NCAA Football

USC's Expectations Are High for 2-Way Star Adoree' Jackson

Adoree' Jackson, a two-way player at USC, can do it all for Steve Sarkisian and the Trojans. The talented wide receiver/defensive back put up some respectable numbers in 2014...

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Under-the-Radar Players Who Will Have Breakout Seasons for the Florida Gators

The Florida Gators are undergoing a rebuilding effort for the first time in a long time. Jim McElwain has taken over at head coach, and he is looking to return the Gators to a top-tier team. 

Bleacher Report College Football Analyst Barrett Sallee joins Stephen Nelson to discuss some under-the-radar guys who could have an impact on Florida next season. 

What kind of team do you think the Gators can have? Check out the video and let us know!

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What Michigan State Must Improve to Beat Ohio State, Seize Big Ten in 2015

Bodog (h/t Odds Shark) lists Ohio State as a 4-1 favorite to win the 2016 College Football Playoff National Championship, in part because the Big Ten—unlike the SEC, Pac-12 and Big 12—sports no other team among the top seven favorites.

The Big Ten team with the best chance of beating OSU, Michigan State, lost by 12 points at home to the Buckeyes last season and must travel to Columbus next year.

Sparty handed Ohio State its first loss of the Urban Meyer era in the 2013 Big Ten Championship Game. After three years, it is still the only Big Ten team that knows the taste of Meyer's blood.

But as last year's meeting made painfully clear, it has a long way to go before it can reassume the Big Ten throne.

Here's where it most desperately needs improvements.

 

Pass Defense

It's alarming how fast this secondary went from strength to weakness.

One year after fielding the "No Fly Zone," a secondary replete with NFL talent, the Spartans allowed a staggering number of big plays:

Next year, the Spartans lose All-Big Ten defensive back Kurtis Drummond and projected first-round NFL draft pick Trae Waynes. In other words, a secondary that already struggled to contain big plays loses by far its two best weapons for containing big plays.

Who will step up to replace them?

At safety, Montae Nicholson and RJ Williamson seem locked into starting roles. The much bigger questions lie at cornerback.

Former starter Darian Hicks, whom Big Ten Wide Receiver of the Year Tony Lippett replaced in the starting lineup, must put last year behind him and regain the form he showed last offseason. Sean Merriman of BTN.com named Hicks the star of last year's spring game, and Hicks flashed potential at the start of the season too.

His struggles seemed to be the result of a mental block more than anything else.

Elsewhere, Sparty could use a smooth transition to cornerback from Demetrious Cox, who converted after spending his first two seasons at safety.

Fortunately, Cox found the perfect mentor in former teammate Darqueze Dennard, the 2013 Jim Thorpe Award recipient as the best defensive back in college football.

"I've already hit up Darqueze," Cox said in November, when he first learned of his position change, according to Joe Rexrode of the Detroit Free Press. "Like, 'Look, if you've got time, we're working out this summer.' And he's all for it, he's excited."

Last year, in the 49-37 home loss to the Buckeyes, Michigan State allowed six consecutive touchdown drives.

Not all included big plays—in fact, many were methodical—but the prospect of the big play, which MSU knew it struggled to defend, loosened the defense so much that Ohio State looked like the Green Bay Packers.

Next year, it has to get better.

 

Connor Cook's Consistency

Connor Cook played an average game against Ohio State last season. He played a spectacular game in the 2013 Big Ten Championship Game.

Guess which game the Spartans won?

Cook is one of the best quarterbacks in college football, but he's not one of the most reliable. His accuracy, footwork and throwing motion vary from one snap to the next, which leads to inconsistent results.

He stands out most with his intangibles: his will to win and leadership qualities. It's not every quarterback who plows through a safety to set the tone against his school's biggest rival:

But it's also not every quarterback—or at least not every quarterback with first-round NFL potential—who infuriates evaluators with bad decisions, poor mechanics and occasional ugly plays:

There is no way—no way—Michigan State will beat Ohio State unless Cook plays like an NFL quarterback. The Spartans lose their top two running backs (Jeremy Langford, Nick Hill) and receivers (Lippett, Keith Mumphrey) from 2014, so Cook must bear an even bigger load.

Ohio State's defense made Marcus Mariota look average in the CFP National Championship. All Cook has to do is outperform the 2014 Heisman Trophy winner—and in The Horseshoe, no less.

Will it be easy? No. Is it likely? Not really.

But is it possible?

Cook is one of the only players for whom the answer is "Yes."

 

Defensive Identity

The 2014 Spartans weren't soft. That word has never been used and never will be used in reference to a Mark Dantonio-coached team.

But the 2014 Spartans were comparatively soft, albeit against the impossible standard of 2013. They didn't protect the middle of the defensive line and tackled inconsistently at every level.

The loss of Pat Narduzzi, one of the best defensive coordinators in college football, hurts. Narduzzi spent 11 seasons under Dantonio and won the 2013 Broyles Award, but he left this winter to become the head coach at Pittsburgh.

How will his co-replacements, former linebackers coach Mike Tressel and former defensive backs coach Harlan Barnett, restore the Spartans' defensive identity? It sort of got away from them last season—and that was with Narduzzi storming the sideline.

A defensive line led by Shilique Calhoun, Lawrence Thomas, Malik McDowell and Demetrius Cooper is big, strong and nasty enough to combat Ohio State's offensive line. That group can hang with anyone.

The real questions lie at linebacker, a historically strong position for the Spartans that last year suffered a drop-off.

Who will replace Taiwan Jones up the middle? How is tackling? Can he set the defensive temperature at 100 degrees Fahrenheit the same way Max Bullough, Greg Jones and company have in the past?

This defense wasn't mean enough to beat Ohio State last season. No defense was mean enough to beat Ohio State last season, unless you want to count Virginia Tech's.

To stop running back Ezekiel Elliott in Columbus, the Spartans must play like bullies and be the hammers instead of the nails.

Otherwise, that game could get ugly.

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Which College Football Teams Will Take Steps Back in 2015?

The 2014 college football season was full of surprises, from the emergence of Mississippi State and Ole Miss to the disappointing USC season. Teams rise and fall each and every season. 

Bleacher Report College Football Analysts Adam Kramer and Barrett Sallee predict the teams that will fall off record-wise in 2015. 

Which teams will not enjoy the same success? Check out the video and let us know! 

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Will 2014's Ultimate Dark Horse Be a College Football Playoff Contender in 2015?

Last year, on the heels of a 4-8 finish, TCU turned small preseason expectations into a 12-1 record, a co-Big 12 title and a thorough run at making the College Football Playoff.

Next year, it won't sneak up on anybody. 

Despite that, the Horned Frogs are expected to repeat last year's success and make a run at the national title. They lose some important defensive pieces, chief among them coordinator Dick Bumpas, but return nine starters from the No. 2 scoring offense in America.

On paper, TCU deserves the praise and expectations it's received since hammering Ole Miss in the Peach Bowl—praise like that from Bleacher Report's Ben Kercheval, who ranked it No. 2 on his most recent Top 25.

History, however, suggests we might want to rein that back.

From 2003 to 2013, only 12 teams improved by seven or more wins in a season. Only four of those 12 improved by eight or more wins, most recently Auburn (2013), which rebounded from a 3-9 season to finish 12-2 and fell 13 seconds short of a national title.

Naturally, each of these teams entered the following season with higher expectations than the previous season. That's what winning does. But how did each team fare after its turnaround?

None of TCU's forerunners came even close to sustaining success. On average, they won 5.5 fewer games the year after their turnaround, with no team regressing by fewer than four wins.

By that metric, TCU should expect six or seven wins in 2015. As a ceiling, it would finish 8-5. Auburn's 2014 season, which ended with a loss in the Outback Bowl, is by precedent the best-case scenario.

How much should we read into that? Not too much and not too little.

The Horned Frogs have the benefit of a relatively weak Big 12, which should help with exceeding those projections. If they play as well as 2014 Auburn, which finished No. 7 on the F/+ ratings at Football Outsiders, they will win double-digit games and contend for a conference title. The only reason Auburn lost five games was a brutal strength of schedule.

At the same time, TCU must cope with the loss of its defensive coordinator, which is something (major coaching turnover) Auburn avoided. It promoted from within for continuity, elevating safeties coach Chad Glasgow and linebackers coach Demontie Cross to co-defensive coordinators, but the loss of Bumpas looms large.

Five TCU defenders made an All-Big-12 team last season: linebacker Paul Dawson (first team), safety Chris Hackett (first team), defensive tackle Chucky Hunter (second team), safety Sam Carter (second team) and cornerback Kevin White (second team).

Guess how many return in 2015…

TCU might still field a solid defense. It might still contend for a playoff spot. The talent is there, quarterback Trevone Boykin is there, head coach Gary Patterson is there, et al.

I just wonder if we've ordained them too quickly. And I use "we" because I'm as guilty as anyone. I saw how TCU destroyed Ole Miss, computed how many offensive players might return and decided, without one look at precedent, that it would contend for another national title.

But there's another, more skeptical way to look at.

Teams that improve by eight wins one season regress the following season. This is shown in the numbers above.

Teams that lose five all-conference defenders, along with a three-time Broyles Award finalist on the sideline, regress the following season. This is inferred by logic.

Teams that lead the nation in turnover luck, as computed by Bill Connelly of Football Study Hall, regress the following season. This is outlined by the laws of statistics.

"Heading into 2015, [turnover luck] might provide us with a pretty tenuous glimpse of TCU's potential national title hopes," Connelly wrote in January.

And that was before Bumpas retired.

Patterson has vented publicly about TCU's omission from the playoff, which should help the Horned Frogs' case in 2015.

"[The selection committee's] job was to watch all this film and pick the four best teams no matter who you played, what you did," he said in April, according to Dennis Dodd of CBSSports.com. "All the sudden it came down to, ‘Well, they played a championship game but they didn't.' That's not what we were told."

Such criticism might nudge the committee toward including a Big 12 team in the upcoming playoff. It certainly won't nudge it the other way. If they repeat last year's 11-1 regular season, the Horned Frogs stand a better chance than last year of making it.

The problem concerns not interconference politics but intraconference performance. In order to repeat that 11-1 regular season, the Horned Frogs would have to buck mathematical trends.

The real Big 12 favorite should be Baylor, a team which:

  1. Has posted consecutive 11-win seasons.
  2. Beat TCU in 2014.
  3. Returns all four members of the All-Big 12 first team: running back Shock Linwood, offensive tackle Spencer Drango, defensive tackle Andrew Billings and defensive end Shawn Oakman.

TCU should not be discounted. It's playoff chances are real. But it should enter next year a contender instead of a favorite.

Obviously, that's a matter of semantics, but it's important because it aligns TCU's projections and expectations. If you think this team should win nine or 10 games on average, and with luck can win 11 or 12, you are bound to enjoy next season.

If you think it's the No. 2 team in the country, and would only accept making the playoff as an outcome, you might be in store for a letdown.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

B/R 5th Down: Charlie Strong Forgets His Quarterback's Name

Editor's Note: The Fifth Down captures the top social college football stories of the week. Because the long, grueling offseason is underway, we'll focus on things that make us laugh, think or maybe cry, but mostly laugh. 

 

1. Texas Coach Charlie Strong Has a Brain Fart But Rallies 

First, some background information.

There's an ongoing lawsuit between Oklahoma State and Texas Longhorns offensive coordinator/offensive line coach Joe Wickline, who previously held the O-line coach title with the Cowboys. The issue at hand is whether Wickline actually calls the plays for Texas. If he doesn't, he would owe Oklahoma State $600,000 in a buyout for taking a lateral position with another job. 

Anyway, Strong was deposed about this last month—a copy of the deposition can be read here, courtesy of the Austin American-Statesman (h/t Good Bull Hunting)and some of his answers are miraculous. 

Namely, Strong had a brain fart and forgot the name of his starting quarterback, Tyrone Swoopes. 

You know...that guy. What's his face.  

We'll chalk it up to an honest mistake and not a hint that Jerrod Heard will be the Longhorns' starting quarterback in 2015.

Maybe.

OK, we'll see. 

Strong rallied, though. Asked later about the play-calling duties in the Oklahoma State game last season, a game the Horns won 28-7, Strong delivered a gorgeous troll that would make even South Carolina Gamecocks coach Steve Spurrier blush: 

Way to rebound, Strong.  

 

2. This Week in College Football Body Art

Want to show just how committed you are to school? Don't sign a national letter of intent.

Ink it on your body, bro. 

2015 Florida signee Jordan Scarlett hasn't played a down for the Gators, yet, but he's showing how much he loves his new school with a pretty rad tattoo on his leg. 

Getting a tattoo is a big commitment, and you don't want to paint yourself into a corner with it. So, you know, be careful and whatnot. 

Of course, it's one thing to get a tattoo of something about which you're passionate. It's another to get a tattoo of, well, basically yourself. 

But that's what BYU long snapper commit Matt Foley did, inking up his arm with a picture of what can only be assumed as him snapping a ball (via Reddit user deen5526): 

And here's the finished product: 

Of course, Foley doesn't care what you think about it, which is pretty much the only attitude you can have with something like this. So, do you, Foley. 

 

3. Ohio State is Concentrating Too Much on Baseball, Paawwwwlllllll 

Unless you're trying to tackle him, it's tough not to like Ohio State Buckeyes running back Ezekiel Elliott. He emerged from behind names like Melvin Gordon at Wisconsin and Ameer Abdullah at Nebraska to help the Buckeyes win a national championship last season. 

However, some things in this world are unforgivable. 

Elliott was about commit a Cardinal sin, so to speak, by attending a Cincinnati Reds game in a St. Louis Cardinals hat. The only thing that saved him from being "that guy" was an "academic obligation"—otherwise known as stats class

Which, if you've ever taken statistics in college, you'll know that calling it an obligation is being kind. 

In the end, Elliott "played school." It's probably best for everyone, anyway. Nothing good ever comes from wearing a Cardinals hat in public. 

Meanwhile, Buckeyes head coach Urban Meyer, linebacker Joe Burger and defensive lineman Adolphus Washington—the latter two of whom are Cincinnati natives—threw out the first pitches in Cincinnati's series against the Pittsburgh Pirates this week. It's a nice honor, but apparently, Burger's teammates were split over whether he would actually throw a strike. 

Clearly, this proves team chemistry is at an all-time low, and Ohio State has zero chance of repeating as national champs. 

(You can watch a video of the first pitches via Land Grant Holy Land.)  

 

 

 

4. Boston College Quotes Drake in Recruiting Letter and Nothing Was the Same

Boston College Eagles head coach Steve Addazio is a national treasure—if said treasure was the phrase "buncha dudes" instead of gold, valuable antiques and the like. 

Anyway, Addazio and his staff have come up with some solid recruiting tactics, the latest of which was a letter to 3-star wide receiver Seth Dawkins referencing Drake's new album, "If You're Reading This It's Too Late." 

Whether Dawkins will commit to Boston College remains to be seen. But suffice to say, he started from the bottom, now he's here. 

 

5. Stephen Garcia is Back for All Your Quarterback Needs

Honest confession: I miss former South Carolina quarterback Stephen Garcia. He played fearlessly on the field, lived fearlessly off of it and got into a lot of trouble with Spurrier because of it. 

He was the ultimate football bro, but was he ever fun to watch. 

According to Chris Dearing of GoGamecocks.com: "Garcia was invited to the University of Florida for the Gators' Pro Day in front of NFL scouts on Tuesday. He threw passes to the Florida receivers, tight ends and running backs, and had a great time doing it." 

Of course, Garcia's trip to The Swamp wouldn't be complete without a picture next to Spurrier's statue.  

All I'm saying is, if anyone needs a quarterback who will make you hold your breath on each play until you pass out, Garcia is available. 

 

6. An Update on Alabama Crimson Tide Running Back Bo Scarbrough

If you hadn't heard, Bo Scarbrough suffered a torn ACL in his knee during a scrimmage and is out indefinitely while he recovers from surgery. 

Scarbrough has a long way to go but is already able to do a straight leg lift.  

Why is this important? Imagine shredding the inside of your knee, a crucial joint for everyday use that is made that much more important when you're an athlete. Now, imagine being able to apply physics and pressure to said joint two days after the ligaments in it were repaired. 

Some folks might say Scarbrough is a physical freak like that. However you want to put it, here's to hoping his recovery is as speedy and successful as possible. 

 

7. Finally, Here's Iowa State Cyclones Coach Paul Rhoads Covered in Mud

You may not know it just by looking at him, but Paul Rhoads used to be a fine young football player at Missouri Western. Here's an awesome photo of Rhoads from his playing days, courtesy of Iowa State athletics communications director Mike Green: 

Level of proudness displayed by Rhoads: So Proud. It would have been better if he were completely covered from head to toe but good effort. 

 

Ben Kercheval is a lead writer for college football. All recruiting information courtesy of 247Sports.

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10 College Football QBs with Most to Prove in 2015 Season

College football is a team game, but the quarterback position holds more importance than any other on the field. Because of this, the pressure on these players is often far greater than on any of their teammates, and this usually includes the expectation that they'll be able to do what it takes to lead their teams to success.

That's one of the many things that college quarterbacks have to prove each year, though the individual expectations differ for each player. They all have something to prove, some more than others.

Here's a look at the 10 quarterbacks who head into the 2015 season with the most to prove, detailing what they need to be able to show they can do and why this matters to them and their teams this fall.

Begin Slideshow

Jim Harbaugh Lands the Next Andrew Luck, Sets Sights on Top Player in 2016 Class

The University of Michigan has had a great week when it comes to football recruits.

How big of a week did Michigan have? What impact will these recruits have on the program?

Watch as Stephen Nelson and Steve Lorenz of Wolverine247 discuss Michigan's big recruiting week in the video above.

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B/R Exclusive: California 4-Star LB Bryce Youngquist Announces Current Top 10

California 4-star outside linebacker Bryce Youngquist has a current top 10, and if there's one thing that can be said, it's that he isn't afraid to play college football far away from home.

The Rancho Cucamonga, California, linebacker announced to Bleacher Report a top 10 consisting of Tennessee, Wisconsin, Northwestern, Utah, Washington State, Oregon, Oklahoma, Arizona State, Illinois and Oregon State.

Of the 10, none are in-state schools. At least, not for now.

"These [10] schools have been showing a lot of interest, and I found that I have a lot of interest in those schools, too," Youngquist said. "My thing is, whatever college is the best fit for me, that's where I'm going to go.

"I'm willing to play in California, Florida, Maine...it doesn't matter. I don't care if I play in the snow. I just want to find the best fit for me."

Now standing 6'1" and weighing 215 pounds, Youngquist has 15 offers. Of the 15, San Diego State and Fresno State are the only California schools to offer. Nevada, Colorado and New Mexico are the three other schools to extend an offer. USC and UCLA are two schools that are showing interest, as well.

Ranked the nation's No. 12 outside linebacker, Youngquist is an athlete with high 4.4-second speed in the 40-yard dash and a high motor on the field. Per Rivals.com, he had 43 tackles and two sacks as a junior.

Youngquist said having a top 10 is the first step in keeping his recruiting process as simple as possible. He began trimming his list after receiving his latest offer from Tennessee last week.

"To be honest, it's now time to get serious," Youngquist said. "I know the recruiting process is supposed to be fun, but at the same time, it can be stressful. I just want to make it easier on myself."

Youngquist said of the schools that made the cut, Arizona State is the only one he visited. He was in Tempe in November when the Sun Devils beat Notre Dame, 55-31. He called the environment "unbelievable."

"It was a great unofficial [visit], almost as good as an official," he said. "The atmosphere was great; I hadn't been in an atmosphere like that. There were so many people, and it was so loud. You could really feel it."

Youngquist said he is planning on taking several visits to the schools on his list between now and the end of the summer. A commitment, he said, most likely will come at the end of his senior season, as he wants to take all five official visits before making a decision.

The winning school, he said, will have a good balance of athletic and academic advantages. He is looking to play in a great football atmosphere and be on a campus that will provide a quality education.

"After my [official] visits, I'll basically decide what's best for me," Youngquist said. "I want to visit all the schools, no doubt about it. They've all shown so much interest, and I feel those are the best schools with the best interest."

 

Damon Sayles is a National Recruiting Analyst with Bleacher Report. All quotes were obtained firsthand. All player ratings are courtesy of 247Sports' composite ratings. Follow Damon via Twitter: @DamonSayles

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