NCAA Football News

National Title, NFL Draft Dreams Within Reach for Former Oregon QB Bryan Bennett

It took a change of course, but Bryan Bennett is on the road he wants to be: competing for championships and chasing his NFL dream. 

"Ever since I was young, I've been saying I want to be a professional athlete," Bennett said. "For as long as I can [remember], it's been football. It's been the NFL. That's what I want to do. It's crazy how close it is now to being there."

Bennett is on track to achieve his goal, but it took an unexpected detour for him to get here.   

"I came into a situation where I was looking to transfer," Bennett said. "Looking for a better opportunity to play." 

He got that opportunity at Southeastern Louisiana University.

He enters the 2014 season as captain of a legitimate national championship contender in the Football Championship Subdivision. He’s a preseason favorite to contend for the Walter Payton Award, given to the subdivision's premier offensive player. 

And, if all goes according to plan, Bennett will have his name called at next May's NFL draft. 

The fact that all these lofty goals are within Bennett’s reach is not necessarily surprising. As a 4-star recruit out of Crespi Carmelite High School in Encino, California, in 2010, 247Sports ranked Bennett the nation’s No. 9 pro-style quarterback.

His blend of prototypical size and pocket presence, combined with explosive mobility, made Bennett a fit for Chip Kelly's Oregon program. 

The Ducks were fresh off the first of three straight conference championships under Kelly when Bennett committed. He'd have a redshirt season learning the ropes from Second Team All-Pac-10 honoree Jeremiah Masoli, then could compete for the starting job in 2011. 

That's where Bennett's road to his football goals veers down an alternate route. 

 

An Opportunity to Play  

Quarterback is a unique position. Every other spot on the offensive and defensive lineups requires multiple players, whether simultaneously or in specific situations. Barring rare exceptions, just one quarterback plays in meaningful situations.  

Falling behind on the depth chart is not necessarily an indictment of a quarterback's ability or potential—particularly not when he trails a once-in-a-generation kind of teammate. 

"Unfortunately, Bryan was behind a guy [who] doesn't come around every year," Oregon head coach Mark Helfrich said last month at Pac-12 media days.

Helfrich was the Ducks' offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach during the 2012 season. In the offseason leading up to that campaign, Oregon had a heated quarterback competition unfolding between Bennett and redshirt freshman Marcus Mariota. 

The back-and-forth lasted until one week before the season opener. Kelly didn't name a starter until Aug. 24—and his starter was Mariota.  

Bennett was relegated to a reserve role in 2012, and by season's end, it became apparent that his best shot to play would be in a different uniform.

It was an interesting turn of fate. Just a few months prior, Bennett looked to be Oregon's quarterback of the future.

After redshirting in 2010, he made clean-up appearances against Nevada and Southeast Missouri State early in 2011.

Darron Thomas—the Ducks' starting quarterback in 2010 after Masoli was dismissed just before the season—sustained a leg injury against No. 18-ranked Arizona State on Oct. 15, 2011.

That night, Bennett got his first opportunity to shine in a high-profile situation. He rushed five times for 65 yards, helping the Ducks preserve a 41-27 win over the Sun Devils.

The next two weeks against Colorado and Washington State, Bennett factored more prominently into the game plan. He waylaid the Buffaloes for 156 yards passing and two touchdowns, with another 69 yards on the ground. A week later, he threw for another two scores in the Ducks' romp over the Cougars.

Thomas returned to finish the season, but his unexpected early entry into the 2012 NFL draft seemingly gave Bennett an inside track to keep the Oregon machine rolling and launch his individual career.

In a way, the Ducks' 2012 quarterback competition was responsible for launching two outstanding quarterback careers.  

Heading into the 2014 season, Bennett and Mariota are in mirroring situations. Oregon has legitimate national championships aspirations; SLU has legitimate national championship aspirations. 

Mariota is a preseason favorite for his subdivision's top individual honor; Bennett is a preseason favorite for his subdivision's top individual honor. 

Come May and the NFL draft, their career arcs could again follow similar trajectories. Both are prospects to play at the next level. 

I asked Helfrich if landing two quarterbacks who spent time together in the same program in the same draft qualified Oregon for the designation as the new "Quarterback U." 

"I like the way you think," he joked. 

Playing at Oregon may not have been the football path for which Bennett was destined, but he maintains ties to the program. 

"[Oregon center] Hroniss Grasu, we were roommates. We went to school every day together in high school and then again in college," Bennett said. "That’s almost like family." 

He also counts Josh Huff among his close Oregon friends. Huff reunited with Kelly on the Philadelphia Eagles roster. 

Pursuing his opportunity may have required a change of scenery, but there's nothing but respect between Bennett and Oregon. 

"I still care about them, care about their success, just as they do for me," he said. "You part ways sometimes, but it wasn’t a bad thing." 

"I'm really happy for his future," Helfrich said. "I'll be a fan of his wherever he ends up."

The positive note on which Bennett left Oregon carried over into his new role as starting quarterback at SLU. 

Lions head coach Ron Roberts welcomes transfer players, but he expects a certain attitude from a newcomer into his program. 

"He's got to be a team guy," Roberts said. "He can't fall into the [mindset of], 'I'm not getting recognition or fame,' or that there's not 80,000 people in the stadium, and he isn't getting seven pairs of shoes.

"Bryan's not that. He's a totally selfless guy," Roberts added. "Total team player all the way around." 

Roberts said he first talked to Bennett right around the Ducks' 2013 Fiesta Bowl appearance. Those initial conversations were the first step in building a successful relationship.   

 

From Eugene to Hammond

Bennett's transfer to Southeastern Louisiana meant a change in classes, a change in teammates and even a change in lifestyle. 

Transitioning into a new program and university are the obvious challenges associated with a transfer. But Bennett said making the change from Oregon to SLU was seamless in that regard. 

"I was kind of going back-and-forth at Oregon, whether I was going to stay or whether I was going to go," he explained. "I decided to take a trip out [to SLU]; [the semester] hadn’t started yet, so I could get out for the spring, not be behind in any classes and have a spring football with the team."

For a young man from California who spent three years in the Pacific Northwest, the more difficult aspect of transferring was acclimating to a new culture and pace of life. 

Bennett said attending the Manning Passing Academy in nearby Thibodaux, on the campus of SLU's Southland Conference rival Nicholls State, gave him some familiarity with the area. But visiting for a few days and living so far from home are two different things. 

So too are Hammond, Louisiana, location of Southeastern Louisiana University, and the West Coast locales Bennett had previously called home. 

The US Census estimates Hammond's population in 2013 was 20,337. In contrast, the University of Oregon's undergraduate enrollment in the fall 2013 semester was 20,808 per the university's official website.

Fortunately for Bennett, he describes himself as someone who "can adapt wherever I go." 

"It’s been a great learning experience and just a great experience in general," he said. "Getting to be in a different part of the country and a different culture and adapt to it; I’ve learned a lot from being down here." 

While he was familiarizing himself with his new surroundings, Bennett found at least one immediate similarity to Oregon.

Both football programs favored an uptempo style of offense that allowed Bennett to do what he does best: make plays. And he'd have the chance to do so immediately. 

"When it came time to transfer, I talked to different people," Bennett said. "I heard there’s a new coach at Southeastern, things are looking bright for the future and they need a quarterback."

That new head coach was Roberts, who is now preparing for his third season at helm. Roberts came to SLU from Delta State, a Division II powerhouse in his five years there.

Roberts' first team at SLU finished 5-6, a two-win improvement over the season prior. Add Bennett to fill that quarterback void, and the Lions' improvement from 2011 to 2012 paled in comparison to the jump they made in 2013. 

"We thought we had a lot of talent going into the year," Roberts said. "The coaches, we thought we had the ability, maybe not to compete for the championship, but get into the playoffs." 

Bennett saw a chance to take the wheel and help lead the Lions on that course. Bennett applied lessons from his time as a Duck into his new role.  

"At Oregon, there are a lot of great coaches…I had the chance to be around a lot of guys who went on to play at the next level. I got to kind of sit back while I was there and observe," he said. 

Roberts saw that leadership quality in Bennett immediately. 

"Really as soon as he got here, he took on that leadership role," Roberts said. "Because he's a guy who works really hard—he's a tough kid—he stepped immediately into that role, and the kids followed him." 

 

Rewriting Record Books

For Bennett, transferring to SLU was an opportunity to play. For the Lions football program, his arrival proved downright historic. 

Behind Bennett's 3,165 passing yards, 1,046 rushing yards and 37 combined touchdowns, the Lions didn't just improve. They flourished.   

SLU’s 11 wins in 2013 were the program’s most in a single season. Its Southland championship was the program's first league title since winning the Gulf States Conference in 1961. 

Claiming the Southland crown meant beating Sam Houston State, the two-time FCS runner-up. And the Lions did it twice, the second time knocking the Bearkats out of the playoffs in a 30-29 thriller. 

Bennett rushed for a game-high 83 yards with a touchdown and passed for 286 yards with another two scores. 

His second touchdown pass that December night was history-making. 

Trailing 29-24 with 1:21 remaining with the ball on his own 15-yard line, Bennett found Tony McCrea for a gain of 11 yards. Then he hit Marquis Fruge' for 12 yards, Jeff Smiley for 21 and Fruge' again for another 15. 

Four snaps, four passes and four completions. SLU moved into Sam Houston State territory in seconds and wasn't finished yet. 

A 25-yard strike to Fruge' following his first and only incompletion of the drive set up Bennett and the Lions at the one-yard line. The last call of the drive was easy enough: Bennett to Smiley, touchdown SLU. 

In 85 yards, 45 seconds, six completions and one touchdown, Bennett forever etched his name in SLU football history.  

"For us, Bryan is a marquee player. He’s really helped elevate our program," Roberts said.

Yes, SLU is certainly elevated within the FCS ranks. Where a season ago they were projected to finish fourth by the sports information directors and fifth by the head coaches in the Southland, the Lions open 2014 ranked No. 3 nationally in the both the Sports Network and Coaches Polls.  

The only two teams ranked ahead of them are Eastern Washington and North Dakota State, which account for the last four national championships. 

SLU football's rise in the past year is meteoric. Not bad for a program that restarted in 2003 after 16 years of dormancy. 

"The only thing that’s different now is people know what we’re capable of. We’re going to have a target on our back," Bennett said. "We have a goal, and we want to achieve it. Just like last year: We had a goal [of winning the Southland championship], and we achieved it. 

"But we didn't fully fulfill what we wanted to."

The goal to which Bennett alludes is a national championship.  

"We have a lot more depth. We answered a lot of question areas we had, and we just have a lot more experience coming back," Roberts said. "We have guys who've won a [conference] championship and guys who've won in the playoffs." 

As often comes with the territory of quarterbacking a championship-caliber team, Bennett is a contender for the game's top individual honor. In FCS, that's the Walter Payton Award. 

Past winners include Dallas Cowboys star Tony Romo, Michigan-slayer and current Chicago Bear Armanti Edwards and 2014 NFL draftee Jimmy Garoppolo. 

Bennett said he embraces the pursuit of the award because of the implications it has for SLU football as a whole. 

"I should be working to try and win that," he said. "You have those individual goals when you say, 'Yes, I want to be a Walter Payton Award winner,' and, 'Yes, I want to be an All-American.'

"I want to do that. But now I'm more focused on doing what I can to make me and my team better. If we do that, everything else should fall into place," he said 

Improvement is a theme Bennett hit on frequently, and in pursuit of that goal, there's one critical element he emphasized both for himself and his team. 

"Work our tails off."  

It's a mantra that also applies both to SLU's championship aspirations and Bennett's own NFL stock. 

 

From Playing at SLU to Playing on Sundays 

Bennett said part of what made SLU attractive to him was it gave him "the best opportunity to try to play after college." 

His performance there thus far has helped land Bennett on draft boards early into the 2015 evaluation process. 

NFL.com's Mike Huguenin taps Bennett as a top small-school prospect. 

Washington State quarterback Connor Halliday, a 2015 NFL draft prospect in his own right, roomed with Bennett at last month's Manning Passing Academy. 

Halliday marveled when discussing Bennett's arm strength last month at Pac-12 media days, comparing the SLU quarterback to one NFL playmaker.   

"We lined up for skinny posts," Halliday said. "He threw the ball 84 yards. It was like seeing Michael Vick."  

This year's Manning Passing Academy was Bennett's fourth and a most productive visit indeed. The big arm Halliday described wowed others in attendance. 

Bennett's offseason grind also included work with former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Jeff Garcia. 

The process of cashing in on these efforts begins Aug. 30 for Bennett and the Lions, when they host Jacksonville University.  

SLU's season opener is his first opportunity to show off the efforts he's made in the offseason within a game situation.  And Bennett knows people will be watching. 

"I know there are some things I need to work on. I know what [NFL scouts] are going to be looking for," he said.

Improved accuracy is one metric on which Bennett can improve. With fewer interceptions and a higher completion percentage, his draft stock should climb. 

"Now I just need to take care of my team and the things I can do to better myself. I can't worry about, 'Oh, I need to to do this to make it to the league,'" he said. "I just have to do what I need to do to help my team wins games. If I do that, just like the awards, [the NFL draft] will take care of itself."  

It may have required a detour, but the next exit on the horizon for Bennett is a lifelong dream. 

 

All quotes obtained firsthand unless otherwise cited. Statistics compiled via LionSports.net and CFBstats.com. Recruiting rankings and information culled from 247Sports.com composite scores.  

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Why Ohio State Is the Best-Value Bet in 2014 College Football Season

The season-ending shoulder injury—or, the re-injuring of said shoulder, if you will—to Ohio State quarterback Braxton Miller already projects to have major championship effects. 

From the moment that Tim May of TheColumbus Dispatch first reported the news Monday, Ohio State's Big Ten and national-championship picture got fuzzier. 

As it turned out, the concern expressed by Haney wasn't a matter of creating a storyline through hyperbole. 

According to Las Vegas SuperBook, the Buckeyes have dropped to 50-1 odds to win the College Football Playoff (h/t Chip Patterson, CBSSports.com). For reference, Ohio State was listed at 12-1 by the same oddsmakers to win it all before Miller was officially ruled out for the year. 

Now is actually a good time to consider buying stock in Ohio State's championship odds. 

Miller's injury is more devastating to him than it is to Ohio State. You simply have to feel awful for a guy whose season is over before it begins. 

"My thoughts and prayers are with Braxton and his family," Ohio State head coach Urban Meyer said in a statement. "This is an unfortunate injury to a young man who means so much to this program and to Buckeye nation."

True, you can't understate the importance of Miller's injury. Good quarterbacks, especially ones who can pick up yards with their feet, are nearly impossible to account for and can mask a lot of deficiencies. As B/R's Ohio State lead writer Ben Axelrod writes, new starter JT Barrett isn't as physically gifted as Miller—not to mention he doesn't have experience. 

What Barrett does have, however, is leadership. That's a much-needed quality during a difficult time: 

Despite being just a second-year player with no playing experience at the college level, Barrett has also already been lauded for his leadership within the Ohio State locker room. And while he may not be a physical freak capable of stringing together single-game highlight reels like Miller, he prides himself on his intangibles and ability to spread the ball around.

But it's not like the Buckeyes were devoid of talent elsewhere. The defensive line of Michael Bennett, Noah Spence, Adolphus Washington and Joey Bosa could be the single best group at that position anywhere in the country.

Coupled with a secondary that will feature an up-and-coming star in Vonn Bell, the Buckeyes pass defense, which ranked near the bottom of the Big Ten a year ago, should be better.  

The question marks lie mostly on offense, which even before Miller's injury had to replace four offensive linemen, leading running back Carlos Hyde and leading receiver Philly Brown. The talent is there for the next wave of stars, there's just not a ton of experience in the trenches or in the backfield. 

But there's an X-factor with offensive coordinator Tom Herman, who was recently ranked as the top assistant in college football by Fox Sports' Bruce Feldman. That should inspire confidence that the offense will come together sooner rather than later. 

And, as of mid-August, Ohio State has one preseason top-25 team on its schedule: No. 8 Michigan State on November 8. That's not to say the Buckeyes won't be challenged before then, but that does give the offense time to iron out wrinkles. 

The odds may have dipped out of Ohio State's favor, and for all anyone knows, Miller's injury could cost the team a game or two it might have normally won. 

That said, there are still plenty of reasons to like Ohio State and their title chances in 2014. Putting the Buckeyes at 50-1 odds seems like a steal. 

 

Ben Kercheval is a lead writer for college football at Bleacher Report. All odds courtesy of Las Vegas SuperBook.

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Why Ole Miss Can Win The SEC West in 2014

Over the last decade, the Alabama Crimson Tide, the Auburn Tigers or the LSU Tigers have won the SEC West division nine out of the 10 years. Those three are the top contenders in the division once again in 2014, but this year, the Ole Miss Rebels can win the SEC West for the first time in school history.

Before Ole Miss head coach Hugh Freeze came to Oxford, the Rebels finished with a 2-10 record in 2011. Since then, Freeze has the Rebels on the rise, as they finished with a 7-6 record in 2012 and improved to 8-5 in 2013. With a number of personnel losses at LSU and Texas A&M, the Rebels have a great opportunity to win their first SEC West division title this season.

The Rebels’ strength is their prolific offense led by quarterback Bo Wallace, who is one of the best and most experienced quarterbacks in the SEC. Last season, Wallace threw for 3,346 yards with 18 touchdowns and completed 64.8 percent of his passes. He also added 539 yards and six touchdowns on the ground. Wallace led the Rebels to some big wins against the Texas Longhorns and over then No. 6-ranked LSU.

While Wallace needs to eliminate the mistakes in key moments, like in the Mississippi State game, he is poised for a huge senior season.

Wallace he has an abundance of weapons around him, such as sophomore receiver Laquon Treadwell and tight end Evan Engram. Treadwell, who was named the 2013 SEC Freshman of the Year, caught 72 balls for 608 yards and five touchdowns. With Treadwell moving from the slot receiver to the outside, expect to see his number increase even more in 2014.

In the first seven games last season, before suffering an ankle injury, Engram emerged as the Rebels’ big-play receiver. Now that the tight end is 100 percent healthy, Engram—along with Treadwell and Wallace—could make the Rebels one of the best passing offenses in the nation.

Not only do the Rebels have a potent passing game, but they also have a solid running game to keep the SEC defenses honest. Running backs I’Tavius Mathers and Jaylen Walton combined for 1,114 yards and nine touchdowns a season ago.

The Rebels also have one of the best left tackles in the nation in sophomore Laremy Tunsil, who earned SEC All-Freshman honors a season ago. He will have to help anchor an offensive line that has many question marks, including the health of left guard Aaron Morris.

On defense, Ole Miss has nine starters returning, including All-American safety Cody Prewitt and All-SEC linebacker Serderius Bryant.

Last season, Prewitt made 71 tackles and had six interceptions. Bryant was just as active as he racked up 78 tackles, 9.5 of them for a loss.

Defensive end C.J. Johnson, who was injured in 2013, should provide close to his 2012 numbers when he had 6.5 sacks and finished sixth in tackles for the Rebels with 55.

Moving Robert Nkemdiche from defensive end to defensive tackle late last season helped him improve his production. He is a more natural tackle because of his 280-pound frame, and he can use his strength and long arms to push offensive linemen off the ball.

The biggest reason Ole Miss could win the SEC West is its favorable schedule. Alabama, Auburn and Mississippi State will all come to Vaught-Hemingway Stadium. Also, Ole Miss catches a break in SEC crossover play as it avoids Georgia, South Carolina, Florida and Missouri.

Ole Miss' game against the LSU Tigers on Oct. 25 will go a long way in determining if the Rebels are SEC West contenders. Ole Miss did defeat the Tigers last season and only lost to the Tigers by a touchdown or less in its last two trips to Tiger Stadium.

Freeze has had highly touted recruiting classes the last few seasons. So he can’t use the excuse that he doesn’t have the weapons to compete with Alabama, Auburn and LSU. With an experienced quarterback, excellent talent on offense and a skilled defense, there are plenty of reasons for optimism in Oxford, Mississippi, this season.

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Auburn Football: Jeremy Johnson Is Already a Leader for the Tigers' Offense

AUBURN, Ala. — Jeremy Johnson's teammates say the Auburn sophomore quarterback would start at the 13 other schools in the SEC.

Although he is senior Nick Marshall's backup, Johnson said he entered each practice of his collegiate career like he's the starter at Auburn.

In less than two weeks, when the Tigers host Arkansas for its season opener, that focus and preparation will pay off for him.

With Marshall sitting an indefinite amount of time against the Razorbacks as part of his punishment for a July marijuana citation, Johnson will most likely—it somehow hasn't been made official yet by Auburn's coaching staff—make his second career start on Aug. 30.

"If I'm called upon, I'll be ready," Johnson said. "I really don't feel any pressure. I've just got to do what I've been coached to do, and everything will pan out right."

A start against an SEC opponent will come at the end of what has been an important month in the development of the young quarterback.

Johnson may not know if he's going to play a quarter, a half or the whole game against the Razorbacks, but his teammates say the sophomore is more than capable of leading the Tigers' offense into the 2014 season.

"Most freshmen are immature, just kind of lollygagging, but now he’s stepped up," senior H-back Brandon Fulse said. "He’s taking the game more seriously now, and I see that. First game, anytime you put him in, we have 100 percent that Jeremy Johnson will get the job done."

Since the start of fall camp, when Malzahn announced Marshall would not start against Arkansas, Johnson has split first-team reps with the returning starter.

Outside of a start against FCS opponent Western Carolina and reserve duty for an injured Marshall against Florida Atlantic last season, Johnson has not had a lot of time running the first-team offense.

The pressure of starting against an SEC opponent in a highly anticipated season opener might be too much for some underclassmen, but teammates said Johnson has showed great poise in the weeks leading up to the Arkansas game.

"I think he’s been handling it all pretty well," junior receiver Ricardo Louis said. "He's been more confident going into his second year. That's going to carry over for him by getting more reps and being more confident in throwing the ball and running the offense."

Auburn's coaches are already looking beyond the season opener in their plans to use a more confident Johnson in the offense this season.

"Me and [offensive coordinator Rhett Lashlee] decided Jeremy Johnson was going to have a bigger role regardless this year," Malzahn said. "We've talked about him and his ability and how we feel about him. We feel very good about our quarterback position as a whole."

One area Johnson said he has improved over the offseason is his work with the zone read, a staple of head coach Gus Malzahn's offense. The speedy Marshall excelled with the option last season, but the 6'5" Johnson brings a different element to the Tigers' ground game.

Johnson only ran the ball seven times last season for the Tigers, who mostly played him in special package plays. Whether it's through more package plays or more second-half snaps in lopsided games against weaker opponents, those numbers are expected to rise this season.

"They’ve got packages for me, so whenever it’s my time to go in on a certain package or a certain play, I’m going to make the best of it," Johnson said. "If it calls for a zone read, I can do it perfectly fine."

Johnson was considered a 4-star, pro-style quarterback out of Carver High School in nearby Montgomery, where he was named the 2012 Mr. Football winner for the state of Alabama. Despite the pass-first designation, Johnson still ran for more than 700 yards and seven touchdowns for the Wolverines.

His frame and athleticism may remind Auburn fans of a certain Heisman-winning quarterback, and Johnson said he strives to be just like him.

"I look up to Cam Newton," Johnson said. "I watch Cam on YouTube every day—watch his work ethic and everything he does."

While he has a bigger role for the team this season and aspirations to become an Auburn legend like Newton in his collegiate career, Johnson isn't looking to start any quarterback controversy with Marshall this season.

Johnson went as far to say he knew "for a fact" that Marshall would return to the field and win the Heisman Trophy this season.

Lashlee said the friendship between the two quarterbacks, who went head-to-head in an intense battle for the starting job in 2013, is completely genuine.

"I have even teased them before about their bromance on Instagram," Lashlee said. "They are just good friends. They get along. They are good in meetings. They are good on the practice field. I have never one time thought one had ulterior motives over the other."

So when Johnson leads the offense in Jordan-Hare Stadium a week from Saturday against Arkansas, he will have the full support of his close friend.

"I see Jeremy coming out there and practicing [well] every day," Marshall said. "He's leading the team just like he's going to be the starter, and I'm just behind him 100 percent."

 

Justin Ferguson is Bleacher Report's lead Auburn writer. Follow him on Twitter @JFergusonAU. All quotes were obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted. All recruiting rankings and information courtesy of 247Sports. All stats courtesy of CFBStats.com.

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Notre Dame Football: Why Everett Golson Is Now More Important Than Ever

SOUTH BEND, Indiana — The last time he started a game, Notre Dame football quarterback Everett Golson was a redshirt freshman. Two years later, a new-look Golson is the vital, valuable engine as the Irish enter the 2014 season.

Notre Dame head coach Brian Kelly made a simple but blunt distinction at the start of fall camp when evaluating Golson.

The question posed to Kelly referred to Golson as “the quarterback that took you to a title game.”

“I would argue that Everett rode the bus to the championship,” Kelly clarified.

It was less a shot at the yet-to-be-named starter and more a truism about Golson’s role as a redshirt freshman.

Now?

“It’s really, quite frankly, night and day compared to where he was in 2012 in my opinion,” Irish offensive coordinator Mike Denbrock said at Tuesday’s media day.

To the untrained eye, Golson looks different in the physical realm, in terms of size, strength and accuracy. Bigger. Stronger. Crisper. And when you ask coaches and teammates, Golson has grown immensely on the mental side of the game as well.

It all adds up to what surely looks like a much-improved quarterback in 2014. And as the Irish retool their offense this season, looking to push an uptempo attack, hoping to jump on teams instead of relying on their defense, Golson is key, probably the key.

Notre Dame’s offensive brain trust sat down at the end of last season and analyzed the team’s strengths and weaknesses. The faster tempo is one of the byproducts of the self-study.

“We feel like we’re to the point now offensively where we can take a little bit more of the game control and kind of control the tempo of the game, control the outcome of the game by the way we play offense, as opposed to just kind of leaning on our defense and offense let’s score one more than they do,” Denbrock said.

Naturally, Golson plays a crucial role in the attack.

“He’s the cornerstone of the whole deal,” Denbrock said. “He’s the guy who really is the puppet-master who’s pulling the strings even though coach Kelly is calling the plays.”

The offensive coordinator praised Golson’s work over the last three or four days of practice, saying Golson has made some impressive adjustments. He’s noticing the safeties rotating before the snap. He’s recognizing blitzes from the defense, threats “that he never saw in 2012,” according to Denbrock.

“He is just remarkable in the way that he’s developing in my opinion,” Denbrock added. “So I think he’s poised to really do a great job with us.”

Denbrock isn’t the only coach to think that. Former Texas head coach and current ESPN broadcaster Mack Brown came through camp in South Bend recently and left with high expectations for the Irish signal-caller.

ND QB Everett Golson looked great in practice Sunday. Look for him to have a super year

— Mack Brown (@ESPN_CoachMack) August 13, 2014

Golson’s job becomes even more important now while the Irish proceed without the services of the four players—wide receiver DaVaris Daniels, cornerback KeiVarae Russell, defensive end Ishaq Williams and linebacker Kendall Moore—who are being held out of practices and competition during an ongoing academic investigation. Without their top receiver and top cornerback—as well as a projected starting defensive lineman—the Irish have a smaller margin for error. Golson has the ability to shove the academic investigation from the forefront.

Maybe just as importantly as his on-field ability, Golson has improved leadership qualities, at a time when the Irish need stability and focus. He used to be an underclassman who had “spotty” attendance and showed up late, according to Kelly.

“He wasn't doing the things leaders do,” Kelly said Tuesday.

Now, Kelly says, Golson is first to everything and first to speak up.

“He has matured, and he knows what great leadership looks like, and he's paid attention to it and knows what it looks like, and now he's that guy out in front,” Kelly said.

The Irish are hoping Golson and the fresh offense put them out in front of the opposition.

“We want to be aggressive, and we want to really beat you on the offensive side which was different from 2012,” Golson said Tuesday.

“He has the keys to the offense,” Denbrock said of Golson.

He’s now driving the bus.

 

All quotes obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted.

Mike Monaco is a lead Notre Dame writer for Bleacher Report. Follow @MikeMonaco_ on Twitter.

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LSU Football: Final Camp Stock Report

LSU's closed scrimmages during fall camp are mysterious.

Usually, little can be made of what happens in these glorified practices because they are closed to the public. But that was not the case on Tuesday, as head coach Les Miles openly discussed some important topics surrounding his team after the scrimmage.

LSU focused on Wisconsin for the first time in fall camp during the scrimmage, per David Ching of ESPN.com. Miles said his team's similarity to the Badgers made it easier.

“We were able to accommodate both offense and defense to some extent exactly what Wisconsin would be like,” Miles said, per Ching. “Our defense has the ability to kind of mimic, if you will, their defense. And our offense certainly is very similar.”  

Tuesday was the most revealing day of fall camp. Here are some other important storylines that came from it.

 

Starting Quarterback Deadline

Miles said he will have a decision made at quarterback before the day of the season opener. But chances are he will only tell the quarterbacks, not tell the media.

"We'll tell the starter probably that Thursday (Aug. 28th) when we put together the final list of starters," Miles said, per Glenn Guilbeau of The Daily Advertiser.  

Miles also said sophomore Anthony Jennings and freshman Brandon Harris have yet to emerge as the better of the two, though he thought they both performed at a "high level of execution." 

There is no telling what Miles and the coaching staff will do. Harris is more gifted, yet he has not been able push himself ahead of Jennings. Expect both to play.  

 

Thomas Is Back, Valentine Cleared

LSU defensive tackle Quentin Thomas participated in full-contact drills for the first time since early August. Miles said Thomas is not quite back at full strength but showed he can still make plays, according to Jim Kleinpeter of The Times-Picayune.  

Thomas' improved health is great news for the Tigers. They could have survived without him, but his experience and disruptiveness makes the defensive line better.

LSU's good fortune at defensive tackle continued when 4-star incoming freshman Travonte Valentine was cleared to play, per his Twitter account. 

Valentine had to take summer courses to meet the academic qualifications from NCAA Clearinghouse, but he is not completely in the clear yet. Miles says it will take a couple more days before he can step onto campus.

Defensive line coach Brick Haley said he must first see if Valentine is game shape before he puts him on the field.

"Hopefully he’s going to be in really good condition. If he’s not, he’s going to be behind. That’s normally the reason why guys don’t start as true freshmen. They do get behind and they have a lot to learn and it’s a lot on their bodies. But you can always get a young guy to come in and give you valuable minutes to rest some of those other guys," said Haley, per Shea Dixon of Geaux247.com

Valentine does add depth to a unit filled with uncertainty, but do not expect to see him on the field anytime soon. The Tigers are fine for now with the likes of Thomas, Christian LaCouture, Frank Herron, Greg Gilmore and Maquedius Bain. 

There is a chance Valentine could be part of the rotation later in the season, especially on goal-line and short-yardage situations that require extra big bodies on the field. 

 

Receivers Get a Boost from Freshmen

LSU 5-star incoming freshman Malachi Dupre did not participate in last Saturday's scrimmage, but he returned on Tuesday. Dupre caught a few passes, as he and fellow freshman Trey Quinn impressed Miles. 

"He's (Dupre) beyond what was an early injury. He's really just getting back to health now, and I think he'll maintain this opportunity to play from this point forward," said Miles, per Guilbeau. "Trey Quinn caught a couple of balls. All in all, it was a pretty decent offensive outing." 

Dupre and Quinn will certainly be in the mix, which was expected. They are two of the best receiving prospects Miles has ever brought to Baton Rouge. Outside of leading receiving returnee Travin Dural, playing time is still up for grabs in the receiving corps. 

 

Fall Camp Schedule

Expect Miles to implement more of the game plan for Wisconsin as the week goes along.

LSU will do a walk-through on Wednesday afternoon to allow themselves to recover from Tuesday's 120-play scrimmage. Usually in practices such as these, coaches work on the specifics of certain plays and upcoming opponents.  

Here is LSU's schedule for the rest of the week, via Ross Dellenger of The Advocate

  • Wednesday, Aug. 20 4 p.m. Walk-through
  • Thursday, Aug. 21 4:35 p.m. Practice
  • Friday, Aug. 22 4:30 p.m. Practice
  • Saturday, Aug. 23 10:35 a.m. Practice
  • Monday, Aug. 25 First day of school

 

Rankings and stats provided by cfbstats.com, LSU Sports Information and 247Sports. Quotes were obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted. Follow me on Twitter @CarterthePower

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Bo Pelini and Nebraska Football Team Send Special Message to Jack Hoffman

Young Nebraska fan Jack Hoffman recently found out that he has had a reoccurrence of brain cancer, so Bo Pelini and the Cornhuskers want their buddy to know that they are behind him.

Coach Pelini sent out a tweet to Jack to let him know that he has the support of the team:

Two years ago, Hoffman captured the hearts of everyone in the United States when he ran in a touchdown during Nebraska's spring game. Ever since then, the youngster and the team have fought the battle together.

Last year, his brain tumor had been declared in remission. The family found out in early August that the tumor has been growing over the past few months. 

It appears that Hoffman has plenty of people supporting him in his battle once again.

[YouTube, Bo Pelini

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10 Bold Predictions for the SEC on 2015 College Football Recruiting Trail

The SEC's dominance on the field has coincided with the league's penchant for winning big on the recruiting trail in February.

With six SEC teams currently holding down spots in 247Sports' team rankings, it looks like business as usual for the league's powers in the 2015 cycle. 

To the surprise of no one, Alabama is in the driver's seat to finish with another top-rated class. However, Texas A&M is on the Tide's heels, and schools such as Georgia, Auburn, South Carolina and Tennessee have put together classes that rank among the nation's elite. 

With national signing day less than six months away, what are some of the key storylines for SEC fans to observe, and how will the league fare down the stretch of recruiting season?

Begin Slideshow

College Football 2014: Top Heisman Favorites Heading into the Season

Florida State quarterback Jameis Winston secured the Heisman Trophy and national championship last season. The road to repeat will be a difficult one for him, with defenders aiming to stunt his progress.

He may be looking to repeat, but there is a host of other players aiming to surpass him.

Watch as Bleacher Report experts Adam Kramer, Michael Felder, and Barrett Sallee highlight the top Heisman candidates for the 2014 season.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Tennessee Volunteers Football: Final Camp Stock Report

The Tennessee Volunteers are (relatively) healthy, the youngsters are as ready as they're going to get, the quarterback is settled and camp is about to give way to game week.

All in all, it's been a successful three weeks of football on Rocky Top.

Utah State looms on Aug. 31, and, in some ways, the Vols are ahead of schedule. In others, they're behind. That's just the way it's going to be with such a young group.

And, boy, are the Vols young.

Of the 32 newcomers UT brought in, all but about five or six should receive immediate playing time. Any time there's that much youth on a roster, it's difficult to gauge what you've got until the season starts.

An extra year of practice is a luxury head coach Butch Jones and his staff don't have. He told Volquest.com's John Brice and Paul Fortenberry (subscription required):

We're still work-in-progress from the maturity standpoint. Like I said, some individuals are ahead of others in terms of maturity. We knew this. This isn't any surprise to us. They're 17-year-old kids going through their first training camp. It's having that mental toughness, mental conditioning to fight through the fatigue, especially the mental fatigue. We talk about being relentless and having a relentless approach. But the mental approach is so much more important than the physical approach. … We're very, very youthful. So every day is a learning experience for them.

Every game will be, too; at least early. So, buckle up for a rocky road on Rocky Top—but it's one that holds a lot of hope, too.

 

Robertson's Surge Means Surprising O-Line Depth

Without question, the biggest surprise of fall camp is Jashon Robertson, and he may just wind up being the steal of a decorated recruiting class.

The 6'3", 304-pound former 3-star prospect from Nashville shifted from defensive tackle to offensive guard four days into fall camp.

By late last week, he was starting at right guard, bumping entrenched Kyler Kerbyson out to tackle and bouncing fellow freshman Coleman Thomas from the first team.

Robertson was a long-time commitment to James Franklin's Vanderbilt Commodores, but when the coach bolted for Penn State, the two-way lineman started looking.

With childhood buddy Jalen Hurd a prominent member of UT's 2013 recruiting class, Robertson visited in January of this year and wound up flipping to UT on the 15th of that month. He enrolled this summer, and it hasn't taken the former high school wrestler long to shine on the offensive line.

"Jashon," Kerbyson told UTSports.com's Brian Rice, "seems like a natural."

Offensive line is one of the most difficult positions to learn as a freshman, and the fact that Robertson did it so quickly is extremely encouraging.

It also means UT has some options along a completely rebuilt offensive line from a season ago.

The past few days, the Vols have been working a first team that consists of Jacob Gilliam at left tackle, Marcus Jackson at left guard, Mack Crowder at center, Robertson at right guard and Kerbyson at right tackle.

Thomas can play all the positions, and Dylan Wiesman is a super-utility interior lineman who can play guard or center. JUCO transfer Dontavius Blair is still battling Gilliam at left tackle.

The Vols aren't going to be dominant in the trenches, but they have some flexibility, at least. Jones told GoVols247's Wes Rucker (subscription required) in regards to depth:

It's about what we expected. … It's having depth, and when you're limited with not much depth, we want to be able to move players around, because it’s all about putting the best five on the field. … When you don't have depth by overall numbers, you have to get it by, you know, players who can play multiple positions up front. And that's what we're attempting to do.

Thanks to the emergence of Robertson—who has apparently made it impossible for coaches to ignore him—UT now has the ability to mix and match.

That'll help fuel competition, depth and ultimately the improvement of a group that is going to be vital to this team's success.

 

Good News on Saulsberry Injury

The biggest concern for the Vols is finding playmakers along the defensive line, and they thought they received a major blow when Trevarris Saulsberry went down with a knee injury during Saturday night's open scrimmage.

Instead, UT got some good news for a change.

The 6'4", 296-pound redshirt junior "re-aggravated the knee" injury that kept him out of most of last season, Jones said, according to GoVols247's Ryan Callahan (subscription required). Jones said the injury could keep Saulsberry out a couple of days to a week.

That's much better than the season-ending injury UT initially feared. Saulsberry missed most of last season and all this past spring and has been injury-prone in the past. The Vols desperately need him to return to the player he showed glimpses of being against Oregon last year and Alabama two years ago.

Defensive tackle is a "great concern" for the Vols right now, Jones told Callahan. If Saulsberry can get back on the field, he has the size and athleticism to team with former Gainesville (Fla.) High School teammate Jordan Williams in the center of UT's revamped defensive line.

Saulsberry is a player who can be a major difference-maker when at 100 percent. Considering there aren't many proven players for the Vols on that line, they need him.

 

Passing the Test

When the Neyland Stadium lights came on Saturday night, some 40,000 fans were present to watch the Vols' open scrimmage.

They saw an offense that was by all accounts efficient—if not spectacular—mere days after Justin Worley was named the starting quarterback.

In that near-game setting, Josh Malone surged again, and the Vols offense hummed along pretty well, according to Volquest.com's Rob Lewis (subscription required).

Worley told Lewis:

I thought I did well. We didn't do a lot of new stuff, didn't install anything for today. We executed well in that second series that we played out, drove down the field in a matter of a couple of plays. That was good to see, I thought we responded well overall with the crowed out here and everything.

Thankfully, Jones realized he needed to name a starting quarterback sooner rather than later. With the shackles off, the offense can get synced up with Worley, and the Vols will be better for it.

While UT didn't have as many "splash plays" again as it would have liked, the offense had a little extra motivation during Saturday's scrimmage. Junior receiver Von Pearson told GoVols247's Wes Rucker (subscription required) it was easy to get pumped up with that many people in the stands for practice.

Yeah, it did (fire me up). I can’t wait until the Utah State game, you know what I’m saying? … can’t believe how many people were here for practice. Sixty-nine thousand for a spring game, and then this tonight? I can’t believe that.

 

Updates on Tennessee's Top Position Battles

In addition to Robertson looking like he's going to be firmly in the mix to start along a shaken-up offensive line for the Vols, there are plenty of other starters yet to be determined.

Those battles likely will last well into the season.

Though true freshman Emmanuel Moseley has held down the cornerback position opposite Cameron Sutton since spring practice, he lost that grasp in the past week to a walk-on.

But Michael Williams is not an average walk-on. The former Maryland track star transferred to UT to play both sports, and the third-year sophomore has turned heads with his physicality, according to Rucker (subscription required).

He's also the brother of NFL veteran defensive back Madieu Williams, so he has some impressive bloodlines, too.

The 5'11" cornerback has surged ahead of Moseley and fellow freshman Rashaan Gaulden, but that's a battle that will likely go on for a while.

Volquest.com's John Brice and Grant Ramey (subscription required) noted that George Bullock is still ahead of freshman Aaron Medley for place-kicking duties.

They also reported that Alton "Pig" Howard trotted out with Pearson and Marquez North as first-team receivers as the Vols continue to show extreme depth and talent at that position.

RockyTopInsider.com's Houston Kress said of JUCO transfer Chris Weatherd, who is carving a role in pass-rush situations: "This guy is FAST. Weatherd just has such an explosive burst when making his first move to the quarterback, and he often gets to the offensive lineman before the player is even out of his stance."

While Jalen Reeves-Maybin and A.J. Johnson are entrenched as starters at linebacker, Weatherd, Elliott Berry and Dillon Bates all could find themselves on the field at outside spots in various packages.

Though sophomore Devaun Swafford continues to keep a small distance between himself and second-team safety Todd Kelly Jr., it wouldn't be surprising to see Kelly overtake him soon.

Jones told Volquest.com's Austin Price (subscription required) "the game is slowing down" for Kelly. He has the size and speed to be special soon, and it's going to be extremely difficult to keep him off the field.

 

Roundup from Rocky Top (News and Notes)

  • According to Jones' official Twitter account, two more UT players (Kelly and junior defensive tackle Owen Williams) lost their black stripes this week.
  • It's certainly possible that senior punter Matt Darr could experience the same final-year resurgence as Michael Palardy did a season ago. Kress noted Darr has been "consistently kicking the ball 45-55 yards in the air with a few sprinkled in that went even further than that."
  • UT junior defensive end Curt Maggitt is still not back from an ankle injury that has hobbled him for a week, but he is not expected to miss any game action.
  • Freshman running back Jalen Hurd told GoVols247's Ryan Callahan (subscription required) his shoulder is "100 percent" nearly a year removed from surgery to repair a labrum tear. Like always, Hurd's media session this week was as impressive as his on-field play.

 

All recruiting rankings and statistics courtesy of 247Sports composite rankings. All statistics gathered from CFBStats.com.

Brad Shepard covers SEC football and is the Tennessee Lead Writer for Bleacher Report. Follow Brad on Twitter here:

 

@Brad_Shepard

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How Ohio State's Offense Will Change with JT Barrett Instead of Braxton Miller

Speaking about his plans to minimize Braxton Miller's rushing attempts this season, Ohio State offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach Tom Herman conceded that the two-time Big Ten MVP's legs would always be a part of the Buckeyes' arsenal.

"Whatever it takes to win," Herman said of Miller's designed runs. "We know that they'll always be there in our back pocket."

That, however, is no longer the case in Columbus, as Herman and head coach Urban Meyer find themselves searching for new plays to fill their pockets. Out is Miller, who will miss the entirety of the 2014 season with a reported torn labrum, and in is redshirt freshman J.T. Barrett, who brings a different skill set to Ohio State's quarterback position.

Just how much will the OSU offense change with Barrett behind center for the Buckeyes? We won't know for sure until Aug. 30. But we've seen enough in select practices and picked up as many clues from coaches to know to expect a different approach from the Ohio State offense when it takes the field for its season opener against Navy in 10 days.

 

More Runs From The Runners, Less Designed Runs

When Miller's status was still unclear a week ago, Meyer admitted that the Buckeyes would need to rely on their run game more if their star signal-caller wasn't yet full-go. And with a quarterback who's yet to take a single snap in his college career, one would imagine that mindset won't change, as Ohio State's passing game is anything but proven at this point.

That could prove to be problematic, however, as the Buckeyes' rushing attack isn't exactly experienced either. Gone are Big Ten Running Back of the Year Carlos Hyde and four multi-year starters on the offensive line, replaced by a stable of talented—albeit unproven—young players.

As far as the quarterback's role in running the ball, Barrett is hardly the home-run threat that Miller's been for the past three seasons, but an efficient runner nonetheless. He's also been the Buckeyes' most impressive decision-maker in the zone-read game this offseason, a skill that Miller has struggled with as he's shown a propensity for telegraphing his runs.

What Barrett makes up for in decision-making he loses in designed runs, as Miller's signature quarterback counters will likely disappear from the Buckeyes' playbook in the coming year. For that reason alone, the running backs should shoulder the load of the OSU run game, although opposing defenses could make Barrett prove what he's capable of on the ground.

Nevertheless, expect to hear names like Ezekiel Elliott, Rod Smith, Bri'onte Dunn and Curtis Samuel early and often for the Buckeyes this season—especially in their debut against the Midshipmen. Both facets of the Ohio State offense may be unproven, but like legendary Buckeyes coach Woody Hayes once said, there are three things that can happen when you throw the ball—and two of them are bad.

 

Shorter Passes 

When it comes to arm strength, Barrett is no Miller, nor is he even fellow signal-caller Cardale Jones. But that's no secret to Herman, who's well aware of his new starting quarterback's physical shortcomings.

"We've gotta work on strengthening his arm," Herman admitted. "He's a distant third behind Braxton and Cardale in terms of just rearing back and trying to throw it through a wall."

So gone will be deep balls from the Buckeyes quarterback, perhaps attempts that would have predominately been targeted for senior speedster Devin Smith. But what Barrett lacks in power, he makes up for in accuracy, which could ultimately prove for a more well-rounded attack in the OSU passing game.

"He gets the ball out quickly, is very efficient. Smooth release. Very accurate," Herman said of Barrett. "Extremely cerebral."

One player in particular who could benefit from Barrett's insertion into the starting lineup is wide receiver/running back Dontre Wilson, who came to Ohio State expected to play the "Percy Harvin role" in Meyer's offense. With dinks and dunks expected to be in the new bread and butter of the Buckeyes offensive approach, look for a lot of them to land in the arms of Wilson, as well as senior tight end Jeff Heuerman.

"We're a little bit better than we were the past two years in terms of skill," Meyer told ESPN's Mike & Mike radio show. "We have a handful of guys where if you make one mistake, that could be a big play for the Buckeyes."

 

A More Systematic Approach

Truth be told, Ohio State's offense may look more like what Meyer envisions for his spread attack with Barrett calling the shots rather than Miller. Sure, Miller is one of the most unique players in college football, but his talents have made the Buckeyes look one-dimensional at times as they've often relied too heavily on his legs and big-play ability.

That shouldn't be the case with Barrett, with Meyer conceding that his top priority will be to spread the ball around. Asked on Mike & Mike how the OSU offense would be different without Miller in the lineup, Meyer pointed to the approach that the Buckeyes took when Kenny Guiton replaced Miller for the better part of three games a season ago.

"We changed a little bit like we did when Kenny Guiton was in there. Kenny Guiton was distributor," Meyer said. "We do a lot of the management throws, especially with a young quarterback."

That's not necessarily a bad thing, as evidenced by the combined 643 yards and 12 touchdowns that Guiton threw for in the three games where he took the majority of Ohio State's snaps. And while Herman isn't ready to put Barrett on Guiton's level just yet, he has confidence in his new starter's ability, which is one reason while Columbus hasn't been all doom and gloom over the last 48 hours.

"At the end of the day, the offense moves when he’s in," Herman said of Barrett. "That's the sign of a good one."

 

Ben Axelrod is Bleacher Report's Ohio State Lead Writer. You can follow him on Twitter @BenAxelrod. Unless noted otherwise, all quotes were obtained firsthand. All recruiting information comes courtesy of 247Sports.

 

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LSU's Season Riding on Les Miles' Ability to Pick a Quarterback

If you have two quarterbacks, you have no quarterbacks. 

LSU is on the verge of having no quarterbacks.

Head coach Les Miles said after Tuesday's scrimmage that sophomore Anthony Jennings and freshman Brandon Harris could both play in the season opener vs. Wisconsin.

“There’s an opportunity to see both quarterbacks play,” Miles said in quotes released by LSU. “We still have several practices left. I think I’ll wait (to name a starter) until I see how I want to play the guys. We’ll tell the starter on Thursday (of game week) when we put together the final (play call) list.”

Good move? Hardly.

Each situation is unique, and while it's fine if Alabama's quarterback battle wages on into the season, LSU really doesn't have that luxury.

With so much roster turnover on the offensive side of the ball, including the absence of quarterback Zach Mettenberger, 1,000-yard rusher Jeremy Hill and 1,000-yard receivers Jarvis Landry and Odell Beckham Jr., LSU's offense needs continuity, and that continuity begins with Miles settling on a signal-caller.

Wisconsin isn't the team to conduct an audition with. Sure, there are some questions in the front seven for the Badgers to answer, and LSU can play ground-and-pound football with backs Terrence Magee, Kenny Hilliard and Leonard Fournette and get out of there with a win.

But does that solve the quarterback issue? Nope. It would mask it.

In most cases, if all things are equal, a team should go with the veteran—especially if the season opener is a big game that could potentially make or break its national title hopes. The word "veteran," in this case, is a relative term.

Jennings saw spot duty as Zach Mettenberger's reserve leading up to the season finale last year and then led the Tigers on a 99-yard touchdown drive in the closing minutes to beat Arkansas 31-27. The future looked bright.

In his first start—a 21-14 win over Iowa in the Outback Bowl—Jennings was inconsistent, completed only 36.8 percent of his passes (7-for-19), looked apprehensive in the pocket and took four sacks. That trend continued in LSU's spring game when Jennings threw two picks and was sacked four times, according to stats released by LSU.

All the while, Harris looked sharp throwing for 195 yards, rushing for 77 and totaling four touchdowns.

In this case, going with youth is the best approach if all things are equal.

LSU's leading returning receiver is Travin Dural, who had seven catches last year. Not 17 or 70, seven. It's imperative for LSU's young wide receivers, including Malachi Dupre and Trey Quinn, to develop chemistry with their quarterback. Rotating guys in throughout the duration of fall camp and into the season makes that much more difficult.

Yes, LSU has rotated quarterbacks in the past, including Jarrett Lee and Jordan Jefferson in the SEC championship year of 2011. But those players had experience and familiarity with their teammates.

Jennings and Harris don't, and if Miles doesn't on settle on one soon, LSU is destined for a rebuilding year.

 

Barrett Sallee is the lead SEC college football writer for Bleacher Report. Quotes were obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted. All stats are courtesy of CFBStats.com, and all recruiting information is courtesy of 247Sports.

 

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JT Barrett Holds Key to Ohio State's Title Hopes After Braxton Miller's Injury

From unassuming backup to the starting quarterback of a national-title contender. Such is the life of Ohio State quarterback J.T. Barrett, who suddenly finds himself in the enviable position of being the Buckeyes' starting signal-caller and the unenviable (read: and terrifying) position of replacing a Heisman favorite.

Braxton Miller, entering his senior season on the shortest of shortlists for college football's top trophy, suffered a torn labrum in practice Monday and will miss the entire 2014 season.

"I love Ohio State and Buckeye nation, and my goal is to come back from this injury stronger and better than ever," Miller said in a statement, per the team's official website.

"I am on course to graduate in December and I want to attend graduate school, and then return to lead the Buckeyes next season. In the meantime, I want to give all the support I can to my coaches and teammates as they chase a championship this season."

Miller will take a redshirt this season and plans on returning in 2015. While he's not yet become the world-beating superstar many expected during his freshman ascent, Miller seemed to be on the precipice of a real breakout as a senior.

He has gradually improved every season, setting career bests in completion percentage, passing yards, passing touchdowns and quarterback rating in 2013. He's even improved his yards per carry every season.

Ranked fifth by The Associated Press and sixth by the coaches, Ohio State opened camp with designs on being invited to the inaugural College Football Playoff. Michigan State and Wisconsin are the only major threats in another watered-down Big Ten, and the Buckeyes and Badgers will only go head-to-head if they win their respective divisions.

When assessing the title picture, I'd already penciled Ohio State into my "obligatory undefeated Big Ten team" slot. Gone were the likes of Carlos Hyde, Bradley Roby, Ryan Shazier and basically every lineman on the damn roster.

But there were enough returning starters defensively to give hope that the leaky unit from last season would improve, and Miller was there to hit Devin Smith downfield and atone for the departure of the steady stalwart Hyde.

Now? Yikes.

The Buckeyes go from title contender to third-best team in their conference in the blink of an eye. After being 10-1 or 12-1 at most sportsbooks throughout the preseason, Ohio State sits at odds anywhere from 30-1 all the way to 50-1 after news of Miller's injury was confirmed, per OddsShark

Urban Meyer, who has compiled a 24-2 record in two seasons in Columbus, basically has one hope: He's brilliant enough to mold Barrett into a worthy Miller successor within the next 11 days.

The bad news: Barrett has never played a collegiate snap. The redshirt freshman sat out all of last season while recovering from a knee injury that cost him his senior season in high school. He is basically the Derrick Rose of football players, having appeared in only five games combined over the last two seasons.

Unfortunately, the NCAA does not accept self-made vouchers for one free year of Troy Smith eligibility. 

The good news: Barrett might not be terrible at football! Listed at 6'1" and 225 pounds, Barrett has an almost identical build to Miller. He was considered the third-best dual-threat quarterback in the class of 2013 by 247Sports' composite rankings and was the No. 137 player nationally. In five games prior to his knee injury, Barrett had averaged 263.4 total yards per game and scored 12 touchdowns.

With more than a full year of recovery under his belt, Barrett seemed to be picking up where he left off in camp. While he fell behind in the backup quarterback race during the spring, Barrett has since usurped third-year sophomore Cardale Jones.

"The offense moves better when he's in there," offensive coordinator Tom Herman told reporters Monday. "You can throw all the completion percentages – he's probably completing more balls and making more of the right reads in the run game.

"But at the end of the day, the offense moves when he's in and sometimes it doesn't as much, not that Cardale is doing a bad job, but the offense moves more frequently when J.T. is the quarterback, and that's the sign of a good one."

From a skill set standpoint, he's much farther along as a passer than Miller was arriving at Ohio State. He is a natural quarterback—not an athlete forced into the position who can throw.

While Miller's lightning-quick speed is typically the first thing that stands out, for Barrett, it's about his stellar mechanics. Working in Meyer's spread offense will be a perfect fit; Barrett loves getting the ball out of his hands in short, quick-read throws. 

And it's not as if Barrett is Peyton Manning in the pocket. He is a very good athlete, able to beat linebackers and rushers around the edge on scrambles and smart enough as a rusher to handle designed carries. It's doubtful we'll see him bust off the 70-yard runs fans in Columbus have been accustomed to from Miller, but he has fine top-end speed as well.

That said, there's a sense losing Miller is one blow too many for Ohio State.

Not only is Barrett entering the fire nearly two calendar years away from his last competitive game, he's doing so behind an inexperienced offensive line. The Buckeyes are replacing four starters from last year's team.

Though graduate transfer Chad Lindsay brings some stability at center, Meyer will basically be banking on years of seasoning as a backup turning the likes of Darryl Baldwin and Antonio Underwood into solid contributors.

Offensive line was already seen as one of the Buckeyes' biggest concerns. Throwing a green unit out on the field to protect an even greener quarterback is a recipe for trouble. Ohio State doesn't have long to build chemistry on a cupcake trail either. After opening the season with Navy, Virginia Tech and Frank Beamer's consistently ferocious defense pays the Horseshoe a visit.

Even if the Buckeyes are able to retain home-field advantage—after all, the Hokies remain fatally allergic to scoring those point things—trips to Penn State and Michigan State become infinitely harder.

The Spartans bring back stars Connor Cook and Jeremy Langford and are consistently among the nation's best defenses. If the Rose Bowl champs weren't already the favorite in that game, they certainly are now.

That, when boiling it down to its core, is kind of the problem. Barrett can and—I suspect—will be pretty good this season. Miller was preparing for an invited-to-New York City-level great season. 

Ohio State's margin for error is not big enough to withstand a drop from superstar Heisman contender to above-average freshman. For the Buckeyes to win the national championship, they need Barrett to be Braxton Miller—not a decent facsimile.

As Ohio State fans know all too well and are preparing to find out, there's unfortunately only one Braxton Miller. 

 

Follow Tyler Conway (@tylerconway22) on Twitter.

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2014 Heisman Odds: How Braxton Miller's Injury Shakes Up Race for Coveted Award

Ohio State Buckeyes quarterback Braxton Miller was regarded as one of the top Heisman Trophy contenders ahead of the 2014 college football season. Now Miller has been lost for the year when he re-injured his right throwing shoulder in practice on Monday.

NFL.com's Gil Brandt reported the ominous news:

Last week's edition of ESPN.com's "Heisman Watch" list had Miller as the No. 4 candidate to take home the prestigious award at season's end.

Although Miller's injury makes a big impact on how the rest of the running order shapes up, there are still two clear-cut favorites to land the game's most coveted individual hardware.

Oregon QB Marcus Mariota and Florida State signal-caller Jameis Winston are at the top, while dynamic running backs in Todd Gurley (Georgia) and Melvin Gordon (Wisconsin) are also commanding some deserved hype.

Sportscaster Kenny Roda documented the results of another prominent poll prior to Miller's injury:

Here is a look at the updated odds, courtesy of OddsShark.com

Based on the fact that 11 of the past 13 Heisman winners have been quarterbacks, though, those whose outlooks improved the most after Miller's injury are UCLA's Brett Hundley and Baylor senior Bryce Petty.

Both could have declared for the most recent NFL draft, yet they opted to stay, and now have an even better chance to string together a respectable Heisman campaign.

This detail from NFL Network scouting expert Daniel Jeremiah shows how Hundley may translate well to the pros, but he may not be in the proper situation to secure the Heisman:

A pro-style offense under former NFL coach Jim Mora and more time in the pocket will likely lend to efficiency over explosiveness despite his immense talent. Meanwhile, Petty has a great chance to build on a monster 2013 that saw him throw for 4,340 yards and account for 46 total touchdowns.

Check out this production from Petty and the Bears offense, which could be even more prolific with more defensive help, per ESPN CollegeFootball:

Mariota ought to resemble his tremendous 2013 campaign, too. With one more year of polish as a passer, his knack for accuracy, arm talent and superior athleticism, Mariota figures to be Winston's top challenger as a potential repeat winner.

Seminoles head coach Jimbo Fisher operates a complex system that Winston operated smoothly even as a freshman. However, he also leaned on a defense that lost several stars to the pros, along with a rushing attack that saw Devonta Freeman and James Wilder Jr. depart from last year's national champion.

New feature back Karlos Williams recently seemed confident in what Winston was doing and how he'll fare as a sophomore, via the Tallahassee Democrat's Natalie Pierre:

It would have taken a special year from Miller to leapfrog the likes of Mariota and Winston. If those two are the primary candidates toward the end of the 2014 campaign, Miller's injury will not have had a considerable impact on the Heisman race. Gurley, Hundley and Petty may steal some votes that Miller would have gotten, but Mariota or Winston must fall short of expectations for any of them to have a shot at collecting the award.

Miller's absence will leave far more of an imprint on the Ohio State program and its chances to contend for a national title and the Big Ten championship. Mitch Sherman of ESPN.com pointed out that left tackle Taylor Decker was the only returning starter on the offensive line.

Without departed NFL running back Carlos Hyde and with a raw line, it would have been an uphill fight for Miller to get into the Heisman conversation on the same plane as Mariota and Winston anyway.

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Jaquan Johnson to Miami: Hurricanes Land 4-Star ATH Prospect

Jaquan Johnson is staying home. The 4-star prospect committed to the University of Miami on Tuesday, announcing the decision on his Twitter account:

Johnson, a Miami native entering his senior season at the respected Killian High School, had offers from no fewer than 18 major college programs, per 247Sports. He made his decision a little less than two weeks after taking an unofficial visit to South Carolina.

Despite interest from across the country, Miami has been considered a heavy favorite throughout the process. 247Sports Crystal Ball predictions gave the Hurricanes a 91 percent chance of landing him, with Florida being the only other school to receive a vote.

Johnson is already the 23rd player to give Al Golden his commitment in the Class of 2015. He is Golden's sixth 4-star player and is his fourth-best recruit overall, behind fellow Florida products Jordan Scarlett, Mark Walton and Dexter Williams.

One slight problem: Scarlett, Walton and Williams are all running backs—one of the two positions from which Johnson is expected to choose. An all-everything talent throughout his high school career, Johnson is viewed as an athlete by most publications. Though officially listing him as a safety prospect, 247Sports also has running back listed as a possible long-term fit.

If playing time were his biggest concern, Johnson's position may have already been decided the moment he chose Miami. As a defensive back, he understands route concepts and uses his elite speed and fast-twitch quickness to cover receivers well.

His athleticism shines through more on the offensive side of the ball right now. He is an explosive ball-carrier who needs only a small crease to reach the second level of the defense. Lining him up at wide receiver isn't out of the question either; he's played the position (and done so well) in high school. Playing against more difficult competition in the ACC will prove a challenge, but the kid does not lack for confidence. 

“He’s going to in and try to be the man right away,” Killian coach Cory Johnson told Safid Deen and Manny Navarro of the Miami Herald.

Johnson is rawer at safety—being "the man" as a freshman is probably out of the question—but his ceiling is higher. His slight size and strength concerns are less noticeable when he's roaming the back half of the defense. He is also a high-intelligence player and a leader who has been a difference-maker from the moment he stepped on the field at Killian as a freshman. 

The Hurricanes lack elite defensive back talent in their 2015 class, so Johnson will also lack the fierce competition from contemporaries when making the full-time switch to defense. That should help him get the individual attention he needs to start realizing his potential. 

At the very least, he's another starry addition for Golden, who is amassing a solid core of talent. Miami is currently ranked 11th in the 2015 recruiting rankings. Golden has had a top-15 class each of the last three seasons, though never better than 10th. With one or two more recruits on Johnson's level, the Hurricanes might burrow their way back near the top five.

At least on the recruiting trail.

 

Follow Tyler Conway (@tylerconway22) on Twitter.

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Braxton Miller Will Make 2015 Ohio State College Football's Most Talented Team

A plethora of playmakers another year older.

An offensive line with a season of cohesion under its belt.

A defensive unit in its second year of a cutting-edge scheme.

Another talented recruiting class on campus.

All that was missing when projecting Ohio State's 2015 roster a year ahead of time was a seasoned quarterback capable of directing it all.

Well, Urban Meyer got that on Tuesday—and then some—when two-time Big Ten MVP Braxton Miller announced his intent to return to the Buckeyes as a fifth-year senior next season, after a reported torn labrum will keep him sidelined for OSU's 2014 campaign, per Sports Illustrated's Pete Thamel.

Talk about a helluva recruit.

"My goal is to come back from this injury stronger and better than ever,” Miller said in a statement. “I am on course to graduate in December and I want to attend graduate school, and then return to lead the Buckeyes next season."

It's not quite LeBron James' return letter to the Cleveland Cavaliers, but its impact could be similar in Ohio, at least on the field where it's now championship-or-bust for both teams. Should he follow through on his promise, Miller would make the 2015 Buckeyes an instant national championship contender, as he'd be joining arguably the most talented team that he's played with in his college career.

Just what makes next season's Ohio State squad so intriguing? Look no further than a blend of skill and experience on both sides of the ball that hasn't been present in Columbus in nearly a decade.

 

Plenty Of Playmakers

Assuming nobody transfers or gets injured—quite the assumption, given the nature of this article—Ohio State will at the very least return Dontre Wilson, Ezekiel Elliott, Curtis Samuel, Jalin Marshall, Johnnie Dixon, Terry McLaurin, Noah Brown, Marcus Baugh, James Clark and Parris Campbell for either their second or third seasons in the Ohio State system. There also remains a strong chance that the Buckeyes would be bringing back Nick Vannett, Michael Thomas, Corey Smith, Bri'onte Dunn and Warren Ball for their fourth or fifth years of eligibility, giving Miller no shortage of playmakers.

The last time Ohio State possessed a stable of potential playmakers that deep? You'd have to go back to 2005, when future NFL draft picks Santonio Holmes, Ted Ginn Jr., Anthony Gonzalez, Roy Hall, Brian Robiskie and Brian Hartline made up the Buckeyes receiving corps. Quarterback Troy Smith took advantage of those teammates' talents, leading Ohio State to a 10-2 record and a Fiesta Bowl win over Notre Dame, which preceded a No. 1 preseason ranking in 2006.

As for Miller, he's been short on toys to play with through the first three seasons of his college career. In his freshman campaign, no Buckeye caught more than 14 balls; in 2012, he served as the team's leading rusher; and last season, only two players topped 30 receptions on the year.

That won't be an issue in 2015, as Meyer will have added four full recruiting classes to Ohio State's roster by the start of the season. That's undoubtedly intriguing to Miller, who was already in line to shatter the Buckeyes' offensive record book heading into his senior season.

 

O-Line In Line

If Miller didn't get hurt in a non-contact drill in fall camp, there remains a decent chance he would have once the season started, as Ohio State will be replacing four multiyear starters on the offensive line from a season ago. And while growing pains up front may be expected this season, that likely won't be the case a year from now, when the Buckeyes could return as many as four starters to this season's starting five.

Of the offensive linemen in the mix to start for Ohio State this season, only right tackle Darryl Baldwin, center Chad Lindsay and guard Joel Hale will see their eligibility expire at 2014's end. That leaves left tackle Taylor Decker—the best of the bunch—guard Pat Elflein, guard/center Billy Price, center Jacoby Boren and tackle Evan Lisle slated to return when Ohio State takes the field in 2015.

Add in current true freshmen Jamarco Jones, Demetrius Knox, Kyle Trout, Marcelys Jones and Brady Taylor and it's not hard to see that Ohio State's offensive line will be in better shape next year than it is right now. The expected cohesion it will add this season will also go a long way toward making that happen, which will only benefit Miller in his senior season.

 

Defensive Doubts

A season ago, Ohio State's defense cost Miller what would have been his first Big Ten championship and a subsequent appearance in the national championship game, when the Buckeyes surrendered 438 yards and 34 points to Michigan State in the conference title game. Enter co-defensive coordinator Chris Ash, who has installed a quarters system that places an emphasis on press coverage for the Buckeyes, which has already drawn rave reviews from Meyer.

But will OSU's defense be so improved that it will be national title-worthy in the coming year? Maybe. But probably not.

The 2015 campaign, however, could be a different story, as Ohio State could return as many as eight projected starters from the 2014 season. That list includes talented defensive linemen Noah Spence and Joey Bosa, as well as safety Vonn Bell and linebacker Joshua Perry to go along with talented youngsters Raekwon McMillan, Marshon Lattimore, Erick Smith and Gareon Conley.

A veteran group playing in its second season of a cutting edge scheme would bode well for the Buckeyes—and, in turn, Miller—come 2015.

 

Mo' Talent, Fewer Problems

Meyer has never had issues on the recruiting trail since coming to Columbus, bringing in three top-5 recruiting classes, including the nation's No. 2 class in 2013 and No. 3 class in 2014. And while a smaller number of scholarships available may prevent Ohio State's 2015 class from reaching that status, Meyer has once again managed to improved an already impressive Buckeyes roster.

Currently ranked 15th in the country, Ohio State's 2015 crop includes a number of players who could play right away in their college careers. Although much of OSU's already committed talent comes on the defensive side of the ball, the Buckeyes remain strong contenders for 5-star wide receiver Christian Kirk, 5-star running back Damien Harris, 4-star offensive tackle Drew Richmond and 5-star quarterback Torrance Gibson, who could play immediately at the college level.

Could the potential of playing alongside Miller help sway any—or all—of these highly touted prospects to come to Columbus? It certainly couldn't hurt. And it would only add to what will undoubtedly be a national championship favorite in 2015.

 

Ben Axelrod is Bleacher Report's Ohio State Lead Writer. You can follow him on Twitter @BenAxelrod. Unless noted otherwise, all quotes were obtained firsthand. All recruiting information comes courtesy of 247Sports.

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Top 15 Favorites for 2014 Gatorade High School Football Player of the Year

There's nothing quite like your senior season of high school football—surrounded by teammates you've grown up alongside and putting countless hours of tireless work into one final campaign for the chance to chase down a title. 

Along with team achievements, individual glory is at stake for many of the country's top college prospects. Productive games and rare talent put a select few in position to earn heralded postseason accolades before they depart for the next phase of their careers.

The Gatorade High School Football Player of the Year award annually recognizes an athlete who's exhibited exemplary success on and off the football field. Past recipients include NFL Hall of Fame running back Emmitt Smith and quarterback Peyton Manning, while 2013 honors went to Virginia defensive tackle Andrew Brown.

We broke down a list of candidates who could compete for the distinction this year, highlighting players who've piled up statistics and victories throughout their high school careers. Though each of these athletes is headed to a high-level college football program, this list is solely based on their merit for the award rather than future potential.

Begin Slideshow

Kynon's Korner: Notre Dame Negative Recruiting, Michael Irvin's Nephew's Top 5

Last Friday, Notre Dame announced the school was launching an investigation into academic fraud involving four Fighting Irish football players per Yahoo! Sports reporter, Pat Forde The potential on-field implications here are obvious, however what may be overlooked is the impact this issue could have on the Irish's recruiting.  

According to SB Nation Recruiting Director, Bud Elliott, Notre Dame should be extra wary of negative recruiting on the trail this fall. 

You can see a scenario where a coach uses it as ammunition against Notre Dame. Coach to Notre Dame recruit, Are you sure you want to go there? You may have to cheat and jeopardize your eligibility just to play. It's not fair, but that's the world of recruiting and the reality of the situation. I think Notre Dame can handle it though. They did so with the Everett Golson saga a year ago. I'm not sure it's an epidemic either. If you look it at it's small sample of five players on an 85-man roster. College football has seen bigger scandals over the last few years. It's Notre Dame so things get magnified. 

One thing that may help the Irish is that they already recruit a different type of player because of the high academic demands similar to that of Northwestern, Stanford, and Vanderbilt. I don't think those schools will use the situation against Notre Dame when recruits come to campus for official visits, but expect other programs to bring it up if a kid is on the fence. 

However, Florida State commit and Notre Dame target, Calvin Brewton downplayed the impact of the investigation. 

The three-star safety from Miami (Fla.) Central defensive back said,

When I first heard about the Notre Dame news it was shocking. I'm 100% committed to Florida State, but Notre Dame is one of the schools talking to me about coming up to take an official visit. Assistant coach Tony Alford is the one recruiting me. I haven't talked to him since the news came out. However, I don't think the scandal will have an impact on my decision to go up there.

Currently, Notre Dame has the No. 13 class according to the 247Sports Team Rankings. It will be interesting to see if the class can stay in the top 15 through National Signing Day.

***

Does Florida have the lead with a Miami legacy?

When you think of the football surname Irvin and the city of Miami usually the first thought that comes to mind is Michael "The Playmaker" Irvin scoring touchdowns in the famed Orange Bowl for The U. However, those memories might not be enough to keep Michael's nephew, Tim Irvin from Palmetto (Fla.) Westminster Christian School (WCS), in South Florida for college.  Irvin told me he is giving serious thought to leaving Miami to play at the next level. In fact, he likes what the Gators are selling him after his July visit for the annual Florida Friday Night Lights Camp.

I spoke to Coach (Will) Muschamp and T-Rob (Travaris Robinson) when I was up there. They are funny guys, comedians. T-Rob is recruiting me as a strong safety. They said I can be the next Matt Elam. That's a good thing. Elam is a great player.

Irvin is planning to make his college announcement at the US Army All-American Bowl next January. His top five schools are Alabama, Clemson, Florida, Florida State, and Miami. Even with the Florida overtures the hometown Hurricanes are still a major player in his recruitment.

Everything is a factor with Miami. My teammate Jordan Cronkrite is committed there. When I go there it feels like home. I'm from Miami, I like the vibe of Miami. I talk to all the coaches and they tell me to stay home.

The two-way star said his parents and his other famous uncle, Sedrick Irvin, will help him make his decision. Sedrick was a standout at Michigan State and spent three seasons in the NFL. He is the head coach at WCS and began his coaching career at the University of Alabama under head coach, Nick Saban.

***

Calvin Ridley ruled ineligible for most of his senior year 

Five-star wideout Calvin Ridley has been told by the Florida High School Athletic Association that will be ineligible after the third game of the season due to the 19-year and 9-month rule. Dave Brousseau of the South Florida Sun-Sentinel was the first to report the news. The Sentinel's, Steve Gorten, explained the Breakdown of the FHSAA 19/9 Age Rule. The same rule disqualified former FSU split end and current Carolina Panthers receiver, Kelvin Benjamin, during his senior year of high school. 

It's a tough blow for Ridley. However, it will turn off schools looking to flip him from Alabama. Florida State is one of the schools on the heels of the 'Tide. 

At the Miami Dolphins Media Day at the beginning of August, Ridley told me, 

I'm 95% committed to Alabama, but FSU is coming at me a lot. Coach (Lawrence) Dawsey and Coach (Jimbo) Fisher tell me I can come there and make an impact. Coach (James) Coley at Miami wants me to build it in the backyard. Alabama is the only official visit I have scheduled, but I will likely take official visits to FSU and Miami. 

***

Miami in hot pursuit of Alabama commit Shawn Burgess-Becker 

 

Miami is turning up the heat for Alabama commit safety Shawn Burgess-Becker. The Crimson Tide came into UM's backyard to snag the Coconut Creek (Fla.) Monarch star behind a strong effort from primary recruiter Mario Cristobal. Miami's pursuit has helped their case recently with Burgess-Becker. The rangy safety elected to attend "U-Day" in Coral Gables a week ago instead of making the trip to Tuscaloosa for the 'Tide's scrimmage.

Burgess-Becker stated,

Miami is coming after me hard and telling me they want and need me. They are doing all the minor things. They hit me up every day, stay in contact. We are building a better relationship. The coaches write me letters all the time. Its tough because I'm a solid commitment to Alabama around 90%. But, Miami and Alabama are neck and neck.

The four-star defensive back grew up a Miami fan. Yet, it was Alabama that offered him first which meant a lot to him and was a big reason he committed. Will it be enough? 

***

The Gamecocks are making a move on an out-of-state prospect

When running back Jordan Cronkrite became Miami's second RB pledge in April the Canes told him they would only be taking two backs in the 2015 class. In July, Fort Lauderdale (Fla.) St. Thomas Aquinas standout Jordan Scarlett switched his pledge from FAU to Miami. Scarlett's declaration along with the addition of Mark Walton gives The U four four-star running backs in the 2015 class.

Cronkrite says he is still firm to Miami, but he is planning to take all of his official visits to see which situation is the best for him.

Cronkrite commented,

I'm not running away from competition, but who knows what will happen in the near future. I'm going to take all visits and see what happens. The coaches told me there is a good chance that Duke Johnson could be leaving early, so I could play right away. 

The 5-foot-11, 196-pounder said he plans to take official visits to Florida, South Carolina, West Virginia, and maybe Ohio State. South Carolina could have the best chance to pull Cronkrite from Miami. 

He said,

If I had a No. 2 school it would be South Carolina. They reach out to me everyday. They call to see how I'm doing and let me know how the team is doing. I like that a lot about them. 

As a junior, Cronkrite ran for over 1,300 yards and 15 touchdowns while adding three scores receiving. 

***

Will the third time be the charm for 4-star DB Ben Edwards?

The recruitment of Jacksonville (Fla.) Trinity Christian defensive back Ben Edwards has been a wild ride. Edwards committed to Ohio State in February, but later backed off his pledge. After opening things back up he pulled the trigger on Auburn in April. On August 3rd, the four-star defender had another change of heart and decommitted from the Tigers.

Where do things stand with the hard-hitting safety from Jacksonville?

I'm looking into other schools right now. Auburn is a great school, but I want to weigh all of my options and take my official visits. In regard to Auburn I feel some schools are offering more for me on and off the field. 

Stanford and UCLA are two schools in the mix. According to a source with knowledge of Edwards recruitment, the Cardinal could be a major factor. The academics stand out to Edwards and he said Stanford is one of the schools he feels most comfortable with the staff. 

*** 

The latest on FSU pledge Tyrek Cole 

Florida State target Tyrek Cole has been quiet about his status with the 'Noles. Cole committed to FSU after the BCS title game thanks in large part to ace recruiter Tim Brewster who has done an excellent job in Broward and Miami-Dade County for the 'Noles. 

I caught up with cool and asked him about the rumors circulating that he was cooling on the Noles. 

He replied,

I'm still solid with FSU. My recruiting is going well, but the process is getting harder and harder. Alabama, Kentucky, LSU, Miami, and South Carolina are on me the hardest. There's some pressure to stay home with Miami, but I try not to let it get to me.

The 'Canes feel like they have a shot to flip him the local star. His teammate Leeward Brown is committed and Cole said Miami is the clear cut No. 2. 

***

S-E-C, S-E-C, S-E-C 

In case you missed it, ESPN launched the much hyped and anticipated SEC Network. Is there a coincidence the network made its debut during the inaugural College Football Playoff format? I think not. Now coaches can sell the network to recruits and their families. Although its not like the conference needs another recruiting tool. 247Sports has six SEC schools in its' top 10 recruiting rankings. 

However, there are two schools struggling with recruiting heading into the fall. Ole Miss and Vanderbilt currently sit behind Arkansas State and FAU in the Rivals Team Rankings.

I caught up with Rivals.com Southeast Recruiting Analyst, Woody Wommack, to get his take on the situation at each school. 

We've seen Ole Miss land some big name guys recently with the 2013 consensus No. 1 player in Robert Nkemdiche along with stud wideout Laquon Treadwell. However, people shouldn't hit the panic button just yet. They are still in the mix with some big name guys. New five-star offensive lineman, Drew Richmond, was just down there on campus. Richmond is high on Ole Miss. The Rebels are in good shape with four-star guard, Javon Patterson. Although they missed on defensive end Natrez Patrick out of Atlanta they still have some quality guys committed like running back Eric Swinney and defensive back Ugo Amadi

In Vanderbilt's case they enter the season with a new staff that salvaged the 2014 class after James Franklin left Nashville to take over at Penn State. Some recruits are waiting to see the results on the field before considering the Commodores. 

Wommack opined, 

They have a staff without a lot of ties in the southeast. It appears they trying to recruit like the Stanford of the South, going nationwide. That makes it harder to go against SEC schools if they miss on those guys and have to make a late push. Plus they aren't offering underclassmen early and that puts them behind the eight ball. By the time they offer a kid he may have five SEC offers by then. Head coach Derek Mason is taking a different approach and it remains to be seen if it will work in the SEC. One thing I've noticed is they don't seem to have that Atlanta connection like they used to under Franklin. If you like up and down SEC rosters you see a number of players being plucked from the Atlanta area. This year they don't have that. 

The 'Dores still have a pair of four-stars committed in defensive back Donovan Sheffield and linebacker Josh Smith, but its clear they need to add more depth in this cycle if they want to continue the success of the previous regime. 

Kynon Codrington is a national recruiting analyst formerly of ESPN and Rivals.com. Unless otherwise noted, all quotes obtained firsthand.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Michigan Football: Final Game-by-Game Schedule Predictions

The addition of Doug Nussmeier has to count for something when predicting Michigan’s season.

It just has to.

Now perching at Al Borges’ former post, the former Alabama offensive coordinator faces the task of calling the shots for a Wolverines offense that is abundant with talent but riddled with holes—case in point: an incredibly porous offensive line that didn’t look any better during this past Saturday’s scrimmage than it did during the spring game.

Of course, that’s excluding Mason Cole, a 6’5”, 292-pound true freshman who’ll likely start the season at left tackle. He’d be the sixth true frosh to start on Michigan’s O-line. That’s one mean first job, isn’t it?

Then there’s the running game, which must get its wheels turning in time for Week 2’s assumed series finale with Notre Dame. During the “under the lights” scrimmage this past Saturday in Ann Arbor, neither Derrick Green nor De'Veon Smith were overly impressive, but they showed that they’re willing to take bumps and bruises in the name of gaining a few yards.

Good thing that the offense has Greg Mattison, who’s built a Goliath defense since arriving as coordinator in 2011. His secondary, linebackers and linemen should serve as the glue that binds while quarterback Devin Gardner’s crew gets comfortable.

With enough question marks, loose ends and deficiencies to go around—but don’t negate the potential positives—Team 135 should be approached with great caution. Again, this can’t be stressed enough: Michigan has the personnel to get the job done in the Big Ten, it’s just a matter of head coach Brady Hoke’s staff putting it together in time to do something this fall.

 

Game 1: Aug. 30 vs. Appalachian State

This has been said over and over, but it’s worth repeating: This isn’t really a “rematch”—these two teams are drastically different than they were in 2007 when the Mountaineers stunned the Wolverines at The Big House, 34-32.

Not even close this time.

That was an once-in-a-lifetime, back-to-back-FCS-title-defending team vs. an extremely unfocused foe who took the little guy for granted. There is no need for a statistical breakdown right now, because this one is a win for Team 135.

No doubt. It has to be, or heads will roll.

Score: UM 49, ASU 10 (better be, or else)

Record: 1-0

 

Game 2: Sept. 6 at Notre Dame

So, that makes Michigan 1-0 heading into South Bend, one of the most challenging environments in all of college football. Since 2002, the Wolverines have won twice in front of Touchdown Jesus (2006, 2010), so it’d be easy to chalk up another one for the Irish…

…right?

Well, not this time. This past week, due to alleged academic fraud, Notre Dame removed four players—three starters—from its team. That won’t be easy to overcome, and that should make Hoke’s job a little easier, despite having to face quarterback Everett Golson, who’s returning from an academic suspension, for the first time.

Special teams could easily decide the outcome. Don’t rule out a big pick-six or blocked kick to turn the tides in either team’s fortune.

However, the Wolverines will be out for a statement victory—one to make up for not throttling the Mountaineers as they should have, and/or to build on that momentum by posting a gaudy win over their rival Irish.

Score: UM 24, ND 20

Record: 2-0

 

Game 3: Sept. 13 vs. Miami (Ohio)

Too much maize and blue, not enough RedHawk. We could break down some things, but why? This one should be relatively painless for Michigan.

Score: UM 38, Miami 14

Record: 3-0

 

Game 4: Sept. 20 vs. Utah

The Utes may surprise a few by hanging with Michigan. In 2013, Akron and UConn—a pair of perceived pushovers—gave the Wolverines everything they could handle. Of course, the same could be said for Miami (Ohio), a team that I’ve given almost zero chance of beating Hoke in Ann Arbor.

Utah will have to get the most from its seasoned O-line and running back Bubba Poole if it wants to skate by with a “W.” Michigan could experience some lag after trampling the RedHawks, so I'm going to say that this one's close until late in the third quarter.

Score: UM 28, Utah 13

Record: 4-0

 

Game 5: Sept. 27 vs. Minnesota

It’ll be a game against a little brother.

Braylon’s little brother, actually.

As the younger sibling of a legendary Wolverines receiver, Berkley Edwards probably won’t receive a warm ovation when he visits big bro’s former stomping grounds.

Minnesota’s on the rise, as coach Jerry Kill has done a wonderful job of implementing his system and consistency, but it’ll probably get grounded by the Wolverines, who’ll want to sink their teeth into their first Big Ten opponent.

It’s at home. Hoke’s lost twice in front of his own. This game will be Michigan’s, but it won’t come as easily as I thought back in the spring (predicted 31-13, UM).

Score: UM 28, Minn. 21

Record: 5-0 (1-0 Big Ten)

 

Game 6: Oct. 4 at Rutgers

There’s a first time for everything, and Michigan gets to meet the Scarlet Knights in Piscataway, New Jersey, to kick off a new Big Ten…rivalry?

Partnership?

Anyway, back to the predictions.

These aren’t Greg Schiano’s Knights, and they don’t have a superstar like Ray Rice to handle the workload. I can’t see anything but a crooked-number fest for the Wolverines, who should get their second conference win in the home state of Jabrill Peppers, a 5-star Jersey Kid who’s been maize and blue since childhood.  

I can see mop-up time for Shane Morris and maybe even Wilton Speight. Who knows, Hoke may throw Bobby Henderson into the fullback position and let Peppers play quarterback—you know, just for the experience.

If the Wolverines don’t demolish Rutgers, I’ll personally send a bouquet of flowers to Knights coach Kyle Flood as a way to say, “I’m sorry for doubting your team.” But I’ll ask that Michigan reimburse me. It’s a tax write-off, right?!

Score: UM 42, RU 14

Record: 6-0 (2-0 Big Ten)

 

Game 7: Oct. 11 vs. Penn State (night)

First loss.

Penn State sophomore quarterback Christian Hackenberg could rattle off a career-type win if he successfully exploits Michigan’s secondary, which is as deep as it’s been since the 1990s.

Of course, the Wolverines want revenge for losing their late-night date with the Nittany Lions in 2013. That Hackenberg-to-Allen Robinson Hail Mary was a punch to the gut.

But 6-0 is far enough. Michigan has potential, but I can’t see it winning seven in a row. Six is pushing it, and I’m giving the Wolverines the benefit of the doubt while assessing their matches with the “underdogs.”

Team 135 could very well start 4-2, which is my way of softening the blow when I see my 6-0 prediction explode before my very eyes. But I’m sticking with it.

Score: PSU 27, UM 23 (Hackenberg-to-Someone, Part 2)

Record: 6-1 (2-1 Big Ten)

 

Game 8: Oct. 25 at Michigan State

Winners of five of the past six—but might as well make that winners of six of the past seven; Michigan State is going to take this one. There aren’t any reasonable clues or forgotten logic that says otherwise.

The Spartans’ O-line is far superior to Michigan’s—even their second-teamers are comparable—and their offense is years ahead in development.

Oh, and that defense. Pat Narduzzi, Michigan State’s defensive coordinator, is probably doing jumping jacks right now, just thinking of his “Dawgs” getting at the Wolverines.

At this point, judging by Michigan’s O-line as-is, I’m seeing at least a handful of sacks. Gardner may want to wear some extra padding on his backside, because he’ll be on it a lot if Cole, Jack Miller, Kyle Kalis, Graham Glasgow, Kyle Bosch and, among others, Erik Magnuson, fail to provide adequate protection.

Score: MSU 31, UM 14

Record: 6-2 (2-2 Big Ten)

 

Game 9: Nov. 1 vs. Indiana

The Hoosiers have quarterback Nate Sudfeld, who’s appeared on a couple of watch lists, and receiver Shane Wynn. This should be fun, as the pair has the potential to frustrate Michigan’s defense, especially during the early goings.

With that being said, once Mattison’s guys apply the clamps, it should be over for Indiana, which doesn’t have enough offensive firepower to outdo the Wolverines defense—one that features an incredible set of DBs led by Blake Countess, Jourdan Lewis and probably Peppers.

Score: UM 28, IU 17

Record: 7-2 (3-2 Big Ten)

 

Game 10: Nov. 8 at Northwestern

Without do-all running back Venric Mark, who's transferring after being suspended, the Wildcats could find themselves serving as a league doormat. I mean, Northwestern usually puts up a great fight, but it’s hard to imagine it doing a whole lot on offense without Mark, a speedster who could make an entire defense miss by flinching.

He was also a supreme talent on special teams.

And the Wildcats will miss wideout Christian Jones, who's lost to a season-ending leg injury. 

I like the Wolverines in this one, only because the offense will almost certainly be clicking and the defense will most certainly be sticking…”it” to the opposition. By this time, everything should be in sync—and if it’s not, it won’t be until 2015 or later.

Score: UM 27, NW 19

Record: 8-2 (4-2 Big Ten)

 

Game 11: Nov. 22 vs. Maryland

The struggle is real for the Terps, who have All-Big Ten candidate Stefon Diggs leading the charge at wide receiver. Other than him, it’s kind of thin.

Welcome to the league, boys.

Score: UM 30, Maryland 20

Record: 9-2 (5-2 Big Ten)

 

Game 12: Nov. 29 at Ohio State

News of Braxton Miller’s injury—he dislocated his right shoulder and could be out for the season, per Tim May of The Columbus Dispatch—certainly changes perception of this game. But not that much. Even without their star senior quarterback, the Buckeyes are, top-to-bottom, better than Michigan.

Even without linebacker Ryan Shazier, Ohio State has the advantage. 

That’s just how it goes.

When it comes to O-H-I-O, it’s back to the drawing board for Hoke. Michigan just isn’t there yet, and going to Columbus will make that abundantly clear—that’s if Michigan State doesn’t end up doing that in October.

Score: OSU 31, UM 20

Record: 9-3 (5-3 Big Ten)

Agree? Disagree? How many wins do you predict for Michigan? Let me know in the comments section. 

 

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

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Texas Football: Offseason Growth Has Longhorns' D-Line Set for Monster Year

When defensive line coach Chris Rumph came to Austin, he inherited a unit that appeared to be poised for perfection.

Although the group lost 2013 Ted Hendricks Award winner and Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year Jackson Jeffcoat, it still contained a variety of options to fill Jeffcoat's void, most notably Cedric Reed.

At least that's how a lot of the public viewed the unit.

But was the instant hype real or was it just the way outsiders perceived the group?

Rumph's answer would fall under the latter, especially when it pertains to Reed.

"I don't think he had a very good spring," Rumph said of Reed. "If it were someone else, I would say, 'That guy had a good spring.' But I was expecting more from him. And I think he was expecting more from himself. If you were to ask him, and he was honest, he would probably say he didn’t have the spring that he should have had."

Some may be wondering what Reed did, or did not do, to cause Rumph's disappointment. Was it his motor? Toughness? Leadership? All of the above?

"Maybe it was his coaching," said Rumph. "I just wanted to see more mental toughness, more hustle, more leadership, more passion. I wanted to come out there and coach him in flip-flops. I shouldn’t need to come out there with a whistle to coach him.”

This quote may catch some Texas fans by surprise, especially considering the strides Reed made in 2013, which helped him place as the projected No. 1 senior defensive end for the 2015 NFL draft by ESPN's Mel Kiper Jr.

But Reed agrees with his coach.

"It was just a learning experience for me," Reed said of his spring performance. "I was getting caught between trying to learn too much at one time. I was playing in a totally different scheme and I was just trying to understand the defense, and I think it made me take a step back because I wasn’t playing my greatest. I was more reacting instead of playing to my ability."

Learning a new scheme is not something new for the Longhorns defense, which is on its third defensive coordinator in four seasons, but that did not make it any easier to learn immediately.

However, the slow learning period may be a thing of the past for Reed and the defensive line. 

"I think Ced Reed is a guy who has really stepped it up," Rumph said. "He's really coming on now. He's starting to look like the type of player I expected."

Reed is just one of the many talented faces the Longhorns have on the line. Defensive tackles Malcolm Brown and Desmond "Tank" Jackson have the ability of being one of the better tackle tandems in the Big 12.

Rumph is particularly pleased with the leadership he has seen from Jackson.

"Tank brings it every day," said Rumph. "He's everything you want in a player. He plays with toughness. He plays with great effort. I'm really pleased with him."

Defensive ends Shiro Davis and Caleb Bluiett are battling for the starting position opposite of Reed, which Rumph refers to as the "fox" position. Davis has been taking many first-team reps, but that could change at any moment.

"We don't have that written in pen yet. It's more written on a dry-erase board, not in permanent marker," Rumph said. "Shiro plays the run a little bit better than Bluiett, and I think Bluiett rushes the passer a little bit better than Shiro. If we could combine those guys into one, we would have a special player right there.”

Although Rumph still needs to determine which guy will fill the fox role, the defensive line appears to be in a prime spot heading into the 2014 season.

But how will this line be any better than recent years if it still features many of the same players?

That's where Rumph's track record comes into the conversation.

During his three seasons coaching at Alabama, Rumph's defensive line held its opponents to an average of 84.9 rushing yards per game and gave up a total of 21 rushing touchdowns. During that same time frame, Texas' rushing defense allowed an average 156.9 yards per game and 65 rushing touchdowns.

Some may argue that comparing the defensive numbers is not relevant because Alabama had one of the best defensive fronts in college football, and that might be a valid point.

But coaching had a lot to do with the Crimson Tide's success.

Rumph has a way with words that makes his coaching style relatable and effective. His focus is on building a fundamentally sound group, and he has been very direct with what he demands from his players.

"You have to be tough. You have to play hard and have a great motor. You have to be able to strike and take on blocks. You have to be able to take blocks and rush the passer. You have to be able to move," said Rumph. "I want it all.”

It's evident he has high standards for his defensive linemen. Brown said a common quote he hears from his coach is, "Play each play like it has a life of its own," which is just one of the many clever sayings Rumph uses to coach his team.

The positive news for Texas fans is it sounds like the group has bought in and fully understands the expectations Rumph has set for the defensive line.

"Right now, I think a lot of guys are mentally focused and know exactly what they’re doing," Reed said. "I’m one of those guys. I know a lot more about the defense than I did in the three years I played in the last defense that we had. I think we will come out and surprise people.”

 

Unless otherwise noted, all quotes were obtained firsthand.

Taylor Gaspar is Bleacher Report's featured columnist covering the Texas Longhorns. Follow Taylor on Twitter: @Taylor_Gaspar.

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