NCAA Football News

Why Brett Hundley Passed Up on NFL Money for a Shot at UCLA Glory

For a moment, think about what it would take to say no to enough money to last for the rest of your life. What would that what have to be? Does such a what even exist for you?

UCLA quarterback Brett Hundley was put in this situation only a few months ago, and he chose the what. With millions of guaranteed dollars within arm’s reach, Hundley decided to return to the Bruins for another season—forgoing the NFL draft and the fortune that comes with it.

The what, in this instance, is a chance at a national championship. It’s an opportunity to win a Heisman. It’s the possibility at even greater fortune, all while playing for a coach on a meteoric rise and playing with a group of wide receivers Hundley views as “scary.”

“We’re breeding excellence at UCLA,” Hundley said. “The sky’s the limit for us right now.”

Long before the Bruins superstar became one of the most intriguing and coveted quarterbacks in the nation, however, he was an unseasoned, terrified redshirt freshman playing on a team with no real expectations.

Playing against Rice in his very first game, Hundley touched the ball for the first time with just a shade under 13 minutes remaining in the first quarter. With his nerves anything but in check—just as you would expect them to be—UCLA called a designed run to gets its quarterback a little contact to settle him down.

A few missed arm tackles and 72 yards later, he was anything but. Only this was an unusual kind of unnerving.

“I remember all of it, but it’s still crazy to think about,” Hundley said. “Not many people can say that the first time they stepped on the field, they got the ball on their first play ever and scored a touchdown.”

Since that play, many touchdowns—73 to be exact—have followed. In that time, UCLA’s roster has been stockpiled with talent and the program has more momentum than just about any other school in the nation.

On a personal level, Hundley has watched his stock soar from a raw, athletic QB with size and a good arm to a potential top-15 pick in the NFL draft. If all goes according to plan, you won’t have a shot at landing him with the No. 15 pick in the 2015 NFL draft.

Hundley had the chance to leave for the draft after this past season, but he chose to stay.

“You come to college to get your degree and have the opportunity to go to that next level,” Hundley said. “To have the opportunity to be that first-round draft pick or even a top-15 pick was hard to pass up. But I’m happy I came back to UCLA for another year.”

Unlike most young prospects facing this difficult decision—trying to weigh the money, the possibility of more money and the underappreciated joys of college football—Hundley was open about this personal tug of war.

As soon as UCLA cruised past Virginia Tech in the Sun Bowl—a game in which the UCLA QB threw for 226 yards, ran for 160 yards and scored four touchdowns—he left knowing that one of the biggest decisions of his life needed an answer in short order.

“I went home, sort of relaxed, tried to get my mind off of everything,” Hundley said. “It was almost impossible to do.”

The timing between the end of the college football season and a draft decision gives players only a moment to breathe. Then it’s time to decide. For Hundley, he had to weigh the pros and cons of making the move.

Although the 2014 NFL draft quarterback class was already crowded near the top—featuring the likes of Johnny Manziel, Teddy Bridgewater, Blake Bortles, Derek Carr and other established college quarterbacks—Hundley nearly made a captivating group that much more intriguing.

“It was a lot harder than most people would think,” Hundley said on deciding to return to college. “After I made my decision, I was very comfortable with it. But in the moment of actually making it, it was incredibly difficult.”

Returning to college hasn’t stopped the quarterback from studying up on the process ahead. The exhaustive, extensive and remarkably unfair scrutiny that draft-eligible quarterbacks receive from the scouts and media alike has been on display this season, and eventually he’ll receive the same treatment.

It’s rough out there—just ask Teddy Bridgewater—and the extra two weeks of draft prep has created a circus of sorts. Hundley’s time will come—perhaps as early as next year—although for now he’s taking it all in.

“I’m keeping up with all of it right now,” Hundley said on monitoring the draft. “It’s crazy how in-depth they go and how they start breaking down these guys from Day 1. But when you have that much money invested in somebody, you would want to know everything.”

Having a front-row seat to this dissection is allowing Hundley to focus on his areas of improvement this spring. For him, it’s not a matter of the measurables.  It’s not a matter of speed, strength or size for the 6'3", 227-pound quarterback.

It simply boils down to “growing up.”

It’s a phrase he used to describe his mindset and focus in spring, and it has absolutely zero to do with maturity or demeanor. In fact, one year from right now—or whenever Hundley makes the jump to the NFL—scouts will be falling in love with the quarterback after only a 10-minute conversation.

Hundley’s growing up will come in other areas: reading defenses, being more consistent as a passer and having a better grasp of an offense he already has firmly grasped.

“It’s the mental side and getting into knowing where you’re going to throw the ball while having a plan,” Hundley said when talking about his focus this spring. “It’s all just a chess game out there. Knowing that and really diving into the game has helped me.”

Also helping him is a group of wide receivers that has received rave reviews this spring. Although Shaquelle Evans—the team’s leader in receptions, receiving yards and receiving touchdowns from last season—is gone, Hundley will have plenty of options.

“We have fast, we have tall, we have strong,” Hundley said on the deep group of wide receivers. “We have the whole line of wideouts that you would want in an offense. It’s special.”

Hundley went on to highlight 6’3” redshirt freshman Eldridge Massington, who has turned heads all spring. A track star with size, Massington will likely push Pac-12 defenses out of the gate.

“He is going to be a monster,” Hundley said. “I’m telling you, write the name down. He’s going to be an absolute monster.”

Because of the team’s recent run in recruiting, the term “monster” will likely be thrown around at plenty of other positions.

Linebacker-turned-running-back-turned-linebacker-again, Myles Jack, certainly fits that profile. After a fantastic freshman season filled with tackles and touchdowns, Jack—along with a solid group of experienced youth on the defensive side of the ball—is poised to take that next step this season.

If the defense can, and if Hundley can elevate his already elevated game, UCLA could go from trendy playoff pick to Pac-12 wrecking ball. If that’s the case, the quarterback leading the charge will likely find himself in the Heisman discussion come November.

“I’ve always been the type of person to believe that once success comes on the team side, the individual goals will follow,” Hundley said. “That’s the one thing I’ve always focused on. If we’re solid as a team, everything else will into place.”

The money won’t disappear. The opportunity to live out his dream in the NFL will be realized at some point, perhaps after the season ahead. Just not now.

There’s something special brewing in Los Angeles, which is exactly why Brett Hundley decided to come back for more.

Suddenly, the what makes perfect sense.

 

Adam Kramer is the College Football National Lead Writer for Bleacher Report. All quotes were obtained firsthand.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Florida Football Recruiting: Breaking Down the Top 2015 Target at Each Position

Although we’re heading into the month of May and there’s still a lot of time between now and next year’s national signing day, the 2015 recruiting class is shaping up to be a good one for the Florida Gators.

As usual, the Gators are in the running for many of the top players in this year’s class, and they will likely seal the deal on at least a couple of these elite prospects.

While it’s highly unlikely the Gators are going to land every player on their wish list, it’s always good to check the pulse of the top players who could potentially suit up for the blue and orange.

This list will include another talented dual-threat quarterback, a monster of an offensive lineman and a linebacker who would give opponents nightmares.

Here are the top 2015 recruits at each position the Florida Gators are targeting. 

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USC Football: Steve Sarkisian's Biggest Concerns Post-Spring Practice

USC's spring camp is in the rearview mirror, but head coach Steve Sarkisian's work is not even close to being over. There are about four months until the Trojans convene again for fall camp, when the team will crank up the intensity in preparation for the season.

There's still a lot to do in Troy, with Sark having a handful of items to check off his list to ensure that his first fall goes swimmingly. 

Here's a look at the most pressing concerns for the head coach going into the summer and how he can handle them. 

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Why Alabama Is Today's Real Linebacker U of College Football

“Linebacker U” has become a contested title in recent years.

Alabama and coach Nick Saban have started to quiet the debate, though, pulling away from the rest of the pack as the destination for high-profile linebackers.

Penn State legally owns the trademark to the term “Linebacker U” and certainly stakes strong claims after decades of turning out fantastic products at the position.

Even in the last decade, the Nittany Lions turned out NFL standouts NaVarro Bowman of the San Francisco 49ers and Sean Lee of the Dallas Cowboys.

Others, including Alabama, have made holding onto the invisible mantle of “Linebacker U” a tougher challenge since the turn of the century.

The last two decades brought USC, Ohio State and Miami into the conversation. UCLA brought itself to the table—perhaps prematurely—with an offseason tweet during the summer of 2013 (h/t: The Big Lead and Dr. Saturday).

Consider this, though: If your son or brother played linebacker and could choose any school or any coach today, which would be the best choice strictly from an on-field perspective?

Since the 2005 season, Alabama statistically boasts the greatest claim as the nation’s top linebacker destination.

During that time only USC has produced more first- or second-round picks at the position. And, for the record, Alabama should tie the Trojans this year when C.J. Mosley, projected by ESPN.com as a first-round draft pick (subscription required), gets selected.

It should be noted that just as ESPN projects Mosley as a first-round pick in the 2014 NFL Draft, it projects Ohio State linebacker Ryan Shazier too.

No program has fielded more All-America honorees or had more All-America selections than Alabama since 2005.

The Crimson Tide has placed four All-America linebackers—DeMeco Ryans, Rolando McClain, Dont’a Hightower and C.J. Mosley—as first-team members on the American Football Coaches Association or the Associated Press teams.

Only two other programs—Ohio State and Penn State—have drawn even two first-team All-America honors at the position.

Ohio State has earned four honors since the 2005 season—three from James Laurinaitis and one from A.J. Hawk (who was a two-time honoree with the other coming in 2004).

Paul Posluszny and Dan Connor represent the two All-America selections during the same time frame for Penn State. Both drew first-team distinctions once each.

Considering all-conference selections means comparing apples and oranges in some cases because qualifying as an all-conference player in one league is easier than in another.

Still, Alabama stacks up favorably in that category as well.

Ohio State, Alabama and Penn State have each fielded five first-team all-conference linebackers since 2005.

The Buckeyes have earned eight spots on first-team all-Big Ten rosters at the position, more than Penn State’s seven. Alabama linebackers have also earned all-conference honors seven times.

Over the last five seasons, there’s little debate that playing linebacker for Saban is the safest way to gain All-America recognition. Saban—along with the players Pete Carroll recruited to USC—also provides the clearest path to the NFL for linebackers.

Fittingly, Alabama has won three of the last five national championships largely on the back of its dominating defenses while the centerpieces of the units shined brightest.

The Crimson Tide ranked nationally in the top 10 of total defense. It has ranked in the top four in scoring defense during that time period as well.

Alabama’s defensive success resonates with new recruits.

Consider that two of the nation’s top linebacker prospects in the past two years have played in the Crimson Tide’s archrival’s backyard—at Auburn High School.

Reuben Foster and Rashaan Evans—both rated as 5-star prospects on 247Sports—spurned offers from hometown Auburn to instead play in Saban’s system.

Ironically, Penn State hasn’t signed a 5- or 4-star linebacker prospect (as rated by 247Sports) since 2010, leaving the high-profile linebackers out of Linebacker U. (It should be noted that Josh Barajas, rated by 247Sports as a 4-star prospect, is currently committed as part of the 2015 class.)

Five years doesn’t erase history.

Penn State’s standing as the Linebacker U doesn’t come crumbling down because of nine years or five years.

If that was the case, Miami, USC or Ohio State would have claimed the mantle within the last 25 years.

There’s little doubt, though, that Alabama is the ideal choice for today’s high-profile linebackers.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

South Carolina Football: Breaking Down the Top 2015 Target at Each Position

Even with all eyes on the 2014 South Carolina football season, some of the focus will shift to the 2015 recruiting class. 

The Gamecocks have a golden opportunity to haul in some elite recruits. South Carolina has already landed top prospects, but there is still work to be done. 

Steve Spurrier's staff will be out on the recruiting trails looking to fill in the roster with great talents. 

Even though South Carolina already has commitments from top players, they remain on this list due to the unpredictability of recruits and the fact that South Carolina will need to continue to target them to maintain their commitment status. 

Here is a breakdown of the top targets for the 2015 South Carolina Gamecocks recruiting class. 

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Penn State Football: 3 Things Christian Hackenberg Must Do to Become Elite

Even after a superb freshman campaign, Penn State quarterback Christian Hackenberg still has some strides to make. He's one of college football's brightest young stars who has the weight of an entire fanbase resting on his shoulders. 

Hackenberg will enter 2014 a bit bigger, faster and stronger than he was as a freshman. The promising physical tools will still be there as well.

When James Franklin took the head coaching job back in January, he spoke very highly of his new quarterback. With Franklin mentoring the young star, Year 2 is the time for Hackenberg to distinguish himself as one of the best in the country.

Here are three things he must do in order to become elite. 

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Ranking the Top 25 Seniors Heading into the 2014 College Football Season

As kids, we were all taught to respect our elders. In college football, that means making sure to honor the seniors.

Through drive and dedication, this class of players has stuck it out through three (or four) years to get to this point: to be the most experienced and battle-tested of them all. Some passed up a chance to start a professional career already, while others are finally reaching their stride in their final year of college ball.

Whatever the case, the senior class shouldn't be ignored. Plenty of great college football seniors are set to take the field in 2014, and we've ranked the 25 best in ascending order.

Click through to pay homage to these champions of perseverance.

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Ohio State Football: 3 Things Standing in the Way of a Big Ten Championship

Down three points late in the fourth quarter of the 2013 Big Ten Championship Game, Ohio State was in Michigan State territory, needing just two yards on fourth down to keep its title hopes alive.

The ball was snapped, Braxton Miller swept to the right side, and the perimeter blockers opened a clear path for a potential burst to the end zone.

But Jeff Heuerman's man broke free on the interior, surged into the backfield and stopped Miller short of the conversion.

Urban Meyer and the Buckeyes were largely outplayed by a more determined team that night, but one play could have swung the momentum—and a conference title—their way.

Will something that small prevent Ohio State from winning a Big Ten title in 2014? 

It's possible. Despite the months of training, preparation and game-planning, one play could make or break a season. That's usually the way it goes for the true contenders. Elite teams—such as the 2002 Ohio State squad that won a national title—overcome their bigger obstacles or deficiencies and come through with a big play in crunch time.

What big issues are standing in the way of Ohio State's Big Ten title chances this year?

 

Braxton Miller's Durability 

Ohio State's superstar quarterback has had an injury-plagued career in Columbus.

In 2011, the Buckeyes had a 21-point lead midway through the third quarter against Nebraska when Miller rolled his ankle. He was unable to finish the game, and the Buckeyes collapsed against the surging Cornhuskers.

A year later, the same thing nearly happened at home against Purdue. Miller was tackled hard late in the third quarter, later to be taken to the hospital, but Ohio State rallied behind backup Kenny Guiton in overtime.

Last season, Miller missed most of three games after spraining his MCL during the first drive of the San Diego State game.

Ohio State will need Miller to stay healthy his senior season in order to win the Big Ten title, because Guiton is no longer around to save the day.

 

The Secondary 

Ohio State's pass defense is undergoing a major overhaul—a necessary move after last year's dismal results.

The Buckeyes ranked No. 110 (out 123 teams) defending the pass, allowing an average of 268 passing yards per game. Things completely bottomed out at the end of the season, as Ohio State gave up an average of 377.7 passing yards to its final three opponents—Michigan, Michigan State and Clemson.

Three members of that secondary are gone, which includes Bradley Roby, who is expected to be taken in the first round of the NFL draft next month.

Urban Meyer brought in Chris Ash from Arkansas to be co-defensive coordinator alongside Luke Fickell. His specialty is pass defense, and already the Buckeyes are shifting away from the zone to more press coverage.

Bleacher Report's Adam Kramer wrote that the secondary's major issues appear to be resolved, but that won't be fully determined until the fall.

 

The Michigan Squads

The two teams best equipped to beat Ohio State are the teams from the state it cares the least about.

Despite Michigan's offensive ineptitude last season, it still managed to hang 41 points and 603 yards on the Buckeyes. The Wolverines were just a two-point conversion away from potentially handing Ohio State its first loss since the end of the 2011 season.

That honor, of course, was claimed a week later when Michigan State derailed the Buckeyes in the Big Ten title game.

In 2014, conference realignment will put all three of these teams in the same division, and they'll likely be the top three contenders to represent the East. 

Ohio State will travel to East Lansing, Michigan, on November 8 to face a rested Spartans squad coming off a bye week. The Buckeyes will of course close the season against Michigan, but this time, The Game will take place in Columbus.

If the Buckeyes can get revenge against Michigan State and hold off Michigan, they'll likely be bound for Indianapolis with a great shot at winning the Big Ten title.

 

Unless otherwise noted, all stats via NCAA.com.

David Regimbal is the Ohio State Football Lead Writer for Bleacher Report.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Miami Football: 5 Things Standing in the Way of an ACC Championship

The 2014 season may be a long way off, but a handful of reasons stand in the way of the Miami Hurricanes' first outright division title ever.

Despite some struggles in spring practice, Miami is still a front-runner in the Coastal Division to earn a spot in the ACC Championship Game.

A couple of variables stand out, but the 'Canes must battle through a few conditions that will change neither before nor during the upcoming campaign.

And with an unfavorable schedule comprised of four matchups against the conference's best programs, including three on the road, Miami is facing an uphill battle for that elusive ACCCG berth.

 

Recruit ratings courtesy of 247Sports.com.

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Scouting Report, Video Highlights and Predictions for 5-Star WR Damarkus Lodge

Damarkus Lodge is a 5-star receiver who is one of the better prospects at his position in the 2015 class. Lodge has great size and length, plus he displays other traits that will make him a successful player at the next level.

Lodge is coming off a terrific junior season in Texas, but he's looking for more. He's also searching for the right program to utilize his talents properly in college, and he has many schools to sort through.

Lodge deserves a more in-depth look as a prospect.

All recruiting ratings and rankings are from 247Sports' Composite Rankings. Player evaluations are based on review of tape at Scout.comRivals and 247Sports.

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Georgia Football: How Mark Richt Can Solve Defensive Issues in 2014

With spring practice over, the Georgia Bulldogs can focus on what they need to do to get better before the 2014 season begins in the end of August.

We know the offense will be in pretty good shape despite not having Aaron Murray under center. Hutson Mason proved he can get the job done last year, and having players like Todd Gurley and Keith Marshall behind him as well as Malcolm Mitchell and Justin Scott-Wesley beside him will make things a lot easier.

The defense, on the other hand, will have a few question marks coming into the season.

The unit struggled last year under defensive coordinator Todd Grantham, who is now at Louisville. Former Florida State defensive coordinator Jeremy Pruitt has taken over Grantham’s spot, and while the group did some good things during the spring game, Pruitt knows that this unit will be a work in progress all summer long.

So how can Mark Richt and Pruitt resolve the issues on the defensive side of the ball before the season begins?

The first thing is to find out what the real issues are on defense. The Bulldogs did give up 29 points per game, which ranked near the bottom of the SEC. However, they also ranked sixth in the conference in run defense, giving up 148 yards per game and 3.7 yards per carry last season.

The front seven for the Bulldogs is solid and the group is led by linebackers Ramik Wilson and Amarlo Herrera. Both players placed in the top three in tackles last season and both got better as the season progressed.

The outside linebackers for Georgia were not bad either, as Jordan Jenkins and Leonard Floyd each had at least five sacks last year.

The defensive line was also strong, but there could be some changes this season just to make it stronger.

Sterling Bailey had a good year and should be back in the mix for starting defensive end. As for the other defensive end spot, Ray Drew, James DeLoach and Josh Dawson are battling for that spot.

As for nose tackle, Chris Mayes made eight starts last year, but Johnathan Taylor and Mike Thornton are making a push for the starting job as well.

Therefore, the battle for the starting defensive line rotation is something Richt will have to finalize in preseason practice.

However, that is not the most glaring issue for the Bulldogs.

The secondary for UGA last season had its share of ups and downs last year. Based on the big plays it gave up in crucial moments of important games last season, fans will remember the downs more than the ups.

Jeremy Pruitt thinks UGA's tailbacks and its QB look pretty good. His defense? 'We've still got a long ways to go.' http://t.co/k1CG1JktoC

— Marc Weiszer (@marcweiszer) April 16, 2014

The one thing Richt and Pruitt have to do is start from scratch and make every position in the secondary an open competition.

Damian Swann, Tray Matthews, Corey Moore and Aaron Davis were on the first-team defense during the spring game, but that is not set in stone. Everyone—including Shaq Wiggins, Lucas Reed, Sheldon Dawson, Quincy Mauger, Devin Bowmann, Reggie Wilkerson, Brendan Langley and J.J. Green—should and will get a chance to win a starting job.

Richt said during the UGA Days speaking tour that no player has nailed down a starting position in the secondary. He also said that he wants to see what the new players have to offer.

Those new players are Shaquille Jones, Dominick Sanders, Shattle Fenteng and Malkom Parrish.If any of those four players impress Richt or Pruitt, they could see themselves thrown to the wolves this season.

Despite what Richt says, it’s safe to say that Swann has one cornerback spot down and Green will likely play the "star" position. After that, it’s anyone’s guess and something the coaching staff will have to figure out quickly.

Even if the Bulldogs do set the secondary starting lineup in stone, it will still have growing pains because the group is learning a new defense despite still being a 3-4 scheme.

The most important thing Richt and Pruitt can do is make things simple. Don’t have the players worry about terminology and anything that will prevent them from making plays. All the players need to do is line up in the right sport and get after the skill players.

It sounds simple, but it’s something the Bulldogs lacked last year.

If Richt can make sure he has the right 11 players ready to go and they know exactly what to do each time they are on the field, the defense could make significant strides in 2014.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Clemson Football Recruiting: Breaking Down the Top 2015 Target at Each Position

Three straight seasons of winning 10 or more games has a way of boosting one's talent level. That's precisely the case for the Clemson Tigers.

With the departures of Tajh Boyd, Sammy Watkins, Martavis Bryant and Brandon Thomas, among others, now is the time to see how good Clemson's recent recruiting classes are. 

But it's never too early to start talking about next year. 

Currently, the Tigers are ranked No. 4 in the class of 2015, per 247Sports, with 13 verbal commitments. 

2015 is shaping up to be a big year for Clemson on the recruiting trail. The Tigers currently have a commitment from 247Sports' second-ranked offensive lineman, Mitch Hyatt, and just two weeks ago added 4-star offensive tackle Jake Fruhmorgen.

Here's a look at Clemson's top target at each position for 2015. Keep in mind, since verbal commitments aren't official until signing day, we will include the players who have committed as targets. 

All recruiting ranking and information courtesy of 247Sports

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5 Players to Watch in College Football's Remaining Spring Games

Spring games are coming to an end, which means college football junkies really will be going out of their minds for the next three months before preseason camp starts. 

Of course, the less you hear about your favorite team this offseason, the better. 

In the meantime, there's business to attend to. Since not all teams are finished with their spring practices, there are still teams and players that are piquing interest. Which players are on our radar with just a couple of weeks left before the full offseason goes into effect?

The answers, as always, are in the following slides. 

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Alabama Football: Nick Saban's Biggest Concerns Post-Spring Practice

After the conclusion of Alabama’s spring practice, Crimson Tide fans have a better picture on some of the areas that could be of concern for Nick Saban and his staff leading up to fall camp.

While issues such as finding a new starting quarterback, new offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin getting acclimated with his new surroundings and fighting off complacency have driven the headlines for the Tide’s offseason, a handful of concerns remain for a team coming off an 11-2 season.

Some holes caused by graduation or early departures to the NFL are still prevalent, while depth at other positions are areas that need further development.

What are the most pressing issues that Saban will be planning heavily to solve in the fall?

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USC Is a Pac-12 South Contender in 2014, but Only If Trojans Can Stay Healthy

The University of Southern California wrapped up the spring season with a less-than-impressive offensive showing.

Nevertheless, Steve Sarkisian's first Trojan team should still have eyes on the Pac-12 South—as long as the team can get healthy and remain that way through the 2014 season.

Cody Kessler was named the starter prior to the spring game, as Fox Sports West reported, but ultimately the final scrimmage was a lot less about the quarterback than it was about the defense. As linebackers Hayes Pullard told Durga Ghosh over at Neon Tommy, "Ones and twos, every single one of the D-linemen I think had a sack each."

Those ones and twos, of course, did not include Leonard Williams, who watched the action from the sidelines.

Williams, one of the Trojans' best players, was one of many expected contributors who could only watch as the teammates scrimmaged. Joining Williams were offensive linemen Aundrey Walker, Jordan Simms, defensive backs Josh Shaw and Su'a Cravens, and offensive skill players Justin Davis, Randall Telfer and Steven Mitchell.

That's a lot of talent on the sidelines for a team that is trying desperately to rebuild its depth.

It's also a lot of talent that will go a long way toward contending in the Pac-12 South.

A season ago, USC was a 10-win ballclub, coming a head-scratching three-point loss to Washington State to start the season away from an 11-win campaign. Although the Trojans lose some talented pieces, the core of last year's success returns to set the pace.

That starts with the defense. The offense limped through spring, both literally and figuratively. Injuries limited the rushing efforts, with linemen out and running back numbers remarkably low.

The unit, outside of Nelson Agholor, struggled to consistently put together quality offensive performances.

Meanwhile, the defense remains a strength for USC—a strength that new defensive coordinator Justin Wilcox will be pushing to improve upon.

Getting better means finding a solution for the two other Pac-12 South contenders: UCLA and Arizona State. The Bruins and Sun Devils put up 97 total points against USC in 2013 and were two of just three teams to score more than 30 points against the Trojans defense. Arizona's fast-paced attack put 31 up in a loss following Lane Kiffin's firing.

The Bruins and the Sun Devils are the roadblocks, and beating those teams starts with Sarkisian's squad being healthy.

This team will need bodies to overcome the high-powered offenses from Westwood and Tempe: offensive linemen to create space in the run game, healthy running backs to keep the ball away from quarterbacks Taylor Kelly and Brett Hundley, and defenders at every level to stop the points that seemed to come so easy for both teams.

If USC wants to be in the Pac-12 South race, health is job No. 1. Job No. 2 will be improving against the other two contenders within the division.

Sarkisian's offense has to continue to get better and Wilcox's defense, which surrendered 94 total points to UCLA and Arizona State while he was at Washington, has to perform for the Trojans to remain in contention.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

One Game Every Hot Seat Coach Must Win in 2014

It takes more than one game for a coach to stave off the hot seat; in most cases, after all, only long-term disappointment can land a coach there in the first place, so why should one minuscule victory set him free?

Having said that, one ill-timed loss can turn a hot-seat coach into a dead man walking or—if the situation calls for it—a now-former coach right there on the spot. (For more information, see: Kiffin, Lane.)

No job is ever "safe" in college football, but of the 65 head coaches in major conferences (plus Brian Kelly at Notre Dame), 10 stick out with hotter seats than others. That doesn't mean they are the only ones who can be forced out—Frank Beamer at Virginia Tech, for example, might suffer the same fate as Mack Brown after another bad season—but they are the ones who must tread the most carefully and whose teams must make the most improvement.

And in each case, there is a game (or games) they can't afford to lose.

Let's take a closer look.

 

Note: For the sake of being germane to the highest number of readers, only coaches from the five power conferences were included. I haven't forgotten about you, Ron Turner and Norm Chow.

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Texas A&M Football: 4 Things Standing in the Way of an SEC Championship

The Texas A&M football team has completed spring practice and is preparing for the 2014 season. The Aggies will face multiple obstacles in their quest to win the SEC title in 2014.

To win a championship in any league, you need to have talent, depth and a little bit of luck. It is very rare that you can find a football team that is "up" on every Saturday of the season. There is going to be a game where everything seems a little off and the team is going to need some luck to scrape out a win.

A team needs to be able to avoid injuries to significant players and off-the-field issues. It takes a lot more than simply assembling a roster of good football players to win a championship.

This is a look at some of the hurdles that stand in the way of the 2014 Texas A&M football team winning a conference title.

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Where FSU Turns After Hometown 4-Star D'Anfernee McGriff Committed to Auburn

Florida State fell short in its pursuit of hometown talent D'Anfernee McGriff despite multiple campus visits in recent months. The 4-star offensive playmaker committed to Auburn on Tuesday afternoon during an announcement ceremony at Leon High School in Tallahassee:

McGriff earned the Tallahassee Charlie Ward Offensive Player of the Year Award in 2013, leading the Leon attack in a variety of facets. He spent significant time at quarterback, passing for 772 yards and two touchdowns on 130 attempts, per MaxPreps.

His most impressive production occurred on the ground. McGriff rushed for 2,025 yards and 29 scores in 12 games, including four 200-plus yard efforts in the final five contests of the season.

The 6'1", 230-pound prospect emerged as a premier offensive threat, capable of contributing to an offensive backfield in a variety of ways. He is likely to end up at running back in college and is rated No. 13 nationally at the position in 247Sports' composite rankings.

McGriff has been clocked at 4.34 seconds in the 40-yard dash, according to 247Sports. His physical prowess and game production earned him an avalanche of scholarship offers after his junior campaign.

Despite holding a major advantage in proximity, the Seminoles had to deal with several SEC contenders. Alabama, South Carolina, Florida and Auburn each emerged as serious threats leading up to his pledge to the Tigers.

Florida State has seen fellow national title contenders claim key commitments from its top targets in recent weeks. Alabama picked up a trio of players with Seminoles offers last weekend, including a pair of Sunshine State prospects.

Minkah Fitzpatrick, a 5-star cornerback from New Jersey, committed to the Crimson Tide on Saturday two months after visiting Tallahassee. So did wide receiver Calvin Ridley and safety Shawn Burgess-Becker, 4-star teammates in Pompano Beach, Fla. who were more likely to land in Miami if they remained in Florida for college.

Auburn edged Florida State for a commitment from running back Kerryon Johnson earlier this month. Both programs were finalists for the 5-star Alabama athlete.

The Seminoles are looking for some recruiting momentum after missing out on a series of key prospects. Head coach Jimbo Fisher and his staff have landed just one 2015 pledge since Feb. 22, exactly two months ago.

Though Florida State has hosted several recruits during the span—including McGriff—commitments have been hard to come by. David Robbins, a 3-star offensive guard from Maryland, joined the class during the first weekend of April.

The Seminoles have assembled a strong class with nine pledges. It rates seventh nationally in 247Sports' composite rankings.

Florida State's largest 2015 need right now is at offensive skill positions, particularly after whiffing on various players who could've quickly contributed to the Seminoles attack. Fisher has several other targets lined up.

Orlando running back Jacques Patrick is a primary prospect who visited Tallahassee last Month. Georgia target Taj Griffin, rated No. 1 nationally among all-purpose backs in 247Sports' composite rankings, still has the Seminoles on his radar.

Running backs Johnny Frasier (Princeton, N.C.) and Eric Swinney (Tyrone, Ga.) also hold Florida State offers. The Seminoles are also looking for help at receiver, where in-state targets Deon Cain (Tampa) and Da'Vante Phillips (Miami) could provide solutions.

The team hopes to avoid losing another local prospect when Tallahassee prospect John Burt eventually announces his decision. The 4-star receiver views Texas as a favorite and also has Auburn among his top choices.

Florida State struck out with a premier prospect in its backyard on Tuesday. The Seminoles now aim to turn things around in order to end a momentary recruiting lull.

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D'Anfernee McGriff to Auburn: Tigers Land 4-Star ATH Prospect

D'Anfernee McGriff, a 4-star athlete from Tallahassee's Leon High School, made his commitment official on Tuesday afternoon, deciding to play for the Auburn Tigers as part of their 2015 recruiting class.

Michael Langston of Rivals.com confirmed the news on Twitter following McGriff's announcement:

Justin Hokanson of Rivals.com talks more about the decision:

The 6'1", 230-pounder is listed as both a running back and dual-threat quarterback. While there's no denying his talent as a ball-carrier, his passion over the last several seasons in high school has been playing behind center and getting the job done with both his legs and arm.

Before the announcement, McGriff spoke fondly of the program Gus Malzahn has built in Auburn. Though the Tigers emerged just recently in the recruiting process, McGriff knew the fit would be a great one as he might have a chance to play quarterback, per Keith Niebuhr of 247Sports (subscription required):

"I like everything they do," McGriff said. "I feel like I'll go in and fit in perfectly with what they do. ... That stuck out—the way they use their quarterback in the read option with the QB running—and that's what I like."

McGriff's commitment looked all but solidified before he ever stepped to the podium, with Florida State and Florida holding onto a glimmer of hope, as War Eagle Recruiting noted: 

Michael Langston of Rivals also gave his prediction on where the prized recruit would go:

Along with the chance to play quarterback, McGriff also comes to a program with a need at the position after the 2014 season. With Nick Marshall playing out his senior campaign this fall, McGriff could be the heir apparent.

With the exact same height and 20 more pounds on Marshall following his junior season in high school, McGriff could grow into a dynamic signal-caller for the Tigers.

He possesses a good arm. He also runs a 4.34 40-yard dash, so it's clear that McGriff has enough speed to be a running quarterback or tailback who could help continue Auburn's success in the SEC.

Getting the Tallahassee native's commitment is a huge one for the Tigers because of his potential to be a true game-changer. As a dynamic athlete with raw talent, McGriff should be ready to line up at two different skill positions, making him a difference-maker for Auburn in the coming seasons.

 

*All recruiting information courtesy of 247Sports.

 

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4-Star RB D'Anfernee McGriff Commits to Auburn, Will Get Chance at QB for Tigers

The No. 13 running back of the 2015 class, D'Anfernee McGriff, has committed to the Auburn Tigers. This is a huge get for Gus Malzahn, who continues to land top athletic talent.

The 6'1", 230-pound athlete has the potential to play anywhere on the field, but look for him to land at the quarterback position when he arrives on campus and play the Nick Marshall role for the Tigers. Check out the video above to see Michael Felder break down what McGriff means to the Auburn Tigers.

 

Highlights courtesy XOS Digital. All rankings from 247 Sports Composite.

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