NCAA Football News
A forgiving schedule makes a world of difference in the SEC, but teams that aren't expected to pose threats sometimes provide the biggest challenges.
Every team has them, and every team tries to avoid them.
What's the biggest trap game on the schedule for each SEC East team? Our picks are in this slideshow.
Notre Dame football’s recruiting class of 2014 was predicated on linemen and linebackers.
“I think if you really boil it down, it's about the front seven and the offensive line,” Irish head coach Brian Kelly said in his opening remarks on national signing day.
Fifteen members, in fact, of the 23-player group are linebackers or linemen, and a 16th signee—Drue Tranquill—projects as either a safety or a linebacker.
Notre Dame’s class of 2015, meanwhile, has a decidedly different feel. Of the eight commitments, the Irish have landed a quarterback, two wide receivers and two safeties.
“Last year’s class was about adding a whole bunch of talent at the point of attack on both sides of the ball,” said Steve Wiltfong, 247Sports’ director of recruiting. “I think in this class Notre Dame would like to get more talented at the skill positions.”
The Irish have already done just that with the likes of quarterback Blake Barnett and wide receivers Jalen Guyton and C.J. Sanders, and Wiltfong says the skill spots are still where Notre Dame’s focus lies. After inking nine offensive linemen in the past two recruiting classes and already receiving commitments from three more in the class of 2015, Wiltfong says the Irish are done on the offensive line. And while they’ll certainly still target defensive linemen, Wiltfong pointed to a host of skill-position players atop Notre Dame’s board.
On the defensive side, Wiltfong highlighted 5-star outside linebacker Justin Hilliard, inside linebacker Asmar Bilal and cornerbacks Shaun Crawford and John Reid as some of Notre Dame’s top targets. Offensively, Wiltfong keyed on wide receivers Christian Kirk, Equanimeous St. Brown and Miles Boykin, tight end Chris Clark and running back Jacques Patrick.
And much of what Notre Dame still intends to do is derived from the work it has already done. Offensive lineman Jerry Tillery became the first Irish commitment when he pledged to Notre Dame in June. Barnett followed five months later.
“They went and got Blake Barnett. So they hit a huge home run there,” Wiltfong said. “Getting a blue-chip quarterback doesn’t hurt when you’re trying to build around him.”
Offensive lineman Tristen Hoge committed a few weeks after Barnett, and the Irish added their two receivers—Guyton and Sanders—this spring.
“They quickly built around [Barnett] with two playmakers,” Wiltfong said. “Talking to several sources on the next level, C.J. Sanders and Jalen Guyton are two fantastic kids for Notre Dame, two guys that can make a lot of plays in a variety of ways.”
Wiltfong thinks Notre Dame is still in search of another receiver, as well as a tight end, and he says the Irish would love to land a big-time running back.
Irish offensive coordinator Mike Denbrock visited 2015 running back Soso Jamabo on Thursday, per Wiltfong. But while Wiltfong said he thinks Notre Dame is “in the discussion right now” for the 6’3”, 210-pound running back from Plano, Texas, it’s difficult to gauge where the Irish stand before Jamabo visits campus.
Safeties Prentice McKinney and Nicco Fertitta are the only defensive commitments in Notre Dame’s class of 2015 thus far. Rounding out the secondary with cornerbacks figures to be a focus, as does nabbing linebackers, especially with what looks to be a more aggressive and attacking defense under new coordinator Brian VanGorder.
Unless otherwise noted, all recruiting stats and information courtesy of 247Sports.com and all quotes obtained firsthand. Star ratings reflect 247Sports Composite Rankings.
Mike Monaco is a lead Notre Dame writer for Bleacher Report. Follow @MikeMonaco_ on Twitter.
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As the old saying goes, idle hands are the devil's playground. This is why the dead period between the end of spring practice and the start of preseason training camp can be one of the most stressful times for college football coaches.
For some, it's the fear that off-the-field incidents will affect roster depth. For others, it's a worry that a rehabbing player isn't coming along as quickly as expected. And while no official practices can occur until late July or early August, many players try to take advantage of this down time to improve through informal workouts, with coaches hoping this will have them better prepared for the preseason.
There's so much that could go right—or wrong—during the remainder of the offseason that coaches are just hoping to make it through without incident. That doesn't usually happen, but it's good to dream, isn't it?
With that in mind, here's a look at what each team in Bleacher Report's preseason top 25 is hoping will happen between now and the start of fall camp.
Urban Meyer has proven himself as one of the elite recruiters in college football, securing three consecutive top-five recruiting classes during his tenure at Ohio State. That streak, though, is in serious jeopardy.
The Buckeyes' 2015 class only has two commitments from a pair of 4-star prospects, ranking No. 63 in the country. Programs such as Rice, Florida Atlantic and Texas-San Antonio currently boast better classes than Ohio State.
That should change very soon.
Despite the slow start, Meyer has the Buckeyes positioned very well with a number of elite recruits. And although it's difficult to evaluate a class that hasn't taken shape yet, grading where the Buckeyes stand at each position group is possible.
Here are Ohio State's summer grades for the 2015 recruiting class.
All recruiting information via 247Sports.
Recently, Michigan vs. Notre Dame has produced a couple of memorable games underneath the lights at The Big House in Ann Arbor. They have a longstanding feud that helps define their powerhouse personas.
Needless to say, Saturdays with golden domes of the Irish and winged helmets of the Wolverines have become a staple of the collegiate landscape; and in the Midwest, it’s about much more than a game—it’s about an incredible tradition. The matchup features two of the NCAA’s most recognized and iconic brands, so it definitely ranks up there in the appeal factor.
Sharing a similar disdain for clovers, shamrocks and leprechauns, Michigan State’s relationship with Notre Dame has boiled over nearly every season since 1948. And like Michigan, it’s settled a few big scores with the Irish along the way.
Antagonizing the ordeal, the two fanbases—as is the case with those in Ann Arbor—really don’t get along that well, either. And when Brady Quinn’s sister becomes the subject of funny frat T-shirts, you know the situation is deep (think back to Grand River, circa 2005-2006).
Michigan and Michigan State fight over everything. So why not put them head-to-head in regards to their series with Notre Dame?
While posing that question, this piece will cite overall records, the best contests and other information of interest. Series records come from Football.Stassen.com, which uses data from teams considered "major," or D-1A equivalent—sorry, no early 1900s scrimmages count for this.
Disclaimer (Bad News)
Sadly, the Irish won’t be a consistent opponent for either school in the foreseeable future. Their series with the Wolverines abruptly ends this fall in South Bend, and they have just three games scheduled within the next decade-plus with the Spartans—a home-and-home in 2016 and 2017, one tentatively set for 2023 at a neutral site, and an agreement for 2026 and 2027.
Of course, the current arrangement sets up the schools for immensely meaningful meetings come playoff time. Good luck getting tickets for those must-sees. Fans want to see this game played during the regular season, but a big-time bowl game is obviously more attractive from television, marketing and advertising standpoints.
According to Mark Hollis, Michigan State's athletic director, the nixing of the Spartans-Irish series is the "roadkill" resulting from conference expansion and other scheduling agreements, per Joe Rexrode of the Detroit Free Press.
There really isn't a good reason why Michigan and Notre Dame aren't playing. Coach Brian Kelly has expressed interest in keeping both series going strong (don't ask the Big Ten Network's Tom Dienhart to like that comment, though).
Either way, let’s hope that the powers that be come up with a solution. Saturdays just won’t be the same without them.
Block M, Touchdown Jesus
Michigan is 7-4 vs. ND since 2003 and holds a 21-16-1 series advantage, per Stassen.
Streaks in the modern era: Michigan won three from 2009-2011, while Notre Dame won four from 1987-1990.
If you’re not old enough to remember the good old days of The Four Horsemen or Tom Harmon, don’t worry. You’re not alone. If you are, good for you. You're probably one of few.
But here’s the deal: You don’t have to be ancient to remember Heisman-caliber stars such as Notre Dame’s Tim Brown, Rocket Ismail and Brady Quinn, or Michigan’s Charles Woodson, Desmond Howard and Denard Robinson.
Not many schools can boast such a list of "players of their day." Most can only hope for a single Brown or Woodson, let alone multiple legends. We've seen all these guys within the past 25 years.
And then there are famous alum such as Tom Brady and Joe Montana. They didn’t make their names in the series, but they each went on to have OK NFL careers. Notre Dame vs. Michigan seems loaded with NFL talent, either hidden or in your face.
And if you were lucky enough, you got to see a few of these guys against one another.
If you’re a member of the 35-and-under crowd, Michigan vs. Notre Dame easily reigns supreme as the better overall rivalry, regardless of allegiance. The Spartans weren't AP-favorites battling for national relevance during that time. But that was the case between the Wolverines and the Irish.
Michigan State is 5-6 vs. ND since 2003 and is at a 35-27-1 series disadvantage, per Stassen.
Streaks in the modern era: Michigan State won eight from 1950-1963, while Notre Dame won eight from 1987-1994.
The Spartans and Irish have played nearly every season since 1948, so there’s a bit of history there. During the 1950s and 60s, the height of Duffy, Michigan State vs. Notre Dame was the real deal. It was the game that everyone wanted to see.
In 1966, the Irish and Spartans got together for a 10-10 tie, which at the time was considered the “Game of the Century.” We’ve had several since—Notre Dame’s been involved in some of them—but considering the era and style of play, that throwback stands the test of time.
More recently, the 2006 vintage uniform debacle was an exhilarating victory for the Irish, who exited the monsoon conditions at Spartan Stadium as 40-37 victors. Down 31-14 at the half, Brady Quinn threw five touchdowns as his team shocked its hosts.
Games such as those put a stamp on the series—too bad it didn’t mean much for the Spartans, whose “SOS” 3-0 start was thwarted by the Irish, who finished 10-3 after their Sugar Bowl loss to LSU. Lately, the Irish have been on top, winning four of the past five.
If you're not one for Bo vs. Lou and appreciate the pre-facemask days of football and an era of pure Duffy dominance, then go ahead and call Michigan State vs. Notre Dame the better matchup.
One article can't cover these storied collegiate battles. Memories from fans are just as much a part of it as the scores and players, so be sure to voice your opinion about UM/MSU vs. ND.
Follow Bleacher Report's Michigan Wolverines football writer Adam Biggers on Twitter @AdamBiggers81
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Among the nation's most interesting recruits is 5-star receiver George Campbell. The Florida native is a 6'3", 184-pound speedster who can make plays with the ball in his hands.
However, Campbell's ball skills and concentration need improvement. College coaches are drooling over his size and speed, but Campbell could develop into a better player at another position.
With so many schools intrigued by his skill set, several burning questions have developed regarding Campbell's recruitment.All recruiting ratings and rankings are from 247Sports' Composite Rankings.Player evaluations are based on review of tape at Scout.com, Rivals and 247Sports.
Trap game (colloq.): A game where a team is favored to win, but whose chances to lose are increased due to external factors.
Nebraska football fans know that every year there are pitfalls on the schedule—traps where the team can stumble where it otherwise wouldn’t. Under Bo Pelini, Nebraska has seemed particularly vulnerable to trap games, so it is not unreasonable to scope out where the potential hazards lie in the 2014 schedule.
Here are four potential stumbling blocks for the upcoming season.
Jalyn Holmes is a 4-star defensive end who signed with Oho State this past February. From Virginia, Holmes has the skills to develop into one of the best pass-rushers in the Big Ten.
At 6'5" and 225 pounds, he has a long frame and excellent growth potential. Holmes has deceptive power at the point of attack, plus he routinely displays great speed. The Buckeyes are getting an outstanding prospect with a high ceiling.
Holmes exhibits his potential all throughout his impressive highlight tape.
With less than 100 days until college football returns, the hype surrounding Nebraska defensive end Randy Gregory is building. The question is now whether or not he'll live up to it in 2014.
The hype hit an all-time high when USA Today's first mock draft (via the Detroit Free Press) for 2015 listed Gregory being taken first overall. That definitely got some attention, especially within the Big Ten. After all, the Big Ten hasn't had an NFL draft pick in the top 10 since 2008.
But it's not just USA Today that has put a lot of confidence in Gregory. CBS Sports has him listed as the No. 3 overall pick, Athlon Sports has him at No. 8 and ESPN Insider Mel Kiper Jr. just added him to his Big Board (subscription required) at the No. 3 spot.
Will Gregory truly be a top-10 draft pick come next spring? Even better, could he really be drafted No. 1 overall?
As simple as it sounds, it all depends on Gregory. But there's more to it than just that.
Gregory made the adjustment from junior college to the Big Ten look simple in 2013. His stats were impressive, racking up 19 tackles for loss and 10.5 sacks. He also had 18 quarterback hurries, which led the team by a mile.
In 2014, Gregory will have to build upon those numbers and be even more impressive to keep the hype. Pending no injuries, the defensive end is definitely ready. He's also not sold on his future just yet.
"I know where my head's at. I know what I need to focus at and that's the team, this season ahead of us," he said this spring, per Brian Christopherson of the Lincoln Journal Star. "All the NFL talk, and things like that, can wait until after the season."
The key takeaway from Gregory? He'll need his team to live up to the hype. "And it sounds crazy, but it's going to be tough this year. I love Nebraska. I expect things from the team, and individually," he told Christopherson.
The team is definitely on his side, though. Plenty of players have expressed their support for Gregory.
And that team support and help will be crucial. As Bleacher Report's Michael Felder noted, "for Gregory to make good on the projections, I think it will be a blend of getting help from some other Nebraska defenders and his defensive staff getting creative with his athleticism."
There is no denying Gregory's talent. If he builds off of last season, he'll absolutely live up to the hype. He can't rest on his successes of last year, though. The 2014 season will be a brand new opportunity to show he's worthy of being drafted in the top 10.
Mock drafts are only worth so much, and that's important to remember. If the way-too-early mock drafts from last spring were to be compared to what actually happened at the 2014 NFL draft, it'd be clear that things change. So for Gregory, there truly is no guarantee.
But his talent speaks for itself. He has shown he's able to grow and adapt quickly. That will be enticing for plenty of NFL teams, especially those that run the 3-4 defense.
Gregory will start the season as one of the Big Ten's, and likely the nation's, top defensive players. Some have even argued he may be the best defender. It's hard to see that changing by the end of the season.
Hype is a fickle thing. It can make or break a player. In Gregory's case, it looks like he shouldn't have an issue living up to it.
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Anyone who follows the Georgia Bulldogs knows how much they struggled on defense last year.
Along with surrendering too many big plays in key situations, the lack of impact plays was one of the reasons the Bulldogs finished with an 8-5 record.
However, one of the strong points of the group last year will be the reason the Bulldogs will be a much better defense in 2014. The linebackers played solid football, and with all four starters returning this season, they will only be better despite having a new defensive coordinator in Jeremy Pruitt.
With that said, Georgia's linebackers are not only the strongest unit on defense. They are the best unit in the conference and the argument can be made it's the best in the nation.
That might sound strange to say, especially with this group leading a defense which gave up nearly 30 points per game last year.
Looking at last year’s defense closely, though, the linebackers weren’t the reason the Bulldogs were a below-average defense.
The linebackers are led by Ramik Wilson, who led the SEC in total tackles last season (133). It was the third time a Bulldog has led the conference in tackles, which is the reason Wilson was a consensus All-SEC pick last season.
Wilson is great at playing from sideline to sideline and has a nose for the football. Of the 133 tackles he had last year, 85 were in conference play.
There was another fellow inside linebacker that was just a productive as Wilson, but did not get the attention.
Amarlo Herrera was third in the SEC in total tackles and even had one interception. Ever since Herrera has arrived on campus, his numbers have gotten better and he could emerge as the leader of the defense—if he hasn’t already.
Jordan Jenkins came onto the scene in 2012 playing opposite of Jarvis Jones. He recorded 31 tackles and five sacks in nine starts. In 2013, Jenkins started all 13 games and tallied 45 tackles and five sacks. He also had 12 tackles for loss, which led the team and was eighth-best in the SEC, and registered two fumble recoveries.
Jenkins has been consistent over the last two seasons, but needs to take the next step and be more of a dominant player, which he has the ability to do.
The one linebacker that probably had the greatest impact was Leonard Floyd.
The outside linebacker played as a true freshman last year and led the team with 6.5 sacks. He was voted to the All-SEC Freshman team as well as Phil Steele’s Freshman All-America First Team.
There is a chance he could be the best pro prospect out of the four linebackers.
There are other linebacker units in the country that are talented and can be just as productive. Georgia’s SEC East foe, South Carolina, has a group led by Skai Moore, who tallied 56 tackles and four interceptions last year and helped the Gamecocks turned that position into a strength.
Alabama always has good linebackers, and this year is no different. Trey DePriest leads a very deep and talented group and he has the best chance of being the fifth All-American linebacker for the Crimson Tide in the last six years.
Oklahoma, West Virginia and Clemson also have very good sets of linebackers, but they don’t have the athleticism and versatility Georgia has.
If all four Bulldogs linebackers stay healthy all year long, they will be the reason the defense has improved, which could lead to a 10-plus-win season for the team.
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At 6’4”, 275 pounds entering his freshman year of high school, Tyree St. Louis was anything but your typical ninth-grader.
While most young athletes that size might be labeled a freak, St. Louis—who wasn’t allowed to play football because he was too big for youth leagues—admittedly looked more like Sherman Klump from The Nutty Professor than a stud offensive line recruit.
Three years later, St. Louis—who now checks in at 6’6”, 300 pounds—heads into his senior season at IMG Academy in Bradenton, Fla. with 19 scholarship offers from schools such as Florida, Miami, USC, Ole Miss and Tennessee.
St. Louis laughs as he recalls the first time he ever stepped on a football field to practice in full pads.
“The very first drill I did, they put me at offensive line and I had to hold a bag,” St. Louis said. “We had chutes and I had to hold the bag in that drill. I didn’t understand how to hold it, or what I was supposed to do. The guys came through the chutes and hit the bag and I fell straight down three times in a row. It was awful.”
The first two years of his prep career were spent at Tampa Bay Tech high school, and there were plenty of bumps in the road mainly due to his lack of familiarity with the game.
He struggled with basic technique issues, such as balance and leverage. Additionally, his frame—while impressive from a physical standpoint—was largely unrefined when compared with other players who had been playing the sport for at least a few years.
St. Louis had worn glasses his entire life, and made the decision to switch to goggles when he started playing. That choice, he admits, was “by far the worst decision I have ever made in my entire football career.”
But his biggest adjustment came in learning the toughness that is required to play along the offensive line. While his previous education about playing left tackle came mainly from watching the movie The Blind Side, it took awhile for him to adjust to life in the trenches.
“I wasn’t a naturally aggressive person,” St. Louis said. “That’s what my coaches were trying to teach me while I was kind of learning the game. So when coaches would tell me to ‘be more aggressive,’ I didn’t really understand what that meant, or how to actually do it and apply that on the field.”
Although his first offer came from Arkansas State as a ninth grader, his transformation into one of the nation’s top left tackle prospects came during his junior year—his first at IMG Academy.
He reshaped his body, polished his technique and developed the mean streak necessary to become a dominant offensive lineman.
“At Tech, my highlights were mostly plays where I would hit a guy and fall on him,” St. Louis said. “Now during my junior season, I will knock a guy down and run across the field to get a crack back block. There’s a big difference in my skill level and my understanding of the game itself and the responsibilities of my position.”
Now, with his growing pains behind him, St. Louis is starting to blow up on the recruiting scene. According to Johnny Esfeller of IMG Academy, St. Louis was honored as the MVP of the offensive line group at the Rivals Camp Series in Orlando in March.
Additionally, in the newest rankings released by Rivals earlier this week, St. Louis was tagged as one of the biggest risers emerging from the post-spring circuit and now checks in as the No. 162 player in the 2015 class.
But St. Louis hasn’t lost sight of the fact of how far he’s come since those first padded practices three years ago.
“Right now, I’m just trying to soak all of this in and enjoy it,” St. Louis said. “Once you get to college, it’s a job. So for my senior year, I just want to enjoy playing with my teammates, and raise my game to another level.”
Sanjay Kirpalani is a Featured Columnist for Bleacher Report. Unless otherwise noted, all quotes were obtained firsthand.
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Despite just one losing season in Gainesville—last year's 4-8 disaster—Florida coach Will Muschamp could be fighting for his job in 2014.
However, the Gators also have a chance for a major turnaround—perhaps the biggest in the SEC. More importantly, they can atone for, well...
For one, Florida should have another solid defense this season. Of all the problems this program had a year ago, defense wasn't one of them. The Gators finished third in the SEC (15th nationally) in points allowed (21.1) and second in rushing defense (142 yards per game).
They were also one of the best in the conference at keeping big plays to a minimum, getting off the field on third downs and ending up tops in opponents' red-zone touchdown percentage.
The point being, if Florida didn't have, statistically, the worst offense in the SEC coupled with devastating injuries on both sides of the ball, last season could have looked drastically different.
That defense lost some big names: Defensive tackle Dominique Easley, linebacker Ronald Powell and corner Loucheiz Purifoy come to mind.
But others return, like linebackers Michael Taylor and Antonio Morrison—who were Nos. 1 and 2 on the team in total tackles—defensive end Dante Fowler—who led the team in tackles for loss—and All-American corner Vernon Hargreaves.
It's the offense that needs a reboot, which is why Muschamp brought in offensive coordinator Kurt Roper from Duke.
As Bleacher Report's Barrett Sallee pointed out in April, Roper and quarterback Jeff Driskel should be a perfect match.
"I didn't get to see him much before I got here,'' Roper told GatorZone.com in March. "That's a big, powerful, fast-twitch, natural throwing motion. He is talented, folks. We're sitting here talking about a guy who is really, really gifted."
That quick-strike ability from Driskel in Roper's uptempo offense should work nicely.
Driskel also has plenty of capable skill players around him, from running back Matt Jones to wide receiver Demarcus Robinson. The key will be staying healthy and stepping up on the consistency front.
So, in an ideal world where Florida is healthy and clicking on all cylinders, how does it stack up against SEC East favorites Georgia, Missouri and South Carolina?
The good news for the Gators is that they get the Tigers and Gamecocks at home (on Oct. 18th and Nov. 15th, respectively). Playing in The Swamp didn't mean much last year—the Gators were 3-3 there—but the opposite held true in 2012, when the team won every home game on its schedule.
It's still an advantage for Muschamp's team.
Even Missouri, which loses a lot of starters on paper, has experience coming back.
However, each team also has its own set of question marks.
How will Georgia's defense look under first-year coordinator Jeremy Pruitt after taking several licks last season? How will starting quarterback Dylan Thompson play for the Gamecocks after backing up the underrated Connor Shaw? Can Missouri's offense thrive without receiver Dorial Green-Beckham?
The answers to those questions probably won't be known until we reach the heart of conference play. Florida will undoubtedly be favored—heavily—for their first three games against Idaho, Eastern Michigan and Kentucky.
Then, a Sept. 20 road game at Alabama arrives, followed by another road trip to Tennessee. LSU, Missouri and Georgia follow in succession.
It should be right around that part of the schedule when we find out what kind of team Florida has.
Are the Gators a sleeper team in the SEC? Given the players coming back and the coaching addition, it's hard to say no. The question is whether the program can put everything together and get Muschamp firmly off the hot seat.
Ben Kercheval is a lead writer for college football at Bleacher Report. All quotes cited unless obtained firsthand. All stats courtesy of cfbstats.com.
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Frank Beamer has faced just about every kind of challenge imaginable in his quarter-century of helming the Virginia Tech football program, so while he may be ready for the team’s growing pains in 2014, that doesn’t mean they’ll be any less difficult.
Much like the team’s last two seasons, Beamer is preparing to deal with what very well could be an inconsistent football team as he breaks in yet another new staff member.
“Just the personnel we've got, there are probably going to be some growing pains,” Beamer told Jeremy Fowler of CBS Sports. “We've got some talented guys, but how quickly we get them playing consistently? That's the question."
Accordingly, as the team still works to install offensive coordinator Scot Loeffler’s offense while replacing the program’s leader in total offense in Logan Thomas, it’s inevitable that the Hokies have some work to do.
Read on to learn about the specific areas that Beamer and Co. will be focusing on as 2014 approaches.
Notre Dame will continue its FBS independence in 2014, but it will be more closely tied to another conference than folks in South Bend are used to.
As a partial member of the ACC, the Irish will play games against Syracuse, North Carolina and Florida State, dropping their annual showdown against Michigan State to make room for their newer foes. Even more change looms in 2015, when six ACC teams appear on the schedule and Michigan and Purdue disappear.
But despite this partial membership, Notre Dame is still not affiliated with the conference in earnest. It is not part of a division, its games do not count toward the conference standings and it cannot appear in the league championship game. It is merely a scheduling matter.
Which got us thinking: what if Notre Dame really was in the ACC? Heck, what if it was in any of the power conferences?
Where would the media for those leagues vote the Irish in their preseason polls? How would a team less than two years removed from a birth in the national title game be regarded?
Here is a quick, hypothetical look:
Note: There is an important distinction between where I, myself, would rank Notre Dame and where I think the media of each conference would. This list is predicting the latter. It does not reflect my own opinion of Notre Dame; it reflects my opinion of other peoples' opinion of Notre Dame.
Notre Dame in the ACC
Notre Dame begins its ACC partial-membership in 2014, but without being a full member, its spot in the conference standings—both before and during the season—remains purely hypothetical.
Checking in behind Florida State is obvious. Slotting one spot behind Clemson in the Atlantic and one spot ahead of North Carolina in the Coastal would be closer and likely spark some debate in the voting.
In the end, I think the ACC pundits would keep Clemson ahead of Notre Dame because of what the Tigers have proven the past half-decade. No team besides Clemson and FSU has won the division since 2008. The Clemson offense loses a lot of talent, but it still has Chad Morris running the show, and the defense returns Vic Beasley and Stephone Anthony and projects as one of the best in America.
On the other side, some voters would prefer North Carolina's upside to Notre Dame's, but the majority would be happy to put an established power atop the Coastal division, which has been an ugly stain on the league the past two seasons (no offense to Duke).
Notre Dame in the Big Ten
Notre Dame might now be a partial-member of the ACC, but it is more closely linked (by proximity and culture) with the Big Ten.
Conference media are familiar with the Irish from its yearly games against Purdue, Michigan and Michigan State—R.I.P.—and because much of its roster is comprised of local recruits.
Notre Dame was the only team to beat Michigan State last year, but those in and around the league have not forgotten how dubious the officiating was in that contest. It would still finish behind the Spartans in the preseason poll, although, ironically, the other Michigan school, the Wolverines, would likely check in right behind it—despite being the only team from the state that beat the Irish in 2013.
In the other division—the disproportionately weak West—I imagine a close three-way battle between Wisconsin, Notre Dame and Nebraska, with Iowa checking in not too far behind. Any of that first trio could finish the hypothetical poll in first, second or third without drawing too much national ire. They all seem pretty evenly matched.
Call this order more of a gut-shot.
Notre Dame in the Big 12
Notre Dame got beat up pretty good against Oklahoma last season—and with Blake Bell at quarterback, no less.
This year's Notre Dame team should be better, but so should Oklahoma, and the image of that home-field loss will remain in Big 12 voters' heads. This is a group that takes their region pretty seriously, and an intruder from the north would have to prove itself before cracking the preseason top-two over Oklahoma and Baylor.
Fortunately for the Irish, there is not terrible competition for the next spot on this list. Texas will get its votes and has just as much blue-chip talent on its roster, but Charlie Strong in Year 1 against Brian Kelly in Year 5 makes the Irish a slight preference—and rightfully so.
Folks are down on Oklahoma State, the other traditional modern power, and Kansas State is plucky but still a cut below Notre Dame in terms of roster talent. Same goes for Texas Tech, although, just like last year, there could be some close bunching toward the top.
Notre Dame in the Pac-12
The top two in the Pac-12 North is without dispute.
Yes, Stanford loses a lot from last year's offensive line and defensive front seven, along with defensive coordinator David Shaw, but it also returns some great talent to replace those pieces. And Notre Dame itself loses some great front seven players along with both coordinators, Chuck Martin and Bob Diaco.
The real battle would come in the Pac-12 South, where an argument could be made for the Irish to start the season first, second or third in the preseason poll. UCLA is the presumptive favorite, but no Notre Dame fan thinks it will be worse this year than hated rival USC.
Still, this is the Pac-12's show, and conference voters would likely defer to their own traditional power over a familiar national foe. Both teams should get better quarterback play in 2014 than they did in 2013, when Notre Dame beat USC in an ugly 14-10 affair, but the Trojans bring back more on defense, especially in the front seven.
The teams will settle this score in the last week of the regular season, when Notre Dame travels to Los Angeles.
Notre Dame in the SEC
This one is the hardest to predict—and it's not all that close.
Notre Dame has a tricky relationship with the SEC, having lost its last two games against the conference by a combined score of 83-28. One of those games was the 2013 BCS National Championship against Alabama (42-14), and the other was the 2006 Sugar Bowl against LSU (41-14), and both have served as anti-Notre Dame fodder for SEC fans ever since. It has made the Irish a bit of a punchline.
This is particularly relevant now, as Notre Dame head coach Brian Kelly reiterated his desire to schedule an SEC team on a recent podcast with Bruce Feldman of FoxSports.com. His exact words:
No I don’t think that that’s something that’s too hard. I think one of our wishes, Jack (Swarbrick, Notre Dame AD) and I, is that we want to get an SEC team on our schedule. The discussions have been to include an SEC opponent, and we want one that we feel makes sense, that has a very good geographical draw for us in the SEC.
If you look around we’re in Florida already with Florida State, so I think you can probably figure out pretty easily what SEC (team) would be the best draw for us as it relates to recruiting and an alumni base.
In this projection, I have given Notre Dame the benefit of the doubt. It is more likely to be ranked in the preseason AP poll—something voted on by national media—than teams like Missouri and Ole Miss.
However, in a hypothetical world where Notre Dame was actually a member of the SEC in 2014, I am not so sure the local media would be as forgiving. Teams such as Florida, Missouri, Ole Miss, Texas A&M and even Mississippi State have proven they can beat other SEC teams more recently than the Irish have, and there's a chance the preseason poll would reflect that sort of bias.
The list above is what I would expect to see, above all else, but it would not surprise me one iota to see Notre Dame ranked fifth in either division. That's just how these preseason polls sometimes work.
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Speculation turned into confirmation Thursday afternoon, as former Georgia cornerback Shaq Wiggins and former Texas A&M wide receiver JaQuay Williams announced that they will transfer to Louisville.
Wiggins made the announcement on Twitter, posting a picture of he and Williams adorned from head-to-toe in Cardinals swag:
Wiggins and Williams were teammates at Sandy Creek High School in Georgia and are both big additions for the Cardinals.
Williams is 6'4" and was an Auburn commit and the No. 100 overall player on the 247Sports Composite in 2012. After failing to qualify academically, he spent the year at Fork Union Military Academy, a prep school in Virginia. He spurned the Tigers to play for Kevin Sumlin and Texas A&M last season, but he struggled to get on the field, finishing with just four catches for 71 yards and a touchdown.
Wiggins was the best young surprise in Georgia's secondary last season, starting eight games as a true freshman opposite Damian Swann. He led the team with two interceptions on the year.
Former Georgia defensive coordinator Todd Grantham was hired away by Louisville this offseason and will now reunite with Wiggins, his former player. Earlier this offseason, former Georgia safety Josh Harvey-Clemons—another starter from 2013—was dismissed from the team and landed with Grantham in Louisville as well.
According to Steve Jones of The Courier-Journal, both players will have to sit out the 2014 season, per NCAA transfer rules, but will have three years of eligibility remaining when they debut in 2015:
Even if this doesn't fix the immediate holes on Louisville's roster, it sets the program up nicely for the future.
New head coach Bobby Petrino, who just returned for his second stint at Louisville, proved he could win in the SEC when he was at Arkansas. Grantham proved the same under Mark Richt at Georgia. Those bona fides have clearly had an effect on former SEC players, and it should continue to help the Cardinals attract talent these next few years.
Louisville transitions into the ACC this season, which is a big step up from the American and was already great news for its ability to recruit the Southeast. Adding Petrino and Grantham has only helped.
With so much momentum on their side, landing Wiggins and Williams could prove a huge move both on and off the field for the Cardinals.
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Many of the marquee names in the 2015 quarterback class have already announced commitments, while a flurry of pledges can be expected at the position this summer. Programs that whiffed on top targets early during the recruiting cycle must reassess their board and look for other options.
There are plenty of promising passers still waiting for their recruitment to reach another level. For some, that time is nearing.
These prospects may not carry the nationwide star notoriety that college football fans crave, but they're capable of elevating a program's offensive attack in the near future. We examined five notable quarterbacks who appear underrated when you match their game film to offer sheets and composite rankings.
Even though word had already leaked out that former University of Alabama linebacker Derrick Thomas would be part of the 62nd induction class for the College Football Hall of Fame, Thursday’s official announcement still brought reactions ranging from celebration to frustration.
Like usual, it’s another stellar group that will be enshrined, including LaDanian Tomlinson and Sterling Sharpe, this time for the relocated Hall that’s in the process of moving from South Bend, Indiana, to Atlanta.
Regarding the honor, Crimson Tide fans couldn’t be prouder.
While Thomas doesn’t technically have the all-time sacks record, as the NCAA didn’t include defensive statistics in the official records until 2000 (Terrell Suggs of Arizona State has it with 44, 2000-02), most schools and conferences started keeping track by 1982.
If those years were included, Thomas would be tied with Arizona’s Tedy Bruschi (1991-85), who was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame last December. Instead, he’s credited with the Southeastern Conference and Alabama marks with 52.
That’s 16 more than anyone from the league since his career ended in 1988 (Georgia’s David Pollock, 36, 2001-04), 20 more than Reggie White had at Tennessee and 27 more than every other Crimson Tide player, with Kindal Moorehead’s 25 a distant second (1998-2002).
His 27 sacks in 1988, when Thomas also had an amazing 39 tackles for a loss and 45 quarterback hurries, would similarly be the NCAA single-season record (since 1980). Last year the entire Alabama team combined for 22, and the most sacks an Alabama player has had in a single season since Nick Saban arrived in 2007 was Wallace Gilberry with 10.
“I just want to thank God for blessing me with some athletic talent and letting me play for the University of Alabama,” Thomas said after winning the Butkus Award as the nation’s top linebacker his senior season in 1988.
Thomas also once said: “Whenever I see those crimson jerseys and crimson helmets, I feel humbled to have played football for Alabama. Other players in the NFL talk to me about their schools and their traditions, I just smile knowing the immense love Alabama fans have for our school and its football program. I’m proud to be part of that Crimson Tide heritage.”
When the Kansas City Chiefs made him the fourth-overall selection in the 1989 National Football League draft, team president Carl Peterson called it a new “beginning” for the organization. Thomas responded by being named the NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year.
For an encore, he had 20 sacks in 1990 and set a league single-game record with seven against Seattle while helping lead the Chiefs to the playoffs. The nine-time All-Pro selection established franchise career records for sacks (126.5), safeties (three), fumble recoveries (18) and forced fumbles (45).
Thomas also started the “Third and Long Foundation” to encourage inner-city reading, received the ’93 NFL Man of the Year Award, the ’95 Byron “Whizzer” White Award from the NFL Players Association and was President George Bush’s “832nd Point of Light.
“For me, my goals are a lot higher than just being a successful linebacker or being All-Pro,” Thomas said after the 1994 season. “When my career is over, I want people to look back and view me as the best, or one of the two best to ever play the position.”
Thomas was just 33 when he died following a car accident, causing a massive blood clot that had developed in his paralyzed lower extremities to travel to his lungs.
"Derrick Thomas was a true hero,” state senator and former Chiefs quarterback Bill Kenney said while asking for a moment of silence from the Missouri legislature on Feb. 8, 2000, “He will be missed by football fans around the nation, but we will miss him in Kansas City for his attitude and his efforts he put forth in our community.”
Consequently, one can’t help but wonder what on earth took the College Football Hall of Fame so long.
Thomas’ collegiate career ended 26 years ago. He died in 2000. Even the selection committee for the Pro Football Hall of Fame found a spot for him Canton as part of the class of 2009.
To be eligible for the College Football Hall of Fame, "players must have been named a First Team All-American by a major/national selector as recognized and utilized by the NCAA for its consensus All-America teams; played their last year of intercollegiate football at least 10 years prior; played within the last 50 years and cannot be currently playing professional football."
While that’s disqualified nearly every Crimson Tide quarterback including Joe Namath, players are not voted directly into the college hall by the National Football Foundation membership. Instead, according to its website, the votes are "tabulated and submitted to the NFF's Honors Court, which deliberates and selects the class."
It’s hard to image that Thomas didn’t have the necessary votes the past three years after becoming eligible, but it's easy to see how timing might have been a factor.
While construction continues in Atlanta, the new Hall of Fame is set to open in conjunction with this year’s Chick-fil-A Kickoff games at the Georgia Dome featuring Ole Miss vs. Boise State on Aug. 28 and Alabama against West Virginia on Aug. 30.
What better way to promote both than to have maybe the best player in Crimson Tide history be a part of the relocated Hall’s first class? In the future the announcement will be made the week of the national championship game.
Meanwhile, of the 5 million people who have played college football, 934 players and 205 coaches have been inducted since 1951, yet Thomas will be just the 18th player from Alabama, 23rd including coaches, to be inducted.
In comparison, Notre Dame, located roughly two miles away from the old Hall, has the most with 50, followed by Michigan with 36. Alabama will be tied with Pennsylvania and Penn State for 12th in terms of representation.
Yet Alabama has hardly been alone when it comes to being slighted, as the entire region only has three other programs listed among the top 25 inductees, with Tennessee tied for ninth with 24 (yes, the Volunteers have more Hall of Famers than the Tide), Georgia tied with Texas A&M for 22nd with 16 and Georgia Tech tied at the bottom with 15.
Hopefully things will begin to even out now, with Thomas an important step.
Christopher Walsh is the lead Alabama football writer for Bleacher Report. All quotes were obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted.
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The National Football Foundation announced a list of 16 inductees to the College Football Hall of Fame Thursday afternoon, highlighted by a posthumous induction for long-time snub Derrick Thomas, who won the Butkus Award at Alabama in 1988.
Other notable inclusions—names who may be familiar to the more casual fan—include former TCU running back LaDainian Tomlinson, former Louisiana Tech offensive tackle Willie Roaf, former South Carolina receiver Sterling Sharpe, former USC offensive tackle Tony Boselli and former Oregon head coach Mike Bellotti.
But happy as we are for the men whose names were called, this announcement—as is the case with all Hall of Fame announcements, in every sport—was also notable for the men whose names were not.
Because the College Football Hall of Fame is so particular with unwritten rules, these snubs are not unfamiliar. Someone like former Nebraska quarterback Eric Crouch, for example, was eligible and won a Heisman Trophy in 2001, but because Tommy Frazier was inducted from the same school (and position) in the class of 2013, he never stood a realistic chance of getting in this year.
The NFF prefers to make players wait, which is frustrating, at times, but typically amends itself in the long run.
Here are six guys still left knocking on the door.
The Texas A&M football coaches have done a tremendous job of assembling the 2015 recruiting class. They are well on their way toward signing a top-10 recruiting class for the third year in a row.
The Aggies currently have the No. 6 recruiting class in the nation for 2015, according to 247Sports.com. As should be expected, they will be competing with other members of the SEC West for the mantle of No. 1 class.
The Aggies need to shore up the safety and linebacker positions while adding the requisite depth on the lines that is required to compete in the SEC. The coaches have addressed some of these early needs and are continuing to add to a class that has a chance to be the best one that A&M has signed in a long time.
To be an elite team in the SEC, you have to stack top recruiting classes on top of each other, and that is what the Aggies are doing.
This is a look at how the 2015 Texas A&M recruiting class stands up at each position as we enter the summer.
With the College Football Hall of Fame set to move from South Bend, Indiana to Atlanta this year, the announcement of the 2014 class on Thursday generated plenty of excitement.
The 2014 crop of inductees will headline the grand opening of the new Hall of Fame building in August, and there is no question that this group is deserving of such an honor.
According to Ralph D. Russo of the Associated Press, the 2014 class will be headlined by Alabama linebacker Derrick Thomas, TCU running back LaDainian Tomlinson and Penn State linebacker Shane Conlan:
Here is a full listing of all 16 inductees announced by the National Football Foundation Thursday.
Despite the stacked class, there were certainly a few snubs that many will argue deserved to be part of the class, per Russo:
Thomas' posthumous induction essentially headlines the class, although each and every player inducted left their mark on college football in a big way.
An induction into the Pro Football Hall of Fame is likely in LT's future, but he will be honored by the college game first by becoming the 11th Horned Frog to be honored by the College Football Hall of Fame, according to TCU sports information director Mark Cohen:
Also, Conlan continued a long line of Penn State representation in the College Football Hall of Fame.
According to GoPSUSports.com, current Penn State head coach James Franklin believes Conlan's impact on the program makes him an ideal inductee.
The Penn State football family is ecstatic that Shane Conlan has been selected for induction into the College Football Hall of Fame. Shane is one of the primary reasons why so many people know about the unrivaled tradition of LinebackerU. Shane was a fierce, tough competitor and leader and we are excited that he is being appropriately recognized for his outstanding career with his enshrinement in the Hall of Fame.
The 2014 class is an interesting one because it features players like Thomas and Tomlinson who were dominant in both the collegiate forum and in the NFL, but there are also several inductees who didn't necessarily translate to the next level.
Their college careers still deserve to be recognized, though, and the College Football Hall of Fame makes that a reality.
It had to be an arduous and painstaking process to come up with 16 inductees out of a list of dozens of candidates, but the voters certainly seem to have done an admirable job.
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