NCAA Football

Ohio State Football: 3 Buckeyes Primed for Breakout Seasons

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

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

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

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

 

Ezekiel Elliott

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Vonn Bell

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Dontre Wilson

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

All recruiting information via 247SportsStats via NCAA.com.

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

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Texas Football: 5 Longhorns Primed for Breakout Seasons in 2014

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Georgia Football: 5 Bulldogs Primed to Have Breakout Seaons

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

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

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

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Georgia Football: Biggest Storylines Heading into Bulldogs' Fall Camp

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

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

 

New Defensive Regime

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

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

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

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

 

Offensive Stars Coming Back

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

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

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

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

 

Lorenzo Carter's Debut

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

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

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

 

Need for a Fast Start

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

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

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

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Alabama Football: 5 Tiders Poised for Breakout Seasons

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

ESPN Texas reported the commitment following the announcement:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Follow @RCorySmith on Twitter.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Big 12 Football: 5 Most Crucial 2014 Fall Camp Battles

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

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

This headline could have been better.

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

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

[Twitter, h/t College Spun]

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

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

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

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

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

[Twitter, h/t College Spun]

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Michigan Football Recruit Commits with LeBron James-Like Message

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

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

[Twitter, h/t College Spun]

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Star rankings courtesy of 247Sports.

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

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

Read the full article on Bleacher Report...

Oklahoma Commit Austin Seibert Hits 66-Yard Field Goal

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

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

[YouTube]

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

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

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

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

[Twitter]

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Florida Football: Why Will Muschamp Needs to Go All-in with Kurt Roper

Florida football enters the 2014 season at a crossroads, in desperate need of an offensive overhaul that, with the arrival of Kurt Roper, is seemingly already on its way.

Coach Will Muschamp enters this season firmly planted on the hottest seat in the SEC in large part because of an abysmal offense that floundered without starting quarterback Jeff Driskel and other key parts in 2013.

Credit Muschamp for taking the necessary first step in dramatically improving his team—evaluating offensive trends and looking for an innovator to spice up an all-too-vanilla attack.

Now comes the hard part.

Muschamp must resist all temptations to circumvent Roper from running exactly the system he was hired to run.

So far Muschamp has said all the right things—that he loves what Roper is doing.

It’s even easy through the first three games of the year—when the Gators host Idaho, Eastern Michigan and Kentucky. The real test comes in the following weeks, when Florida faces far more daunting challenges against teams like Alabama, Georgia and South Carolina.

During defining moments in season-altering games, will Roper have the green light to run his offense?

Pat Dooley of The Gainesville Sun asked made a similar inquiry Thursday when he described it as “the million-dollar question.”

Dooley’s point is well-taken, though it’s more like the multimillion-dollar question considering buyouts and salaries of today’s SEC coaches.

Muschamp, like all SEC coaches, recently wrapped up his tour of ESPN facilities to preview the coming college football season.

During his appearance on ESPNU’s College Football Podcast, Muschamp told host Ivan Maisel that he made the change because he wants to run more up-tempo offense.

He also said Florida hasn’t changed its philosophy on offense—that the program wants to run the ball when it needs to run it and throw when it needs to throw.

In a perfect world, Muschamp said multiple times during his Bristol, Connecticut, visit, the Gators would prefer a 50-50 balanced offense.

Doing so would mark a substantial departure from the fourth-year coach’s history.

Duke quarterbacks attempted at least 30 passes in eight of 13 games last season.

Florida has done so four times out of Muschamp’s 38 career games. Worse, the Gators are 1-3 in those four games with their lone win coming in Muschamp’s first game—a 41-3 win over Florida Atlantic.

Driskel enters this season with exactly one 30-pass game to his credit—a largely disastrous performance against Miami last year that was marred by miscues.

The only other time Driskel attempted more than 27 passes came in the 2013 Sugar Bowl loss to Louisville—another game the senior would just as soon forget.

Muschamp won’t be the first SEC coach to attempt a mid-career switch from one offense to another.

Having a high measure of success would mean bucking the recent trend.

Muschamp made a wise—or perhaps lucky—career move by escaping one disaster at Auburn.

When Tommy Tuberville lost faith in Al Borges’ system, he turned to Tony Franklin from Troy. Franklin, a former Hal Mumme protege, fancied an aerial assault that set up the run by throwing the ball effectively.

Muschamp and Franklin coached one game together—the 2007 Chick-fil-A Bowl in which Auburn defeated Clemson in overtime.

After the season, Muschamp left Auburn to claim the same post at Texas.

Spring and preseason camps saw the infusion of positive headlines for Auburn. Receivers previously buried in the run-heavy offense were suddenly expected to break out, as was the winner of the Chris Todd-Kodi Burns quarterback battle.

The beginning of the season even seemed fine, with the Tigers handily beating Louisiana-Monroe and Southern Miss.

Then came the infamous 3-2 game at Mississippi State. Yes, the Tigers won—and beat Tennessee two weeks later—but the offensive struggles were obvious.

Tuberville never fully turned over the offensive reins to Franklin.

He didn’t call offensive plays, but his input left Franklin trying to run an offense that was neither his own nor productive.

Tuberville fired Franklin midweek after an especially punchless loss at Vanderbilt. The Tigers finished the season 5-7, resulting in Tuberville’s departure from the program.

Franklin, like Roper, didn’t bring with him a single assistant coach from his last stop.

So when Tuberville lost faith in Franklin’s system, the offensive coaches reverted back to training the variations of offense they knew.

Maybe Muschamp learned from the mistakes committed by his former boss.

But Tuberville certainly isn’t the only coach to fall into that trap.

Look at Houston Nutt, who turned to Gus Malzahn to spice up his offense at Arkansas in 2006.

By the second game of the season, Nutt had marginalized Malzahn’s role in the offense to the point that not even a division title kept Malzahn from leaving for the same position at Tulsa.

Dooley also pointed out in his column that former Tennessee coach Phillip Fulmer tried to replace David Cutcliffe with Dave Clawson in 2006.

Running Clawson’s offense, the Volunteers slumped to a pathetic offense season. Before the year even ended, Fulmer lost his job at Tennessee.

So even when coaches do allow coordinators to run their systems, the end result isn’t always positive.

Coincidentally, of course, Roper served as Cutcliffe’s offensive coordinator for six seasons at Duke.

Muschamp hired Roper to breathe life into a flat-lining offense.

Now, whether Muschamp likes it or not, his best bet would be to allow Roper to run the system that made him a hot-name prospect.

That means staying quiet when a critical, late-game 3rd-and-2 pops up and Roper calls a pass instead of an inside handoff.

It means believing in game plans even when they fly in direct opposition of what Muschamp envisioned when he first took over as Florida’s head coach.

Muschamp, one of the sharpest defensive minds across the nation, finds himself at a crossroads in large part because his offensive philosophy is no longer relevant in college football.

Like a good manager, Muschamp hired someone with greater expertise in a specific area. Now he needs to avoid micromanaging or downright meddling.

Muschamp is all-in on his bet that Roper can save his job.

He would be wise to remember that all season.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Michigan Football: Brady Hoke's Highest Achieving Recruits

Brady Hoke hasn't seen many of his recruits lead the way for his Michigan program. 

However, that doesn't mean the coach's selections won't become prime contributors to the Wolverines this fall. Development, of course, can be a lengthy process. Simply put, players aren't progressing quickly enough. 

Hoke's entering his fourth year in Ann Arbor and has yet to groom a superstar of his own. He's treading water with the upperclassmen he inherited from Rich Rodriguez, and the time for his guys can't come a moment sooner. 

Instead of speculating about who will do what for Team 135—or the perceived best, such as the Shane Morrises and Derrick Greens of the world—this post will focus on Hoke's best so far. Unfortunately for Hoke, that list isn't too long. His guys are just now getting the nod as Michigan looks to finally turn the corner from recent complications. 

Statistical totals (some playing time is required) and overall progression will serve as the primary criteria for this who's-who. If a guy wasn't supposed to be all that great but is now looking like one of Hoke's best, he'll be on this list. 

If he's finally developing into what he was supposed to be, he'll be on the list too. 

 

Royce Jenkins-Stone

One thing's for sure, the 6'2", 234-pound junior isn't short on passion. Nope, the former Cass Tech (Detroit) standout is pretty much full in that regard. As you'll recall, he was one of three ejected for fighting during Michigan's loss to Ohio State. Dontre Hall and Marcus Wilson, Urban Meyer's enforcers, were also tossed. 

But here's the point: It was during The Game. It was a close one. Tempers were out of control, sure; but if you're a Michigan fan, you probably smiled a little inside knowing that at least some of Hoke's players know what's at stake during each late Saturday in November. They haven't forgotten what it means to play the Buckeyes, nor have they forgotten what it means to fans. 

Jenkins-Stone is the type of player who doesn't quit. As a matter of fact, the Wolverines have several of those types, and a lot of them are linebackers (whom Hoke helped get). Again, this can't be stressed enough: The linebackers are going to be the glue of the defense. Defensive coordinator Greg Mattison has access to an incredible wealth of talent and, due to great depth furnished by recruiting, the Wolverines should have one of the sturdiest collections of middle defenders in the Big Ten this season. 

The former 4-star Cass Tech superstar can most certainly change the tune of fans who think Hoke isn't developing talent. Across the board? Well, they may have a point there. But overall, it's reckless to accuse Hoke of being unable to push his recruits to the next level. 

 

Ben Gedeon

Once thought of as a modestly rated recruit, the 6'3", 240-pound sophomore linebacker is viewed today as a valuable piece to Greg Mattison's defense.

Perhaps his best game to date, the Ohioan let loose with six tackles and a sack during Team 134's 42-21 regular-season-ending loss to his home-state Buckeyes. 

According to Joshua Henschke of Maize 'n Brew, Mattison has been recently impressed by Gedeon—and so have teammates James Ross and Jake Ryan, both linebackers. 

 

James Ross

These linebackers are everywhere, aren't they? Thank a defensive-minded coach with an even more defensive-minded coordinator for that. 

Ross, a 6'1", 227-pound junior out of Orchard Lake St. Mary's (Mich.), was part of the storied 2012 class, which was supposed to mark the return to excellence and glory. It's now 2014, guys are entering their third year in the system, and they're just now starting to make a difference.

But at linebacker, it's a bit different: Michigan's been OK at the position for the past handful of years. Either way it went, players were going to have to wait. Including good, fresh talent. 

Ross has waited his turn and is one of too many Hoke defensive recruits waiting to finally shine. Granted, he hasn't been as slow as others, but he's yet to even touch full capacity. In 2012, he was named to ESPN's All-Big Ten Freshman Team. He's also played 25 games at linebacker. 

As is the case for many others, this is the year for James Ross, who is one of few Hoke players who hit the ground running. 

 

Jourdan Lewis

As it turned out, the 5'10", 175-pound sophomore out of Cass Tech was an excellent find for Hoke and his staff. As a true freshman in 2013, Lewis showed off some of his lockdown abilities with 17 tackles and two pass deflections. The spring game was the spring game—nothing special, and a notch or two below Michigan's normal standard. 

But Lewis looked great. If not for Freddy Canteen, Lewis probably would have been unanimously viewed as the top performer of the day. 

OK, so you're thinking, "Lewis was a 4-star. How does his being good qualify as being a high achiever?" 

For one, he's only a sophomore. The rest of the players mentioned are entering their junior years. Also, see above—not many of Hoke's recruits have made a tremendous impact just yet, let alone during early stages of their careers. 

 

Devin Funchess

At 6'5" and 230 pounds, the junior out of Farmington Hills Harrison (Mich.) is a first-round pick in waiting. Don't be surprised to see him enter the 2015 NFL draft, especially given the current hype that surrounds him.

The tight end-turned-wideout (2013 Mackey finalist) is on just about every preseason watch list known to mankind. He is, without a doubt, Hoke's best recruit, performance-wise, to date. 

It's fair to say that most saw a decent collegiate career for Funchess—but a potential three-year stay, miles of watch lists and first-round status before his junior season?

Probably not. 

 

Follow Bleacher Report's Michigan Wolverines football writer Adam Biggers on Twitter @AdamBiggers81

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