NCAA Football

Bleacher Report's Preseason 2014 Heisman Power Rankings

The Heisman Trophy isn't won in August or September, but that's not stopping anyone from guessing who the winner will be. 

Just as the preseason is a time for predicting the first four-team playoff field, it is a time for predicting who has a legitimate shot to win college football's top honor. It's also the perfect time to throw out a list of names who have an outside chance.

Remember, everyone is undefeated before Week 1. Everyone has a shot.

How do Bleacher Report's preseason Heisman power rankings look heading into season openers? The answers are on the following slides. And, of course, any omissions are purely out of hatred for your team.

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10 Freak-of-Nature Athletes in 2015 College Football Recruiting Class

While Jadeveon Clowney and Julio Jones rose to stardom in college, both players were deemed freaks of nature as recruits long before they stepped foot on campus. 

The 2015 recruiting class is stocked with athletic phenoms who have the nation’s top coaches in hot pursuit of their services. 

Defensive end Josh Sweat, the nation’s No. 1 overall prospect, is a 6’4”, 245-pound bundle of fast-twitch burst and power who runs a sub-4.5 40-yard dash. However, he's hardly alone in the category of special athletes in this class.

Which other players in the 2015 class are candidates to acquire the “freak” label before they move on to the next level?

*Players listed in alphabetical order.

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Jeff Whitaker's Hard-Fought Return to the Top of Auburn's Depth Chart

AUBURN, Ala. — Even without the likes of Dee Ford and Nosa Eguae, Auburn's defensive line is loaded with players who made their mark on the field in 2013.

Just look at the Tigers' two-deep depth chart for the season opener against Arkansas.

Gabe Wright started 11 games at defensive tackle last season, but the versatile senior is going to be a first-team defensive end, where he will be backed up by fellow senior and former starter LaDarius Owens.

Sophomore Elijah Daniel, who featured in all 14 games of Auburn's SEC Championship run, will make his first career start opposite Wright. His backup, DaVonte Lambert, might be a newcomer, but he spent 2013 standing out from the pack at Georgia Military College as the nation's No. 1 JUCO defensive end.

Senior Angelo Blackson, a starter at defensive tackle, played in every game for the Tigers in 2013, along with backups Ben Bradley and Montravius Adams.

"It’s almost lineman by committee," defensive coordinator Ellis Johnson said. "We’ve got about eight or nine guys there, and some of them have had better performances and have more experience, but I don’t think [defensive line coach Rodney Garner] has got any concern of putting any one of nine guys on the field right now."

But even with all those players who are coming off successful seasons, the last name on the two-deep defensive line—a starter at defensive tackle—did not play a single snap in 2013 due to injury.

That doesn't matter to Auburn's coaches.

They have full confidence in Jeff Whitaker.

"Jeff is one of our leaders," head coach Gus Malzahn said. "He’s got a lot of experience. He’s healthy now, and I think that’s a big factor. He’s got experience in this league."

Although he has not recorded a tackle since Nov. 10, 2012, Whitaker will be one of the first defensive linemen on the field for the final season opener of his collegiate career.

Johnson hinted at Whitaker's surprise push to become a starter Sunday night, and Malzahn confirmed it Tuesday with the team's official depth chart release.

The fifth-year senior, who is jokingly referred to as the "old man" of the defensive line by his teammates, has been a leader for the Tigers' defense throughout the last several seasons.

"He's one of the guys we look up to all the time," Blackson said. "He's one of those guys who is a great leader. It's great to have him another year. I came in after him, and leaving with him, and it's a blessing."

Whitaker arrived at Auburn in the fall of 2010 as one of the nation's top defensive tackles. The former 4-star wasted no time in cracking the rotation as he played in all but one of Auburn's 14 games, including the BCS National Championship win against Oregon.

As a sophomore, Whitaker was named a starter prior to the 2011 season opener against Utah State and did not let go of that role.

However, the end of Gene Chizik's tenure in 2012 coincided with the beginning of some major health woes for Whitaker.

After starting the first six games of the season, he missed three consecutive games with an injury. When he came back to action against his home-state Georgia Bulldogs, the Warner Robins native failed to make any impact on the field for the woeful Tigers.

Following a complete overhaul of the coaching staff and a full offseason of work, Whitaker was sidelined with an ACL injury the week of the season opener against Arkansas. He originally planned to return against Texas A&M, but he was forced to redshirt the entire 2013 campaign.

"Life has a mean right hook," Whitaker told AL.com's Joel A. Erickson in April. "It came down to me making a mature decision. This was the right decision in my mind, but it was not probably the most popular decision I wanted to hear at the time."

But adversity was nothing new for Whitaker, who watched from the sidelines as his team made a return to the national title game. His mother died before he started high school, and his grandmother had recently passed away.

An injury and a redshirt season seemed small in comparison for Whitaker, and he decided to come back in 2014 for one more year with his teammates.

"I was focused on coming back and taking this opportunity," Whitaker said earlier this fall. "Redshirting was a decision I had to dig deep into making, which I feel like was the appropriate decision. I felt like it was a positive decision at the end of the day, which I think is the best decision. The best is yet to come."

Whitaker's teammates said his return has boosted the entire defensive line, which already has a lot of experience back for the new season.

"He just makes us better," Adams said. "Jeff is a great leader and just brings all of us together. I talked to a lot of guys from that 3-9 season, and that’s what they said they were lacking, everybody wasn’t together. With us all being together, it just makes everybody better."

But, with his return to the top of the depth chart, Whitaker has proven he is more than just a feel-good comeback story or a veteran voice on the sidelines—he still has something to bring to the team.

With former defensive tackle Wright moving out to end, the Tigers can definitely use the size of the 6'4", 322-pound Whitaker now that he's feeling "like the old Jeff again."

Arkansas' power-rushing, ball-control offensive style calls for more bulk from Auburn's defensive line heading into Saturday's season opener. Whitaker will provide extra power against a team that will be content to keep pounding at the middle of the defense.

When asked about how he will matchup against the Razorbacks' offensive line, the big-bodied Whitaker's response was simple and enthusiastic, per the Montgomery Advertiser's James Crepea:

Whether Whitaker is moving into the starting lineup permanently or for a one-off advantage against Arkansas, the veteran tackle knows he will get his chances this season in Garner's heavily rotating line. 

"The rotation is good, and I think it's good competition as well," Whitaker said. "It brings out the competitive nature. You root big for everybody, but you see somebody do something good, you want to come in there and do the same thing. And then you feed off of that. 

"If someone in there is playing good ball, it's like tag team. I'm a big wrestling fan. It's like tagging in, tagging out."

Even after a devastating injury and long road of recovery, this veteran underdog has shown he hasn't tapped out of the match yet.

 

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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Tennessee Football: Why Vols' Wideouts Will Be Difference vs. Utah State

Tennessee sophomore wide receiver Josh Smith broke out with one of the most productive camps of any player on the Volunteers roster. Yet when UT released its official depth chart Monday, Smith's name was absent from the starting lineup.

That distinction belonged to the trio of Marquez North, Pig Howard and Von Pearson.

Smith will still play plenty, but if his camp performance failing to yield first-team reps isn't a testament to Tennessee's depth of able options at receiver, nothing is.

Head coach Butch Jones can throw waves of talented targets at opponents. It's going to be such a drastic mismatch for the Aggies' revamped secondary, the Vols will ride that advantage to a season-opening win.

All the ingredients are present for UT's young receivers to get off to a rousing start that could build the swagger necessary to grow into a special group.

USU coach Matt Wells must replace four defensive backs who were invited to NFL camps, led by fourth-round selection Nevin Lawson. Also gone are Quinton Byrd, Tay Glover-Wright and Maurice Alexander.

Even though the Aggies have enough promising players throughout their roster to present UT a major test, the secondary is one of their biggest concerns, along with the offensive line.

Seeing the size and athleticism of Tennessee's receivers understandably makes Wells shudder.

"I look at the secondary and know that we lost three guys to the NFL and that scares the heck out of me," Wells said at his weekly press conference Monday, according to USU's official website. "We've got good, talented players, but they haven't done it yet."

Jones could echo those same words about his receivers too, but that doesn't change the fact that they've got immense ability and were hotly recruited. The two-deep depth chart is a veritable stable of stars—23 combined, according to the 247 Composite rankings.

They're also sneaky experienced, much more so than Utah State's secondary.

A season ago, UT took some serious lumps at receiver as freshmen were thrust into action before they were ready. Now, the Vols return nearly 83 percent of its receptions from a season ago.

That was boosted even more when Howard returned to the team after a bizarre hiatus and worked his way back to a starting spot. Senior quarterback Justin Worley said Howard is a "tremendous asset" to UT's passing game.

Add talented prospects Pearson, Malone and Vic Wharton into the fold, and that lineup has the potential to be too much for some of the nation's best defenses to handle, much less one that has to replace as much talent as the Aggies.

That's not even to mention UT's talented tight ends. Worley looks around him and feels comfortable because of a considerable security blanket.

A couple of years ago, Utah State sophomore cornerback Daniel Gray was part of Tennessee's young talent. He also was forced into action as a freshman and was consistently torched throughout his one season in Knoxville, most notably in his lone start versus Troy.

After transferring to USU, Gray returns to Neyland Stadium to anchor an inexperienced group of Aggies defensive backs.

Some of Gray's former teammates such as recently graduated defensive end Corey Miller is a little more confident in Sunday night because of it.

If Worley is sharp, there's little reason to believe the Vols can't orchestrate an air assault.

The average height of the Aggies cornerbacks listed in their two-deep roster is 5'10", which isn't bad at all. But they still give up an average of four inches to the six receivers in UT's two-deep.

That talent isn't lost on Wells, who heaped even more praise on Tennessee's receivers, which is normally reserved for impressed coaches at weekly teleconferences.

Tennessee is known as 'Wide Receiver University' and I don't think I'd argue that. They have 11 first-round draft picks in the last 40 years at wide receiver. That's unbelievable. There may be four more on this roster. We talk about Marquez North. Von Pearson is a very talented slot, similar to [USU receiver] Jojo Natson. Josh Malone, it goes without saying is tremendously talented. He had 180-some yards in the spring game with three touchdowns. He lit it up, unstoppable. The guy is Mr. Tennessee Football. That's a big time honor in a very good state of high school football.

With that size and talent, throwing in SEC speed and athleticism, Tennessee's receivers are going to be too hard to handle.

While USU quarterback Chuckie Keeton will certainly lead his team to some points, UT's receivers will enable the Vols to match scores in a shootout.

Once the fourth quarter rolls around, Tennessee's superior talent, the cross-country trip for the Aggies and the humidity on a late-August Knoxville night will be the difference.

A new chapter of Wide Receiver U has begun, and the nation is about to see the future of the position is in good hands on Rocky Top.

 

All recruiting rankings and statistics courtesy of 247Sports composite rankings. All statistics gathered from CFBStats.com. Quotes and observations were obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted.

Brad Shepard covers SEC football and is the Tennessee Lead Writer for Bleacher Report. Follow Brad on Twitter here: 

@Brad_Shepard

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West Virginia QB Admits His 1st Kiss Came Courtesy of Nick Saban's Daughter

West Virginia kicks off its season this Saturday like any other program will: a soft-boiled, gimme game at the Georgia Dome against No. 2 Alabama.

Why do the Mountaineers have this one handily in the bag? For starters, their phenomenally named quarterback Clint Trickett knows the enemy all too well.

The son of Florida State offensive line coach Rick Trickett, Clint grew up around Alabama head coach Nick Saban’s family thanks to his father’s past roles on Saban-led teams.

Somewhere along the line, Clint met Saban’s daughter, Kristen, and according to the Mountaineers signal-caller, the two indulged in some young-love smoochery.

Clint admitted in a press conference on Tuesday morning that Saban's daughter was his first kiss, per the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette's Stephen J. Nesbitt. Here are Clint’s comments in their full, less-than-steamy context:

They were six years old, guys. Let’s all have a snow cone and chill out.

Or we could take this side story and sprint for the hills with it, which Mountaineers fans will surely do come sign-scrawling time on Saturday morning.

In any case, you can’t knock Clint for taking a trip down memory lane. Your first kiss is a special, Fruit By the Foot-flavored moment. Clint’s just happened to be with the daughter of the coach he’s playing against this weekend.

In regards to Saban, I’m positive he doesn’t mind. As a dad, you hope your daughter meets a nice boy named Clint Trickett.

Worst-case scenario is he turns out to be Daniel Boone's affable, pigskin-throwing sidekick.

 

Follow Dan on Twitter for more sports and pop culture news.

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College Football Week 1 Predictions: Picking All Top 25 Games Against the Spread

The most important thing, above all others, is that college football has returned.

This is an actual game week featuring actual football that will be played in actual stadiums packed with actual fans. And to remind you that this is all entirely real and you won’t be waking up anytime soon, these games have actual point spreads.

Here’s where it gets complicated, though. Although we welcome football’s homecoming with the most intense (but lovable) bear hug we can muster, the matchups are not quite in midseason form just yet.

Of the 22 games featuring AP Top 25 teams, 15 have a spread of three touchdowns or higher. And yes, two games even feature spreads of 50 points or higher. This actually made the prospects of finding available point spreads rather taxing.

Could the games be better? Absolutely. Should that stop you from being overly enthusiastic, to the point of scaring strangers? Of course not.

There's plenty to be excited about, and to prove it to you, we’re picking each Top 25 against the spread.

If the exercise looks familiar, that’s because it is. We posted the same picks last season, and apparently the selections were acceptable enough to get picked up by programming for another year. You will not hear any complaining. 

Let’s get to it.

 

All spreads are courtesy of Oddshark.com unless noted otherwise.

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Predicting College Football's Biggest Headlines for Week 1

Week 1 of the 2014 season is finally here. Bleacher Report's college football analysts break down what they think will be the headlines following the Week 1 matchups. Who do you think will win these big-time games?

Watch the video and let us know.

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The Hype: It's All About the Heisman

The 2014 college football season is here. The top players in the country will fight for the chance to win the coveted Heisman Trophy. Who do you think will bring home the award in 2014?

Watch the video to see the ultimate Heisman hype tape.

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How Gus Malzahn's Auburn Offense Will Take It to the Next Level

For the first time as a college head or assistant coach, Auburn head coach Gus Malzahn has a returning starting quarterback back for a second year in his system.

He just won't start the season-opener. 

Senior signal-caller Nick Marshall will serve his penalty for an offseason citation for possession of less than an ounce of marijuana and won't start the season-opener, according to Charles Goldberg of AuburnTigers.com. He will play, however.

When he steps in for sophomore Jeremy Johnson at some point against Arkansas, it will mark the debut of the "Gus Malzahn 2.0" offense.

What should the world expect from this Tigers offense?

 

Wide Receiver Experience

Creating "more balance" is generally a talking point coaches use in the offseason as code for saying that one aspect of the offense is struggling. That's not really the case for Auburn.

Sammie Coates finished third in the nation in yards per catch last year (21.48 YPC) and thrived in Auburn's system that lulled secondaries to sleep with its multidimensional running game.

Malzahn stressed the importance of more balance—which is code for more consistency in the passing game from Marshall—this offseason.

"We led the country in rushing last year," Malzahn said at SEC media days in Hoover, Alabama in July. "When you do that, defenses have to take some chances. We've got to do a better job this year of making them pay when they do take chances."

Auburn will capitalized on safeties creeping up in 2014, and junior college transfer D'haquille "Duke" Williams is a big reason why. Literally.

At 6'2", 216 pounds, Williams presents matchup problems for smaller cornerbacks, has the frame to be dangerous as a possession receiver and speed to burn. To put it more simply, he's a clone of former Tennessee wide receiver Cordarrelle Patterson.

Toss in Ricardo Louis, slot receiver Quan Bray, Tony Stevens, Melvin Ray and Jaylon Denson—who missed most of last season after tearing his ACL against LSU in September—and tight end C.J. Uzomah, and Auburn's wide receiving corps is deep and versatile.

"For the first time, at least since I've been at Auburn, we've got deep threats at every position we put on the field," Malzahn told Charles Goldberg of AuburnTigers.com earlier this month. "Hopefully, that will equate into some big plays in the passing game."

Marshall looked like he had taken the next step during the spring game, particularly at the end of the first quarter when he hit Williams over the middle over a linebacker, Uzomah on a skinny post in the red zone and then Williams again on a fade for a touchdown. 

These aren't passes that he made last year, and a sign that, even at that point at the end of spring practice, Malzahn and offensive coordinator Rhett Lashlee had their message received by their senior signal-caller.

 

Lather, Rinse, Repeat

Losing Heisman Trophy finalist Tre Mason isn't ideal for the Tigers running game, nor is the early departure of Greg Robinson, the graduation of fullback Jay Prosch and the season-ending injury to left guard Alex Kozan.

It won't be much of an issue for these Tigers.

Mason was a great back in a great system. Malzahn's system has produced 11 1,000-yard rushers in eight seasons as a college head or assistant coach, and that great system is still in place.

It's not like Auburn is filling those holes with 2-star scrubs. 

Cameron Artis-Payne rushed for 610 yards and six touchdowns as a reserve last year, home run threat Corey Grant had 647 yards and six touchdowns a year ago and Marshall topped the 1,000-yard mark and found the end zone 12 times on the ground. Add in redshirt freshman Peyton Barber and 5-star true freshman Roc Thomas, and the foundation is there.

Greg Robinson was a force plowing the road in the running game last year. After all, you don't get drafted No. 2 in the NFL draft on a whim unless your name is "Ryan Leaf." The offensive line is the more pressing issue for the Tigers, where veteran Shon Coleman will be stepping in at left tackle. Coleman was out of football for two seasons winning the battle over leukemia and has been impressing the coaching staff on and off the field.

"Shon is an extremely talented young man and we believe he's only scratched the surface on the football field," offensive coordinator Rhett Lashlee told me earlier this summer. "His story overcoming cancer has been an inspiration to us all. He's a leader and great example on our football team, and we are expecting big things from him this fall. We believe he has a bright future at Auburn and beyond."

The Tigers were forced to find a replacement for Kozan during fall camp after Kozan injured his back during the offseason.

His replacement, however, is a familiar face.

Right tackle Avery Young is listed as Auburn's No. 1 left guard on their Week 1 depth chart, with Patrick Miller—who was in a heated battle with Coleman for the left tackle job this spring—sliding in at right tackle. At 6'6", 315 pounds, Young is big and powerful enough to fire off the ball and get downfield, but he also has the athleticism and quick feet that Malzahn's system requires from its guards—who routinely pull and get around the corner to open those big holes.

"We've got a fantastic offensive line," reserve right guard Jordan Diamond said, according to Goldberg. "I think we've got a chance to be the best offensive line in the country. We've got to continue to work together. Right now, we're physically tough and mentally tough. We've just got to go out and execute when it's time."

It's time, and the replicating of last season's success shouldn't be difficult.

 

More of the Playbook

Marshall had two-and-a-half weeks as the starting quarterback in Malzahn's system before taking his first snap in a game last season versus Washington State, and he was forced to figure things out in a hurry last season during Auburn's run to the SEC title.

"He was kind of learning on the fly last season," Lashlee told ESPN.com's Alex Scarborough.

That won't be the case this season. 

The continuity with a veteran quarterback and his receivers allowed Auburn's hurry-up, no-huddle offense to hit the ground running—"pun" intended—during fall camp.

"We’re leaps and bounds ahead of where we were last year, especially as an offense, just because we’ve been in the system for a year-plus now," Uzomah told Goldberg. "We have that kind of connection as receivers, and the O-line knows what we’re doing with coach (J.B.) Grimes. The quarterbacks and the running backs have their mesh points, yeah, it’s going really well and we’re pleasantly pleased where we are right now.”

Auburn was one-dimensional by choice last season, and that brought them to within 13 seconds of a national title.

Add more layers to it on the ground and the balance Malzahn stressed at media days, and this offense will be nearly impossible to stop.

 

Barrett Sallee is the lead SEC college football writer for Bleacher Report. Quotes were obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted. All stats are courtesy of CFBStats.com, and all recruiting information is courtesy of 247Sports. 

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Why Devin Funchess Is Michigan's Biggest Threat on Offense

Michigan fans are excited about Devin Funchess’ move to full-time receiver.

They’re beside themselves, actually.

However, during Monday’s presser at the Crisler Center, Funchess, who also happens to be a projected first-round pick in the 2015 NFL draft, per Dane Brugler of CBS Sports, said the move from tight end to the edge was merely business as usual. 

The switch doesn't come with any added thrills for the 6’5”, 230-pound junior who scooted over for the betterment of his team. He just wants to punch the clock and go to work.

“I mean, yeah, I’m excited—but I just like playing the game football,” Funchess said in a nonchalant tone. “I just want to go out there and give my best every Saturday—no matter what position I’m playing—and just try to get the job done for the team.”

Getting the job done is only the beginning because expectations for the former Farmington Hills Harrison star are sky high. Blame his past two seasons for that.

In 2013, he extended his streak of receptions to 14 consecutive games and was named one of eight semifinalists for the John Mackey Award, given to the nation’s best tight end. Next to Jim Mandich, he’s the only other Wolverines tight end to have back-to-back 100-yard games and three in total.

He also won the Big Ten Kwalick-Clark Tight End of the Year Award. 

In 2012, he was named to the Football Writers Association of America Freshman All-America Team; he was All-Freshman by ESPN’s standards, and he met Phil Steele’s all-frosh criteria as well, per his team bio.

If that's not enough to tab him as Michigan's top threat on offense, nothing is. 

Need more convincing? Let Maize 'N Brew's Drew Hallett help in that department: 

 

The Football is in Good Hands with Mr. Safety Net

One way or another, Funchess is going to be a valuable asset to Team 135—perhaps the most valuable. In terms of size and athletic ability, he serves as the ultimate offensive weapon. He can catch in traffic, but more importantly, he can corral receptions that would be otherwise impossible for most to handle—and for most corners and safeties to defend.

As the O-line continues to grow, Devin Gardner, the quarterback, is going to need a sure thing; that’s Funchess, who is one of the “top two athletes” on the team, according to the fifth-year senior. Michigan has depth at wide receiver, but it lacks experience and returning production.

Jake Butt has 20 catches on his resume, but the tight end is nursing an ACL and probably won’t play for weeks. Jehu Chesson, who can line up inside or outside, has 15 to his credit; but he’s still working on refining his skill set.

Funchess, a Biletnikoff (award for top WR) candidate and a physical mismatch for most, is polished and ready to go. While the others strive to gain their bearings, he’ll be causing “big problems”—as Jourdan Lewis, a corner, suggested on media day—for the competition.

 

Showing Off Under the Lights

Nearly two weeks ago, Michigan took the field for an “under the lights” scrimmage, giving fans another glimpse prior to the season opener against Appalachian State. It was only a practice, but it certainly provided clues as to who’ll do what this fall.

Judging by that Saturday night at The Big House, Funchess shouldn’t have much to worry about, nor should his coaches. While battling Jabrill Peppers, the other half of Gardner’s “top two,” Funchess came out on top more times than not.

His backpedaling touchdown reception was impressive. It almost looked too easy. Keep this in mind: That play wasn’t against a regular first-year kid or someone buried on the depth chart. 

No, he secured the score by catching a ball that was thrown to Peppers’ back, a ball that few players at any level could have lassoed.

If he can do that to Peppers, an elite's elite, imagine what he'll do to the rest. 

 

The Numbers

As a sophomore, Funchess contributed with 49 catches for 748 yards, six touchdowns and an average of 15.6 yards per catch. As a seldom-used freshman, he turned in 15 for 234, five and 15.3.

The towering specimen is an offensive coordinator’s dream. 

When asked if he was eager to see Funchess in action, Doug Nussmeier, the OC, played it cool by saying, “Obviously, Funch, his production speaks for itself. He’s a very, very talented player.”

Nussmeier is correct: Funchess’ production speaks loud and clear.

But his potential screams.

 

Follow Bleacher Report’s Michigan Wolverines football writer Adam Biggers on Twitter @AdamBiggers81

Unless otherwise noted, all quotes were obtained firsthand by the writer.

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Jameis Winston: A 360-Degree View of College Football's Most Polarizing Figure

He is a brilliant young man who does stupid things, a Heisman Trophy winner with an infectious smile who is the target of insidious accusations, a dual-sport star with what appears to be a dual personality.

A few years ago, few had even heard of Jameis Winston, the Florida State quarterback who is also an outfielder and relief pitcher on the Seminoles baseball team. And now? Now, the national spotlight bathes him—initially in a benign way, but lately like a heat lamp.

Winston's accomplishments are impressive:

  • The youngest player—19 years and 342 days—to win the Heisman Trophy.
  • A freshman-record 4,057 yards and 40 touchdown passes to go with a 66.9 completion percentage and 219 rushing yards.
  • Was named the offensive MVP of the final BCS National Championship Game after leading FSU to a 34-31 victory over Auburn on his 20th birthday.
  • A switch-hitting outfielder and hard-throwing relief pitcher who in two seasons has a 1.95 ERA along with 62 strikeouts in 60.1 innings at Florida State.

Winston's rap sheet is troubling:

  • In July 2012, an assistant manager at a Burger King in Tallahassee, Florida, called police and reported that Winston was stealing soda and being disruptive. Charges were not filed.
  • Police questioned Winston and other FSU players in November 2012 after 13 windows were broken at an apartment complex near FSU's Doak Campbell Stadium due to an apparent BB gun battle. Charges were not filed.
  • On Dec. 7, 2012, Winston was accused of sexual assault. No charges were filed, though the Tallahassee Police Department has come under criticism for not adequately pursuing the allegation.
  • On April 29, 2014, Winston was charged with shoplifting crab legs from a Tallahassee Publix Super Market. He was issued an adult civil citation and made restitution.

All of it has made Winston a polarizing figure as he enters his sophomore season. Everyone, it seems, has an opinion. Here are several, starting with Winston himself.

 

Jameis Winston, 20, on his upcoming season and his off-the-field incidents.

"I'm going to be good. I'm going great. Even better than I was last year. I'm going to be myself. I love football. I love this game. I haven't set any individual goals, just team goals. First goal is to win the national championship.

"I'm constantly on guys. We all have to have that chip on our shoulder. It's a new year, a new beginning. It starts with this camp, learning new plays. It's going great. You've got to get better every day. You can't live in the past.

"Fundamentals. Studying my game. Studying team chemistry. Never letting it go below our standards here at Florida State. We know we're national champions, so we have to act like national champions in everything that we do. And we're going to play like champions.

"I don't think [the off-the-field problems] have been difficult. I've been doing what I do, keeping a smile on my face. Obviously, I was blessed to have baseball season to look forward to. And I've just been hitting my books, studying. I don't have time to focus on bad things. ... Focus on the positive, not the negative.

"I did have to learn that I have to be more guarded, but I'm always going to continue to be myself. That's never going to change. People can have their opinions about me, but it's about Florida State football.

"I've never thought about [winning a second Heisman Trophy]. It's not about me. It's about us.

"I've seen the kids and how they gaze at me. I'm thinking, I have an opportunity to change these little kids who come from where I came from, the bad neighborhoods. I have an opportunity for them, when they see me, to say they want to be like Jameis Winston.

"I have to realize that everything I do is going to be under a microscope, so I want to make sure those kids don't see the bad side of things, they see the good side.

"It's a good life, man. All eyes are on me. I don't really have much to prove. But I have a family that needs me. I'm going to take care of the name on my back. Believe that."

 

Gil Brandt, 81, is a sage evaluator of football talent. The former vice president of football operations for the Dallas Cowboys now works for the NFL.com as a personnel guru and for Sirius NFL Radio Network as a commentator.

"First of all, Winston's got the size you like, about 6'3.5". And he doesn't look it, but he's about 232 pounds. He's pretty accurate. He completed about 65 percent of his passes [actually 66.9 percent], and accuracy is key in the National Football League.

"I think he's an athlete. He moves around really well, and what I liked is that when they played better teams, he was avoiding rushes from the Clemsons and Auburns. It's not like he just avoids a Duke rush.

"I think he has a good arm, but not a great arm. I think his arm is sufficient to be an NFL quarterback. I don't think he's got an arm like Andrew Luck, for example. Luck has rare arm strength. So does Cam Newton. Winston's not in their category. As Hank Stram used to say: He doesn't have as much mustard on his arm like those other guys do.

"I hope he has two years left [in college] because it will help him. He'll be more mature, and it'll give him a better chance to be a good player. You saw that with Andrew Luck, you see that with Sam Bradford—although he's been hurt a lot. You see it with the Mannings. The more experience a quarterback can get in college, the better off they are.

"The off-the­-field [stuff] is a concern. Stealing fish from a supermarket and stuff, it concerns you. I think the one thing everyone in the league will delve into is what happened with the young lady, especially since it sounds like it's not over. Her lawyer is still pursuing it. So teams will look into it.

"And the security department of National Football League doesn't deal with hearsay. With them, it's fact-finding. And they will find out.

"Winston and [Oregon's Marcus] Mariota are the two best quarterbacks in college, and Mariota has a clean bill of health, and that matters. In today's world in the NFL, there's a lot more emphasis on character than there once was. When a guy is having problems, it becomes a distraction, and it disrupts the team.

"What happens when you have character problems is that his teammates run into people on the street, or someone they went to high school with, or family, and what they get is, 'Hey, you can tell me what really happened.' It's not only media who ask them questions. It's everybody."

 

Ron Sellers was a two-time All-American wide receiver for FSU in 1967 and 1968, when the school had little to show for itself on the football field. A former NFL first-round draft pick, he is an active Seminole booster and fan.

"Winston is one of the top two or three quarterbacks to ever play at Florida State. Without a doubt, Charlie Ward is No. 1. He didn't have as much talent around him as Winston, who I believe had one of the best receiving corps around him last season that I've ever seen at FSU—and I'm talking from tight ends to wide receivers to running backs. Charlie didn't have that kind of talent, but he was incredibly talented, with great touch on the ball, and a lot more fluid than Winston.

"Charlie was also a leader on and off the field. Winston is still growing in that area.

"I would have loved to have played with Winston, but what I don't love is that he's not been accountable off the field. He's got the world ahead of him and nobody but himself to stop him. He's got to be more careful with his actions and the consequences of his actions. I think he's learning from his mistakes. A cat has nine lives. Winston has three or four, and he's already used two of them up."

 

David Jones is a longtime Heisman Trophy voter who covers college football for Florida Today, Gannett News Service and TheTampa Tribune.

"Innocent until proven guilty. It's a phrase and belief we try to cling to. You want to be fair, you hope in so many cases the initial reports change, the waters clear.

"With Jameis Winston, it wasn't easy. Being a Heisman Trophy voter for close to a couple of decades, the initial thought was, 'Don't vote for him.' But I waited. And I hoped. And when no charges were filed, you have to be just. I've got a couple of 20-something daughters, so the decision wasn't easy when I sent in my ballot with Winston as my top selection. In fact, I felt sick to my stomach.

"If you've been to a Heisman ceremony, as I've done several times, it's more of a celebration. Rarely is there any real question about the winner. But last December just seemed weird.

"The two Heisman winners I covered on a daily basis were Tim Tebow and Danny Wuerffel, two guys where character wasn't an issue. This was different. Winston wasn't charged, but several of the 100 or so media at the event still seemed uncomfortable.

"We'd just gotten through the Reggie Bush era, along with several others who came and left with the trophy who had issues. You hope, given all the past problems, that the Heisman could stand for more than touchdowns. Remember, several Heisman winners served in wars.

"What made it so bizarre is that Winston seemed oblivious to the controversies. He seemed more like a happy child rather than an adult aware that serious allegations surrounded him and that he really, really needed to take the path to maturity at a sprint, not a stroll.

"Of course, not soon after, more issues came up—not as disturbing as rape allegations, but troubling nonetheless. For a college student to walk out of a grocery store claiming he forgot to pay is incredulous.

"It was very uncomfortable as a voter to be there watching the awarding of a trophy that I used to look at much differently. Nothing against Winston. I don't regret voting for him, because I have to stick to the time-honored standard everyone should get: innocent until proven guilty.

"But I left the ceremony kind of sad because I'm not sure the standards are the same anymore for an award that used to be considered so special for so many reasons and not just about touchdowns and wins."

 

Bobby Bowden coached Florida State from 1976-2009, ushering in unprecedented success. An avuncular figure now, he keeps close tabs on the program while keeping an arm's distance away. A statue of him stands at one of the entrances to Bobby Bowden Field at Doak Campbell Stadium.

"Each of the Heisman Trophy quarterbacks there [Chris Weinke, Charlie Ward and Jameis Winston] had their own style. Jameis is the most natural quarterback I've seen since Charlie Ward. Charlie had great natural ability, great running ability, like Winston.

"Weinke was a tall, traditional pocket passer. He wasn't as mobile as either of those other two, but he could probably throw as good as either. But all three had a way of getting it done. The big difference between Winston and Charlie is that Winston plays at about 225 pounds and Charlie played at about 180, 185.

"I've never met Winston, but my son Tommy did at an ACC get-together, and he told me that Winston is one of most impressive physical men he's ever seen. I've never even laid my eyes on him. But I watch and read everything I can, and my impression is that he's just a great athletic talent with that confidence. He's got that confidence that I've never seen outwardly from anyone else. He just has it. And he's not afraid of saying how confident he is.

"You know what they say: It ain't bragging if you can do it. And he can do it. It's just outright confidence. I think it's natural, and I think it's infectious. His confidence cools down his teammates. When they know they have him on their side, when they know he's leading them, it gives them confidence.

"I've never seen anything like him. When they show him on TV in the dressing room, he's smiling. You're supposed to sit in the corner frowning. [Laughs] But not Winston. He's got this big ol' smile on his face. That's just him. It's not phony, and the kids thrive off of it.

"The big thing is if he can avoid injuries. If he can avoid injury, he can do anything. If he played for me and played baseball, I would be concerned every ballgame. I'd be telling him, 'Don't strain that arm. Ease up on that fastball.' If he can just avoid injury.

"When I had Charlie, I had Casey Weldon and Brad Johnson, and Weinke too, before he left to go play baseball. I had to stagger them somehow, so when Charlie made the basketball team, I was happy. I was happy that he wanted to play another sport. And when you talk about all-around athletic ability, like people do with Winston, people forget that Charlie punted for us as a freshman.

"Athletically, of course, Deion Sanders was much faster, much quicker, and he had that ultimate confidence, too. ... Deion was quicker and faster, and Winston is bigger and more physical, and he can throw that fastball. I can't believe half the things I've seen him do. He's a coach's dream.

"I didn't know much about Winston until last summer, when I was talking to [Florida State head coach] Jimbo Fisher, and he mentioned to me that this guy might be the best he's ever coached. He said that several times, and he's coached No. 1 draft choices. Jimbo has a great knack for developing quarterbacks, and he was saying those things about Winston before he even played a down.

"Now that I've watched him, he just has a natural knack to put the ball where the receivers want it. He has the ability to see receivers and then put the ball right where they can catch it and then do something with it. Joe Montana had that great reputation too. He could see that back out of [the] backfield and put it one foot in front of the numbers. Winston has that same knack.

"He also has the one thing going into this year that is the greatest thing a quarterback can ask for, and that's an offensive line that is returning. That's all a quarterback can ask for is protection, and he'll have that this year.

"He's just got to learn from his mistakes now, because if he doesn't learn from it, it'll catch him one day. If he does that, he's got a great future. I would imagine that with the pros, their mouth is watering."

 

A grandmother, Camille Albert, is the former president of Brevard County (Florida) Seminole Booster Club and former board member of Seminoles Boosters, Inc. She's been a rabid Florida State fan since 1961, when she was a high school student in nearby Thomasville, Georgia.

"I just read yesterday where the Orlando Sentinel dug up that pellet gun incident from two years ago. I read it top to bottom. Jameis is just a big kid. Back then, he was just a big kid who still had pellet gun fights. He's growing up every year, but he's still just a great big ol' kid at heart. Every year he gets more mature.

"He loves people too. I've heard Jimbo Fisher say that if there are 100 kids wanting his autograph, he'll stand there and sign every one. He loves being around people.

"On the field he's brilliant. His ability to see the field is unbelievable; I've never seen anything like it. He has everything going for him—the personality, the technical skills, leadership. And if you look at his grades, they're amazing. He really is a good kid. I think he's going to be even better this year and hopefully next year with FSU, too.

"Last year, Jameis snuck up on us. I don't think most Seminole fans knew much about him or how good he was. All of a sudden, we're winning games 63 to whatever. And it was like, where did he come from? Did Jimbo just open a box and all these wonderful players come out? Can we keep it up? Can we really win the national championship this year?

"And then, at the national championship game, you could see Jameis in all the other kids' faces, imploring them to come on, let's not lose sight. He was leading that team even though they were so behind. He never quit. I think that's the progress you're going to see him make this season, that he's going to continue to lead the team and grow more so into a leadership role.

"Last year, if you read and listened to his quotes, it was always about the team. At the ACC media day and at other times in the offseason, it's been the same. Jameis continues to try to bring the focus back to the team. 'It's a team effort. It's not about me. It takes a team.' You hear that again and again, and I think that's going to get better. That team believes in him now. And it's the same with baseball. He's a really good baseball player.

"When the rape allegations surfaced, I was concerned. I didn't want to think he would do that. Was what he did smart? No, it was the stupidest thing he's ever done.

"When the incident at Publix occurred, I think the staff, the workers there, I think they just give them food. But this time, he'd just gotten too recognizable. I think it was like, 'Ooh, ooh! There's Jameis Winston! And he's walking out without paying!' He'd become too high-profile. So now we fully expect to see people in crab costumes at the Florida game this season.

"But I think Jameis is learning that he's in a high-profile situation. But really, how many young guys go to college and do stupid-ass stuff and it's never mentioned? But he's in the spotlight. I don't think that really sunk in with him until the Publix incident.

"I wish him well. I just hope he stays focused. And by that, I mean go to school, work out, practice, play football, play baseball, listen to [FSU baseball coach] Mike Martin, listen to Jimbo Fisher. And listen to Charlie Ward too. I understand Charlie is mentoring him big time now. If Jameis does those things, he's got a career in front of him that I don't think can be touched."

 

The 911 call to the Florida State University Police Department, made by a friend of the alleged rape victim early Dec. 7, 2012. Edited for length.

FSU Police: FSU Police. How may I help you?

Caller: Hi, I'm (redacted), and I think we need you over here.

FSU Police: OK, and you say this just happened?

Caller: I think it was a half hour ago or something. I just drove over here.

FSU Police: And you say she was raped?

Caller: Yeah.

FSU Police: OK. She did not know the person?

Caller: No, they met at Potbelly's.

FSU Police: OK, stay on the phone with me. I'm going to dispatch an officer. (Dispatches an officer before coming back on the line.) I have an officer en route. Is she, I mean is she OK? Does she need, do you know if she needs an ambulance?

Caller: No, she's OK. She's just very shaken up.

FSU Police: I'm sorry, she's what?

Caller: She's very, like, shaken up. She says that she's hurt. She got hit.

FSU Police: She got hit? Does she know what she got hit with?

Caller: No, she says she kept, like, blacking out. Like she only remembers pieces. She keeps trying to tell me the story, but it's very in pieces.

FSU Police: OK, do you know where she was hit at?

Caller: She says she thinks she was hit in the back of the head, and then she ended up in somebody's room.

FSU Police: Did it happen on campus?

Caller: No, she said it happened off-campus, like an apartment. She doesn't remember where, though.

FSU Police: OK, and you said that she met the guy at Potbelly's?

Caller: Yes.

FSU Police: And does she remember leaving there? Did she leave with him willingly?

Caller: She doesn't know.

FSU Police: Alright, we've got an officer en route to you, OK?

 

A call made to a non-emergency Tallahassee Police Department hotline on the evening of July 21, 2013.

 

Allie is the former assistant manager of the Burger King at 1060 West Tennessee Street in Tallahassee, Florida. Originally from Massachusetts, she lives there now. She declined to give her full name. Bleacher Report is the only media outlet she's spoken to about the incident that night with Jameis Winston.

"He grabbed a regular-sized cup from behind the counter, and I'm like, 'You can't do that.' And he flipped out, raising his voice, saying, 'Do you know who I am? I'm a 5-star recruit from Alabama. You want my autograph?' And his buddies were like, 'Do you know who he is? He's Jameis Winston.' How stupid is that, telling me his name? Otherwise, I wouldn't have known what name to give to the police when they got there.

"I kept telling him, 'I don't care who you are, theft is theft. You're stealing.' That's when he filled the cup up and drank it right in front of me. Then he filled it up about halfway and threw it at me. It missed and I laughed at him. I had my employees Google his name while I called the cops. I just wanted him to leave. That's when he ran.

"I never expected all of that to go on the Internet, on TMZ. That's the part that I think has been blown out of proportion. I didn't realize it was on TMZ until a couple of months ago. That's when I found out about all the other stuff. Before that, I didn't know about the rape allegations or the Publix thing.

"I don't follow sports. I don't know what the Heisman Trophy is. All I know is that just because he's the head quarterback for Florida State University doesn't mean he's God. But we didn't press charges. I didn't want the kid to be screwed. ... The rape charges, I don't know anything about that. I don't have an opinion there, but stealing from Publix...it doesn't sound like he learned his lesson. I'm sure he probably threw his name out again."

 

Brian Koby, 34, was working at the Burger King the night of the Jameis Winston incident. He still works there now. He has also not spoken to any media other than Bleacher Report.

"He kept saying, 'Do you want my autograph? Do you know who I am? I'm a 5-star recruit from Alabama.' He started out drinking from a ketchup cup. Then he got a water cup and he went straight for the soda machine like a little kid and started getting soda. The manager told him to get out of here. She wanted no part of that. But he kept getting soda and saying, 'What are you gonna do about it?'

"He had that guy who plays linebacker with him—[Chris] Caster. And he was saying, 'You want his autograph? You know who he is? That's Jameis Winston.' And Jameis was asking her, 'You don't know who I am?' And our manager was saying to him, 'I don't care who you are. You're stealing.' And he'd say, 'I'm not stealing. I'm sampling.' Finally, she called the police and he ran.

"He was decked out in all his FSU stuff. Everything—his shirt, shorts with No. 5 on them, shoes, even his book bag. It was all FSU gear.

"I went to the last baseball game of the season with my girl, the Duke game. I was trying to get his autograph. All the other guys on the team came out and signed, but Jameis snuck out the back. I would've asked him, 'You remember me? I made your Big Stack that night at Burger King.'

"I think he's a good guy. He wants to [be in] school. Of course, that changes when they offer you a hundred million dollars to go pro. But what is he, 20? I think he's just a little bit immature."

 

Charlie Greene, 76, moved from the Northeast to Miami in 1968, where he worked for Eastern Airlines. He now is retired, living in Palm Bay, Florida.

"I pull for both Miami and Florida State. Years ago, I used to work a second job as an usher at the Orange Bowl. Whenever the Noles came in, they always seemed like a classy opponent. There never seemed to be fights in the stands, like with other schools. One of my neighborhood kids also became an FSU player, so I started pulling for them too. Overall, I'm just a sports fan.

"When I first saw Jameis Winston, I thought he was another outstanding college quarterback who was going to go places. I was excited about him and for the whole team. I thought he was on the way to becoming another Tim Tebow in college football.

"When the allegations surfaced, I read everything about it in the paper and watched all the TV news. I had a sense of disgust. Maybe I was wrong in prejudging him to be guilty, but in my mind, he was. It's just logical thinking on my part, with maybe my definition of logical.

"I think it's apparent, though, that the police didn't pursue it the way they should have. It looked like one of those boys-will-be-boys situations. The Tallahassee police force has to be full of Noles fans. So it stands to reason that there is a sense of impropriety there.

"I think the cops were Noles fans first and then police second when it came to Jameis. The perception is that if you're a star player there, then you get a free ticket. God forbid that you would miss a few games or, even worse, go to jail.

"And then, when the Publix incident happened, it solidified my opinion that he thinks he can get away with anything, just because of who he is and because the previous allegation was swept under the carpet."

 

Devin Healy, 21, is entering his senior year at Florida State. He is studying editing, writing and media, with the hopes of becoming a screenwriter.

"Jameis is our lord and savior. He's the boss. He's pure talent. It doesn't get much better than him. To step in as a redshirt freshman and do what he did...it's like he's the eighth wonder of the world. I went to the national championship game in Pasadena, and let me tell you, there is nothing like him. He put the team on his back. That's what a leader does. It was a complete turnaround in that game. He has such charisma. Everybody could see it. Raw talent. I was awestruck with what he was able to perform and do.

"Yeah, he's had a couple of scuffles with the media, some mishaps. ... And the Publix thing, it's known around town that they let the players get food and the university or somebody in the athletic department reimburses them. That's standard operating procedure. That's what I heard through the grapevine.

"If you look at the video, it wasn't like he was trying to sneak and duck around. Somebody there at the store obviously didn't know the drill.

"But all that is in the past and the future of FSU is looking good."

 

Maria Brous is the director of media and community relations for Publix Super Markets.

"There is never an agreement between Publix and athletes for free food. We require that everyone pays for their groceries, including our own employees. There is no such agreement. I can absolutely tell you that there are no arrangements, no tab or anything like that. Absolutely not.

"We've heard people say that he walked to the deli, got his food and walked out, and that the food was waiting for him. But the video that you've seen is only a small portion. The food wasn't ready for him. He was around the store. Products were not waiting for him.

"We did conduct an internal investigation, and there was never an arrangement between him and any of our associates or with any athletes past or present.

"I think that with social media, there's always going to be talk. But the majority was directed the other way, not against us, but more about the situation and an athlete stealing food from Publix rather than our actions.

"If someone shoplifts from our store, it's shoplifting. We treat them as a shoplifter. It doesn't matter if they're an athlete or whoever they are. If someone shoplifts, it's shoplifting. There are always signs posted in stores about shoplifting. He made restitution. He's welcome in our stores. There are no repercussions."

 

Jimbo Fisher has been the head football coach at Florida State since 2010. Prior to that, from 2007-09, he was the Seminoles' offensive coordinator and quarterback coach.

"Jameis did sneak up on the fans last season, but when you coach him in practice, you could see. Even on his bad days, you could see how he responded to adversity was very good. But you really never know until you go out and play and the lights are on. He got even better then.

"He's getting fundamentally better. His knowledge of defenses and what we're doing on offense is better. What he has to do now is let the game come to him and try not to force it.

"I've never seen anything like the media coverage he gets. The thing about him is that he's so personable, so I think the media likes him because of the way he endears himself to them. But also nobody has ever achieved what he's achieved, with maybe the greatest season anybody has ever had—we won the national championship, he's undefeated, he wins the Heisman. That's all part of the territory now.

"I don't think there's any doubt that he gets it [that he's accountable off the field]. He gets it most definitely, and I think he's learning every day, and I've been very proud of where he's at right now.

"This offseason, people mostly asked me, 'What is he like? What is he really like?' I tell them that he's a fun-loving guy who is as genuine as the day is long. He loves people, he loves everything about the game of football, he's a tremendous competitor and the other thing about him is that he's a highly, highly intelligent young man. He's a true student-athlete. I'm telling you, he's one of the smartest individuals I've ever coached.

"It saddens me that there is this misconception about him, but the only way you can change somebody's perception of you is how you act over a long period of time, and I think he'll consistently do the right things and make good decisions. I think you'll genuinely see who he is.

"It's too early to say if he's the best I've seen, but he's had a tremendous year, and I'll tell you this: He has all the intangibles to be the best.

"I don't think he'll focus on winning back-to-back Heismans. Jameis is a guy who truly believes he needs to play well so his team wins. He's truly a team guy, and I don't think the Heisman will be his focus. I really don't.''

 

Randy Sanders is in his second season as FSU's quarterback coach and in his first season as co-offensive coordinator.

"I've been really pleased with Jameis, not just in the things he's done but with the attitude he's had. It would've been easy for a guy who accomplished all the things he accomplished last year, and won all the awards he won, to feel like you've got it all figured out. But he's been really hungry and real eager to learn, and he's had a great attitude all the way through camp.

"He's not only trying to get himself better, but trying to get those around him better. When you play quarterback, you're only as good as those 10 guys around you. He also understands that he has to get himself ready to do his job. I've been really pleased.

"His focus has been on this year. He hasn't let last year affect the way he's prepared. He's learned from the past, and he's taken what he's learned, and he keeps improving. He's not a finished product yet.

"There are a lot of fundamental things that he needed to work on—his feet, having his balance in the pocket, having his eyes in the right place all the time. There's one thing he has that you don't develop so much as it's God-given, and that's his vision, the ability to see the field. A lot of times, he has his head over here, but he'll be looking over there. He's phenomenal that way.

"He's also blessed with the ability to anticipate throws. It's hard to quantify. They say the one thing that made Wayne Gretzky such a great hockey player was that he could anticipate what was getting ready to happen and he could see the angles. Jameis has a lot of that ability as a quarterback. He can anticipate what's getting ready to happen, see the angles and know where to throw the ball and put it right where he wants to.

"I expect the same Jameis, but I think he's definitely a little more mature, a little wiser. Obviously, there were a couple of things he had his name in the paper over. As you go through experiences, you either learn from them or they beat you down. I think he's matured some. He has a year's worth of experience now of being in the spotlight, and his spotlight is pretty bright.

"You always say that as a quarterback you live in a glass house. Everything you do is looked at. He's taken it to a level to where he doesn't have curtains or blinds to close. Everything he does is going to be looked at."

 

Nick O'Leary is a senior tight end, known as a bruising player who should hold every FSU record for tight ends when his career is over. He is also the grandson of legendary golfer Jack Nicklaus.

"Jameis has so much energy all the time. It's fun to play with him. He puts the ball not only where we can catch it, but also do something with it. He's not overrated at all. He goes out there and works hard. He pushes other people to be the best they can be.

"His personality...he's the kind of guy who goes out there and has fun with everything he does. The way he pushes people and makes them better is just amazing. He doesn't let you slide. If you mess up, he tells you. It's always encouraging.

"He's always talking. You can always hear him. Wherever he is, he's always talking, always cracking on guys.

"He makes mistakes in practice. Jimbo is always yelling at him for not putting the ball on the right shoulder, wrong read, things like that. Jameis tries to be the best that he can be, but there is always stuff you can do better."

 

Entering his junior season, P.J. Williams is a versatile defensive back who has played safety and cornerback for FSU.

"Practicing against Jameis sharpens us a lot, because that's a great quarterback. When he throws the ball, he either puts it right there for his receiver or where we can't get to it. It's hard to play him, and it's hard to intercept his balls.

"When his receivers run the wrong route, he'll let them know what they need to do. He also gives us tips on how to play cornerback.

"I can't tell you what he tells us; that's secret. I don't want to tip off the whole world. But I can tell you that after practicing against him, games are easy. It's definitely easy. We play the best offense every day in practice, and games are much easier after that."

 

A redshirt junior linebacker, Terrance Smith has emerged as one of FSU's team leaders. He's a close friend of Jameis Winston.

"You have to deal with the attention. You know it's going to be there. That's what happens when you win the Heisman Trophy, you get a lot of publicity.

"I wouldn't want to be him. It's crazy. He can't walk around without having to stop and take 30 pictures and sign a hundred things. Sometimes you just want to be out relaxing, and instead you have to be thatguy, because the way the public is, they'll think you're ignoring them and then you get the wrong type of reputation.

"Jameis is pretty good with the way he handles all of that. Honestly, I don't know if I could handle all that. But that's what happens when you win the Heisman Trophy.

"Everybody makes mistakes. We know that Jameis is a good dude. He has a good heart. He cares for his team. He cares for us like brothers. That's what we always say, that we're brothers. We're not just teammates.

"I tell him, somebody is always looking, and you've got to know that. He realizes that now. He can't go nowhere without eyes being on him. He's scrutinized. He grasps that. He realizes he can't live a regular person's life anymore. He's taken heed to it. He's been chillin'. He's more of a houseboy now. He doesn't go out as much. He's more reserved. If he is out, he's with us and not doing something crazy.

"Sometimes we have to kind of protect him from cameras. People will harass him all day with the cameras, and sometimes he doesn't want to take pictures. Sometimes you have to tell people he doesn't want to take pictures.

"With a lot of the craziness he's been involved in, people have their own opinions. I just try my best if anybody has misconstrued perceptions about him to correct them and tell them how Jameis really is. People think he's a knucklehead, he's a bad person, stuff like that. Which is not true. Jameis is not a bad person. He has one of the best hearts on this team. He cares for everyone on this team. But that's how the media portrays him most of the time. I have to tell people that everything you hear is not true."

 

Darious Cummings is a junior defensive tackle for the Florida Gators, Florida State's in-state rival.

"He's a good football player. I will give him that. But everybody has their weaknesses, everybody has their strengths. This year, we're going to try to handle those weaknesses a little bit better than we did last year.

"The thing about Winston is that he continues to play; he plays hard. He makes the most out of plays. You think a play is done, you think you have him locked up on the edge or shut down across the middle. But with him, if he can't pass, he'll do it with his feet. And then, when you make him run, he'll jump in the air and throw a 60-yard pass.

"There's a reason he won the Heisman. He's a good football player.''

 

Mike Martin Jr., the son of FSU head coach Mike Martin Sr., is FSU's associate head baseball coach and recruiting coordinator. A former Seminoles player who roomed with Danny Kanell and played football and baseball at FSU, Martin Jr. has coached 10 major leaguers, 12 freshman All-Americans and 18 first-team All-Americans.

"When I went to watch Jameis in high school, the first thing I saw was him warming up in the bullpen. He was the starting pitcher that day. Jimbo Fisher and I are good buddies, so I called him about Jameis and said, 'This ain't good.' And he said, 'What do you mean?' And I told him, 'I think he's going to be too good. The pros are really going to be after him. It's going to be a battle between us and the pro people. He's really good.'

"Watching him, you could see that his command was way above his years. He had that fastball and a 12-to-6 loopy curveball. This was a rivalry game at another school, and the fans were nonstop on him, relentless, but nothing fazed Jameis.

"He gave up an unearned run in the second inning because of a few errors, and his team wound up winning 2-1, thanks to Jameis hitting a home run. He's a switch-hitter too. They say he can also play some hoops.

"It definitely was a deal-breaker if we'd have told him he couldn't play two sports, and it would have been a deal-breaker if we didn't have the proof. We had that proof—Charlie Ward, Terrell Buckley, Danny Kanell, Deion Sanders, Taiwan Easterling, D'Vontrey Richardson. There's been numerous guys. We're Two Sport U, and we had the data to show him. Other schools told him he could play two sports, but they didn't have the data to back it up. We did.

"As a pitcher, I think he'd be the kind of prospect who'd spend a year and a half in minor leagues and then be in major leagues. As a hitter, it would take more time.

"I don't worry about him hurting his arm. If you break down the throwing motion with football and baseball, it's really very similar. You don't think that in football the hand turns over and pronates, but if you look at it close, it really does. Jameis has strong hands and the ability to turn his hand with the ball in it.

"The two motions are actually very similar. If you watch film of him in football throwing an outpost, and you see him crank it up, and then look at that side by side with his baseball motion, it looks identical.

"Of course, you worry about getting injured. But I'm more worried about him slamming into outfield walls. He had a game against Virginia where he slid to make a catch and slid into a brick wall, banging his knee and ankle.

"The guys who are hard to find are the ones who genuinely care. Some guys fake it, but it wears off. Jameis is a guy who genuinely cares about his teammates, and they know it. He encourages guys, pats them on the back. He's the guy in the dugout clapping, the first one out to greet someone after they've scored a run. Whether he's playing or not, he's always in the game.

"As far as all the negative stuff about him, he hasn't done anything wrong! He...hasn't...done...anything...wrong! I wish people knew the truth. I wish I could talk, but I have to be careful. But if I could talk, I'd be the first one to scream from the mountaintop. He hasn't done anything wrong! There is always another side.

"Like the Publix thing. At Winn Dixie, you pay first at the front, then go hand them your ticket at the deli, and then you walk out. Jameis told me he went totally brain-dead. He was in Winn Dixie mode."

 

Josh Delph is an outfielder and designated hitter for the FSU baseball team. He is also Jameis Winston's roommate when the team is on the road.

"He brings that confidence that he has in football onto the baseball field. He keeps us going. He keeps us in the game. One of things I appreciate about Jameis is that he never acts like he's better; he never looks down on any of us just because he's won the Heisman. Before and after he won the Heisman, he's been the same guy.

"If someone has a bad game and is pouting, like a pitcher after a bad outing, and they have their head down, Jameis will walk over and tell them not to worry, that we're still going to get the win. It's all about the team.

"He approaches baseball the same as any other baseball player who is playing one sport. I think he gained our respect from how hard he works and how much he appreciates it. With baseball, it's more action instead of words.

"I've seen him where he had football workouts in the morning, afternoon baseball practice and then he'll do baseball workouts. Guys will be a little sore after baseball practice, but Jameis does both, and he's never whined.

"He's real good. He could be a pro baller for sure; just look at his size and how live his arm is, the way he plays the game, he hits his spot. In the outfield, he's got a great arm. And he's a switch-hitting power hitter.

"I've faced him, and you know he's going to get on you quick, and he's got a good, sharp slider. He's tough to hit. You have to battle up there. You're not going to get any free passes.

"Because I'm his roommate, people are always asking me for crazy stories on the road. Everyone assumes he must have tons of people coming over. But we don't do much. Usually we just hang out, talk a lot, get in bed by curfew and get up early.

"When we talk, it's usually about the future a lot. We'll talk about baseball, what teams we have coming up, family, girls—we cover it all. Usually, someone on the team has brought an Xbox and we'll play that. He's real good at Madden. That's his game. I've asked him, 'Do you actually work on your quarterback game through Madden, reading defenses and stuff?' He says it helps.

"He never really brings up the Heisman. You wouldn't know he won it. Sometimes, we'll see on TV a school like Clemson, and he'll say something like, 'Yeah, we dominated them.' It's never, 'Yeah, I threw all over those guys.' It's usually a we thing instead of a me thing.

"We always have a policeman with us now. It wasn't that way his first year. For Jameis, he'll take batting practice, sign autographs for 15 minutes, the game, and then he'll sign for 15-20 minutes after. And there's always a cop close by, a cop walking with us, a cop when we check into our hotel.

"I remember a time when we were out to eat, and people were taking a bunch of pictures, and he just wanted to eat, and there was one time Jameis didn't smile, and our captain, Justin Gonzalez said, 'Hey man, you've got to smile.' And Jameis said, 'You really don't understand how many pictures I take every day.'

"He can't make the same mistakes like how every other college kid makes. When he makes a mistake, everyone in the world knows about it.

"I remember once, when he came in halfway through a homecoming concert at the Civic Center in Tallahassee. I think he came late because of football. When he walked in, the whole crowd kind of stopped paying attention to the concert, and everyone got in line and started taking pictures with him.

"He finally had to go up into a private box. He couldn't just enjoy the concert like everyone else. I always say that he has the celebrity lifestyle without the celebrity salary. He's like a movie star without the movie star money. But all he has to do is be patient. That will come."

 

Chris Fowler has been the primary studio host for ESPN's iconic College GameDay show.

"I think in the context of GameDay, it's a show that doesn't focus off the field. The news focus is definitely on the field. When we're doing the countdown, we're reporting on what fans most want to know. It's not fundamentally a journalistic enterprise.

"Now, when something off the field becomes front and center, when it's of a serious nature, when it might impact on-the-field eligibility, then we're going to focus on that. But by and large, our focus is naturally on the field. So with Jameis Winston, we really wouldn't get into his off-the-field problems.

"I saw Jameis three or four times last year. The Clemson game was, for many people, his coming-out party. When we interviewed him on the set after that game, you talk about personality, he had it. But I think it was that speech he gave in the locker room before the Clemson game that was most impressive. To see how loose and relaxed he was for a redshirt freshman was pretty startling.

"And then he came on the set after the game and there was this different persona. He seemed like a polished veteran, almost like a guy who'd played a couple of years already in the NFL. He had on a suit and tie, and he'd just had this unbelievable game in such a hostile environment and came away with a monster victory, and he was very low-key.

"I was struck by that, with how low-key and how businesslike he was.

"He had this presence where you said to yourself, This did not look like a redshirt freshman quarterback who just engineered a huge victory on the road and quieted 85,000 people. His confidence afterward was very measured. He seemed like a very poised, charismatic, experienced guy wearing a suit and tie.

"The persona he gave off was, We expected this. We expected to be winners. This game was just a means to an end. It really gave me a window into Winston's mindset.

"I was on the field when he gave the pregame speech at Clemson, but I saw it played back. We didn't go in thinking that was going to happen. We didn't go in with the intent of capturing Jameis Winston pregame. The camera wasn't even on him initially. And then, all of a sudden, you hear this voice from the side of the room and the camera swings around, and you see this young quarterback giving a speech.

"And it wasn't your usual fire-in-the-eyes speech. This was a guy who exuded a confidence and a swagger and a charisma that you don't expect from a guy that young. And it was interesting to watch the older players. There was not a veteran in the room who leapt to their feet, and maybe it was because they were caught by surprise. There was definitely a respect, but also, looking at their reactions, it made you think that they were thinking, Huh, that was a freshman?

"He was not yet an established leader. It's now one of the ingredients of every Winston feature done since then, and it's become part of the mythology of the season, this leader with bravado, exuding confidence and charisma.

"He was hyped coming into the season, yet in his debut, he exceeded all the hype, and on the road, too. Then he built on it. He gets to his first real road test, and it's hard to overstate how intimidating Death Valley was at Clemson that night; they were trying to break the all-time decibel record for a crowd, and Jameis silenced them. He absolutely silenced them. They were hell-bent on disrupting him, and he silenced them, put them in a box. He didn't just pass the test, he aced it—A-plus.

"Then the midseason accusation comes, and it was about as ugly as it can get. But what I noticed was the way he seemed to be secure in his own innocence. That came through. And I want to be careful with how I say this, but I believe it's hard to be oblivious if you feel you did something wrong.

"The way he dealt with it didn't impact his performance, and that's not the stuff of a freshman. And I don't want to trivialize it as a distraction, because the allegations were serious, but in football terms, the way he blocked it out was pretty stunning.

"The last game before the Heisman was not textbook. He didn't play well against Duke, but he didn't panic. He bounced back, and they won going away. And then to win the Heisman and carry that into a bowl game would have been tough enough as a freshman, but to take that to a national championship game—again, as a freshman—was astounding.

"All along, the one piece of puzzle where the picture was not complete was how would Winston respond individually, and how would Florida State respond collectively when facing adversity? Every game they won, they won needing to coast, needing to back off. Could they come from behind and surge to victory?

"You knew he had raw ability and a great skill set, but what we hadn't seen yet was how he would respond under pressure, move chains when he had to, rally the guys and perform under ultimate pressure. He did that. In that national championship game, he did that."

 

Gene Deckerhoff has been the radio play-by-play broadcaster for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers since 1989. He has been the voice of Florida State sports for 36 years and for Seminoles basketball for 41 years. He's seen all the great athletes come through the school, including the three Heisman Trophy winners—Charlie Ward, Chris Weinke and Jameis Winston.

"The No. 1 thing about Jameis is that he won the Heisman younger than Chris Weinke and Charlie Ward. No. 2, he's in the same mold as Charlie and Chris in how they prepare themselves to play football. The thing that separates Jameis perhaps from Chris and Charlie is his accuracy throwing the football. It doesn't matter if it's in a practice or in a game, and I've been around a lot of NFL quarterbacks—he's unbelievably accurate.

"Right now, I think Charlie Ward is probably the best athlete to ever play quarterback at Florida State. If you take Deion Sanders out of the equation, Charlie might be the best athlete. Charlie was a two-sport player, a tremendous point guard with a long NBA career.

"I think people realize that Jameis just turned 20 and that young guys make mistakes—and so do young girls. I would invite anybody in the media to spend a day with Jameis Winston, and you would think he's the greatest guy you've ever been around, I promise you that.

"Jimbo Fisher will tell you—he'll sign autographs until they drag him off the field. He loves meeting people. He loves talking football. He donates his time, which is valuable. And he's also a great student. I'll tell you this: His grade point average, if you're comparing all the Heisman Trophy winners, not just Florida State, I think Jameis has the highest GPA. Jameis is a great student-athlete.

"If the NFL didn't have the rookie salary restrictions that they have in place now, he might be the highest-paid rookie coming out—in two years, I believe. I think he'll play another year.

"I honestly think Jameis Winston, at the next level in the National Football League, will become one of those great quarterbacks who plays for 15, 16 years and wins Super Bowls. He is that kind of a competitor.

"I bet he studies as hard as Peyton Manning. I think he's got the arm of a Tom Brady. He's the real deal. He's a football player. And oh, by the way, he's got a 93 mph fastball in baseball. Ninety-three miles an hour, and he's 6'5". That ball comes at you like a BB.

"I've seen some great players. I don't know what it takes to get to Canton, to the Hall of Fame, but he's got all the credentials when he gets out of college. I really think he does.

"Now you've got to get on a good team, and he'll be the No. 1 player taken overall. But whatever team he gets on, he's going to make better. He's the best quarterback I've ever seen."

 

Earlier this year, Ira Schoffel, the former sports editor for the Tallahassee Democrat, became the managing editor for Warchant.com, an online fanzine that is part of the Rivals.com network.

"From a media perspective, last season started with FSU sheltering Jameis because he was a redshirt freshman. Then, all of a sudden, he had that opening game against Pitt [a 41-13 victory], and you realized this was something different. Then he became this superstar within a matter of weeks.

"So then they had to shelter him because of all the media requests. Then, when there were the sexual assault allegations, it took the attention to a different level, and obviously they were sheltering him for other reasons.

"It was unlike any athlete I've ever covered in the sense that he went from a guy thrust into a world of major college football as a redshirt freshman, then he becomes a superstar, then he becomes this polarizing public figure, all in the span of about two months. It was crazy. I don't think I've ever seen that evolution so compact. Usually, that evolution takes three years, but it was all in about two, three months.

"When the sexual assault allegations surfaced, it was frustrating, because you couldn't ask him questions other than about football. There was definitely criticism of the media, because at press conferences, we were just asking him football questions. People were like, how could you just talk to him about football?

"The big criticism everybody got was the questions we would ask about distractions. How are you going to handle distractions? But what people don't realize is that we were told that if we started asking questions about the incident, we were not going to have any more availability. We were going to be shut down. So from a local media's perspective, that meant we wouldn't be able to talk about the game this week, the game last week, about teammates—not anything.

"So we felt we had to abide by those rules, or it was going to inhibit our work. And it was not like he was going to answer any questions about the incident anyways. But from the outside, I understand people's perspective: You're having a press conference, and you're just asking him football questions. And it's insulting to call it a distraction when it was sexual assault allegations.

"We get that, but that was the only way we felt we could bring up that topic without them saying, OK, the press conference is over. I think we did get criticism, and I can see the perspective from outside, but we also had a job to do to cover the team.

"I think everybody has their opinion. Everybody knows how they feel.

"What's interesting is how people can have such strong viewpoints when, really, none of us probably have the whole picture. People who bought into Jameis from day one and want to adore him, I think they're still hopeful that he really is that guy.

"I think the people who are against him, or believe he did something wrong, they've got their opinion.

"But really, who knows him?"

 

Peter Kerasotis is a multiple award-winning journalist, author and radio personality whose work spans six decades and can be found at www.HeyPeterK.com. He's a frequent contributor to The New York Times.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Florida Football: What to Expect from Jeff Driskel in Gators' Season Opener

For the first time in nearly a year, a healthy Jeff Driskel will be the starting quarterback for the Florida Gators, and after all of the positive news coming out of camp, he’ll be the topic of conversation in this weekend’s game against the Idaho Vandals.

Driskel, who missed much of last season with a broken leg and has been an underachiever and turnover machine for much of his career, has more than his coaching staff believing this year will be different. Bruce Feldman of Fox Sports said Driskel will be the most improved player in the country and help save head coach Will Muschamp’s job.

So, what should Florida fans expect to see from the new and improved starting signal-caller in his first game?

While a game against an Idaho defense that allowed 46.8 points per game last season isn’t going to silence the critics completely, Driskel should finish this game without any turnovers. Last season, Driskel had three interceptions on just 61 pass attempts and he’s averaging an interception per 34 pass attempts in his career. It doesn’t matter how faster the offense is or how much the offensive line has improved, it’s tough to win games when the quarterback is completing passes to the other team.

Decision-making was one of the many areas Driskel has worked on during the offseason and he’s improved, according to Edgar Thompson of the Orlando Sentinel.

"He’s making better decisions with the ball and more smart with it," Safety Jabari Gorman said. "He’s seeing guys who are already open and making good decisions."

No turnovers regardless of the competition is a positive step moving into the next game.

Driskel should also be treating this game as an extra practice to perfect the tempo of offensive coordinator Kurt Roper’s offense. Florida’s coaching staff wants Driskel to get the ball out of hands quickly and allow his teammates to make plays in space. They would also prefer to run each play at a much faster pace than last season but keep things under control as well, per Garry Smits of Jacksonville.com.

If we get it snapped with around 18 seconds on the play clock, we’re keeping a pretty good tempo, Roper said. We don’t say, ‘let’s go 92 plays [in one game],’ If we execute, let’s score in two plays. We don’t talk about the number of plays or how fast. We want to look up and see points on the board.

There are certainly going to be wrinkles that still need to be ironed out, as nobody perfects a new offense in just one game. However, after all the praise Driskel has received this offseason and the lack of competition in the opening game, Florida fans should have fairly high expectations and expect to see a different quarterback than past years.

Given the circumstances, Driskel should have one of his better games of his career and begin the process of convincing everybody he has what it takes to lead Florida to a promising season.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

College Football Week 1 Schedule: TV and Live Stream Info for Every Game

It's the final week of August, and that means just one thing for football fans: The most exciting players in the nation are about to hit the gridiron once again as Week 1 of the 2014 regular season commences.

While every team shares an equal record at this time of year, a pecking order has already been established due to the release of preseason polls. These rankings only increase the drama of the opening week, as every team was in flux over the offseason—some to a greater extent than others—and onlookers are impatiently awaiting the unveiling of the 2014 versions of these squads.

Which teams will do their rankings justice? Which ones will become huge disappointments? Will we see the early emergence of sleeper candidates? All of these questions will be answered in short order.

To ensure you catch every possible moment of forthcoming action, here's a day-by-day look at college football's complete Week 1 schedule.

 

Week 1 Schedule

Wednesday, Aug. 27

The season gets underway here in a contest between two teams featuring freshman quarterbacks. These squads may not be experienced, but the talent on both sides could make this a fun and unpredictable start to the year.

 

Thursday, Aug. 28

It won't be long until we see our first ranked teams face off. No. 21 Texas A&M looks to remain relevant after the departures of Johnny Manziel and Mike Evans, and No. 9 South Carolina will attempt to maintain its Top 10 ranking despite the absence of Jadeveon Clowney and Connor Shaw.

Without Shaw under center, expect the Gamecocks to rely heavily on the run against an Aggies team that ranked 110th in the nation against the run last season. South Carolina has starters returning on the offensive line, and even if Mike Davis can't go Thursday, a run-heavy scheme should be expected.

Aggies quarterback Kenny Hill has some big shoes to fill, and 6'4" wide receiver Josh Reynolds will be heavily relied upon as the sophomore quarterback's big, friendly target. This team will need production from its young starters quickly if it is to contend in a tough road matchup.

 

Friday, Aug. 29

Only one ranked team is in action Friday. No. 8 Michigan State should be able to get off to a nice start, as one of the toughest defenses in the nation will be champing at the bit when Jacksonville State comes to town.

 

Saturday, Aug. 30

Here's the big day. Penn State and UCF kick things off early from Dublin, Ireland, as the Knights adjust to life without Blake Bortles.

Ohio State will take the field soon after in an effort to maintain its No. 5 ranking without Braxton Miller. The Buckeyes will be under plenty of scrutiny Saturday, as the nation's No. 5 team will be without its explosive starting quarterback.

The team has plenty of confidence in newly appointed starter J.T. Barrett. Offensive lineman Taylor Decker commented on the signal-caller during a press conference, transcribed by Rusty Miller of The Associated Press (via ABCNews.com):

He's been taking the reins of the offense. He's stepped up, he's voiced up and he's kind of taken control. That's good to see that he's not going to back down from it. Him being a young guy and not have a lot of experience, we just have to make him look better. The line has to play that much harder protecting and the receivers have to make plays until he gets comfortable.

A run-oriented Navy team is certainly capable of putting up some points, so Ohio State will need immediate production from its freshman quarterback.

In the evening, we finally get our first glimpse of reigning national champion Florida State and Heisman-winning quarterback Jameis Winston against the Oklahoma State Cowboys.

 

Sunday, Aug. 31

No. 10 Baylor takes on SMU on Sunday, and we can expect quarterback Bryce Petty to keep up his torrid pace from last season, when the Bears had the most prolific offense in the nation.

 

Monday, Sept. 1

Our final Week 1 contest is between two teams capable of climbing into the Top 25, as the Miami Hurricanes take on a Louisville Cardinals team that will be missing both Teddy Bridgewater and DeVante Parker.

With Bridgewater departed to the Minnesota Vikings and Parker expected to miss six to eight weeks with a foot injury, according to Tom Fornelli of CBSSports.com, the Cardinals may rely heavily on senior running back Dominique Brown as a result.

As for the Hurricanes, the same can be expected. Starting quarterback Stephen Morris left for the NFL over the offseason, and without a proven signal-caller, the team will look to junior running back Duke Johnson.

Expect to see these squads grind it out during the final Week 1 contest of 2014.

 

Live Stream Info

Can't find your way to a television for the big game? Don't fret—the Internet has you covered. Here's a listing of the live stream information for each of the biggest host networks for Week 1 coverage of college football.

ESPN: WatchESPN

SEC: CBSSports.com

Fox: Fox Sports Go

BTN: BTN2Go.com

Pac-12: Pac-12.com

ABC: ABC Live

CBS: CBSSports.com

Now that we have all the the essential viewing information covered, it's time to sit back and enjoy what promises to be a thrilling college football season.

 

All stats courtesy of NCAA.com unless otherwise noted.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

50 Best College Football Personalities to Follow on Twitter

It’s back. At long last, college football is back.

When Georgia State and Abilene Christian kick off at the Georgia Dome Wednesday night, college football’s 2014 regular season will officially kick into gear, gaining momentum each day of the long Labor Day weekend through Monday’s Louisville-Miami ACC showdown.

It’s the perfect weekend to test out your home college football setup with a monster flat-screen TV, surround sound, your choice of tailgate-tested food and a selection of cold beverages. (And if you don’t have it in place already, go, go, go!)

The advent of laptops, smartphones and high-speed Internet has turned us into a multi-screen society. We all watch the games, but we’re constantly adding our two cents worth on social media, too. We have to let the world know what we think on Twitter, even if the world isn’t necessarily ready to hear it.

The opening of the 2014 season is the perfect time to update your feed to get maximum enjoyment out of every fall Saturday afternoon (and during the week, too).

Here’s a list of the top 50 college football personalities to follow on Twitter, presented in alphabetical order.

 

Tony Barnhart

The handle of @MrCFB is a bit presumptuous, but there’s little doubting that Tony Barnhart is well-connected in college football. The former Atlanta Journal-Constitution writer has made stops at CBS Sports and ESPN and will be a presence on the new SEC Network. Few know as much about Southern football as he does, and if you want to learn more, you’d be wise to follow.

 

Fake Dan Beebe

Dan Beebe was collateral damage when the Big 12 nearly fell apart in the college football realignment crisis, but the deposed commissioner still has a great Twitter presence at @DanBeebe. And you’d better believe he holds a grudge. He’s particularly fun to follow when misfortune befalls any of the Big 12 teams (or Nebraska, Texas A&M or Missouri). He isn’t the Big 12’s commissioner anymore, and he won’t let you forget it.

 

Bret Bielema

Bret Bielema isn’t afraid to say what he thinks: Arkansas’ second-year head coach has raised the ire of rivals across the SEC with controversial comments, most notably Natural State native Gus Malzahn. His active Twitter account @BretBielema provides a look into the Razorbacks program and Bielema’s life in general. Much like the head coach, it isn’t dull.

 

Capital One Bowl/Russell Athletic Bowl

Not all college football bowl accounts are created equal. The @CapitalOneBowl and @RussellAthBowl accounts are proof of that. Much more than a promotional account, the Florida Citrus Sports bowl siblings provide a fun, irreverent look at their games and college football at large. Even if your team isn’t playing in either game, the accounts are well worth following.

 

Tim Brando

A veteran of ESPN and CBS Sports, @TimBrando will call games this fall for Fox Sports and also has a daily nationally syndicated radio show. The Shreveport resident has SEC roots but has a national focus, and he isn’t afraid to offer strong opinions and mix it up with his followers. He’s never dull.

 

Chris B. Brown

The handle says it all: This is @SmartFootball. Chris B. Brown is a very intelligent follow who takes you deep into football analysis while using statistics and a keen eye, often while watching the same game you are. If you want to learn more about football, follow the Grantland contributor.

 

Mack Brown

The former Texas and North Carolina head coach is working with ESPN this fall as a studio analyst, and he has promised to ditch the “coach speak” in favor of honest analysis. That’s a positive development, as Brown has been active recently on Twitter at @ESPN_CoachMack. Here’s hoping that carries over into interesting analysis this fall.

 

Timothy Burke

Timothy Burke is Deadspin’s video maven, and if it happens in college football, chances are that he has caught it on one of his numerous televisions and saved it so everyone on Deadspin can see it. Little gets past him, and he is also a reporter who helped Deadspin break the Manti Te’o girlfriend hoax story. A worthy all-around follow at @Bubbaprog.

 

Chris Conley

The Georgia wide receiver breaks the mold of your typical player account with positive messages and photos at @_Flight_31. He is also a talented filmmaker whose Star Wars short film gained huge acclaim this summer. Follow Conley for what he can do on the field as well as what he can do off of it. He’s going places.

 

Rece Davis

Rece Davis is one of ESPN’s top college football voices, calling the Thursday night game while also anchoring the Worldwide Leader’s Saturday studio coverage. He should get hazard pay just for dealing with Lou Holtz and Mark May on a regular basis, but his feed @ESPN_ReceDavis is an insightful look at college football.

 

Tom Dienhart

Tom Dienhart is a veteran college football scribe who is now with the Big Ten Network as the senior writer for BTN.com. Dienhart has a wealth of experience and now travels the Big Ten, chronicling the league’s football and basketball exploits. If you like the Big Ten and college football in general, he is an excellent follow at @BTNTomDienhart.

 

Dennis Dodd

Chances are if it’s a college football Saturday, CBS Sports’ national college football columnist is sitting in a press box for one of the nation’s biggest tilts of the week. Dodd is well-versed on the national scene and has an informed opinion on what’s working and what isn’t in college football. Just be prepared for the occasional St. Louis Cardinals tweet at @DennisDoddCBS.

 

Chris Dufresne

Chris Dufresne, the Los Angeles Times’ national college football writer, is a veteran of the national college gridiron scene, having crisscrossed the nation in search of stories. He has plenty of institutional knowledge about Pac-12 and national college football, and it shows in his tweets at @DufresneLATimes and articles.

 

Bud Elliott 

Florida State’s return to national prominence has brought with it a Twitter phenomenon known only as #FSUTwitter, the unique way that Seminole fans express their passion online. And TomahawkNation.com, SB Nation’s Florida State site, is the center of that passion. Bud Elliott runs the @TomahawkNation feed and feeds the madness with free articles, commentary and more, all of which flow through this handle.

 

Bruce Feldman

Bruce Feldman has made his tour of the college football media landscape, going from ESPN to CBS Sports to Fox Sports. What hasn’t changed in his tour are the skills behind the name, with solidly written and reported pieces that resonate with readers across the nation. No matter who’s paying Feldman, you can pretty much guarantee that you’ll get great reporting and solid Twitter banter at @BruceFeldmanCFB.

 

Paul Finebaum

PAWWWWLLLLL. Once a regional brand with a four-hour radio show confined largely to SEC markets, Paul Finebaum has gone national thanks to syndication on SiriusXM and his association with ESPN. He’ll play a huge role in the new SEC Network as a panelist for SEC Nation as well as other ESPN college football programs, and his radio show will be simulcast there as well. His Twitter account @finebaum passes along news as well as Finebaum’s acerbic college football opinions.

 

Bryan Fischer

Bryan Fischer is a veteran of the college gridiron Internet scene, making stops with CBS Sports, the Pac-12 and now NFL.com. He has a great base of knowledge and is an active tweeter at @BryanDFischer, covering college football nationally on game day and year-round.

 

Pat Forde

If you want excellent insight into college football on a national basis, Pat Forde is the kind of guy you want to follow. Forde, who tweets at @YahooForde, gained national acclaim at ESPN before moving his “Forde Yard Dash” column to Yahoo! Sports recently. He is a veteran of the national scene with connections across the college football landscape and gives fans a look on the inside out.

 

Spencer Hall

SB Nation’s editorial director and curator of the raucous blog “Every Day Should Be Saturday” presents a college football-focused feed that often veers all over the map with hilarious results. One of the sharpest minds in the college football blogosphere, Spencer Hall alerts readers to the best of SB Nation’s coverage and college gridiron coverage at large while also providing his own acerbic tastes on matters big and small inside and outside college football. Irreverent and smart, a must-follow at @edsbs.

 

Herb Hand

Veteran college football writers will tell you that offensive linemen offer the most underrated quotes, and the same goes for offensive line coaches. They give excellent insight. Herb Hand fits this profile to a T. Penn State’s offensive line coach runs an engaging account, @CoachHand, that gives us a look at life beyond football (including his stint on the reality TV cooking show Chopped). He’s one of the best follows among the assistant coach ranks, for sure.

 

Matt Hayes

As the Sporting News’ senior writer, Matt Hayes has excellent connections and strong opinions on college football, and he uses both on a regular basis at @Matt_HayesSN. He’s based in Florida but finds his way around the nation on a regular basis for balanced coverage. He’s well worth the follow.

 

Kirk Herbstreit

One of ESPN’s preeminent college football personalities, a College GameDay mainstay who does double duty as the color commentator on ABC’s Saturday Night Football. Herbie gets in his share of frequent flyer miles during the college football season, and he isn’t afraid to engage and share his opinion on Twitter at @KirkHerbstreit, be it about college football or his beloved Cincinnati Reds. His large follower count attracts its share of trolls, but Herbstreit is quick with the block button and hilarious in doing so.

 

Matt Hinton

Matt Hinton is another veteran of the college football blogosphere and Internet landscape who wrote Yahoo’s Dr. Saturday blog before becoming part of Grantland’s college football coverage. At @MattRHinton you’ll get well-thought-out gridiron thoughts and interesting in-depth articles that go deeper than the average beat writer typically dares to tread.

 

Chris Huston

If you’re looking for insight on the Heisman Trophy chase, look no further than Chris Huston. Huston runs HeismanPundit.com, one of the foremost sources on the big stiff-arm trophy. Huston can be, as his  @HeismanPundit Twitter bio says, a “thoughtful contrarian,” but he knows how the Heisman process operates as well as anyone in college football.

 

Paul Johnson

Georgia Tech’s head coach can be alternately biting and accommodating with reporters, but he runs an interesting Twitter account that can be as unpredictable as the triple option flexbone. He isn’t afraid to say what he means in 140-character bursts at @GTPaulJohnson.

 

Adam Kramer

Bleacher Report’s lead college football writer, Adam Kramer also runs a must-read blog called kegsneggsblog.com. At @KegsnEggs, he writes about everything college football, Vegas lines, fat guy touchdowns and the weeknight football phenomenon we know as #MACtion. This is also the place to find all of his Bleacher Report pieces, and it’s a great follow on fall Saturday afternoons.

 

Mike Leach

The Washington State coach is a fascinating personality. While he is known for his on-field exploits at Texas Tech and Washington State and his battles with administrators, he is also a published author. This summer he authored a book on the Native American Geronimo, hardly the kind of subject you’d expect a college football coach to dive into. Football keeps Leach busy, but you never know what he’s going to say @Coach_Leach.

 

Ivan Maisel

Ivan Maisel is one of the nation’s longest-tenured national college writers, the kind of guy who has seen and written about everything—multiple times. The ESPN senior writer has a measured perspective on things, and you can learn plenty by following him at @Ivan_Maisel, for certain. He also has an excellent podcast, and following this feed is one way to keep up on it.

 

Stewart Mandel

A veteran of the college football landscape, Stewart Mandel recently made the move from Sports Illustrated to Fox Sports as part of Fox’s ongoing efforts to beef up its college gridiron coverage. He covers the game on a national level and visits stadiums across the nation to get a feel for the game’s pulse. He is an active tweeter @SlMandel and an excellent follow.

 

Brett McMurphy

ESPN’s senior college football reporter is one of the most connected voices in the game, with numerous scoops to his name regarding coaching, college football realignment and more. Follow him @McMurphyESPN to know the latest news about college football before those who are involved even find out. He’ll help you stay ahead of the curve.

 

Les Miles

Some college football head coaches have bland, boring feeds. You get the sense that they’re only being used for recruiting purposes, that the coaches (or the sports information directors) behind them are more interested in using them to connect with prospects than their fans. LSU coach Les Miles does not operate one of those accounts.

Much like on the field, you never know what Miles is going to tweet about @LSUCoachMiles, which keeps him on follow lists across the college football world. He’s a fascinating personality in the Twittersphere.

 

Chad Morris

The man behind one of college football’s fastest offenses has a lightning-fast Twitter account as well. Follow Clemson offensive coordinator Chad Morris @coachchadmorris for behind-the-scenes views and interactions with the Tigers program, if you can keep up. Morris uses the hashtag #tempo with his tweets.

 

Paul Myerberg

USA Today’s national college football writer produces detailed, interesting work: His 128-team preview countdown to the college football season is the kind of stuff that gets fans through the doldrums of summer and ready for fall. His feed, @PaulMyerberg, is a smart Twitter feed, and you can learn plenty about football and read some good work by following.

 

Ryan Nanni

Until recently, the account @celebrityhottub was anonymously penned, but the fact that SB Nation contributor Ryan Nanni is behind it doesn’t make it any less funny or ridiculous. Nanni tweets out absurdities about life and college football that are guaranteed to have you laughing out loud at your laptop or smartphone, making your companions wonder what the joke is. Unless, of course, they’re following him too.

 

Scott Van Pelt

ESPN’s multitalented anchor has become a major presence in the network’s college football coverage, particularly with his “Bald Man On Campus” features on College GameDay. He also talks plenty of college football on his daily ESPN Radio show and isn’t afraid to engage with followers, making him an interesting, intelligent follow @notthefakeSVP.

 

Fake Bo Pelini/Bo Pelini

@FauxPelini is exactly what it sounds like—the alter ego of fiery Nebraska coach Bo Pelini. It drew attention for its avatar featuring Pelini holding a cat, which went to another level entirely when the real Pelini asked the other Pelini for his cat back. If you’re a Nebraska fan (or a Nebraska hater) and like to laugh, this account is for you. Meanwhile, Pelini has also found his inner sense of humor and improved his overall Twitter presence on @BoPelini.

 

Pete Roussel/Scott Roussel

The Roussel brothers run competing sites at @coachingsearch and @footballscoop which cover the rumored, the fact, the big news and the mundane about college football coaching movements. If it’s happening, or rumored to be happening, chances are they know about it and have an opinion. They’re excellent follows during college football’s “silly season,” but follow them now and beat the rush.

 

Dan Rubenstein

The co-host of the popular Solid Verbal podcast talks about a little bit of everything at @DanRubenstein—football, New York City life and tacos. Oh, yes, tacos.

 

Wes Rucker

Not every college beat writer has over 33,000 followers, but not everyone has a Twitter presence like Wes Rucker, at @wesrucker247, who covers Tennessee for 247Sports. Rucker has a freewheeling Twitter feed which covers UT sports but also his life, which includes English soccer, the Chicago Cubs, the raccoons that pillage his yard and much more. He isn’t afraid to engage his followers, which can be highly entertaining.

 

Ralph D. Russo

The Associated Press’ national college football writer will be quick to note he doesn’t vote in the AP’s Top 25 poll, and he doesn’t hate your team. But he does have excellent insight on the national scene and is typically at the big game of the week. You’ll get news from across the college football spectrum and a little bit of bonus New York Mets angst thrown in for good measure at @RalphDRussoAP.

 

Mark Schlabach

The Georgia-based writer is one of ESPN’s most prominent college football voices, contributing on the Web, on television and through Twitter on his handle, @Mark_Schlabach. He has excellent knowledge of the SEC and Southern football but makes his way around the national scene too. Chances are you think he hates your team, and chances are he isn’t concerned about it.

 

Jeff Scott

Clemson recruiting coordinator and wide receivers coach Jeff Scott is one of the top young, up-and-coming coaches in the college football world. Scott is very active on his account, @coach_jeffscott, and offers glimpses of his life, like the time he and offensive coordinator Chad Morris sprinted through the Atlanta airport with what they called #tempo to catch their plane to visit a potential Tiger together.

 

Andy Staples

Sports Illustrated’s lead college football writer is always at the biggest game of the week, providing insight from above the field and beyond it. The former Florida walk-on offensive lineman has a unique perspective and has excellent command of the game inside the game. Plus, he loves barbecue and food, and following him at @Andy_Staples can give you some great insight into the best greasy spoons and barbecue joints in the college football world.

 

Patrick Stevens

If you like the numbers behind the game, Patrick Stevens is an excellent follow at Twitter handle @D1scourse. The veteran of the ACC scene has worked for TheWashington Times and ThePost-Standard, among others, but the one constant is his ability to crunch numbers and probability and give you a perspective you might not have even known you needed, even as the season changes from football to college basketball. He’s a man for all seasons, but his football knowledge doesn’t disappoint.

 

Clay Travis

One of college football’s more polarizing tweeters but a must-follow at @ClayTravisBGID if you’re a fan of SEC football. You might not like what he tweets, but you’ll keep following to see what he says next. And quite frankly, it can be entertaining to follow just to see those who don’t get the joke and respond with poor grammar (re: Alabama football fans and Kentucky basketball fans, among others). Travis is a national voice with Fox, and it’s interesting to see how he fits into the national conversation.

 

Pete Thamel

Pete Thamel came to prominence at The New York Times and jumped from the Old Gray Lady to Sports Illustrated. He’s one of SI’s lead college football writers and is always at one of the big games of the week. He also does investigative pieces that dig below the surface of the gridiron. He’s one of the most well-rounded reporters out there, to be certain. He's a solid follow at @SIPeteThamel.

 

David Ubben

If you’re interested in Big 12 football, David Ubben is an excellent follow. Ubben recently moved from ESPN to Fox Sports Southwest, where he writes for the Web and also appears on television. He has excellent knowledge of the 10-team Big 12 and regularly engages with followers both negative and positive with a very active account at @DavidUbben.

 

Dan Wetzel

The Yahoo Sports national columnist covers a little bit of everything, but he also covers plenty of college football. He was a co-author of the book Death to the BCS, so perhaps you have him to thank, in part, for the new College Football Playoff. You’ll get smart, well-thought-out columns and interesting takes here: Wetzel talks without screaming at @DanWetzel.

You can connect with Greg Wallace on Twitter @gc_wallace.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Former LSU Star Jacob Hester Talks Les Miles, New TV Role and Life After the NFL

Former LSU running back Jacob Hester has a reputation for breaking down defenses.

Hester was the Tigers' leading rusher on the 2008 BCS National Championship team. When given a clean hole to run through, he would bulldoze linebackers and safeties to earn the tough yards for his team.

Hester rushed for over 1,000 yards and earned second-team All-SEC honors for his efforts. His most memorable moment of his career came against Florida when he converted two fourth downs and scored the game-winning touchdown on the Tigers' final drive.

The San Diego Chargers drafted Hester in the third round of the 2008 NFL draft. He served as a jack of all trades for the Chargers, playing multiple roles on offense and special teams. He was released in 2012 but was signed in late November by the Denver Broncos and served as a versatile piece in an injury-ridden backfield. 

After six successful seasons in the NFL, Hester has finally returned home to Louisiana. This time, though, he will be breaking down defenses off the field.  

Hester will serve as an analyst for Cox Sports Television's LSU Gameday Live, a college football preview show similar to ESPN's College Gameday. The show will air every Saturday that LSU plays, home and away, with the inaugural episode airing on Aug. 30, live from NRG Stadium in Houston, Texas. 

Hester currently resides in his hometown of Shreveport, Louisiana, with his wife, Katie, and three boys. Bleacher Report caught up with the former Tigers captain to discuss his illustrious career, this year's LSU team, the future of college athletics and more.

 

Bleacher Report: What will you be doing this year on television?

Jacob Hester: I'm doing a new gig this year for Cox Sports Television, and we are doing a pregame show. Me, (former LSU center) Kevin Mawae and (LSU sideline reporter) Gordy Rush. We will be on location, home and away. It will be live, every game day, from 11 until noon (CT). I am excited about that. Playing in the NFL, I was only able to go to one game a year with the bye week. The chance to get to go to away games is even more exciting for me because I never got to do that while in the NFL. It's going to be different getting on the media side of things, but I am excited.

 

B/R: Is your NFL career officially over?

Hester: Yeah, I think so. I had a chance to go to camp this year, but I politely declined. I had this gig at LSU (with CST), I have three boys and my wife here in Shreveport. Didn't want to do the whole year contract, moving across the country here and there. Tough as it was, I think getting into TV is kind of the route I always wanted to go after football. And with this opportunity, I didn't want to turn it down for a maybe chance at the NFL. I was lucky to play six years, got my retirement invested. So I'm blessed beyond belief, and now I am a transitioning into a new career.

 

B/R: What was it like playing with Peyton Manning?

Hester: The most unbelievable experience you can have. People use the cliche that he "is like a coach on the field," but that doesn't even begin to describe what Peyton was. He made everybody around him better. We had a very good offensive coordinator in Adam Gase, and he has a great offense. Peyton would be able to get you in the best possible play. The play call is obviously before the defense sets up. Once they are set up, you have to adjust to it. Peyton is the best I have ever seen at adjusting and getting the right play called from what the original play was.

 

B/R: Do you fear about your future health after playing football for so long?

Hester: It's tough. The game is such a violent game, especially the position I played, playing fullback and running back. There is a lot of head injuries, and I don't know what you can do to prevent it. It's just the nature of the game, and there is definitely a scare. It's not only concussions, you have guys that didn't even know they had concussions that are having memory loss and different head injuries. The scariest part about it is it doesn't necessarily hit you right away. It can be years later when you are having symptoms.

 

B/R: You were only a 2-star recruit, per Rivals, coming out of high school. How were you so successful?

Hester: You know, I think it was the first year they did the star rating stuff. And obviously going to a school like LSU, we have 5-star and 4-star guys. Not many of us, I actually might have been the only 2-star guy. But that motivated me. I knew people like that didn't expect a lot from me going to LSU. When I got there, it was my goal to be the first freshman to play in the class. That was all I focused on all summer, and I was fortunate enough to be the first freshman of the '04 class to start a game. My whole career kind of went like that. They told me I was going to play fullback, but got a chance to play running back for LSU. I kind of thrived off always being a 2-star recruit and always being a guy that was not supposed to do a whole lot at LSU.

 

B/R: What do you think of the college recruiting rankings?

Hester: To be honest, I just don't know how you can do it. I don't know how you can rate a kid playing against certain talent opposed to a kid playing against other talent. In Louisiana, I am biased, but I think we are in the top three in high school football in the country. Texas, Florida and Louisiana, in my opinion, are the top three states. So, you see, a kid from Louisiana who is dominating is a little bit different if a kid in Maine, or somewhere else, is dominating...As soon as you get on campus, coaches forget all about that (rankings). I think Coach Miles is one of the best in the country, he doesn't care really how many stars you have once you get there. I think rankings are a little overrated. I understand why they do it. It creates excitement, but it also creates some pressure for some kids too.

 

B/R: What does the No. 18 jersey mean to you?

Hester: It means the world to me. It really does. Not only for the guys continuing to wear it, but for my family. My boys being able to go into a store and seeing a No. 18 jersey. To tell my boys kind of what it means to be a Tiger on and off the field. What kind of person it really takes to wear it. It is special each and every time. I'm sure by the time they are 21, they will be tired of me telling them. As of yet, it hasn't gotten old yet.

 

B/R: Terrence Magee will wear No. 18 in 2014. What do you think of Magee carrying on the tradition?

Hester: I think he (Magee) is the perfect fit for it. He was a guy that got to LSU and kind of waited his time. He didn't get a whole lot of playing time his first couple of years at LSU. And if Jeremy Hill didn't get suspended last year, he might not have gotten that playing time, to be honest with you. He made the most of the time he got, he broke onto the scene. Talking to Coach Miles, he did everything the right way. He handled himself as well as you could. I'm glad No. 18 is coming back to the offensive side of the ball and a guy like Magee.

 

B/R: What do you think of Leonard Fournette?

Hester: He is really mature, not only in football, but off the field as well. Sitting there talking with him, he looks like he is 35 years old already with the beard and the way he is built. He is going to be a special player at LSU. When you do talk about recruits, he played against the top competition in Louisiana and dominated each and every year. He will be a special player from game one on August 30 against Wisconsin.

 

B/R: How do you see the running back position playing out?

Hester: LSU is never going to have a true starting running back. As far back as when I was there, in '04, '05, '06, we always had a 1a, 1b and 1c. It was never going to be one guy that gets 30 carries. It was one guy get 15, the next guy gets 10, the other guy gets five. That's how it is going to be. I think you will see (Kenny) Hilliard, Magee and Fournette all get a lot of carries.

 

B/R: Who was the best running back that played under Miles at LSU?

Hester: You're talking about some really great football players. Stevan Ridley, Charles Scott, Keiland Williams, but the guy I would point to is Joseph Addai. When I got to LSU, I (had) never seen a football player as complete as him. Pass blocking, catching, running. He was the guy that I looked to that I tried to be like the most.

 

B/R: Does it mean anything to you that you have the longest run of the Miles era, an 87-yard touchdown against Louisiana Tech? 

Hester: Ha! Yeah, a little bit. Just because I was kind of known for four yards here, five yards there, 4th-and-1s, so it was kind of special against an in-state opponent like Tech scoring on a long run in Tiger Stadium. Playing the way that I did, I did not get many chances to get to open up like that. So once I got the chance to do that, nobody is going to catch me. I think that was the fastest I have ever ran. 

 

B/R: Who was the best running back you have ever played against?

Hester: I think it was a no-brainer when I was in school. It was Darren McFadden. I could never beat him out for All-SEC. He deserved every bit of that. He was a man amongst boys.

 

B/R: Do you think you could have run the Wildcat like McFadden did?

Hester: Ha! I think that whole deal was so special. And a lot of people tried to do it like they did it, and he had a special talent for it. Maybe Ronnie Brown with the Dolphins, but I had never (seen) anybody run the way he did it.

 

B/R: What made the 2007 LSU national championship team special?

Hester:  I think we had a great group of seniors. We had a lot of leaders. We did not have many guys leave early. We made an effort to all stay through our senior years. You look at Matt Flynn, who waited his turn. He could have played for anybody in the country, but he happened to be behind JaMarcus (Russell), the No. 1 pick in the draft. He (Flynn) stayed with it, got to lead us to the national championship. You look at guys like Glenn Dorsey. He could have left early, but he came back, played his senior year and really had a special year.

 

B/R: How difficult was it to convince everyone to come back?

Hester: It's tough. You can't fault the guys that do leave. If you have a chance to be a first-day pick, how can you tell those guys not to do it? It is such a special moment. But I think we, as a group, talked about how special of a team we could have if we all came back. I think those guys unselfishly put getting money that year away and came back and had a team effort. Early Doucet and Glenn Dorsey could have left early and got drafted pretty high, but they came back and were key members of our team.

 

B/R: How good were you on the wheel route?

Hester: Ha! It is definitely a route we ran a lot of, especially when Jimbo Fisher was there. The most memorable one hurts. We were playing Arkansas in '07, as we hit one for about 65 yards and got called back because one of our receivers was not on the line of scrimmage. We ended up losing that game in triple overtime.

 

B/R: What do you remember the most about that loss against Arkansas? What did it say about your football team's resiliency to come back and win two championships in two games after that loss? 

Hester: We thought we were done. We were still lucky enough to go to the national championship. We had to have four or five things go our way, which, at the time, we thought there was no way in the world that any of that would happen. We had to beat a good Tennessee football team in the SEC championship. (Arkansas) had a pretty memorable running attack with Felix Jones, McFadden and Peyton Hillis. They were a good football team that beat us on that day. Credit to the kind of guys that we had. It didn't matter. We went out and beat Tennessee, and those four or five things happened on our flight to Baton Rouge from Atlanta.

 

B/R: What was your favorite memory of playing with Les Miles?

Hester: That he trusted us. A lot of coaches wouldn't have done what he did when making the fourth-down calls and giving us the faith that he gave us. He really truly believed in each and every one of us in almost every situation. And that's hard to do.

 

B/R: LSU's victory over Florida in 2007 required five fourth-down conversions, two of which you earned on the final drive. The second one, at first glance, looked short. Did you feel like you made both of them? 

Hester: I honestly felt like I got every one of them. The one you are talking about, I know at first glance it didn't look like we got it. Luckily enough, I got some forward lean and we barely got it. Gosh they were all close, and obviously it was a situation where they knew we were running the ball and we knew we were running the ball. Our offensive line and tight ends had a heck of a game that game and we were very fortunate to convert all those fourth downs because the percentages are not with you. It was a pretty special night on a pretty special year.

 

B/R: What does it feel like to run somebody over?

Hester: That mentality was something my dad instilled in me at a very young age. My dad was in the Marines and law enforcement for 30 years. He was a tough-nosed kind of guy, and he always told me, "You run over a guy, you will get two extra yards every time. And if you have 20 carries, you have 40 extra yards that will help your team win a football game." That just always stuck with me. Always lean forward. Always fall forward. Or else you get pushed back.

 

B/R: Should college football players be compensated?

Hester: I go back and forth on it. You look at it in some ways. My jersey is in the book store, what an honor, what a privilege to say that is the jersey that they carry. You see people around campus wearing it. And, then, you step back and look at it. You are like, "Well, there are people making a lot of money on those jersey sales, and the person that is on it is not getting any money for it. And they might be struggling through college." It is a very slippery slope. Obviously a team like LSU, in the Southeastern Conference, they make a lot of money and the kids are the reason they make it. I don't know how you would do it, or what format you would do it. I don't know how you make it fair for every other sport.

 

B/R: How do you view the SEC West?

Hester: It is going to be a little bit different this year. Texas A&M loses their quarterback, LSU losing a quarterback, Alabama losing a quarterback. It is going to be a little bit of a different look. Mississippi State seems to be the "it pick" to be the dark horse, and Ole Miss is going to be good again. And Auburn, coming off a national championship game, there is not really a weak team in the SEC West this year.

 

B/R: Overall thoughts on LSU in 2014?

Hester: This year's LSU team is going to be a special group. They are kind of flying under the radar, which is always good, in my opinion. They have a special freshman class, which is going to be key. When you go visit LSU and are around those guys, you hear the trainers, the strength staff say there is not a bad guy in the class. Just being around them the couple of days I have been around them, I can feel something a little different about them. They are more mature above their years, and they are going to be expected to play and contribute. A lot of LSU's season kind of rides on those guys.

 

Stats, rankings and additional information provided by cfbstats.com and LSU Sports Information. Quotes were obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted. Follow Jacob Hester on Twitter @JacobHester22 and me @CarterthePower  

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Ohio State Football: 3 Stars Who Will Break out in 2014

Urban Meyer has secured three consecutive top-five recruiting classes, giving the Ohio State football team one of the most loaded rosters in all of college football.

With the Buckeyes replacing 10 starters from last year's 12-2 squad, there are bound to be a few breakout stars.

Last year, defensive end Joey Bosa and right tackle Taylor Decker emerged as pleasant surprises for Meyer and Ohio State. Bosa earned a starting spot midway through the year and earned first-team freshman All-American honors, while Decker surged down the stretch of the season.

Who will be the breakout stars for Ohio State in 2014?

 

Dontre Wilson

Ohio State is replacing its leading passer (Braxton Miller), rusher (Carlos Hyde) and receiver (Corey Brown) in 2014, so there's a big need for playmakers on offense.

Dontre Wilson is primed to fill that role.

Speed has never been an issue for Wilson, who enrolled at Ohio State last fall and instantly became one of the fastest players on the team. As a dangerous all-purpose back coming out of high school, Buckeyes fans envisioned Wilson making a Percy Harvin-like impact in 2013.

That never materialized.

With Hyde and Miller forming one of the most devastating and effective one-two punches in college football, Wilson was used primarily as a decoy in Ohio State's offense. He still managed to pile up 460 total yards and three touchdowns, but those results fell short of his preseason expectations.

The Buckeyes should get much more from him this year. Wilson was named the starting H-back in March, and he's expecting big things for his sophomore season.

"I just wanted to come in and play, but last year didn't turn out the way I wanted to," Wilson said, according to Ari Wasserman of The Plain Dealer. "But now I am starting at the H position, which is the most prolific position on offense and I am getting a lot more touches. It feels way better."

 

Joshua Perry

Linebacker has been a consistent weakness for Ohio State since 2012—a deficiency that Meyer identified during the home stretch of the Buckeyes' 2013 campaign.

"The linebacker position is still my biggest concern on our team," Meyer said last November, according to Kyle Rowland of Eleven Warriors. "The depth is a major concern."

Depth is no longer an issue after Meyer secured four blue-chip linebackers in his 2014 recruiting class, headlined by 5-star Raekwon McMillan. But replacing first-team All American Ryan Shazier, who was selected in the first round of the NFL draft by the Pittsburgh Steelers, is a tall order.

That's where Joshua Perry comes in. 

Perry started alongside Shazier last year, recording 64 total tackles, two tackles for loss and a sack, according to Ohio State's official website. He was shifted to Shazier's vacated spot this spring, and if the Buckeyes want better results from their linebackers, Perry will need to have a big year.

"There are a couple of areas where guys have got to step up," Meyer said, according to Rusty Miller of the AP. "Josh Perry has to step up and play big."

Perry is taking that challenge seriously.

Evidence of that came when a picture of Perry's growth over the years made the rounds last month. 

Perry certainly has the look of an All-Big Ten linebacker, and he'll showcase that this season.

 

Ezekiel Elliott

Running back Ezekiel Elliott has the best chance for a breakout season this year.

That wasn't the case just two weeks ago, when Miller was expected to lead an offense that primarily used bubble screens and quick passes to attack the perimeter. On top of that, a fractured wrist in the opening week of fall camp (which required minor surgery) nearly derailed Elliott's season before it started.

The rising sophomore bounced back quickly, though, and is already back at full capacity after two weeks of rehab. And with redshirt freshman J.T. Barrett now at quarterback, the Buckeyes could rely more on the steady production of the running back position.

That could mean big things for Elliott, who rushed for 262 yards on 30 carries a season ago. He showcased the strength to run between the tackles and the speed to run away from the secondary—traits that made Hyde such an effective running back in Meyer's spread offense.

"I can take it outside, run tight zone, power and catch the ball out of the backfield," Elliott said, according to ESPN's Brian Bennett. "So think [sic] it helps a lot that I'm versatile." 

The Buckeyes should utilize that versatility to help ease the loss of Miller.

 

All recruiting information via 247Sports. Unless otherwise noted, all stats via NCAA.com.

David Regimbal covers Ohio State football for Bleacher Report.
Follow him on Twitter @davidreg412.

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Heisman Trophy Betting: Early Odds Favor Jameis Winston, Marcus Mariota

After becoming the youngest player ever to claim the Heisman Trophy last season, Florida State Seminoles quarterback Jameis Winston kicks off the 2014 season as a 9-2 favorite to repeat.

It was a dream season for Winston, who led the Seminoles to the national championship, earning MVP honors for his performance in the game. The 20-year-old threw for 4,057 yards and 40 touchdowns in 2013, and is a 2-3 bet to lead the ACC in passing touchdowns this year.

Oregon Ducks QB Marcus Mariota remains neck-and-neck with Winston in Heisman Trophy betting, with odds of 5-1. Since Mariota took over the starting job in 2012, the Ducks have posted an outstanding 23-3 record and enter the new season closely trailing the Seminoles in college football futures betting with odds of 15-2 to emerge as this year’s national champions.

UCLA Bruins QB Brett Hundley rounds out the top-three favorites in Heisman Trophy wagering with odds of 10-1. The 21-year-old had been touted as the top QB prospect prior to the 2014 NFL Draft, but opted to return to UCLA this season for his junior year.

Named the MVP of the 2013 Sun Bowl, Hundley threw for 2845 yards and 22 TDs last season, while rushing for an additional 587 yards and nine TDs. The Bruins are favored by 21 points at Virginia Saturday.

Three players trail the leaders with odds of 12-1 to win this season’s Heisman Trophy, including Baylor Bears QB Bryce Petty, Wisconsin Badgers running back Melvin Gordon and Auburn Tigers QB Nick Marshall.

Petty was named last season’s Big 12 Offensive Player of the Year after leading Baylor to a record 11 victories and a berth in the Fiesta Bowl. Baylor opens this weekend as huge favorites against SMU, a team they have handled four times since 1995, and he could get a head start on the Heisman race.

Gordon ran for 1609 yards and 12 TDs in 2013, and is a 10/13 college football props betting favorite to amass over 1554.5 total rushing yards in 2014.

Marshall, who led the Tigers to victory over the Alabama Crimson Tide in last season’s Iron Bowl, threw for 1976 yards and 14 TDs in 2013, to go along with an eye-popping 1068 rushing yards and 12 TDs. With Marshall again at the helm, the betting line on Auburn’s regular-season win total is set at 9, with the OVER favored with moneyline odds of 20-27.

Stats and odds courtesy of Odds Shark.

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On the Lines: NCAA Football Week 1 Preview

New Year’s Eve. The last Monday in May. July 4. And, of course, August 27.

Those are all dates that we, as red-blooded Americans, look forward to celebrating. The last one, of course, signifies the return of college football!

And who isn’t stoked about flipping on a memorable matchup between the juggernauts that are Abilene Christian and Georgia State?

No? Well, how about the return of yours truly writing about the gridiron once more? This time, I’m going back to school—and putting it all on the line (the betting line, that is).

So, without further ado, let’s crash a rush party, do a keg stand, steal a rival’s mascot (it’s been awhile, but I’m pretty sure that’s how I recall college worked) and check out the top betting plays for the inaugural week.

Begin Slideshow

Miami Football: Everything You Need to Know About Canes' New QB Brad Kaaya

In a somewhat surprising move, Miami Hurricanes head coach Al Golden named true freshman quarterback Brad Kaaya the starter for the 2014 season-opener at Louisville.

Kaaya had been locked in a battle with transfer Jake Heaps, whose collegiate road has included stops at BYU and Kansas before veering toward South Florida. Heaps was long considered the unspoken favorite after 25 total starts in 33 combined appearances at his first two destinations.

But Kaaya stepped up throughout August and outplayed three competitors, emerging as only the second opening-game true freshman starter for the 'Canes since the Howard Schnellenberger era began.

Who exactly is Kaaya, and how did he wind up at a school approximately 2,700 miles away from his home?

A 6'4", 215-pound gunslinger from West Hills, CA, Kaaya was rated the seventh-best pro-style quarterback and No. 141 overall prospect by the 247Sports composite rankings. Miami offensive coordinator James Coley handpicked Kaaya and was the first to offer the 4-star recruit a scholarship.

Kaaya led Chaminade to a state championship in 2013, completing 62.2 percent of his attempts for 3,853 yards and 27 touchdowns to just six interceptions.

He was a finalist in the Elite 11 and appeared in the Semper Fidelis All-American Bowl. After his recruitment built significant momentum as signing day approached, Kaaya stuck with Miami over UCLA, USC and Boise State.

His mother, Angela Means, played "Felicia" in the movie Friday, which starred Ice Cube and Chris Tucker, among others.

Kaaya's ascent to the starting position is rather impressive considering he was not an early enrollee but rather a mid-May arrival. Ryan Williams' unfortunate injury in the spring and Kevin Olsen's poor overall performance presented an opportunity to the freshman, and he never looked back.

Beyond his physical attributes, Kaaya impressed fellow Hurricanes with his mental makeup, none more impressive than top NFL prospect Denzel Perryman.

Susan Miller Degnan of The Miami Herald writes Golden was satisfied with Kaaya's off-field work translating to fall camp:

The biggest thing was we saw how much he was devoted to it, how many sacrifices he made, how well he learned and how it translated to the field. A guy can be good in the film room or be good out of the book and then it doesn't translate. But it has translated here. We've put him in very tough situations.

A young player looking to establish himself may be tempted to become an All-American on his first career possession, but Kaaya doesn't have to be the guy. Safeguarded by Duke Johnson and Stacy Coley, the first-year starter will get plenty of help from his offensive weapons.

Johnson—the unquestioned current star of the program—knows he carries the burden, no matter who is handing him the ball.

"He's ready. He's shown them enough to get the nod, but at the end of the day, like I've said before, my role doesn't change," Johnson said of Kaaya, per Christy Cabrera Chirinos of the South Florida Sun Sentinel. "I'm the same guy and I'll have the pressure on me, whoever's the quarterback."

Coley, a sophomore receiver, said the offense is preparing to simplify the game for Kaaya, as noted by David Lake of 247Sports (subscription required).

"We don't look at it as pressure, but we want to perform well for him in order to make it easy for him," Coley said. "We are going to surround him with guys who can make plays."

"If you can play, you can play," Johnson said, speaking from a position of experience, via Chirinos. Two seasons ago, Johnson nearly broke the program record for single-season all-purpose yards. "Freshman is just a title. You're a freshman in school. That's your class, but that doesn't define the way you play. It doesn't define how you play."

Clearly, the first-year starter has the full support of his teammates and coaches heading into the 2014 regular season. Now, it's a matter of Kaaya growing into the role he earned.

"He's not a freshman anymore," Coley emphatically stated, per Chirinos. "He's the starting quarterback at the University of Miami."

 

Recruit information courtesy of 247SportsAll quotes obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted.

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

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Georgia vs. Clemson: An Endangered College Football Rivalry

The best college football rivalries are defined by tenure and consistency.

Alabama and Auburn’s “Iron Bowl” has been played 78 times and every single year since 1948. Georgia and Auburn have squared off even more often, 117 total games, in “The Deep South’s Oldest Rivalry.” Army and Navy have battled for the Thompson Cup in each of the past 84 seasons and 114 times since 1890. Michigan and Ohio State have played “The Game” on 110 different occasions.

“Fleeting” and “endangered” are not the types of adjectives that describe rivalries in college football. But those words accurately depict what was once—and what still should be—one of the greatest rivalries in the tradition-rich sport.

Those words portray the grim fate of Georgia versus Clemson.

 

What Once Was

“In the 1980s, Clemson vs. Georgia was the pseudo-national championship,” says Kevin Butler, one of the series' all-time greats and the only kicker to be inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame. Butler has the credentials to back that bold claim up, given his participation in four classic games against Clemson from 1981-1984.

In 1980, the year before Butler's enrollment at the University of Georgia, the Bulldogs won their first (and to date, most recent) national championship since 1942, but only after squeaking by Clemson 20-16 in a September game that proved the be their closest of the season. A year later, Clemson vaulted to 12-0 en route to a national championship of its own, beating Georgia along the way.

In 1982, Georgia survived against Clemson in the season opener and went on to play (and lose to) Penn State in the Sugar Bowl for a national championship. The Bulldog victory was Clemson’s lone defeat of the season.

In 1983, the two programs tied 16-16. Georgia finished the season 10-1-1 and Clemson closed out the year 9-1-1.

Georgia vs. Clemson was the Alabama vs. Auburn of the early 1980s. The rivalry did more than simply represent college football; it defined college football.

Of course, it helped that the annual matchup logically appealed to the geographic epicenter of college football—the South. And the bitterness of contention was exacerbated to a staggering extent by the similarities between the two programs.

The two universities—a mere 70 miles apart—had similar student bodies, comparable surrounding college town atmospheres and long-standing gridiron traditions dating back to the 19th century.

Most importantly, however, Clemson and Georgia were brought together by competition.

“We played against each other and we recruited against each other and we dreamed of bad things happening to each other,” Butler recalls of his former foe from the Palmetto State. “Beating Clemson meant everything.”

That context gives even more credence to a battle nearly 30 years ago that is largely considered the greatest game in the rivalry's history.

 

The Rivalry at Its Finest

T. Kyle King wrote the book on the storied past of Georgia and Clemson—literally. A lifelong Bulldog loyalist and college football historian, King dedicated nearly 200 pages to the rivalry in Fighting Like Cats and Dogs, which was published (in truly equitable fashion) by Clemson University Digital Press. And while King can wax poetic about traditions galore and recount games with a seemingly photographic memory, he’s surprisingly curt when identifying the best game between these two teams.

When asked which game between the Bulldogs and Tigers he'd like to go back and take his children to, he's surprisingly short-winded. “1984. Yeah. Absolutely. No doubt about it.”

King is not alone in this assessment. A 2004 poll conducted by the University of Georgia’s official athletic website revealed that fans selected the 1984 bout between the Dawgs and the Tigers as the best game ever played in Sanford Stadium, per CBS Sports.

On that particular day, Clemson came to Athens as the No. 2 team in the country. The Tigers raced out to a 20-6 lead before the Bulldogs methodically manufactured one of the program’s greatest second-half comebacks. A 60-yard field goal by Butler with 11 seconds left to play gave Georgia the upset win.

Famed sportswriter and Southern icon Lewis Grizzard was so moved by the game that he used his syndicated Atlanta Journal-Constitution column to pen a letter to the son he never had and recounted Butler’s strong-footed feat:

Only seconds were left when Georgia’s kicker, Kevin Butler, stood poised in concentration. The ball rushed toward him, and it was placed upon the tee a heartbeat before his right foot launched it heavenward.

A lifetime later, the officials threw their arms aloft. From 60 yards away, Kevin Butler had been true, and Georgia led and would win 26-23.

I hugged perfect strangers and kissed a fat lady on the mouth. Grown men wept. Lightening flashed. Thunder rolled. Stars fell, and joy swept through, fetched by a hurricane of unleashed emotions.

Grizzard concluded the letter saying, “I give this to you, son. Read it and re-read it, and keep it next to your heart. And when people want to know how you wound up with the name ‘Kevin’ let them read it, and then they will know.”

Though written with some degree of his signature jest, Grizzard’s letter was a far cry from a misrepresentation of fan sentiment.

King recalls the game so vividly that with no prodding he dives into what he calls Georgia broadcast legend Larry Munson's most famous play call from Between the Hedges. "So we'll try and kick one 100,000 miles," he begins with a feigned drawling snarl before cutting himself off.

The intense rivalry between these two teams made that game-winning moment poignant for the game’s star as well.

Without hesitation, Butler (who also won a Super Bowl with the Chicago Bears) calls the 60-yard game winner the highlight of his career. “And the fact that it came against Clemson separated it from any other kick I ever had,” he adds.

 

Fading Fast

The come-from-behind Georgia win in 1984 was followed by three more classics. In 1985, Georgia won by seven points on the road. Clemson went on two win the next two contests by a combined four points.

But then a number of factors, not the least of which was speculation surrounding conference expansion for both the ACC and the SEC, contributed to the non-renewal of the yearly rivalry. And since 1987, the two once-bitter rivals have played just three home-and-home series, with this year's season opener marking the conclusion of a fourth.

After a two-season hiatus, the Bulldogs and Tigers met in 1990 and 1991. Following two more off years, they squared off again in 1994 and 1995. After that, six seasons passed without a Clemson-Georgia matchup. Consecutive games in 2002 and 2003 gave way to nine vacant years for the rivalry.

The frequency of these rivalry games is becoming increasingly rare. Georgia vs. Clemson is a casualty of conference expansion and the scheduling challenges power-conference growth has yielded. 

In 1991, the ACC added Florida State to its fold and in doing so increased from eight to nine teams. Simultaneously, the SEC expanded for the first time since its founding in 1932 by adding South Carolina and Arkansas.  

More conference foes meant two things for both Georgia and Clemson:

  1. Less flexibility in scheduling.
  2. Less need for strong out-of-conference competition.

Combine those two modifications with pre-existing in-state but out-of-conference rivalries for both schools and the need for the rivalry—at least from the perspective of resume building—diminished. Clemson maintained a rivalry with South Carolina. Georgia continued an ongoing feud with Georgia Tech. Nothing else was needed.

The most recent waves of conference expansion have further threatened this rivalry—intermittent as it may now be. Both the ACC and the SEC are now home to fourteen teams. Both conferences hold an annual conference championship game. Each league is under pressure to feature a nine-game (instead of eight) conference schedule.

The push for an extra in-conference game isn't alway a popular one for coaches and university administrators, but as SEC commissioner Mike Slive told Ryan Black of the Ledger-Enquirer this spring, there are pros and cons to each side of the argument:

We tell them that all of the formats — every one of them — has a series of advantages and disadvantages. There's no one that lines up with all advantages and there's no one that lines up with all disadvantages. So people are going to have to make a decision knowing that whatever decision they make is going to have some advantages and some disadvantages.

Undoubtedly one disadvantage of a nine-game conference slate is the all-but-guaranteed evaporation of rivalries like Clemson vs. Georgia. While the current college football playoff format is too new to thoroughly analyze, it hasn't added much room for error by offering just four spots for national championship contenders. Furthermore, with selection for the playoff increasingly subjective and decreasingly stat-driven, there's no immediately pressing need for added strength of schedule.

 

Salvaging History 

Georgia's 1990 battle with Clemson was different, King asserts in Fighting Like Cats and Dogs. The difference wasn't changed uniforms, the absence of Munson in the radio booth as he recovered from back surgery or even the unfamiliarity that comes from two years of not playing each other.

No, the most noteworthy alteration was that, for the first time in more than a quarter-century, a Clemson-Georgia game was being played with someone other than Vince Dooley standing on the Bulldog sideline and, for the first time in a dozen years, a Clemson-Georgia game was taking place with the Orange and Purple being coached by anyone besides Danny Ford.

The two head coaches defined the series in the 1980s.  

In present day, King thinks two different characters, the schools' athletic directors, could affect the renewal of the rivalry.  

Dan Radakovich, the athletic director at Clemson University, knows all about the value of competition with the University of Georgia. While serving as the senior associate athletic director at LSU from 2001 to 2006, his Tigers split four games with the Bulldogs, including a pair of conference championship games (LSU won in 2003, Georgia won in 2005). He then served as the athletic director at Georgia Tech, a program all too familiar with the Dawgs.

Last year, Radakovich described the game as great for both Clemson and Georgia when speaking to John Taylor of NBC Sports. He added, "It'll be a wonderful atmosphere for college football."

Though Georgia AD Greg McGarity has been slow to offer any firm commitment on future scheduling, he has been aggressive in pursuing out-of-conference matchups. Most recently, the plan for a home-and-home with Notre Dame in 2017 and 2019 was announced. And as recently as last December, McGarity told Seth Emerson of the Ledger-Enquirer that there was still some scheduling flexibility in the latter part of this decade.

So there is still an opportunity for a major conference non-regular opponent to come into the fold in the future. And it's hard to imagine McGarity, who identified Clemson as a "traditional" rivalry with "a lot of merit" when speaking with Marc Weiszer of the Athens Banner-Herald (subscription required) nearly four years ago, objecting to a renewal if the schedule permitted.

 

The Effect of Extinction

Last year, South Carolina head coach Steve Spurrier quipped, per Mike Herndon of AL.com, in one of his classic Spurrierisms that every team Georgia plays is a rival:

"Georgia has so many rivals. It's difficult for them to have a big rivalry game every week. I think they've got as many as probably anybody in the country, with Georgia Tech, Florida, Auburn, even Vanderbilt. You can have only so many."

There's a startling degree of truth to that sentiment, and as teams have risen and fallen priorities have shifted.  

Today, no win is sweeter for Georgia fans than one in Jacksonville over the Gators. After all, Florida terrorized Georgia for the better part of two decades, losing just three times between 1990 and 2010. Earlier in the 2000s, wins against Tennessee, then a perennial national championship contender, were invaluable for fans. In the 1980s, King says Auburn and Clemson took the crown.

To be sure, Georgia's hardly an outlier for its multiple rivalries or even the ebb and flow of them. But rivalries are what make college football so appealing.  

For decades, polls and pundits struggled to clearly declare a national champion. The BCS system added rules and procedures for reaching such a conclusion, but even that needed refinement (as evidenced by the new playoff). College football does not survive on its finale or the legitimacy of its champions. To the contrary, the game thrives because of its week-in, week-out gridiron battles and the passion tied thereto.

Nothing exemplifies the game or amplifies those passions quite like a bitter rivalry with historic significance. And unless something changes, that may soon be extinct for Georgia and Clemson. The loss of even one potential rival diminishes the return for Bulldog and Tiger fans alike.

When toe meets leather on Saturday evening, it will be the last time these rivals square off for the foreseeable future. College football fans—not merely those with allegiance to Georgia or Clemson—should cherish the moment.  

The future of the rivalry is unknown, but the past is worth remembering.

 

Unless otherwise noted, all quotes obtained firsthand. 

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