NCAA Football News

USC Football: Grading Each Early Enrollee's Spring Performance

Newcomers are helping define the new era of USC football.

Head coach Steve Sarkisian and his staff welcomed five early enrollees from the Trojans' Pac-12 best 2014 recruiting class, and a few of the additions are making an instant impact. 

The Trojans are getting much needed support on the offensive line from two freshmen parlaying their spring into spots in the rotation. The cast of newcomers should also give Sarkisian depth, once play begins in August. 

 

Recruiting information and rankings via 247Sports.com

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Oklahoma vs. Texas Red River Rivalry Showdown Adds AT&T Corporate Sponsorship

The Red River Rivalry is adding some corporate flair.

In a press release from the official website of Texas Athletics, the school announced that, starting in 2014, its annual rivalry game with the University of Oklahoma will be known as the AT&T Red River Rivalry and that it will also be updated with a new game logo and team marks.

Said Texas athletic director Steve Patterson:

As a University of Texas alumnus I have long enjoyed the Texas-Oklahoma series and the great tradition it represents for Texas and Oklahoma fans. We look forward to working with AT&T representatives and the University of Oklahoma to generate excitement for the new name and brand, and continuing our relationships with the State Fair of Texas.

Oklahoma athletic director Joe Castiglione gave a statement as well:

The Oklahoma-Texas game played annually at the Cotton Bowl is one of the grandest traditions in all of college football. We will continue striving to make this contest a truly memorable experience for the student-athletes and fans of both the University of Oklahoma and The University of Texas amidst the unique and colorful atmosphere of the State Fair of Texas.

This year's meeting will be the 109th between Texas and Oklahoma. Per the release, the game was first played in 1900 and has been played in Dallas since 1912 and in the Cotton Bowl since 1929. 

The Longhorns lead the all-time series 60-43-5, having also won the most recent meeting in 2013 despite entering the game as substantial underdogs. However, OU had won the previous three meetings before that and still has a 9-5 record since the start of the new millennium.

AT&T Stadium in Arlington—home of the NFL's Dallas Cowboys and the world's largest video board and affectionately known as "Jerry's World" after Cowboys owner Jerry Jones—will host the championship of the inaugural College Football Playoff in 2015, and the company continues reaching its arm into the biggest stages for the biggest games.

As long as it doesn't interfere with the product on the field (and how could it?), no one should too much mind the corporate partnership. 

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

LSU Football: Week 4 Spring Practice Stock Report

LSU got to have some fun this week in its final practice of the spring. 

The Tigers hosted their annual "Student Appreciation Day" on Thursday, which allowed current LSU students to observe a practice and participate in drills at its conclusion. 

Now LSU must get ready for the spring game on Saturday. It will be the first glimpse all fans will get of the 2014 Bayou Bengals. 

This week's practice featured a few injured Tigers returning to practice and one leaving the program.  

 

News from This Week

LSU defensive end Jordan Allen will transfer, according to Luke Johnson of Tiger Rag. Allen cited academic reasons, as he was unable to get into LSU's graduate school program.  

The Tigers began Tuesday's practice with the "Big Cat" and goal line drill. Jim Kleinpeter of The Times-Picayune has the full results of the players who participated.

Thursday's practice was highlighted by "Student Appreciation Day." LSUSports.net has photos from the post-practice festivities.   

LSU receivers Kevin Spears, John Diarse and Avery Peterson and running back Terrence Magee returned to practice on Tuesday, according to Hunt Palmer of Tiger Rag

 

Update on Position Battles

Les Miles said after practice Thursday that the upcoming spring game will have no effect on the depth chart, via Bryan Lazare of TigerBait.com.

Shea Dixon of Geaux247.com said the versatile Kendell Beckwith is pushing D.J. Welter for the starting middle linebacker job.

LSU quarterback Anthony Jennings told Ben Love of TigerSportsDigest.com that he and Brandon Harris have many similarities. Jennings also said there has been a focus on the running game this spring.  

 

What to Look Forward to in the Spring Game

Despite Miles somewhat downplaying the spring game, it does give him an opportunity to see how players perform in front of a crowd. Harris will be the player everybody wants to see, and he more than likely knows that. Saturday will be the first time he performs in front of fans.  

The LSU defensive ends should not miss a beat without Allen. The Tigers are missing Jermauria Rasco due to injury but are still loaded at the position with Danielle Hunter, Lewis Neal, Frank Herron and M.J. Patterson. The LSU pass rush struggled last season according to The New Orleans Advocate's Matthew Harris.

Will one emerge as a playmaker? Keep an eye on Hunter, who showed flashes of excellence last season.

Hunter is one of many young, talented Tigers with something to prove. Here are five more players to look out for on Saturday.  

 

Other News and Stories

With LSU's lack of depth this spring and talented incoming recruiting class, Miles has had to play the role of fortune teller, according to David Ching of ESPN.com

The Tigers announced they will play UCLA and Arizona State in the distant future. The Advocate's Ross Dellenger caught up with LSU associate athletic director Verge Ausberry on the science of making football schedules. 

Chandler Rome of The Advocate reported on how the young cornerbacks of LSU are having to learn quickly. 

LSU will host its annual pro day next Wednesday, April 9.  

 

*Follow me on Twitter @CarterthePower for updates live from the LSU spring game. 

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Notre Dame Football: Week 5 Spring Practice Stock Report

Welcome back to the weekly Spring Practice Stock Report. We're just over a week away from the Blue-Gold game, as the Irish head down the home stretch of spring practice. 

It's been a big week for Notre Dame football. Some additions, some subtractions and even some Q&As with a few assistant coaches, giving us a rare progress report from position coaches.

Let's get to it.

  

The Dismissal of Rashad Kinlaw Thins Out the Cornerback Depth Chart

Brian Kelly announced Friday morning that rising sophomore cornerback Rashad Kinlaw was dismissed from the football program.  

"From my perspective, from a football perspective, he didn't live up to the rules within our football program," Kelly told the South Bend Tribune. 

The loss of Kinlaw isn't one that the Irish will feel right away, but likely forces the Irish to add another cornerback in this year's recruiting cycle. Seniors Josh Atkinson and Jalen Brown aren't likely to return for a fifth year, which made 2013 an important season for Kinlaw's development. 

The New Jersey native was running with the third team for most of spring and likely was going to drop down another rung when Florida transfer Cody Riggs joined the program this summer.

Losing a player each spring has turned into a rite of passage for the Irish, and Kinlaw now joins Justin Ferguson, Davonte Neal, Tee Shepard and Aaron Lynch in a group gone, but certainly not forgotten.

 

Kerry Cooks Continues to Build His Texas Pipeline

Over the past week, Kerry Cooks added two Texas natives to the Irish's 2015 recruiting class. First he landed jumbo safety Prentice McKinney from Dallas and just a few days later received a verbal commitment from Jalen Guyton, a wide receiver from Allen. 

That continues Cooks' string of success in the state of Texas, following up a strong recruiting cycle where the Irish plucked Nick Watkins, Grant Blankenship and Kolin Hill from the Lone Star state, with all three holding offers from Charlie Strong's Texas program. 

In past recruiting cycles, Mack Brown had an early lead on in-state recruits, identifying and offering players well before other programs gave chase. But Strong's recent arrival has pushed back the evaluation process, and it looks like the Irish are taking advantage. 

McKinney brings a jumbo-sized safety to the secondary who the Irish don't have, a big hitter that does significant damage from center field. Guyton is a deep threat for Allen, the back-to-back Texas 5A state champs and one of the best programs in the country. 

Great work by Cooks, who is turning into one of the finest recruiters in the country, and who is already responsible for 2015 commit Jerry Tillery in Louisiana. 

 

In Addition to Recruiting Texas Hard, Irish Are Doubling Down on California

Notre Dame has experienced some heartache lately on the recruiting trail in California, spending significant time and resources recruiting the state only to lose out on some key recruits. But don't expect Brian Kelly to back away, even if the Irish turned out bridesmaids in the chase for John "JuJu" Smith, Matt Dickerson and Michiah Quick. (Let's keep Eddie Vanderdoes out of this group.) 

Eric Hansen of the South Bend Tribune points out that new quarterbacks coach Matt LaFleur will be joining Mike Denbrock out West, bringing another body to an important recruiting territory. 

Kelly handed LaFleur most of what used to be promoted offensive coordinator Mike Denbrock’s old territory. LaFleur has the West Coast from Los Angeles north to Seattle, his home state of Michigan, and Hawaii, where Punahou School in Honolulu has produced another must-have defensive prospect in the mold of former Irish All-American Manti Te’o (defensive end Canton Kaumatule).

Denbrock’s revised territory includes the Southernmost part of California and Chicago.

LaFleur hasn't been on the recruiting trail in awhile. His last college job was with Ashland University in 2007. But it doesn't take a rocket scientist to sell Notre Dame, and LaFleur's NFL experience and work with Robert Griffin III should draw plenty of interest from high school prospects. 

 

A Quarterback Competition Doesn't Mean There's Bad Blood

Malik Zaire caused quite a ruckus when he made public his belief that he thinks he's going to be the team's starting quarterback. 

The confidence, understandably, brought a lot of attention, but didn't change the way Zaire and Everett Golson go about their work

"They are competitive, but they do help each other, believe it or not," LaFleur told ESPN's Matt Fortuna on Wednesday. "Just the other day at practice Malik made a mistake and Everett was trying to explain to him why he made that mistake. Yeah, there is a competitiveness but those guys also help each other at game time." 

 

After Struggling to Force Turnovers Under Bob Diaco, Kelly Hopes New Schematic Tweaks Force Offensive Mistakes

If the Irish defense struggled under Bob Diaco, the struggles were getting to the quarterback and causing turnovers. Those two things are often complementary, with a defense pressuring a quarterback into making a bad decision. 

Kelly talked about some of the schematic changes and how, philosophically, they should help create turnovers for his young defense. 

"We want to create more pressure for the quarterback," Kelly told Douglas Farmer of Irish Illustrated. "We want them under more duress. From that standpoint, maybe the net gain there is turnovers, but I think if they're making bad decisions and throwing the ball away, we're gaining downs in that respect, too.

"I think that's been a process for us. We're moving in a new direction for our defensive personnel. It's coming, and they're making progress in that regard, but it will take us some more time."

Not all defenses are built to create pressure. As we saw with the Irish under former defensive coordinator Jon Tenuta's direction, constant blitzing didn't necessarily do anything but let opponents score quicker. 

The personnel on this Irish roster is much stronger than the last few Charlie Weis and Tenuta fielded. But staying sound fundamentally while bringing pressure is key, and that teaching process is ongoing throughout spring. 

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

SEC Football Q&A: Most Improved Player, Maty Mauk and Mississippi State

Every Friday, we feature questions from Twitter. Do you have a question for next week's Q&A? Send it to SEC lead writer Barrett Sallee on Twitter at @BarrettSallee.

You have SEC questions, and I have SEC answers. Thank you for your questions. If I didn't get to them this week, they will be saved and used in the future.

And we're off! 

 

@BarrettSallee Who will be the most improved player in the SEC this year?

— Mitchell Tate (@Mitchell_Tate4) April 4, 2014

Florida quarterback Jeff Driskel.

I know, I know..."he's terrible, makes bad decisions and can't stretch the field."

Just stop.

Driskel has been a square peg in a round hole for his entire Florida career, and now with offensive coordinator Kurt Roper running the offense, he finally is in a system that suits his dual-threat capabilities.

According to GatorZone.com, Driskel has impressed Roper in the limited time the two have worked together.

"I didn't get to see him much before I got here,'' Roper said last week. "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."

Gifted, with athletes around him. Demarcus Robinson has been impressing the staff this spring at wide receiver, Kelvin Taylor rushed for 508 yards in a part-time role last season when the Gators were incredibly one-dimensional and Matt Jones should join Taylor in the Gator backfield this fall once he returns to 100 percent.

Don't write Driskel off just yet. His best work is still ahead of him.

@BarrettSallee What's your overall opinion on Maty Mauk and how far can he take Mizzou?

— Nash Williams (@NashSports) April 4, 2014

Maty Mauk was a fantastic backup and a viable starter as a redshirt freshman, and this offseason will be all about taking the next step and becoming more efficient.

There's no denying the upside Mauk has. He threw for 1,071 yards, 11 touchdowns and only two picks last season, averaging a whopping 8.1 yards per attempt in the process. But efficiency-wise, he wasn't where he needed to be. He completed just 51.1 percent of his passes (68-of-133), and that's not good enough if Missouri wants to repeat as SEC East champs.

If he can take that next step and become a more consistent passer, he absolutely has the skills and the talent around him to take Missouri back to Atlanta and the SEC Championship Game. If he doesn't take he next step, though, Missouri could drop a game or two that it shouldn't, and that could be the difference in the division title.

For Missouri, it will take consistent quarterback play and a defense that can get pressure with four and capitalize on mistakes to get back to Atlanta. Mauk can be that consistent quarterback, but he will have to progress as a passer.

@BarrettSallee I think Miss. St. has a chance to surprise some people. Would you agree? I'm an Aggie, but I like Dak Prescott.

— Jimmie Snyder (@labayouboy) April 4, 2014

I agree that Mississippi State will be pretty good. With 16 returning starters, the Bulldogs will be competitive.

And I've gone on record about quarterback Dak Prescott and what he brings to the table by going so far as to say that he's a dark horse Heisman candidate.

With that said, the logical next step for Mississippi State isn't just a step, it's a gigantic leap forward.

I recently spoke with head coach Dan Mullen for a one-on-one that will run early next week, and he put that step into perspective better than anybody else could.

"In the last five seasons, six SEC West teams have competed for the national championship," he said. "A lot of times the next step is to build a consistent winner, and then let's go compete for a conference championship. In the SEC West, you skip that step. A conference championship is also a national championship here."

It's the truth. 

The next step for Mississippi State is to win the division and be a national power, and I'm not sure the Bulldogs are there from a roster perspective. Sure, they've got Prescott and a laundry list of returning starters, but is the depth there to make a true run? Not yet.

But I do think Mississippi State will be in more competitive games versus the big boys of the division this year, and could spring an upset or two along the way. 

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

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

 


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Alabama Football: Lane Kiffin Is Already Influencing the Tide's Offense

Even though the University of Alabama’s first scrimmage of the spring will be closed as usual, and Lane Kiffin hasn’t done a single interview with the local writers since being hired in January, some of his influences as the Crimson Tide’s offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach are beginning to be seen and felt in Tuscaloosa.

They can be broken down into three categories:

 

1. Recruiting

Kiffin helped the Crimson Tide close out the nation’s top recruiting class.

“He has a lot of relationships built up in recruiting from the various schools he has coached,” coach Nick Saban said. “It's very important to have the kind of offensive coordinator/quarterbacks coach you can recruit to, someone young people want to play in that style of offense. That was an asset for us in helping get some of the offensive players we were able to attract.

“He does a really good job of presenting to the players how they are going to be used in the offense. They have a very clear picture of how they are going to be used. It was a real positive asset of him being involved in the short time he was involved recruiting this class.”

 

2. Identifying and developing Alabama’s next starting quarterback

This will obviously take a while to gauge, especially with Jacob Coker transferring from Florida State after graduating next month, but five others, including early enrollee David Cornwell are essentially getting one-on-one instruction this spring.

“It’s going to be a long time in us developing those players, not being so quick to criticize or quick to try to make a judgment or a decision on any one particular player, but to continue to try to have the patience to develop those guys into the kind of guys that can play winning football for us,” Saban said.

 

3. Running the offense

How different will it be under Kiffin?

“It's Saban, so it's going to be the same offense,” explained senior tight end Brian Vogler. “Obviously there's wrinkles. Every coach brings his own wrinkle to it but you're going to see the same stuff.

“Just a little bit more dynamic. (It's) hard to explain.”

Here, in the words of various Alabama players and Saban, is an attempt to do just that, with some of the changes they’ll be experiencing on Saturday at Bryant-Denny Stadium and fans will eventually see from the Crimson Tide offense:

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Georgia Football: Week 4 Spring Practice Stock Report

With Georgia’s annual G-Day just more than a week away, here’s the latest on the Bulldogs' spring practices.

 

News from Week 3 

As the reinvigorated Georgia defense continues to shuffle around under new coordinator Jeremy Pruitt, one piece of the puzzle removed himself from depth chart consideration this week.  Paris Bostick, a 6'1", 217-pound outside linebacker, elected to transfer. 

Bostick redshirted in 2013 as a freshman and has not yet announced his future destination.  According to Logan Booker of Bulldawg Illustrated, Mark Richt said the player's decision was mutually agreed upon, adding, “He has a positive future in football and we wish him all the best in attaining his goals in football and in education.” 

In other news, senior offensive lineman Watts Dantzler continues to be sidelined following a concussion last week.  His absence is noteworthy as he’s one of a host of players contending for two yet unsettled guard positions.

 

Position Battles 

Along the offensive line, Dantzler, Brandon Kublanow, Greg Pyke and Mark Beard continue to duke it out for starting guard positions.  

According to Marc Weiszer of the Athens Banner-Herald, offensive line coach Will Friend gave a less than glowing assessment of the situation.  “Nobody’s kind of stepped up and said they want to be the guard yet,” Friend said.  “We’re not performing the way we need to inside right now.” 

Meanwhile, the defensive backfield continues to be a revolving door of sorts.  According to Seth Emerson of Macon’s Telegraph, a number of alterations to the depth chart were noticeable—at least for Thursday’s practice. 

Walk-on Aaron Davis, a redshirt freshman, started at the cornerback position opposite Damian Swann (a two-year starter and a senior).  J.J. Green cross-trained with the safeties (as opposed to his normal spot with the cornerbacks), where Brendan Langley (also a cornerback prior to this week) is beginning to excel as well. 

Additionally, sophomore Tray Matthews has reestablished himself as a starter at safety.

 

Storylines for Week 4 

Next week, Georgia holds its annual spring game at Sanford Stadium.  In many ways, that scrimmage will be fans’ first chance to see a new-look defense and a reminder of Georgia’s offensive prowess. 

A few questions that need to be answered on the defensive side of the ball: 

  • How quickly are players adapting to Pruitt’s simplified—but still aggressive—scheme?
  • Who will emerge as a lockdown corner other than Damian Swann?
  • Will J.J. Green settle as a cornerback, safety or at the star position?
  • How fast can Pruitt’s lighter defensive line play?

While the regular season is still a long way off, the more questions that can be answered next week, the better—at least as far as fans are concerned.  After all, the Bulldog faithful want to be encouraged that the volatility caused by former defensive coordinator Todd Grantham’s departure for Louisville, and the jubilation surrounding Pruitt’s arrival, will ultimately be for the betterment of a struggling defense. 

On the offensive side of the ball, a starting rotation needs to emerge along the line.  Cohesion will be as important to this unit as anything, and chemistry will only be built after a starting lineup is set. 

And of course, the spring game will give fans an opportunity to see Todd Gurley run the football again and watch Hutson Mason distribute the ball to his many weapons.  But no news is good news for this prolific offense as Georgia can ill-afford another rash of injuries.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Texas Football: Week 3 Spring Practice Stock Report

The Texas Longhorns have reached the midway point of the first spring football session of the Charlie Strong era. 

The Longhorns' first scrimmage of spring did not go the way Strong would have liked. Even though the team started strong, it didn't finish that way, which was not something that pleased the head coach.

"The longer the scrimmage went on some guys just quit competing and that's what we can't have," Strong said. "We're not good enough to go waste practices. That's not who we are and that's not what we're all about."

The Longhorns obviously have a ways to go until the team is ready to play an opponent, but expecting anything different would simply be wishful thinking. Changes are going to be gradual under a new staff with entirely new offensive and defensive schemes.

What Texas fans should expect is gradual progress, and from the sound of it, that progress is taking place.

 

Quarterback Progress

The good news for Texas fans is things might be coming together for some key players. And the first is the quarterback.

Some people may have been concerned that quarterback David Ash would never take the football field again after suffering recurring concussion symptoms throughout the 2013 season. But according to Strong, Ash has shown steady progress through the first half of spring practice.

"The thing about David is he's studying it and working at it. And each practice he has gotten better."

It is still very early to declare Ash as the go-to guy, but his day-by-day progress is a step in the right direction.

 

Diggs Stepping Up

One constant the defense has is defensive back Quandre Diggs, who has been an impact player for his three years at Texas. Diggs' decision to return for his senior season was welcomed with open arms by Texas because of the leadership he brings to the secondary.

"He's coming into his own and showing his leadership ability," Strong said. "He can play at corner and we can move him to the nickel. He's a very smart football player. His size is not what you typically like to see at that position but he knows how good he is and plays within himself."

Diggs' personality would appear to mesh well with the new staff. He has never been one to hide his feelings—good or bad—in press settings and enjoys the toughness Strong and his staff bring to the team.

"These guys don't care what you did in the past," Diggs said. "If you are a leader or a veteran, they're going to expect you to show them that on the field. I respect that because I feel like no guys on this team should be able to just settle. Guys should be hungry to show what type of players they are."

 

Offensive Line

The offensive line took a hit when tackle Kent Perkins went down with a knee injury. Texas released an injury update to the media stating Perkins had successful knee surgery and will miss the remainder of spring practice.

This injury came to an offensive line that is already slim on experience. Aside from Perkins, the Longhorns have three linemen with starting experience. But Perkins' injury isn't all terrible because it has given other players the opportunity to step up and show their skills.

"Losing Perkins hurts us because he was doing so well," Strong said. "But it now gives us a chance to look at the younger guys and watching them compete and making sure they get enough reps."

Strong did not specify which younger guys the staff is watching, so this position will remain one to watch moving into the second half of spring. 

 

The Red River Showdown

Away from Spring football, the Texas-Oklahoma game at the Cotton Bowl in Dallas has once again been renamed and rebranded, this time to the AT&T Red River Showdown. The annual showdown, first called the Red River Shootout, was changed to the Red River Rivalry in 2005 in coordination of the 100th meeting.

Regardless of the name, the annual rivalry is arguably one of the greatest atmospheres in college football. When the Longhorns and the Sooners divide at the 50-yard line, an intense competition is almost certain to follow.

 

All quotes were obtained firsthand.

Taylor Gaspar is Bleacher Report's featured columnist covering the Texas Longhorns. You can follow her on Twitter: @Taylor_Gaspar.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

12 Major College Football Teams Who Could Throw the Ball Fewer Than 300 Times

Run-pass balance is overrated in today’s college football.

Ask Auburn, which ran its way to an SEC championship in 2013 and came within seconds of scoring the national championship as well.

Sure, many teams aspire to 50-50 run-pass balance, whether that number is derived from play calls or yardage.

Some are more content to utilize a low-risk power game capable of dominating opponents into submission.

Today, we examine 12 college football teams from the power conferences—formerly known as BCS conferences—who could average fewer than 25 passing attempts per regular season game.

Since this list only considers college football teams from major conferences, programs such as Navy, Army, Air Force and New Mexico will not appear.

To determine the likelihood of run-heavy attacks, we take a look at passing attempts and consider the returning skill positions—especially quarterback. Coaching tendencies—from head coaches and offensive coordinators—have also been taken into account.

Here is the list of the 12 major college football teams who could throw the ball fewer than 300 times this season. 

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Is New-Look Michigan Football Team Ready for the Spotlight?

Michigan has gone through a rough decade, at least by Michigan's historically great standards. Last season's 7-6 record was the low-water mark under Brady Hoke, and it led to a major change in hopes of righting the ship quickly. 

That change came in the form of firing offensive coordinator Al Borges and hiring Doug Nussmeier away from Alabama to replace him. With the move, expectations of greatness were once again raised in Ann Arbor, Mich.

Yet, as the Wolverines go through spring practice, the question is just how changed is this Michigan football team—especially on offense. It's why the spotlight will be on Michigan Stadium this Saturday as the Wolverines take the field for their annual spring football game.

From the outside looking in, it's hard to see how a team that lost bookend tackles Taylor Lewan and Michael Schofield as well as do-everything wide receiver Jeremy Gallon can get dramatically better that quickly. 

It's not as if they can point to a stellar run game to get through a transition period or anything. After all, the Wolverines finished No. 102 in the country in rushing offense (125.7 yards per game) last season. 

Given those facts, it means that change has to come from within the players, and that's where a change in the coaching staff can really help...or hurt. Changing coaches gives players a fresh perspective and a clean slate to work with, and for some, that's all they need to refocus and go from good to great.

The biggest scapegoat last season was an offensive line that couldn't open holes in the run game or protect the quarterback (No. 10 in the Big Ten in sacks against with 36). With Lewan and Schofield gone, it means the pressure is on the young offensive line to get things figured out. 

Just how young is the offensive line? Heading in to the 2014 season, it features just one senior and three upperclassmen.

Helping the young but experienced group of linemen is fourth-year offensive line coach Darrell Funk, who has a lot riding on the quick turnaround of this young group.  

Despite the youthful nature of the offensive line, the good news is that it appears the players understand what is expected of them and know last season was unacceptable. 

"We know we don't have the option to not get better," guard Kyle Kalis told Brian Bennett of ESPN.com. "It's getting to that point where we can't really say we’re young anymore, because next year, no one is going to want to hear that. So we have to all come together."

According to Bennett's article, the players say the biggest change has been in Nussmeier simplifying things in the run game, allowing athletes to be athletes. 

"You get the the chance to open these huge holes and then let the running backs take one or two steps right or left, find the hill and start running," Kalis said. "That’s a big difference from last year."

That's good news for a team in need of a run game, like, yesterday. Saturday will be all about seeing who can step up and make plays heading forward. 

Speaking of that, former 5-star running back Derrick Green also has a lot to prove after a disappointing freshman season. 

He rushed for just 270 yards on 83 carries in his first collegiate season, and that won't get it done for a player who needs to be the featured back this season. 

Come Saturday, Green and the offensive line will have a chance to show they have improved at the very least—especially since they'll be going up against a very good defense. 

The final part to the offensive equation is a passing game that was dynamic but very inconsistent in 2013. It all starts with figuring out the ongoing quarterback battle. Will it be senior Devin Gardner and his playmaking ability, or will it be drop-back passer Shane Morris? 

Reports from camp have this being a very tight battle, with both performing at a high level and early enrollee Wilton Speight also continuing to contend at the position. 

The good news all the way around on offense is that it appears there is competition, and given all that is new for this team, that's what you want to have happen in spring. 

Although the spring football game is just one of 15 practices for teams, it's an important one. It's especially important when your team has a lot to prove to the fans, critics and to each other.

A good spring game by the offense Saturday will go a long way to proving Michigan could be worthy of the national spotlight once again—a place it believes it belongs on a permanent basis. 

 

*Andy Coppens is a college football featured columnist. You can follow him on Twitter: @ AndyOnCFB.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Oregon Football: Week 1 Spring Practice Stock Report

Oregon's first week of spring practices was all about changes.

First and foremost was the buzz a bigger lineup generated on Tuesday. GoDucks.com editor Rob Moseley noted tight end Johnny Mundt. According to 247Sports.com, Mundt put on 20 pounds of muscle in the winter. 

Mundt should be a breakout weapon in the Ducks' offense in 2014, and Sam Kamp has the potential to do likewise on the defensive side. Kamp, a defensive lineman, packed on 29 pounds, per 247Sports.com. 

New defensive coordinator Don Pellum needs all the help he can get on the defensive line, the unit with the least depth on the Ducks roster. The line's subpar performances in late-season losses at Stanford and Arizona garnered criticism, of which Pellum is well aware. 

"Obviously I’ve gotta grow some tougher skin over the summer. That’s a given," Pellum told the Statesman Journal Wednesday. “That’s part of the territory." 

From more muscular physiques to thicker skin, the Ducks' changes lay a solid foundation for a promising season, as head coach Mark Helfrich told Ryan Thorburn of The Register-Guard

And the sooner Helfrich and his staff have Oregon up to football speed, the better.  

Though Oregon opens 2014 with Football Championship Subdivision opponent South Dakota, a game that Sporting News ranks as one of its five Week 1 walkovers, the Ducks are on a steep learning curve. Reigning Big Ten and Rose Bowl champion Michigan State visits Autzen Stadium in Week 2 for what should be a top-10 clash. 

Pellum told Andrew Greif of The Oregonian that a key to preparing the Ducks for next season in the coming weeks was establishing an attitude. 

When we talk about swagger we’re not talking about being idiots and bad people, we’re talking about playing with confidence and a chip. In football you have to walk out with attitude. We’re trying to develop that and the kids are embracing it. They’re juiced.

One crucial part of establishing that swagger throughout the roster is developing it in new contributors. That includes newcomers, of which a few dove into their first week of practice.

The Ducks welcomed early enrolled recruits, all of whom could make an impact on the 2014 campaign, including offensive lineman Haniteli Lousi.  

"It’s all a learning process," Lousi told GoDucks.com. "I’m glad I came in spring, so that I’ve got a lot more time to pick up the offense."

Lousi joins an offensive line heavy on experience but hungry to improve on its 2013 performance, as tackle Tyler Johnstone—nursing a torn ACL—told Aaron Fentress of Comcast Sportsnet

We were kind of embarrassed last year. Not because of our lack of skill. We still handled teams really, really well. But when we go out there, we’re not intimidating. We don’t pass the eye test and we want to start passing the eye test. We want that initial intimidation.

As the Ducks continue with spring practices, which culminate in the May 3 spring game, establishing a more intimidating presence should be no problem. Oregon enters 2014 with 10 or more wins every season since 2009 and 11 or more wins in each campaign since 2010. This offseason is about rebuilding to a conference-championship level, one milestone which has alluded the program the last two years. 

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2015 RB Isaiah White Talks Rutgers, Adrian Peterson

2015 running back Isaiah White is the No. 2 overall player in New York according to 247Sports' composite rankings. The 5'11", 200-pound athlete is a physical runner who uses his strength to gain yards after initial contact.

Bleacher Report caught up with White, who discussed Rutgers and why he looks up to Minnesota Vikings running back Adrian Peterson.

Watch the video and find out what he had to say about the Scarlet Knights.

 

Highlights courtesy of xosdigital.com

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Is Auburn or Alabama Better Fit for No. 1 JUCO Recruit Jovon Robinson?

It's been almost two years since running back Jovon Robinson carried the ball in practice drills as a member of the Auburn Tigers. He could return to campus in 2015, but it might be as a member of the Alabama Crimson Tide.

Robinson spent limited time with the Tigers during training camp in 2012 as a freshman. The freshly signed 4-star prospect didn't make it to kickoff of his first collegiate season.

He was ruled ineligible following an investigation into a fraudulent academic transcript that created a media firestorm and led to the resignation of his high school guidance counselor.

The former Memphis, Tenn., standout is still working his way back to the FBS.

Robinson resurfaced at Georgia Military College in 2013, running with authority and purpose against junior college opponents. He set NJCAA records for single-season rushing yards (2,387) and touchdowns (34).

In the wake of his monster season, Robinson once again ranks among America's most coveted recruits. Several of the schools that pursued him in high school—including Auburn—have rejoined the race.

Last week, he listed the Tigers as one of his top five options during a conversation with 247Sports reporter Bryan Matthews. Auburn must contend with Georgia, Alabama, Tennessee and Florida State for his services.

It's important to remember that he initially signed with a different Tigers regime than the one currently in place. Former head coach Gene Chizik recruited Robinson to Auburn but was fired following the 2012 season, two years after winning a national title.

Auburn isn't entirely rebooting its recruitment of Robinson since he's already acclimated with the campus and football facilities. Second-year head coach Gus Malzahn also has history with the running back from his days as Tigers offensive coordinator.

“I’ve always liked Coach Malzahn,” Robinson told 247Sports. “He was actually the first coach, OC, to recruit me out of high school. He came to my high school when I was in 11th grade and told me I could do some special things with him."

Things didn't work out as planned.

Malzahn spent the 2012 season at Arkansas State. Robinson spent it out of football.

Now they have a chance to make up for lost time, as Auburn is a top contender to bring him back. The Tigers' rushing attack exploded for more than 4,500 rushing yards last season en route to a conference title.

“It’s really a fun offense to watch," Robinson said. "It’s actually something like I’m doing at GMC. It’s one of the more diverse offenses for running backs."

If Robinson felt Auburn was the right fit when the team wasn't nearly as productive, it's easy to understand why the Tigers have again emerged as a favorite. However, Auburn isn't the only team trying to capitalize on a second chance with America's top-ranked JUCO prospect.

Alabama was heavily involved in Robinson's high school recruitment from it's earliest stages.

"It's crazy how things work out," Robinson told AL.com reporter Matt Scalici last April. "Alabama was my first offer, and I wasn't even thinking about Auburn at that time. Auburn was my last offer."

Nick Saban and his staff aim to turn the tables this time around.

Like Auburn, Alabama has an impressive stable of young running backs set to step up this season. Still, the addition of a rusher like Robinson would be viewed as a game-changer regardless of the pieces already in place.

The 5'11", 200-pound prospect received an offer from Alabama in February, approximately five weeks before Auburn extended a scholarship for the second time.

While wading through Robinson's collegiate options, Auburn and Alabama rise to the forefront based on a personal history with him that lasts nearly four years. Each program presents an opportunity to compete for immediate reps with an established SEC powerhouse, but neither will simply hand him starting duties.

Running back depth is impressive at each school, so Robinson will rely on a strong opening training camp to set the tone. Considering his first college camp was cut short in embarrassing fashion, expect him to come out of the gates with determination and appreciation.

It's hard to argue with the success of Auburn's ground game these days, but Alabama has produced multiple Heisman Trophy contenders in its backfield during Saban's reign.

This decision must ultimately come down to where he feels most comfortable, because third chances are extremely hard to find when you're working with limited eligibility.

He was thrilled to be at Auburn in 2012, but that school is the site of some painful memories.

"I was prepared to play in the SEC as a freshman, to maybe be the face of Auburn University, and in a moment it was like I was being snatched from my ultimate dream," Robinson told AL.com.

You have to wonder if Robinson really wants to return and relive that experience. If he's looking for a true fresh start, Alabama is the choice.

It would certainly be a bizarre twist of fate to see Robinson spend his long-awaited debut FBS campaign in crimson, but that's the way things work in college football sometimes. Auburn fans don't need to search far back for an example, as 2010 Heisman Trophy winner Cam Newton spent his freshman season serving as Tim Tebow's backup at Florida, another fellow SEC foe.

Robinson told 247Sports he aims to announce a decision prior to the start of his sophomore season at Georgia Military College. Several squads will be keeping tabs until then, but it's unlikely any will monitor Robinson more intently than Alabama and Auburn.

 

Recruit information and statistics courtesy of 247Sports

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Penn State Football: Week 3 Spring Practice Stock Report

The Nittany Lions are just about a week away from the close of spring camp and things are starting to come together.

While the coaches are still moving some guys around, roles are beginning to fill out and reps are being doled out accordingly.

Several players will be out for the Blue-White Game on April 12, so expect to see plenty of new faces, including some lesser-known walk-ons.

Don't fear, though: There will be plenty of familiar faces when the 2014 Nittany Lions are unveiled to the public.

 

Christian Hackenberg

It's hard to believe that Hack has only been on campus for about 10 months at this point.

After going through his first offseason in a collegiate weight lifting program, the sophomore-to-be is up to 235 pounds, feels stronger and recently ran a 40-yard dash in 4.73 seconds. 

Hackenberg mentioned several receivers who've had good springs -- including walk-on Gregg Garrity Jr. Only non-scholarship WR he mentioned

— Josh Moyer (@ESPNJoshMoyer) April 3, 2014

On his progression, Hack recently had this to say to the media

I feel like I've gotten stronger. I went through my first weight training progression. I feel like the ball's coming out a little better, I ran the fastest 40 I've ever run at this weight. I feel good right now, just continuing to tune up the tools and be the best player I can be.

He also showed his maturity and leadership when asked about the offensive line, which according to many is a struggling unit:

They're working really hard, doing a fantastic job. It's hard for them because they're learning all new protections, blocking schemes. New guys are stepping up, filling holes. Their progression has been impressive. Donovan, Mangiro, Alosi, those guys have been around a while and they're taking leadership roles. I just have to be confident in them, which I am.

 

Mounting Injuries

In addition to Miles Dieffenbach being lost to an ACL injury and Andrew Nelson missing time with a bum knee, Audrey Snyder of PennLive.com reported that Adam Breneman will now miss the rest of spring practice with a deep bone bruise in his knee.

Breneman will miss the rest of spring ball for precautionary reasons (bone bruise) & is expected to be back at full speed for training camp.

— Travis Johnson (@bytravisjohnson) April 3, 2014

Safety Malik Golden suffered a minor hamstring injury and coaches are keeping an eye on Ben Kline and DaeSean Hamilton to ensure they don't re-injure themselves.

Don't expect to see either of them in the spring game.

 

Wooten Turning Heads

There may be some more depth at linebacker than previously expected, as Gary Wooten appears to be coming on strong and making a case for playing time.

Mike Hull with more praise for fellow linebacker Gary Wooten. "He's made huge strides. It's unbelievable." #PennState

— York Daily Record (@YDRPennState) April 3, 2014

According to Jeff Rice of 247Sports.com, Mike Hull has been impressed with Wooten:

I think Gary Wooten's made the biggest strides. Always around the ball...It's been a huge difference. I think the new staff, with the way they coach and their style has really helped him flourish. He's made huge strides. He's always had the physical tools to be great. He's just putting it all together right now.

If Wooten can play significant snaps this fall, it will go a long way toward solidifying the young linebacker corps.

 

"Star"

The new staff will, at times, run a 4-2-5 defense with a linebacker/safety hybrid position. It looks like the first candidates for the job will be Von Walker and Adrian Amos.

Walker has been taking snaps with the linebackers and would allow the secondary to stay intact during the transition.

If Amos moves up into the role, he will have to be replaced at safety—most likely by Golden. 

Penn State Open Practice II - 3/29 - Lions247: http://t.co/mwQtxJozbe via @YouTube

— Drew (@WhyteOut_PSU) March 29, 2014

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Texas' Search Firm Bill Shows How Misplaced Money Is in College Football

For not being Nick Saban, head coach Charlie Strong sure was an expensive hire for Texas. 

In January, the school agreed to pay Strong $5 million annually, minus incentives and raises, as part of a five-year deal, per Chip Brown of Orangebloods.com. Additionally, Texas will pay a $4.375 million buyout to Louisville. According to Steve Berkowitz of USA Today Sports, the $9.375 million to be paid in 2014 was "the largest one-year amount paid to a public-school athletics coach since USA TODAY Sports began tracking pay of football and men's basketball coaches in 2006."

That's not including the money Texas spent to, well, "find" Strong. 

Brent Schrotenboer of USA Today reports that Texas spent $266,990 to the search firm Korn/Ferry International to help hire Strong away from the Cardinals. The numbers are broken down here: 

The executive search firm Korn/Ferry International billed Texas $250,000 for helping hire coach Charlie Strong in January, plus an administrative fee of 6 percent — $15,000. An additional invoice dated March 19 charged Texas $1,990 in expenses, mostly travel expenses for Korn/Ferry consultant Jed Hughes.

As a reference, Schrotenboer writes that Texas' coaching search "cost far more than what other public schools paid for similar services in recent years."

Former Big 12 interim commissioner and search consultant Chuck Neinas told USA Today that he charges $50,000 per search. Parker Executive Search usually charges $75,000 to $90,000, per Schrotenboer. (Rutgers paid Parker Executive Search $58,000 plus expenses to find a new athletic director in 2009, according to Darren Heitner of Forbes.com.) 

Of course, Texas isn't the first school to hire a search firm to find a coach. In many ways, the practice can be money well spent. Firms can keep the hiring process under wraps and do necessary, in-depth vetting on all credentials and background. 

However, it doesn't sound like Texas utilized that option, per Schrotenboer: 

After Strong's hiring, on Jan. 15, Korn/Ferry sent a follow-up e-mail to the office of university president Bill Powers, making sure the university did not require Korn/Ferry to "conduct employment reference checks or an education verification for Charlie Strong."

Powers replied, "Confirmed and correct."

If there's any question why this is important to schools, look no further than the University of South Florida and Manhattan basketball coach Steve Masiello. According to ESPN's Brett McMurphy, South Florida was set to sign Masiello to a five-year deal worth $6.06 million last month. However, South Florida's search firm "discovered inaccuracies in Masiello's bio" and the deal fell through. And that potential agreement was for significantly less money than Texas' contract with Strong. (Manhattan has placed Masiello on leave.)

It's easy to question why Texas spent $267,000 to hire Strong when it's obvious he's an excellent coach, but firms are paid to investigate whether everything checks out. 

The university didn't respond to the USA Today piece, and that's its prerogative. No one owes anyone an explanation. Besides, Texas has an enormous athletic budget, with which it is free to do as it sees fit. 

Except Texas athletic director Steve Patterson doesn't see it in quite the same light. Speaking with media earlier this week, Patterson cleared up a misconception about Texas' endless supply of money. 

Except for a $270,000 search firm that apparently didn't have to do a background check. As Dan Wolken of USA Today tweets, that money could have gone to the university's 85 scholarship football players. 

Let's be clear: This isn't a Texas problem; Texas is merely an example. This is a college football problem.

Paying athletes in the form of a grant-in-aid that covers the full cost of attendance has been on the agenda for major college athletics for three years now. However, the NCAA and its membership hasn't been able to come up with a solution. 

According to a document obtained by CBSSports' Dennis Dodd, the full cost of attendance could be redefined if the five most powerful conferences are granted autonomy in the new proposed NCAA governance structure. 

Until then, university bigwigs will do as much as they can to bring in the most money possible while declaring the status quo of big-time college athletics works. The only ones that get the short end of that deal are the ones who play the game. 

 

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

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Virginia Tech Football: Week 2 Spring Practice Stock Report

Now that the Virginia Tech football team’s spring practices are in full swing, some players are really starting to stand out above the rest.

The Hokies’ coaching staff has gotten a chance to take a look at some of their talented freshmen and some other players that didn’t get a chance to see the field much last year, and so far, the results are promising.

Read on for a full recap of Tech’s second week of spring practice, with a spotlight on which players saw their stock rise and which ones had it fall.

 

Carlis Parker

Carlis Parker came to Tech as a quarterback, but after switching to wide receiver in last year’s fall camp, it seems as if he’s finally comfortable in his new role.

Some injuries at the bottom of the depth chart at receiver forced him to play as a freshman, but although he appeared in 10 different games, he didn’t record a single reception.

Instead, his only real work came in the Sun Bowl, when offensive coordinator Scot Loeffler opted to use him on jet sweeps in the running game. Parker seemed to excel in this role, rushing six times for 40 yards.

Now, he seems to be poised to contribute at receiver as well, as wide receivers coach Aaron Moorehead tells the Roanoke Times’ Andy Bitter.

He’s listed behind Josh Stanford at split end on the depth chart, and while he seems unlikely to pass the more experienced veteran, Loeffler loves running four wide receiver sets that will allow him to get in on the action. 

Last year, the staff mainly used Parker as a distraction, as he would run wild fly patterns down the field to confuse opposing defenses. Based on this news, he might be able to be more than a decoy this season.

 

Wyatt Teller

New offensive line coach Stacy Searels hasn’t been afraid to mix in inexperienced players on the offensive line, and one early beneficiary is guard Wyatt Teller.

Teller moved to offensive line last season after getting recruited as a defensive tackle, and after starting at tackle, Searels shifted him over to guard this spring.

So far, the move seems to be working. On Tuesday, Teller started at right guard as Searels tried to get a look at different combinations of players on the line.

“I feel that I can hold my own, and that’s one thing I didn’t feel like I could do last year,” he told Bitter. “Everybody gets lucky, but I felt that I’m actually a little more consistent now. I can block people, I can pancake people. It’s a little bit more now." 

The guard spots are still very much in flux, with former right tackle Brent Benedict initially slated to start at right guard. However, if Teller keeps making a big impression with his technique to go along with his massive 6’5”, 296-pound frame, then he’ll have a chance to bump the veteran out of the rotation.

But Teller’s goals stretch far beyond just earning a starting spot, as he tells the Richmond Times-Dispatch’s Mike Barber.

 

David Wang

Part of the reason Teller might be able to get into the mix at guard is because of center David Wang’s continued injury troubles.

Wang started every game at center for the team last year, and as a redshirt senior, he’s certainly well versed in the system at this point.

However, he’s been hampered by lower body injuries for the bulk of his career, and they seem to be bubbling up once more, as Barber notes.

Wang suffered a similar injury at this same time last year, and even though he played through it admirably, it clearly hampered him throughout the whole season.

If these nagging injuries keep popping up, Searels might instead opt to switch guard Caleb Farris to center, a position he started at five times in 2012

That would free up both Benedict and Teller to start at the guard spots, so if Wang’s injuries persist and Teller continues to impress, that could easily be a move the staff decides on.

It’s hard to dock a player simply for getting hurt, but when the same sort of injuries keep recurring, it’s got to be considered part of evaluating that player.

 

Marshawn Williams 

With starting running back Trey Edmunds out for spring practice, Tech’s other backs on the roster have a big opportunity to step up in his absence.

So far, it’s been early-enrolled freshman Marshawn Williams that’s made the biggest impression on the staff.

Williams had a reputation as a bruising power back after his prolific career at Phoebus High School, and he seems to be proving his worth at the college level as well.

Running backs coach Shane Beamer has had nothing but positive things to say about Williams’ development, according to Barber. 

Apparently Williams’ strength has even impressed his teammates, including the monolithic Teller.

“The first day Marshawn walked out, he had this defensive lineman facemask on,” Teller told Barber. “I was like, ‘Who the hell is this kid? Am I blocking for him or is he blocking for me?’”

While J.C. Coleman is likely the first back in line to get carries behind Edmunds, it’s very much an open competition to see who else can work their way into the running back rotation.

If Williams can continue to build on his reputation as a bruiser, there’s certainly room for him to contribute next season in short-yardage situations.

 

Bucky Hodges

Much like Parker, Bucky Hodges arrived at Tech last season as a quarterback and now finds himself working with the receivers. 

However, Hodges’ 6’6”, 243-pound frame earned him a spot at tight end, and coaches are salivating about his ability at the position.

He initially turned heads during winter workouts by running a 4.46-second 40-yard dash and recording a 38.5” vertical jump.

Now that he’s gotten a chance to get on the field, he’s got the staff speculating about his potential to become the next Eric Ebron at the position. 

The Hokies already have a pair of established tight ends in Ryan Malleck and Kalvin Cline, so adding Hodges to the mix should really help the offense blossom, as Bitter explains.

The position isn’t completely new for Hodges, who played tight end in Pop Warner up through the sixth grade before transitioning to quarterback. He said running routes and pass catching comes natural to him.

That’s music to the ears of Loeffler, who’s hasn’t hidden his affection for the tight end position and already has visions of two- and possibly three-tight end sets now that he has a full complement of players. 

But that likely won’t be the end of Hodges’ usefulness. The former quarterback might just get on the field yet as a passer, if Bitter’s observations of spring drills are any indication.

The Hokies have experimented with these types of sets since the “Wild Turkey” days of Greg Boone back in 2008, so it’s interesting to see Hodges getting a chance to try it out. 

No matter how Hodges gets on the field, he should be quite the matchup problem for opposing defenses, and his development has to be among the most interesting subplots of spring practice so far.

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College Football Spring Games 2014: When and Where to Watch Marquee Programs

As March Madness begins to wind down, college football is just getting revved up.

The college football regular season won't kick off for another five months, but programs across the country are gearing up for 2014 with annual spring games. These games allow coaches to evaluate their players and see some first-year or backup players in game action. 

Not to mention they allow the marquee teams to showcase themselves to the rest of the country.

Here, we'll break down when and where to watch the top teams in action this spring.

*Click here to view the complete spring game schedule via FBSchedules.com. 

 

Do Jameis Winston and Defending Champs Have an Encore?

The Florida State Seminoles ran the table a year ago, winning every game on their schedule despite relying on a freshman quarterback week after week. 

In time, Heisman Trophy winner Jameis Winston would prove he was no average redshirt freshman. However, Winston and Florida State are set to face immense scrutiny and a brand-new challenge in 2014 as expectations soar through the roof. 

Not to mention spring practices kick off while Winston is still busy leading the Seminoles baseball team, per ESPN College Football on Twitter:

With the Noles' spring game being made available nationwide on ESPN, the talk of a potential championship repeat is sure to begin soon, as college football fans across the map will get an early look at the defending national champions. 

 

Is Auburn Here to Stay?

Exactly one week after Florida State takes to the gridiron for its spring game, BCS National Championship runner-up Auburn will take the stage on ESPN. 

Gus Malzahn's squad was seconds away from securing a second national title in four years last January but couldn't overcome Winston and the Seminoles. But with dual-threat quarterback Nick Marshall set to return for his senior season, the Tigers have high hopes for 2014.

The loss of Tre Mason in the backfield certainly hurts, but with a top-10 recruiting class coming in, the Tigers project to be a force in the SEC next season.

 

Will Nick Saban, Alabama Return to the Throne?

A gut-wrenching loss to Auburn in the Iron Bowl last November ended Alabama's stretch of dominance. But you can bet Nick Saban's Crimson Tide will be back atop the college football throne in no time.

After all, Alabama secured the top overall 2014 recruiting class, one that features six 5-star prospects, according to 247Sports. Losing quarterback A.J. McCarron certainly hurts Alabama from an experience and leadership standpoint, but there's plenty of talent at Saban's disposal.

Saban expressed optimism following Alabama's first spring practice last month, per RollTide.com:

We're certainly excited about the way the players responded in the offseason program. We had a really good offseason program. A lot of guys really made a lot of improvements, did a lot of work to get in better shape. I really like the attitude that our team had during the offseason program.

No program in America reloads quite like Alabama, and that's why the Crimson Tide are a threat to win it all each and every year. 

 

Follow Bleacher Report Featured Columnist Patrick Clarke on Twitter. 

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Auburn Football: Week 3 Spring Practice Stock Report

The defending SEC champions are past the halfway point of their 2014 spring practice schedule and are gearing up for their second scrimmage this Saturday.

Although rainy weather kept the Tigers confined to their indoor practice facilities last Saturday, this weekend's forecast is looking promising for the team to make a trip across Donahue Drive to Jordan-Hare Stadium.

Several Tigers continue to shine at new positions while the team's veterans continue working toward what they hope will be another championship-winning season on the Plains.

With eight practices down and six to go before the annual A-Day Game, let's hit the high points from the Tigers' third week of spring practice.

 

"Everybody eats" on offense in 2014

With the majority of Auburn's offensive starters returning from last season's record-breaking run to Pasadena, many on the Plains are excited about the potential of the Tigers' 2014 attack.

One of those people is sophomore wide receiver Tony Stevens, who gave reporters one of the top quotes of the spring on Tuesday:

The 6'4" wide receiver is fighting for more playing time on a more experienced offense that returns everyone except for left tackle Greg Robinson, running back Tre Mason and H-back Jay Prosch.

"Right now, we've got so many weapons on offense from the running back position to the O-line to the skills," Stevens told AL.com's Brandon Marcello

Stevens caught a jump ball from walk-on quarterback Tucker Tuberville for a touchdown in last Saturday's scrimmage, and he has been impressing teammates in what Malzahn hopes will be a more balanced offense in 2014. The sophomore is looking to be a weapon in a receiving unit that returns big-time playmaker Sammie Coates and debuts 5-star JUCO transfer D'haquille "Duke" Williams.

"We've got a lot of playmakers on offense, so it's going to be hard to roll coverage to one side to try stop one player because we've got so much talent in one room," Coates said, also per Marcello. "It's going to be crazy when everybody gets it together."

 

Dampeer already making an impact at center

Rising senior Reese Dismukes has the most secure starting spot on the Auburn depth chart, but his backup at center has wasted no time in turning heads for the Tigers this spring.

Head coach Gus Malzahn singled out Xavier Dampeer's scrimmage performance during his Tuesday press conference, per the Opelika-Auburn News' Alex Byington:

"He got in there with the first and second groups," Malzahn said. "He got a lot of reps, and that's what he needs. I thought overall for what we ask our center to do, for the first time in a scrimmage setting, I thought he did a good job."

Dampeer was the No. 1 junior college center last season and transferred early to Auburn from Copiah-Lincoln (Neb.) Community College.

The 6'2", 296-pound lineman is already looking like the next man up for Auburn behind Dismukes, who has only missed one start in three seasons of being the Tigers' first-choice center.

 

Daniel back for a banged-up defensive line

One of Auburn's biggest defensive stars is going full speed at practice once again after suffering an injury on the first play of spring camp.

Defensive end Elijah Daniel fully participated in pads Tuesday after missing almost two full weeks of spring camp with a groin injury. The rising sophomore, who recorded 2.5 sacks in his first season at Auburn, is currently competing for a starting job on a defensive line that must replace Senior Bowl MVP Dee Ford.

Although Daniel's return provided more depth for defensive coordinator Ellis Johnson's front four, a couple of Auburn defensive tackles still got reps on the edges, per Justin Hokanson of AuburnSports.com:

Wright, who goes by the handle @NineORhino on Twitter, talked about what he called the "Rhino package," a front four featuring all defensive tackles, after last Saturday's scrimmage. Auburn tight end C.J. Uzomah said the tackles moving to ends, at least for a temporary basis, has been a challenge for the offense.

“That’s something completely different than blocking against like Dee, someone who’s extremely quick and fast,” Uzomah said, per the Montgomery Advertiser's James Crepea. “Blocking against someone like Gabe and Montravius, they’re (huge).”

 

Harding moved to weak-side linebacker

Another hard-hitting Tiger is moving to a position that currently has depth issues due to injury, but this one will be making a full-time move.

Rising sophomore Khari Harding has moved from safety to weak-side linebacker, where he will work behind Kris Frost and compete with Cameron Toney for playing time. Harding recorded just one tackle in three games last season and will look to bring his big-hit potential to the linebacker slot this season.

"He's a big hitter," Malzahn told the Opelika-Auburn News' Alex Byington. "You can see that off his recruiting film. And he's made some good hits so far (at linebacker)."

Frost, who is expected to start at weak-side linebacker this season after swapping positions with new middle linebacker Cassanova McKinzy, said he has been impressed with the Oklahoma native's first few days in his new role, also per Byington.

"We expect the same things from a linebacker," Frost said. "He’s got good body size to play linebacker. He’s fast; he moves well from playing safety. His drops are really good. It’s good seeing him there."

Justin Ferguson is Bleacher Report's lead Auburn writer. Follow him on Twitter @JFergusonAU. All quotes are obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted.

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Why College Football's Final 4 Will Be Better Than March Madness' Final 4

At a little after 6:00 p.m. ET on Saturday at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas, the 2014 NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament will tip off its Final Four, officially marking the beginning of the end of college basketball season in 2013-14.

Two-hundred seventy-one days later, on the first evening of 2015, a foursome of hitherto unknown college football teams will kickoff two separate games in Pasadena, Calif., and New Orleans, respectively, officially marking the beginning of the College Football Playoff era with the first ever national semifinals.

Not much other than time and location deviates the scope of these events, which serve as the respective denouements of the two most popular collegiate sports in America. With the banishment of the BCS, football and basketball now officially use the same tourney to crown a champion from its last four remaining teams.

Arguing that one will be better than the other is not an objective exercise. If you strongly prefer football to basketball, of course the CFP will be better than the Final Four; if you strongly prefer basketball to football, of course you would figure the opposite. This is completely and totally fine.  

I, personally and subjectively, would choose the CFP over the Final Four 100 times out of 100, despite being, in my own judgement, an equal fan of both sports. And I would do so for a number of reasons.

First is something neither sport can control: novelty. There's a newness to the CFP that will exist in surplus next season and is likely not to dissipate for the resulting decade. The first iteration of a new thing is rarely the highest in quality—time is needed to iron out the folds—but it's routinely the highest in intrigue.

Even the in-season tedium, the debates about merit, the needless speculation, the diatribes against the selection committee will be interesting because they've never been done before. All of it will be awesome, even the parts that aren't awesome.

All of it will be so unseen.

But it's not just Year 1 of the CFP that will be worth watching. It will be every year. The one-game elimination system suits football better than it does basketball. In the earlier rounds of the NCAA tournament, we forgive the flukiness in exchange for upsets and, arguably, the most fun weekend in American sports. We stare blindly at the elephant in the room.

But by the time the Final Four rolls around, it is impossible not to realize—and not to acknowledge—the flaws of a one-game elimination basketball format. Especially, with the ultimate equalizer, the three-point line, sitting barely longer than it does in high school, 40 minutes does not seem an adequate sample to resolve which team is best. It seems like a series of three games (or more) would be needed.

Football is by no means a fluke-free sport. One tipped pass, one unlucky bounce of the ball, one love-blind ref throwing phantom pass interference flags is enough to make the team that played better lose the game. I would contend this happens with less frequency in football than it does in basketball, however, and would thus lead to a more satisfying conclusion. We'll feel safer the system got it right.

Here is but one more important point.

There is no way to know when, or how often, but at some point one of the national semifinals or the national championship will come down to overtime. College overtime. The best kind of overtime there is.

Imagine watching the tensest, most heartrending format of do-or-die athletics take place in a Final Four football game; picture the stakes of a two-point conversion with the fate of a season on the line. We saw how awesome such a moment could be in the 2007 Fiesta Bowl—and that game was comparatively meaningless:

We have forced ourselves to care about the "other" BCS bowls these past 16 years, and for the most part, it has worked. We care. But in the back of our minds, there has always been the sound of a nagging little voice reminding us that nothing but the one big game matters; that every other bowl is just a glorified NIT.

Slowly but surely, we have added two games to the subset of ones that truly matter. It might not be long before we add a couple more. If we were willing to pretend these BCS bowls mattered when they didn't, how much drama will there be once they actually do?

More than the basketball Final Four? You betcha. The NCAA tournament is shaped backward, crescendoing two weekends before its conclusion. Unless you are a fan of one of the teams or a warlock whose bracket is still alive, the Final Four feels more like the epilogue than the climax of the story.

The CFP will never share such a feeling.

 

Follow Brian Leigh on TwitterL @BLeighDAT

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Notre Dame Football: CB Rashad Kinlaw Dismissed from Team

Head coach Brian Kelly announced Friday morning following Notre Dame's 11th spring practice that redshirt freshman defensive back Rashad Kinlaw has been dismissed from the team.

Kelly did not provide any reason for Kinlaw’s dismissal, saying only that he was unsure if Kinlaw was still enrolled in classes at Notre Dame.

The Galloway, N.J., native battled injuries during his high-school career; he broke his leg on two occasions, slowing his adaptation to the college game. He was expected to be at minimum a special teams contributor this fall after not seeing the field in 2013.

With the arrival of freshman Nick Watkins and Florida transfer Cody Riggs this summer, Kinlaw’s chances for playing time on defense were likely to diminish both this season and in years to come. A position of need at the time of Kinlaw’s commitment in the summer of 2012, the Irish now enter the 2014 season with a cornerback unit that is both deep and talented.

The Irish are now left with seven cornerbacks on the roster, including Watkins and Riggs. Senior Matthias Farley and Jalen Brown, junior KeiVarae Russell and sophomores Devin Butler and Cole Luke make up the remainder of the group. Farley and Brown are both eligible to return for a fifth season, while another strong season for Russell could open the door for him to enter the NFL Draft.

While the loss of Kinlaw pales in comparison to the spring departures of 5-star recruits Aaron Lynch in 2012 and Gunner Kiel in 2013, Friday’s announcement is another sign of the fluid nature of a major college football roster. 

The departure of Kinlaw frees up another scholarship for Notre Dame for what should be a relatively small signing class in 2015. The Irish have five current commitments in the class, which is likely to end with somewhere between 16 and 20 signees next February.

 

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