NCAA Football

Michigan State Football 2014: Complete Preview and Predictions

Expectations are high once again for Mark Dantonio's Michigan State Spartans as he enters his eighth year as head coach of the program. Last season, the Spartans were nearly flawless, as they lost just one game. They overcame Ohio State to secure the Big Ten Championship and defeated Stanford in the Rose Bowl to finish the campaign.

Will Dantonio's Spartans continue their success? Watch as B/R's experts preview Michigan State ahead of the 2014 season. 

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Trent Thompson Sets Decision Date: Which Program Is Best Fit for 5-Star?

Trent Thompson, one of the nation’s top defensive tackles in the 2015 class, announced his plans to make his commitment on August 12, according to Kipp Adams of 247Sports.

Alabama, Auburn, Clemson, Georgia and USC are the schools in contention for the 6’4”, 292-pounder’s services. The home-state Bulldogs are the unquestioned favorite, according to Thompson’s crystal ball page

However, what makes Mark Richt’s club the best fit for Thompson are the recent additions of defensive line coach Tracy Rocker and defensive coordinator Jeremy Pruitt.

As Bleacher Report's Barrett Sallee detailed, Richt’s hire of Rocker was a "home run" for the Bulldogs.

Rocker, who starred as a defensive lineman at Auburn in the late 1980s, brings years of experience as a coach in the SEC and in the NFL. 

According to Sallee, in three of his last five years coaching in the SEC, his defenses have finished in the top five in the conference in tackles for loss.

Thompson—who has recorded 148 tackles and 17 sacks over his last two seasons at Albany’s Westover High School—is a perfect fit for Rocker to plug into the middle of the Bulldogs' 3-4 scheme.

During Thompson’s visit to Athens last month, he spoke on the attraction of potentially playing for a coach with Rocker’s decorated resume on the field and as a coach.

"Tracy Rocker, he won the Outland Trophy and Lombardi Trophy in the same year," Thompson told Adams (subscription required). "He's a beast."

Additionally, the Bulldogs’ top two players at nose guard—Chris Mayes and Mike Thornton—are upperclassmen. Assuming Thompson can make a smooth transition to the college level, there should be ample playing time available if he heads to Athens.

Meanwhile, Pruitt’s one-year stint as Florida State’s defensive coordinator was built around the talents of star nose guard Timmy Jernigan—which could be the role Thompson is asked to play for the ‘Dawgs.

Among the schools fighting to pry Thompson away from his home state, Auburn appears to pose the biggest threat to Georgia. According to Adams (subscription required), Thompson made five visits to Auburn’s campus this year.

Similar to Rocker, Tigers defensive line coach Rodney Garner—who served in the same capacity at Georgia from 1998-2012—has a strong track record of producing elite defensive linemen.

The Tigers also have a wealth of upperclassmen at defensive tackle, and as Adams noted, that’s a big part of their pitch to Thompson.

"Auburn is telling me about how many defensive lineman they are losing and how I can make a big impact early if I go here," Thompson said.

While both SEC powers and bitter rivals offer Thompson great opportunities, in the end, the chance to star for the home-standing Bulldogs may be too tough to pass on.

 

Sanjay Kirpalani is a National Recruiting Analyst for Bleacher Report. Unless otherwise noted, all recruiting information courtesy of 247Sports.

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Notre Dame Football: Development Needs to Come Quickly on Defense

NCAA rules limit the amount of time teams can spend on the field during their first week. So while two hours feels gone in an instant, a football coach would point out there are 22 hours left to get more work accomplished. 

That's certainly the case for Notre Dame's new defensive coordinator Brian VanGorder. The veteran assistant has spent most of the past decade working in the NFL, where 20-hour rules and other time constraints vanish once a team hits training camp. 

But VanGorder's been tasked with getting a young and inexperienced defense up to speed, with the clock ticking closer and closer to August 30. And after two days of practice, VanGorder caught up with UND.com's Jack Nolan and gave an appraisal of where his unit stands learning the decidedly different scheme he's installed.

"I think the guys, the veterans have moved along, and schematically are more responsible and familiar with it," VanGorder told Nolan. "But the idea of consistency right now, which you expect in a day or two, is something of concern. So that's what we've got to continue to preach. We've got to get consistent good play, we've got to get more productive plays, and that will all come."

VanGorder specifically citing productivity is interesting, only because last season's defense struggled to make the productive plays that catapulted Notre Dame into the BCS title game in 2012.

While Bob Diaco built a system that held strong to basic principles, it thrived by making game-changing plays, with Manti Te'o taking the football away at a ridiculous pace for a linebacker, and the Irish defense playing sensational red-zone defense.

Those big plays were few and far between last year. Personnel changes were made to combat the deficiencies that hampered the 2013 defense, a group that was 103rd nationally in turnovers and 83rd in sacks.

Young safety Max Redfield was moved into the starting lineup, pushing Matthias Farley outside to cornerback. Jaylon Smith was pushed inside to the Will linebacker spot, forcing teams to deal with the Irish's best playmaker on every snap.

While Kelly continues to talk about the Irish playing multiple fronts, just about everybody expects the Irish to base their defense out of a 4-3 after four seasons with a 3-4 set. 

Of course, the Irish won't be able to utilize their skill if they're unable to fully grasp what they're doing.

So after 15 spring practices, VanGorder and the defensive staff utilized June to spend time reinstalling their defense, taking a page out of the NFL playbook by holding their own version of OTAs (Organized Team Activities). 

"It was another chance for our guys in our new system, maybe more important to us, because it was a new system that they were learning," VanGorder explained. "I think it worked well for us and was advantageous." 

At every level of the defense, the Irish are counting on new blood to make an impact. With pass rush a need, converted outside linebackers Romeo Okwara and Ishaq Williams will start at defensive end.

Former walk-on Joe Schmidt has proven early in camp that his spring ascent into the starting lineup was far from a fluke. He's the man in the middle, while youngster Nyles Morgan learns the defense and Jarrett Grace continues to heal from a gruesome leg injury. Converted safety John Turner will play outside linebacker, as will former wide receiver James Onwualu, two wild cards who will be counted on to make plays in space and hold up against the run. 

Sophomore Cole Luke holds down the cornerback position across from KeiVarae Russell. Florida transfer Cody Riggs looks like the type of versatile cover man VanGorder and Brian Kelly have coveted, an undersized but physical talent who will bounce into the slot to cover inside receivers in multiple personnel groupings. 

"I think that's the battle you're in," VanGorder said, when asked about the personnel tweaks. "When you have a new system and you have new roles, and you're trying to encourage those particular roles from each player, he's in the battle of learning the system—a new language, new terms—so sometimes, it takes a little bit longer for them to accomplish their particular roles."

Less than a week into things, VanGorder and the Irish defense still have some time. But with an offense primed to score a ton of points, Notre Dame will win football games if the defense can complement Kelly's spread attack. 

So as we hunt for answers at position battles and wonder how VanGorder's attacking scheme will help force turnovers and make plays behind the line of scrimmage, the veteran coach is still preaching patience. 

"They've got to get comfortable," VanGorder said. "They've got to be able to go out and play fast. That's really the goal of all football players... When they get a comfort level with all those things, now you've got a player who is playing fast. That's when I think our scheme will become more effective and exciting for them."

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Auburn Football: Ricardo Louis' Legacy Will Be More Than Miracle Catch

AUBURN, Ala. — Ricardo Louis has seen it too many times.

Nick Marshall throws a last-gasp pass into double coverage against Georgia. The Bulldog secondary can't come down with the interception, and Louis somehow looks ahead just in time to make the season-saving touchdown catch.

Louis became a nationally known name in an instant. His catch was replayed over and over on countless TV stations and websites. "The Miracle at Jordan-Hare" even earned him a spot on the red carpet at the ESPYs last month.

No matter what Louis does in his final two seasons at Auburn, he will go down in history as an Auburn legend.

He knows this, and he doesn't like it.

"I’m trying to move forward," Louis said. "That was a big play and all that, it was legendary, but I’m looking forward to the future. I want my career to be defined by more than just that."

Although he might finish his career as Auburn's most famous receiver for his grab against Georgia, he still has a ton of untapped potential at the position.

Louis was a speedy running back and safety during his high school days in Miami, but he came to Auburn as a 4-star wide receiver.

After recording only three catches in his true freshman season, Louis got into the rotation as slot receiver under Gus Malzahn and offensive coordinator Rhett Lashlee.

However, Louis had a quiet season outside of the 2013 Deep South's Oldest Rivalry. Although he was Auburn's second-leading receiver in catches and yards, his stats were not impressive compared to most wideouts across the country.

Fellow wide receiver Quan Bray said Louis has the drive to become famous for more than just one rivalry game.

"He's going to live on that catch for the rest of his life," Bray said. "But, he's a hard worker, and I'm sure he'll be known for more than just that play at the end of his career."

Now that Malzahn and staff plan to give returning quarterback Nick Marshall and his veteran corps of receivers more passes this season, Louis has a chance to become more than just the player who made the catch that saved Auburn's SEC Championship hopes.

"Ricardo is one of those guys that we really challenge to take that next step," Malzahn said. "Last year was really his first year to really play receiver for an entire year. We really feel like that he has a chance to take that next step so he can understand the offense, and we can move him around."

Louis is expected to fit into Auburn's lineup at slot receiver, where he started six games last season.

However, he has seen reps at wide receiver alongside returning star Sammie Coates and junior college transfer D'haquille Williams during the first few days of fall camp.

He also has lined up at punt returner early in camp with senior running back Corey Grant and a pair of true freshmen, Roc Thomas and Stanton Truitt.

Louis said he is embracing the moves around the depth chart in order to make Auburn's uptempo attack even more versatile in 2014.

As a former running back, Louis brings speed and open-field explosiveness once he gets the ball in his hands as a receiver or as a runner on one of Auburn's speed sweeps.

But one area the wide receiver needs to improve is making sure the ball stays in his hands.

Although his catching ability was Auburn's saving grace against Georgia, it let him down in last season's BCS National Championship Game on what would have been a first-possession score against Florida State.

Unlike his famous catch against Georgia, Louis said he looks back on that infamous drop as motivation in his efforts to become "more than just a good athlete on the field."

"I watch [the drop] over and over," Louis told AL.com's Brandon Marcello this spring. "I should’ve made the play. What would happen if I would have made that play? That’s how I look at it."

Whether he makes his mark as a deep-ball receiver on the outside, a go-to target down the middle of the field or a special teams playmaker, Louis said he is willing to build his budding Auburn legacy at any position.

"We’re going to be moved around a lot," Louis said. "We’re going to have to be more relaxed about it, you know, not too uptight about moving around, not everybody having a specific spot. We’re just going to work together as a team."

And his teammates say they have noticed that different attitude in Louis this offseason.

"I see a different Ricardo this year," senior H-back Brandon Fulse said. "I see him working hard, staying after practice and catching extra balls. Doing all the little stuff right."

 

Justin Ferguson is Bleacher Report's lead Auburn writer. Follow him on Twitter @JFergusonAU. All quotes were obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted. All recruiting rankings and information courtesy of 247Sports. All stats courtesy of CFBStats.com.

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LSU Football 2014: Complete Preview of Tigers Defense

In 2013, the LSU defense ranked 21st in the country in points allowed at 22 per contest.

Watch as B/R's experts weigh in on the Tigers' defensive outlook ahead of the 2014 season. 

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Oregon Football: Blue-Collar Ducks Embracing Attitude Adjustment

Certain qualities come to mind when thinking of Oregon football: High-scoring offense and trend-setting uniforms are likely the first two.

But in head coach Mark Helfrich's second season at the helm, the Ducks are embracing a new trait: that of a workmanlike, blue-collar team.

Per Jason Quick of The Oregonian, Oregon sported practice jerseys with a blue collar Monday, the first day of preseason camp. This latest Ducks fashion trend is one with particular significance for the 2014 season.

"[I]t's self explanatory," running back Byron Marshall told Quick. "[Helfrich] wants that blue-collar worker, a guy who is going to come to practice and work. He told us he wants to be unable to tell if we like games or practices more."

Despite winning at least 10 games every year since 2008—a feat that puts Oregon in exclusive company with Alabama—there's been one consistent rap on the Ducks. They simply can't stand toe-to-toe in a slugfest against power-based teams with beefy lines and old-school sensibilities.    

Their losses since reaching the BCS Championship Game in the 2010 season seemingly confirm the knock. The Ducks dropped a heartbreaker to Auburn in the title game but fell 28 points shy of their season average.

LSU and USC handed Oregon its losses in 2011, and Arizona workhorse running Ka'Deem Carey wore down the Ducks defense a season ago. And, of course, November losses to Stanford each of the last two seasons denied the Ducks two Pac-12 championships.

Rectifying the mistakes that cost the Ducks in those losses is the difference between another great season in 2014, and a possible championship campaign. And adopting the mindset of coming to work every day, as Marshall describes, is the foundation.

The blue-collar mentality is the overall philosophy reflected in more specific areas of emphasis for Oregon heading into 2014.

On offense, quarterback Marcus Mariota cited red-zone efficiency as a primary concern at Pac-12 media days. That begins with the Ducks showing a more smash-mouth brand of football inside the 20-yard line.

Reinforcements arrive in the form of freshman running back Royce Freeman. Listed at 6'0", 229 pounds in his GoDucks.com bio, Freeman is a big-bodied option in those short-yardage situations.

The talented power back certainly brings a hard-hitting style to the Ducks' speed-based offensive attack, and his coaches and teammates are taking notice.

Defensively, Helfrich talked at length about execution during Pac-12 media days.

"In general terms, a lot of missed tackles, a lot of times up front we could have done things differently," he said.

Helfrich added that is "on us as coaches."

"We're not...going to dock our players on execution," he said. "Execution is coached."

Similarly, the blue-collar practice jerseys are the Ducks coaches emphasizing a change in attitude with a tangible gesture. Should it pay off, Oregon can add a new defining trait when the program first comes to mind.

They have already had diamond-plating and feathers incorporated into their uniforms. Perhaps a lunch pail is next for the Ducks.

 

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

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Oregon Football: Blue-Collar Ducks Embracing Attitude Adjustment

Certain qualities come to mind when thinking of Oregon football: High-scoring offense and trend-setting uniforms are likely the first two...

Read the full article on Bleacher Report...

Penn State Football 2014: Complete Preview and Predictions

Last year, head coach Bill O'Brien guided the Penn State Nittany Lions to a 7-5 overall record and a 4-4 record within the Big Ten Conference. However, O'Brien left Penn State for the Houston Texans, and now James Franklin takes over at the helm.

Will Franklin prove to be successful in his first year overseeing the program, or will Penn State struggle? Watch as B/R's experts examine the Nittany Lions ahead of the 2014 campaign. 

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Auburn Football 2014: Complete Preview of Tigers Offense

After falling just short of a national championship, the Auburn Tigers are back in their quest to finish what they started.

Auburn's offense will focus around quarterback Nick Marshall as he looks to take the leap that will keep the Tigers in contention.

Watch as B/R's experts discuss the Tigers offense heading into the 2014 season. 

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USC Football: Practice Philosophy Sets Tone for Sarkisian Era

USC opened its 2014 fall camp Monday with a new take on past Trojans traditions.

"It reminded me of back in the day, coming out here as a kid," linebacker Hayes Pullard told Gary Klein of the Los Angeles Times

No, these are not Lane Kiffin's Trojans. 

The coming days and weeks of practice, before the Steve Sarkisian era officially begins on Aug. 30, set the tone for the new head coach's tenure.

Fans were welcomed to the first camp session of the new season, and music played over the sound system. The players endorse it, if standout sophomore safety Su'a Cravens is any indication.

Cravens gave his seal of approval via Ryan Abraham of USCFootball.com:     

With practices reopened after three-plus years of a closed-door policy, Sarkisian is instilling an atmosphere more reminiscent of the Pete Carroll era.

A looser practice atmosphere certainly didn't seem to hinder the Carroll-era USC teams, of which Sarkisian served as an assistant. Those teams put together a streak of seven consecutive conference championships from 2002 through 2008. 

And in his return as head coach, Sarkisian is guiding players who saw success with a similar practice philosophy just last year.  

In certain ways, the current philosophy is a continuation of the changes interim head coach Ed Orgeron adopted midway through last season. USC rallied from a 3-2 start to reach the 10-win mark after Kiffin's dismissal.

But practice in this new era of USC football isn't merely about allowing in spectators or playing music. At Pac-12 media days last month, Sarkisian promised to test his team's limits despite a thin roster.

"We won't ever change the intensity of practice," he said in reference to the Trojans' limited roster. USC opened camp with fewer than 70 scholarship players due to NCAA sanctions. "It's physical [and] mentally challenging.

"We're going to focus on the exact numbers of reps our starters are getting," Sarkisian added. "If our practices end in an hour and 45 minutes instead of 2 hours and 15 [minutes], so be it."

And therein lies the most significant change Sarkisian and his staff are introducing in 2014. Implementation of an uptempo offense requires a practice with high energy and higher snap counts.

Practice No. 1 worked toward that end, with the Trojans running more than 200 plays, per Fox Sports' Rahshaun Haylock.

The second practice pulled back a bit, per USCFootball.com's Ryan Abraham and Chris Swanson, but remained at a high repetition count.

Such a torrid pace must be standard practice fare for USC throughout the season in order for the Trojans to successfully execute the new staff's vision.

A season ago at Washington, Sarkisian's Huskies ran 1,023 plays—99 more than USC ran despite the Trojans playing one more game.

USC has ground to make up in order to reach Washington's pace, and the repetition of practice is designed to address the physical side of that as well as the mental.

At Pac-12 media days, quarterback Cody Kessler described the outlook the Trojans are cultivating in workouts.

"One of our mottos as a team is 'next play.' Next play mentality," he said. "You can't focus on what happened...because as soon as one play ends, you're looking automatically to the sideline for what formation you're in; what play's next."

Come fall, the Trojans are going to have to enact that mindset before spectators and with background noise.

So, in their own way, even the fans and music at USC practices are playing a role in shaping Sarkisian's first season.

 

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

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USC Football: Practice Philosophy Sets Tone for Sarkisian Era

USC opened its 2014 fall camp Monday with a new take on past Trojans traditions. "It reminded me of back in the day, coming out here as a kid," linebacker Hayes Pullard told Gary Klein of the Los Angeles Times ...

Read the full article on Bleacher Report...

Michigan Football: 5 Best QBs Wolverines Will Face in 2014

Michigan will spend a lot of time devising game plans for its quarterback Devin Gardner. 

Conversely, the Wolverines will also clock several hours developing strategies to combat opposing signal-callers. 

With a schedule that features road tests at Michigan State and Ohio State, Team 135 will not only face two of the Big Ten's best, but they'll square off against two of the country's best: The Buckeyes' Braxton Miller is considered one of the game's most athletic, while Connor Cook, the Spartans' Rose Bowl MVP, has been name-dropped in Heisman chatter (h/t Tom Dienhart of BTN.com). 

Of course, Connor and Miller aren't the only ones that Greg Mattison's defense must defend against. Notre Dame and Penn State also have talented signal-callers who could pose problems come game day. 

This slideshow will highlight, analyze and rank the five best arms that the Wolverines will battle in 2014. 

Begin Slideshow

Michigan Football: Team Hungry to Succeed After Offseason Changes

Michigan flamed out at the end of last season, dropping five out of its last six games to finish a mediocre 7-6. That isn’t what Michigan fans expected from Brady Hoke. The disappointing record drove Hoke to hire a new offensive coordinator and reshuffle his defensive staff.

The changes have transformed a team that was dispirited and broken after last season into a group eager to face a difficult road schedule that sends the Wolverines to play at Notre Dame, Michigan State and Ohio State.

“The temperament of the team is different,” said defensive back Blake Countess. “The team is hungry, this is the hungriest I’ve seen a team since I’ve been here.”

The defensive changes spurred intense competition during spring practice, and even Countess, an All-Big Ten first-team selection last season (six interceptions, 46 tackles, one interception return for a touchdown) felt pressure to earn his position every day in practice.

Countess specifically mentioned both Jourdan Lewis and Channing Stribling as players who’ve made tremendous strides this spring.

“Those guys came in as freshmen last year running around with their heads on fire. Both guys had tremendous talent but didn’t understand what they were being asked to do last season.”

Countess’ work has paid off, earning him the right to wear the No. 2 jersey made famous by Heisman Trophy winner Charles Woodson. The jersey does not currently carry a legends designation but that’s just a formality delayed by Woodson’s NFL career. It’s still an incredible honor for a player lining up in the Michigan defensive backfield.

“It’s been a goal of mine since I committed,” said Countess. “I look up to guys like Charles Woodson and Deion Sanders, and they both wore No. 2 in college.”

Top defensive recruit Jabrill Peppers, who has said he hopes to be better than Woodson, will have to wait for the number—Countess has two seasons of eligibility remaining.

Michigan needs its defense to be stout—especially early in the season while its offense gets on track, adjusting to a new scheme and integrating new players on the offensive line and at wide receiver.

Could Michigan be poised for another surprise run like its 2011 campaign in which it won 11 games?

For that to happen, the team’s newfound hunger needs to translate into a lockdown defense, and Countess will need to earn the No. 2 jersey on every play.


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

All season statistics from mgoblue.com, official University of Michigan athletic department web site.

Follow @PSCallihan

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Georgia Football 2014: Preview and Prediction

The Georgia Bulldogs' 2013 season was derailed by injuries to several critical players. In 2014, Mark Richt's squad hopes to bounce back.

Do the Bulldogs have what it takes to contend in the SEC?

Watch to see what the Bleacher Report experts think about Georgia's team this season.

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10 Most NFL-Ready Players in the ACC

The 2014 college football season hasn't quite started yet, so it's only logical that we take a look at what will be coming at least one season from now.  That's right, the 2015 NFL draft is sooner than you'd think and farther away than you'd like.

The ACC is full of NFL-caliber talent on both sides of the ball as seen by Florida State's run to the national title last year, but there's elite talent outside of Tallahassee as well.  

The players listed here will be eligible for next year's draft and have polished their games enough to make immediate impacts at the next level as well as have the potential to further develop into game changers.  Look for these names to rise on mock draft boards as the season progresses.

From Miami to the Carolinas to newcomer Louisville, here are the 10 most NFL-ready players in the ACC.

 

Begin Slideshow

LSU Football: 5 Best QBs Tigers Will Face in 2014

The SEC in 2013 will be remembered as "The Year of the Quarterback." 

Georgia's Aaron Murray, Alabama's A.J. McCarron, Texas A&M's Johnny Manziel, LSU's Zach Mettenberger and Missouri's James Franklin were all phenomenal last season. All five of those sharp gunslingers have now moved on to the NFL. 

But that does not mean the conference will be weak at the game's most important position in 2014. LSU defensive coordinator John Chavis knows there is talent returning under center and will need to have his defense prepared. 

LSU's pass defense was not as dominant in 2013 as in years past. The Tigers accumulated 18 interceptions in 2011 and 2012, but only had 11 last season. They allowed over 229 yards per game against conference opponents, which is the worst mark in the Chavis era by nearly 10 yards.

The group should be improved as sophomore cornerbacks Tre'Davious White and Rashard Robinson are projected to be stars. If they perform at a high level, expect the secondary to be dominant yet again.

Here are the top five quarterbacks LSU will have to defend next season. 

 

*Rankings and stats provided by cfbstats.com, sports-reference.com and 247Sports.com

  

Begin Slideshow

Ohio State Football: Will Back-to-Back Losses Help or Haunt Buckeyes in 2014?

When the Ohio State football team reported for fall camp on Monday, head coach Urban Meyer gathered his players at midfield and addressed the Buckeyes' disastrous finish to the 2013 season with two simple questions.

"The past?" Meyer asked, according to Bleacher Report's Ben Axelrod. "Who gives a s--t?"

The memories of devastating back-to-back losses should be fresh in the mind of every Buckeyes player. Just nine short months ago, Ohio State was one victory away from punching its ticket to Pasadena, California, for a spot in the national title game. 

Michigan State dashed those hopes with a 34-24 upset win in the Big Ten Championship Game. A month later, the Buckeyes were pushed further down their road of despair with a 40-35 loss to Clemson in the Orange Bowl.

Those losses came on the heels of a historic win streak. With Meyer at the helm, Ohio State had won a school-record 24 consecutive games before running into the Spartans in Indianapolis. 

Will the Buckeyes bounce back this season?

 

Embracing A Fresh Start

Following Ohio State's loss to Clemson, Meyer spoke bluntly about the pain of coming up short.

"It's going to sting for a while, probably a long while because we didn't finish," Meyer said, according to Steven Wine of The New York Times. "It was right there."

Falling short of a national title can create aftershocks that effect the following season. Ohio State experienced that firsthand in 2007 after its devastating 41-14 loss to Florida in the title game.

Searching for ways to get past the crippling defeat and focus his team for the upcoming season, then-head coach Jim Tressel tried to morph disappointment into motivation. He changed the door code to Ohio State's workout facilities to "4114" to serve as a daily reminder for his Buckeyes squad.

That strategy seemed to be working. Despite a November hiccup against Illinois, the Buckeyes worked their way back to the national title game—this time against LSU.

The memories of their implosion against the Gators hadn't faded, though. Instead of fueling the Buckeyes, it rattled them. They fell to the Tigers in convincing fashion.

"We feel like we're a lot better than what we played tonight," safety Anderson Russell said, according to The Associated Press (via CSTV.com). "I'm not really sure what it was, if we were nervous or what."

"We should have learned from our mistakes," defensive end Vernon Gholston added. "Came back here, kind of almost had the same results, so the blame's on us."

Meyer is trying to steer his team away from a similar fate.

 

Finding the Fuel

Meyer's best teams were angry about something.

In January of 2007, it was Meyer coaching the angry Gators that bulldozed Ohio State in the national championship. He came to Columbus with the mission of installing that same attitude, and in year one, it worked.

The Buckeyes were coming off a 6-7 campaign when Meyer took over in 2012. On the first day of fall camp, he laid the ground work.

"You're the Ohio State Buckeyes," Meyer said in a speech to his team, televised by ESPN. "You're an angry football team, and you've got an angry staff. You've got a bunch of guys who are getting ready to start a journey. You're a hungry football team, and I'm proud to be your coach."

That team went on to record just the sixth undefeated season in school history, but because of a bowl ban, the Buckeyes were shut out of postseason play.

The 2013 Ohio State team picked up right where the 2012 squad left off, but it all fell apart once postseason play arrived. Since then, the coaching staff has been trying to find the right way to motivate their team.

According to Doug Lesmerises of The Plain DealerMeyer's last message to his team after the Orange Bowl was short and sweet.  

"Harness this feeling and use it to your advantage.”

At Big Ten media days last week, Meyer's message evolved.

"Every coach's dream is to coach a hungry, angry team," Meyer said, according to Patrick Maks of Eleven Warriors

But how does a team use its past failures as motivation without having a crippling effect?

Meyer and the Buckeyes are searching for that balance now.

 

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

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Alabama Football 2014: Complete Preview of Crimson Tide Offense

The Alabama Crimson Tide offense is in a state of transition after the departure of four-year starting quarterback AJ McCarron.

How will running back T.J. Yeldon and the Tide offense fare with a new signal-caller?

Watch as Bleacher Report's experts break down Alabama's chances this season.

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How Clemson's Dabo Swinney Can Quiet South Carolina's Steve Spurrier

Back and forth. Back and forth. It is seemingly unending, fueled only by ego and the value of a good one-liner.

Over the last five years, Dabo Swinney and Steve Spurrier have developed one of the best rivalries in college football, fueled by constantly wagging tongues on and off the field.

Sometimes Spurrier, South Carolina’s acid-tongued head coach, starts the barb volley.
Sometimes Swinney, Clemson’s confident head coach, just can’t help himself.

Last month, Swinney started the latest round by telling reporters at ACC media days of Spurrier, per USA Today Sports, that “He's from Pluto and I’m from Mars.”

Spurrier countered, per ESPN's Brett McMurphy: “Dabo still thinks there are nine planets out there.”

And so it goes, back and forth. Spurrier always seemingly has the last laugh, which is exactly how the rivalry has unfolded on the field over the last five seasons. After beating South Carolina in what would be his final game as Clemson’s interim head coach in 2008, Swinney has gone 0-5 against the Gamecocks, the longest streak of futility against USC in the teams’ 111-game rivalry.

Until the Tigers break through on the field, Swinney can’t do a thing about Spurrier’s mouth.

So how does Swinney quiet Spurrier? Just win, baby. To do so, the Tigers must improve in a number of areas across the board. Here’s a look at exactly what that entails.

There’s no questioning how important beating South Carolina is to Clemson.

Swinney’s staff has long had a countdown clock in Memorial Stadium’s WestZone that ticks down each week towards that particular week’s opponent—standard college football decor.

This winter, however, Clemson coaches installed a countdown clock that ticks towards the South Carolina game, set for Nov. 29 in Memorial Stadium. Swinney said at ACC media days that the clock was the coaching staff’s idea, per ASAP Sports.

[W]e have a countdown clock for always the next opponent, and the coaches wanted to put one in for that particular game, and it's really just based on the fact that when you walk in our team room every day and you look at our team goals, we've hit every team goal on there in the past five years with the exception of winning our state championship.  So it's obviously something we've got to‑‑ it's a high priority.  We want to get it done.

How does that happen? First thing's first: Control the ball.

Over the last three years, Clemson has scored almost at will against most opponents while employing Chad Morris’ hurry-up, no-huddle offense. In the last two seasons, the Tigers are one of five FBS teams to average over 40 points and 500 yards of total offense per game.

But they haven’t solved South Carolina’s defense. In three meetings, Morris’ Clemson offenses are averaging 15.3 points per game and haven’t held the ball longer than 22 minutes and 43 seconds in any of the three games.

There’s hope this fall, as the Gamecocks are retooling a defense that yielded 20.3 points per game last fall, No. 12 nationally. Defensive end Jadeveon Clowney is in Houston as the No. 1 overall  NFL draft pick, and defensive tackle Kelcy Quarles (9.5 sacks a year ago) is gone, too. South Carolina’s secondary has questions, with senior corner/safety Brison Williams the only returning starter.

That said, Clemson’s offense has questions, too. The Tigers are replacing the ACC’s all-time passing touchdowns leader and No. 2 all-time passer (quarterback Tajh Boyd), their all-time receptions and receiving yards leader (top-five NFL draft pick Sammy Watkins), a 1,000-yard rusher in Rod McDowell and another NFL draft pick in deep-threat receiver Martavis Bryant.

Swinney and Co. have expressed confidence in upperclassmen Adam Humphries and Charone Peake and talented sophomore Mike Williams, as well as a trio of highly touted early enrollee freshmen in Demarre Kitt, Kyrin Priester and Artavis Scott.

Senior quarterback Cole Stoudt, Boyd’s backup the past three seasons, has the respect of his teammates, and Swinney told ASAP Sports: “[W]e couldn’t have a guy more prepared to be the starter in the first game (against Georgia) than Cole Stoudt.”

But he must prove it on the field and hold off talented freshman Deshaun Watson, who threw for more than 13,000 yards and passed for more than 4,000 in his Georgia prep career. And while three offensive linemen return from a year ago, a backfield by committee must find bigger holes behind them.

The Tigers must also take better care of the ball. Over the last three seasons, South Carolina owns a 9-1 turnover margin against Clemson, including last season, when the Tigers coughed the ball up six times in Columbia in a 31-17 defeat.

The game was tied at 17 entering the fourth quarter, but the Tigers’ final three drives ended in turnovers as the Gamecocks outscored them 14-0 to win the game.

This fall, Clemson’s offense might need some more slack, but its defense is ready to carry its share of the load.

Defensive coordinator Brent Venables returns seven starters from a unit that held opponents to 22.2 points per game (No. 24 nationally) and ranked No. 1 nationally in tackles for loss per game, No. 5 in third-down conversion percentage and No. 13 in sacks per game.

The entire defensive line two-deep returns, led by senior All-America defensive end Vic Beasley. Senior middle linebacker Stephone Anthony is a nasty anchor for the linebacker corps, and the secondary should be just fine despite losing two starters, thanks to the likely emergence of redshirt freshman cornerback Mackensie Alexander, a star in waiting.

If Clemson’s defense can keep South Carolina’s offense off the field (something that didn’t happen much the past three seasons) and open up some opportunities for the Tigers offense, Swinney and Co. stand a good chance at quieting Spurrier.

Well, at least for a little while.

And you’d better believe that would mean plenty to the Tigers program.

“That's certainly something that has really been a painful part of our program for the last five years,” Swinney said, per ASAP Sports. “From an in‑state standpoint but also nationally.”

 

Connect with Greg on Twitter @gc_wallace

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Georgia Football: Meet Amarlo Herrera, the Dawgs' Most Underrated Star

For a guy who's done so much, Georgia Bulldogs linebacker Amarlo Herrera sure is forgettable.  At least that was the message this summer.

The rising senior's 30 career starts at linebacker, 219 tackles and a slew of other impressive statistics haven't merited much attention this preseason.  

At SEC media days last month, fellow Georgia inside linebacker Ramik Wilson garnered first-team All-SEC honors; Herrera did not.  Jordan Jenkins, an outside linebacker for the Dawgs, came in with the second team; Herrera did not.  College football guru Phil Steele placed another Bulldog linebacker, Leonard Floyd, on the third team of his preseason All-American team.  Noticeably absent was Herrera.

While it's strange in and of itself for the senior leader of such a strong position group to be altogether shunned of recognition while the rest of the unit racks up accolades, the oddity is further confounded by Herrera's tenured history of production.  The statistics tell part of the story and the numbers don't lie, but the man has been a beast ever since he arrived in Athens in 2011.

As a true freshman and relatively unheralded member of Georgia's "Dream Team" recruiting class, Herrera immediately asserted himself into the Bulldogs lineup.  He didn't start in the 2011 season opener against Boise State, but he played and performed well enough to move into the starting lineup by the second week.  He went on to start eight games as a true freshman.

By 2012, he was a staple of one of the nation's most talented defenses.  He never became a full-time starter, but he played in all 14 contests and finished fifth on the team in total tackles.  The four players ahead of him—Alec Ogletree, Shawn Williams, Jarvis Jones and Bacarri Rambo—are now entering their second NFL season.  Even on a team laced with professional talent, Herrera earned his keep.

Last season, when the defense seemed to crumble around him, Herrera remained a rock.  While racking up 112 total tackles (second in the SEC only to teammate Wilson), Herrera proved invaluable in stopping the run and demonstrated a knack for big plays.  None was bigger than his forced fumble in the second half of the South Carolina game, which halted a Gamecock drive at the Georgia 34-yard line with the score tied.

With such an impressive three-year career, the lack of outside respect is bothersome—except to Herrera, who uses the non-mentions as motivation.  When addressing the subject to Radi Nabulsi of 11alive.com, Herrera made it clear that he takes note of media votes and distinctions but is much more focused on improving as a football player:

I didn't care but I felt disrespected. I felt disrespected about the way I played over all the years and just being left off the list. The list doesn't mean anything; it is just their opinion. And me being left off, I really felt disrespected. I'm going to do what I've done every year, get better and better. I'm playing better every year. Specifically I'm working on better footwork, better technique, just [being] a better football player this year.

Other stars on the Georgia defense are expecting the same old, ever-improving Herrera on the field. Jenkins confessed to Marc Weiszer of the Athens Banner-Herald that he didn't know why Herrera wasn't receiving preseason accolades, adding, "I feel like that's only going to make him so much better because he's going to play with a chip on his shoulder."

That chip combined with an extensive knowledge of Georgia's personnel and schemes, could render Herrera the best player on the defensive side of the ball by season's end.  But that might not be anything new.

Last year, it was Herrera who was named Defensive Player of the Year for the Bulldogs despite Wilson's first-team All-SEC validation.  Georgia head coach Mark Richt explained Herrera's merits thusly to Seth Emerson of Macon's Telegraph:

Ramik obviously had more tackles, and Ramik statistically had a better year. Not by a lot, but I think that’s part of the reason why Ramik was first team All-SEC. Amarlo is the signal caller, and he has a lot of responsibility to get guys lined up and communicate a lot of things. He led well, so that’s part of it, too. Because of Amarlo’s extra responsibilities and the way he played and the way he led in the summer, that was a big part of it, as well.

Those close to the Georgia program know Herrera's value, and that's as good of a testimony to his play as any.

For this Georgia defense to be successful, the front seven must be dominant.  The secondary is still very much a work in progress under the new defensive coordinator, but with the aforementioned host of talented linebackers and a collection of returning linemen, the strength for this defense will be up front.

Look for Herrera once again to serve as the proverbial point guard of the Bulldog defense.  He'll rack up tackles, break up passes and hopefully improve in pass coverage (a skill he emphasized specifically to Nabulsi).  But much of Herrera's most valuable work will be done before the ball is even snapped.  As Georgia rolls out varying defensive packages under Jeremy Pruitt, Herrera and his extensive knowledge and wealth of experience will come into play as he directs traffic from his middle linebacker spot.

Expect a huge season out of this underrated star—even if no one else notices.

Unless otherwise noted, all quotes obtained firsthand and all statistics courtesy of Sports-Reference.com.

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