NCAA Football News

Clemson Picked to Win ACC, Deshaun Watson Voted as Player of the Year

Florida State has won the last three ACC titles, but the media members who cover the conference are picking Clemson to end that streak.

The ACC released the league's 2015 preseason poll results Tuesday morning as part of the ACC Kickoff event in Pinehurst, North Carolina. 

Clemson led the ballot with 84 of the media's 158 picks for the winner of the ACC championship. Florida State and Georgia Tech followed Clemson for the overall title and four other schools received championship votes.

The Tigers are coming off a 10-3 campaign in 2014 in which they finished second in the Atlantic Division. Last year, Florida State went undefeated in ACC play for the second straight season and fell to Oregon in the semifinals of the first College Football Playoff.

Clemson won the preseason media poll in 2013 but finished 7-1 in ACC play with a lone loss to Florida State.

And while the SEC media failed to put its overall champion as the winner of its own division, their ACC brethren got it right by picking Clemson (84 first-place votes) to edge Florida State (41) in the Atlantic Division poll. Louisville received one vote to win the Atlantic.

Georgia Tech led the way with 96 first-place votes in the Coastal Division. Virginia Tech came in second with 44 votes, while four other teams grabbed division-title nods from media members.

Clemson also topped the vote for the ACC's Player of the Year on Tuesday.

Sophomore quarterback Deshaun Watson, who threw for 1,466 yards, 14 touchdowns and two interceptions in eight games last season, edged Pittsburgh running back James Conner for the preseason award.

After winning the starting quarterback job following Clemson's overtime loss to Florida State, Watson threw for 435 yards and six touchdowns in his first career start against North Carolina.

Several injuries, including a torn ACL, limited his playing time for the remainder of the 2014 campaign.

Watson and preseason favorite Clemson will take on defending champion Florida State on Nov. 7.

The winner of the annual matchup between the Tigers and Seminoles has gone on to win the Atlantic Division and play in the ACC Championship Game each of the last six seasons.

 

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

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Tre' Shaw Reveals Top 5: Which Schools Hold Edge for 2017 4-Star?

Georgia defensive back Tre' Shaw took a step forward in his recruitment on Monday, revealing a list of five favorites on Twitter:

Shaw, a 4-star prospect in the 2017 recruiting class, identified the programs in order of preference. Ole Miss leads the way, with Florida, Georgia, Auburn and North Carolina following behind.

The 6'0", 180-pound playmaker is likely to pounce on an offer sooner rather than later. According to Keith Niebuhr of 247Sports, the process is "not expected to drag on" and one of Shaw's coaches said, "His plan is to commit somewhat early."

Rated 23rd nationally among cornerbacks entering their junior year, Shaw is a standout at Cedar Grove High School. He began collecting FBS scholarship offers during his sophomore season, accumulating a list of collegiate opportunities that also includes South Carolina, Duke, Kentucky and Virginia Tech.

Shaw secured an Ole Miss offer in late February and clearly appreciates how the Rebels have handled his recruitment.

Head coach Hugh Freeze has enjoyed success targeting Peach State products in past cycles, headlined by No. 1 overall 2013 prospect Robert Nkemdiche.

Ole Miss signed top-rated Georgia running back Eric Swinney in the 2015 cycle and already holds three 2016 commitments from the state. The Rebels are still searching for a 2017 pledge, and it now appears Shaw could ultimately be the first player to climb aboard.

Niebuhr suggested in May that Auburn was viewed as a leader in this race, but Shaw's latest update sees the Tigers slip to fourth in his pecking order.

“Auburn is standing out right now because of the academics and their sports programs,” he said. “That really puts them over the top. 

Florida may be the biggest threat to Ole Miss for Shaw's commitment despite a total coaching overhaul last winter. The Gators began targeting him under the direction of former head coach Will Muschamp, who carried that recruitment over to his new gig as defensive coordinator at Auburn.

Shaw picked up a Florida offer—the first for him—on his 16th birthday and still feels love from The Swamp.

Another element to monitor moving ahead is his relationship with close friend and high school teammate Antwuan Jackson, a 4-star defensive tackle. The rising senior named Auburn and Ohio State co-leaders on July 4, with Georgia (third), Florida (fifth) and Ole Miss (ninth) also making the cut for his top 10.

While Jackson is a year older than Shaw, it remains to be seen which player pledges to a college program first. The elder's signing-day decision could eventually affect where Shaw lands in 2017.

 

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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4-Star QB Dillon Sterling-Cole Reveals How He Narrowed Down to a Top 5

Of the nation's top 30 pro-style quarterbacks in the 2016 recruiting class, 27 are verbally committed to a college. On Monday, Dillon Sterling-Cole inched closer to becoming commit No. 28.

The 4-star talent from Houston trimmed his list of favorites from eight schools to five, tweeting that Arizona State, Florida, Texas A&M, Mississippi State and Houston made the cut:

Sterling-Cole, the nation's No. 9 pro-style quarterback, had his reasons for choosing his quintet of schools. Overall comfort is the primary reasoning.

"I just based it off my previous top eight, the relationships that I have built with the coaches and the areas in which the schools are located," Sterling-Cole said. "[I looked at] the programs as a whole and thought if I'd be able to flourish as a person and player at that university.

"More so, I just sat down with my parents and family members making sure that they're comfortable with my decision-making."

What made Sterling-Cole's list even more interesting is that he announced the schools in order of where they currently rank in his mind. Texas A&M currently is sitting in third place, perhaps an unexpected turn of events for Aggie fans, as Sterling-Cole is the son of former Texas A&M wide receiver Chris Cole.

Those rankings could change in the next couple of weeks, but for now, the Westfield High School standout is Arizona State's to lose.

"Arizona State is No. 1 right now because of the relationship I have built with [offensive coordinator] Coach [Mike] Norvell," Sterling-Cole said. "My family loved the unofficial visit when we went, and I feel comfortable with what they are doing."

The month of June included unofficial visits to UCLA (June 8), Arizona State (June 9) and Florida (June 16). Of Sterling-Cole's top five, Houston is the only school with a quarterback currently committed.

Wherever Sterling-Cole ends up, look for him to want to compete early and put up solid numbers. He threw for 2,325 yards and 24 touchdowns with six interceptions as a junior. As a sophomore, Sterling-Cole threw for 2,303 yards, 26 touchdowns and seven picks.

As an Elite 11 participant, Sterling-Cole was fun to watch during the semifinal round in Los Angels and the finals in Oregon. It wasn't long ago that he was an unknown target, but he worked his way up the recruiting charts, winning the Elite 11 Dallas regional in March and watching his stock skyrocket through the spring and summer.

Now, the world will wait for Sterling-Cole's next step. What will be his next announcement? A tweet of the top three? Perhaps a tweet announcing his verbal commit?

"Maybe just a top two," he said.

 

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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Retirement Is Not an Option for South Carolina's Steve Spurrier, for Now

"I breezed right through age 60, breezed right through 65, and I'm going to try my best to breeze right on through 70."

South Carolina's Steve Spurrier didn't shy away from the retirement question earlier this month at SEC media days in Hoover, Alabama. He met it head on.

From the way the "head ball coach" sounds this summer, hanging up the headset in favor of the golf clubs doesn't seem like something that's rattling around his visor at the moment.

That's not to say that there weren't rumblings, especially after a grueling 2014 season that saw the Gamecocks finish 7-6 and struggle to close out games.

"I don't know how close I came to walking away, but when you lose four out of five, and three of them we had a two-touchdown lead with four minutes to play...Those were some tough losses," Spurrier said.

The retirement question might get old for Spurrier and for South Carolina fans, but it's not going away. He just turned 70 and was asked in December how much longer he planned on sticking around. He initially said two to three years and then quickly switched that to four to five years, according to David Cloninger of The State.

Why the change?

I'm sure part of the reason was because potential signees in the 2015 class and future classes don't want it to be set in stone that they're going to go through a coaching change during their Gamecock careers.

Besides, why would Spurrier walk away now?

Sure, last season was stressful, and the Gamecocks have plenty of roster holes. But he still plays in a down division, managed to post a big win over Georgia last year and has a roster littered with youth.

The window for SEC East success might be closed, but it certainly isn't locked.

The Gamecocks have a Heisman-caliber receiver in Pharoh Cooper, who has been used downfield, as a threat at running back and even as a quarterback during his first two seasons in Columbia. Despite every defense focusing on him, Cooper is ready for even more responsibility in 2015.

"Teams are going to be keying on me, so I'm going to have to get the ball a lot more out of the Wildcat position," Cooper said. "I'm still going to do the same things as last year and still could throw the ball. I'll probably be in the backfield more this year."

If Spurrier and his staff can get Cooper in even more advantageous situations, and catch lighting in a bottle with whomever wins the quarterback job, the offense could be alright.

Defensively, there are the obvious issues that hold over from last year, including an underwhelming defensive line and a secondary that is still rather young. But communication was a big issue last year, and the presence of new co-defensive coordinator Jon Hoke could fix those issues.

"We've got good coaches, but for whatever reason, we just didn't communicate," Spurrier said. "We can play a lot better defensively, and I think everybody's going to see that this year. So that's given all of us, I think, an extra life there at South Carolina."

There likely isn't a timeframe on Spurrier's retirement plans, just more of a general idea on what needs to happen in order for him to hang up the visor. When things were cooking at a high level, and the Gamecocks were in the division-title discussion every year from 2010-2013, an SEC title seemed like the right time for Spurrier to ride off into the sunset.

Now, the definition of "going out on top" might have changed a bit.

A division title, 10-win season or even a win over highly ranked Clemson and decent bowl game might be enough to send Spurrier to the links on a more full-time basis.

His contract runs through 2018, and considering he's never been a guy who spends 24 hours a day and seven days per week at the football complex, it's conceivable that he rides that out and then moves on.

If his team gives him a reason to go out "on top," he probably will take that opportunity a little bit earlier.

The definition of "on top," though, is what has changed after last year's struggles.

 

Quotes were obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted. Barrett Sallee is the lead SEC college football writer and 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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Inside Oklahoma's Healing Process in the Aftermath of the SAE Racism Scandal

Charles Tapper, a junior defensive end for the Oklahoma Sooners, was lounging around his off-campus apartment playing NBA 2K with fellow lineman Charles Walker and cornerback Zack Sanchez on the evening of Sunday, March 8. With a 5:45 a.m. workout scheduled for the next day, the time was quickly approaching for them to head to bed.

Then Tapper, a team captain, got a call.

"Man, where are you guys?" yelled Eric Striker, fellow captain, his gravelly voice at a fever pitch. "Why aren't y'all flipping out about what's going on? You haven't seen what happened with the SAE guys?"

"Nah, what are you talking about?" Tapper asked.

"Man, I'm gonna send you the video!" Striker said. "Y'all need to get over here right now! We can't just let this slip under the rug."

In the bowels of the Citrus Bowl after last year's embarrassing 40-6 loss to Clemson—which ended an 8-5 debacle of a season—Oklahoma football coach Bob Stoops told the assembled media, "I want to start off expressing my disappointment and anger at the way this season went. I take accountability, responsibility for all of it. It starts with me and ends with me."

Little did he know that his disappointment and anger would deepen a few months later after an unforeseen controversy during what some would suggest was the most critical stretch of spring practices during his tenure.

College football coaches, at least those with Stoops' distinguished resume, are all about control. But the Sooners coach instinctively grasped that in order for his team to move forward, in order to heal and grow as football players and men, things didn't necessarily need to start or end with him.

He realized that, in this specific instance, he couldn't micromanage—he needed to cede the play-calling to his players.

The wobbly, slightly out of focus nine-second video clip was captured by someone's cell phone aboard a chartered bus carrying members of the University of Oklahoma's Sigma Alpha Epsilon chapter, their dates and a number of high school students who were potential fraternity recruits on Saturday, March 7.

Dressed in formal attire, they were headed to a party to celebrate SAE's Founders Day.

At some point during the ride, the fraternity members began excitedly clapping their hands, animatedly pumping their fists and boisterously reciting a racist chant that had seemingly been rehearsed and customarily woven into the fabric of their chapter's culture.

Two young frat members stand up, their red faces beaming with joy as they lead the cheer. The mantra is recited to the tune of the popular children's song "If You're Happy and You Know It."

"There will never be a n----r in SAE. You can hang them from a tree, but they'll never sign with me. There will never be a n----r in SAE."

Warning: This video contains offensive language.

The next day, the university's student paper, the Oklahoma Daily, received the video in an email. Within the next 24 hours, it became one of the hottest trending topics on Twitter. A national furor ensued.

Every major news outlet descended on the Norman campus. A highly touted football recruit in the Class of 2016, 6'5", 280-pound offensive lineman Jean Delance of Mesquite, Texas, was so disturbed by the incident that he rescinded his verbal commitment to Oklahoma.

School President David Boren launched an immediate investigation and swiftly moved to have the chapter banned from campus. SAE's national office closed the chapter and suspended its members hours after the video surfaced.

By March 10, moving trucks were hauling away furniture and the fraternity members' personal possessions. OU facility workers removed the large Greek letters from the SAE house as the expansive building was shuttered.

Two of the students who had taken a leadership role in the incident, Levi Pettit and Parker Rice, were expelled.

Tapper had actually viewed a sliver of the video earlier, when a classmate from his Cherokee foreign language class asked him if he'd seen it.

"When I saw it earlier, I couldn't really hear all the words and what they were saying," Tapper recalled as he sat outside of the team's locker room on a too-small chair, still attired in his dirt- and grass-stained white practice uniform two days before OU's spring football game. Salty remnants of dried sweat were caked on his forehead, discoloring his closely cropped beard.

"I didn't hear all of the lyrics and the full context of what they were actually saying the first time I saw it," Tapper said. "But when Striker sent it over, that's when I realized how ugly it really was."

Tapper, Sanchez and Walker abandoned their video game trash-talk and hustled over to the nearby Buffalo Wild Wings on Classen Boulevard, where a growing crowd of Sooner athletes was gathering.

"We were all talking about how we could address the situation, how we could get involved and do something," Tapper said. "We started strategizing, but as the crowd got bigger, we decided we needed to be in a private space. So then we headed over to Striker's house."

Striker, a 6'0", 225-pound All-American linebacker from Seffner, Florida, was having a difficult time controlling his rage.

He'd already sent out an incensed, profanity-laced Snapchat video.

"I was in a meeting watching film when it was sent to me," Striker said. "When I watched it after the meeting, I was so pissed off that my head and my stomach hurt. My heart dropped."

After arriving home, he couldn't stop pacing back and forth. He started calling his teammates, searching for a way to channel his mushrooming fury.

Striker had experienced a litany of microaggressions with OU frat members that he felt were laced with racism since he arrived on campus as a freshman.

"There were a lot of incidents where classmates would invite me to a party at their frat house," Striker said. "We showed up, and the person who invited us had to actually come to the door and vouch for us to get in. It was not a good vibe at all."

As he spoke, you could feel the hurt in his sincerity. At times, he paused thoughtfully, searching for the right words through deep breaths. He orated with a preacher's cadence, gesturing for emphasis.

"I could tell when and where I was not welcomed," Striker continued while lounging against a wall outside of the team auditorium a few days prior to the spring game.

His mom had always offered him books when he was younger, instructing him to read certain sentences, paragraphs and chapters. She'd ask him follow-up questions about what he'd learned.

His home library contained manuscripts about black leaders such as Frederick Douglass, Booker T. Washington, Marcus Garvey, Malcolm X and Martin Luther King Jr., among others.

One book that his mother handed him in the 10th grade, The Making of a Slave by Willie Lynch—which is a study of the brutal physical and psychological tools used to condition black slaves—made him break down in tears.

"I hit a wall when I read the Willie Lynch book," Striker said. "It hurt me so much, I broke down. But my mother put me in a position to think outside the box and to see things beyond what is simply in front you. It was mandatory in my house growing up to have an understanding of history and the African-American experience in this country."

With approximately 30 Sooner athletes gathered at his house on that Sunday evening when the SAE video went viral, they talked about what kind of steps and actions they could take within the university community.

"We just kept saying that this was something that we weren't going to tolerate or let happen," Striker said. "We knew that this was bigger than football and bigger than the University of Oklahoma. We were determined that something good was going to come from this."

The impromptu meeting lasted until the wee hours of the morning. It could hardly be characterized as one that followed Robert's Rules of Order.

"Everybody was just essentially expressing their hurt and anger," Tapper said. "Things got really raw and emotional."

With his mind racing after the meeting dispersed, Striker couldn't sleep.

Exhausted, with bloodshot eyes, he attended an on-campus march that morning that had been organized by Unheard, the student group that initially brought the SAE video to light.

Many familiar with SAE and the inner workings of other predominantly white fraternities did not see the situation at Oklahoma as an anomaly, but rather as an enduring problem.

SAE was founded in the antebellum south in 1856 and has a long history of racially demeaning behaviors. In 1949, when Harvard's Student Council passed a ban on discrimination based on color, nationality or race, SAE's national charter said that only "members of the Caucasian race" could join the fraternity. Faced with losing its Harvard affiliation, SAE acquiesced and changed its charter.

An SAE party on Martin Luther King's birthday in 1982 at the University of Cincinnati featured flyers asking students to bring things such as a canceled welfare check, "your father if you know who he is" and "a radio bigger than your head." The flyer also included prominent images of James Earl Ray, the man convicted of King's assassination.

At Texas A&M in 1992, an SAE "jungle fever" party featured revelers in black face and slave huts. Other racially charged incidents involving SAE members have sporadically surfaced all over the country in recent years, including one at Washington University in St. Louis two years ago, when pledges were ordered to hurl racial slurs at a group of black students.

Christopher Felix became a fan of the University of Oklahoma's football program when he was five years old. While out shopping one Saturday afternoon, his father stopped to check the score of the game being televised.

"Dad, who are we going for?" Felix asked.

"Son, we're going for OU," his dad replied.

"I've been a Sooner fan ever since that day," said Felix, who is a member of Alpha Phi Alpha, the nation's oldest historically black fraternity. He's a mechanical engineering major who is also minoring in business.

Felix was walking into what he thought would be a regular meeting on campus that Sunday evening when the video surfaced, and he immediately found himself, and his beloved OU community, immersed in a firestorm.

When he saw the school's football players active and engaged, he knew that the incident and the groundswell of activism on campus was prone to reach a wider audience.

"There is a lot of power in celebrity, and there are few bigger celebrities in Norman and in the entire state of Oklahoma than the football players at OU," Felix said. "When they said they weren't going to tolerate it, it became everybody's issue."

The day after the video went viral, all 105 members of the football squad gathered in the team auditorium, where they normally pore over film and digest on-field tactics and game plans. They began debating some different strategies.

Where photos commemorate the program's seven national championships and a quote in white script reads, "The only yardstick for success our society has is being a champion. No one remembers anything else," the players argued back and forth about what role, if any, they should play.

"Things got very heated, especially at that first meeting," said wide receiver Sterling Shepard, a political science major and another team captain. Shepard was a semifinalist for the Biletnikoff Award last season, presented annually to the country's best receiver.

"None of us were equipped to handle a situation like this," Shepard said. "Guys were almost getting into fights because everybody comes from different belief systems, political thoughts and economic backgrounds. The room was split."

"You had guys standing up and saying, 'I didn't come here to be a civil rights activist, I came here to play football,'" said senior center and Academic All-American Ty Darlington, a member of the Sooners leadership council.

Tapper, Striker, Shepard and other black players shared their hurt and previous experiences with racism with their white teammates.

"Obviously, being a white male here, as much as I can empathize and say that I understand how they feel, I haven't lived that," said Darlington, a native of Apopka, Florida, whose mom was once a cheerleader when she attended OU. "I had to sit down with them and try to understand, in depth, what they were going through."

Stoops was angry when he saw the video. Growing up in the rugged blue-collar town of Youngstown, Ohio, as the son of a legendary high school football coach, he had a diverse group of friends and teammates. The vehicle of sport, he later learned, allowed them to transcend their differences and appreciate one another as individuals.

"I truly believe that a big part of our job as coaches is relating to our players as if they're a part of our family, because they are," Stoops said while sitting on a comfortable leather couch in his spacious, wood-accentuated office in the Barry Switzer Center.

With two days of work remaining before the spring game, you could see the intensity etched into his poker face, even as he hastily flipped through a copy of Mitch Albom's The Five People You Meet in Heaven, a book he has already read.

"You have to have a sense of the pulse of your team," Stoops continued. "I felt strongly, with the level of emotion that so many of them had with this, that we were going to have to work through it. It was about allowing them the space to do that. And they were very thoughtful and put a lot of time into meeting and thinking about what the message should be and how we were going to deliver it."

Four days after the SAE video went viral, and just five days after spring practice began, the football players shunned their pads, skipped practice and held a silent protest—dressed in black, linked arm-in-arm—with Stoops and the entire coaching staff participating, demanding punishment for more than just the two SAE students who were swiftly expelled by Boren.

"We found out that the song in that video was being taught at a national convention, on a cruise," Stoops said. "The team's purpose was to bring attention, not only to the young guys at Oklahoma who said it, but to who was teaching this. Why would something like that be taught, and why did they feel like it was acceptable?"

 

The day prior, as the next-to-last practice before the spring game wrapped up, the crack of shoulder pads crashing together, whistles and hand claps echoed in the cavernous and empty Memorial Stadium. Footballs whizzed through the air as ominous storm clouds hovered above.

Soon, the mesmerizing spectacle of OU football will be back, a fact that Sooner Nation can't welcome soon enough.

But remnants of the damage to a wounded community can still be found at 730 College Avenue, the former address of the Sigma Alpha Epsilon house.

On a magnificent, luminous early afternoon the day before the spring game, when the main walkways on campus are awash with bustling students, most of them wearing T-shirts, shorts and flip-flops, the scene on College Avenue is subdued. The parking lot at the old SAE house is cordoned off by yellow caution tape attached to five orange OU traffic cones, with a hulking floodlight to the left of the lot entrance.

The gate with two standing, roaring lions that leads to the huge house is chained. Someone has spray-painted "Tear it D" in black letters on the right side of the house, with a squiggly line trailing after the letter D.

The windows out back are boarded up with plywood. The basketball half-court behind the house, with its soft, fancy purple and grey rubbery surface, is missing the rim from its backboard.

A few steps away, a landscaper is blowing leaves and tending to the meticulous lawn of a white-columned sorority house.

Slightly more than a block away at JJ's Pizza Stop on West Lindsay, a group of white freshmen males, some of them sporting Greek fraternity letters, are enjoying the lazy afternoon. A few of them are watching the Masters on the elevated flat screen near the establishment's entrance as they snack on appetizers and talk about Tiger Woods and Jordan Spieth. Others are off to the side shooting pool.

When the conversation switches to the spring football game, they talk about growing up as OU football fans and how crazy the stadium is on game days. When asked how they thought the football team responded to the SAE video, their smiles and laughter disappear.

One abruptly says, "No. We're not talking about that," as another summons the guys over from the pool table to let them know what's going on.

But Will O'Connor, a conscientious, innocent-looking first-year student from Tulsa who is a pre-med and biology major, does talk about it.

"I'm in a group called the President's Leadership Class, and Coach Stoops talks to the group at least once a year," O'Connor said. "This was a week after the incident, so tensions were still high. He was very emotional but very positive. He talked about how his own family and children, along with the football family, had been hurt and affected."

At the spring game, some members of the 1985 team gathered to begin a yearlong celebration of the 30th anniversary of their national championship.

Jamelle Holieway, that squad's electrifying option savant who remains the only true freshmen to quarterback a major college football team to the national title, enjoyed the hugs and jokes he shared with former teammates like tight end Keith Jackson and former coach Barry Switzer.

"I was sad that the people at the university had to go through something like that," Holieway said. "That video was a black eye that was felt by a lot of people. And when I saw Coach Stoops and the players out there together, protesting and making their statement, I felt like that was the first step toward mending what had been broken."

Holieway loved being around his old teammates, reminiscing about the good times. And he has faith that the good times will return to OU football very soon.

"Playing good football is going to help everybody heal, because everybody comes together around the Sooners," he said.

"We were a close team before, and we're probably a closer team now," Stoops said. "When you're a part of athletics and in an environment like this, you learn to love the other guy regardless of their background. This situation was thrust on us, but we were obviously strong enough to handle it, to look it in the eye and to try to bring about a national change. And that was our purpose.

"Because you have incidents like this all over the country, and there doesn't need to be any more." 

Wandering through the student union a few days prior to the spring game, the mood of the many students lounging and milling about is mostly buoyant.

The most powerful and inviting elements of the atmosphere are the photos that hang on the walls—the black and white snapshots that stare back at you. These are frozen images of school history—like the ones featuring the OU football team in 1896, the men of ROTC in 1939, the school orchestra in 1906, a sorority rush event in 1939, the track team in 1906 and an individual photo of Prentice Gautt, Oklahoma's first black football player in 1956.

On the third floor, to the right of the office of Student Life, is a poster from 2005. Its symbolism is inescapable. Standing center stage in the dazzling Reynolds Performing Arts Center is mammoth former Sooners offensive lineman Davin Joseph. Dressed in his crisp uniform and sporting a wide, toothy grin, he is holding a diminutive ballerina in the air. Above the photo is a caption that says, "University of Oklahoma." Below, it says, "We Have It All!"

Football's powerful force and unique strength is supporting, lifting and holding up something beautiful. They're an odd couple. But they're working together. She assumes her ballerina pose. He carries her. Both jobs are hard work. But they're both smiling.

 

Alejandro Danois is a senior writer and editor with The Shadow League. The former senior editor of Bounce Magazine, he's also had work published by the New York Times, Sporting News, Baltimore Sun, Los Angeles Times, Ebony magazine and others. Follow him on Twitter @alidanois.

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2016 College Football Recruits with International Backgrounds

Football may be America's game, but it continues to evolve into a global interest. The NFL and NCAA now play regular-season contests on multiple continents, while expansive media coverage provides a look at action like never before in various corners of the world. 

A new generation of promising players features phenoms from beyond United States borders, bringing a fresh element of talent into the mix. The game's growth outside of North America remains in a relatively fledgling state, but the emergence of foreign-born athletes provides a glimpse of what could lie ahead.

Foreign athletes who've flourished at the highest level of football include wide receiver Nate Burleson (Canada), defensive tackle Star Lotulelei (Tonga) and linebacker Tamba Hali (Liberia).

Here's a look at several prospects who have landed on the radar of college recruiters via their international endeavors.

 

Players listed in alphabetical order.

Begin Slideshow

College Football Coaches Who Shine and Struggle Against Top 25 Teams

Of the 128 FBS head coaches, how many do you think have a career winning record against Top 25 teams?

Half?  A third?  A quarter? 

How about 15 total?  That’s a paltry 12 percent of the field.

On the flip side, of the 110 guys who have at least one year of FBS head coaching under their belt and have played at least one ranked team, how many have never won a game against a Top 25 opponent?

Ten percent?  Twenty percent?  Twenty-five percent?

How about 32?  That’s a whopping 29 percent.

Comparing coach’s records straight-up isn’t an apples-to-apples affair. Some have 15 years of experience, while others have three—this means where one guy has faced 25 ranked teams, the other has played seven.  It’s further complicated when you have one guy coaching at Florida, while the other is at Memphis—giving one more exposure to ranked action than the other.

We’ll kick things off by looking at the top and the bottom of the barrel nationally and then switch gears to rankings within each of the Power Five leagues.

Begin Slideshow

Virginia Tech Football: 5 Players Sure to Surprise at Fall Camp

Fall camp is almost here for the Virginia Tech Hokies. In fact, it begins in just over two weeks. For college football fans, it is the best time of the year.

Virginia Tech fans hope the 2015 season is much different than the past three years. Tech's fanbase is used to the Hokies competing for the ACC title on an annual basis, and that just hasn't happened recently.

But that could change in 2015.

The Hokies return the majority of their starters on both sides of the ball, and several talented newcomers are now in the program. Which newcomer—or young player—will impress coaches this fall?

Here's a look at five players who are sure to surprise during fall camp.

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Power Ranking the Projected Big 12 Starting Quarterbacks

Though the Big 12 has consistently produced gunslinging quarterbacks such as Collin Klein, Bryce Petty, Robert Griffin III and Brandon Weeden since 2010, the conference may have its first down year in recent memory when it comes to the quality of its signal-callers. 

Trevone Boykin of TCU is the only quarterback whose name has any staying power. 

Guys like Baker Mayfield, Seth Russell and Patrick Mahomes may prove to be diamonds in the rough as the season progresses, but that's all theory and not reality. 

In a 10-team league, which team has the best quarterback? Which has the worst? 

Let's rank each Big 12 team's projected starting quarterback. 

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UCLA Football: Strengths, Weaknesses and Secret Weapons

When taking a look at a specific football program, each team will have its strong points and weaknesses. The UCLA football team heading into 2015 is no different.

Depth within the squad is as good as it's been in quite some time. Head coach Jim Mora and his staff have done an excellent job of building up the talent since he took over the post in 2012. The team is particularly strong at multiple positions—specifically with veteran leadership.

This piece will analyze not only the strengths but also the weaknesses and potential secret weapons within the UCLA Bruins' roster.

 

Strength: Running Game

UCLA should have no problem running the football in 2015. It boasts arguably the deepest stable of backs in the entire conference.

Leading the group is Paul Perkins. A season ago, Perkins led the conference in rushing with 1,575 yards and nine touchdowns. He figures to be even better as a redshirt junior this year.

Behind Perkins is rising sophomore Nate Starks. In limited time, the Las Vegas native flashed the propensity to break tackles and get tough yardage between the tackles. He reshaped his body considerably in the offseason, and it should lead to gains in the area of quickness.

Craig Lee and Steven Manfro provide depth.

Manfro has demonstrated the ability to catch the football out of the backfield—or even as a receiver in years past. Lee has yet to secure a role on this team. With that said, he may be the most innately talented member of the bunch. His quickness and speed are very impressive.

The potential X-factor in this group is Soso Jamabo. Ranked as 247Sports' second-best running back in the 2015 recruiting class, the incoming freshman out of Texas is a ridiculous athlete. His versatility enables him to line up all over the field in various spots.

Don't be surprised to see Jamabo carve out a niche for himself as a true freshman. He seems far too talented to redshirt.

 

Weakness: Quarterback Experience

Former quarterback Brett Hundley departed with a star-studded resume chock full of statistical records. He also left behind three years of starting experience.

Whether it's Jerry Neuheisel or Josh Rosen starting, neither brings much in the way of experience to the table.

Outside of garbage time, Neuheisel's main bit of experience came last season in the come-from-behind victory over Texas. Outside of that, he's green in terms of actual time on the field.

Rosen—a true freshman—has obviously not competed yet on the collegiate level.

Fortunately for UCLA, both are mature, intelligent players. That still won't prevent potential (and probable) mistakes from happening in the future.

Neither has truly faced any substantial level of adversity. Neuheisel got a taste of it a season ago, but it will be an entirely new ballgame should he find himself in a starting role.

The pressure to perform well for this veteran team will be tangible. Additionally, how will Neuheisel or Rosen fare against conference foes such as Stanford, Arizona State or Southern Cal? Will the signal-callers be able to play well in tough road environments such as Tucson, Salt Lake City or Corvallis, Oregon?

These are questions which will be answered during the season.

 

Strength: Continuity Up Front 

UCLA will have a veteran group along both the offensive and defensive line.

Run game coordinator/offensive line coach Adrian Klemm has done a masterful job of building up both the depth and quality along the offensive front. When he first took over, it was a ragtag unit comprised mostly of true freshmen.

A few years later, this seasoned bunch is littered with experience. Center Jake Brendel—a four-year starter—is the unquestioned leader. Alex Redmond and Caleb Benenoch have been starters since their freshman seasons.

Conor McDermott is a returning starter at left tackle. The fifth starting spot will likely come down to Kenny Lacy or Simon Goines. Both players have been battle-tested in their respective careers.

In terms of the front seven on defense, it's a potentially elite group.

Eddie Vanderdoes and Kenny Clark return as three-year starters. A Pac-12 coach told ESPN's Kyle Bonagura (h/t Fox Sports) that the duo is in all likelihood the most talented one-two punch of any defensive line twosome in the conference.

Defensive end Takk McKinley will most likely start as the third member of the group. While he's not overly seasoned, he did see time a season ago.

At linebacker, Myles Jack will assume the role left by Eric Kendricks. He'll be joined by pass-rushing dynamo Deon Hollins.

For the first time in the Mora era, he won't be relying upon true freshmen and inexperienced players to perform at significant spots.

Even in the secondary, the expected starting unit will mostly be comprised of upperclassmen (Marcus Rios, Fabian Moreau, Randall Goforth, Ishmael Adams), with sophomore Jaleel Wadood being the lone exception.

 

Weakness: Depth Along Defensive Line

The depth behind the projected starting trio of Clark, Vanderdoes and McKinley is paper-thin.

Depth at defensive end is in a slightly better spot than that of tackle. When looking at the roster, sophomores Matt Dickerson and Jacob Tuioti-Mariner expect to play prominent roles.

Both saw some time as true freshmen in 2014, but neither are overly experienced. Redshirt freshman Ainuu Taua is a bit of a hybrid player from the standpoint that he can play at both end and tackle. While not a true nose tackle, he should be able to play inside and use his quickness and squatty build (5'11", 296 lbs) to get leverage.

Eli Ankou is the most experienced interior lineman reserve. However, he's battled various injuries throughout his time in Westwood. As a result, former offensive guard Najee Toran has transitioned to the defensive side of the ball.

With depth along the offensive line looking good, don't be surprised if incoming freshman Fred Ulu-Perry gets a look at nose guard. An elite center prospect, he's built low to the ground and has immense natural strength.

 

Secret Weapons

Two of the secret weapons—Dickerson and McKinley—play the same position.

Dickerson looks like a prototypical 3-4 defensive end. With terrific overall length and size (6'4", 270 lbs) for the position, he should garner a lot of playing time in 2015. He'll most likely be the first reserve off the bench for the Bruins along the defensive front.

McKinley is only scratching the surface of how good he can truly be. He's got freakish athletic ability, possessing the skills to not only rush off the edge but also run down running backs in the backfield.

Against Arizona State last season (in his first collegiate game), McKinley was a gunner on kick coverage. Using his raw athletic ability and instincts, he was able to run the returner down with ease. It's a great feat considering the former high school track star is 6'4", 230 pounds.

The last secret weapon comes on the offensive side of the ball. Receiver Jordan Lasley has the potential to be the most dynamic receiver within the corps in 2015.

A redshirt freshman from Serra High School, Lasley created some buzz for himself with two Instagram videos from practice. One showed him leaping over Adams for a long touchdown. Don't forget, Adams is an All-Pac-12 selection.

In this one, Lasley is shown unleashing a stiff arm on linebacker Isaako Savaiinaea.

Lasley has been compared to former Southern Cal receiver Nelson Agholor. Lasley played the role of Agholor last year during game preparations versus the Trojans.

Former defensive coordinator Jeff Ulbrich had high praise for Lasley, telling reporters, "Jordan Lasley is going to be a stud. That sucker comes out and competes his butt off every day."

Look for Lasley to start off as an outside receiver in the Bruins' scheme. He'll likely be targeted on passes stretching the field vertically.

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ACC Media Guide Accidentally Contains Extreme Profanity

Editors are important. You never know what might slip through a written work—maybe a spelling error, maybe a typo.

Maybe even some extreme profanity.

The ACC’s 2015 media guide fell victim to the last peg on that list, as a super NSFW phrase somehow made its way into the book (Photo courtesy of CBS Sports). Warning: The image below contains profanity.

Could it have been a joke that accidentally slipped through the cracks? A disgruntled worker’s effort to fight the power? We don't know.

But this is pretty hilarious—and unfortunate if you’re one of the people who put this together. And maybe just lost your job for it.

[h/t CBS Sports]

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Texas A&M Hopes to Mimic, Exceed Auburn's Rise in SEC West

If an entire college football program could look in a mirror, one has to wonder if Texas A&M would see hints of blue and orange. 

Recently there have been growing similarities and parallels between it and Auburn, and not just because their head coaches are known for having uptempo spread offenses.

Both know a thing or two about being overshadowed by an in-state rival.

Auburn had Cam Newton; Texas A&M came back with Johnny Manziel.

Outside of LSU, they’re the only Southeastern Conference programs to beat Alabama at Bryant-Denny Stadium since Nick Saban arrived in 2007.

Even last year’s numbers were somewhat similar. Both went 8-5, and in total points Auburn finished with just three more scored, 461 to 458. That’s despite the Tigers having a 3-4 record against ranked teams while the Aggies were 1-5.

However, that one was at Auburn, 41-38, which essentially ended the Tigers’ chances of making the inaugural playoffs. Twice they appeared to be going in for a late touchdown to take the lead only to lose a fumble, including once at the 2-yard line with 2:37 remaining.

Although how they moved the ball was different that day, as Aggies quarterback Jake Allen had four touchdown passes in the first half and Tigers running back Cameron Artis-Payne totaled 221 rushing yards on 30 carries, both defenses were pretty inept. The offenses combined for 1,035 yards.

Consequently, both coaches decided they needed to make a big move and opened the coffers to land defensive coordinators who were already proven in the league. While Auburn brought back Will Muschamp after he was let go as Florida’s head coach, Texas A&M hired John Chavis from LSU.

“Their defense didn’t do anything exactly, they didn’t have the greatest players in the world, but they always had the right answers for what you were doing,” Texas A&M tackle Germain Ifedi said about facing Chavis’ defense at LSU. “When I heard he was coming to A&M I was excited. It’s a big deal.

“He’s proven he can do more with less, and even more with more.”

Specific to this season, the comparisons only continue.

Both teams have highly touted quarterbacks who had to wait their chance.

Both teams have had recent success in recruiting and boast some big-time offensive threats.

Yet Auburn was picked to win the conference title during SEC media days last week, while A&M was slated for sixth in the Western Division—leading many to wonder how two teams so similar could be expected to finish at opposite ends of the standings.

In addition to respect for the West’s other teams, it boiled down to three things: A little more success as Auburn played for the 2013 national championship, the Tigers have a more favorable schedule compared to last season and the Aggies are a little younger on paper.

For example, prize defensive lineman Myles Garrett set an SEC freshman record with 11.5 sacks in 2014. He, like Allen, is obviously only a sophomore.

Speedy Noil is a tremendous deep threat and terrific special teams player. He, along with returning starter Ricky Seals-Jones, is also a sophomore.

Linebacker Otaro Alaka was named the Defensive MVP of the Liberty Bowl. Again, he’s a sophomore, along with a pair of key players in the secondary: cornerback Victor Davis and safety Armani Watts, who both saw a lot of playing time in 2014.

“When you have that many young guys that are playing, I think what we learned as coaches and hopefully as players is what it takes to go through the grind of this league,” Coach Kevin Sumlin said. “Our first year here, we had a group of seniors who were physically and mentally tough. Last year I think guys like Armani Watts, who started off the year great playing free safety for us, had a great game against South Carolina, Week 6, 7, 8, 9, he just was worn down. So mentally it's different.

“The maturity level of this team in another year—as they say, the best thing about freshmen is they become sophomores, and for us, that's a good thing because there is no one-and-done in college football.”

Thus, even though the majority of college football players improve the most between their first and second years, Auburn is getting the benefit of doubt because juniors and seniors will fill most of those same key positions.

In terms of measuring sticks for the Auburn and Texas A&M comparison, we’ll get two of them before they play Nov. 7, as the Mississippi schools will first face both on back-to-back Saturdays.

The Bulldogs go first, at Auburn on Sept. 26 and at College Station on Oct. 3, and then the Rebels host the Aggies on Oct. 24 before visiting Auburn on Oct. 31.

Oddly enough, in both cases the non-Mississippi team will be coming off a game against Arkansas, which plays an exact opposite style of play, grind-it-out, and aims to be the most physical team in the league.

“Yeah, Arkansas is a really good team,” said Texas A&M center Mike Mathews, one of the few offensive starters who is a senior. “We’re really excited for that game. Last season was nail-bitter. Thankfully, we were able to pull it out. They’re a great team with a lot of style.”

That was also when the Aggies’ 2014 season turned south. At 5-0, Texas A&M then lost three straight games, including 59-0 to Alabama. The win against No. 3 Auburn and 45-37 over West Virginia in the Liberty Bowl salvaged the season somewhat.

“Our guys left the season feeling a heck of a lot better about themselves than they did during the middle of the year,” Sumlin said.

How well the sophomores develop will go a long way in determining Texas A&M’s success this fall, and who’s to say if things come together that the Aggies won’t end up being better than even Auburn. After all, there was a reason why Sumlin was told by a passing Steve Spurrier during media days: “You guys had the same record as Auburn last year right? You should tell (the media) that.”

 

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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Kliff Kingsbury out to Show He's Not Just the Big 12's Best-Looking Coach

DALLAS, Texas — After a while, it gets old.

Kliff Kingsbury, the Ryan Gosling of the Big 12 and of college football.

"I think we're past that," Kingsbury told reporters at Big 12 media days. "It's time to win football games and be a good coach."

Texas Tech's favorite son returned to his alma mater as a head coach at the end of the 2012 season after a brief stint as Texas A&M's offensive coordinator. Kingsbury was viewed as a bright, young offensive mind that would bring the Red Raiders back into the Air Raid days of the Mike Leach era.

And, yes, his looks—right, wrong or otherwise—were a part of the story.

At first, the Kingsbury-to-Tech marriage seemed ideal. In Kingsbury's first season in 2013, the Red Raiders started 7-0, but then lost the final five games of the regular season. Only a surprising Holiday Bowl victory over Arizona State kept Tech from being a complete Jekyll and Hyde case.

Things didn't improve in 2014. In fact, they got worse. Tech struggled to put away Central Arkansas and UTEP in the first two games and went on to finish 4-8. The shine of the young, attractive Kingsbury storyline had worn off. Now, Kingsbury doesn't want it to be any part of the story.

Entering his third year, this is firmly Kingsbury's program. And it's time to win.

That's not just anyone's opinion. That's his own.

"I don't think I like the attention," Kingsbury said. "Early on, attention is good for a program when you're trying to get recruits. Now, it's about winning games."

Sometimes, winning is a matter of a couple of things going right or wrong. A four-win season can be a six- or a seven-win season if one or two things break differently. But it seemed like just about everything went wrong for Kingsbury in '14. Just a few weeks into the season, defensive coordinator Matt Wallerstedt abruptly resigned. Tech would go on to finish the season last in the Big 12 in points per game allowed.

There were mental mistakeslots and lots of mental mistakes. The Red Raiders finished near the bottom nationally in turnover margin and penalties. Those two areas have been a problem in Kingsbury's two years.

Injuries took their toll. Namely, quarterback Davis Webb sustained a shoulder injury in an early season loss to Oklahoma State and eventually had to be shut down for the year.

"This past year, going through the tough times, a lot of our young guys never experienced (losing)," Kingsbury told Bleacher Report. "So it was a learning experience for everyone. It upped the ante for them wanting to win."

Interestingly, Kingsbury said he saw a bright future in Tech's final game of the season against Baylor, a 48-46 loss. There would be no bowl for the Red Raiders. There was nothing to play for, yet Kingsbury's team kept battling, outscoring the Bears 31-6 in the final quarter-and-a-half. Though they came up just short, Kingsbury knew it was an encouraging sign.

"That's when I knew we had a chance to be good quickly," Kingsbury said. "We had nothing else to play for other than pride. They stood up, bowed their necks and played hard."

The momentum, if you want to call it that, carried over into the offseason. More players are coming into Tech's facilities building on their days off, he said. There's more film study and more work being put in the weight room.

But no one feels the pressure to succeed more than Kingsbury. Forget the laid-back demeanor. Those who know him attest he's as competitive as anyone in the business.

That's a big part of the reason why Kingsbury was able to land a head coaching job after just five years as an assistant. But the flip side to that is Kingsbury is still learning how to coach, let alone run an entire operation. It takes time.

Being a position coach, or even a coordinator, and a head coach are two completely different things. Kingsbury's responsibilities more closely resemble that of a CEO, in which delegating responsibilities and developing players and coaches alike are paramount.

It's all a learning experience, Kingsbury explained, and there's not exactly a manual for how to handle situations that arise. Shortly after his first season with Tech, quarterbacks Baker Mayfield and Michael Brewer transferred with multiple parting shots.

"You learn on the go," he said. "Nothing can prepare you for being in that seat. I wasn't in it as long as others, but I've been fortunate enough to have been around great coaches. I got to see it done a lot of different ways.

"You get an overall understanding of what's going on day-to-day," Kingsbury continued. "When I first got here it was all about offense. 'What are we doing on offense?' That's all I knew. Then, as I evolved, it was 'Hey, I have to keep an eye on special teams and know the personnel there. I have to know the defense and know what's going on there.'"

You can bet Kingsbury knows now. First-year defensive coordinator David Gibbs comes to Tech from Houston, where he coached up one of the top defensive units in the American Athletic Conference in 2014. These are the types of decisions Kingsbury knows he has to make now. Despite having a high-paying contract and the admiration of an entire fanbase, Kingsbury eventually has to prove that he is the right guy for the job.

Kingsbury is a brilliant Xs and Os football mind, no doubt, but being a successful head coach is more than that. It's about being able to make changes and adapt on the fly. Until now, Kingsbury hasn't had the opportunity to do that.

Armed with a team that returns lots of juniors and seniors in the two-deep, Texas Tech has the talent and experience to be the biggest turnaround team in the Big 12. But do they have the mental discipline to cut down on the mistakes and negative plays that proved so costly the last two years? Can the Red Raiders improve on finishing drives and red-zone efficiency?

There are no more excuses in Kingsbury's mind. It's time for everyone, himself included, to start acting their age.

"They have fun with me being a younger guy, it comes with the territory," Kingsbury said. "But we're serious about our program and winning games and that's what we're trying to do."

 

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

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Big 12 Media Days 2015: Biggest Quotes and Reaction from Day 1

DALLAS, TX—Day 1 of Big 12 media days is all but officially in the books. As expected, there were no shortages of storylines to be told. From expansion and playoff conversations, to player safety and scheduling philosophies, the Big 12 state of the union was eventful. 

So what caught our eye in Dallas? Here are a few of the major highlights, plus some odds and ends. 

 

Expansion? What Expansion?

Big 12 Commissioner Bob Bowlsby started the inevitable expansion question off with a joke. 

"I lost the pool, by the way," he quipped. "I thought that would be the first question."

Bowlsby reiterated his previous stance on expansion, which was that "a majority of our presidents and chancellors believe ten is the right number." However, the money quote from Bowlsby was that there were about "four or five" presidents in the middle who were "persuadable one way or the other." 

We know where Oklahoma president David Boren stands. He's wanted 12 teams from the get-go. But now that we know roughly half of the Big 12 presidents could be persuaded one way or the other, it makes for some interesting conversation. Boren is an influential individual, especially since there's a changing of the guard at Texas with a new president and athletic director, both of whom have been quiet on this topic lately. 

If there is anyone in Boren's corner, it's Kansas State head coach Bill Snyder. "I favor a 12‑team conference, I favor two divisions, and I favor a championship game," Snyder said before adding, "I do the easy part of it. I can identify issues. Solution is another story."

Sorry, Memphis, BYU or Central Florida. Secretly, Snyder may be in your corner, but he's not saying so publicly. 

But it's ultimately not Snyder's call, nor is it Bowlsby's. He's there to serve the best interests of the member presidents, whom he rightly calls "CEOs." It's going to take massive change for the Big 12 to seriously explore expansion targets. However, that doesn't appear imminent.

"At the present time, I don't think there's critical mass for expansion," Bowlsby said. "It will continue to be a topic about which we spend at least a little time at every meeting talking about it.  But until that majority shifts, it's a purely academic conversation."

 

Finding the Path to the Playoff

Guerin Emig of the Tulsa World said it best on Twitter: 

Much has been made about Boren calling the Big 12 "psychologically disadvantaged" because of its size. It is, after all, the only Power 5 conference without a conference championship game. Last year, it was the Big 12 that was left out of the College Football Playoff. 

However, if the Big 12 is to change up its format, it would far more likely be with a deregulated conference championship game rather than expansion. This makes sense because legitimate expansion targets are, at best, few and far between. 

"I don't think one year makes a trend," Bowlsby said about the Big 12 being left out of the playoff. "We were very close to having two teams in last year, and you really don't have to have much of an imagination to see how that might have worked out where we would have gotten one and maybe two without too much of a stretch."

So, as it is with expansion, the Big 12 is in a holding pattern with regards to a deregulated championship game. "We need to play better, and we need to do what we can to get better in every single way," Bowlsby said. At the absolute earliest, we could see one by 2016 if the conference decides after this season that it really is disadvantaged with its layout. 

Bowlsby brought up the Big 12's previous track record with championship games, noting that the conference has oftentimes cannibalized itself with that extra game. "Fifty percent of the time our best team was eliminated from consideration by losing in the championship game," Bowlsby said. 

While the past may not always indicate the future, it does at least give some reason for pause. 

"For me, I think every year is different," said TCU coach Gary Patterson, whose team fell three spots in the final CFP standings and out of the playoff field. "I'm not a big believer that you have to have a conference championship.  I thought the whole thing about going to a playoff was that they picked the four best teams.  You didn't even have to have a championship game."

"That's what I was led to believe."

Patterson has been on the short end of the playoff stick already. With practically the same schedule and path to the playoff this year, it'll be interesting to see how the Frogs are viewed, provided they win enough games to be in the conversation. Is Patterson confident things will be different this time?

"After last year, I don't feel confident about anything," he said. 

 

Focusing on Player Safety

One of the truly interesting nuggets from Day 1 was the reduction of the amount of live contact a player can participate in during a game week. According to the conference, "in-season live contact opportunities" will be limited to "no more than two times per week, including game day, per student-athlete."

This is a Big 12 rule and will take effect this season. The national rule allows three incidents of helmet-to-helmet contact during the week.

Here's Bowlsby's explanation: 

We have also taken another step because we don't think the national rule goes far enough.  The national rule is three incidents of helmet‑to‑helmet full contact with live tackling and the like three times a week, including a game.  Three times including the game, or a scrimmage if you didn't play in the game.

We have adoptedour ADs just adopted this, that we will go with a two‑contact‑per‑week rule that will be the game plus one other day of full contact, or a scrimmage for those that didn't play in the game and one other day of full contact.

We believe it's the right step, and we hope it will become the national rule.  Even if it doesn't, we think that that's the right way to conduct our practices.  It's another way in which we're a little different, but our ADs have felt strongly about it and our coaches have supported.  That's our rule moving forward.

Reducing the amount of live contact is something that Bowlsby hopes will improve overall player health during the second half of a season. But how much will this affect coaches and their game preparation?

Not as much as you'd think. In fact, Bowlsby said the rule was supported by the conference's coaches. The bottom line is, not too many coaches want their players to get too physical anyway during the season when health is at a premium. As a result, Bowlsby said the rule eliminates an unnecessary extra day of hitting. 

All five coaches interviewed on Day 1—Patterson, Snyder, Kansas coach David Beaty, West Virginia coach Dana Holgorsen and Texas Tech head coach Kliff Kingsbury—were asked about this reduction. Not one complained about the move.

"We haven't had a two-a-day at West Virginia in four years," Holgorsen said. "The way the model is right now is something that I've supported and something that we've done at West Virginia since I got there."

"It's not going to change our approach just a whole lot," Beaty added. "Honestly, we adjust to the landscape pretty good." 

Fresher bodies theoretically means healthier players in November and December. That's important to coaches. 

"(With coaches) there's a false sense of we just try to bang our kids around, but I think all of us, we like keeping our jobs, and we want to keep our kids healthy," Patterson said. 

 

Odds and Ends

— There's nothing close to official yet, but the Big 12 is keeping an eye on the strength of the out-of-conference schedules of its members. Currently, the conference doesn't have a mandatory standard, like scheduling at least one Power 5 opponent each year. 

"Our athletic directors have not chosen to make it mandatory," Bowlsby said. "They have respected those prerogatives on an institutional basis. I think we will continue to have that conversation, and it's possible that we could get to a point where we need a little more structure around it." 

— The Big 12 is taking a hands-off approach to field/court storming. "We are choosing to manage it rather than prohibit it," Bowlsby said. "We think that, properly managed, those kinds of celebrations can be a lot of fun." 

This is a good policy. Fan safety is always a concern, but no two home atmospheres are the same. Bowlsby has a lot of trust in his membership, and he's clearly allowing them to handle things on their own. 

— The Winner of Day 1? Beaty, by far. The first-year Jayhawks coach inherits a rough situation, made worse by the fact that his projected starting quarterback, Michael Cummings, sustained a knee injury during the spring game. However, it's easy to see why Beaty is such a regarded recruiter. He mentioned high school coaches at least a half-dozen times during his opening remarks and Q&A. 

"One of the big things for me is we are located right now in one of the finest, most fertile grounds for high school athletes in the country, and those athletes are coached by some of the finest high school coaches in the country," Beaty said. 

The guy knows to whom he's marketing himself. Beaty is energetic, optimistic and his personality is infectious. Those players will run through a wall for him, without a doubt. No lie, it felt like the press room was going to explode in applause when he finished his Q&A. 

— Snyder said that Kansas State has not one, not two, not three, not four, not five, not six but seven quarterbacks on its roster. While that's a huge number on paper, Snyder noted that only four were really in consideration for the starting job. Still, that's as wide open as any quarterback battle you're going to find this time of year. 

— Speaking of quarterback battles, Kingsbury has one going on at Tech between Patrick Mahomes and Davis Webb. Kingsbury feels confident that he can win with either player, but he still plans on having a starter named before the end of preseason camp so that team chemistry can be developed.

However, just because Kingsbury feels he can win with both players doesn't mean he plans to make them interchangeable. "It will be a feel situation because bothIf we name a starter, we're going to ride with that guy knowing that we have a great insurance policy behind him, but I wouldn't expect a quick hook on whoever we name the starter," Kingsbury said. 

— How's this for coachspeak hyperbole: Holgorsen said this year's defense "should be the best that I've had potentially since I started coaching 20-some years ago." The Mountaineers were historically bad on defense in 2012 because, in part, so many players were freshmen. Those freshmen are now seniors who have seen just about every possible scenario. Holgorsen also has a lot of faith in second-year coordinator Tony Gibson, who did a nice job in '14. 

But the best defense he's ever coached? No pressure, guys.

 

They Said It 

— What was the low point for the Mountaineers defensively? Baylor, 2013, when the Mountaineers lost 73-42. "That's when we knew it was going to be a long season," said linebacker Nick Kwiatkoski. Kwiatkoski, along with safety Karl Joseph, lead a far more veteran defense that could be asked to win games this season. 

— Want to feel old? TCU center Joey Hunt said his favorite player in middle school was former Texas quarterback Vince Young.

— Kingsbury was asked whether he wanted to coach when he was in his 70s, like Snyder does. "I don't know about that," he laughed. "He (Snyder) still looks like he did when I was playing."  

— Beaty had some high praise for Michael Cummings, who is back on the field throwing after having knee surgery this offseason. "He is only a better kid than he is a player," Beaty said. "If anybody can make it back this year, it would be him." 

 

 

Ben Kercheval is a lead writer for college football. All quotes obtained firsthand unless noted otherwise. You can follow Ben at Big 12 media days on Twitter @BenKercheval

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Every Power 5 Conference Team's Biggest Concern Heading into Fall Camp

The preseason is a time for hope among college football fans across the country, but it's also a time of concern. After all, it wouldn't be "talking season" without some good, old-fashioned pessimism.

Analysts break down every part of schools' rosters and stat sheets as the slow crawl toward actual football continues. Therefore, every team, from the biggest title contender to the smallest rebuilding program, has question marks heading into the upcoming season. 

While teams started to sort out these issues during spring practices, plenty of them still remain as fall camp draws closer. How will one powerhouse address its need for new starters at a given position? Will a team end a certain woe from 2014?

Here are the biggest concerns for each of the power-conference teams—and Notre Dame—in college football, which were determined by projected depth charts and statistical performances from last season.

What area are you most concerned with for your favorite school? Let us know in the comments below.

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Did Les Miles, LSU Have ​a Chance to Steal Braxton Miller from Ohio State?

COLUMBUS, Ohio — When Braxton Miller confirmed two weeks ago to the Columbus Dispatch that he will be spending the 2015 season at Ohio State, it was supposed to bring an end to the speculation that has surrounded the Buckeyes quarterback throughout the college football offseason.

But while there's no longer any doubt about what team Miller will be playing for this fall, LSU head coach Les Miles has provided some interesting insight into the process that led to the two-time Big Ten MVP's return to Columbus.

Speaking to ESPN during his "car wash" tour of the network on Monday, Miles revealed that he was interested in making a run at Miller, who as a graduate transfer would have had the ability to gain immediate eligibility for the 2015 season had he opted to leave OSU. While he declined to mention Miller by name, the Tigers head coach made it clear that discussions about adding Miller to the roster had taken place within his program following a season in which LSU struggled mightily at the quarterback position.

ESPN.com's Trav Haney relayed a few of Miles' comments:

That second part, pertaining to Miller's surgically repaired shoulder—which cost him his 2014 season before it even started—is particularly interesting, as it would imply that Miles had insight into the Buckeyes signal-caller's recovery process. That doesn't jibe with the message that Miller and Ohio State have been sending for the past few weeks, as each has insisted that his return to Columbus was never in question.

"Nah, I'm a Buckeye, man, I've got [an Ohio State] tat on my shoulder," Miller said when asked if he ever considered leaving OSU during a two-minute meeting with reporters prior to leaving for the ESPYS last Tuesday. "My son's gonna come here one day."

Added Buckeyes head coach Urban Meyer: "I wasn't surprised. I knew [Miller was returning] since last January. Just 'cause he's a quiet guy I guess, but the rumors went on and on and on. I keep hearing questions and I'm like, 'Where is this coming from?'"

That seems to be the company line in Columbus—repeated by multiple Ohio State teammates of Miller's—that he was always going to remain a Buckeye. But Miles' comments show why that always seemed to be in question up until recently, and perhaps it's not a coincidence that LSU was one of the many teams linked to Miller as a potential destination as a transfer back in January.

Miller's 10 months of silence on the topic didn't do much to quell the speculation, either. And once he did talk, he admitted to the Columbus Dispatch that other programs had tried to convince him to leave Ohio State.

"Schools reached out. They reached out hard," Miller said. "And I kept my head where it needed to be, and I stayed smart with my situation."

While Miller would later distance himself from that statement, clarifying that he was just referring to rumors, the reality remains that for a period of time this offseason, the two-time Big Ten Quarterback of the Year's status was uncertain. Meyer admitted as much following the Buckeyes' national championship celebration in January, when Miller made reference in a speech to Ohio State attempting to repeat in 2015.

"That's what he said," Meyer said when asked about Miller's comments. "I don't know. We've been talking all along. It's a unique situation, which we'll cover that later."

While Meyer insisted throughout the process that it was his expectation that Miller would return to Ohio State, his health made it nearly impossible to speak in definites regarding the situation. Still not yet fully recovered from the torn labrum in his throwing shoulder, leaving the Buckeyes could have proven to be a monumental risk, as Miles alluded to.

But Miller will still face plenty of uncertainty moving forward at Ohio State as well, especially as he prepares to take part in an unprecedented quarterback competition with Cardale Jones and J.T. Barrett. That's why it certainly would have made sense for the Huber Heights, Ohio, native to spend his senior season somewhere else, avoiding the Buckeyes' loaded quarterback depth chart in the process.

As Miller and Meyer now each seem determined to deny that Miller ever considered doing so, we'll never know for certain whether LSU—or any other school—ever truly had a shot at landing the services of the dual-threat quarterback. Miles' comments, however, leave plenty of reason to believe that there was merit to the speculation, while also hinting that Miller's uncertain health played the largest role in him choosing to stay in Columbus.

Ultimately, though, all of the Miller-related rumors this offseason were for naught as, barring any medical setbacks, he'll be suiting up for the Scarlet and Gray this fall. Now the only uncertainty in his situation is whether or not he'll be Ohio State's starting quarterback, and if not, will he be willing to play a new position?

And while the earlier whispers that followed Miller never amounted to anything, Miles' comments show just why they existed in the first place.

Maybe had he recovered quicker, there would have been a different outcome. But as it played out, the Buckeyes now have three quality quarterbacks to choose from, while Miles is left wondering whether he has even one.

 

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

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Biggest Takeaways from ESPN's New 2017 Recruiting Rankings

ESPN released its revised ESPN 300 for the 2017 class late Monday morning. Offensive and defensive linemen dominated the top 10, two states are well represented in the top 25 and only one quarterback is in the top 30.

But when it comes to the cream of the crop, Dylan Moses is still the athlete the rest of the class has to catch. Whether he's playing linebacker or running back, Moses has shown that he's extremely versatile and can play both positions effectively.

Here are some takeaways from the new 2017 rankings.

 

 

Versatile Dylan Moses is No. 1

Dylan Moses doesn't want to be called the next LeBron James. Or the next Bo Jackson. Or the next Ray Lewis.

"I'm just me," Moses said at The Opening earlier this month. "I just do what I do."

What Moses does is prove that he belongs in the conversation among the elite athletes, regardless of class. At 6'2" and 220 pounds, Moses can be either a powerful-yet-shifty running back or a reliable, versatile linebacker who can play inside or outside.

Many feel Moses' future will include time as a linebacker. In two varsity seasons, he already has accumulated 328 tackles and six forced fumbles.

 

Linemen here, linemen there

Moses is the top-ranked player, but the top 10 features six athletes who play on the line, including four offensive linemen.

Offensive tackle Isaiah Wilson is the No. 2 player in ESPN's rankings. He is followed by Ohio State commit Josh Myers at No. 3. Tackle Trey Smith is at No. 5, and tackle Calvin Ashley, an Auburn commit, is No. 6.

Defensively, tackles Tyler Shelvin and Marvin Wilson are fourth and ninth, respectively. Shelvin is an LSU commit. Wilson is the No. 1 defensive tackle in 247Sports' composite rankings.

 

 

Name to watch: CB Chevin Calloway

There was a time when 4-star cornerback Chevin Calloway was just another name in college football recruiting.

Long before Calloway was trying to establish himself as an elite athlete, his head coach, Dallas Bishop Dunne High School's Michael Johnson was calling him "the hardest-working athlete I have ever coached." Calloway, who checked in the new ESPN rankings at No. 25, is now considered one of the top shutdown cornerbacks in the country.

"Chevin is a smooth and explosive athlete who has excellent hips. His press coverage is superb, and his field awareness is excellent," Johnson said of Calloway. "He is a hard worker who trains like he is the last man on the roster, but that is what makes him great."

 

Florida, Texas dominate top 20

When discussing where the elite recruits reside, Florida and Texas are two states that always come up. The two states made their marks in the revised rankings, as 10 of the 20 come from either the Sunshine State or the Lone Star State.

Both states feature five athletes each. Ashley is the highest-ranked Florida player, followed by Miami running back commit Robert Burns (No. 7), Ohio State cornerback pledge Shaun Wade (No. 14), offensive tackle Tedarrell Slaton (No. 16) and Alabama offensive tackle commit Alex Leatherwood (No. 19).

Texas is led by Wilson, followed by safety Jeffrey Okudah (No. 10) and running back Toneil Carter (No. 13). Notre Dame tight end commit Brock Wright (No. 21) and Calloway also are in the top 25.

 

Buckeyes getting their share of the elite

Ohio State is fresh off winning a national championship, and the 2017 class liked what it saw.

The Buckeyes lead the race in commitments from the ESPN 300 for the class with seven. Along with Myers and Wade, cornerback Marcus Williamson (No. 17) and running back Todd Sibley (No. 33) are in the top 50. Offensive tackle Jake Moretti (No. 112), athlete Bruce Judson (No. 135) and quarterback Danny Clark (No. 216) also are a part of Ohio State's class.

Baylor and Miami each have five commits from the ESPN 300. Alabama and Florida State each have four.

 

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

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

NCAA Football Week 1 Betting Lines and Trends

The start of another season of college football in early September inches closer and closer as we head into the final two weeks of July. Odds Shark has already posted a few early betting odds for some of the top matchups on the board. This should be a great start to another run to the top four spots in the nation for the College Football Playoff Rankings.

The following is Doc’s Sports brief preview of the pertinent betting trends for some of the top matchups on the board in Week 1 of the 2015 college football season.

 

North Carolina Tar Heels vs. South Carolina Gamecocks

This ACC/SEC clash features a North Carolina team that came up one game short of a .500 record last season at 6-7. This came after dropping its last two games to NC State and then to Rutgers in the Quick Lane Bowl.

South Carolina’s 2014 campaign ended with a 24-21 victory against Miami in the Independence Bowl to go 7-6 overall. But a 3-5 record in SEC play left the Gamecocks hungry for bigger and better things heading into the 2015 season.

The Tar Heels have opened as 2.5-point road favorites in this Carolina border clash. While the total line is still off the board, recent betting trends tend to favor the “under” in this matchup. The total has stayed under in eight of North Carolina’s last 12 road games while staying under in four of South Carolina’s last five games at home.

 

TCU Horned Frogs vs. Minnesota Golden Gophers

The Horned Frogs come into the 2015 college football season with high expectations after going a stellar 12-1 last season. That lone setback came against Baylor in a wild 61-58 loss in early October that eventually decided the Big 12 title last year.

Minnesota lost three of its final four games in 2014, including a 33-17 defeat against Missouri on Jan. 1 in the Buffalo Wild Wings Citrus Bowl. The Golden Gophers still had to be encouraged with their 5-3 record in Big Ten play that included a 28-24 victory against Nebraska.

The betting spread in this contest has TCU favored by 14 points on the road. The Horned Frogs have successfully covered against the spread in 13 of their last 15 games. Minnesota is a healthy 4-1 ATS in its last five outings.

 

Louisville Cardinals vs. Auburn Tigers

Louisville’s first season in the ACC after coming over from the American Athletic Conference was a mixed bag at 5-3. The Cardinals, for the most part, beat the teams they were supposed to beat. But against the better teams in the conference (Florida State, Clemson and Virginia) they went 0-3.

Last season, the Auburn Tigers made their presence felt in the stacked SEC West Division with a 4-4 record in conference play that included big wins against LSU and Ole Miss. The Tigers lost a heartbreaker in the Outback Bowl in a 34-31 overtime defeat to Wisconsin to finish 8-5 on the year.

The Cardinals have opened as 10.5-point neutral-site underdogs against Auburn, with the game being played at the Georgia Dome in Atlanta on Saturday, Sept. 5. Louisville has now won 20 of its last 25 games straight up and it is 5-1 ATS in its last six games played away from home. Auburn is 17-6 SU in its last 23 games.

 

Texas Longhorns vs. Notre Dame Fighting Irish

The Longhorns battled their way to a 6-6 record in the regular season that included a 5-4 record in Big 12 play. But they ended their season on a down note with a 31-7 rout at the hands of Arkansas in the Texas Bowl. They went just 1-5 against ranked teams last year.

Notre Dame started the 2014 season with six straight wins, but it was all downhill from there with just one win in its final six regular-season contests. The Fighting Irish ended the year on a high note with a 31-28 victory against LSU in the Music City Bowl to go 8-5.

Texas comes into this season’s opener as a 10-point road underdog. This game could be another one to watch as far as the total line. The total has stayed under in five of the Longhorns last six games overall, and it has stayed under in seven of their last eight games on the road. Notre Dame is 21-4 SU in its last 25 games at home.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Predicting 2015 SEC Offensive Player of the Year

The start of the 2015 season is just a few weeks away, so let's take a look at some end-of-year predictions. Who will be the SEC Offensive Player of the Year after the 2015 season?

Auburn's new starting quarterback Jeremy Johnson wants to put up huge numbers this season. Will he do it?

Check out Michael Felder and Barrett Sallee break down who should win the SEC Offensive Player of the Year award. 

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Biggest Snubs and Surprises from College Football's Preseason Awards Watch Lists

Much like the first bulbs blooming on a barren tree signifies the arrival of spring after a long winter, the annual award watch lists mean that college football is just around the corner.

Each major national award (other than the Heisman) uses this time to put out an initial list of potential candidates, lists that are so lengthy it seems like almost every good player in the country is included. All told, nearly 1,000 names are cataloged on 16 watch lists, with a whopping 144 included on the Lombardi Award given to the nation's top defensive player.

The organizations behind these awards are trying to cover their bases and avoid leaving anyone out, though most end up adding names to the mix as the season goes on. This results in some surprising initial inclusions, but also a handful of notable omissions.

Here's our look at the biggest snubs and surprises from the 2015 award watch lists.

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