NCAA Football News

Behind the Scenes of College Football Hall of Fame Process

At the National Football Foundation office in Irving, Texas, Steve Hatchell places a book on a conference room table. The book is sizable at an inch or so in thickness. 

It's really more of an encyclopedia. 

Everything anyone would ever want to know about the players eligible for the College Football Hall of Fame is in that book. It's where the selection process for Thursday's (May 22nd) announcement for the class of 2014 really takes place. 

Page after page is filled with every imaginable piece of applicable information designed to give the 17-member Honors Court, which annually selects 12 players and two coaches for induction, the information it needs. Player backgrounds, awards and accolades, evaluation reports, the number of players per school who have been inducted into the Hall, the number of eligible players per school—it's all in there and categorized by school, position and percentages. And it's all designed to whittle a list that begins in the thousands into a group of fewer than 15. 

"We’re not just shooting from the hip," says Hatchell, the NFF's President and CEO.  

No, selecting the College Football Hall of Fame class is a much more meticulous process that mixes numbers and knowledge. The NFF estimates that, since college football began, the sport has fielded nearly five million players. Of those millions, only about 1,500 are eligible. 

There are 934 players in the Hall along with roughly 250 coaches. Yet, the odds of getting inducted are around .0002 percent.

The process begins when schools, or one of the 122 nationwide chapters, nominate former players who have been out of the college game for at least 10 years. For all the teeth-gnashing that takes place over HOF snubs, that's perhaps the most important thing to understand: The NFF doesn't have a say in who gets nominated. 

"We don’t reach in and say we want a certain player to be in the Hall of Fame," Hatchell said. 

There's criteria, but the selection process is subjective by nature. There's no one formula for choosing who is worthy of induction. That's why the book is so thorough: everything is on the table. 

But one thing isn't negotiable: A player must have been a first-team All-American by one of the five publications recognized by the NCAA. (The Associated Press; the Football Writers Association of America; the American Football Coaches Association; the Walter Camp Foundation; and The Sporting News.

"At one time, there were a lot of All-American teams," Hatchell said. "The local shop had an All-American team.

"But those eventually fizzled out." 

Limiting the pool of eligible players to first-team All-Americans is a point of contention among fans and media. Joe Namath and Joe Montana aren’t in the Hall of Fame, and they never will be, for that very reason. 

The NFF knows this, but there's not much it can do about it. "It's hard," Hatchell said. "If you didn’t have a criteria...you’re in the speculation business."

Players must also have played within the last 50 years. Anyone who dates further back goes under consideration by a Veteran Committee. 

After nomination, a player is filtered through one of eight regional screening committees made up of athletic administrators, coaches (current and former), Hall of Famers and media. This reduces the group to about 75 or 76 from the Division I Football Bowl Subdivision. 

Coaches have another set of criteria. They must have been a head coach for 10 years, coaching at least 100 games with a .600 winning percentage. 

"That gets more [scrutiny] because you have people who think a certain coach did a lot for the game," Hatchell says. "Well, how do you define that?"

That's when the book becomes a necessary tool. Even skimming through the pages takes an hour; deliberation takes weeks. 

Take former Nebraska linebacker Trev Alberts, for example. He, like all other players under consideration, has a dedicated page. Everything you’d want to know about him as a player is crammed on it. "Is he a minority? What did he do then and what is he doing now?" Hatchell said. "There is his post-collegiate athletic career, the number of years he's been on the ballot."

Alberts isn't the only big name on this year's ballot. Former Texas running back Ricky Williams is on it. So is former Nebraska quarterback and Heisman winner Eric Crouch and Miami linebacker Ray Lewis, as well as former TCU running back LaDainian Tomlinson. Among the six coaches on the ballot are Mike Bellotti (Oregon) and Danny Ford (Clemson, Arkansas). 

There's a good chance one, or many, of those names won't be inducted Thursday.  

The NFF doesn't believe that one class is inherently stronger than another. For every name that isn't inducted one year, it's cycled back through the process the next year. There are always dozens of recognizable names, but there are also only 12 spots for players. 

Someone's going to get left out. It can, and does quite often, happen several times in a row because of the backlog of players. 

"If we took 50 players a year for 10 years, that’s 500 players," Hatchell said. "There would still be 1,500 guys to pick. We still wouldn't catch up." 

The pool never gets smaller. Rick Gosselin of The Dallas Morning News explained this in his column about the Hall last month: 

In the 2013 season alone there were 51 players who earned the All-America designation from the five organizations currently recognized by the NCAA. Those 51 candidates won’t become eligible for induction, though, until 2023 after their 10-year waiting period expires.

Because of the sheer numbers, being a first-ballot selection doesn’t mean anything in college.

"It’s just not something that’s considered a big deal," said NFF Chief Operating Officer Matt Sign. "It’s a big deal in pro football, but they have a snapshot of eight, nine, 10 years for a player.

"We generally have a snapshot of one, two or three years."

There's also a sense of balance that the Honors Court takes into consideration. The NFF wants to be fair when putting a class together—but not too fair. It wants to represent Boise State's linebacker as much as Ohio State's quarterback, but without discriminating against someone because of the number of inductees from his school. 

There was a time when Army, Notre Dame and the Ivy League were the collective center of college football. Go back through the list of first-team All-Americans from decades ago and it's evident. 

Penn, for example, has 18 players in the Hall of Fame, but no one else is up for consideration. Nebraska has 16 players inducted, but 57 eligible who haven't been. Notre Dame has more players in the Hall of Fame than anyone, but the Irish still have more than 50 eligible who aren't.  As of 2006, the Miami Hurricanes had just three players inducted. 

It's all broken down into percentages in the book. And it's all taken into consideration, along with everything else about a player. It's an inexact science, to say the least. 

The goal each year is to take everything the book tells—and then some—and put the best possible class together. There will inevitably be players who should have been inducted, but aren't. The hope, however, is that those who are inducted won't be viewed as undeserving. 

For those who missed the cut, there's always another year. And the book will be updated accordingly. 

 

Ben Kercheval is a lead writer for college football at Bleacher Report. All quotes obtained firsthand unless noted otherwise. All Hall of Fame information provided by the NFF.

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Tulane Set to Make Blind Long Snapper Aaron Golub a Preferred Walk-on

Long snappers are often overlooked when football fans survey the field for positions of vital importance, but don't expect Aaron Golub to go unnoticed when he arrives at Tulane University later this year.

The incoming freshman was an impressive two-year starter at Newton South High School, located in a western suburb of Boston. He's also legally blind.

"Close one eye and then make a fist with a hole the size of a dime and put the opening to your eye…that is Aaron’s continuous view," his snapping instructor, Chris Rubio, wrote on his blog in March.

Despite facing an obstacle that would steer so many others away from the game, Golub embraced his opportunity to compete.

“I just love the sport, always have,” Golub told CBS Boston reporter Paul Burton earlier this month. “If you set your mind to it you can do it. There’s nothing you can’t accomplish if you really want to do it.” 

He started long snapping during the summer of 2012, months shy of his junior year. Like any athlete fighting toward a goal, practice was vital to overcoming rough patches.

"The first camp for Aaron was not the finest showing I have ever seen from a first-timer," Rubio wrote. "Okay, I am being nice…he was bad, real bad."

Golub remained relentless in his efforts to prove he could succeed in the sport. The tenacity paid off.

He earned the starting long snapper position that fall with the Newton South Lions and refused to relinquish that role through the final snap of his senior season.

"Aaron never got frustrated and never gave up," Rubio said. "He shot me text after text, clip after clip, asking which stance looked better, how his form was coming along, what else did he need to work on."

As a result, he became more than just a "normal" high school player. Despite stacked odds against him, Golub landed on the national radar as a collegiate prospect.

He was ranked 12th in America among long snappers in 247Sports' 2014 composite rankings. Perhaps more impressively, the ranking placed him at No. 19 among all senior college recruits in Massachusetts.

Golub remarkably played the role that so many high school football players dream about—a sought-after Division I prospect. He made an unofficial visit to Penn State in November, weighed the options and eventually reached a decision.

His journey will continue in New Orleans when he joins the Green Wave as a preferred walk-on. Suddenly, the narrative surrounding Aaron Golub has changed.

He's no longer simply the kid who persevered for a chance to play with his peers at Newton South.

Golub is on the roster of an FBS program that competed in a bowl game last season and regularly produces NFL players.

“Aaron is a tremendous young man who has not let adversity overcome his desire to fulfill his dreams of playing college football," Tulane head coach Curtis Johnson told CollegeFootballTalk.com.

Being a long snapper never seemed so cool. 

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Pac-12 Presidents Reportedly Propose Sweeping Changes to NCAA

Sweeping reform to the NCAA model has seemed inevitable to some this offseason, and the university presidents in the Pac-12 may have just expedited its timeline.

According to a report by the Associated Press, those 12 presidents sent a joint letter to their counterparts in the other four power conferences—the ACC, Big Ten, Big 12 and SEC—proposing they support a number of radical changes, chief among them a bid for autonomy from the NCAA.

Here is the complete list of what they asked for, per AP writer Antonio Gonzalez:

— Permit institutions to make scholarship awards up to the full cost of attendance.

— Provide reasonable ongoing medical or insurance assistance for student-athletes who suffer an incapacitating injury in competition or practice. Continue efforts to reduce the incidence of disabling injury.

— Guarantee scholarships for enough time to complete a bachelor's degree, provided that the student remains in good academic standing.

— Decrease the demands placed on the athlete in-season, correspondingly increase the time available for studies and campus life, by preventing the abuse of organized "voluntary" practices to circumvent the limit of 20 hours per week and more realistically assess the time away from campus and other commitments during the season.

— Similarly decrease time demands out of season by reducing out-of-season competition and practices, and by considering shorter seasons in specific sports.

— Further strengthen the Academic Progress Rate requirements for postseason play.

— Address the "one and done" phenomenon in men's basketball. If the NBA and its Players Association are unable to agree to raising the age limit for players, consider restoring the freshman ineligibility rule in men's basketball.

— Provide student-athletes a meaningful role in governance at the conference and NCAA levels.

— Adjust existing restrictions so that student-athletes preparing for the next stage of their careers are not unnecessarily deprived of the advice and counsel of agents and other competent professionals, but without professionalizing intercollegiate athletics.

— Liberalize the current rules limiting the ability of student-athletes to transfer between institutions.

"We acknowledge the core objectives could prove to be expensive and controversial, but the risks of inaction or moving too slowly are far greater," reads the presidents' letter, per the report. "The time for tinkering with the rules and making small adjustments is over."

The Pac-12 presidents might have a point.

Especially with the situation at Northwestern, where former quarterback Kain Colter has helped earn the players the right to unionize—if they so choose—by proving them employees of the university, the walls of the old NCAA model seem destined to break.

Jerry Hinnen of CBS Sports drew a smart comparison between the 10 points listed above and the points of the College Athletes Players Association, the organization Colter helped found:

In addition to supporting the five major conferences' bid for autonomy within the NCAA's givernance structure, the letter outlines 10 proposed changes to the current NCAA model, many of them similar to those supported by the College Athletes Player Association. The AP reports the letter was "spurred in part" by the move by former and current Northwestern football players to unionize under the CAPA banner.

Reports of this letter, which was delivered last week, came on the heels of another potentially meaningful development. According to Steve Berkowitz of USA Todaytwo United States Congressmen sent a letter to NCAA president Mark Emmert, asking him to answer more than two dozen questions about the practices of his organization.

To say this issue is coming to a head is putting it lightly.

If nothing is done soon—and "something," in this case, does not include unlimited pasta—the rabbles for reform could cast a pall over the upcoming college football season. In a year where the NCAA finally caved to public sentiment, abandoned the BCS and instituted the College Football Playoff, that would be both ironic and disappointing.

Then again, there are legitimate reasons to be wary of the Pac-12 presidents' proposal. Supporting the full cost of attendance for scholarships would give bigger, richer schools an unfair advantage (even more than they currently enjoy) in recruiting and likely lead to a breakdown of the current NCAA structure.

The power conferences might, in theory, have to become the new Division I, with the other five current FBS leagues, and all of their teams, being left behind. That is the road this letter goes down, and though unlikely to take effect in the immediate future, it remains to be seen how the other four conferences and the NCAA respond.

According to the report, the Pac-12 presidents requested a response from their colleagues by June 4 at the latest.

 

Follow Brian Leigh on Twitter: @BLeighDAT

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An Out-of-the-Box Approach Is a Must for College Football Recruiting Today

Kitty Granato did not expect to receive any recruiting letters. Possibly because Kitty is a cat.

More specifically, Kitty is J.T. Granato’s cat, a 3-star quarterback, according to 247Sports and one of the better pro-style QBs from the state of Texas.

But Rice had other plans, and the football coaches sent Kitty a personalized recruiting note—urging her to “Paw me in case you have any questions” while trying to convince her owner to commit to the school.

Strange? Oh, undeniably. Extreme? Without question. Effective? Very much so.

Shortly after the letter arrived, Granato verbally committed to Rice. His father shared the news on Twitter, which included a shot of both Granatos—J.T. and Kitty.

@JTGranato10 committed to Rice today. Rice closed the deal by sending JT's cat a recruiting letter. Well done Owls pic.twitter.com/NBCqPX7PIG

— John Granato (@johngranato) May 16, 2014

“Cat receives recruiting letter” is a headline you’d expect to find in The Onion; it’s also the latest in a long line of recruiting pitches that is solar systems beyond your run-of-the-mill handwritten letters and cellular device checkups.

In everyday life, the weird will get you thrown out of public places. It will have others casting long, disapproving gazes. It will undo a lot of good.

The weird is not only accepted in recruiting, but in many ways, it’s encouraged. It will get you noticed. It is now customary. And it is now an enormous part of college football’s sport within the sport.

For Rice, the weird came in sending a recruit’s cat a handwritten letter and some catchy cat lingo. With Granato holding offers from programs around Texas and interest stretching from the SEC to the Ivy League, the coaching staff at Rice had to make a statement.

“I mean it was really funny honestly,” Granato told ESPN.com on the letter. “It was just so crazy how hard they recruited me.”

Just think, for a moment, about a contingent of gruff football people sitting around a table—spit cups nearby, perhaps—mustering up the fuzziest cat puns possible for a letter to Kitty Granato.

Welcome to 2014. Meow.

“Being a college recruiter these days is a lot like being a single guy on Match.com,” JC Shurburtt, National Recruiting Director for 247Sports said. “You have to do something to get the attention of the ones you want to break the ice with. These are icebreakers.

“They stick in the mind of a player, just like your witty one-liner on Match would for a single lady. And both are being bombarded with attractive options on a daily basis.”

Cat letters are the latest out-of-the-box (or should I say bag?) tactic, but there is ample company in this arena. Before there were meow mailings, there was the now-familiar procedure of stuffing a recruit’s mailbox with enough letters in one day to fill a Jacuzzi.

Sure, you can ignore one letter, but you can’t ignore 182. Kentucky tested this theory with Matt Elam last year, the No. 3 defensive tackle in the class, according to 247Sports.

Okay Okay Here Is A Picture Of 182 Letters From UK This Has To Be A Record Or Something Ha !! BBN #Crazy#WeAreUKpic.twitter.com/A5xeBwkRa9

— Matt Elam™6⃣9⃣ (@FballIsLife69) July 1, 2013

Guess what? It worked. Or at the very least, this mass mail drop-off didn’t get in the way. Elam committed to Kentucky, choosing the Wildcats over the recruiting machine that is Alabama. Other recruits have been given this barrage of literature before, floored by the power of mass from schools across the country.

Georgia, meanwhile, is testing out a more centered tactic. The Bulldogs aren’t busting mailboxes, but rather decorating them with one-of-a-kind art.

Mark Richt’s staff has been sending recruits hand-drawn portraits of the players they’re courting. Here is the one they sent to 2015 defensive end D'Andre Walker, one of the top players in the state of Georgia this year.

Little Something Georgia Sent Today #godawgspic.twitter.com/8Q27drOKMh

— D'Andre Walker (@LuxuryLife1K) April 2, 2014

Lorenzo Carter, the prized commit of the Bulldogs 2014 class, got one. So did Raekwon McMillan, another in-state star that eventually decided to take his talents to Ohio State instead.

“I looked good in (the portrait), compared to how I look in real life,” Carter told Michael Carvell of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. “Raekwon’s picture didn’t look good. It was ugly. He didn’t like it. That’s probably why he didn’t come to UGA (and signed with Ohio State).”

As Raekwon McMillan proves—and as you are well aware already—not all of these tactics will be effective, nor can you possibly expect them to be. Their purpose is not to generate an immediate commitment.

Receiving 182 letters in one day or opening up an envelope addressed to your cat won’t (and shouldn't) guarantee anything. The recruiting process has far too much depth, and these surface-level pitches are only a small portion of the process. Things like coaching, fit, campus and classes loom far larger than an assistant coach’s penmanship or mass mailers.

But they do get you noticed, and that’s precisely what the weird is intended to do. Perhaps, just maybe, it will result in a visit. Or maybe two visits. Or maybe a recruit will suddenly open up to a place (or staff) that he had passed on previously.

“Because top-shelf, elite-level recruits are bombarded with mail, calls, emails and social media messages from top programs across the country, the challenge for staffs is building relationships,” Shurburtt said. “Most recruiting decisions are based on comfort, which is achieved through the building of relationships and ultimately how the prospect and his family feel during their visits to campus.”

Get those visits; that's the goal. And let the important things that matter—the things a school can truly sell once they have your full attention—take over.

It’s brilliant, really: a simple plan and break from the calculated football itinerary, the ones coaches usually choose not to abandon. These personal, cost-effective attempts at forming relationships will only continue to evolve, embracing the weird one personalized contact at a time.

It’s not a question of if these wild approaches will continue, because they will. Instead, the focus will be on doing something that hasn't been done yet, something so unique that you'll be unable to ignore it.

Just ask Kitty Granato.

 

Adam Kramer is the College Football National Lead Writer for Bleacher Report. Unless noted, all quotes were obtained firsthand.

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2014 Notre Dame Recruit Quenton Nelson out-Benches Top NFL Rookies

4-Star OT Quenton Nelson is a senior in high school and has signed to play his college football for the University of Notre Dame.

Standing at 6'5", 295 pounds, Nelson is a mammoth of a human being. His strength is off the charts, and Bleacher Report was able to catch him in action.

The future Fighting Irish star was able to bench-press 225 pounds a remarkable 26 times, more than multiple 2014 NFL draft picks.

Watch the video and try not to forget this kid hasn't even graduated high school yet.

 

Rankings according to 247sports.com

 

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Michigan Football: Charles Woodson Has Big Expectations for Jabrill Peppers

Incoming 5-star recruit Jabrill Peppers has embraced the pressure that comes with being one of the highest-rated recruits in Michigan football history declaring his intent "to be the best player to ever wear that maize and blue,” according to Jason Rubinstein of The Michigan Daily.

Peppers is expected to be a defensive starter as soon as he steps on campus, and speculation is rampant that he will also play on offense and special teams. He'll face intense scrutiny to be spectacular, and every mistake will draw the ire of opponents and even fans who are anxiously awaiting a superstar to lead Michigan back to the top of college football. 

His talent and bravado have drawn comparisons to former Michigan Heisman Trophy winner Charles Woodson, who has experience with the burden of high expectations.

Woodson, speaking last week at a fundraiser for CS Mott Children’s Hospital in Ann Arbor, predicted that the pressure wouldn’t faze Peppers, as quoted by Mark Snyder in the Detroit Free Press. Woodson compared Peppers’ mindset to his own when he was a top recruit.

The expectations that people have for you, you already feel like you’re going to do those things, so the expectations and the pressure doesn’t mean anything.

That’s what I would see Jabrill coming in that mold, a guy who already sees himself as going to be great.

Brady Hoke has tried to downplay expectations for Peppers while acknowledging that he’s a special talent.

“Let him get in here and be a corner for while before returning kicks,” said Hoke. “And possibly there might be a plan for him to play on offense.”

Peppers may have no shortage of confidence, but Woodson’s achievements will be difficult to match. He was the first defensive player to win the Heisman Trophy and led Michigan to a national championship before embarking on a successful NFL playing career. Woodson is on track to be enshrined in the Hall of Fame having been named to the Pro Bowl eight times, winning a Super Bowl and being named the 2009 Defensive Player of the Year.

He’s also been successful off the field, donating $2 million to the construction of the children's hospital and creating his own brand of wine.

Peppers has embraced comparisons to Woodson, and after a disappointing 7-6 season Michigan sorely needs him to live up to his billing as one of the top recruits in the country.

Peppers may not win a Heisman Trophy his first year, but if he can lead Michigan to a victory over Michigan State or Ohio State, he'll be on his way to following in Woodson's footsteps while beginning to build a legacy of his own.

 

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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Penn State Football: Summer Grades for 2015 Recruiting Class

Penn State's 2015 recruiting efforts are off to a terrific start and have the Nittany Lions sitting pretty with the second-ranked recruiting class, behind only Alabama.

Eleven of Penn State's 16 committed recruits are currently 4-star prospects, and a couple of them who aren't look poised for bumps in the ratings this summer.

It seems like James Franklin is landing every blue-chip prospect he targets, and that success is providing even more ammo when it comes to the head coach's recruiting pitch.

Recruits can't help but notice what's going on at Penn State, and several have admitted that it is something they want to be a part of.

Signing day is a long way off, but as we enter the summer, Franklin and his staff seem to be on their way to signing a top-notch class in 2015.

Here's how the current class grades out with the summer-camp season set to begin in a few weeks!

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Florida Football: Gators Must Be Careful in How They Handle Scheduling Miami

If you're looking for a scheduling guinea pig in the new era of the SEC, Florida is here for you.

The conference announced its cross-division schedule rotation through 2025 earlier this week, just one month after the conference announced that it was sticking to the eight-game conference schedule that features six division games, one permanent cross-divisional rival and one rotating cross-division opponent.

In addition to the games within the conference, the SEC will require each to play at least one team from a "power five" conference starting in 2016.

That's where Miami comes in.

According to Barry Jackson of the Miami Herald, Florida athletic director Jeremy Foley and Miami AD Blake James are discussing the possibility of the Gators and Hurricanes getting together for a renewal of their rivalry. According to the report, Florida would only agree to the matchup as a neutral-site game.

Current Gator head coach Will Muschamp is game, according to Scott Carter of GatorZone.com.

"I think that would be really good for us and really good for the state of Florida,'' Muschamp said. "That's something Jeremy and I have talked about. We have been in such a holding pattern scheduling-wise for several years because of the unknowns of what our league was going to do."

Florida will meet its out-of-conference requirement every year thanks to its intrastate rivalry with the ACC's Florida State, so if this game is going to happen, Florida better be smart.

Luckily for Foley and the Gators, there's plenty of structure to work with now thanks to the SEC's long-term structure and the ACC's similar requirement to schedule a "power five" team.

Because of that structure, though, the Gators better pick and choose when they fit in the 'Canes—because there isn't much room.

They already have an out-of-conference neutral-site game scheduled with Michigan in the Cowboys Classic in Arlington, Texas, in 2017, according to FBSchedules.com, and play Florida State at home in odd-numbered years. 

Additionally, its out-of-conference slate is filled in 2015, and it's unlikely that Florida would agree to a neutral-site game with Miami in 2016—or any even-numbered year—since it already has to travel to Florida State in those years.

That gate revenue is important, and that's exactly why any neutral-site game between the two has to be strategically planned to make a splash on the national stage as well as at the gate.

Orlando is a perfect fit and a location James said could be a possibility.

“I would have to think about Orlando,” he told the Herald. “That’s not real neutral but it’s an easy distance to our campus.”

What do ya know...the Citrus Bowl in Orlando is currently undergoing a $207 million fast-track renovation that should have the facility ready to host games by late November 2014, according to Mark Schlueb of the Orlando Sentinel

This game has nothing to do with the "power five" requirement from Florida's perspective. As a result, Florida could conceivably buy out of one of its lesser out-of-conference games in 2015 against East Carolina or New Mexico State. 

But a matchup in 2019 is far more likely. According to FBSchedules.com, Miami's only scheduled out-of-conference game that season is at home versus Rutgers, and Florida would get Florida State at home. 

Whenever it happens, Florida and Miami need to get together. The two proud programs have only met six times since 1987, with the 'Canes winning five of those games. It seems like there's some hope for this rivalry to be renewed, but the challenges associated with Florida's schedule will make it difficult for the two to get together very often.

 

* Barrett Sallee is the lead SEC college football writer for Bleacher Report.

 


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Florida Football: Will Muschamp's Biggest Challenges for the Gators in 2014

After a brutal 4-8 season last year, the Florida Gators and head coach Will Muschamp face a lot of challenges this season.

There’s an offense that can’t seem to get out of its own way. There are constant mistakes on the field that seem to get worse by the quarter. Oh, and there’s a Florida fanbase that isn’t used to losing and is rapidly losing its patience.

It goes without saying that this is a big season for Florida and a lot of these challenges need to be faced head on.

Here are the biggest obstacles Muschamp has to deal with.

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The 10 Most Dominant Defenders Heading into the 2014 College Football Season

It's not hard to spot a dominant defensive player in college football. Just watch for the looks of fear all focused in one direction.

Though the jersey is the same style and color as the rest of his teammates, there's a certain aura around a stud defender. No matter where it's found on the field, dominance can be seen even before the snap. There are 11 defenders waiting to react to the hike, but the dominators are so ready it's like they know the play before it's been called.

And sure enough, the whistle blows and there they are, making the sack, the tackle for loss and disrupting the pass play, maybe even hauling it in themselves. And if the ball comes loose, odds are they'll be involved in knocking it out or scooping it up.

Defense isn't appreciated nearly as much as offense is in college, but we do love our dominant defenders. So do NFL teams, which was why Jadeveon Clowney was the first overall pick in the 2014 NFL draft and half of the first-round selections don't generate offensive stats.

As we creep slowly but surely toward the 2014 season, here's a look at college football's most dominant players heading into the fall.

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Miami Football: Al Golden's 5 Biggest Challenges for Hurricanes in 2014

Head coach Al Golden and his Miami Hurricanes will face many challenges during the 2014 season on both sides of the football.

Breaking in a new quarterback while awaiting a senior's return, the 'Canes offense will be reliant on a pair of playmakers throughout the early games.

Meanwhile, Golden is expecting the Miami defense to be a consistent threat and not suffer from the same issues seen in previous years.

On paper, the Hurricanes look prepared for the challenges, but they need results. Their final conference record will show if they overcame those hardships or not.

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Notre Dame Football: Summer Grades for 2015 Recruiting Class

In each of the past two recruiting cycles, Notre Dame has landed a top-10 class. The Irish ranked 10th last year and fifth two classes ago.

As it stands right now, Notre Dame has eight commitments and its class is slotted 17th in the nation. With recruiting heating up, let’s take a moment to grade the class of 2015 at each position.

The grades will primarily be determined by the eight commitments. It’s too difficult to speculate specifically where Notre Dame stands with certain targets and then evaluate those positions, so we won’t factor uncommitted players into each letter grade.

 

Unless otherwise noted, all recruiting stats and information courtesy of 247Sports.com. Star ratings reflect 247Sports Composite Rankings.

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Ohio State Football: Urban Meyer's 3 Biggest Challenges for Buckeyes in 2014

After faltering down the stretch of the 2013 season, Urban Meyer and the Ohio State Buckeyes have a lot to prove this season.

The Buckeyes were riding a 24-game winning streak going into the Big Ten title game against Michigan State last year. That streak—and Ohio State's title hopes—were completely dashed by a green-and-white blur of defensive dominance.

If Meyer wants to make a run at college football's first-ever playoff, he and the Buckeyes will need to overcome a number of hurdles. Whether it's reshaping a unit that lost talented players, conquering struggles from last year or surviving a tough road test, Ohio State has a lot of obstacles to overcome in 2014.

Here are the three biggest challenges facing Urban Meyer and the Buckeyes this year.

 

Rebuilding the Offensive Line

Ohio State's strength in 2013 was its offensive line, which featured four multiyear senior starters. 

That unit paved the way for Carlos Hyde and the Buckeyes' potent rushing attack. Ohio State averaged 308.6 yards per game, which ranked No. 5 in the country.

With Jack Mewhort, Corey Linsley, Andrew Norwell and Marcus Hall all gone, Meyer and the Buckeyes have a big issue to address.

That process started in the spring when Taylor Decker, the sole returning starter, flipped from his right tackle spot to left tackle. The only other starter to emerge was Pat Elflein, who is set to replace Hall at right guard.

The left guard, center and right tackle positions remain open. Alabama transfer Chad Lindsay and a host of talented freshmen are expected to come in and compete for spots in the two-deep depth chart this fall.

 

Regain a Defensive Edge

Ohio State's defense didn't play at the championship level its offensive counterparts did in 2013.

If the Buckeyes want to compete for a national title this year, that will have to change.

Ohio State struggled immensely on defense, particularly against the pass. While the Buckeyes ranked No. 46 in total defense—allowing 377.4 yards per game—the pass defense surrendered an average of 268 yards per outing, which ranked 110th.

That's why Meyer brought in Chris Ash from Arkansas to replace Everett Withers as co-defensive coordinator. Ash is known for his aggressive 4-3 scheme that aims to limit the holes an opposing offense can expose, especially through the air.

Meyer knows that his pass defense cost him a shot at playing Florida State for a national title. He doesn't want the same issue to arise this season.

 

Michigan State

Ultimately, it was Michigan State who halted the Buckeyes' run to a national title last year. That same giant could stand in the way of Ohio State's title run this season.

With the Big Ten's realigned divisions, Ohio State and Michigan State are now slated in the new-look East Division. The Buckeyes travel to East Lansing, Michigan, on November 8 for a titanic matchup with the Spartans.

Martin Rickman of Sports Illustrated produced an early ranking for the 2014 season and tabbed Michigan State as the No. 8 team. That's the top-ranked opponent on Ohio State's schedule. The Buckeyes came in at No. 4 behind Florida State, Alabama and Oregon.

With the matchup in enemy territory, the Michigan State game looks like Ohio State's toughest test of the season. If the Buckeyes survive it, there's a good chance they could redeem last year's letdown.

 

Stats via NCAA.com.

David Regimbal is the lead Ohio State football writer for Bleacher Report.

Follow him on Twitter @davidreg412.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

4-Star Isaiah Langley Opens Up on College Choices, Decision Timetable and More

Four-star cornerback Isaiah Langley spent his Sunday participating in Oakland's Nike Football Training Camp, and it was a very productive weekend for the highly coveted recruit. 

The Foothill High School (Pleasanton, Calif.) star put on a show at NFTC. He lined up exclusively at cornerback and made several remarkable plays throughout the day.

As expected, Langley has some big decisions to make while he transitions into his senior year of high school. 

“I'm just taking it all in, the whole process,” Langley said of the 30 offers he holds. He's considering USC, California, Oklahoma, Notre Dame, Oregon and Ole Miss the most, but for now, he's remaining mum on who the true favorite is. 

That said, he spoke very highly of Cal while at NFTC. 

“Cal’s my first offer. That’s home," the Bay Area native said. "They offered me first. I just have to consider them. Twenty minutes from home, I know the staff there…Cal’s just home.”

Cal's struggles were well documented in 2013, as the Golden Bears lost 10 straight games in Sonny Dykes' first season as head coach. But Langley doesn't see that as a major reason to count them out entirely.

“I mean, as long as they have my best interests on and off the field, they’re all good with me," Langley said." But you know, they were definitely hit with adversity, so now it’s about what they will do to surpass that.”

After all, all it takes is one strong recruiting class to start an upward trend in productivity. 

Langley said he's paying attention to the other athletes Cal is recruiting, though that also won't be a major factor in his ultimate decision.

“That’s not going to make or break if I go to a school or not. I feel like if it’s the best fit for me, I don’t care who goes there. I’m going to compete and do my best,” he said.

Langley sees himself as a corner at the next level, though some schools are giving him the option to play both ways. While it's not necessarily what he's known for, he's lined up at wide receiver during his high school career and wouldn't mind getting to do so in college. 

“I want to play as much as I can and showcase my talents, whether on offense on defense,” he said. 

As a defensive-minded player, Langley intends to spend the offseason and next season getting stronger as a corner. In particular, he said he wants to work on keeping his eyes on his man. 

At NFTC on Sunday, he didn't struggle at all in that facet of his game. He tightly locked up his receivers and didn't let any field a single catch while he covered them. He also made a head-turning play on the ball, a very athletic interception, pictured above. 

Langley's goal at NFTC was to get an offer to this summer's The Opening, and by the end of the day, he met that goal:

And that makes his recruitment now a lot more interesting, as Langley had a particular plan for if he did, in fact, receive an invite.

"If I do [get an invite], it looks like a commitment will be coming out of me," he said. "I just hope that I get that opportunity."

As previously noted, Langley spent a lot of time talking about Cal while at NFTC, but according to the recruiting analysts at 247Sports.com, he looks to be a USC lean. He didn't name any other Pac-12 schools outright, but he did say there were a few he is high on. 

Though this is the plan he has laid out for himself, Langley knows that recruiting is a fickle mistress.

“I would like to know where I’m going before my senior season, but you know, the recruiting process doesn’t always work like that," he said. "You get ready to commit to a school and then another five schools offer you.”

Also while looking ahead, Langley discussed his intentions after he completes his senior season.

"I’m looking to graduate early in January. So I have to take a couple college courses here [at Chabot College in Hayward, Calif.] and just get that knocked out early," he said.

If he does end up going that route, he would be an excellent early addition to whichever team ultimately earns his signature. 

 

All quotes were obtained firsthand unless otherwise stated. 

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

LSU Football: Les Miles' 5 Biggest Challenges for the Tigers in 2014

The 2014 season could be the toughest one yet for Les Miles.

Miles lost arguably his best quarterback, running back and pair of receivers he has ever had at LSU. Overall, the Tigers had nine players selected in the NFL draft and a few key starters that went undrafted. 

But the departed players are now in the rearview mirror. Miles is now focused on getting back to the SEC Championship Game for the first time since 2011. 

The roster turnover is a hurdle Miles must overcome. Here are five more challenges he will face this season. 

 

Who Will Play Quarterback

Miles has probably lost some sleep on whether to start sophomore Anthony Jennings or freshman Brandon Harris.

Jennings played sparingly as Zach Mettenberger's backup last season. He led LSU to a miraculous win over Arkansas, but he was below average, albeit in victory, in his only start against Iowa in the Outback Bowl. 

Harris had a spectacular spring, especially considering the short amount of time he had to learn Cam Cameron's offense. He shined in the spring game, combining for four touchdowns. Jennings was less than spectacular, throwing two interceptions returned for touchdowns. 

Miles and Cameron both said they are in no rush to name a starter. Expect both to play in 2014, but the decision to name a starter for the season opener against Wisconsin will be a tough one.

 

Managing True Freshmen

LSU fans can't wait to see Harris and the rest of the 2014 recruiting class in action, especially 5-star prospects Malachi Dupre, Jamal Adams and Clifton Garrett

Oh yeah, and this dude named Leonard Fournette was the No. 1 prospect in the country. 

The four 5-star prospects headline Miles' most highly touted class ever. He had four 5-star prospects in the previous four seasons combined. 

Dupre, Adams, Garrett and Fournette aren't the only freshmen that will see the field next season. LSU will also look to 4-star talents Trey Quinn, Travonte Valentine, Ed Paris and others to play right away as well.

Miles has a tough task ahead of him. He must find the right mix of youth and experience for the team to be successful. 

 

The Schedule 

The SEC is nation's undisputed toughest conference. The SEC West is the nation's undisputed best division. LSU belongs to both exclusive clubs. Thus, an argument could be made for the Tigers having the toughest schedule in the country. 

Bleacher Report's SEC Lead Writer Barrett Sallee ranked LSU the fourth-best team in the SEC West behind Alabama, Auburn and Ole Miss in his post-spring rankings. The Tigers not only have to play them and the three other SEC West schools, but also a brutal permanent cross-divisional rival in Florida. Miles has let it be known how he hates the scheduling format.  

The Tigers are fortunate the only other SEC East school they must play is Kentucky, but that is offset by facing Wisconsin to open the season.

The depth of the Tigers will be tested. Fatigue and injury will require a multitude of players to play big. Miles and the rest of the coaching staff must have his team prepared for the tough road ahead. 

 

The Defense

LSU's defense finished a respectable fifth in scoring defense against conference opponents last season, holding them to under 25 points per game. But in their four road games, the Tigers allowed on average over 33 points per game. Three of those games were losses. 

LSU's secondary will be rejuvenated, led by super sophomore Tre'Davious White at cornerback. The pass rush should be better with experienced defensive ends Danielle Hunter and Jermauria Rasco.  

Defensive coordinator John Chavis will look to get his squad's swagger back. Miles knows his two national championship game appearances were spearheaded by dominant defenses. He will need them to return to elite form to help carry a young offense that will go through growing pains. 

 

Himself 

Miles had a good, but not great, year coaching the Tigers in 2013. 

Going 10-3 is never a bad thing. Miles has won at least 10 games in all but two years of his illustrious LSU career. But his performance last season was not his best. 

The Tigers were underdogs in two games last season. In both games, LSU suffered defeats on the road against Georgia and Alabama. Miles was not expected to win either of the games, yet great coaches find ways to win some games they are not supposed to.

Miles had a forgetful game against Ole Miss. The Tigers were favored by more than a touchdown, and the Rebels were missing five defensive starters. LSU only lost by three but were certainly outplayed

Miles said after the defeat he deserves blame for the loss, per Jim Kleinpeter of The Times-Picayune. While that is respectable, the loss ranks amongst his worst.

But Miles was not done.

LSU was a 24-point favorite against Arkansas in the final home game of the season. The Razorbacks, who did not have a win in SEC play, outplayed the Tigers. It took an amazing 99-yard touchdown drive and a genius performance from Jarvis Landry to win it.  

There is no denying Miles is a championship-caliber coach. Yet with a rather young team next season, he, along with the rest of his staff, will have to be at their best. 

 

*Stats, rankings and game odds provided by 247Sports, LSU Sports Information, cfbstats.com and scoresandodds.com and quotes were obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted. Follow Carter Bryant on Twitter @CarterthePower.  

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Georgia Football: Summer Grades for 2015 Recruiting Class

There is never an end to recruiting season, and the Bulldogs are already hard at work to put together a strong 2015 class.

After putting together a top-10 class, according to 247Sports Composite Rankings, the Bulldogs are putting the pieces together for another top-10 class in 2015.

Right now they are at No. 14 overall, but they have only eight players committed. By the end of the year, the Bulldogs hope to have some of the top players in the state, including defensive tackle Trent Thompson, who is considered the No. 1 prospect in the country according to 247Sports.

Here are summer grades for the 2015 recruiting class.

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Tennessee Football: New Playmakers Transforming Vols' Offensive Identity

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — If everything goes according to plan in 2014, Tennessee football fans won't recognize the Volunteers offense from a season ago.

The scheme hasn't changed, but head coach Butch Jones didn't mince words when discussing how much healthier the Volunteers' power spread offense will look with an injection of all the young talents who enrolled mid-term.

"Really, what you saw this spring was the same offense, just different individuals," UT's second-year head coach told Bleacher Report in an exclusive interview.

"I think we’ve taken great strides in moving forward and building our own offensive identity with the addition of Von Pearson, Josh Malone, Jalen Hurd, Coleman Thomas and the two tight ends.

"Those individuals changed our offense the minute they walked in."

During a woefully inept offensive campaign in 2013, the Vols averaged 23.8 points per game while finishing 12th in the SEC in total offense.

The only player on UT's offense with real game-breaking talent was true freshman receiver Marquez North. Now, thanks to a stacked recruiting class, the Vols have surrounded him with potential playmakers who should make an immediate impact.

The best thing for the Vols is they already have a spring practice logged beside the classes on their syllabus.

Former elite prospects such as running back Hurd, receivers Malone and Pearson and tight ends Ethan Wolf and Daniel Helm have revitalized a stagnant offense.

As a result, the timing and tempo of Tennessee's offense improved noticeably this spring. The Vols simply didn't look anything like the team from a season ago, especially during a highlight-reel spring game.

They were crisp. They were sharp. They scored points and moved the ball.

It was more like the offense Jones grew accustomed to seeing during stints at Central Michigan and Cincinnati.

Jones wants UT to establish a tempo-dictating offensive mentality that leans toward speeding up the game. It just hasn't had the horses to do it, but may now.

"Every great team has its own unique style of play," Jones said. "We've talked to our players about building our own identity and unique style of play. But we do want to play uptempo, and we weren't anywhere near where we need to be. Of anywhere else we've been, [2013] is probably the slowest that we've played.

"We have to take monumental strides moving forward in terms of our overall speed and tempo. I thought we did it this spring, but we're still nowhere near where we need to be."

Even though the Vols aren't where Jones envisions his offense yet, the infusion of talent is making a profound difference.

He noted he was "absolutely" more confident in his quarterbacks now than at any point last season, and while they've made strides in leading the offense, a weaponry upgrade is the biggest factor.

"I also think that, again, they're a byproduct of improving overall speed-wise," Jones said. "At times last year, our quarterbacks had to play perfect. We had very little big splash plays, and it's hard to play perfect. This year, they can throw the ball up and have trust that when you play a jump ball, we're going to go up and get it.

"I think our quarterbacks now have great confidence with the players on the perimeter, so I think their overall improvement of the position is a byproduct of the improvement of the running back, receiver and tight end positions."

A study of statistics posted on UT's official site showed that, a season ago, the Vols had just 69 offensive plays go for 15 or more yards. Only 46 went for 20 or more.

Jones expects improvement, but also cautioned against anointing high school stars like Hurd and Malone All-Americans right away. Their ceilings are limitless, but they will be thrown to some of the nation's top defenses all season.

"We have to make sure we don’t place too much pressure on them right away or put too many high expectations on them right away," Jones said. "They’re going to be great football players. They’re going to help Tennessee win because they have great competitive character, are great individuals, they take ownership of representing their home state, they're very, very talented and gifted players and they're hungry.

"They want to be the best. But they should be finishing up high school right now. Fortunately for us and for them, they graduated and have that spring football under their belt."

 

Brad Shepard is the Tennessee Lead Writer for Bleacher Report. All quotes were obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted. Follow Brad on Twitter here: 

@Brad_Shepard

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Nebraska Football: Coach Pelini's Biggest Challenges for Cornhuskers in 2014

Nebraska football fans know that head coach Bo Pelini will have a number of challenges coming in to 2014. Overall, of course, the biggest challenge will be figuring out how to lose fewer than four games next season. But what is standing between Nebraska and that goal? Here are five things that may be keeping Pelini up at nights this summer.

 

All stats are from the incomparable cfbstats.com.

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Michigan Football: Summer Grades for 2015 Recruiting Class

During the late springs of 2012 and 2013, Michigan’s recruiting was running at full tilt—it seemed as if every 4- and 5-star recruit in the land was pledging to Wolverines coach Brady Hoke.

This year, as you’ve certainly noticed, hasn’t been anything remotely in the ballpark of the past two “second seasons.” In fact, this latest period of scouting prospects has been incredibly slow—almost too slow.

However, at one time, Team 136 had early promises from two of America’s premier high-schoolers: Damien Harris, a 5-star running back, and George Campbell, a 5-star receiver. After a short honeymoon, they revoked their verbal commitments and reopened their recruitments. 

Harris, though, remains an option, while Campbell occupies wish-lister status. Recruits will come and go, so don’t spend a whole of time worrying about the quality of the upcoming haul—it has started strong and the process will finish with emphasis.

As of May 20, Hoke’s seven-man group is the No. 24-ranked class in college football, according to 247Sports, which will serve as the guide for rankings, statistics and other related information throughout this piece.

Entering late May, Hoke has two corners, a safety, a quarterback, an inside linebacker, an offensive tackle, and a kicker scheduled to sign letters of intent for next year. This slideshow will grade the position groups—although there are five areas to summarize—based on talent, need, fit and the almighty “potential.”

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Scouting Report, Video Highlights and Predictions for 5-Star DE Josh Sweat

Josh Sweat is a 5-star defensive end who is surging up many recruiting boards. He is a fantastic player who has yet to come close to reaching his peak on the field.

The Virginia native has many schools trying to convince him to join their programs, as his high ceiling has college coaches dreaming of tutoring him. If things go right, he will be a star early in his career at the next level.

Sweat warrants a closer look as a prospect.

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