NCAA Football

Florida State Football: Confidence in Coordinator, Player Talent Key for Defense

There’s a good reason why Florida State coach Jimbo Fisher isn’t worried about opening the season Saturday night with a new defensive coordinator for the third time in as many seasons. 

Actually, there are two good reasons:

 

1. Fisher is confident in Kelly

Fisher is undoubtedly comfortable with Charles Kelly, whom he promoted to Seminoles defensive boss earlier this year following the surprise defection of coordinator Jeremy Pruitt to the same position at the University of Georgia. Kelly was promoted to his current post after coaching the ‘Noles linebackers for one season.

“The guy is hired to do a job and he knows how to do it,” Fisher said this week. “I’m very comfortable with what he’s done. I know who he is and what he’s done. We’ve got a great staff. Charles has been in a lot of battles and situations throughout his career and I have a lot of confidence in him.”

Despite the change in coordinators, the Seminoles’ overall defensive scheme hasn’t changed.

With Pruitt in charge, FSU was much more aggressive defensively than when Mark Stoops was calling the plays. Pruitt may have replaced Stoops when the latter was hired to coach Kentucky, but it was Fisher’s decision to emulate Nick Saban's Alabama formula for defensive success and transform into a more multiple and attacking style of scheme—a choice that paid off last year when the Seminoles proved to be one of the nation’s premier defensive teams.

With Kelly, that mindset hasn’t changed; only the person calling the plays.

"We were a very tight-knit group last year, and I feel we're the same way this year," Kelly said at FSU’s media day earlier this month. "When you have the camaraderie or whatever it is that you manage and you're on the same page, when you hear ideas from other people ... just the trust factor and the more you're together, that's important."

Helping make the transition from coordinator to coordinator is made all the more easier by the quality of the coaching staff as a whole. Kelly has his own 20-year career of experiences to draw upon as he embarks on this new chapter, but having longtime coaching veterans like defensive tackles coach Odell Haggins, linebackers coach Bill Miller and defensive ends coach Sal Sunseri collectively working together makes for an ideal ingredient in the recipe for success.

Oh, and the quality of players doesn’t hurt either...

 

2. Fisher’s defense is loaded with talent

Terrence Brooks, Timmy Jernigan, Lamarcus Joyner and Telvin Smith are all now in the NFL, but FSU has the chance to be even better defensively than it was a season ago when the Seminoles faced a staggering 963 total offensive plays but allowed just 12.1 points per game.

There are some key players missing from that excellent effort, yes, but Florida State still returns a group of players who combined to register 521 total tackles in 2013. Despite not having a single senior starter on defense, the Seminoles have more than enough talent and experience returning in 2014 to pose problems for opposing offenses.

Fisher’s defensive secondary returns three starters (four if you count the healthy return of Tyler Hunter) in Jalen Ramsey, P.J. Williams and Ronald Darby, who contributed to the country’s best pass defense a season ago. Williams and Darby are widely considered to be the best cornerback tandem in the nation, and Ramsey could be on the verge of solidifying himself as a college football superstar.

Terrance Smith is an underrated starter with a lot of experience at the linebacker spot, and Fisher’s defense also features Mario Edwards Jr., who at 300 pounds has the ability to play effectively inside or outside on the defensive line. DeMarcus Walker, Reggie Northrup, E.J. Levenberry, Nile Lawrence-Stample, Chris Casher, Nate Andrews and several more defenders are each expected to step up and play at a sustained high level as well. 

“We have a lot of talented guys,” Goldman said. “Everybody knows what they are supposed to do and how they are supposed to do it. We definitely want to be better this year [than last year].”

Brandon Mellor is a Florida State writer for Bleacher Report. All quotes obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted. Statistics courtesy of Seminoles.com. All recruiting information courtesy of 247Sports.

Follow @BrandonMellor on Twitter.

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Ohio State Football: Realistic Expectations for JT Barrett in His Buckeyes Debut

Discussing what he expects to see from J.T. Barrett in the first start of his college career, Ohio State offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach Tom Herman used a mixed metaphor to explain the responsibilities of the quarterback in the Buckeyes' spread offense.

"We don’t do a whole lot on offense, despite what some think we may or may not do,” Herman said. “We don’t ask the quarterback to be a rocket surgeon by any stretch of the imagination."

But while Barrett won't be playing the role of "rocket surgeon" when Ohio State takes the field for the Buckeyes' season opener against Navy on Saturday, the redshirt freshman won't be without responsibility. No matter how much the OSU coaching staff downplays Barrett's role, the fact remains that he's the player tasked with replacing two-time Big Ten MVP Braxton Miller, who was sidelined for the season a week ago with a torn labrum.

And while it's far-fetched to think that Barrett could replace the 263.5 total yards per game that Miller averaged a season ago right away, there's no denying that a large burden of the Ohio State offense has been placed on the Wichita Falls, Texas, native's shoulders. 

So how does Herman plan on reconciling Barrett's obvious inexperience with his undeniable responsibility? It starts with a simple game plan that won't require a rocket surgeon to employ.

"You want to make sure that you call plays that maybe you guys might say are conservative, but yet don't have all the ifs, this's and thats attached to them," Herman told reporters. "We kind of live in that world anyways, especially with our tempo."

Keeping the X's and O's simple is one thing, but keeping Barrett's nerves intact? There's no accounting for that.

Just a month ago, Barrett was little more than the Buckeyes' third-string quarterback, a break-glass-in-case-of-emergency option at football's most important position. Now? That emergency has happened, and the redshirt freshman finds himself preparing for the first start of his college career—and on the road nonetheless.

To a certain degree, ESPN analyst Kirk Herbstreit knows exactly what Barrett is experiencing. An Ohio State quarterback from 1989-92, Herbstreit knows what it's like to be preparing for one's first start with the scarlet and gray—and all of the feelings that come along with it.

But asked by B/R what Barrett needs for a successful week, Herbstreit didn't add pressure to the second-year signal-caller. Rather, the College GameDay analyst said that this is where Herman and OSU coach Urban Meyer will earn their money as they get Barrett prepped for every possible predicament.

"If you’re worried about, ‘I’ve never seen this coverage last week in practice, I didn’t see this front with this coverage,’ if you get into that, that’s a slippery slope," Herbstreit said. "So, I think it’s really up to Urban and Tom Herman to put these guys in as many difficult situations as they can. If they do a good job of that, then you can just go out and kind of react to the game."

And if Barrett can do that, then surely Herman will feel much more secure with such an inexperienced player directing his offense. Right?

Wrong.

Not because Herman isn't confident in Barrett's ability—he's actually had nothing but praise for the former 4-star prospect this past week—but rather because there are certain situations Herman himself is rarely comfortable in. Asked if he's ready to see Barrett face his first third-down conversion attempt, the OSU offensive coordinator admitted he's not, but that would still be the case if it were Miller taking snaps for the Buckeyes.

"I haven't felt OK in 12 years in that scenario," Herman said with a smile. "It's no different than any other time."

So with so much unknown about both Barrett and the OSU offense heading into his first start, what are realistic expectations for both the Buckeyes and their new quarterback on Saturday? It's tough to tell. But Herman certainly likes what he has in his new starter, rocket surgeon or not.

"He's a grown man. He's a grown dude. And I know the enormity of the moment may or may not hit him at some point," Herman said. "I know there's a lot of schools that would take our scenario over what they got."

 

Ben Axelrod is Bleacher Report's Ohio State Lead Writer. You can follow him on Twitter @BenAxelrod. Unless noted otherwise, all quotes were obtained firsthand. All recruiting information courtesy of 247Sports.

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Mark Blaudschun's Blitz: Braxton Miller Loss May Not Sink Buckeyes' Title Hopes

To hear most pundits, Ohio State's season is over before it begins.   

The Final Four?

Forget about it.

A conference crown?

Doubtful.

A top-10 ranking?

If they're lucky.   

That's largely been the chatter following the season-ending shoulder injury suffered by starting quarterback Braxton Miller last week.

I'm not buying the premise.

The boys in Las Vegas dropped the odds of Ohio State winning the national championship from 12-1 to 50-1.

I'll take those odds.  Apparently, lots of people did as well since the Buckeyes have now been slotted at a more reasonable 20-1.

There is little doubt that last week was a tough day for many football fans in Columbus.

"A devastating blow," said Yahoo Sports' highly respected columnist Pat Forde. A similar sentiment was expressed by former Ohio State QB and current ESPN analyst Kirk Herbstreit, who picked OSU to win the national championship, but then backed off after the injury to Miller.

It's an awfully long limb to go out on to predict a national championship for the Buckeyes with unproven redshirt freshman QB J.T. Barrett (Yes, I know what Jameis Winston was.) at the helm, but the landscape is different this season.

With a four-team playoff, the Buckeyes do not need to climb to No. 1 or No. 2 to be in the mix.

Even so, it's not difficult to see that by Halloween, the Buckeyes could be 7-0 and sitting very comfortable in the No. 5 slot they occupied in the AP pre-season rankings before Miller's injury.

Look at the OSU schedule. Navy (in Baltimore) Virginia Tech, Kent State, Cincinnati (in Columbus) at Maryland, Rutgers (in Columbus), at Penn State. See any monsters?

And ponder this: When was the last time anyUrban Meyer-coached team didn't pay attention, especially in the first game of the season. That's a rhetorical question.

Despite the loss of Miller, the Buckeyes still have as much talent as any team in the Big Ten, thanks to three straight Rivals top-five recruiting classes, a revamped defense led by returning linebacker Joshua Perry and defensive end Noah Spence and a coach with two national titles to his credit.

Oh, they might struggle a bit as they get used to an offense being run (for now) by the untested Barrett. And there might be some shaky moments against Navy at the start, but this upset is not going to happen on Saturday, even with the Midshipmen riding a season-ending five-game winning streak and the Buckeyes trying to erase the memory of a loss in the Big Ten title game and the Orange bowl.

After what could be a somewhat ugly win, Ohio State is likely to get better each week as the experience factor kicks in. If they are undefeated at Halloween, the Buckeyes will be very much in contention to be playing in the Rose Bowl on Jan. 1 and in Dallas two weeks later.

The secret lies in Urban Meyer's track record with quarterbacks.

At Utah, he inherited a young QB named Alex Smith, who had thrown only four career passes when Meyer arrived. With Meyer running the show, Smith piled up 5,200 passing yards and 47 touchdowns, while only throwing seven interceptions.

At Florida, Meyer helped sign nine QBs in six seasons with the Gators, including Tim Tebow, who would win a Heisman and is in the discussion as one of the greatest college quarterbacks in history.

Meyer won a national championship with Tebow at QB. He also won at national championship with Chris Leak as the Gators' QB.

In short, where Meyer goes, quarterbacks prosper.

At his first weekly press conference this week, Meyer talked about the future—Barrett—rather than the past (for now) Miller.

"[Barrett]'s a calm guy," said Meyer. "He's not someone you have to watch to see their demeanor because it's the same as it was two weeks ago. We all know what's coming down the barrel at him but he's handled it all very well.''

So has Meyer, many times before. For three years, he has upgraded the talent at Ohio State. With or without Miller, Ohio State will be a factor in the national championship derby.

Tale of two programs

It was the best of times and the worst of times for two SEC programs in their season-opener.

A year ago, South Carolina defensive end Jadeveon Clowney eliminated himself as a serious contender for the Heisman Trophy with a lackluster performance in the Gamecocks' 27-10 pre-Labor Day win over North Carolina.

Fast forward to Thursday night in Columbia, S.C. The Gamecocks, boosted by three consecutive 11-win seasons, kicked off the 2014 season against a Johnny Manziel-less Texas A&M team as 10.5-point favorites.

They came into the game ranked ninth (in the AP poll) with visions of an SEC title dancing in their heads. The Aggies were ranked 21st.

Final score: Texas A&M 52, South Carolina 28.

Say goodbye to the Gamecocks as national championship contenders. The Gamecocks could well win the rest of their games, but the memory of this beating—and it was very much that—will stick. Oh, they could still make the Final Four with 11 wins during the regular season and a victory in the SEC title game, but there were few indications defensively against A&M that the Gamecocks were capable of making such a run.

A year ago, the Gamecocks gave up more than 31 points only once all season—a 41-30 loss to Georgia. On Thursday night, they allowed 31 by the end of the first half.

Say hello to the Aggies as a dark horse contender in the same way Auburn emerged a year ago when the Tigers went from unranked to SEC champion, before barely losing to FSU in the BCS title game.

Texas A&M redshirt sophomore quarterback Kenny Hill made his debut as Johnny Football's replacement and immediately replaced him in the Aggies record book for most passing yards in a game (511) as he connected on 44 of 60 attempts, including three touchdowns.

The Aggies likely will see a boost in their rankings over the next four games before hitting the road at Mississippi State and beginning a three-game stretch that includes Ole Miss and Alabama. They also have to deal with Auburn and LSU in November.

For all the Aggies' win could mean for both schools, the immediate lesson is clear regarding the SEC, which had a record eight teams ranked in the AP pre-season top 25. When voters cast their ballots, they should merely put in SEC-1 or SEC-5 or SEC-8 instead of a school name because every team in this conference seems interchangeable.

And in the wild SEC, anything seems possible.

Milestone victory

In case you missed it, Georgia State opened its season Wednesday night with a 38-37 win over transitional FCS opponent Abilene Christian.

What's the big deal? The win snapped a 16-game losing streak and was Georgia State's first victory ever at the FBS level. The Panthers were 0-12 in their transitional season to the FBS level.

And in the "whatever happened to" department, former Green Bay Packers offensive coordinator and former Boston College head coach Jeff Jagodzinski started his second season as the Georgia State offensive coordinator in fine fashion, as the Panthers piled up 560 yards in total offense.

"Watch Out" game for FSU?

Recent history suggests the defending national champions had better be careful in their season-opener against Oklahoma State on Saturday night in Arlington, Texas.

If you don't believe me, here's what Florida State coach Jimbo Fisher said in his media conference call this week.

"We have to play a great Oklahoma State team. Mike Gundy is a great football coach. He's been there for nine years and has done a great job. He's won 41 games the last four years. He had a 10-win season last year. A couple of years ago he was a game away from playing for it all. They have great players."

That's four "greats," which is a lot this early in the season, even for Fisher.

Let's look at reality. The Vegas odds list No.1-ranked FSU as an 18-point favorite. The OSU defense only returns four starters from last season to deal with Heisman Trophy-winning QB Jameis Winston and his friends.

Still, this will not be a Cupcake U game for FSU; that comes next week against The Citadel. But it doesn't look like all that much heavy lifting for the Seminoles. The game also will give them a chance to get used to the surroundings in the stadium where the national championship will be held in January.

Of course, if Florida State doesn't win, a return visit to Texas will be much more problematic.

 

Easing into the season?

If you are Clemson Tigers fan, take a long look at that No. 16 AP pre-season ranking and cherish it. The team that won 32 games over the past three seasons is gone. Also missing are the starting quarterback, running back and wide receivers. And those weren't just any starting QB or WR, but the heart of the Tigers offense the past few years in Tajh Boyd and Sammy Watkins. Boyd set a career ACC record for touchdown passes; Watkins was a first-round pick (No. 4) of the Buffalo Bills.

The new Tigers won't have the luxury of easing into the season. After Saturday's opening game at No. 12 Georgia, a trip to Tallahassee to play No. 1 FSU awaits two weeks later.

Clemson coach Dabo Swinney, who is rebuilding with lots of talent—their top three recruits are Rivals five-star QB Deshaun Watson and four-star wide receivers Artavis Scott and Trevion Thompson—took an optimistic view of a tough schedule.

"You play Georgia every year, you play South Carolina every year and you play your conference schedule," Swinney said in the ACC teleconference this week. "Hey, you can get through that; nobody is going to say you don't play anybody."

 

Game of the Weak

Western Michigan at Purdue—Bet you missed this one, didn't you? No it's not South Carolina vs. Texas A&M, nor is it Miami-Louisville. But here's the fun part. Purdue anchored the Big Ten—and we do mean anchor—last season with a 1-11 record. Western Michigan co-anchored the MAC—which had its share of bottom feeders with Miami of Ohio (0-12), UMass (1-11) and Eastern Michigan (2-10)—last season with a matching 1-11 mark.

For entertainment purposes only, Purdue is an 11-point favorite.

Pick: Purdue 35, Western Michigan 31.

 

You've got to be kidding

1. Success in college football is based on a lot of things, including what is known as the "arms" race—facilities and amenities. But as our buddy Chris Dufresne of the Los Angeles Timespointed out this week, Oregon—backed up by Phil Knight's money—is the runaway leader.

Consider some of the features of the $68-million, 145,000 square foot Hatfield-Dowlin Complex, which go above and beyond normal

• Barber shop

• German-made lockers, which cost $26,000 each

• A locker room ventilation system that purifies the air of all smells associated with a football locker room.

• Wallpaper made of real football pigskin.

A barbershop? Wonder why the traditional red and white pole is not green and yellow

2. USC wide receiver Josh Shaw leaps from a second-floor balcony, injures both of his ankles as he saves his seven-year old nephew who cannot swim and has fallen into a swimming pool.

Wow. Great story, right? Only problem is it was just that: A story that Shaw made up. 

Here's a more embarrassing part for USC. The "story'' was not generated by any news outlet. It came from USC's own website, which obviously didn't do much of a vetting process.

USC coach Steve Sarkisian has suspended Shaw from all team activities as the team, and police, investigate what really happened.

3. Tennessee is recruiting a defensive tackle named Shy Tuttle and photoshopped a cover of Rolling Stone with a picture of Tuttle and pop star Beyoncé walking together.

4. Tulane opened its season on Thursday night against Tulsa with a freshman long snapper named Aaron Golub on the depth chart who is…legally blind. Golub was born with no vision in his right eye and limited vision in his left eye.

 

Mark Blaudschun covers college football as a national columnist for Bleacher Report. He has more than three decades of experience covering sports at a variety of newspapers in New Jersey, the Dallas Morning News and the Boston Globe. Follow him on Twitter @blauds.

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Will Georgia's RB Todd Gurley Be Enough to Defeat Clemson?

The Georgia Bulldogs take on the Clemson Tigers in the first week of the 2014 season. Bleacher Report College Football Analyst Michael Felder discusses which factors will determine the outcome of this big-time matchup.

Who do you think will win? Watch the video and let us know. 

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Florida Chalk Talk: Why Kurt Roper's New Offense Will Save Will Muschamp's Job

The Florida Gators take on the Idaho Vandals in the first week of the 2014 season. Bleacher Report's College Football Analyst Michael Felder discusses Kurt Roper's new offense and its personnel. Will Florida be able to bounce back from the 2013 season?

Watch the video and let us know.

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The Legend of Leonard Fournette

Leonard Fournette is considered one of the most polished recruits in the last decade. Now an LSU freshman, Fournette is looking to show the world what he has to offer.

How well do you think this freshman will do this year?

Watch the video and see how the legend of Leonard Fournette developed. 

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5 Bold Predictions for LSU's 2014 Season

LSU head coach Les Miles has been remarkable.

Miles has won 95 games in nine seasons, which is eight more than any other SEC program in that span. LSU has gone to a bowl game and finished in the AP Top 25 in each of those years as well. 

This season could be Miles' toughest. LSU enters 2014 with much uncertainty, especially on offense. But a talented class of freshmen could lead the Tigers back to Atlanta for the SEC Championship Game.

Here are five bold predictions for the Tigers this season. 

 

LSU Wins 10 Games

LSU will finish 2014 with a final record of 10-3, making it five straight years the Tigers will have accumulated double-digit wins.

A win to start year No. 10 of the Miles era will not be easy. Saturday, LSU will face Wisconsin in the 2014 AdvoCare Texas Kickoff in Houston, Texas. The Tigers and Badgers were ranked No. 13th and 14th respectively in the preseason AP Top 25

LSU's SEC West slate will be brutal. Alabama and Auburn are the popular picks to top the conference, but emphatic wins from Texas A&M and Ole Miss on Thursday night showed they will be in the mix. Arkansas and Mississippi State are no pushovers either, as both teams return experienced starters on both sides of the ball. 

The Tigers have rough patches throughout their schedule, highlighted by back-to-back road contests against Auburn and Florida. Nevertheless, expect LSU to find a way to make it to 10 wins. 

 

Leonard Fournette Rushes for Over 1,100 Yards

LSU running back Leonard Fournette will captivate the college football world in 2014. 

Fournette is LSU's most talented running back despite never having played a college down. Seniors Terrence Magee and Kenny Hilliard will still get carries, mainly though to give the 5-star talent from New Orleans a breather.

Quarterback Brandon Harris and receivers Trey Quinn and Malachi Dupre are other true freshmen that will get their opportunity to shine. But expect Fournette, Miles' most prized recruit ever, to lead the way. He accumulates over 1,100 yards and scores eight touchdowns. 

 

DeSean Smith Scores Five Touchdowns

LSU has not had a tight-end catch a touchdown pass in the past two seasons. Sophomore DeSean Smith will look to change that trend in 2014. 

Smith's 6'5'', 242-pound frame will give defenses nightmares in the red zone. He has great hands and displayed better separation skills in his route-running this spring. 

A tight end can be a young quarterback's best friend. Whether it is freshman Brandon Harris or sophomore Anthony Jennings under centre, expect them to target Smith often. 

 

LSU's Secondary Will Be the SEC's Best

Class will be back in session for "Defensive Back University" in 2014.

Sophomore cornerbacks Tre'Davious White and Rashard Robinson will form the best duo in the conference. White and Robinson's ability to play man coverage will open up the playbook for innovative defensive coordinator John Chavis. Backups Jalen Collins and Ed Paris will also contribute. 

Chavis must find the two safeties that work together the best. Jalen Mills, Corey Thompson, Rickey Jefferson and Ronald Martin all return with starting experience, but 5-star freshman Jamal Adams has created buzz at fall camp for his playmaking ability. 

Mills and Dwayne Thomas will be effective blitzers when Chavis' runs his 3-2-6 "Mustang" package. The Mustang was the most effective formation for the Tigers' 2011 SEC Championship Unit.

LSU's defense will lead the conference in interceptions and passing yards allowed in the SEC. 

 

Kwon Alexander Makes First Team All-SEC

It is time for LSU linebacker Kwon Alexander to shine. 

Alexander started last season at strongside linebacker and averaged five tackles per game. He moved to weakside this offseason to replace leading tackler Lamin Barrow.

The position switch will free up Alexander to make more plays. In the spring game, he returned an interception for a touchdown.

Alexander's athleticism allows him to play both the run and pass effectively. Chavis will use this to his advantage next season when calling plays. 

 

Stats, rankings and additional information provided by cfbstats.com, 247Sports.com and LSU Sports Information. Quotes were obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted. Follow me @CarterthePower  

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College Football Picks Week 1: Odds and Spread Predictions for Top 25 Teams

The 2014 college football season kicks off this week. Foundations will be set by the Top 25 teams in the nation as they embark on the pursuit of the inaugural NCAA playoffs.

Several ranked matchups are on tap, but the first of those already occurred Thursday. No. 21 Texas A&M upset ninth-ranked South Carolina 52-28 in the Aggies' debut without Heisman Trophy quarterback Johnny Manziel.

A pair of marquee games highlight Saturday's slate, along with several other contests to keep an eye on at the dawn of what should be a sensational year. Some other ranked teams are expected to walk over far inferior opponents, to the point where odds aren't even listed.

Here is a look at the odds and spread predictions available for the games featuring Top 25 teams in Week 1, along with breakdowns of the top games.

Note: Statistics are courtesy of NCAA.com.

 

 

Predictions for Top Week 1 Games

No. 1 Florida State vs. Oklahoma State

Seminoles quarterback Jameis Winston will commence his quest for a second consecutive Heisman Trophy and national title, leading the defending champions against Oklahoma State at AT&T Stadium.

The home of the NFL's Dallas Cowboys ought to be well-attended by the Cowboys from Stillwater, Oklahoma, but it likely won't make much of an impact on Saturday's outcome. Despite losing several key contributors to the pros, Florida State is still stacked and has the super sophomore Winston on its side.

As if the hype surrounding Winston isn't enough entering this grand stage, ESPN's Mel Kiper Jr. anointed Winston No. 1 on his first 2015 NFL draft big board, per SportsCenter:

Junior J.W. Walsh will start at QB for Oklahoma State after being benched in favor of Clint Chelf last season. ESPN College Football offered a graphic outlining what to perhaps expect from Walsh as he attempts to keep the Cowboys competitive:

Since Oklahoma State returns only four defensive starters and the Seminoles have four seniors on the offensive line, the favorites ought to control time of possession.

Winston will continue operating coach Jimbo Fisher's complex passing game with efficiency, while powerful ball-carrier Karlos Williams will set the tone with punishing runs. That will be enough for Florida State to secure a comfortable victory and a healthy shot of momentum to begin its Coaches' Trophy defense.

Prediction: Florida State 42, Oklahoma State 20

 

No. 13 LSU vs. No. 14 Wisconsin

This is going to be quite a doozy, featuring a battle of wills in the trenches to establish rushing attacks.

Melvin Gordon spearheads Wisconsin's ground game. No longer sharing time with departed star James White, it's Gordon's show, so it will be interesting to see if his explosiveness keeps pace with an increased workload.

The redshirt junior doesn't lack any ambition, and he shouldn't, as he's averaged 8.1 yards on 288 career carries without a single fumble.

"You hear a lot of things about running backs not being as important anymore," said Gordon, per ESPN The Magazine's Chris Low. "Some people in the NFL may think they don't need backs early in the draft. I want to change that."

Gordon very well may, but he'll have to navigate through a tough LSU defense and many other opponents aiming for him before making the leap to the pros. Tigers defensive coordinator John Chavis, one of the best in the business, believes his defensive ends Danielle Hunter and Jermauria Rasco are up to the task of stuffing Gordon and Wisconsin's massive offensive line, per the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel's Jeff Potrykus:

Those guys are mature and they're proven veterans. Both of them played well last year...It's always exciting when you've got guys on the edge that can play, that have already proven they can play on this level. And it has been said before ... I feel very strongly that we may have as good a pair of defensive ends as anybody in the country.

Freshman phenom Leonard Fournette figures to get a lot of work for the Tigers, along with Terrence Magee, a more seasoned back Dane Brugler of CBSSports.com thinks highly of:

Offensive coordinator Cam Cameron is plenty excited to turn Fournette loose, though, per ESPN.com's David Ching:

There's nothing that he's done that we hadn't seen on tape. He's like a lot of guys here and a lot of guys in the state of Louisiana: They don't get tired. Most 235-pound running backs get tired. This guy can run all day. ... I knew he was smart, and he's smart. I knew he was tough, and he's tough. I knew he loved football, and he loves football. But I didn't know that he could just run all day.

The superior speed and athleticism the SEC tends to breed more so than the Big Ten will likely show up in this one. However, a number of experts said that before the Badgers rolled over South Carolina for 293 yards on the ground in last year's Capital One Bowl.

But Chavis knows how to scheme against the very best, as evidenced by his shutdown of Manziel in 2013. Also, a tight game is bound to rest on a bold coaching decision, something LSU's Les Miles is known for and will likely parlay into a landmark win.

Prediction: LSU 31, Wisconsin 21

 

No. 12 Georgia vs. No. 16 Clemson

NFL teams have opted not to draft a running back in the first round over the past two years. That might change should junior Bulldogs star Todd Gurley declare following the season.

ESPN Stats & Info highlighted the prowess Gurley has flashed in his first two years in Athens—even with injuries slowing him down in 2013:

The key for Clemson at Sanford Stadium will be containing Gurley, but that's far easier said than done.

This is a rematch of last year's season opener, where Gurley amassed 154 yards and two touchdowns on just 12 carries against the hapless Tigers defense in Death Valley, though Georgia still lost 38-35.

Defensive end Vic Beasley will be leading the charge for Clemson's front four to thwart Gurley, and he isn't backing down from the challenge, per The State's Brandon Rink:

I see a good opportunity for our defense to really make a statement with a big opening game. It's going to be tough to shutdown Todd Gurley and that offensive line, but our plan is to do so. [...] I know a lot of teams will be scheming for me, but I feel like I have the ability to affect the opposing team's offense by helping my other defensive players get to the quarterback. Make plays in the backfield.

Clemson is trying to replace some serious offensive firepower in receivers Sammy Watkins and Martavis Bryant. Prolific passer Tajh Boyd was a dual-threat stud who accounted for all five of the Tigers' touchdowns in their last win over the Bulldogs.

In what should be a hotly competitive contest, revenge will be on Georgia's mind, and it will have the edge offensively with Hutson Mason under center. The following quotes from coach Mark Richt and Mason himself drive this point home, per Georgia Football and 247Sports' Gentry Estes, respectively:

Mason has experience filling in for his injured predecessor, Aaron Murray, last year, while the Tigers' Cole Stoudt has yet to prove himself in a starting capacity.

Injuries plagued the Bulldogs last season, so even with the departure of Murray, Mason will be eager to prove himself and should create the balance Georgia needs to contend in the SEC. The defense is still a bit of a question mark, but it ought to build on some confidence generated by a big early-season victory over Clemson.

This may not be Saturday's closest outcome, but it will be the only ranked matchup that doesn't take place on a neutral field. That should create the best atmosphere among all the exciting games, and the vengeance factor makes Clemson-Georgia all the more entertaining.

Although the Tigers will have a tough start, they will find a way to bounce back and rally around Stoudt, who will play better than expected on the road and help Clemson contend in the ACC.

Prediction: Georgia 27, Clemson 24

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Melvin Gordon Can Jump into Heisman Discussion with Strong Showing Against LSU

Melvin Gordon might not be a household name just yet, but the Wisconsin running back has a chance to put himself in the spotlight in Week 1.

The junior posted impressive numbers last season, totaling 1,609 rushing yards and 12 touchdowns as part of a terrifying rushing attack alongside James White. With his teammate now with the New England Patriots, Gordon has a chance to be even more productive in 2014.

This makes it unsurprising to see him already on a few Heisman watch lists. According to Tom Fornelli of CBS Sports, the running back is listed at 12-1 odds to win the prestigious award.

Nicole Auerbach of USA Today quotes a player ready to take over:

Still, there is a big difference between getting early hype and actually winning a Heisman Trophy. Gordon is a running back in a sport that has put quarterbacks in a brighter spotlight than ever before.

In the past 14 years, 12 different quarterbacks have been named the most outstanding player in the nation compared to just two running backs. One of those players was Reggie Bush, who was forced to vacate his award.

For Gordon to be a legitimate contender to win the Heisman, he will need to either be on a legitimate contender or put up stats you cannot ignore. He has a chance to do both of those this season.

The running back already has all the tools to make him one of the best players in the country at his position. ESPN's Mel Kiper Jr. (subscription required) considers him the No. 2 running back in the 2015 draft class behind only Todd Gurley of Georgia. His speed is constantly on display, while his size even impressed Bleacher Report's Adam Kramer:

After averaging a ridiculous 7.8 yards per carry last season, the running back is also expecting a bigger role this season, via ESPN Big Ten:

In a run-heavy system with a great line in front of him as well as elite fullback Derek Watt paving the way, the only thing that can stop him is injury. If he gets enough touches, it would not be surprising to see him run for close to 2,000 yards this season. 

Even with these numbers, though, Heisman voters want to see success against elite teams. In reality, the first week against LSU could be the best opponent Wisconsin plays all season. A strong performance in this game would be enough to prove he can do the same against anyone.

Gordon already has bulletin-board material to get him ready for LSU. Jim Kleinpeter of The Times-Picayune quoted linebacker Lamar Louis, who had nice things to say about the running back but noted he was not afraid of the competition:

He's a good back, speedy back. He makes good cuts, good decisions. I think he's up for the Heisman Trophy.

But I'm going to say what Chief said, tells us all the time, he's not someone we haven't faced in these past years. He's not someone we don't practice against (like) Terrence Magee, Leonard Fournette, Jeremy Hill. 

We'll be ready. We're not taking him lightly. He's a great back.

On Saturday, Gordon will get a chance to show he is better than all of the LSU running backs or anything else the SEC has to offer.

Still, the most important thing for Wisconsin this weekend is to come away with a win. This neutral game at NRG Stadium in Houston could be an opportunity for the Badgers to prove they are a great team. A win over an SEC school to start the season would certainly turn some heads.

Beyond that, Wisconsin only faces one more ranked team all season in Nebraska. A win in this opening game could give the squad a serious shot to run the table and earn a spot in the College Football Playoff.

An elite running back on a national title contender would certainly be enough to gain Heisman votes. This all starts with a strong performance in the first game against LSU.

If Gordon can put up over 100 yards and a touchdown or two in a winning effort, you can officially start his bid for the biggest individual award in the sport.

 

Follow Rob Goldberg on Twitter for the latest breaking news and analysis.

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