NCAA Football

Top 10 2015 Recruits to Watch in ESPN High School Football Kickoff

ESPN announced the lineup and schedule for its 2014 High School Football Kickoff event, which will take place between August 22-24 in various high school locations.

Of the 10 games that will be played and televised on either ESPN, ESPN2 or ESPNU, almost all feature at least one or two blue chip prospects. Nine of the 20 teams participating won a state championship in their respective class last season.

Included among those blue chip prospects are the top three overall players on the 247Sports composite rankings for the 2015 class. Four other participating players rank inside the national top 45.

Here is a quick preview of the 10 highest-rated prospects to keep an eye on during the ESPN Kickoff event. Crazy as it sounds, the games are less than two months away from actually taking place!

 

Note: Unless otherwise cited, all rankings via the 247Sports Composite.

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Why 4-Star Travis Waller Is Best QB Oregon Could Have Landed in Class of 2015

After misfires on 5-star prospect Kyler Murray and 4-star Blake Barnett, Oregon needed to come up big with its next quarterback prospect for the 2015 signing class.

The Ducks did just that, landing a commitment Tuesday from 4-star prospect Travis Waller.

Although Oregon's push for Waller came late—he received his official offer just 11 days ago—he's no contingency plan. His commitment was no mere consolation prize after the Ducks missed on Murray and Barnett, either.

Waller rose to the top of the Ducks' list along with Deondre Francois, a 4-star prospect from Orlando, Florida, being heavily recruited by Florida State and Auburn.

In landing Waller, Oregon plants a flag in the all-important Southern California recruiting scene, and at one of the region's powerhouse schools. Waller leads the offense at Anaheim's Servite High School, the No. 10-ranked team in MaxPreps' national Xcellent 25 poll.

Waller's commitment represents a major victory in the Pac-12 geographic footprint. 

Likewise, remaining in the region helped Waller make his decision, he explained to 247Sports' Ryan Bartow.

"The players are family and they don’t treat anyone different. They play in the Pac-12 North and [it's] an hour flight from home so my mom can come to my games," he said.

Waller is a talented playmaker whose skill set could not be a more seamless fit for the Oregon style, in much the same manner as 2014 recruit Morgan Mahalak.  

With the duo in the fold, Oregon's quarterback future certainly looks bright. The line of succession is set up in such a way that when Marcus Mariota leaves for what is almost assuredly a first-round selection in the 2015 NFL draft, the Ducks coaching staff has options in the same mold.

Indeed, Waller's game is very much reminiscent of Oregon's current, Heisman Trophy-contending signal-caller. With prototypical quarterback size at 6'3", Waller stands tall and strong in the pocket.

But perhaps the most impressive facet of his game is his explosiveness out of the zone-read.

Waller's Hudl.com junior-year highlight reel opens appropriately enough: Waller sells the hand-off before slicing through the defense, finding the seams and turning on the jets to outpace the safeties for an 85-yard touchdown.

That's just a sample of the work Waller did in 2013 for Servite. Per MaxPreps, Waller rushed for 1,293 yards and 13 touchdowns to complement his 1,669 yards passing and 12 touchdowns.

He likely has another big year ahead of him, as Servite pursues the California Interscholastic Federation Southern Section and state championships. By the time Waller actually gets to Oregon, hoisting hardware could be old hat for him.

 

Recruiting rankings and information culled from 247Sports composite scores unless otherwise noted.  

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Why 4-Star Travis Waller Is Best QB Oregon Could Have Landed in Class of 2015

After misfires on 5-star prospect Kyler Murray and 4-star Blake Barnett , Oregon needed to come up big with its next quarterback prospect for the 2015 signing class...

Read the full article on Bleacher Report...

Every College Football Playoff Contender's Most Difficult 2014 Stretch

Now that the calendar has turned to July and the U.S. Men’s National Team’s World Cup run is over, it’s time to think about football. American football.

In less than two weeks, the SEC will kick the hype into high gear when it hosts its annual media days (expanded to a bloated four days this summer) in Hoover, Alabama, where every utterance, no matter how trivial, will be tweeted, blogged and expounded upon by the armada of reporters in attendance.

The rest of the SEC’s gridiron brethren will follow, building anticipation for the 2014 season’s opening weekend in late August. Eventually, football will actually arrive, and with it speculation about the first College Football Playoff. With the expanded four-team field, the hype will be bigger than ever this season, and schedules will be crucial.

We decided to take a look at the toughest stretch that every College Football Playoff contender faces: a period where their mettle will be tested like no other on the road to this season’s national title game at AT&T Stadium in north Texas.

The criteria, initially, is a top-10 preseason ranking: We used the top 10 from Bleacher Report’s most recent top 25 prediction. If your team isn’t included, don’t fret: It’s a long season. As previous years have shown, your group could very well be one of the teams making the most noise come January.

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A Timeline of College Football Conference Realignment over the BCS Era

How many programs do you think changed conferences in the BCS era?

Think about it: The BCS lasted from 1998 to 2013—that’s 16 seasons in an FBS that began the era with 112 members.

Would you guess 25, 30 or even 50?  Well, how about 78? 

That’s right, 78 programs moved conferences in the BCS era—some more than once—a tribute to the skyrocketing popularity of college football and the ever-increasing pot of money at the center of the sport.

Not only did almost 80 teams change leagues, 14 programs moved up from the FCS to the FBS level, three new conferences were formed and three leagues bit the dust.

Though additional realignment is on tap for the 2014 season—the first in the College Football Playoff era— take a look at the astonishing volume of change that occurred in the 16 years the BCS ruled the world.

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Florida Football: Why Andre Debose Will Be the Gators' X-Factor in 2014

If the Florida Gators are going to improve on last year’s efforts, somebody is bound to be the X-factor. One guy is going to come out of nowhere and provide a bigger impact than anybody expected.

That guy is likely to be wide receiver Andre Debose. Gosh, I feel like I’ve been saying that for the last decade. It wasn’t last season, or the year before, or the year before that. This will be the season one of the Gators' most highly recruited players finally lives up to his potential.

It just wouldn’t be the storybook ending that the sports world loves if it wasn’t.

While Debose has been a consistent special teams player and holds a school record with four touchdown returns, he has just 29 receptions, 543 yards and four receiving touchdowns in his career.

Debose has gone two of his three seasons with less than 100 receiving yards and zero touchdowns. That’s right, remove that 2011 season, and Debose has found the end zone as many times as you and myself.

But his sophomore season provides hope for this year, as Charlie Weis was calling the shots that season. While everybody has their own opinion on the coach who has been with five different teams since 2000, there’s no denying that he is a creative play-caller and knows how to put his players in position to succeed.

Florida had the fifth-best passing offense in the SEC in 2011, a mark that has gone downhill ever since he left.

Certainly, there are a lot more factors for why the Gators struggle mightily on the offensive end, but a lot of these issues can be fixed with an innovative coach who can take advantage of the strengths of his team.

While Brent Pease clearly wasn’t that guy, current offensive coordinator Kurt Roper appears to be—you average more than 425 yards of offense with Duke athletes, you have something pretty special going on.

Besides Jamison Crowder, who caught 108 passes last season for Duke, Florida has better all-around players with better skill sets. The scary part is that Crowder plays a similar game to Debose. He's not the biggest player in the world, but he's extremely fast and a nightmare in space.

Maybe you folks forgot:

Debose can not only strike at a moment’s notice, but he can turn a short pass into a long play if the defense isn’t careful. In 2011, six of Debose’s 16 receptions produced 25 or more yards. That's one more than Solomon Patton, and he led the Gators last season with 44 receptions. 

Assuming he’s healthy from last season’s ACL injury, Debose can be the difference-maker on the offensive end that the Gators lacked a year ago.

Debose is one of the most experienced receivers on the roster, and you’d be wise to put your money on him being the fastest. He can stretch the field, draw the high safety’s attention on every play and help create for others. So, even when he isn’t making plays himself, he’s helping the offense.

Florida fans have waited years for Debose to have a breakout season. The time has finally come.

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UCLA Football: Incoming Freshmen Most Likely to Contribute This Season

The UCLA football team has the luxury of adding impact players from a talented 2014 recruiting class. Multiple members of the group should be able to come in right away and contribute to a team hopeful of winning the Pac-12. 

Many of the said prospects reside on the defensive side of the ball. While it's possible some could start, the likely scenario will involve the incoming recruits in a reserve role.  

Although not a freshman, UCLA adds an impact transfer in the form of Malcolm Bunche. Of the players listed in this piece, the former Miami offensive lineman has the best chance to start. 

Here's a look at the new roster additions most likely to contribute in 2014 for the UCLA Bruins.

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UCLA Football: Incoming Freshmen Most Likely to Contribute This Season

The UCLA football team has the luxury of adding impact players from a talented 2014 recruiting class. Multiple members of the group should be able to come in right away and contribute to a team hopeful of winning the Pac -12...

Begin Slideshow

Miami Football: Over, Under Stat Projections for Duke Johnson in 2014

The Miami Hurricanes have long anticipated star running back Duke Johnson's return to game action, and that day is less than two months away.

Christy Cabrera Chirinos of the South Florida Sun Sentinel notes the junior said he gained 15 more pounds of muscle this offseason to prepare for the physical toll of being a featured back.

With that in mind, let's set over-under lines for his 2014 campaign—not including a potential bowl game. Before we get too far, though, the following table provides a general idea of what numbers Duke compiled during his freshman and sophomore years at "The U."

Ready? Good. To the projections.

 

Rushing Yards: 1,488

Duke's rushing total of 1,488 yards was engineered this way: a modest 20 attempts per game at 6.2 yards per carry for 12 games—or 124 yards per outing.

He boasts a collegiate average of 6.6 yards throughout 284 career carries. Last season, Duke essentially played seven nights after missing three quarters against North Carolina and one at Florida State and reached 6.3 yards on 20.1 attempts.

Over the last two years, he registered 50-plus-yard runs against Boston College, Virginia Tech, Virginia, Duke, Florida Atlantic and UNC. It sounds—and is—fantastically cliche, but he really becomes a home-run threat each time he handles the football.

Long story short, the big plays add up. He averaged 115.0 yards in the eight official appearances as a sophomore, even tallying a hard-earned 97 against an elite FSU defense.

A lofty number like that is extremely reliant on the Miami offensive line, but the triumvirate of Ereck Flowers, Jon Feliciano and Shane McDermott forms a powerful left side.

 

Receiving Yards: 187

Questioning whether Duke manages to reach a target of 17-22 catches is not ridiculous, but the drop from 27 in 2012 to four last year is equally as baffling. For example, he could reach 187 yards by:

  • 17 receptions, 11.0 YPC
  • 22 receptions, 8.5 YPC

Offensive coordinator James Coley allowed Stephen Morris to live and die by the deep ball in 2013, but his second season at Miami should be markedly more contained.

And that's where Duke comes in. It's fair to anticipate a few more screen passes and checkdowns this season because of the delicate quarterback situation. A key to minimizing mistakes under center is quickly distributing the ball to the team's playmakers in various ways.

Granted, he has just 298 career receiving yards—not exactly a staggering number from the backfield. But Coley must utilize his superstar in this fashion, lest the 'Canes ignore adding a dangerous dimension to their offense.

 

Total Touchdowns: 10.5

You want a compelling argument for Duke eclipsing that mark? You want legitimate reasons the superstar cannot? You can have them both, of course!

As mentioned earlier, the junior is electrifying whenever his number is called, talented enough to slash through holes and outrun defenders to the end zone.

Even while he was a backup to Mike James, Duke still bolted his way to 10 rushing touchdowns. Add one score through the air, one on a screen pass with two kick returns, and he scored in nearly every non-defensive way possible.

On the other hand...

Dallas Crawford came in as a short-yardage bruiser last season, and that job figures to fall on Gus Edwards' broad shoulders this year. Plus, freshman Joe Yearby will "steal" a couple touchdowns from his fellow back. Remember, goal-line vulture Crawford tallied seven scores during 2013 games in which Duke was actively involved.

What's more, it is unlikely Duke returns many kicks, mostly due to the young, non-starting speedsters on the sideline. Additionally, why subject him to an unnecessary beating on a kick return? He'll take a handoff on the next play anyway.

The main factor is determining whether Duke will set up touchdowns for teammates or score them on his own.

So, what say you? Please leave your thoughts in the comments section below.

 

Follow Bleacher Report CFB Writer David Kenyon on Twitter: @Kenyon19_BR.

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Michigan Football: Is Countess the Wolverine Under the Most Pressure for 2014?

Last week, Michigan unveiled its 2014 roster, and the first name listed ended months of speculation about the status of a hallowed number from the team’s storied past.

Defensive back Blake Countess is switching from No. 18 to the No. 2 jersey of Heisman Trophy winner and NFL great Charles Woodson.

The roster revelation ended conjecture that 5-star recruit Jabrill Peppers, who hopes to emulate Woodson’s career at Michigan, would don the No. 2 jersey. Peppers will wear No. 5 at Michigan, the jersey number he wore for his high school career—at least for now.

Countess, a redshirt junior, is a worthy recipient of Woodson’s jersey after having racked up impressive statistics during his Michigan career, including totaling 90 tackles (56 solo) over two full seasons. He emerged as a star last season with six interceptions that he returned for 169 yards, including a touchdown. His performance earned All-Big Ten first-team honors.

Last season’s performance came after he missed the entire 2012 season after being injured in the season opener versus Alabama.

The jersey switch will increase the spotlight on Countess.

While technically not a Michigan Legends jersey, No. 2 is an obvious candidate to join the pantheon of honored Wolverine greats.

Even without the official designation, the jersey holds a special place in Michigan history because of Woodson’s status as the most recent Wolverine to win the Heisman Trophy and the first defensive player to do so. He also bears the distinction of having a stellar NFL Hall of Fame-caliber career while still being an active professional player. Woodson’s NFL resume includes Super Bowl champion (XLV), eight-time Pro Bowl selection, seven-time All-Pro, NFL Defensive Player of the Year (2009) and being named to the 2000s All-Decade team.

Countess now steps into the shadow of Woodson’s celebrated collegiate and pro careers.

The only jersey that comes with similar baggage is Desmond Howard’s No. 21. Howard also won the Heisman Trophy and is a frequent presence around the Michigan football program in his current role as an ESPN college football analyst.

The other Legends jerseys are associated with players in the distant past, long before televised games became standard.

Countess will also need to contend with the expectations that precede Peppers’ collegiate career. Peppers has set a goal of eclipsing Woodson’s collegiate accomplishments. But, no matter how quickly he taps his potential, the No. 2 jersey won’t be available until Countess is done with it.

Countess’ task is to create his own legacy for his new jersey number while keeping fans from looking ahead to who might wear it next.

 

All season statistics from MGoBlue.com, the official University of Michigan athletic department web site.

Phil Callihan is a featured writer for Bleacher Report. Unless otherwise noted, all quotations in this article were obtained via Press Conferences or in person.

Follow @PCallihan

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