NCAA Football

Ranking 10 Biggest Recruiting Rivalries in Class of 2015

Recruiting rivalries are all over the place nowadays in college football. Many teams do not stick to recruiting inside their regions anymore, which has birthed new rivalries on the recruiting trail.

For the 2015 class, several rivalries have formed due to the pursuit of several top recruits. Florida State and Alabama are in the middle of an arms race, while things have gotten even more intense between Auburn and Georgia.

Plus, USC and UCLA have renewed their rivalry on the California recruiting trail.

Begin Slideshow

Alabama Football: Predicting the Depth Chart Heading into Fall Camp

Alabama fans are all too familiar with Nick Saban’s dislike of preseason depth charts.

As AL.com’s Michael Casagrande explained during spring practice, Saban prefers that his players focus on improving daily in favor of jockeying for roster position.

"I think some guys about now start to worry about the depth chart and where they are on the depth chart," Saban said. “Well we really don't have a depth chart.”

However, with fall camp set to get underway in early August, the picture will begin to become clear as to which players will find themselves in good position to take the field in the Tide’s season opener against West Virginia on Aug. 30.

Which players have an inside track on securing a spot, and which positions will feature the most intriguing battles in fall camp?

Begin Slideshow

1 Thing Each Top 10 2015 RB Recruit Must Improve On

Running backs are not as in demand as they once were. However, the 2015 class still has a great group of runners who can help offenses in college.

Looking at the top 10 running back recruits in the 247Sports composite rankings, each of them is an impressive prospect. However, each of them also has at least one thing he needs to improve on.

A speedy running back must get better at breaking tackles, while a powerful runner needs to lower his pad level. Also, a running back headed to an SEC school must improve his elusiveness.

Begin Slideshow

Nebraska Football: Predicting the Depth Chart Heading into Fall Camp

Nebraska football fans know that fall camp is about to start, and with fall camp comes the depth chart battles that will help define the 2014 season. So while there are no official depth charts, we can speculate as to where things are at least starting out as fall camp opens. Of course, the battles in fall camp will go a long way toward determining what Nebraska’s depth chart will look like on August 30 when NU lines up against Florida Atlantic.

But until then, here’s a glimpse of where things might stand. Returning starters are in italics.

Begin Slideshow

Notre Dame Football: The 2014 Fighting Irish All-Opponent Team

As the long wait before the start of fall camp draws to an end, the major storylines for Notre Dame Fighting Irish heading into the 2014 season are well-documented. But the Irish are only half of the story. The other half? Their 12 opponents.

As with any Notre Dame schedule, the slate is littered with some of the marquee players in college football. Who are the best at their respective positions among the teams the Fighting Irish will battle this season?

Let’s introduce the 2014 Notre Dame All-Opponent Team.

 

Quarterback: Jameis Winston, Florida State (So.)

A no-brainer here. The reigning Heisman Trophy winner led Florida State to the national title, throwing for more than 4,000 yards and 40 touchdowns along the way. His lengthy release is the only real flaw in his game, but with arguably the best offensive line in the nation in front of him, he usually isn’t pressed for time.

Notre Dame last faced the reigning Heisman Trophy winner in 2005, when it lost to Matt Leinart and USC in the “Bush Push” game.

Backup: Taylor Kelly, Arizona State (Sr.)

 

Running Backs: Karlos Williams, Florida State (Sr.); Javorius Allen, USC (Jr.)

Williams was overshadowed last year by the since-departed Devonta Freeman and James Wilder Jr. Starting his career as a defensive back, Williams is still extremely raw as a running back. That’s the scary part for opposing defenses, as he ran for 730 yards and 11 touchdowns in 2013. 

Allen will split time with Tre Madden again this season, but he had a nose for the end zone, scoring 14 touchdowns last year compared to just three for Madden. Twelve of those scores came in the final six games when the Trojans went 5-1 to close the season following a loss in South Bend. 

Backups: T.J. Logan, North Carolina (So.); Venric Mark, Northwestern (Sr.)

 

Wide Receivers: Jaelen Strong, Arizona State (Jr.); Nelson Agholor, USC (Jr.)

Strong gave the Irish fits last season in the Irish’s 37-34 win at AT&T Stadium, catching eight passes for 136 yards and a touchdown. The junior made the All-Pac 12 team as a sophomore and could contend for All-American status this season in the Sun Devils’ high-powered offense. 

Agholor, a Floridian who Notre Dame recruited heavily, will fill the void left by the Trojans’ all-time leading receiver, Marqise Lee. With Lee missing three games last season, Agholor led USC with 918 yards and six touchdowns.

No position among Notre Dame opponents comes close to the talent of the wide receivers that the Irish will face. 

Backups: DeVante Parker, Louisville (Sr.); Rashad Greene, Florida State (Sr.)

 

Tight End: Nick O’Leary, Florida State (Sr.)

Instead of the narrative being that O’Leary is Jack Nicklaus’ grandson, it’s now becoming that Nicklaus is Nick O’Leary’s grandfather. A near-certain Mackey Award finalist, O’Leary enters his final season in Tallahassee off of a 33-catch, seven-touchdown campaign in 2013. At 6’3”, he’s not as tall as recent Fighting Irish star tight ends, but he does pack a punch as a blocker.

A motorcycle accident kept him out of much of spring practice, but there should be no lingering effects this fall.

Backup: Gerald Christian, Louisville (Sr.)

 

Offensive Tackle: Andrus Peat, Stanford (Jr.); Cameron Erving, Florida State (Sr.)

Peat went from backup to second-team All-Pac 12 last season, and has now anchored down at left tackle for the Cardinal. There are some question marks in the trenches for the first time in a while in Palo Alto, but left tackle is certainly not one of them.

Erving would likely have been a first-round NFL draft pick had he left school early. Unfortunately for Irish fans, he’ll again be protecting Winston’s blind side this season. He played in the 2011 Champs Sports Bowl against Notre Dame, but as a defensive tackle.

Backups: Jamon Brown, Louisville (Sr.); Sean Hickey, Syracuse (Jr.)

 

Offensive Guard: Josue Matias, Florida State (Sr.); Tre Jackson, Florida State (Sr.)

Matias and Jackson made their first career starts against Notre Dame three seasons ago. At a combined 670 pounds, they’ll be a challenge to move for Irish defensive tackles Sheldon Day, Jarron Jones and Tony Springmann.

Notre Dame offensive line coach Harry Hiestand doesn’t take a backseat to many peers, but Florida State’s Rick Trickett might be one. Due in large part to the development of third-year starters Matias and Jackson, Trickett has again molded one of the nation’s best units and is replacing only one starter this season.

Backups: Vi Teofilo, Arizona State (Jr.); John Miller, Louisville (Sr.)

 

Center: Max Tuerk, USC (Jr.)

There’s no dominant center on the Irish schedule, so Tuerk gets the nod here. A Freshman All-American in 2012, Tuerk will start at his fourth different position on the Trojans offensive line this season. The transition should be a smooth one, but there is always some natural hesitation when making a position switch.

The departure of third-round NFL draft pick Marcus Martin leaves a big void, but Tuerk has always answered the bell wherever he is needed during his time in Los Angeles.

Backup: Jake Smith, Louisville (Sr.)

 

Defensive End: Lorenzo Mauldin, Louisville (Sr.); Mario Edwards, Florida State (Jr.)

There are four clear-cut candidates for two spots here. Mauldin and Edwards have a slight edge here due to their pass-rushing ability. With 9.5 sacks last season, Mauldin was a first-team all-conference performer, but he will see a step-up in competition this year in the ACC.

Edwards was one of the top players in the county in the 2012 class, and he finally came into his own late last season as a sophomore. He’ll be asked to do even more this season without second-round NFL draft pick Timmy Jernigan. Can he meet the lofty expectations?

Backups: Henry Anderson, Stanford (Sr.); Frank Clark, Michigan (Sr.)

 

Defensive Tackle: Eddie Goldman, Florida State (Jr.); Leonard Williams, USC (Jr.)

Goldman isn’t a stat-sheet guy but can consume multiple blockers in the middle of the line. His ceiling is infinitely high, and 2014 could be the year that he comes close to reaching it after being a 5-star recruit in the 2012 class, per 247Sports. Not having Jernigan alongside him, as is the case for Edwards, presents come challenges.  This will be the biggest test of the season for Irish center Nick Martin.

Williams is the best defensive player Notre Dame will see all season. He’s had to battle through three different defensive coordinators in three years, but he still consistently produces, whether it be at end or tackle.

Backups: Christian Covington, Rice (Sr.); Chris Wormley, Michigan (So.)

 

Outside Linebacker: Norkeithus Otis, North Carolina (Sr.); Chi Chi Ariguzo, Northwestern (Sr.)

Of all the position groups, outside linebacker is the weakest among Fighting Irish opponents, lacking a true star. Otis plays the hybrid “Bandit” role in North Carolina’s 4-2-5 defense. At 235 pounds, he’s undersized for a 4-3 defensive end, so he’ll play both with his hand in the ground and standing up. He had 7.5 sacks in 2013.

Ariguzo was one of the few key Wildcats to stay healthy in last year’s 5-7 season. His 106 tackles last season are the most among returning Big Ten players.

Backups: Desmond Morgan, Michigan (Sr.); Dyshawn Davis, Syracuse (Sr.)

 

Inside Linebacker: Jake Ryan, Michigan (Sr.)

Ryan missed last year’s Wolverines win over Notre Dame in Ann Arbor while recovering from a spring ACL tear. He was impactful in both the 2011 and 2012 games, and Michigan likely wouldn’t have won the 2011 game without his drive-ending tackle.

Ryan slides inside this year for his final season at Michigan. A classic overachiever without any eye-popping physical qualities, putting his versatility on film bodes well for his NFL future. He’ll surely leave his mark on the final game in the Michigan-Notre Dame game rivalry.

Backup: A.J. Tarpley, Stanford (Sr.)

 

Cornerback: P.J. Williams, Florida State (Jr.); Blake Countess, Michigan (Jr.)

After a brief Florida State hiatus at linebacker (the only real question mark for the 2014 ‘Noles), Williams provides a return of the Garnet and Gold. He was a bit of a surprise as a sophomore last season after playing mostly on special teams in 2012. He finished with three interceptions, including a key return for a touchdown against Boston College—the Seminoles’ lone test prior to the BCS National Championship.

Countess, like his teammate Ryan, is now in his second season off of an ACL tear—generally when players truly return to pre-injury form. He was a thorn in Tommy Rees’ side last season, intercepting him twice in the Wolverines’ victory. Expect a second straight all-Big Ten season from Countess.

Backups: Ronald Darby, Florida State (Jr.); Alex Carter; Stanford (Jr.)

 

Safety: Su’a Cravens, USC (So.); Jordan Richards, Stanford (Sr.)

Notre Dame will see arguably the Pac-12’s two best safeties this year in Cravens and Richards. Cravens has already lived up to his massive hype after just one season, recording four interceptions and 52 tackles as a freshman. A Freshman All-American, Cravens is a big hitter at 215 pounds.

Richards loses partner-in-crime Ed Reynolds after two years together at safety. But with two returning starters at cornerback, Richards should be freer to take some chances and play closer to the line of scrimmage. He had his only career multi-interception game in the Cardinal’s big win over undefeated UCLA last October.

Backups: Durell Eskridge, Syracuse (Jr.); Jalen Ramsey, Florida State (So.)

 

Kicker: Roberto Aguayo, Florida State (So.)

Aguayo won the Lou Groza Award last season as the nation’s top kicker. The good news for Seminoles fans is that he still has three seasons, and possibly more trophies, yet to come. He converted nine of 10 attempts from 40 yards or more, a rarity in college football.

Perfect seasons in extra points are not as uncommon, but when your team scores 94 touchdowns, converting all 94 attempts is an impressive feat. (Florida State did not attempt a two-point conversion last season.)  

Backup: John Wallace, Louisville (Jr.)

 

Punter: Tommy Hibbard, North Carolina (Sr.)

Hibbard brings 166 career punts into his final season in Chapel Hill. After averaging just over 39 yards per punt as a freshman, he has posted matching 43.0 averages in each of the past two seasons. He was only third in the ACC in 2013 in gross yardage, but the Tar Heels led the conference in net punting, a credit to not only their coverage but also to the height and placement of Hibbard’s punts.

Backup: Pablo Beltran, Navy (Sr.)

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Which Positions Will Top 11 2015 ATH Recruits Play in College?

Being listed as an "athlete" or "ATH" can be a gift and a curse. On one hand, it shows how versatile and talented a recruit is. On the other, it also shows that he may not have a true position just yet.

Looking at the top athletes in the 247Sports Composite Rankings, all of them will be given a position to start their college careers when they arrive on campus. This list will give you a sneak peak at where on the field these jacks of all trades will play on the next level.

Georgia will likely have a 5-star athlete play receiver, while Florida will start a pair of 4-star athletes on defense. Plus, one athlete on this list will try his hand at quarterback.

Begin Slideshow

David Ash Named Texas Longhorns Starting QB by Charlie Strong

When the Texas Longhorns kick off the 2014 campaign against in-state rival North Texas, junior David Ash will line up under center.     

New head coach Charlie Strong ended any potential QB controversy and announced his decision during Tuesday's Big 12 Media Days, as Rivals and Bleacher Report's Taylor Gaspar reported: 

Ash, who will be starting his third season opener in a row for the Longhorns, saw last year's campaign cut short. 

After a very encouraging sophomore season, the Belton, Texas, product looked intent on repeating his success in 2013. He went 2-1, completing 60.9 percent of his throws for 760 yards, seven touchdowns and just two interceptions. He also added another 152 yards and a score on the ground. 

A concussion sidelined him for the rest of the year, however, and he was ultimately granted a medical redshirt. 

The injury bug struck again in spring when Ash was sidelined with a broken foot, but he was recently cleared for practice, and that was all Strong needed to name his starting quarterback. 

Texas has some intriguing youngsters in Tyrone Swoopes and Jerrod Heard, who both "will be given an opportunity to compete," but the general consensus is that right now Ash gives this team the best chance to win ballgames. 

“It has to be Ash for them to have a chance,” an anonymous Big 12 coach told ESPN.com's Travis Haney (subscription required). “Has to be.” 

Over the last two seasons, Ash has completed nearly nine yards per attempt with a solid 26-to-10 touchdown-to-interception ratio. He clearly has the talent to be one of the most prolific signal-callers in the conference, and now it's just a matter of staying healthy and staying on the gridiron. 

Strong, via ESPN's Joe Schad, is making that a priority: 

The Longhorns, who have fallen short of 10 wins in the last four seasons, are right on the edge of most preseason top 25 lists. They already have a monster rushing attack, though, and a healthy Ash playing at his full ability would pave the way for improvement in 2014. 

However, with Swoopes and Heard waiting in the wings, don't expect the junior's leash to be comfortably long. 

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Clemson Football: Best Quotes and Key Takeaways from ACC Media Days

Conference media days always bring a ton of attention and produce some good quotes, and the ACC media days were no different. Dabo Swinney showed he has complete confidence in his team on both sides of the ball, and there were even a couple more jabs between Swinney and Steve Spurrier.

 

Swinney and Spurrier Are Going to Keep Talking

The best quote of the week from Swinney was in regards to the differences between him and the Ol' Ball Coach. "He's from Pluto and I'm from Mars", Swinney told the media.

Spurrier had a line waiting in return for Swinney when asked about Clemson being the only team from the state to win a BCS bowl. "I'll admit to that, although we beat them about every year. They get there and we don't. That's just the way it is."

It's clear that both coaches are going to keep the back and forth going for a while, but the jabs have really put this rivalry on the map. While Clemson-Carolina hasn't been the best rivalry over a long period of time, there hasn't been one much better the past few years. The jabs are done in good fun, though, as Swinney pointed out that both have mutual respect for each other.

 

Swinney Has High Hopes Defensively

It's also clear that Coach Swinney expects a lot out of the Clemson defense in 2014. In a morning session interview with reporters, Swinney told the media (via Tony Crumpton of TigerNet.com) he would be disappointed if, by the end of the year, the Tigers were not one of the best in the country defensively.

This has certainly been the topic of discussion surrounding the Tigers this offseason—and for good reason. The Tigers return some big names on the defensive front seven, such as Vic Beasley and Stephone Anthony.

TigerNet's David Hood points out a quote from Swinney, in which he spoke about how the defense could take some pressure off the offense.

With the transition on offense, it's great for Tiger fans to hear this kind of confidence from Swinney about his defense.

 

Offense Is Going to Look Pretty Similar to Last Season

Another point that Swinney made clear is that Clemson isn't going to risk much with its offensive schemes. He noted that starting quarterback and senior Cole Stoudt may even be faster than Tajh Boyd, but the situations may call for different things.

While Boyd was used heavily last season on 3rd-and-short, the Tigers will likely look to a running back to step up when they need a few yards. Swinney said he realizes they may do some things differently but points out that Stoudt has practiced in this system for three years.

He also spoke to the confidence Stoudt has, gained mostly from his previous experience.

 

Deshaun Watson Is Going to Play Early

When the topic of redshirting Watson came up, there wasn't much pause from Swinney to discard the notion. He says that Watson had an incredible spring and that he will play early.

Swinney said it wasn't clear how Watson would be used at this point, but he would definitely play early. An interesting quote from Swinney that I took away from watching the interviews is that Watson has gone from 182 to 204 pounds in his time at Clemson. That is big news for Tiger fans, as a bigger Watson provides more opportunities for utilizing him in the run game.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Tennessee Football: Predicting the Depth Chart Heading into Fall Camp

The 2014 Tennessee Volunteers have so many question marks, even their head coach won't know what to think until he sees them on the practice field.

Sure, Butch Jones probably has an idea what to expect. But there are battles at the vast majority of positions, and reliance on players with zero experience is a brutal reality for the second-year coach.

"It's a team of unknowns," Jones told local reporters at last week's SEC media days, according to GoVols247's Wes Rucker (subscription required). "Just a little less than half of our football team will be new this year. ... So it's gonna be, 'How fast can we jump that learning curve?'"

Depth charts this time of year for teams like Tennessee who will be relying on youngsters are ever-changing. A defensive end today may be a linebacker tomorrow. A freshman may line up at cornerback one day and be a safety the next.

Fall camp is going to be crucial for Jones to pelt the newcomers with as much as they can handle right away and see who responds. Whoever can grasp it will be relied upon once the season starts.

Also, who plays what position also will depend heavily on what UT is doing situationally to match up with the opponent.

"Nick Saban may act like he's the only coach who hates depth charts, but, trust me, all of them do," Rucker told Bleacher Report. "The simple fact is depth charts are very complicated these days."

Let's try to wade through the murky waters and offer an educated guess on who should emerge throughout fall drills for the Vols as a two-deep depth chart becomes clearer.

Begin Slideshow

Winners and Losers of 2014 Big 12 Media Days

DALLAS, Texas — The Big 12's media days are in the books. Besides preseason practice, the only thing left is to strap on the pads and play football. 

It's all happening faster than you think. 

With media days over, it's time to look back at who won the press conferences and what was left to be desired. 

Who were some of the winners and losers of this year's Big 12 media days? 

 

Ben Kercheval is a lead writer for college football at Bleacher Report. All quotes obtained firsthand unless cited otherwise. 

Begin Slideshow

Ahmmon Richards Commits to Miami: What 4-Star WR Brings to Canes

Miami secured a verbal commitment from 4-star receiver Ahmmon Richards Tuesday afternoon, locking up its seventh player and incredible fourth WR for the 2016 class.

Richards is the No. 268 overall player and No. 48 receiver in the country, per the 247Sports composite rankings. He announced his commitment with a Tweet of himself flashing "The U":

Richards is 6'2" and a multi-sport star who also runs track at Wellington Community High School in West Palm Beach. Despite this, though, he does not project as one of the speedier receivers in the class.

According to his junior evaluation from ESPN Scouts Inc., his best attributes include football I.Q. and a willingness to make plays in traffic, whereas speed is an area of concern:

STRENGTHS: Richards is a tough receiver who uses his understanding of defensive schemes to get open. Very willing to go across the middle to make plays and is willing to make catches in traffic. ... AREAS OF IMPROVEMENT: Has good route running ability but just needs to become more consistent. Can add weight to his long frame. Lacks great speed and a second gear. ... BOTTOM LINE: Richards is an athlete who makes plays all over the field. If he can learn to become a more consistent route runner then he should see a jump in his production. Improved speed will enhance stock.

However, this might make Richards a nice complement with his classmates at the position. Sam Bruce, the nephew of former St. Louis Rams superstar Isaac Bruce, is the No. 5 receiver in the class and projects as a Tavon Austin-type slot weapon.

He could use teammates such as Richards and No. 13 receiver Dionte Mullins to work as possession targets outside the numbers. No. 51 receiver Dredrick Snelson projects as more of an outside-the-numbers vertical threat.

All four receivers committed since the start of July.

On the field, Richards' commitment means an excess of depth at the receiver position—even more than already existed. If the other three receivers (especially Mullins) pan out, he can also be moved to safety, which would stagger the positions in the class. According to Peter Ariz of CanesInSight.com, Miami recruited him as an "athlete":

Off the field, Richards' commitment speaks to a larger resurgence in Miami's recruiting. The Hurricanes have dominated the early portion of the 2016 cycle (high school juniors), enough so that this news didn't launch them to the No. 1 spot on the 247Sports team rankings—it kept them there and extended their lead over Baylor.

With Florida State on the brink of becoming an Alabama-sized superpower but Florida a little bit down, now is an important time for Al Golden and his staff to recruit the area. His team could go in any number of directions these next couple of cycles.

Fortunately, they have fostered a strong pro-Miami sentiment among high school juniors and seniors. Even when they play for rival teams, top high school prospects talk to one another about which colleges are "hip" and "cool" and "in" and worth playing for. Miami hasn't been Miami the past few seasons, which might have put these younger kids at risk at forgetting its former greatness.

But it hasn't.

"We want to change the program," Richards said of he and his future classmates, per Anthony Chiang of the Palm Beach Post. "We want to be remembered like the other great players that played there. We want to put Miami back on the national radar."

This is one more step in the right direction.

 

Follow Brian Leigh on Twitter: @BLeighDAT

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

TCU Parts with Devonte Fields During Domestic Disturbance Investigation

TCU defensive lineman Devonte Fields will be separated from the school following allegations by an ex-girlfriend, including assault and threatening the use of a gun.    

Scott Gleeson of USA Today reports the incident in question happened early Sunday when Fields allegedly broke a window, punched former girlfriend Haley Brown in the head and pointed a gun in her direction, according to the police report filed with the Fort Worth Police.

The report notes Sgt. Raymond Bush stated that Brown ultimately decided against pressing charges and Fields had left before police arrived:

Sgt. Raymond Bush told USA TODAY Sports that Fields was not arrested but was a suspect of a domestic disturbance. Brown decided not to press charges and noted that she and Fields dated for two years before breaking up on June 1.

Chuck Carlton of the Dallas Morning News provided a statement from the university about the situation:

At this point, it's unclear the exact punishment associated with being separated from the school during the ongoing investigation.

It has been an eventful stretch for Fields after being named the Associated Press' Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year after an outstanding freshman campaign in 2012. He tallied 53 tackles (18.5 for loss) and 10 sacks to headline the Horned Frogs' defense.

Since that point, he was suspended for two games of last season for a violation of team and university policy, suffered a foot injury in his first game back that cost him the rest of the year and was involved in an off-campus incident where he was reportedly robbed and shot at.

Now he's dealing with the alleged domestic disturbance. Mac Engel of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram reports TCU head coach Gary Patterson had no further information to give:

The news comes shortly after he was named the conference's preseason defensive MVP based on his expected return to the field. It's hard to argue with the selection based on the potential he showed in his first season at the college level.

His future is a now mystery. It's unknown if further information will be provided or when TCU will clarify his status with the team.

 

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Cat Conti Named First Female Big 12 Official: Latest Details, Comments, Reaction

On Saturday, Sept. 6, history will be made as Catherine "Cat" Conti will become the first female to officiate a Big 12 football game.   

Big 12 commissioner Bob Bowlsby spoke highly of Conti during the official announcement. George Schroeder of USA Today provides Bowlsby's comments on the matter:

She is not there because she is a female. She is there because she's paid her dues and because she is a really outstanding football official. … This is a good opportunity for her and a good opportunity for us, and I don't think you'll really notice much about how the officiating is done on the game. But it's significant that she's doing it.

The matchup Conti is scheduled to officiate is a home game for Kansas against Southeast Missouri.

Conti has officiated football games for years, but has done so at the high school and smaller conference level. While she is scheduled to officiate the one contest for the Big 12, she will be full-time for the Mountain West this year, per Schroeder.

She has slowly moved her way up the ladder in the lower conferences to now officiating in the Big 12, but Conti still has other dreams of making it to the NFL. She spoke about those aspirations, via Schroeder's report:

"That's the ultimate dream," Conti said. "But if this Big 12 game is the highest I ever get, it's certainly been a great career. … I've never walked on a football field and felt I was over my head."

Schroeder also provided Kansas coach Charlie Weis' thoughts on Conti, via Twitter:

Weis later expanded on those thoughts (via Darren Hartwell of NESN.com):

“I believe in the old-fashioned way, so I’ll try not to use as many bad words,” Weis said. “But it means nothing to me. It’s great that a woman is put in a position where she can be put on equal footing with the men.”

Referee Magazine on Twitter shared its congratulations to Conti:

Regardless of what she does following the Big 12 game, Conti will make history by simply stepping on the field. With the signature black and white stripes, Conti will no doubt look to simply blend in with her fellow officials and do her job as usual despite the added attention that this historic situation will generate.

This is a huge move that follows another significant moment in sports and officiating after Sarah Thomas officiated the first Division I game back in 2007. As the Associated Press reported last month, Thomas might become the first NFL official this fall.

Whether or not Conti will join her is another story. But for now, she'll blaze her own trail on Sept. 6 in a Big 12 game.

 

Follow @RCorySmith on Twitter.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

UCLA Football: Why Special Teams Are Key to a Bruins Pac-12 Title

UCLA was amid a torrid rally midway through the fourth quarter of its Pac-12 South showdown with Arizona State last November. Down 35-13 at halftime of the de facto divisional championship, the Bruins outscored the Sun Devils 20-3 in the second half and were driving for more.

But with under five minutes remaining in the final period, a drive stalled out at the Arizona State 21-yard line. Kicker Ka'imi Fairbairn came on to attempt a 38-yarder that would've drawn UCLA within two, but the kick was no good.

There's no downplaying the importance of special teams at UCLA. Another one of the program's more heartbreaking losses in the Jim Mora era also included a notable special teams misfire—a 51-yard attempt in the 2012 Pac-12 Championship Game that ended the Bruins' Rose Bowl dreams.

However, special teams have also played a key role in the program's resurgence since Mora's arrival before the 2012 campaign.

In 2012, UCLA's eight blocked kicks tied Rutgers for best in the nation. Last year, the Bruins blocked another four to finish tied for No. 10.

But while the Bruins' number of blocks declined, the team vastly improved in its return coverage.

UCLA has flourished on special teams by utilizing some of the roster's greatest talents. Take Myles Jack; before he was shining at running back, the Freshman All-America linebacker was already a two-way standout, blocking one of those four kicks.

Kenny Orjioke, one of the linebackers vying to replace All-American and first-round NFL draft pick Anthony Barr, made an impact on special teams a year ago.

This season, another cornerstone of the defense will play a key role on special teams. Cornerback Ishmael Adams will team with Fabian Moreau to give the Bruins one of the most formidable secondaries in the Pac-12, but Adams will also double as UCLA's returner.

Adams took over return duties late last season out of necessity, with Devin Fuller and Steven Manfro both shelved against Arizona State.

"Ish raised his hand,” Mora said of Adams' move to returner, per Chris Foster of the Los Angeles Times. “We knew he played some running back in high school.”

Adams capitalized on the opportunity with 58- and 69-yard kickoff returns as well as a 49-yard punt return.

Indeed, the Bruins special teams will feature some familiar faces in 2014. But there's one key, new face who will be setting the tone.

Assistant coach Jeff Ulbrich has been integral to the performance of the special teams the last two seasons. FootballScoop.com named him Special Teams Coordinator of the Year in 2013, but Ulbrich transitioned to his new role as defensive coordinator in the spring.

That leaves Mike Tuiasosopo overseeing the unit, and the UCLA assistant will face an adjustment period. Mora told Jack Wang of the Los Angeles Daily News that Tuiasosopo is "feeling his way" through the new responsibility and, to that end, leaning some on new running backs coach Kennedy Polamalu.

Polamalu, Mora's headline-grabbing offseason hire, had a hand laying the foundation for UCLA rival USC's dominance in the 2000s. His duties with the Trojans in the early part of last decade included special teams coordination.

In 2003, Polamalu's final season as the Trojans' special teams coordinator, Reggie Bush ran back a return for a touchdown for the first time in his collegiate career. That was 11 years ago, which may seem like ancient history, but it's only four years longer ago than UCLA had its last kick taken to the house.

Adams told the Los Angeles Daily Newsin December that he wants to give the Bruins' otherwise standout special teams that one highlight reel moment it's lacked since 2007.

"All the players are excited to see one," he said. "I’m definitely looking for it, obviously. I want to return one for a touchdown more than anybody else."

 

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

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

UCLA Football: Why Special Teams Are Key to a Bruins Pac-12 Title

UCLA was amid a torrid rally midway through the fourth quarter of its Pac -12 South showdown with Arizona State last November...

Read the full article on Bleacher Report...

Texas A&M Football: Predicting the Depth Chart Heading into Fall Camp

The Texas A&M football team will have more depth in 2014 than it has had during its first two seasons in the SEC. The 2014 campaign will mark the first time the Aggies will be two-deep at almost every position. 

In order to be an elite team in the SEC you need to be three-deep at every position. The physical nature of the league means that no one will go the entire season without losing starters to injury. 

This issue is especially apparent on the offensive and defensive lines. You need to be strong up front in order to win games in the SEC. That means that you need to be able to rotate defensive linemen throughout the game and not experience any drop-off on the offensive side when there are injuries. 

The Aggies are not three-deep yet, but they are getting closer. Texas A&M head coach Kevin Sumlin and his staff have done an excellent job of bringing in talent to Aggieland. The fans will begin to see the results on the field in 2014. 

This is a look at what the Aggies depth chart will look like when they head into fall camp. 

Begin Slideshow

Is This the Most Skill Position Talent Gus Malzahn Has Ever Had?

The annual ESPN "car wash" that features 14 head coaches over a two-day span took place this week, and the hot takes were everywhere.

Among some of the nuggets uncovered in Bristol was Auburn head coach Gus Malzahn's impression of his wide receivers.

The second-year head coach of the Tigers told Joe Tessitore that this group of Auburn wide receivers—which includes last year's star, Sammie Coates—is the best group of wide receivers he's had at Auburn, which also includes the 2009-11 seasons, when Malzahn was the offensive coordinator.

"At least since I've been at Auburn," Malzahn told Tessitore, "this is the best receiving group that we've had (1:25 mark)."

High praise for sure. It's also accurate.

Coates is a known commodity who is strong, fast and can take the top off a defense.

In addition to Coates, Auburn returns a deep threat in Ricardo Louis, veteran slot receiver Quan Bray, Jaylon Denson—who was a starter last year before tearing his ACL vs. LSU—two underclassmen with potential and junior college transfer D'haquille "Duke" Williams, who could be the best of the entire group.

Essentially, it's the same group as last year with the addition of Williams, a 6'2", 216-pound monster who can run and present matchup problems alongside Coates and the rest of the tall and athletic receiving corps.

But how do they compare to Malzahn's Auburn receivers from his days as the offensive coordinator?

The 2010 group is close to a mirror image of this group. Darvin Adams led a veteran corps during Auburn's national championship year, catching 52 passes for 963 yards and seven touchdowns. Behind him, Terrell Zachery and Emory Blake each caught more than 30 passes, with Kodi Burns and Philip Lutzenkirchen each providing solid options for then-quarterback Cam Newton.

They were solid and effective as a group, but the 2013 Tigers have much more upside and versatility.

Coates and Williams can both be deep threats or possession receivers, and the veteran and deep group of receivers outside coupled with the potential of 6'5", 264-pound tight end C.J. Uzomah will allow Malzahn and offensive coordinator Rhett Lashlee to mix and match their receivers to create matchup nightmares downfield.

Williams, who was a 5-star prospect according to 247Sports and a 4-star in the 247Sports composite, impressed receiver-turned-defensive back Trovon Reed this spring, according to Joel A. Erickson of AL.com:

Trovon Reed on D'haquille Williams: "He deserves every star he got" (in recruiting process)

— Joel A. Erickson (@JoelAEricksonAU) April 15, 2014

What about at running back?

Tre Mason's absence doesn't help, but Malzahn has options at running back and a proven track record of success on the ground. Since he started coaching college football in 2006, he has produced 11 1,000-yard rushers in those eight seasons. 

This year's backfield still features speedster Corey Grant and senior Cameron Artis-Payne, as well as 5-star freshman "Roc" Thomas, bruiser Kamryn Pettway and redshirt freshman Peyton Barber—who hurt his ankle in the spring game. 

"Peyton Barber, he's back working out 100 percent," Malzahn said at SEC media days in Hoover, Alabama. "He's got a lot of talent, like we've talked about before. Roc Thomas, Kamryn Pettway are two of the young guys coming in. We'll give them a chance, see what they can do."

Are any of those guys Mason? No. But Artis-Payne was "1B" to Mason being "1A" last year, and the Tigers have more depth than they did last season. 

Does it compare to the 2010 group that featured Michael Dyer, Onterio McCalebb and Mario Fannin? Maybe not in terms of top-end talent. After all, Dyer was fantastic when he got rolling late in the 2010 season. But this year's group is certainly comparable from the depth perspective.

This is the most talent Auburn has had at the skill position under Malzahn either as the head coach or the offensive coordinator, and also marks the first time in Malzahn's college coaching career that he's had a quarterback—Nick Marshall—return for a second year in the system.

Look out.

 

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.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Big 12 Brass, Coaches Come out Firing at Media Days, Why It's a Good Thing

Big 12 media days lacked the size of its SEC counterpart—no surprise there, right?—but it certainly wasn't without major storylines. 

When it comes to coaches in front of a microphone, the more vocal, the better, especially when it comes to big-picture issues like player stipends and postseason selections. 

Which items stood out at Big 12 media days?

 

The Art Briles-Jimbo Fisher Kerfuffle

Call this manufactured drama with quotes likely taken out of context, but it's July, which means media is looking for something fun. It also involves a timely subject. 

Florida State head coach Jimbo Fisher was recently asked about expanding the College Football Playoff to eight teams, to which he replied that every conference should have its own championship game. Via Chip Patterson of CBSSports.com

Question: Are you in favor of expanding the playoff to 8 teams?

Fisher: I'm not. Do I think inevitably it will? Yeah I do. But really, are you not in eight now? Because you got a conference championship, you're in more than that right now. You got a playoff game there.

And by the way, I think every conference should have to have one. We got a championship where not everyone plays the same number of games and does the same things. I think it's ridiculous.

Harmless enough, at least until Baylor head coach Art Briles was asked about it at Big 12 media days. 

The Big 12, of course, is the only power conference without its own title game, and the league embraces it with the motto "One True Champion." Will the Big 12's round-robin schedule help or hurt it in the eyes of the playoff selection committee? It's impossible to tell. 

"I'm not concerned about lack of a championship game," Big 12 commissioner Bob Bowlsby said during Big 12 media days. "I like our path to the championship. Some years it's a good thing, some years it's a bad thing." 

The interesting subplot about the Briles-Fisher exchange is that the Big 12 recently joined the ACC in supporting legislation to deregulate conference championship games, according to Chuck Carlton of The Dallas Morning News

"We would like the prerogative about whether we want to make that decision," Bowlsby said. 

 

Bob Bowlsby Takes Strong Stance

The start of Big 12 media days sounded like a funeral. The subject in the casket was college football. 

That's the tone Bowlsby set during his opening remarks on Day 1 of Big 12 media days. 

"If you like the way college athletics works now, you're going to be disappointed when the changes come soon," Bowlsby said. 

From the Ed O'Bannon trial over paying athletes for the use of their name, image and likeness to the recent unionization push by Northwestern athletes, it's no secret that college football is on the verge of major change. 

No matter which side of the fence you sit on regarding that change, the important thing to know is that it's coming.

According to Bowlsby, that may mean many athletic programs cutting sports while trying to stay compliant with Title IX. As Kristi Dosh of the Sports Business Daily reports, the pressure to fully fund scholarships creates a complex situation. 

Bowlsby supports the collegiate model, which is no surprise, but he also hasn't been shy about recognizing the problems within it. "There's more right than there is wrong" with the model, Bowlsby said.

Still, "cheating pays" according to the commissioner, and the enforcement arm of the NCAA hasn't exactly been living up to strict standards lately. 

While Bowlsby doesn't think cheating is rampant, it won't end if college football players are compensated more in some form in the not-too-distant future. In what capacity—pay for play, stipends or the like—they'll be compensated remains to be seen. 

Bowlsby's tone was bleak, but give him credit, he knows what's coming. The important thing college athletics administrators can do is start finding solutions instead of fighting the problem. 

 

Bob Stoops, Kliff Kingsbury Talk Cost of Attendance, Scholarships

Speaking of compensation, player stipends were on the table as a discussion point. You probably won't find a coach at Big 12 media days vocally opposed to paying their players the full cost of attendance. If nothing else, coaches have to keep up appearances that they're pro-player. 

And as a power five conference, the pool to fund such a payout is there: Blair Kerkhoff of the Kansas City Star reported that eight Big 12 members will earn $23 million in revenue. (TCU and West Virginia are still earning a partial payout.) 

"I've always been in favor of [full] cost of attendance," Oklahoma head coach Bob Stoops said. "I'm in favor of supporting athletes in different ways, transportation home, transportation back to school."

Bowlsby added in his opening remarks that "if left to our own devices, [power conferences] could have passed stipends" already. 

As far multi-year scholarships go—another hot-button item for athlete well-being—Bowlsby said the league as a whole is not ready to get behind legislation yet. However, Texas Tech head coach Kliff Kingsbury said he gives out multi-year scholarships at his discretion.

"My college experience was great, so if there's anything we can do to help players, I'm all for it," Kingsbury said.

If college football players will still be defined as student-athletes, and if they won't be paid for the use of their image, athletic departments have to come up with a way to better support them. This applies for stipends, safety practices during the week in practice and better medical care. 

The sport simply demands too much of its athletes for the status quo to remain. Without a doubt, coaches and administrators are catching on to it and are more than vocal about it.

That's where change starts. 

 

Ben Kercheval is a lead writer for college football at Bleacher Report. Unless otherwise noted, all quotes were obtained first-hand.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Jimbo Fisher Using Saban's Philosophy to Motivate Florida State's Title Defense

Jimbo Fisher wants to make a very important distinction. The Florida State football team is not the "defending champion." FSU is looking to repeat.

In Fisher's eyes, there is nothing to defend. National championships are independent of each other.

"You're not competing against the past," Fisher told 247Sports' Tim Linafelt (subscription required) at ACC Kickoff. "You're playing against the opponent that's on the field at that time. Stay in the moment, practice in the moment, and live in the moment."

Fisher doesn't want players to presume that wins will come because of what happened last fall or because FSU has a talent advantage. He wants players to use the experience from the 2013 season as an advantage. That FSU team dominated 12 of 14 opponents, winning games by 30 or more points. 

"Keep an attitude of domination," Fisher said, via 247Sports. "Complacency is set if you're basing (what you do) off the past. Don't base anything off the past."

If any of that sounds familiar, it probably does. Fisher is part of the Nick Saban tree. He was LSU's offensive coordinator from 2000-06, winning a national title with the Tigers in 2003.

After winning the 2011 national title, Saban said this to his Alabama team before the 2012 season, according to Eric Prisbell of USA Today: "This team is not the national championship team. Some of you guys played on that team. ... Nobody can take away what you did, but are you going to focus on what you did or about what you are going to do?"

What did Alabama do? The Crimson Tide went 13-1, suffering only a Nov. 10 loss to Texas A&M, and then bounced back to rout Auburn, edge Georgia in the SEC championship game and then demolish Notre Dame in the BCS championship game.

What will FSU do? Fisher thinks he has his players focused on the future.

The past efforts have been difficult. The Seminoles have won three titles (1993, 1999 and 2013) but came up short in repeat efforts.

In 1994, FSU lost at Miami and had to rally from 28 points down in the fourth quarter to tie Florida, 31-31. Although they did beat the Gators in the Sugar Bowl, the Seminoles didn't get a chance to play for a title.

In 2000, the Seminoles again lost at Miami but played for a title against Oklahoma in the 2001 Orange Bowl. FSU struggled to put points on the board without receiver Marvin Minnis (academics), and with Mark Richt working two jobs—FSU offensive coordinator and Georgia coach. The Seminoles fell, 13-2, to the Sooners.

Even legendary FSU coach Bobby Bowden now admits how hard repeating was for those 1994 and 2000 teams.

"It's so dad-gum difficult because you are talking about perfection," Bowden told the Tallahassee Democrat's Jim Henry. "You can play great football and not be perfect. Let me just say this - it's a great position to be in."

The Seminoles are in that position in 2014. And positioned well for a repeat run. Heisman Trophy winner Jameis Winston is back at quarterback, and he will be protected by an offensive line that will likely feature five seniors. There are playmakers at receiver (led by Rashad Greene) and a deep group of running backs (led by Karlos Williams). FSU loses defensive tackle Timmy Jernigan, as well as linebackers Telvin Smith and Christian Jones, but there is experienced depth to fill those spots without a significant drop-off. The secondary is loaded with talent and could again be the nation's best against the pass (FSU allowed just 156.6 passing yards per game in 2013, tops in the nation). The nonconference schedule includes Oklahoma State, Notre Dame and Florida. Among the ACC games, Clemson is at home while Louisville and Miami are on the road. But it's not insurmountable. If FSU navigates one of the nation's toughest schedules unbeaten, the Seminoles will make the four-team playoff. And they'll be looking to repeat—not defend—as champions.

 

Bob Ferrante is the Florida State Lead Writer for Bleacher Report, all quotes obtained first-hand unless otherwise noted. Follow Bob on Twitter. All stats from seminoles.com and NCAA.com.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Christian Ponder's Newborn Daughter Was Named After FSU Legend Bobby Bowden

Christian Ponder made a name for himself while playing under Bobby Bowden at Florida State, so the Minnesota Vikings quarterback and his wife felt it would be a good idea to honor the coach by naming their child after him.

Check out what Christian and Sam Ponder named their newborn daughter:

Naming a kid Bowden Sainte-Claire is one way to pay tribute to the former Seminoles coach. 

Larry Fitzgerald Sr. reported that the Ponders brought the baby girl into the world recently:

Given that Florida State is the reigning national champion, most FSU fans would probably be naming their kids after Jameis Winston or Jimbo Fisher right now. However, Ponder played under Bowden for three seasons, and he learned a lot from the legend.

[Twitter]

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Pages