NCAA Football News

College Football Players Headed for Sophomore Slump in 2014

Freshman standouts turn into sophomore disappointments every season, even if they didn't necessarily get worse or hit the proverbial "second-year wall."

Take, for example, the best freshmen wide receivers in 2011 and 2012. Those players—Clemson's Sammy Watkins and Alabama's Amari Cooper—both put up considerably lower numbers in their second collegiate seasons, but a lot of that was out of their control.

For Watkins, the emergence of DeAndre Hopkins as one of the best wideouts in America played a large part. For Cooper, Alabama's desire to spread the ball around (and some questionable play-calling) kept the ball out of his hands more often than he might have liked.

The following players won't be worse in 2014 than they wore in 2013. But because of the personnel, coaching or situational changes around them, they might find it difficult to put up as good of numbers as they did as freshmen last season.

Sound off below, and tell me who I missed.

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How 4-Star QB Blake Barnett Will Impact Lane Kiffin's Career at Alabama

The rich just keep getting richer.

Alabama has been a recruiting machine over the last four years, winning the recruiting national championship in each of those years.

It got its quarterback of the future this week, as 4-star dual-threat Blake Barnett from Corona, California, committed to the Crimson Tide Wednesday on B/R's Team Stream Now with Adam Lefkoe.

Barnett told Lefkoe:

I think being paired up with good coaches like [offensive coordinator] coach [Lane] Kiffin, he's developed great quarterbacks in the past at USC. I think that can put me at an advantage being with a good coach like that and running a good offense with a good scheme. Hopefully it will bring me to the next level.

There's a little bit of a problem, though. Alabama already got its "quarterback of the future" in 2013 with 4-star Cooper Bateman and again in 2014 with fellow 4-star David Cornwell

But Barnett is different. He's a Kiffin guy brought in by the new offensive coordinator specifically to run his offense.

What offense is that?

That remains to be seen. Kiffin could dial back the creativity a bit and run a more conservative style thanks to the presence of a small village of talented running backs. But where's the fun in that?

The one thing Kiffin was brought in specifically to do was develop a more creative offensive scheme that can adapt if Alabama finds itself in trouble in games.

"He is an outstanding and creative offensive coach who has great experience both at the college and NFL level," head coach Nick Saban said in a release when Kiffin was introduced. "He has a very good understanding of the game and I have always been impressed with what I saw in the games he called."

He was brought in to challenge Saban's philosophies, which is exactly what he can do when Barnett takes the reins.

Let's get this out of the way right now: Florida State transfer Jacob Coker is going to win the quarterback job this year. If he succeeds, then it's reasonable that he could jump to the NFL after his junior season. That would give Barnett the chance to start right away or redshirt. Either way, though, he could play as a freshman in Kiffin's system.

That system should get a boost from Barnett, who's a dual-threat quarterback by trade but really is more of a passer who can run. In other words, he gives Kiffin the option to spice up the offense without changing the fundamental scheme.

As you can see in the video above, he has tremendous arm strength and accuracy downfield. That will allow Alabama to continue to do what it has done throughout the Saban era, taking the top off of a defense that creeps up to stop the run.

But Barnett brings something more. His quick release and accuracy on short and intermediate routes will allow Kiffin to use his full West Coast playbook and incorporate some new-school spread elements with Barnett's legs.

If Coker doesn't revitalize Kiffin's career, the former USC, Tennessee and Oakland Raiders head coach can re-invent himself with Barnett in the talent-rich SEC, which could land him another big-time college head coaching gig in a hurry.

While Alabama's approach to pretty much everything is old school, Barnett can offer a blend. He can bring a new-school, dual-threat approach to an old-school style. On an overly simplistic level, that's exactly why Kiffin was hired.

It's fair to assume that, due to Coker's presence on the roster, Kiffin wasn't thrilled with his quarterback options when he arrived in Tuscaloosa. Or, at the very least, he needed competition to up the ante for all of the contenders.

Barnett is his guy, and he holds the keys to Kiffin's future employment—as long as Kiffin doesn't jump ship in the near future.

If Barnett succeeds, Kiffin's career will rebound. If he fails, the "Lane Kiffin experiment" at Alabama may follow suit.

No pressure, kid.

 

* Barrett Sallee is the lead SEC college football writer for Bleacher Report. Quotes were obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted. All recruiting rankings are courtesy of 247Sports.com, and all stats are courtesy of CFBStats.com.

 


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Predicting Where Oregon Football Will Finish in 2015 Recruiting Ranks

Oregon football recruiters have ground to make up in the 2015 signing cycle. With five verbal commits in the fold, the Ducks currently check in at No. 5 in the Pac-12 and No. 51 nationally, according to 247Sports. 

The good news? Head coach Mark Helfrich and his staff have almost eight months until national signing day. The bad news? Early into the process, the Ducks have had to readjust their plans after losing prospects. 

Blake Barnett, the 4-star dual-threat quarterback from Santiago High School in Corona, California, tweeted his commitment to Alabama on Wednesday. 

Barnett is the second quarterback Oregon lost to an SEC program in as many months. Kyler Murray, a 5-star prospect, committed to Texas A&M on May 28. 

Conversely, the most highly touted recruit pledged to the Ducks for 2015 is someone they plucked from SEC country. Taj Griffin, a standout from McEachern High School in Powder Springs, Georgia, is one of two 247Sports composite 4-stars currently on board. According to 247Sports' own metrics, Griffin is actually a 5-star prospect, and continues the program's run of recruiting top-tier ball-carriers.

The other 4-star is offensive lineman Zach Okun, who will pave the way for Griffin in the years to come. 

The Ducks are playing catch-up behind the Pac-12 pace-setters. USC, for example, has as many 4- and 5-star prospects committed as Oregon has total pledges. 

Pinning down the majority of the top-rated targets on Oregon's list will be critical to their future success. After losing out on Barnett, the focus is on quarterbacks. 

The position may come down to Deondre Francois, s 4-star prospect from Orlando, Florida. Oregon is also a leading contender for 3-star athlete Stephen Johnson, who plays quarterback for San Leandro High School in San Leandro, California. However, according to 247Sports' JC Shurburtt, Johnson would likely play either wide receiver or defensive back at the next level. 

Further 4-star reinforcements look promising in offensive lineman Zack Bailey and athlete Donte Jackson. Both reside in the SEC geographic footprint, with Bailey in South Carolina and Jackson in Louisiana. 

Bailey could be a cornerstone of what is shaping up to be the strongest area of this class. Along with Okun and committed 3-star lineman Shane Lemieux, the Ducks are in the hunt for 4-star lineman Andre James, as well as 3-stars Cody Creason, Mason Walter and Connor Williams

Conversely, Oregon's 2015 class is lean on defensive players, even after adding 3-star cornerback Jihree Stewart last week.  

The biggest defensive target is 5-star defensive end Byron Cowart. The defensive end from Seffner, Florida, will be in Oregon for The Opening next month. 

Fellow The Opening participant and 4-star safety Marvell Tell is also on Oregon's radar. 

Solidifying the defensive class is paramount, and likely the difference between the Ducks falling in the middle of the pack among conference counterparts, and rising to the top three. 

Oregon faces an uphill climb to break into the top 20 of the national rankings. The coming months will be crucial to shaping this recruiting class. 

 

Recruiting rankings and information culled from 247Sports.com composite scores. 

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Notre Dame Football: How Brian Kelly Is Changing His Recruiting Strategy in 2014

From "Pots of Gold" to graphic arts, Notre Dame football has been shifting its recruiting ways over the past year or so.

The newest development is this weekend’s Irish Invasion summer camp, an invite-only event that puts a new spin on the traditional summer camp for current Notre Dame commitments, targets and yet-to-be-offered prospects.

#IrishInvasion

Brian Kelly (@CoachBrianKelly) June 20, 2014

#TheEliteWillRise

— Brian Kelly (@CoachBrianKelly) June 20, 2014

"Irish Invasion is a primetime camp...that’s designed to attract top talent to South Bend in an atmosphere that’s going to be exciting and show off all the cool features and parts of the program that would be attractive to recruits visiting the campus," said Steve Wiltfong, 247Sports’ director of recruiting.

The event is something new for Notre Dame, with the camp running Friday night.

"They’ve done camps in the day. But a camp in the evening on Notre Dame’s campus—great weather, the sun setting on the Golden Dome, just the serene setting and a chance for an awesome atmosphere," Wiltfong said. "Anytime you do something in the evening, you’ve got a chance for a better atmosphere."

Wiltfong pointed to Florida as the first program to turn a summer camp into a marquee event, as the Gators did with their "Friday Night Lights." Though other schools have followed suit, Wiltfong said Notre Dame—like other elite programs—has the ability to lure bigger names and higher-profile prospects to its campus.

So why, all of a sudden, is Notre Dame branding its summer camp as the Irish Invasion and going as far as to open up the two-hour Friday-night session to media? As Megan Whitt, Notre Dame’s coordinator of recruiting operations, mentioned Thursday night, the idea just came about recently.

Three short months ago this was just an idea; now these butterflies finally tell me it's about to become reality! Bring on Irish Invasion! 🍀

— Megan Whitt (@MeganWhitt1) June 20, 2014

"You always want to try to keep up with the curve and be a trendsetter,” Wiltfong said. “Notre Dame is just keeping up with the Joneses in this regard."

In part, yes, the Irish are simply keeping up. But Wiltfong reiterated that Notre Dame generates a certain buzz that not all schools can.

"Again, anytime Notre Dame does something—and it’s not just Notre Dame, but a high-profile program like Notre Dame—it certainly attracts more attention and eyes than when other BCS programs that aren’t as highly regarded do the same thing," Wiltfong said.

Wiltfong added that Notre Dame will be calling on that high-profile stature throughout the camp:

"Notre Dame will bring these kids in before the camp and they’ll get a chance to get a taste of Notre Dame and learn about the school," he said.

A host of commitments in the class of 2015 will also be on hand to aid in the recruiting efforts. The Irish recently landed six commitments over a 17-day span, a surge that should help the recruiting efforts with some of the top targets in town for the Irish Invasion, according to Wiltfong.

“Now you’ve got more spokesmen in the trenches with the prospects on the field helping sell your brand and your program and talking to the kids about why they committed to Notre Dame,” Wiltfong said.

Such is the cyclical nature of recruiting.

But this weekend, Notre Dame will attempt something new, marking a progressive change in its recruiting strategy.

“Notre Dame continues to make statements and do things that are attractive to recruits,” Wiltfong said. “And this is certainly one of them.”

 

All quotes obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted.

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

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College Football Playoff Selection Committee Releases Tiebreaker Details

Unlike the BCS algorithm, the College Football Playoff selection committee will not use arcane formulas and power numbers to rate which four (not two) teams deserve a shot to play for a national championship.

But that doesn't mean that the system is without its tiebreakers. According to Daniel Uthman of USA Todaythe CFP sent out a document from 2012 outlining its process for differentiating between "teams with similar records and similar pedigree."

"Strength of schedule, head-to-head competition and championships won must be specifically applied as tie-breakers between teams that look similar," the document reads, per Uthman. Those are some of the tangible factors that will come into play during the process.

This document provides a slightly less abstract criteria system than selection committee chairman Jeff Long put forth in late April, when he said the committee was looking for the "best" instead of the "most deserving" teams in the country for the playoff.

"We don’t think in terms of most deserving on the resume,” Long said, according to Chuck Carlton of The Dallas Morning News. "We’re focused on the best four teams and the best ranking in the [playoff] top 25. Again, our focus is the best, not deserving."

This most recent announcement would seem to run contrary to Long's statements, as it appears the committee does have some quantifiable things it is looking for. The chairman of the committee said he is not looking for "most deserving on the resume," but this document lists a number of tiebreakers that are resume-related.

Huh?

What this means, for us, is that the CFP selection process will continue to be shrouded in doubt until the first few polls are released—and, to be completely honest, until the four teams are selected. 

What this means, for college football, is that FBS Independents such as Notre Dame and BYU might be in for a little bit of trouble.

Let's pretend, for example, that Notre Dame and Oregon have similar resumes in a given year. They both finished 11-1 in the regular season and beat some quality teams. The only major difference is that Notre Dame did not get to play a conference championship game, but Oregon beat, say, USC to claim the Pac-12 title.

Based on this most recent release, Oregon would get the benefit of the tiebreaker because it had won a championship. In a vacuum, that seems fair. But as Notre Dame is not even competing to win a regular-season championship, it would be met with much contention.

Is there a better solution out there? I am not exactly sure. Perhaps these new ordinances will finally force Notre Dame into a conference affiliation. It's already beginning its partial ACC membership next season, after all. Might that be the first step toward something bigger?

At this point, who really knows?

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Auburn Fan Trolls Alabama with License Plates Celebrating "1 Second" Left

The one second that Alabama wanted to stay on the clock at the end of the 2013 Iron Bowl will never be forgotten by Auburn fans.

With one second left on the clock, the Crimson Tide attempted a 57-yard field goal that would've given the team the victory and a berth in the SEC title game. Instead, Alabama allowed Auburn's Chris Davis to return the missed field goal more than 100 yards for the game-winning touchdown.

Ever since then, Tigers fans have done their best to troll the Crimson Tide.

Even an Alabama fan had to give the creator of the above license plate credit:

Of course, this isn't the first time that we have seen a creative license plate celebrating the "one second":

[Twitter, h/t Lost Lettermen]

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Brady Hoke Hints Jabrill Peppers Will Play Offense, but How Should He Be Used?

Incoming freshman Jabrill Peppers is the biggest recruit Michigan has landed in quite some time, and thanks to his timing at the (current) apex of the Internet Age, he comes to Ann Arbor with more hoopla and higher expectations than perhaps any player in Wolverines history.

The nebulousness of his position has only increased his mystique. Is he a cornerback? Is he a safety? Is he a running back or a wide receiver instead? Where will he line up as a freshman (and beyond)?

Head coach Brady Hoke gave a little bit of insight—if that's what you want to call it—in an interview with Campus Insiders Friday, saying that Peppers will begin his career as a nickel cornerback. But when asked if Peppers could also see the field on offense, Hoke's poker face betrayed him and gave way to a coy sort of smile.

"We'll see...," he told CBS' Bonnie Bernstein with a sheepish grin on his face.

Here. Check it out for yourself:

Peppers was the No. 3 overall player on the 247Sports Composite, slotting in behind LSU running back Leonard Fournette and Texas A&M defensive end Myles Garrett. Because he can play both ways, he has often been likened to former Michigan great Charles Woodson, who won the Heisman Trophy in 1997 and went on to become a seven-time All-Pro and future first-ballot Hall of Famer in the NFL.

But how often should Peppers be used on offense as a true freshman next season? Should it be in a steady capacity, or should he only be featured in select packages as he focuses more on playing defense?

The safe approach would probably be the latter.

Cornerback is a difficult position to master, despite what Vernon Hargreaves III (Florida), Kendall Fuller (Virginia Tech) and Brandon Facyson (also Virginia Tech) did as true freshmen in 2013. It is hard to reach one's potential at that spot without one's full, undivided attention.

Even Peppers himself, who is noted for charisma bordering on arrogance, spoke humbly about his freshman expectations and the learning curve before him in his most recent blog post for USA Today:

I just want to be as prepared as possible going into my freshman year because I know a lot will be expected from me. I've always had that, but I always say, "To whom much is given much is required."

I'm not going into Michigan thinking about expectations or worrying about doing certain things to live up to expectations. I know there's a huge transition from high school to college and I'm just going in focusing on learning the defensive schemes. Once you understand the schemes and the plays you can just play without worrying about making a mistake.

Peppers can learn large chunks of the defensive and offensive schemes in time for his freshman season, but it is absurd to think that he can master either while studying both. And mastery of the defense as soon as possible is the best thing that Peppers can do for himself, his career and the next three-to-four years of Michigan football.

So while it may be tempting to put Peppers on offense as often as possible next season—especially since the defense (and the secondary in particular) is the stronger part of the team—doing so would run the risk of stunting his development in the secondary. And like Woodson, that is ultimately where his future is going to lie.

Which isn't to say he shouldn't see the field at all on offense in 2014. He should. When the Wolverines are looking for a spark plug, Peppers should be it. There are things he can do on the outside, in the slot and—as Hoke intimated Doug Nussmeier is lobbying for—out of the backfield of which nobody else on the team is capable.

But those reps should be limited to things that take advantage of his athleticism. They should be the same type of reps Patrick Peterson took on offense with the Arizona Cardinals in 2013.

Peppers cannot waste time in practice learning the intricacies of pass-blocking out of the backfield or run-blocking on the outside and in the slot. Those are things that all freshmen struggle to pick up, even when they are dedicating a full course load to do so.

He will get his hands on the ball on offense a couple of times per game, as well he should, but don't expect Peppers to displace Derrick Green or consistently catch passes from Devin Gardner. He will be more of an offensive wild card than an offensive king or queen.

But with three defensive positions—nickelback, outside cornerback and safety—to potentially learn next season, it is asking a little too much of a true freshman to add more than a couple of offensive packages to his repertoire. Even if that freshman is Peppers.

And even if Peppers is Woodson reincarnate.

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Which Big Ten Powerhouse Will Land 'Mr. Everything' CB Brian Cole?

Cornerback Brian Cole, a Michigan native, has everything you want in a recruit: He is a versatile threat who plays on both sides of the ball with big-time athleticism. 

Cole has offers from all over the country but has decided to keep it close to home with either Michigan, Michigan State or Ohio State. Will he keep his talents in state?

Watch as College Football Analyst Michael Felder breaks down this stud.

 

Highlights courtesy of XOS Digital. Rankings from 247Sports Composite.

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Tennessee Football: 5 Potential All-SEC Players in 2014

Inexperience and lack of depth abound the Tennessee Volunteers 2014 roster, but there are a handful of players in the mix who could earn All-SEC honors at the end of the upcoming season.

There are many reasons for Tennessee's downfall in recent years. Coaching changes. Roster attrition. Increased competition in the SEC. All of these are valid reasons, of course, but the most telling statistic comes from glancing at the lists of All-SEC teams during the past five or six years.

During the 90s and early 2000s, Tennessee players littered All-SEC and even All-American rosters, with representatives from Rocky Top filling several positions on the first and second teams.

Lately, All-SEC honors for the Volunteers have been few and far between, which is a direct reflection of the team's talent level on the field. 

However, with the influx of new talent from the 2014 recruiting class, along with the return of a familiar face and the maturation of young playmakers, Tennessee has its best chance in years to see multiple players recognized as the SEC's cream of the crop after this upcoming season.

Here are the five Tennessee players who are most likely to be named to the 2014 All-SEC team. 

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SEC Football Q&A: Can an SEC RB Win the 2014 Heisman Trophy?

It's Friday, and that means it's time to answer your SEC questions. 

Fall camp is right around the corner, which means position battles are near, unknown players are on the brink of becoming superstars and the seats of coaches are about to heat up. Thanks for your questions, and if they weren't answered this week, I'll be sure to save them for the future.

And we're off!

 

@BarrettSallee How close is the SEC to having a Heisman winning RB? Since 1960, just FOUR RB from the current SEC have won.

— Dan Vasta (@CI_StatsGuru) June 10, 2014

Those four, of course, are Alabama's Mark Ingram, Auburn's Bo Jackson, Georgia's Herschel Walker and South Carolina's George Rogers (South Carolina wasn't a member of the SEC at the time).

As far as the running back crop this year in the SEC, this is as good as it has been in a long time. Georgia's Todd Gurley, South Carolina's Mike Davis and Alabama's duo of Derrick Henry and T.J. Yeldon will be featured prominently on Heisman watch lists and Las Vegas odds boards this summer. All of them are not only immensely talented, but will be catalysts for their respective offenses, even if Alabama goes more by committee.

So from that perspective, the SEC is set up well. The combination of extremely talented running backs and offensive coaches who know how to feature them will allow several SEC running backs to put up gaudy numbers.

The problem is that it's also blocked by quarterbacks who are going to light up opposing defenses with video game stats. That will play well in the race to win what has become a quarterback-driven award. UCLA's Brett Hundley, Florida State's Jameis Winston, Ohio State's Braxton Miller and Oregon's Marcus Mariota are just a few of the talented quarterbacks in college football who will benefit from high-profile games and video game statistics.

With that said, though, this is probably the best shot SEC running backs have had to win the Heisman since Ingram won it in 2009. It's going to be a little more of a run-heavy league in 2014, and while there are quarterbacks around the country blocking the SEC's running backs, offensive coordinators around the country are becoming more creative with their schemes, allowing quarterbacks to put up video game statistics and make it difficult for running backs to claim college football's greatest individual prize.

Simply put, if you're thinking about going to Las Vegas and placing a Heisman bet on an SEC running back this year, just send your money to me instead. I'll go buy some ribs for the smoker this weekend.

 

@BarrettSallee Who will become the number 1 running back for Auburn this year?

— Mitchell Tate (@Mitchell_Tate4) June 6, 2014

Speaking of Heisman Trophy running backs, Auburn's looking to replace a Heisman finalist from a year ago at the position.

Tre Mason is gone at Auburn and takes his 1,816 yards and 23 touchdowns from 2013 with him to St. Louis to play on Sundays. In his place, seniors Cameron Artis-Payne and Corey Grant will get the first crack at the top spot on the depth chart, with redshirt freshman Peyton Barber and true freshman "Roc" Thomas vying to unseat them.

They won't.

While head coach Gus Malzahn and offensive coordinator Rhett Lashlee will give Grant—who thrived as an edge rusher last year—to win the job outright, Artis-Payne will win the "1A" role, be the feature back and thrive in that role. Grant will settle back into his role from last year as a weapon off the edge, and Barber and Thomas will be relegated to backup duties.

Whether I'm right or wrong, the running backs at Auburn will move the football. Malzahn has produced 11 1,000-yard rushers in eight college seasons, and with quarterback Nick Marshall and four offensive linemen returning, they'll move it on the ground again in 2014.

Don't be surprised if Artis-Payne—or whoever emerges as the No. 1 running back—gets some Heisman love this season.

 

@BarrettSallee Could you please compare Arkansas' and A&M's RB talent? I actually think it's comparable.

— Carlos Toraño (@catorano) June 7, 2014

Initially, people will look at this question and say "no way" and that it's not comparable.

Well, maybe not before the season. Arkansas returns sophomore Alex Collins and his 1,026 yards and junior Jonathan Williams and his 900 yards, and sophomore Korliss Marshall has big-play ability. On paper, Arkansas boasts one of the nation's top rushing attacks and is coached by a head coach in Bret Bielema who likes to feature a small village of running backs.

But after the season, it wouldn't shock me at all if Texas A&M jumps into that discussion.

Tra Carson is more than just a bruiser and will emerge as one of the top backs in the SEC now that he's likely going to be the feature back. Trey Williams is dangerous in space, Brandon Williams has a ton of upside as long as he holds on to the ball and redshirt freshman James White should provide quality depth.

Couple that with the flexibility of the offense that head coach Kevin Sumlin has demonstrated throughout his college coaching career, and you have a recipe for success.

Sumlin plays to his strengths, and with uncertainty and youth at the quarterback position whether sophomore Kenny Hill or freshman Kyle Allen wins the job, his most reliable move would be to focus more on the running backs—especially early—and allow the eventual winner at quarterback to settle in to the new role.

The gap is pretty wide between Arkansas' running backs and Texas A&M's right now, but that won't last for long once toe meets leather in 2014.

 

Do you have a question for next week's Q&A? Send it to SEC Lead Writer Barrett Sallee on Twitter at @BarrettSallee

Barrett Sallee is the lead SEC college football writer for Bleacher Report. Quotes were obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted. All recruiting rankings are courtesy of 247Sports.com, and all stats are courtesy of CFBStats.com.

 


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Michigan Football: Is Brady Hoke Losing the State to Michigan State

Since 1969, Michigan has dominated its in-state nemesis Michigan State by a margin of two-to-one. But in recent seasons Michigan State has turned the tide. Now with the Wolverines slated to face the Spartans in East Lansing for the second consecutive season, Brady Hoke’s squad will need a victory to compete for the Big Ten title and stop a six-year slide that began under previous coach Rich Rodriguez.

Prior to Hoke and Rodriguez, Michigan owned Michigan State—winning 77 percent of its games versus the Spartans under previous coaches Bo Schembechler (17-4), Gary Moeller (3-2) and Lloyd Carr (10-3). Michigan’s record could have been even better if not for two controversial losses in 1990 (the infamous mugging of future Heisman Trophy winner Desmond Howard in the end zone) and 2001 (questionable clock management).

But Michigan’s dominance of the rivalry evaporated with the hiring of Rich Rodriguez (0-3) and his eventual replacement Brady Hoke (1-2). Michigan’s sole victory since Carr’s retirement was on a 38-yard game-winning field goal as time expired in 2012. During that six-season stretch Michigan State has outscored Michigan 162-90.

When Michigan was beating Michigan State nearly 80 percent of the time, fans could chalk up the occasional loss to bad officiating or rough play, but for the last six seasons there’s one easy explanation—the Spartans have simply been better.

While Michigan fans can point to highly ranked recruiting classes and a BCS victory in Hoke’s first season, Michigan State can list chapter and verse its success since 2008—a .713 winning percentage, 5-1 record versus Michigan, two Big Ten championships and a Top 10 national finish last season. Michigan has a .539 winning percentage over the same period.

In 1999, Nick Saban abandoned Michigan State, irked by always being in Michigan's shadow as reported by USA Today. ”At Michigan State, we were never Number 1 [in the state],” Saban told reporters after accepting the job. “That was always Michigan. It was always, ‘UM this and that.’

Michigan State coach Mark Dantonio is on the verge of doing something that eluded Nick Saban— surpassing Michigan as the preeminent power in the state.

Under Hoke, Michigan has been manhandled by Michigan State 28-14 in 2011 and 29-6 in 2013. After last season’s game Hoke denied the apparent widening gap between the programs.

"I don't think there is a gap, I think they played awfully well,” said Hoke. “They executed awfully well. I don't think we did.”

If Michigan can’t find a way to win this season, the gap that Hoke denies is in danger of becoming a chasm. 

 

Phil Callihan is a featured writer for Bleacher Report. Unless otherwise noted, all quotations in this article were obtained via Press Conferences or in person.

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Will Baylor QB Bryce Petty Surpass RG3's Monster Heisman Year

The Baylor Bears relied heavily on star quarterback Bryce Petty during their 11-2 run in the 2013 season. With many offensive weapons returning to this high-powered offense, Petty has a chance to throw up some big numbers.

Petty is effective on the ground and through the air, giving him the ultimate skill set to succeed. Do you think his numbers will improve?

Watch Barrett Sallee and Michael Felder discuss his potential.

 

Highlights courtesy of XOS Digital.

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How Nick Marshall's Preseason Heisman Trophy Resume Compares to Other Top QBs

College football's long offseason is broken down into several specific sections, which include the final weeks of a recruiting cycle, spring practices, prospect camps, media days and the highly anticipated start of fall practices.

However, two more offseason traditions don't fit into a particular time frame and instead find a way to stretch across the spring and summer months in this age of the 24/7 news cycle: recruiting for next February's class and preseason predictions.

Some of the most popular preseason predictions for college football fans to devour and discuss are the early Heisman watch lists.

And, after a breakout 2013 season in which he helped lead his new team to an SEC Championship and a berth in the BCS National Championship Game, Auburn quarterback Nick Marshall is making his way onto several of those lists.

Sports Illustrated's Zac Ellis has him in his second tier of candidates, a "next level" of players "who aren’t yet stars, but have the potential to command the national spotlight." HeismanPundit.com put Marshall on its post-spring top-25 list. ESPN's Phil Steele (subscription required) has Marshall at No. 7 in his new top 10 ranking, and NFL.com's college football writer Mike Huguenin has the Auburn senior at No. 8 on his "14 in '14" list. 

After not appearing on Bovada's January board of Heisman contenders, Marshall is currently No. 10 on the board with 20-1 odds to win the 2014 trophy.

Marshall first received Heisman buzz toward the end of last season, when Auburn head coach Gus Malzahn said his quarterback deserved to be mentioned in the race for a spot in New York City.

Malzahn, who has never had a returning quarterback in his collegiate coaching career, continued to be impressed with his "steadily improving" signal-caller after a much-needed set of spring practices.

"He was a lot more reactive this spring, you could tell he wouldn't have to really think hard about the progression of everything, it was just coming more natural," Malzahn said. "We're hoping it'll even be better than that in the fall."

Marshall's preseason buzz has a lot to do with his playmaking ability on the ground, a dominant aspect of his game that was on full display in his first season at Auburn:

The Tigers' effective read-option game was the basis of its offense, which ran the ball 72 percent of the time in 2013. Marshall and a talented trio of running backs led by Heisman Trophy finalist Tre Mason combined to create the nation's No. 1 rushing attack.

But for Auburn's offense to excel again in 2014, the Tigers are probably going to have to throw the ball more. Malzahn knows this and has talked about wanting more balance on offense since last December.

Marshall did not go through spring practice with Auburn last season and still was able to play his part in one of the biggest turnarounds in college football history.

His play through the air suffered somewhat in the first part of the season with four interceptions in four games, but he turned it around to become the nation's highest-rated quarterback for the Tigers' stretch run:

If Marshall can put together what Auburn fans hope will be 15 similar games to his final eight from last season, his Heisman stock could soar in 2014 as the star of what is expected to be one of the nation's most prolific offenses.

The senior definitely has the weapons around him to keep up that high level of play through the air and on the ground.

Mason is off to the NFL, but the smash-and-dash combo of Cameron Artis-Payne and Corey Grant is back with the additions of redshirt freshman Peyton Barber and 5-star recruit Racean "Roc" Thomas.

All of his key receivers from 2013, including vertical threat Sammie Coates, are back, and the Tigers have added the nation's No. 1 JUCO player in D'haquille "Duke" Williams as a new target for a more balanced offense.

Four of the five starting offensive linemen from the SEC-winning squad have returned, and seniors C.J. Uzomah and Brandon Fulse are looking to make greater impacts this season at tight end and H-back, respectively.

Those playmakers helped Marshall win Auburn's Offensive MVP award at the annual A-Day Game, where he threw for 236 yards and four touchdowns in just one half of action.

"We can get real scary," Marshall said. "We know we can run the ball. We're just focusing on throwing the ball down the field. That's the emphasis this year. " 

In addition to having an experienced unit around him and a head coach who has consistently had explosive offenses, Marshall's Heisman stock will also benefit from Auburn's preseason hype and tough schedule.

With the Tigers seemingly a lock for a top-5 preseason ranking, Marshall will be in the spotlight from the opening whistle. Nationally televised games against Arkansas, non-conference foe Kansas State and the rest of the grueling SEC slate will make it easy for voters to find Auburn's quarterback all season long.

 

Marshall vs. The Field

Twelve of the last 13 Heisman winners have been quarterbacks, and there is a high possibility another signal-caller will be lifting up the trophy in New York City this December.

How does Marshall stack up to the other talented 2014 quarterbacks on the early watch lists? Here is a quick look at the strengths of five preseason contenders and an area where Auburn's quarterback might have an advantage on them this season.

 

Marcus Mariota, Oregon

The Resume: Mariota is a popular pick on many preseason Heisman lists, and Steele has him winning it in 2014. Like Marshall, Mariota has experience as a starter and a ton of returning playmakers around him in an offense that is famous for lighting up the scoreboard and the resume. Oregon is also a preseason national title contender, and a rematch of the 2010 BCS National Championship Game is definitely not out of the question for the sport's first major playoff.

Marshall's Advantage: "The Flyin' Hawaiian" struggled with consistency and mobility toward the end of the season, falling out of the Heisman spotlight after the Ducks' two late-season losses and a less-than-stellar performance against rival Oregon State. Marshall, on the other hand, played his best games of the 2013 season against top competition such as Texas A&M, Georgia, Alabama and Missouri.

 

Braxton Miller, Ohio State

The Resume: The two-time Big Ten Offensive Player of the Year had season similar to Marshall's in 2013—in fact, the two quarterbacks each had 1,068 yards on the ground. Miller finished fifth in Heisman voting in 2012 and ninth in 2013. Like Malzahn, Urban Meyer likes to use a lot of zone-read in his playbook, and a dual-threat player such as Miller has all the credentials to excel once again for another national title contender.

Marshall's Advantage: Marshall missed significant time in a pair of non-conference games last season, but injuries have been a recurring issue with Miller at Ohio State. The Buckeye quarterback missed two starts last season with a sprained knee and suffered another a shoulder injury in Ohio State's Orange Bowl loss to Clemson. Miller played through the injury in the bowl game but did not participate fully this spring due to surgery on the affected shoulder.

 

Bryce Petty, Baylor

The Resume: Auburn knows how to rack up yards under Malzahn, but Baylor took it to another level in 2013. The Bears had the nation's No. 1 total offense by a wide margin, and Petty helped orchestrate the prolific attack. In addition to his 14 touchdowns on the ground, Petty had 4,200 yards, 32 touchdowns and just three interceptions through the air last season. If video game-like stats are the key to winning the Heisman, Petty already has experience at compiling those.

Marshall's Advantage: Baylor returns the second-fewest starters of any college football team in 2014, and Petty is only one of five coming back from the Bears' mind-blowing offense. This Texas gunslinger does not have as much experience around him as Marshall and some of the other picks on this list, and his stock might suffer by being on a team that is not expected to be one of the top contenders for the national title this season.

 

Brett Hundley, UCLA

The Resume: Whether its with his arm or his feet, the experienced and accurate Hundley will be a leader for a team fighting to be a part of the national championship picture. The third-year starter will be the centerpiece of a squad that has a good chance of making it to the Pac-12 Championship and beyond this season. UCLA has won 19 games in two seasons under Jim Mora and returns most of the starters from last season's 10-win team.

Marshall's Advantage: In his two seasons as a starter, Hundley has not been in the top 10 nationally of any major passing category. UCLA's offense is good but not great, and Hundley might have a hard time tallying numbers comparable to Marshall and the rest of the players on this list. If that's the case, Hundley might need to lead the Bruins to a dominant, undefeated regular season to make up the difference.

 

Jameis Winston, Florida State

The Resume: This name should already be familiar to Auburn fans. Winston won the national championship and the Heisman Trophy in his redshirt freshman season, so he has at least one more season of leading the extremely talented Seminoles. Winston led the nation in yards per attempt and finished second in passing touchdowns, and he will continue to have the necessary weapons around him as Florida State looks to make it back-to-back ACC and national titles.

Marshall's Advantage: Winston's success in 2013 could be his undoing in the race for the Heisman. Anything short of another undefeated season and a berth in the playoff might not be enough for Winston to win the award against what looks to be a packed field of contenders in 2014. Marshall, on the other hand, will have the advantage of not being expected to repeat a record-setting season in order to win the Heisman.

 

Justin Ferguson is Bleacher Report's lead Auburn writer. Follow him on Twitter @JFergusonAU. All quotes were obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted. All stats taken from CFBStats.com.

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USC RB Trifecta Will Put Up Monster Stats in Steve Sarkisian's No-Huddle Offense

The West Coast offense is back in Southern California, with three big running backs leading the way. The Trojans are stacked with Tre Madden, Buck Allen and Justin Davis taking control of the offensive attack.

These three have an opportunity to stack up huge numbers in the upcoming season. Which running back do you think will do the best?

Check out Michael Felder and Barrett Sallee as they discuss the USC running backs' potential.

 

Highlights courtesy of XOS Digital.

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Alabama Football: Tide's Triumphs Mirrored Tuscaloosa's in Tornado Aftermath

TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — It’s amazing how fast it can all come back to you.

Maybe the reminder comes while driving down the road and suddenly seeing a gap that has yet to be rebuilt. Perhaps it’s an awful smell or when a pet hides in terror from a small storm passing through the area.

It’s been more than 1,000 days since a tornado cut through the heart of Tuscaloosa, where the horizon still has a hole that will take years if not decades to fill. Nobody who was here that day will ever forget the tragedy or how people then rallied together.

Some of them were University of Alabama athletes, including members of the football team who aided in the physical recovery and then helped as much emotionally by winning the national championship.

It was a perfect tale of triumph over tragedy, followed by the women’s golf and softball teams winning titles and the reigning national champion gymnastics team successfully defending its own. Men’s golf lost in the NCAA finals but won the next two titles, and football won another championship in 2012.

Beforehand, Alabama had only won national titles in football and gymnastics, but everything changed after the tornado, even Nick Saban.

People looked to him after the storm if for no other reason than simple inspiration, and the leader of the nation’s most successful football program became a true leader of the community. It's something those outside of Tuscaloosa will never fully understand, but by the way he responded and told his players to forget football and help others, Saban would be beloved here even without the championships.

One of the ways the coach and his wife Terry helped was to have their Nick’s Kids Foundation team up with Habitat for Humanity to rebuild a neighborhood with the 15-for-15 initiative, a house for each championship that Alabama claims.

“Because of this organization, we were able to do much more for people affected by the tornado than we ever thought we might,” Saban said at the recent golf fundraiser for Nicks’ Kids—a charity named in honor of his father that primarily helps children in need.

“Rather than put self-imposed limitations on what we can do, that made us feel like there’s more out there for us to be able to do. We’re going to continue to support the state of Alabama and the young people in the state, try to create some opportunities for them in the various ways.”

Saban changed as a person as well, though, which former Sports Illustrated writer Lars Anderson, who composed the tornado cover story that had Javier Arenas on the front of the May 23, 2011 issue, writes at length about in his upcoming book, The Storm and the Tide (due out Aug. 12).

In it, he chronicles what happened that day, how Saban and the Crimson Tide reacted and realized how they were playing for a lot more than themselves. It also follows former Alabama long snapper Carson Tinker and the families of his then-girlfriend, Ashley Harrison, and Loryn Brown, the daughter of a former Crimson Tide player. 

Anderson dedicated the book to “the memory of the 53 lives lost in the Tuscaloosa tornado, and for those who still suffer from the tragic events of April 27, 2011.” Tinker also wrote about his experiences in his book, A Season to Remember: Faith in the Midst of the Storm, and is donating all proceeds from the book's sales to charity.

After receiving an advance copy of Anderson’s book, I found the first 100 pages extremely difficult to read but can honestly say he nailed it.

For full disclosure, I lived through the tornado and am familiar with nearly every person or place Anderson wrote about. I knew Harrison, consider Tinker a friend and still get a gut-wrenching feeling whenever one of those regular reminders occurs.

Tinker, of course, has moved on and is now with the Jacksonville Jaguars, but a handful of his tornado teammates remain.

Anthony Orr is the last player from the recruiting class of 2009 still on the roster. From the 2010 class there’s wide receiver DeAndrew White, safety Jarrick Williams, guard Arie Kouandjio, fullback Jalston Fowler, tight end Brian Vogler, safety Nick Perry, quarterback Blake Sims, tackle Austin Shepherd and nose tackle Brandon Ivory.

Of the early enrollees in 2011, linebacker Trey DePriest is the lone holdover.

That’s it, 11 players, and there’s no more talk about how they have to win to help others get over the tragedy. They can finally be free of that burden, although like with Saban they’ll never be quite the same.

Part of me wants to suggest that everyone else on the roster should be given a copy of Anderson and Tinker’s books, while the rest of me feels otherwise, that hopefully they’ll never have a clue to what it’s like to go through something so horrific. 

Perhaps that’s part of the recovery process as well.

 

Christopher Walsh is the lead Alabama football writer for Bleacher Report. All quotes and information were obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted. 

Follow @CrimsonWalsh

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Notre Dame Football: 4 Freshmen Who Will Challenge for Starting Jobs in Camp

While Notre Dame welcomes a group of elite recruits to South Bend this weekend for the Irish Invasion Camp, the incoming freshman class is already on campus, working with the coaching staff and Paul Longo's strength team to prepare for the upcoming season. 

Brian Kelly collected 23 signatures in the 2014 recruiting cycle, the No. 10 class in the country according to 247Sports.com. Now he's got to throw away the star rankings and get his team ready to play football. 

There are potential impact players in this group. A strong group off offensive linemen will do their best to challenge for playing time. A reloaded front seven will have opportunities to work in Brian VanGorder's new scheme. 

Entering his fifth season, Brian Kelly's depth chart is as stable as it's been at Notre Dame since the Holtz era. And while the Irish lost a ton of talent from last year's team—five players in the first three rounds of the NFL draft and eight players overall—walking into the starting lineup is probably harder than it's been since Kelly arrived in South Bend.

Still, there are opportunities. Let's take a look at the freshmen who have the best chance to win a starting job during fall camp.  

 

 

Begin Slideshow

Predicting Where LSU Will Finish in 2015 Recruiting Ranks

LSU head coach Les Miles brought in his best recruiting class ever in 2014. However, national championships are not won or lost with one crop of players.

LSU finished spring practice in the top five of the team recruiting rankings for the 2015 class, but the Tigers have since dropped to seventh with their 12 commitments, which is only good for fifth in the SEC.

Miles has not had his hottest summer when it comes to reeling in commitments. His most recent commit was 3-star dual-threat quarterback Justin McMillan, which is LSU's lowest-ranked non-special teams player.

In recruiting, though, there are three golden rules to remember:

  1. It's not how a school starts, but finishes.
  2. Stars and rankings are not always accurate indicators of talent.
  3. Nothing is truly official until a prospect signs on the dotted line.

Miles knows this, which is why he and his coaching staff are not in panic mode. They feel their class will be among the best when national signing day comes around in February.

 

Top Players Currently Committed 

LSU currently has two 5-star 2015 commits in cornerback Kevin Toliver II and offensive tackle Maea Teuhema. Tigers fans should feel pretty good about both of them eventually officially signing with the Bayou Bengals.

Toliver II committed to the Tigers back in 2012, which is extremely early for a player in this class. The cover corner has the talent to play right away in defensive coordinator John Chavis' secondary.

Teuhema's older brother, Sione, was a signee in LSU's 2014 class. Both of them made a late flip from Texas right before national signing day last February. Maea and Sione are close, so expect little brother to join big brother next season.

LSU's strongest position thus far has been running back.

The Tigers did not have to look far for Baton Rouge prep stars Nick Brossette and Derrius Guice. Both backs will be much-needed, as seniors Kenny Hilliard and Terrence Magee will be gone.

 

LSU Targets 

Predicting which prospects will commit—much less sign—to any school is an inexact science. However, there are some elite prospects who look like they will eventually get to commit to the Tigers.

New Orleans 5-star receiver prospect Tyron Johnson is the No. 1 prospect in the state of Louisiana. Johnson has Texas Tech, Georgia and Oklahoma State vying for his services, but there are multiple reasons why he will sign with LSU.

Xavier Lewis is the best pure cover corner prospect in the state of Louisiana. Lewis would form a formidable duo alongside Toliver II, but the Tigers are also looking at 5-star corners Iman Marshall and Kendall Sheffield.

Lewis, though, is the likeliest to commit to the Tigers. However, do not be surprised if 4-star defensive back Tarvarus McFadden commits to LSU before Lewis.

Donte Jackson is an electric playmaker that has serious potential as a returner at the college level. Jackson, like Johnson, is a New Orleans prospect that puts potential tacklers on ice skates when the ball is in his hands. Schools such as Georgia and Oregon are other potential landing spots for his services.

 

Possible Flips

Miles and the LSU coaching staff have a knack for flipping prospects late in the process. The previously mentioned Teuhema brothers and 4-star 2014 defensive tackle signee Travonte Valentine are prime examples.

LSU will look to do the same for the 2015 class.

Defensive tackle Daylon Mack is currently committed to Texas A&M. However, Shea Dixon of Geaux247.com (subscription required) reports LSU defensive line coach Brick Haley has been in constant contact with Mack in an effort to eventually get him to Baton Rouge.

Offensive tackle Jerry Tillery plays his high school football at legendary Evangel Christian Academy in Shreveport, Louisiana.

Dixon suggests the Notre Dame commit has been pursued heavily by first-year offensive line coach Jeff Grimes and prominent recruiting analysts are believing Tillery will change his mind from the Fighting Irish to the Tigers.

 

Conclusion

LSU has work to do.

The Tigers currently have a talented crop, but so do Alabama, South Carolina, Texas A&M and Auburn. Those four schools are currently ahead of the Tigers in the team rankings. Georgia, Mississippi State and Tennessee are also in the top 15.

Miles and the coaching staff's main focus right now is the upcoming season, but expect recruiting coordinator Frank Wilson to be busy while also coaching up the running backs.

The Tigers finished with the second-best class in 2014 and sixth-best in 2013. With Miles' recent streak of finishing strong in the spring, it is not a stretch to say LSU is a lock to finish in the top 10.

However, the bigger question would be where his 2015 class finishes among other SEC schools.

 

Recruiting rankings, stats and additional information provided by 247Sports.com unless otherwise noted. Follow me on Twitter @CarterthePower.

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Which College Program Will 5-Star Byron Cowart Have Best Chance at Success?

Byron Cowart is a 5-star defensive end who has the ability to play multiple positions at the collegiate level. His size and athleticism give him the ultimate advantage against offensive linemen.

With only a few schools left on his radar, it will be a huge win for whichever program he chooses. Which school do you think he will pick?

Watch College Football Analyst Michael Felder predict where this stud will land.

 

Highlights courtesy of XOS Digital.

Rankings from 247Sports composite.

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War Hero Daniel Rodriguez Trying to Make His Mark on Clemson Roster

CLEMSON, S.C. — Daniel Rodriguez wants to be known for football, and he is ready to work for it.

The Clemson junior receiver's road to college football is a fascinating, heartfelt story. But Rodriguez wants to tell another story, one that involves him carving out a big role on the Tigers’ on-field roster in his final two seasons of collegiate eligibility.

“I think the coaches understand I’ve made a point that when we have one-on-ones, that I don’t want to be looked at as a feel-good story,” he said. “I want to be a football player. That’s what I want to do. For me, every day I work out, every day I go to become a better football player, a better teammate. Not just a story.”

Make no mistake: Rodriguez’s story is already impressive.

Rodriguez, 26, joined the Army in Jan. 2007 and served tours in both Iraq and Afghanistan over 18 months. While in Afghanistan, he was involved in the Battle of Kamdesh, one of the bloodiest battles of the Afghan war, where 38 U.S. troops battled 300 Taliban insurgents. Eight U.S. soldiers died; 22 were wounded. Rodriguez had shrapnel wounds to his neck and right leg, and he earned the Bronze Star and the Purple Heart for his efforts.

He walked on at Clemson (the Army is paying for his education via the G.I. Bill) and became an immediate fan favorite, earning ovations every time he touched the ball—which has mostly come on special teams.

Now, though, Rodriguez wants more. That is why he gets up in the mornings for punishing workouts, sweating alongside the Tigers’ young, talented receiving corps.

His life story has been immortalized in a book: Rise: A Soldier, a Dream, and a Promise Kept, which is due out from Houghton Mifflin Harcourt on Oct. 7.

When Rodriguez’s story is made into a movie (the film rights have been acquired by Sony’s TriStar Productions), it could end with his first career touchdown, scored Nov. 23, 2013 against The Citadel—on Military Appreciation Day, no less.

However, Rodriguez hopes that is only the beginning.

"I’ve really tried to establish and separate myself from the 'feel-good-story Daniel' to the 'football player Daniel,'" he said. "I think I have made a mark. I think I did open some eyes, having more skill than (coaches) probably thought I had. I think I am a playmaker. I think I have the ability to contribute on this team, down in and down out." 

Last fall, he carved out a small role behind talented receivers such as high NFL draft picks Sammy Watkins and Martavis Bryant, making seven catches for 20 yards and a touchdown on 73 offensive snaps. He also had five punt returns for 31 yards.

“I felt I could have made it last year, but you have a guy like Sammy Watkins, he's a horse,” Rodriguez said. “Playing behind him, seeing what he can do, you learn from the guys around you. And when it’s your time, your number gets called, you just make the most of it.”

Rodriguez doesn't dabble in delusions of grandeur. He has made a place for himself on Clemson’s roster as a backup receiver and someone who can play any special teams position, a dependable, solid tackler who can always be counted on.

“I don’t have all the intangibles of a Sammy Watkins, a 6’5” Martavis Bryant, that type of receiver, but at the same time my knowledge is there, my commitment is there, and I hope the trust is there with the coaches that if they need me I’ll be there,” he said.

Just being on the roster doesn’t satisfy Rodriguez.

“I think that’s been my biggest chip here,” he said. “At the beginning I was so appreciative of the opportunity, just to have a chance to play that I was making a note to the coaches that I didn’t want a charity case. I’ve tried very hard to establish myself as a role player, a leader, someone who is dependable.”

This summer, Rodriguez (who stands 5’8”, 175 pounds), has been working closely with senior receiver Adam Humphries, listed at 5’11”, 190 pounds.

Humphries is helping his fellow smaller receiver make the most of what he has.

“He’s not the biggest guy,” Humphries said. “He’s got to use what he’s blessed with to maximize his potential. And I’m not the biggest guy either, so I try to help him with speed and keeping your legs underneath you, being physical with your hands and using what you have the best you can. He’s been doing a good job this summer, he’s got to keep working. He can make a huge impact. He’s just got to continue to get confidence that we can throw him out on the field and get the job done.”

Make no mistake: Rodriguez is well aware of his place on the Tigers roster. Versatility, not 5-star talent or speed, is his calling card.

“I think that’s my niche,” he said. “Special teams, I know every single receiver position, the coaches can put me in any position at receiver, those are the details I have. Like I said, my attributes aren’t to throw the ball up for a corner jump ball at the 8-yard line.

“For me, it’s using what I have to my advantage. That’s my knowledge of the game, my quickness, just to have any edge I can. Just to make my mark on special teams, it’s worth it. Anytime I can go on the field, I’ll go on the field and give it my all. Wherever they want me, I’ll go.”

Coaches have taken notice of Rodriguez’s drive, too.

“Daniel is so much more mature coming in here,” Clemson head strength and conditioning coach Joey Batson said. “His life experience is a lot different than any of us. They look to him for leadership and maturity. His drive challenges guys. He doesn’t challenge them personally, but he’s out front being a role model.”

He’s already a role model, but this fall, Rodriguez wants more. So every day he works, sweats and strives, hoping to take the next step in an already amazing story.

“This year we’ll have some talented receivers coming in, but hopefully my seniority will give me the upper edge,” he said. “I think I’ll have the opportunity to get some snaps going into this year.”

 

Unless otherwise noted, all quotes for this article were obtained directly by the author.

Connect with Greg on Twitter @gc_wallace

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Florida Football: Why Kelvin Taylor Should Be Considered a Heisman Dark Horse

While this whole offseason for the Florida Gators has been about getting better and putting last year’s nightmare to bed, it’s time to focus on something positive. Florida will have a chance to produce its fourth Heisman winner if running back Kelvin Taylor has the season many expect.

Only a sophomore and flying under the radar due to Florida’s offensive issues last season, nobody in their right mind would consider any running back for the Gators a candidate for the most prestigious award in college football.

But don’t be surprised if that’s the case once we get the season underway.

 

Expect the Unexpected 

Back in the days college football had to know who you were before the season began for you to have a chance to win the Heisman.

Matt Leinart had already thrown for more than 3,500 yards and 38 touchdowns the year before he won the award. Reggie Bush was making jaws drop way before his final season at USC. Ricky Williams had 4,155 career rushing yards and 45 touchdowns before he walked away with the hardware as a senior.

How about the last four winners?

Cam Newton had just 12 career pass attempts and was more known for his off-the-field issues at Florida before his first season at Auburn. Robert Griffin III had some buzz, but very few took him seriously considering he played for a Baylor program that had not won double-digit games since 1980. The last two winners (Johnny Manziel and Jameis Winston) were freshmen, and the last thing anybody was thinking was a Heisman trophy.

Gone are the days where you have to already be a college football superstar.

Now, you just have to show up, help your team win and put together an off-the-wall individual season. There’s enough TV time, highlight videos and coverage to go around that builds the case for said player nowadays.

Taylor has just as good a shot as any player entering this college football season.

 

If Last Season Was a Sign of Things to Come...

Taylor only received six carries through his first five games and then eventually was thrown into the starting role due to various injuries to other backs. Even then, he only had 20 or more carries in three games and finished with only 111 touches for 508 yards and four touchdowns. He averaged a decent 4.58 yards per carry and scored three of his four touchdowns in his final four games.

A stat that was really impressive is that Taylor averaged five yards per carry against AP-ranked teams, which was higher than his average against any other group of teams. It was clear he was just getting comfortable with the speed of the game.

But what if Taylor sees a typical starter’s workload this season?

One thing that may prevent Taylor from having any shot at the Heisman is the fact offensive coordinator Kurt Roper typically isn’t a one-running-back coach. In fact, no player ran the ball more than 120 times a season in his career at Duke. He likes to keep guys fresh and use nearly the entire backfield.

However, it’s fair to say Roper hasn’t had a back as talented as Taylor and may change his style a bit. If so, Taylor’s chances at the hardware improve dramatically.

Taking Taylor’s average of 4.6 and multiplying that by 215 carries, we end up with 989 yards. Not Heisman numbers, but there’s reason to believe he can bump that average up with ease. This is the same back who averaged 5.2 yards against LSU, a team that had the third-best run defense in the SEC.

Taylor also moved the chains on nearly 25 percent of his carries and had five runs produce 20 or more yards.

Another thing to consider is Florida had zero offensive production with Tyler Murphy and Skyler Mornhinweg at quarterback, so defenses were selling out completely to stop the run.

Taylor still rushed for 96 yards and two touchdowns against South Carolina. Now, he’ll be in an offense that spreads the field and makes it difficult for opposing defenses to focus on one thing or player. It’ll also force defenders to tackle Taylor in space.

Good luck with that.

We just saw Tre Mason put up ridiculous numbers in a spread offense and receive an invite to New York. Granted, Taylor won’t receive over 300 carries, but he does have the talent and has shown his potential in a sample size last season.

Don’t rule it out.

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