NCAA Football

College Football Gets a New Championship Trophy for the Playoff Era

College football is getting a brand new trophy to go along with the new playoff format starting this year. 

The trophy was unveiled at a press conference on Monday:

ESPN's Brett McMurphy provided some more details on the trophy: 

Here's a look at the crystal ball trophy that has been presented since 1986 and will still be awarded to the team at the top of the final coaches poll of the season: 

[College Football Playoff, Associated Press]

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Notre Dame Football: 6 Backups Critical to the Irish's Success in 2014

With fall camp around the corner, Notre Dame football position battles are set to be won and lost.

Starters will be named, and the depth charts will be penciled in.

And while the starters and the decisions behind those choices will deservedly garner plenty of attention, let’s focus here on the indispensable backups—the lifeblood of a great and deep team—who are vital to Notre Dame’s success in 2014.

In some cases, it’s unclear if a player here will, in fact, be a backup when the season kicks off. There are some assumptions that certain players will begin the season as second-stringers.

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SEC Media Days 2014: Tracking Highlights, Comments, Twitter Reaction from Day 1

Following a long offseason—too long for SEC fans—the college football season is nearly here. Before the season gets underway in late August, the SEC Media Days are always special for one of the biggest conferences in the country. 

Multiple new faces will be in attendance on Monday, including first-year head coach Derek Mason of Vanderbilt. After taking over for James Franklin, Mason has a quarterback battle and expectations to address in his first appearance at the event.

As for some that won't be present, Nick Marshall will not attend after a recent marijuana citation. That leaves coach Gus Malzahn, who led the team to the National Championship Game last year, answering questions for his star quarterback.

With the opening day of the event in Hoover, Alabama getting underway on Monday morning, here's a look at all of the latest from the always entertaining occasion.

 

Pre-Event

While last year's event was headlined by a polarizing figure in Johnny Manziel, the 2014 version already has controversy before it starts.

Marshall choosing not to attend the event leaves three of his teammates and Malzahn to respond to constant queries about his recent citation. Prior to the announcement, Barrett Sallee of Bleacher Report wrote what he believed Marshall should have done on Monday:

Being a leader and owning the moment will make those columns published Monday night and the radio fodder that follows seem silly and outlandish. 

Marshall should take advantage of the cards he dealt himself, not fold when the stakes are high.

For some, the decision was hardly an attempt to hide but more of a chance for Malzahn to help the situation. Paul Finebaum of ESPN and Larry Williams of Rivals provide their thoughts on Marshall's absence:

After last season with a loaded quarterback crop that included Manziel, A.J. McCarron, Aaron Murray and Zach Mettenberger, this year doesn't quite have the same list. Without Marshall, the other signal-callers on the program are Jeff Driskel, Bo Wallace, Dak Prescott, Maty Mauk and Dylan Thompson.

That's hardly comparable to the 2013 slate. In fact, Bruce Feldman of Fox Sports believes Marshall would have been at the top of the list:

As the official opening of the event nears, Auburn will have plenty of buzz surrounding their team. While they should after a great season last year, much of the questioning will be about their absent quarterback.

 

Follow R. Cory Smith on Twitter:

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Butkus Award Watch List 2014: Full List Released

The 2014 college football season is on the horizon, and the Butkus Award watch list has officially been announced with several hopeful linebackers on the tally. With notable names like Eric Striker, Shaq Thompson and Terrance Smith on the illustrious program, there will be a fight all season for the trophy.

One of the most coveted honors to work toward on the field, the Butkus Award is given to the best linebacker in the country at the end of a long year. While the Heisman, Maxwell and Walter Camp Awards are slightly more prestigious, past winners prove the Butkus Award is special.

Those names include NFL stars Von Miller, Luke Kuechly and Patrick Willis in the last decade. Though the names on this list might not be recognizable just yet, the winner will likely have a bright future ahead.

At the start, 51 names are entered—Dick Butkus' number when he played—but just one will emerge. Here's a look at the full watch list for the 2014 Butkus Award and a breakdown of some select players.

 

Eric Striker, Oklahoma

With a last name like Striker, this Oklahoma linebacker is expected to be a big hitter. He lives up to his name.

Last season, he put his name in the elite category with 6.5 sacks and 10.5 tackles for loss. Just how dangerous is he on the football field? Bryan Fischer of NFL.com explains why he's one of the scariest players in the college game:

Just ask an Alabama player how scary it is to play against Striker. He is one of the best blitzers in the country and should be even more dangerous as the Stoops brothers continue to put him in good spots on the field. A ferocious hitter, offenses will know where he's lining up before every snap.

The Sooners front seven will be stout this season, but Striker is the clear leader in the middle. With his combination of speed and hard-hitting style, he might be an early favorite to be a finalist for the award.

Striker has also been on other watch lists, as Oklahoma Football notes:

Given the fact that past standouts like Kuechly and Miller won the award, Striker will have to put together a nearly flawless season to win. After breaking out with the Sooners last season, expect big things from the junior.

 

Reggie Ragland, Alabama

Just a year after C.J. Mosley took home the hardware, another Alabama linebacker hopes to step up.

After two years of sitting behind supremely talented players like Mosley and others, Reggie Ragland is now getting his opportunity and is sure to make the most of it. Ragland spoke about getting the chance to start this season, per Andrew Gribble of AL.com:

It didn't frustrate me at all. I knew I had two years to learn behind the best, and I did.

... Since C.J.'s gone it's time for me to step up and become a leader on the defense. At first it was hard going, trying to get a grasp of it, but now it's better. I understand it more than I did the last two years.

The new starter was a 5-star linebacker in high school, so he has the talent to get the job done. But in a tough SEC, the emerging star will have his hands full with the speed and athleticism on the field.

Ragland isn't the only player on the list for Alabama, with Trey DePriest also hoping to finish at the top of the list. Both will have a chance to shine this season, but Ragland might be an underdog to emerge with the Crimson Tide.

Following in the footsteps of Mosley won't be easy, but Ragland certainly seems up to the task. On an Alabama team that will get plenty of attention all year, he has a chance to become a star and possibly hoist the Butkus Award at season's end.

 

Shaq Thompson, Washington

Coming into his junior season, Thompson has shown flashes of brilliance.

He recorded 70 tackles last season, but just .5 sacks. As a freshman, Thompson put up similar numbers for Washington, but hasn't quite broken out to this point.

Lining up at linebacker might not be the only position for Thompson this year, though. The former high school running back spoke about the potential of playing on offense this season, per Lindsay Schnell of Sports Illustrated:

It feels a little natural still. I haven't touched the ball for almost two years. [Former Washington coach Steve] Sarkisian had told me they'd do something for me [on offense] but nothing really happened. I'm wasn't tripping though -- I came here for linebacker, defense and special teams.

The two-way talent might just play an old school game this year, but he'll have to shine at linebacker to win the award. With his immense talent and speed on the field, Thompson has a chance to run away—pun intended—with the honor if he puts up huge numbers this year.

 

Follow @RCorySmith on Twitter.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

What 2016 4-Star DT Benito Jones' Commitment Means for Alabama

Alabama added the first player to its 2016 class this weekend, securing a commitment from Waynesboro, Mississippi, defensive tackle Benito Jones, the No. 98 overall prospect on the 247Sports composite rankings.

"A lot of people don't want me to leave the state," Jones said after picking up his 'Bama offer in May, per Wesley Sinor of AL.com (who confirmed his commitment). "But I'm going to go where I want to go."

Jones gets Alabama off the schneid in the class of rising juniors, moving it all the way up to No. 11 on the 247Sports team rankings.

At such an early stage of recruitment, though, those rankings speak more to the quantity of committed players than the quality of committed players. In time, the Tide will push for the No. 1 class.

Jones is undersized for a defensive tackle (6'2", 260 lbs) and won't be able to play in the middle of Alabama's 3-4 defense unless the scheme changes or he hits a growth spurt. He does appear capable of carrying more weight than he currently does, but Kirby Smart's scheme calls for a Terrence Cody-esque run-stuffer up the middle.

However, Jones excels with his hands and his technique and is a constant presence in opposing backfields. Think of a slighter-built Aaron Donald. He would probably fit better as a tackle in a 4-3, but if he makes the proper changes to his body, he can become a useful defensive end in the 3-4 scheme in Tuscaloosa.

Per Bleacher Report's Tyler Donohue, he had 58 tackles and five sacks as a sophomore at Wayne County High School last season:

Because of the way the Crimson Tide recruit, defensive line was not an area of "need." Nothing is. The 2014 class included 5-star recruit Da'Shawn Hand (the No. 4 overall player in the country) and 4-star recruit Josh Frazier (who weighs 325 pounds). The 2015 class already has five defensive linemen and counting, headlined by a pair of top-100 prospects (Mekhi Brown and Jonathan Ledbetter) and another 4-star recruit in T.D. Moton (who also weighs 300-plus pounds).

Jones' commitment brings the Tide security more than anything else. He is another dart thrown at the board, and his eligibility will be staggered from the group of prospects above. Especially if he takes a redshirt year to work on his body and frame—which, at this early stage, seems logical—he could be a part of this team until 2020.

Obviously, Alabama still wants to land top 2015 targets such as Daron Payne and top 2016 targets such as Rashan Gary, but having Jones provides a safety net of sorts should it get beaten out.

And he has the potential to be much, much more than that.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Re-Evaluating Ohio State's Recruiting Class After the 2014 Opening

Ohio State's recruiting class was well-represented at The Opening—an exclusive football camp for 162 of the nation's top high school prospects.

Three of the Buckeyes' 12 current commitments made the trip to Beaverton, Oregon, to compete against an elite field of talent. A number of Urban Meyer's top targets were also in attendance, proving that Ohio State has its sights set high for the 2015 recruiting cycle.

For Meyer to sign his fourth consecutive top-five class, the Buckeyes need to cover a lot of ground.

 

Top Targets

Many of Ohio State's top remaining targets competed at The Opening, but none were more impressive than Josh Sweat.

The 6'5", 240-pound bruiser out of Chesapeake, Virginia, is rated the nation's top defensive end and the No. 2 prospect overall. He has offers from more than 50 schools, including programs such Alabama, Auburn, LSU, Michigan and Notre Dame.

Virginia Tech leads for Sweat over Florida State, Ohio State, Tennessee and Georgia, according to 247Sports' Crystal Ball, but he told Max Preps that he doesn't have a top-five or 10 list yet. 

Whether he has a list or not, current Ohio State commits Justin Hilliard and Jashon Cornell spent a lot of time recruiting him—and others—on behalf of Meyer at The Opening.

In addition to Sweat, the dynamic duo connected with 5-star quarterback Torrance Gibson, 5-star running back Damien Harris, 4-star wide receiver Christian Kirk and 4-star offensive tackle Matthew Burrell

Each player ranks inside 247Sports Composite's top 60, and landing a commitment from any of them would be a huge boost to Ohio State's class. The Buckeyes, though, have the best chance of landing Burrell and Harris, according to 247Sports' Crystal Ball.

Other players on Ohio State's radar—such as 4-star offensive tackle Drew Richmond, 4-star defensive tackle Neville Gallimore and 4-star wide receiver Van Jefferson—made waves at the Nike camp. Gallimore, in particular, benefited greatly, as the Canada Prep Football Academy in Ontario doesn't provide the top-end coaching he received in Oregon.

"I know that unlike a lot of these guys, I haven't had a lifetime worth of training and teaching, but I learned so much from being here," Gallimore said, according to Jeremy Birmingham of Eleven Warriors. "I'll never forget this experience and it will make me a better player for whatever school I end up at."

Meyer, who has recruited along the defensive line very well throughout his career, is hoping that school is Ohio State.

 

Ohio State's Commits

Hilliard and Cornell spent a good portion of their week backing up their 5-star rankings. 

Hilliard, the nation's top-rated outside linebacker, showed off his speed and strength in the SPARQ preliminaries, and his playmaking ability was on full display during the seven-on-seven competition. 

Cornell impressed as well. His versatility is his greatest strength, and he proved that by showing an ability to play on the edge rushing the passer or moving to the inside to clog the run. 

The Buckeyes' other commit—Tyler Green—had a big week.

Rated the No. 522 recruit in the country and the No. 35 safety, Green could have been overshadowed among some of the top defenders in the country. Instead, he shined, showing instincts and skill that suggest he's highly underrated.

While the Buckeyes are hoping to land new commitments, one of the current members of their 2015 class could be on the verge of shooting up the rankings.

 

All recruiting information per 247Sports.

David Regimbal is the lead Ohio State football writer for Bleacher Report.
Follow him on Twitter @davidreg412

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Georgia Football: Reevaluating Dawgs' Recruiting Class After the 2014 Opening

Many of the country's top football recruits got the opportunity to shine at The Opening presented by Nike last week.  Not surprisingly, the nation's premier event for high school recruits was well attended by Georgia Bulldog targets and commitments.

After several days of combine testing, seven-on-seven passing games and battles in the trenches, here's an updated evaluation of Georgia's 2015 recruiting class.

 

Top Targets

Georgia's top overall target and the nation's best prospect, according to the 247Sports Composite, Trent Thompson, did not attend The Opening, but several other potential Bulldog commits were in attendance.

Most notably, defensive end Josh Sweat made a tremendous impression by showcasing his size, athleticism and relentless pursuit.  Sweat, regarded as the nation's second-best recruit by the 247Sports Composite, is pushing Thompson for that top spot, according to Barton Simmons of 247Sports:

Quietly, maybe nobody had a more impressive week than Sweat. He was battling a hip injury all week but never complained, still fought to compete and still showed scary edge speed and athleticism. In a battle for the No. 1 spot in the national ranking, Sweat stated a strong case by showcasing athleticism and toughness.

Sweat is still considering a host of schools, but landing him would undoubtedly bolster this class both in national ranking and in college-ready talent.

Linebacker Roquan Smith also performed well at The Opening.  Although he's still on the smaller side (he measured 6'1", 205 pounds), Smith showed more than competent speed with a 4.55 40 and posted a vertical jump in excess of 35 inches, according to Student Sports.

The best news surrounding Smith—at least for Georgia fans—was with whom he spent his time at camp.  According to Rusty Mansell of 247Sports (subscription required), Georgia commit Terry Godwin stayed in his ear all weak.

"Basically it was me and him the whole time," Smith told Mansell of Godwin.

 

Georgia's Commits

For the most part, Georgia's commits acquitted themselves quite nicely against the nation's best. 

When he wasn't planting a bug in Smith's ear, Godwin was establishing himself as one of the better receivers in the class. His speed and raw athleticism did not overwhelm, but his hands certainly made an impression.

Chauncey Rivers and Natrez Patrick showcased two very distinct skill sets (see Michael Felder's video above), which, in a way, adds value to the class by making the range of commitments more versatile.  Rivers demonstrated strength and use of hands where Patrick demonstrated length and speed, but those traits don't necessarily show up on a plain recruiting board.

Barton Simmons of 247Sports (subscription required) also offered up a glowing review of tight end Jackson Harris:

I came away from this event even more bullish on Harris than I was going in. He's one of the biggest tight ends in the country, but what were his ball skills going to be like after only catching nine passes as a junior? He never fought the ball once that I noticed. He sees the ball well, runs good routes. I don't think he's going to really scare anybody with his up-field athleticism, but he has the frame that more than compensates for that. He'll be a good one for Georgia.

Meanwhile, defensive back Rico McGraw noted at The Opening that he was still receiving serious interest from Tennessee and Alabama and told Simmons he would continue to explore his options. 

 

Analysis

At huge events like this, no news is often good news.  Georgia did not lose a commitment nor did a top recruit make a name for himself in a negative way (on or off the field) at The Opening.

All in all, Godwin remains the most impressive among this group, but Sweat sure gave Georgia fans something to add to their wish list.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

6 Issues We Would Love for USC's Steve Sarkisian to Address at Pac-12 Media Days

The Steve Sarkisian era officially begins on August 30 when the Trojans host Fresno State at the venerable, old Coliseum.

However, Trojan fans will get a glimpse into their new head coach's mindset when Pac-12 media days begin on July 23 in Hollywood, California.

Sarkisian will be joined by quarterback Cody Kessler and defensive lineman Leonard Williams to answer the queries of reporters who cover the sport for a variety of media outlets.

While the musings of Kessler and Williams will certainly be of interest, it is the mind of Sark that should be of most concern to those who follow the men of Troy.

So while fans hope that the reporters ask pertinent questions, this slideshow will offer some that may evade those at the event.

Although these may not be the most pressing of interests to the masses, here are six issues we would like Sark to address.

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6 Issues We Would Love for USC's Steve Sarkisian to Address at Pac-12 Media Days

The Steve Sarkisian era officially begins on August 30 when the Trojans host Fresno State at the venerable, old Coliseum...

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Grading Top ACC Recruits' Performance at The Opening 2014

The Opening concluded Thursday at Nike's headquarters in Beaverton, Oregon, after three days of competition and evaluation. The ACC had a number of top targets, both committed and undecided, at the event that featured 162 of the nation's most sought-after recruits.

For many prospects, it was the first chance to separate themselves from their peers and future teammates through SPARQ testing, one-on-one lineman matchups and seven-on-seven scrimmages. With national signing day just six months away, here's how some of the ACC's top recruits fared against their fellow standouts. 

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SEC Media Days 2014: Day 1 Schedule, Live Stream, Participants and Predictions

The college football season is nearly upon us, but first one of the biggest heavyweight conferences open their media days slate.

Monday is only Day 1 of a long week in Hoover, Alabama, but presents some of the most interesting storylines. With the opening of a new regime in Vanderbilt and some trouble for a potential Heisman candidate, the opening slate of interviews should be entertaining to watch.

Before things get underway on Day 1, here's a look at the full schedule, participants and predictions for Monday. All information provided by SEC Sports.

 

SEC Football Media Days Information

When: July 14-17

Where: Hyatt Regency Birmingham—The Wynfrey Hotel in Hoover, Alabama

Watch: ESPNU

Live Stream: WatchESPN

 

Monday, July, 14
Session I: 12 p.m.-2:30 p.m. ET
SEC Commissioner Mike Slive
Auburn: Gus Malzahn; Reese Dismukes, Center; Gabe Wright, Defensive Lineman; C.J. Uzomah, Tight End

Session II: 3:40 p.m.-5:40 p.m. ET
Florida: Will Muschamp; Jeff Driskel, Quarterback; Dante Fowler, Defensive End; Vernon Hargreaves III, Cornerback
Vanderbilt: Derek Mason; Adam Butler, Defensive Line; Steven Scheu, Tight End; Andrew Williamson, Safety

 

Auburn Participants Will Be Drilled About Nick Marshall Issues

At major college conference media days, there's no hiding from the firestorm of questioning.

Auburn's Nick Marshall was recently cited for marijuana possession and his teammates will have plenty of questions to answer with the media leading up to the season. Joel A. Erickson of AL.com provides details on Marshall's citation:

Marshall, the returning quarterback who was supposed to be part of Auburn's SEC Media Days contingent on Monday, was pulled over due to a possible window tinting violation at 12:45 p.m. on Highway 96 in Reynolds.

According to (Reynolds police chief Lonnie) Holder, the officer detected an odor of marijuana coming from the car, and upon search of the vehicle, police found "8-or-9" grams of marijuana, which is less than an ounce.

Needless to say, Marshall will certainly be a popular figure on Monday. It was announced Sunday night that Marshall will be absent at the SEC Media Days on Monday, per Jeremy Fowler of CBS Sports, so every participant for the Tigers will have to carry the load.

Auburn comes into the season with plenty of optimism after winning the conference last year. But after the departure of Tre Mason, the Tigers will have to rely more heavily on Marshall in the rushing and passing game.

Marshall passed for 1,976 yards and 14 touchdowns while rushing for 1,068 yards and another 12 touchdowns. After a phenomenal season last year, Marshall comes in with similar buzz as Johnny Manziel during the 2013 SEC Media Days.

Barrett Sallee of Bleacher Report compared the two in a recent column and notes what he believed Marshall should have done on Monday:

Being a leader and owning the moment will make those columns published Monday night and the radio fodder that follows seem silly and outlandish. 

Marshall should take advantage of the cards he dealt himself, not fold when the stakes are high.

After early talk that Marshall might be a Heisman candidate, the Auburn standout comes into the season with controversy surrounding him. Without the quarterback in attendance, it will now be up to his teammates and coach to respond to the coming criticism.

 

Opening of a New Era for Vanderbilt

While some programs come in with high hopes for this season, Vanderbilt is beginning a rebuilding process after losing three of their leaders.

Just a year after the Commodores finished 9-4 (4-4 SEC), they now have to move forward without new Penn State coach James Franklin, leading receiver Jordan Matthews and quarterback Austyn Carta-Samuels. That's a tall task for anyone, but new coach Derek Mason is ready to lead the charge.

The former Stanford defensive coordinator brings a tough style of football to the Vandy program and doesn't hold any punches about his expectations. Mason spoke about the future for the Commodores, per Fowler:

If I don't look at doing that, then why am I here. My expectation is no different than coach [Nick] Saban's. I want to win every game and I want to play for a national title."

... Leadership. Who are [the leaders]? ... I think James had created a culture of winning. All those other aspects and processes were -- some were in place and some were lacking. What you have to look at is the infrastructure and look and see what you don't have and say to yourself: 'How do we get it?'

The questioning about those leaders will likely be one of the biggest topics for Mason on Monday.

Last season, Matthews was a force in the SEC and more than doubled every other receiver on the team with 112 receptions, 1,477 yards and seven touchdowns. He's now a member of the Philadelphia Eagles and Vandy is left with a huge void.

Losing Matthews is a massive blow, but having instability at quarterback might be even more difficult to fix. One candidate for the position is ex-LSU signal-caller Stephen Rivers, who announced his decision to attend Vanderbilt on June 4:

Philip Rivers' younger brother hopes to take the reins away from the rest of the quarterbacks, but the battle is still not over heading into the SEC Media Days. Expect that to be a main talking point throughout the day.

In an environment where he can make some serious buzz, there's a slight chance Mason could make the announcement on Monday. But with plenty of time to keep fans lingering, the new coach might keep his cards close to the vest in Hoover.

With five other signal-callers looking to take the starting role, including sophomore Patton Robinette and junior Josh Grady, reporters will be whispering about the QB battle. How Mason and his players respond to those questions will define his first SEC media frenzy. 

 

Follow @RCorySmith on Twitter.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Re-Evaluating Miami's Recruiting Class After The Opening 2014

The Opening 2014 showcased more than 150 top high school prospects from around the nation, and the Miami Hurricanes were well-represented at the event.

Seven key targets and three commits, both of the undecided and elsewhere verbally pledged variety, earned invitations to the prestigious camp.

After three days of madness, re-evaluating where the Hurricanes stand with those 10 recruits following The Opening clarifies what to expect heading into the 2014 high school season. 

From performances at the camp to recent updates in their respective recruitments, it was an eventful stretch for Miami's 2015 class.

 

Top Targets

Very unsurprisingly, Torrance Gibson posted the highest SPARQ score of all Miami targets and commits. His 107.01 mark trailed only Brandon Wimbush at quarterback.

JC Shurburtt of 247Sports said Gibson was also playing receiver at The Opening, which is the 5-star's backup plan. Gibson participated with the position after working out with quarterbacks, where he did not make the Elite 11 finals.

While the Hurricanes are still in the picture, they certainly are not the focal point currently. Snaring Gibson appears to be a long shot at best, but Miami will not officially exit the picture unless he eliminates the hometown program.

Barton Simmons of 247Sports placed wide receiver Calvin Ridley on his all-camp first-team offense, calling him "the best player on the best team." Fellow 'Bama commit Shawn Burgess-Becker also took part in the event on the Nike campus, and the 'Canes are hanging on in their respective recruitments.

However small the chances may be at landing Tevon Coney, he is the top linebacker priority in the 2015 cycle. Luke Stampini of GatorBait.net (subscription required) noted Coney struggled early, but he still garnered some praise with superb poise during a one-on-one test.

Following the necessary dismissals of Alex Figueroa and JaWand Blue, the unit is even thinner than initially anticipated. The position was already an obvious need, but now the 'Canes will utilize the full-court press for Coney.

Cornerback and FSU pledge Tyrek Cole remains a top target in addition to Miami's continued pursuit of safety and The Opening attendee Jaquan Johnson. Adding the pair of local defensive backs is a key goal for Al Golden and Co., and they are the most likely pulls from this group.

 

Miami Commits

The Hurricanes watched three verbal pledges enter The Opening, and the coaching staff was surely ecstatic as a fourth walked out in Jordan Scarlett.

He was easily one of the most discussed participants, especially after a ridiculous move in one-on-ones that is pretty hard to stop appreciating. Scarlett will likely be one of the highest-rated Miami targets by the time national signing day eventually arrives.

Jordan CronkriteDexter Williams and Mark Walton, a trio of 4-star in-state running backs, were the previously committed prospects. Now, the 'Canes face a fantastic uphill battle: keeping them all locked in.

A common question following Scarlett's addition was how Cronkrite would react to Scarlett's commitment at The Opening. Per Ryan Bartow of 247Sports (s/r), Cronkrite said the UM staff told him he was atop the recruiting board at the position.

Williams shared similar sentiments, telling GatorBait.net staff (s/r), "It doesn't concern me at all because it's competition. It's football. You're going to have a couple players there that you're going to have to beat out for the position." Williams will be visiting Florida, though, and the Gators are considered the biggest competition.

Bartow also said Walton was "lethal out of the backfield" catching swing passes. According to David Lake of InsideTheU (s/r), the running back told Miami coaches in early July that he is still 100 percent committed.

The Hurricanes are almost certain to keep at least two of the running backs, which gives them a dynamic backfield alongside Joe Yearby and Gus Edwards. Of course, Miami needs commitments from other positions too, but a stable of running backs is extremely important.

And it's hard to beat what the 'Canes have.

 

Note: All recruit information courtesy of 247Sports.

Follow Bleacher Report CFB Writer David Kenyon on Twitter: @Kenyon19_BR.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Texas Football: 5 Backups Critical to the Longhorns' Success in 2014

David Ash is inching closer to a return, but that doesn't lessen the need for the Longhorns to get both of their backups ready to contribute in a big way. And that's not the only position where Charlie Strong will have to lean on his bench.

Through and through, the Longhorns are solid at the skill positions and at linebacker. The spots are stocked with reliable starters and enough backups that Charlie Strong can handle an injury or a bad game.

The rest of the defense and the offensive line are somewhat less stout. The secondary has no depth and only one reliable starter, the defensive line has talent without any reinforcements, and the offensive line is replacing three starters.

Because these groups are thin on experience and/or talent, the top backup from each one will be absolutely critical to how Texas performs this season. With the exception of the quarterbacks, each of these five guys will have to play, and play well, every single week of the season.

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Home-and-Home College Football Series That Need to Happen

Six weeks from now, the 2014 college football season will kick off, and with it, a number of marquee nonconference games.

Games such as Michigan State-Oregon, LSU-Wisconsin, Clemson-Georgia, Florida State-Notre Dame, Texas-UCLA, Auburn-Kansas State and Notre Dame-Arizona State will be fascinating intersectional confrontations along with traditional rivalries such as Clemson-South Carolina, Notre Dame-Southern California, Notre Dame-Michigan, Georgia-Georgia Tech and Army-Navy.

With the new College Football Playoff, strong schedules are as important as ever, but realignment and the advent of the nine-game schedule have changed college football scheduling, breaking up some classic rivalries and making others difficult to fit into the schedule, especially on a regular basis.

Here is a look at some college football home-and-home series that need to happen to make the game a more interesting and engrossing experience for fans.

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Predicting Every ESPN College Game Day Stop for 2014 Season

Where in the world will Chris, Herbie and Coach Corso end up this season?

The games themselves are what get us most excited about college football every fall, but there's also the added drama each week that comes with finding out where ESPN will be sending its famous traveling pregame show, College GameDay. If a program like that is coming to campus, it must mean two things: it's a big game, and it's time to come strong with your sign-making game.

Most sites are chosen on a week-to-week basis, with ESPN gauging the importance of the matchups and other factors to determine where to send host Chris Fowler, analysts Lee Corso and Kirk Herbstreit and the massive crew that builds the set either somewhere on a college campus or to a nearby off-campus venue.

Because it's often based on the marquee matchups being played that week, it's not surprising that the usual suspects end up hosting on a regular basis, and some teams end up being featured in multiple games in the same season.

But some wild cards can pop up, too, such as last year when College GameDay went to Fargo, N.D. in September to spotlight two-time (and eventual three-time) FCS champion North Dakota State.

Using all of these factors, we've picked our spots for where College GameDay will head during the 2014 season. There are plenty of old standards on the schedule, as well as some first-time locales.

Read on to see where Washington State alumni will need to head to get their flag on national television each Saturday.

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Re-Evaluating Tennessee's Recruiting Class After the 2014 Opening

Thanks to Tennessee coach Butch Jones' dogged pursuit of the nation's top players, the Volunteers are prominently on the minds of many who participated in The Opening last week.

Following the ESPNU on-air commitment of 5-star defensive tackle Kahlil McKenzie to the Vols, UT now has three pledges who took part in the best-against-the-best camp. Several other prospects who were in Beaverton, Oregon, are in Jones' future plans.

Thanks to McKenzie's commitment in the midst of a dominating performance at the event, the Vols yet again have momentum to fill out a class with an extremely limited number of spots.

UT currently has 20 pledges in a 2015 recruiting class that is ranked seventh in the 247Sports composite. Now, it seems the biggest question facing Jones isn't whether the Vols will fill spots with stars, but if there is enough room for everybody who may jump into the fold.

Let's take a look at what The Opening did to enhance UT's recruiting efforts and re-evaluate the position the Vols now find themselves in with the targets who participated.

 

Top Targets

Because of the ripple effect of McKenzie's commitment, some star prospects who didn't have Tennessee on their periphery are now giving the Vols a closer look.

Case in point: The nation's No. 5 offensive tackle, Matthew Burrell, wasn't heavily considering UT prior to The Opening. He hooked up with McKenzie at the event, the two earned a mutual respect for one another, and they went at it during one-on-ones with UT's newest pledge handling him.

On Saturday, a couple of days after McKenzie's pledge, Burrell tweeted that he is going to reconsider the Vols, along with Virginia. Currently, Alabama and Ohio State are among the favorites to land him.

Elite players want to play with other elite players, and McKenzie's much-publicized performance could be a big boost to UT's recruiting efforts.

Getting in the thick of the race for Burrell would give UT another offensive tackle target on its board to go along with in-state lineman Drew Richmond. The Memphis product told BamaOnline's Charles Power (subscription required) that UT was one of the seven teams recruiting him the hardest.

McKenzie knows how big a need offensive tackle is for the Vols, and he already has begun to recruit Burrell as well as Richmond.

Some of Tennessee's top targets who showed out—such as Josh Sweat and Christian Kirk—may be long shots to sign with the Vols, but UT had plenty of more interested and attainable prospects participating.

In-state 4-star receiver Van Jefferson recently has received a flurry of 247Sports Crystal Ball projections for UT that have put the Vols in front of Ohio State as the favorite to land his verbal pledge.

247Sports' Josh Newberg (subscription required) said of Jefferson following the seven-on-seven pool play:

"Wide receiver Van Jefferson didn't get thrown to as often as others, but when he did he made it count. Nearly every catch Jefferson made went for a score, usually on a deep ball."

Jefferson told GoVols247's Ryan Callahan (subscription required) he hopes to decide by the end of the month after returning from trips to his other two finalists, Ohio State and Georgia.

If Tennessee can survive those two visits, it seems to be trending.

Another Opening participant who is close to deciding on his college destination is quick Georgia linebacker Quarte Sapp, a 6'1.5", 200-pound outside 'backer who has 93 percent of his Crystal Ball projections pointing toward Knoxville.

He told 247Sports' Luke Stampini (subscription required) he has two July visits scheduled to Texas A&M and Tennessee and plans to make a decision before his senior season.

Despite this whiff on Texas running back Soso Jamabo, Sapp participated in events all week at The Opening, which isn't normally the best setting for linebackers to shine.

The recruitment of quarterback/athlete Torrance Gibson continues to be an odd one, as he went from participating in the Elite 11 as a quarterback to moving over to receiver some at The Opening, according to 247Sports' JC Shurburtt (subscription required).

The Florida product is the nation's No. 2-ranked athlete and a 5-star player. He's also a unique talent who has the ability to play quarterback but is such a dynamic athlete that he can play several other spots as well.

Gibson announced via Twitter on Sunday that he'll commit to his school of choice on Oct. 20.

Though UT has two quarterback commits, Gibson told SB Nation last week the Vols not only want him but also are recruiting him as a signal-caller. It's going to be interesting watching how his recruitment plays out over the course of the next three months.

Other UT targets such as 5-star defensive tackle Tim Settle and 4-star running back Bryce Love also participated in The Opening, as well as UGA defensive back commit Rico McGraw, who told 247Sports' Barton Simmons (subscription required) he was "still exploring my options."

 

Tennessee's Commits

All three of the Vols' commitments who earned invitations to The Opening are firm in their pledges right now, but it's the newest Vol who is becoming the most vocal recruiter.

Much like Vic Wharton, Jalen Hurd and Todd Kelly Jr. last year and Jack Jones and Andrew Butcher this season, McKenzie is burning up social media to recruit for UT.

After barking in the direction of Burrell and Richmond, McKenzie responded to a tweet from Pulaski, Tennessee, cornerback Cameron Ordway that he's going to visit Florida State.

After McKenzie committed to UT on Thursday night by putting on his signature bucket hat (orange and white to match the occasion), fellow 5-star defensive tackle Shy Tuttle tweeted this. He's heavily considering the Vols along with North Carolina.

The impact McKenzie's pledge already has had on recruiting is incredible. He's simply one of those charismatic characters everybody gravitates toward, and he's a vocal presence on social media.

Couple that with the fact that his father, Reggie, is an NFL general manager, and that exposure and networking capability bodes well for UT's recruiting efforts.

Following a week where McKenzie dominated on his way to winning the Defensive Lineman MVP of the camp, all the buzz surrounding him becomes even louder across the recruiting nation.

Simmons told GoVols247's Ryan Callahan (subscription required) that even though McKenzie is already 247Sports' 10th-ranked player, he should move up in the next rankings:

"When we address the rankings, he will absolutely be in the discussion for moves up. I don't want to put a number on it or anything like that, but he helped himself, for sure, with his performance."

Not only is McKenzie's commitment supremely important on the field, it could pay immediate dividends on the recruiting trail.

Another UT commit who performed incredibly was 5-star receiver Preston Williams. Bleacher Report's Michael Felder said Williams put on a show and "showed that he's a dynamic pass-catcher that, in that Volunteers offense, is going to make big plays."

Here he is going up against 5-star cornerback Kevin Toliver.

Simmons told Callahan in the linked story from above that even though Williams ran a 4.6, he didn't expect the Lovejoy, Georgia, receiver to fall too much (if at all) from his No. 1 receiver ranking:

Heading into the week with Preston Williams being the number-one receiver in the country, I don't think we feel like we're wrong in that ranking. Other receivers were more productive, and I think we're going to have to have a discussion about who the number-one receiver is. But I think, when you talk about size and skill set, and just athletic ability, there's still no doubt that Preston Williams a freak. He is who we thought he was. He is that guy that we thought he was—just a different breed, a different specimen on the outside.

Simmons also discussed UT linebacker commit Cecil Cherry, who, despite some limitations in his lateral game, is a punishing interior linebacker who will be a big hitter on the next level.

Though some of the faster runners were difficult matchups for the 6'0", 230-pound linebacker, one of the plays of the week was when Cherry closed on running back Mike Weber and forced a fumble in one-on-one action.

Given their myriad needs all over the field even after a huge 2014 recruiting class, the Vols are swinging for the fences with some of the top prospects in the country.

Of course, UT won't finish with all of its top targets from The Opening. But if Jones can land a few of them to close the class, the Vols will finish once again ranked in the nation's top 10 classes. Most importantly, they'll be one step closer to competing on the field.

 

All recruiting rankings and statistics courtesy of 247Sports composite.

Brad Shepard covers SEC football and is the Tennessee Lead Writer for Bleacher Report. Follow Brad on Twitter here:

@Brad_Shepard

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Ranking 5 Most Shocking Commitments so Far in Class of 2015

The 2015 recruiting cycle is moving along, and so far there have been several shocking commitments.

Analysts and fans of recruiting make predictions on where they think a recruit will go, but some prospects surprise everyone with their decisions.

An offensive tackle from Georgia was thought to be a lock to sign with an SEC team only to commit to a Pac-12 school. And a Big 12 school came out of virtually nowhere to snag a 4-star running back. 

Then there's the 4-star receiver who spurned the chance to be a legacy player at his hometown school.

All recruiting ratings and rankings are from 247Sports' Composite Rankings.Player evaluations are based on review of tape at Scout.comRivals and 247Sports.

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Grading Top Big Ten Recruits' Performances at the Opening 2014

Last week, we identified the top high school prospects at Nike's "The Opening" on whom the Big Ten had set its collective sights.  Now that the emerging premiere summer football camp for the nation's elite recruits is behind us, it's time to take a look back and see just how these recruits performed.

We'll be grading these Big Ten prospects on an A-F grading scale.  No, we won't be grading on a curve, so there are no guarantees here.  Each player will be graded on the merits of his performance at "The Opening," and we're pretty tough in our grading.

Although these members of the Class of 2015 are among the best players in the nation, suffice it to say that earning an "A" from us this early in the process means that the recruit is indeed living up to the hype and should perform—at a bare minimum—at or above his expected level come his collegiate years.

Note: All recruit rankings and star levels are from 247Sports.com, unless otherwise noted.

 

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10 Uncommitted College Football Recruits Sure to Stay in-State

Summer is in full swing, which means uncommitted recruits will see their recruitment only heat up even more. Some prospects will be looking to leave home to experience college life elsewhere.

However, several recruits appear to love the idea of staying inside their state to play within their native borders. A 4-star receiver from Florida is just about a lock to stay inside the Sunshine State for college while a 5-star defensive tackle will not even leave his city.

Plus, it'll be one of the Oklahoma schools for a powerful offensive lineman.

All recruiting ratings and rankings are from 247Sports' Composite Rankings.Player evaluations are based on review of tape at Scout.comRivals and 247Sports.

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Georgia Football: 5 Backups Critical to the Bulldogs' Success in 2014

There are many factors for a team to win a conference and a national title. The star players have to play at a high level consistently, the team has to remain relatively healthy, and luck has to be on their side.

But as good as the starters need to be, the backups have to be just as effective because they are only one play away from being part of the No. 1 group.

And that is no different for the Georgia Bulldogs. As much as they need players like Todd Gurley and Ramik Wilson to be at an all-star level, the reserve players will have to do their jobs and more to help the Bulldogs win the SEC.

Here are five backups critical to the Bulldogs' success in 2014.

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