NCAA Football

College Football Rankings 2015: Predictions for Week 1 NCAA Standings

College football gets underway with a bang in just a few days. 

Between Sept. 3 and 7, all AP Top 25 teams will be in action. The highlight of the opening week will be the No. 20 Wisconsin Badgers taking on the No. 3 Alabama Crimson Tide on Sept. 5 at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas.

Get ready to see two dominant running games in action. Despite the fact that the Badgers lost leading rusher Melvin Gordon to the NFL, the offense that ranked fourth in the nation in rushing will again be tough on the ground.

The offensive line features three upperclassmen led by left tackle Tyler Marz. The issue for Wisconsin will be handling the speed and versatility of Alabama's defense. Junior defensive lineman A'Shawn Robinson can wreak havoc on the inside or outside.

The Crimson Tide defense could be one of the best units in years, as every projected starter except sophomore cornerback Tony Brown is an upperclassman, per Ourlads.com. With more dynamic players on both sides of the ball, Alabama will prove to be the better team.

Look for 'Bama to make a major statement with a blowout win to begin the season. Its big win will help it move ahead of the TCU Horned Frogs into No. 2 in the polls.

Here's a prediction for the Top 25 rankings after the Week 1 games. 

 

Northwestern Will Knock Off No. 21 Stanford

Pat Fitzgerald has done a decent job with the Northwestern Wildcats football program. His coaching record is 60-53, but the Wildcats are coming off 5-7 records in two straight seasons. Despite some uncertainty at quarterback, Northwestern is in position to take strides this year. In the video below from BTN.com, Fitzgerald talks about the upcoming season.

The head coach can't afford another season without a bowl game. Tom Dienhart of BTN.com knows this game will be a big one for Northwestern, as it needs as many nonconference wins as possible. He wrote: "Stanford typically is a tough, physical team that doesn’t beat itself. The offense is loaded with vets, while the defense is retooling. This will be a great measuring stick for Northwestern."

Fitzgerald and his players will come out focused in their home opener, and Stanford is a beatable ranked opponent.

The Cardinal lost eight players off their defense from last season. A relatively new cast of players opens the season on the road against a team hungry and desperate for a season-opening win. This is the perfect setup for an upset, and the Wildcats will vault themselves into the Top 25 with a win.

 

Trevone Boykin's Heisman Trophy Run Begins

Despite the fact that we have the Crimson Tide leapfrogging TCU after Week 1, Horned Frogs quarterback Trevone Boykin is going to put on a show on the road against the Minnesota Golden Gophers.

Minnesota finished 8-4 last season, but its defense won't be able to contain Boykin and the high-powered Horned Frogs offense. TCU averaged 46.5 points per game last season, and it's hard to imagine Minnesota slowing it down or keeping pace.

Boykin will show off his dynamic arm and legs in a game that stays close enough for him to remain in to put up huge numbers.

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Texas Football: Top Takeaways from the Longhorns' 2015 Fall Camp

Tyrone Swoopes has taken control of the team, Daje Johnson's finally turning himself around and the offensive line is looking like a strength.

Yeah, Texas Longhorns fall camp went a little differently than we expected.

What did go as planned was the effort level. As a collective, the Longhorns turned in three weeks of a highly competitive environment that saw unexpected talent emerge across the board. 

Out of that fray, these storylines came out as the most significant.

 

Swoopes Is a Different Guy

Watching Swoopes melt down at the end of the 2014 season, you got the sense he might never play quarterback again. Neither he nor his teammates seemed like they believed he could lead them to victory.

But Swoopes has responded with vigor. The junior has dominated work with the first team since fall camp started, ending any competition that began with Jerrod Heard in the spring. He's a completely different player, and his teammates have taken notice.

"He’s really brought the offense an edge,” cornerback Duke Thomas told 247Sports' Chris Hummer. “I’m talking trash, and he’s getting into it with me. He’s really bringing that approach to the game we need on offense."

We still need to see how Swoopes handles a real game. He's always had the potential to be a good player, but the pressure has worn him down in games where he's struggled. 

If he shows well against Notre Dame, the Longhorns could be in good shape at the position for the first time in a long while.

 

The 2015 Class Is the Real Deal

Texas' 2015 recruiting class is more than Malik Jefferson.

The Longhorns' 5-star linebacker, per 247Sports, set the standard in April's spring game, and his newly arrived classmates have picked up where he left off. Along with the "other" spring standout, tackle Connor Williams, three more 2015 signees have busted into the starting lineup. Five others should also factor into the two-deep.

Surprisingly, it's the offense that's been the most influenced by the freshmen. John Burt, originally considered a raw prospect, has busted into the "X" wide receiver role after a strong start to camp. Then, in the last couple of weeks, guard Patrick Vahe has pushed senior Marcus Hutchins to the bench.

Right now, Jefferson's the lone dog on defense, but there's plenty of time for that to change. Cornerbacks Davante Davis and Kris Boyd have been great throughout camp, and Holton Hill is getting up to speed after dealing with an injury. There's no doubt three of these guys will factor into the rotation.

Also watch DeAndre McNeal, Chris Warren and Ryan Newsome at the skill positions. They'll all see the field against Notre Dame, and this stellar class will be busy in every game this season.

 

The Offensive Line Has Picked It Up

Swoopes took most of the blame for what happened on offense last season, but the guys in front of him were just as much to blame. That shouldn't be a problem this year.

Adding vengeful maulers Williams and Vahe, the arrow is pointing up with Texas' offensive line. 247Sports' Jeff Howe considers the entire group the top performer from fall camp, and that's saying something considering how many guys showed out.

With three returning starters and upgrades at two of its weakest positions, this group has the right mix of talent and chemistry to significantly improve. All signs point to that heading into the first game.

 

It All Starts with the Defensive Line

The offense has received a bulk of the attention this offseason, but head coach Charlie Strong's calling card will remain his defense. His success on that side of the ball will be built around a stacked front four.

Even after losing Malcom Brown and Cedric Reed, the Longhorn front boasts a ton of depth. Tackle Hassan Ridgeway will anchor this group with help from talented Poona Ford, Paul Boyette and senior Desmond Jackson

At defensive end, Naashon Hughes returns as a starter with plenty of depth behind him. Shiro Davis finally looks ready to make an impact on the strong side, with capable backups behind him in Bryce Cottrell and Quincy Vasser.

The biggest development is behind Hughes, who emerged as the "Fox" end last season. The sophomore entered camp without any real backup, then watched both Derick Roberson and Charles Omenihu develop behind him. In fact, these two were so good, Horns Digest's Chip Brown reports that Strong has considered making Hughes a full-time linebacker again while moving Caleb Bluiett back to tight end.

Expect Hughes to stay put, giving Strong a massive arsenal of talent to deploy along the front line. This group will get the job done while the back end sorts itself out.

 

Daje Johnson Isn't Done

You can't say enough about what Johnson did in fall camp.

An obvious attrition candidate, the senior wide receiver has turned in the best three weeks of practice since he arrived on campus. He ran with the ones throughout camp, and 247Sports' Howe considers him the best individual performer of the preseason workouts.

To hear Strong tell it, per TexasSports.com, Johnson's been one of the hardest-working players as well.

I tell you, it's been fun watching Daje. He comes out there and doesn't say a word, and every day, even after practice, he's standing out in practice catching balls. Him and Heard out there throwing balls after practice. Before practice, he picks up a rubber ball and tells the receiver, they're going down the field playing catch back and forth.  I said to him, I said, "Wow, is this the guy I knew?"

A focused Johnson can be a lethal weapon for Shawn Watson and his offense. He's an absolute game-breaker who can swing a contest as a runner, returner and receiver, which he's done in spurts over his career.

Thanks to more consistent hands and route running, Johnson will open the season as one of Texas' top options out of the slot. And whenever he's on the field, look for the coaches to scheme him into space.

As long as he keeps up what he did in camp, Johnson will win Texas a game or two.

 

Unless otherwise noted, all stats and information courtesy of TexasSports.com.

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Ohio State's Top Remaining Recruiting Targets Heading into the Season

With 19 verbal commitments already in the fold, Urban Meyer and Ohio State's 2016 recruiting class has almost reached full capacity. But the Buckeyes still have a number of highly rated targets on their board, and they're looking to make their No. 1 class even stronger as the football season kicks off.

With needs to fill at receiver, in the secondary and along the interior of the defensive line, there are three targets that are imperative to Meyer and the coaching staff. And as the recruiting class continues to fill up, these prospects will certainly get the Buckeyes' full attention until national signing day this February. 

 

Binjimen Victor, 4-Star Wide Receiver

When Meyer took over in Columbus in 2012, he made it his top priority to upgrade the Buckeyes' receiver unit. He called the position group a "clown show" during his first spring with the team, and since then, he's signed nine 4-star wide receivers.

But the Buckeyes only took two receivers overall during last year's recruiting cycle, and with only 4-star wide receiver Austin Mack committed for 2016, Meyer is working hard to secure another top-flight pass-catcher. 

That's why the Buckeyes have made Binjimen Victor their top priority.

Standing at 6'4", Victor is a lethal and almost unguardable receiver in the red zone, but he pairs great speed and crisp route-running to his incredible leaping ability. He's rated the No. 9 receiver and the No. 79 prospect overall for the class of 2016, and his stock will only rise as he puts together a solid senior season.

The Buckeyes will have to work very hard to pull the Fort Lauderdale, Florida, prospect away from the home-state Gators, but it's clear that Meyer has a good shot. Last Friday, he wore Ohio State gloves during his high school's season opener. 

Getting Victor up for a visit this season will make or break the Buckeyes' recruitment.

 

Antwuan Jackson, 4-Star Defensive Tackle

The Buckeyes have a big need at wideout, but they're absolutely desperate for a big-time defensive tackle. They're in that situation thanks to a combination of attrition and recruiting misses.

Ohio State is currently working to replace All-Big Ten defensive tackle Michael Bennett, and after this year, they'll lose senior Tommy Schutt, and if things go as expected, Adolphus Washington to the NFL draft. The depth chart is thin along the interior as well after the Buckeyes missed out on their top targets last year—Terry Beckner Jr.Christian Wilkins and Neville Gallimore.

That's why Antwuan Jackson is such an important recruit for the Buckeyes.

Rated the No. 8 defensive tackle and the No. 54 prospect nationally, Jackson holds offers from most of the top programs in the country, including Alabama, Clemson, Florida State, Georgia and USC. But Jackson's recruitment is winding down as a two-horse race between Auburn and Ohio State, and he told Jeff Sentell of Dawg Nation that he'll make his final decision within a few weeks.

The Tigers have the best chance of landing the 4-star lineman, via 247 Sports, but because the Buckeyes can offer him a great chance at early playing time, they have a good shot at landing his commitment. 

 

Jordan Fuller, 4-Star Cornerback

Co-defensive coordinator Chris Ash has completely overhauled Ohio State's defense, and that process has created a big need for big, athletic defensive backs who can cover a lot of ground. And there aren't many players who fit that description better than Jordan Fuller, a 4-star prospect out of Westwood, New Jersey. 

The Buckeyes already have a pair of cornerback prospects in Wayne Davis and Kareem Felder for their '16 class, but they're pursuing Fuller so hard because he's versatile enough to play either cornerback or safety at the next level. 

Fuller recently visited Ohio State and came away very impressed.

"They're real cool. I loved my visit there," Fuller said, according to Todderick Hunt of NJ Advance Media. "All the coaches were cool. I wasn't able to spend the night with a player there, but the players seemed cool. And practice was very intense even though they were only in helmets and shoulder pads, so I liked that. Pretty much from top to bottom, it was really awesome at Ohio State."

The Buckeyes have a commanding lead in the race for Fuller's commitment. According to 247 Sports, Ohio State has a 77 percent chance of landing the standout athlete. 

 

All recruiting information via 247Sports.

David Regimbal is the Ohio State football Lead Writer for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter @davidreg412.

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College Football Odds: Top-Ranked Ohio State Among Week 1 Betting Favorites

The Ohio State Buckeyes, TCU Horned Frogs and Alabama Crimson Tide are the top three teams in the AP Top 25 heading into the season, but they're also just relatively modest favorites at sportsbooks monitored by Odds Shark for their Week 1 matchups as the college football campaign gets underway.

And Ohio State, a unanimous first in the poll, will be last out of the gate this week as it takes on Virginia Tech on the road Monday night. The Buckeyes rolled through the College Football Playoff last season en route to a national championship, and the sportsbooks have them listed as 11-point favorites against the Hokies for Monday's matchup.

However, the last team to beat Ohio State was Virginia Tech, with the Buckeyes falling to the Hokies by a score of 35-21 at home last September as a 10-point favorite. Since that defeat Ohio State is 13-0 straight up and 9-4 against the spread, with the over paying off for totals bettors at the sportsbooks in 15 of its last 18 games.

While Ohio State has to wait until next Monday night to hit the gridiron, the TCU Horned Frogs are in action Thursday night as they play on the road at TCF Bank Stadium against the Minnesota Golden Gophers. Second behind Ohio State in the AP Top 25, the Horned Frogs are 14.5-point road favorites against the Gophers while paying off on the betting lines in 14 of their last 16 games, according to the OddsShark College Football Database.

And the Alabama Crimson Tide, third in the poll, then play a traditional Saturday game this week, although they'll be at a neutral location as they take on the Wisconsin Badgers at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas. The Crimson Tide vs. Badgers betting matchup has Alabama set as a 10-point favorite at the sportsbooks, although bettors are likely wary of the Tide since they've gone just 4-11-1 ATS in their last 16 games.

No. 4 Baylor and No. 5 Michigan State are in action Friday night, with the Spartans 18.5-point road favorites at Western Michigan and the Bears huge 35-point road favorites at SMU. Baylor actually opened as just a 20-point favorite against the Mustangs, but that line has steadily grown. The Bears are 5-0 both SU and ATS in their last five games against the Mustangs, who are 0-20 SU and 4-15-1 ATS in their last 20 games against Big 12 teams.

Elsewhere Friday, Boise State is a 12-point home favorite on the early odds against Washington, while Saturday has Stanford as a 12-point road favorite against Northwestern, Georgia as a 35-point home favorite against Louisiana-Monroe, UCLA as a 17-point home favorite against Virginia, Florida State as a 30-point home favorite against Texas State and Auburn as a 10.5-point favorite against Louisville at the Georgia Dome.

And Notre Dame, starting the season at No. 11 in the AP Top 25, is listed as an early 9.5-point home favorite for its game on Saturday against Texas. The Fighting Irish are 1-5 ATS in their last six games with the over having gone 7-0-1 in their last eight contests for totals bettors.

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Notre Dame Freshman TE Alize Jones Makes Odell Beckham Jr.-Style Catch

Odell Beckham Jr.'s one-handed catch has become synonymous with his name, but it might need to make room for Notre Dame's Alize Jones.

The 6'5" freshman tight end made an incredible one-handed catch while falling backward during Saturday's practice that could give Beckham a run for his money.

[Twitter, h/t College Spun]

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Cam Cameron, LSU Offensive Coordinator, Diagnosed With Prostate Cancer

According to Ross Dellenger and Scott Rabalais of the Advocate in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, LSU offensive coordinator Cam Cameron will remain in his role with the team despite being diagnosed with prostate cancer.

Jim Kleinpeter of NOLA.com provided some comments from Cameron during his press conference. The 54-year-old told the assembled press members he has a "clean bill of health":

Cameron is in his third year with the Tigers. He arrived in Baton Rouge after working as the Baltimore Ravens' offensive coordinator from 2008 to 2012. Cameron was fired midway through the season as the Ravens were en route to their second Super Bowl win.

Cameron's coaching career spans well over 30 years. He started as a graduate assistant with Michigan in 1984 before moving up to be the Wolverines' wide receivers and quarterbacks coach. From there, he made stops with the Washington Redskins, Indiana Hoosiers, Miami Dolphins and San Diego Chargers before landing in Baltimore.

Although LSU's offense ranked 80th in yards per game last year, Tigers fans are right to expect the unit to make strides under Cameron's stewardship in 2015. Quarterback Brandon Harris should improve in his sophomore season, and his top three leading receivers—Travin Dural, Malachi Dupre and John Diarse—are all back. In addition, running back Leonard Fournette is on some experts' preseason Heisman Trophy watch lists.

Should Cameron's situation worsen and he be forced to take a leave of absence at any point this season, head coach Les Miles could be in serious trouble. It would leave Miles without both of his top coordinators from last year after John Chavis left to lead Texas A&M's defense.

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Vernon Adams Named Oregon Starting QB: Latest Details and Reaction

Oregon Ducks quarterback Vernon Adams officially completed his graduate transfer to the seventh-ranked team in the Associated Press Top 25 two weeks ago, and it appears that was all the time he needed to seize a starting gig.

According to GoDucks.com's Rob Moseley, Adams has been listed as the starter on the team's updated depth chart, which was released Friday.

Adams wasn't able to join the team until he passed his final math class at Eastern Washington University, but he finally graduated Aug. 14, as his Instagram post indicated at the time: 

Adams has been competing with junior Jeff Lockie for the starting job, and as Bleacher Report's Ben Kercheval noted, it looked like Lockie had a good shot at nabbing the No. 1 spot prior to Friday's announcement:

Playing for an FCS program at Eastern Washington, Adams turned heads by tossing 55 touchdowns during the 2013 campaign before throwing for 35 scores and rushing for six last season.

As Oregon’s Andy McNamara noted, the transition to Pac-12 play shouldn’t be a particularly difficult one for Adams: 

"Vernon is doing a great job," Oregon offensive coordinator Scott Frost said Aug. 18, according to ESPN.com's Chantel Jennings. "I can see why he has been a great player at the lower level. I can see why he has won a lot of games. Whoever was coaching him before did a great job with him."

Considering Adams is entering his final season of collegiate eligibility, it isn't a surprise that Oregon is opting to trust his talent in the starting role right away. Once Adams' career in Eugene is done, the door could open for Lockie to grab control of the starting job after playing the role of understudy behind Adams and Marcus Mariota.   

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Vernon Adams Named Oregon Starting QB: Latest Details and Reaction

Oregon Ducks quarterback Vernon Adams officially completed his graduate transfer to the seventh-ranked team in the Associated Press Top 25 two weeks ago, and it appears that was all the time he needed to seize a starting gig...

Read the full article on Bleacher Report...

Auburn Football: Tigers' Blueprint to Winning SEC in 2015

In eight days, Auburn will begin its 2015 season in a venue that it wants to return to in December—the Georgia Dome in Atlanta.

The Tigers are the preseason pick by the SEC media to return to the Dome and capture their second conference championship in three seasons.

Someoutlets are even picking Gus Malzahn's prolific offense to mesh well with Will Muschamp's new defense and earn a berth in the second College Football Playoff.

But Auburn will enter next Saturday's season opener against Louisville with a handful of question marks that need to be answered before a push for a title.

What do the Tigers need to accomplish in order to claim another championship in the nation's toughest conference? Here's the blueprint for success in 2015.

 

Establish consistent receivers not named Duke Williams

The hype surrounding Jeremy Johnson is real, and it is unstoppable.

Johnson could be the next Cam Newton or the best pure passer in Auburn football history, but it's going to be hard for him to prove that—and for the Tigers offense to hit the next level—with just one successful receiver.

Duke Williams lived up to his reputation as a physical receiver with a seemingly infinite catch radius last season. While his surprise return to the team has featured some bumps in the road, Williams will be the clear-cut No. 1 receiver on the Plains this season.

Part of what made Williams such a breakout star for Auburn last season was the presence of Sammie Coates, who is now in the NFL. Coates could stretch the field with his impressive speed, which left Williams to dominate the intermediate routes. 

Auburn needs to find that secondary threat to line up with Williams, or teams will be able to lock down the senior star. Ricardo Louis and Melvin Ray have shown flashes of becoming that vertical threat in their first few seasons with the team.

"Melvin is probably as steady a guy as we've had in the first two years," offensive coordinator Rhett Lashlee said, per Charles Goldberg of AuburnTigers.com. "He's not flashy, but every time you watch film, he's always doing right... Ricardo has loads of talent. He's made a lot of plays in the last two years; it's can he do it at a consistent rate."

One of the most underrated losses in the offseason was Quan Bray, a departed senior who was the team's No. 3 receiver over the last two seasons. He had five more receptions than Coates last year and just as many touchdowns.

Having Williams back is fantastic for the Tigers, but if Johnson is going to be the pass-first player who will change the way Auburn attacks opponents, he can't do it with just one star.

The 2013 run-first Tigers used multiple rushers—Nick Marshall, Tre Mason, Cameron Artis-Payne and Corey Grant—to pave the way for a championship. Finding that vertical threat and an established No. 3 in what is a deep group of receivers is paramount for this year's offense, which is looking to get to the next level through the air.

 

Bring back the pass rush

Auburn's depth in the secondary is what it is. Malzahn called it one of his two biggest concerns heading into the season, per Brandon Marcello of AL.com, and new defensive backs coach Travaris Robinson has plainly stated that true freshmen will have to play at corner this fall.

Even with the addition of Blake Countess in the offseason, a secondary that has struggled with limiting big plays through the air over the last two years will be the Tigers' weakest link in 2015. And while the young corners could rise up and become better than expected this fall, it's hard to put a lot of faith in guys who were playing high school ball less than a year ago.

How far Auburn's defense improves under Muschamp in year one is what the team's championship campaign hinges on in the eyes of many experts across the country. The Tigers should be improved in run defense with the return of veteran defensive tackles and linebackers—the passing game is the biggest concern.

The lack of a pass rush was part of Auburn's undoing last season, and its return could mask the flaws of a thin secondary this fall. Auburn can't magically add new players to the defensive backfield, but it can ease the pressure by wreaking havoc in the opponent's backfield.

The return of the "unblockable" Carl Lawson should fix some of those woes. Per the team website, the former 5-star had four sacks and seven quarterback hurries in his true freshman campaign, but he missed all of 2014 with an ACL injury.

But, like Williams in the receiving game, Lawson can't do it alone. Edward Aschoff of ESPN.com nailed it with his take on the position battle opposite Lawson, who will take the stand-up "Buck" role in Muschamp's new defensive scheme.

"Yes, the secondary has depth questions, but Auburn has to find a consistent pass rush, and you know offenses will be keying on Lawson," Aschoff wrote. "He will need help if the Tigers are going to get to the quarterback better than they did last season."

Senior DaVonte Lambert, who led Auburn with just 3.5 sacks last season, is back at practice after an ACL injury of his own. The Tigers will need improvement from returning faces such as Lambert and possibly a breakout year from 5-star true freshman Byron Cowart in order to reach full potential in the pass rush.

Without it, this defense will be chasing receivers game after game this season.

 

If you lose, don't do it at the end

With several question marks heading into the season, it's hard to see a team like Auburn running the table in the brutal SEC West this season. Each team has a legitimate claim as a contender.

But one of the best aspects of Auburn's preseason resume is the end of the season, when it gets the "Amen Corner" duo of Georgia and Alabama inside Jordan-Hare Stadium.

Those two teams are Auburn's biggest competition for the SEC title this season, according to the preseason polls, and the Tigers will have an advantage for each matchup.

As the Tigers showed in 2013, having those home games is quite beneficial, especially if they lose a conference game early in the season. Two years ago, Auburn had time to rebound from a loss to LSU and start its run to the national championship.

Two losses probably won't cut it in the race for the SEC West, and winning the head-to-head against Alabama is important—it's hard to visualize a scenario where the Crimson Tide have two losses heading into the Iron Bowl against an unbeaten Auburn.

LSU could be a tricky matchup in Week 3, especially if the Tigers can find a quarterback and some momentum in Death Valley. Arkansas' ground-and-pound style will challenge the strength of the Muschamp defense.

And if Auburn can make it to College Station unscathed, a loss to air-it-out Texas A&M won't eliminate the Tigers from championship contention. A loss to Georgia might be the most acceptable—if there is such a thing as an acceptable defeat in Auburn—because it wouldn't damage a tiebreaker in the West.

Auburn's path to winning the SEC West and eventually the SEC championship is simply more than just "beat Alabama." The Tigers have to fight through a rigorous schedule with one loss at the most and then win another winner-take-all matchup with the Tide in Jordan-Hare Stadium.

The 2013 Tigers drew up the blueprint—have multiple weapons on offense, use the pass rush to cover any major flaws on defense and rally back from an early loss to sweep an all-home "Amen Corner."

This year's team may do things a little differently, but the pieces are in place for another run.

 

All stats courtesy of CFBStats.com. Recruit rankings courtesy of 247Sports.

Justin Ferguson is a college football writer at Bleacher Report. You can follow him on Twitter @JFergusonBR.

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Notre Dame Football: Breaking Down Irish's Most Uncertain Position

SOUTH BEND, Ind. — Eight days from Notre Dame football’s season opener against Texas, the Irish depth chart is sharpening in focus. There’s still one position, however, with uncertainty and flexibility: tight end.

As quick as Notre Dame is to bill itself as “Tight End U,” and rightfully so, the Irish only bring back one reception for seven yards at the position—a first-quarter grab by Durham Smythe against Arizona State. Despite the lack of past production and clarity, Irish head coach Brian Kelly is confident in his five tight ends and the different strengths they bring onto the field.

“We’ve got some really good flexibility,” Kelly said last week. “I think at the end of the day we can really do some things with those tight ends to keep teams off balance.”

Smythe, a redshirt sophomore, stood out as the top tight end throughout the spring. However, the Belton, Texas, native tweaked his hamstring during Notre Dame’s fourth fall practice.

Until Smythe returned to full contact last week, second-year tight ends Nic Weishar and Tyler Luatua received more first-team reps in practices open to the media. Smythe said the hamstring hasn’t bothered him at all since returning to full strength.

“I think there is that sense of competition, but I think that helps all of us,” Smythe said. “And you know there are guys who come in and have strengths in certain areas of the game. And if those strengths are strong enough and you can play and help the team, sure, we’ll find a role for that.”

Smythe still figures to headline the position. Now in his third year on campus, he has bulked up to roughly 245-250 pounds, the result of a winter and spring spent focusing on weight gain and strength progression. Smythe admitted he edged toward pass-catching on the receiving-blocking spectrum of tight ends coming out of high school.

“Now that I’ve established some weight gain, some strength gain and stuff, if I really had to put one strength above everything else, I think it’s starting to become the knowledge of the offense,” Smythe said.

“I think over the past couple years, I guess I’m technically the oldest tight end with experience,” said Smythe with a laugh.

Luatua, meanwhile, has dropped down to 255 pounds, and the quiet sophomore mostly factored into Notre Dame’s offense as a blocker in 2014.

“Coming into camp, I feel like I’ve improved in the passing game a lot more than during the spring,” Luatua said. “I lost weight. I’m gaining back more muscle.”

While Luatua has dropped extra weight, Weishar continues to pack on pounds. A 220-pound wide receiver in high school, Weishar said he’s now up to 245 pounds. The Midlothian, Illinois, native flashed in the fall as a red-zone target, shielding defenders along the goal line.

“I think as a tight end that’s one of the main things we need to focus on, is being viable threats in the red zone,” Weishar said.

Speaking of pass-catching threats, Kelly said freshman Alize Jones could even line up at wide receiver for Notre Dame and called him “a matchup nightmare.”

Fifth-year senior Chase Hounshell, a converted defensive lineman, rounds out the group. Hounshell admitted he thought his Irish career was over after Notre Dame’s Music City Bowl victory over LSU in December. After dropping 20 pounds, Hounshell gives the Irish depth as a blocking option.

“Every single one of the tight ends brings something different to the table,” Hounshell said. “We all have different strengths.”

Kelly said Notre Dame can deploy those strengths situationally.

“We’ve really recognized—especially this spring leading into this fall camp—that we have a lot of guys who can make plays in every facet of the game,” Smythe said. “So if there’s an opportunity to get three, three-plus tight ends on the field, I think as a group we’re really in support of that.”

Or more?

“We could go 0-5 personnel,” Smythe joked. “We could just put one of us at quarterback.”

 

All quotes were obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted.

Mike Monaco is the lead Notre Dame writer for Bleacher Report. Follow @MikeMonaco_ on Twitter.

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One Recruit Every Top 25 College Football Team Must Land This Fall

The 2015 college football season kicks off in less than a week, but we always keep an eye on national signing day here at Bleacher Report. Plenty of premier prospects enter their final high school campaigns uncommitted, creating opportunities for programs to make a push in their respective recruitments.

While surveying an array of available young talent, it quickly becomes apparent how much teams covet particular targeted athletes. Ongoing communication with coaching staffs and official visits will eventually determine who ends up where next year.

We examined every squad in the preseason Associated Press Top 25 poll, determining which prized prospects present the most intrigue for each team. Here's a look at the players programs must focus on in the coming months and how they could make an impact at these universities as early as 2016.

Begin Slideshow

How Illinois Could Have Avoided This Mess with Tim Beckman

Based on the wording—and more importantly, the timing—of Tim Beckman's firing Friday, it was clear that Illinois could no longer continue with him as its head coach.

With a mere week remaining until the Fighting Illini's season opener against Kent State, Illinois announced it had relieved Beckman of his duties citing "preliminary results of an external review into allegations involving the program." That review was the byproduct of claims of mistreatment from former Illini offensive lineman Simon Cvijanovic.

Several ex-Illinois players backed up Cvijanovic's claims in a July report in the Chicago Tribune by Jared S. Hopkins and Shannon Ryan.

"The preliminary information external reviewers shared with me does not reflect our values or our commitment to the welfare of our student-athletes, and I’ve chosen to act accordingly," Illinois Director of Athletics Mike Thomas said in a statement. "During the review, we have asked people not to rush to judgment, but I now have enough information to make this decision in assessing the status and direction of the football program."

Make no mistake, Illinois' firing of Beckman is a move that comes better late than never. If the school felt so strongly that it opted to remove its head coach just seven days out from the start of the season, that's a pretty clear indication of the severity of the findings of its investigation.

The Fighting Illini have essentially sacrificed their 2015 season in favor of dealing with the mess that accompanies a head coach's firing on such short notice. But it's a mess that should have been avoided altogether.

Because while Illinois can now claim just cause in firing Beckman—the school says he won't receive the final $3.1 million remaining on the final two years of his contract—the reality is that his dismissal should have come much sooner.

While the details of the findings of the investigation still remain unclear—and unfinished—perhaps the most damning piece of evidence against Beckman's ability as a college football coach came at the end of the school's statement announcing his firing, when it listed the results of each of his three seasons in Champaign.

Over the course of his time in charge of the Illini, Beckman compiled a 12-25 record, including a disastrous 4-20 mark in Big Ten play. One could have argued he should've been fired after Illinois' 4-8 season in 2013, where the Illini lost seven of their final eight games, their lone win in that stretch being a 20-16 victory over lowly Purdue.

It may have even made sense to let him go after his debut season in 2012, a 2-10 campaign that offered plenty of signs of the rocky nature that would be omnipresent throughout his Illinois tenure.

After a third consecutive losing season in 2014, however, there seemed to be no reasons left for the Illini to enter Year 4 of the Beckman era, his lone saving grace being an appearance in the Heart of Dallas Bowl against Louisiana Tech, which Illinois would lose, 35-18.

But despite the dwindling attendance at Memorial Stadium and a recruiting resume that offered no better than a No. 47 nationally ranked class in four cycles, Illinois opted to stick with Beckman, seemingly based on a backdoor Big Ten finish that allowed it to meet he minimum total of wins for a bowl appearance.

That kept the Illini standing on the sideline for the hirings of hot head coaching candidates like Michigan State defensive coordinator Pat Narduzzi and Ohio State offensive coordinator Tom Herman, who wound up as the head coaches at Pitt and Houston, respectively.

Instead of hiring such replacements, Illinois spent the offseason with a head coach on the hot seat and will enter the 2015 campaign under the direction of interim coach Bill Cubit, who went 51-47 as the head coach of Western Michigan from 2005 to 2012 before joining Beckman's staff as the offensive coordinator in 2013.

That's not to say Illinois won't wind up with a suitable long-term successor, as Western Michigan's P.J. Fleck and Ohio State defensive coordinator Chris Ash are already names that come to mind as potential replacements. The Fighting Illini likely would have been looking for a new head coach next offseason anyway, considering Beckman's lack of an extension this offseason, and can now spend 2015 getting a head start on their search.

That head start, however, will come at least eight months too late.

On the one hand, Illinois should be commended for being willing to take this disaster head on, knowing the ripple effect that making this move at this time will create.

On the other hand, it's a disaster that should have never come to fruition in the first place.

 

Ben Axelrod is Bleacher Report's Big Ten lead writer. You can follow him on Twitter @BenAxelrod. Unless noted otherwise, all quotes were obtained firsthand. All statistics courtesy of cfbstats.com. Recruiting rankings courtesy of 247Sports.

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Smallest and Tallest Players in FBS College Football for 2015 Season

College football players come in all shapes and sizes, but some are bigger, or smaller, than others. Much bigger or smaller.

Offensive linemen are built to be big, but some manage to grow to such gargantuan sizes they break the mold for the position. Some are so humongous and yet so athletic that limiting them to just blocking and pulling isn't enough.

And on the smaller side, the tiniest players often have a distinct advantage over their bigger brethren because they can slip through tight spaces and sidestep troublesome tacklers.

As we move within a week of the start of the 2015 season, it's time to turn the spotlight on some of the game's most notable players who fall to one extreme side or the other of the big/small spectrum. Here's our look at college football's smallest and tallest players, highlighting how they and their teams hope to maximize their size (or lack thereof) this fall.

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College Football 1st-Half Matchups We Can't Wait to See

The first half of the college football season calendar has some interesting games. Bleacher Report college football analysts Michael Felder and Barrett Sallee discuss which matchups you should be excited to see.

Which games are you looking forward to? Let us know in the comments section below.

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Tim Beckman Fired by Illinois: Latest Details, Comments, Reaction

One week before opening the 2015 season on September 4, Illinois has fired head football coach Tim Beckman. 

University of Illinois athletic director Mike Thomas announced Friday that Beckman was being dismissed following an internal investigation into the well-being of student-athletes:

The preliminary information external reviewers shared with me does not reflect our values or our commitment to the welfare of our student-athletes, and I've chosen to act accordingly. During the review, we have asked people not to rush to judgment, but I now have enough information to make this decision in assessing the status and direction of the football program.

Thomas also announced that offensive coordinator Bill Cubit will take over as head coach on an interim basis. Cubit has been on Beckman's staff since 2013. 

In May, per ESPN.com's Mitch Sherman, former Illinois offensive lineman Simon Cvijanovic alleged in a series of Twitter posts that Beckman used and abused his position of power, urging his lineman to play through injuries and dismissing him after various injuries prevented him from playing football again. 

Peter Bailey-Wells of the Daily Illini spoke to former Illinois defensive back Nick North, who called Beckman "the worst coach I ever met."

At that point, the National College Players Association requested Illinois conduct an investigation into the claims by Cvijanovic. 

Beckman's firing Friday provides more credence to the allegations levied against him, with Thomas saying a preliminary briefing led to findings of efforts to deter injury reporting and convincing players to postpone treatment to play despite injuries. 

Illinois hired Beckman in 2012 after he spent three seasons as head coach at Toledo. He went 12-25 in three seasons with the program, making one bowl appearance in 2014. 

The Illini open play next Friday at home against Kent State. 

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Most Overachieving, Underachieving Power 5 CFB Programs of the Last Decade

Every year around the time preseason polls are released ahead of a college football season, debates across the country flare up over which teams will prove in the fall that they were underrated—or overrated—heading into the year.

Some teams have a reputation for failing to live up to their always-lofty preseason rankings each year, while others have continued to defy expectations and become new-school powers in the world of college football.

With the preseason AP poll coming out earlier this week and the countdown to kickoff now just six days away, let's take a look at the teams who have overachieved and underachieved the most in college football over the last decade.

Using detailed AP poll information from College Poll Archive, I've compared each Power Five team's preseason ranking—or lack of a preseason ranking—to where they finished that season in the final polls. Those differentials have been added up to give the results of the teams that have made the biggest rises and the biggest falls in the sport over the last 10 seasons. Check out the full results here.

While preseason polls are far from an exact science, they are a good way to determine the perceived strength of a team heading into a season and what neighborhood it should expect to finish by season's end. Fluctuations are almost guaranteed, but what this list shows is the teams who have been the biggest surprises—in the positive and the negative.

Which Power Five team do you think is the biggest overachiever or underachiever in college football? Make your voice heard in the comments below.

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Days Before His Decision, 4-Star TE Naseir Upshur Updates Recruitment Status

Philadelphia 4-star tight end Naseir Upshur announced last week that he would make his verbal commitment on Tuesday.

As of Thursday evening, his two finalists, Michigan and Florida State, were still neck-and-neck. But the nation's No. 5 tight end said he's ready to end a process he described as "stressful" at times.

One thing's for certain: He knows what he wants in a winning program.

"Everything," he said. "From the coaches to the academics to the classrooms."

Fair enough. And you can bet that Upshur, Imhotep Institute's standout tight end, will continue researching until it's time to formally announce.

The good news for fans of both schools is that Upshur had positive things to say about both programs. He's being recruited by his potential position coaches, Florida State's Tim Brewster and Michigan's Jay Harbaugh.

The winning school will get a 6'2", 233-pound athlete who can be a reliable flex tight end at the next level. Michigan and Florida State are the finalists out of 41 reported offers for Upshur.

If he chooses Michigan, Upshur will add to a talented class that already includes quarterback Brandon Peters, offensive linemen Ben Bredeson and Michael Onwenu and newest Wolverines commit Ahmir Mitchell, who made his announcement via a Bleacher Report video.

Upshur said he's been in contact with Jay Harbaugh, head coach Jim Harbaugh and other members of the coaching staff. In fact, that's been one of the things he appreciates most about the Wolverines.

"Communication,' Upshur said. "We've been talking for forever."

Florida State is a heavy favorite to land Upshur, according to his 247Sports Crystal Ball. Florida State has an advantage over Michigan in that the Seminoles are without a tight end commitment. Sean McKeon, a 3-star tight end, has been a Michigan pledge since June.

Florida State had committed the nation's No. 1 tight end in Isaac Nauta, but he decommitted last month to explore other options. Nauta's decision gives Upshur a chance to step in uncontested in the class if he so chooses.

"Florida state is just a great program, from the coaches to sending (players) to the next level," said Upshur, who added that he has a comfort level with the staff.

Tuesday will be a big day for one school, and when Upshur makes his decision, expect him to be ready for next-level competition. Upshur wants fans of both schools to know the kind of player they would get.

"A player who's going to dominate from day one," he said. "Physical and athletic."

 

Damon Sayles is a National Recruiting Analyst for Bleacher Report. All quotes were obtained firsthand. All player ratings are courtesy of 247Sports' composite ratings. Follow Damon via Twitter: @DamonSayles

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Why TCU's Trevone Boykin Is Best Bet to Win 2015 Heisman Trophy

If there's one thing to know about the Heisman Trophy voting, it's that the process is extremely formulaic. As such, it inherently benefits some players while completely disregarding others. 

Perhaps no one in college football this year stands to gain from that algorithm like TCU's star quarterback Trevone Boykin. 

The truest example of Boykin's Heisman hype is in the numbers (in more ways than one). According to the most recent Heisman odds from Bovada.lv, courtesy of OddsShark.com, Boykin, along with Ohio State running back Ezekiel Elliott, is the odds-on favorite to win the award. 

Boykin isn't so concerned about winning the Heisman as he is about getting TCU a national championship. At Big 12 media days, Frogs coach Gary Patterson raved about Boykin's levelheadedness in light of his new-found fame. 

“If I’m blessed enough to win it, and it comes back to Fort Worth, I’ll be proud,” Boykin told Kate Hairopoulos of the Dallas Morning News. “The city of Fort Worth and Dallas, where I’m from, will be proud. And I’m pretty sure my family will be too.”

Boykin may be modest, but there's good reason to believe in him as a Heisman candidate. Here's why: 

 

He Thrives in a Heisman-Friendly Offense

To be clear, this isn't an indictment. Few quarterbacks in college football improved as dramatically in their passing game from 2013 to '14 as Boykin did. In fact, Boykin took such a dramatic step forward that he is now considered a player to watch for the 2016 NFL draft, according to B/R's draft guru Matt Miller. 

Of course, Heisman-esque numbers don't just appear out of thin air. They might be cushioned by a certain type of scheme, but without personal improvement Boykin isn't averaging 355 yards of total offense a game and scoring 42 total touchdowns like he did last year. 

As insane as it sounds, he can get even better, too. The Frogs return practically their entire offense from last year. To think that Boykin could approach the 50-touchdown mark is mind-boggling, but nowhere near impossible. No other position allows for that kind of scoring responsibility. 

That puts him firmly in focus with Heisman voters, as Zac Ellis of Sports Illustrated explained: 

Why do Heisman voters tend to favor offensive players? For one, the numbers. Most offensive candidates boast gaudy stats, especially with running quarterbacks so prevalent in today's game. Five of the last seven Heisman winners have been dual-threat passers who threw for at least 2,500 yards and ran for at least 600 yards. Voters love players who can do it all.

And Boykin can do it all. His scrambling ability is well-noted. He's clearly improved as a passer. He can even play a little receiver (not that he would now). When a player can be versatile and touch the ball on every play, it gives them an instant leg up.

Long story short, Boykin plays the right position in the right offense. 

 

The Process of Elimination

Conversely, whereas Boykin is benefited by playing the right position, others are naturally eliminated for playing the wrong position. 

Take offensive linemen, for example. An O-lineman may very well be the best player on the field every week, but so often the O-line is referred to as a group position. It doesn't naturally promote individualism. And other than grading and pancakes, there's not a tangible number you can explicitly attach to linemen. Sacks allowed could still be the result of missed assignments elsewhere, an indecisive quarterback or great protection meeting better coverage. Furthermore, rushing numbers rack up a lot easier when the guy carrying the ball is Nick Chubb and not Trent Richardson running into a wall of blockers. 

And voters are a people of numbers. 

Even then, that's not always enough. A true defensive player has no chance in this day and age of winning the Heisman. Oh, sure, there are the Manti Te'os or the Ndamukong Suhs of the world who tackle, sack and disrupt their way to New York City for the finalist ceremony, but they are the rare ones. The last defensive player to win the Heisman was Michigan cornerback Charles Woodson in 1997—and he did more than just cover wide receivers. 

Referring back to the Sports Illustrated piece, Ellis also brings up a sound point about as to why defensive players are Heisman long shots: In today's game of spread and/or uptempo offenses, how we view elite defenses (and defenders) changes. The end result is that guys like Arizona linebacker Scooby Wright III or Ohio State defensive end Joey Bosa face longer odds now more than ever of winning the Heisman even though their stats pop off the page.  

 

All Eyes Are on TCU

The other thing Boykin has going for him is he plays on a nationally relevant team. The Horned Frogs were the overwhelming favorite to win the Big 12 this year as determined by media members. Additionally, preseason playoff projections usually have TCU at least in the conversation.

Assuming those predictions come to fruition, odds are Boykin will be on every Heisman short list. His team's highlights will be played constantly throughout game day. He and TCU will be heavy talking points for ESPN's College GameDay and other college football-related shows. 

Want to at least make it to New York for the Heisman ceremony? People have to talk about you first. 

Boykin also has the chance to "peak" in the Heisman race at the right time. If we assume that TCU makes its way through the '15 schedule without falling off the face of the planet, the biggest game could come at the end of the year at home against Baylor. This is already the game of the year on paper in the Big 12. With both programs trying to make the playoff field again, there could be high stakes nationally as well. From a viewership standpoint, this game gets top billing. Baylor-TCU occupies the prime-time slot on ESPN the Friday following Thanksgiving. You can't get much of a bigger spotlight than that. 

It's the perfect time for Boykin to have his Heisman game. The so-called Heisman moment was born with Doug Flutie's Hail Mary against Miami back in November 1984. Flutie was already having a banner year, but the Hail Mary was the right play in the right game against the right opponent at the right time. 

The Heisman, among other things, is about how the best players perform in the biggest settings. 

 

Can Boykin Survive Multiple Losses?

As much as folks may want to pin wins and losses directly on a quarterback's shoulders, that's ultimately not a quarterback statistic. Still, that hasn't stopped Heisman pollsters from voting for the "best player (quarterback) on the best team" before. 

John Walters of Newsweek posted a worthy talking point on Twitter this week, noting that TCU's final two games come against Oklahoma and Baylor. If the preseason Big 12 poll were to play out as predicted, those would be the two toughest tests for TCU. And if the Frogs lose either of those games, would it hurt Boykin's Heisman stock?

It's certainly possible, but the details here are important. While rare, there are fairly recent examples when wins and losses didn't directly impact the Heisman voting. The two quarterbacks to break the rule were former Florida quarterback Tim Tebow in 2007 and former Baylor quarterback Robert Griffin III in 2011. Specifically, their respective teams lost three games during those Heisman-winning seasons. 

(Another example is former Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel. In 2012, the year Manziel won the Heisman, the Aggies lost two games, but beat Alabama in November.) 

You can see Griffin's and Tebow's stats, along with their team's records, in the table below: 

The common theme between these two is that, even in defeat, Grffin and Tebow weren't held completely in check. Tebow still averaged 241 all-purpose yards per game and tallied eight total touchdowns in three losses. Griffin, whose total yards came almost exclusively through the air in Baylor's three losses, still put up 400 yards of offense. In a 36-35 loss to Kansas State, Griffin threw five touchdown passes. 

History suggests Boykin can survive multiple losses if the numbers are still there. The key distinction is that Baylor and Florida went on late-season runs. Obviously, a loss to either Oklahoma or Baylor, or both, would test this theory.

 

Is Being the Odds-On Favorite a Good Thing?

Is being an odds-on favorite helpful or hurtful for Boykin? It might not matter at all, actually. 

We've seen examples of when preseason Heisman favorites go on to win the award and examples of when someone comes out of nowhere. In fact, you don't have to look back very far. Last year's winner, Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota, was determined to be a "clear preseason Heisman pick" by ESPN insider Travis Haney in August 2014. With Mariota penciled in as the year-long favorite, not even Wisconsin running back Melvin Gordon, who rushed for a then-single-game FBS record 408 yards against Nebraska, could take that title away. And Gordon finished the '14 regular season with 2,336 yards. 

That doesn't bode well for the likes of Chubb or Elliott if Boykin starts the season as a Heisman favorite and lives up to the billing. 

At the same time, the two previous Heisman winners before Mariota, Manziel and former Florida State quarterback Jameis Winston, burst onto the scene with surprising redshirt freshman seasons. What that means is Boykin isn't safe if another quarterback from a prominent Power Five team emerges with video game-type numbers. 

Trying to pin Heisman winners before the season can be similar to trying to nail down the playoff field months ahead of time. It's fun, but ultimately little more than a game of blindfolded dart throwing. The unpredictability of college football is in large part what makes it so appealing. 

But when you look at the history and formula of the Heisman, there are certain boxes that annually get checked. And Boykin has those appropriate boxes. 

 

Ben Kercheval is a lead writer for college football. All quotes cited unless obtained firsthand. All stats courtesy of cfbstats.com unless noted otherwise. 

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C.J. O'Grady Arrested on Suspicion of DWI, Possession: Latest Details, Reaction

C.J. O'Grady, an 18-year-old freshman tight end at the University of Arkansas, was arrested on suspicion of DWI and being a minor in possession of alcohol.   

According to the Washington County Sheriff's Office report, O'Grady was booked around 6:30 a.m. CT on Friday, and his bond was set at $1,265.

Shawnya Meyers and Zuzanna Sitek of KFSM 5 News in Arkansas, citing the arrest report, added the arresting officer pulled O'Grady over because the tail light on his scooter was not working and noticed he "had blood shot, red, watery eyes, an odor of intoxicants on his breath and slurred speech."

Matt Jones of the Arkansas Democrat Gazette added that "O'Grady was taken to the Washington County jail and at 2:47 a.m. registered a blood alcohol level of .099 - nearly five times the legal limit for minors in Arkansas."

Meyers' report does note that Arkansas head coach Bret Bielema recently said O'Grady is expected to redshirt this season. Tom Murphy of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette mentioned that tight end depth was a problem for Arkansas last season with three healthy tight ends used in game plans that implemented a lot of three tight end sets. 

O'Grady is a high-profile incoming recruit for Bielema. The Fayetteville, Arkansas, native ranked as the sixth-best tight end in the 2015 class and a 4-star prospect by 247Sports

Arkansas enters the 2015 season ranked 18th in the Associated Press top 25. Hunter Henry is the incumbent starter at tight end, with Jeremy Sprinkle, Alex Voelzke, Jack Kraus also returning to Bielema's roster. 

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Rutgers Will Give Students $100,000 If Team Scores on Season's Opening Kickoff

The weight of Rutgers' student body is now resting heavily on Janarion Grant's shoulders.

If the junior kick returner takes one to the house on the Scarlet Knights' season-opening kickoff against Norfolk State on September 5, the school will pay 100 lucky students $1,000 each.

For the non-math wizards, that's a total payout of $100,000.

According to the team, every Rutgers student who sits in the student section will automatically have a chance to win. This is a pretty smart way to get kids in the seats, and Grant did score on a 100-yard return in Rutgers' home opener two years ago. That was the last time the Knights turned a kick return into six points.

So, yes, there's a chance.

If the Spartans want to really spite the Scarlet Nation, though, a squib kick may be in order.

[Rutgers]

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