NCAA Football News

At Which Premier Florida Program Will Stud RB Jacques Patrick Have Most Success?

Jacques Patrick is one of the toughest runners you will see in the 2015 class. This Florida native looks to be keeping his talents in state, with Florida, Florida State and Miami still in the mix.

Patrick has what every team is looking for in a collegiate running back. Only time will tell where this stud ends up. Where do you think he will land?

Watch College Football Analyst Michael Felder discuss where he thinks Patrick will land.

 

Highlights courtesy of XOS Digital.

Rankings from 247Sports' composite rankings.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Octavis Johnson Commits to South Carolina: What 4-Star ATH Brings to Gamecocks

South Carolina picked up three commitments for the 2015 class Monday, but none was as important as that of 4-star athlete Octavis Johnson, a projected defensive back from Clinch County High School in Homerville, Georgia.

Johnson announced the news with this tweet:

Picking up Johnson is a nice coup for the Gamecocks, who were always one of the favorites, but never the sole favorite, to land his services.

Per Phil Kornblut of GoGamecocks.com, Johnson had declared Tennessee his favorite as recently as last week and took a visit to Knoxville this spring. However, Clinch County assistant Rance Morgan explained that South Carolina was always in the back of his mind:

He had been thinking about South Carolina for awhile and South Carolina was always in his top three. He visited Tennessee a couple of weeks ago but kept thinking about South Carolina. He's been following recruiting and seeing the commitments picking up and he had to protect himself. He didn't want anything to slip away so he went ahead and pulled the trigger.

So, what does Johnson bring to the table in Columbia?

Versatility, mainly. He is capable of playing cornerback, safety, wide receiver or running back, and the Gamecocks can use him either (a) where he fits best or (b) where they most need a contributor.

At the moment, it looks like he might fall at the intersection of those two things. South Carolina is in desperate need of cornerbacks—according to Bleacher Report's Charles Bennett, converted tailback Jamari Smith is slated to start in 2014—and Johnson would prefer to begin his career in the defensive backfield instead of on offense.

"The wide receiver coach wants him to think about playing on the other side, but he wants to play cornerback," Morgan told Kornblut. "His favorite player is Champ Bailey."

Johnson isn't quite as long or fast as Bailey, one of the best defensive backs in football history, but he can do some of the same things. He is quick, and he breaks well on the ball in coverage. Here is how ESPN Scouts Inc. (subscription required) described Johnson as a prospect:

Johnson is a fun and exciting prospect. Plays in a very conservative, run dominated offense without many perimeter plays for him to be involved in. Would need to add bulk and strength to his frame to become a fulltime runner on offense. Measurables may be better suited for defense unless he's employed as a utility weapon in the spread offense which may be where his upside is the greatest. Will likely receive mid-major attention as well as some programs from the big five conferences.

STRENGTHS: Johnson is a quick, dynamic athlete who shows versatility to play in all three phases of the game. As a runner, has the speed to get the corner. Shows good balls skills to attack the football on both sides of the ball. Can break on the ball well in zone coverage. ... AREAS OF IMPROVEMENT: Lacks top end speed. Shows some hip tightness to change directions suddenly as a defender. Will need to add more bulk and strength to his frame. ... BOTTOM LINE: Johnson could be recruited on either side of the football. Is a versatile athlete who does not do any one thing great but has potential to be a BCS caliber prospect.

Johnson is 6'1" and weighs 181 pounds. Those are pretty good measurables for a new-age type of cornerback. He has the height to defend longer receivers on the outside and the speed to chase quicker ones down the field on fly-and-go patterns.

He ranks as the No. 266 overall player and the No. 24 athlete on the 247Sports composite. His composite grade (.9019) would rank him as the No. 24 pure cornerback in the 2015 class.

Together with fellow Gamecocks commit Mark Fields, the No. 12 pure cornerback in the class, Johnson gives South Carolina a foundation for a very good secondary in the future. No. 12-ranked athlete Jalen Christian is also capable of playing cornerback (although he is more likely to play receiver), and No. 27-ranked safety Antoine Wilder helps round out the promising secondary group.

South Carolina's 2014 class included three 4-star cornerbacks—Wesley GreenD.J. Smith and Chris Lammons—along with 3-star early enrollee Al Harris. Because of that positional depth, there is a chance Johnson might be asked, at some point, to try his hand at safety in order to keep the best five defensive backs on the field.

Either way, he and the rest of these younger players should fill a need—and soon—for the Gamecocks. The secondary might struggle a bit in 2014, but the future at the position is bright, talented and deep.

Johnson is another big reason why.

 

All recruiting rankings and information courtesy of 247Sports.

Follow Brian Leigh on Twitter: @BLeighDAT

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Projecting College Football's 2014 All-Breakout Team

Last summer, was Jameis Winston a household name?

Two summers ago, did you know anything about Johnny Manziel other than that small dustup with the law?

Everett Golson didn't even really have a job two summers ago, and all he did was lead Notre Dame to the BCS National Championship Game.

The unknown is what makes college football beautiful. Players come from out of nowhere to not only shine in the spotlight, but translate that to success after their college days are done.

Who are this year's candidates to break out? Our picks are in this slideshow.

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Despite Getting Burned, Nebraska's Dual-Sport Recruiting Efforts Won't Stop

Darin Erstad knows what Bubba Starling and Monte Harrison went through. He's been there. That doesn't mean he could make their decisions for them, though.

For the second time in four years, the Nebraska Huskers missed out on a touted recruit. Harrison decided to play pro baseball instead of playing two sports at Nebraska, much like Starling did in 2011.

Two-sport student-athletes are rare, and the time and physical demand are the major reasons. But they're not the only reasons. It’s also because of Major League Baseball.

Universities are faced with the challenge of competing against the promise of millions of dollars from MLB teams when trying to recruit athletes, whether or not they play multiple sports. Two of the more notable and recent cases involving two-sport athletes for Nebraska are Starling and Harrison.

Nebraska coach Bo Pelini recruited Starling as a quarterback, while Harrison was scouted at wide receiver. Both were expected to play baseball as well, so more time and effort were expended to recruit them. In the end, Starling and Harrison both decided to play pro ball instead.

With those disappointing results, is it worth recruiting dual-sport athletes? Nebraska baseball head coach and former dual-sport Huskers star Darin Erstad says yes.

“Nobody knows how it’s going to end up,” Erstad told Bleacher Report. “You look at Ryan Boldt, our center fielder, who was a projected first-rounder. He had an injury in the spring of his senior year and he dropped down in the draft a little bit. If we had stopped recruiting him just because we thought he was going to get drafted, fine. But he’s here.”

JC Shurburtt, 247Sports' national recruiting director, agrees.

“As far as effort goes, you have to weigh your time accordingly,” Shurburtt said. “You never know. All of recruiting is a gamble.”

The money that professional baseball potentially offers is a major challenge, though. As athletes weigh their decision, it can tilt the scale away from choosing college.

“It all boils down to how much money [a professional team] is willing to give you,” Erstad said. “That part of it is really the deciding factor. What’s your price tag for having a great college experience versus starting a professional career?”

Money definitely does talk, as it did with Starling and Harrison. However, former Nebraska dual-sport athlete Khiry Cooper noted it wasn’t everything.

“If all you want to do is play baseball and you would play for free, it makes your decision really easy. If you are set on going to college and wanting to experience things, then do that,” Cooper said. “Money won’t last forever.”

So that’s what Erstad and Pelini sell to recruits: the college experience.

“You lay out the college experience and the opportunities you have to grow and to get your degree started,” Erstad said. “For football, you get to play in front of 90,000 people. That’s just an unbelievable experience. It gives you an opportunity in a college setting to continue to develop in both sports and not have to make a decision on one or the other right out of the gate.”

It’s a strategy that both Erstad and Pelini used in recruiting Starling and Harrison. As the Omaha World Herald’s Jon Nyatawa reported, Erstad and Pelini have a great relationship. It’s one they’ll use again in the future if dual-sport athletes present themselves.

Those athletes don’t come around often, though.

“A trend you’re seeing is players under the illusion that they’re going to go play football and basketball, or football and baseball, then they get to college and it’s just not realistic,” Shurburtt said. “It takes a special player to do both in college.”

Cooper was one of those players. From a recruit’s perspective, he acknowledged the decision wasn’t easy. The Shreveport, Louisiana, native experienced the decision process firsthand in 2008. He was a fifth-round pick in the MLB draft who also had to weigh a future of playing two sports for the Huskers.

“It was a very tough decision, probably the hardest that I have made in my young life,” Cooper said. “I went back and forth for a while.”

As for what helped shape his decision, Cooper credits faith and family.

“My faith played a huge role, as well as my mom,” Cooper said. “I prayed about a ton and continued to talk to my mom about things and the possibilities. In the end, Nebraska felt right, I felt a peace in my heart about it, and I have never looked back.”

Erstad understands the importance of family in the decision.

“For most things, it’s just what each individual family decides is best for them,” Erstad said. “Some choose to want to try and get ready to chase their dream of being a major league baseball player, and some value education on a much higher level. It’s a complete family decision.”

Family was the deciding factor for him when he was choosing between college and a professional career out of high school.

“My mom told me I was going to school,” Erstad said. “It was pretty much the end of that conversation.”

As each player and family weighs their options, it doesn’t always fall in the university’s favor. Shurburtt doesn’t believe that should stop any program from recruiting them.

“I don’t think it’s a situation where you don’t recruit Bubba Starling or Monte Harrison,” Shurburtt said. “I think you need to go get them.”

Erstad agrees. “I’m not going to stop recruiting a player because he’s too good.”

When looking at Starling and Harrison specifically, Erstad would not have changed a thing.

"In the two cases at Nebraska with Starling and Harrison, not all guys go in the first round and get offered millions of dollars," Erstad said. "When you take a guy like Monte, he wasn’t a projected first-round pick when we started the recruiting process.

"As the summer goes on and he continues to develop at a very high level, his stock rises. At the time you’re recruiting them, they’re not slam-dunk first-rounders. That’s what happens. You have good players that continue to develop and they go up in the draft, that’s just a part of the deal. If you don’t want to deal with that, don’t recruit good players, but that’s just not going to happen [at Nebraska]."

Additionally, Shurburtt pointed out there are dual-sport athletes who do work out at the collegiate level.

"There are only so many Bo Jacksons, Deion Sanderses and Jameis Winstons out there, but they're out there."

Winston is a fine example of why Pelini and Erstad continue to recruit potential dual-sport athletes. The Florida State quarterback and pitcher/outfielder was drafted in the 15th round of the 2012 Major League Baseball draft but ultimately selected the college experience.

In the end, recruiting dual-sport athletes is a risk, but it’s one Erstad will continue to take.

“You’re going to win some and you’re going to lose some,” Erstad said. “You can’t stop going after good players. You just never know what’s going to happen.”

 

All quotes were obtained firsthand.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Jack Allison Commits to Miami: Hurricanes Land 2016 4-Star QB

Miami got a jump-start on its 2016 recruiting class Monday evening, scoring a commitment from 4-star quarterback Jack Allison from Palmetto High School.

Allison reported the news with this tweet:

Allison is the No. 249 overall player and No. 12 pro-style quarterback in the 2016 class, per the 247Sports Composite. Of the top-22 ranked QBs in the class, he joins Feleipe Franks (LSU), Shea Patterson (Arizona) and Zach Smith (Baylor) as only the fourth to commit to a school.

At 6'5", 200 pounds, Allison has the obvious trappings of a good pro-style passer. He has a strong arm (which should only get stronger as he matures), good accuracy and a solid head on his shoulders.

Kipp Adams of 247Sports spoke flatteringly about his skills:

Miami has assembled an impressive collection of quarterbacks under Al Golden these past few recruiting cycles.

Projected 2014 starter Kevin Olsen was a top-100 overall player in 2013, Brad Kaaya was a 4-star recruit and Elite 11 finalist in 2014 and Dwayne Lawson is signed up as another 4-star recruit in 2015.

Allison joins that group and becomes another dart thrown at the board. Quarterbacks are difficult to predict but important to develop; landing multiple big prospects is vital because you can never know for sure which one(s) is(are) going to pan out at the college level.

With Olsen and Kaaya both enrolled and Lawson committed, Miami already had a pretty good hold on its future at the position. It had a buffer. Now, it can feel one promising prospect safer.

This is another good get by Golden and his staff.

 

Follow Brian Leigh on Twitter: @BLeighDAT

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

LSU Football: Strengths, Weaknesses and Secret Weapons

One of the toughest parts about LSU head coach Les Miles' job is reinventing his team on a year-to-year basis.

Miles has seen plenty of his talent head to the NFL with eligibility remaining. When that happens, he has to restructure different aspects of his team.

Last season, LSU had one of its best passing seasons ever. Miles relied heavily on new offensive coordinator Cam Cameron, quarterback Zach Mettenberger and receivers Jarvis Landry and Odell Beckham Jr.

That will change next season, as Mettenberger, Landry and Beckham Jr. departed for the NFL.

Because of the changing roster, strengths and weaknesses of a team can change on a yearly basis. Here is a look at what the Tigers might look like next season.

 

Offensive Strength

Miles will have to rely on his offensive line next season to carry the offense, especially early in the season. As a former offensive lineman himself at Michigan, he has no problem with that.

The Tigers return four of five starters up front, led by left tackle and coveted 2015 NFL draft prospect La'el Collins. Left guard Vadal Alexander, center Elliott Porter and right tackle Jerald Hawkins will all be seasoned veterans next season.

The only position that needs to be filled is at right guard. First-year offensive line coach Jeff Grimes will make a decision between seniors Hoko Fanaika and Evan Washington for the starting spot.

Last season, the offensive line was above average. Miles will need it to be superb as the young offensive weapons gain experience.

 

Defensive Strength

On the defensive side of the ball, college football fans across the country will know the names of Tre'Davious White and Rashard Robinson by the end of the season.

White and Robinson form arguably the best cornerback duo in the country. They both showed All-SEC potential when they became starters as the 2013 season went along. They will also have talented backups in junior Jalen Collins and freshman Ed Paris.

LSU had its first major off-the-field incident of the offseason when RedStickNow reported on June 11 that senior safety Jalen Mills was arrested for second-degree battery.

There is no telling if Mills will play next season, but the Tigers have Ronald Martin, Corey Thompson, Rickey Jefferson and Jamal Adams at their disposal to form a solid safety pair.

The Tigers also have athletic linebackers in Kwon Alexander, Lamar Louis and Debo Jones that are superb in pass coverage. Alexander and Jones each returned an interception for a touchdown in the spring game.

The LSU pass defense was porous at times last season. Expect the unit to be improved next season.

 

Offensive Weakness

Following the footsteps of Mettenberger is not an easy task. The two quarterbacks battling for that opportunity are freshman Brandon Harris and sophomore Anthony Jennings.

According to The Advocate's Scott Rabalais, Les Miles said he is not opposed to playing both quarterbacks. Nevertheless, Miles will eventually have to make a decision between Harris or Jennings for the starting role.

The bigger question mark, however, might be at wide receiver.

Travin Dural, the leading returnee at wide receiver, only caught seven passes last season. The only other wide receiver returning that caught a pass last season is Quantavius Leslie. Miles will look to John Diarse, Avery Peterson and Rob Bolden to step up.

LSU did sign four receivers in its talented 2014 class, headlined by 5-star Malachi Dupre. Expect Dupre to crack the starting lineup at some point.

The LSU passing attack will go through growing pains this season with young and inexperienced skill position players. But expect offensive coordinator Cam Cameron to find ways for his offense to be productive through the air.

 

Defensive Weakness

LSU's pass rush was below average last season. The Tigers' defensive ends combined for fewer than 10 sacks. For perspective's sake, 18 players had double-digit sacks last season.

Danielle Hunter and Jermauria Rasco both return with starting experience and should form a solid duo. Hunter showed off his speed at the spring game, as he raked in two sacks. Backups Frank Herron, Lewis Neal, M.J. Patterson and Tashawn Bower should help as well.

The Tigers need more push up the middle as well. Quentin Thomas, Christian LaCouture, Maquedius Bain and Greg Gilmore will be the players to keep an eye on at defensive tackle.

There should be some improvement in the pass rush next season. With that said, until the Tigers prove they can do a better job of getting after the quarterback, it should be a concern.

 

Offensive Secret Weapons

Barbe High School in Lake Charles, Louisiana, has produced two 4-star receiving threats over the past two recruiting cycles. Luckily enough for Miles, they both chose LSU. 

Tight end DeSean Smith only caught one pass as a true freshman last season. But after a solid showing in the spring game, expect Smith to revitalize a position that has been below average at making plays through the air over the past two seasons.

Wide receiver Trey Quinn is a dark-horse candidate to be one of LSU's leading playmakers as a true freshman. Quinn was one of the four wide receivers LSU signed in the 2014 class. He broke national records at the high school level and could be a factor as a special teams returner.

Smith and Quinn will both undoubtedly be productive performers in their LSU careers.

The only question remaining is if they break out this season. If at least one of them does, the Tigers' passing attack will be stronger than expected.

 

Defensive Secret Weapon 

LSU defensive coordinator John Chavis is known for his exotic defensive schemes. Chavis' best might be the 3-2-6 "Mustang" package. The defense calls for six defensive backs to be on the field at once.

The most effective season of the "Mustang" package was in 2011, when LSU had lockdown defenders across the field.

Morris Claiborne and Tharold Simon played as traditional corners on the outside while Eric Reid and Brandon Taylor were the traditional safeties. However, the players who made the defense special were Tyrann Mathieu and Ron Brooks as the nickelback and dimeback, respectively.

If White and Robinson play at a high level on the outside, look out for Dwayne Thomas to be a productive playmaker in the role of either Mathieu or Brooks. Thomas played spectacularly at times at the position last season, highlighted by the game-clinching sack and forced fumble against Arkansas.

Expect Thomas to surpass his three sacks from last season and be a constant pest for opposing quarterbacks.

 

Recruiting information, stats and additional information provided by 247Sports.com, cfbstats.com and LSU Sports Information. Follow me on Twitter @CarterthePower 

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

16 Craziest College Football Stats from BCS Era

Though the BCS scheme itself has been referred to as crazy, the 16 seasons it dominated college football resulted in some of the wildest stats in history.

The era paid witness to a dramatic rise in the popularity of the game, creating a financial windfall that raised the stakes for everyone with a hand in the pot.  This wave of opportunity coincided with an unprecedented offensive explosion, spurred on by the need to manipulate the BCS computers with style points.

It all added up to one of the most exciting periods in history, producing some record statistics.  Though there are hundreds of numbers worth revisiting, here is just one crazy stat from each of the 16 years of the BCS era.

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Pac-12 Football Players Under Most Pressure for 2014 Season

Each passing day brings us one step closer to the start of Pac-12 football, and we're taking a look now at the players under the most pressure in 2014.

Pressure can take many different forms comes. For example, some players are feeling the pressure to finally realize their potential and become an NFL target. Others are replacing key names from the 2013 season and will feel some pressure to replicate their production.

Finally, there are some guys whose play will make or break the entire season. In order to become a championship-level squad, you need an entire locker room giving 100 percent, but some players are more important than others.

For example, the Ducks can probably survive if one of their three tight ends has a bad game. If Marcus Mariota plays poorly, however, the team is in trouble. The guys who carry the most weight will definitely be feeling the pressure this year.

Take a look at the five players under the most pressure to come up big in 2014.

 

All stats via cfbstats.com.

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Tennessee Football: Incoming Freshmen Most Likely to Start This Season

Now that Tennessee's heralded 2014 class is all settled in on campus and preparing for fall camp, it's time to identify the players out of that group who can clamp down starting roles as freshmen.

Highly ranked recruiting classes full of talented players are business as usual in the SEC. For most schools, a half-dozen freshmen may see the field during the season, and a few standout players may even crack the two-deep depth chart.

But at Tennessee, the combination of a lack of depth, talent and speed means the Volunteers will rely heavily on their newcomers to fill holes in the offense, defense and special teams. 

Not only will a sizable chunk of the 31 players who comprised the 2014 class see significant playing time this fall but a handful will also even start from day one.

Here are five Tennessee freshmen who have the playmaking abilities to be potential four-year starters for the Vols—beginning with their first career game on Aug. 31.

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Clemson Football: Strengths, Weaknesses and Secret Weapons

The Clemson Tigers will open the 2014 season in approximately nine weeks. Gone are two of the greatest players in school history: Tajh Boyd and Sammy Watkins. For most schools, losing players like Boyd and Watkins would cripple their chances.

But don't feel sorry for Clemson, the cupboard is far from bare in Death Valley. Just like most good teams, Clemson has its strengths and weaknesses.

Head coach Dabo Swinney continues to recruit well and has signed a top-20 class in each of the last four years, per 247Sports.

In 2014, the strength of Clemson's team could be on the defensive side of the ball. Several starters return from a unit that was very good at rushing the passer last season. Senior Stephone Anthony returns at middle linebacker but will have two new starters alongside of him.

 

Strengths

From an offensive perspective, Clemson is one of the better-coached teams in all of college football. Chad Morris is entering his fourth season as offensive coordinator of the Tigers. Morris' side of the ball is consistently one of the top units in all of college football.

But can Morris win without Boyd under center?

Senior Cole Stoudt will be a good test for Morris' coaching acumen. Stoudt is more of a traditional dropback passer, where Boyd was more athletic and versatile. Boyd's athleticism allowed the running game to thrive while still enjoying a big-play passing attack.

Losing Watkins and Martavis Bryant will be tough. The two combined for 143 receptions, 2,298 yards and 19 touchdowns in 2013. However, the Tigers have a bevy of talented pass-catchers ready to step up.

Senior Adam Humphries is the most experienced. Humphries was third on the team with 41 receptions last season. He is ideal for the slot.

Sophomore Mike Williams will compete with Charone Peake and Germone Hopper to start at the other two receiver spots.

Williams possesses elite talent, but concentration is an issue. Peake missed the majority of last season with a torn ACL. He, too, could be an All-Conference player.

Hopper is a bit of a wild card. He's the smallest of the bunch but is fast and has unrivaled change-of-direction skills. He was sent home from spring practice to concentrate on his academics.

Expect Morris to place a heavy emphasis on the tight ends this fall. Junior Stanton Seckinger, who started 10 games last season, will be in the mix with sophomore Jordan Leggett and senior Sam Cooper. Cooper is atop the team's depth chart at the moment, but Leggett is clearly the most talented of the bunch.

You expect Morris to have the offense ready, but it's possible Clemson could get a big lift from the defense in 2014.

Defensive coordinator Brent Venables has done a good job in his two years at Clemson. While his defense isn't necessarily a shutdown unit, it gets pressure on the quarterback and creates turnovers.

Defensive end Vic Beasley turned down the NFL to return to Death Valley for his senior season. Beasley, an All-American in 2013, was tied for second in the nation with 13 sacks. Even better news for Tigers fans: The entire three-deep along the defensive line returns.

As good as Beasley, Tavaris Barnes and Corey Crawford are at defensive end, the Tigers are just as good at defensive tackle. Seniors Grady Jarrett, Josh Watson and DeShawn Williams return along with junior D.J. Reader.

 

Weaknesses

It's all about experience, not talent, for the Tigers in 2014.

On offense, Clemson must replace two very good starters on the offensive line: Tyler Shatley and Brandon Thomas. The Tigers have some experience returning on the O-line, but can Isaiah Battle and David Beasley be as solid as Thomas and Shatley were the last two years?

The Tigers, overall, are strong at the skill positions. However, they lack experience.

Roderick McDowell departed after rushing for over 1,000 yards. McDowell had a good year but wasn't reminding anyone of C.J. Spiller or Andre Ellington.

Zac Brooks, D.J. Howard and C.J. Davidson will compete with freshman Wayne Gallman to be the team's starting running back. Brooks and Howard are the most experienced, and they combined for just 459 yards in 2013.

Gallman, with his game-breaking speed, is the most talented of the bunch, and he's never played a game.

And while we noted how talented the receivers are, outside of Humphries, they've proven very little at this level. Peake, Hopper and Williams have a combined 80 career catches.

Speaking of Humphries, while he's reliable, he isn't the type of receiver opponents fear.

And while the front four is strong on defense, there are questions in the secondary. The Tigers lost both starting cornerbacks from last season.

Strangely, though, they could be better.

Freshman Mackensie Alexander—one of the nation's top recruits in 2014, according to 247Sports—combines with sophomore Cordrea Tankersley as Clemson's starting cornerbacks.

Alexander was ready to play as a true freshman last season, but an injury in fall camp led coaches to redshirt him. He could have made a similar impact with Clemson as Kendall Fuller did at Virginia Tech. He was the talk of spring practice.

Venables was extremely complimentary of Alexander when asked which defensive player impressed him most after one practice, per David Hood of TigerNet.com: "I would just say Mackensie is the one because we lost a couple of starters at a position that we're thin."

It's important, however, to temper expectations when it pertains to the young defensive backs. They will get beaten. Sometimes, they will get beaten a lot. Swinney and Venables have to hope the first-year starters have the short memories needed to become great defensive backs.

And keep an eye on junior kicker Ammon Lakip. Replacing the school's all-time leading scorer, Chandler Catanzaro, will not be easy.

 

Secret Weapons

On offense, the player to watch is Leggett. At 6'5", 240 pounds, the athletic sophomore is ready for a breakout campaign.

Leggett had an impressive spring game and seems to have a strong rapport with Stoudt. On a team that lost 19 touchdowns between two players, having a big target such as Leggett will be enticing for Morris and Stoudt, especially in the red zone.

Leggett looks like a future NFL first-round pick. Whether he starts or not at tight end, he will be heavily involved in the team's game plan on a weekly basis.

Defensively, keep an eye on redshirt freshman linebacker Dorian O'Daniel. O'Daniel redshirted last season in part due to Clemson's depth and experience at linebacker. O'Daniel will not start, at least initially, but he may the most talented linebacker on the team.

Senior Tony Steward and sophomore T.J. Burrell are the presumed starters at outside linebacker. Steward, a former big-time recruit, has fought injuries throughout his college career. Burrell, meanwhile, is solid but isn't as explosive as O'Daniel.

O'Daniel has good size (6'2", 210 lbs), runs like a defensive back, is solid in coverage and can rush the passer. Venables will find ways to employ O'Daniel this season. O'Daniel's versatility gives the coaches several options.

The 2014 Clemson Tigers may or may not repeat the team's overall success of the past three seasons. The Tigers have plenty of talent but some big holes to fill. If they can survive through the first month of the season, it could be another big year in Death Valley.

The biggest question facing Clemson: Are its strengths greater than its weaknesses? If so, expect another 10-win season for Swinney and company.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Penn State Football: Previewing James Franklin's 1st Season at the Helm

James Franklin is losing sleep in the summer so he doesn't have to in the fall. USA Today's Paul Myerberg reports that after a tedious day in the office, Franklin meshes two couches together in the facility and doses off.

Franklin's work ethic with a blend of offseason arrivals and blossoming young talent will escalate Penn State into a Big Ten title contender.

Franklin is a salesman. Aside from coaching football, he can recruit. Franklin persuaded seven 4-star recruits to join Penn State, according to ESPN. That ranks fourth-best in the country. It's even more astounding his success at recruiting came without even coaching a game at Penn State yet.

Some of the young talent Franklin accumulated will see significant playing time. De'Andre Thompkins, Troy Reeder and Saeed Blacknall should start from the first day. Expect a few other incoming players to make an impact as well from this extravagant recruiting class.

The development of young talent from the previous year will be apparent in 2014. The key to Franklin's offense, quarterback Christian Hackenberg, is coming off a stellar season. Wining Big Ten Freshman of the Year, he accumulated nearly 3,000 yards and 20 touchdowns. With Adam Breneman returning and the addition of Thompkins and Blacknall, look for Hackenberg to build on those numbers.

The defense is stacking talent as well.

Most of Penn State's defensive line and secondary are returning. Anthony Zettel will fill the void DaQuan Jones left at defensive tackle. Adrian Amos is being moved from cornerback to safety to quarterback the defense. The only question mark for the Nittany Lions on defense is at linebacker. Fortunately, a strong recruiting class should mask this problem.

To bring all of this talent together and translate it into success is up to Franklin. With strong persistence and desire, Franklin's coaching style will emulate the success Penn State will see in the Big Ten. Franklin told Myerberg, "My greatest strength is my passion and drive. My greatest weakness is my passion and drive."

Franklin's passion and drive is already gaining notice by young recruits and Penn State University. The incoming recruiting class, an ample amount of returning talent and Franklin's work ethic will create a monster in the Big Ten.

Once the Big Ten title is brought to Penn State, maybe Coach Franklin will finally be able to rest at ease in his own bed.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

5 Uncommitted 2015 Recruits Who'll Help Auburn Land No. 1 Recruiting Class

Auburn is recruiting at a high level once again, as the Tigers are No. 6 in the 247Sports Recruiting Rankings

Head coach Gus Malzahn and his coaching staff have done a great job on the recruiting trail, and landing the nation's No. 1 class next February is a realistic feat for them. For that goal to be met, Auburn is going to have make sure it secures commitments from several top-tier recruits.

Landing these five prospects would be a great start.

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7 College Football Programs Who Will Surprise on 2015 Recruiting Trail

Much time is still left in the 2015 recruiting cycle, which means a lot more surprises will happen. Several programs figure to have a trick or two up their sleeves on the recruiting trail, which is nonetheless always full of twists and turns.

A Big Ten school has returned to power quicker than expected, while an ACC school known for basketball has a surprisingly solid class in the works.

Plus, there's a team in the SEC flying under the radar.

All recruiting class ratings and rankings are from 247Sports' Composite Recruiting Rankings.
All recruiting ratings and rankings are from 247Sports' Composite Rankings.Player evaluations are based on review of tape at Scout.comRivals and 247Sports.

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Michigan Football: Power Ranking Michigan's Positional Units for 2014

After last season’s 7-6 finish, Brady Hoke needs a solid season to quiet the rumblings of discontent in Ann Arbor. But the path to the Big Ten title game is harder than ever now that both Ohio State and Michigan State are in Michigan’s division.

With the season quickly approaching, it's time to rank Michigan’s position groups.

Power rankings are based on past production, depth, spring progress and anticipated growth during the season. Top players and solid contributors will be identified, along with those who will play critical roles this season.

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Michigan Lands Versatile TE Chris Clark: Has 'All-Big Ten' Potential

Chris Clark is one of the top tight end recruits in the 2015 class. Pledging his talents to the Michigan Wolverines, he will thrive with his great hands and aggressive blocking style at the next level.

At a massive 6'6" and 247 pounds, Clark has a great opportunity to become a huge threat in Ann Arbor. How do you think he will do?

 

Watch College Football Analyst Michael Felder talk about his future.

 

Highlights courtesy of XOS Digital.

Rankings from 247Sports Composite.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Inside Look at How Las Vegas Oddsmakers Come Up with College Football Spread


On October 11 of last year, right when the sun was starting to set, a seismic shift shook the various sportsbooks throughout Sin City. The point spread for Oklahoma and Texas had hovered right around two touchdowns in favor of Oklahoma all week.

Then, without warning, the number crashed. 

The Longhorns, of course, were reeling at the time, having barely edged Iowa State 31-30. Some, including Iowa State head coach Paul Rhoads, would argue that the outcome should have been plenty different, thanks to a controversial late call that went against his team. The public, watching this nationally televised Thursday night affair, largely agreed. 

That sluggish showing prompted the Las Vegas Hilton to open Oklahoma as a 14-point favorite on the Sunday prior to the game. It also created an avalanche of Sooners support throughout the week, although the line didn’t fluctuate. 

It dipped to 13.5 at the Las Vegas Hilton, was bet back up 14, dipped again and then settled back at 14 on Thursday. On Friday, however, after days of betting, the spread moved nearly a touchdown.

The Longhorns went from a 13.5-point underdog to just an 8.5-point underdog with a snap of the finger at the Hilton. Other sportsbooks followed this move by adjusting accordingly.

The smart money—the kind of money that has the power to create a move like this—was on Texas, or so it seemed. Such financial confidence from an unidentified but respected bettor (or bettors) promoted this significant move to be felt worldwide. From Vegas … to the various undergone shops … to the growing world of online wagering.

“Professionals still believed Texas was better than how it played in ugly losses to Ole Miss and BYU,” former Caesars oddsmaker Todd Fuhrman said on the Friday night shift. “Oddsmakers adjusted the price on perception, and then sharps (professional gamblers) capitalized on reality.” 

Texas didn’t just cover the spread a day later; it won outright by more than two touchdowns in a game that was never in question. The late, mysterious move was indeed a sign, a public admission from the sportsbooks of where the smart money was situated. 

Typically such late movements aren’t as pronounced, but then again, the life of the oddsmaker does not follow one distinct path. It is unpredictable, stressful and an enormous gamble in itself. 

And yet, the process to craft and adjust these lines isn’t the work of some backroom wizards; it’s mathematics and a masterful psychological understanding of how you—yes, you—will behave when you head to the window.

 

Constructing the Offseason Point Spread: How The ‘Games of the Year’ Lines Are Made

Aaron Kessler is a Las Vegas oddsmaker at the Golden Nugget. Aside from monitoring the movements of lines during the season, Kessler also spearheads the release of the college football ‘Games of the Year’ during the summer.

It began as a fun way to kill time in the dog days of summer—and quite frankly, it still serves that purpose. But the Golden Nugget’s point spread barrage is now as much as the offseason checklist as the release of spring football games, the release of Phil Steele’s football bible and conference media days.

That signature event only recently came and went. The Golden Nugget released more than 200 point spreads on June 13 (h/t SB Nation) and is currently taking action on said games.

“It's gone from a little novelty with 25 games to a yearly event,” Kessler said. “It's easily our signature event at the Nugget.”

The attention and increased coverage of this yearly release has also prompted more action for the sportsbook. No longer an exercise simply for a handful of diehards, fans—experienced gamblers and novices alike—flock to Vegas each year to be a part of the madness.

“We've gone up 10 times in handle since our first year,” Kessler said. “And it just keeps getting better.”

Handle is a term sportsbooks use to gauge action, or the total amount of money being wagered on the buffet of games available. As coverage of this yearly release has increased thanks in large part to social media—and also the slow acceptance to point spreads at such places like Bleacher Report and elsewhere—the handle (and coverage) will only continue to flourish. 

Before the spreads are released, however, they have to be crafted. The process, which will seem somewhat familiar to the experienced gambler, begins by simply deciding on what regular season college football games deserve to get lines.

This is unique from their regular season process, of course.

During the season, Week 1 point spreads will be produced for all Week 1 games, Week 1 will end, and then the process will start over with Week 2. Not here, though. It’s up to the Golden Nugget to decide which games it wants to include.

“First, Tony Miller—our sportsbook director—comes up with a list of games to use,” Kessler said on generating the lines. “I look over the list, search for omissions, and we agree on which games to feature and how many to use.” 

Some of these decisions are no-brainers. The Iron Bowl, the Red River Rivalry, Alabama-LSU, Ohio State-Michigan and other marquee matchups and rivalries are givens each year. But this list includes much more than the obvious. It's a sign of how much it has grown.

High handle-producing teams such as Notre Dame are always featured prominently, but the Nugget has also added some less obvious matchups to its catalog more recently. For example, Boise State’s 2014 clash with Connecticut was given a line this year. (The Broncos opened as 10-point favorites, in case you were curious or interested in taking sides.)

Once the sportsbook has the games it wants, the work kicks into another gear. 

“Then comes the fun part,” Kessler said. “I have to generate a power rating for each team we are booking.”

Power ratings are a lot like the power rankings you dive through weekly. The only difference is these ratings serve a distinct purpose beyond angering fan bases and dousing comment sections in flames.

These ratings allow oddsmakers to consistently handicap teams and games across the entire season, and they are especially integral to this process. Although the numbers for these ratings were not included—the Nugget has to keep some of the secret sauce secret after all—Kessler’s unadjusted computer ratings were as follows.

There are various ways and methods to create these (more on that in a bit), but they are critical for oddsmakers in the line-creation process. Once they are in place, from No. 1 to No. 126, the spreads pretty much fall into the place. You take the larger number (higher ranked team), subtract the smaller number (the lower ranked team), add in home field, and you get your spread.

Once this is complete, the numbers are compared to create—you guessed it—more numbers. Only these are the numbers you’re accustomed to.

“I make a list of all the games with computer-only lines in a spreadsheet,” Kessler said. “Then, I'll go through and adjust lines based on my opinion. These adjustments from the raw numbers can be huge.”

While the ratings serve as a guide, Kessler’s opinion looms large in this particular process. Because the season is still off in the horizon, the Golden Nugget has the difficult task of handicapping teams with enormous questions.

How will Everett Golson look in his return to Notre Dame? What kind of impact will Jacob Coker have at Alabama? How will Clemson replace so many key weapons on offense? 

These are just a handful of the countless items that can flux a line one direction or another. And while it’s numbers-based with the ratings, the timing of this release requires a personal touch. But it won’t just be Kessler’s.

Once Kessler has the lines just the way he likes them, he’ll initiate the checks and balances. In this instance, that process begins and ends with outside consultant Bruce Marshall.

Marshall has worked in the industry for some time at places such as The Gold Sheet and elsewhere. More importantly, this is someone Kessler trusts and works remarkably well with.

“We literally lock ourselves in a room and don't come out until all lines are done,” Kessler said. “The whole of creating the ‘Games of the Year’ takes about 72 hours from beginning to end.”

Before the lines officially hit the floor, sportsbook director Tony Miller will take one last look and have final say. At that point, the Golden Nugget will open its doors—as it did on June 13—and take real-life wagers on college football games, some of which are more than five months away.

It’s a unique process, although it still follows some very key principles. These principles carry over to the week-to-week grind of regular season oddsmaking.

 

In-Season Line-Making: Risks, Power Ratings and The Business of Understanding You

At 6 PM eastern each and every Sunday during the season, the Wynn sportsbook releases its college football point spreads for the week ahead. For those in tune with this process—the individuals pacing below the sportsbook board or those refreshing a webpage from afar—it is a 15-week ritual.

Other online sportsbooks may posts lines leading up to the first Vegas release, although it’s simply not the same. The evaluation process doesn’t truly begin until a Vegas entity is involved. It’s at that point that casino competitors will take note of early movement while gamblers scramble to hit on spreads they like.

“The Wynn is able to take on a little more risk as long as they adjust their lines more aggressively,” Fuhrman said on the release of college football odds. “It’s a copycat system, and that theme stays true through much of the week.”

The closer you get to the actual game, the bigger the bet a sportsbook may take. That doesn’t impact the average gambler, of course, but it does impact the way sportsbooks operate. The big, smart money—the kind of money to alter the Red River Rivalry by itself—doesn’t usually come until late. Prior to that, a sportsbook might be reluctant to take it simply because the betting market has not matured.

Before you get to the adjusting faze, however, you must have something to adjust. For Todd Fuhrman, his adjusting while at Caesars started well in advance.

“I would set my handicapping number for the following Saturday the night before any game was played during the week prior,” Fuhrman said on the line creation process. “This way I could look at where the market overreacted or underreacted for one week’s worth of results.”

To do this, Fuhrman would go to his power ratings, the most consistent and misunderstood part of this process. These ratings serve as the key figure of the oddsmaking blueprint, a way to compute (and order) teams against one another using a variety of factors.

Paul Bessire, architect of the popular website The Prediction Machine, is a numbers junkie. With multiple finance degrees, Bessire’s website is built for the gambler, stat freak or a combination of the two.

To predict outcomes of various contests in various sports, Bessire will plug in enormous sums of data and simulate it 50,000 times. He will then report his findings along with a confidence in the consistency across these simulations.

It’s a unique way to hopefully crack the process of oddsmaking, an exercise that seeks value that might not immediately jump out. But, even with his endless streams to crunch data, Bessire appreciates the math that goes into the creation process.

“Even though the names associated with the power ratings are generally similar to the computer polls, they’re basically the opposite,” Bessire said. “Computer polls just look at strength of schedule and wins and losses, power ratings ignore wins and losses. They’re looking at the amount of points put together and margin of victory.” 

The Prediction Machine’s current top 10 looks slightly different than Kessler’s, which is nothing out of the ordinary. There are different processes, formulas and ways to compute these figures depending on the situation and what exactly is included. What doesn’t change is that they are updated regularly—weekly, really—which makes the process extremely fluid.

“Everyone seems to have a different version of them, so there’s no one way to do it,” Bessire said. “It’s really an interesting and relatively complex system that takes some decent computing power to pull off, although it used to be far more difficult than it is today.”

The number associated with each team represents a value. Compare that value to another team’s and you’ll have a point spread on a neutral site. 

What do these numbers look like? Again, it depends on where you look (and many places would much rather not share their numbers). The Linemakers—as seen on Sporting News—has its power ratings from December 11 of last year available for the public. While these are not current, they do provide a window into what these numbers actually are.

Take one value, subtract the other, and you've got a spread. Then home field advantages must be considered, which isn't always as easy as tacking on three points to the home team. This is where extra math is necessary.

Oregon, Alabama, LSU, for example, will be valued much differently at home than most teams. A night game at Baton Rouge could be even handicapped differently than a day game, and thus the complexity of the odds creation process begins to evolve.

There’s also the issue of dealing with teams—Notre Dame, Texas, Alabama and others—that will be bet simply because who they are. These “public” teams will often be treated differently by oddsmakers simply because they are guaranteed to take action regardless of who they play, where they play and when they play.

“Xs and Os really aren’t being taken into account when creating these odds, and that’s not something many people realize,” Fuhrman said. “It’s data, numbers and an understanding of the market.”

Power ratings serve a valuable purpose in the creation process, but there’s far more that goes into it. Understanding behavior, managing risk and determining how the public will react to a given game are integral.

Combine these ingredients, and you have a general sense of what goes into the creation of a single point spread. That and a firm understanding of what your competition is offering.

In the end, sportsbooks are looking to generate equal betting on teams in a given game. If that’s the case—and it rarely is—it can enjoy its cut (the juice) and cash in regardless of who wins. In order for that to happen, however, the point spreads need to be solid, and the bets need to come in as the book anticipates. 

And even then—as we saw last year in Oklahoma-Texas, when everything was running according to plan—it can all change in a matter of minutes.

 

Adam Kramer is the College Football National Lead Writer for Bleacher Report. All quotes were obtained firsthand.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Georgia Hires Former Alabama Analyst as New Director of Player Personnel

The Georgia Bulldogs have hired Ronnie Letson, a former Ole Miss receiver who served as an offensive analyst on Nick Saban's Alabama staff last season, as their new director of player personnel.

"Ronnie has a vast wealth of knowledge in both on-field coaching and organizational skills that will be a great asset to our program," said head coach Mark Richt, according to a statement released by the university. "His career has been spent in the southeast and he knows the landscape of college football."

Position titles such as "director of player personnel" can be a little bit nebulous sometimes. What's clear is that this role has more to do with recruiting than with coaching. The Athens Banner-Herald passed along some information from the job's official listing, which sheds light on certain specifics of the position:

The position opened up earlier this month after Daryl Jones left his job as Director of On-Campus Recruiting. According to the Director of Player Personnel job posting, Letson will be “responsible for the organization of the recruiting department and its day to day functions. ... (Letson) will work to support the vision of the Football Recruiting Coordinator (Bryan McClendon).” The job also includes overseeing the walk-on program.

Letson was hired as the wide receivers coach at Samford in February, but he is leaving that post before his first season.

Before Alabama, he was the offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach at FCS Jacksonville State from 2004 to 2012, working under former Arkansas head coach (from way back in the early 1990s) Jack Crowe. The Gamecocks never had a losing record during his tenure.

It is difficult to analyze what Letson did as an "offensive analyst"—another nebulous position title—at Alabama last season, but getting to learn under Saban is never a bad thing. Especially in matters of recruiting, there is no better mentor to study under.

But that doesn't necessarily mean Letson was the first choice for this job. Bruce Feldman of FoxSports.com played coy with his Twitter followers soon after this announcement, reporting that UGA had its eyes on a bigger name when this position opened up:

Letson is definitely plugged in enough to recruit the Southeast.

In addition to learning under Saban and playing at Ole Miss, he went to Norcross High School in Georgia—one of the best talent-producing high schools in the state—and starred on the football team.

Georgia snagged a commitment from Norcross' best player, 5-star defensive end Lorenzo Carter, this past cycle and would ostensibly like to continue doing that.

Having an alumnus such as Letson on the staff does not hurt.

He should do just fine in this position.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

5-Star DT Recruit Shy Tuttle Tweets Top 5 Schools

Shy Tuttle provided a new twist in a nationwide recruitment Monday afternoon, unveiling a list of his top five collegiate options. The 5-star defensive tackle revealed teams that made the cut on Twitter:

The Lexington, North Carolina standout left the door open for two home state schools, with UNC and NC State still in the picture. Fellow ACC members Miami and Clemson are also in the mix.

Tennessee is the outlier among this group, standing alone as Tuttle's SEC interest. Georgia, South Carolina and Alabama also extended offers during the course of his recruiting process.

Tuttle, a 6'3", 315-pound rising senior at North Davidson High School, is one of the country's most coveted uncommitted prospects. He rates sixth nationally among defensive tackles and 29th overall in 247Sports' composite rankings.

His offer sheet also includes Ohio State, Texas, Michigan and Notre Dame.

Tuttle tallied 73 tackles in 2013, also returning an interception for a touchdown. He's been an impact interior defender throughout his high school career, racking up 244 tackles, including 44 for loss.

Tuttle has visited multiple college campuses since his junior campaign concluded. He spent time at Tennessee earlier this month— his second trip to Knoxville since March.

 “I’ve always liked Tennessee," Tuttle told Ryan Callahan of 247Sports last weekend.

The Volunteers face serious competition for his services, especially from an in-state institution.

North Carolina was the first program to present Tuttle with a scholarship offer. The Tar Heels kicked off the pursuit shortly after his freshman year.

UNC is projected to sign Tuttle by 88 percent of expert predictions in 247Sports' Crystal Ball. Clemson claims the remaining 12 percent.

He has yet to set a timetable for his decision and could stretch the process past this upcoming season.

 

Recruit information and ratings courtesy of 247Sports unless otherwise noted.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Nebraska Football: Strengths, Weaknesses and Secret Weapons

The 2014 season brings a brand new college football playoff. It also brings Nebraska a rearranged Big Ten conference. The Huskers are now in the "West" division and will begin facing a few new teams on an annual basis. What will that mean for the team?

Injuries, inexperience and off-field drama ultimately derailed the Huskers from a trip to the Big Ten Championship game last year.

It's a new season and Nebraska is ready to make another run at it, but there are still some areas that will require improvement. Can the strengths outweigh the weaknesses?

Here are Nebraska's greatest strengths, weaknesses and secret weapons ahead of the 2014 season.

 

Strengths

Big Ten opponents will have their eyes on I-back Ameer Abdullah. After all, he's coming off a season of 1,690 rushing yards on 281 attempts. He also averaged six yards per carry and had a total of nine touchdowns for the season.

However, it's not just Abdullah that's shining. While Nebraska's running back position looks better than ever with Abdullah leading the way, both Imani Cross and Terrell Newby had great showings in the annual spring game.

Abdullah will remain the go-to guy, but it will be nice for offensive coordinator Tim Beck to have additional options.

Another strength looks to be the linebacker position. In fact, head coach Bo Pelini believes "they're in another galaxy” this spring over last, as reported by the Omaha World Herald's Rich Kaipust.

Pelini also went on to tell Kaipust that, while he is remaining cautious, he's optimistic about the talent of this group, and that's great news for the Huskers.

 

Weaknesses

The offensive line has a lot to overcome in 2014. In fact, the group loses five veterans that had a combined 125 starts between them. That would be difficult to replace at any program.

Those returning did get some experience in 2013, though. When the offensive line was plagued with injuries, players like Mike Moudy were able to step in. While the experience isn't great, it's worth something.

Regardless, the offensive line will still show some weakness right off the bat. Seniors Jake Cotton and Mark Pelini will hopefully become vocal leaders of this group, helping the offensive line settle in quickly.

Another weakness for Nebraska is the quarterback position. While Tommy Armstrong has sealed up his starting role, it's still not a perfect solution.

After all, former quarterback Taylor Martinez had been in charge since 2010 until his injury last season. Armstrong was able to obtain a fair amount of experience in his absence in 2013, but it wasn't always pretty.

He'll likely be the starting quarterback, with Johnny Stanton and Ryker Fyfe behind him on the depth chart, but he'll have to step up, especially with an inexperience line in front of him.

One more weakness to keep an eye on? That would be Nebraska's special teams. If the Huskers can't figure it out, they may end up losing the field position war again, much like they did in 2013.

 

Secret Weapons

When it comes to secret weapons, one is definitely Nathan Gerry. Alongside senior Corey Cooper and sophomore LeRoy Alexander, Gerry is poised to make a big impact at safety in 2014.

Gerry was a linebacker in 2013, where he felt misplaced. Moving back to safety has put him where he feels the most comfortable.

"My head was kind of rattling playing linebacker last year,” Gerry told Grant Muessel of HailVarsity.com. “I feel that I’m more comfortable playing safety, so it allows me to be more confident back there. Playing linebacker kind of helped me understand the whole defense, where I can play more confidently, where it allows me to have more fun.”

That confidence should translate on the field.

Another secret weapon isn't all that secret, but it's Randy Gregory. He's already been touted as a potential first-round draft pick in 2015, per the Lincoln Journal Star (subscription required). That's in the future though.

For now, Gregory is focusing on the 2014 season with Nebraska. He is looking to improve the defensive line again this season, much like he did in 2013.

So call him the not-so-secret secret weapon. Regardless, he's one player that's going to keep opposing teams on their toes.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Oregon Football: Strengths, Weaknesses and Secret Weapons

The return of three likely early round NFL draft picks to Oregon for the 2014 campaign is reason for the Ducks to think a return to the Pac-12 pinnacle is possible. 

Quarterback Marcus Mariota, center Hroniss Grasu and cornerback Ifo Ekpre-Olomu all put the professional ranks on hold for another year to finish what they started at Oregon. 

The Ducks will again start the season ranked in the top 10 of every major poll, and they will again be favorites to compete for both the conference and national championships. 

Central to Oregon's title chances is avoiding a late-season slip-up. Each of the last three years, the Ducks have dropped Pac-12 games in November. Last season's team lost twice in the final month as injuries tested the Ducks' depth. 

 

Strengths 

Mariota and Grasu represent two factions within the explosive Oregon offense that feed off each other quite nicely. Mariota is the most celebrated of the Ducks' skill position players—a two-time All-Pac-12 honoree and 2014 Heisman Trophy contender. 

Mariota's rare blend of pocket passing ability and explosiveness via the rush make him one of the most dangerous quarterbacks in college football. And defenses are unable to hedge their bets by focusing primarily on the dual-threat redshirt junior. 

The Oregon backfield is overflowing with talent. Running backs Byron Marshall and Thomas Tyner are individually two of the best ball-carriers in the Pac-12. Marshall is tops among returning players in the conference with his 1,038 yards and 14 touchdowns in 12 games.

Tyner excelled in limited opportunities as a true freshman, racking up 711 yards and nine touchdowns. With De'Anthony Thomas gone for the NFL, expect Tyner to get a heftier workload—and Oregon to produce a pair of 1,000-yard running backs.  

Setting the stage for them is the offensive line.

Grasu is the captain of this, a unit that is typically a strength at Oregon. The 2014 group may be one of the program's best yet, boasting experience and depth. Jake Fisher, Tyler Johnstone  and Hamani Stevens all saw significant playing time alongside Grasu while sophomore Cameron Hunt jumped into the mix late in his debut campaign. 

Matt Pierson and Andre Yruretagoyena competed for a first-string spot this spring while Johnstone rehabilitated a knee injury. Those repetitions will go a long way in helping the Ducks establish their offensive line depth. 

Defensively, the secondary has long been the Ducks' most recognized facet. Ekpre-Olomu's return ensures little regression, even with three starters to replace. But this year, Oregon's linebackers are the decided strength on that side of the ball. 

The linebacker unit features leading sacker Tony Washington and top overall tackler Derrick Malone. Tyson Coleman and Torrodney Prevot are jockeying to replace Boseko Lokombo in the starting rotation, and either could be a breakout performer in 2014. 

 

Weaknesses

The most glaring weakness at Oregon in its losses last season was, quite simply, its weakness. Longtime Ducks assistant coach and first-year defensive coordinator Don Pellum said bluntly upon being hired that Oregon had to "push more weight" along the line, per GoDucks.com editor Rob Moseley

Solidifying the defensive front was a primary concern heading into the offseason. Oregon is replacing starters Taylor Hart and Wade Keliikipi as well as key reserve Ricky Havili-Heimuli. 

Returning tackle De'Forest Buckner is a solid anchor, but he'll need Arik Armstead and Alex Balducci to step up their production to avoid opposing offensive lines from keying in on him. 

Depth was an issue for the Ducks defensive line a season ago, but reinforcements arrived in the form of junior college transfer Tua Talia. Talia and returning reserve Stetzon Bair both had impressive spring game performances—Bair finished with seven tackles and a sack while Talia's five tackles led his team. 

There's plenty of potential along the Oregon defensive front, but turning that potential into production is paramount in the Ducks' championship pursuit. 

 

Secret Weapons 

Oregon football is typically good for a number of surprises each year, and 2014 will be no different. Marshall and Tyner can and will produce big numbers, but supplementing their efforts are incoming freshman Royce Freeman and redshirt freshman Kani Benoit. 

Freeman's hardly a secret. The 4-star prospect was among the most highly recruited running backs in the 2014 signing class, and his 215-pound frame makes him a potentially invaluable asset on short yardage and goal-line situations. 

But offensive coordinator Scott Frost's ability to plug Benoit into the lineup gives the Ducks added options in an already multidimensional attack. Benoit shined this offseason, capping the 15-workout slate off with a team-high 50 yards on 8.8 yards per carry in the spring game. 

Benoit will give the Ducks yet another look for which opposing defensive coordinator must game-plan. 

The secret on Devon Allen is probably out after his standout performance in the spring game. Allen caught touchdowns of 45 and 49 yards. His presence in the lineup alleviates some of the pressure of losing top returning receiver Bralon Addison. 

Still, without Addison or 2013 leading receiver Josh Huff, the Ducks have almost 2,000 unaccounted-for receiving yards. Oregon needs more pass-catchers to step up—look no further than sophomore tight end Johnny Mundt. 

Mundt's three receptions in the spring game were tied for most on his team, and the 20 additional pounds of muscle 247Sports' Matt Prehm reports he added in the winter should make him a tough matchup for opposing defenses. 

 

Statistics compiled via CFBStats.com. Spring game statistics via GoDucks.com. Recruiting rankings and information culled from 247Sports.com composite scores. 

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