NCAA Football News

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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Oregon Football: Week 1 Spring Practice Stock Report

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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2015 RB Isaiah White Talks Rutgers, Adrian Peterson

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

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

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

 

Highlights courtesy of xosdigital.com

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Things didn't work out as planned.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Recruit information and statistics courtesy of 247Sports

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Penn State Football: Week 3 Spring Practice Stock Report

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

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

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

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

 

Christian Hackenberg

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

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

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

— Josh Moyer (@ESPNJoshMoyer) April 3, 2014

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

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

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

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

 

Mounting Injuries

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

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

— Travis Johnson (@bytravisjohnson) April 3, 2014

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

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

 

Wooten Turning Heads

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

"Star"

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

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

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

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

— Drew (@WhyteOut_PSU) March 29, 2014

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Powers replied, "Confirmed and correct."

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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Virginia Tech Football: Week 2 Spring Practice Stock Report

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

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

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

 

Carlis Parker

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Wyatt Teller

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

David Wang

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Marshawn Williams 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Bucky Hodges

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Do Jameis Winston and Defending Champs Have an Encore?

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

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

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

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

 

Is Auburn Here to Stay?

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

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

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

 

Will Nick Saban, Alabama Return to the Throne?

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

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

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

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

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

 

Follow Bleacher Report Featured Columnist Patrick Clarke on Twitter. 

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Auburn Football: Week 3 Spring Practice Stock Report

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

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

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

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

 

"Everybody eats" on offense in 2014

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Dampeer already making an impact at center

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

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

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

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

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

 

Daniel back for a banged-up defensive line

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

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

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

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

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

 

Harding moved to weak-side linebacker

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

All of it will be so unseen.

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

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

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

Here is but one more important point.

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

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

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

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

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

The CFP will never share such a feeling.

 

Follow Brian Leigh on TwitterL @BLeighDAT

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Notre Dame Football: CB Rashad Kinlaw Dismissed from Team

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So could he be that commit?

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The primary reason is Jonathan Williams.

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

He can handle the load if given the opportunity.

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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


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College Football Playoff Committee Doesn't Need a Recusal Policy

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

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

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

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

But it doesn't really work.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

We expect nothing less. 

Follow on Twitter @ThePlayoffGuru

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College Football's 5 New National Championship Contenders for 2014

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

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

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

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

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

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

Connect with Greg on Twitter @gc_wallace

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

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

The last few years showed us this was very possible.

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

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

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

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

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

Begin Slideshow

South Carolina Football: Spring Practice Week 3 Stock Report

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

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

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

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

Even so, he knows his position is tenuous.

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

 

Just Chillin'

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

They're OK with it, to a point. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Through Thompson's Eyes

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

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

 

Offensive Line Looking Good

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

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

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

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

 

All quotes obtained firsthand unless otherwise indicated.

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Who's the Man?

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

In quotes released by LSU, Miles said:

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

Vague? Yes. 

Probably on purpose.

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

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

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

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

 

Men in the Middle

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

They don't have that this spring.

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

Who will those players be?

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

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

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

 

Meet Me Outside

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

Who's going to step up outside?

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

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

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

 

Evolution

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

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

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

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

We'll know a little bit more Saturday night.

 

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

 


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Florida Gators Football: Week 3 Spring Practice Stock Report

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

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

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

Here’s the biggest spring takeaways from Week 3.

 

The Good and Bad of the Defensive Tackles 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Quarterback Update 

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

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

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

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

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

 

Extra Points 

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

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

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

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

Until next week. 

Enjoy!

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USC Football: Week 3 Spring Practice Stock Report

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

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

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

 

Quarterbacks Call Plays

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Injury Report

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Work Hard, Play Hard

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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