NCAA Football News

2015 College Football Recruits with Strong Interest in Both USC and Notre Dame

USC and Notre Dame have shared a storied rivalry that has lasted for several generations. Both programs are among the nation's elite and boast terrific tradition.

Within the 2015 class, several recruits have strong interest in the Trojans and Fighting Irish. Whether it's heading to Los Angeles to play in a big city for USC or signing up to spend four years at Notre Dame's legendary campus in South Bend, it can be tough for a recruit to decide between the heavyweight programs.

A cornerback in California could give the Irish a strong look, but USC will have something to say about it. Notre Dame and the Trojans also both love a big defensive tackle, while a receiver and pass-rusher are also in play.

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Big Ten Football: 6 Sleepers Who Will Shock the Conference in 2014

Everything is new again in the Big Ten in 2014—from the division names (East and West now) to the makeup of the divisions and even the membership of the conference itself. So, 2014 could bring a lot of surprises to those who live and breathe Big Ten football. 

With the inclusion of Rutgers and Maryland, the B1G will get its first introduction to East Coast football, if you will. Add in the spice of a new recruiting class, plus a lot of talent headed off to the NFL, and there are plenty of opportunities for new names to take giant steps forward. 

Sleepers played a big role in the Big Ten last season, with names like Jeremy Langford (Michigan State) and Steve Hull (Illinois) playing big roles despite very little attention paid to them in the offseason. 

Just who those players will be in 2014 could be a mystery to some, but spring football has given us a few indications as to some who might shock everyone. 

Let's find out who the biggest sleepers in the Big Ten will be this season (in no particular order). 

 

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Notre Dame Football: What a Successful 2014 Would Look Like for Everett Golson

To be clear, Everett Golson's triumphant return to Notre Dame isn't complete when he runs out of the tunnel on Saturday to take part in the 85th annual Blue-Gold game.

But the fourth-year quarterback (Golson has two seasons of eligibility remaining), last seen battling Alabama for a national championship, has completed the most difficult part of an odyssey not many return from. 

Golson's dismissal from Notre Dame shocked the college football world in late May of last year, when the university confirmed the Irish quarterback was no longer enrolled in school. Golson owned up to his mistakes, releasing a statement through the university, taking full responsibility for "poor academic judgment" and pledged his return in the winter of 2014. 

While most Notre Dame fans have been shell-shocked into expecting the worst, Golson did exactly that, returning for the spring semester and to the Irish football team exactly as he'd planned. Regarded by some as college football's most important player, Golson now has to finish what he started, leading the Irish back to the top of the mountain. 

With all due respect to Malik Zaire, this is Everett Golson's football team. And while the South Carolina native tantalized college football fans with an impressive rookie season, he'll need to do much more in 2014 for the Irish to be successful. 

 

What's the Proper Statistical Measuring Stick for Golson?

Brian Kelly came to Notre Dame with the reputation of being an offensive guru. With a system built and refined at Grand Valley State, Kelly's meteoric rise to Notre Dame came after successful stops at Central Michigan and Cincinnati, where his offenses put up points by the bushel. 

But things haven't been so easy in South Bend. Inheriting a quarterback depth chart that put all of its faith in Dayne Crist, a combination of injuries, attrition and ineffectiveness created chaos at the most important position on the roster, almost from the start. 

From the first day that Kelly was able to officially talk about Golson, it was clear that he represented a different kind of quarterback than the ones the head coach inherited on his roster. On signing day in 2011, Kelly laid out exactly how he saw Golson fitting into his offense. 

"I think what you'll see you'll see Tommy Rees and most likely Dayne Crist and the other quarterbacks fit into one category," Kelly said when comparing his quarterbacks skill sets. "Then on the other side of the ledger you'll have Everett Golson. And within our offensive structure, we can go full out spread with Everett Golson."

After putting the training wheels on Golson in 2012, we should finally see what this offense looks like with a quarterback designed for Kelly's system. But after four years of some alternate universe in South Bend, what does that actually look like? 

To get a better idea of what Golson's statistical benchmarks should be, let's take a trip down memory lane and look at Kelly's quarterbacks of old. 

At Central Michigan, many remember Kelly's star quarterback Dan LeFevour. But before LeFevour, Kent Smith became a dangerous triggerman that Kelly took from the bench and turned into one of the MAC's most dangerous weapons. Smith finished 12th in the nation in total offense during his second year under Kelly's direction, setting a school record with 3,242 total yards while throwing for 295 yards per game. 

At Cincinnati, Kelly turned Tony Pike into one of the nation's most prolific quarterbacks in his second season starting. Even though Pike didn't possess the dual-threat skills that Kelly usually utilizes, Pike finished 2009 as one of the nation's elite, finishing inside the top 25 in almost every statistical category, the nation's 12th most efficient passer.

At Notre Dame, even Tommy Rees saw a significant statistical jump in his second year in Kelly's system. While his 14 interceptions held back the Irish and contributed to a disappointing 8-5 record, his completion percentage jumped nearly five points, and he threw for almost 100 yards more a game than he did during his freshman season. 

This should be Everett Golson's third season starting in Kelly's system. But after spending last season training with George Whitfield, there's hope that 2013 wasn't a completely lost year. Kelly acknowledged that Golson's understanding of the Irish system and its complexities are much improved.

But there's still plenty of work to do. 

"What we're doing offensively this year is new math for him," Kelly said this spring. "I knew there was going to be a learning curve there, and I think he's making really good progress from that standpoint.

"He's just still learning in my perspective about the quarterback position... He knows he's got work to do." 

 

How Do You Measure Golson's Success?

Statistically, there should be a significant jump in Golson's production. Much of 2012 was spent limiting Golson's impact on the offense until he found a rhythm later in the season. That meant taking away his options as a ball-carrier and relying heavily on the running game and a stout defense instead of a young quarterback. 

2014 will be a different story. Much of the Irish's success will rely on Golson being the engine of this team. While it's too soon to judge the schematic changes Brian VanGorder has implemented on the defensive side of the ball, just about everybody inside the Gug understands that the Irish are going to have to win some games this season by outscoring their opponents. 

The pieces are in place for that to happen. Running backs Greg Bryant, Tarean Folston and Cam McDaniel should solidify the ground game. A young but talented receiving corps has big-play ability that'll only be magnified when DaVaris Daniels returns. And the opportunity to play at tempo—something Kelly has talked about since arriving at Notre Dame— is finally an option with the read-option forcing defenses to stay more honest. 

"I think that's the direction we're certainly moving into," offensive coordinator Mike Denbrock said in January. "With the athletes that we have we feel like we're in a position offensively to push the tempo more and to put our playmakers in positions where they can make big plays and do the things that all of us hope our offense looks like, one that's dynamic and can score more points and move the football consistently."

All of the individual production Golson could put up has Irish fans salivating. But the ultimate measure by which a quarterback is judged is wins and losses.

Nobody remembers the struggles Golson had during his rookie season: that he was pulled against Purdue, with Tommy Rees marching the team down the field for the game-winning field goal; that he froze early against Michigan and was replaced after making critical mistakes against the Wolverines. He didn't break the 50 percent completion barrier against Michigan State or Stanford, either. 

Those things don't matter when you win.  

Golson has done much of the heavy lifting needed to rehabilitate his image. He's grown from the mistakes he has made and returned to campus to reclaim the starting quarterback job.

But to lead the Irish back to greatness, and to win a spot in the new College Football Playoff, his work has only just begun. Because against a schedule that's among the toughest in the nation, Notre Dame needs Golson to be great. 

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

What a 16-Team College Football Playoff Would've Looked Like in 2013

The Oklahoma Sooners, your 2013 college football national champions!

Would you have a problem with that?

If you don't, then you must have loved the NCAA basketball tournament, where a fourth-place team from a slightly-less-than-power conference just won the national title. If you do, perhaps you're more of a college football purist who thinks the regular season should matter—a lot.

Either way, we're not here to take sides. Rather, we're here to present some hypotheticals mixed in with facts. Transitive property is used—but not too liberally—to advance a scenario where the Sooners would've won it all last season.

Pundits and critics who disliked the BCS have long advocated for a playoff that involved more than two teams, and they're not even close to being satisfied with the upcoming four-team College Football Playoff. At a minimum, they want 16 teams.

So they'll get 16 teams in our model, and it works because proportionally it best resembles the basketball tournament:

Now, this is how the playoff field at the end of the 2013 regular season would've looked like after the selection committee picked six at-large teams to go with 10 conference champions and then seeded them. The only restriction is that no conference may place more than two at-large entries:

 

First Round (campus sites)

No. 1 Florida State (ACC) vs. No. 16 UL-Lafayette (Sun Belt)***

No. 2 Auburn (SEC) vs. No. 15 Rice (C-USA)***

No. 3 Michigan State (Big Ten) vs. Bowling Green (MAC)***

No. 4 Stanford (Pac-12) vs. Fresno State (MWC)**

No. 5 Baylor (Big 12) vs. Central Florida (AAC)*

No. 6 Alabama (at-large) vs. No. 11 Oklahoma (at-large)*

No. 7 Ohio State (at-large) vs. No. 10 Clemson (at-large)*

No. 8 South Carolina (at-large) vs. No. 9 Oregon (at-large)**

South Carolina just edged Missouri for the last at-large spot from the SEC because it won head-to-head and had a much better out-of-conference schedule. 

Based on results from actual games (*), use of transitive property (**) and simulation (***), these would've been the quarterfinal matchups. We decided to use an NFL-style format where the highest-seeded team always plays the lowest-seeded team instead of using a rigid bracket:

 

Quarterfinals (campus sites)

No. 1 Florida State vs. No. 12 Central Florida***

No. 2 Auburn vs. No. 11 Oklahoma**

No. 3 Michigan State vs. No. 10 Clemson**

No. 4 Stanford vs. No. 9 Oregon*

The winning teams then would take a week off before heading to the Rose Bowl and Sugar Bowl for the semifinal games:

 

Semifinals

No. 1 Florida State vs. No. 11 Oklahoma (Sugar Bowl)**

No. 3 Michigan State vs. No. 4 Stanford (Rose Bowl)*

 

Championship

No. 3 Michigan State vs. No. 11 Oklahoma (AT&T Stadium)**

The Sooners, pulling off a string of upsets thanks to the hot hand of freshman quarterback Trevor Knight, advanced to the national championship game in Arlington ... er, North Texas. In the same JerryWorld where UConn's basketball team completed its improbable run, OU upstaged Michigan State for its own national title.

Is this a just outcome? You decide. Vote in our poll and comment below.

Follow on Twitter @ThePlayoffGuru

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

LSU Football: Les Miles' 5 Biggest Concerns Post-Spring Practice

Les Miles has a job other coaches can only dream about. Talent-rich Louisiana is his own backyard, he wins 10 games annually in the nation's best conference and has become a celebrity by being his quirky self.

But to whom much is given, much is required.

Miles has a stressful, pressure-packed gig in Baton Rouge. Critics still bash him despite winning 95 games in nine seasons.

LSU has won 20 games in the past two seasons, which would satisfy most schools. But Tigers fans want more.

LSU's spring practice was officially completed with the spring game last Saturday. It could have left more questions than answers for the Tigers coaching staff. 

Miles has much to ponder over the offseason. 

 

*Stats provided by LSU Sports Information and cfbstats.com and recruiting rankings from 247Sports. Quotes were obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted.  

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Oregon Football: 4 Ducks Standing out in Spring Practice

Oregon is a little more than one week into its spring practice schedule, and some Ducks are making early impressions. 

On both offense and defense, from veteran reserves to young up-and-comers, Oregon's spring standouts are shaping the identity of the 2014 team. 

 

Statistics compiled via CFBStats.com. Recruiting rankings and information culled from 247Sports.com 

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Did Texas A&M Prank Texas with Genetically Altered Flowers?

The Texas-Texas A&M rivalry suffered a major blow when the Aggies left the Big 12 for the SEC, but the rivalry may be continuing to bloom.

Even after Texas A&M left the conference, pranks between the two schools have continued. Now, the Longhorns are left wondering if the Aggies are behind a flower mystery.

The bluebonnet is Texas' state flower, so seeing them on the Austin campus isn't a big surprise. However, seeing genetically modified bluebonnets raises questions, according to KEYE TV's Cassie Gallo.

Texas program coordinator for irrigation and water conservation Markus Hogue said that bluebonnet seeds were planted next to the University of Texas Tower a few years ago. Now that the flowers have started to bloom, the prank war may have heated up. The bluebonnets are maroon, which has left the Longhorns puzzled.

Hogue spoke about the issue, via Gallo:

It's definitely going to get worse. They are going to keep multiplying. It is just a weird coincidence that the only place that we have them on campus that we know of is right by the tower.

As of now, the maroon bluebonnets are only by the Tower. However, seeds will start to spread as time goes on and more of the flowers will be present. 

In Gallo's report, one Longhorns student is not putting it past the Aggies to pull off a prank like this.

"That wouldn't surprise me," student Cassie Lissak said. "They can't bring the competition on the playing fields so they might as well bring it with their green thumb." 

Right now, it's only speculation that Texas A&M is behind the prank. That's enough to drive the people at Texas crazy, but that's what sports are all about.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Oklahoma Football: Players to Watch in Sooners' 2014 Spring Game

Among the big-time programs holding their spring games this Saturday is Oklahoma. Following the Sooners' Sugar Bowl victory over Alabama, expectations are once again high in Norman. 

It's safe to assume that Oklahoma will be the preseason favorites to win the Big 12, and Saturday will be the first chance to see the 2014 team in action. 

Which players should fans be keeping their eyes on? It's a mixture of established stars and relative unknowns. 

 

Quarterback Trevor Knight

This sort of goes without saying, so why does he deserve a mention? Simply put, Trevor Knight isn't a story for Oklahoma—he's the story. Not just for the spring, but for 2014. His monster game in the Sugar Bowl against Alabama was a complete surprise. Folks are going to be interested in his progress. 

Knight's bowl game didn't come out of nowhere, though. Anyone who watched the Sooners last season would (and should) agree that Knight began showing improvement in the passing game against Iowa State and Kansas State. Still, there couldn't have been many people who thought Knight would throw for four touchdowns against the Tide while dropping dimes to his receivers. 

This will be the public's chance to see if Knight can pick up where he left off that night in New Orleans. Former quarterback Blake Bell has moved to tight end—and will be out for the spring game with a knee injury—meaning it's the Knight show. 

Anyone can look like a stud in a spring game, but there are specific things to watch for with Knight. Does he look more comfortable and more consistent as a passer? How is his chemistry with a young (and banged up) receiving group? Is he running the offense with command? 

As far as intrigue goes, Knight is a major storyline across college football this spring. 

 

Wide Receivers: Anyone? Anyone? Bueller?

Speaking of Knight, who is he going to throw to? Himself?

Not only are the Sooners losing Jalen Saunders, Lacoltan Bester and Jaz Reynolds, they'll have a couple of key returning receivers out with injuries.

According to Ryan Aber and Jason Kersey of The Oklahoman, Sterling Shepard and Durron Neal have hamstring and knee/ankle injuries, respectively, and will be held out. 

So who steps in? Derrick Woods played in 11 games last year but only caught two passes. For him, this is an excellent opportunity to make the most of the spotlight. Beyond him, it's mostly a group of unknowns. 

So while there aren't many big names to watch, per se, this is a chance to examine the depth Oklahoma has at wide receiver. 

 

Linebacker Eric Striker

Perhaps no player on Oklahoma's defense struck the fear of God in opposing players like Eric Striker. 

A pass-rushing specialist, Striker had 10.5 tackles for loss, including 6.5 sacks, last season. Additionally, he broke former Texas quarterback Case McCoy in half in last year's Red River Shootout Rivalry Showdown.

This spring, head coach Bob Stoops feels more comfortable about the system in place. As a result, expect Striker's role to grow as coaches put him in more positions to be successful. 

Here's what Stoops said about Striker's responsibilities, from Brandon Chatmon of ESPN.com

On normal yardage [downs] we probably rushed Julian (Wilson) twice as much as we did Eric. We get in third down and Eric always rushed. First and second downs, it can be a little bit reversed. That’s all we’re saying, giving him more opportunities to do what he does best.

It will be interesting to see how Oklahoma's coaching staff uses Striker on Saturday. He offers a lot with his athleticism.

 

Cornerback Zack Sanchez

As Oklahoma rebuilds its secondary, Zack Sanchez will have to grow up into a defensive leader quickly. 

A redshirt freshman a year ago, Sanchez led the team with 13 pass breakups. He also had one of his two interceptions in the Sugar Bowl. With Aaron Colvin and Gabe Lynn gone, Sanchez, along with Quentin Hayes, has to hold the fort in the secondary. 

With the receiving group being what it's going to be in the spring game, Sanchez should have a good day. 

 

Ben Kercheval is a lead writer for college football at Bleacher Report. All quotes obtained first-hand unless otherwise noted. 

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Malik Zaire Will Be Just as Important to Notre Dame as Everett Golson in 2014

Everett Golson may be back in a Notre Dame uniform for the first time in a year, but it doesn't mean he's the most important piece to the puzzle for the Irish in 2014. In fact, it may be the quarterback he is competing with for the starting job that is equally as important—redshirt freshman Malik Zaire. 

If there is one school that knows the value of having multiple quarterbacks with the ability to lead a team, it is Notre Dame under Brian Kelly. Injuries, suspensions and defections from the program have led to plenty of quarterbacks with opportunities to start in Kelly's tenure in South Bend. 

The fact that Kelly has yet to name a starter in the quarterback battle between the returning Golson and the young Zaire makes this Saturday's annual Blue-Gold game that much more important.

It's an opportunity for either one to separate himself from the other, and if it’s Zaire that does so, he instantly becomes just as important to Notre Dame's season. 

Spring game performances aside, there are other reasons Zaire will be equally important to the Irish's success in 2014.

Zaire has one big advantage over Golson in this battle—and that's his knowledge and work with a very young wide receiver group. 

During his redshirt year, Zaire got a chance to work extensively with names like Corey Robinson, James Onwualu and C.J. Prosise to name a few. All three are expected to have an extensive role at wide receiver in 2014, and having a chance to develop a relationship over the course of a season can't be overlooked.

Beyond his experience with a young wide receiver group, Zaire isn't lacking in self-confidence either. Just a few weeks ago, Zaire made it clear he believes he'll be the starting quarterback at Notre Dame. 

"Without a doubt. There will only be one guy starting on Aug. 30th against Rice at Notre Dame Stadium, there will only be one guy out on the field, and I believe that will be me," he said, via ESPN.com late last month.

For a young quarterback, that kind of confidence can be a huge help whether his prophecy comes true or not. Believing in yourself and your abilities this early in a career goes a long way in overcoming some of the deficiencies that may exist in knowledge of offense or reading defenses at this level. 

Golson may enter 2014 with the experience advantage, directing the 12-1 season of 2012 and throwing for 2,405 yards, 12 touchdowns and six interceptions that year. However, Golson didn't exactly light the world on fire with his 58 percent completion rate. 

The biggest difference between that season and this one is that whoever wins the starting job won't be asked to be a game manager like Golson was in 2012. The winner in 2014 will have to command the complete offense and do so with confidence. 

"It's always about finding that consistency at that position," Kelly said according to the ESPN.com article. "It's just going to take some time. I don't have a timetable on it. I'll know when it's running the right way and it's smooth. It's not there yet."

Whatever goes down between now and the opener against Rice, Notre Dame has two quarterbacks it can count on to help win games with their feet and their arms—that's a far cry from what happened a season ago and it makes Zaire a very important piece to the Irish's puzzle in 2014. 

 

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

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Complete Scouting Report for 2015 No. 1 Safety Derwin James

Standout safety Derwin James accepted a scholarship offer from Florida State as a freshman. The head-turning commitment ensured he would spend his entire high school career in the spotlight.

He's lived up to lofty expectations every step of the way.

James, a 6'2", 201-pound playmaker from Auburndale, Fla., is regarded as one of America's elite defensive backs. The Haines City Senior High School junior rates No. 1 nationally among 2015 safety prospects in 247Sports' composite rankings.

An early pledge to the Seminoles did little to quell interest from college programs across the country. His offer list has expanded to include Ohio State, Clemson, Miami, Auburn and Florida.

He attended a Gators junior day in January.

He continued to makes strides last fall, anchoring the back end of a defense that dominated opponents during an impressive final stretch of the regular season. He helped the Bloodhounds close things out on a four-game win streak that featured just 18 total points allowed.

He earned first-team all-state honors in the process.

James, a 5-star recruit, deserves consideration as the top rising senior in talent-laden Florida. Let's take a closer look at the game tape to uncover what makes him a must-see prospect and how parts of his game can still improve.

 

Positives

From a physical standpoint, James is the caliber of athlete who stirs the imagination of defensive coordinators. His build and athleticism bring several options into play, and it's even tempting to envision him lined up at weak-side linebacker.

However, given the increase in size at wide receiver and the advantage provided by having a dynamic defender serving as a lynchpin in the secondary, safety is his ideal landing spot at the next level.

Offensive game-planners must be mindful of James at all times due to his tremendous range. He flies to the football in run and pass coverage, laying the lumber when he arrives at his intended target.

He provides an intimidating presence thanks to his penchant for full-throttle play. He dishes out devastating hits that make receivers think twice before extending for receptions with him in the vicinity.

Expect Florida State to utilize him as an enforcer across the middle in intermediate coverage. Despite having a muscular frame, he's nimble enough to maneuver and weave his way through traffic while maintaining attention on the passing pocket.

He displays outstanding awareness as a play develops and puts himself in favorable positions to disrupt passing lanes and bait quarterbacks. He has strong closing speed that allows him to make up ground and reach his arm into the targeted area of a receiver.

He is perhaps most impressive against the run, reacting and firing downfield in pursuit of the ball-carrier. James is a sure tackler in the open field, which seems to be a bit of a lost art these days in collegiate secondaries.

The defensive front receives a significant boost when he lines up in the box. James is stout along the edge and provides perimeter containment when offenses aim to stretch rushing attempts outside.

His style of play also makes him a strong candidate to contribute as a special teams star in kick coverage.

 

Negatives

James' aggression is a double-edged sword at times. He can be overzealous in his pursuit of the football and take himself out of plays with improper angles.

His deep pass coverage requires refinement at the next level, where even impressive acceleration won't be enough to make up for mistakes in route identification. He will look to improve his reaction time while dissecting what's coming his way in the defensive backfield.

Slight tweaks to his tackling approach will make him even more effective against the run. He can become increasingly efficient by exhibiting lower pad level on a consistent basis.

There aren't any holes in James' skill set, just details that need to be ironed out.

 

Projection

James has the makings of a multi-year starter in any collegiate defensive backfield. He should impress early enough to command consideration as a situational defender during his first season on campus, when his quickest path to playing time will come on special teams.

There's plenty to be excited about in Tallahassee, where fans and coaches alike have waited more than two years to see him in garnet and gold. Expectations are sky high, with eventual Jim Thorpe Award contention as a realistic possibility down the line.

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How James Franklin is Making Penn State Football Cool Again

In James Franklin's first three months as the head coach at Penn State, he has transformed what had become a feel-good story into a public-relations juggernaut. And he's done it with the help of a young, energetic staff and social media—two things that high school kids relate to better than anyone.

While Joe Paterno was a molder of men and Bill O'Brien was a player's coach, Franklin knows that success on the field starts on the recruiting trail, and he is a master of the craft.

His slogans like "PSUnrivaled," "Dominate the State" and "107kStrong" have become rallying cries for both fans and recruits.

My first picture with fans today! #WeAre #PSU #PSUnrivaled #107kStrong #Blessed pic.twitter.com/qPlS2GiJXo

— Chance Sorrell (@Chanman158811) April 5, 2014

Fans find themselves waiting eagerly for Franklin's signature tweet, indicating he and his staff have received yet another verbal commitment:

#WeAre...Better #107kStrong #PSUnrivaled

— James Franklin (@coachjfranklin) March 25, 2014

He consistently preaches about family and building relationships, then goes as far as to wish his players happy birthday on Twitter. 

Wanted to take the time to wish a member of OUR family Happy B-Day, @KG_III, enjoy your day! #PSUnrivaled #107kStrong #WeAre #FamilyReunion

— James Franklin (@coachjfranklin) April 8, 2014

In a nutshell, Franklin never misses an opportunity to be noticed by fans and recruits, and both are currently eating out of the palm of his hand.

In fact, Penn State's 16th head coach was doing work for Penn State before the job was even available. 

When it was first rumored that Franklin could be the successor to Bill O'Brien, 2014 commit Michael O'Connor gushed about his relationship with the coach while he was at Vanderbilt, telling me:

I got to sit down and meet with Coach Franklin in his office. He's a great coach and I have a lot of respect for him. We'll see where it goes but he'd be a great hire for Penn State and it was an honor to be recruited by him.

Penn State's current recruiting class sits at the top of the Big Ten and in the top five, nationally. According to 247Sports Composite ratings, Franklin has already landed verbal commitments from eight 4-star recruits in the 2015 class. 

That's three more than last year's entire class, and Franklin has almost 10 months left with which to work.

Along with being an excellent recruiter, he's a tireless promoter, and his sense of awareness is uncanny.

During Penn State's pro day on Tuesday, a picture surfaced of Franklin with Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin and Eagles head coach Chip Kelly. There were more than 20 coaches in attendance, and Franklin likely spoke to each of them. Still, the majority of his 70,000 followers on Twitter, specifically his target demographic of Pennsylvania high schoolers, are fans of either the Eagles or the Steelers—a fact that Franklin fully comprehends.

Penn State Pro Day attendees. #DominatingtheState with the @Eagles & @steelers coaches. pic.twitter.com/v7VqzBYUdB

Penn State Football (@PennStateFball) April 8, 2014

That tweet was re-tweeted nearly 600 times in less than 24 hours.

Franklin is engaging and trustworthy, while exuding confidence without coming across as cocky. Several of the players on the team were recruited by Franklin while he was at Vanderbilt or Maryland.

Safety Adrian Amos told Adam Rittenberg of ESPN about his recruiting relationship with the passionate Franklin: "He's that person all the time. That's very important. It builds a little bit of trust. You know what you're getting."

Left tackle Donovan Smith added "Being a big recruit, coaches would tell you things just because. Coach Franklin always kept it real. Genuine since day one." 

Not much has changed with Franklin's approach to recruiting.

Verbally committed 3-star linebacker Jake Cooper told Nick Polak of BlackShoeDiaries.com that when he committed, "Coach Franklin ran out of his office down the hallway screaming that I committed, and everybody came up Coach Spencer gave me a chest bump, a lot of people gave me hugs, it was great."

Whether it's a production of his wide receiver coach running a 40-yard dash or a signing-day party hosted by Mike Mauti and Lavar Arrington, Franklin wants everyone to know that something special is going on at Penn State, and only the fortunate will be involved.

He has managed to build a bridge to the future while embracing the past and has Penn State football on an upward trend that it hasn't experienced in decades.

#DominateTheStateS, #DominateBeaver, #DominateGradRates, #DominateTogether, #DominateBlue&WhiteGame, #DominateTicketSales, #PSUnrivaled

— James Franklin (@coachjfranklin) March 30, 2014

Franklin understands that perception is reality while success breeds success, and he is using those two bits of knowledge to build momentum before ever stepping on the sideline at Beaver Stadium.

He's telling you that Penn State football is back and you believe him, because it's true.

Penn State Football 2014 - A New Era Begins: http://t.co/6hkcAXi6nF #PSUnrivaled #107kStrong

— James Franklin (@coachjfranklin) April 3, 2014

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SEC Reportedly Sets Record Tax Return of $314.5 Million

SEC football is indeed doing well in the fiscal department, setting a conference record with a tax return that listed $314.5 million in revenue for the 2012-13 season, according to a report from Steve Berkowitz of USA Today.

That season—the SEC's first with Texas A&M and Missouri—included the college birth of Heisman winner Johnny Manziel, featured one of the best conference championship games in recent memory (which featured Alabama and Georgia) and saw Nick Saban's Crimson Tide win the national championship in coasting fashion over Notre Dame, 42-14.

Not a bad year, huh.

Per the report, the increase in revenue also helped increase the salary of commissioner Mike Slive by 25 percent, up to nearly $1.2 million for the reported year.

Despite the big increase in revenue, however, the report also found the the conference lost money on the whole:

Even with the conference's overall revenue increase, it reported losing money for the fiscal year that ended Aug. 31, 2013. Its return listed $317.9 million in total expenses, resulting in a nearly $3.4 million deficit for the year – an amount it covered from accumulated net assets that had totaled more than $46 million as of Aug. 31, 2012.

Wednesday morning SEC officials were traveling and could not be reached for immediate comment.

Despite the unexpected jump—according to The Kansas City Star, the conference reported a number roughly $25 million lower in May 2013—the SEC still lags behind the Big Ten in terms of revenue production. According to the report, the B1G reported $315.5 million of revenue for the period that ended in June 2012.

The revenue created was distributed mostly evenly between the SEC's 14 schools. The two Big 12 transplants, Texas A&M and Missouri, each received around $19.5 million in their first cut of the SEC pool—a drastic increase over the last cut from their former conference—while the other 12 programs received an even $21 million.

It's a good day to run a football program down south.

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South Carolina Football: What to Watch for in Gamecocks' 2014 Spring Game

South Carolina head coach Steve Spurrier has led the Gamecocks to three straight 11-win seasons—the first three 11-win seasons in program history.

What does he have to show for it?

Zero SEC East titles over that same stretch, with his last coming in 2010 when the Gamecocks were 9-5 and 5-3 in conference.

They've missed out on a trip to the Georgia Dome in early December during the most prosperous time in program history, but that could change this season thanks to running back Mike Davis, a potentially potent offense and an underrated defense that could surprise the pundits.

South Carolina will hold its annual spring game at noon on Saturday, and in it, we'll get a glimpse of what the 2014 Gamecocks will look like.

What you need to watch out for on Saturday:

 

Just How Good is Dylan Thompson?

Dylan Thompson has proven throughout his career that he's a viable backup and reliable fill-in as the South Carolina starting quarterback when injuries forced former starter Connor Shaw out.

But just how good is he as "the man?"

The last time we saw Thompson in extended playing time, he was woefully inconsistent on the road at Missouri and was bailed out by Shaw, who came off the bench with an injured knee.

He needs a little bit more attention than other unquestioned starters in the SEC, and he got that attention during Saturday's scrimmage.

"All the quarterbacks did some good things here and there," head coach Steve Spurrier said in a release from South Carolina. "Dylan Thompson is coming around. Dylan hasn't played as much as sometimes we think he has. So he got a little extra (work) in today."

With Davis to rely on behind him, Thompson doesn't have to be a superstar. But he does have to make smart decisions, deliver the ball on time and on target and keep opposing defenses honest by stretching the field.

If he shows that he can do all of those things consistently, then the Gamecocks' offense will be fine, and it could resemble those that Spurrier was successful with at Florida in the 1990s. 

 

Who Will Step Up in the Trenches?

South Carolina lost three starters off of last season's defensive line, including star defensive end Jadeveon Clowney, fellow defensive end Chaz Sutton and defensive tackle Kelcy Quarles. That leaves the door wide open for unknown players to step forward.

Defensive tackle J.T. Surratt is the lone returning starter of the bunch. Around him, defensive ends Gerald Dixon, Darius English and Cedrick Cooper will battle a host of Gamecocks for playing time; and Gerald Dixon Jr., Deon Green, Phillip Dukes and Abu Lamin are just a few of several players hoping to create depth in the new-look defensive line.

It's been a battle all month, and Green is one player who has been making strides.

"He's done a great job the past couple of practices," defensive line coach Deke Adams said last week in quotes from South Carolina. "He's really developing, doing what we ask him to do. You can tell he's healthy. He's done a good job. But right now it's a battle in there. Nobody's just really stood out and said 'hey, it's my job.' They're all fighting."

Great teams don't just have superstars up front on defense—they have depth. This spring has been all about building that depth for defensive coordinator Lorenzo Ward. If that depth shows up on Saturday inside Williams-Brice Stadium, it will go a long way towards solidifying the defense for a 2014 title run.

 

Deep Threats

While Bruce Ellington was busy getting ready for the NFL draft, his former teammates at South Carolina have been busy trying to figure out who's going to replace him as the top receiver in Columbia.

Who's going to step up?

Shaq Roland is a likely candidate. The 6'1", 185-pound junior came on strong down the stretch last season, gaining 224 yards and scoring two touchdowns over the final three games of the season, including 112 receiving yards in the Capital One Bowl win over Wisconsin.

Damiere Byrd has been rehabbing from a knee injury that kept him out of the bowl game, which has left the door open for Nick Jones, Pharoh Cooper, K.J. Brent and others to step up and impress the coaching staff this spring.

 

Secondary Struggles

One of the bigger holes in South Carolina's defense is at cornerback, where Victor Hampton jumped early, and the quest to fill it is apparently taking more time than Ward first envisioned. He expressed some frustration on the progress of the South Carolina defensive backs following Saturday's scrimmage.

"I think we're getting a lot better at safety," Ward said in South Carolina's post-practice quotes. "We've still got a ways to go at corner. We haven't progressed as well as I would have liked in the secondary."

Sophomores Rico McWilliams and Jamari Smith, and senior Sidney Rhodes are all vying for playing time, with redshirt freshman Ali Groves—a projected starter according to South Carolina's pre-spring depth chart—still recovering from shoulder surgery.

There's a remarkable lack of depth at corner for the Gamecocks. Whoever steps up in the spring game will likely have the inside track at starting once toe meets leather this fall.

 

* Barrett Sallee is the lead SEC college football writer for Bleacher Report. 

 


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How the NFL's Devaluation of the Running Back Could Impact College Football

Coming off the best season of his career—in which he finished fifth in the NFL in yards from scrimmage—26-year-old Knowshon Moreno hit the NFL free-agent market with momentum and in his prime.

He was greeted by resounding silence.

There were no takers on a long-term deal and interest in his services was minimal. Instead of cashing in on a bank-busting contract, Moreno settled for a one-year, $3 million contract with the Miami Dolphins, according to ESPN.com.

Settling for $3 million is something we can only dream of. And while Moreno will take home a small fortune simply by playing the game he loves, this contract served as an eye-opener: One of the most productive offensive players in the league—playing for a team that made the Super Bowl—was unable to secure work beyond a one-year commitment.

The position hasn’t necessarily changed, but its perceived value certainly has. As NFL teams line up to give out huge guarantees to offensive and defensive linemen who are by no means stars, productive backs with miles such as Moreno, Maurice Jones-Drew, Ben Tate, Darren McFadden and LeGarrette Blount are no longer prime properties.

In all, these five backs received nine years in NFL contracts valued at a combined $23.1 million. In comparison, former New York Jet offensive lineman Austin Howard—a decent, but not specular player—received a five-year, $30 million contract from the Raiders, with half the amount guaranteed.

Thus the devaluation of the position comes full circle, swiftly and without much warning. And as ball-carriers struggle for work at the professional level, one can’t help but wonder if this will eventually impact college football.

“I don't see this happening yet, but it will eventually,” said Matt Miller, Bleacher Report's NFL Draft Lead Writer, when asked if running backs at the college level will be impacted. “I've spoken to many of the top running backs in the 2014 draft class, and they are all amazed at how devalued their position is.”

Such trends certainly have traceable origins. Spread offenses—and an overall stress on moving the ball through the air—have become common practice at all levels of football. The age of offense is upon us, and such scoreboard destruction typically doesn’t come through repetitive ground-and-pound.

Changes in offensive philosophy also coincide with a shrinking window of quality production. The miles accumulated over time—through Pop Warner, high school and college—seem to be taking a toll on players earlier than ever before. Perhaps it’s the increased size of the players, or the strain at the lower levels. Or, maybe we’re assuming players are running out of gas earlier than ever because that’s what this building perception tells us to think.

It’s the only job in the world where you’re considered past your prime at the ripe age of 27. And that’s where the trickle down into college (and even high school) could start to snowball.

“This is something I'm watching very closely, because it's too early to know if it's a phase or the new rule,” Miller said when talking about the impact of the position at lower levels. “I still see the best teams in the NFL running the ball a ton. That leads me to think that the NFL will still value an elite running back in the right spot, but in a draft class without an Adrian Peterson-level prospect, we aren't seeing teams overvalue or reach for a back.”

Miller sees these players at the end of their recruiting cycle when they’re already entrenched at a particular position. JC Shurburtt, the national recruiting director at 247Sports, sees these athletes at a different point in their development cycle. In many ways, it’s his job to project what their eventual NFL worth will be.

Shurburtt has covered recruiting through its various phases. He’s watched position values shift over time and adjusted his evaluations accordingly. And while the perception of the running back appears to be evolving before our eyes, Shurburtt doesn’t believe such changes will be felt at the college ranks just yet.

“I don't think the talent level will change,” Shurburtt said on the position. “Coaches will still put their best players at running back at the high school level to move the football and score points. What I think could change is athletes having a better awareness of position fit moving forward and not being as concerned with the glory associated with carrying the football.”

Case in point is Michigan commit Jabrill Peppers, the No. 1 athlete in the class of 2014 and the No. 3 player overall, according to 247Sports. Peppers, at 6’1” and 205 pounds, runs a 4.4-second 40 and could be a dominant force for the Wolverines at running back.

Don’t just take my word for it. Allow an entire high school defense to show you exactly what Peppers is capable of with the ball in his hands. This came from a scrimmage in 2013.

Instead of carrying the ball 25 times a game, however, Peppers will play at cornerback in Ann Arbor where he projects out as an elite prospect. He’ll likely still get touches—perhaps on special teams or an offensive touch on occasion—but defense will be his area of focus.

In this instance, Peppers’ path is a product of his deep repertoire of talents and physical gifts. Finding that elite, shutdown corner—something many believe he will eventually become—has proven to be incredibly difficult for teams at every level. And while he could play exclusively at running back and dominate at the position, there are other players with similar physical attributes capable of carrying the ball.

“If I were a 5’9,” 190-pound high schooler with good hips and ball skills, I could be a small back in a spread system or a great cornerback with high draft value,” Shurburtt noted. “With these choices, I think I’m going cornerback.”

The choice isn’t always theirs. Coaches will oftentimes decide this path when a recruit arrives on campus for the first time. Most of the elite players in the country do spectacular things at multiple positions in high school. Determining where they’re best suited at the college level is often decided by fit, system and roster necessity.

If passing attacks continue to eat up more of the production pie, perhaps this will drive younger players to other positions. Maybe, in time, one of the most glorified positions in all of sports will lose some of its luster. We’re still a long way out from seeing this dramatic overhaul, though.

Look at Leonard Fournette, the No. 2 overall player on 247Sports in the class of 2014 and a running back many believe is the best prospect the sport has seen since Adrian Peterson.

While such lofty praise may seem excessive and early, the talent and physical makeup is there. Outside of Fournette, the 2014 running back recruiting class is loaded with potential stars.

"In 2014, we had Fournette and then a slew of outstanding backs that ranked between No. 15 and No. 50 overall nationally," Shurburtt said. "Dalvin Cook, Joe Mixon, Royce Freeman, Nick Chubb, Sony Michel, Elijah Hood and Roc Thomas all could have been the No. 1 running back prospect in the country in a different cycle."

There are still a surprising amount of developed 18-year-olds weighing in well over 200 pounds capable of running a sub-4.5-second 40 once they hit campus. And not all these players will suddenly flock to cornerback or safety over a recent string of unfair contracts. 

The running back situation at the college level, at least for the time being, is in very good hands.

Hopefully NFL teams will value running backs like they once did. In the meantime, most hopeful recruits and student athletes think the idea of $3 million for 12 months of work doesn't sound too shabby.

 

*Adam Kramer is the lead college football writer for Bleacher Report. Unless otherwise noted, all quotes were obtained firsthand. You can follow him on Twitter here.

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Georgia Football: 5 Players to Watch in Bulldogs' Spring Game

With Georgia's annual G-Day spring game just a few short days away, fans anxiously await the opportunity to witness the team's progress firsthand.

On the defensive side of the ball, there's plenty to monitor as new defensive coordinator Jeremy Pruitt and his band of new assistants will roll out the first rendition of the Dawgs' new defense. From what's been said thus far, the scheme is faster and simpler than what was coordinated by Todd Grantham in years past.

Offensively, senior quarterback Hutson Mason is continuing to settle in as he embraces his role under center as a full-time starter. He has plenty of weapons to utilize, but is he developing lasting chemistry with his fellow offensive stars?

With so many moving pieces and a plethora of personnel expected to see the field, fans should focus on these five players as a litmus test of Georgia's spring improvements. 

Here are the five Bulldogs to watch in Saturday's spring game as prioritized by their potential impact this fall.

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Alabama Football: Derrick Henry Poised for a Breakout Year in 2014

TUSCALOOSA, Ala.— University of Alabama junior linebacker Reggie Ragland has an interesting way to describe a collision in the hole with sophomore running back Derrick Henry: “Peaceful.”

Say what?

“We're coming in, we're going to thud each other real hard because right now we can't take each other down to the ground,” he answered. “But it's mean and peaceful, I can tell you that.”

Ragland was referring to Nick Saban’s practice policy of no tackling during practices, just thudding and not wrapping up unless it’s a scrimmage or live drill. Yet they can still be pretty violent, especially when the guy with the ball may be as big or bigger than the person trying to stop him.

“He's 6'4", 240 and runs like a 5'10" guy,” said Ragland, who is listed on the Crimson Tide’s spring roster as being 6’2”, 257 pounds. “So he's a big guy. A lot of people are scared to tackle him.”

Henry even wears a size 14 shoe, and yes, he could tell during the Sugar Bowl that some of the Oklahoma players wanted nothing to do with him during his breakout performance. While backing up T.J. Yeldon for the first time the then-true freshman tallied 100 rushing yards on eight carries, including a 43-yard touchdown, and scored again on his first reception, going 61 yards off a short completion.

It made fans wonder why the Crimson Tide coaches hadn’t give him touches like that from the start of last season, but Henry concedes that he wasn’t ready. The consensus 5-star prospect who was named the 2012 national player of the year by MaxPreps, the Maxwell Club and Parade magazine believed that his success in high school would simply translate to the next level, only to quickly learn otherwise.

“During my first practice here, I was like 'Oh snap. Everybody's flying around,’” he said. “It was kind of crazy.”

The “snap” wasn’t merely from just one moment, rather, “Everybody. Linemen. Linemen moving fast. I was like 'Oh my God. Everybody moving fast.' Linebackers. Everybody was moving fast. I was like 'Good God.'”

After a while things started slowing down, but the early enrollee missed the second half of last spring due to a fractured fibula. When fall rolled around Henry was still making the adjustment, which showed during the season opener against Virginia Tech in the Georgia Dome, where he struggled in pass protection and was quickly pulled.

At the end of the regular season, Henry had just 27 attempts for 282 yards and two touchdowns, but despite the 10.4 average per carry wasn’t a factor in the regular offense. That changed when Alabama went back to basics at the start of bowl practices, and the rookie no longer felt overwhelmed.

“Just running the ball better and being more comfortable, playing fast, blitz pickup,” he said. “Blitz pickup was one of my biggest struggles because in high school you don't really have to pick up the blitz because we ran the ball most of the time.”

It was right around Christmas, before the Crimson Tide headed to New Orleans, that things began to really click.

Henry was subsequently promoted to second string and instead of getting mop-up duty entered the Sugar Bowl in the first quarter. Even though the Sooners eventually won 45-31, the 161 all-purpose yards led all players and he attracted the most postgame buzz.

“No, it didn’t surprise me,” said Jalston Fowler, who has gone from strictly being a running back to more of a fullback and tight end. “He worked his butt off. The kid is always working. I mean always. Whether he’s getting extra in or lifting weights, he’s doing something extra because he wants to be great."

“He’s running a lot harder, trying to run people over out there. He’s a big bull out there.”

With a massive amount of momentum on his side Henry aims to build on that performance and Saban has only offered praise when asked about him by reporters this spring, a surefire indicator that he’s poised to contribute more. However, the coach also made a point to say that Yeldon and junior Kenyan Drake have been “outstanding” as well.

Yeldon is just the fifth player in Alabama history to have multiple 1,000-yard rushing seasons, while Drake was second in team rushing last year with 694 yards on 92 carries and is just 25 short of 1,000 career yards.

That each of the three has a very different style as a running back, with Drake showing the best burst and Henry a freakish combination of power and speed, gives Lane Kiffin a nasty three-pronged attack at the position. They can all catch well too, as does Fowler, gives the new offensive coordinator even more options in play-calling and chances to get them the ball in space or with just one man on them.

“It humbled me,” Henry said about his initial season. “Everything isn't just going to come to you. You have to work for it. You have to take time. This is college football so it's more technique. You have to put more effort into by watching film and really paying attention to the little things like (running backs coach Burton) Burns and Coach Saban preach. That's what I had to do to be able to get on the field and that's what I did.”

 

Christopher Walsh is the lead Alabama football writer for Bleacher Report. All quotes were obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted. 

Follow @CrimsonWalsh

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Texas Tech Coach Kliff Kingsbury Admits Single Moms of Recruits Flirt with Him

Parents can sometimes influence where their high school kid goes to college, so a college coach has to be willing to make a connection with the recruit's family during visits. Some coaches have it easier than others, however.

Texas Tech coach Kliff Kingsbury is one of the most popular coaches in college football, but his popularity has nothing to do with his team's performance on the football field. The 34-year-old receives a lot of attention because he bears a striking resemblance to actor Ryan Gosling.

As it turns out, his looks play a role in his recruiting visits.

Kingsbury appeared on The Dan Le Batard Show on Tuesday. For those who aren't familiar with Dan Le Batard, he is always willing to ask random questions to his guests that help make the interviews entertaining. 

The highlight of the interview came when Le Batard asked the Red Raiders coach if any of his recruits' single moms ever flirted with him. The coach's response, via CoachingSearch.com's Chris Vannini, is classic.

“Yeah,” Kingsbury said, laughing. “You’ve got to play to your strengths. So I kind of encourage that a little bit. It’s part of the deal.”

The Texas Tech coach also gave his thoughts on being compared to Gosling.

“I’ll take that one," Kingsbury said. "It can be worse, for sure.”

Based on what he said, it certainly helps to look like the actor.

[H/t Larry Brown Sports]

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Wisconsin Football: All Eyes on QB Tanner McEvoy in Badgers' Spring Game

It's nothing major, but Wisconsin quarterback Joel Stave has been shelved for the Badgers' spring game this Saturday. 

The cause?

Lingering shoulder soreness from an injury that knocked him out of the Capital One Bowl against South Carolina. 

Stave said Tuesday, via Jeff Potrykus of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel:

It's nothing real serious. I've been throwing for many practices this spring and I felt pretty good. But it's just precautionary. There's some swelling and we don't play a game until August so right now is not the time to push it too much.

Stave is confident he'll be throwing in time for voluntary summer workouts, and it shouldn't have any carryover into preseason camp. Though Stave was technically the No. 1 quarterback heading into spring, he was limited for the first six practices because of the injury. 

In the meantime, all eyes will be on quarterback Tanner McEvoy in the Badgers' spring game. 

It's a small window to prove he should be the starting quarterback, but it's a window nonetheless. Spring games are a chance for players to showcase themselves in front of a crowd, even though they have little resemblance of an actual game.

McEvoy arrived in Madison last year as a highly touted dual-threat quarterback from Arizona Western College. However, he ultimately moved to safety after failing to make an early impact at quarterback in preseason camp. McEvoy played in 11 games, starting three. 

Stave had an inconsistent season in 2013, namely in losses to Arizona State and Penn State, when he completed, on average, 52 percent of his passes for four touchdowns and three picks. In December, head coach Gary Andersen explained his decision to give McEvoy another crack at quarterback. 

Via Tom Mulhern of the Wisconsin State Journal

We’ll do everything we can, just like every position, I always say, continually try and create competition. Tanner deserves that right. This is an opportunity for him to get out there and play (quarterback) in these practices. … He’ll do that at quarterback, then he does go right back to safety when our main guys, the travel kids, start practicing. He’s our starting safety for now.

Will a year in Wisconsin's system be enough for McEvoy to finally inch closer to Stave? If McEvoy has a solid spring game running and throwing, he's going to create an interesting debate during the summer months. 

It could also mean an intense competition that carries into August. 

 

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

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Auburn Football: Meet the Tigers' Wild Card Running Back, Peyton Barber

Call him the man in the middle.

On paper, senior running backs Cameron Artis-Payne and Corey Grant are the favorites to replace NFL-bound Heisman Trophy finalist Tre Mason as the feature back of Auburn's high-octane rushing attack.

Both the powerful Artis-Payne and the speedy Grant played significant roles in the Tigers offense, getting important carries even after Mason's breakout stretch halfway through the 2013 season.

But Artis-Payne and Grant, who are both looking to expand their specific skill sets this spring in hopes of grabbing Mason's spot, will only be on the Plains for one more year. Who will replace the production of Auburn's dynamic backfield duo after next season?

Enter Racean "Roc" Thomas, a 5-star running back and the state of Alabama's Mr. Football award winner for the 2013 season. When the explosive Thomas arrives on campus this summer, he will enter with tremendous hype from Auburn fans following his 2,211-yard, 32-touchdown senior season in Alabama's highest level of high school football.

However, Auburn's running back of the future might already be on campus, getting a chance to break out this season.

Peyton Barber is the true wild card of Auburn's running back battle this spring. While many Auburn fans are looking to either Artis-Payne or Grant as the feature back of 2014, Barber has gotten equal reps with the rising seniors as a redshirt freshman.

"[Barber] is getting a lot of reps, which is good," Auburn head coach Gus Malzahn said after last Saturday's scrimmage, one where Barber recorded a rushing touchdown. "He definitely needs reps with different groups. You can see he’s improving. He wants to be good, and he’s a tough guy."

Barber's toughness was on full display last season, when he impressed coaches and teammates as a scout team running back.

"Being a scout team guy, you learn a lot," Malzahn said earlier this spring. "Those are situations that usually make or break a lot of guys that are young. They either get tough and fight through it or they go the other way."

Barber fought through it, and now he is in the running for a starting job without recording a single carry in a college game.

The former 3-star running back from Alpharetta, Ga., received the highest praise from the player he hopes to replace as Auburn's star running back.

"[Barber] is probably, skill wise, the best out of all of us," Mason told AL.com's Brandon Marcello before the BCS National Championship Game in January. "That guy is good. He's very consistent when he's scrimmaging. He's very consistent."

Although he has not been available to speak to the media this season, several of Barber's teammates have told reporters he has continued to shine in spring camp.

I’ve been hearing from some of the defense that Peyton is untouchable," tight end C.J. Uzomah said. "Going against our first team all last year helps him tremendously as a running back. I think that helped him adjust to the game and adjust to the speed.”

Standing at 5'11" and 225 pounds, Barber's physique and running style is similar to Mason's, especially after Barber developed more elusiveness to go along with his powerful nature last season.

"Peyton's a big kid," starting left guard Alex Kozan said. "Peyton's freaky."

Perhaps that freaky talent and Mason-like frame could make Peyton Barber the surprise story of the preseason.

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

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4 Unanswered Questions Heading into South Carolina's Spring Game

It's almost time for the Gamecocks' football season to really get back on the radar as South Carolina's spring game approaches. 

This Saturday, the Gamecocks will showcase how they have progressed throughout the spring in the Garnet and Black game. 

While the team has made long strides this spring, there are still some unanswered questions lingering around this football team. 

These questions have been the persistent topics throughout the offseason, and some could get answered during the spring game. 

Here are the four unanswered questions heading into South Carolina's spring game. 

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