NCAA Football News

Will LSU's Star RB Leonard Fournette Suffer a Sophomore Slump?

Running back Leonard Fournette had a stellar first year as a true freshman for the LSU Tigers. Bleacher Report's Stephen Nelson and College Football Analyst Barrett Sallee predict whether Fournette can maintain that success during the 2015 season.

How do you think Leonard Fournette will perform this year? Hit the comment section below.

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FWAA 75th Anniversary All-America Team: Full List, Comments, Reaction

The Football Writers Association of America announced its 75th Anniversary All-America Team on Thursday. The honor recognizes the best players in college football across all three phases of the sport since the organization was founded in 1941.

Roger Staubach, Archie Griffin, Jerry Rice, Mike Singletary and Charles Woodson were among the players selected to the first team, with full results posted on the organization's official site. FWAA 75th All-America Committee chairman Kirk Bohls explained the trickiness of the process:

This was one of the most fun, yet most difficult exercises I've had in life - next to parallel parking, that is. Truly, it was an exciting - if not impossible - task to find the best 75 college football players ever. Please save your hate mail, but feel free to weigh in and tell us how we messed up. And I'm sure we did, but no one should argue that it wasn't a great idea to honor the best who have ever played the game. Let the debating begin.

Here's a look at the full group of choices:

Nebraska leads all schools with six players, followed by Ohio State and Pittsburgh with five each. In all, the release notes the top 75 come from 41 different schools. The top conference is the Big Ten with 19 selections, four more than the second-place ACC.

It's easy to see why the committee chairman talked about the difficulty of the process. There are countless players, including Tony Dorsett, Randy Moss, Bruce Smith and Dick Butkus, who could easily warrant a spot on the first team. But it's a major challenge to decide who should move to make room.

Tim Tebow is one player who always demands attention. Although his NFL career has never really taken off, he was a force at Florida, helping lead the Gators to a pair of national titles and winning the 2007 Heisman Trophy. The voters decided that warranted a spot on the second team.

Bomani Jones of ESPN doesn't agree with the placement of the polarizing Gator:

That said, while there will surely be debates about where certain players ended up, the bottom line is all three teams are loaded with talent. Though it's obviously impossible, a round-robin tournament between these squads would be a sight to behold.

The rosters should at least provide a good basis for debate while we wait for the final days to tick away before the new college football season gets underway.

 

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Way-Too-Early Predictions for Top Uncommitted 2017 Recruits

The Class of 2017 is stacked with young talent, including former LSU commit Dylan Moses. Bleacher Report National Recruiting Analyst Tyler Donohue predicts where these athletes will land.

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Will FSU's Star WRs Travis Rudolph and Ermon Lane Suffer a Sophomore Slump?

Travis Rudolph and Ermon Lane came together as a stellar wide receiver duo during their first year with the Florida State Seminoles. Watch as Stephen Nelson and Bleacher Report College Football Analyst Adam Kramer predict whether or not this dynamic duo can maintain their success during the 2015 season.

How well will Rudolph and Lane do this upcoming season? Let us know in the comment section below!

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Missouri Football: Tigers Could Succeed with a Multidimensional Ground Game

At this point during its SEC journey, Missouri has earned the benefit of the doubt, hasn't it?

After all, it weathered the storm in 2013 that included an injury to then-senior starting quarterback James Franklin, won the SEC East and was within a quarter of—perhaps—a berth in the BCS National Championship Game.

The following year, all it did was replace Franklin, stud wide receivers L'Damian Washington and Dorial Green-Beckham, running back Henry Josey and monster defensive ends Michael Sam and Kony Ealy and play for the SEC championship again.

If the third time is going to be the charm, head coach Gary Pinkel and offensive coordinator Josh Henson might have to reinvent the wheel.

The wide receiving corps for Missouri—as a group—has 10 total receptions heading into the season, with sophomore Nate Brown and his five career catches serving as the elder statesman of the group. What's more, J'Mon Moore and DeSean Blair—two presumed starters—got banged up this week, according to the Associated Press, via FoxSports.com.

Plus, it's not like Missouri has a reliable quarterback. Maty Mauk threw 16 touchdowns and 13 picks during the first three quarters of games in 2014, and nine touchdowns and zero picks in the final frame. 

"We need more consistency," Pinkel said at SEC media days in 2015. "There's no question about that. I think that Maty Mauk, he's 14-4 as a starter. He's remarkably good under pressure. We need more consistency from him. He knows that."

How will Pinkel do it? He could hop in the DeLorean and go back to the future.

It's hard to imagine based on the success that the Tigers have had at the wide receiver spot over the last few years, but Missouri finished ninth in the nation in rushing in 2011 with 243.46 yards per game.

Don't be surprised if they follow that same path in 2015.

Mauk isn't exactly Johnny Manziel on the ground but has proven over the last couple of years that he's fully capable of posing a threat on the zone read. He rushed for 373 yards and three touchdowns a year ago and has a strong offensive line returning to help him out.

Russell Hansbrough is the best 1,000-yard running back you've never heard of.

The 5'9", 202-pounder from Arlington, Texas, can shake defenders out of their shoes but is big enough to take some pounding between the tackles. As Dave Matter of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch notes, he put on seven pounds from a year ago and is being counted on to be the work horse this year for the Tigers.

If the passing game is going to be a work in progress, having a multidimensional running game will keep defenses honest and open up some passing lanes for Mauk and the receivers when the Tigers decide to air it out.

Plus, there are options behind Hansbrough that Pinkel likes. Morgan Steward is a 6'0", 210-pounder who can play more of the bruiser role after sitting out the 2014 season with a hip injury, along with 5'11", 210-pound Tyler Hunt and 6'2", 215-pound Chase Abbington. Ish Witter can serve more in the changeup role formerly occupied by Marcus Murphy.

As Brandon Kiley of KTGR 1580 in Columbia, Missouri, notes, Pinkel expects Witter to be a big part of the game plan.

Yes, Missouri has roster holes, which is par for the course for Pinkel and crew.

But no coach in America is better at adapting to his players than Pinkel. Don't be surprised if that adaptation includes a shift toward a more ground-and-pound approach in 2015.

 

Quotes were obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted. Recruiting information courtesy of 247Sports. Statistics courtesy of CFBStats.comBarrett Sallee is the lead SEC college football writer and national college football video analyst for Bleacher Report, as well as a host on Bleacher Report Radio on SiriusXM 83.

Follow Barrett on Twitter: @BarrettSallee.

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B/R CFB 250: Top 29 Running Backs

Bleacher Report's CFB 250 is an annual ranking of the best players in college football, regardless of NFL potential. Through interviews with B/R Experts Matt MillerMichael FelderBarrett Sallee andAdam Kramer, authors Brian Leigh and Brian Pedersen have studied, ranked and graded the top athletes in the country, narrowed that list to 250 and sorted by position. Today, we present the Top Running Backs.

 

Other CFB 250 Positions

 

It's been a while since the college game has had as many talented ball-carriers as it did in 2014, and the best part of it is that so many of them are coming back. This is welcome news for everyone other than defensive coaches, who again have to figure out how to slow down and tackle some massive and masterful rushers.

Even with the top nine running backs from last year's rankings no longer in school, there's no shortage of big names who will be churning out big yardage in 2015. We could have gone far deeper than the 29 we've ranked, but we had to cut it off somewhere.

The following rankings are based primarily on players' skills as college players rather than how they'd fare in the NFL. Though they may be using this time to develop their games for the pro level, first and foremost their goals are centered around helping their teams succeed.

The rankings are based on a tabulation of six different categories (ball security, power, vision, hands, speed and balance) and on evaluations made by our writers in conjunction with Bleacher Report football experts.

 

Note: Any ties in overall grades were broken based on which player would give a hypothetical college all-star team the best chance to win.

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Shaun Crawford Injury: Updates on Notre Dame CB's Recovery from Torn ACL

Notre Dame freshman cornerback Shaun Crawford suffered a torn ACL during practice Wednesday, according to the South Bend Tribune's Eric Hansen

Continue for updates. 

Crawford Lost for the Season Wednesday, August 19

According to Scout.com's Pete Sampson, Crawford was vying for Notre Dame's starting nickel cornerback job and had rotated in with the first team during practice. 

The former 4-star recruit out of Ohio, according to 247Sports, had made a positive impression on coaches since arriving in South Bend, and his intensity appeared to put him in position to earn playing time as a true freshman.

"Shaun Crawford, that guy just continues to show up around the ball," offensive coordinator Mike Sanford said, per 247Sports' Nick Ironside. "It’s unbelievable. He shows up and he comes at the football with an unbelievable head of steam and sees it well." 

The announcement regarding Crawford's injury comes just days after Irish defensive tackle Jarron Jones was deemed out for the season with a torn MCL. Notre Dame will also be without running back Greg Bryant for the first four games of the upcoming season because of a suspension

However, Notre Dame has several options it can turn to as a way to overcome the loss of Crawford. 

"While the injury robs the Irish of a potential playmaker, the secondary is well-equipped from a depth perspective," NBC Sports' Keith Arnold wrote. "Grad student Matthias Farley is also a slot cornerback, the place where Crawford projected to help immediately. Starters Cole Luke and KeiVarae Russell will man the outside spots with sophomore Nick Watkins providing immediate depth as well."    

If there's any good news for Notre Dame, it's that Crawford won't lose his freshman year of eligibility since he suffered the injury prior to the start of the regular season, per Arnold.   

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Despite Minor Setback, Alabama Starting QB Job Is Still Jake Coker's to Lose

TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — When it comes to University of Alabama football, false alarms and overreactions can be part of everyday life, especially during the late-afternoon hours when the Crimson Tide practice.

Just a couple of weeks ago, for example, word had it left tackle Cam Robinson had suffered a major foot injury that could possibly sideline him indefinitely. In reality, he had endured nothing more than a mild knee sprain and didn’t even miss a day.

“All it was was a scare,” Robinson said Wednesday evening. “The injury wasn’t serious.”

The Grand Poobah of runaway rumors occurred about 10 years ago, when quarterback Brodie Croyle had supposedly been kidnapped during a trip to South America to hunt doves. When that turned out to be false, the rumor morphed into he had single-handedly all but killed the entire dove population on this side of the planet.

This week’s version was much tamer in comparison, with Jake Coker having a setback that caused head coach Nick Saban to issue a statement Monday saying the quarterback would only be out for a few days with a “minor foot injury.”

During Alabama’s viewing period for reporters, which lasts about 10 minutes, Coker was back in his usual spot of leading the quarterbacks through individual drills Wednesday. He took snaps, made throws and even did some rollouts under the watchful eye of team trainer Jeff Allen.

“Jake's toe deal went very well,” Saban said after practice. “It's day to day, but maybe another day or two.”

In an ideal world, Coker would be 100 percent for Saturday’s final preseason scrimmage, but even if he's not, the senior is still the only quarterback on the roster who has attempted a pass in a game.

That means he’s still the one the others have to beat.

Alabama is three days from the scrimmage, four or five days from when a lot of its primary personnel decisions will be made, 12 days from the release of its initial depth chart and 17 days until the season kicks off against Wisconsin at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas.

The last thing anyone should do is overreact, but here, in reverse order of age, is how the quarterbacks stack up:

 

Blake Barnett

Barnett has drawn the most hype and might be the best long-term prospect, but he’s also a true freshman. He could use a year in the weight room, not to mention an extended period of time to master the offense, so the preferred option is for him to redshirt.

“Blake is a young guy that we need to continue to try to develop,” Saban said.

Moreover, fans who are clamoring for Barnett to get thrown into the fire this season aren’t considering what could happen to the rest of the depth chart. If he’s the starter, Alabama could see it go from five down to one or two in a hurry.

 

David Cornwell

Although Cornwell appeared to make major strides during the spring and was the primary quarterback for the second-team offense during A-Day (the final scrimmage played before 65,000 at Bryant-Denny Stadium), all indications are that he’s fallen to the back of the pack.

When Saban commented on the competition Wednesday, he mentioned every player except the redshirt freshman.

 

Cooper Bateman

Bateman has probably been the least talked about of the five, but coaches have had to more than fine-tune his throwing motion over the past couple of years, and his development remains a work in progress. He’s improved, but if forced into action this season, the sophomore will likely be labeled as a game manager. He’s also the holder for the kickers.

 

Alec Morris

A few months ago most Alabama fans would have guessed that they’d never see Morris start a game at quarterback or do anything except be the backup punter. Now, it’s a realistic possibility. Although his passing numbers on A-Day were almost the exact same at Bateman’s (7-of-11, 60 yards), the one major feather in his cap was that he was the only quarterback who didn’t have a pass intercepted.

Morris has since only raised his stock. His delivery is quicker, he’s more precise with how he goes about things and is noticeably more comfortable with the offense.

Saban said with Coker out, the two players who “probably played a little better in the scrimmage” have been getting the most reps this week: Bateman and Morris. 

Consequently, the guess here is that if Alabama had to play tomorrow and Coker was unavailable, Morris would get the nod with Bateman being the third option. 

 

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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USC Football: 2015 Game-by-Game Schedule Predictions

USC is favored to win not just the Pac-12 South Division, but also the entire conference in 2015 based on a vote of the league's media members last month. The Trojans won the South in 2011, but because of NCAA sanctions, they weren't eligible for the postseason and thus haven't won a conference title since 2008.

An overabundance of talent is at coach Steve Sarkisian's disposal this year, both in terms of returning veterans such as fifth-year senior quarterback Cody Kessler and junior linebacker Su'a Cravens as well as rising stars like receiver Juju Smith and multiway threat Adoree' Jackson—not to mention the fruits of a stellar 2015 recruiting class that includes cornerback Iman Marshall.

But last year's team was also wildly talented, as evidenced by USC having six players taken in the NFL draft (including two first-rounders), but that team stubbed its toe four times during the regular season and ended up in a three-way tie for second place in the South.

What will happen this time around? Follow along as we take a game-by-game look at the 2015 schedule, predicting each result.

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Where Alabama, Georgia Turn After 4-Star WR Tyler Vaughns Commits to USC

USC landed a huge commitment when 4-star receiver Tyler Vaughns chose the Trojans on Wednesday over SEC powers Alabama and Georgia, according to Ryan Bartow of 247Sports.

It’s a huge get for the Trojans, who reeled in the nation’s No. 2 wideout and No. 33 player overall in the 2016 cycle.

While adding Vaughns was a pipe dream at best for both the Tide and the Bulldogs, both schools will still be in the market for top-flight receiver prospects in the months leading up to national signing day.

So which receiver prospects will Alabama and Georgia turn their focuses toward in the months leading up to signing day?

Tide head coach Nick Saban already holds a commitment from in-state 3-star pass catcher T.J. Simmons.

However, Saban and his staff have been aggressively pursuing four out-of-state targets at receiver. 

According to BamaOnline’s Hank South, Louisiana 4-star receiver Mykel Jones put the Tide on top after visiting Tuscaloosa last month. 

Jones told South:

We talked about a lot. They talked about how they would love to have a wide receiver like me that can be versatile on the offensive side of the ball, and how they would love to have a person of my character as far as being a team leader and just being a part of their program. They said they see me playing an Amari Cooper-type role.

The Tide are also trending with a trio of Sunshine State receivers in 4-star Cavin Ridley, 4-star Darnell Salomon and 3-star Keyshawn Young.

Ridley is the younger brother of 2015 Tide signee Calvin Ridley and could join the Tide’s commit list sooner than later.

As noted by BamaOnline’s Shane Youngblood, the Tide is in the driver’s seat with Salomon. They are also locked in a battle with Michigan for Young, per Bartow.

Meanwhile, the loss of Vaughns is mitigated for Georgia considering that head coach Mark Richt and his staff already hold commitments from four receivers in the 2016 class.

The Bulldogs are still active with a few receivers such as 4-star Tre Nixon and 3-star Tyler Simmons.

However, the biggest prize on the board appears to be in-state 4-star Kyle Davis.

Since the 6’2”, 218-pounder decommitted from an early pledge to South Carolina back in May, the Bulldogs have been the favorite to land him when he makes a final decision.

That decision will come in October for Davis, who is also planning to enroll early.

Both Alabama and Georgia currently have classes rated in the Top 10 of the 247Sports team rankings.

While both would have loved to add a talented playmaker such as Vaughns, it appears that each SEC power will land a talented group of playmaking receivers in the 2016 cycle.

 

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

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Alabama Football: 2015 Game-by-Game Schedule Predictions

For the first time in several years, Nick Saban and the Alabama Crimson Tide will enter the upcoming football season looking up at a program that has taken their spot as the national title favorite.

But Alabama still is as strong a contender as any for a second-straight SEC championship and berth in the College Football Playoff thanks to the long run of excellence the program has enjoyed under Saban.

The Crimson Tide's offense must replace a number of key starters—including the bulk of the passing attack—but offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin is back for what could be a huge second year in Tuscaloosa.

Strong defense should be a theme again under Saban and coordinator Kirby Smart as the Tide return several stars in their front seven. Rebuilding a shaky secondary is key this fall, but the staff can rely on some experience and new blue-chip talent in 2015.

Alabama's schedule should be one of the toughest its had under Saban, starting with a neutral-site opener against a consistent Power 5 program and continuing with road challenges against its two biggest competitors for the SEC crown.

Let's take a game-by-game look at the tough 2015 slate for the Crimson Tide and post some predictions for what should be another exciting season of football at Alabama.

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How Long Will It Take Jim Harbaugh to Bring Michigan Back to Prominence?

When Michigan hired Jim Harbaugh as its new head coach, the question became a matter of "when" the Wolverines would re-enter the national power conversation again, not "if." At best, it was a nod to Harbaugh's track record with Stanford and the San Francisco 49ers. At worst, it was a safe assumption. 

But with Harbaugh's first season as a coach in Ann Arbor on the horizon, the question remains valid: When will Harbaugh bring Michigan back to prominence?

Here's the context: Speaking on SiriusXM's "College Sports Today," Harbaugh's predecessor, Brady Hoke, offered his thoughts on the amount of time it takes to re-build a major program. Specifically, the question related to second-year Texas head coach Charlie Strong. Before going any further, here's the quote as transcribed by Mark Snyder of the Detroit Free Press

Five-to-six years. That's what everyone wants, two or three, especially if you're a fan of the school. I know you may have to change an offensive system as far as going from a pro style to spread or a spread to a pro style. Defensively, are you going to be a 3-4 team or a 4-3 team? All those things are part (of it) as you go out and start to recruit.

Whenever you get one of those jobs, that first recruiting class is going to be about a 50/50 class. Especially when you're hired as the coach.

Briefly: As it relates to Texas—which, again, was the subject of the question—Hoke isn't wrong. The program Strong inherited from Mack Brown two years ago was in bad shape. The 2012 class, ranked second nationally by 247Sports at the time, fizzled out, according to Burnt Orange Nation's Wescott Eberts.

The Longhorns now regularly lose out on top in-state recruits to programs like Baylor and Texas A&M. In 2014, Texas was shut out of the NFL draft. For as rough as things have been at Michigan, it can at least say it's had players drafted consistently. 

So, sure, it might take Strong five or six years to get things turned around. 

But let's take Hoke's answer and apply it to his former school. After all, Michigan falls into the same blue-blood category as Texas, so some of the same logic applies. Will it take Harbaugh five or six years to get Michigan back to where it wants to be?

If history is any indication, no. It'll be sooner. 

Dan Wolken of USA Today tweeted some interesting nuggets in response to Hoke's comments and the amount of time it takes to win and build a program. In short, new coaches that go on to win national championships do so fairly quickly: 

Among the coaches to win national championships recently are Urban Meyer, Jimbo Fisher and Nick Saban. Should Harbaugh be placed within that echelon of the coaching fraternity, despite the fact that he hasn't won a national championship? Here's betting many people would put Harbaugh at least in the same conversation as the aforementioned coaches. 

Sure, each situation is different when a new coach takes over. There are nuances that need to be considered, like culture, schematic and recruiting changes. Wolken's data, however, shows there's at least a reason fanbases expect quicker turnarounds.

Those results don't always have to end in national championships, either—at least right away. Coaches like Tom Osborne, Bobby Bowden and even Mack Brown brought their programs to national prominence for years before winning it all. But those programs were relevant all the same: 

The problem with Hoke's time in Michigan is that he did things in reverse. Instead of building, the Wolverines crumbled. In Hoke's first season, 2011, Michigan went 11-2 and won the Sugar Bowl. However, the win totals declined each year afterward, eventually resulting in a five-win season in 2014. 

With all due respect to Hoke, that's not a sign of needing five or six years to turn things around. That's a sign of needing an additional five or six years on top of the four he received.

Harbaugh's track record would lead you to believe he's capable of doing the opposite. In his fourth year with Stanford, Harbaugh had the Cardinal playing for (and winning) the Orange Bowl. In his second year with San Francisco, Harbaugh had the 49ers playing for a Super Bowl. 

Things might be rough in year one at Michigan; a non-conference schedule of Utah, Oregon State and BYU is no picnic, and the Wolverines play in the tougher Big Ten East division. The best player Michigan has right now is likely Jabrill Peppers, a player forced to redshirt a season ago due to injury. 

However, Harbaugh and his staff are already assembling a top-10 recruiting class for 2016, per 247Sports. Four of the top-seven prospects verbally committed in that class are offensive linemen, a desperate area of need for Michigan over the past few years. Another is 4-star quarterback Brandon Peters

If that's any indication of the kind of recruiting power Harbaugh will have in Ann Arbor, by year four, the Wolverines should be cooking. Will Michigan win a Big Ten or national championship by year four? Getting through Ohio State at the rate the Buckeyes are winning is going to be tough. But as Brett Forrest of ESPN the Magazine wrote earlier this month, the Harbaugh-Urban Meyer rivalry is shaping up to be one for the ages. 

Bold predictions are fun, but the reality is we don't know if Harbaugh will bring home a national championship in four years. His history and recruiting acumen indicate he'll at least put Michigan in a position to win, though. 

In that sense, Harbaugh is on his way to proving his predecessor wrong.  

 

Ben Kercheval is a lead writer for college football. All quotes cited unless obtained firsthand. 

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Best QB-WR Duos in College Football for 2015

The relationship between a quarterback and his top wide receiver is a mutually beneficial one but also one that includes a healthy dose of reliance. Each is very dependent on the other to perform at a high level, so much so that if one fails, the other tends not to succeed.

While a passing attack ideally should have as many viable targets as possible, most tend to have that one receiver whom the quarterback considers the top choice. This pairing ends up producing the most for a team, and when it's not clicking, it is usually noticeable in the overall results.

There are a number of great quarterback/wide receiver pairings in college football who return from last season—duos who were in sync in 2014 and figure to team up for big numbers this fall. We've ranked them based on past results and expected performance in 2015.

To be considered for ranking, the tandem had to have connected for at least five touchdown passes a year ago and be in line to start this season.

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Dear Football: The 2015 Elite 11 Story | Ep. 3

Uninterrupted is a platform that allows personalities to connect with fans on a much deeper level, with insight and content not fit for other platforms, media outlets or channels.

Interested fans get a unique perspective that brings them closer than ever to the personalities they care about.

The Elite 11 Camp brings together the top high school senior quarterbacks in the country in search of the best 11.

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Notre Dame Football: Biggest Takeaways from Media Day

SOUTH BEND, Ind.—A throng of reporters—both local and national—descended on South Bend on Tuesday for Notre Dame football’s media day, which began with an open practice and continued with interviews into the early evening.

The Irish are within three weeks of the season opener against Texas. Let’s analyze some key takeaways from Tuesday.

 

Leadership

Now entering his sixth season as the head coach of the Irish, Brian Kelly said this squad’s leadership is the best he’s had during his tenure—reiterating a common point he’s made throughout the fall.

Kelly said Tuesday that 10 players worthy of the captaincy were recently cleared by Notre Dame’s faculty athletic board. Those names will likely be presented to the entire team Monday, and Notre Dame will be prepared to name its captains soon thereafter.

Over the past few weeks, Kelly has highlighted the likes of center Nick Martin, left tackle Ronnie Stanley, defensive tackle Sheldon Day, linebackers Jaylon Smith, Joe Schmidt and Jarrett Grace, cornerback KeiVarae Russell and defensive back Matthias Farley, among others, as strong leaders.

In particular, Kelly pointed to the growth in leadership from Day and Stanley, who both eschewed the NFL draft for their senior seasons.

“I love where he is from that end,” Kelly said of Stanley’s leadership. “I think he's grown so much maturity‑wise. I think the players have a great amount of respect for him and when he talks, people listen.”

Asked about Day’s ability to help guide freshman defensive tackle Jerry Tillery, Kelly praised Day, who did serve as a junior captain in 2014.

“There is no mistake about it. That's Sheldon's room, and [I’m] really proud of Sheldon,” Kelly said. “He's come a long way in his leadership. Last year at times he was a hesitant leader in a sense that he knew he had a captain role that he wasn't sure how to fill it at times. This year there is no mistake about how he's leading.”

 

KeiVarae Russellis Fully Back

The news was expected, but Kelly officially said Tuesday that Russell has been fully cleared and reinstated by the NCAA.

After missing the 2014 season as part of Notre Dame’s investigation into suspected academic dishonesty, Russell returns to lock down one of the cornerback spots he held during his first two seasons with the Irish.

Russell admitted at the start of camp he felt hesitant, and Kelly agreed.

“KeiVarae was rusty coming in,” Kelly said. “He really needed to be here, and it's great that he's gotten to work. [Defensive backs coach] Todd Lyght's done a terrific job with all of those guys.”

Russell repeatedly chronicled his training while away from the team.

There’s a difference in returning to the field, though, Kelly said.

“When you're out of pads for a year, you can't duplicate by jumping on boxes,” Kelly said. “It looks good on video, but you've got to play the game. You've got to put pads on, and you've got to get out there.”

 

Jaylon Smith is Primed for a Monster Season

While it’s nothing groundbreaking, the quality and quantity of praise thrown at Smith is noteworthy. Seemingly at each opportunity, Kelly gushes over his junior linebacker for his “remarkable” play.

“Jaylon Smith is the mainstay of our defense,” Kelly said. “He is an essential figure in what we do. He's all over the field for us defensively, and we'll make sure that we move him around to put him in a position for him to impact what we do defensively.

“He's no longer somebody that just ties down one position. He can play multiple positions on our defense, and we think he's one of the best football players in the country.”

Irish defensive coordinator Brian VanGorder has been particularly struck by Smith’s vision from the second level of the defense.

“He sees so much now that’s really impressive to me,” VanGorder said Wednesday.

VanGorder also marveled at Smith’s work ethic—“he’s a real pro at the game"—and Grace recently discussed Smith’s constant study habits.

 

Depth in the Slot

The Irish have loaded up on wide receivers in recent recruiting cycles, and Kelly has been impressed with the receiving corps throughout the fall.

Narrowing in on the slot position, Notre Dame returns fifth-year senior Amir Carlisle, who hauled in 23 grabs for 309 yards and three touchdowns in 2014.

Beyond Carlisle, junior Torii Hunter Jr. has flashed in practices open to the media this fall, gliding around the field and, now fully healthy, showcasing his athleticism.

“You’re going to see a lot of him this year,” Kelly said. “He'll play a lot. He's very versatile. He could play, if he had to, he could play all the [receiver] positions. ... He's probably our most versatile receiver in that he has the size and the speed and the ability to work inside out at the slot position because of his elusiveness.”

Kelly added that Hunter has had a very good camp and has been as consistent as anyone the past few weeks.

True freshman C.J. Sanders brings an elusiveness and ability to cut at full speed that, Kelly said, the Irish haven’t had during his time in South Bend.

In the slot—and at all receiver spots, in general—Notre Dame has plenty of depth. Irish associate head coach and receivers coach Mike Denbrock spoke Tuesday about interchanging the wideouts without much of a drop-off, a testament to a freshman class that has come “as advertised, if not better,” according to Denbrock.

 

Reading the Depth Chart Tea Leaves

With multiple recent practices open to the media, we can take an early look at some ordering at various positions while understanding it’s still early, and depth charts will change.

Graduate student safety Avery Sebastian, a fifth-year transfer from Cal, continues to receive the majority of the first-team reps next to junior safety Max Redfield, while senior Elijah Shumate has worked mostly with the second unit.

True freshman running back Josh Adams has consistently received reps ahead of fellow freshman Dexter Williams and sophomore Justin Brent.

In Notre Dame’s dime package, freshman Shaun Crawford and sophomore Drue Tranquill have stepped into the rotation, with defensive tackle Isaac Rochell bumping into the middle of the three-man defensive line.

 

All quotes were obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted.

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

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LSU Football: Jalen Mills' Injury Hurts, but Tigers Have Talent to Recover

It's the time of year where no news is good news, and unfortunately for LSU head coach Les Miles, he got some bad injury news on Wednesday.

According to Ross Dellenger of the Advocatestarting free safety Jalen Mills suffered a broken fibula that won't require surgery during Wednesday morning's practice. The injury could keep the Texas native out of action for a month-and-a-half.

LSU wouldn't confirm the specifics, but spokesman Michael Bonnette confirmed that the star safety did suffer an injury.

It's a huge blow to LSU's defense. Mills has started each of the last 39 games for the Tigers, first at corner and then at his new home at safety. He passed up a chance to jump to the NFL to return to Baton Rouge for his senior season.

To make matters worse, as Chase Goodbread of NFL.com noted, LSU visits Mississippi State on Week 2:

It would have been nice to have Mills around to help out in coverage against star Bulldog wide receiver De'Runnya Wilson and drop down into the box to slow star quarterback Dak Prescott on the ground. 

What's more, the Tigers host Auburn—which was picked to win the SEC at media days in July—the following week. Even if Mills is back at that point, it's unlikely that he will be 100 percent against two offenses that can move the football up and down the field on anybody.

There are plenty of talented options for LSU, most of whom are rather unproven. 

Junior Rickey Jefferson—the brother of former Tiger signal-caller Jordan Jefferson—has two picks and 29 total tackles over the last two seasons, serving mostly as a backup and on special teams. The 6'0", 209-pounder did see the field in dime packages at times last year and should be comfortable with the speed of the game and what's expected of him.

The Tigers could also slide corner Dwayne Thomas over to safety if needed. The 6'0", 186-pound junior was likely bound to start at nickel for the Tigers but has played all over the secondary during his career.

Freshman corner Kevin Toliver, a 6'2", 196-pound former 5-star prospect, enrolled early this spring and is battling 6'1", 210-pound Ed Paris for the No. 2 cornerback spot. Either has the size to move over to safety and the talent to play nickel, which could allow Thomas to move to safety. 

The bottom line is, while there isn't a ton of proven depth at LSU to withstand Mills' injury, there's a boatload of talent for Miles and defensive coordinator Kevin Steele to work with.

If you watched the spring game, you saw the first-team LSU secondary play lights-out, while the "twos" struggled with communication and execution. Most of those players are incredibly young and will have to grow up in a hurry thanks to the tough September schedule and the news that Mills—one of their leaders—might be out for a few games.

It's "DBU," though, and if LSU knows how to do anything, it's how to replace star defensive backs with youngsters who are up to the challenge. After all, it was Mills who filled in for former Heisman Trophy finalist Tyrann Mathieu when Mathieu was dismissed in August of 2012.

 

Quotes were obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted. Recruiting information courtesy of 247Sports. Statistics courtesy of CFBStats.comBarrett Sallee is the lead SEC college football writer and national college football video analyst for Bleacher Report, as well as a host on Bleacher Report Radio on SiriusXM 83.

Follow Barrett on Twitter: @BarrettSallee.

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Nebraska Football: Who Steps Up for Huskers with De'Mornay Pierson-El Injured?

The Mike Riley era at Nebraska will officially begin without one of the Huskers' biggest reasons for optimism this season—sophomore wide receiver and return man De'Mornay Pierson-El.

Nebraska announced Wednesday afternoon that Pierson-El will miss six to eight weeks after suffering a foot injury Tuesday. In addition, freshman receiver Lavan Alston is out for the season as well:

Pierson-El's injury is a critical blow for Nebraska's offense and special teams, as he had already emerged as a leader for both units in his freshman campaign. 

The speedy sophomore made the most of his 23 receptions last season for the Huskers and had the nation's second-best average on punt returns. He joined Utah's Kaelin Clay as the only players in the country to record three punt-return touchdowns.

While his role as a receiver grew throughout 2014—his season-high eight catches against USC in the Holiday Bowl were a Nebraska postseason record—Riley planned to use him in the ground game on jet sweeps, a staple of his play-calling at Oregon State.

"The majority of times when I first met him, that’s when he would talk about the sweep left, sweep right," Pierson-El told Brian Rosenthal of the Lincoln Journal Star in March. "I can be pretty sure we’re going to see a heavy dose of that. I’m ready for it. I can get it. To get it going one way, full of momentum and just make somebody miss and go up the sideline, that’s what I want."

Now Riley has to look elsewhere for that type of playmaker out wide, at least for the first few weeks of Nebraska's tough 2015 schedule.

The receiver unit is thin right now because of injuries that go beyond the ones Pierson-El and Alston suffered. According to Steven M. Sipple of the Lincoln Journal Star, Brandon Reilly, Taariq Allen, Lane Hovey and Sam Burtch have been limited in practice.

With those veterans down, Riley and his staff will have to turn to a true freshman earlier than expected.

"The receiving deal, it's been very disruptive," Riley said, per Sipple. "I suppose the silver lining is people like Stanley Morgan have gotten a lot of turns and made the most of it."

Morgan, a 3-star receiver from New Orleans, has wasted no time in making an impression on his new teammates and coaches.

The true freshman brings a physical nature to the wide receiver position in Lincoln with a pair of solid hands. Michael Bruntz of 247Sports reported that Morgan caught three touchdown passes in last Saturday's scrimmage.

"Stanley is a mature, strong, and kind of an unfazed guy about where he is right now," Riley said, per Bruntz. "For a young guy, he’s also fit in learning-wise, which is what usually hampers most of them—they get the patterns all jumbled up. He appears beyond his years and he is a physical guy and a playmaker."

If Morgan can continue to show a good handle of Riley's offensive playbook, he looks like the ideal candidate to slide into Pierson-El's starting job at wide receiver.

Return specialist, however, is a different story. 

The race for playing time in special teams seems to be wide-open now, as Pierson-El was the top returning player on both kickoffs and punts heading into this season. Defensive back Kieron Williams is the only other player on the roster who recorded a punt return in 2014.

SB Nation's Nebraska blog Corn Nation named Terrell Newby, Jordan Westerkamp, Stanley Morgan and Jamal Turner as possible candidates to replace Pierson-El's punt-return duties.

But as Jon Nyatawa of the Omaha World-Herald wrote Wednesday, Nebraska didn't have a reliable backup plan for Pierson-El's absence.

"Westerkamp and Turner, two of the guys who never seemed to look all that comfortable catching punts in 2013, were the ones backing up Pierson-El at the spot so far in camp," Nyatawa wrote. "One would presume that other players will get a look there, as well. Nebraska averaged 3.04 yards per punt return [before Pierson-El's arrival] in 2013."

While the Huskers seem to have another dynamic young receiver ready to step in for Pierson-El, they will go back to square one in the return game.

And with less than three weeks left before the season opener against BYU, Nebraska needs to see something new from its special teams almost immediately.

 

Recruiting information courtesy of 247Sports.

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

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J.T. Barrett vs. Cardale Jones: Updates on Ohio State's QB Battle

J.T. Barrett and Cardale Jones continue to battle for one of the most coveted positions in college football: starting quarterback for the reigning champion Ohio State Buckeyes. No clear leader has emerged with just a few weeks until the Sept. 7 opener against Virginia Tech.

Continue for updates.

Neither QB Wants to Split Time in Regular SeasonWednesday, Aug. 19

Bill Rabinowitz of the Columbus Dispatch reports the coaching staff isn't providing any hints about who will be under center for the first snap against the Hokies. Both of the quarterbacks involved in the race do agree on one thing, though: They aren't enthralled with the idea of sharing snaps.

Barrett said he went through a similar situation in high school and often struggled to find any type of rhythm when it was his turn to play. Jones felt the same way, citing the problems he's had when splitting snaps with the first-team offense during camp practices, according to the report.

"I don't think it'd be best for the quarterback position because we wouldn't have the same rhythm or efficiency," Barrett said.

The situation could have been even more complicated if Braxton Miller didn't opt for a position change to wide receiver. It's still a difficult decision to make, though.

Here's how the remaining options performed during the title-winning 2014 campaign:

Quarterbacks coach Tim Beck stated that neither one has pulled away from the other quite yet, per Nicole Auerbach of USA Today.

"It's just two heavyweights going at it right now," Beck said. "Just when you think one guy is going to make a move, the other guy comes back."

The thing that's impressed head coach Urban Meyer most is how the quarterbacks, who are locked in such an intense, important battle, continue to treat each other, per Pat Forde of Yahoo Sports.

"People say those things and sometimes it's not genuine," Meyer said. "This one is very genuine. … They encourage each other, they push each other. It's unique. … It's one of the most refreshing competitions I've ever witnessed."

Having two reliable quarterbacks is obviously a much better situation than being caught without anybody you can count on. That said, it does have the potential to create headaches because the urge to make a quick hook if one is struggling is always there.

Barrett seems like the better option because he brings more of the dual-threat element to the equation and finished with a slightly higher passer rating last season. But you can't overlook the fact that Jones completed the championship journey with two strong playoff performances.

Regardless of who wins the job, he better be ready to hit the ground running, as the Buckeyes certainly don't open with a cupcake opponent. Facing Virginia Tech on the road is one of the team's toughest contests of the season. 

 

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Jalen Mills Injury: Updates on LSU Star's Fibula and Return

LSU star safety Jalen Mills reportedly suffered a broken fibula during practice Wednesday, according to Jim Kleinpeter and James Smith of the Times-Picayune.  

Continue for updates.

Mills Expected to Be Out 4-6 Weeks Wednesday, August 19

While LSU sports information director Michael Bonnette would only confirm that Mills suffered an injury, a source told the Times-Picayune that Mills indeed broke his fibula and could be facing a six-week recovery. 

Mills is one of LSU's top defensive players and one of the better safeties in the country, so this is a big loss for the Tigers. The senior started 39 games for the program as both a corner and a safety, and he finished last season with 62 tackles and an interception. 

The one plus for LSU is that the team is deep in the secondary, and junior Rickey Jefferson has experience at safety and will step in for the injured Mills. Losing an experienced, talented player like Mills is always difficult to overcome, but LSU has the depth in the secondary to survive.

 

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Would a 24-Hour Marathon Work for College Football?

Twenty-four straight hours of college football you say? Where do we sign?

Nothing like this is in the works yet, but with the 2015 season so close to arriving, we here at Bleacher Report are always thinking of new ways to maximize the college football experience. And nothing would maximize it like a full day of college football from beginning to end. 

As it does every year, ESPN announced the upcoming schedule for its College Hoops Tip-Off Marathon, a full day of non-stop coverage for men's and women's college hoops games. For college basketball die-hards, this is the next-best thing to the first two days of the NCAA tournament. After roughly eight months of waiting, it's all college basketball, all the time. 

College football fans go through a similar offseason, wandering aimlessly through a desert of predictions, hot takes, preseason polls and the like. It's entertaining enough for the most part to bide time, but it's all pretty meaningless until the first kickoff. 

The first major game to kickoff the 2015 season will be North Carolina and South Carolina on Sept. 3 in Charlotte, North Carolina. If you're really desperate, North Dakota State and Montana will play on Aug. 29.

But what if college football decided to go the way of its basketball counterpart and provide viewers with 24 hours of non-stop action to open the season? Think of it like bowl season—except condensed into 24 hours. 

It could work. Here's how: 

First, you would only need 11, maybe 12 games at most, to broadcast. The College Hoops Tip-Off Marathon features 16 games, with only a handful of games overlapping one other. Otherwise, the schedule is straightforward. When one game ends, another one begins. On and on it goes in a line. Since college basketball games last about two hours, ESPN needs more inventory to fill its 24-hour block.

According to NCAA data obtained by Jon Solomon of CBSSports.com, the average college football game length in 2014 was three hours and 23 minutes. It's not uncommon to see a four-hour game, either, though. Lining college football games up one after the other, ESPN, the primary rights holder in college football, could get away with broadcasting about seven games from start to finish. Add in another four or five overlapping games on ESPN2, ESPNU and perhaps even ABC, and that's a full slate. 

Keep in mind, too, that Fox, CBS and conference-affiliated networks will be broadcasting their own games. Michigan at Utah on Thursday, Sept. 3, for example, will be played on Fox Sports 1. So don't worry: There will be plenty of games to follow.

Next, start it on the first Thursday night of the season and carry it over into Friday. These two nights are already loaded with games as it is, so finding teams to play wouldn't be a problem. This way, the first college football Saturday of the season and its major games are preserved. Louisville and Auburn in Atlanta? Wisconsin and Alabama in Arlington, Texas? They'd still be there. 

Here comes the tricky part, though: overnight scheduling. It's easy enough to find two teams to play at 8 p.m. ET. Even Pac-12 games kicking off at 10 p.m. ET are commonplace. As someone who regularly stays up past 1 a.m. CT on a college football Saturday, rest assured that going past midnight is no big deal. 

It's the 2 a.m. to 8 a.m. ET slot that poses problems. 

This is when television and conferences execs would have to get creative. You know those late-night games in Hawaii that regularly kick off at midnight? ESPN would need a home opener to be played in Honolulu, six hours behind ET, to fill the early morning hours. 

Overseas games would take some of the pressure off, as well. In 2014, Penn State and Central Florida played in Dublin, Ireland at 8:30 a.m. ET (Dublin is five hours ahead of ET). A game in Ireland at a similar time would take the marathon right up to a more normal noon slot on Friday (For the record, the first game on Friday, Sept. 4 between UNC-Charlotte and Georgia State is at 3:30 p.m. ET). 

That leaves a slot from around 4 a.m. to 8 a.m.

There's always the possibility of a college football game in London, something the NFL has experimented with. Additionally, the Pac-12 and Mountain West have flirted with the idea of playing a bowl game in Melbourne, Australia, which is 14 hours ahead of ET. But what about a regular-season game down under? A 6 p.m. game on Friday in Melbourne would be broadcasted at 4 a.m. ET in Bristol, Connecticut. 

“We’re selling the concept and the game. It’s competitive and it’s authentic,” Paul Sergeant, CEO of Melbourne Stadiums Ltd., told Ed Wyatt of SportsPressNW.com in June. If Melbourne is willing to host a college football bowl game, it would likely be willing to host a regular-season game as well. 

Is it ideal for coaches and players? Not at all, but when has that ever stopped college football from taking its product overseas for a game? And it would be just that: a single game. The overnight and early morning slots would be three games back-to-back-to-back to minimize the amount of hoop-jumping.  

Hypothetically, here's what a college football kickoff marathon could look like using games from the 2015 season-opening weekend (note that some games/times have been adjusted to make the schedule fit): 

Of course, with scheduling being the way that it is, a kickoff marathon for 2016, '17 or '18 would be far more appealing. There'd be more Washington vs. Boise State and less Charlotte vs. Georgia State.

Logistically, there are few hurdles to get through—though, the hurdles are admittedly big. If ESPN could (and would be willing to) get through the overnight and early morning slates, it would have quite a marathon of games to broadcast. 

And college football fans everywhere would rejoice. Or fall asleep at work. Either one. 

 

Ben Kercheval is a lead writer for college football. All quotes cited unless obtained firsthand.  

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