NCAA Football News
SOUTH BEND, Indiana — Game week is finally upon us, as Notre Dame football begins its 2014 season Saturday when it hosts Rice.
GAMEWEEK!— Kerry Cooks (@CoachKerryCooks) August 25, 2014August 23, 2014
We’ve spent the summer months predicting and analyzing everything from position battles to the schedule to recruiting. Now it’s time to focus in on the actual season.
With just a few more days remaining until kickoff, here are some bold predictions for the upcoming season. Now these very well could end up wildly wrong, but hopefully they’ll still provide us with some insight into particular aspects of the Irish squad.
All quotes obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted.
The college football media-at-large agrees on many things this preseason: Florida State is the consensus best team, for example, and Todd Gurley is the consensus best running back. Will Muschamp needs eight or nine wins to save his job.
But not every issue breeds such crisp, clean consensus—especially on the subject of individual teams.
Which got us thinking: Whom do we disagree on most?
Of course, 60 voters is not representative of the entire college football media, but it's a big enough sample to work with. The results are, at the very least, strongly correlated with how the larger group of college football analysts think.
For the five teams listed, though, that thinking is basically a big ol' shrug of the shoulders.
In their first ever college football game, the Arizona Christian Firestorm have already found their way into the record books.
With Arizona Christian trailing Evangel University 30-9 in the third quarter, a high bounce on a punt deflected off returner Gabriel Jordan's hand and into the end zone, which threatened to make the score even more lopsided.
Instead, Jordan kept his composure. He broke one tackle as he picked up the ball and then let his blockers do their jobs.
It's important to note that this punt return officially goes down as a 100-yard touchdown, even though Jordan picked the ball up near the back of the end zone.
The Firestorm dropped their first game in program history, 40-16.
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The business of offering predictions in a sport that rarely follows a clear linear path can be a volatile one in which to stake a claim. Unpredictability is college football’s greatest currency; it also makes this part of the year appreciably more taxing for those tasked with connecting the dots as “analysts" or “writers."
That’s basically a fancy way of saying “professional educated-guesser.” Others might use a much different, less favorable description. So consider this particular prognostication as you will.
Oregon will conquer its demons this season. It will win the Pac-12, solve its Stanford problem and single-handedly remove the doubt hovering around a program that has been one or two wins away from cracking elite status.
With game week upon us, that’s my final prediction. The comment section should begin to spontaneously combust accordingly.
Full disclosure: Ohio State was my pick to win the national championship before Braxton Miller went out with a shoulder injury. While the Buckeyes can still be better than many realize, an injury of that magnitude is too significant to ignore.
So Oregon, you’re the next man up. As for why I’m pegging the Ducks and not Florida State, Alabama, Oklahoma, or [insert your team here that you are undoubtedly angry about being omitted], let’s explore how this educated guess came about.
The Obvious: Marcus Mariota
When you have the best college football player on the planet, you have a chance. That’s the first thing they teach you in football science, and it feels even more than appropriate when you assess just how perfectly Mariota fits his team and this offense.
That’s no knock on Jameis Winston, Brett Hundley, Bryce Petty or the slew of deserving names that warrant mention in this conversation. But Mariota—when healthy—stands on a pedestal by his lonesome.
The “when healthy” disclaimer is crucial for this discussion. Late last season Mariota dealt with a knee injury that hampered his performance. Although the numbers didn’t suddenly reach a screeching halt, the difference was obvious. He wasn't the same player.
Not so coincidentally, this was around the same time the Ducks’ 2014 season unraveled.
Before his knee became an issue, however, Mariota entered a new stratosphere of stardom and he did so without anyone really noticing. We acknowledge just how good he is now, but the transition from open-field highlight creator to complete, all-world quarterback happened somewhat seamlessly.
The next thing we knew, he was who he is today (and undoubtedly a more polished player than what we saw last year). What he has become is where Oregon’s national championship hopes come into focus.
Review national championship teams over the past 20 years or so and you will see one glaring trend: To win at this rate, you need a special player under center. There are exceptions, of course, but when you have a quarterback that can create, improvise or simply beat you the ol’ fashion way, you have the foundation for something truly spectacular.
The Pieces: A Shutdown Corner and a Potent Three-Headed Attack
Marcus Mariota’s return to Oregon had company in the “good news” department. Cornerback Ifo Ekpre-Olomu—a Bleacher Report first-team All-American—also passed on the draft for another year in Eugene.
In a conference bursting with elite quarterbacks, talented wide receivers and gifted offensive play-callers, having an elite corner is crucial. Ekpre-Olomu gives the Ducks security and flexibility on the back end. In turn, other areas—linebacker and safety, for starters—should also thrive because of his presence alone. It’s only one player, but his impact cannot be limited to that.
On the other side of the ball, Mariota will not be doing this whole thing by his lonesome. There will be moments where he makes it look like it, although the supporting cast on both sides will be an integral factor when it comes to breaking down barriers.
The Oregon running backs should have no issue breaking through things. Or around things. Or past things. There may not be a more impressive stable of physically gifted runners in the country, and they are incredibly versatile.
Byron Marshall and Thomas Tyner ran for more than 1,700 yards and found the end zone 23 times last season. Both are back and should be utilized plenty, sometimes on the field at the same time. Royce Freeman—one of the nation’s premier running back recruits in the 2015 class—will also join the group. Freeman, who’s listed at 229 pounds on his Oregon bio, adds a unique element to the explosiveness already in place.
"He's at the point where Tyner was at the end of last year," Oregon running backs coach Gary Campbell told Tyson Alger of The Oregonian. "He's fast. He's big and he's tough. A lot of times you get guys like him that come in and have great success in high school and they haven't really had to work at it and when they get into tough competition at the college level they shy away from it.”
An answer at corner and running back shouldn’t immediately have you screaming championship; that part comes next. But forcing turnovers and scoring obscene amounts of points is a part of this team’s identity.
The Necessary: Solving the Stanford (and Now Michigan State) Problems
In some ways, the reputation is unfair. After watching Stanford physically dominate Oregon at the line of scrimmage over the past two seasons, the Ducks have acquired a “soft” label because of the outcome in these two games.
While Stanford's brutish style has clearly been a problem, Oregon held up rather well late in games against quality opponents. Just last year the Ducks outscored UCLA and Washington—two ranked, physical teams that hung around the first two quarters—52-17 in the second half.
Oregon can play that brand of football, although it has come undone on the biggest stages. There’s no arguing that. The only thing that can help cool this conversation is a plan to fix what has been its undoing. At the very least, things are in place that tell you this is possible.
The Ducks will feature one of the nation’s premier offensive lines. The loss of starting left tackle Tyler Johnstone due to an ACL injury is crushing, but this unit should still be immensely talented (and experienced) without him. If you’re into quality center play, make a point to focus in on Hroniss Grasu as often as you can. No direct quarterback protector does it better.
On the other side of the ball, the answers aren’t quite as concrete. Still, there are reasons for optimism.
This is where this prediction takes a leap of faith. By picking Oregon to win the national championship, I'm banking on defensive linemen Arik Armstead and DeForest Buckner realizing their immense potential. Each is powerful, checking in at least 6’7” and 290 pounds. Thus far, however, their play hasn’t matched the foundation.
According to their head coach, they have looked the part this spring. Take this coachspeak for what it's worth.
Helfrich: "Arik Armstead's really learning how to practice and has done a really nice job leading those guys along w/ DeForest (Buckner)."— Andrew Greif (@AndrewGreif) August 10, 2014
How all this comes together against Stanford—and an early out-of-conference matchup against Michigan State, who plays a similar brand of football—will dictate this season (and the proclamation of a title) greater than any item on the championship checklist.
The Verdict: The Perfect Time for a Breakthrough
The schedule is by no means easy. Outside of Michigan State and Stanford, Oregon will travel to UCLA, Utah and Oregon State. The Ducks will also welcome Washington and Arizona—a foe it knows quite well after last season’s 42-16 beatdown.
Chances are there’s at least a loss on there. That’s not a knock on the Ducks, but rather a realistic and honest observation that can made about every program not named Florida State.
Finishing a regular season unbeaten is incredibly demanding. Finding your way into the College Football Playoff won’t be quite as trying—with four teams now included in the mix—although the room for error remains minuscule. You need luck—quality bounces, favorable injury fortune, game-to-game breaks—and this certainly applies to Oregon. In fact, it applies to everyone.
Even if you benefit from all of these things, nothing should be assumed. There are plenty of exceptional, fortunate teams that never come close to a championship. Reaching that next echelon of success—the one Oregon is seeking out—is just really, really difficult.
The doubt that has slowly crept its way into the usual discussions when it comes to Oregon football will surface until that breakthrough finally arrives. Points, stats and neon-flavored tempo have done wonders for the brand; now it’s a matter of that next, next step. At the very least, the pieces are in place to wonder if 2014 is the year it finally comes together.
With a quarterback teetering toward video game cheat code, plentiful weapons at positions Oregon relies on and a working blueprint to stop the Stanford TNT from blowing the whole thing up yet again, this has all the makings of being that kind of year.
That is my opinion as a certified educated guesser.
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Even before Braxton Miller went down with a season-ending injury, Ohio State's season opener with Navy was hardly viewed as a warmup game for the Buckeyes. The Midshipmen's triple-option offensive attack is certainly a unique challenge for any opposing defense and one unlike any other on Ohio State's 2014 schedule.
Throw in redshirt freshman J.T. Barrett making his first career start at quarterback for the Buckeyes, and this weekend's Ohio State-Navy showdown has all of the makings of one of the most intriguing matchups of college football's opening weekend. Playing away from the friendly confines of Ohio Stadium doesn't bode well for the Buckeyes either, as the Midshipmen will serve as the host team in Baltimore for this weekend's game.
Add it all together, and Ohio State faces its most uncertainty in a season opener since perhaps 2002, when the Buckeyes welcomed Kliff Kingsbury's Texas Tech squad into Columbus. Led by a freshman running back named Maurice Clarett, that proved to be the start of a magical run for Ohio State, which ended with the Buckeyes hoisting the crystal ball in Tempe, Arizona.
Will another freshman step to the forefront this weekend and ease the mounting concern in Columbus this year? Only time will tell. But until then, here's everything you need to know about Ohio State's matchup with Navy:
Date: Saturday, Aug. 30
Time: 12:00 p.m. ET
Place: M&T Bank Stadium in Baltimore, Maryland.
TV: CBS Sports Network
Spread: Ohio State (-14) Vegas Insider.
Nebraska kicks off its 125th season of college football against Florida Atlantic on Saturday. When the matchup was originally scheduled, fans expected to see a battle of the Pelini brothers. That won't be the case, after all.
Carl Pelini resigned from Florida Atlantic last October a midst drug use allegations. The news overshadowed the Owls' 2013 season. Despite having a good November, the team still finished 6-6 overall, which was not what FAU envisioned for the season.
The two programs last met in 2009, where the Huskers put up a 49-3 victory in the season opener at Memorial Stadium. It's the only time the two have met until now.
Who will come out victorious in this Week 1 matchup?
Where: Memorial Stadium, Lincoln, Neb.
When: Saturday, August 30 at 3:30 p.m. EST
Watch: Big Ten Network
Listen: Husker Sports Network or Sirius Channel 146, XM 201
Betting Line: Nebraska (-23)
Florida State has depth and experience nearly everywhere on the field.
Oklahoma State has talent but little depth and even less experience.
The Cowboys have just six players on their roster who have 10 starts or more, Noles247's Chris Nee notes. By comparison, FSU has six offensive starters with 10 or more starts (including an offensive line that combined has 106 starts).
And FSU's edge in depth will surely come into play in the second half. The Seminoles, for example, will start Karlos Williams at tailback but also will mix in Dalvin Cook and Mario Pender—ensuring that a fresh running back will be pounding head-first at a Cowboys first-team defense that will likely be winded in the second half.
Here's a look at keys to victory for both teams, players to watch and a prediction:
TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — Game week is finally here.
No more empty Saturdays pondering the days until college football season is here. This Saturday, Alabama will hit the Georgia Dome turf for some real, live football against the West Virginia Mountaineers.
Two years ago when this game was scheduled, it looked like a doozy, with the Mountaineers looking like a team on the rise under Dana Holgorsen after putting up 70 against Clemson in the Orange Bowl.
Not so much anymore. West Virginia proceeded to lose 14 of its next 25 and come stumbling into 2014 looking for answers.
Nick Saban, though, had plenty of good things to say about the Mountaineers on Thursday, the day before the Crimson Tide started putting in West Virginia-specific work.
“They’re a very explosive team, have a lot of team speed, scored a lot of points on a lot of people last year,” he said. “I think when they played well defensively they were a pretty good team. When they didn’t…
“They got a lot of players back on defense, and watching their spring game they looked very good on defense. It’s going to be a real challenge for us as all first games are, but it’s also a great barometer to see where you are. So we’re looking forward to it.”
Here’s everything you need to know:
Date: Saturday, Aug. 30
Time: 2:30 p.m. CT (3:30 ET)
Place: Georgia Dome in Atlanta, Georgia
Radio: Crimson Tide Sports Network, MSN Radio
Spread: Alabama by 26-27 points, according to Vegas Insider.
Van Jefferson, a 4-star wide receiver, has officially decided where he will be playing his college football. Jefferson had to pick between Tennessee, Georgia and Ohio State. He took the time to sit down with Bleacher Report to give his digital exclusive commitment. Where do you think he will go?
Watch the video to find out.
Rankings courtesy of 247Sports composite.
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TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — It’s become a local holiday of sorts around these parts: Depth Chart Day.
Alabama coach Nick Saban released the first—and only—official depth chart of the season. He always warns that this is in no way concrete and should be taken with a grain of salt.
So let’s break it down.
Below is the depth chart handed out to media members on Monday and a few takeaways from it.
1. Freshmen in key roles
It was all but official up until Monday, but it looks like Alabama will enter the season with a true freshman at left tackle. Cam Robinson, a former 5-star recruit, will be tasked with protecting the quarterback’s (whoever it is) blind side. While Saban said he couldn’t remember ever having started a freshman at such a key spot, it shows the confidence Saban has in the freshman.
Elsewhere, plenty of members of Alabama’s No. 1 2014 recruiting class dot the depth chart.
Joshua Frazier or Da’Shawn Hand could see some playing time on the defensive line, while Saban said Rashaan Evans has impressed at outside linebacker. Two 5-star freshman corners, Marlon Humphrey and Tony Brown, are both listed as second-team corners.
The only other true freshman starter, though, is at punter, where JK Scott is set to handle those duties.
2. Rotation at inside linebacker
Alabama has three capable options at inside linebacker in senior Trey DePriest, junior Reggie Ragland and sophomore Reuben Foster. It looks like the three of them will all play at some point in certain situations.
Foster is one of Saban’s higher-profile recruits, a 5-star from Auburn High School that Alabama snatched from its in-state rival. He’s dealt with frequent neck-stinger injuries stemming from poor tackling form. Saban said he’s learning and improving in that area.
“Reuben is one of these guys that loved to duck his head when he tackled,” he said. “I'm not saying he wasn't an effective tackler. That's what created a lot of problems with his stingers. We've had to re-, sort of, teach him how to take on blockers, how to tackle, so that he is not doing that. Now he's been able to stay healthier and he's been able to make it through scrimmages and he's not had the same issues. I think that's important because I think he can be a player who can contribute a lot to this team this year, especially with the depth situation we have at inside backer.”
It looks like Foster will have a big role on this defense, as he’s listed in that “/” spot at both starting linebacker spots. He’s likely to contribute based on the opponent and the situation at hand.
3. Versatility on the defensive line
One of Saban’s frustrations in releasing a depth chart is that things don’t always stay the same in terms of formations or personnel.
A’Shawn Robinson is the perfect example.
The 6’4”, 320-pound defensive lineman could play inside or outside up front, depending on the type of offense Alabama faces. Against West Virginia, he’ll likely play in the middle at nose against a spread-out, uptempo attack, where Alabama wants to have some speed. Against a power team like LSU, though, that role could go to Brandon Ivory, with Robinson outside.
“Really, with the defensive line situation that we have, if we're playing against a team that was in regular, we would play A'Shawn at five-technique and Ivory at nose because they're the best guys to stop the run,” he said. “In nickel situations, we try to get more athletic when we play nickel.
“So now, whether it's Jarran Reed or A'Shawn, they kind of go in and play nose and three-technique with some of our other guys, whether it's Jonathan Allen or Dalvin Tomlinson or whatever, so that we're a little bit more athletic in the pass-rush part of it, got a little more speed on the field, guys can chase down screens better, all those types of things.”
That kind of versatility on the defensive line is a luxury Alabama has with so many diverse options. The three-deep is loaded with quality talent all around who can play in any number of scenarios.
4. Running back rotation
While there were plenty of back-slashes across the depth chart, there wasn’t one at running back, where Saban has seemingly decided on a hierarchy in the backfield, with Derrick Henry passing Kenyan Drake.
He still, though, appreciates the diversity that all three bring to the table and wants to get all three involved in the offense.
“Derrick Henry and T.J. (Yeldon) probably are more of the sort of inside, downhill, do-it-all kind of runners,” Saban said. “Kenyan Drake, because of his great speed, can do those things but is also a really good receiver as well as a regular runner. I think all three of those guys are guys we definitely want involved in the game that have playmaking ability. We're very confident that all three of them can make a significant contribution to our team in some kind of way this year.”
5. Not settled on a quarterback
If you were expecting a resolution to Alabama’s quarterback competition, you were disappointed on Monday, with both Blake Sims and Jake Coker listed in the No. 1 slot.
It may seem like a given that both will play equally in the opening game, but Saban wasn’t even ready to go that far yet.
“We don't have any plans to do that at this point in this game,” Saban said. “But that doesn't mean that whatever pitcher starts the game is necessarily going to pitch nine innings. I mean, Joe Girardi tells Tanaka he's starting in the game, he's not telling him he's going to pitch nine innings. Does he tell them that, or does he just pitch until he doesn't pitch well any more?”
He later said, “That decision has not been made yet” when asked if both quarterbacks would play.
Follow on Twitter @marctorrence.
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With a new alternate uniform, the Penn Quakers like to think of themselves as the "Oregon of the Ivy League."
Penn recently showed off its different uniform combinations for this upcoming season to its players. When the players saw the new gray alternate uniforms, the room erupted.
Of course, the Quakers still don't have as many uniform combinations as the Ducks. But that's not stopping them from taking on an interesting nickname.
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Police in Fayetteville are investigating the apparent arson of a truck owned by Arkansas quarterback Brandon Allen after the vehicle was one of three found in the area burned early Monday morning.
A report from 5NewsOnline.com indicated Allen's vehicle, a Chevy Avalanche given to him by his father, was found burning near 4 a.m. ET when the alarm sounded and woke up the Razorbacks signal-caller. He phoned police and the Fayetteville fire department, who put out the blaze.
The arsonists allegedly allowed the vehicle to roll into the ditch as it burned. There have been no suspects named, nor have any injuries related to the crimes been reported. Allen was at home and was unharmed, Arkansas head coach Bret Bielema confirmed to KFSM-TV's Chris Breece:
Allen is not expected to publicly comment on the situation. Bielema said he will not be addressing the matter after Monday nor giving any more details about the case as police continue their investigation.
Sgt. Craig Stout told The Associated Press (via ESPN.com) that Allen's vehicle was set on fire about two hours after a prior reported incident. It is unclear whether the arsons were tied to his status on the football team. Stout did not say whether the initial fire was to someone's vehicle tied to the program.
Katelynn Zoellner of 5 News shared some images from the scene and the truck:
Allen, who was named Arkansas' starter early in camp, threw for 1,552 yards and 13 touchdowns against 10 interceptions as a sophomore. He will be backed up by his brother Austin Allen, who is heading into his redshirt freshman season.
A marked improvement from Brandon Allen will be needed for the Razorbacks to contend in 2014. The Razorbacks suffered through a 3-9 season in 2013, including an 0-8 mark in the SEC. Last season was Bielema's first in Fayetteville after making the surprising decision to leave Wisconsin after three consecutive Rose Bowl appearances.
“I’ve been here when we’ve had bad years, obviously,” Allen told Robbie Neiswanger of the Arkansas News. “But myself, I’ve never really been part of a losing season like that. That was definitely something I don’t want to go through again.”
The Razorbacks open their season Saturday with a trip to sixth-ranked Auburn. They'll then play three consecutive games against unranked opponents before continuing their SEC schedule.
Arkansas is a combined 7-17 since Bobby Petrino's controversial departure.
Follow Tyler Conway (@tylerconway22) on Twitter
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The Auburn Tigers were 13 seconds away from a national championship in 2013. They are looking to rebound in 2014 and hoist that new CFB trophy in Arlington. Do you think they can do it?
Watch the video to see the ultimate Auburn hype tape.
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Football fans, rejoice. Your favorite time of the year is here, as action gets underway on fields across America at every level.
Days away from kickoff at the collegiate level, we have a chance to look back at a busy weekend of high school games that featured some of the country's most coveted recruits. Season-opening showdowns and nationally televised matchups cast the spotlight on these prized prospects and provided the latest glimpse of their potential.
We'll examine these top performances every Monday throughout the season, highlighting playmakers who could someday dominate college competition. Though only a few regions are underway with the 2014 season, there are several sensational efforts to recap from this past weekend.
Here's our review of eight standouts who shone.
4-star 2015 RB Eric Swinney, Sandy Creek High School (Tyrone, Georgia)
The Ole Miss commit erupted in the second half of a 21-13 victory over Archer High School. Swinney gained 149 of his 220 rushing yards after intermission, per David Friedlander of the Gwinnett Daily Post.
He used 34 carries to bring Sandy Creek back from a 13-0 disadvantage. A nine-yard touchdown scamper put the team on top for good.
Swinney, who rushed for 2,499 yards and 43 touchdowns during the past two seasons, committed to the Rebels in May. Rated 11th nationally among running backs in 247Sports' composite rankings, he also holds offers from Alabama, Miami and Ohio State.
5-star 2015 athlete Torrance Gibson, American Heritage High School (Fort Lauderdale, Florida)
It may have only been a preseason tuneup, but the stakes were high for Gibson in a matchup against Dwyer High School that was broadcast nationally on ESPNU. Gibson, aiming to prove he belongs at quarterback in college, showcased a powerful arm and passed for 298 yards in a 49-23 victory, per David Furones of the Miami Herald.
The 6'4", 200-pound prospect threw five touchdowns and rushed for another score. He launched a 72-yard scoring strike to 2016 Miami commit Dredrick Snelson on the final play of the first half:
Gibson, gunning for a state-championship repeat, connected with Snelson for three touchdowns. He also made headlines for his choice of shoes, which featured an Ohio State logo:
He confirmed the Buckeyes are the team to beat during a postgame conversation with B/R's Kynon Codrington.
"Ohio State is my clear leader," Gibson said. "I like the offense they run, I really like everything. I know it's cold, but it's cold in the NFL too. The most important thing is they want me a quarterback, not athlete."
He added that Arizona and Oklahoma are also in his top three.
5-star 2015 QB Josh Rosen, St. John Bosco High School (Bellflower, California)
The country's top-ranked passer opened his senior season in Hawaii, where reigning California state champion St. John Bosco battled St. Louis High School at Aloha Stadium (Honolulu). Rosen orchestrated an offensive attack that produced 585 total yards in a 63-14 victory, per Chris Trevino of the Long Beach Press-Telegram.
He collected 252 yards and a touchdown through the air, adding another score on the ground. Rosen, who threw for 3,200 yards and 39 touchdowns as a junior, committed to UCLA over Michigan in March.
5-star 2015 DE Josh Sweat, Oscar Smith High School (Chesapeake, Virginia)
Though his team dropped its first game to Booker T. Washington (Miami, Florida) in a nationally televised game, Sweat proved he can do just about anything on the field. The 6'4.5", 240-pound playmaker performed well on both sides of the ball, starting his final high school season as the No. 1 overall recruit in 247Sports' composite rankings.
He posted five tackles, including three for loss, and two sacks at defensive end, per Craig Haubert of ESPN. Sweat also scored a rushing touchdown and racked up 90 total yards as a runner and receiver.
The dual-role could become taxing during the course of the season. His future undoubtedly awaits on the defensive side of the football:
Sweat is set to spend official visits at Ohio State, Virginia Tech, Georgia, Florida State and Oregon.
4-star 2015 QB Drew Lock, Lee's Summit High School (Lee's Summit, Missouri)
The Missouri commit dismantled an overwhelmed Truman High School defense Friday night, fueling an 81-42 win. Lock led Lee's Summit to an explosive performance, passing for 343 yards and six touchdowns, per Shawn Roney of The Examiner.
The 6'5", 195-pound prospect accomplished all that in less than three quarters of action. He departed before the final quarter after completing 14 of 18 pass attempts.
Lock came out firing. He finished the first three possessions with touchdown passes and continued to pour it on from that point.
4-star 2016 WR Josh Imatorbhebhe, North Gwinnett High School (Suwanee, Georgia)
He caught three touchdown passes in a thrilling 52-49 win over McEachern High School. Imatorbhebhe, a 6'2" 202-pound junior, scored on plays of 18, 30 and 29 yards, per David Friedlander of the Gwinnett Daily Post.
His opening night efforts included eight receptions for 173 yards. Here's a look at highlights from the dominant performance:
Imatorbhebhe holds offers from Missouri, Michigan, Georgia and Vanderbilt, among others.
4-star 2015 RB Jordan Scarlett, St. Thomas Aquinas (Fort Lauderdale, Florida)
The former University High School standout made the most of limited touches in his debut at St. Thomas Aquinas. The 5'11", 210-pound prospect scampered for 94 yards on just six carries in a 31-7 preseason victory over Dillard High School, per George Richards of the Miami Herald.
Scarlett broke several tackles before bursting into the open field for a 66-yard sprint on his final carry, scoring the game's first touchdown.
“It felt great to be back on the field, playing someone else,” he told Richards. “We came out better than I thought we would.”
After initially committing to FAU, Scarlett pledged to Miami while attending The Opening in July.
4-star 2015 WR Deon Cain, Tampa Bay Tech (Tampa, Florida)
Cain put his skills on display early and often during a preseason clash with Blake High School. He compiled 204 total yards in the first quarter of a 20-6 victory, per Mark Chisholm of The Tampa Tribune.
The Clemson commit currently plays quarterback but projects as a top-tier receiver in college. Cain rushed for two touchdowns in the contest, including an 80-yard dash on his first drive.
He added a 30-yard touchdown run in the third quarter. Cain also threw a 44-yard touchdown pass.
His performance included 286 total yards, highlighted by 185 yards on the ground.
Recruit ratings courtesy of 247Sports.
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It's officially kickoff week for the 2014 college football season, and preseason polls have been pouring in as experts try to sort out where every team belongs despite no games to judge off of just yet.
You can't look too much into any preseason Top 25 poll considering the massive changes it's sure to see when the action starts to unfold. With that said, a number of schools have proven through last year and the offseason that they're a class above the rest. Those few may dominate the top of rankings lists all season long, while pretenders fall out of the Top 25 completely.
The Associated Press and Amway Coaches have both released preseason polls, and though there is little difference between them, both spur plenty of talking points and hot takes entering the new season.
Let's take a look at both the AP and the Amway preseason Top 25 and break down what the rankings mean.
Top 25 Outlook
The 2014 season will begin just as last year's ended—with the college football world looking up at Jameis Winston and the Florida State Seminoles.
Coming off an undefeated, national-championship season that included a Heisman Trophy, the Noles nabbed the No. 1 spot in both preseason polls. It's far from surprising, considering Jimbo Fisher still has a stacked cupboard of talent on both sides of the ball that will more than alleviate the burdens of losing Kelvin Benjamin, Devonta Freeman and Tim Jernigan.
Few have forgotten about another school stacked with talent that has been running things in college football for awhile. Alabama comes in at No. 2 despite ending last year with two straight losses. How the quarterback position develops with either Jacob Coker or Blake Sims will decide whether the Tide are truly title contenders this year.
Both the Seminoles and Tide will be hard-pressed to make it a two-man race—especially entering the first season of the College Football Playoff. Oregon, Oklahoma and Ohio State are the favorites from their respective conferences and could be in line to make the first-ever CFP.
The Sooners are generating plenty of talk, even notching the No. 3 spot on one preseason poll. If Oklahoma head coach Bob Stoops continues his success over the Top 25 as ESPN's Jake Trotter shows, his team could win it all:
It will be easier said than done for the Buckeyes, who recently suffered a crushing blow by losing Heisman hopeful Braxton Miller for the season with a shoulder injury. The Columbus Dispatch's Tim May noted Ohio State's 2014 expectations among experts have tumbled since the news.
That might open things up for the Michigan State Spartans, who received a favorable Top 10 ranking and have last year's Big Ten Championship victory over the Buckeyes—and a Rose Bowl win—to build confidence off of.
But as much as some fans and even experts love to crown the top teams before the season begins, the teams just outside of the top five schools might be the most dangerous of them all.
The Auburn Tigers, last year's national runner-up who returned quarterback Nick Marshall, come in at a sneaky No. 6 in AP (No. 5 in Amway). Considering the Tigers were nowhere near ranked when last season began and it ended in Pasadena, they probably won't mind the ranking either way.
UCLA is much more than a dark horse in threatening Oregon's run at the Pac-12 title with Brett Hundley at the helm, and even a South Carolina or a Baylor could pull off the upset and win their conference with high early season aspirations.
But those who take the polls most seriously, or at least take most offense to them, are the schools that failed to be included at all.
The Michigan Wolverines were of that demographic, as quarterback Devin Gardner spoke some confident words in the wake of the Top 25, per Radio One Detroit's Lauren Beasley:
The rankings and polls are all fun and good, but nothing compares to the opportunity for these teams and players to make their own impact on said rankings. It's hard for some teams to be knocked off their perch in a certain poll, but through 12-plus games, each team will have its chance to make a mark.
With college football entering a new era of the CFP, though, the top of those rankings will be analyzed and critiqued more than ever, as four teams will stay alive for a national title when it's all said and done.
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WHEN: Saturday, Aug. 30, 7:30 p.m. ET
WHERE: Los Angeles Coliseum
The long-awaited arrival of a new era in USC football kicks off Saturday. Steve Sarkisian's first game as Trojans head coach pits him against the Fresno State Bulldogs, defending champions of the Mountain West and USC's last opponent in the 2013 season.
The Trojans blasted the Bulldogs in a 45-20 Las Vegas Bowl rout to cap last campaign. Duplicating that result would certainly be a resounding start to the new era.
Featuring a new offensive style and one of the most highly regarded defenses in the country, the Associated Press Top 25 Poll's No. 15-ranked team has plenty to prove in Week 1.
There's nothing quite like waiting until the last minute, but there are still a handful of important quarterback battles that have yet to be officially decided.
With Week 1 of the 2014 college football season just days away, some of these quarterback announcements could come down to hours, if not minutes, before opening kickoff. Of course, all should be decided before then, but why tip your hand?
It's also possible that some of these quarterback battles bleed into the season. Which power-five quarterback battles remain? The answers are in the following slides.
The new era is upon us, as higher-ups in college football scraped the BCS after 16 years in favor of the new four-team College Football Playoff (CFP) that begins following the 2014 season.
What does it mean for the SEC?
The rules for selection by the 13-member committee are rather simple.
"The format is very simple," said CFP executive director Bill Hancock. "It's symmetrical. It's really beautiful. It's a four‑team bracket. We all love our brackets. The committee will select the best four teams, period, no strings attached."
Well, except that there are strings attached.
One of the stated points of emphasis for selection-committee members is conference championships, which contradicts the party line of choosing the four best teams, period, with no strings attached. The four-team structure also has an implied goal of making the event a national spectacle, which is best accomplished by having teams from around the country in the field.
Simply put, it's going to be very difficult for a team from any conference—even the mighty SEC—to get a second team in the mix, especially in Year 1 of the event.
Difficult, but not impossible—and certainly better than the options around the country, as NFL.com's Bryan Fischer notes.
SEC Media Days had talk of how bad it would be if they didn't get two teams in the playoff. Everybody else: We can't wait to put one in.— Bryan Fischer (@BryanDFischer) July 23, 2014
What needs to happen for the SEC to get a second team in the field of four?
The SEC West is the roughest neighborhood in college football, and while that is a benefit for whichever team emerges as the division champ, it could serve as its downfall in the discussion to get a second team in the playoff.
With conference championships having importance, it's only common sense to assume that a team that didn't even win its division, much less its conference, would be viewed negatively by the selection committee. As a result, the SEC needs top-end balance between the SEC East and West, similar to the 2008, 2009 and 2012 seasons when the SEC Championship Game essentially served as a national semifinal.
That means at least one team—it doesn't matter which one—has to step up in the SEC East to not only become a competitive team, but a top-end, national championship-worthy team.
There are plenty of options.
South Carolina chimed in at the No. 9 spot in the preseason Associated Press Top 25, with Georgia at No. 12, Missouri at No. 24 and Florida second among teams outside of the poll receiving votes.
If a team from the East can transform the SEC Championship Game into a de facto national quarterfinal rather than a victory lap for the SEC West champ, it will help pad the SEC's resume to get a second team into the CFP.
Championship Week Chaos
Even if the loser of the SEC Championship Game is a viable option, that team will still need a ton of help from around the country.
Last season Auburn got help in the Big Ten Championship Game when one-loss Michigan State upset then-undefeated Ohio State to knock the Buckeyes out of the BCS Championship Game and paved the way for SEC champ Auburn to waltz in.
That won't cut it.
There needs to be even bigger chaos, like in the 2012 Big Ten Championship Game when five-loss Wisconsin upset two-loss Nebraska, 70-35. No, the Cornhuskers wouldn't have had a shot at a playoff spot had one existed that year, but the loss threw a wrench in the works in the BCS and entire bowl picture.
That kind of thing needs to happen in 2014 for a second SEC team to slide in.
If a Big Ten West team—which, this year, is largely viewed as the lesser of the two Big Ten divisions—gets hot for 60 minutes in the title game, it would throw the entire playoff picture up in the air. Or if the ACC Coastal champ—also viewed as the lesser of two divisions—shows up in the ACC Championship Game against Florida State, Clemson or another Atlantic division power.
It'd be incredibly beneficial for the SEC's second-best team for contenders to fall in the final week of the season and finish the season on a sour note with no momentum.
A '2011 Scenario'
Whether it's teams from opposing divisions or even two teams from the same division, there will be a scenario that develops at some point during the playoff when two teams from the same conference are unquestionably the two best teams in the country.
This was the case in the 2012 BCS National Championship Game following the 2011 season, when Alabama topped LSU, 21-0, in the Mercedes Benz Superdome after losing to the Tigers, 9-6, in Tuscaloosa earlier in the season.
The debate between No. 2 Alabama and No. 3 Oklahoma State leading into the BCS selection show wasn't whether Alabama was better than Oklahoma State; it was whether the Crimson Tide or Cowboys "deserved it more."
That debate would be rendered meaningless in this new format, because as the No. 2 and 3 seeds, they'd get to settle it on the field. Could the same situation arise in 2014?
Alabama checks in as the No. 3 team in the preseason B/R Top 25, with Auburn at the No. 4 spot. The two intra-state rivals square off in the Iron Bowl on Nov. 29 on the final week of the regular season, and if they hold serve throughout the season, could find themselves in a scenario where they are unquestionably two of the top four teams in the nation.
A non-division champ likely won't sit well with the selection committee, but if there's no doubt, then there's not much the members can do about it.
Barrett Sallee is the lead SEC college football writer for Bleacher Report. Quotes were obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted. All stats are courtesy of CFBStats.com, and all recruiting information is courtesy of 247Sports.
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The Oregon Ducks open up the 2014 campaign in the friendly confines of Autzen Stadium against the South Dakota Coyotes.
While this game will mostly amount to a preseason affair for the Ducks, it will be an important first step, as the Ducks have to get ready to face the Michigan State Spartans, the defending Rose Bowl champions, in Eugene on September 6.
South Dakota finished 4-8 last season in the Missouri Valley Conference and are 51-point underdogs heading into Eugene. The Coyotes know they’re coming to Eugene to be used as a punching bag, but so did Appalachian State when they played Michigan in 2007. You can never be 100 percent sure of anything. That’s why they play the game.
If all goes according to plan, however, the Ducks will be up by five or six touchdowns by halftime and will rest their starters for next week’s big game. As for this one, here’s everything you need to know:
- Date: Saturday, Aug. 30th
- Time: 7:30 PM Pacific Time
- Place: Autzen Stadium (Eugene, OR)
- TV: Pac-12 Networks
- Spread: Oregon is a 51-point favorite over South Dakota, according to 5dimes.eu.
It's almost hard to remember a time when the SEC wasn't the dominant conference in college football.
But with a host of conference teams undergoing a transition of key personnel, and Florida State returning its national championship core, might the SEC's power be on the wane?
Don't be so sure.
"It's interesting to me that we are always the basis of comparison,'' SEC commissioner Mike Slive told Bleacher Report. "To me, [that] is the sincerest form of flattery.''
Slive makes a compelling case. Consider the following facts:
• The SEC has won seven of the last eight national college football championships.
• A record eight SEC teams are in the preseason AP top 25, five in the first 13.
• In the latest recruiting ratings, eight SEC teams ranked among the top-25 classes and six were among the top 10.
On the other hand, six—No. 2 Alabama, No. 9 South Carolina, No. 12 Georgia, No. 13 LSU, No. 21 Texas A&M and No. 24 Missouri—of the conference's eight ranked teams head into the season with new starting quarterbacks. Gone are Alabama's AJ McCarron, South Carolina's Connor Shaw, Georgia's Aaron Murray, LSU's Zach Mettenberger, Texas A&M's Johnny Manziel and Missouri's James Franklin.
Compare that with the school that broke the SEC title run. Florida State returns as the consensus No. 1 pick in the polls with Heisman-winning QB Jameis Winston leading the way.
Or glance out West, where the increasingly powerful and confident Pac-12 has starting QBs returning to 10 of its 12 teams, including a pair of Heisman contenders in Oregon's Marcus Mariota and UCLA's Brett Hundley.
For its part, the SEC has hardly blinked at the upheaval it faces under center. Rather, the conference has shifted its recruiting focus toward building a league dominated by an elite class of running backs.
Go through the rosters of the elite SEC teams and you will see depth charts loaded with quality backs such as Todd Gurley at Georgia and T.J. Yeldon of Alabama. Watch what happens at LSU when five-star freshman running back Leonard Fournette blasts through holes opened by a veteran offensive line.
Who is to say the mighty SEC will not turn itself from a conference of QBs into a conference of running backs?
Who's to say that Gurley, for example, won't emerge not only as the leader of the Georgia offense but as a Heisman front-runner? Or that Fournette doesn't burst on the scene as the latest highly-touted freshman who can lead a team into contention for the national championship?
Still, the SEC's talent drain at quarterback has more than a few foreseeing a change in the game's on-field power structure.
"I guarantee there are a lot of teams in the SEC that aren't Alabama that wish they were Nebraska, wish they were Michigan, wish they were Ohio State," Nebraska coach Bo Pelini said at Big Ten media day last month. Pelini has had coaching stints in the SEC and Big 12 as well as the Big Ten. "Don't talk to me about the SEC...You know, the whole SEC isn't Alabama, it isn't LSU, it isn't Georgia. Let's talk about certain teams...There are some teams in the SEC that are trying to bridge the gap to be us. Everybody wants to lump the whole SEC into one category. Let's not go there."
But even Arizona coach Rich Rodriguez said this summer at the Pac-12 media days that the SEC "should claim themselves as the best league in the country because they've earned it and they've done it." Another enviable recruiting class won't hurt, nor will a sparkling new SEC television network, which promises to pour the kind of money into SEC schools that the Big Ten and Pac-12 have already seen with their networks.
Slive also notes that the conference's success is wider than what happens on Saturdays.
"It's great to be known for football, but people don't think about the other sports," Slive said. "A Final Four in men's basketball. We won in baseball. We won in softball. We won in golf. We won seven national championships last year. We average six or seven national championships a year. In many ways we are in the midst of a golden age in the SEC.
"And we have changed the culture. We have become very diverse. We had never had a minority coach. Now it's reached the point where it is not even a story. Before, many stories in the SEC were off the field. Now the focus is on championships."
Still, Slive conceded that it is unlikely that any conference will be able to repeat the SEC's string of seven consecutive national championships in football. "I often think of that record in same category as Joe DiMaggio's 56-game hitting streak. It's just one of those records that will never be broken."
Johnny Football, Part 2
Is Texas A&M sophomore Kenny Hill the 2014 version of Johnny Football?
Check out these stats from Hill's prep days at Southlake Carroll High School. In his final two seasons at Carroll, Hill passed for 5,305 yards and 45 touchdowns and ran for 2,305 yards and 46 scores on the ground. That's 7,710 total yards of offense and 91 TDs, which would be a good total running against a scout team, much less the 5A competition Carroll (which also won a state title in Hill's junior season) faced.
And in keeping up with the Johnny Football reputation, Hill had some problems this spring with local authorities in Aggieland, as he was arrested for a public intoxication charge.
For now, the incident is being considered an aberration and he has settled into his new role. His pedigree suggests he is ready. His father, Ken, is a former major league pitcher. And Carroll has a history of producing college signal-callers, previously sending Todd Dodge to Texas and Greg McElroy to Alabama. The school has won eight state titles in nine trips to the championship game and also can claim three high school national championships.
Bad omen for Seminoles?
Here's the hope for Florida State opponents who are counting on the Seminoles not repeating as national champions. In the 64 preseason polls conducted by the Associated Press, only 10 teams that have started No. 1 finished the year as national champions. Also, the last four No. 1 AP preseason choices didn't finish in the top seven in the final polls.
Winds of change
The SEC is not alone in replacing key talent at quarterback.
Look at the Associated Press Top 25.
No. 5 Ohio State and No. 16 Clemson have quarterback questions. Notre Dame, which is now dealing with academic issues, will also go into the season with a question mark at QB in Everett Golson, who is coming off a year's absence because of academic reasons.
Let's cut to the chase this season and take a closer look at the QBs residing in the top 10:
1. Florida State: Winston returns, which has the Seminoles as the overwhelming pre-season No. 1 pick.
2. Alabama: AJ McCarron is gone after a remarkable 36-4 record as a starter and two national championships. Replacing him with one person will be difficult, which is why Tide coach Nick Saban has watched a battle between FSU transfer Jacob Coker and fifth-year senior Blake Sims. Saban is expected to make a decision this week, but he really has three games—West Virginia, Florida Atlantic and Southern Miss—to find his primary QB. And truth be told, Alabama is good enough to win without a dominant QB.
3. Oregon: If he stays healthy, Mariota could get the daily double that Winston achieved last season—a Heisman Trophy and a national championship.
4. Oklahoma: Trevor Knight is a rising star who blossomed in the Sooners' Sugar Bowl win over Alabama last season. He is the reason OU is in the Final Four discussion.
5. Ohio State: That sound you hear is of the Buckeyes' national championship hopes crashing after Braxton Miller reinjured his shoulder last week in practice and was declared out for the season. Redshirt freshman JT Barrett will be the starter against Navy this week. He is no Braxton Miller. Still, the schedule is soft enough (see below) to carry their hopes into November.
6. Auburn: Nick Marshall returns. He was good enough to get the Tigers into the national title game a year ago and he is good enough to keep the Tigers in the mix until at least the Iron Bowl rematch with Alabama.
7. UCLA: The Bruins look like a top-10 team, and Brett Hundley is a prime reason. Hundley passed on a chance to enter the NFL early. Will it pay off for the Bruins?
8. Michigan State: Defense, defense, defense, plus a solid running game. What's missing? A star QB. Connor Cook is a middle-of-the-pack talent, but he has come up with some clutch plays in crucial games (against Ohio State in the Big Ten title game and against Stanford in the Rose Bowl).
9. South Carolina: One of the biggest questions for the Gamecocks on offense is whether Dylan Thompson can step in for Connor Shaw, who was the winningest QB in Gamecocks history.
"He's a fifth-year player," coach Steve Spurrier told a group of reporters when asked about Thompson at the SEC media gathering last month. "We believe he's a very good player; he has chance to lead us to a big season."
10. Baylor: Bryce Petty was the Big 12 Offensive Player of the Year last season thanks to an amazing 4,200 yards 32 touchdowns and only three interceptions. He also ran for 14 TDs. It's little wonder the Bears are regarded as the main threat to Oklahoma in the Big 12.
Not the Power Five
The newly-minted College Football Playoff system may end some of the debates surrounding what team truly is best, but that's largely a Power Five conference problem. For those in the non-Power Five conferences, the new system means their chances to reach one of the two bowl semifinals will be extremely difficult.
That means, going into this week's season openers, the team with the most to lose is Central Florida, who must get through an extremely tight window if it hopes to be the first non-Power Five team to since Cincinnati in 2009 to finish the season among the top four teams in the nation.
UCF represents the American Athletic Conference, which, along with the Mountain West, Conference USA, the Mid-American and the Sun Belt, will place its highest-ranked team in either the Cotton, Peach or Fiesta Bowls this season.
Technically, the best team from any of those conferences is still eligible to make into the football Final Four games in the Sugar Bowl and Rose Bowl, but the odds of that happening right now are astronomical.
In the AP preseason poll, UCF was the highest-ranked team among the non-Power Five, finishing just outside of the top 25. Marshall, who finished 32 in the preseason vote, is C-USA's best bet and Boise State, at No. 41 is the Mountain West's highest-ranked team. Neither the MAC nor Sun Belt has a ranked team.
Boise State has name recognition, but the Broncos have fallen off the top-20 ladder in the last few years. Coach Chris Petersen bolted to Washington and the five Boise losses last season would have been a four-year total a few seasons ago
That leaves UCF, which has some intriguing credentials. The Knights are coming off a 12-1 season in which they made their first BCS appearance, beating Baylor in the Fiesta Bowl. In three of the past four seasons they have won 10 or more games.
But...they enter this season with zero margin for error, which means that Saturday's opener against Penn State in Dublin, Ireland is a "must-win" game. And so is a road game two weeks later against No. 24 Missouri, the defending SEC East champion.
Come out of those two games 2-0 and UCF will be a front-runner to play in a New Year's Day bowl game. But that's about it. The rest of the schedule and the AAC's status as a second-tier league will prevent a climb beyond the last rungs of the top 10.
With no conference championship game to use as a boost and no wins against any teams ranked in the top 25, UCF cannot surpass any Power Five conference teams, even a team with one loss.
Conventional wisdom says you can't win or lose championships before Labor Day, but in the case of UCF, a loss in August against Penn State will seal the Knights' fate, as well as the chances of all the other non-Power Five conferences teams.
Scheduling, scheduling, scheduling
Who you play matters. That's why the Buckeyes can remain a contender for the Big Ten title and national championship despite the loss of QB Braxton Miller. It's also why Ole Miss may turn out to be a dark horse possibility for the Final Four playoff. While Ohio State will avoid a trio of tricky Big Ten West teams—Nebraska, Iowa and Wisconsin—Mississippi will not see the SEC East. That means no dates with Georgia, Florida or South Carolina. Winning through those schedules is no sure thing, but the opportunity to surprise many is there.
How deep is the recruiting pool at Florida?
The Gators went 4-8 last season, which put coach Will Muschamp on a very warm coaching seat. Is it warranted?
Consider this: Jacoby Brissett, a Florida transfer is projected to be the starting QB at N.C. State, and Tyler Murphy, who graduated from Florida in December, but had a year of eligibility remaining, will be the starting QB at Boston College this fall.
That's a lot of unutilized talent for a job that wasn't exactly held by Tim Tebow. Jeff Driskel was awarded the job in spring after missing the last eight games last season following a broken right fibula against Tennessee.
You've got to be kidding
1. North Texas won nine games with a run-heavy offense and a bruising defense and posted a 36-14 win over UNLV in the Heart of Texas Bowl last season, a success quotient which has earned the Mean Green a startling nickname: The Stanford of Conference USA.
2. Only at Notre Dame. New top-of-the-line jerseys by Under Armour went on sale for $199 in the bookstore, which is the highest price of any jersey at retail.
3. The UCF-Penn State game in Dublin on Saturday might be postponed or cancelled because of a volcano eruption in Iceland, 900 miles away. The volcano could spread volcanic ash into the atmosphere, which could curtail flights to Europe, and keep both schools home.
4. The Atlanta Falcons announced that they will sell alcohol-infused cupcakes at games in the Georgia Dome this season. Can such sales for Georgia Dome college games be far behind?
Mark Blaudschun covers college football as a national columnist for Bleacher Report. He has more than three decades of experience covering sports at a variety of newspapers in New Jersey, the Dallas Morning News and the Boston Globe. Follow him on Twitter @blauds.
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