NCAA Football

Georgia-Florida Rivalry Game Won't Use EverBank Field's New Pools

The game formerly known as "The World's Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party," which annually pits Florida against Georgia on a neutral field, will not turn into the world's most regrettable pool party when the two teams meet at EverBank Field—home of the NFL's Jacksonville Jaguars—in 2014 and beyond.

The Jaguars just bulldozed 9,500 seats to build a two-story "party deck" with pools in their stadium, but the Associated Press (h/t USA Today) reports that Georgia athletic director Greg McGarity and Florida AD Jeremy Foley will not have them used.

Why? In the interest of fuller capacity. By using the pool and the accompanying cabanas, the programs would lose 7,000 seats that have already been sold to the fans.

"There's no wiggle room for lowering the attendance or seating capacity," McGarity said. "The most important thing for us is the number of seats."

The pool itself is a ridiculous concept. It has been mocked since its announcement for its not-so-subtle ploy at boosting ticket sales, which the Jaguars struggled with last year (finishing No. 28 in the NFL).

Stephen Colbert even dedicated a segment to the pool—and mostly to mocking the Jaguars—on Tuesday night's Colbert Report:

For what it's worth, the design would look something like this:

Foley and McGarity do not appear to have a philosophical problem with putting a pool inside a football stadium. Their problem is pragmatic—they would like as many fans as possible to see the game.

"Our No. 1 priority is to have the same number of tickets available to our fans and we don't have an interest in any scenario that reduces the number of tickets," Foley said.

And good for him.

Unlike the case at Jaguars games, Florida and Georgia do not need fans to avert their eyes—their puffy, red, chlorine-filled eyes—when their teams are on the field together. Even last year, when Florida was historically bad, the "Cocktail Party" was a three-point Georgia win.

The last four games have been decided by a total of 18 points.


Follow Brian Leigh on Twitter: @BLeighDAT

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5 Reasons 2015 College Football Recruiting Class Could Be Best of 2010s

College football recruiting offices spend a lot of time comparing prospects during early evaluations of a recruiting class. Coaches hand out grades, position by position, to determine which players will be sent early scholarship offers, which will be dealt with on a wait-and-see basis and which should pursue opportunities elsewhere.

The 2015 class offers plenty for programs to consider and, from top to bottom, may be the best we've seen this decade. A large collection of recruits began receiving offers as underclassmen, while others are just starting to see interest mount as dominoes fall across the country.

This group boasts big-time talent at each position with incredible depth in certain spots. We examine the strengths of this class that could separate it from the rest when measured against other classes of the 2010s.

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The Case for and Against Notre Dame Making College Football Playoff

Last year was, by every conceivable metric, a down year for Notre Dame football. One season removed from a 12-0 regular season and the fetching title of "national runner-up," the Irish slogged to a 9-4 record and had to settle for the lampooned title of "Pinstripe Bowl Champions!"

But a "down year" at Notre Dame is different than a "down year" elsewhere. A lot different. Besides winning nine games—a total that most schools envy—the Irish were the only team to beat Rose Bowl Champion Michigan State and also defeat Pac-12 South Champion Arizona State on a neutral field.

Which puts Notre Dame in an odd spot entering 2014. The world is not expected of it (outside of South Bend, Indiana, that is), but anyone would be foolish to cast it aside. The last time the Irish were cast aside in the preseason, they came within 60 minutes of winning the national title. Are we really dense enough to not learn from our mistakes?

Here's the case both for and against Notre Dame making the College Football Playoff.


The Case For

The case for Notre Dame is simple: It's Notre Dame.

Only three other teams have been to a national title game since 2013, and they (Auburn, Alabama and Florida State) are all expected to be ranked in—or very near—the top five of the major preseason polls.

Stretching back a year, the only other team to make a national title game since 2012 is LSU. The Tigers aren't fancied as well as those other three teams heading into 2014, but they were included among the nine teams with the best betting odds to make the CFP, per Jerry Hinnen of

Stretching back another year, the only other team to make a national title game since 2011 is Oregon. The Ducks, like Auburn, Alabama and Florida State, are expected to debut around the top five nationally.

Which puts Notre Dame in rarified company. After watching them get blown out by Alabama, a cynical mind would cast the Irish's 2012 season aside as a fluke, calling them "lucky to get where they got." But they still undeniably got there, which is something only the best teams in America can say they've done these past four years.

Notre Dame also has the benefit of balance.

During the past three seasons, its offense and defense have both been consistently solid—and occasionally great.

Despite the relative "down year" in 2013, Notre Dame still finished in the top 30 in offensive FEI and defensive FEI, according to Football Outsiders. It has accomplished that feat every season since 2011.

Here are the only other teams that can say that:

Obviously, what Alabama and Oregon have done these past three years is significantly better than what Notre Dame has. That is reflected in the numbers. Still, this is a feat that eludes most college football programs, even blue-bloods such as Florida State and LSU.

Notre Dame is one of only five teams to pull it off.

Which is important. One of the "basics" over Football Outsiders is that "the strongest indicator of how a college football team will perform in the upcoming season is their performance in recent seasons."

Here is how they elaborate on that thought:

It may seem strange because graduation enforces constant player turnover, but college football teams are actually much more consistent from year to year than NFL teams. Thanks in large part to consistency in recruiting, teams can be expected to play within a reasonable range of their baseline program expectations each season. Our Program F/+ ratings, which represent a rolling five-year period of play-by-play and drive efficiency data, have an extremely strong (.76) correlation with the next year’s F/+ rating.

And for good measure—since, as alluded to above, recruiting plays a big part in on-field stability—here are the teams with the best average recruiting classes since 2011, per the 247Sports team rankings:

Once again, this metric slots Notre Dame among rarified company. Especially with regard to talent depth—where only Alabama, Ohio State and LSU have landed more 4-star recruits since 2011—Notre Dame can compete on a national scale.

It also has those rare blue-chip prospects, a couple of whom are entering their second year and have thus far failed to make an impact.

But that doesn't mean they never will.

Safety Max Redfield and running back Greg Bryant were the Nos. 30 and 45 respective players on the 247Sports Composite last cycle, and both are expected to contribute in 2014. Bleacher Report's Keith Arnold listed Redfield as a starter and Bryant as a co-starter on his projected two-deep depth chart from the end of spring practice.

Which brings us—at long last!—to the makeup of the current roster. Despite last year's struggles, which were inexcusable, this team still has the pieces to compete for a spot in the Playoff.

Those pieces can be separated into three strengths:


1. The Offensive Line

According to Football Study Hall, Notre Dame finished No. 2 in the country in adjusted sack rate (pass blocking) and No. 22 in adjusted line yards (run blocking) last season. The only other teams to finish in the top 25 in both categories were Texas A&M, Northern Illinois, Miami, Arkansas, Toledo and Duke.

Despite the loss of first-round draft pick Zack Martin and three-year starter Chris Watt, the Irish return a lot of talent in the trenches, chiefly center Nick Martin, Zack's younger brother. It also saw enough potential breakouts this spring—hello, Mike McGlinchey!—to feel good about the line as a strength heading into next season.


2. Quarterback Depth

Man, what an upgrade from last year. Tommy Rees is gone, Everett Golson is back and Malik Zaire is older. No matter who wins the battle between Golson and Zaire—and make no mistake, it's a battle—will give the Irish a far better starting option that they had in 2013.

More than that, whoever loses the battle between Golson and Zaire will give ND a far better backup option than it had in 2013. Remember when Andrew Hendrix came in and stunk up the joint against USC, nearly choking away a rivalry game? The Irish need not worry about such things next season. They have two capable signal-callers.

And that's something most teams would kill for.


3. Evenly Distributed Defensive Star Power

Notre Dame's three best defensive players line up at different levels. Sheldon Day is being counted on to play with more consistency and anchor the line, Jaylon Smith looks like the next big thing at outside linebacker and KeiVarae Russell is finally the leader of the secondary and should emerge as one of the nation's top cornerbacks.

That type of distribution is important for any team, especially one that loses so many pieces from last year's defense. That every positional group has a potential superstar is important to the development of younger players, who need someone to emulate and revere.

Of that trio, Day is the biggest question mark. He's a physical freak who flashed massive potential in 2013 but has always been a bit of an enigma. If he puts it all together this season, ND could be scary good.


The Case Against

The case against Notre Dame begins and ends with something the team itself cannot control: the schedule. Man, what a doozy. 

The Irish don't have to play Michigan State for the first time since 1996, which appears, on the surface, like a nice bit of serendipity. This might be the best the Spartans have been since 1996! What a fortuitous time to miss out on them…right?!

Not so much.

For even though that may be true in a vacuum, the ACC games Notre Dame added to replace Michigan State are no joke. Syracuse is plucky enough to hang with Notre Dame in MetLife Stadium, North Carolina has been mentioned as a CFP dark horse, Louisville is always tough and Florida State is the defending national champion.

And that comes in addition to Notre Dame's usual slate of difficult games, which again includes Michigan, USC and both of last year's Pac-12 Championship Game participants, Stanford and Arizona State.

Here's a look at how the entire schedule pans out:

If you chalk up the road game at Florida State as a probable loss, Notre Dame would, in all likelihood, have to go 10-1 against the rest of that schedule to have a chance of making the CFP. No matter who the losses come against, a 9-3 team will not be included among the top four teams in America. Doing so would be unprecedented.

Is there another loss or two on Notre Dame's schedule? Definitely. Other than Purdue—which oddly always plays Notre Dame well—no other team on the Irish's schedule has even close to a losing record the past two seasons. Pac-12 powers Stanford, USC and Arizona State will be just as tough as usual, and Michigan and Northwestern should be much improved from the Big Ten. (Especially the latter.)

Are we sure Notre Dame has the weapons to contend with such an onslaught of quality opponents? A wagering man would say no.

The skill positions are depleted, and even though emerging players such as Bryant and tight end Ben Koyack have potential, it is hard to count on either (or anyone else) until they prove it on a Saturday.

The defense, meanwhile, has holes to fill. The part about distribution in the "Case For" section was a charming way to omit the reality: The defense returns three total sacks from last season; former walk-on Joe Schmidt is slated to start at middle linebacker; the secondary has little depth and is one injury away from disaster.

It's no wonder coach Kelly is starting to get desperate. He is not mincing words with the status of Jarrett Grace, a potential starter at linebacker who is recovering from a broken fibula.

"We're going to be very, very aggressive with him over the next two to three weeks," Kelly said on Tuesday, according to JJ Stankevitz of CSN Chicago. "We're going full go for him to be ready for Rice."

New defensive coordinator Brian VanGorder presents yet another wild card. He coached up some great Georgia defenses in the early 2000s, but he also coached down a pretty godawful Auburn defense in 2012.

Was that a fluke, or has the evolution of the college game in the intervening years befuddled him?

Can he really be trusted with such a high-ceiling, low-basement unit?

Is ND out of its mind to think it can make the College Football Playoff after losing both coordinators and half of its defense from a team that played (and didn't look great) in the Pinstripe Bowl?

When you put it like that…well, kind of.


Follow Brian Leigh on Twitter: @BLeighDAT

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Tennessee Football: Projecting Who Will Win Volunteers' Open Starting Positions

Heading into the 2014 season, head Tennessee football coach Butch Jones needs to fill several open starting positions on the Volunteers roster. 

In his second year on the job—a year when many new head coaches are first truly judged on their abilities to win football games—Jones faces a daunting schedule with a roster that includes zero returning starters on the offensive and defensive lines.

The Vols also lost key starters at the linebacker, running back and kicker/punter positions to graduation. 

Jones and his staff managed to haul in the fifth-ranked recruiting class in the country in February, per Rivals. Many of those talented newcomers will have every chance to earn significant playing time and even starting positions before the Vols kickoff against Utah State on Aug. 31.

But the SEC is an unforgiving league. Young players who aren't used to the speed of the college game and competing against the size and strength of NFL-bound athletes are often targeted and exposed by opposing offensive and defensive coordinators.

No matter how talented Tennessee's incoming freshmen are, they face a tall order when it comes to beating out the Vols' veteran players who have patiently waited for their turns to make a name for themselves on Rocky Top.

Here are the players who are most likely to win the Vols' open starting positions in 2014. 


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Florida State Football Recruiting: Commits, Top Targets to Watch at the Opening

The Florida State football team already has landed verbal commitments from three defensive backs in the class of 2015. 

In July, Derwin James, Tyrek Cole and Calvin Brewton will get the chance to prove themselves against the nation's top receivers in one of the most prestigious high school showcases for recruits, The Opening. calls The Opening "four days of dynamic training, coaching and competition" that will help players improve at their positions and also add speed and explosiveness. 

Quarterback De'Andre Johnson has also been invited to the event, which also features seven-on-seven games and a lineman challenge.

Here is a look at the four FSU verbal commitments as well as 14 players whom coach Jimbo Fisher and his staff are pursuing.

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