NCAA Football News

Davon Durant Parts Ways with ASU: Latest Details, Comments and Reaction

Davon Durant's time with the Arizona State Sun Devils has apparently come to an end before it even began.

Durant has "parted ways" from the program after being sentenced to two years of supervised probation following a guilty plea to a disorderly conduct charge, head coach Todd Graham told Sports Illustrated's Thayer Evans Wednesday. Graham had already suspended him indefinitely after he was accused of domestic violence against his girlfriend in March.

"One witness in the reported domestic violence incident said he saw a man slam the woman's head into the dashboard of a vehicle twice, while another witness said he was in his apartment when he heard a woman scream, according to the police report," the State Press' Fabian Ardaya wrote.

Durant was originally charged with three counts of disorderly conduct and one count of felony aggravated assault. As a result of the guilty plea, the aggravated assault count and two other counts of disorderly conduct were dropped, per Evans.

Graham told Evans that he saw no way Durant—who didn't participate in spring practice due to legal troubles—could suit up in Tempe:

He's done. We parted ways. He put himself in that position. It's a bad deal, but you've got to have accountability. We don't just talk about character and discipline. We live it. No matter what the legal system does, our standards are high and our guys know that. They know they're going to be held accountable.

...

If you make exceptions, you end up with a team full of exceptions. We have not compromised and held true to what our beliefs are. So we have a really strong identity as a team because of that. That's why we've got a great chance this season.

However, Durant disputed that he had been "dismissed" Wednesday evening:

Assuming Evans' report is correct, the junior college transfer from Butler Community College in Butler, Kansas, and former 4-star recruit, according to 247Sports, will now seemingly be forced to look elsewhere to keep his collegiate hopes alive.

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Re-Evaluating UCLA's Recruiting Class After the 2015 Opening

The 2015 Opening was not kind to Jim Mora and the UCLA Bruins. 

Multiple players made commitments at the event. None of the prospects ended up choosing the Bruins. UCLA even lost a commitment in the following days from a star performer at the showcase. 

At this point, there's a tangible lack of momentum when it comes to the current class. There are some very good players committed within the class, but the summer lull—which has been a point of contention in regard to this staff—has yet again come back to bite UCLA's recruiting efforts. 

This piece will look at the players who opted for other schools and how that affects things going forward. 

 

It Was a Tough Week in Eugene 

At the beginning of the event, UCLA had two commitments (Krys Barnes and Jordan Parker) participating. By the following Wednesday, Barnes was the only Bruin in attendance. 

Per Greg Biggins of Scout.com, Parker decided to decommit from UCLA on Wednesday afternoon. It's truly a massive loss on a number of fronts. 

For one, Parker is considered one of the best corners in the entire state. At The Opening, he tested exceptionally well—registering a 36-inch vertical leap and a 4.49 time in the 40-yard dash. Depth at corner is shaky, so Parker would've had the chance to come in right away and compete for playing time. 

To make matters worse, he'll likely end up at another Pac-12 school with good friend and fellow prospect Shurod Thompson (whether it's Southern Cal, Oregon or even Oklahoma). 

Three prospects announcing at The Opening—Lamar Winston, Trevon Sidney and Camilo Eifler—all opted for other schools. 

Winston and Eifler chose Oregon and Washington, respectively. Sidney announced (unsurprisingly) for crosstown rival Southern Cal. 

Eifler and Winston are losses because each is the type of mobile, athletic outside 'backer UCLA has been targeting. With middle linebackers Barnes and Lokeni Toailoa committed, the Bruins are in need of a player with the capabilities of covering in space. Thus far, they've been unable to garner a pledge from such a player. 

Lastly, elite prospects Caleb Kelly and Michael Eletise both dropped UCLA from consideration. 

Kelly's decision is a bit curious. It was thought UCLA was right in the thick of things for his services. In terms of Eletise, the three-month absence of Adrian Klemm surely didn't help matters much in regard to his recruitment. 

 

What Does This Mean Going Forward? 

In terms of the decisions made by the prospects above, UCLA will have to pivot to other players. 

At corner, Jack Jones appears far and away to be the top target. With Parker not in the fold, expect the Bruins to ramp up the pressure even further on the Long Beach Poly product. It wouldn't be a shock to see this turn into a UCLA-Southern Cal battle when it's all said and done. 

Other potential options at corner include Chase Lucas and Damar Hamlin. 

The top outside linebacker prospect UCLA is pining for is Mique Juarez. Although Juarez is committed to Southern Cal, he's been a frequent visitor at UCLA practices this spring. Don't be surprised if he eventually flips across town. Regardless, this one expects to go down to the wire.

Juarez could be the closest thing to Myles Jack in terms of talent and style of play. 

UCLA has yet to get a commitment along the offensive line. This isn't really too much of a surprise considering Klemm's unavailability during the evaluation period. 

As he's done in the past, he'll likely go national for prospects. Klemm will have to make up some ground, but if anyone's able to do that, it's him. 

Henry Hattis, Willie Allen, Mike Alves, Terrance Davis, JohnCarlo Valentin and Alex Akingbulu are just a few of the prospects Klemm will likely target. 

 

Keeping Things in Perspective

It's still very early. As we've seen, recruiting isn't a spectator sport in any stretch of the imagination. Things can literally change on an hourly basis. 

Should UCLA win nine to 10 games for a fourth straight year, the rewards will likely be very good. With Southern Cal recruiting at an exceptionally high level, UCLA will have to stem the tide a bit and get some momentum back in Westwood. 

When looking at the landscape of recruiting, the Bruins are still doing very well for prospects such as Juarez, Jones, Hattis, Steffon McKnight, Boss Tagaloa and Oluwole Betiku, among others. 

This wasn't a positive last week for UCLA. However, there's still ample time to turn that around. 

 

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Power Ranking SEC Football Coaches Heading into 2015

SEC star power is on full display this week as coaches, players and media members gathered at the Wynfrey Hotel in Hoover, Alabama, for the 2015 version of SEC media days. 

Sure, the SEC has more talented players than other conferences, but the true prestige of SEC football is rooted in its coaches. No other conference in college football has the same depth and overall quality of head coaches as the SEC does. 

But while ranking the SEC's frontmen against other conferences seems fairly easy, putting them up against one another is much more difficult. 

In professional sports, coaches are often judged on their level of success based on their team's talent level. That formula doesn't work in college, though, because coaches are responsible for assembling their own talent. 

Here is a ranking of all 14 current SEC head coaches. Coaches are ranked by overall success, recruiting prestige and the current direction of their program. 

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Biggest Takeaways from Day 3 of SEC Media Days 2015

The third leg of the SEC media day tour roared on in Hoover, Alabama. Nick Saban made his grand arrival and immediately caused a stir with comments about the Crimson Tide's Sugar Bowl loss to the Ohio State Buckeyes, and Arkansas head coach Bret Bielema made his own headlines. 

Bleacher Report's College Football Analyst Barrett Sallee discusses more takeaways from the day in SEC.

 

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Plaxico Burress Goes Off on College Coach Nick Saban in Twitter Rant

Alabama Crimson Tide coach Nick Saban grabbed headlines at SEC media day on Wednesday when he spoke out about the NFL draft process, which caused one of his former players to go on a Twitter rant.

Saban believes that NFL draft grades should not be handed out to juniors during the season because they could affect how players approach remaining games. The coach believed that some of his Crimson Tide underclassmen played differently against Ohio State in the Sugar Bowl, a 42-35 loss, than they had all season.

Whether or not Saban's comments are accurate, they didn't sit well with some people. Some saw them as an excuse for the loss—which he would later clarify wasn't the case, per Fox Sports' Bruce Feldman—while others thought the coach was out of line for questioning his players.

One of Saban's former players, Plaxico Burress, believed the coach was being hypocritical.

Burress, who played under Saban at Michigan State from 1997-99, went on to become the No. 8 overall pick in the 2000 NFL draft. The Spartans wide receiver went through the process of jumping from college to the NFL with Saban serving as an advisor.

After hearing what Saban had to say about the NFL draft process, Burress went off on his former college coach on Twitter:

[Twitter]

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Bret Bielema Getting Arkansas Back on Track in His Own Way

HOOVER, Ala. — He sees the upward swing, feels the momentum changing and knows that the University of Arkansas football program is on the rise. But Bret Bielema is still quick to put things into perspective.

So when the coach met with his players recently he curtailed some of the buzz and excitement surrounding the Razorbacks by reminding them, again, of the “tremendous challenge” that lies ahead.

“We’re in the SEC West,” he said. “We’re a team looking to improve."

A “no excuses” guy who was doing everything imaginable to try to convince people that he was going to make a big splash in the SEC a couple of years ago, Bielema was more deliberate and methodical Wednesday afternoon than in his previous appearances at media days.

That doesn’t mean that the coach didn’t enjoy himself.

For example, after Mississippi State coach Dan Mullen drew a lot of attention for wearing a new pair of Adidas Yeezy Boost shoes Tuesday, Bielema showed up wearing custom Nike Air Force 1s.

“Just having a little fun,” he said. “We're a Nike school. First thing I said was, 'Hell, let's start a little Nike-Adidas war.'”

He then made a point of saying that his previous school, Wisconsin, had a contract with Adidas, yet being with Nike was helping him in recruiting.

When asked about South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier’s comment that the fans in Arkansas and Tennessee were doing backflips and cartwheels after having a 7-6 season, Bielema responded with: “I respect my elders.”

He also talked about having NFL-friendly schemes, of having an “abundance” of players on offense and “no-name guys” on defense—a unit he’s tabbed the “Bad News Bears.”

Some would consider this stirring the pot, but it’s basically just the way Bielema is. Not many coaches would have put the offensive linemen on the cover of this season’s media guide to reward what might have been the most anonymous group on the team. “Selfishly, it’s the only group I feel good taking a picture with,” he quipped. “They won’t be on it next year, an extremely handsome group.”

Yet, for now at least, Bielema doesn’t have to do much to draw attention to his program because nobody wanted to face the physical Razorbacks at the end of last season.

Granted, Arkansas did see its SEC losing streak reach 17 games with a 17-10 defeat at Mississippi State, only to rebound with a 17-0 victory against LSU, a 30-0 win against No. 8 Ole Miss and finally the 31-7 pounding of Texas in the Texas Bowl.

“It just seemed like we couldn’t finish for some reason,” Razorbacks wide receiver Keon Hatcher said. “We just didn’t know what to do in the fourth quarter. Coach B kept telling us we’re close, we’re close for a breakthrough, we are almost there.”

Despite the successful closing stretch, Bielema is essentially continuing to send the same message, because in his mind the program hasn’t arrived yet. It still finished last in the SEC West and was the only division team to not be ranked in any 2014 Associated Press poll.

Respect was important step, but respect will only get a team so far.

“I’m a big believer that you earn everything in life,” said the coach, who won three straight Big Ten titles (2010-12) at Wisconsin before heading south to Sooie-land.

Obviously, the rebuilding hasn’t been easy, and to his credit, Bielema hasn’t taken any shortcuts. The schedule hasn’t been kind either, and this fall Arkansas will be the only SEC program playing back-to-back league road games not once, but twice.

Specifically, the Razorbacks play at Tennessee and at Alabama on Oct. 3rd and 10th, respectively, and at Ole Miss and at LSU on Nov. 7th and 14th, respectively.

“We still haven’t won on the road,” Bielema said. “The last five SEC West champions are 18-2 on the road. Three of those teams went undefeated and two teams lost one game apiece. So if we lose more than one game on the road, history tells you you're not going to win in the SEC West. That's something I've addressed to their players.”

Consequently, Bielema isn’t about to say that his team has arrived, or provide any sort of indicator of how far along the Razorbacks are in his rebounding plan.

But they’re getting a little closer with each season, each game and each day. 

“It’s kind of one of those things you build the program, and then you let it run itself,” he said.

 

Quotes were obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted.

Christopher Walsh is a lead SEC college football writer.

Follow Christopher on Twitter @WritingWalsh.

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SEC Media Days 2015: Highlights, Comments and Twitter Reaction from Wednesday

Alabama coach Nick Saban took center stage on Wednesday at the 2015 SEC media days. He's always one of the main attractions during the annual event, and his comments, particularly those about why his team fell short of a title last season, drew plenty of reaction.

The Crimson Tide were one of four teams to take to the microphone on Day 3. Representatives from Kentucky, Missouri and Arkansas also met with the media to discuss the upcoming campaign. Predictably, Saban made the most headlines, though.

Alabama lost to Ohio State in the Sugar Bowl, which served as one of the semifinal games for the inaugural playoff, back in January. The Buckeyes went on to win the national championship with a victory over Oregon in the title game.

Saban didn't arrive to media day prepared to praise the champs, however. Dan Wolken of USA Today noted the longtime coach highlighted another reason for the Tide's loss:

"I just felt like in our experience last year, our chemistry from the SEC championship game to the playoff game was affected by something. We had six guys in this situation this past year and 11 the year before. We're trying to get ready for a game and all of a sudden a guy finds out he's a first-round pick or a guy who thought he was a first-round pick finds out he isn't and we're trying to play a playoff game."

He argued draft-eligible players shouldn't receive their NFL evaluations until after the college season is over due to the distraction factor. He felt it caused some players to move forward with a mentality that they didn't want to get hurt and damage their draft stock.

It's a stance that didn't sit well with many. National college sports writer Bryan Fischer didn't believe Saban made the right call to go down that avenue:

Daryl Ruiter of 92.3 The Fan in Cleveland wasn't surprised:

Yet, his basic premise shouldn't be totally dismissed, as Stewart Mandel of Fox Sports explained:

Saban's other notable moment came when he discussed Jonathan Taylor.

The talented defensive lineman, who was previously dismissed by Georgia, was let go by Alabama after being arrested for a domestic violence incident. Joe Schad of ESPN noted the charge was later dropped when he pleaded guilty to misdemeanor criminal mischief.

Saban gave his opinion about how the situation played out, via Jon Solomon of CBS Sports:

After Saban's session, the focus shifted toward more typical topics.

The SEC Network highlighted Mark Stoops' vision about the type of team Kentucky is working to become:

He got asked about trying to build a strong football program at what's currently a "basketball school," and he gave a diplomatic response, per TexAgs:

All told, Greg McElroy of the SEC Network liked what he heard for the Wildcats' head man:

Missouri coach Gary Pinkel passed along unfortunate news that defensive lineman Harold Brantley, who suffered serious injuries in a car crash last month, won't be available during the upcoming season, as David Morrison of the Columbia Daily Tribune pointed out:

Pinkel is happy with the development system the Tigers have in place to help fill voids throughout the season like the one created by Brantley's absence, per Brandon Kiley of KTGR:

Quarterback Maty Mauk admitted there's room for improvement on a personal level but said there's only one thing that matters in the end, via Saturday Down South:

As the final team of the day took the stage, Arkansas' Bret Bielema passed along an interesting anecdote. One certainly worth noting for top prospects as programs become more cautious about the players they bring in, per Chase Goodbread of NFL.com:

Of course, it wouldn't be media day in 2015 without at least some conversation about coach swag. Darren Rovell of ESPN spotlighted today's development:

Mark Schlabach of ESPN noted Razorbacks quarterback Brandon Allen may have provided the line of the day:

SEC media days come to a close on Thursday with the final three teams. Coaches and select players from Georgia, Ole Miss and LSU wrap up the schedule. All three teams rank inside the top 15 heading into the season, according to Athlon Sports' preseason projections.

More importantly, the end of the yearly gathering for press conferences means the games are finally on the horizon. Sometimes these meetings can produce some good soundbites, but it certainly doesn't compare to a complete Saturday slate. 

 

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SEC Media Days: USC LB Skai Moore Targeting Maty Mauk; Mizzou QB Fires Back

South Carolina linebacker Skai Moore says that if he could hit anyone in the SEC, it would be Missouri quarterback Maty Mauk. 

Watch what Mauk said in response to Moore's comments about next season. 

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Bret Bielema: Win Against Texas Last Year Was 'Borderline Erotic'

The SEC media days tour continued on Wednesday, as more head coaches took to the podium to talk about their programs, the state of the conference and other topics. 

Arkansas head coach Bret Bielema made some headlines after he described how it felt when the Razorbacks finished off the Texas Longhorns 31-7 in the 2014 Texas Bowl. 

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Hits and Misses from Big 12 Preseason All-Conference Team

The countdown to the start of the 2015 Big 12 season hit a high point Wednesday with the release of the preseason all-conference team, as voted on by media members who cover the league.

For the second straight year, Baylor leads the league in preseason selections with seven on the 2015 list. The Bears contingent is headlined by star defensive lineman Shawn Oakman and top wide receiver Corey Coleman.

TCU and Oklahoma, the other two top contenders for the Big 12 crown this season, slightly trail Baylor with five players each on the preseason team. Heisman contender Trevone Boykin stars for the Horned Frogs as the Sooners add a defensive one-two punch of linebacker Eric Striker and defensive back Zack Sanchez.

Iowa State and Kansas were the only two teams without a player on this team, while a rebuilding Texas only had one in defensive back Duke Thomas.

The Big 12 media appear to have aced most of their preseason picks, which feature a couple of welcome surprises and a few up for debate. Here are the highlights, hits and misses on the squad.

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4-Star CB Jordan Parker Tweets Decommitment from UCLA

Jordan Parker turned heads with his play last week at The Opening, and now he's kept the spotlight on him by reopening his recruitment.

The 4-star cornerback prospect from Pittsburg, California, announced on Twitter Wednesday that he has decommitted from UCLA. Despite making his pledge to the Bruins less than three months ago, he wrote, "As of now I am still undecided."

Rated as the No. 149 overall player and No. 13 corner in the 2016 recruiting class, the 5'11", 180-pound Parker committed to UCLA on April 24 but now goes back on the market and figures to get plenty of interest.

He currently only has six scholarship offers—all from Pac-12 schools—but after being a standout in the receiver/defensive back drills at The Opening, he's likely to pick up a few more.

Luke Stampini of 247Sports praised Parker's performance at the prestigious skills event at Nike World Headquarters in Beaverton, Oregon, even though his team lost all four of its seven-on-seven games. He wrote that Parker "provided tight coverage on the outside" and "was physical at the line of scrimmage and was bullying receivers on their release."

Parker hinted at uncertainty about his future while at The Opening, according to ESPN recruiting analyst Erik McKinney:

Of those schools that Parker mentioned to McKinney, only UCLA has offered him a scholarship at this point.

Parker had five interceptions last season as a junior at Pittsburg Senior High School, per MaxPreps. He also caught 23 passes for 264 yards and five touchdowns.

The loss of Parker drops UCLA five spots to 18th in 247Sports' recruiting rankings for 2016. The Bruins still have 12 commitments, including five 4-star prospects, but none of those pledges are for their secondary. It's not a position of particular need for the Bruins, though, as they signed four corners in the 2015 class, including 4-star DeChaun Holiday.

UCLA is set to start three upperclassmen at cornerback or nickelback this season in senior Fabian Moreau and juniors Ish Adams and Marcus Rios.

 

Recruiting information courtesy of 247Sports.

Follow Brian J. Pedersen on Twitter at @realBJP.

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Biggest 2015 College Football Storylines 50 Days Away from Kickoff

Fifty days. That's how much longer we have until the 2015 college football season starts. We're well over the offseason hump now. 

And, really, if you want to be all "well actually" about it, preseason camp starts in August, which will more than whet the appetite of any college football junkie. The point being, college football is right around the corner. 

With such a big milestone until the first game, we thought it'd be timely to narrate the biggest storylines for the '15 season. There's no shortage of them, that's for sure. The College Football Playoff is still a novelty, the Big Ten is in the middle of a resurgence and the Big 12, depending on the day, is either on the verge of collapse or prosperity. 

All of these things and more should make for an exciting season, but the beauty of this sport is that it's wholly unpredictable. We can can make all the guesses in the world about what this year will bring, but the reality is we have as much of a clue as the next person. 

That's what makes college football hilarious, agonizing, ridiculous and everything in between. It's weird, but dammit, it's our weird. With that said, here are the top storylines we're looking forward to answering this fall: 

 

Ohio State: The Pursuit of Another Title and a Quarterback

Well, then...August is going to be interesting, isn't it? How often do you have a situation like the one at Ohio State? The Buckeyes are early leaders to repeat as national champions and favorites—and in some cases, massive favorites—to win all their games. 

Yet we have no clue who the starting quarterback will be. Will it be Cardale Jones, whose postseason heroics will go down in Ohio State lore for years? Will it be J.T. Barrett, who came out of nowhere to lead the Bucks in their desperate time of need? Or will it be Braxton Miller, the seasoned veteran who didn't transfer after all but hasn't played football in well over a year? (Let us say this: Never, ever forget how good Miller was before he sustained his shoulder injury.) 

Not knowing who the starting quarterback will be isn't a prerequisite for success, however. What we do know—or, at least, what we think we know—is that, whichever quarterback ends up starting, the Buckeyes will be in good hands. In one sense, that makes head coach Urban Meyer's decision agonizingly difficult. This is something he's admitted to already because he knows, just like everyone knows, a tremendous player is going to be disappointed with the outcome. 

In another way, though, it's rare that a program finds itself with three quarterbacks with which it can realistically win. Stop reading and think about that for a minute. Really savor it, too, because you probably won't see something like this again for a long, long time. 

Think about how little room for error there is when it comes to player health. A key injury can derail an entire season. Yet with its third-string quarterback, Ohio State was playing better than any team in the country by the end of last season. 

Now, the question is whether Ohio State can do it all again. 

Whatever target the Buckeyes had on their backs before, quadruple it. Even then, that might be a conservative estimate. Being the defending national champs comes with a challenge. We know Ohio State is insanely talented, so talented in fact that next year's NFL draft could have a major scarlet and gray flavor to it. Personnel is not the challenge for Ohio State. Keeping that championship edge is. 

To be fair, going undefeated isn't a requirement for playoff inclusion. No team embodied that more last year than Ohio State, which was all but officially counted out of the playoff race when it lost to Virginia Tech in Week 2. But going undefeated is the only way to eliminate any doubt or debate. 

Make no mistake: It's not easy being perfect. People, by their very nature, are imperfect. Young men between the ages of 18 and 22 are even more imperfect. Strength of schedule matters far less here than you'd think. The fact that Ohio State won 24 straight regular-season games in 2012 and '13 is mind-boggling. 

What's another 15 more, right?

If Ohio State can repeat as national champs, it'll not only mark one of the truly great runs in college football's recent history, it'll take even more pressure off of the Big Ten as the sport's favorite conference pinata.

And after all the hits the Big Ten has taken, it deserves a break. 

 

The Start of the Jim Harbaugh Era

Jim Harbaugh is back and we couldn't be happier about it. His four-year stint in the NFL, in which he led the San Francisco 49ers to a Super Bowl appearance, felt like 40 years. 

Harbaugh's return to the college game just feels right, regardless of how long or short it lasts. Harbaugh might be one of the best football minds anywhere at any level, but his unique personality seems to fit naturally with college football's capricious nature. 

Unique personalities make any sport interesting, but within college football, there's a special place for people like Harbaugh, Bret Bielema, Steve Spurrier and Mike Leach. These are men who are not only unfiltered, but geniuses at their craft. The result is a unique kind of interesting that very few can actually pull off. In a world of carbon-copied transcripts, Harbaugh is a human art project, so much so that even his worst interviews can be spun as a Jackson Pollock painting. You're not sure what you're looking at, but goodness it has to be worth a lot of money. 

It'd be one thing if Harbaugh was a walking sound bite and a lousy coach. Those types tend to come and go quickly. But Harbaugh is a phenomenal coach. It's because of this that it's widely assumed he'll turn Michigan around, perhaps quickly. 

Assumptions are the devil's work because they're set up to be proved wrong, but the assumption that Harbaugh will succeed at Michigan feels like the biggest "given" college football has had in a long time.

His track record is too good.

It's been too long since the Wolverines were relevant. 

Will Harbaugh get things going in year one? This program is in bad shape. He deserves room to produce results. Stanford, Harbaugh's last college stop, didn't start winning Orange Bowls right away. 

Michigan might not reflect Harbaugh's vision right away. That's OK. It will. 

In time, Harbaugh's greatest achievement might be bringing back the relevance of its rivalry with Ohio State. College football fans should want The Game between Michigan and Ohio State to matter on the national scale again. Forget about Big Ten haters who have some deep-rooted and probably unexplainable hatred for something that never once affected their lives in a meaningful way. This sport is far more fun with a greater variety of bigger games. 

Putting Harbaugh and Meyer—two of the most respected, brilliant and influential minds in the game—on the same field once a year is a gift. But every gift has a shelf life. Enjoy it while you can because you might wait another four decades before the next Ten Year War. 

 

Is USC "Back"?

Oh, no. The dreaded "B" word. Sorry, USC, we just killed your playoff hopes. End 'em now. They're done. We are so, so sorry. 

Kidding aside, there's a lot of interest in the Trojans this year as a potential playoff team, which, for the sake of this conversation, indicates "back." Because we're creatures of the moment, USC's Holiday Bowl win over Nebraska had a lot to do with crafting that narrative. And, as they often are, the narrative was loaded into a cannon and shot off into the beautiful offseason abyss for all to enjoy or dissect meticulously. 

That's not to say USC's playoff hopes are totally unfounded. Quarterback Cody Kessler returns after posting one of the most efficient seasons of any signal-caller in the country last year. There's skill talent for days on both sides of the ball. Wide receiver Juju Smith, cornerback Adoree' Jackson and linebacker/safety Su'a Cravens are all world-class talents. 

It's just that USC hasn't reached such glorious heights since the Pete Carroll days roughly a decade ago. That's been due in part to NCAA sanctions and in part to...um...Lane Kiffin

That's why the Steve Sarkisian hire in late 2013 was so curious and met with such mixed reactions. It would seem, true or not, that the Trojans are hellbent on reliving the Carroll years by hiring his former assistants. 

Sark led USC to nine wins a season ago, including the aforementioned bowl win. That's a sexy launching-off point. Nine wins isn't so high that the ceiling has been reached, but it's not so low that a turnaround seems insurmountable, either. However, the Trojans also lost four games in almost every imaginable way. 

If there's any year in which you can get away with working out the kinks of a transition, it's obviously the first year. But USC was erratic, hands down. Picking them as a playoff contender is based entirely on trust that the program has its act together because the talent part of the equation has been solved. 

Is USC back? As cliche as it is, it'll be a question that's asked throughout this season until it's undeniably clear one way or the other. There are opportunities, to be sure. Games against Stanford (Sept. 19), at Notre Dame (Oct. 17), at Oregon (Nov. 21) and UCLA (Nov. 28) will provide clarity. 

Answering the question "yes" will not only be a boost to USC's quest for the return of its glory days, but to Sark's polarizing career as a still-growing head coach. 

A "no" would be a monumental disappointment. 

 

Will Baylor or TCU Finally Crack the Final Four? Both? Neither?

Nov. 27th. 7:30 p.m. on ESPN. It's already on the schedule. Mark it down. 

That's when Baylor will travel to TCU in what many believe will be the de facto Big 12 championship game. 

Or co-championship game, as the case may be. 

It was that co-champion label that marked one of the myriad reasons the Big 12 was left out of last year's playoff. The exclusion was especially tough for TCU, which looked like a virtual lock at No. 3 in the College Football Playoff rankings heading into the final week of the season. (Baylor, which was criticized all season long for its soft nonconference schedule, never cracked the top four.) 

But if the inaugural playoff year taught us anything, it's that there are no locks. After all, how can you lock something when you don't even know the secret code to open it? The truth is, there is no magic formula for playoff inclusion. What's important to the selection committee could, and probably will, change from year to year. A lack of a conference championship game hurt the Big 12 in 2014, but there's no guarantee it'll have the same effect this time around. 

Still, being excluded from the playoff meant the Big 12 had to go into proactive mode—or at least the appearance of it. The league was for adding a deregulated conference championship game...before it wasn't. The Big 12—or, at least, Oklahoma president David Boren—wanted to expand...then it didn't. 

All that's left are more questions, which will inevitably be asked ad nauseam during Big 12 media days next week. 

However the future of the Big 12 works out, nothing will be decided by that Nov. 27 game between the Bears and the Frogs. That seemingly all-important game comes at an intriguing time too. Does it serve as a playoff quarterfinal of sorts? We won't know until December when the final rankings are revealed. 

Will either Baylor or TCU finally get into the playoff? Both? Neither? Will it be dictated by the result of that Nov. 27 game or by other factors around the college football landscape? Or will both teams flop with a dark horse emerging as the conference champion? There are no answers are this time. 

When it comes to the playoff, and to the future of the league, the Big 12 is in a holding pattern. It's not the most desirable place to be, but it's the only one that makes sense at the moment.  

 

Examining the SEC's Reign of Dominance

Where does the SEC stand in college football in 2015? Look at it this way: Its most prominent voice, ESPN radio host Paul Finebaum, just said the conference "may be" overrated.

At SEC media days

Say what now?

Look, we've all had low points in our lives, and right now we need to be there for the SEC as it copes with its own personal valley. If college football's most visible conference can't even get an attaboy from Finebaum at its own televised celebration party, where can it?

To be sure, some of the shine has come off of the SEC over the past two seasons. Not coincidentally, the SEC hasn't won a national championship since Alabama topped Notre Dame a couple of years ago. 

The streak was bound to end at some point. Seven straight national titles from 2006-07 to 2012-13 is a hell of a run but ultimately not one that can last forever. Furthermore, a two-year championship drought doesn't signal the end of times. 

When you're as loved and as hated as the SEC is, a drought of any length of time becomes magnified and exposes other stats, like this about SEC blue blood Alabama from ESPN.com's Brett McMurphy: 

What does all of this mean? It could mean the product isn't as effective as it used to be. It could mean other programs—Florida State, Oregon, Ohio State and the like—have caught up to the top of the SEC or, in some cases, surpassed it. 

It could mean nothing if the SEC brings home another national championship in 2015, or it could mean everything if the SEC misses out on the playoff entirely. 

Additionally, will recent results and Finebaum's comments reflect an overall viewpoint about the SEC in the weekly polls? It wasn't uncommon last season to see three or four SEC teams in the College Football Playoff Top 10. Will the league receive the same amount of love and respect under similar circumstances this year?

There's no unified answer (yet) on which SEC team has the best chance to represent the conference in the playoff, but the usual suspects—Alabama and Auburn—are near the top. Once again, the West Division is viewed as the stronger leg on which the SEC's championship hopes stand. 

Whether it's strong enough to end the conference's brief title dry spell remains to be seen, but another championship-less year for the SEC would create some interesting reactions.  

 

The Year of the Grad-Transfer Quarterback...or Is It?

The graduate-transfer quarterback has been a popular trend for the past few years. However, the volume of post-grad signal-callers finding new homes to finish out their eligibility really took off in 2015. Among the high-profile transfers were:

—Everett Golson, from Notre Dame to Florida State

—Vernon Adams Jr, from Eastern Washington to Oregon

—Jake Rudock, from Iowa to Michigan

—Jeff Driskel, from Florida to Louisiana Tech

—Daxx Garman, from Oklahoma State to Maryland

That doesn't count Braxton Miller, who was long speculated to be a transfer target before officially staying at Ohio State. 

Still, there are some big names in this group. But here's the question: How many will actually start?

Or perhaps the more pertinent question is this: Will the assumed starters actually start?

After all, why bring in a grad transfer quarterback to upgrade the depth chart if he won't play?

However, the two biggest names on that list, Golson and Adams, have tough competitions ahead of them. Sean Maguire may not have had the best spring game at Florida State, but head coach Jimbo Fisher has praised Maguire throughout the offseason. Additionally, it's not like Golson comes to the Seminoles without his own set of problems. Though a natural (and improved) passer, Golson contributed to 22 turnovers last season. 

Adams is an electrifying athlete who stood out at the Football Championship Subdivision. Considering the gap in interest level between FCS and FBS football, that's a big accomplishment. He also had big games against Oregon State and Washington in 2013 and '14, respectively. But longtime backup Jeff Lockie was impressive in Oregon's spring game and has shown no signs that he'll concede the starting job to Adams. Lockie may not possess Adams' physical gifts, but he's a natural leader and can move the offense. 

We could be talking about a world in which Jeff Driskel is tearing it up at Louisiana Tech while Golson sits on the bench at Florida State. Or it could be the year of the grad-transfer quarterbacks across the landscape.

When Russell Wilson went from North Carolina State to Wisconsin in 2011, he unintentionally made a lot of people believe that every transition would be that seamless and successful. Wilson has rare leadership abilities, though, and the situations lined up well for him. In hindsight, he should be viewed as the exception to what a grad-transfer quarterback can do for a program.

What we get out of this crop of grad transfers is a mystery. Fresh starts could be beneficial across the board, or for one reason or another, it doesn't work out for anyone. 

Then again, if college football was predictable, there'd be no reason to watch. 

 

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

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SEC Media Days: What We've Learned so Far

SEC media days are always filled with interesting comments from players and coaches, and this week has been no exception.

As Day 3 comes to a close, let's recount some of the important stories from the event thus far:

 

 

Jeremy Johnson's Ready for the Spotlight

For the better part of two seasons, Auburn quarterback Jeremy Johnson backed up Nick Marshall, but on Monday he handled himself like he's been the man on campus for years.

He only has two starts to his name, but there's serious buzz surrounding Johnson entering his first season as the starter under head coach Gus Malzahn.

His smile in this picture from Greg Ostendorf of ESPN suggests he's ready for the pressure that comes along with being the starting quarterback at Auburn:

Addressing the media, Johnson articulately responded to everything that came his way.

When asked about having to endure a couple of seasons learning from the sidelines, here's what Johnson had to say, according to al.com:

It was tough, but God has a plan for everything. Don't get me wrong—and nobody can take anything away from Nick, he was good. He took us to a national championship, so sitting behind him wasn't going to make any difference because he paid his dues. He's a great person and he was a great leader for that team.

Johnson was also asked about another former Auburn quarterback.

To some, the 6'5," 235-pound signal-caller conjures up memories of Carolina Panthers and former Tigers quarterback, Cam Newton.

But those comparisons were quickly shot down by Johnson, according to Knox Bardeen of Fox Sports:

The first-year starter displayed the poise and confidence Auburn hopes to see out of him on the field this season when they hope to compete in a tough SEC.

Auburn must be encouraged with the way Johnson conducted himself on media day.

 

 

Two-QB System in College Station?

Texas A&M head coach Kevin Sumlin addressed his team's quarterback situation on Tuesday and didn't rule out the idea of playing two quarterbacks during the season.

There's no question this is Kyle Allen's job to lose, but the fact that Sumlin would be open to creating a package for freshman quarterback Kyler Murray makes for interesting July banter.

Sumlin's possible consideration of using two quarterbacks this season comes from Kate Hairopoulos of the Dallas Morning News:

I really haven't done it before. We'll see. We've never started out that way. That doesn't mean that we won't. We'll see where we are in fall. Kyle is confident right now and should be... Kyler is a guy who all he's done is won. It's like anything else. It's not like Kyler didn't know Kyle Allen was the MVP of the bowl game. He's going to compete, and that's what makes both those guys who they are.

Read into those comments as you wish, but it's hard to imagine Allen not being the full-time starting quarterback for the Aggies.

As a freshman, he passed for 1,322 yards, 16 touchdowns and a 139.5 quarterback ratings, while throwing just seven interceptions.

Chances are Allen starts under center for the duration of the season, barring injury, but Murray has the rest of July and August to force Sumlin and his staff to at least make a tough decision.

 

 

Nick Saban's Proposition

Alabama head coach Nick Saban suggested that NFL draft evaluations that surfaced around the time of the Sugar Bowl affected the way some of his players approached the playoff game against Ohio State.

For that reason, Saban thinks prospect grades shouldn't be released until after the college football season is complete, according to Brett McMurphy of ESPN:

Though he insisted he wasn't making excuses, by bringing this up seven months after the fact, Saban sure does sound pretty bitter.

Saban does raise an interesting point, but the truth is, every team in the college football playoff is going to have potential draft picks on its roster. Alabama isn't alone on this.

There's nothing wrong with what Saban said, but the timing could have been better, like, say, before the Sugar Bowl was played.

 

 

Be Careful What You Tweet

Arkansas head coach Bret Bielema let it be known on Thursday that potential Arkansas recruits may be removed from consideration based on what they're tweeting.

In fact, he's already done so before, per Chase Goodbread of NFL.com:

It's 2015, and it's not exactly a surprise that a program does its homework on a player it has interest in recruiting. But this just serves as a reminder to kids in high school who are trying to earn a scholarship.

Everyone has access to what you're posting online, so all you high school football players who want to play for Arkansas, ask yourself before sending out that tweet, "What would Bret Bielema think if he read this?" 

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3 Reasons Notre Dame Commit Chase Claypool Will Be Star for Fighting Irish

According to 247Sports, Chase Claypool is a 3-star wide receiver who is committed to the Notre Dame Fighting Irish.

Bleacher Report College Football Analyst Michael Felder gives three reasons why Claypool will be a star in South Bend, Indiana.

How good can Claypool be for Notre Dame? Check out the video and let us know!

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Missouri's Shot at Success in SEC Rests on Maty Mauk's Performance

HOOVER, Ala. — Missouri has entered the Georgia Dome in each of the last two Decembers only 60 minutes away from SEC titles.

Both times, they walked out in search of not only the trophy, but respect within the conference.

That starts with quarterback Maty Mauk.

One of only three full-time returning starters in the conference, Mauk finished last season with 25 touchdowns, but he threw 10 of those and nine picks in the first half and had a 15-to-4 ratio in the second half of games. Despite proving that he's clutch, he isn't getting any respect heading into 2015.

Don't believe me?

The beginning of a question to Mauk on Wednesday included a reference to his 27 quarterback rating against his toughest opponents—four losses.

"Sometimes it might be sloppy," Mauk said. "A 27 QBR or whatever it is, but 14-4 as a starter. I'll take wins over that. I'm not a guy going out there for stats, I'm here to win football games."

If Missouri is going to do more of that in 2015, it's going to be on the success of Mauk's arm.

For the second straight year, Missouri is charged with replacing the majority of its contributing wide receivers. It worked last year, but in 2015, the Tigers return just 10 total receptions among the entire receiving corps.

How uncertain is the receiving situation? When Mauk was asked about the future contributors, he immediately spoke of tight ends.

"Both of our tight ends are going to be tremendous receivers for us, Sean Culkin and Jason Reese," Mauk said. "Receiver-wise, I look at Nate Brown to really break out, and J'Mon Moore outside."

In a division that's building back from some recent struggles, it's going to be on Mauk to lead the team.

"We need more consistency with the offense, and it starts with him," head coach Gary Pinkel said. "With his experience level, you learn, mature and grow. The defense slows down. You see more.

"His consistency will help all the people around him play better."

Missouri has established itself as "DL Zou," but the departures of Shane Ray and Markus Golden, coupled with the season-ending injuries suffered by Harold Brantley in a car accident, put an enormous amount of pressure on Mauk to be consistent, be reliable and be a difference-maker.

If he can do that, Missouri will be right back in contention.

The Tigers have a remarkably easy out-of-conference schedule and get Mississippi State and Arkansas out of the SEC West. Sure, the Bulldogs and Razorbacks will still be tough, but Pinkel, Mauk and the rest of the crew still benefit from avoiding the two Alabama schools.

The last two seasons weren't a mirage. Missouri has proven that it has the talent, coaching staff and ability to not only play at a championship level but do so in the face of significant roster turnover.

If 2015 is going to complete the trilogy and give Missouri its third straight East title, it's going to be up to Mauk to be a difference-maker.

As far as respect goes, Mauk isn't going to worry about it.

"It’s not even a respect thing anymore. We are going to be disrespected, we are going to be on the bottom of everybody’s polls and it’s something we can’t control, so we aren’t even going to worry about it."

 

Quotes were obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted. Barrett Sallee is the lead SEC college football writer and college football video analyst for Bleacher Report as well as a host on Bleacher Report Radio on Sirius 93, XM 208.

Follow Barrett on Twitter @BarrettSallee. 

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Is Loyalty Braxton Miller's Best Asset in Ohio State Quarterback Battle?

COLUMBUS, Ohio — When Ohio State's contingent of players hits the red carpet for Wednesday night's ESPYS award show in Los Angeles, the presence of three of its players will need no explanation.

There will be Best Breakthrough Athlete nominee Cardale Jones, the quarterback for the final three games of the Buckeyes' national championship run.

Alongside Jones will be running back Ezekiel Elliott, the MVP of both the Sugar Bowl and national title game, who will be the subject of an ESPN E:60 feature this August, according to his father, Stacy Elliott.

And representing the Ohio State defense will be Joshua Perry, the Buckeyes' leading tackler in 2014, who is a lock to be a captain and de facto spokesman for the team in 2014.

But for the fourth ESPYS representative from Ohio State—which is nominated in the "Best Team" category on Wednesday night—his attendance isn't as clear-cut as Jones', Elliott's or Perry's. Especially considering that Braxton Miller didn't play a single snap in the Buckeyes' national championship season.

Nevertheless, there will be Miller, strolling the red carpet outside the Microsoft Theater while simultaneously reclaiming his status as one of the faces of college football. “It feels great,” Miller said on Tuesday, just prior to departing the Woody Hayes Athletic Center for his flight to Los Angeles. “It’s an honor. I respect the guys for bringing me out there with them."

None of the Buckeyes making the trip to Los Angeles said they know how they were selected to attend the ESPYS, but Jones, Elliott and Perry each said that Miller was a deserving candidate, even as on-field contributors such as quarterback J.T. Barrett and defensive end Joey Bosa are left behind. One could argue that Miller, the Big Ten MVP in 2012 and 2013, played the biggest role in Ohio State's seamless transition into the Urban Meyer era, as he helped quarterback the Buckeyes to a 24-2 record in Meyer's first two seasons in Columbus.

"Braxton is a big reason we are where we are now," Elliott said."Braxton was a very important part of the team the two years before last year, and this team wouldn’t be where we are without his leadership. I think it’s important that he’s there.”

Whether Miller truly deserves to be representing Ohio State at the ESPYS is a conversation for a different day, and quite frankly, a point not worth arguing without knowing how the selection process took place. But on the eve of an unprecedented quarterback competition, it's hard not to read into Miller's inclusion on the trip, especially after he recently reaffirmed his commitment to the Buckeyes for the 2015 season.

“I'm a Buckeye, man,” Miller said on Tuesday. “I've got (an Ohio State) tat on my shoulder. My son is going to come here one day.”

After months of speculation that the Huber Heights, Ohio, native would take advantage of his ability as a graduate transfer, there's now no doubt left as to where Miller will be spending the final season of his college career. 

But while Miller will now undoubtedly remain a Buckeye in 2015, how he'll be spending the season still remains unclear. Because even though he has the most extensive resume of the three, Miller could very well be the odd man out in an Ohio State quarterback competition featuring three overqualified candidates with legitimate claims to the Buckeyes' starting job.

Despite stating that he's nearly fully recovered from the torn labrum in his throwing shoulder that brought his 2014 season to an end before it started, Miller still hasn't played an actual down of football in 19 months, which opened the door for Barrett to break records and Jones to lead the Buckeyes to the college football crown in his absence. From a pure passing standpoint, both Barrett and Jones appeared more well-equipped to run Meyer's spread offense than Miller, who at times—albeit often by necessity—resembled a one-man show with his propensity for relying on his legs.

If Meyer bases his quarterback competition on preseason statistics, as he insists he will, it's hard to imagine either Jones or Barrett not being named Ohio State's starter.

But even with Meyer's insistence to the contrary, Miller's primary advantage over Jones and Barrett heading into fall camp appears to be Meyer's allegiance to the player who arguably laid the foundation for the Buckeyes' national title season, despite not officially participating in it. In an interview with Tim May of the Columbus Dispatch, the fourth-year Ohio State head coach indicated as much when he spoke of his "obligation" to both Miller and his family.

“I feel a tremendous obligation—me personally as the head coach at Ohio State—to Braxton Miller and his family. Absolutely,” Meyer said. “Now, what does that mean? That’s to be determined. But is there an obligation to Braxton? About as obligated as I’ve ever been to any player for what he has gone through and what he has meant to this team.”

While Meyer went on to state that he also has an obligation to Jones and Barrett, he appears to feel a stronger one to Miller for sticking with the Buckeyes when he could have transferred anywhere in the country and played immediately—despite Jones' bypassing the 2015 NFL draft.

Perhaps that explains Miller's presence in Los Angeles, as Meyer proves that the 6'2", 215-pounder is still very much a part of the Ohio State program and is a legitimate contender in the upcoming quarterback derby. Or perhaps it's simply a lifetime achievement award, a thank-you to the player most responsible for re-elevating the Buckeyes to national championship contenders in the wake of the sanctions that stemmed from Jim Tressel's messy departure in 2011.

Or maybe it's something in-between. Or maybe it's neither at all.

Either way, it's hard to see the decision to send Miller to the ESPYS and not try to figure what it means for Ohio State's highly anticipated quarterback battle. We'll know the ultimate outcome to the competition soon enough, but if loyalty is indeed a factor, Miller just may have an edge.

“It's going to be fun,” Miller said. “We'll get the opportunity to push one another, and it will be fun.”

Whether that sentiment will hold up for Miller—or Jones or Barrett—remains to be seen.

 

Ben Axelrod is Bleacher Report's Big Ten lead writer. You can follow him on Twitter @BenAxelrod. Unless noted otherwise, all quotes were obtained firsthand. All statistics courtesy of CFBStats.com. Recruiting rankings courtesy of 247Sports.

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New College Football Starters Poised for Breakout Season in 2015

The only thing more exciting than the returning stars in college football are the new ones who emerge each year.

It's an annual occurrence, as players who are new to a program or who were backups the year before step into a starting role and run with it without skipping a beat. It's what coaches hope for from their replacements, but until they get into that new position, there's still plenty of uncertainty in most cases.

But not with these guys. We've identified 10 players who will be starting on a full-time basis for the first time this season. Some have seen spot duty as a starter in the past, usually in place of an injured or suspended player, but 2015 will be their first opportunity to start from the outset.

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Harold Brantley Will Miss 2015-16 Season from Injuries Sustained in Car Accident

Missouri defensive tackle Harold Brantley will miss the upcoming college football season after suffering injuries in a June car accident.

Gary Pinkel, Brantley's coach at Missouri, confirmed the news during his SEC media day session Wednesday, according to David Morrison of the Columbia Daily Tribune:

According to Dave Matter of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Pinkel said that Brantley suffered leg injuries and has a "small crack on his shoulder," adding that he'll undergo knee surgery soon:

Yahoo's Dr. Saturday noted that Pinkel feels Brantley would have been one of the best players in the country in 2015:

In June, per Ashley Zavala of KRCG13, Brantley's car struck a guardrail and was overturned with him stuck in the vehicle for 10 minutes before officers were able to get the door open. He was placed in the surgical intensive care unit under serious condition with non-life-threatening injuries. 

Per Blair Kerkhoff of the Kansas City Star, he suffered multiple rib fractures, a fractured lower left leg and ligament damage in his knee. 

A redshirt junior, Brantley has appeared in 28 games during his first two seasons with the Tigers. He was a breakout star in 2014, recording 54 total tackles and five sacks in helping lead the team to an 11-3 record and an appearance in the SEC championship game. 

While the loss of Brantley is a huge blow to Missouri's defense in 2015, he's fortunate to be alive after an ugly crash. Being able to play football again in 2016 would just be an added bonus for the defensive lineman.  

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SEC Media Days Buzz: Is Nick Saban Making Excuses for Sugar Bowl Loss?

The Alabama Crimson Tide have long established themselves as a dominant defensive team. Now Bama looks to rebound after an early exit from the College Football Playoff. 

Bleacher Report's College Football Analyst Barrett Sallee is joined by Chris Walsh to discuss whether Nick Saban is making excuses for his Sugar Bowl loss. 

Do you think Saban's point is a valid one? Check out the video and let us know!

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Meet the "Ohio State" Fan Trolling Alabama at SEC Media Days

SEC media days continue to roll on in Hoover, Alabama. As the week goes on, the atmosphere becomes more circus-like. 

Meet Jeff Moorer, a notorious Alabama troll, who made headlines last year when he showed up to SEC media days in an Auburn shirt. Moorer and a friend also had a few words for the Crimson Tide as they entered.

He's back this year, and Bleacher Report's College Football Analyst Barrett Sallee caught up with Moorer in the video above. 

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