NCAA Football News

College Football Players with Most Pressure on Their Shoulders in 2014

Pressure is derived from stakes. The more you have at stake, the more pressure you are under; the more you have to lose, the more you need to win.

Because of the way we talk about football, quarterbacks are almost always under more pressure than their counterparts at other positions. They are the ones whose legacies are tainted by the stain of non-accomplishment, who live with the burden of never having won "the big one" during college.

I'll give you an example. Adrian Peterson was one of the best running backs in college football history. His numbers are deflated because he only played three years and suffered a couple of injuries, but when he was on the field, there was almost nothing like him.

Because he played running back, though, we tend to forget that he was 0-2 in BCS bowl games, losing the national championship game by 36 points to USC as a freshman and the Fiesta Bowl against Boise State as a junior. But no one brings any of that up, and when he got to the NFL—where he has still yet to win anything of import—Peterson was not labeled someone with a monkey on his back.

Compare this with how we talk about Peyton Manning. He always came up short in college, and if not for his one Super Bowl with the Indianapolis Colts, he would still be regarded among the greatest losers of all-time, alongside other quarterbacks such as Dan Marino.

Which is to say: There's a reason this list skews toward quarterbacks. They do not make up the entire list, but they make up most of the list, and they do so with purpose.

In some cases, they need to justify their old recruiting ranking. In others, they already have by putting up big stats...but now only winning will ensure their name gets remembered fondly.

The pressure has been cranked up to 10.

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Virginia Tech Football: Frank Beamer's 3 Biggest Spring Practice Concerns

The Virginia Tech football team has been practicing for the better part of three weeks this spring, yet there are still a few position battles that have to be giving head coach Frank Beamer headaches.

While some players have stepped up to make their roles more clear, others haven’t shown the kind of progress the coaching staff had hoped for.

Others still are struggling with injuries, making it difficult for the Hokies to make definitive decisions about how several position groups will shake out. 

With another week to go before Tech’s spring game, the Hokies still have some time to sort things out, but these three position battles have to be concerning for Beamer.


Unless otherwise noted, all quotes come from the team’s media availability after its second open scrimmage.

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Is Kyle Allen Lock to Win Texas A&M QB Job with Matt Joeckel's Transfer?

That three-man quarterback rack in College Station got reduced to two this week, when Texas A&M announced that senior quarterback Matt Joeckel will transfer for his senior season. 

Joeckel started the 2013 season opener versus Rice and finished his Aggie career with 335 passing yards and two touchdowns.

"I have loved my four and a half years at Texas A&M," Joeckel said in a release from Texas A&M. "I am glad I had the opportunity to play for Coach Sumlin, [quarterback coach] Coach [Jake] Spavital and the rest of the coaches."

That leaves sophomore dual-threat quarterback Kenny Hill and true freshman early enrollee Kyle Allen as the two contenders to the throne formerly occupied by 2012 Heisman Trophy winner Johnny Manziel.

Hill threw for 183 yards and a touchdown as a freshman last season, and was recently reinstated to the program after a brief suspension following an arrest for public intoxication, according to Andrea Salazar of the Bryan-College Station Eagle.

Who has the advantage?

Right now, it has to be Allen.

The former 5-star prospect and No. 1 pro-style quarterback in the class of 2014 has everything it takes to be a superstar in head coach Kevin Sumlin's system. He has a big arm, is accurate downfield and doesn't sacrifice accuracy when he takes velocity off on short and intermediate routes. 

Joeckel's departure is bigger news for the 6'3", 205-pound Allen, because now Allen's primary competition for the job is gone. Since Joeckel was the other pro-style contender, half of Allen's battle has already been won. He's made himself the No. 1 pro-style option, and now his job is to convince he coaching staff that veering more towards the air-raid style that Sumlin was successful with at Houston is a better option than using Hill to run an offense more similar to the one under Manziel in College Station.

Does that make him a lock to win the job?

Not yet.

But since Hill was suspended for the final week of spring practice, the Texas A&M offense veered more towards his strengths as it came to a close. That experience will be beneficial not only to him, but to the rest of the players on that offense who got more reps in an offense that's more suited to his skills. 

That was an unexpected development and will undoubtedly benefit Allen as he heads into summer workouts.

Right now, Allen has to be the favorite. If he impresses the coaching staff early in fall camp, don't be surprised if he wins the job.


* Barrett Sallee is the lead SEC college football writer for Bleacher Report. All recruiting information is courtesy of and all college statistics are courtesy of


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Notre Dame Football: The Top 10 Opposing Players the Irish Will Face in 2014

With a schedule ranked as the eighth-hardest in the nation, Notre Dame will face some of the premier players in college football during the 2014 season. The difficult slate includes a trip to defending national champion Florida State, the Irish's first regular-season game against the reigning title winner since the "Bush Push" game against USC in 2005.

Notre Dame will also face the previous year's Heisman Trophy winner for the first time since that October Saturday nine years ago. Jameis Winston is just one of multiple Seminoles, by far the most talented team on the Notre Dame schedule this year, to make this list.

Which Irish opponents cracked the Top 10? Let's dive in.

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Penn State Football: Where Does Cole Chiappialle Fit in the Backfield?

The most impressive performance during Penn State's annual Blue-White spring game came from a relatively unknown walk-on who happens to play a position that's easily the Nittany Lions' deepest.

Sophomore running back Cole Chiappialle had nine carries for 63 yards and two touchdowns, helping the Blue team to a 37-0 victory over the White team. For a kid who had only a couple Division II scholarship offers coming out of high school, that's quite the stat line. 

He looked very patient on his runs, waiting for holes to open up and exploding through them. At 5'8" and 197 pounds, Chiappialle has a thick, compact frame that allows him to absorb initial contact and fight for extra yards. He may be small, but he's tough. 

It's hard to question that Chiappialle made a case for playing time with his performance. But with how loaded Penn State's backfield already is, where exactly does he fit in?

Zach Zwinak, Bill Belton and Akeel Lynch make up one of the Big Ten's deepest and most talented running back corps. Even while talent abounds at the position, there's still a way for Chiappialle to find the field given the type of running back he is. 

One of the easily identifiable characteristics of his game is that Chiappialle is a north-south runner. He's more comparable to Zwinak than he is to Belton or Lynch, giving Penn State a balance of running backs that do different things. 

PennLive's David Jones pointed this out, noting that Chiappialle could play a critical role in different stages of the game come the fall:

Chiappialle’s compass has no east or west, only south, as in straight downhill. He conceivably could be a change-up back in the manner of a diminutive Zwinak, someone to insert for a few carries against tiring defenses in the second or fourth quarters, a clock eater who won’t get tricky and, hopefully, hangs onto the ball no matter the hits absorbed.

Sure, Chiappialle was able to star in the spring game because the other three backs received little to no playing time. But that doesn't take away from his accomplishment—or the fact that he already had a tremendous spring prior to the Blue-White game.

Head coach James Franklin recently mentioned Chiappialle's name during a Big Ten conference call, praising his efforts over the last few weeks in practice. According to Walt Moody of the Centre Daily Times, Franklin also believes that Chiappialle can contribute in 2014: 

I’ve been very impressed with him. I though we had four backs that have shown some flashes of really good things. He’s got great vision. He’s got great toughness and balance. I think there is a role for him in this football program.

At the very, very least, that role will be on special teams. Chiappialle made four tackles playing on the unit last year, and his toughness and passion for the game fit the mold of your traditional special teamer for the Nittany Lions. 

Special teams coordinator Charles Huff, according to Lions247's Jeff Rice, has praised Chiappialle for being a player who "does the little things right."

Chiappialle isn't going to rush for 1,000 yards in 2014 and probably won't supplant the other three backs on the depth chart. But for a guy who can add an extra punch to the offense, even if only for a few carries a game, there should be an opportunity for him down the road. 

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USC Football: Complete Spring Game Preview

USC's spring game this Saturday gives players a chance to show the coaches what they can do in an effort to work their way up the depth chart.

There are several position battles to watch out for, while this year's game has also been affected by injuries.

Read on to find out all the key information ahead of the game.

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Texas Football: The Unanswered Questions Heading into Texas' Spring Game

Can Tyrone Swoopes become Texas' starting quarterback? That's just one of the Longhorns' pressing questions as they gear up for Saturday's spring game.

Elevated to the starting role following David Ash's foot injury, the Swoopes storyline will command most of the attention in Charlie Strong's first Orange-White Scrimmage. How he handles first-team duty will set the tone for the rest of his and the program's offseason.

But Swoopes' passing isn't the only issue that requires special attention. The Longhorns still have to sort out which of the spring stars are ready to ascend the ranks. The projected starters at safety and tight end also bear significant importance, not to mention figuring out who will replace All-American placekicker Anthony Fera.

To a certain degree, each of these questions will be answered by the game's conclusion.

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Boise State Football: Bryan Harsin's 3 Biggest Concerns Post-Spring Practice

When Bryan Harsin arrived in Boise to become the new head coach of the Broncos, there was much work to be done. Now, nearly four months later, the considerable amount of work that he, his staff and his players have put in appears to be paying big dividends.

Last week was the first Blue and Orange Spring Game with Harsin at the helm for Boise State, and overall it would have to be deemed a success.

The newly installed defense stole the show, with several players on that side of the ball making big plays and flying around the field. The offense, on the other hand, struggled at times. However, they also had some decent individual efforts that should encourage Boise State fans.

As spring practice ends, the Boise State coaching staff will now look forward as the first game of the season against Ole Miss rapidly approaches.

But before the staff can concern themselves with the details of the game plan against the Rebels, Harsin and his team will need to deal with some other concerns closer to home.

Let's take a look at three of the biggest concerns coach Harsin might have as the 2014 season approaches.

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Georgia Football: Why Aaron Murray's Draft Stock Is on the Rise

The pro day is the final shot for college players to show scouts what they can do before the NFL draft takes place in early May.

For Aaron Murray, it was his only shot as he has been recovering from an ACL injury.

So when Murray took the stage on Wednesday to throw in front of scouts, he knew he had to be nearly flawless. And he did just that as he completed 48 of his 54 throws, according to Gentry Estes of 247 Sports.

Granted, the pro day is scripted, and everyone who takes part in it should do well. But this was really the first time Murray has shown the scouts his ability live. He did attend the NFL combine, but he was there only to meet with scouts, coaches and general managers to let them know that he will be healthy once the 2014 season begins.

So with a combination of his performance at Georgia's pro day and him doing the little things right, Murray’s draft stock is on the rise.

Many draft experts, including Mel Kiper (via the Atlanta Journal-Constitution), believe Murray will be a mid-round pick. The big thing Murray has going for him is that he has a big arm and throws with accuracy. But he is a smaller quarterback who needs a clean pocket to be efficient.

One of the reasons Murray's stock is rising is that he has the work ethic one needs to survive in the NFL. The ACL injury he suffered in November was a blow, but he worked hard for the last five months and is on his way to being a key contributor for an NFL team.

Now where he will be drafted will be interesting, because it will all depend on how the first two rounds go. If there is a run of quarterbacks in the first round, which is possible, Murray could go in the third round. But if there are only two quarterbacks taken in the first day, there’s a chance Murray could drop to the fifth round.

Aaron Murray in pass drills, looks good, very sharp. But I still don't know what you learn here that 4 yrs of SEC football can't teach you.

— Gentry Estes (@GentryEstes247) April 16, 2014

Jon Gruden said (via The Red and Black) that he would be surprised that Murray doesn’t go in the third round. Gruden went on to say that he was impressed with the workout, and he's got head coaching experience.,

We all know what Murray can do on the field; he leaves Georgia as the most prolific passer in school and SEC history. So there is no question he can play the position. But the NFL is an entirely different ballgame, and Murray will have to make improvements to his game in order to be a starter.

What it comes down to is this:  Murray will be drafted by a team that needs depth at quarterback. When he’ll be drafted remains to be seen, but based on the work he has put in the last five months, Murray is a prospect on the rise—and the NFL is starting to take notice.

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Nebraska Football: What Tommy Armstrong Must Do to Succeed

Coming out of spring practice, Nebraska quarterback Tommy Armstrong has established himself as the clear-cut starter for 2014. It certainly wasn’t on the performance at the spring game, where he went 4-of-8 for 97 yards and an interception.

But based on all reports, at the conclusion of spring practice, Armstrong was pretty well-ensconced as Nebraska’s starting quarterback next year. So if Armstrong is to lead Nebraska to greater glories, what must he accomplish?


Be More Accurate

Let’s do a thought experiment. Here are the blind statistics of two quarterbacks. Take a look, and think about what conclusions you can draw.


Completion Percentage

Touchdown/Interception Ratio

Quarterback A



Quarterback B



In comparing the two, it’s pretty clear that while neither signal-caller would be confused with Peyton Manning, Quarterback B had a fairly decided advantage in terms of general accuracy, scoring and avoiding turnovers.

Quarterback A is, of course, Armstrong’s stat line from 2013. Quarterback B? That would be for Taylor Martinez in his freshman year of 2010.  Yes, that Martinez, the one who wowed us all with his legs but terrified us with his mechanically awkward throwing motion and predilection for incompletions and interceptions. That Martinez is the one who looks statistically superior to Armstrong’s production in 2013.

Now, in many ways, the comparisons aren’t really fair. Martinez won the starting job in fall camp, where Armstrong was pressed into service midway through the season due to injury. Martinez in 2010 had a defense that was much more reliable than Armstrong did in 2013. And Martinez was so dangerous with his legs that the passing game was far more open than it was—or will be—for Armstrong.

But the numbers don’t lie, regardless of what Mark Twain said. If Armstrong is to be successful as Nebraska’s quarterback, those numbers simply have to get better.


Manage The Game

It may very well be unfair to ask Armstrong to make a quantum leap in his passing stats from 2013 to 2014. But given what Nebraska has on offense, the onus likely will not be on Armstrong to be successful.

Nebraska’s best weapon on offense, pretty clearly, will be I-back Ameer Abdullah. Behind Abdullah are a number of talented backs, including Imani Cross and Terrell Newby who both demonstrated unexpected flexibility in the spring game. Nebraska’s receiving corps, led by Kenny Bell and including Jamal Turner and Jordan Westerkamp, may be the deepest and most talented in the school’s history.

Of course, what Armstrong does under center will be critically important. But it doesn’t look like Nebraska will need to lean on Armstrong to be the driving offensive force. Instead, Nebraska will need Armstrong to perform in a role similar to Russell Wilson for the Super Bowl champion Seattle Seahawks—provide leadership, make plays and move the chains when needed and protect the football.

(And yes, that gratuitous reference to Wilson comes from a Seahawks fan still basking in the glow of Super Bowl XLVIII and looking for any excuse to bring it up in print. Get used to it.)


Just Win, Baby

Yes, I understand this argument is circular—the thing Armstrong needs to do in order to win is to win. But at a certain level, that’s the nature of the job. In his freshman year, Armstrong was dazzling at times and cringe-worthy at other times.

But ultimately, Armstrong is 7-1 as a starter. That kind of momentum and production is part of the reason he has been able to establish himself as a leader in the huddle and on the field. Football is, ultimately, a funny game with an odd-shaped ball that takes weird bounces. Throughout the course of the 2014 season, Armstrong will be presented with unpredictable obstacles to overcome.

If he is able to figure out a way to guide Nebraska through those obstacles and keep winning, he will be able to keep the momentum going he has generated already and allow his success to beget further success.


Statistics courtesy of the invaluable

If you'd like to contact Patrick, send an email to

Or you could also always use the Twitter machine to follow @patrickrunge

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Clemson Football: Top Performers from the Tigers' Spring Game

Clemson's annual spring game is now in the books. While the most noteworthy topic surrounding Clemson football this week was the dismissal of sophomore quarterback Chad Kelly, the spring game saw several Tigers stand out in a big way.

The White squad, led by senior quarterback Cole Stoudt, easily won the game by a score of 24-5.

While he played well, it was the defense that left Death Valley buzzing.

Both the Orange and White squads combined to allow just 588 total yards on 132 plays for an average of less than 4.5 yards per play. 

Is this a sign of things to come? Or was the offense's inability to consistently move the ball a direct result of several key departures on that side of the ball?

The truth probably lies somewhere in the middle.

So what players stood out the most? Here are some of the Tigers' top performers from Saturday's spring game.

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UCLA Football: Detailing Jim Mora's Recruiting Philosophy

Jim Mora's recruiting philosophy is a fascinating sight to behold. A revamped strategy from the previous regime has UCLA football recruiting at an extremely high level.

During his time in Westwood, Mora has utilized a five-pronged plan in regards to garnering sustained success on the recruiting trails. By demonstrating vigor, zeal and doggedness, Mora and his staff are truly attempting to catapult UCLA into the upper echelon of college football. 

Below will detail Mora's philosophy when it comes to recruiting. Each part of the five-pronged plan will be detailed in its own section. 


Target Versatile Prospects

Mora has been a part of three recruiting classes during his time in Westwood. A recurring theme is versatility. This characteristic might be the most integral for Mora when evaluating a prospect. 

Versatility allows for a myriad of things. For one, a prospect (or player) won't be specifically defined to one single position. Positional versatility offers more flexibility from both a personnel and schematic standpoint.  

Myles Jack is a perfect example. Mora has utilized Jack at both linebacker and in the backfield as a running back. When speaking purely about Jack's ability as a defender, he's got the versatility to perform in the base defense, as well as in the nickel formation (when tasked with covering more ground). 

With regards to the 2013 recruiting class, multiple members were employed on both sides of the ball.

Starting defensive linemen Kenny Clark and Eddie Vanderdoes were used in UCLA's defensive-laden package on offense. Vanderdoes even scored a rushing touchdown in the 35-14 victory over Southern Cal in the Coliseum. Defenders Cassius Marsh, Jordan Zumwalt and Keenan Graham were also deployed as blockers in this package. 

In regards to a possible recruiting pitch, schools will mention the possibility of a prospect competing on both sides of the ball in college. In some cases, this sentiment could even be promised (should the said recruit opt to sign with the school).

UCLA can illustrate this thought with actual game tape. This should make UCLA even more attractive to elite high school athletes. 

In the 2014 class, expect the likes of Adarius Pickett, Ainuu Taua and Jaleel Wadood to be given the opportunity to participate on both offense and defense (in some capacity). 

By employing players on both sides of the ball, Mora is catering to the unique attributes of each athlete. He's essentially utilizing their respective talents to the fullest. 


Making Inroads in the Southeast

There's no question the Southeastern portion of the country is a hotbed for elite high school football talent. 

UCLA has had mild success during Mora's tenure—in large part to his NFL experience. He was the head coach of the Atlanta Falcons for three seasons. At the time, the athletic brilliance of Michael Vick was on full display. 

Mora's name still holds tremendous clout in the general area. High school recruits are perhaps too young to remember Mora's tenure in Atlanta, but their respective families likely remember his time as the head man. 

Under Mora, UCLA has gotten its proverbial foot in the door with many highly regarded recruits in the South. The Bruins were a finalist for top recruits such as Malachi Dupre and Rashaan Evans. 

UCLA was able to poach starting corner Fabian Moreau and starting punter Sean Covington out of Florida. Asiantii Woulard—the quarterback of the future—also hails from the Sunshine State. Stud linebacker Kenny Young—a native of New Orleans—chose to sign with the Bruins over the likes of LSU and Texas A&M. 

Within the last three years, the state of Texas has been particularly good to the Bruins. Simon Goines, Caleb Benenoch, Zach Whitley, Najee Toran, Aaron Sharp, Deon Hollins and Eldridge Massington all hail from the Lone Star State. Whitley was committed to Alabama before switching his pledge to UCLA. 

The vigor of recruiting in the South for 2015 hasn't waned one bit. Elite defensive tackle and Florida native CeCe Jefferson has been effusive in his praise of UCLA. Other prospects such as Roquan Smith, Jeffery Holland, Ryan Newsome and Soso Jamabo figure to be targeted as well. 

Even if the percentage of signing recruits from the South isn't overly high, UCLA is making itself known in the region. If the Bruins continue to win at a high clip, the interest in coming to Westwood will continue to grow. 


Reestablishing Ties to Local High School Power Programs

Mora is doing, and has done, a fantastic job of targeting top high schools in the greater Los Angeles area. 

Traditionally speaking, UCLA hasn't recruited well at two of the top high schools in the area: Gardena Serra High School and St. John Bosco High School in Bellflower, Calif. 

In the '14 class, UCLA was able to sign two Serra prospects in Dwight Williams and Jordan Lasley. 2014 signees Wadood and Jacob Tuioti-Mariner both hail from St. John Bosco. UCLA has a commitment from 2015 quarterback Josh Rosen—also a Bosco product. 

It's imperative for UCLA to put a fence around the Southern California area. Realistically, the Bruins don't have to leave California. The talent pool in California is amongst the best in the entire country. 

By keeping tabs on the top high school programs in the state, it enables UCLA to build relationships at these schools. It should, in theory, pay dividends down the road. 


Being Active on Twitter

Mora is extremely active on the social media site Twitter.

Much of his content addresses the program as a whole. Anything from practice schedules to motivational messages or even pictures of the campus are constantly shown. 

For recruits residing outside of Los Angeles, it offers a great grasp of life from within the university and the football program itself. Twitter also allows for Mora to connect with recruits in a more convenient fashion. In this day and age, it's also more conventional for teenagers. 

Quarterback Brett Hundley's Heisman campaign has been virtually birthed by Mora on the social media website. The #BruinRevolution has also become a staple. 

It's a very shrewd course of action from Mora's perspective. By promoting the brand of UCLA football across social media in such an ardent fashion, he's drumming up considerable excitement for the program. 


NFL Experience

Mora has compiled a staff with possibly more National Football League experience than any other currently existing in the collegiate game. Mora himself has been associated with the NFL for 25 years.

Offensive line coach Adrian Klemm is a three-time Super Bowl Champion with the New England Patriots. Wide receivers coach Eric Yarber has coached Pro Bowl receivers in T.J. Houshmandzadeh and Chad Johnson, and defensive coordinator Jeff Ulbrich was a 10-year veteran with the San Francisco 49ers. 

Offensive coordinator Noel Mazzone had prior experience coaching with the New York Jets. Running backs coach Kennedy Polamalu is widely respected as an excellent teacher of the game.

During his time with the Jacksonville Jaguars, running backs Fred Taylor and Maurice Jones-Drew, and fullback Greg Jones all garnered Pro Bowl honors. 

This could be perhaps the most important recruiting tool UCLA has to offer. Mora and his staff have the ability to get perspective recruits to the NFL. The mass amount of experience proves this notion.

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10 College Football Teams Having the Best and Worst Offseasons so Far

The eight months that separate one college football season from the next are just as important as the four when the games are actually played.

While some squads use the offseason to build momentum with a string of positive incidents, others are faced with a long line of challenges that produce more questions than answers.

What remains to be seen is how the long months off the field will affect the final scores in September, October, November and December.

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Breaking Down LSU Recruit Trey Quinn's Highlight Tape

Trey Quinn is a 4-star receiver who signed with LSU in February. Among the best players in Louisiana last year, he hails from Barbe High School in Lake Charles. 

At 6'1" and 200 pounds, the talented pass-catcher has great quickness in the slot. He separates from defenders by running crisp routes, plus he attempts to catch everything with his hands.

With 6,566 receiving yards in his career, he holds the national all-time record in that category for high school football, according to 247Sports.

He is expected to develop into a productive starter in Baton Rouge. Based on what he shows on his highlight tape, that expectation is correct.

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College Football: Breaking Down Each 2015 5-Star WR Recruit

Programs looking to add an elite receiver prospect must take a look at one of the 5-star receivers in the 2015 class. It's tough to get a sure read on prospects due to the many variables that surround the position, but each 5-star receiver exhibits terrific traits.

Not all of them are similar players, however. A receiver in Texas makes plays by possessing good strength and fantastic hands. Meanwhile, a speedster from Arizona has dynamic quickness and run-after-the-catch skills.

Plus, a receiver in Florida has the size to do a lot of different things on the perimeter.

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BYU Football: Who Will Emerge as Cougars' Top Receiver?

BYU has plenty of depth at wide receiver this season, and although the Cougars will be without players Cody Hoffman, Skyler Ridley and JD Falslev, several receivers own the potential to replace those vacancies.

But who will emerge as Taysom Hill's No. 1 target? Ross Apo or Mitch Mathews might, as well as any number of the transfer wideouts, among others.

Here are BYU's top wide receivers.

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Oklahoma State Football: Game-by-Game Predictions for 2014

Now that spring practice is over, the 2014 Oklahoma State Cowboys roster is beginning to take shape. Because of that, we can begin to make early predictions for how this fall season is going to play out.

Obviously, it's still very early and things could drastically change between now and the start of the season. However, last season I projected a 10-2 regular season record for the Pokes, and that's how it ended up (of course I picked the wrong losses, but that's besides the point). Therefore, it makes sense to try my hand again at being a sage.

How are the Cowboys going to fare in 2014? Read on to find out.

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Alabama Football: 3 Offensive Linemen Who Must Step Up in 2014

With Alabama in the final stages of its preparations for Saturday’s spring game, one unit that fans and coaches will be paying close attention to is the offensive line.

As pointed out by Bleacher Report’s Michael Felder, a priority for Nick Saban and his staff is getting the offensive line to regain its physical identity up front. This is key to the Tide’s quest to claim a spot in this season’s upcoming playoff.

After a spring filled with a number of experiments, Saban and offensive line coach Mario Cristobal have used the same first unit over the last two weeks. BamaOnline’s Marc Torrence reports that—from left to right—the line consists of Brandon Greene, Arie Kouandjio, Ryan Kelly, Leon Brown and Austin Shepherd.

Bleacher Report’s Christopher Walsh noted earlier this month that Saban has been pleased with that unit’s progression in the spring, but the final starting five likely won’t be settled until fall camp.

“I’m sure that probably before the end of spring we’ll probably shuffle them a little bit like we did last spring with some guys playing different spots to see if there’s a different combination of guys that gives us a better opportunity to be successful. So we’ll at least know heading into the fall, adding some new players who will be competing as well, what guys' capabilities are and what they can do,” he said.

Regardless of which players fill out the Tide’s starting group against West Virginia on Aug. 30, developing the type of cohesion and consistency that characterized the units on the Tide’s title-winning teams under Saban will be critical to the team’s offensive success.

Which players among the Tide’s trench unit will be counted upon to step up this fall?


Ryan Kelly

After a bitter ending to the 2013 season, the Tide’s offensive line entered spring with virtually an open competition for all of the spots along the line.

However, with the transfer of veteran Chad Lindsay, fourth-year junior Ryan Kelly is probably the safest bet to assuming a starting role at center.

One of three returning starters from last season’s line unit, Kelly can provide a steadying presence at a position often referred to as the “quarterback” of the offensive line.

For Kelly, who missed some time last season due to a knee injury, staying healthy and providing the type of leadership that his predecessor, former Tide All-American Barrett Jones, displayed throughout his career will be an area of focus for him in 2014.


Leon Brown

When reliable senior right guard Anthony Steen was lost for the Sugar Bowl due to injury, Saban and Cristobal turned to JUCO transfer Leon Brown—originally recruited as a tackle—to fill in.

After starting out the spring getting work at both tackle spots, Brown appears to be settling into the spot he manned against Oklahoma. As’s Mike Herndon detailed, Saban endorsed Brown as a player with a good shot to be in the starting lineup against West Virginia on Aug. 30.

"Leon Brown has played in the bowl game and we have a lot of confidence in him and I think he's probably a guy that'll be in the best five guys," Saban said.

If Brown ends up at right guard, he will have his hands full replacing the most dependable player on last season’s unit.


Arie Kouandjio

After battling injuries throughout his career, it was a minor miracle for Arie Kouandjio to earn a starting job alongside younger brother Cyrus prior to last season.

With his brother off to the NFL, the elder Kouandjio is tasked with building on his first year as a starter—one that included its share of rough moments.

Thus far through spring, Kouandjio has maintained a grip on the left guard spot he occupied last season. He will have to continue to improve in order to hold on to that post with the Tide set to welcome a number of talented linemen from the 2014 recruiting class in the summer.


While the depth chart is still a long way from being finalized, another year of seasoning for players such as Kouandjio, Brown and Kelly will only help them grow individually and make the line stronger as a unit.

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Best Sales Pitch for Each Top 4 Team to Land 4-Star QB Zach Gentry

Zach Gentry ranks highly among remaining uncommitted 2015 quarterback prospects, pulling in several scholarship offers since his junior season. The 4-star recruit has plenty of programs to consider but is currently focused on four specific schools, according to his conversation with reporter Rob Cassidy (subscription required).

He identified Texas, Tennessee, Alabama and Oklahoma State as primary suitors at this stage, though Gentry wouldn't go as far to eliminate other teams just yet. The 6'7", 230-pound passer presents an intriguing option for his favorites, who each feature unique situations at the position.

Gentry, a standout at Eldorado High School in Albuquerque, N.M., is rated ninth nationally among 2015 pro-style quarterbacks in 247Sports' composite rankings. His offer list also includes Louisville, Maryland, Northwestern and Oregon State.

He passed for more than 3,600 yards and 26 touchdowns during the past two seasons combined. Though Gentry possesses a massive physical frame, his mobility is also a factor for opposing defenses.

He rushed for 617 yards and 16 scores as a junior.

With four squads rising to the forefront for his services, we examine what each favorite has to offer.



The Longhorns will undoubtedly undergo some alterations to roster-structure philosophy with new leadership in place. Texas welcomes 4-star quarterback prospect Jerrod Heard to campus this summer, though he didn't commit to the current regime.

Head coach Charlie Strong saw Teddy Bridgewater elevate Louisville in recent years and understands the importance of pairing his defensive-minded approach with a potent passer. Gentry traveled to Austin on Thursday for a closer look at the Longhorns.

The other two visitors—brothers Kirk and Collin Johnson—committed while on campus. Gentry didn't follow suit, but he still had an opportunity to develop a clearer picture of what the program offers.

First-year offensive coordinator Joe Wickline has previous knowledge of Gentry from his time at Oklahoma State, where he helped orchestrate one of America's most potent passing attacks during a nine-year tenure in Stillwater.

Texas has yet to secure a quarterback in the 2015 recruiting cycle, but already holds commitments from impressive offensive difference-makers like Dallas running back Jordan Stevenson and Houston tackle Toby Weathersby.

Heard might be first in line to carve out a role as Texas' quarterback of the future, but Gentry would be the first player at the position handpicked by Strong and his staff. He picked up an offer from the Longhorns in late March and has quickly reciprocated interest.



Head coach Butch Jones assembled one of the country's most impressive 2014 classes following his first season at the helm. He signed more than 30 players, including explosive early enrollees Josh Malone (wide receiver) and Jalen Hurd (running back).

The Volunteers' 2015 class already includes Georgia receiver Preston Williams, who rates fifth nationally at the position in 247Sports' composite rankings. Jones has loaded up on offensive weapons in the past few months but he's still in search of a game changer at quarterback, a position that didn't receive fresh talent in the 2014 class.

Tennessee picked up a pledge from 4-star athlete Jauan Jennings earlier this month. The in-state commit aims to play quarterback at the next level, but could ultimately end up at another position.

Gentry would provide another option in a class that will probably end up with two passers. Florida prospect Torrance Gibson, rated the consensus No. 1 dual-threat quarterback in this cycle, visited Knoxville days before Gentry arrived in late March.

Gentry and Gibson are arguably the two hottest quarterback commodities on the market right now, so Tennessee aims to secure one soon. Gibson has already stated his intentions of spending an official visit with the Volunteers, while Gentry told 247Sports reporter Ryan Callahan he was "blown away" by his trip to the university.

Either quarterback would arguably be a favorite to start as an underclassman. That may encourage Gentry to pull the trigger on a commitment sooner rather than later.



Nick Saban doesn't have to do much to sell his vision at Alabama. His three national championship trophies since 2009 get the point across pretty clearly.

The Crimson Tide are typically ultra selective when it comes to offering quarterbacks, so Gentry should feel flattered by the way Alabama has pursued him since extending an offer in February. He is one of just three uncommitted passers to currently hold a scholarship offer from Saban, per 247Sports.

New offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin has made Gentry a top priority, so his upcoming visit to campus is pivotal for both parties. He'll be in attendance this Saturday at Alabama's spring game, per 247Sports reporter Charles Power (subscription required).

"It’s going to be really attractive with all the fans and the first game day setting, first true spring game that I’ll be watching," Gentry told Power. "I’m looking forward to that game atmosphere and seeing the practice, the facilities, and getting to know their coaches."

The Tide are under pressure to lock up a passer after losing a commitment from 5-star California Ricky Town in January. He flipped to USC and left Alabama searching elsewhere.

Gentry has been on campus at each of his four favorites except Alabama. Expect the program to play up its game-day environment throughout a weekend in Tuscaloosa that features several high-profile visitors.


Oklahoma State

The Cowboys offered Gentry in January but don't necessarily have as strong a need for him as the other teams on this list. Oklahoma State received a commitment from 3-star in-state quarterback John Kolar last month.

Still, the opportunity to lead an up-tempo attack in Stillwater has to be appealing for any passer. During the past four seasons, the Cowboys have scored at least 50 points in 19 games, including seven 60-point outbursts.

Oklahoma State is two years removed from a Big 12 title and Fiesta Bowl Championship. The program has picked up steam under the guidance of head coach Mike Gundy and through the financial support of T. Boone Pickens.

The Cowboys can offer Gentry a chance to compete in a pass-happy offensive scheme that would allow him to regularly sit back in the pocket and sling the football downfield. He wouldn't be the team's only incoming quarterback, but could view immediate competition as a challenge worth accepting in order to take the reigns of a nationally feared offense.

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Highlights courtesy XOS Digital

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