NCAA Football

Georgia Football: Why Isaiah McKenzie Will Make an Impact in 2014

Fall camp is underway and the Georgia Bulldogs are in the middle of a stretch where they practice nine consecutive days with full pads and two-a-days mixed in.

The coaches are trying to work the players as hard as they can and see who will step up and impress. They are especially looking at the younger players because they will be needed in key positions this season in order for the Bulldogs to succeed.

One of those positions is kick returner, and freshman Isaiah McKenzie is getting a lot of looks at the position. And he has turned a ton of head during camp. Teammate J.J. Green told Chip Towers of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution that McKenzie is going to make a lot of money someday with the work that he’s doing.

One of the reasons McKenzie was recruited by the Bulldogs is for his abilities on special teams. McKenzie, who is from Fort Lauderdale, Florida, is a 4-star recruit, per 247Sports, who can not only return kicks, but can also play wide receiver and running back. In fact, McKenzie was listed as one of the top 50 receivers in the country last year. He tallied 41 receptions for 892 yards and seven touchdowns his senior season at American Heritage High School.

I added a video to a @YouTube playlist http://t.co/xolkH5Q5WN The Human Joystick - 2014 WR/ATH Isaiah McKenzie 2013 season highlight

— Southern Athlete™ (@SouthernAth) August 3, 2014

McKenzie has also been able to make plays in the receiving game, catching a pass from Hutson Mason during a practice on Tuesday, and he made a couple of would-be tacklers miss, according to Seth Emerson of the Macon Telegraph. Mason told Emerson that McKenzie is one of those players you just throw the ball to and let him do his thing because of his speed and elusiveness.

Because of the injuries at the receiver position, McKenzie could find a way to make it onto the rotation. With the status of Malcolm Mitchell and Justin Scott-Wesley uncertain, the Bulldogs will need a speedy receiver to help stretch the field.

But the best place where McKenzie will make an impact, at least this season, is special teams. Per Emerson, head coach Mark Richt likes McKenzie as a punt returner, and he said McKenzie is very elusive and quick, which is what you want in the return game.

The Bulldogs struggled in punt returns last year, averaging 2.9 yards per return and “muffed” two returns. Adding McKenzie to the return game would bring explosiveness and consistency to special teams, which is something the Bulldogs desperately need in order to stop the special teams woes.

There’s still a lot of fall camp ahead, so it’s not a guarantee McKenzie will be a lock for the punt or kick return position. He has his share of competition, as J.J. Green, Damian Swann, Tramel Terry and Shaquille Jones have all gotten looks as returners. But there’s no question McKenzie will see some action this season, and based on what he’s done so far in camp, he will give opposing defenders headaches all year long.

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Ohio State Football: Inside the Overhaul of the Nation's Most Criticized Defense

For the third time in four years, Luke Fickell faced the media during the first week of fall camp with a different role than the one he held the year before. But this time, the Ohio State co-defensive coordinator carried himself with a confidence that one wouldn't expect from what was one of America's most criticized coaches in 2013—and for good reason.

After all, there isn't anywhere for the Buckeyes defense to go but up.

It's hard to believe that it's already been three years since Fickell was serving as Ohio State's interim head coach, a one-season stopgap between Jim Tressel and Urban Meyer.

And although the former Buckeyes defensive lineman opted to remain at his alma mater as the team's co-defensive coordinator, it'd be tough to blame him if he ever had second thoughts about that decision over the course of the past two seasons.

First came 2012, which saw Ohio State patch together a 12-0 season, despite a less-than-stellar defense that had Meyer even admitting that he had questions about his staff.

But the Buckeyes could only fill so many holes in their ship by the time last season's Big Ten Championship Game and Orange Bowl rolled around, with Ohio State surrendering a combined 1,014 yards and 74 points in its final two games of the season—both Buckeye losses.

Enter Chris Ash, the former Arkansas and Wisconsin defensive coordinator who now finds himself as Fickell's running mate on the Ohio State staff. And while Meyer's preference to Ash's defensive scheme and philosophy essentially handed Fickell a de-facto demotion, the original Silver Bullet doesn't see it that way.

"I want what’s best for this place. Coach Meyer knows that, and we talked about that from day one," Fickell said in March. "If something is better for this place, then so be it. I want what’s best for my alma mater and my university."

But now that fall camp is here, does Fickell still seem that way? It sure seems that way. And he's as confident about his defense as he's been in recent memory.

"You can say whatever you want, and obviously there's been glaring things that's been talked about like the pass defense," Fickell said. "Altogether, with everything tied together, there's going to be a lot of things that are going to be shored up."

As Fickell explained, it's going to take improvement from more than just one position group for the Buckeyes to do that. But just three days into the fall camp period, it's something that he's already seen.

Perhaps no position group has come under more scrutiny since Meyer arrived in 2012 than the linebackers, with the Buckeyes head coach repeatedly referring to them as "not Ohio State-ish" during his time in Columbus.

And while last season's leading tackler and All-American Ryan Shazier may be in the NFL, Fickell—who's personally responsible for coaching the unit—has seen steady growth from the likes of Joshua Perry, Curtis Grant, Darron Lee and even freshman Raekwon McMillan.

"Sometimes you need addition by subtraction," Fickell said of Shazier's departure. "There's five, six, seven guys whom the light really came on for. We've seen the ability for them to step up and really do some things. It's really going to be a committee."

Only aiding the linebackers' development is arguably the nation's most talented defensive line, one which OSU offensive line coach Ed Warinner said on Wednesday was the best he's ever seen.

But while starters Noah Spence, Michael Bennett, Joey Bosa and Adolphus Washington may all possess All-American talent, expect an even deeper rotation as new defensive line coach Larry Johnson departs from Mike Vrabel's "the best players play" mantra.

"That's something that we probably didn't do a great job of in the past," Fickell admitted. "Coach Johnson has been doing this a long time, and he's unbelievable at what he does. He's adamant that we've gotta have nine guys. And we will. I know there will be a starting four, but we may have to refer to them as 1A and 1B."

Fickell—who has been a member of the Ohio State staff since 2002—insists that the Buckeyes' ability and improvement upfront will have a positive impact on a secondary that came under perhaps as much scrutiny as he did a season ago. Fresh faces will accompany Ohio State's fresh approach on the back end, with the Buckeyes replacing four starters from a season ago.

Gone are first-round cornerback Bradley Roby and senior safeties C.J. Barnett and Corey "Pittsburgh" Brown, replaced by redshirt freshman Gareon Conley and a three-man stable of safeties in Tyvis Powell, Cameron Burrows and Vonn Bell.

Only corner Doran Grant returns as a starter to the Ohio State secondary, which received much of the blame for a pass defense that ranked 118th (out of 125 teams) in passing yards surrendered per game in 2013, according to Team Rankings.

But for Fickell, it's not the scheme or the players playing it that has him excited as the Ohio State defense's newfound attitude. There may be nowhere for the Buckeyes to go but up from the end of last season, but Fickell is confident that they'll get there, regardless of what role he's serving this season.

"Not only have the kids had to grow up and handle some adversity, but the coaches have too. And change is good for all of us," Fickell said. "It's a lot harder to handle praise than it is to handle criticism. They've been beat; they've been kicked a little bit. But there's no harder critique than ourselves. We've felt that with the last three games that we've played. And it's shown."

 

*All quotes obtained firsthand, unless noted otherwise.

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Baylor QB Bryce Petty Shows off Impressive Vertical Leap at Practice

Baylor quarterback Bryce Petty has bounce. And even if this jump over a cone at practice doesn't do it justice, you college football fans should be excited for this season. 

As pointed out by SB Nation (via DraftExpress.com), Petty's vertical, which has been listed at 38 inches, is better than a lot of high-jumping NBA players' pre-draft numbers, including Blake Griffin, Terrence Ross, Kenneth Farried and Russell Westbrook, to name a few. 

Should he be able to put this to good use next season, Petty's Heisman candidacy highlight tape could be impressive.

[Baylor Football, h/t SB Nation]

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14 Biggest College Football Questions Entering 2014 Season

It's early August, and college football begins in a little more than three weeks. That means there are all sorts of pressing questions about the upcoming season.

And, unfortunately, there aren't many answers right now. 

We'll get those as the season unfolds. Until then, it's a matter of scraping by with predictions and educated guesses. But that's all part of the fun.

2014 should be another compelling college football season. Which 14 (for '14) pressing questions are we looking forward to answering? The answers are in the following slides. 

 

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

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Jaxon Shipley Injury: Updates on Texas WR's Hamstring and Return

The Texas Longhorns have an array of options at quarterback, but it may not matter who's under center if the wide receiving depth takes anymore blows.    

On Monday, senior Jaxon Shipley suffered a hamstring injury that will keep him sidelined for an unknown amount of time, according to the Associated Press' Jim Vertuno:

Coach Charlie Strong didn't sound overly concerned via Kirk Bohls of the Austin American-Statesman

Shipley has enjoyed a solid career in Austin, but injuries have limited him on multiple occasions. He hurt his hamstring as a freshman, and as his brother Jordan told ESPN.com's Max Olson, he had groin surgery before his junior year:

A lot of people don't know this, but he had a pretty significant surgery right before last season started and missed all of two-a-days. They went in and cut the attachments for his groin muscle on both sides and reattached them. They were torn and frayed everywhere. I don't know how he was even back to being able to play. That was four weeks before two-a-days. 

That makes the timing of this injury even more frustrating. Not only did he seem poised for a career year as the go-to option in the passing game, but Texas also can't afford any blows to the position. 

Olson noted the frightening depth:

True freshman Armanti Foreman has impressed in practice, but this is a scary thin group in terms of experience as long as Shipley and Marcus Johnson are both sidelined. John Harris has nine career receptions, while Jacorey Warrick has zero. 

Malcolm Brown, Johnathan Gray, Joe Bergeron and Jalen Overstreet make up one of the best backfields in the country, which will be nice to lean on in the meantime.

But if Strong wants any kind of offensive balance in his first season, getting Shipley back and healthy before the opener against North Texas on Aug. 30 will be key. 

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Gary Pinkel: What It Means to Be 'Mizzou Made' in the SEC

Every season there's a selling point for a team. Usually it's a tag line indicative of something the team is trying to achieve or has just achieved. The Missouri Tigers have had a few tag lines over the years themselves that have defined an era, or a memorable slice in time. But you can forget all gimmicks and flashy noise, Mizzou has a way of life that defines them now and it's called being Mizzou Made.

To be entirely honest, I initially thought it was some sort of motto intended to sell tickets. That's until I realized that the team goes about pushing the aspects of the ideal from the time a player arrives on campus, to well after they've left the team in whatever endeavor they're in.

What does it mean then to be Mizzou Made? Let some of these items sink in for a moment.

• 8th most-winning BCS Program since 2007
• 97 percent graduation rate
• 5th most NFL 1st round draft picks since 2009

What's special about these numbers, is that no other school in the country can boast about being in the top-10 in all three of these categories, but Mizzou can.

In addition, according to head coach Gary Pinkel's website, being Mizzou Made is defined as "The Mizzou Football Family’s approach to developing student-athletes academically, athletically, and socially better than any program in the nation."

Just how do they do this? Pinkel has a road map laid out that has spelled success for him over the past several seasons, and it starts with total player development. Physical training is an essential part of the equation, and it starts and ends with their specialist Dr. Pat Ivey according to Dave Matter of the St.Louis Post-Dispatch.

Dr. Ivey heads a total player development program that works with players physically as well as mentally on various life issues. By instilling a well-rounded sense of disciple as well as how to handle tough life situations, Pinkel has found a winning approach where the fruits of his labor are obvious. Bob Knight, Tom Landry and Vince Lombardi are all people that Pinkel has listed as examples of proper discipline.

The coaches also want to teach values to its players, and there are four core values that Tiger players are focused on. They are honesty, treating women with respect, no drugs and being able to protect the family. This approach is found with regard to developing a player, rather than the overall team approach. Promoting a culture of a positive atmosphere where all players feel valued by teaching these values to the younger players, enables the whole team to be working toward these goals, even if they're not the players out on the field touching the ball all the time.

Next is making sure that all players receive a proper education, and this is where Mizzou really shines. Their Academic Progress Report ratings have been among the very top in the nation since the program's introduction. Over the past five seasons, Mizzou has graduated over 97 percent of its football players, per GaryPinkel.com. But they won't be satisfied until that number is at 100. Players are coming in and getting world-class preparation at football and in life.

The final aspect is the most important because it's what the coaches and players talk about all the time, and that's family. It's a term that may seem fairly overplayed and obvious, but at Mizzou they take it extremely seriously. Singing songs in a circle like they're at camp, telling stories about their lives, even having the option of attending a church service every Friday evening, there's a ton of things about just being on the Tiger team that makes you feel like you're having the time of your life.

The best part I actually saved for last, and that's what is essentially the team mantra boiled down into two little words, "No Excuses."

This is all something I took note of years ago when signs were hung throughout the Mizzou locker rooms. "No Excuses, An excuse is the first thing that comes out of someone's mouth that attempts to justify failure." Wow. If there was ever a quote that could sum up the proper way to deal with just about any challenge or obstacle in life, it's this.

I'm a fan. If what Mizzou was doing here wasn't the best possible thing, I think I might be the first person jumping and screaming that we ought to do things like a program who's winning. But Mizzou is that program.

Follow Dan Irwin on Twitter @irwinsports or on Facebook.

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Texas Football: Will Thin RB Depth Doom the Longhorns in 2014?

When Charlie Strong hired Tommie Robinson to coach the running backs, Robinson inherited one of the most seasoned positions for the Texas Longhorns in 2014.

But the recent dismissals of senior Joe Bergeron and sophomore Jalen Overstreet have made Robinson's job a lot more difficult.

Texas currently has two veteran running backs on its roster: senior Malcolm Brown and junior Johnathan Gray.

When the two are healthy, they combine for one of the most potent one-two punches in college football. But the health issues are not something one can overlook.

Gray missed the final portion of the 2013 season after he suffered a torn Achilles against West Virginia on Nov. 10.

After missing the entire spring, Gray was cleared to return to the team in time for fall camp.

The Texas medical staff would not have cleared him if he wasn't healthy, but how hard should he push it during fall camp? 

It's difficult to ignore the concern of if he is returning too soon. Gray said he feels as if he is 95 percent healthy, but does that mean everyone should entirely ignore that remaining five percent?

Absolutely not.

On the other hand, Brown proved to be a reliable option to take over after Gray's injury at West Virginia. He finished with more than 100 yards rushing in three of the final four games of the season.

But 2013 was the first season Brown completed without having an injury withhold him from seeing the field.

Brown's health is probably not something Texas fans should worry about week in, week out, but it's difficult not to have it in the back of your mind when one considers the thin depth at his position and how an injury to either running back could destroy the Longhorns offense.

Let's think worst-case scenario for a minute. If something unfortunate were to happen to both starting running backs, Texas would be forced to either play true freshman Donald Catalon or rely on the receivers and the passing game.

And that brings up an even bigger concern for the Longhorns.

One of the thinnest positions on the depth chart is wide receiver. Wide receiver coach Les Koenning's job became a lot more difficult with the dismissals of Kendall Sanders and Montrel Meander. Add in the Orangebloods.com report (subscription required) that Jaxon Shipley suffered a hamstring injury in practice, and the receiving core is holding on by a string.

Texas did sign five wide receivers in the 2014 class, and some of those true freshmen will likely be needed this season.

But if the Texas offense is forced to be built around the receiving core, it's nearly impossible to expect a positive outcome for Strong's inaugural season in Austin.

Of course, these are all hypothetical situations. There's a good possibility that Gray and Brown will both stay healthy, which would likely lead Texas to build the offense around the dynamic duo. 

But if anything were to happen to Gray and/or Brown, the thin depth at running back could very likely doom the Texas offense.

 

Unless otherwise noted, all quotes were obtained firsthand.

Taylor Gaspar is Bleacher Report's featured columnist covering the Texas Longhorns. Follow Taylor on Twitter: @Taylor_Gaspar. 

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UCLA Football 2014: Complete Preview and Predictions

Head coach Jim Mora has been successful in recent years in his efforts to rebuild the Bruins. After contending during the season for a potential Pac-12 championship game berth and finishing with a 10-3 record, UCLA now enters the 2014 campaign with high hopes and a ton of momentum. Brett Hundley has proven to be a leader for the Bruins and many expect him to contend for the Heisman Trophy this year. Watch as Bleacher Report's experts examine the UCLA Bruins before the 2014 season.

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UCLA Football 2014: Complete Preview and Predictions

Head coach Jim Mora has been successful in recent years in his efforts to rebuild the Bruins. After contending during the season for a potential Pac -12 championship ...

Read the full article on Bleacher Report...

Eddie Jackson's Early Return the Answer to Alabama's Biggest Question on Defense

TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — When Alabama cornerback Eddie Jackson went down with a knee injury during spring practice, it looked like disaster for the Alabama secondary.

Jackson had been Alabama’s best option opposite the departed Deion Belue in 2013 and entered the spring as its No. 1 guy.

Crimson Tide coach Nick Saban wouldn’t divulge what the injury was, only that it occurred in a non-contact situation. Alex Scarborough of ESPN.com reported that Jackson sustained a torn ACL.

Jackson promptly had knee surgery and the only timeline Saban gave for his return was “this fall” in a university release.

On Friday, as reporters spilled onto the practice field for a short viewing period at the start of fall camp, there was Jackson running through drills.

It’s still unclear when exactly he’ll be 100 percent ready, but Jackson’s early return would solidify the one place on the defense where there is uncertainty this year and make Alabama an elite unit on that side of the ball.

Saban cautioned reporters following that Friday practice. He said Jackson was back practicing, but that doesn’t mean that he’s at all ready to go.

“We're going to kind of keep him on a pitch count that will gradually increase and see when he gets back to 100 percent,” he said. “Eddie took all the tests and passed them, so straight-line running is not the issue. It's cutting, changing direction, doing those kinds of things and seeing what issues those things create.”

His teammates weren’t surprised to see Jackson rehab so quickly.

“Eddie's a tough competitor, a hard worker,” linebacker Denzel Devall said. “He's just got a great spirit out there when he's out there. He loves helping the younger guys out and just helping out the team anyway he can. It felt good to see Eddie out there getting into some work and doing some drills. I'm happy for him.”

Jackson’s return would be just what the defense needs.

Last season, cornerback was a major weakness. While Alabama finished second in the SEC in passing yards against per game, it was lit up to the tune of 464 yards against Texas A&M, 241 against LSU and 348 against Oklahoma. Cornerback play was a big reason for that.

Belue was the No. 1 guy, but there was never a solid No. 2 next to him all season. Cyrus Jones and Bradley Sylve got their turns but could never lock down a starting role.

As a freshman, Jackson showed flashes of brilliance, including a play against Ole Miss where he stayed with his man on a wide receiver pass and ended up with an interception.

During the spring, Saban said Jackson was “probably our best corner, most consistent” before his injury. All signs pointed to Jackson being the No. 1 guy.

Elsewhere, the defense is loaded.

Alabama has two experienced guys at safety in Landon Collins and Jarrick Williams. The defensive line could be one of the best position groups in the country, though it may be without two of its top options to start the season.

There’s also depth at linebacker, with talented guys like Reuben Foster, Reggie Ragland and Dillon Lee who have been in the system and are ready to have their shot.

At corner, Alabama brought in two 5-stars in Tony Brown, who enrolled in the spring, and Marlon Humphrey. The pair could eventually develop into stars, but it’s probably not wise to throw both straight into the mix right away with championship aspirations.

That’s why Jackson’s return is key.

“Eddie's kind of doing what he can do right now,” Saban said on Tuesday. “I'm pleased with the progress that he's made and where he is. We just want him to continue to work, and it may take awhile for him to get back to where he needs to be. But I think he's doing the things that he needs to do.

Maybe he's not doing it 100 percent, but for him to be able to do it 100 percent, I think he needs to continue to do the things he's doing right now and get confidence and as his leg gets stronger, he'll be able to do it more and more effectively.”

 

Marc Torrence is the Alabama lead writer for Bleacher Report. All quotes were obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted. All stats come from cfbstats. All recruiting information comes from 247Sports.

Follow on Twitter @marctorrence.

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Oklahoma Football 2014: Complete Preview and Predictions

The Oklahoma Sooners enjoyed a successful 2013 campaign as they finished with an overall record of 11-2 (7-2 record within the Big 12 Conference) and a victory against Alabama in the Sugar Bowl. After such an impressive season, Bob Stoops' program will be expected to achieve greater success and contend for the national championship.

Watch as B/R's experts examine the Sooners ahead of the 2014 season.

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Wisconsin Football: 5 Best QBs Badgers Will Face in 2014

Looking around the Big Ten, there are a number of high-profile quarterbacks.  There's Heisman candidate and two-time Big Ten Offensive Player of the Year Braxton Miller, 2013 Big Ten Freshman of the Year Christian Hackenberg, Big Ten Championship Game and Rose Bowl Offensive MVP Connor Cook and the prolific Devin Gardner.

Fortunately for the Wisconsin football team, the Badgers avoid playing every single one of those quarterbacks as they all fall into the newly realigned East division.

While the Badgers schedule is far from soft, there is a pretty noticeable lack of top quarterbacks on their schedule.  They catch LSU in their first game without Zach Mettenberger at the helm, though facing a top-tier SEC team can never be an easy game, even with the Tigers replacing numerous starters on both sides of the ball.

Once the Badgers get into the Big Ten portion of their schedule, they face a variety of good offenses; however, few have top quarterbacks leading them.  An honorable mention goes to Tommy Armstrong Jr., as he could be really good, though he was far too inconsistent last season to crack this list.

To put this list together, I looked at their career stats, how the system has developed quarterbacks in the past as well as a proprietary formula of rash opinions based on what I've seen from these players.  Let's start with No. 5 in the land of Lincoln.

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5-Star WR Recruit Christian Kirk Tweets Final 6 Schools

Scottsdale, Arizona, receiver Christian Kirk, a 5-star recruit and the No. 36 overall player in the 2015 recruiting class, trimmed his list of potential schools down to six Wednesday afternoon.

He announced in a Tweet that he will be choosing among Arizona State, Auburn, Ohio State, Texas A&M, UCLA and USC:

Kirk is 5'10", 191 pounds and checks in as the No. 4 receiver in the country. No other player in the national top 25 is listed at under 6'0", which is a testament to Kirk's shiftiness in the slot.

According to Bleacher Report's Tyler Donohue, who was on location in Beaverton, Oregon, Kirk stood out as a quarterback favorite during Nike's The Opening in July. Some of those QBs might not be done playing with Kirk by the time next season rolls around.

"I've got a lot of quarterbacks talking to me about maybe playing together in college," Kirk told Donohue. "They're all trying. It's cool."

Chief among those quarterbacks are Texas A&M commit Kyler Murray and USC commit Ricky Town. The Aggies and Trojans are the two favorites on Kirk's 247Sports "Crystal Ball," and according to Donohue, they have both pitched Kirk on coming to their schools.

"Kirk is on my list," said Town. "He's a guy we're pursuing at USC and someone who would be great to throw the ball to at the next level."

"He's my boy and he knows the deal," chimed in Murray. "I don't think I even need to say anything to Christian about that."

Here Murray is connecting with Kirk in the seven-on-seven tournament:

The third favorite on Kirk's "Crystal Ball" is Ohio State, and even though the Buckeyes didn't have a QB around to pitch Kirk in Beaverton, Adam Gorney of Rivals.com thinks they are in the mix to get him:

No matter where he commits, and no matter who is throwing him the ball, Kirk looks like a potential game-changer at the next level. Comparisons with Percy Harvin should never be taken lightly.

It's a good day for all six of these schools.

 

Note: All recruiting info refers to the 247Sports composite rankings

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Florida State Football: 2014 Has Special Significance for Hunter, Haplea

Tyler Hunter played in just three games last season for the Florida State football team before suffering a neck injury. Kevin Haplea's year was done in the summer when he had a knee injury. 

Both were on the sideline and forced to watch the BCS Championship Game from a distance.

That changes in 2014, as both Hunter and Haplea are in position to see significant playing time. Hunter is competing for a starting job at safety with Nate Andrews. And Haplea won't start over Nick O'Leary, but FSU will use more formations with two tight ends—especially in the red zone.

Hunter, a junior, was all smiles after Monday's first preseason practice. Players weren't allowed by the NCAA's acclimation rules to be in pads yet and there's very little hitting, but Hunter said his neck felt "like it never happened."

"It's amazing just to be back out there," Hunter said. "Been waiting on this for a long time. Just like a kid. Taking every play. Just loving it. I've been waiting on this moment for a long time."

Hunter had 26 tackles and three interceptions in 2012 and started three games at nickel corner. But just three games into last season, Hunter went down during a mid-September win over Bethune-Cookman. He wasn't able to play again, and in October he opted to have surgery on a bulging disc.

Hunter was able to play in the spring but wasn't cleared for contact. Now he's been given the green light.

"He's like a kid at Christmas," FSU coach Jimbo Fisher said. "It's like he's two or three when you first started knowing Santa Claus is coming. To me as a coach it's very rewarding. That tells you how much it means to him."

Haplea, a junior, has been wearing a knee brace for a year since having surgery in July of 2013. He caught three passes for 15 yards and a touchdown in 2012 after transferring from Penn State, and Haplea figured to be more involved in the offense last year.

But after a year on the sideline, Haplea said he's excited for FSU's season opener on Aug. 30 against Oklahoma State.

"I've been running faster than I was before I got hurt," Haplea said. "I'm looking forward to the season."

As FSU looks for a consistent No. 2 receiver after losing Kelvin Benjamin and Kenny Shaw, the transition is eased by the return of two experienced tight ends. Fisher plans to use O'Leary and Haplea to provide run support and catch passes.

"He ought to have a great year for us," Fisher said. "We're counting on him." 

Bob Ferrante is the Florida State Lead Writer for Bleacher Report. All quotes obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted. Follow Bob on Twitter.

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Wisconsin Football 2014: Complete Preview of Badgers Offense and Defense

In his first year as Wisconsin head coach, Gary Andersen guided the Badgers to a Capital One Bowl appearance and a 6-2 record within the Big Ten.

Now in his second year at the helm of Wisconsin's program, many will expect the Badgers to achieve even greater success. Watch as B/R's experts examine Wisconsin before the 2014 season begins.

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Notre Dame Football: 4 Takeaways from the Start of Fall Camp

Football is back at Notre Dame.

Well, for the most part.

The Irish opened up fall camp Monday, kicking off a week’s worth of practices at Culver Academies in Culver, Indiana, roughly 45 minutes from Notre Dame’s campus. The Irish will then return to South Bend and practice on campus beginning Saturday.

Beautiful setting for preseason camp here @CulverAcademies. Day one about to start! pic.twitter.com/ghIEN5yCbt

Notre Dame Football (@NDFootball) August 4, 2014

Before practice No. 1 even began, Irish head coach Brian Kelly addressed the media for nearly an hour—56 minutes, to be exact—on Friday.

Kelly covered a host of topics, and we’ll pick out four of the most intriguing takeaways as camp gets started.

All quotes obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted.

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Texas Football 2014: Complete Preview of Longhorns Offense and Defense

Overall, the Texas Longhorns found success in 2013 despite losing to Oregon in the Alamo Bowl. However, Texas fans will see new faces at offensive and defensive coordinator as Joe Wickline and Vance Bedford take over, respectively.

Will they be able to maintain Texas' success from last season, or will head coach Charlie Strong feel the pressure in his first year? Watch as B/R's experts examine the Longhorns before the 2014 season begins.

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Michigan State Football 2014: Complete Preview and Predictions

Expectations are high once again for Mark Dantonio's Michigan State Spartans as he enters his eighth year as head coach of the program. Last season, the Spartans were nearly flawless, as they lost just one game. They overcame Ohio State to secure the Big Ten Championship and defeated Stanford in the Rose Bowl to finish the campaign.

Will Dantonio's Spartans continue their success? Watch as B/R's experts preview Michigan State ahead of the 2014 season. 

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Trent Thompson Sets Decision Date: Which Program Is Best Fit for 5-Star?

Trent Thompson, one of the nation’s top defensive tackles in the 2015 class, announced his plans to make his commitment on August 12, according to Kipp Adams of 247Sports.

Alabama, Auburn, Clemson, Georgia and USC are the schools in contention for the 6’4”, 292-pounder’s services. The home-state Bulldogs are the unquestioned favorite, according to Thompson’s crystal ball page

However, what makes Mark Richt’s club the best fit for Thompson are the recent additions of defensive line coach Tracy Rocker and defensive coordinator Jeremy Pruitt.

As Bleacher Report's Barrett Sallee detailed, Richt’s hire of Rocker was a "home run" for the Bulldogs.

Rocker, who starred as a defensive lineman at Auburn in the late 1980s, brings years of experience as a coach in the SEC and in the NFL. 

According to Sallee, in three of his last five years coaching in the SEC, his defenses have finished in the top five in the conference in tackles for loss.

Thompson—who has recorded 148 tackles and 17 sacks over his last two seasons at Albany’s Westover High School—is a perfect fit for Rocker to plug into the middle of the Bulldogs' 3-4 scheme.

During Thompson’s visit to Athens last month, he spoke on the attraction of potentially playing for a coach with Rocker’s decorated resume on the field and as a coach.

"Tracy Rocker, he won the Outland Trophy and Lombardi Trophy in the same year," Thompson told Adams (subscription required). "He's a beast."

Additionally, the Bulldogs’ top two players at nose guard—Chris Mayes and Mike Thornton—are upperclassmen. Assuming Thompson can make a smooth transition to the college level, there should be ample playing time available if he heads to Athens.

Meanwhile, Pruitt’s one-year stint as Florida State’s defensive coordinator was built around the talents of star nose guard Timmy Jernigan—which could be the role Thompson is asked to play for the ‘Dawgs.

Among the schools fighting to pry Thompson away from his home state, Auburn appears to pose the biggest threat to Georgia. According to Adams (subscription required), Thompson made five visits to Auburn’s campus this year.

Similar to Rocker, Tigers defensive line coach Rodney Garner—who served in the same capacity at Georgia from 1998-2012—has a strong track record of producing elite defensive linemen.

The Tigers also have a wealth of upperclassmen at defensive tackle, and as Adams noted, that’s a big part of their pitch to Thompson.

"Auburn is telling me about how many defensive lineman they are losing and how I can make a big impact early if I go here," Thompson said.

While both SEC powers and bitter rivals offer Thompson great opportunities, in the end, the chance to star for the home-standing Bulldogs may be too tough to pass on.

 

Sanjay Kirpalani is a National Recruiting Analyst for Bleacher Report. Unless otherwise noted, all recruiting information courtesy of 247Sports.

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Notre Dame Football: Development Needs to Come Quickly on Defense

NCAA rules limit the amount of time teams can spend on the field during their first week. So while two hours feels gone in an instant, a football coach would point out there are 22 hours left to get more work accomplished. 

That's certainly the case for Notre Dame's new defensive coordinator Brian VanGorder. The veteran assistant has spent most of the past decade working in the NFL, where 20-hour rules and other time constraints vanish once a team hits training camp. 

But VanGorder's been tasked with getting a young and inexperienced defense up to speed, with the clock ticking closer and closer to August 30. And after two days of practice, VanGorder caught up with UND.com's Jack Nolan and gave an appraisal of where his unit stands learning the decidedly different scheme he's installed.

"I think the guys, the veterans have moved along, and schematically are more responsible and familiar with it," VanGorder told Nolan. "But the idea of consistency right now, which you expect in a day or two, is something of concern. So that's what we've got to continue to preach. We've got to get consistent good play, we've got to get more productive plays, and that will all come."

VanGorder specifically citing productivity is interesting, only because last season's defense struggled to make the productive plays that catapulted Notre Dame into the BCS title game in 2012.

While Bob Diaco built a system that held strong to basic principles, it thrived by making game-changing plays, with Manti Te'o taking the football away at a ridiculous pace for a linebacker, and the Irish defense playing sensational red-zone defense.

Those big plays were few and far between last year. Personnel changes were made to combat the deficiencies that hampered the 2013 defense, a group that was 103rd nationally in turnovers and 83rd in sacks.

Young safety Max Redfield was moved into the starting lineup, pushing Matthias Farley outside to cornerback. Jaylon Smith was pushed inside to the Will linebacker spot, forcing teams to deal with the Irish's best playmaker on every snap.

While Kelly continues to talk about the Irish playing multiple fronts, just about everybody expects the Irish to base their defense out of a 4-3 after four seasons with a 3-4 set. 

Of course, the Irish won't be able to utilize their skill if they're unable to fully grasp what they're doing.

So after 15 spring practices, VanGorder and the defensive staff utilized June to spend time reinstalling their defense, taking a page out of the NFL playbook by holding their own version of OTAs (Organized Team Activities). 

"It was another chance for our guys in our new system, maybe more important to us, because it was a new system that they were learning," VanGorder explained. "I think it worked well for us and was advantageous." 

At every level of the defense, the Irish are counting on new blood to make an impact. With pass rush a need, converted outside linebackers Romeo Okwara and Ishaq Williams will start at defensive end.

Former walk-on Joe Schmidt has proven early in camp that his spring ascent into the starting lineup was far from a fluke. He's the man in the middle, while youngster Nyles Morgan learns the defense and Jarrett Grace continues to heal from a gruesome leg injury. Converted safety John Turner will play outside linebacker, as will former wide receiver James Onwualu, two wild cards who will be counted on to make plays in space and hold up against the run. 

Sophomore Cole Luke holds down the cornerback position across from KeiVarae Russell. Florida transfer Cody Riggs looks like the type of versatile cover man VanGorder and Brian Kelly have coveted, an undersized but physical talent who will bounce into the slot to cover inside receivers in multiple personnel groupings. 

"I think that's the battle you're in," VanGorder said, when asked about the personnel tweaks. "When you have a new system and you have new roles, and you're trying to encourage those particular roles from each player, he's in the battle of learning the system—a new language, new terms—so sometimes, it takes a little bit longer for them to accomplish their particular roles."

Less than a week into things, VanGorder and the Irish defense still have some time. But with an offense primed to score a ton of points, Notre Dame will win football games if the defense can complement Kelly's spread attack. 

So as we hunt for answers at position battles and wonder how VanGorder's attacking scheme will help force turnovers and make plays behind the line of scrimmage, the veteran coach is still preaching patience. 

"They've got to get comfortable," VanGorder said. "They've got to be able to go out and play fast. That's really the goal of all football players... When they get a comfort level with all those things, now you've got a player who is playing fast. That's when I think our scheme will become more effective and exciting for them."

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