NCAA Football News

Kerryon Johnson to Auburn: Tigers Land 4-Star ATH Prospect

Auburn is on its way toward even more success in the future after grabbing a commitment from 4-star athlete Kerryon Johnson.  

Keith Nieburh of 247Sports.com revealed the news of the young player's decision on Tuesday:

The Madison, Ala., native is clearly one of the top playmakers in the 2015 class, starring for Madison Academy as both a running back and a safety. He helped lead the school to the last two state championships and will hope to earn another one in his senior year.

According to 247Sports' composite rankings, he is the No. 37 player in the class as well as the No. 2 prospect in the state of Alabama.

At 6'0", 200 pounds, Johnson has the size to run over smaller players while also using the speed and agility to get beyond anyone bigger than him. On the defensive side, he is a ball-hawking safety who knows how to make game-changing plays for his team.

Unsurprisingly, he also is extremely dangerous when he gets the ball in his hands and can take it to the house on offense, defense or special teams.

Josh Bean of AL.com described how dominant the versatile player has been throughout his career:

Johnson has been the best player on the field in last three AHSAA Class 3A state title games, starring as a runner, defensive back, receiver and kick returner. He really can do it all and has the size to be a difference maker on either side of the ball. His blend of size, speed and elusiveness has drawn comparisons to 2011 Mr. Football T.J. Yeldon.

As a result of his production, Johnson had the opportunity to play for virtually any college football team in the country. He had narrowed it down to the last three teams to win a national championship: Alabama, Auburn and Florida State.

When discussing his finalists, he gave insight into what he was looking for in a school. Johnson told Mike Herndon of AL.com, "They're all great schools, they have winning traditions, they do a good job of developing players -- but also, they're all good academic schools."

By the time he was set to make a decision, there was plenty of excitement all around:

In the end, he chose the Tigers, giving the already talented squad yet another elite player that will be able to contribute early in his career. Considering his size and skill, he might not even need to redshirt.

While he appears more likely to be a running back at the next level, he certainly has a talent to succeed at safety. It will probably just come down to what the coaching staff is looking for at the time. This versatility is another reason he becomes such a valuable commitment.

It will still be a while before the 2015 star steps onto campus, but fans should already start getting excited about the possibilities.

 

Follow Rob Goldberg on Twitter for the latest breaking news and analysis.

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No. 2 ATH Kerryon Johnson Commits to Auburn, How Malzahn Will Use Him in Offense

4-Star ATH Kerryon Johnson has committed to play his college football for Auburn. The 6'0", 200-pound athlete is an aggressive runner with phenomenal leaping ability.

Johnson chose the Tigers over multiple schools, headlined by Alabama and Florida State.

B/R's Barrett Sallee breaks down how Auburn head coach Gus Malzahn will use Johnson in the future and also compares him to a former SEC running back who was a ferocious runner in his own right.

Watch the video, and see how Johnson will be used and who his player comparison is.

Highlights courtesy of xosdigital.com

Standings courtesy of 247sports.com

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Best Fits for the Top 10 Uncommitted 2015 Defensive Recruits

Several of the nation's premier defensive prospects have been selective when it comes to deciding on their desired collegiate destination. Less than 10 months shy of national signing day 2015, elite playmakers remain up for grabs and continue to garner interest from college programs.

We dissect the mounting list of options for each defender, with an eye on which squads may have the advantage when an announcement arrives.  

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Tennessee Football: Butch Jones' Biggest Concerns Post-Spring Practice

Various buds of optimism sprouted throughout Tennessee head coach Butch Jones' post-Orange and White Game press conference.

Unfortunately for the young Volunteers, the words were surrounded by the weeds of worry.

The 2014 season is going to be like that for the Vols—full of hope as inexperienced players thrust into important roles all over the field grow and shine, and full of frustration, as they inevitably struggle adjusting to the rugged SEC.

For every emerging playmaker on offense or the vast improvement from the quarterback position Jones touched on Saturday, there were caveats.

The team's stars are young. The mistakes are abundant. The defense has holes. The offensive line is undeveloped. The depth has not yet arrived.

Questions abound. The stark reality is Jones, his staff and his young team have a lot of work to do in the next five months to get ready for a ridiculous schedule. This is a Vols team that will get a lot better throughout the course of the season. But what do they need to focus on foremost?

Let's take a look at the biggest concerns facing UT this offseason.

All quotes obtained firsthand.

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9 College Football Quarterback Battles That Will Last Through Fall Camp

Footballs are no longer in the air, music isn't blasting from speakers and coaches aren't barking out instructions anymore. Yes, that's right, the annual rite that is spring football is over for most colleges across America. 

That means it's time for us to assess where the state of college football is across campuses nationwide. It also means the spotlight shines on the most important position on the field—quarterback. 

While some programs got the answers they were seeking at quarterback, others have a rough and tumble battle ahead of them. 

Let's take a look at nine quarterback battles that will likely last the distance. 

 

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Florida Football: Gators Achieved Their Primary Spring Goal; Find an Offense

Florida's mission this spring was not only to install new offensive coordinator Kurt Roper's hurry-up, no-huddle offense; it was to find the primary players who will make that offense click.

Mission accomplished.

Quarterback Jeff Driskel completed 19-of-33 passes for 171 yards and one touchdown in the spring game, adding 27 yards on the ground.

Is that efficient enough? Not really.

In fact, the 5.2 yards-per-attempt average is downright mediocre. But there was a silver lining, because Florida made a concerted effort to spread things around and play fast. As a result, several key pieces of the wide receiving corps stepped up.

Demarcus Robinson had 45 receiving yards, including a 31-yard touchdown reception. Quinton Dunbar had 42 receiving yards, including a 22-yarder. Chris Thompson had 31 yards and a touchdown, and Ahmad Fulwood had 32 receiving yards.

Florida found options at wide receiver and picked up on the new scheme well, which pleased head coach Will Muschamp.

“I'm extremely pleased with the day offensively with 15 practices and how far we've come," he said in quotes released by Florida. "I think you can attribute all that to Kurt Roper and the offensive staff and the job they've done.”

That is what Florida needed to do. Spring was the time for installation with fall camp becoming the "fine-tuning" phase of the offense. Driskel and the wide receivers picked up on the offense and what its goals were this spring, and they can tweak as needed this summer.

What will some of those tweaks be?

The return of slot receiver Andre Debose to full speed will be one. The 5'11", 189-pounder has largely been a disappointment since signing with the Gators in 2009, but Roper's track record of success with smaller slot receivers bodes well for Debose to shine as a sixth-year senior if he stays healthy. Two Duke receivers under Roper who were similar in stature to Debose—Jamison Crowder (2012, 2013) and Donovan Varner (2009)—topped the 900-yard receiving mark in those seasons.

Add in running back Matt Jones, who could be used either as a pure running back or as an H-back, and Roper's options will grow during fall camp. With Jones, sophomore Kelvin Taylor and senior Mack Brown, they could turn to more of a hurry-up power attack like Gus Malzahn's Auburn Tigers if they want to.

However the offense evolves, the foundation has been laid. Players have grasped the tempo and the scheme, and they now have the opportunity to fine-tune the offense when the next practice session starts in August.

Does Florida have to post one of the top offenses in the conference?

No. The bread and butter of the Gators will be a stout defense yet again. As long as Roper can get them moving the ball consistently, it's all they'll need to get back into the SEC East discussion.

 

* Barrett Sallee is the lead SEC college football writer for Bleacher Report. All spring statistics are courtesy of the University of Florida, and all college statistics are courtesy of CFBStats.com.

 


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Everett Golson vs. Malik Zaire: Who Will Start for Fighting Irish in 2014?

Everett Golson is back in South Bend and the Notre Dame QB battle intensified after the spring game. Sophomore Malik Zaire excelled in spring practice while Golson was shaking off the rust after a year away from football. 

Golson is known for his ability to extend plays and get out of the pocket, but Zaire also has great playmaking skills. Which QB has what it takes to start for the Fighting Irish in 2014?

Check out JJ Stankevitz from CSN Chicago break down Notre Dame's QBs and who should start in 2014. 

 

Highlights courtesy XOS Digital

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2015 4-Star RB Recruit Derrius Guice Names Top 5

Derrius Guice is one of several elite 2015 running back recruits who remain uncommitted. The Louisiana standout revealed where his process currently stands by sharing a top-five list with Rivals.com reporter Jason Howell.

"The order would be LSU, Southern Miss, Texas, Georgia, and Alabama," Guice told Howell.

The 5'10", 195-pound junior stars at Catholic High School in Baton Rouge. He rushed for 1,100 yards and 13 touchdowns in 2013 during a trip to the postseason.

LSU has to like its chances of landing Guice, who received an offer from head coach Les Miles last April and frequents the campus. He told Howell the Tigers are "always going to be my No. 1."

If that sentiment holds true through national signing day, expect Guice to join an LSU offensive backfield already brimming with talent. It's notable Alabama ranks fifth on his short list, signifying an uphill climb in this competition for the Tigers' bitter rival.

This top five is significantly different from the list of four favorites Guice mentioned in March. Alabama, LSU and Texas remain in the picture, but Tulane has dropped off.

The Green Wave gave way to Texas and Southern Miss. The Golden Eagles may appear as a serious underdog given their comparative national status, but Guice has spent time on campus during multiple visits and is apparently impressed enough to consider the team a serious contender.

Charlie Strong is attempting to make inroads in SEC territory at Texas. The Longhorns hold commitments from running back prospects Jordan Stevenson and Tristian Houston, members of a nine-player class that strictly features in-state recruits.

Guice told Howell he plans to visit Texas and Georgia during spring break, while leaving the door open for other possible collegiate destinations during his time away from school.

This latest list of favorites provides momentary insight, but it's certainly subject to change again.

"I haven't really eliminated anyone because everything can change and I can change my mind," Guice told Howell.

Guice is rated No. 6 nationally among running backs in 247Sports composite rankings. He has yet to provide a timetable for his decision date.

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Clemson Football: Is Cole Stoudt Ready to Lead Tigers in 2014?

If Cole Stoudt wasn't already the front-runner to be Clemson's starting quarterback, he certainly is now. 

On Monday, fellow quarterback Chad Kelly was dismissed from the program due to "conduct detrimental to [the] program." 

"He has had a pattern of behavior that is not consistent with the values of our program," head coach Dabo Swinney said in a university statement. "I hope he will mature and grow from this and become the man and player I know he can be. I wish him nothing but the best in the future academically and athletically."

Regardless of what ultimately led to Kelly's dismissal, the Tigers now have a two-man quarterback race between Stoudt and freshman Deshaun Watson.

Stoudt brings a cool head and leadership qualities to the Tigers offense. According to Aaron Brenner of The Post and Courier, Kelly was benched during Clemson's spring game and reportedly got into it with members of the coaching staff. 

The coaching staff wasn't having it. 

"The biggest thing is he got frustrated. Maturity, leadership, that's a huge part of that position," Swinney said, via Brenner. "Those are two things he's got to continue to work on. It's a lot more than just the skills."

Now, compare that to what Swinney and Morris said about Stoudt, per Brenner.

"(Stoudt) has been very consistent the entire spring," Morris said. "He's been that steady Eddie type of guy, never too high, never too low. So it was good to see that with him today."

And Swinney: "Cole Stoudt had the better day, was the better leader, was more poised, handled the situation that was in front of him better. Everybody can see that today."

Watson wasn't available for comparison. A cracked collarbone he sustained earlier this month kept him out of the spring game and will keep him out of the remainder of spring practice, as reported by Mandrallius Robinson of The Greenville News

Watson—a 4-star dual-threat prospect, per 247Sports—enrolled early with a ton of hype. He will be able to resume throwing later this summer and should be good to go for preseason camp.

Obviously, the quarterback situation has changed since his injury. As Tigers offensive coordinator Chad Morris previously told David M. Hale of ESPN.com, "We’d love to redshirt him [Watson], but if he’s given the opportunity to play, he’s a guy that if the door opens for him, he may never look back.”

That door just cracked open a little wider with Kelly's departure. However, Swinney told Fox Sports' Coy Wire on Tuesday that Stoudt would be the starting quarterback.

"It should be pretty obvious that he won the job,” Swinney said. “He's a great leader who is highly respected by his teammates. He never once complained. He was always ready when we needed him. He's earned it and he will be named the starter."

This is the opportunity Stoudt has waited for since serving as a backup behind Tajh Boyd. This is Stoudt's time to take the reins. He's wanted the job, but he didn't have a real chance of getting it until this year.

He's ready to lead, and he's proved that this spring. There may come a time this year when Watson proves to be the better option if Stoudt can't get it done. Until that happens—if it happens at all—this looks like Stoudt's team. 

 

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

 

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Nick Saban Awkwardly Poses for Photo with Alabama Gymnastics Team

Alabama coach Nick Saban knows what he is doing on the sidelines of a football field, but he could learn how to look more natural in photos.

The 62-year-old recently stopped by to talk to the Crimson Tide gymnastics team. No matter how the talk went, the photo definitely could have been better.

[Alabama Gymnastics, h/t The Big Lead]

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Oklahoma Football: Top Performers from the Sooners' Spring Game

An air of optimism surrounded the Oklahoma spring game Saturday, which saw the White team beat the Red team, 28-13, in a (comparatively) normal scrimmage format.

According to Brandon Chatmon of ESPN.com, a school-record 43,500 fans flooded Gaylord Family Oklahoma Memorial Stadium, up more than 14,000 patrons from last year's attendance. After watching the Sooners beat Alabama in the 2014 Sugar Bowl, OU fans could not wait to see them in action once again.

Sugar Bowl hero Trevor Knight struggled at quarterback, completing just five of his 14 passes. Defense dominated, for the most part, the entire afternoon, which is to be expected at this time of spring (and in general with OU returning so much on that side of the ball).

But at least one offensive player—and a "newcomer" to Oklahoma, at that—made headlines with the strength of his performance, along with a couple of stars in the linebacking corps.

Here's a look at Saturday's three best performers.

 

Third Star: LB Jordan Evans

With Frank Shannon's mysterious absence up the middle, OU's depth at inside linebacker was and will continue to be tested. On Saturday, true sophomore Jordan Evans answered the call.

Evans was flying to the ball all afternoon, routinely finding himself in the offensive backfield. He showed a willingness to be physical and played with excellent instincts, which is rare in such a young linebacker.

He also almost murdered K.J. Young, blowing up a wide receiver screen for what turned into a diving interception by defensive tackle Jordan Wade:

Evans has been coming on strong all spring, and Saturday was a fitting way to punctuate that improvement. Bob Stoops said so himself, according to OU Football's official Twitter account:

Of Shannon, Stoops said he's "not at liberty to discuss" the absence and noted that the Sooners need to build some depth at linebacker, according to Eric Bailey of the Tulsa World

That is not news anybody wants to hear, and Shannon is wished the best. After leading the team with 92 tackles in 2013, his return would obviously help this football team a great deal.

If he's gone, however, at least there's a capable player behind him. 

 

Second Star: LB Eric Striker

Evans' development was a welcome sign at inside linebacker, where, as mentioned earlier, Stoops knows the team could use some help.

At outside linebacker? Not so much.

Eric Striker resumed his dominant form on Saturday, looking every bit the unblockable edge-rusher he did in the Sugar Bowl, when he had three sacks and forced the game-clinching fumble against Alabama.

He had another multi-sack game on Saturday, this time racking up two on his teammate, Knight. Seizing the moment after sack No. 2, he paused and took a bow to the crowd:

Striker has been among the standout performers of spring camp, which was to be expected. He is looking at an expanded role in 2014, playing a lot in open space and even in coverage nickel packages.

Bob Stoops and defensive coordinator Mike Stoops alluded to these changes after Saturday's game, while also lauding Striker's instincts:

Entering his junior season, Striker has the look of an early-round NFL draft pick in 2015. Sooners fans would hate to see him go, but if he does, it would likely mean an All-Big-12 and maybe even All-American performance this season.

And honestly…that might be worth it.

 

First Star: QB Baker Mayfield

How could it be anybody else?

Sooners fans came out Saturday, in large part, to see how Knight performed. If you told them a different QB who started multiple games in the Big 12 last season would steal the show, they likely would have pointed toward new tight end Blake Bell.

Nope.

Baker Mayfield, who transferred this winter from Texas Tech, where last season he threw for more than 2,300 yards and 12 touchdowns as a platooning freshman, finished the scrimmage 9-of-9 passing with 125 yards and two touchdowns. Especially considering the way Knight struggled, his performance became the story of the day.

This postgame photo from Bailey says it all:

Because of NCAA transfer rules, Mayfield is not eligible to play in 2014. Even if he was, he would not be a legitimate threat to Knight's Week 1 job. However, he would have provided a nice insurance option if Knight struggles in the short term (which has happened in the past) and will be ready in 2015 if Knight struggles in the long term.

Mayfield has experience starting a season hot. As a true freshman walk-on at Texas Tech last season, he threw for more than 400 yards and had five total touchdowns in Week 1 against SMU:

This is the part of the season where Mayfield shines, although fellow Red Raider freshman Davis Webb eventually took his job, which prompted his transfer to Norman. If he continues to improve this season—enough so that he can be trusted on a week-in, week-out basis—Knight may have some quality competition on his hands.

Of course, after last season, it's not like he isn't used to that.

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Odds on Where 2015 No. 1 Dual-Threat QB Torrance Gibson Lands at Next Level

2015 5-Star dual-threat quarterback Torrance Gibson is being courted by pretty much all of the top programs in the country. The 6'4", 200-pound lefty has the legs to make highlight-reel plays on the ground but also has the arm to make all the necessary throws.

B/R's Adam Kramer goes to the odds board to try to decipher which school will ultimately land Gibson's talents.

Who is the favorite?

Watch the video to find out.

 

Highlights courtesy of xosdigital.com

Ratings courtesy of 247sports.com

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Montrell Custis Flips Commitment from Kentucky to Alabama

Montrell Custis committed to Kentucky before the conclusion of his junior season, but offers have continued to come for the Georgia defensive back. Alabama, who joined the pursuit in late February, swiped him away from the Wildcats on Monday:

The 6'0", 175-pound playmaker from Lovejoy High School (Hampton, Ga.) becomes the 10th member of Alabama's 2015 recruiting class. The group rates second nationally in 247Sports' composite team rankings.

Custis, a 3-star prospect, picked up an offer from Alabama on Feb. 25. He attended a junior day on campus one week later.

With confidence in his commitment to the Wildcats waning, Custis chose to visit the Crimson Tide again this past weekend. The trip affirmed growing thoughts that he belongs in Tuscaloosa.

"I think Coach [Nick] Saban kind of knew that I was going to commit to Alabama before the visit ended Saturday," he told Scout.com reporter John Garcia Jr. "I did not commit before I left, but I gave Coach Saban a call (Monday) and made my commitment to Alabama official."

Custis, rated No. 58 nationally among cornerbacks in 247Sports' composite rankings, leaves Kentucky with five 2015 commits. He was the earliest pledge in the group before his decision to bail, committing to head coach Mark Stoops in November.

The Wildcats, a two-win team in 2013, were unable to beat out the opportunity presented to Custis by Alabama, a program with three national championships in the past five seasons.

"I want to be the best that I can be, so to be the best, you have to compete against the best, play with the best and play against the best - and you get all that at Alabama," he told Scout.

Stoops was able to win a pivotal recruiting showdown with Saban during the final stretch of the 2014 cycle, securing a commitment from 4-star in-state defensive tackle Matt Elam. This time, however, the edge went to Alabama.

Kentucky lost at home to the Tide 48-7 last fall during Stoops' first season at the helm. The Wildcats have enjoyed a rise in recruiting success under the former Florida State defensive coordinator, but the loss of a longtime pledge will undoubtedly sting in Lexington.

"The Kentucky coaches took it well, they understood it was a business decision," Custis told Clayton News Daily reporter Derrick Mahone.

Alabama moves forward with two talented defensive backs in its class. Texas safety Deionte Thompson committed to the Tide during his sophomore year.

Expect Saban to stay active in his efforts to address defensive secondary depth. Cornerbacks Minkah Fitzpatrick (New Jersey) and Kendall Sheffield (Texas)—both 5-star recruits—remain in the crosshairs.

Aside from Alabama and Kentucky, Custis also holds offers from Auburn, Tennessee, Clemson and Oregon.

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Cardale Jones Stood out in Spring but J.T. Barrett Is QB of the Future for OSU

The Ohio State spring game is in the books, and with star QB Braxton Miller sitting out, Buckeyes fans got a glimpse of the future in Cardale Jones and J.T. Barrett. Which QB proved himself in the spring game?

Urban Meyer loves athletes on offense that can score from anywhere on the field, and Ohio State has three such players on its roster. Dontre Wilson, Jalin Marshall, and Curtis Samuel all have the potential to play the Percy Harvin role for the Buckeyes. How will Meyer use each on offense?

Check out Ben Axelrod from BuckeyeSports.com give some inside info on Ohio State's spring game. 

 

Highlights courtesy XOS Digital

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Georgia Football: Why Hutson Mason Is the Next Aaron Murray for Bulldogs

The Georgia spring game is in the books, and Hutson Mason is ready to be the face of the Bulldogs. Mason threw for 241 yards and a touchdown as he led the Red team to 27-24 win over the Black team.

B/R's Barrett Sallee breaks down why Mason looked so similar to former Georgia QB Aaron Murray and what stood out to him on the defensive side of the ball with new DC Jeremy Pruitt at the helm.

Watch the video for the most important takeaways from the Bulldogs' spring game.

Highlights courtesy of xosdigital.com.

Stats courtesy of georgiadogs.com.

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Miami Football: Brad Kaaya Will "Absolutely" Compete for Starting QB Job

The 2014 Miami spring game is in the books, and with Ryan Williams out until midseason with an ACL injury, the quarterback battle is heating up.

Neither redshirt freshman Kevin Olsen nor redshirt sophomore Gray Crow excelled in the spring game. Will the Hurricanes have to wait for true freshman Brad Kaaya to arrive on campus in the fall to pick a QB?

Olsen is the favorite to start right now, but Kaaya—the No. 7 pro-style QB of the 2014 class, per 247Sports—should make Al Golden's decision a little tougher. 

Watch as Associated Press sports writer Tim Reynolds breaks down the latest in the Miami Hurricane's QB situation. 

 

Highlights courtesy of XOS Digital and Miami Football.

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Nick Saban vs. Gus Malzahn Keeps Iron Bowl as College Football's Best Rivalry

The best rivalry in college football lived up to the hype last season.

Auburn topped Alabama 34-28 when Chris Davis returned a missed field goal 109 yards for a touchdown as time expired to win the Iron Bowl and the SEC West and propel the Tigers to the SEC Championship Game.

It was the first time since the divisional split in 1992 that the game served as the de facto SEC West title game. Judging from the coaches and the depth on each roster, that was the start of a trend rather than an aberration.

Alabama's Nick Saban successfully built and maintained a dynasty in Tuscaloosa as the BCS era wound down, winning national titles in 2009, 2011 and 2012, and quickly erased the memories of the Mike Shula era. His old-school, defensive-minded approach has proven that it not only can be successful in the age of innovative offenses, but that it can win consistently at an elite level.

Auburn's Gus Malzahn is the opposite.

His hurry-up, no-huddle power attack out of the spread has ushered in a new-school approach to old-school power football. Malzahn already has a national title ring from his days as Auburn's offensive coordinator in 2010 and nearly put another one on his finger following the 2013 season, but his Tigers fell 34-31 to Florida State.

"If you're going to win a national championship, you better have good players on both sides of the ball," Alabama athletic director Bill Battle said. "The different backgrounds adds to the chess match between offensive and defensive geniuses, but football is a game of a lot of people, all of whom are going to have influence." 

It's no accident that the two heated rivals from the same state have vastly different styles. Instead of following in Alabama's footsteps in terms of style and scheme, Auburn athletic director Jay Jacobs stepped out on his own to further establish Auburn's unique identity.

"That hurry-up, no-huddle is what high school kids really enjoy these days," Jay Jacobs said. "Even though we're both recruiting the best athletes and go head-to-head on a lot of recruits, our style is totally different. It's what Gus has always run since he was a high school coach, and has made the games really fun. It's a totally different style than the pro style, and it gives the prospects a choice."

While the two coaches boast different offenses, even the defensive schemes offer variety to high school prospects looking to make a splash in the SEC.

"All of the sudden, the playing field has been leveled even on defense," said Cole Cubelic, a former Auburn center from 1997-2000 and current Sun Belt football analyst. "Auburn's not trying to sign a 330-pound nose guard who's going to eat up space in the middle. You look at the defensive ends, I think [Auburn defensive coordinator] Ellis [Johnson] likes to use lighter guys who can rush the passer. The 3-4 defensive ends [at Alabama] are much different players."

The distinctive styles have helped propel each program to college football's peak in essentially the same era. One of the two programs has played for the BCS National Championship after each of the past five seasons and will likely enter the 2014 campaign in the top five according to Phil Steele's preseason AP poll projection.

That success has transformed the football-crazed state of Alabama to the capital of the college football world. 

For Brandon Gibson, a former wide receiver for the Alabama Crimson Tide from 2007-2011 and current sales rep inside the state for Magnolia Specialty Pharmacy, that means he not only is talking to the fans, but that the fans want to know his perspective as a former Tide player.

"I hear a little bit of everything," Gibson said. "I always hear the 'Gus Bus' thing, which is kind of funny. Being a former player at Alabama, everybody wants to talk about it. It's very exciting. To have such a big stage of football in one state. I don't think anybody can argue that college football is at its best in the state of Alabama."

Battle was in the same boat. 

Before he moved back to Tuscaloosa last March to become Alabama's athletic director, he founded the Collegiate Licensing Company in Atlanta, Ga. Even when he was one state over, the former Alabama end (1960-1962) couldn't escape Iron Bowl talk.

"I had a place on Lake Weis in Centre, Ala. which is between Gadsden, Ala. and Rome, Ga.," he said. "I'd go out to play golf, and whatever time of year it was, all the conversation was about Alabama and Auburn football year-round. I said 'dang, that's all you guys talk about.' They'd say 'yeah, if it wasn't for Alabama and Auburn football, there probably wouldn't be much conversation around the state.'"

The success has brought the eyeballs of the nation to a rivalry that is rich in tradition. From Bear Bryant to Shug Jordan to Pat Dye and Gene Stallings, this rivalry has been heated before, but nothing like this.

"It's as intense as it has ever been," said Jacobs, who was an offensive lineman for the Tigers from 1980-1983 before becoming AD. "With media access, particularly in regards to social media, a lot of people who typically wouldn't hear about it do hear about it. It's as intense today as it was when I was playing, when it was Dye against Bryant."

It's not just a game that resonates within two fanbases or between the borders of one state. It's a game that resonates nationally.

"When I was in school (from 1997-2000), getting to the BCS title game was almost not even realistic," Cubelic said. "That was really from either school's perspective. Alabama won a title in '92 and played in some SEC title games, and we played in two SEC Championship Games. But the national title wasn't realistic."

Even when Auburn was sputtering to its first 0-8 conference record in program history in 2012, the game served as the final chapter of the Gene Chizik era.

That mattered on the national scene, because it opened the door to the new era.

"It's not just David versus Goliath anymore," Cubelic said. "It's old-school versus new-school college football, which is right where it should be."

With Malzahn and Saban at the helm of Auburn and Alabama, respectively, it's going to stay where it should be for quite some time.

 

* Barrett Sallee is the lead SEC college football writer for Bleacher Report. All quotes were obtained firsthand.

 


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Why NCAA Should Not Expand the College Football Playoff

Proponents of an expanded College Football Playoff should have cringed over the UConn-Kentucky men’s basketball NCAA Tournament championship game.

The matchup of two underachieving regular-season teams perfectly illustrates exactly why football needs to keep the invitations to its playoff to a minimum.

UConn and Kentucky—seeded seventh and eighth in the tournament, respectively—ranked Nos. 18 and 22, respectively, in the pre-tournament USA Today Coaches Poll. The two combined for 18 losses and a collective .735 win percentage.

Such a win percentage in a 12-game college football season would approximately equate to a 9-3 regular season.

Yet basketball’s setup enabled the sports world to celebrate UConn as the national champion before the confetti and streamers hit the court inside AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas.

The very nature of college football wouldn’t allow the same settled feeling for a similarly credentialed winner of a postseason tournament.

Next year, AT&T Stadium will host the first-ever College Football Playoff championship game, but the playoff format will differ greatly from basketball’s. Only four teams will qualify for the initial football playoff—a far cry from the 68 that make the men’s basketball NCAA Tournament.

And that’s a good thing.

College football has long enjoyed a history of having the most important, meaningful regular season in sports.

The same impactful regular season disappears if the sport expands its playoff beyond eight teams.

In nine of the past 10 seasons, expanding the playoff to even 16 teams would have allowed in at least one three-loss team based on BCS standings.

Moving to a 24-team playoff—such as the one utilized in the FCS ranks—would have allowed four-loss national champions, thus crippling the power of the regular season.

All of a sudden, weekly must-see contests would turn to afterthoughts.

Consider how vital some games were at the end of this season.

Three conference championship games would have featured a pair of teams ticketed for a 16-team playoff. Even losses wouldn’t have prevented Auburn or Missouri (SEC), Arizona State or Stanford (Pac-12) and Michigan State or Ohio State (Big Ten) from qualifying.

Ditto late-season contests between Clemson and South Carolina and Alabama and Auburn.

In other words, five must-see games for any die-hard college football fan would have turned into little more than a prelude for the far more critical 16-team playoff.

College basketball has long been a sport more predicated on punching a ticket into the NCAA Tournament and attempting to make a run once there.

It has never been about rewarding teams that start strong and sustain a high level of play throughout the season. Conversely, college basketball centers on crowning teams that gel over the first 30-something games during the regular season and then grow white-hot during the postseason.

Such a blueprint never served as college football’s M.O.

Rather, football rewards teams that escape the gauntlet of a grueling regular season at least relatively unscathed.

It’s why we tune in every Saturday afternoon to watch, listening to the broadcast of Verne Lundquist and Gary Danielson. It’s why we—until the coming 2014 season—focus our eyes on the Saturday night spotlight game, as called by Brent Musburger and Kirk Herbstreit.

Every night could be an elimination night in college football.

It’s what we love about the sport.

Don’t lose tonight because there might not be another chance tomorrow.

Lose twice and forget about winning it all—the lone exception over the past 50-plus years coming from LSU, which won the BCS national championship as a two-loss team in 2008.

College football isn’t and never has been college basketball.

That’s a very good thing.

For all the shouting back and forth between conferences and fanbases, we don’t want a three-loss team hoisting the championship trophy.

We want those teams playing in the Alamo Dome.

Leave the title-game picture for the regular-season titans, who continue the legacy of making the 12 or 13 games running from late August through early December matter.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

8 College Football Players Who Dazzled in Early Spring Game Action

College football spring games are a discovery zone.

The annual end-of-spring-practice competitions have little impact on the reputation and future playing time of known stars and established starters, as the scrimmage is meant more as a final tuneup than anything else.

The same can't be said for the newcomers, backups and other reserves who make up most of a team's roster. For them, this is their time to shine.

While much more stock will be placed on performance and development during preseason training camp, what happens in the spring game can be used as a springboard toward future success. Those who stand out during this competition will be the talk of the spring and summer...though whether that translates into fall success is unknown.

We're about halfway through the spring game schedule for FBS schools, and so far a handful of players have dazzled above and beyond others.

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10 College Football Coaches Who Are the Best at Out-of-State Recruiting

The first objective of recruiting in college football is to lock down your state. However, the best recruiters are skilled enough to excel at out-of-state recruiting.

Some schools have the advantage of having a brand that is recognized all over the country, which helps entice recruits from outside their state to sign with them. Other schools have great recruiters who utilize their relationships on the trail to get in good with prospects who are not from the area where their program resides.

No matter what it is, the game of college football has several coaches who can reach outside their state's borders for a talented player.

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