NCAA Football

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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Auburn Football: Ricardo Louis' Legacy Will Be More Than Miracle Catch

AUBURN, Ala. — Ricardo Louis has seen it too many times.

Nick Marshall throws a last-gasp pass into double coverage against Georgia. The Bulldog secondary can't come down with the interception, and Louis somehow looks ahead just in time to make the season-saving touchdown catch.

Louis became a nationally known name in an instant. His catch was replayed over and over on countless TV stations and websites. "The Miracle at Jordan-Hare" even earned him a spot on the red carpet at the ESPYs last month.

No matter what Louis does in his final two seasons at Auburn, he will go down in history as an Auburn legend.

He knows this, and he doesn't like it.

"I’m trying to move forward," Louis said. "That was a big play and all that, it was legendary, but I’m looking forward to the future. I want my career to be defined by more than just that."

Although he might finish his career as Auburn's most famous receiver for his grab against Georgia, he still has a ton of untapped potential at the position.

Louis was a speedy running back and safety during his high school days in Miami, but he came to Auburn as a 4-star wide receiver.

After recording only three catches in his true freshman season, Louis got into the rotation as slot receiver under Gus Malzahn and offensive coordinator Rhett Lashlee.

However, Louis had a quiet season outside of the 2013 Deep South's Oldest Rivalry. Although he was Auburn's second-leading receiver in catches and yards, his stats were not impressive compared to most wideouts across the country.

Fellow wide receiver Quan Bray said Louis has the drive to become famous for more than just one rivalry game.

"He's going to live on that catch for the rest of his life," Bray said. "But, he's a hard worker, and I'm sure he'll be known for more than just that play at the end of his career."

Now that Malzahn and staff plan to give returning quarterback Nick Marshall and his veteran corps of receivers more passes this season, Louis has a chance to become more than just the player who made the catch that saved Auburn's SEC Championship hopes.

"Ricardo is one of those guys that we really challenge to take that next step," Malzahn said. "Last year was really his first year to really play receiver for an entire year. We really feel like that he has a chance to take that next step so he can understand the offense, and we can move him around."

Louis is expected to fit into Auburn's lineup at slot receiver, where he started six games last season.

However, he has seen reps at wide receiver alongside returning star Sammie Coates and junior college transfer D'haquille Williams during the first few days of fall camp.

He also has lined up at punt returner early in camp with senior running back Corey Grant and a pair of true freshmen, Roc Thomas and Stanton Truitt.

Louis said he is embracing the moves around the depth chart in order to make Auburn's uptempo attack even more versatile in 2014.

As a former running back, Louis brings speed and open-field explosiveness once he gets the ball in his hands as a receiver or as a runner on one of Auburn's speed sweeps.

But one area the wide receiver needs to improve is making sure the ball stays in his hands.

Although his catching ability was Auburn's saving grace against Georgia, it let him down in last season's BCS National Championship Game on what would have been a first-possession score against Florida State.

Unlike his famous catch against Georgia, Louis said he looks back on that infamous drop as motivation in his efforts to become "more than just a good athlete on the field."

"I watch [the drop] over and over," Louis told AL.com's Brandon Marcello this spring. "I should’ve made the play. What would happen if I would have made that play? That’s how I look at it."

Whether he makes his mark as a deep-ball receiver on the outside, a go-to target down the middle of the field or a special teams playmaker, Louis said he is willing to build his budding Auburn legacy at any position.

"We’re going to be moved around a lot," Louis said. "We’re going to have to be more relaxed about it, you know, not too uptight about moving around, not everybody having a specific spot. We’re just going to work together as a team."

And his teammates say they have noticed that different attitude in Louis this offseason.

"I see a different Ricardo this year," senior H-back Brandon Fulse said. "I see him working hard, staying after practice and catching extra balls. Doing all the little stuff right."

 

Justin Ferguson is Bleacher Report's lead Auburn writer. Follow him on Twitter @JFergusonAU. All quotes were obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted. All recruiting rankings and information courtesy of 247Sports. All stats courtesy of CFBStats.com.

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LSU Football 2014: Complete Preview of Tigers Defense

In 2013, the LSU defense ranked 21st in the country in points allowed at 22 per contest.

Watch as B/R's experts weigh in on the Tigers' defensive outlook ahead of the 2014 season. 

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Oregon Football: Blue-Collar Ducks Embracing Attitude Adjustment

Certain qualities come to mind when thinking of Oregon football: High-scoring offense and trend-setting uniforms are likely the first two.

But in head coach Mark Helfrich's second season at the helm, the Ducks are embracing a new trait: that of a workmanlike, blue-collar team.

Per Jason Quick of The Oregonian, Oregon sported practice jerseys with a blue collar Monday, the first day of preseason camp. This latest Ducks fashion trend is one with particular significance for the 2014 season.

"[I]t's self explanatory," running back Byron Marshall told Quick. "[Helfrich] wants that blue-collar worker, a guy who is going to come to practice and work. He told us he wants to be unable to tell if we like games or practices more."

Despite winning at least 10 games every year since 2008—a feat that puts Oregon in exclusive company with Alabama—there's been one consistent rap on the Ducks. They simply can't stand toe-to-toe in a slugfest against power-based teams with beefy lines and old-school sensibilities.    

Their losses since reaching the BCS Championship Game in the 2010 season seemingly confirm the knock. The Ducks dropped a heartbreaker to Auburn in the title game but fell 28 points shy of their season average.

LSU and USC handed Oregon its losses in 2011, and Arizona workhorse running Ka'Deem Carey wore down the Ducks defense a season ago. And, of course, November losses to Stanford each of the last two seasons denied the Ducks two Pac-12 championships.

Rectifying the mistakes that cost the Ducks in those losses is the difference between another great season in 2014, and a possible championship campaign. And adopting the mindset of coming to work every day, as Marshall describes, is the foundation.

The blue-collar mentality is the overall philosophy reflected in more specific areas of emphasis for Oregon heading into 2014.

On offense, quarterback Marcus Mariota cited red-zone efficiency as a primary concern at Pac-12 media days. That begins with the Ducks showing a more smash-mouth brand of football inside the 20-yard line.

Reinforcements arrive in the form of freshman running back Royce Freeman. Listed at 6'0", 229 pounds in his GoDucks.com bio, Freeman is a big-bodied option in those short-yardage situations.

The talented power back certainly brings a hard-hitting style to the Ducks' speed-based offensive attack, and his coaches and teammates are taking notice.

Defensively, Helfrich talked at length about execution during Pac-12 media days.

"In general terms, a lot of missed tackles, a lot of times up front we could have done things differently," he said.

Helfrich added that is "on us as coaches."

"We're not...going to dock our players on execution," he said. "Execution is coached."

Similarly, the blue-collar practice jerseys are the Ducks coaches emphasizing a change in attitude with a tangible gesture. Should it pay off, Oregon can add a new defining trait when the program first comes to mind.

They have already had diamond-plating and feathers incorporated into their uniforms. Perhaps a lunch pail is next for the Ducks.

 

Quotes obtained firsthand unless otherwise cited. Statistics compiled via CFBStats.com.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Oregon Football: Blue-Collar Ducks Embracing Attitude Adjustment

Certain qualities come to mind when thinking of Oregon football: High-scoring offense and trend-setting uniforms are likely the first two...

Read the full article on Bleacher Report...

Penn State Football 2014: Complete Preview and Predictions

Last year, head coach Bill O'Brien guided the Penn State Nittany Lions to a 7-5 overall record and a 4-4 record within the Big Ten Conference. However, O'Brien left Penn State for the Houston Texans, and now James Franklin takes over at the helm.

Will Franklin prove to be successful in his first year overseeing the program, or will Penn State struggle? Watch as B/R's experts examine the Nittany Lions ahead of the 2014 campaign. 

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Auburn Football 2014: Complete Preview of Tigers Offense

After falling just short of a national championship, the Auburn Tigers are back in their quest to finish what they started.

Auburn's offense will focus around quarterback Nick Marshall as he looks to take the leap that will keep the Tigers in contention.

Watch as B/R's experts discuss the Tigers offense heading into the 2014 season. 

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

USC Football: Practice Philosophy Sets Tone for Sarkisian Era

USC opened its 2014 fall camp Monday with a new take on past Trojans traditions.

"It reminded me of back in the day, coming out here as a kid," linebacker Hayes Pullard told Gary Klein of the Los Angeles Times

No, these are not Lane Kiffin's Trojans. 

The coming days and weeks of practice, before the Steve Sarkisian era officially begins on Aug. 30, set the tone for the new head coach's tenure.

Fans were welcomed to the first camp session of the new season, and music played over the sound system. The players endorse it, if standout sophomore safety Su'a Cravens is any indication.

Cravens gave his seal of approval via Ryan Abraham of USCFootball.com:     

With practices reopened after three-plus years of a closed-door policy, Sarkisian is instilling an atmosphere more reminiscent of the Pete Carroll era.

A looser practice atmosphere certainly didn't seem to hinder the Carroll-era USC teams, of which Sarkisian served as an assistant. Those teams put together a streak of seven consecutive conference championships from 2002 through 2008. 

And in his return as head coach, Sarkisian is guiding players who saw success with a similar practice philosophy just last year.  

In certain ways, the current philosophy is a continuation of the changes interim head coach Ed Orgeron adopted midway through last season. USC rallied from a 3-2 start to reach the 10-win mark after Kiffin's dismissal.

But practice in this new era of USC football isn't merely about allowing in spectators or playing music. At Pac-12 media days last month, Sarkisian promised to test his team's limits despite a thin roster.

"We won't ever change the intensity of practice," he said in reference to the Trojans' limited roster. USC opened camp with fewer than 70 scholarship players due to NCAA sanctions. "It's physical [and] mentally challenging.

"We're going to focus on the exact numbers of reps our starters are getting," Sarkisian added. "If our practices end in an hour and 45 minutes instead of 2 hours and 15 [minutes], so be it."

And therein lies the most significant change Sarkisian and his staff are introducing in 2014. Implementation of an uptempo offense requires a practice with high energy and higher snap counts.

Practice No. 1 worked toward that end, with the Trojans running more than 200 plays, per Fox Sports' Rahshaun Haylock.

The second practice pulled back a bit, per USCFootball.com's Ryan Abraham and Chris Swanson, but remained at a high repetition count.

Such a torrid pace must be standard practice fare for USC throughout the season in order for the Trojans to successfully execute the new staff's vision.

A season ago at Washington, Sarkisian's Huskies ran 1,023 plays—99 more than USC ran despite the Trojans playing one more game.

USC has ground to make up in order to reach Washington's pace, and the repetition of practice is designed to address the physical side of that as well as the mental.

At Pac-12 media days, quarterback Cody Kessler described the outlook the Trojans are cultivating in workouts.

"One of our mottos as a team is 'next play.' Next play mentality," he said. "You can't focus on what happened...because as soon as one play ends, you're looking automatically to the sideline for what formation you're in; what play's next."

Come fall, the Trojans are going to have to enact that mindset before spectators and with background noise.

So, in their own way, even the fans and music at USC practices are playing a role in shaping Sarkisian's first season.

 

Quotes obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted. Statistics compiled via CFBstats.com.

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