NCAA Football News

Ohio State vs. Virginia Tech: Complete Game Preview

The 2015 college football season is finally here. In a much-anticipated rematch from 2014, the defending national champion Ohio State Buckeyes head to Blacksburg, Virginia, to face the Virginia Tech Hokies on Monday. In one of the bigger upsets from last season, Tech defeated the Buckeyes 35-21 in Columbus.

Can the Hokies pull it off yet again?

Ohio State will surely be ready.

But, regardless of what most think, it won't be easy. Ohio State heads into the season opener minus several key contributors. Most notably, All-American defensive end Joey Bosa—along with Jalin Marshall, Corey Smith and Dontre Wilson—were suspended for the first week of the season for a violation of athletic department policies. 

Another blow hit the champs last week when sophomore wide receiver Noah Brown was lost for the season with a broken leg, per Sam Cooper of Yahoo Sports. 

The Hokies have been a bit more fortunate on the injury end. None of Tech's presumed starters—or key contributors—are expected to miss the season opener.

  • When: Monday, September 7
  • Time: 8 p.m. ET
  • Where: Lane Stadium, Blacksburg, Virginia
  • TV: ESPN
  • Radio: Virginia Tech IMG Sports Network. Here is a complete list of stations by area.
  • Spread: The Buckeyes are presently 12-point favorites, via Odds Shark.

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Can Florida State's Everett Golson Beat the Curse of the Heisman Trophy?

The past decade has not been kind to teams replacing a Heisman Trophy winner.

It's even worse if you narrow down the list to teams replacing a Heisman-winning quarterback, which, in this era of the prestigious award, is most of them.

Who could forget life after Johnny Football for Texas A&M? Well, some Aggies certainly would like to after the program experienced plenty of growing pains in an 8-5 season without Johnny Manziel under center. As hard as it is to believe in retrospect, Robert Griffin III was racking up accolades as an NFL rookie, while Baylor dropped to 8-5 with quarterback Nick Florence following a 10-win campaign.

Auburn after Cam Newton left the Plains? You guessed it, 8-5 the following season.

Florida after Tim Tebow left the Swamp? Yup, 8-5.

In fact, if one includes Oklahoma's 8-5 mark in 2009, when Sam Bradford was injured in the first half of the Sooners' first game, the past five teams replacing a Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback have finished 8-5.

That is a remarkable coincidence. It's also one that should put a scare into Florida State and Oregon fans on the eve of a new season as those programs look to replace Jameis Winston and Marcus Mariota.

The Seminoles and Ducks, however, are not just standing by, hoping and praying the highly touted players they recruited will ably fill the shoes of their record-setting predecessors.

Following Monday's news that former Notre Dame quarterback Everett Golson was named the starter for Florida State's opener against Texas State on Saturday, per Corey Clark of the Tallahassee Democrat, it's official that each program will trot out a transfer player as its starting signal-caller.

It's a different approach as each program begins a new era without its former star running the offense.

Debating the merits of seeking out a free-agent quarterback—and that is what Golson and new Oregon starter Vernon Adams were earlier this year—at the college level is best left for the offseason. What has become apparent, though, is that head coaches like the Seminoles' Jimbo Fisher seem comfortable taking this route.

It's a risky bet but a calculated one.

"We're very pleased with [Golson's] progress and where he's at right now," Fisher told reporters after Monday's practice. "He's got a good grasp of things. ...

"I think that's always the part that's the toughest: how you fit in with the success of what was going on here and coming from the outside. I think this shows to his character and what kind of young man he is."

Fisher knows better than anybody what Golson is capable of—and not just because he's watched every move the player has made over the past month.

After all, the former Fighting Irish starter came within a controversial pass-interference call of knocking off Florida State last season, throwing for 313 yards and three touchdowns. That performance in Tallahassee caused some to elevate Golson into the Heisman Trophy conversation and Notre Dame into the playoff discussion at the season's midway point.

And there was plenty of merit to that talk too, considering the loss was only the second of Golson's college career.

But then the wheels fell off for both Golson and the Irish.

The quarterback struggled with turnovers (22 in all) as the team lost four of its final five games and fell well short of expectations. After Malik Zaire led Notre Dame to an upset win over LSU in the Music City Bowl and emerged as the team's starting quarterback this spring, the writing was on the wall for the player who had led the program back to national prominence in 2012.

The result of those moves is an unlikely marriage between a dual-threat quarterback in Golson and Fisher's pro-style offense. While Fisher maintained that he was comfortable with Sean Maguire replacing Winston, there are few coaches who'd pass up the chance to add a veteran who has been around the block.

Who can blame him?

Golson was one of the most decorated prep quarterbacks in his recruiting class and led Notre Dame to the national title game as a redshirt freshman. There's no getting around his 20 career interceptions, but it seems like one hardly hears about the 55 touchdowns he accounted for in his two seasons in South Bend.

Besides, Fisher and the Seminoles went 13-1 last season, with their quarterback throwing 18 interceptions. Surely they're used to a little adversity following a turnover.

"[With] where we're at right now and the things [Golson] did, I think it's what's best for our team at this particular time," Fisher added Monday. "I'm very pleased. It was a tougher decision [between Golson and Maguire] because of how well they were playing, not things they weren't doing."

Who knows if Golson will blossom under Fisher's tutelage? Chances are he will be better than what he showed in the latter half of 2014. But even an average season might be enough for a squad still stocked with 5-star recruits to have every opportunity to repeat as ACC champions.

Golson's mobility should help a retooled offensive line, and he'll have plenty of weapons on the outside with budding stars such as Travis Rudolph and Ermon Lane. And running back Dalvin Cook, whose legal issues have been cleared up, will take some of the load off the backfield.

Replacing a Heisman Trophy winner at quarterback is a tall task for any program. At Oregon and especially Florida State, though, a free-agent pickup under center might just make the transition a little easier.

Because one needs to think outside the box to avoid the Heisman curse of 8-5 in 2015.

 

Recruit ratings courtesy of 247Sports.

Follow Bryan Fischer on Twitter at @BryanDFischer.

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Brandon Harris Named LSU Starting QB: Latest Comments and Reaction

When the LSU Tigers open their 2015 season against the McNeese State Cowboys on Sept. 5, Brandon Harris will take the first snap under center. Jim Kleinpeter of the Times-Picayune reported the sophomore has won the starting quarterback job over Anthony Jennings.

"Brandon Harris has done everything we've asked him to and continued to improve," head coach Les Miles said, per Kleinpeter.

Harris played in eight games last year, going 25-of-42 for 452 yards, six touchdowns and two interceptions. Jennings received the bulk of the playing time but wasn't convincing in the role, throwing for 1,611 yards, 11 touchdowns and seven interceptions.

Jennings found himself in legal trouble earlier in the summer but avoided any charges following an incident in which he was alleged to have committed simple burglary. As a result, Miles reinstated the junior as a member of the football team.

While Jennings earned his way back into the QB race, Bleacher Report's Barrett Sallee argued earlier in the month that Harris was the better of the two choices:

CBS Sports' Matthew Coca believes Harris can take the team to great heights in 2015:

While Harris always looked to be the likelier option, Miles did leave open the possibility that he could reverse course about his starting quarterback midway through the season.

"As you get through a season, you're certainly going to have ebb and flow of play and it's going to be interesting to see if one guy separates himself so significantly that there's no question he's the guy," Miles said before announcing his decision, per ESPN.com's David Ching. "If you look at the necessity of both quarterbacks playing, you just have to guess at some point in time, both guys are going to have to shoulder the load."

LSU should have little trouble dispatching the Cowboys in its season opener, so it wouldn't be surprising if both Harris and Jennings play for extended stretches.

That could impact Miles' thought process as he prepares for a road game against the Mississippi State Bulldogs on Sept. 12. He'll want to be 100 percent confident in the guy he has at quarterback with such a tough opponent on the horizon.

If Harris looks shaky against McNeese State, a demotion isn't out of the question before the Mississippi State game or when LSU welcomes in the Auburn Tigers on Sept. 19.

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Everett Golson Named FSU Starting QB: Latest Comments and Reaction

Florida State head coach Jimbo Fisher officially named Everett Golson as the team’s starting quarterback a mere five days before the Seminoles open their 2015 campaign against Texas State on Saturday, according to Corey Clark of the Tallahassee Democrat.

Golson is a graduate transfer and former Notre Dame signal-caller and beat out Sean Maguire, redshirt freshman J.J. Cosentino and freshman Deondre Francois for the position. Maguire was largely seen as the stiffest competition considering he knocked off Clemson last year when starter Jameis Winston was suspended.

Golson threw for 3,445 yards and 29 touchdown passes as a member of the Fighting Irish in 2014. He also added eight touchdowns on the ground, although he was turnover-prone with 14 interceptions.

Fisher previously commented on what it would take to win the starting quarterback spot, per Jared Shanker of ESPN.com: "It's a combination of things that one guy has that allows him to have a certain personality that translates to the team. Quarterback is too complex to only have one or two things you do well to be successful."

As a graduate transfer from Notre Dame, Golson brings plenty of experience in high-pressure situations to the table. That, along with his ability to keep plays alive with his feet in the face of blitzes, will prove important since the Seminoles will replace all five starters from the 2014 offensive line. 

Fisher spoke with reporters following the decision:     

Given Golson’s experience, willingness to transfer to Florida State this offseason and overall skill set, ESPN’s Mark Schlabach and Ryen Russillo were not surprised he was named the starter:

As long as Golson cuts down on his turnovers and continues to hurt opposing defenses in a variety of ways, he should keep Florida State squarely in the discussion for another College Football Playoff berth.

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Greyson Lambert Named Georgia Starting QB: Latest Comments, Reaction

Georgia Bulldogs head coach Mark Richt announced that Greyson Lambert would be the team's starting quarterback on Monday, according to Radi Nabulsi of UGASports.com.   

Richt commented on the competition, saying it was "very, very close," adding the battle was still going on in his mind despite Lambert being named the starter, per Seth Emerson of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

Lambert, a junior who transferred from Virginia, beat out Brice Ramsey for the starting gig. His experience at Virginia was certainly a differentiating factor between the two players.

Ramsey certainly came into the spring as the favorite to win the job given his potential, but Lambert's experience and competitive drive convinced Georgia to wait on handing the reins over to Ramsey.

While Lambert's numbers at Virginia weren't exactly impressive, he also wasn't surrounded by the talent the Bulldogs have on offense with tailback Nick Chubb, wideout Malcolm Mitchell and the four starters on the offensive line.

Lambert's job is hardly safe, however, and it's very possible the two players could even split snaps throughout the season. Richt hinted as much after the team's final preseason scrimmage, per Chip Towers of DawgNation.com, saying then, “There may be more than one guy playing. If it was today, my feeling is we’d play more than one guy.”

In other words, Lambert shouldn't get too comfortable with his starting gig. It's possible he'll simply be sharing the job with Ramsey throughout the season unless one of the pair truly distinguishes himself at some point. And if Lambert falters, Georgia won't hesitate to sit him in favor of Ramsey to maintain its national title aspirations.

 

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Ishmael Adams Arrested: Latest Details, Comments and Reaction on UCLA DB

UCLA Bruins defensive back Ishmael Adams was arrested for suspicion of robbery on campus stemming from an incident early Monday morning.

Daily Bruin Sports initially reported the news and noted bail was set at $100,000. ESPN.com's Kyle Bonagura cited UCLA police in specifying Adams allegedly used force to steal a cellphone from an Uber driver and was placed under arrest at around 3:30 a.m. local time.     

Edward Lewis of Rivals.com passed along a statement from UCLA on the matter:

The Los Angeles Daily News' Jack Wang reported Adams "is scheduled to appear in court at 4 p.m. Tuesday, according to the L.A. County Sheriff's Dept. website."

Adams is entering his redshirt junior season with the Bruins and has been a two-year starter in the secondary. He also returned punts and kicks for UCLA in 2014, so the Bruins would miss Adams' presence in multiple phases of the game if he faces disciplinary consequences.

The Bruins ranked 93rd in the country versus the pass last season, per NCAA.com. Having an experienced leader in Adams is vital to the defensive backfield's improvement in 2015. UCLA opens the season this Saturday against Virginia.

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Texas A&M Football Awards Walk-Ons Scholarships Through Highlight-Reel Video

Instead of just bringing up walk-ons during team meetings and awarding them scholarships, college coaches are coming up with more creative ways to break the big news.

Western Michigan's coaching staff found a way to surprise a walk-on with a scholarship during practice.

As for Texas A&M head coach Kevin Sumlin, he used technology to do the trick.

Sumlin put on a highlight reel featuring junior wideout Boone Niederhofer and senior running back Brice Dolezal during a recent team meeting. At the end of their respective clips, each player was awarded a scholarship.

The video clips showed that the players earned their way onto the field, and as a result, they got scholarships on top of snaps.

[AggieFBLife, h/t College Spun]

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Alabama Football: Top Takeaways from 2015 Fall Camp

TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — After a full month of training camp, the University of Alabama football team appears to be only slightly closer to naming a starting quarterback than when the players reported.

The Crimson Tide’s initial depth chart, which was released Monday, didn’t shed much light on who might start Saturday’s game against Wisconsin at A&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas (8 p.m. ET). Senior Jake Coker, sophomore Cooper Bateman and junior Alec Morris were all listed as being with the first team, with true freshman Blake Barnett and redshirt freshman David Cornwell the second-team quarterbacks. 

“I've been really pleased with all three of the quarterbacks who have taken some reps in practice,” Nick Saban said. “Jake has really done a good job of getting the ball out of his hands and seems to be more comfortable with the offense. Cooper Bateman is more athletic. Has really improved as a passer and done a really good job of executing. Alec is very, very comfortable in running the offense in terms of knowledge and experience and that type of thing.”

Although Saban said he would have preferred to let his starter know the decision “three months ago,” the team’s approach this week will be to give each quarterback a chance to practice as if he was the starter.

As for how the quarterbacks might be used against the Badgers, Saban isn’t telling and neither are the players.

“Everybody else knows not to really ask me because [they know] I can’t say anything,” senior center Ryan Kelly said. “I guess we’ll just find out.”

 

Attitude adjustment

Alabama coaches are just a few days from finding out if their offseason efforts to make the Crimson Tide a hungry team again will pay off.

But they have to like what they’re hearing.

“We want to be a team that no one wants to play,” senior linebacker Dillon Lee said. “We want people to hate playing us,and really just be a nightmare for our opponents.”

The defensive players weren’t the only ones talking about taking it to other teams physically, as the Crimson Tide offense hopes to be more like the 2011 and 2012 national champions as well.

“Teams feared us,” Kelly said. “Teams walked away not wanting to play us."

“In the fourth quarter, we knew we had the upper hand.”

 

Freshmen surprises

With Alabama expecting to play a lot of its base defense against Wisconsin, it’ll likely use a nose guard in running situations. Not only does that mean more Darren Lake than usual, but also true freshman Daron Payne, who was listed as an “or” option to start.

“He's a very good player,” Saban said. “He's very explosive, quick, can play with power, and we're very pleased with the progress he's made. I think anytime you're talking about a freshman at any position, how rapidly they can develop, the knowledge and experience to do the job, the way the other players expect them to do it is really important. But I think that our players respect the fact that this guy has shown a lot of ability and has an opportunity to help us as an inside player.”

Senior linebacker Reggie Ragland called Payne a “man-child.”

Meanwhile, cornerback Minkah Fitzpatrick was listed as Alabama’s “star," which is the extra defensive back when it uses a fifth defensive back, and Calvin Ridley was an “or” option to start at the X-wide receiver slot along with Robert Foster.

  

Injury update

For the most part, Alabama emerged from training camp without having any major injury setbacks. The one regular contributor who is considered “iffy” is wide receiver Cam Sims, who is coming off a torn ACL suffered in the spring. He and freshman Daylon Charlot were listed as co-reserves to ArDarius Stewart at the Z receiver position on the initial depth chart.

Korren Kirven (sprained knee) is also questionable. Freshman Lester Cotton has been worked in his spot on the second unit at left tackle. All indications are that Dominick Jackson (shoulder) will start at right tackle.

Walk-on receiver Parker Barrineau (toe) appears to be doubtful for Wisconsin, and out is junior Raheem Falkins (leg). Neither was listed on the depth chart. Chris Black, who missed a good part of training camp with an ankle injury, is listed as the first-team slot receiver along with Oregon State transfer Richard Mullaney. 

 

Crimson Tide-bits

• Denzel Devall is listed as the starter at "Jack," the hybrid linebacker/defensive end position, with Lee the strong-side linebacker. Devall played mostly "Jack" in 2013, but "Sam" last season.

• The competition continues at right guard between Alphonse Taylor and Bradley Bozeman. Lately, Taylor has worked the most with the first unit during individual drills, when reporters are allowed to observe a few minutes of practice.

• Freshman running back Bo Scarbrough (knee) has started working with the scout team while serving a four-game eligibility suspension.

• Reuben Foster appears to have won the job at weak-side linebacker. “He has worked his tail off,” Ragland said. “He’s seen what the guys before him, like C.J. Mosley and Trey DePriest, did, so he’s doing what he has to do. He asks good questions and he’s going to be a monster this year.”

• While Saban didn’t announce a starter at quarterback, he did at cornerback with Marlon Humphrey, who redshirted last season. “He’s really worked hard in practice every day to improve himself,” Saban said. “He’s been very, very competitive and we’ve been very, very pleased with where he is.”

 

Quotes were obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted.

Christopher Walsh is a lead SEC college football writer. Follow Christopher on Twitter @WritingWalsh.

 

 

 

 

 

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College Football's Most Important Offers of the Week

The state of Louisiana is loaded with quality defensive line prospects in the 2016 cycle. 

In fact, the Pelican State features a pair of 5-star defensive tackles in current LSU pledges Edwin Alexander and Rashard Lawrence

However, there is another standout who is on the verge of becoming a household name in recruiting circles in 3-star defensive tackle D’Andre Christmas-Giles.

According to Demetric Warren of Varsity Preps, Tennessee offered the 6’3”, 270-pounder last week.

The Vols became the 14th program to offer Christmas-Giles, but they joined Kansas as only the second Power Five school to enter the picture in his recruitment.

It didn’t take long for him to jump on his latest offer.

Christmas-Giles committed to the Vols later in the week.

According to Ryan Callahan of GoVols247, Christmas-Giles said that Vols head coach Butch Jones and his staff were thrilled to hear the news of his commitment.

“They were excited. They were happy,” Christmas-Giles told Callahan. “They wanted me to plan a visit when I’ll come up there. They were excited. [Butch Jones] was fired up. He was happy I was committing. He wants me to be a part of the program.”

Tennessee signed a touted defensive line class in 2015, but adding Christmas-Giles to a Vols 2016 class that features commitments from 4-star defensive end Chidi Okonya and 3-star JUCO defensive tackle Alexis Johnson should replenish the roster along that position moving forward.

 

Virginia Tech offers 2016 4-Star DE

As noted by Ourlads, three of the top four defensive ends for Virginia Tech will be upperclassmen this fall, which means head coach Frank Beamer and his staff will be looking for pass-rushers in the 2016 cycle. 

Last week, the Hokies offered 4-star defensive end Antonneous Clayton.

The 6’4”, 218-pound Peach State product has seen his recruitment explode during the spring and summer, and he’s approaching 40 offers.

Auburn, Florida and Oregon are among the programs who are currently trending with Clayton, but the Hokies have a need and a history of producing standout defenders—which should help in their pursuit of one of the nation’s top pass-rushers in the 2016 class.

 

Wisconsin after Stud 2017 WR

One of the top receivers in the Midwest for the 2017 cycle is 4-star Illinois native Isaiah Robertson.

Last week, the 6’3”, 190-pounder picked up an offer from Wisconsin.

The Badgers join Illinois, Iowa and Maryland as fellow Big Ten members to jump in the race for Robertson.

Expect the interest in Robinson to continue to grow in the coming months.

 

West Virginia Offers 2017 California QB

West Virginia has consistently produced high-octane offenses and should continue to do so under head coach Dana Holgorsen.

Last week, Holgorsen and his staff tendered 4-star quarterback Tristan Gebbia.

The 6’3”, 180-pound California native already holds offers from Alabama, Arizona State, Kentucky, Louisville, Miami and Nebraska, among others.

The Mountaineers offensive system could prove to be attractive for a top signal-caller such as Gebbia.

Best of the Rest 

2016

 

2017

 

Sanjay Kirpalani is a National Recruiting Analyst for Bleacher Report. Unless otherwise noted, all quotes were obtained firsthand and all recruiting information is courtesy of 247Sports.

 

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Is Florida a Dark Horse to Win the SEC East?

By now, you've read all of the preview magazines, seen the conference preview television shows and analyzed every predicted order of finish on the Internet.

One question that pops up out of nowhere in the SEC East is, "where's Florida?"

Head coach Jim McElwain's first Gator team seems to get lost in the wash in a division that includes a talent-laden Georgia team, the ever-growing Tennessee bandwagon (which I'm driving, or at least riding shotgun) and the two-time defending division champion Missouri.

Should they, though?

For now, yes.

In the age of instant gratification in a sport that has seen several high-profile coaches like Urban Meyer, Gus Malzahn, Nick Saban and others lead their teams to success quickly, McElwain's biggest opponent in 2015 might not be Georgia, LSU or Florida State. It's expectations.

Winning the division shouldn't be the goal for the Gators. The two primary goals for Florida should be to keep the defense at or close to the level it was playing under the former regime while establishing some kind of identity offensively.

McElwain knows just how important that second point is.

With a quarterback battle that will rage into the season, an offensive line that was pieced together in the offseason, the injury to stud freshman tackle Martez Ivey that will keep him out early in the season and the absence of an established playmaker opposite of wide receiver Demarcus Robinson, that identity is still up in the air.

"For us going in, to discover some explosive playmakers; guys who can stretch the field and picking our time to take those shots," McElwain said in quotes emailed by Florida. "One of the things that we stress is putting the ball down the field vertically and not worry as much horizontally and to do that, consistency and performance is something that we have got to find out."

The Game 1 depth chart, though, does include former FCS (Fordham) All-American transfer Mason Halter and also guard Trip Thurman, who has been slowed all offseason with a shoulder injury. Those two players will be a big part of the battle in the trenches when Ivey comes back (and wherever he plays), so the quest for an identity won't be hampered all that much with Ivey's absence.

As for quarterback, McElwain has stated that both redshirt freshman Will Grier and true sophomore dual-threat Treon Harris will play in the opener vs. New Mexico State. How that rotation will (or in this case, won't) be implemented, should speak volumes.

It's going to be a season of feel for McElwain. As he gets into games, expect him to roll with the hot hand at quarterback, play the guy who exploits favorable matchups game to game and series to series and rotate as needed. Of course, Grier eventually will be the guy and likely will be considered the "starter" for the majority of the season, while Harris is more focused on making an impact on the ground.

Because McElwain will likely push buttons with his quarterbacks all season, Florida is much more of a wild card than other teams in the SEC East.

If he pushes the right ones, Florida is capable of beating anybody in the SEC. After all, this is the same team that throttled Georgia 38-20 last year in a game that wasn't nearly as close as the score indicated. Pushing them all—or enough of them to get into legitimate SEC East contention—is too much to ask in Year 1 for McElwain though.

The 2016 season is one in which Florida will contend for an SEC East title. In the meantime, though, that defense is going to be a beast for the 2015 contenders to deal with.

Because of that, Florida could have a huge impact on which contender wins it this year while it prepares to make a run at that title itself in 2016.

 

Quotes were obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted. Recruiting information is courtesy of 247Sports. Statistics are courtesy of cfbstats.com.

Barrett Sallee is the lead SEC college football writer and national college football video analyst for Bleacher Report, as well as a host on Bleacher Report Radio on Sirius 93 XM 208. Follow Barrett on Twitter @BarrettSallee.

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Which Powerhouse Teams Can Challenge Florida State for 4-Star CJ Cotman?

Florida prospect CJ Cotman enters this season primed to see his recruitment erupt, expanding a list of collegiate opportunities that already features several high-profile suitors.

The 5'10", 165-pound playmaker is one of the state's most scintillating high school juniors, considered a 4-star talent in composite rankings. Cotman rates sixth nationally among all-purpose backs in the 2017 class.

An in-state powerhouse appears to be strides ahead of other contending programs, as he named Florida State his top favorite during a discussion with Josh Newberg of 247Sports.

Cotman claimed a Seminoles scholarship offer shortly before his sophomore season. More than a year later, Florida State co-offensive coordinator and primary recruiter Lawrence Dawsey continues to make the young standout feel wanted in Tallahassee.

"He’s got me high on FSU," Cotman told Newberg.

The Seminoles currently claim each expert's commitment prediction in 247Sports' Crystal Ball. He plans to spend time on campus this fall, according to Newberg.

Florida State already holds four 4-star pledges in its 2017 class, including running back Zaquandre White. Cotman looks capable of doing damage out of the backfield or lined up at receiver.

He caught 66 passes for 1,040 yards as an underclassman, adding 1,157 yards and 21 touchdowns on the ground, per MaxPreps. Cotman collected 215 total yards on 17 offensive touches in his 2015 season opener with Clearwater Central Catholic High School, scoring three times.

Florida State is certainly the early leader, but all indications are Cotman will take his time determining an ideal landing spot. Other possibilities include Clemson, Kentucky, Boston College and Louisville.

A pair of SEC programs may be destined to provide the strongest challenge for Seminoles head coach Jimbo Fisher and his staff. Cotman traveled to Georgia and Florida this summer, setting the stage for potential return trips during the season.

He expressed plans to visit both campuses again in the coming months, according to Newberg.

Cotman, arguably the premier prospect in talent-laden Pinellas County, would fill a need in either class. Both Florida and Georgia have secured top-tier 2017 quarterbacks and now aim to build versatile supporting casts for future offensive endeavors.

The Bulldogs are still searching for a fit at running back in the 2016 cycle, though in-state standout Elijah Holyfield may soon fill that slot. Florida added top-rated 2016 junior college running back Mark Thompson to its class in May, though the Gators are also without a rusher in the 2017 cycle.

Cotman could vie for immediate playing time in a variety of roles in either scheme as a true freshman. His quickest path to the field might ultimately be in the slot, where he can feast on defenders with elite shiftiness and impressive downfield awareness.

The Gators would be wise to ardently pursue Cotman, as head coach Jim McElwain attempts to revitalize an offense that has sputtered in recent years. Florida and Florida State typically cross paths on the recruiting trail, and he is the latest local standout to warrant shared interest.

Miami is also worth monitoring, though the situation is far more fluid in Coral Gables. Hurricanes head coach Al Golden holds top-10 classes in the 2016 and 2017 cycles, but another disappointing season may result in major changes.

"I haven’t been to Miami yet, but when I do get down there, I hope the staff catches my attention,” Cotman told Newberg.

This shapes up as a lengthy and nationwide pursuit, potentially lasting beyond his senior season. His offer list is likely to develop as things progress and film from his junior campaign is analyzed by coaches across the country.

Florida State is seemingly the team to beat at this stage, but expect plenty of developments down the road. Florida, Georgia and Miami are among those most likely to make a positive move on his hierarchy of college choices.

 

Tyler Donohue is a national recruiting analyst for Bleacher Report. All player ratings are courtesy of 247Sports' composite ratings. Follow Tyler via Twitter: @TDsTake.

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New Ole Miss Starting QB Chad Kelly Will Be a Star for the Rebels

Another domino in the SEC quarterback mystery has fallen.

Ole Miss head coach Hugh Freeze announced on Monday during his weekly press conference that junior college transfer Chad Kelly will take the first snap against UT-Martin on Saturday.

Kelly beat out sophomores Ryan Buchanan and DeVante Kincade, according to Ben Garrett of Scout.com, but won't be the only quarterback to take snaps on Saturday.

The 6'2", 215-pounder who started his career at Clemson heading to East Mississippi Community College won a junior college national championship last year, running a similar offense to the one he's operating in Oxford.

Despite his relative inexperience at Ole Miss, that playing time at East Mississippi will certainly help him transition to his new starting role with the Rebels and will help make him a star in the SEC.

That's exactly what he will be: a star.

If this was truly a quarterback battle at this point, loyalty and familiarity to the program would likely take precedent, which would suggest that Freeze would give the nod to Buchanan or Kincade. Sure, Freeze is keeping his options open and giving himself an out, but why wouldn't he?

Ole Miss hosts Fresno State after UT-Martin, before heading to Tuscaloosa in Week 3. Keeping his offense as much of a mystery as possible prior to that big showdown with the Crimson Tide is probably a good idea, especially with a dual-threat weapon like Kelly.

Sure, he's new, and everybody always panics over first-year starting quarterbacks in the offseason. But it's not like former starter Bo Wallace was Tom Brady in Oxford. After all, "good Bo" and "bad Bo" became a popular Internet talking point for a reason.

One look at his tape and you'll see that Kelly is much more of a threat to be a home-run hitter on the ground than Wallace, has a much more fluid delivery, can complete the touch passes and has the arm strength to be successful in any system.

Kelly won't just take over from Wallace; he'll expand on what Wallace helped establish. Ole Miss' identity is as a downfield passing attack that thrives with a quarterback who's a threat with his legs and puts stress on defenses both north/south and east/west. 

Kelly has more upside than his predecessor and more weapons around him.

It's not just Laquon Treadwell in Oxford, although the junior is one of the top wide receivers in the game. There are veterans Cody Core and Quincy Adeboyejo, tight end Evan Engram and 6'2", 220-pound Washington transfer Damore'ea Stringfellow, too. Kelly should, at the very least, be able to match Wallace's production on the ground.

If Ole Miss can find a way to take some pressure off of him by running more effectively between the tackles, Kelly will blow past that production and squarely into the discussion for the Heisman Trophy.

Is that premature?

Well sure, but you don't get rich on Wall Street by buying stocks after they're established.

Buy into the Kelly hype. If he can stay out of trouble off of the field—which has been a problem in the past, as Bleacher Report's Christopher Walsh noted this summer—he'll be a star on it.

 

Quotes were obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted. Recruiting information is courtesy of 247Sports. Statistics are courtesy of cfbstats.com.

Barrett Sallee is the lead SEC college football writer and national college football video analyst for Bleacher Report, as well as a host on Bleacher Report Radio on Sirius 93 XM 208. Follow Barrett on Twitter @BarrettSallee.

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Texas Will Start QB Tyrone Swoopes vs. Notre Dame, But Can He Keep the Job?

The Texas Longhorns have named their starting quarterback for Saturday's opener at Notre Dame, going with junior Tyrone Swoopes over redshirt freshman Jerrod Heard. How long it remains that way will depend on Swoopes' ability to handle the Longhorns' new offense and avoid the mistakes and tentative play that have plagued his career to this point.

Coach Charlie Strong made the move official on Monday, but also said that Heard will be in the mix against the Fighting Irish. Swoopes will be making his 13th career start, while for Heard, when he sets foot on the turf at Notre Dame Stadium it will mark his collegiate debut.

The 6'4", 244-pound Swoopes started the last 12 games of the 2014 season after David Ash's career came to an end because of concussion issues. He threw for 2,409 yards and 13 touchdowns but completed only 58.9 percent of his passes and was intercepted 11 times. Texas ranked 90th in FBS in passing offense last year at 199.9 yards per game.

The 6'2", 195-pound Heard is a former 4-star prospect and the No. 2-rated dual-threat passer in the 2014 recruiting class (per 247Sports) who spent his entire prep career running the spread offense that Texas switched to this offseason. However, both Swoopes and Heard fared well running the scheme during spring practice, which kept Swoopes out in front in the competition.

Swoopes ran for a TD in Texas' spring game while also throwing for 159 yards on 17-of-31 passing. Heard was 20-of-29 for 177 yards with an interception and a rushing score.

Swoopes might not have won the competition over Heard so much as not lose it, because Strong seemed at times unwilling to pull the plug on the junior and go with his younger quarterback despite a higher upside.

"I hope I don't have to go in there (to Notre Dame) and start a redshirt freshman," Strong said after Texas' spring game (h/t Associated Press). "I don't want to turn this into a quarterback controversy...I don't know if Heard has done anything yet to unseat him as the starter."

Strong said Monday the player who would get the starting job would do so because, among other reasons, he had to "win over the team" (h/t Mike Finger of the San Antonio Express-News). "He's won over the team." That bodes well for Texas, as last year there were many times that Swoopes did not look confident.

We could be seeing a far different player on Saturday, according to senior cornerback Duke Thomas.

"Before he calls a snap he's calling out cash money trash to me," Thomas told Chris Hummer of Horns247.com. "He's really brought the offense an edge. 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."

That extra swagger could come in handy since the official depth chart (h/t Finger) lists five true freshmen and three redshirt freshmen in starting roles. That includes two on the offensive line, left tackle Connor Williams and right guard Patrick Vahe.

But confidence alone won't ensure Swoopes can hold onto the starting job and keep Heard as just a complimentary player. With the offense more wide open than a year ago, Swoopes will need to show his ability to run more frequently and not just as a last resort.

In 2014, he averaged just 2.43 yards per carry with four TDs on 108 rushes, including 27 sacks.

Additionally, Swoopes has to be more accurate with his throws and not force them, as he did several times in 2014. He completed no better than 52 percent of his passes in four of his last six starts, including an 11-of-29 performance against West Virginia and the Texas Bowl outing against Arkansas when he was 13-of-25 for just 57 yards.

A strong mix of his arm and legs will be the best recipe for Swoopes' success, since that's exactly what Heard figures to do when he gets into the game. And as long as his blend doesn't spoil the offensive recipe, Swoopes should remain in the starting role beyond the first game.

 

Follow Brian J. Pedersen on Twitter at @realBJP.

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Tyrone Swoopes Named Texas Starting QB: Latest Comments and Reaction

The Texas Longhorns quarterback battle is over, as head coach Charlie Strong announced Monday that junior Tyrone Swoopes will be the team's starter at the position, per the team's official Twitter account.  

"I'm convinced he's won over the locker room, "Strong told reporters, per Brian Davis of the Austin American-Statesman. "Even the players will tell you that... He's won over the team."

Indeed, one player did just that.

"We all have the utmost confidence in Swoopes," offensive lineman Taylor Doyle told the team's official Twitter account. "I think that's because of his work ethic."

Swoopes had been battling redshirt freshman Jerrod Heard for the starting gig. While Swoopes was always the front-runner, he was coming off of a mediocre 2014 that saw him throw for 2,409 yards, 13 touchdowns, 11 interceptions and complete just 58.3 percent of his passes. He also rushed for 262 yards and four scores. 

But Swoopes took to the challenge this summer, knowing his starting job was anything but guaranteed. The biggest change appears to be to his demeanor, as he's shown a more determined and competitive drive in his play throughout camp, something that was noticeably missing at times last year. 

“He’s really brought the offense and edge,” cornerback Duke Thomas told Chris Hummer of 247Sports. “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.”

The real question will be whether his new demeanor carries over to the games. Texas, as always, has the talent to be a major player in the Big 12, but it'll only go as far as its junior quarterback takes them.

 

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Fox Sports 1 Ensuring Total Jim Harbaugh Coverage with 'Khaki Cam' at Utah Game

In the spirit of giving college football fans more Jim Harbaugh than they could ever hope to physically ingest, Fox Sports 1 will have a dedicated camera following the Michigan football coach wherever he goes during the Wolverines' season opener against Utah on Thursday night.

Dubbed the "Khaki Cam," the camera will be one of five Fox Sports 1 cameras in use for the game, according to the Detroit Free Press' Mark Snyder. 

As it sounds right now, the Khaki Cam will be a lot like the Johnny Football Cam from 2013, but more likely to argue politics at the dinner table:

So rest assured, America. If there is hiking or jostling of Harbaugh's waistline—Fox Sports 1 is all over it.

Any spittle that floats out of Harbaugh's mouth as he protests a holding penalty will be recorded and beamed directly into your living room in the kind of stunning high definition usually reserved for cheetahs in full stride on the Discovery Channel.

You'll presumably be able to count the number of veins in Harbaugh's eyes as they attempt to escape their sockets after an uncalled instance of pass interference. 

I know. We don't deserve this. But you take what the Khaki Cam gives you.

 

Dan is on Twitter. Harb Watch: Like Panda Watch, but with sweat rings. 

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Notre Dame Football: Top Takeaways from 2015 Fall Camp

SOUTH BEND, Ind. — Finally, after the long months of winter workouts, spring and summer sessions and now weeks of fall camp, Notre Dame football's first game week is here, as the Irish prepare for their season opener against Texas on Saturday.

Before we preview the matchup with the Longhorns, let’s take one final look back at fall camp and assess our top takeaways.

 

Veteran Leadership

Just a few minutes into the start of his first fall press conference—before Notre Dame’s first official practice—Irish head coach Brian Kelly said that this team has some of the best leaders he’s had during his tenure at Notre Dame.

Kelly didn’t waver on that sentiment over the course of camp, as the sixth-year head coach went on to say a few weeks later that this is the deepest group of leaders he’s had in South Bend.

Fifth-year center Nick Martin, senior defensive lineman Sheldon Day, fifth-year linebacker Joe Schmidt, junior linebacker Jaylon Smith and fifth-year defensive back Matthias Farley are the team’s captains, Kelly announced Thursday.

Throughout the fall, the head coach said that Notre Dame could have had as many as 10 captains.

“I really had a hard time,” Kelly said. “I went back through the media guide to check what the most captains were, because I had seven. I had it whittled down to seven. I was trying to make the case for seven. I don’t think I could make the case for seven.”

Kelly’s comments, with no hint of humor, speak to the quality and quantity of leadership on this Irish squad. Beyond the five captains, senior left tackle Ronnie Stanley, redshirt sophomore quarterback Malik Zaire and senior cornerback KeiVarae Russell, among others, have drawn praise as leaders over the past few weeks.

As is the case with many preseason takeaways and predictions, it’s tough to truly quantify the value of this leadership until it plays out over the course of a season. But with a veteran squad, Notre Dame seems well-positioned heading into the 2015 campaign.

 

Holes to Fill

While Russell has been cleared by the NCAA and Schmidt and fellow linebacker Jarrett Grace have returned from their respective injuries, Notre Dame has been hit with personnel losses in recent weeks.

Most notably, senior nose tackle Jarron Jones suffered an MCL injury during fall camp, underwent surgery and will miss the 2015 season. Jones’ absence is a major blow for Notre Dame, which must now turn to a pair of inexperienced replacement options: true freshman Jerry Tillery and sophomore Daniel Cage.

Tillery, who enrolled early for the spring semester, stood out in spring ball. Still, he’s in line for a sharp uptick in snap count. Kelly said Thursday that Tillery has maintained a high level of play for a rookie.

“There have been some of the dips there that you would see with a freshman, but not great dips,” Kelly said.

For what it’s worth, Kelly then praised Cage, citing his lightened playing weight of 307 pounds.

Notre Dame freshman cornerback Shaun Crawford suffered a torn ACL earlier this month and will also miss the upcoming season. Crawford had earned first-team reps at nickelback. Now, Russell will step into the nickel role, while junior corner Devin Butler will fill in on the perimeter in those situations.

It’ll be interesting to see how long Kelly and defensive coordinator Brian VanGorder stick with that plan, as the Irish do have options should things go awry, with Farley and backup cornerbacks Nick Coleman and Nick Watkins, for example.

And while it wasn’t a surprise, Kelly announced Thursday that fifth-year defensive lineman Ishaq Williams had his appeal denied by the NCAA and will not play for Notre Dame. The big-bodied end is not allowed to practice with Notre Dame, either, though he will have a locker and access to work out in Notre Dame’s facilities, Kelly said.

“I think Ishaq knew it was going to be an uphill fight there,” Kelly said. “But where he never wavered was coming back to school and getting his degree. The silver lining here is he’s in school and we’re very optimistic he’ll be able to finish his degree here in the short term.”

It’s clear Notre Dame has been prepared for this result. Still, adding Williams, though he’s only tallied one career sack, would have been a solid boost for the Irish. Williams’ pass-rushing production never met the potential of a blue-chip recruit, but Notre Dame will turn anywhere for pass-rushing help.

The Irish do have depth in second-year players such as Grant Blankenship, Jonathan Bonner and Andrew Trumbetti.

  

Freshmen Making Impact

We expected freshmen like Tillery, Crawford, tight end Alize Jones and wide receiver Equanimeous St. Brown to flash in the fall, staking their claim to spots in the rotation.

But fellow rookies such as Coleman and slot receiver C.J. Sanders impressed as well and could be in the mix for Notre Dame sooner than expected.

Kelly praised Coleman’s makeup speed on the perimeter, while Sanders brings an explosiveness and suddenness that makes him a dangerous threat out of the slot and, potentially, on punt returns.

Overall, Kelly said that the freshman class upped the overall competition level throughout camp. How much those freshmen actually contribute on Saturdays remains to be seen.

 

Depth at Wide Receiver, Tight End

Thanks in large part to the play of those freshmen (Sanders, St. Brown and Jones), Notre Dame’s depth at wide receiver and tight end is even more pronounced.

Between Will Fuller, Chris Brown, Corey Robinson, Amir Carlisle and Torii Hunter Jr., the Irish have a wealth of options at receiver, even without factoring in the freshmen. Hunter, in particular, stood out in the fall, and Kelly expects the third-year athlete to contribute at each of Notre Dame’s three wideout positions, not just the slot.

Tight end, meanwhile, is still an uncertain position for the Irish, with Durham Smythe, Tyler Luatua, Nic Weishar, Chase Hounshell and Jones all jockeying for reps. Kelly has said that the tight ends can be used situationally, as he'll find roles for the different options and their respective strengths.

But while depth is great, the production at these spots isn’t certain. Smythe, who had one catch for seven yards against Arizona State last season, is the only tight end with a reception in his career. Robinson (40 catches for 539 yards and five touchdowns in 2014) and Brown (39-548-1) produced in secondary roles in 2014. Can they take the next steps as a junior and senior, respectively?

 

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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Alabama Commit B.J. Emmons Totals 173 Yards, 4 TDs in Week 2

After suffering a tough loss in his team’s season opener last week, 4-star running back and current Alabama commit B.J. Emmons was determined to get back on track and lead Morganton, North Carolina's, Freedom High School to a win.

Consider his mission accomplished after he found the end zone a total of four times in the first half and accounted for 173 yards of total offense in leading Freedom to a 61-0 rout over Draughn, according to Tommy Fleming of the Morganton News Herald.

The 5’10”, 232-pound sledgehammer made quick work of the Wildcats defense. He rushed eight times for 125 yards—including scoring runs of 50, 23 and 18 yards. He added four receptions for 48 yards and another score.

It was a strong performance that helped the Patriots rebound from a 40-28 loss to Shelby last week.

Emmons fits the prototype of freakish rushers who have called Alabama’s backfield home in recent years under Crimson Tide head coach Nick Saban.

His versatility as a power back and a receiver out of the backfield help him project well to the Tide’s offense at the next level. As noted by Bleacher Report’s Damon Sayles, while he’s got plenty of size, he’s also shifty enough to create big plays and work well in open space.

After backing off an early pledge to the Georgia Bulldogs, he reopened his recruitment in June. He made subsequent visits to Tennessee and Alabama before committing to the Tide late last month.

While recruiting is never final, Emmons appears to be a solid pledge, as detailed by Scout’s John Garcia.

After his hot start to the 2015 season, Emmons is showing why Saban and his staff endured a battle with the rival Vols to land this pledge.

 

Sanjay Kirpalani is a National Recruiting Analyst for Bleacher Report. Unless otherwise noted, all quotes obtained firsthand and all recruiting information courtesy of 247Sports.

 

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Oklahoma QB Commit Austin Kendall Throws for 355 Yards and 5 TDs in Week 2

Because of Austin Kendall's contributions over the weekend, Union County, North Carolina, could see high school football records change hands as early as next week.

The 4-star quarterback and Oklahoma commit was impressive in leading Cuthbertson High School to a 42-7 win over Parkwood. Kendall completed 19 of 22 passes for 355 yards and five touchdowns and was named Player of the Week by UnionCountyHighSchoolFootball.com.

Per the site, Kendall needs 204 yards and three touchdowns to set the career passing yards and touchdowns records, both held by Sun Valley's Ryan Smith (6,624 yards, 76 touchdowns).

As exciting as it is, and as appreciative as he is of every achievement, Kendall continues to prepare for the upcoming week in businesslike fashion.

"It's just another record, honestly," said Kendall, who owns the single-season record for the most passing yards (4,461) and touchdowns (47). "I'm just going to keep doing what I've been doing since the beginning of my career and just go out and do my best."

Kendall, who also had a rushing touchdown in the win, has been committed to Oklahoma since April 7. He chose the Sooners over offers from Clemson, Auburn, Kentucky, Tennessee and several other schools.

As the nation's No. 8 pro-style quarterback and an Elite 11 semifinalist, Kendall is expected to make plays and be a leader at Oklahoma. He's excited about learning from head coach Bob Stoops, offensive coordinator Lincoln Riley and the rest of the Sooners staff.

In the meantime, Kendall said he's working hard to prepare for the Big 12 competition of the future. He's looking at his freshman year not as a time to develop, but as a time to show he's ready for the big stage.

Friday's performance serves as proof.

"Performances like this will help me at Oklahoma by the preparation my coaches put me through every week preparing for our opponents," he said. "[Head] Coach [David] Johnson and [assistant] Coach Spoon [Travis Witherspoon] have done a great job with that."

 

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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Auburn Football: Top Takeaways from 2015 Fall Camp

It's finally game week on the Plains.

After a long offseason of huge hype, weeks-long worry and big-name battles, the Auburn Tigers return to action in less than a week.

Saturday's Chick-fil-A Kickoff Classic against Louisville will put an official end to the offseason preparation for head coach Gus Malzahn and his team.

The past few weeks of fall camp have been especially important to what looks to be another dramatic season for the Tigers. Several players moved ahead in a number of competitions for starting jobs, while members of Auburn's star-studded recruiting class earned playing time during their first official practices with the program.

As the mood around Auburn shifts from offseason chatter to game-week focus, let's take a look at the three big takeaways from fall camp—one for each phase of play.

 

Offense relying on strength in numbers

This has been the offseason of quarterback Jeremy Johnson, the efficient, pocket-passing replacement to run-first weapon Nick Marshall. 

In a conference that features multiple quarterback battles that will most likely continue through the season opener, Johnson nailed down the starting job shortly after spring practice. Now the real challenge begins for the junior—establishing that rhythm with playmakers on a high-octane offense that returns only one starter at running back and wide receiver.

At running back, Auburn will use a by-committee approach at least through the first two games of the season, according to Marcello, with hopes that a starter will emerge by the Week 3 road trip to LSU.

Offensive coordinator Rhett Lashlee said junior Jovon Robinson, sophomore Roc Thomas, junior Peyton Barber and true freshman Kerryon Johnson will each get reps early.

"We're going to need all four of them," offensive coordinator Rhett Lashlee said, per Crepea. "We're going to plan on playing them all and kind of see how that works itself out."

Thomas and Barber pulled ahead of a slow-starting Robinson ahead of fall camp, while the versatile Johnson has bounced back from a leg injury to figure into the rotation.

"Kerryon gives us flexibility in a lot of different things," Malzahn said, per Green. "He can do a lot of different things. He catches the ball extremely well, but, yes, we definitely can (use all four running backs)."

Over at wide receiver, the coaching staff has been mixing and matching roles to account for star Duke Williams' absences early in fall camp and the need to replace the No. 2 and No. 3 receivers from 2014.

Senior Ricardo Louis is still expected to line up wide opposite Williams, while the inside positions became trickier during fall camp. According to Crepea, junior Tony Stevens has moved to Auburn's "big slot" position with senior Melvin Ray after a good preseason of work. 

Other young players and JUCO transfer Jason Smith joined Stevens and junior Marcus Davis as potential breakout players at receiver for a team that needs several targets to step up for Johnson. While Auburn might not have much consistent experience at receiver outside of Williams and Louis, it has numbers and potential.

"Tony’s making plays. That’s been a bright spot. Tony’s been making plays at a more consistent level in practice," Lashlee said, per Ryan Black of Auburn Undercover. "All the other guys we count on have been doing pretty well. Jason Smith is doing a good job, and even a guy like Darius Slayton and Ryan Davis."

 

Expect to see plenty of freshmen on defense

Although Will Muschamp inherited several veteran playmakers when he took over as Auburn's defensive coordinator this offseason, he still is going to turn the kids loose this fall.

Muschamp rattled off a list of eight true freshmen—defensive end Byron Cowart, linebackers Jeff Holland and Darrell Williams, safeties Montavious Atkinson and Tim Irvin and cornerbacks Jeremiah Dinson, Carlton Davis and Ryan Davis—who are expected to contribute in 2015.

"I don’t know the multitude of snaps right now, so don’t hold me to that," Muschamp said Sunday, per Tom Green of the Opelika-Auburn News. "All that can vary, obviously, depending on practice week. We have a ways to go until Saturday."

Cowart, of course, is the biggest name on that list of freshmen from Muschamp. The nation's No. 3 overall player in the class of 2015, per 247Sports, has rebounded from his frustrations during fall camp—Muschamp said he'll feature heavily against Louisville.

"Byron is going to play," Muschamp said, per Brandon Marcello of AL.com. "It doesn't matter first down, second down, third down. He's going to play in the game and play a lot."

Atkinson, Irvin, Dinson and the Davises perhaps have the biggest roles to play on the defense this fall. With Auburn's secondary depth lacking in established talent this fall, those five players will take on major reserve positions.

According to James Crepea of AL.com, both Davises are expected to be the first cornerbacks behind seniors Jonathan Jones and Blake Countess. Dinson is a reserve at the Nickel back, while Irvin is backing up the nickel and traditional safeties.

Crepea also wrote Holland, a backup for Carl Lawson at Buck and JaViere Mitchell at linebacker, is expected to be "a situational pass-rusher in the season opener."

Many of these true freshmen came into fall camp—their first official practices with the Tigers—and locked down roles heading into the season opener against Louisville. While having to rely on several true freshmen isn't ideal, Auburn is confident in its youth on defense.

"Those guys are doing really good," safety Johnathan "Rudy" Ford said, per Crepea. "All those guys, they come here, responded well straight out of high school. They're doing some great things out there."

 

Special teams focused on bounce-back season

One of the most overlooked aspects of Auburn's run to the BCS National Championship Game in 2013 was the standout play of the special teams unit—outside of Chris Davis' return heroics, of course.

But the effects of complete turnover were obvious last season. Quan Bray was a standout punt returner, but the Tigers dropped off in punting, kick returning and, toward the end of the season, placekicking.

Part of Auburn's woes included shared duties for then-redshirt freshman Daniel Carlson, who was the team's starting kicker and punter last year. The extra workload wore Carlson down throughout the season, and it all came to a head when he missed a potential game-tying field goal in Auburn's overtime loss to Wisconsin at the Outback Bowl.

While Auburn won't name a starting punter between JUCO transfer Kevin Phillips and true freshman Ian Shannon until Tuesday, it won't be Carlson—and that's exactly what he wants.

"It's definitely a relief," Carlson said earlier this month, according to Green. "That takes some pressure and stress off me. I’m hoping I’ll be that much better on kicking because I have that much more time to focus on that."

Both Phillips and Shannon have battled all throughout fall camp, and their presence has been a welcome sight for Auburn coaches and players.

"For Ian it's been a little bit more of an adjustment," special teams coach Scott Fountain said, per Wesley Sinor of AL.com. "Kevin got to go through spring and he's played JUCO ball. That's given him an opportunity to be mentally further ahead in all the situations... Going into last year I was concerned [about the punter job], but this year I feel good about it."

As Marcus Davis prepares to replace Bray as the starting punt returner, Auburn hopes to rebound from the fall it had at kick return last season, when it ranked 83rd nationally in yards per return.

Fountain said he was pleased with the competition at kick returner between Thomas, Ford and Louis during fall camp.

"What we're trying to do is find some other guys that can balance us out that can return the ball as well," Fountain said, per Black. "But I think we have three good candidates at kickoff return."

Better play in special teams could be the difference between winning and losing close games in 2015 for the Tigers. Just like the offense, fall camp turned out to be an important time for establishing more depth and confidence at a unit that needed both.

 

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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Why SEC Football Will Return to Glory in 2015

With big nonconference season openers and enough preseason hype to fill not just the 11 states within the footprint but all 50 in the United States of America, the SEC again enters the season as the top conference in college football.

This year, though, is a little different. 

Instead of plowing through the season full steam ahead, the SEC is looking over its shoulder with the Pac-12, Big Ten and others close on its heels.

After winning seven straight national titles from the 2006-2012 seasons, the SEC has now gone two seasons without a major bowl win (BCS/"New Year's Six") and is perilously close to losing its foothold atop the college football world.

Will the SEC reverse the recent trend and not only re-assert itself as the best conference top-to-bottom in college football but also distance itself from the competition? 

Yes, and here's why:

 

Reality Check

It's safe to say that, after last year's rather lackluster 7-5 bowl record that included heavyweights Alabama, Auburn, Ole Miss and Mississippi State all losing in the postseason, the shine has worn off the SEC.

That reality check, though, brought major changes to several high-profile programs that are designed to specifically fix problems that have lingered far too long.

Alabama head coach Nick Saban and defensive coordinator Kirby Smart were more hands-on with the secondary than any other position group on the field. But after giving up 133 passing plays of 10 or more yards last season—the worst mark in the conference—Saban brought in Mel Tucker as his new defensive backs coach to provide a fresh set of eyes to the defense's biggest sore spot.

"He does a really good job as a teacher with the kids," Smart said earlier this month according to Matt Zenitz of AL.com. "He's helped me tremendously from the perspective of, what are new ways to create turnovers? How did we do it everywhere I've been? You get somebody with that much experience, with the people he's coached under and with, it's very efficient for us as a defense."

He has plenty of talent to work with thanks to a healthy Cyrus Jones (who improved tremendously week-to-week last year with a hurt hip), veteran pieces who have plenty of football under their belts, talented youngsters Marlon Humphrey and Tony Brown and true freshmen Minkah Fitzpatrick and Kendall Sheffield.

Down on the Plains, Auburn brought in new defensive coordinator Will Muschamp with one goal in mind—just make the Auburn defense decent. The last time the Tigers finished in the top half of the SEC in total defense was in 2007—Muschamp's last season of his first stint as the their defensive coordinator. 

That's crazy considering Auburn used to be known for a stifling defense while former head coach Tommy Tuberville was roaming the sideline.

There's plenty of talent on the roster, including two veteran linebackers, stud defensive linemen Carl Lawson and Montravius Adams and a secondary led by corner Jonathan Jones that tied for the SEC lead with 22 picks last year.

"[Muschamp] just has that presence around him that he gives all the coaches confidence," head coach Gus Malzahn said at SEC media days. "He gives his players confidence. And he's got the 'it' factor. So we're very blessed to combine his defense with an offense that we've been running."

It's not too much to ask for Muschamp's presence to create a little consistency on the defense, and a little consistency will go a long way for a program that won a national title and played for another with defenses that were far from average.

Texas A&M followed the same path by luring defensive coordinator John Chavis away from LSU to fix a unit that has been a laughing stock since the Aggies joined the SEC in 2012. Florida hired offensive guru Jim McElwain to spark some life into a Gators offense that has been wretched since Tim Tebow was quarterback. Georgia and Ole Miss welcomed transfer quarterbacks to provide depth and options in key spots on the roster.

The SEC got complacent, plain and simple.

While most of the lingering issues on teams were obvious, the talent level and week-in, week-out grind of the conference schedule created a sense of superiority within the conference that was wiped clean by the last two bowl seasons.

The complacency is gone—it's time to get to work, and that should vault several SEC teams back into the College Football Playoff discussion in 2015.

 

Quarterback Talent in Perfect Spots

The presence of a returning starting quarterback is, by far, the most overrated talking point of every offseason. Over the last six years, five first-year starters have won national titles and eight of the last 12 starters in the national championship game were in their first year as the top man on the depth chart.

Fans from around the country might not be intimately familiar with some of the names taking snaps, but that will change by the time the leaves change color this fall.

Texas A&M sophomore Kyle Allen will lead the potent Aggies offense all year after taking over in November for an ineffective Kenny Hill. On Rocky Top, dual-threat Joshua Dobbs will enter his first full season as a starter after serving as an injury fill-in each of the last two seasons for Tennessee. At Auburn, backup Jeremy Johnson will take over a loaded offense that is designed to put up video game numbers. In Oxford, whoever wins the starting job—likely junior college transfer Chad Kelly—has a wide receiving corps that mirrors some NBA rosters and a scheme that's ready-made for instant success.

If you're thinking that the SEC will suffer specifically because of its signal-callers in 2015, you will be sorely disappointed. While Mississippi State's Dak Prescott is the only real star of the group, that is only temporary. 

When all is said and done, the conference will be known as a quarterback-driven league by the end of the year provided everybody stays healthy. The combination of talent and exotic schemes that dominate the SEC will make this a banner year for quarterback play—despite that not looking like it's the case on paper in August.

As Edward Aschoff of ESPN.com notes, those offenses will help mitigate any issues that arise from inexperience.

Quarterback problems? That'll be strictly an offseason narrative once toe meets leather.

 

Safety Net

Look around at some of the teams that do have quarterback uncertainty heading into the 2015 season—Alabama, LSU, Georgia, Auburn. What recurring theme do you see?

A traditionally dominant running game and/or an established superstar at running back. 

Whether it's the traditional ground-and-pound approach for Alabama and new starter (and last year's leading rusher) Derrick Henry, the Heisman hype of LSU's Leonard Fournette and Georgia's Nick Chubb or an Auburn system in which head coach Gus Malzahn has produced 12 1,000-yard rushers in nine seasons as a college head or assistant coach; the SEC's heavyweights can pound the rock.

"We'll get into the spread to some degree, but we still want to have a physical running game to complement a play-action passing game and complement our ability to spread and do those kinds of things," Georgia head coach Mark Richt said at SEC media days in July.

As the old cliche goes, what's the best way to win consistently in college football? Run the ball and stop the run.

The teams with quarterback battles will be able to establish the ground game, which will give the new starters plenty of wiggle room to find big passing lanes, work off play action and alleviate some of the pressure that's associated with starting under center in the SEC.

The demise of the SEC is greatly exaggerated. While the aura of invincibility is gone and the future doesn't look as bright as it once did, that's only temporary.

The 2015 season will be the light at the end of the tunnel.

 

Quotes were obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted. Recruiting information courtesy of 247Sports. Statistics courtesy of cfbstats.com.

Barrett Sallee is the lead SEC college football writer and national college football video analyst for Bleacher Report as well as a host on Bleacher Report Radio on Sirius 93 XM 208. Follow Barrett on Twitter @BarrettSallee.

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