The first season of the College Football Playoff era kicks off in 143 days, and the event itself doesn't kick off until 127 days after that, which means I will change my predictions on which four teams will play in the single-elimination tournament roughly 347,035 times between now and its beginning.
However, this insane bit of prophesy is the only thing that might keep me sane between now and then, because as long as I can picture and delude about the 2014 college football season—about a December sans the BCS standings—I can remind myself of its realness.
Remind myself that it's coming.
So yes, these predictions are apropos of nothing. Nothing other than a way to get through the tedium of early April. If you don't want to read them because it's way too early to guess any of this, that is fair. Click away. Don't read them. Spare us all.
Otherwise, here is my admittedly way-too-early guess at what the first CFP might look like. On the heels of the 2013 season—a year when Michigan State and Auburn both would have (likely) made the final four despite finishing 10-15 combined in 2012—I was tempted to call more upsets than I did. For now, I am a wuss and calling chalk.
But who knows what I'll predict this time tomorrow?
It is, after all, only April.
The cornerback position has been one of the major areas of focus for the Crimson Tide throughout spring, and as sophomore Eddie Jackson goes down, the focus becomes more acute. ESPN reported that Jackson has torn his ACL, and although there are some experienced older players, Jackson's injury really makes eyes shift to the youth at the corner spot.
Bradley Sylve and Cyrus Jones are the veterans at the position. Both players were a part of the revolving door at the spot a season ago, opposite Deion Belue. Although returning starters is a metric used by many college football fans to forecast success, experience does not always translate to positives.
That's especially true in the case of two players who, despite their best efforts, could not win the position or play up to the expected standard.
Now, with Jackson out, Alabama is torn between hoping Sylve and Jones (two juniors) improve beyond serviceable and looking to the inexperienced talent. Sophomore Maurice Smith has some in-game experience, and his 2013 classmate, redshirt freshman Jonathan Cook, will both be fighting for time. Tony Brown, the 5-star early enrollee, per 247Sports, is also going to have to push into Jackson's vacancy.
Smith, Cook and Brown are the unknowns. A group of young players who are currently tasked with supplanting Sylve and Jones in an effort to elevate Alabama's cornerback position. Beating out the older players is step one, but the more important step is returning the position to the lofty standards set by Dee Milliner and Dre Kirkpatrick-type athletes.
Brown, a phenomenal track athlete, injured himself over the weekend running track, and the coaches have to monitor the situation, according to Nick Saban through al.com. For Brown, who may be the most talented of the group currently on campus, being healthy to compete for time is paramount.
In Tuscaloosa, the clock is ticking on spring ball. The final scrimmage is scheduled for April 19, putting the Tide on the back half of spring with less than two weeks for players to try to win positions. This Alabama defense is predicated on each position doing its job. If the cornerback spot is a revolving door as it was in 2013, the entire defense becomes vulnerable.
The pressure is on the youth to perform in order to help solidify the defense. Smith, Cook and Brown will see increased reps as Jackson starts the healing process. Another young player with high hopes will arrive over the summer in Marlon Humphrey, another 5-star corner, according to 247Sports.
Humphrey is the more polished of the two highly touted cornerbacks, and given the need at the position, he is expected to challenge for time. With Jackson down and both cornerback spots up for grabs, Humphrey showing up ready to play would be a blessing for the Crimson Tide.
Experience does not always mean success, and for Alabama's defense, improving at corner likely means opting to go with youth over the players with more field time. Jackson going down means Smith, Cook, Brown and eventually Humphrey all will have to press for game reps.
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The Arkansas Razorbacks just wrapped up their second week of spring practice over the weekend after not having any the week before.
Head coach Bret Bielema and his staff are hard at work not only trying to get their players ready for the spring game on April 26 and the start of the season in August, but also evaluating which guys are stepping up and making a case to win position battles.
So far, the Hogs have held six practices, with three in Week 2—including a big scrimmage on Saturday.
Headlines From Week 2
The biggest headline from last week was the large-scale scrimmage the Razorbacks held on Saturday that spanned 101 plays.
The first three quarters were not played like a regular game, as the ball was placed between the 20- and 35-yard lines. Even if the offense made a big play, the next snap was placed back inside that 15-yard area of the field. The chains did not come into play until the fourth quarter.
The scrimmage had the No. 1 offense against the No. 1 defense, the No. 2 offense—with quarterbacks A.J. Derby and Austin Allen splitting time—against the No. 2 defense and the No. 3 offense—alternating Rafe Peavey and Damon Mitchell—against the No. 3 defense.
Players that were notably absent during the scrimmage were defensive end Trey Flowers, running back Korliss Marshall and wideouts Demetrius Wilson and Eric Hawkins.
According to Trey Biddy of HawgSports.com (subscription required), Bielema won't scrimmage Flowers this spring to avoid injuring the team's best rush end.
Marshall is dealing with an undisclosed injury and Hawkins, who is dealing with concussion symptoms from Tuesday's practice, only participated in drills. Wilson is still not ready for live contact after missing last year with a torn ACL.
Other notable players who did not scrimmage were receiver D'Arthur Cowan, who is not with the team this spring to focus on academics, and Kelvin Fisher Jr., who was seen sitting in the stands.
Position Battle Updates
Arkansas might have more position battles going on than any other team in the SEC after not winning a game in the conference for the first time since joining in 1992.
The big one is at quarterback.
So far, Brandon Allen has separated himself from the rest of the group and had a very impressive outing in the team's scrimmage. The emerging junior showed off great accuracy, completing 17 of 20 passes for 242 yards and a touchdown.
His only blemish came on his last pass, which was picked off by safety Alan Turner. At one point, he connected on 12 straight attempts.
Bielema told the Associated Press that Allen has stepped up in a big way so far during the spring:
He looks different physically. He plays different. He's got so much composure. What I love there, not that I wanted to see it, but when we had a couple guys jump offsides, he really let the huddle have an awareness of what we needed to do and what was expected. You like your quarterback to step up in that fashion and I think he's done it.
Peavey, who many believed was Allen's biggest threat to win the starting job, threw just three passes, completing all of them for 36 yards. With the way Allen has been performing, it seems like Peavey is fighting an uphill battle.
You also have to give Derby his props. No one has really considered him a legitimate threat for the starting job, but he has continued to impress and had another solid day in the scrimmage, completing nine of 13 passes passes for 151 yards, a touchdown and an interception.
Biddy reported that, despite Derby's progress, Bielema said the race between Allen and little brother Austin is "tight."
The Hogs are also looking for wideouts to step up behind Keon Hatcher and Wilson, and they saw some candidates Saturday.
Though he recorded no stats in 2013 as a freshman, Drew Morgan was the top receiver in the scrimmage, catching five balls for 108 yards. He has a great sense of where to exploit holes in the defense and has an uncanny ability to get open.
Cody Hollister has probably been the most impressive out of the bunch, considering Rivals.com ranked him as just a 2-star recruit out of the JUCO ranks. He has shown that ranking to be a fluke thus far, displaying great hands and route running. Hollister had three receptions on Saturday for 38 yards.
Freshman Jared Cornelius also had a nice day with four catches for 60 yards.
All three are making a case to have impact roles in 2014.
You also can't forget 2014 commit JoJo Robinson, who will make a big push for an impact role once he arrives in the fall.
Bielema is also looking for an impact tight end to line up opposite Hunter Henry, and Jeremy Sprinkle looks to be that guy. He has reliable hands and is a very good athlete. Sprinkle hauled in three passes for 74 yards in the scrimmage.
Other News and Headlines
According to Danny West of HawgSports.com, there were six recruits in attendance on Saturday. They included 2014 commit running back Juan Day, quarterback Ty Storey (2015), tight end Josh Moore (2015), defensive end Marquavius Lewis (2015), defensive end Daytrieon Dean (2015) and linebacker Deontre Hardwick (2016).
With Flowers not scrimmaging this spring, redshirt sophomore Deatrich Wise started in his place at right end. Bielema has stated that Wise is making significant strides and that "physically, there's not a better-looking football player than Wise."
With his progression, the Hogs could have a formidable pass-rushing duo with Flowers.
Offensive tackle Dan Skipper was pulled from the scrimmage after getting into a fight on the field and taking a couple swings. Biddy reported that phenom Alex Collins also got a little too emotional, throwing a punch at senior safety Tiquention Coleman, which resulted in him also being taken to the sideline.
Bielema noted that he wants his team to be aggressive, but not to the point where punches are flying.
Also, keep an eye on redshirt freshman running back Denzell Evans. He is going to have a hard time seeing a lot of carries in 2014 with Collins, Marshall and Jonathan Williams ahead of him, but he displayed surprising speed and elusiveness despite his 6'0", 222-pound frame.
Bryan Heater is the featured columnist for the Arkansas Razorbacks football team. Follow him on Twitter @BHeaterRivals.
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We're less than a week away from the Blue-White Game—the annual culmination of spring camp for the Penn State Nittany Lions.
This is the first glimpse of your 2014 squad and will serve as the only football fix you get between now and Ireland when Penn State takes on UCF almost five months from now.
There are some new kids in town and some familiar faces who will be taking on larger roles.
Successes and failures of several individuals could go a long way toward shaping the 2014 season, and Saturday is the first real gauge for several of them.
Expectations will be changed and modified in parking lots surrounding the stadium following the game, and there are a few players who could have a major impact in those conversations.
Here are seven of the most important players to watch in this weekend's Blue-White Game.
The LSU spring game opened the eyes of Tigers fans everywhere. New players emerged as potential stars for next season.
The white team, which consisted mostly of the first team players, defeated the purple 42-14. But the main focus should not be the result, but rather on the performance of the players.
Saturday marks the last time the Tigers will strap up the pads until late summer. The Tigers will finish out class and continue workouts in the offseason. When they take the field again, Les Miles will have his entire highly touted 2014 recruiting class at his disposal.
Scrimmages months away from the season opener can only show so much. But it does display the potential of the players. Here are five playmakers who have made a name for themselves on Saturday.
*Quotes were obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted. Stats provided by LSU Sports Information.
As quarterback Marcus Mariota goes, so too goes the direction of Oregon's 2014 season. It's an equation the Ducks saw in action last season.
"For me I think my first and big priority was to get healthy," Mariota told reporters at the start of spring practice last week, via the Statesman Journal. "That was kind of [No. 1]."
The previous three months gave Mariota time to recuperate from a left knee injury that drastically changed the direction of Oregon's 2013 campaign.
Mariota begins preparation for 2014 with a clean bill of health and bulkier frame, which NFL.com's Bryan Fischer examined. A new season brings a Heisman Trophy candidacy for Mariota and a College Football Playoff pursuit for his team.
Mariota is the engine driving the Ducks' high-octane offense. Surrounded by a veteran corps on both the offensive line and at the skill positions, Mariota can make history in his third year behind the wheel.
Heading into its Week 11 showdown with Pac-12 North rival Stanford, Oregon was undefeated and ranked No. 2 in the Associated Press Top 25 Poll and third in the BCS standings.
Moving into the top 2 of the BCS was a mere formality had they won out, though, as the Ducks faced a considerably tougher final stretch than Florida State. All they had to do was win out, which they had no problem doing in the previous eight outings.
However, conditions were not the same in those final weeks as they were in the two months prior, most notably, Mariota's health.
His mobility was hindered, and Stanford capitalized. Mariota's inability to escape blitzes as effectively as he had eliminated one vital component of the Ducks offense, and it contributed to at least one red-zone failure that might have dramatically changed the game's complexion.
That loss and a second two weeks later at Arizona erased any hope of a national championship pursuit, and it ended the program's streak of consecutive BCS bowl bids at four.
Injury is an inevitability every college football team faces in the course of a season. However, different injuries obviously can have a much different impact, and Mariota's is a testament to this.
He battled through the partial MCL tear, even playing one of his best individual halves of the season immediately after sustaining it against UCLA. Offensive coordinator Scott Frost explained to The Register-Guard just how hard Mariota fought in the final month:
The kid couldn’t even jog two days before the Stanford game. We didn’t want anyone to know, obviously, because we wanted to protect him as much as we could...If people would have known how bad he was hurt and watched him perform like that, it was a warrior’s performance, it really was.
There's no question the injury limited Mariota's effectiveness, which in turn limited the Ducks. Like its quarterback, the Oregon offense is at its best when it presented defenses with diverse looks.
The Alamo Bowl was a reminder of just how effective Mariota can be when both elements of his game are firing.
"Since the last month, I feel the most healthy I’ve been," Mariota told The Register-Guard in December 2013, just days prior to the matchup.
With a month to recuperate, Mariota rushed for 133 yards on the Longhorns. His confident ball-carrying early opened the field and Mariota capitalized with 253 yards through the air and a touchdown.
"He is probably one of the best quarterbacks I have played," Texas defensive end Cedric Reed said after the game per TexasSports.com. "He is fast, he is smart, and he is really a good quarterback."
And when he's at 100 percent, there are few—if any—better than Mariota. The same goes for the Oregon offense.
Statistics compiled via CFBStats.com.
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