NCAA Football News

How James Franklin is Making Penn State Football Cool Again

In James Franklin's first three months as the head coach at Penn State, he has transformed what had become a feel-good story into a public-relations juggernaut. And he's done it with the help of a young, energetic staff and social media—two things that high school kids relate to better than anyone.

While Joe Paterno was a molder of men and Bill O'Brien was a player's coach, Franklin knows that success on the field starts on the recruiting trail, and he is a master of the craft.

His slogans like "PSUnrivaled," "Dominate the State" and "107kStrong" have become rallying cries for both fans and recruits.

My first picture with fans today! #WeAre#PSU#PSUnrivaled#107kStrong#Blessedpic.twitter.com/qPlS2GiJXo

— Chance Sorrell (@Chanman158811) April 5, 2014

Fans find themselves waiting eagerly for Franklin's signature tweet, indicating he and his staff have received yet another verbal commitment:

#WeAre...Better #107kStrong#PSUnrivaled

— James Franklin (@coachjfranklin) March 25, 2014

He consistently preaches about family and building relationships, then goes as far as to wish his players happy birthday on Twitter. 

Wanted to take the time to wish a member of OUR family Happy B-Day, @KG_III, enjoy your day! #PSUnrivaled#107kStrong#WeAre#FamilyReunion

— James Franklin (@coachjfranklin) April 8, 2014

In a nutshell, Franklin never misses an opportunity to be noticed by fans and recruits, and both are currently eating out of the palm of his hand.

In fact, Penn State's 16th head coach was doing work for Penn State before the job was even available. 

When it was first rumored that Franklin could be the successor to Bill O'Brien, 2014 commit Michael O'Connor gushed about his relationship with the coach while he was at Vanderbilt, telling me:

I got to sit down and meet with Coach Franklin in his office. He's a great coach and I have a lot of respect for him. We'll see where it goes but he'd be a great hire for Penn State and it was an honor to be recruited by him.

Penn State's current recruiting class sits at the top of the Big Ten and in the top five, nationally. According to 247Sports Composite ratings, Franklin has already landed verbal commitments from eight 4-star recruits in the 2015 class. 

That's three more than last year's entire class, and Franklin has almost 10 months left with which to work.

Along with being an excellent recruiter, he's a tireless promoter, and his sense of awareness is uncanny.

During Penn State's pro day on Tuesday, a picture surfaced of Franklin with Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin and Eagles head coach Chip Kelly. There were more than 20 coaches in attendance, and Franklin likely spoke to each of them. Still, the majority of his 70,000 followers on Twitter, specifically his target demographic of Pennsylvania high schoolers, are fans of either the Eagles or the Steelers—a fact that Franklin fully comprehends.

Penn State Pro Day attendees. #DominatingtheState with the @Eagles & @steelers coaches. pic.twitter.com/v7VqzBYUdB

Penn State Football (@PennStateFball) April 8, 2014

That tweet was re-tweeted nearly 600 times in less than 24 hours.

Franklin is engaging and trustworthy, while exuding confidence without coming across as cocky. Several of the players on the team were recruited by Franklin while he was at Vanderbilt or Maryland.

Safety Adrian Amos told Adam Rittenberg of ESPN about his recruiting relationship with the passionate Franklin: "He's that person all the time. That's very important. It builds a little bit of trust. You know what you're getting."

Left tackle Donovan Smith added "Being a big recruit, coaches would tell you things just because. Coach Franklin always kept it real. Genuine since day one." 

Not much has changed with Franklin's approach to recruiting.

Verbally committed 3-star linebacker Jake Cooper told Nick Polak of BlackShoeDiaries.com that when he committed, "Coach Franklin ran out of his office down the hallway screaming that I committed, and everybody came up Coach Spencer gave me a chest bump, a lot of people gave me hugs, it was great."

Whether it's a production of his wide receiver coach running a 40-yard dash or a signing-day party hosted by Mike Mauti and Lavar Arrington, Franklin wants everyone to know that something special is going on at Penn State, and only the fortunate will be involved.

He has managed to build a bridge to the future while embracing the past and has Penn State football on an upward trend that it hasn't experienced in decades.

#DominateTheStateS, #DominateBeaver, #DominateGradRates, #DominateTogether, #DominateBlue&WhiteGame, #DominateTicketSales, #PSUnrivaled

— James Franklin (@coachjfranklin) March 30, 2014

Franklin understands that perception is reality while success breeds success, and he is using those two bits of knowledge to build momentum before ever stepping on the sideline at Beaver Stadium.

He's telling you that Penn State football is back and you believe him, because it's true.

Penn State Football 2014 - A New Era Begins: http://t.co/6hkcAXi6nF#PSUnrivaled#107kStrong

— James Franklin (@coachjfranklin) April 3, 2014

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SEC Reportedly Sets Record Tax Return of $314.5 Million

SEC football is indeed doing well in the fiscal department, setting a conference record with a tax return that listed $314.5 million in revenue for the 2012-13 season, according to a report from Steve Berkowitz of USA Today.

That season—the SEC's first with Texas A&M and Missouri—included the college birth of Heisman winner Johnny Manziel, featured one of the best conference championship games in recent memory (which featured Alabama and Georgia) and saw Nick Saban's Crimson Tide win the national championship in coasting fashion over Notre Dame, 42-14.

Not a bad year, huh.

Per the report, the increase in revenue also helped increase the salary of commissioner Mike Slive by 25 percent, up to nearly $1.2 million for the reported year.

Despite the big increase in revenue, however, the report also found the the conference lost money on the whole:

Even with the conference's overall revenue increase, it reported losing money for the fiscal year that ended Aug. 31, 2013. Its return listed $317.9 million in total expenses, resulting in a nearly $3.4 million deficit for the year – an amount it covered from accumulated net assets that had totaled more than $46 million as of Aug. 31, 2012.

Wednesday morning SEC officials were traveling and could not be reached for immediate comment.

Despite the unexpected jump—according to The Kansas City Star, the conference reported a number roughly $25 million lower in May 2013—the SEC still lags behind the Big Ten in terms of revenue production. According to the report, the B1G reported $315.5 million of revenue for the period that ended in June 2012.

The revenue created was distributed mostly evenly between the SEC's 14 schools. The two Big 12 transplants, Texas A&M and Missouri, each received around $19.5 million in their first cut of the SEC pool—a drastic increase over the last cut from their former conference—while the other 12 programs received an even $21 million.

It's a good day to run a football program down south.

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South Carolina Football: What to Watch for in Gamecocks' 2014 Spring Game

South Carolina head coach Steve Spurrier has led the Gamecocks to three straight 11-win seasons—the first three 11-win seasons in program history.

What does he have to show for it?

Zero SEC East titles over that same stretch, with his last coming in 2010 when the Gamecocks were 9-5 and 5-3 in conference.

They've missed out on a trip to the Georgia Dome in early December during the most prosperous time in program history, but that could change this season thanks to running back Mike Davis, a potentially potent offense and an underrated defense that could surprise the pundits.

South Carolina will hold its annual spring game at noon on Saturday, and in it, we'll get a glimpse of what the 2014 Gamecocks will look like.

What you need to watch out for on Saturday:

 

Just How Good is Dylan Thompson?

Dylan Thompson has proven throughout his career that he's a viable backup and reliable fill-in as the South Carolina starting quarterback when injuries forced former starter Connor Shaw out.

But just how good is he as "the man?"

The last time we saw Thompson in extended playing time, he was woefully inconsistent on the road at Missouri and was bailed out by Shaw, who came off the bench with an injured knee.

He needs a little bit more attention than other unquestioned starters in the SEC, and he got that attention during Saturday's scrimmage.

"All the quarterbacks did some good things here and there," head coach Steve Spurrier said in a release from South Carolina. "Dylan Thompson is coming around. Dylan hasn't played as much as sometimes we think he has. So he got a little extra (work) in today."

With Davis to rely on behind him, Thompson doesn't have to be a superstar. But he does have to make smart decisions, deliver the ball on time and on target and keep opposing defenses honest by stretching the field.

If he shows that he can do all of those things consistently, then the Gamecocks' offense will be fine, and it could resemble those that Spurrier was successful with at Florida in the 1990s. 

 

Who Will Step Up in the Trenches?

South Carolina lost three starters off of last season's defensive line, including star defensive end Jadeveon Clowney, fellow defensive end Chaz Sutton and defensive tackle Kelcy Quarles. That leaves the door wide open for unknown players to step forward.

Defensive tackle J.T. Surratt is the lone returning starter of the bunch. Around him, defensive ends Gerald Dixon, Darius English and Cedrick Cooper will battle a host of Gamecocks for playing time; and Gerald Dixon Jr., Deon Green, Phillip Dukes and Abu Lamin are just a few of several players hoping to create depth in the new-look defensive line.

It's been a battle all month, and Green is one player who has been making strides.

"He's done a great job the past couple of practices," defensive line coach Deke Adams said last week in quotes from South Carolina. "He's really developing, doing what we ask him to do. You can tell he's healthy. He's done a good job. But right now it's a battle in there. Nobody's just really stood out and said 'hey, it's my job.' They're all fighting."

Great teams don't just have superstars up front on defense—they have depth. This spring has been all about building that depth for defensive coordinator Lorenzo Ward. If that depth shows up on Saturday inside Williams-Brice Stadium, it will go a long way towards solidifying the defense for a 2014 title run.

 

Deep Threats

While Bruce Ellington was busy getting ready for the NFL draft, his former teammates at South Carolina have been busy trying to figure out who's going to replace him as the top receiver in Columbia.

Who's going to step up?

Shaq Roland is a likely candidate. The 6'1", 185-pound junior came on strong down the stretch last season, gaining 224 yards and scoring two touchdowns over the final three games of the season, including 112 receiving yards in the Capital One Bowl win over Wisconsin.

Damiere Byrd has been rehabbing from a knee injury that kept him out of the bowl game, which has left the door open for Nick Jones, Pharoh Cooper, K.J. Brent and others to step up and impress the coaching staff this spring.

 

Secondary Struggles

One of the bigger holes in South Carolina's defense is at cornerback, where Victor Hampton jumped early, and the quest to fill it is apparently taking more time than Ward first envisioned. He expressed some frustration on the progress of the South Carolina defensive backs following Saturday's scrimmage.

"I think we're getting a lot better at safety," Ward said in South Carolina's post-practice quotes. "We've still got a ways to go at corner. We haven't progressed as well as I would have liked in the secondary."

Sophomores Rico McWilliams and Jamari Smith, and senior Sidney Rhodes are all vying for playing time, with redshirt freshman Ali Groves—a projected starter according to South Carolina's pre-spring depth chart—still recovering from shoulder surgery.

There's a remarkable lack of depth at corner for the Gamecocks. Whoever steps up in the spring game will likely have the inside track at starting once toe meets leather this fall.

 

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

 


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How the NFL's Devaluation of the Running Back Could Impact College Football

Coming off the best season of his career—in which he finished fifth in the NFL in yards from scrimmage—26-year-old Knowshon Moreno hit the NFL free-agent market with momentum and in his prime.

He was greeted by resounding silence.

There were no takers on a long-term deal and interest in his services was minimal. Instead of cashing in on a bank-busting contract, Moreno settled for a one-year, $3 million contract with the Miami Dolphins, according to ESPN.com.

Settling for $3 million is something we can only dream of. And while Moreno will take home a small fortune simply by playing the game he loves, this contract served as an eye-opener: One of the most productive offensive players in the league—playing for a team that made the Super Bowl—was unable to secure work beyond a one-year commitment.

The position hasn’t necessarily changed, but its perceived value certainly has. As NFL teams line up to give out huge guarantees to offensive and defensive linemen who are by no means stars, productive backs with miles such as Moreno, Maurice Jones-Drew, Ben Tate, Darren McFadden and LeGarrette Blount are no longer prime properties.

In all, these five backs received nine years in NFL contracts valued at a combined $23.1 million. In comparison, former New York Jet offensive lineman Austin Howard—a decent, but not specular player—received a five-year, $30 million contract from the Raiders, with half the amount guaranteed.

Thus the devaluation of the position comes full circle, swiftly and without much warning. And as ball-carriers struggle for work at the professional level, one can’t help but wonder if this will eventually impact college football.

“I don't see this happening yet, but it will eventually,” said Matt Miller, Bleacher Report's NFL Draft Lead Writer, when asked if running backs at the college level will be impacted. “I've spoken to many of the top running backs in the 2014 draft class, and they are all amazed at how devalued their position is.”

Such trends certainly have traceable origins. Spread offenses—and an overall stress on moving the ball through the air—have become common practice at all levels of football. The age of offense is upon us, and such scoreboard destruction typically doesn’t come through repetitive ground-and-pound.

Changes in offensive philosophy also coincide with a shrinking window of quality production. The miles accumulated over time—through Pop Warner, high school and college—seem to be taking a toll on players earlier than ever before. Perhaps it’s the increased size of the players, or the strain at the lower levels. Or, maybe we’re assuming players are running out of gas earlier than ever because that’s what this building perception tells us to think.

It’s the only job in the world where you’re considered past your prime at the ripe age of 27. And that’s where the trickle down into college (and even high school) could start to snowball.

“This is something I'm watching very closely, because it's too early to know if it's a phase or the new rule,” Miller said when talking about the impact of the position at lower levels. “I still see the best teams in the NFL running the ball a ton. That leads me to think that the NFL will still value an elite running back in the right spot, but in a draft class without an Adrian Peterson-level prospect, we aren't seeing teams overvalue or reach for a back.”

Miller sees these players at the end of their recruiting cycle when they’re already entrenched at a particular position. JC Shurburtt, the national recruiting director at 247Sports, sees these athletes at a different point in their development cycle. In many ways, it’s his job to project what their eventual NFL worth will be.

Shurburtt has covered recruiting through its various phases. He’s watched position values shift over time and adjusted his evaluations accordingly. And while the perception of the running back appears to be evolving before our eyes, Shurburtt doesn’t believe such changes will be felt at the college ranks just yet.

“I don't think the talent level will change,” Shurburtt said on the position. “Coaches will still put their best players at running back at the high school level to move the football and score points. What I think could change is athletes having a better awareness of position fit moving forward and not being as concerned with the glory associated with carrying the football.”

Case in point is Michigan commit Jabrill Peppers, the No. 1 athlete in the class of 2014 and the No. 3 player overall, according to 247Sports. Peppers, at 6’1” and 205 pounds, runs a 4.4-second 40 and could be a dominant force for the Wolverines at running back.

Don’t just take my word for it. Allow an entire high school defense to show you exactly what Peppers is capable of with the ball in his hands. This came from a scrimmage in 2013.

Instead of carrying the ball 25 times a game, however, Peppers will play at cornerback in Ann Arbor where he projects out as an elite prospect. He’ll likely still get touches—perhaps on special teams or an offensive touch on occasion—but defense will be his area of focus.

In this instance, Peppers’ path is a product of his deep repertoire of talents and physical gifts. Finding that elite, shutdown corner—something many believe he will eventually become—has proven to be incredibly difficult for teams at every level. And while he could play exclusively at running back and dominate at the position, there are other players with similar physical attributes capable of carrying the ball.

“If I were a 5’9,” 190-pound high schooler with good hips and ball skills, I could be a small back in a spread system or a great cornerback with high draft value,” Shurburtt noted. “With these choices, I think I’m going cornerback.”

The choice isn’t always theirs. Coaches will oftentimes decide this path when a recruit arrives on campus for the first time. Most of the elite players in the country do spectacular things at multiple positions in high school. Determining where they’re best suited at the college level is often decided by fit, system and roster necessity.

If passing attacks continue to eat up more of the production pie, perhaps this will drive younger players to other positions. Maybe, in time, one of the most glorified positions in all of sports will lose some of its luster. We’re still a long way out from seeing this dramatic overhaul, though.

Look at Leonard Fournette, the No. 2 overall player on 247Sports in the class of 2014 and a running back many believe is the best prospect the sport has seen since Adrian Peterson.

While such lofty praise may seem excessive and early, the talent and physical makeup is there. Outside of Fournette, the 2014 running back recruiting class is loaded with potential stars.

"In 2014, we had Fournette and then a slew of outstanding backs that ranked between No. 15 and No. 50 overall nationally," Shurburtt said. "Dalvin Cook, Joe Mixon, Royce Freeman, Nick Chubb, Sony Michel, Elijah Hood and Roc Thomas all could have been the No. 1 running back prospect in the country in a different cycle."

There are still a surprising amount of developed 18-year-olds weighing in well over 200 pounds capable of running a sub-4.5-second 40 once they hit campus. And not all these players will suddenly flock to cornerback or safety over a recent string of unfair contracts. 

The running back situation at the college level, at least for the time being, is in very good hands.

Hopefully NFL teams will value running backs like they once did. In the meantime, most hopeful recruits and student athletes think the idea of $3 million for 12 months of work doesn't sound too shabby.

 

*Adam Kramer is the lead college football writer for Bleacher Report. Unless otherwise noted, all quotes were obtained firsthand. You can follow him on Twitter here.

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Georgia Football: 5 Players to Watch in Bulldogs' Spring Game

With Georgia's annual G-Day spring game just a few short days away, fans anxiously await the opportunity to witness the team's progress firsthand.

On the defensive side of the ball, there's plenty to monitor as new defensive coordinator Jeremy Pruitt and his band of new assistants will roll out the first rendition of the Dawgs' new defense. From what's been said thus far, the scheme is faster and simpler than what was coordinated by Todd Grantham in years past.

Offensively, senior quarterback Hutson Mason is continuing to settle in as he embraces his role under center as a full-time starter. He has plenty of weapons to utilize, but is he developing lasting chemistry with his fellow offensive stars?

With so many moving pieces and a plethora of personnel expected to see the field, fans should focus on these five players as a litmus test of Georgia's spring improvements. 

Here are the five Bulldogs to watch in Saturday's spring game as prioritized by their potential impact this fall.

Begin Slideshow

Alabama Football: Derrick Henry Poised for a Breakout Year in 2014

TUSCALOOSA, Ala.— University of Alabama junior linebacker Reggie Ragland has an interesting way to describe a collision in the hole with sophomore running back Derrick Henry: “Peaceful.”

Say what?

“We're coming in, we're going to thud each other real hard because right now we can't take each other down to the ground,” he answered. “But it's mean and peaceful, I can tell you that.”

Ragland was referring to Nick Saban’s practice policy of no tackling during practices, just thudding and not wrapping up unless it’s a scrimmage or live drill. Yet they can still be pretty violent, especially when the guy with the ball may be as big or bigger than the person trying to stop him.

“He's 6'4", 240 and runs like a 5'10" guy,” said Ragland, who is listed on the Crimson Tide’s spring roster as being 6’2”, 257 pounds. “So he's a big guy. A lot of people are scared to tackle him.”

Henry even wears a size 14 shoe, and yes, he could tell during the Sugar Bowl that some of the Oklahoma players wanted nothing to do with him during his breakout performance. While backing up T.J. Yeldon for the first time the then-true freshman tallied 100 rushing yards on eight carries, including a 43-yard touchdown, and scored again on his first reception, going 61 yards off a short completion.

It made fans wonder why the Crimson Tide coaches hadn’t give him touches like that from the start of last season, but Henry concedes that he wasn’t ready. The consensus 5-star prospect who was named the 2012 national player of the year by MaxPreps, the Maxwell Club and Parade magazine believed that his success in high school would simply translate to the next level, only to quickly learn otherwise.

“During my first practice here, I was like 'Oh snap. Everybody's flying around,’” he said. “It was kind of crazy.”

The “snap” wasn’t merely from just one moment, rather, “Everybody. Linemen. Linemen moving fast. I was like 'Oh my God. Everybody moving fast.' Linebackers. Everybody was moving fast. I was like 'Good God.'”

After a while things started slowing down, but the early enrollee missed the second half of last spring due to a fractured fibula. When fall rolled around Henry was still making the adjustment, which showed during the season opener against Virginia Tech in the Georgia Dome, where he struggled in pass protection and was quickly pulled.

At the end of the regular season, Henry had just 27 attempts for 282 yards and two touchdowns, but despite the 10.4 average per carry wasn’t a factor in the regular offense. That changed when Alabama went back to basics at the start of bowl practices, and the rookie no longer felt overwhelmed.

“Just running the ball better and being more comfortable, playing fast, blitz pickup,” he said. “Blitz pickup was one of my biggest struggles because in high school you don't really have to pick up the blitz because we ran the ball most of the time.”

It was right around Christmas, before the Crimson Tide headed to New Orleans, that things began to really click.

Henry was subsequently promoted to second string and instead of getting mop-up duty entered the Sugar Bowl in the first quarter. Even though the Sooners eventually won 45-31, the 161 all-purpose yards led all players and he attracted the most postgame buzz.

“No, it didn’t surprise me,” said Jalston Fowler, who has gone from strictly being a running back to more of a fullback and tight end. “He worked his butt off. The kid is always working. I mean always. Whether he’s getting extra in or lifting weights, he’s doing something extra because he wants to be great."

“He’s running a lot harder, trying to run people over out there. He’s a big bull out there.”

With a massive amount of momentum on his side Henry aims to build on that performance and Saban has only offered praise when asked about him by reporters this spring, a surefire indicator that he’s poised to contribute more. However, the coach also made a point to say that Yeldon and junior Kenyan Drake have been “outstanding” as well.

Yeldon is just the fifth player in Alabama history to have multiple 1,000-yard rushing seasons, while Drake was second in team rushing last year with 694 yards on 92 carries and is just 25 short of 1,000 career yards.

That each of the three has a very different style as a running back, with Drake showing the best burst and Henry a freakish combination of power and speed, gives Lane Kiffin a nasty three-pronged attack at the position. They can all catch well too, as does Fowler, gives the new offensive coordinator even more options in play-calling and chances to get them the ball in space or with just one man on them.

“It humbled me,” Henry said about his initial season. “Everything isn't just going to come to you. You have to work for it. You have to take time. This is college football so it's more technique. You have to put more effort into by watching film and really paying attention to the little things like (running backs coach Burton) Burns and Coach Saban preach. That's what I had to do to be able to get on the field and that's what I did.”

 

Christopher Walsh is the lead Alabama football writer for Bleacher Report. All quotes were obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted. 

Follow @CrimsonWalsh

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Texas Tech Coach Kliff Kingsbury Admits Single Moms of Recruits Flirt with Him

Parents can sometimes influence where their high school kid goes to college, so a college coach has to be willing to make a connection with the recruit's family during visits. Some coaches have it easier than others, however.

Texas Tech coach Kliff Kingsbury is one of the most popular coaches in college football, but his popularity has nothing to do with his team's performance on the football field. The 34-year-old receives a lot of attention because he bears a striking resemblance to actor Ryan Gosling.

As it turns out, his looks play a role in his recruiting visits.

Kingsbury appeared on The Dan Le Batard Show on Tuesday. For those who aren't familiar with Dan Le Batard, he is always willing to ask random questions to his guests that help make the interviews entertaining. 

The highlight of the interview came when Le Batard asked the Red Raiders coach if any of his recruits' single moms ever flirted with him. The coach's response, via CoachingSearch.com's Chris Vannini, is classic.

“Yeah,” Kingsbury said, laughing. “You’ve got to play to your strengths. So I kind of encourage that a little bit. It’s part of the deal.”

The Texas Tech coach also gave his thoughts on being compared to Gosling.

“I’ll take that one," Kingsbury said. "It can be worse, for sure.”

Based on what he said, it certainly helps to look like the actor.

[H/t Larry Brown Sports]

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Wisconsin Football: All Eyes on QB Tanner McEvoy in Badgers' Spring Game

It's nothing major, but Wisconsin quarterback Joel Stave has been shelved for the Badgers' spring game this Saturday. 

The cause?

Lingering shoulder soreness from an injury that knocked him out of the Capital One Bowl against South Carolina. 

Stave said Tuesday, via Jeff Potrykus of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel:

It's nothing real serious. I've been throwing for many practices this spring and I felt pretty good. But it's just precautionary. There's some swelling and we don't play a game until August so right now is not the time to push it too much.

Stave is confident he'll be throwing in time for voluntary summer workouts, and it shouldn't have any carryover into preseason camp. Though Stave was technically the No. 1 quarterback heading into spring, he was limited for the first six practices because of the injury. 

In the meantime, all eyes will be on quarterback Tanner McEvoy in the Badgers' spring game. 

It's a small window to prove he should be the starting quarterback, but it's a window nonetheless. Spring games are a chance for players to showcase themselves in front of a crowd, even though they have little resemblance of an actual game.

McEvoy arrived in Madison last year as a highly touted dual-threat quarterback from Arizona Western College. However, he ultimately moved to safety after failing to make an early impact at quarterback in preseason camp. McEvoy played in 11 games, starting three. 

Stave had an inconsistent season in 2013, namely in losses to Arizona State and Penn State, when he completed, on average, 52 percent of his passes for four touchdowns and three picks. In December, head coach Gary Andersen explained his decision to give McEvoy another crack at quarterback. 

Via Tom Mulhern of the Wisconsin State Journal

We’ll do everything we can, just like every position, I always say, continually try and create competition. Tanner deserves that right. This is an opportunity for him to get out there and play (quarterback) in these practices. … He’ll do that at quarterback, then he does go right back to safety when our main guys, the travel kids, start practicing. He’s our starting safety for now.

Will a year in Wisconsin's system be enough for McEvoy to finally inch closer to Stave? If McEvoy has a solid spring game running and throwing, he's going to create an interesting debate during the summer months. 

It could also mean an intense competition that carries into August. 

 

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

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Auburn Football: Meet the Tigers' Wild Card Running Back, Peyton Barber

Call him the man in the middle.

On paper, senior running backs Cameron Artis-Payne and Corey Grant are the favorites to replace NFL-bound Heisman Trophy finalist Tre Mason as the feature back of Auburn's high-octane rushing attack.

Both the powerful Artis-Payne and the speedy Grant played significant roles in the Tigers offense, getting important carries even after Mason's breakout stretch halfway through the 2013 season.

But Artis-Payne and Grant, who are both looking to expand their specific skill sets this spring in hopes of grabbing Mason's spot, will only be on the Plains for one more year. Who will replace the production of Auburn's dynamic backfield duo after next season?

Enter Racean "Roc" Thomas, a 5-star running back and the state of Alabama's Mr. Football award winner for the 2013 season. When the explosive Thomas arrives on campus this summer, he will enter with tremendous hype from Auburn fans following his 2,211-yard, 32-touchdown senior season in Alabama's highest level of high school football.

However, Auburn's running back of the future might already be on campus, getting a chance to break out this season.

Peyton Barber is the true wild card of Auburn's running back battle this spring. While many Auburn fans are looking to either Artis-Payne or Grant as the feature back of 2014, Barber has gotten equal reps with the rising seniors as a redshirt freshman.

"[Barber] is getting a lot of reps, which is good," Auburn head coach Gus Malzahn said after last Saturday's scrimmage, one where Barber recorded a rushing touchdown. "He definitely needs reps with different groups. You can see he’s improving. He wants to be good, and he’s a tough guy."

Barber's toughness was on full display last season, when he impressed coaches and teammates as a scout team running back.

"Being a scout team guy, you learn a lot," Malzahn said earlier this spring. "Those are situations that usually make or break a lot of guys that are young. They either get tough and fight through it or they go the other way."

Barber fought through it, and now he is in the running for a starting job without recording a single carry in a college game.

The former 3-star running back from Alpharetta, Ga., received the highest praise from the player he hopes to replace as Auburn's star running back.

"[Barber] is probably, skill wise, the best out of all of us," Mason told AL.com's Brandon Marcello before the BCS National Championship Game in January. "That guy is good. He's very consistent when he's scrimmaging. He's very consistent."

Although he has not been available to speak to the media this season, several of Barber's teammates have told reporters he has continued to shine in spring camp.

I’ve been hearing from some of the defense that Peyton is untouchable," tight end C.J. Uzomah said. "Going against our first team all last year helps him tremendously as a running back. I think that helped him adjust to the game and adjust to the speed.”

Standing at 5'11" and 225 pounds, Barber's physique and running style is similar to Mason's, especially after Barber developed more elusiveness to go along with his powerful nature last season.

"Peyton's a big kid," starting left guard Alex Kozan said. "Peyton's freaky."

Perhaps that freaky talent and Mason-like frame could make Peyton Barber the surprise story of the preseason.

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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4 Unanswered Questions Heading into South Carolina's Spring Game

It's almost time for the Gamecocks' football season to really get back on the radar as South Carolina's spring game approaches. 

This Saturday, the Gamecocks will showcase how they have progressed throughout the spring in the Garnet and Black game. 

While the team has made long strides this spring, there are still some unanswered questions lingering around this football team. 

These questions have been the persistent topics throughout the offseason, and some could get answered during the spring game. 

Here are the four unanswered questions heading into South Carolina's spring game. 

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Steve Sarkisian and Nelson Agholor: Match Made in Heaven for USC Trojans

As the USC Trojans work through spring practice, one thing has been quite clear: Nelson Agholor is poised to have a tremendous season. Agholor, the rising junior wide receiver, led the Trojans in receiving yards and touchdowns a year ago, and in 2014 he should be even better.

And his new head coach, Steve Sarkisian, is a perfect match to help maximize the efforts of the third-year player.

Plenty of eyes are resting upon the USC quarterback battle as Cody Kessler and Max Browne jockey for position under the new coaching staff. As the Daily Trojan's Darian Nourian points out, both players have been inconsistent throughout spring, leaving the job in limbo.

Yet, through up-and-down quarterback play, Sarkisian knows he has his guy in Agholor. Following practice No. 10, the head coach remarked, per USCTrojans.com: "Nelson kinda does what he does, keeps making big plays." The coach believes in his best weapon, and given Sark's style of play, Agholor should find plenty of success awaiting him in 2014.

Unlike many teams that put up big offensive numbers around the nation, Sarkisian's scheme boasts a tremendous route tree. His receivers are not merely running screens, verticals and stick routes. Rather, he has them working deep outs, deep comebacks, hitches, fades, screens, corners, posts, slants, digs, crossing patterns and sluggos to find space.

Agholor will be allowed to get open all over the field: screens that put the ball in his athletic hands at the line of scrimmage; comeback routes that dare defenders to break on the ball, for fear of the double move; stutter steps on streaks that freeze cornerbacks and put Agholor over the top of the defense; even slants that gobble up the defense and eventually turn into sluggos when safeties get overzealous. 

Trojans fans will be familiar with many of the concepts—Robert Woods and Marqise Lee worked various routes to become targets at every level of the field. Sarkisian worked to do the same with the likes of Kevin Smith, Jaydon Mickens, Kasen Williams and Jermaine Kearse during his time in Seattle.

Although everyone's eyes will be on the home runs hit by Agholor, moving the chains will be just as important for USC. Here, from Washington, Williams runs a deeper out at 15 yards that looks routine on the surface but generates a first down to keep the ball moving down the field. Agholor will be doing much of the same as teams fear the explosion play, allowing him to find space and extend drives for the Trojans.

USC is going to run the ball and is also going to use the quick passing game as an extension of its rushing efforts. Screens, slants and hitches will populate the mix as well as long handoffs that have the opportunity to be broken for big gains on the edge. The speed and, more importantly, acceleration of Agholor will be a valuable asset for the new head coach.

And Sarkisian will be a valuable asset to Agholor. The coach trusts his wide receivers to make plays. He believes in their abilities to win 50-50 balls. He is not afraid to call the plays that ask his receivers to use their talent to get open and go make plays.

Steve Sarkisian and Nelson Agholor are going to work. Despite the Trojans not being certain of the quarterback, the head coach and the best wide receiver are on the same page. The coach believes he's sitting on a receiver ready to play to the level of Lee and Woods before him, as he told the Los Angeles Times's Gary Klein.

Sark and Agholor are a sound fit, and whether it is Max Browne or Cody Kessler, the junior receiver will be put in a position to explode in 2014.

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Chris Simms: Why 5-Star USC Commit Ricky Town Is Better Option Than Max Browne

Five-star quarterback Ricky Town has already committed to play his college football for the USC Trojans. The 6'4", 205-pound athlete is known for his strong arm and pocket presence. The Ventura, Calif., native will be a huge asset for the Trojans come 2015. 

Town's main competition when he arrives on campus will be redshirt freshman Max Browne. They are both prototypical pocket passers, but Town might have the edge over Browne, according to B/R's Chris Simms. 

Watch former NFL QB Chris Simms break down Town's film and explain why he will succeed at the next level. 

 

Highlights courtesy of XOS Digital.

Player rankings via 247Sports.

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Jacob Breeland Commits to Oregon: Ducks Land 6'5" TE Recruit

The Oregon Ducks secured a commitment from under-the-radar Southern California tight end Jacob Breeland on Tuesday, giving the team two prospects in its 2015 recruiting class. He pulled the trigger on a pledge days after spending time on campus in Eugene, per 247Sports reporter Justin Hopkins.

"We visited on Thursday and Friday but stayed through the weekend," Breeland told 247Sports. "We came home and prayed about it as a family and just knew Oregon was the place."

Breeland was a third-team All-Orange County selection at wide receiver as a junior. He converted from quarterback at Trabuco Hills High School, per Los Angeles Times writer Eric Sondheimer, and another positional switch likely awaits at Oregon.

Given his 6'5", 205-pound frame, a future at tight end is probably in the cards for Breeland. He has a frame to build on and already displays impressive physicality in traffic and near the line of scrimmage.

Breeland possesses deceptive downfield speed, presenting matchup issues for linebackers. Formidable size and reach give him an edge on elevated passes against defensive backs.

His versatile skill set shines on highlight film, which can be seen on Hudl.com.

Viewed as one of Southern California's surprise standouts of the 2013 season, Breeland's stock steadily rose throughout the fall. He led Trabuco Hills with 36 receptions for 753 yards and 11 touchdowns, per MaxPreps.

His yards-per-catch average (20.9) is a strong indication of legitimate playmaking abilities. Breeland eclipsed the 100-yard mark in three of 10 games, finishing his junior campaign with a season-high 139 receiving yards and two touchdowns in a 21-17 victory over San Clemente.

He has Division I football in his family history. Garrett Breeland, his father, played linebacker at USC and was selected by the Los Angeles Rams in the 1986 NFL draft.

The Ducks were the first team to offer Breeland, who seems content to close the book on his recruitment.

"I won't be taking any other visits. This is it for me," he told 247Sports. "I'll be back for my official visit in September during my bye but that will be it."

Breeland joins 4-star California offensive lineman Zach Okun in Oregon's 2015 class.

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Breaking Down the Latest in Alabama's QB Battle

Spring practice is underway at Alabama and the battle to replace AJ McCarron is heating up. Redshirt senior QB Blake Sims is in Tuscaloosa with the Crimson Tide, but Florida State transfer Jacob Coker will arrive in the summer and is expected to win the starting job. 

Replacing McCarron is no small task. Nick Saban is looking for a QB that will minimize mistakes and get the ball to the Crimson Tide's playmakers. Sims has an opportunity to show Nick Saban and Lane Kiffin he has what it takes to lead the Tide in the spring, but Coker might be a better option come summer. 

Check out Matt Scalici from AL.com break down the latest in the Alabama QB battle with Adam Lefkoe

 

Highlights courtesy of XOs Digital

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Tennessee Moving Season Opener to Sunday Night Great Move for Program

Tennessee already had a tricky opponent on the schedule for Week 1, and the Vols have decided that they're going to step into the spotlight for that matchup in front of a curious audience.

The Vols announced on Tuesday that their Week 1 matchup with Utah State at Neyland Stadium in Knoxville will be pushed back one day to Sunday, Aug. 31, and will kick off at 7 p.m. on the new SEC Network.

"The atmosphere and energy in Knoxville will be unrivaled," head coach Butch Jones said in a release from Tennessee. "We're also excited about being one of the schools featured on the first weekend of SEC Network football telecasts, and we are looking forward to this tremendous opportunity."

Good move for Tennessee?

No, it's a great move.

The SEC Network will show at least six games on opening weekend, including two on Thursday, Aug. 28 (Texas A&M vs. South Carolina and Temple vs. Vanderbilt), and SEC Nation, the SEC Network's "GameDay clone," will originate from Auburn on Saturday, Aug. 30 before the Tigers host Arkansas.

Opening weekend combined with the launch of the SEC Network on Aug. 14 has allowed the SEC to own opening weekend and create a four-day football festival across the Southeast.

Not only will Tennessee be a part of that festival, it'll now be a featured part in prime time on Sunday night against an opponent that can absolutely spring the upset.

Utah State isn't a power, but the Aggies are tricky.

They should get electric quarterback Chuckie Keeton back after an ACL tear ended his 2013 season prematurely. SEC fans remember the Aggies from their near-upset of then-defending national champion Auburn in the season-opener in 2011, but they've also topped Utah, taken Wisconsin and USC to the wire, and beaten a ranked Louisiana Tech team over the last three seasons.

They're not a pushover by any means, and a good performance by the Vols should resonate across the country. 

Is it a risk?

Sure it is. The first two games on Tennessee's schedule should be considered "tricky," as both Utah State and Arkansas State will make the trek to Rocky Top.

But this Tennessee team needs to know about itself before hitting the meat of its schedule, when it travels to Norman, Okla., in Week 3. Creating a big-game atmosphere on the opening weekend—even if that's a bit of a stretch—will benefit this young Vols team that will play Oklahoma, Georgia, Florida, Ole Miss, Alabama and South Carolina this season.

It needs to be ready, and Utah State on a Sunday night in front of a national audience (and yes, it will be a national audience on the SEC Network once carriage deals are completed) will provide Jones an opportunity to find out a lot about his team.

 

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

 


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Ex-Michigan Safety Josh Furman Will Transfer to Oklahoma State

Oklahoma State has picked up a much-needed addition—and that may be putting it lightly—to the back end of its secondary. Former Michigan safety Josh Furman, who is on track to graduate this spring and should be eligible to play in 2014, confirmed on Twitter that he is transferring to OSU.

Furman, who was conspicuously absent from the online roster Michigan posted this spring, made the confirmation after being asked directly by Jimmie Tramel of the Tulsa World:

Last year's Cowboys defense was stronger than any of Mike Gundy's tenure, finishing No. 6 in the country in the Football Outsiders F/+ ratings. However, it loses both starting safeties—Daytawion Lowe and Shamiel Gary—to graduation, and oft-used backup Lyndell Johnson was reportedly kicked off the team this offseason.

Furman was a Week 1 starter for Michigan last season, finishing the year with three total starts. He made 32 appearances, mostly in a reserve and special teams capacity, during his three active years in Ann Arbor, but the size of his role was in question heading into 2014, which may have played a part in his decision to transfer.

According to Nick Baumgardner of MLive.com, the Wolverines started sophomore Delano Hill, who has only made one game appearance (as a reserve linebacker) in his college career, at one of their safety spots during last Saturday's spring game.

It's hard to gauge exactly how their secondary will shape until 5-star recruit Jabrill Peppers arrives this summer, but the Wolverines aren't oozing depth at the position.

The experience of Furman will be missed.

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Odds on Where 5-Star WR George Campbell Lands at Next Level

George Campbell, the No. 1 WR in the 2015 class, is sure to have an impact wherever he lands. The 6'3", 184-pound athlete has the physical talent and technique to make any offense in the country better. 

Campbell had previously committed to Brady Hoke and the Michigan Wolverines, but he decommitted last December. Do the Wolverines still have a chance to bring in Campbell? Clemson is also in the running. After losing a lot of star power to the NFL draft in 2014, can the Tigers reload their roster in 2015 with the supremely talented Campbell?

Check out Adam Kramer break down the odds on where George Campbell will play at the next level. 

 

Highlights courtesy of XOs Digital.

Rankings from 247 Sports Composite

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Notre Dame Football: Comparing Everett Golson and Malik Zaire

SOUTH BEND, Ind. — Notre Dame has not named a starting quarterback. Everett Golson and Malik Zaire are jockeying for that position.

Seems simple enough, right?

Who knows when a starter will be named, but let’s dig into the quarterback competition and break down both Golson and Zaire in a variety of categories to try to gain a clearer picture of the position battle.

 

*All quotes obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted.

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Florida Football: 5 Players to Watch in Gators' Spring Game

We are just a few days away from the Florida Gators spring game and finally being able to see firsthand what these coaches have been talking about for the last couple of weeks.

If you’re no stranger to spring ball, you’ll know that coaches tend to brag about a lot of their players throughout camp, but it’s sometimes a different story when they take the field in live action.

That’s why the spring game is so important. It gives everybody a chance to display what they’ve been working on in a game-like atmosphere.

Let’s see what the freshman cornerback is truly capable of, how the quarterback looks and if a particular defensive lineman is really ready for an expanded role.

Here are some of the Florida Gators you should really be watching during this year’s spring game. 

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USC Football: Former 5-Star Chris Hawkins Ready to Take Charge in Secondary

USC's secondary is chock full of talent, and the coaches in Troy have been waiting for the next athlete to step up and assert himself as a playmaker. Through four weeks of spring ball, redshirt freshman cornerback Chris Hawkins has risen to the occasion.

With new secondary coach Keith Heyward having an objective eye for his stock, essentially every healthy athlete in the defensive backs corps has had equal opportunity to impress. That's especially important for the corner spot opposite Josh Shaw, which will likely be filled by way of competition. So far, Hawkins is proving that he's ready to live up to his highly touted status out of high school.

And this year, the coaches are definitely paying attention.

"He made a play," Heyward told FoxSports.com's Rahshaun Haylock after Saturday's scrimmage, referring to an interception the cornerback made. "I'm trying to find playmakers."  

Hawkins came into USC as a 5-star talent, but by no choice of his own, he ended up watching the 2013 season from the sidelines instead of participating.

When Anthony Brown got injured before USC's game against Hawaii, Hawkins thought he was going to be chosen to replace Brown. Instead, former defensive coordinator Clancy Pendergast called on Devian Shelton, and Hawkins knew then that the decision to redshirt had been made for him.

As fate would have it, Shelton only appeared in that one game for USC and has yet to make any significant contributions since. 

The old regime may have overlooked his immediate value to the team, but Hawkins is making sure to avoid a similar outcome this spring. So far, it seems to be working.

Defensive coordinator Justin Wilcox sung the cornerback's praises after Saturday's scrimmage:

Because he's performing so well, Hawkins is a legitimate threat to dethrone Kevon Seymour, who really improved and impressed during the second half of the 2013 season. Hawkins has the pedigree to be a regular starter and a desire to prove that he can live up to the reputation with which he came to USC.

Hawkins elaborated to Haylock about what his goals are for the spring:

I made it a point to send a message on the first day (of spring practice) that this is not the 17-year-old kid anymore. This isn't the young one, the little one. I'm still a pup but I wanted to make it clear...I'm here and I'm here to stay.

During next week's spring game, Hawkins will really have his time to shine. It will be in his best interest to leave a lasting impression on the coaches, as the competition during the fall is only going to intensify when USC's loaded 2014 signing class arrives on campus. After all, 5-star DB/WR Adoree' Jackson is coming, and he won't be denied.

Hawkins needs to use these remaining spring practices to show that he has star quality and to prove that the secondary needs him to be successful. 

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