of his game?

Watch as CFB analyst Michael Felder breaks down Sweat and explains why he is such a special prospect.

 

Highlights courtesy of recruit757.com.

Watch Sweat's full highlights.

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Michigan Football: What Devin Gardner Can Learn from Brian Griese

A quarterback with mixed success enters his senior season to questions of whether or not he should make way for his successor.

A statement about Devin Gardner? Try Brian Griese entering the 1997 season.

Griese entered his senior season with a 5-5 record as a starter, and had ridden the bench for most of the 1996 season. His competition for the starting position in 1997 included Scott Dreisbach, who had started most of the previous season, and some guy named Tom Brady.

His prospects for playing time were so dim that he considered giving up football altogether.

Griese decided to return for his senior campaign and guided Michigan to an improbable undefeated season.

He evolved into the ultimate game manager, leading the offense to consistent drives, building leads and relying on his defense to smother opponents.

Griese benefited from a stingy Michigan defense that would produce 10 NFL players, including Heisman Trophy winner Charles Woodson. But, he also upped his game and raised his NFL stock, becoming a third-round pick with Denver and playing in 93 professional games over 10 seasons with four teams.

Griese matured as a player and made better decisions, completing a higher percentage of passes and throwing fewer interceptions during his final season at Michigan. 

His yards per completion also went down, as he opted for safer passes to move the chains rather than forcing the ball downfield for big plays.

Griese also showed his mettle, rallying his team back from a 14-7 second-half deficit against Notre Dame and a 21-7 second-half deficit against Iowa to preserve Michigan's undefeated record.

Griese's pass-completion percentage rose to 62.9 percent during his final year after entering the season with a career 54 percentage completion rate. This improvement combined with only six interceptions increased the efficiency of the Michigan offense enough for the team to go undefeated and win a share of the national championship.

Gardner will need to make a similar transformation for Michigan to bounce back from last year’s 7-6 finish.

He has a career 59.7 pass-completion percentage, which is better than Griese’s career numbers entering his senior season, but he’ll need to do better to erase doubt over whether or not he’s the best choice to run Michigan’s new offense.

He also needs to cut down on interceptions after throwing 11 last season.

Offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier’s new scheme will emphasize the running game—which means that Gardner will be throwing less, putting a premium on accuracy. A successful running attack should also open up creases for receivers, but Gardner will have to find them.

Nussmeier has sterling credentials as a quarterback coach. He set records as a collegiate player, played professionally and helped A.J. McCarron win a national championship at Alabama. If he can help Gardner improve his decision-making, Michigan could be a very dangerous team.

Nobody is expecting Gardner to lead his team to the national championship, but with his team facing all three of its main rivals on the road, he faces a stiff challenge to burnish his legacy.

If Gardner can draw inspiration from the past and absorb Nussmeier's instruction, he could lead Michigan to its first Big Ten title since 2004.

 


All season statistics from MGOBLUE.com

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

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Auburn Football: Best Quotes and Key Takeaways from SEC Media Days

The annual preseason football friendly known as SEC media days descended on Hoover, Alabama, earlier this week, and the Auburn Tigers were front and center from the beginning.

The defending SEC champions were the first in the spotlight—after SEC commissioner Mike Slive's annual address, of course—and media members from all over the country wanted to hear head coach Gus Malzahn and his team's take on their remarkable turnaround 2013 season and what lies ahead for them.

Malzahn wasted no time in addressing an off-field incident for one of the team's leaders, updating the injury status of a star defensive player and breaking down his goals for 2014.

The Tigers brought a trio of seniors to media days: defensive tackle Gabe Wright, center Reese Dismukes and tight end C.J. Uzomah, who gave their insight on the past, present and future of Auburn football.

With the entire event now in the rearview mirror for the SEC, let's take a look at the main takeaways and a few of the best quotes from the Tigers' time in Hoover Monday.

Begin Slideshow

Notre Dame Football: NBA Legend David Robinson's Son to Have Monster 2014 Season

The college football season is right around the corner, and Notre Dame is looking to improve on its 9-4 record from last year.

The Irish need multiple players to step up in 2014, but two players especially should be on everyone's radar to blow up this fall.

Why will wide receiver Corey Robinson, son of NBA legend David Robinson, break out this season? Who else will be huge for the Irish this season?

Watch CFB analysts Michael Felder and Adam Kramer break down who to watch for in 2014.

 

Highlights courtesy of XOS Digital.

Rankings courtesy of 247Sports.com

Stats courtesy of CFBStats.com

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SEC Extra Points with Barrett Sallee: SEC Network, Jarran Reed, the Bachelorette

Slow Drip

If you're disappointed that Media Days came and went with no announcement of a carriage agreement between the SEC Network and one of the remaining cable and satellite providers who haven't signed on, don't worry. It will be fine.

Awful Announcing got its hands on an internal flier from Comcast, which suggested that the national cable provider will be carrying the network on its scheduled launch date of Aug. 14.

What do you know? Just a few hours later, SEC Network announced it has agreed to a deal with Comcast Xfinity to carry the 24-hour network upon its launch.

Commissioner Mike Slive laid down the gauntlet at SEC Media Days in the calm way that only he can. With AT&T U-Verse, DISH Network, Cox and Google Fiber already on board, Slive made it clear that if you want the network, it's already available to you. You just might have to switch carriers.

"The SEC Network right now is available to everyone," Slive said. "That would mean for some who don't have AT&T U-Verse or DISH, that you may have to change providers. There are those of you who prefer not to change providers, but of course you will if you have to."

Now a switch is far less likely. With Comcast, the SEC Network is now available to around 46 million homes with just under a month to go before it hits the air. For reference, Big Ten Network launched with 16 million

All of these negotiations are started at strategic times with the goal of putting pressure on carriers who typically play hardball. In the end, the pressure created by existing carriers coupled with the power of ESPN and Disney behind the network will get it on every major carrier in the country before launch.

I have DirecTV. I need SEC Network to do my job. I'm not worried and never have been.

 

Big Loss For Alabama?

Alabama defensive end Jarran Reed is expected to be a key contributor along the Crimson Tide defensive line, but now his future is just a bit murkier.

The 6'4", 310-pounder was arrested for DUI earlier this week, and head coach Nick Saban addressed the status of the junior college transfer (and running back Kenyan Drake) in the main ballroom at SEC Media Days this week in Hoover, Alabama.

"Those players are suspended but they're not kicked off the team," Saban said. "They're suspended from activity. When they prove that I think or we think that they're ready to come back and show a little bit more responsibility and discipline for how they handle themselves, their decision-making, how they represent the university, their family and themselves, then we'll allow them to come back on the team."

Alabama has depth on defense, but if Reed is out for a significant period of time, it'd be a big loss for Alabama. He is a big guy who is light on his feet and more than just a "space-eater." He's one of several bigger, athletic defensive ends on the Crimson Tide roster who can be a force against the exotic offenses of the SEC West.

There are options for Saban.

Jonathan Allen, D.J. Pettway and true freshman Da'Shawn Hand all can step up at defensive end opposite A'Shawn Robinson, but it chips away at the depth up front for the Tide. The most important aspect of defenses facing hurry-up offenses is depth up front, and if Reed is out for a significant period of time or remains in Saban's doghouse, it could hurt.

 

Will The Next Pass-Rusher Please Stand Up?

What was rumored for a while was finally confirmed when Auburn head coach Gus Malzahn took the stage at the main ballroom in Hoover.

Sophomore defensive end Carl Lawson, one of the top recruits in the class of 2013, will miss the season after undergoing surgery to repair a torn ACL earlier this summer.

"Carl had successful ACL surgery the first part of May," Malzahn said. "He injured his knee the last week of spring practice. Dr. (James) Andrews looked at it, wanted to wait a couple weeks till the swelling went down to be sure. He confirmed he needed surgery. It was successful. Carl is working extremely hard and he's determined to come back towards the end of this year."

Let's be real. Lawson likely won't play in 2014 unless he really needs to, and it's a stretch to expect him at 100 percent.

The silver lining for Auburn is that it prepared for this while Lawson was out this spring. That preparation included the shift of senior defensive tackle Gabe Wright out to defensive end in the special Rhino package.

Auburn has the bodies and depth to play situational football in Lawson's absence, but really needs to find a pass-rush specialist. That specialist could come from the recent recruiting class, which included signees Justin Thornton, Andrew Williams and DaVonte Lambert.

 

Youth Movement

LSU's offense will have a new look in 2014, and many of those key contributors will be true freshmen.

"We're a team that will expect some of these freshmen to come in and play," head coach Les Miles said. "(RB) Leonard Fournette, (WR) Malachi Dupre, (LB) C.J. Garrett and (QB) Brandon Harris, to name four freshmen that we would expect to have great impact on our season."

Revealing? Absolutely.

Running back Terrence Magee said that Fournette could go on to be one of the one of the best ever.

"To be honest, I think he (Adrian Peterson) is the only guy that's playing running back right now that you can compare him to," said Magee, via B/R's Carter Bryant. "He is fun to watch and mentor. And his work ethic is off the charts." 

Harris is in a battle with sophomore Anthony Jennings for the starting spot at quarterback, but Dupre is the guy to keep an eye on. LSU's leading returning receiver is Travin Dural, who only had seven catches last season. If Dupre can step in and be a star right away, it will keep opposing defenses honest for whoever wins the quarterback job and go a long way toward stabilizing the Tiger offense.

 

Representing the G

Yes, I asked about The Bachelorette at SEC Media Days. With former Georgia Bulldog Josh Murray (spoiler alert) down to the final two, it's important information that needs to be addressed—especially when there aren't any other questions and there's still time allotted for the Bulldogs' contingent.

Wide receiver Chris Conley is impressed with what his former teammate is doing on television, even though "he doesn't watch" the program.

"Josh is killing it," Conley said. "He's doing a great job. I haven't talked to him since filming the show, but he seems to be doing great. I'm not someone who watches the show. My girlfriend watches it (with a wry smile), so when she's watching it I take a look. I think (with intentional emphasis) he's doing well. He's representing the G very well."

No word if Georgia or other SEC schools will claim it as a national title if Murray wins the finale.

 

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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