NCAA Football

Ranking College Football's Top 25 Tailgating Schools for 2014

With the opening of college football’s 2014 regular season one week away, fans across the nation are anxiously awaiting kickoff of their teams' campaigns. They’re ready to see what that highly touted quarterback can do. How stout their team’s defense looks this fall. How that new head coach or offensive coordinator looks as he charges onto the field for the first game that matters.

And, of course, they’re excited about the tailgating.

Tailgating is as much a part of fall as college football as games are. Heck, some fans never leave their souped-up RVs or SUVs, preferring the comfort of friends old and new, a flat-screen television plugged into a generator, grilled meat and adult beverages over fellowship inside the stadium with 80,000 of their closest friends.

Tailgating is an American art, and college football fans are its top practitioners. Whether you arrive a couple hours or a couple of days before the game, a tailgate is the perfect way to prepare for a college football game. 

Here is a look at the top 25 tailgate spots in college football. The list is entirely unscientific and based on my travels as a college football writer, as well as national reputation.

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College Football 2014: Who Is the No. 1 WR Heading into the Season?

Sammy Watkins and Mike Evans dominated headlines last year due to their explosive skills. Now that both have advanced to the NFL, a new crop of wide receivers will be fighting for the opportunity to be called the top receiver in the nation.

Watch as B/R's experts examine who has the right to be called the No. 1 wide receiver in college football.

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Florida State Football: Final Camp Stock Report

Now the fun really begins for the Florida State football team.

Tuesday's scrimmage—followed by a well-deserved day off on Wednesday—marked the end of the Seminoles' preseason camp. Coach Jimbo Fisher said Thursday's practice is the first day where FSU will focus entirely on game preparation for the Aug. 30 season opener against Oklahoma State in Arlington, Texas.

"I don't really have areas of concern," Fisher said. "I think we still have some battles going on where you feel good about two or three guys at a position. Building that depth."

As FSU transitions from camp to game prep, let's take a look at four storylines for the Seminoles:


New Starter on OL Should Fit Right In

With four returning senior starters on the offensive line, that group will be one of the Seminoles' strengths.

Austin Barron hopes to blend right in and fill the starting role that has been vacated by Bryan Stork, who won the Rimington Trophy as the nation's top center in 2013.

"I think I'm improving a lot," Barron said. "I have to keep on grinding."

Barron is a senior who has five starts under his belt, including one at Wake Forest in November 2013 when Stork was injured. But now it's Barron's turn to start, and he is happy to be finishing his college career alongside the linemen from the class of 2011.

FSU's line is anchored by left tackle Cameron Erving, the ACC's Jacobs Blocking Trophy winner in 2013, and also features All-ACC guards Tre' Jackson and Josue Matias and an improving right tackle in Bobby Hart. Now Barron slides into the center role, a veteran with some experience who also is very familiar with how the men next to him work.

"We all came in together, we all had a mission together, we all want to play together," Barron said. "Our freshman year, we were taking reps in practice together and we're saying, 'Can't wait until we all finally get to play together.' And now it's finally happening."

Barron may not be nearly as good as Stork, but with four veteran starters around him, he should do just fine.


Could Greene and Green Be FSU's Starting Receivers?

Fisher has said that he wants to find consistent options at receiver in preseason camp. That seemed to indicate that he would choose a senior like Scooter Haggins or Christian Green as a starter over sophomore Kermit Whitfield or freshmen Travis Rudolph, Ermon Lane or Ja'Vonn Harrison.

When asked who FSU would start at receiver if a game were this weekend, Fisher didn't hesitate to say Rashad Greene and Christian Green. Greene is a slam dunk, a playmaker who has led the team in receptions each of the past three seasons. Green is a mild surprise given that he has just 42 receptions in three seasons and none were touchdowns.

But it's also clear that FSU will mix in a number of receivers. FSU's preseason camp achieved a major goal of ensuring that a large group of talented but mostly inexperienced receivers have received significant playing time with the first- and second-team offense.

"I feel very comfortable with eight guys in that rotation," Fisher said. "I really do. I say that's not playing them all, but I feel very comfortable if they had to go into the football game."

Green is 6'2" and 200 pounds, and he had 26 receptions for 450 yards as a redshirt freshman in 2011. He's talked about being patient and dedicating himself to improving, and he feels his time has come.

Expect to see plenty of Greene and Green. But FSU will also blend in Haggins, Whitfield and Jesus "Bobo" Wilson (who could still be facing a suspension after he reached a plea deal on reduced misdemeanor charges stemming from his alleged theft of a motor vehicle).

Rudolph has been repeatedly praised by Fisher, but the freshman's foot injury has limited him at times in August. Still, expect to see Rudolph and Lane (and possibly Harrison) on the field against Oklahoma State.

Even the Backups in the Secondary Are Good

Starting corners Ronald Darby and P.J. Williams missed the past week with hamstring injuries. Fisher has said that this is really not significant, as he knows what they bring to the table. Both simply need to rest and let the hamstrings heal, and Fisher felt they would return to practice Thursday afternoon.

In their place, FSU bumped senior Nick Waisome and sophomore Marquez White up to the first-team defense.

"If they had to play, you'd feel very comfortable putting those guys—Nick Waisome and Marquez [White]—in the game," Fisher said.

Waisome started 14 games in 2012 and had 21 tackles. White played mostly on special teams as a freshman in 2013. 

With Waisome, coaches know what they have. He's a capable cover corner, although not as good as Darby and Williams. White's future appears to be good, and he's opted to focus entirely on football.

White said that he has given up playing college basketball. After working out with the basketball team following the football team's national title run, White played just 10 minutes and made a three-pointer.

"I felt like there are certain things that I wanted to accomplish and do," White said. "To say that I did it. Playing college basketball was one of them."

It's tough playing two sports in college, especially when those sports significantly overlap. White tried, but he knows that his future is in football, and he is dedicated to improving himself as a corner.


Maguire's Knowledge, Comfort Is Rising

FSU fans should see plenty of backup Sean Maguire late in games with the Seminoles in control.

It's hard to believe that Maguire was once FSU's No. 4 quarterback in the spring of 2013. But after Clint Trickett transferred to West Virginia in May 2013 and Jacob Coker followed suit in May 2014, Maguire is now the unquestioned No. 2 option for FSU.

When Coker went down with a knee injury in November, Maguire stepped in and completed 13 of 21 passes for 116 yards and two touchdowns in late-season blowout wins. Maguire spent the spring working with the No. 2 offense and gained invaluable experience.

"I remember last year saying you can watch all the film you want," Maguire told's Powell Latimer and Ben Jones (subscription required). "But it's different when you go out there. You can draw X's and O's all day and know the offense in and out, but until you go out there and see it and see the defense move and call the 'Mike' calls ... it's different."

Fisher has watched as Maguire has grown, seeing that he makes sound decisions each play.

"A quarterback's first job is to not lose a football game and to be able to distribute the ball to the right guys at the right times," Fisher said. "He is understanding the running game and making the right decisions in the passing game. I am very proud of his knowledge of what's going on."

Maguire may not play a significant minute of football in 2014. Every game may be out of hand when he plays. But with Jameis Winston eligible to enter the NFL draft in 2015, Maguire can gain a step up with the playing time he will earn in the second half of games.


Bob Ferrante is the Florida State Lead Writer for Bleacher Report. All quotes obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted. Follow Bob on Twitter. All recruiting information is courtesy of 247Sports.

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De'Veon Smith on Michigan's Offensive Line, It's 'Better Than It Was Last Year'

As running backs do, De'Veon Smith dodges and dances around blockers. 

However, during a media session Wednesday at the university’s Towsley Museum, the Michigan sophomore was straightforward and concise when asked about his offensive line. Despite losing Taylor Lewan, an All-American left tackle, and Michael Schofield, an All-Big Ten-caliber right tackle, the 5’11”, 220-pounder says the Wolverines won’t experience lag up front.

“I think our offensive line isbetter than it was last year,” he said. “I would say that confidently. I believe in my offensive line and I just can’t wait to see what they can do this year.”

Of course, there are checks to be made. Devin Gardner, the starting quarterback, was sacked 34 times in 2013, the third-most among FBS quarterbacks. An average of 3.3 yards per rush only added to the woes of the Big Ten's No. 10-ranked total offense

This year, being sharper is the only option. And as a whole, the O-line has shown “definite” improvement since this past year’s 7-6 tumble, says Smith, who enters the season as 1A or 1B on the depth chart (his status can change daily).

During this past Saturday’s scrimmage, other than Mason Cole, a true frosh who’ll likely start at left tackle, the linemen weren’t at all consistent; quarterbacks were harassed, running backs were stopped in the backfield and plays collapsed before they even started.

But Saturday’s follies can’t be solely blamed on the guys in the trenches. The running backs have to make certain they're on the same page as well. 

“We have to get better with our progressions,” says Smith, who wasn’t overly pleased with his showing under the lights. However, with coach Fred Jackson’s guidance, the position group will—and he stressed will—establish a steady “downhill” attack.

During his meeting with the press, Hoke revealed a starting front—the one that would "start today,” that is.

LT: Mason Cole (6'5', 292 pounds, Fr.)

LG: Erik Magnuson (6'6", 294, RS So.)

C: Jack Miller (6'4", 299, RS Jr.), Patrick Kugler (6'5", 299, RS So.), Graham Glasgow (6'6," 311, RS Jr.; scheduled to return and start in Week 2). 

RG: Joey Burzynski (6'1", 299, RS Sr.), Kyle Bosch (6'5", 303, So.), Kyle Kalis (6'5", 298, RS So.)

RT: Ben Braden (6'5", 322, RS So.)

Seemingly set on most of the lineup, Hoke said that he's keeping an eye out for right guard candidates such as Kalis, who can play both sides, and Bosch, another versatile cog with which to experiment. Burzynski's also a clear option. 

“We have an idea, but I don’t think we’re set at that right guard position right now,” Hoke said, later adding, “We still have to move the line of scrimmage better, and that’s a constant that we’ll have.”

Since failing to conquer the middle ground (and its own defense) on Saturday, the line has escalated efforts in order to support its backs and "make things easier" for the team.

Smith attributes "improved communication" between backs and brutes as one of the reasons why he's ready to co-sign for his shield of mammoths, which has "done great things" since disappointing over the weekend. 

Blocking is on the rise. Assignments aren't being missed as often. Backs are hitting gaps, holes and lanes, and they're gaining decent yardage in practice. 

Plus there's that Cole kid—Cole man, rather—who has the potential to be pretty special in Ann Arbor. And he's just getting started, which is all the more encouraging. 

"I wouldn't think he was a freshman if I just met him," said Smith, laughing. "He's a very mature person and [O-line] coach [Darrell] Funk is getting him right every day. He's a very mature person." 


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

Quotes were obtained firsthand by the writer. 

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Meet the Bo Pelini Nobody Knows

I watched Bo Pelini's coaching career go up in flames last season.

It was November 29. Nebraska just finished an uninspired 38-17 home loss to Iowa in the regular-season finale. This wasn’t what did it, though. Well, not exactly. It served as a catalyst for the events to follow—as did Pelini’s umpteenth encounter with an official on the sideline, this time nearly clocking an unassuming referee with hat clenched in hand.

The moment came a short while after the game, when Pelini had just a few moments to process the events of the day. In front of a room full of people anticipating—better yet, hoping for—an explosion, the coach did not disappoint.

“If they want to fire me,” Pelini said, lighting the match himself. “Then go ahead.”

That was it. The tension of it all—the Deadspin audio, the cartoonish sideline eruptions and the inability to live up to unrealistic expectations—culminated in a moment that was, in many ways, inevitable.

There was no coming back from this, not when the marriage was already torn asunder.

We waited for word that Pelini would be relieved of his duties. The silence was eventually broken the following day with a surprising (and cryptic) vote of confidence from athletic director Shawn Eichorst. It was open to interpretation, so we interpreted. Despite throwing a bucket of cold water on the flames, the fire didn’t abate.

And then something strange happened. The narrative changed. The pitchforks were tucked away.

Nebraska beat an SEC team in the Gator Bowl on January 1—albeit a dilapidated Georgia squad—but the result was an exact reversal of fortune from the previous year. This helped soothe the souls that required soothing.

Pelini took his image overhaul one step further during the BCS National Championship broadcast. Out of nowhere, with a crystal football ready to be handed out, Pelini tweeted at his own parody account. It was harmless, playful and out of character. It also involved a cat, but you’re well aware of this by now.

@FauxPelini ok enough is enough... I want my cat back. You've had her long enough!

— Bo Pelini (@BoPelini) January 7, 2014

You’re also well aware that Pelini one-upped himself by holding a live cat up to the sky at the Nebraska spring game. (For the record, this was not Pelini’s cat. Her name is Anya, and she belongs to someone in the marketing department.)

In a matter of one week, a reputation was resuscitated. It’s not perfect—and perhaps it never will be in his current situation—but he made it past a point few coaches in this position rarely come back from.

We assume that the man simply changed. Or that the PR department finally sat down with its coach, outlined a plan to smooth out the rough edges, and the entire project worked brilliantly.

The reality, however, is that college football’s most complex personality runs far deeper than the competitive machine you see on camera. There are standards, and then there are Pelini standards.

As it turns out, this packaged “new and improved” Pelini—the one we didn’t know existed—has been there all along. 


A Hammer and a Family Room Table

Let’s go back one full year, to the first day of Nebraska practice in 2013.

An angry and distraught Pelini had just re-entered a football meeting holding a hammer and wearing a face you’ve seen before. It’s the one Big Ten officials know and dread.

Without a break in sequence, Pelini—still irate that his first post-practice meeting of the fall was interrupted—lifted the destructive device overhead and drove it downward at a cellphone that had rung moments earlier. To ensure it was in ruins, he hit it once more.

The cellphone scattered in pieces throughout the room.

No one moved, except for then-senior Thad Randle. Randle studied the remains of the device—his device—scattered throughout. He then stormed out. Pelini followed.

The team, still trying to assess what had just happened, listened and waited.

Outside there was yelling. The distant sounds of a scrum echoed through the Nebraska football facility hallways. Players, including star tailback Ameer Abdullah, made an attempt to intervene. All efforts to leave the room were halted.

“I thought this was it,” Abdullah said. “I thought this was the breaking point of Nebraska football.”

A flustered Pelini returned to the room, solo and sweaty. He confronted his team, and as he did, he pointed to the wall. The message was written clear as day.


It was at that moment that the Nebraska Cornhuskers realized the fray was a setup—the latest in a line of pranks from their head coach.

As the team tried to find solid footing, it discovered the next piece of the message. Instead of practicing for the second time on the first day of camp, the Huskers were headed to a movie.

“He’s a good actor,” Abdullah laughed, recalling the situation. “He could go to Hollywood, for real.”

Abdullah has seen just about every side of Pelini during his time at the school. A senior and one of the nation’s premier tailbacks, Abdullah ran for nearly 1,700 yards in 2013.

Before he was an All-America candidate and a fashionable dark-horse Heisman choice, Abdullah was a 4-star recruit according to 247 Sports. The Alabama product was a hot commodity in the SEC: South Carolina, Arkansas and an intrigued coordinator at Auburn named Gus Malzahn pursued him actively. Many of these schools saw Abdullah as a cornerback, including the Tigers, the team he grew up rooting for. He felt differently.

"It kind of ate me up," Abdullah told Paul Myerberg of USA Today about the recruiting process. "It really hurt my feelings. At a young age, my dream was to play running back. For your dream school to tell you that, it really hurt."

Enter: Bo Pelini. Literally.

The coach, looking to add a spark on offense, visited the running back—and that’s what he wanted him as—in his home. He made himself comfortable the moment he walked through the door.

“When Bo came and sat in my living room, he was the guy holding up the cat,” Abdullah said. “He kicked off his shoes like he had been living there for seven years and put his feet up on my table.

“I’m like, ‘look at this guy.’ That’s who Bo is, though.”

On that same visit, after the sock etiquette settled in, Pelini made another impression. He didn’t send out the full-court press and usher in a parade, but rather, he did the exact opposite.

“He didn’t promise me a thing, which was really odd,” Abdullah said. “He came to my house and offered me a free education and an opportunity to potentially play on this football team. He left it at that, and that really sat with me.”

It was different. Better yet, it was real. As Abdullah processed extravagant pitches and promises from some of the most established minds and programs in the country, Pelini’s honest pitch stood out. It wasn’t orthodox, but it hit home. So Abdullah left his.

“That’s really what attracted me to Nebraska,” Abdullah added.


Training Rooms and Random Phone Calls

Let’s go back a bit further.

Before Pelini was kicking his feet up on the Abdullah’s family room table, he was one of the hottest defensive coordinators in the country. 

In his three years with LSU between 2005 and 2007, Pelini’s defenses produced six first-team All-American selections and dominated almost every defensive statistic imaginable. When LSU beat Tennessee in the 2007 SEC Championship Game, Pelini was offered the head coaching job at Nebraska the next day. He happily accepted, although he did so with a caveat.

Pelini was introduced at Nebraska with a press conference and hit the recruiting road shortly thereafter. But instead of abandoning LSU—which has become protocol—he returned to coach the defense for the BCS National Championship.

"I have a tremendous amount of love and respect for these guys," Pelini told Cory McCartney of Sports Illustrated at the time. "We're close and we started something together and we're aiming to finish it together. I owe it to them. I would never have felt right. It would have felt like I was walking out on them."

Yes, it was the national championship—a game LSU won. But for an occupation that has seemingly jettisoned the concept of loyalty, this meant something. It meant something to the players he promised. Specifically, it meant something to former LSU defensive end Kirston Pittman.

“You have a lot of respect when a man looks you in the eyes, tells you something and then lives up to what he told,” Pittman said. “That’s something I’ve taken with me. It was a great life lesson.”

Pittman’s college football career featured both highs and lows. In 25 starts, Pittman had 15.5 sacks and 26 tackles for loss. His eight sacks in 2007 led the Tigers in that category. He could play, there was no arguing that. It came down to being able to play.

Before his breakout senior season, however, he battled a foot injury in 2005 and then tore his Achilles in offseason workouts. Pittman missed back-to-back seasons. He spent countless hours in the training room, trying to get healthy and back on the field. It was a long journey but, thankfully, Pittman had company.

Pelini would log sessions with his defensive tackle as he rehabbed. He would motivate him or make him laugh; it all depended on the day. One day, Pelini asked Pittman a simple (but honest) question.

How good do you want to be? You have the potential; we have the scheme.

“I can’t say I’ve been around a much better coach that expected so much of you and was able to get it out of you at the same time,” Pittman said. “He was one of the most down-to-earth coaches I ever played for. He was outspoken and would definitely speak his mind. At the same time, he was a player’s coach.

“Every Saturday, we went to bat for Coach Bo.”

Long after Pittman left LSU, just a few short years ago, his cellphone rang. There were no hammers in the vicinity.

On the other end of this call was his former coach, Bo Pelini, a voice he hadn’t heard in some time. The two—now on very different football paths—talked. They talked football, life and everything in between. There was no particular reason for the call; Pelini simply wanted to check on a player—better yet, a person—he cared deeply about.

“It was a beautiful thing. It was very genuine,” Pittman said. “You can talk with Bo about anything. He’s a fun guy, a warm guy. I just think he gets a bad rap.”


Onward and Upward: The Next Chapter of the Image Overhaul

By his own admission, Pelini can do better. Not necessarily as a coach, but as a representative for the university he works for. 

“You just got to look for opportunities to kind of show people that isn't who you are all the time, ”Pelini said. “And hopefully I can do a better job of showing that side of me, even during competitions.”

In a sport fueled by violence, four-letter words and tidal waves of masculinity, it shouldn’t have to come to this. It should be assumed that coach and person are two vastly different entities. Trying to judge character based off of six-second video clips and facial expressions can be a dangerous business.

Unfair or not, it's part of coaching.

“People see me on the sideline in competition and they think that’s who I am all the time. They think that’s who I am at home, with my kids,” Pelini said. “I was pretty intense as a player, going all the way back to when I was little. When it was your job to compete, you competed. That’s not who you are 24 hours a day.”

Slowly, this mentality is being celebrated and appreciated by the people who truly matter when it comes to the assessment. Since firing off his cryptic defense of his head coach last December, Nebraska AD Shawn Eichorst has upped his efforts when offering support.

Somewhat quietly, an extra year and $100,000 were tacked onto Pelini’s contract this offseason. While coaching contracts are only as good as the guaranteed dollars attached, Eichorst has been much more open about the situation.

"I really enjoy what he brings to the table," Eichorst told "He's the first to admit he's kind of walked that line a little bit. Everybody is different. You've got calm and collected, high strung and everything in between. I try not to make judgments about that."

While cat encounters and elaborate pranks will erase some of the angst that still lingers, the next chapter of Pelini’s PR battle is set to begin.

A Big Ten championship could go a long way in beefing up a 58-24 mark at the school, which still stands pretty comfortably by its lonesome. It’s also worth highlighting the four schools that have won at least nine games each of the past four seasons: Alabama, Oregon, LSU and, you guessed it, Nebraska.

It’s that next echelon of success that still remains unexplored. And in a results-oriented business, it will continue to hover until Nebraska is able to add hardware to its robust archives.

For the first time in a while, however, the support system is stable. The administration is openly backing its coach, which is a drastically different message than the one that was being delivered last November.

The fans, slowly but surely, have learned to embrace—and better yet, understand—the man tasked with leading the football team. This remains a work in progress, but progress has been made. 

And, most importantly, the players—current, former and future—are ready to run through a wall for “Coach Bo” when necessary. This is all that truly matters—no matter what anyone else tries to tell you—and this isn’t anything new.

We simply haven’t looked hard enough.


Unless otherwise noted, all quotes obtained firsthand.

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Florida Gators Football: Final Camp Stock Report

Fall camp is over and done with for the Florida Gators, and now it’s time to prepare for next week’s opponent in the Idaho Vandals. Football season is finally here, ladies and gentlemen!

With camp finally wrapped up, we leave you with one final update on all of the key things that happened over the last week.

The coaching staff continues to marvel over quarterback Jeff Driskel, the offensive line continues to take steps forward and a certain defender seems to be back on the right track. Oh, and coach Will Muschamp was the latest to take one for the team.


Offensive Line Has Made Progress 

Florida’s offensive line depth has been a major concern this offseason. While the Gators have one of the top starting offensive lines in the SEC on paper, the backup unit is inexperienced and raises a cause for concern.

Head coach Will Muschamp addressed this issue last week, according to Antonya English of the Tampa Bay Times.

"Depth on both lines of scrimmage, especially on the offensive line," Muschamp said. "Again, I feel really comfortable probably with seven guys right now. We need to have eight or nine. That's a critical issue."

With Chaz Green and D.J. Humphries injury-prone and the physical toll it takes to play in the SEC, Florida needs quality depth in the trenches. However, Kurt Roper seems to be just fine with his offensive line with the season opener about a week away. Florida’s new offensive coordinator doesn’t seem worried, according to Thomas Goldkamp of 247Sports.

"I think we're pretty good there," Roper said. "We've got to go play a game. You like to take it one game at a time and not get too far ahead of yourself but I think we've got a good group. I really do."

Speaking of Humphries, Muschamp really likes what he sees from his left tackle. 

Depth concerns or not, Florida has to hope it can avoid the injury bug in order to stick with the five starting offensive linemen who give the team the best chance to win.


Antonio Morrison Is Back 

Although he finished second on the team in tackles last season, Antonio Morrison didn’t exactly have the sophomore year many expected. It started with off-the-field issues, suspensions and then showing up overweight and not being the explosive player he was as a freshman.

With the past behind him, Morrison expects to be a completely different player and live up to expectations, according to Edgar Thompson of the Orlando Sentinel.

"I don't even like thinking about last year anymore," he said. "We learned from it and we know what to do this year. Win."

It all started with dropping weight, as Morrison is a healthy 220-225 pounds, according to the report, instead of the 240-plus he was last season. That will certainly allow him to be more effective and become a bigger part of what projects to be one of the top defenses in the country.

Defensive lineman Darious Cummings likes what he sees from his teammate, per Thompson.

He's going into this year like he has a chip on his shoulder because he didn't play as well as he wanted to last year. And so, just the fact that he hurt himself and the fact of stuff that happened off the field, too, he feels like he has a lot more to prove.

And it's rubbing off on us, too.

With a healthy and motivated Morrison along with the rest of Florida's defensive talent, the Gators should have no problem possessing one of the better defenses in college football. 


Quarterback Update

With fall camp pretty much in the books, it’s only right we leave you with one last quarterback update. After all, it’s been the ongoing story throughout Florida’s offseason.

Updates with Jeff Driskel remain positive. He’s adjusting to the speed of his new offense, making quicker decisions and is starting to look more like an actual quarterback. Although the one thing that has really caught Roper’s eye is his confidence, according to Robbie Andreu of Gator Sports.

I guess since I’ve been here, he’s a confident guy. He’s got a great look in his eye. He’s a bright-eyed guy. I don’t think he’s ever lacked confidence. I think where you see the confidence growing is in understanding what we’re doing offensively.

The more understanding you have, the faster you can make decisions, the faster you can play. You have to be able to play fast and be decisive. I think that’s probably the most important attribute a guy has is being decisive as a quarterback. I think I see his confidence growing in that realm.

It's no secret that Driskel has been heavily criticized throughout his Florida career, and if that hasn't rattled him yet, nothing will. It's always good to have a confident quarterback and somebody who can focus on the next play. 

As for the backup position, Florida's coaching staff has as many answers as they did before practice began, per Robbie Andreu

“Right now, really no separation at quarterback behind Jeff,” Muschamp said. “We'll continue to work throughout the week. We don't have a definite timetable on that right now. Just after watching the film on Saturday there was some good and bad. We'll continue to work through that.”

The job will likely be decided between freshmen Will Grier and Treon Harris. 


Extra Point

Muschamp was the latest to get involved in the Ice Bucket Challenge after being called out by Alabama head coach Nick Saban.

Way to go, coach!

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Bold Predictions for Every Pac-12 Football Team's 2014 Season

When it comes down to it, college football is just a game, and amid all the Pac-12 previews about trap games, top freshmen and exciting matchups, we like to have a little fun.

That means coming up with a bold prediction for every team in the conference, though bold here does not necessarily mean happy or good. By the same token, I'm not placing my reputation on the line here either; otherwise you'd see slides like "Mariota wins the Heisman" or "USC wins 10 games."

Neither of those predictions would be very bold, so we're putting out ones that should make you take a second glance. Of course, that doesn't mean you'll see "Leonard Williams gets 30 sacks" either; that's not just bold—it's flat-out insane.

But enough rambling—click ahead to see one bold prediction for every Pac-12 team's 2014 campaign. 

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Bold Predictions for Every Pac-12 Football Team's 2014 Season

When it comes down to it, college football is just a game, and amid all the Pac -12 previews about trap games, top freshmen and exciting matchups , we like to have a little fun...

Begin Slideshow

Mike Davis Injury: Updates on South Carolina RB's Ribs and Return

The worst part of preseason football or practices is the risk of injury, and South Carolina found that out the hard way. had an update regarding the health of running back Mike Davis:

“Top running back and Heisman Trophy hopeful Mike Davis is questionable for No. 9 South Carolina’s season-opener hosting No. 21 Texas A&M in a week.”

Wednesday marked the second consecutive practice that Davis missed with a rib injury, but he reportedly said that it wasn’t anything serious. Head coach Steve Spurrier didn’t seem quite as optimistic after practice in a Sportstalk radio network interview, via

“Mike Davis has been hurt, he hasn’t practiced all week. I don’t know if he’d even be able to start or not. But we got Brandon Wilds, he’s ready to go. Shon Carson, Dave Williams, so we’re in good shape there.”

The fact that South Carolina opens with an important conference game makes this situation more difficult. If it started the season out with an easier warm-up contest, caution would definitely be the way to go, but that is not the case. Davis is an elite talent, and the Gamecocks are going to need him on the field if they want to reach the College Football Playoff.

The SEC schedule is always grueling, but South Carolina avoids Alabama and LSU. There is certainly a realistic opportunity in place for the Gamecocks to win the conference’s East Division, but them having their Heisman hopeful on the field at full health would bolster those chances.

Check back for updates as they develop.

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Tre Madden Injury: Updates on USC RB's Toe and Return

USC junior running back Tre Madden has spent his collegiate career battling injuries, and it appears the start to 2014 will be no different. 

According to new head coach Steve Sarkisian, via the Orange Country Register's Michael Lev, Madden is currently sidelined due to a bout with turf toe: 

After playing linebacker as a freshman, Madden missed the 2012 campaign after tearing his ACL and was hampered last season by hamstring and ankle injuries. 

He still managed to tally 904 yards from scrimmage (703 rushing, 201 receiving) and seven touchdowns on 153 touches (138 rushes, 15 receptions) for the Trojans last year, though, and expectations remain high heading into 2014. 

"It’s really cool to see Tre out here sharing reps with Buck," quarterback Cody Kessler said this week, via the Orange County Register's Rich Hammond. "He’s definitely a big asset for this team. I think him and Buck will be a really good one-two punch."

For now that will have to put on hold, though. Turf toe is the kind of injury that can linger, and it's unclear if Madden will be ready to go for the Trojans' opener against Fresno State on Aug. 30. 

Fortunately, Sark has depth at the position. Javorius Allen was tremendous down the stretch last season, while Justin Davis averaged a scintillating 6.8 yards per carry before breaking his ankle.

"We all want to compete," Madden said. "We’re all going to get on the field, and whoever has the fresh legs is going to play. That’s what we’re looking at right now."

Despite the depth, however, USC is unquestionably in a better position to make some noise in the Pac-12 when Madden is healthy. 

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Georgia Bulldogs Football: Final Camp Stock Report

With the season-opening matchup against Clemson just over a week away, pieces are falling into place for the Georgia Bulldogs.

Here's an update on the conclusion of fall camp and the Dawgs' latest practices.


Georgia Secondary Taking Shape

According to Nick Suss of The Red & Black, three newcomers are poised to start in defensive coordinator Jeremy Pruitt's renovated secondary. Damian Swann, as expected, will occupy one starting cornerback position, but now details have emerged regarding the other positions as well.

Junior college transfer Shattle Fenteng will line up at cornerback opposite Swann.  Known for his combination of both size and speed, Fenteng has been in contention for this starting spot since arriving in Athens.

J.J. Green was expected by many to be the starter at the star position after switching sides of the ball (he was a running back in 2013), but true freshman Dominick Sanders received the first-team snaps at the position on Tuesday.

Farther from the line of scrimmage, Aaron Davis, a redshirt freshman walk-on, is set to start at safety.  Davis, of course, broke out under Pruitt during spring practice and played well at both the cornerback and safety positions.

Corey Moore, an on-and-off starter last season, will start at the other safety position.


New Tight Ends Impressing

As Jay Rome continues to battle health concerns, a couple of new tight ends are turning heads.

Quayvon Hicks, a former fullback, has been focusing more on tight end than fullback and H-back as of late (per Seth Emerson of Macon's Telegraph) and freshman Jeb Blazevich is acquitting himself nicely at the collegiate level.

Georgia head coach Mark Richt told Emerson, "Quayvon Hicks had a heck of a camp" and added that Blazevich has "made some strides."

If healthy, Rome is still the starter.  His combination of size, athleticism and experience could make him a potent threat downfield.  Ideally, he gets the opportunity to earn his keep, but Hicks also gets chances in select packages.


The Offensive Line, as of Now

Currently the first- and second-team offensive line units look as follows:

Adding Spice to Return Game

Georgia coaches and players alike have been impressed thus far with freshman wide receiver and return specialist Isaiah McKenzie.  

Punter Collin Barber told Marc Weiszer of the Athens Banner-Herald that McKenzie's athleticism and quickness is "amazing."  He added, "That dude has God-given talent, man, to field balls and scramble the way he can."

Richt went so far as to tell Weiszer that McKenzie was right in the mix to return both kicks and punts in the season opener.  "He's a heavy consideration in the return game," the head coach offered.

Georgia hasn't had a consistent threat like that since Brandon Boykin departed following the 2011 season.


A Rare Practice

Georgia opened up Tuesday's practice to the media and students, which is certainly an oddity.  For a full hour fans were able to pour into Sanford Stadium and get an early look at the 2014 Georgia Bulldogs.

Sam McKinstry, a junior at the university, was one of countless Bulldog loyalists who took advantage of the rare opportunity.  McKinstry was enthused by the afternoon, saying, "It was great being back Between the Hedges."  He added that the open access further cemented why Richt is his "Dawg."


Unless otherwise noted, all quotes were obtained firsthand. 

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Meet the Georgia Bulldogs' New Starters for 2014

The start of the 2014 season is right around the corner and the Georgia Bulldogs will begin their road to the Georgia Dome with a duel against Clemson at Sanford Stadium.

 This means that the veteran players will have to step up, be leaders and set the tone for the rest of the year. But the new starters will have to grow up in a hurry because the Bulldogs have little room for error in terms of winning the SEC and qualifying for the College Football Playoff.

Want to know who are the new Bulldog starters are for the 2014 season? Well, let’s take a closer look at each one.

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Braxton Miller Offers Intriguing Developmental QB Talent at NFL Level

Ohio State quarterback Braxton Miller took home the last two Big Ten Offensive Player of the Year awards, but now his 2014 season is over. Miller's senior season has been cut short by an injury to the same shoulder that ended his 2013 season prematurely.

With Miller's eligibility extinguished, barring his request for a redshirt year, what will the NFL find when it looks at the Buckeye passer?

First and foremost, is Miller an NFL-style quarterback?

The Ohio State system, made famous by Urban Meyer at Utah and Florida, asks the quarterback to be a heavy runner, and Miller has done that. In his three years as Ohio State's starter, Miller ran the ball (557 times) almost as often as he passed it (666 attempts).

Meyer tells high school coaches in his clinics that the offense is a "two-back backfield," and that's true. Miller runs the ball as much as a tailback, and that will lean heavily on how NFL scouts view him.

In my conversations with three NFL team scouts in preparation for the article, not one told me they viewed Miller as a quarterback prospect for the NFL. A career as a running back or wide receiver is likelier, according to pro scouts.

What does the tape tell us, though? NFL scouts are a great resource, but that group also had members calling Robert Griffin III a wide receiver before his Heisman Trophy-winning junior season.



Evaluating a quarterback's accuracy means more than just looking at the stats and seeing what his completion percentage was. Charting the game—keeping track of catches, incompletions, drops and where the ball was thrown from/caught—is key to understanding accuracy.

Miller shows good ball placement on throws both inside and outside the hashes. The Ohio State offense does utilize many short, quick throws to get the football out in space to the athletes, and Miller's stats can be padded by these yards-after-the-catch throws.

How does Miller look making NFL-level throws? You won't see him throwing many 20-yard comebacks, but he does throw the deep ball often and is asked to work the sideline fairly often.

Miller's deep ball is good. He throws the ball with touch, enough arc and has the strength to put the ball up over the top of the receiver.

Against Michigan State, he did under-throw three deep balls, but each was still catchable. That can be chalked up to timing as well and isn't always a sign of poor accuracy.

In that same Michigan State game, playing behind an offensive line that could do nothing to slow down the Spartan pass rush, Miller threw a beautiful 30-yard pass on a rope outside the numbers from midfield. That's a pro throw from Miller, and he made it with velocity and the ball placement you want to see from a quarterback.

Evaluating Miller's true accuracy, or total field accuracy, is tough in the Ohio State scheme. He may throw fewer than five routes that extend farther than 10 yards in an entire game, which leaves you with a much smaller sample size than a Jameis Winston or Brett Hundley.

An ideal situation for Miller would be to showcase his accuracy and arm strength at the Senior Bowl and NFL Scouting Combine predraft.



It must be noted that Miller's injuries have been to his right (throwing) shoulder, so how much arm strength he has post-injury will depend heavily on his rehab.

Miller makes many uncontested throws in the Ohio State offense, but when he must throw with speed and velocity to a tight window, he's shown that he can do so.

Miller's entire body takes on a transformation when asked to throw passes that require velocity, as his front knee bends and he uses more of his core and back to get into the throw. The downside is that this lowers the release point for a quarterback who is already shorter (6'2") than the NFL would like.

There are times when Miller tries to loft or flick the ball out to space—especially if he's rolling and throwing the same direction—and those passes tend to sail high on him.

Learning to step into those throws when possible or turn his shoulders to match his hips—as opposed to throwing with his chest flat and hips turned—will fix the issue and help pull the ball down while building velocity.


Offensive Assignments

Route Progressions

Watching four games of Miller's (Michigan State, Wisconsin, Penn State and Clemson), you don't see many plays where he works through to a second or third receiver. Miller loves to work his primary target from the pocket but does work through his progressions on the run.

A common play for Miller is rolling or scrambling right and going through deep-intermediate-dump progressions.

He is at his best under pressure and will work to checkdowns with his eyes as the pocket closes around him.

When afforded time, Miller likes to get the ball to his first read. Adjusting to an NFL offense will vary in difficulty depending on where he's drafted.

A scheme like New England's would be a sharp adjustment for Miller, but an offense like the one Colin Kaepernick ran in his first two seasons with the San Francisco 49ers would be an easier move for Miller to handle right away.


Pre-Snap Reads

Without having the Ohio State playbook in front of you, it can be tough to see what Miller is asked to see pre-snap. What we can do is look at the defense and then see where Miller goes with his eyes post-snap to evaluate his reads.

The Ohio State offense gives Miller combination routes on one side of the field the majority of the time.

In this offense, Miller can recognize coverage pre-snap—ex. Is the cornerback playing up on the line of scrimmage or off the ball?—and determine before he even has the ball which side of the field he's going to.

The play above was used against Michigan State and shows a common read for Miller.

If the safety bites hard and comes up to play the slot receiver, Miller can throw over the top to the outside wide receiver. If the safety plays loose, and he did in the Spartans game, the dig route is there all day since the outside linebacker had inside leverage.

This is much of what we see in the NFL now, too. Quarterbacks are making many of their decisions before the ball is snapped, and then the pass goes to whichever receiver the defense doesn't react to.

On this particular play, Miller made the right call and got the ball out to the flats. He could have challenged man coverage and thrown the deep route, but he had a given first down on the dig.


Pocket Presence

Miller is an phenomenal athlete, which is why some have suggested the move to running back as a possibility. You see that athleticism in the pocket when pressured.

Miller is able to make jaw-dropping moves on defenders and shows impressive strength for a smaller quarterback. He's shifty, light on his feet and shows good balance in the pocket.

He also has a bad habit of trying to make something out of nothing.

You can call this Johnny Manziel Syndrome, as too many quarterbacks are trying to spin out of pressure and look for big plays—be it a run or pass. The act of spinning out of the pocket creates more negative yardage, though, and when the quarterback is sacked here it can be a crippling thing for the offense.

There will be big plays and highlights from Miller and other quarterbacks, but the NFL wants to see a smart player in the pocket who will either climb the pocket, scramble to gain yardage or throw the ball away.

Miller has a ways to go in terms of pocket discipline, but he displays the running ability to become a threat when the pocket collapses.


The Final Word 

Miller, based on his 2012 and 2013 film, projects as a late-round quarterback prospect. He's a developmental player who would need time to acclimate to the NFL and a more complex passing system.

Mechanically, he is fine, but a lack of ideal size and experience with a passing game similar to the pros are detriments to his prospects.

Miller is similar to Tajh Boyd in that his negatives (size, offensive style, inconsistent accuracy) are big enough to throw NFL teams off. Unfortunately, Miller won't have the chance to showcase any improvements he made over the offseason with this injury.

The biggest question NFL teams will have about Miller is his throwing shoulder. If that's a problem team doctors feel will continue to plague him, a move to running back may be the best option.

That may seem counterintuitive given his injuries and a position that asks him to be hit more often, but teams will not want to invest even a late-round pick in a quarterback with shoulder issues.

I see Miller as a quarterback prospect, but one with the positional flexibility to move if he struggles as a passer.

Will Miller stay in school, as he's announced he will do?

That's doubtful given his petition to the NFL Draft Advisory Board for a grade after his junior season. Miller may feel like he wants to return to the Buckeyes in 2015 right now, but another injury while playing for free is what every smart agent in the country will be warning him about between now and January 2015.

If I had to bet on it, I would say Miller starts rehabbing and then working toward the 2015 NFL draft sooner rather than later.

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Miami Football: Final Fall Camp Stock Report

Fall camp is entering its terminal stage for the Miami Hurricanes, so the opening week of the 2014 college football season has almost arrived.

The 'Canes second and final scrimmage took place, and that brought one notable surprise along with it. Otherwise, it has been a relatively quiet third week at the GreenTree Practice Fields—though a couple workouts remain.

Since Miami's opener against Louisville is on Labor Day, the Hurricanes have a few extra days to prepare for their new ACC opponent. According to Christy Cabrera Chirinos of the South Florida Sun Sentinel, head coach Al Golden said that process will begin Sunday.

Of course, with an unsettled quarterback situation looming, the Miami offense will benefit from the additional time it gets through next week.


Quarterback Competition

Brad Kaaya and Jake Heaps are still battling for the starting quarterback job during the season opener. However, Heaps did not participate in the second scrimmage, which was a surprise considering the emphasis Miami coaches have placed on those days.

"Jake's body of work is what he's running on right now," Golden told WQAM, per Matt Porter of the Palm Beach Post. "That 30 or 40 plays the other day, that wasn't worth setting him back."

The transfer's "body of work" isn't necessarily a good one, yet Golden appears determined to keep him at the front of the competition. While Heaps' experience is unquestionably valuable, Kaaya has remained impactful, tossing a pair of touchdowns in his competition's absence.

Ultimately, decision day is approaching, but there is not a specific target date. Golden said to Porter:

I always feel like intuitively, when it's decided, you have an idea. Where at this moment, everybody feels like this is the guy, and you go with it. When we feel that moment comes, we'll announce it and we'll move forward.


True Freshmen Continue to Impress

Golden and his coaching staff signed a well-rounded class in February, and many prospects were expected to immediately contribute in some manner. The true freshmen are creating headlines throughout each week of August, and the second scrimmage highlighted two more beyond Kaaya.

Per a UM release, Joseph Yearby led the offense with 71 rushing yards, which is an extremely welcomed sign after two early-camp scares. He missed one practice session and also exited the field early as a precautionary measure in another.

Those two instances were initially causes for concern, but Yearby's scrimmage performances help relieve any doubts about his health.

One week after being tabbed the No. 2 kick and punt returner, Braxton Berrios showed his value on offense, hauling in five receptions Monday.

"The UM defense has been unable to effectively cover quick, shifty freshman slot receiver Braxton Berrios," Barry Jackson of The Miami Herald said. "He's going to be difficult to keep off the field."

Yearby has essentially solidified his role as Duke Johnson's backup, and Berrios' successes are demanding attention.


Perryman Blows Up Edwards...Again

During the spring game, Denzel Perryman absolutely destroyed sophomore Gus Edwards, a hit that was captured on helmet cam and spread online like a virus.

Last week, Perryman called class back into session and taught Edwards, who was tentatively running toward the sideline, another hard-earned lesson. Porter said it best:

Two things are for sure: Edwards needs to run with his pad level lower, and Perryman's hit-stick is ready for the 2014 season.

Fortunately, the senior's sound tackling is only a few days away from being unleashed on someone other than his teammate.


Follow Bleacher Report college football writer David Kenyon on Twitter: @Kenyon19_BR.

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The 10 Best Ineligible College Football Players for 2014 Season

A virtual all-star team of college football talent won't see the field during the 2014 season because of ineligibility.

Whether it's because of academics, NCAA transfer rules or disciplinary action that resulted in a suspension or dismissal from the team, plenty of big-time players will not be eligible again until 2015 at the earliest. Most of them would likely have played a significant role in their team's performance this fall, but instead they'll either be on the sidelines or away from the stadium altogether each Saturday.

Nearly every team in FBS lost a player to the ineligible list during the offseason, but some stand out more than others. We've compiled a list of the most notable ineligible players based on the significance of their absence to their respective teams.

Only players suspended for the entire 2014 season were considered, while those not officially ruled out for the year also were left off. That's why you won't see Notre Dame receiver DaVaris Daniels and three other teammates being investigated for possible academic fraud because they're being held out only of preseason practice.

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Penn State vs. UCF Season Opener Threatened by Potential Volcanic Eruption

Football is billed as the game that can be played in all conditions. Rain, snow, sleet, hail. You name it, a football game has likely been played in it. 

It seems the exception might be a volcanic eruption nearly 900 miles away.    

A report from The Associated Press (via ESPN) indicated the season-opening contest between Penn State and Central Florida in Dublin, Ireland, on Aug. 30 might be in jeopardy due to increased volcanic activity in Iceland. The country's Civil Protection Department said residents near the stratovolcano Bardarbunga have been evacuated as a safety precaution.

Although Iceland and Ireland are nowhere close to one another—the distance from Dublin to Bardarbunga is roughly 875 miles—the AP notes travel restrictions may force the schools to stay home. Airborne particles and ash could make air travel untenable for a significant period of time.

The two teams are scheduled to play at Croke Park, the first time either university has played in a game overseas. Notre Dame and Navy played in Ireland in 1996 and 2012.

For Penn State, the logistics of going across the pond for one game has already been a logistical headache. Travis Johnson of the Centre Daily Times profiled the difficulties of the process, which include transporting player equipment, ensuring personnel have updated passports and numerous smaller things that could complicate the entire trip. 

“It’s an ongoing, fluid process,” Michael Hazel, Penn State's director of football operations, told Johnson. “It’s a challenge. There’s just a lot of moving parts that exist when you are going overseas.”

The news of a possible volcanic eruption in another country was a complication for which no one could have planned. The unpredictability factor means the teams could be barred from flying into the country or, even worse, not allowed to fly out after the game.

Penn State is scheduled to host Akron on Sept. 6. In 2010, an Icelandic eruption caused more than 100,000 flights to be canceled. It is unclear how long flights would be delayed or canceled in this case—or if they would be canceled all.

"We're aware of that, and we're monitoring that situation," Hazel told reporters. "That's kind of out of our area of expertise." 

UCF does not play again until Sept. 13, so it has a slightly larger margin for error. Neither school has indicated whether a contingency plan is in place in case flights are canceled. UCF visited Penn State last season, so one would assume the Knights would have first hosting rights. The sides will also want to get the matter solved quickly for students, alumni and fans who are following their teams across the Atlantic Ocean.

Unfortunately, the volcano is likely unaware a football game hinges on its decision whether or not to erupt. (If the volcano is aware, well, that's another conversation—and hopefully a reality show—entirely.)

For now, it seems both sides are satisfied crossing their fingers and hoping this is just a false alarm.


Follow Tyler Conway (@tylerconway22) on Twitter.

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Missouri Coach Tries to Teach Players How to Dougie

The Missouri Tigers needed to learn how to do the Dougie, and luckily, defensive coordinator Dave Steckel was there to teach them.

There's not much better than a coach who isn't afraid to have a little fun with his players.

[Mizzou Football]

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Remembering Top 2014 Heisman Contenders as College Football Recruits

Every Heisman Trophy campaign comes from humble beginnings. Dedication and attitude are developed during youth football, before physical and mental maturity transform boys into young men at the high school level.

Many of the perceived 2014 Heisman contenders carved out reputations as elite playmakers at early stages, receiving plenty of interest from collegiate recruiting departments. Piles of letters arrived first, eventually followed by formal scholarship offers.

The choices these prospects made on national signing day sent them down a path toward stardom that could ultimately lead to the winner's podium in Manhattan this December. Now established college standouts, the fates of their quests for individual glory and overall program success hang in the balance each week for the next four months.

Before we focus on what lies ahead for these difference-makers in 2014, let's take a look back to simpler times, when the national spotlight didn't shine nearly as bright.

Here's a review of the recruitment processes that put these Heisman hopefuls in position to excel.

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Complete Predictions for Every SEC West Team in 2014

Game plans are being put together, depth charts are being finalized and it's time for the rubber to meet the road.

That goes for football programs as well as preseason predictions.

Nobody thought Auburn would emerge from the SEC West last season to claim the SEC crown, but the Tigers did it on the heels of the a punishing multi-dimensional running game, a defense that played big when it needed to and two of the most unbelievable finishes in college football history to close out the regular season.

Will the Tigers repeat, or will Alabama re-claim its throne atop the SEC West? Will LSU reload enough to contend? Can the Mississippi schools take the next step.

Final SEC West predictions are in this slide show.

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Marcus Mariota Will Take Advantage of Oregon's Schedule in Hunt for Heisman

The strength of schedule often does aid in enhancing the resume of a potential Heisman Trophy contender.

This upcoming season, Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota is undoubtedly one of the top contenders to win the iconic award. The Ducks' schedule in 2014 provides multiple opportunities for the talented signal-caller to display his ability against top competition.

The nonconference slate features a showdown against Michigan State—perhaps the best team in the Big Ten in this season. Mark Dantonio's squad has been ranked eighth in the first 2014 AP Top 25 Poll.

Oregon is currently ranked third.

The theater on Sept. 6 at raucous Autzen Stadium will be absolutely fantastic. A true dichotomy exists: The explosive, offensive juggernaut that is Oregon battling the staunch, fundamentally sound defense of Michigan State. 

The classic green and white of the Spartans should mesh beautifully with the eclectic, ever-changing garb of the Ducks.

Assuming neither team loses its opening game, both will compete against each other as Top 10 teams. In essence, this could be the first massive contest of the entire 2014 college football season.

It will give Mariota an opportunity to prove himself early against what should be a phenomenal defense.

Last year, Michigan State ranked No. 4 in total defense. In '14, safety Kurtis Drummond and all-everything defensive lineman Shilique Calhoun will lead what should be another very good unit across the board.

Mariota will also go head-to-head against one of the most underrated signal-callers in the country—and perhaps a dark horse for the Heisman—n Connor Cook.

Moving down the schedule, Oregon has a monumental Pac-12 clash with upstart UCLA on Oct. 11 in the Rose Bowl.

This will be Oregon's toughest road game of the season. The Bruins are also ranked as a Top 10 team heading into this year and poised to break into the upper echelon of the conference.

A considerable sub-headline exists in regard to Mariota competing against fellow Heisman candidate Brett Hundley. UCLA's signal-caller is attempting to propel himself into the conversation as the best quarterback not only in the conference, but also the country.

UCLA also has NFL talent littered all throughout its defense—including the likes of Eric Kendricks, Owamagbe Odighizuwa, Kenny Clark, Eddie Vanderdoes and Myles Jack.

Again, this contest provides Mariota with a chance to boost his potential Heisman stock even further. A victory on the road against a Top 10 team—and most notably against a fellow candidate for the award—would theoretically look very good in the voters' eyes.

It could also derail Hundley's prospects in the process.

The last notable game on Oregon's schedule comes in the form of Stanford. Oregon's archnemesis in the Pac-12 North has been a major thorn in the program's side for the past few years.

In 2012, Stanford upset Oregon 17-14, virtually knocking the Ducks out of the BCS National Championship Game. Last year, the Cardinal upended Oregon by a score of 26-20.

As has been the case in recent memory, this game could determine the Pac-12 North winner. Conventional wisdom suggests both teams will be ranked fairly high by the time Nov. 1 rolls around.

This would yet again be an opportunity for Mariota to enhance his Heisman resume and defeat a marquee opponent.

Mariota is also 0-2 in his career versus the Cardinal. This could be even more of a motivating factor.

The gigantic elephant in the room when it comes to Mariota's Heisman chances is Jameis Winston. The Florida State signal-caller will head into 2014 as the clear-cut favorite to repeat as the trophy winner.

Comparing both players is a fascinating endeavor:

2013 StatisticsTDINTCompletion PercentageRushing YardsPassing YardsMarcus Mariota 31 4 63.5 715 3,665 Jameis Winston 40 10 66.9 219 4,057

The strength of schedule between both teams is nearly identical. Phil Steele (h/t has Florida State with the 46th-toughest schedule in the country. Oregon is close at No. 48.

The NCAA strength-of-schedule method (h/t has the Ducks at No. 49, while the Seminoles sit at No. 47.

When looking at Oregon's schedule as a whole compared to Florida State's slate, it appears as if Mariota will be facing tougher competition.

Based on the first AP poll of 2014, Oregon will play four ranked teams (Michigan State, UCLA, Stanford, Washington). Three of those squads—UCLA, Michigan State, Stanford—are ranked within the Top 11 in the country.

At the moment, Florida State would play two ranked teams (Clemson, Notre Dame). Looking at the number of teams from each conference in the Top 25 would indicate the Pac-12 is superior to the ACC.

The schedules for both players represent a minor aspect in winning the Heisman Trophy. Both will need to perform at exceptional levels for success on both a personal and team level.

However, Mariota's quest to win the Heisman Trophy will be buoyed by a strong schedule. If he does indeed win the award, the impressive competition he had to perform against will surely be a contributing factor.

As Oregon offensive coordinator Scott Frost told Daniel Uthman of USA Today, "I think [Mariota] is one of the very best players in all of college football, if not the best, and I think he was last year."

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