NCAA Football News

4-Star Sterling Jenkins Narrows College Decision Down to Ohio State, Penn State

Massive Pittsburgh prospect Sterling Jenkins emerged as a heavily targeted offensive tackle during his sophomore year, fielding a long list of scholarship offers along the way. He took a significant step toward a decision Thursday by trimming his choices to two programs, reports Rivals.com analyst Adam Friedman:

The 6'8", 305-pound Baldwin High School junior is focused on Penn State and Ohio State for the final stretch of his recruiting process. The 4-star recruit is rated the nation's No. 5 offensive tackle in 247Sports' composite rankings.

He also carries the distinction as Pennsylvania's No. 1 player in those rankings.

The Nittany Lions hold commitments from three of the top-seven Pennsylvania prospects, including fellow offensive lineman Ryan Bates, and Saquon Barkley and Andre Robinson, a pair of in-state 4-star running backs, are also on board as Penn State pieces together its future rushing attack.

Penn State's first-year head coach James Franklin is currently the hottest recruiter in college football. He's secured 11 commitments since Feb. 15 and the team now sits at No. 2 nationally in 247Sports composite team rankings for the Class of 2015.

Jenkins has apparently paid attention to the program's rapid rise:

So could he be that commit?

Jenkins is a frequent visitor in Happy Valley. He attended a February junior day and followed up with another trip to campus in late March.

Earlier this week, Pittsburgh Tribune-Review reporter Chris Adamski provided strong insight on Jenkins' relationship with Penn State after a conversation with Baldwin head coach Pete Wagner:

Ohio State may be the underdog here, but head coach Urban Meyer should never be counted out when it comes to closing with a recruit. He'll get at least one more opportunity to pitch Ohio State to Jenkins, as the coveted tackle is expected in Columbus on April 11.

However, the battle remains uphill with Jenkins visiting Penn State the next day. He'll be in attendance for the team's spring game, presenting the possibility of another pivotal pledge for Franklin.

Several squads who spent substantial time in pursuit of Jenkins were left out of his top two. Michigan, Ole Miss, Georgia and Pittsburgh must search for options elsewhere.

James Franklin entered the Big Ten Conference fray just three months ago, but he's already locked in a one-on-one showdown with Meyer, a two-time national champion. The newcomer appears to have an edge here, and it could soon push Penn State to a top-ranked recruiting class.

 

Recruiting rankings and information courtesy of 247Sports unless otherwise noted.

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If RB Alex Collins Is Unhappy, Jonathan Williams Can Carry the Load for Arkansas

It's been a relatively quiet spring in the SEC this season, but that doesn't mean all has been quiet on the rumor front.

According to Robbie Neiswanger of the Arkansas News Bureau, there were rumblings over Arkansas' spring break that star Razorback running back Alex Collins was unhappy with his place within the program.

When Neiswanger asked if Collins had mentioned transferring, running backs coach Joel Thomas was caught off guard by the rumors.

"That’s the first news that it’s been told to me,” Thomas said. “You’ll have to ask Alex on that if that’s the case.”

So far, Collins hasn't offered any public comment on this specific subject, but he has posted "WPS" (short for "woo pig, sooie") several times this week on his personal Twitter account.

WholeHogSports.com reported that he was suspended for one week during offseason conditioning in February, during which time he was also removed from social media.

It's never a good thing if your star running back who rushed for 1,026 yards as a true freshman in a woefully one-dimensional offense is debating his future. But if he is unhappy and either stays in head coach Bret Bielema's doghouse or moves on, Arkansas' running game will still be fine.

The primary reason is Jonathan Williams.

The rising junior running back had 150 carries for 900 yards and four touchdowns last season in the very same one-dimensional offense. At 6'0", 223 pounds, he's fully capable of taking the pounding between the tackles and has the juice to run away from opposing defenses when he gets out in space.

He can handle the load if given the opportunity.

Bielema's track record also bodes well for Arkansas' running game, regardless of who's toting the rock.

In his eight years as a head coach at Wisconsin and Arkansas, nine running backs have gone north of 1,000 yards for the season. Those offenses typically employed a run-first, run-second and run-third scheme, although there was a bit more diversity at Wisconsin than the Hogs showed last season.

Collins is a great running back in a great system for running backs. Williams is a very good running back in a great system for running backs. Either way, the system won't change.

If there's any truth to the rumors that Neiswanger referenced, it'd be more of a public relations hit than anything else. After all, it's not a good thing if the reigning Associated Press SEC Freshman of the Year is unhappy. 

On the field, though, fielding a competent running game is the last of Bielema's worries.

Williams' ability to shoulder the load, coupled with Bielema's resume that's loaded with 1,000-yard rushers, is the least of Arkansas' worries.

 

Barrett Sallee is the lead SEC college football writer for Bleacher Report. All stats are courtesy of Sports-Reference.com. 


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College Football Playoff Committee Doesn't Need a Recusal Policy

The College Football Playoff committee, charged with selecting the four-team playoff beginning in the 2014 season, has put together a recusal policy for its 13 members. The proposal is now being considered by the 10 conference commissioners for approval.

Let's hope that policy proposal is just a blank piece of paper.

Why? Because frankly the committee should not need it. And having a recusal policy is worse than not actually having one.

The recusal policy is a copycat legacy from the selection committees of other NCAA sports, particularly basketball, where committee members have to excuse themselves when their institutions are up for discussion. It's there to give an air of transparency and propriety.

But it doesn't really work.

While it's a nice cover, most of the time the recused member often returns to the room only to find that his school was treated fabulously by his cohorts. It's not hard to figure why—when you have to spend 72 hours breathing the same stale air and eating day-old cold pizza, you're not going to antagonize your fellow inmate if you don't have to.

And the concept of a recusal policy particularly is ill-suited for the College Football Playoff committee.

Unlike the selection committees for other sports, this committee is composed of an eclectic assortment of individuals, not just a bunch of athletic directors and conference commissioners. Only five of the 13 members are active ADs, and a majority of them don't currently work in college athletics.

They come from diverse backgrounds, often with a long list of employment history. Most of them have advanced degrees and attended multiple colleges. It would be absurd to ask them to recuse themselves just because somewhere along the road they once drew a paycheck or earned a diploma from an institution in question.

Take Tyrone Willingham, who's been a head coach at three schools and an assistant at a handful of others. If he has to leave the room every time one of those schools comes up for discussion, he might as well find a sofa in the hallway and get comfortable.

And where do you draw the line beyond employers and alma maters? Archie Manning's son Peyton went to Tennessee, whereas Oliver Luck's son Andrew went to Stanford. How about the chair, Jeff Long, who was a high school teammate of Michigan coach Brady Hoke and whose wife is from Ann Arbor?

The bottom line is that these are grownups who have over 100 years of experience in college athletics, not to mention government, military, business, law and journalism. They should know how to handle themselves even in a messy situation—that's why they're on the committee in the first place. 

If a playoff spot is up for grabs involving one of the schools near and dear to a committee member, he or she should stay in the room and be part of the discussion. The committee then should be able to rigorously and intelligently defend its decision, without the cop-out of a recusal policy.

We expect nothing less. 

Follow on Twitter @ThePlayoffGuru

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College Football's 5 New National Championship Contenders for 2014

One of the great things about college football is its propensity for change. As the game has grown across America, so has parity. College players don’t have lifetime contracts. They’re around for four years (or in some cases, three) and they’re gone—on to the NFL or the next phase of their lives.

Coaches must recruit to replace their departed stars, and if they make mistakes (or have assistants move on), they fall back to the pack.

In the last 14 years, 11 teams have won national titles or pieces of national titles. Florida State’s BCS national title broke up the Southeastern Conference’s seven-year run of national dominance, but even in that time, four league teams (Alabama, Auburn, Florida and LSU) won national titles.

The introduction of the College Football Playoff and its four-team format figures to make the national title chase even more interesting, with four teams instead of two battling for national glory.

Much like Auburn and Florida State a year ago, a new pack of teams could emerge to seriously challenge for the national title.

Here are five teams that could make the leap to become national championship contenders this fall.

Connect with Greg on Twitter @gc_wallace

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If a 3rd Straight Freshman Wins the Heisman, Here Are the Likely Candidates

I set out to find the next Johnny Manziel or Jameis Winston, taking on such tasks with the bravado of an offseason scholar. Of course there’s another freshman poised for stardom and, in turn, a Heisman Trophy.

The last few years showed us this was very possible.

As I dove deep into the catalog of talented quarterbacks with lacking reps heading into spring, however, it dawned on me just how incredibly remarkable these last two years have been.

In consecutive seasons, the eventual Heisman winner entered his breakout year with no in-game experience and no box score presence to speak of. The on-the-job processing necessary to turn a debut season into a Heisman season happened for both Manziel and Winston, each operating with vastly different styles.

Now, as a fresh batch of freshmen quarterbacks begin a similar crash course, it’s fair to wonder if the streak will continue. It’s fair to even wonder if we’ll ever see a streak like this again.

Perhaps the Manziel and Winston years will appear as outliers in time. Or, maybe this is just the start of a powerful youth movement at the most powerful position in all of sports.

If that is the case, it doesn’t hurt examining some potential—albeit unlikely—quarterback candidates poised to seize the baton.

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South Carolina Football: Spring Practice Week 3 Stock Report

COLUMBIA, S.C — A big emphasis in South Carolina's spring practice thus far has been the search for a backup for starting quarterback Dylan Thompson.

The battle was supposed to be between sophomore Brendan Nosovitch and redshirt freshman Connor Mitch.

Oh yeah, and Perry Orth, a walk-on, is out there too.

Well, with the spring game a week away, Orth has managed to play his way from afterthought to front-runner.

Even so, he knows his position is tenuous.

"I don't think that's written in stone," said Orth, a 6'1", 211-pound sophomore. "Me, Brendan and Connor are still out there competing, trying to to figure out who's going to be the best guy come the fall."

 

Just Chillin'

As established starters with nothing much to prove, both Thompson and running back Mike Davis haven't gotten much work in scrimmages this spring. 

They're OK with it, to a point. 

“I don’t want to come out here and stand on the sidelines and root everybody else on,” Thompson said after Thursday’s practice. “That’s cool when I have to, but I want to be out there in the action. I don’t care who is out there, I just want to be out there helping the team, and the more I’m out there, the more I learn. It just helps us.”

In each of South Carolina’s first two scrimmages, Thompson, a fifth-year senior, has led a touchdown drive on the first possession, then turned it over to the backups.

Davis, a junior, has done even less this spring, but it’s understandable. He’s even more of a proven commodity than Thompson.

He rushed for 1,134 yards and 11 touchdowns last season and is firmly entrenched as the Gamecocks’ top tailback.

“It’s a nice feeling,” he said, “but I like to compete. They may say the starting job is mine, but I don’t feel like it’s mine. I just go out there and compete and try to help the other guys the best I can.”

Davis has been able to sit back and watch the competition for the backup spot at tailback. He says to keep an eye on redshirt freshman David Williams.

"Everybody has been impressive in their own way," Davis said. "I don't know if you guys have looked at David Williams, he's fast strong. He reminds me of Adrian Peterson."

Williams has been limited the last three practices with a hamstring injury.

 

Through Thompson's Eyes

Thompson has practiced with a "helmet cam" this week, recording things from his viewpoint.

"It's good because it's kind of like, 'through my  eyes,'" Thompson said. "You get to see what I'm looking at on certain plays, why I'm checking out of a play and getting into something better or maybe when I make a mistake. It also has audio, so they get to hear what I'm saying. It's pretty cool."

 

Offensive Line Looking Good

South Carolina offensive line coach Shawn Elliott is pleased with the play of his offensive line thus far.

"I'm pretty pleased with the first-team guys, although it's not completely set," Elliott said. "But it's a pretty good group right now."

The only starter Elliott has to replace is right guard Ronald Patrick. Mike Matulis, an oft-injured junior, is now healthy and has gotten most of the work with the first unit at right guard after moving over from tackle.

"Mike has been real consistent at right guard," Elliott said. "You've got to be real athletic to play tackle. If you can play the tackle position and play with leverage, you can move inside."

 

All quotes obtained firsthand unless otherwise indicated.

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LSU Football: What to Watch for in Tigers' 2014 Spring Game

LSU wraps up spring practice on Saturday, when it will hold its annual spring game at 2 p.m. ET at Tiger Stadium in Baton Rouge. 

The question on everybody's mind is, what will the new-look Tigers look like?

Head coach Les Miles and his staff are forced to replace quarterback Zach Mettenberger, running back Jeremy Hill, two 1,000-yard receivers and two monster defensive tackles. 

A tough task, sure. But LSU has been in full-on reload mode even before Les Miles took over has head coach before the 2005 season.

What should you look for on Saturday in Death Valley during LSU's spring game?

 

Who's the Man?

LSU typically releases stats for its quarterbacks during scrimmages, but so far this spring, information has been hard to come by. Sure, there have been some numbers released. Last week, quarterbacks combined to throw for 295 yards, as true sophomore Anthony Jennings and true freshman Brandon Harris both took snaps with the first-team offense.

In quotes released by LSU, Miles said:

Both quarterbacks threw the ball better and made improvement. I think it continues to be a very competitive situation. I think both quarterbacks show skill and there are opportunities to change things and improve. I think that is what both quarterbacks are working to do.

Vague? Yes. 

Probably on purpose.

Miles and offensive coordinator Cam Cameron haven't allowed a ton of information to get out during spring practice, but they won't be able to control the message on Saturday when the two players take the field on the biggest stage of spring.

This won't be a case of the offensive staff hiding the offense from the outside world. They're going to want to know how each player handles the pressure that goes along with being a starting quarterback in the SEC and will likely give them as much of the playbook as possible to see how they handle it. 

It's not like Jennings has a ton of starting experience. He came in for an injured Mettenberger late against Arkansas and led the Tigers on a 99-yard game-winning drive but was less than stellar in his only career start in the Outback Bowl against Iowa.

If Harris can impress in the spring game, it will give the coaching staff plenty to think about during the summer conditioning period.

 

Men in the Middle

LSU's defense is at its best when it has two monsters controlling the line of scrimmage in the interior defensive line.

They don't have that this spring.

Anthony Johnson and Ego Ferguson are gone to the NFL, and defensive coordinator John Chavis has been searching for anything to plug those holes this spring.

Who will those players be?

Junior Quentin Thomas, sophomore Christian LaCouture and freshman Maquedius Bain are just a few of the players vying for playing time.

Even in the day and age of creative offenses, the SEC is still a line-of-scrimmage league.

How will running backs Terrence Magee and Kenny Hilliard fare between the tackles? Can the Tigers defense get pressure up the middle? These are questions to keep an eye on this Saturday, because if LSU can solidify the interior defensive line, the rest of the pieces of the defense will fall into place.

 

Meet Me Outside

For the first time in school history LSU had two receivers go north of the 1,000-yard mark, when Jarvis Landry and Odell Beckham Jr. did it last season. Now, for the first time in school history, LSU has to replace two 1,000-yard receivers from the previous season.

Who's going to step up outside?

Sophomore Travin Dural is one likely candidate. He caught the 49-yard touchdown from Jennings to beat Arkansas and is LSU's most accomplished returning receiver. The problem, though, is that he only has 145 receiving yards for his career.

There's still plenty of talent for Cameron to work with at wide receiver, but several of those players have missed some time this spring. According to David Ching of ESPN.com, John Diarse, Avery Peterson and Kevin Spears have all been hampered by injuries this spring. Who will step up?

Keep an eye on 6'4", 175-pound senior Quantavius Leslie. His height presents matchup nightmares for opposing defensive backs, and his speed makes him a pure home run threat. A strong performance in the spring game would come on the heels of a 135-yard, three-touchdown performance in a scrimmage last week, according to B/R's Carter Bryant, and place him near the front of the pack during summer conditioning.

 

Evolution

The most important person this offseason in LSU's program isn't a quarterback, a running back or a defensive tackle. It's offensive coordinator Cam Cameron.

Cameron has a track record of producing potent offenses that pound the rock and then take the top off of a defense when safeties creep up. He can still do that in 2014 at LSU, but it's going to have to look a little different.

Whether it's Jennings or Harris who wins the quarterback job, he's going to have to implement some designed quarterback runs and zone read into the playbook to fit the strengths of his two quarterbacks.

What wrinkles will Cameron put in for the spring game? How do the quarterbacks and the offensive line handle it? Can he evolve with his quarterbacks, or is LSU's offense destined to be a square peg trying to fit into a round hole?

We'll know a little bit more Saturday night.

 

* Barrett Sallee is the lead SEC college football writer for Bleacher Report. All statistical information is courtesy of CFBStats.com.

 


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Florida Gators Football: Week 3 Spring Practice Stock Report

Both the Florida Gators basketball and football teams have been hard at work this week. The basketball team is preparing for another national championship run, and the football team is busy getting yelled at and sweating it out in hopes of creating a turnaround season.

The Gators have had two spring practices over the last week, and the April 12 spring game is right around the corner.

It’s been much of the same this spring, as the coaching staff continues to preach tempo and is searching for guys from key position battles to step up.

Here’s the biggest spring takeaways from Week 3.

 

The Good and Bad of the Defensive Tackles 

With Dominique Easley no longer around to lean on in the middle of the defensive line, the Florida coaching staff knew that it was time for players to grow up. The Gators have a handful of talented prospects at defensive tackle, but they lack experience.

Leon Orr has missed the spring with a wrist injury, Darious Cummings has missed time for personal matters, and Jonathan Bullard has gone from defensive end to defensive tackle. Besides those three guys, Will Muschamp and Co. have reason to be concerned, according to Thomas Goldkamp of 247Sports (subscription required):

"I’ve seen some positive things just very inconsistent once we get past that first group. The drop down is way too big. Way too much of a separation between the groups."

Teams win and lose games in the SEC with their defensive line. With the physical play, teams must have defensive line depth so guys can rotate in and out and stay fresh. Right now, Florida is relying on redshirt freshmen Jaynard Bostwick, Antonio Riles and Caleb Brantley to provide that depth. 

While this is clearly a concern heading into the spring game, Bullard has learned to accept becoming a defensive tackle. Bullard came to Florida as a highly recruited defensive end and wasn’t exactly thrilled when told he was moving inside. However, he told Jeff Barlis of ESPN that he’s catching on to the position change:

All offseason I’ve been working at it because I know we’re kind of light there now and had a couple of players out, so I was going to play a lot of it, he said. Now I’ve got the hang of it and I can read things better at D-tackle like I could at end. Now it’s kind of even. 

To be honest, I’m actually trying to embrace it and enjoy it rather than last year, not wanting to but knowing I had to. So now I'm trying to embrace it and do it at a high level.

Bullard has the potential to be an all-conference player and help take the Florida defensive line to the next level. 

 

Quarterback Update 

Ah yes, what’s a spring update article without mentioning the quarterback? I think it’s pretty obvious that Jeff Driskel is going to be the starter with the way offensive coordinator Kurt Roper has been drooling over him throughout the week. It’s now time to turn our attention to the backup position.

Skyler Mornhinweg and Will Grier have been duking it out, but it now seems like that race isn’t even that close, according to Zach Abolverdi of Gator Sports:

Grier received the majority of the second-team reps Monday and is a step closer to winning the backup job. Like Driskel, he had just one poor pass and was on target with the rest of his attempts. Near the end of practice, he launched a perfectly-thrown deep ball that would have been a touchdown had Andre Debose kept running instead of misjudging and turning around on his route.

Florida knew it was getting an extremely talented quarterback when Grier signed on the dotted line earlier this season, and he’s clearly living up to the hype early in spring ball. Making Grier the backup quarterback likely means there’s absolutely no plans to redshirt him this season. It also means that there will be added pressure on Driskel this season.

Hey, if Grier is good enough to earn a backup job as a true freshman, he’s certainly good enough to see starting playing time if Driskel continues to struggle during the regular season.

 

Extra Points 

True freshman J.C. Jackson, who won't enroll until the fall, hurt his shoulder, according to Goldkamp:

Asked Muschamp after whether J.C. Jackson needs shoulder surgery and he said he hurt it playing some schoolyard football (something like that) and they're looking into whether he needs surgery on that.

Jackson is a two-way player, who at the very least would have seen playing time this season in nickel packages and on special teams. Florida fans can only hope the injury isn't as serious as Muschamp made it sound.

Wide receiver Demarcus Robinson continues to blossom in spring ball and should be putting a grin on your face if you bleed orange and blue.

Until next week. 

Enjoy!

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USC Football: Week 3 Spring Practice Stock Report

Another week of spring practices has come and gone at USC, and while the tempo is quick on the field, slow and steady seems to be the name of the game as far as overall progression is concerned. That's because depth is still a major issue in Troy, and head coach Steve Sarkisian has no reason to rush during this part of the offseason.

No major developments came out of Troy this week, but there has been some notable progression in the quarterbacks battle.

That said, here's a recap of what went down in spring ball this week.

 

Quarterbacks Call Plays

The quarterback duel between Cody Kessler and Max Browne rages on, and the pair gained a new responsibility. 

While each is trying to prove he has the mechanics to be USC's starter in the fall, Kessler and Browne are now beginning to demonstrate they have the vocal presence to lead as well. The learning curve of the new offense is getting steeper, but as they have been calling plays for only two practices, there's no indication yet as to who is ahead in this facet of the competition. 

Each week, we can expect a new element to be thrown at them, and the quarterback that displays the most skill and the most confidence will be the one who ultimately wins the job. 

In post-practice interviews, Sark elaborated on what his short-term goals are for Kessler and Browne and how that will translate in the fall, according to Alicia de Artola from Reign of Troy:

Right now we’re focused on getting these two guys really prepared to play at a championship level, regardless of the situation, regardless of home, away, crowd noise, weather, who our opponent is. I just want them to be able to step on the field knowing that they’ve prepared in a really hostile, tough environment. We make practice as hard as we can on them so that when the game rolls around for those two guys they’re going to perform great.

The play-calling will be something to watch in the coming weeks, as it will have a significant impact on whether Kessler continues to maintain his lead in the competition or if Browne can turn the tables in his favor.

 

Injury Report

The Trojans have less than 60 healthy bodies to work with this spring, so keeping them all active is critically important to this early learning period. Fortunately, no major injuries have befallen anyone in Troy yet. 

That said, two of USC's most important playmakers did miss practice this week, though it should not be cause for alarm:

Both players sustained those minor dings during the scrimmage on Saturday and are being kept out just as a precaution.

As previously mentioned, slow and steady is the name of the rehabilitation game at USC. Sark told the media after practice on Thursday:

As players come and go from the spring rotation, it will really open up opportunities for guys buried on the depth chart (including walk-ons) to make their own waves. That will be something to note this weekend: Guys like fullback Jahleel Pinner and walk-on tailback James Toland will be getting some face time, as Tre Madden is currently the only available scholarship running back. 

George Farmer, the oft-injured wide receiver that is finally having a productive spring, also tweaked his knee on Saturday and subsequently didn't practice much this week. However, Sark and the coaches are liking what they have seen from Farmer, and there is optimism that he will be back in the rotation soon. 

“As you’re coming back from a knee injury, half of it physical of the knee getting physically right. The other half is mental, of believing that your knee is right,” Sarkisian told the media about Farmer's progression.

Beyond these minor hang-ups, the Trojans are managing to stay relatively healthy, which is exactly what Sark and the coaches want as they install their new scheme. 

 

Work Hard, Play Hard

In a bit of a fun moment during Thursday's practice, the Trojans did something out of the ordinary:

One of the staple elements of former head coach Pete Carroll's tenure was a fun, energetic practice atmosphere. It seems that Sarkisian has wasted no time in bringing those kinds of elements back to Troy. 

After the Trojans cut a rug for a few minutes, winners were crowned:

It was a brief moment, but it's those little bonding instances that really forge relationships between a team and a new coaching staff. 

As a whole, Sarkisian seems to be very happy with how the team is coming together under his leadership:

Sark has touched on the team mentality before, but the fact that the Trojans are establishing an identity amidst so many changes is a good sign about what they will be able to handle come the fall. Under Lane Kiffin, USC often shied away from greatness and disappeared in the face of prime competition.

Sark is preaching a message of toughness, and the team seems to be responding favorably to that. 

And if they have a little fun along the way, that's all good, too.

The Trojans will have another practice at the Coliseum on Saturday, and like last week, it will feature a short live-tackling period. 

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Boise State Football: Week 4 Spring Practice Stock Report

The Boise State football team returned to practice after a week off for spring break. From all indications it was another productive and positive week for the Broncos, but now it's crunch time as they prepare for two scrimmages in the next eight days.

The first scrimmage will be held on Saturday April 5 at 5 p.m., and it will be open only to the media, invited guests, Boise State faculty, staff and students.

Chadd Cripe of the Idaho Statesman had an excellent breakdown of head coach Bryan Harsin's weekly press conference this week. In the article, Cripe quotes Harsin and his thoughts about the benefits of a campus community only scrimmage. Harsin said: 

They're a huge support system for us, not just on game day. We do have student-athletes who play for us. There's a lot more to it than what goes on on game day. It's more about an appreciation of what they do for us, what they've done for us and what they can do for us.

This campus community scrimmage is something new for the Broncos in 2014, and another sign that the football team is definitely under new management.

The second scrimmage will be held April 12 at 5 p.m., and it will be the annual blue and orange spring game which is open to any and all who purchase tickets.

Boise State also released another all-access video this week, which brings the total to four such videos this spring, with the promise of a fifth one right around the corner. Like the campus-only scrimmage, these videos are a new addition to the spring routine, and so far they have been well received.

As far as the action on the field, several players stood out this week. Senior wide receiver Matt Miller was named in the list of players of the day twice this week, bringing his spring total to three.

Other notable players making the list this week were offensive lineman Travis Averill and defensive tackle Armand Nance.

A new name unfamiliar to many Boise State fans also found mention, as redshirt freshman wide receiver David McKinzie was named special teams player of the day on April 2.

A local player also made the grade in week four. Redshirt freshman wide receiver D.J. Dean made "several tough catches," according to BroncoSports.com, and that was good enough for him to be named offensive player of the day. Dean played his high school football at Eagle High School in Eagle, Idaho.

Cornerbacks Donte Deayon, Bryan Douglas and Jonathan Moxey also made the player of the day lists, but it was running backs and linebackers recognized as position groups of the day.

The next week of action is going to be a crucial one for the Broncos. Not only will they hold a pair of scrimmages on consecutive Saturdays, but they will also host about 100 high school juniors during those crucial scrimmage days.

Cripe also quotes Harsin about how important those visits can be:

We get a chance to meet them face to face and then take them through the facilities. They get to see the coaches coach. The biggest thing is being around in this environment. That’s why guys want to be on your campus and be around you. They know the stats. They’ve seen the games. They’ve watched the film. Does this environment fit? You want to make a good first impression when the guys come in here.

Harsin and his staff continue to install a brand new offense and defense this spring. Boise State fans will get their first look at the progress on April 12. It will be interesting to see how familiar it all looks to die hard fans who have been clamoring for more of what Boise State is about.

With Harsin's motto of "embrace the past, attack the future" you have to think there will be enough of a shadow to satisfy the traditional fan, but enough creativity to bring excitement and newness to it all as well.

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Texas Football: Winners and Losers from Longhorns' Spring Practice so Far

Seven spring practices in, and the cream is beginning to rise to the top for the Texas Longhorns under Charlie Strong.

As expected, Texas' more physical players have stood out among the rest. During Tuesday's press conference, Strong cited defensive studs Cedric Reed, Quandre Diggs and Malcom Brown as some of most impressive players of the spring. And to give the offense some praise, he also expressed his admiration for running back Malcolm Brown and his physical running style.

Less predictable is Strong's endorsement of his skill players. Marcus Johnson continues to grow into a top-flight receiving option, while the new head coach continues to harp on Daje Johnson's potential to be a great player.

These guys are emerging as winners of the coaching and culture change. Unfortunately, a fan favorite is not having the same luck.

Unless otherwise noted, all Texas stats and information courtesy of TexasSports.com and all recruiting information courtesy of 247Sports.com.

 

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Michigan Football: Week 5 Spring Practice Stock Report

Brady Hoke is pleased with the progress his team has made over the final week of spring football.

“We’ve seen improvement across the board,” said Hoke, addressing the media prior to the team’s final regular practice. “Systematically, on both sides of ball, we’re doing a really good job.”

Fans aren't the only ones eagerly awaiting Saturday’s public scrimmage.

Hoke looks forward to playing outdoors after poor weather has limited his team to its indoor practice facility, saying, “It’s always good to see [our team] play in the stadium.”

There was also encouraging news from the team’s last scrimmage.

“We had more explosive plays this weekend than we did the week before,” said Hoke. “We had no turnovers—which was huge—in about a 129-play scrimmage.”

Hoke emphasized the need for his team to get as many reps as possible: 

“We want to get as much stuff as you can on tape, because that becomes an important teaching tool during the summer and fall camp.”

 

Doug Nussmeier Update

A consistent refrain this spring is how Doug Nussmeier has transformed the offense—from an increased practice pace to the intensity of his interaction with players.

But Hoke isn’t surprised with what he’s seen from him so far:

”He's not doing anything I didn't expect him to come in and do—from the intensity of how he coaches, to developing quarterbacks and paying attention to the details that you have to at every position on offense."


Offensive Line Update

“The competition is really good,” said Hoke. But he declined to say if had the starting five in mind, saying, “It’s too close to call, I’m glad we have some time to make the decision.”

A possible indication of the how the position group is coming along is Hoke’s assessment of early enrollee Mason Cole, “…is guy who has really impressed.”

Freshmen rarely compete for playing time on the offensive line. If Cole seizes a starting position this fall, he’ll prove the exception to the rule.


Running Back Battle

Derrick Green and De’Veon Smith continue to battle in practice, with Justice Hayes being in the mix.

“[If] De’Veon has a bad snap or Justice Hayes has a bad snap, Derrick has a good snap. You’ve got to respond,” said Hoke. “They’re doing a great job of that.”

Green, 20 pounds lighter since last season, continues to impress.

“He looks better, he’s probably balance is better, vision is better, just more quickness through coming out of the holes.”

Doug Nussmeier has stated that he believes in using multiple backs, and the position group is working to give him multiple options.


Early Enrollee Update

Hoke mentioned both wide receiver Freddy Canteen and offensive lineman Mason Cole as competing well during the spring.

Freshman wide receiver Drake Harris has re-injured his hamstring and has not been practicing with the team. Harris missed his entire high school senior season because of hamstring problems, but this recent injury is not considered to be a serious setback.

 

Last Season’s Struggles

“There’s usually 6-8 plays per game…where someone has to make the play to [be successful],” said Hoke. “One of the our biggest fallbacks was being mentally tough enough in the grind.”

Hoke refused to issue his annual “I like this team” declaration but said that winning the Big Ten championship would help convince him to do so.

 

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.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

UCLA Football: Week 1 Spring Practice Stock Report

Spring practice has officially begun for the UCLA Bruins. 

Despite being only two practices in, significant developments have already taken place. A key member of the team last season has been officially dismissed. Two other expected contributors have also been temporarily removed from the squad. 

However, not all is bad news for the Bruins. Various young players have flashed in the early going. The continued brilliance of Brett Hundley has also been on full display. 

Here's a stock report from the first week of spring practice for the UCLA Bruins. 

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Georgia Football: An Updated Look at the Defensive Spring Depth Chart

The first official spring scrimmage for the Georgia Bulldogs took place on Saturday, giving the coaches an opportunity to evaluate the players and see if any changes needed making to the depth chart.

According to Gentry Estes of 247Sports (subscription required), that turned out to be the case, with the Bulldogs shaking things up on defense during Tuesday's practice.

The most notable change saw Brendan Langley move from cornerback to safety. Another change saw Ray Drew moved down from the first team to the second team.

As we get closer to the G-Day game, let’s take a closer look at the Bulldogs spring defensive depth chart.

Note: J.J. Green and Sheldon Dawson are not listed because they have been playing the "Star" position, which is only used when the Bulldogs are in a nickel formation. 

Begin Slideshow

Penn State Football: Recruits That Would Give PSU Top Class in the Nation

After only a few months, Penn State head coach James Franklin has turned the program into a recruiting juggernaut. If the next few days yields verbals from one or two highly touted prospects, the Nittany Lions could even have the best class in the country. 

All three of the major high school football recruiting services—247Sports, Rivals and Scout—have Penn State's 2015 class ranked as the second-best in college football. The overall quality of the class (which features 11 commits) trails only Texas A&M (nine commits). 

After recent pledges from 4-star recruits Josh Barajas and Steven Gonzalez, many fans thought Penn State's class would grab a hold of the top spot nationally. That hasn't happened yet, but Franklin and Co. are certainly on the verge of it.

Here are a few players who, if they commit soon, would likely give Penn State the top class in the country. 

 

Tim Settle

A 5-star defensive tackle from Virginia, Tim Settle has collected over 30 scholarship offers from some of the nation's top schools. One of those schools is Penn State, which will host him for a visit this weekend: 

If the wounds from Thomas Holley's decommitment are still fresh for Nittany Lion fans, nabbing Settle would almost certainly heal those. The 6'3", 318-pound monster, who's athletic for his size and has a quick first step, could slide into the starting lineup as a freshman. Defensive line coach Sean Spencer would love to get his hands on a talent like Settle.

The sweepstakes for his services appear to be wide open at this point, with recruiting experts predicting a variety of schools as his eventual landing spot. In this case, Penn State's coaching staff needs to make a lasting impression this weekend.

Settle is ranked as the fourth-best defensive tackle in the country, and the No. 21 prospect overall. His future is certainly bright wherever he lands, as Rod Johnson of VirginiaPreps.com said last summer that Settle has "unlimited potential." For Penn State, getting Settle to commit would be a huge statement for he program. 

 

John Reid

Secondary is an area of need for Penn State in the 2015 recruiting cycle, and 4-star cornerback John Reid is arguably the program's top target in that category.

Reid was on hand for Penn State's junior day back in February. The program has been interested in him for quite some time, dating back to before former head coach Bill O'Brien even coached his first game. 

The Pennsylvania native has very good instincts. His recovery speed and change of direction are also impressive, and he's a solid tackler to boot.

In case he needed it, Franklin is getting help in luring Reid. Running back Andre Robinson, who committed in late February, has said he'd try to convince Reid to follow him to State College: 

Rated as the sixth-best cornerback in the country, Reid is starting to garner some serious national attention. He picked up an Alabama offer in early March and also recently visited Notre Dame. Many recruiting pundits think Penn State is the heavy favorite to land him, but Franklin should try to lock him up before another team swoops in. 

A commitment from Reid would easily give Penn State the best class in the country, while asserting James Franklin's dominance over the commonwealth. 

 

Sterling Jenkins

Like Whitehead, 4-star offensive tackle Sterling Jenkins could also be nearing a verbal commitment. He recently dropped Pitt from consideration, and narrowed his list down to two teams: Penn State and Ohio State.

According to Chris Adamski of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, Jenkins' high school coach has indicated that the Nittany Lions are his top choice:

He's one of the top players in Pennsylvania, and for good reason. Jenkins already has elite size (6'8", 305 lbs), and seems every bit the part of a bookend left tackle. With Donovan Smith slowly approaching an NFL career, there will soon be a hole at that position in Happy Valley.

Jenkins was in State College for Penn State's junior day back in February. Of the prospects on campus that weekend, five have since committed to the program.

Penn State has slowly emerged as the favorite to land Jenkins, and envisioning him in blue and white isn't as hard as it once was. He'd instantly provide the Nittany Lions with the boost needed to supplant Texas A&M in the national rankings.

 

Unless noted, all recruiting rankings and information came courtesy of 247Sports.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Ohio State Football: Week 4 Spring Practice Stock Report

The weather finally broke in Ohio, and for the first time this spring, Urban Meyer and the Buckeyes felt the sun on their shoulders as they ran through drills on the outside practice field this week.

It was a short-lived experience, though, as extreme winds forced Ohio State back into the confines of the Woody Hayes Athletic Center midway through Tuesday's practice.

Under roof or sunshine, however, the Buckeyes kept grinding through spring drills. Here's the latest news out of Columbus.

 

Biggest Storylines

Another week of practice produced another significant injury to a key starter.

It was announced on Tuesday that starting tight end Jeff Heuerman would be out for the remainder of spring practice after suffering a foot sprain and undergoing surgery last week.

It was Heuerman's second injury of the offseason—he broke his nose in a weight-lifting accident in March—but he's only expected to miss six weeks.

Heuerman joins a long list of walking wounded for the Buckeyes. Braxton Miller hasn't seen a bit of action as he recovers from shoulder surgery. Vonn Bell went down with an MCL sprain during the team's first spring practice, an injury that sidelined him until the summer. Two weeks later, Ohio State lost Jalin Marshall for the spring after he underwent surgery to repair a torn meniscus.

Needless to say, it has been a tough spring on the injury front.

On the field, the Buckeyes are working through some dramatic changes defensively.

Meyer brought in Chris Ash to replace Everett Withers as co-defensive coordinator, and with that, the Buckeyes are adapting his aggressive pass defense.

Over the last two years, Ohio State had its corners playing off the line in scrimmage. The theory behind that strategy was to give the corner a better view of the play as it evolved, but the results weren't there. The Buckeyes ranked No. 110 out of 123 teams in pass defense last season, prompting Ash's dramatic change.

This spring, the Buckeyes' corners have played exclusively in press coverage.

If the secondary can pick up the new scheme quickly, there won't be as many holes for opposing quarterbacks to exploit this season.

 

Position Battles 

The backup quarterback competition has been one of the biggest and most important battles this spring, and with Miller sidelined, the contenders have been seeing a lot of action.

After four weeks, a leader has emerged.

Cardale Jones, a redshirt sophomore who played in three games last season, has pulled ahead of freshman J.T. Barrett. 

Despite having a bad practice this week, Meyer praised Jones, saying, "Without question he could play quarterback at Ohio State, and he's done a good job."

Jones is also gaining respect from his teammates.

With Miller's injury history, it's pivotal for the Buckeyes to have a viable backup. Kenny Guiton filled that role perfectly over the last two years, but Jones appears to be stepping up.

 

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

Tennessee Football: Week 3 Spring Practice Stock Report

The annual Orange & White Game is eight days away, and Tennessee head coach Butch Jones is cramming just about all he possibly can into the limited sessions.

With the basketball team's Sweet 16 run coming to a heartbreaking end last week, all Volunteers fans' focus shifts completely to the football field, where position battles rule the headlines.

Even though major breaking news on the four-man quarterback race is hard to come by, there was still plenty to talk about in Week 3. Let's take a look at the main storylines being churned out of Knoxville this past week.

 

Jones Calls Defensive Front Seven "Soft"

Many of the biggest questions entering spring revolved around the revamped offensive line, but it's the other side of the football that's causing consternation.

Tennessee's defensive line has been the biggest concern of camp. Even with star defender Curt Maggitt shifting up a level to put his hand down regularly at defensive end, the Vols haven't been able to find consistency along the line.

That's a major concern for Jones—who called his front seven "soft"—and defensive coordinator John Jancek. It was echoed by Maggitt to Volquest's Brent Hubbs (subscription required).

We didn't have a good scrimmage as a defensive line… There were a lot of things that weren't good. We are far away (from what Jones is looking for). We know the expectation, and the defense he wants and Jancek wants. Our position coaches and us know we are far from it. That's why we can't take any days off.

According to GoVols247's Ryan Callahan (subscription required), the line again had "trouble stopping the run" during the team's second full scrimmage last Saturday. It's a familiar refrain from a spring filled with UT's offense one-upping the D.

The Vols will get a major boost this fall when junior Trevarris Saulsberry returns from injury that has sidelined him this spring, and vaunted recruits like Dewayne Hendrix, Charles Mosley, Michael Sawyers, Derek Barnett and Joe Henderson get to campus.

For now, DL coach Steve Stripling is trying to piece together a depth chart that offers at least some resistance. That includes athletic midterm freshman Dimarya Mixon getting an extended look at tackle, according to Callahan.

There are talented players in the rotation, but they're virtually all inexperienced. That's really shown this spring.

 

Hurd and Lane on Top of Their Game

It doesn't matter that rising senior tailback Marlin Lane suffered a broken bone in his hand; he's still having the kind of spring that UT coaches have been seeking since he arrived on campus.

He and star freshman Jalen Hurd each had a very strong second scrimmage last Saturday, and that's a position the coaching staff has had a difficult time pumping the brakes on praising this spring.

Jones told Volquest's John Brice (subscription required):

I think that position group is really starting to come on. Marlin's been a warrior for us. He's playing with a cast, and to have him back and get some game repetitions and game-speed reps was big for us today. Jalen Hurd continues to develop, and he needs as many reps as he can. So that was extremely productive for us.

While Jones has to be careful dumping too many accolades on his players, media members don't. Nashville's 104.5 radio personality and former 10-year UT assistant Doug Mathews had some pretty high praise for Hurd on Thursday:

 

Tennessee Big Three: QB Recruiting Surging

Everybody wants to know how the four quarterbacks currently on campus are faring this spring, but the biggest UT QB news of the week had to do with the future.

After failing to sign a signal-caller in the 2014 recruiting class, it's essential UT plucks at least one elite quarterback from this year's class. In a little more than a week, the Vols have gotten extremely positive news on three top targets.

  • The 247Sports Composite's No. 1 dual-threat quarterback Torrance Gibson visited Knoxville last week and told GatorBait.net (subscription required) about Butch Jones, "I believe in his dream." He went on to tell Bucknuts' Bill Kurelic (subscription required) that UT and Ohio State would "for sure" get official visits.
  • Another of UT's top targets, 6'7", 230-pound New Mexico high school standout Zach Gentry, told GoVols247's Ryan Callahan he was "blown away" by his visit to Knoxville last weekend. Gentry is expected to visit Oklahoma State and Alabama, but UT "set the bar pretty high."
  • Finally, Top247 athlete Jauan Jennings of Murfreesboro (Tenn.) Blackman High is expected to choose between Tennessee, Alabama, Auburn, Mississippi State, Northwestern and Ohio State on April 7, according to GoVols247. Most of his recent Crystal Ball projections on 247 have him going to UT or Auburn. While Jennings could get a shot to play QB, he is a versatile athlete who also could play several other positions.

 

Week 3 Big Orange Buzz

Even though there hasn't been much reported separation between the four quarterbacks, that doesn't mean Jones thinks the group has operated poorly. In fact, it's the exact opposite.

He told GoVols247's Ryan Callahan that he is "very, very encouraged" with them and they're improving every day.

It may just be one of those spring fire-lighting sessions with junior college transfer left tackle Dontavius Blair, but the evidence gets clearer every day that Jones' decision to start fifth-year senior walk-on Jacob Gilliam over Blair may be more.

Gilliam has started all the practices since returning from spring break, and he told the Chattanooga Times Free Press' Patrick Brown he is treating every day with urgency:

You've got to come to work every day no matter how you feel or what it's like, and you've got to outwork somebody that obviously they've invested a lot of time and money into. That's what I just try to come with every day, knowing that at a moment's notice I could be replaced.

 

Tennessee held off some of the nation's top recruiting programs such as Alabama and Ole Miss to earn defensive lineman Jason Carr's signature.

Now, it may not be long until he moves to the other side of the football.

Jones told Volquest's Brent Hubbs, John Brice and Paul Fortenberry (subscription required) on Thursday that the 6'5", 300-pound Carr may be ticketed for offensive tackle.

"He still has some practices before we make that decision, but first of all it's where every individual can help you and help the team win," Jones said. "So we'll make that assessment, we'll continue evaluating him as we go."

Finally, here's a final photo that will make many UT fans cringe.

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Michigan Football: Can Brady Hoke Fix Wolverines' Defensive Line?

Brady Hoke is more than the head football coach at Michigan, he's also a D-line specialist. 

With that being said, the fourth-year man in Ann Arbor faces quite the workload in 2014. At this point, it's all about piecing together a firm game plan, from point A to point B.

Starting with Saturday's spring game, Hoke will finally have the chance to make meaningful adjustments to Team 135's defensive front with Mark Smith, a D-line coach. 

And the changes couldn't come any sooner. 

Not. A. Minute. Sooner. 

However, for as topsy-turvy as the Wolverines' D-line appeared to be this past fall, it wasn't actually a complete train wreck. That, of course, is a welcome sign—one that suggests that there is plenty of room for improvement. 

Think of it as a "nowhere to go but up" approach to revamping and re-energizing the ends and tackles. No longer the official, full-time, by-title D-line coach, Hoke will certainly have a say in matters as Smith and Greg Mattison, the defensive coordinator, devise strategy and tactics. 

 

Playing with Purpose

Pressuring the quarterback was the downfall of Team 134's D-line. 

Well, let's rephrase that: The lack of pressure was its undoing. 

In terms of sack production, the Wolverines were horrible—they tallied a lukewarm total of 25 sacks for negative-182 yards, despite having turned up their intensity as the season progressed.

Given the unruly nature of this past fall, that total shouldn't come as a surprise. But again, the end results were a mere fraction of expected returns. 

Due to talent levels, there is no reason why Hoke's D-line shouldn't compare head-to-head with any line in the Big Ten.

Ohio State pressured quarterbacks and finished with a respectable total of 44 sacks, a mark good enough for No. 3 in the nation. Nebraska came in with 39, putting it at No. 8 in that category. Michigan State, which had one of the most feared defenses in all of college football, had 32 sacks in 2013. 

That's where Hoke needs to be. That's where past Michigan lines have been. 

While together, the D-line can take over momentum and sway the outcome in Hoke's favor.

And really, it's not all about totals—it's about the quality of those numbers. Look at what the Spartans were able to do. Based on reputation alone, one would have thought they were averaging 10 a game; they made theirs count, despite being ranked No. 31 in that department.

Had there been increased pressure, Michigan could have forced more interceptions. That's a secondary issue—in both senses of the word—but the line and backs are interconnected by virtue of playing on the same side of the ball. 

Getting players to understand the concept of "more isn't always better...but it helps" has to be a top concern for the coaching staff, along with establishing links between the 11 on the field. 

Michigan doesn't have to lead the league in sacks. But being among the top netters just adds to perception. Teams that are known for getting at the quarterback tend to do just that—get at the quarterback. 

Creating a sense of calm confidence starts Saturday. 

 

Personnel

Well, now that the preliminaries have been completed, it's time to move onto the second part of the plan: Taking the "more isn't always better...but it helps" mentality and installing that very idea into the minds of players. 

Hoke's a hard-nosed, blue-collar kind of guy. That's been said over and over again; it'll continue being said for as long as he's at the helm. His attitude and work ethic are two of his selling points. He's a ball coach—nothing more, nothing less. 

Let's assume that players respect honest, down-to-Earth coaches. In turn, those players feel the urge to work harder and a little extra. Well, at some point, that work turns into measurables. 

The following table illustrates what Michigan's starting front four could look like this fall. 

Chris Wormley is a possible option for nose tackle, and he's also a candidate for defensive end. The same goes for Matt Godin, who is also a redshirt sophomore. Taco Charlton, a sophomore who is due for his long-awaited arrival, rounds out the list of potential top starters/contributors. 

Unproven talent can become proven goods this fall. However, in order for the maturation process to take place, Hoke's upperclassmen and those with the most experience have to anchor down and allow for roster flexibility. 

If the "proven" crowd isn't getting the job done, don't expect Hoke to run with the less-qualified players. If he's going to win, he's going to win with experience and execution, not a rag-tag assembly of relatively "green" linemen making lucky plays. 

Check out Michigan's full roster on MGoBlue.com

 

Philosophy

Cries for the "old Michigan" are heard loud and clear. Not even Hoke could have anticipated such a slippery slope. After starting 11-1, he's posted 8-5 and 7-6 records...not exactly what the Maize and Blue faithful bargained for following the ouster of Rich Rodriguez in 2011. 

He's had three full seasons to recruit, which is something he does incredibly well, and educate players on the traditions of Michigan football. The process won't just complete itself due to time. But time certainly helps. 

Carr's public approval is worth its weight in gold, just ask the Lloyd Loyalists. However, it's difficult to imagine one of the Wolverines' most respected coaches blowing smoke for Hoke. 

What does Carr have to lose by giving his honest opinion? He, perhaps better than anyone, knows about transition phases. Hoke's staying afloat, but a poor D-line could sink his career in Ann Arbor after 2014. 

Another year of mediocrity in the trenches wouldn't be acceptable. 

Follow Bleacher Report's Michigan Wolverines football writer Adam Biggers on Twitter @AdamBiggers81.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Nebraska Football: 5 Ways 2014 Will Look Different Than 2013 for Huskers

“Ch-ch-ch-ch-Changes

(Turn and face the stranger)

Ch-ch-Changes

Just gonna have to be a different man”

- David Bowie, “Changes”

Nebraska football fans saw the 2013 regular season end with a thud, with the Huskers losing two of their last three games (both at home), missing out on a conference title game and once again ending the season with four losses. Hope springs eternal, however, and Nebraska fans are hoping to see changes that will result in more success on the field.

Here are five things that you can expect to look different for Nebraska in 2014—some helpful, others not so much.

Begin Slideshow

Is New Coaching Staff Turning Michigan into Alabama of the North?

Once upon a time, Michigan fans mocked Nick Saban—before LSU, before Alabama and before the national championships that established him as one of the premier coaches in collegiate football.

But if Brady Hoke returns Michigan football to the upper echelon of college football, fans may owe a debt of thanks to Saban.

After the retirement of Lloyd Carr, Michigan successfully wooed Rich Rodriguez a year after he had passed on the Alabama head coaching job. Yes, there was a time when the head coaching job in Ann Arbor was considered superior to leading the Crimson Tide.  

But since that time, the programs have gone in drastically different directions, and now it appears that Brady Hoke is following Saban’s blueprint for building a national championship contender.

After a disappointing 7-6 season, Hoke dismissed offensive coordinator Al Borges, replacing him with Doug Nussmeier from Saban’s own staff. With the offensive line in shambles, he also admitted that Michigan “would investigate” potential transfers, the main candidate being center Chad Lindsay, who has graduated from Alabama and would be immediately eligible to play.

Hoke, who rode into Ann Arbor espousing the “Michigan Man” mantra, has changed the course of Michigan football and is retooling his team in Alabama’s image.

 

Rebooting the Offense

During Brady Hoke’s first season, the offense successfully meshed players recruited for Rodriguez’s sprint-option offense into a hybrid pro-set attack. Quarterback Denard Robinson still ran—a lot—but he passed enough to keep defenses honest. The Wolverines finished 11-2, and while the team didn’t win the Big Ten championship—the goal for every Michigan team, according to Hoke—it did win a BCS bowl game.

After Denard Robinson graduated, Hoke declared that power football was returning to Ann Arbor, but the Michigan running attack was still powered by quarterback runs. The commitment to a power running game was hampered by a poor offensive line and the tentative running style of senior running back Fitzgerald Toussaint.

By the end of the season, Hoke had seen enough. Borges was fired and replaced by Nussmeier, who wasted no time in overhauling the offense.


Fast and Perfect

With limited practice time and lots of new material to teach his players, Nussmeier has revved up the pace of practice to get in as many plays as possible. Hoke says that the new pace has increased the number of teachable moments for his team.

The coaching staff also began spring practice earlier in the semester than past seasons, starting the week before spring break. This gave players time to acclimate to the new terminology and plays before putting on the pads.

“It’s a new style of practice,” said senior quarterback Devin Gardner. ”I’m loving him [Nussmeier] so far. I love the way he coaches.”

The offense is also configured to attack downfield on a regular basis while streamlining the number of plays and formations. The emphasis is on running fewer plays better while executing with a high degree of precision.

“Coach Nussmeier is really aggressive,” said Gardner. “He demands perfection and nothing less.”

Running back De’Veon Smith echoed Gardner when asked about the new offense.

“It seems a lot easier than last season’s offense,” said Smith. “It’s very high tempo, lots of energy.”

While the players are consistent in not making direct comparisons between Borges and Nussmeier, the new offense has generated genuine enthusiasm. Practice videos posted on mgoblue.com also show Nussmeier jumping in drills to show players exactly how he wants things done, an added benefit of having a coach who was a record-setting collegiate quarterback and played in the NFL.

In addition to a sense of urgency on offense, Nussmeier communicates in a different style than Borges.

Sophomore quarterback Shane Morris has noticed the change, saying, “Coach Nuss is lot more in your face—very demanding," a trait that Nussmeier shares with Nick Saban and a tool he's using to drive player development at Michigan.

Hoke is pleased with the changes Nussmeier has brought to Michigan, explaining, "He's not doing anything I didn't expect him to come in and do—from the intensity of how he coaches, to developing quarterbacks and paying attention to the details that you have to at every position on offense."

Multiple Running Backs

Unlike his predecessor Borges, Nussmeier seems to genuinely prefer using multiple backs in his offense.

“You look at the pounding the running backs take these days and how physical the game is,” said Nussmeier. “One back carrying the load all the time makes it awful difficult to stay healthy and sustain success over a season.”

The commitment to multiple backs has fostered a sense of healthy competition among Derrick Green and De’Veon Smith, the players most likely to be battling for carries next season.

“De’Veon and I are brothers, but competition is what will make this team better,” said Green. “Coach Nussmeier is all about having a one-two punch.”

Fans might not recognize Derrick Green, who has dedicated himself to dropping weight (20 pounds so far) and being in top condition for the upcoming season.

Ideally, both running backs will see significant playing time, but each is working hard to be the “one” in the one-two punch that Nussmeier envisions. The key to the top of the depth chart will be which player can be most successful at the inside and outside zone-running plays that Nussmeier brings with him from Alabama, and each player looks capable of breaking out next season.

Nussmeier won a national championship at Alabama with two running backs getting significant carries on offense. Last season, Alabama fell short when the team relied too much on a single back. The development of Green and Smith signals that he doesn't want to make that mistake again.


Freshmen in the Mix

Brady Hoke has always said that the best players will play, but Nussmeier has players on offense believing and, most importantly, performing to compete with more experienced players.

Both wide receiver Freddy Canteen and offensive lineman Mason Cole are getting rave reviews from teammates, and Hoke has already said that top defensive recruit Jabrill Peppers may be slated for reps on offense next season.

Hoke sometimes has favored experience and loyalty over potential during his tenure at Michigan. The late appearance of running backs Green and Smith last season when Toussaint struggled was puzzling. 

Nussmeier has brought a culture of open competition with him from Alabama, where even though he had the luxury of talented, experienced players at virtually every position, he was still open to freshmen getting major reps—like Amari Cooper during the 2012 season.

At Michigan, that open competition may result in freshmen taking over spots on the depth chart next season. 

Offensive Line

The offensive line must improve if Michigan hopes to bounce back from last season’s disappointing 7-6 finish.

Nussmeier’s Alabama teams all had top talent on the offensive line. The rebuilding of the Michigan offensive line has been hampered this spring by center Graham Glasgow’s brief suspension and the loss of Erik Magnuson and Joey Burzynski (injuries) as the team works to replace tackles Taylor Lewan and Michael Schofield, who have left for the NFL.

Nussmeier may bring one more thing with him from Alabama.

Hoke has said Michigan “would investigate” the possibility of transfers joining the team for the fall season.

Center Chad Lindsay has graduated from Alabama and under NCAA rules would be immediately eligible to play for Michigan. He started four games for the Crimson Tide last season, would bring needed experience at offensive line and already has a relationship with offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier.

The last time Michigan faced Alabama, it wasn’t much of a contest, but the next time the teams meet, they may be the mirror image of each other.

  

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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