NCAA Football News

Ole Miss Football: Could Distractions Derail Rebels' 2015 Season?

HOOVER, Ala. — After his lengthy introductory remarks, the opening question for Ole Miss coach Hugh Freeze in the main room at SEC media days was a two-parter, the first of which had to do with shoes. 

That’s right, shoes. As in, after rival coaches Dan Mullen and Bret Bielema drew attention with their shoe war this week, “do you have an entry?”

“I'm a pretty simple guy,” Freeze responded. “I'm going to wear my Johnston Murphys from Williams Brothers, the general store down in Philadelphia, Mississippi. You should try the baloney and bacon there for sure too. It's quite fine.”

While that answer was telling for those who aren’t familiar with Freeze, his reply to the second part was more important regarding this season, about dealing with rising pressure and growing expectations.

“I think it's important that you have a great definition for success, and mine is probably a bit different than what you hear,” said Freeze, who during his first three seasons has led steady growth, as the Rebels went from 7-6 to 8-5 and 9-4.

“I don't know that you can define if I've been successful or not in the time that I've been at Ole Miss. I'm sure it can be argued that we have, but I think the real success would be how are our guys doing 20 years from now? Were we successful then? I mean, there will come a point where people will forget about the wins. I know I get defined about that. That doesn't mean I have to define myself by that.”

Regardless, while the team’s manta for 2015 is “Chasing Greatness,” Freeze didn’t talk a lot about football on Thursday—or at least not enough. From NCAA investigators to the Rebels' nickname, he’s been spending a lot of time dealing with the other things that can occur with rising programs—distractions.

Arrests, transfers and agent issues happen everywhere, but the problems and impacts seem to multiply when you start winning at this level.

“I really have struggled with some of that as we've moved forward,” Freeze said. “Man, I've come to one conclusion. You control what you can control, and you cannot worry about the rest of it.”

Nevertheless, Freeze took time to comment on the Confederate flag controversy that’s again gripping his home state. Both Ole Miss and Mississippi State have issued statements in support of changing the state flag, which has featured the Confederate emblem since 1894, and the NCAA has long maintained it will not hold its championships in states that fly the flag.

Yet it’s hardly a new issue, dating back to before Tommy Tuberville was the football coach and Rob Evans headed the men’s basketball program two decades ago.

“In the late '90s, our school made a move in a direction away from the flag, so our school has kind of made up its mind of where it's at,” Freeze said. “I'm a Mississippian. No one understands the pride of the people of that state and the heritage of that state any better than I do.

"While I'm not a political figure, that symbol has been hijacked somewhat by groups that have meant ill-will toward other people. I think it's time that we move in a different direction with the state flag.”

Freeze also had to talk extensively about Laremy Tunsil’s eligibility, even though there wasn’t anything new. Specifically, the NCAA is looking into allegations made by his stepfather, Lindsey Miller, that the starting left tackle had already had extensive contact with sports agents and whether his recruitment included any improper benefits.

With Tunsil considered one of the best offensive linemen in the nation and a strong preseason candidate for the Outland Trophy, his status could be crucial to the Rebels’ hopes this fall.

Moreover, dealing with such an issue is sort of new territory for Freeze.

“I've heard Coach [Nick] Saban and Coach [Les] Miles and others say, 'guys, we've got an issue brewing with these kids and agents and things,'” he explained. “So now I'm experiencing it, and it is very difficult to manage. You want your kids to be focused on the task at hand, and the fact that you want them to understand that the only thing that can do anything for you right now is your resume that you're going to put on the field.

“You hope that other professionals who are trying to get to them would respect that, and some do. I don't know that I have the exact answer, but it is a concern for sure that that can be a distraction for your kids.”

At this point of the annual media gauntlet, Freeze looked like he would have done almost anything to get a question about the season opener against Tennessee-Martin or the Week 3 rematch with Alabama, the team it knocked off at No. 1 in 2014. Instead, before he could leave the podium there was yet another question about the flag.

Almost completely overshadowed was the good news that wide receiver Laquon Treadwell has recovered well from his horrific injury (broken leg and dislocated ankle) sustained against Auburn last year and the quarterback competition that will continue during training camp.

But that’s what comes with success in the SEC.

 

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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Georgia Football Recruiting: Previewing UGA's 'Dawg Night' Camp

With the 2015 season kicking off next month, the book is almost closed on the offseason camp circuit.

However, a few schools are still expecting visitors to drop by until the end of this month—with Georgia’s ‘Dawg Night’ camp this weekend being one of the major events left on the calendar.

Head coach Mark Richt and his staff will have a number of the nation’s top prospects on campus this weekend.

As noted by Rusty Mansell of Dawgs247, more than 10 5-stars in the 2016 and 2017 classes are scheduled to be in Athens this weekend—including a trio of current commitments in quarterback Jacob Eason, offensive lineman Ben Cleveland and defensive tackle Julian Rochester.

There will be a few storylines to watch for Bulldogs fans. Let’s delve into a few of them in his preview of ‘Dawg Night.'

 

The Impact

As noted by Bleacher Report’s Andrew Hall, the 2016 class was jump-started at last year’s ‘Dawg Night’ camp when Eason and Cleveland both pulled the trigger and became the first two members of the 2016 class.

It’s not out of the question for the Bulldogs commit list—whether it be for the 2016 class or beyond—to grow in the aftermath of the camp.

The benefits of getting a large number of elite prospects on camp could also prove fruitful down the line.

If Georgia is to make a run at landing a top-five class, this weekend could play a pivotal role in laying the groundwork for the push toward an elite class.

 

Commits Coming in to Work

Eason and Cleveland are just two of the current 2016 Bulldogs commits who are scheduled to attend.

In fact, the majority of Georgia’s 12 commits are expected to be at Dawg Night—with 4-star receiver pledge Darion Anderson the only one who has confirmed he won’t attend due to his desire to rehab from a recent knee surgery, as noted by Jeff Sentell of the AJC.

Aside from getting on campus and working with their future coaches, there’s another added benefit for Georgia in having its current pledges in town over the weekend.

Given the wealth of uncommitted prospects on campus, players such as Eason will undoubtedly lend a helping hand to the coaching staff in pitching the ‘Dawgs to top prospects in attendance.

In particular, at The Opening last week, Eason mentioned his plans to be in the ear of top targets at Dawg Night.

“All the Georgia boys that are going down there, I’m sure there will be a lot of Georgia guys,” Eason told Bleacher Report. “Whoever is down there and whoever I see that I like, I will try to work on them.”

 

Top Targets on Deck

In-state prospects such as 5-star receiver Kyle Davis, 5-star defensive tackle Derrick Brown, 4-star athlete Demetris Robertson and 4-star athlete Mecole Hardman are among the players who Richt and his staff have been aggressively recruiting for quite some time.

Landing those players are pivotal to Georgia’s quest to make a run at landing the SEC’s top class.

However, there are a few heavy-hitters hailing from outside the Peach State that are likely to be wooed by Richt and his staff—headlined by 5-star defensive tackle and No. 1 overall prospect Rashan Gary.

At The Opening last week, Gary spoke on his attraction to the Bulldogs program.

“That’s SEC ball,” Gary told Bleacher Report. “[Georgia] put a lot of players in the NFL with their style of defense. When I went there the first time, we talked about scheme and I like how I fit into their scheme.”

Another interesting player to watch is 5-star tight end and current Florida State pledge Isaac Nauta

Nauta was one of the more vocal recruiters for the Seminoles last week at The Opening, so flipping him may be a long shot. However, as Mansell noted, it is his second trip to Athens in a few weeks time, and he has some connections to the Bulldogs program. 

 

Tracking the Future

While a host of elite rising seniors will make their way to Athens, there will also be a number of touted underclassmen who will also be on campus this weekend.

Leading the crop of prospects from the 2017 class is 5-star in-state corner Deangelo Gibbs.

The 6’2”, 204-pounder was one of the few juniors invited to The Opening, and he was named one of the top corners at the event, according to 247Sports.

Another 2017 defensive back who turned heads at The Opening was 4-star athlete Jamyest Williams—who will be accompanying a few of his prep teammates from Archer High School in Lawrenceville, Georgia.

Williams recently released his list of Top 10 schools, and the homestanding Bulldogs surprisingly came in on the low end of it at No. 9.

As he told Chris Kirschner of the AJC, that’s because he hasn’t been told where Richt and his staff would like him to play, should he choose the Bulldogs.

“To be honest, I really don’t know where Georgia will play me at,” Williams said. “I don’t know if they want me to play offense or defense, so I would like a clear answer from them.”

Another pair of visitors to watch are a pair of out-of-state studs in 5-star running back Anthony McFarland and 5-star safety Jeffrey Okudah.

With quality prospects across the board in different classes bound for Georgia this weekend, the news coming out of Athens in the coming days is sure to send waves throughout the recruiting universe.

 

Sanjay Kirpalani is a National Recruiting Analyst for Bleacher Report. Unless otherwise noted, all quotes obtained firsthand and all recruiting information courtesy of 247Sports.

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Auburn Football: Why Austin Golson Will Be Tigers' X-Factor in 2015

Replacing an all-time great at the second most important position for the Auburn offense, sophomore center Austin Golson will be the Tigers’ X-factor for the 2015-16 season. 

The Prattville, Alabama native began his career at Ole Miss, where he played in 12 games as a true freshman, mostly at guard. After transferring to Auburn to be closer to home, Golson worked at center for the scout team towards the end of last season, which he had to sit out, per the NCAA’s transfer rules. 

After a strong spring practice, Golson emerged as the likely starter at center for this upcoming season. However, he will have some massive shoes to fill. 

Reese Dismukes had arguably the best career of any center in Auburn’s storied history. A four-year starter, Dismukes started at center for 50 games and missed only one game due to injury. He also was twice named first team all-SEC, and as a senior was named a consensus All-American and winner of the Rimington Award as the nation’s best center. 

In May, offensive coordinator Rhett Lashlee said Dismukes, now a member of the Pittsburgh Steelers, will be the toughest player Auburn has to replace going into this season, according to AL.com’s Mike Herndon

"He was the leader for us up front,” Lashlee said. “He made all the calls. With what we do, playing faster and we still make a lot of calls, that center, he's almost as vital as our quarterback. There was a lot that Reese took on and handled very well." 

Head coach Gus Malzahn also stressed how important the center position is in Auburn’s offense, and he is confident Golson can get the job done, per Ryan Black of the Columbus Ledger-Enquirer. 

"He looked pretty good, so from a center's standpoint, it's very important to what we do," Malzahn said. "It's almost like another quarterback as far as everything we ask him to do with our no-huddle scheme and the pace that we play, to ID and all that. We're going to give him an opportunity." 

Malzahn then reinforced his confidence in Golson, who measures in at 6’5” and 304 pounds, at SEC Media Day, according to the Clarion Ledger’s Riley Blevins: 

As the center, Golson will be responsible for reading the defense and calling out any changes in the blocking scheme. He will also have to be completely in sync with new quarterback Jeremy Johnson in order to run Auburn’s no-huddle offense correctly. 

Johnson seems very comfortable working with Golson, according to Black. 

“I love all my linemen, but that's one of my closest linemen because he's the center," Johnson said of Golson. "I've been knowing him for a while and he's going to be great at center." 

Johnson better hope Golson can come through, because if the center falters at all this season, the offense may struggle.

In addition to a new quarterback, Auburn must replace its leading rusher in Cameron Artis-Payne, and the team only has one other player, Golson’s backup, senior Xavier Dampeer, with any significant time at the offensive line position. 

Golson showed he has the ability to play the position effectively during Auburn’s spring game. Take a look at the highlights of that game and keep an eye on No. 73, who played the whole game with the starting offense. 

Johnson was very well-protected throwing the ball and finished the game with 252 yards and two touchdowns. The running game was inconsistent, but sophomore Roc Thomas ended up with a pair of touchdowns, including the gorgeous score at the beginning of the tape, which Golson made a key block on. Golson looked strong in that game, and he seems very mobile and strong. 

After the game, Golson said he felt comfortable with where his game is at heading into fall camp, according to Mark Murphy of Inside the Auburn Tigers

“I feel like I have gotten a lot better,” said Golson, who pointed out that Dampeer finished spring with a good performance in the A-Day game, so he isn't assuming that he has won a starting spot. “I know I still have a long way to go, but as far as building chemistry with my teammates and stuff like that I have got a lot better.” 

Judging by his coaches’ and teammates’ confidence in him, along with himself, Golson looks to be ready to rise to the challenge and have a big season. The Tigers also return three starters on the offensive line, which should help Golson acclimate even more to starting center role. 

It will be all about consistency with Golson. If he plays well and steadily keeps his game where it needs to be, Auburn should have a dynamite offensive attack once more. Look for Golson to have a solid year and establish himself as a mainstay for the Tigers up front.

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Biggest Winners and Losers of SEC Media Days 2015

SEC media days are all wrapped up as the various head coaches and star players took to the podium to share their thoughts. 

Bleacher Report College Football Analyst Barrett Sallee breaks down who the winners and losers were from the week. 

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Jawon Pass Commits to Louisville: 4-Star QB to Reunite with Older Brother

In choosing a college, 4-star quarterback Jawon Pass said three things that were very important last month at the Elite 11 Semifinals in Los Angeles.

First, the Columbus, Georgia, athlete said he wasn't afraid of competition. Second, the school he chose would give him the best chance to "be the guy." Third, and perhaps most important, Pass gave a one-word answer to what he wanted in a winning program. "Family," he said.

On Thursday afternoon, the nation's No. 4-ranked dual-threat quarterback verbally committed to Louisville during a ceremony at Carver High School.

Pass chose the Cardinals over Alabama and Auburn—and he decided against the Crimson Tide despite making a campus visit the day before.

Pass, a 6'5", 220-pound athlete with 22 reported offers, became Louisville's 13th overall pledge of the 2016 class. He also became the Cardinals' second quarterback commit, joining 3-star Tennessee gunslinger Tylin Oden.

Additionally, Pass' commitment means he'll be reunited with his big brother, Khane Pass, a freshman safety at Louisville. According to their mother, Kershena Thomas, how close the brothers are helped to inform the decision.

"They're connected at the hip and the head," Thomas told the Courier-Journal's Steve Jones. "They are extremely close. I thought Jawon was going to need counseling when Khane left [for college]."

Pass told 247Sports' Ryan Bartow that the decision was a "no-brainer" because of his brother.

As Louisville's highest-ranked pledge, Pass won't be throwing passes to his brother, but he will have a pair of solid receivers to target in his class in 4-star Desmond Fitzpatrick and Chris Taylor-Yamanoha. Fitzpatrick is on the outskirts of being a top-300 player nationally. Taylor-Yamanoha is a player who can line up at receiver or play in the secondary if necessary.

Pass' pledge means he will go into Louisville looking to not only win starter's minutes against quarterbacks who are already there but also Oden, a 2016 commit who threw for 1,000 yards, rushed for nearly 1,000 yards and compiled 28 total touchdowns last season for Spring Hill High School in Columbia, Tennessee.

Competition, however, isn't a problem for Pass. His numbers show that he can play the game. Pass accounted for 2,601 total yards and 34 touchdowns last season, 23 of those coming via the pass.

"I'm not afraid. Anywhere I go, there will be competition," Pass told Bleacher Report. "I want to be the guy wherever I go."

Pass has been a rising name among the elite quarterback chatter. He participated in the Elite 11 Finals in Beaverton, Oregon, and showed signs of excellence throughout the week-long experience. He's a big-bodied athlete with a long stride and solid arm.

With offensive-minded coaches like head coach Bobby Petrino and offensive coordinator/quarterbacks coach Garrick McGee providing tutelage, don't be surprised if Pass develops into a star in the ACC.

"He thinks that Coach McGee is a genius," Thomas told Jones. "He thinks he can have him greatly prepared for the next level. ... He thinks their scheme is a great fit for him. He's in love with that staff there."

Having his big brother there to support his objective of being one of the conference's rising quarterbacks happens to be a nice bonus.

 

Damon Sayles is a National Recruiting Analyst for Bleacher Report. All quotes were obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted. All player ratings are courtesy of 247Sports' composite ratings. Follow Damon via Twitter @DamonSayles.

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Leonard Fournette on Nick Chubb: 'Best Running Back We Have in the SEC'

Leonard Fournette and Nick Chubb are two of the best running backs in both the SEC and the nation. Fournette had some kind words for his SEC running mate during media days. 

Watch what Leonard has to say about Nick Chubb on the podium in the video above. 

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Ultimate Guide to 2015 Big 12 Media Days

With SEC Media Days finishing up, the Big 12 will get its media circus underway at the Omni Hotel in downtown Dallas next week from July 20-21. 

You can see the full schedule and which players are attending HERE

There's no shortage of storylines for Big 12 Media Days, but which ones get the top bill? The conference is in a unique position in both the playoff and realignment/expansion landscapes. Additionally, its two blue-blood programs, Texas and Oklahoma, are looking to bounce back from disappointing seasons. 

When stability isn't the first adjective used to describe your conference, there are going to be a lot of questions as to why. As such, the ultimate guide to Big 12 Media Days has a heavy theme on these types of issues. Which big picture questions will be asked next week in Dallas? Here are five to watch. 

Begin Slideshow

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

The 2015 SEC media days wrapped up Thursday with representatives from Georgia, Ole Miss and LSU. All three programs are going to enter the season with high expectations, which led to more of an on-field focus than the previous three days in Hoover, Alabama.  

One of the biggest questions in the conference is who will start at quarterback for Georgia. The Bulldogs worked through spring ball with the hope of finding the replacement for Hutson Mason, but a clear leader never emerged from the pack.

They are still contenders due to a strong rushing attack and a defense with high-end potential. One of Brice Ramsey, Faton Bauta or Greyson Lambert will need to stabilize the key position for them to move into the national title conversation, though.

Unsurprisingly, Georgia coach Mark Richt immediately got asked about the quarterback battle. He didn't have much of an update to provide, as Brett McMurphy of ESPN.com noted:

On the defensive side, Richt praised safety Dominick Sanders for putting in the type of effort it's going to take to make some serious noise this season, per Seth Emerson of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution:

As a whole, Patrick Brown of the Times Free Press pointed out the head coach sounded confident his team is trending in the right direction:

That said, the highest compliment during Georgia's session came from wideout Malcolm Mitchell directed toward one of his teammates, per Mark Schlabach of ESPN.com:

Georgia is far from the only team in the SEC with lofty goals, of course. Ben Garrett of Scout.com noted Ole Miss tight end Evan Engram is setting the bar high for the Rebels:

At the end of the day, that's what we expect of ourselves. We work every day as if we're trying to go win a national championship. That's the goal. You ask anybody here on any other team, they're going to want to go in an SEC championship and a national championship. That's how we work. That's been our expectation since day one. We're definitely looking forward to week one and getting into camp and making plays and bettering ourselves to be able to make that run.

One of the uncertain factors surrounding Mississippi's outlook is the status of Laremy Tunsil. The talented offensive lineman remains an active member of the team but is currently facing allegations related to possible NCAA violations and domestic violence.

Joe Schad of ESPN.com provided coach Hugh Freeze's response to questions about the ongoing situation:

Another issue that's taken center stage this week is the state of recruiting. On Wednesday, Arkansas coach Bret Bielema said he didn't pursue some prospects due to social media. Freeze spoke about another angle of the same issue, per Saturday Down South:

Turning back to the on-field discussions, the Rebels coach passed along his take on the team's outlook, as highlighted by Lyons Yellin of WWL-TV:

LSU is another team with a question mark at quarterback. Neither Anthony Jennings nor Brandon Harris played particularly well last season, and Jennings' status still must be determined after getting arrested last month with two other players for unauthorized entry of a dwelling and simple burglary.

Jim Kleinpeter of the Times-Picayune explained that head coach Les Miles expects Jennings will return to the team and battle Harris for the starting job. Regardless of who's taking the snaps under center, the head coach is expecting more production, per the Death Valley Voice:

With that unknown factor in play, Tigers running back Leonard Fournette, who rushed for over 1,000 yards and scored 10 touchdowns last season, is a vital piece to the team's success. He gave a simple scouting report for opponents to utilize, as noted by Chase Goodbread of NFL.com:

He also joined the chorus of people giving preseason kudos to Georgia running back Nick Chubb, which Brad Crawford of Saturday Down South spotlighted:

Finally, the SEC Network provided Miles' season overview for LSU:

The SEC also announced the results from media voting Thursday. The projections feature Auburn holding a slight edge over Alabama to win the conference title, but the duo switched places in Western Division voting. Georgia is predicted to win the Eastern Division.

Now that the media days are complete, the focus shifts toward the regular season. Although there were the usual noteworthy anecdotes and verbal jabs during the press conferences, there wasn't much in terms of ground-breaking information over the past handful of days.

Thankfully, the opening week of play is just seven weeks away.

 

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3 Reasons Why Clemson Commit Tavien Feaster Can Be Future All-ACC RB for Tigers

According to 247Sports, Tavien Feaster is a 5-star all-purpose back who is committed to the Clemson Tigers.

Bleacher Report College Football Analyst Michael Felder gives three reasons why Feaster will be a star for the Tigers.

How good can Feaster be for Clemson? Check out the video and let us know!

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Media Picks TCU to Win the Big 12 in 2015 College Football Season

If the Big 12 ends up having just "One True Champion" in football this season, the smart money is on TCU being the team to come out on top in the eyes of the league's media members.

The Horned Frogs were the overwhelming choice to claim their first outright Big 12 title, collecting 32 of 42 first-place votes in results the conference released Wednesday. Baylor, which was picked to finish second, got the other 10 first-place votes.

Oklahoma, last year's media favorite (which ended up tying for fourth place), was picked third, followed by Oklahoma State, Texas, West Virginia, Kansas State, Texas Tech, Iowa State and Kansas.

TCU was picked to finish seventh last year but shared the Big 12 title with Baylor. Both teams were shut out of the playoffs, but TCU went on to crush Ole Miss in the Peach Bowl to finish with a 12-1 record. The Horned Frogs return 17 starters from that team, including senior quarterback Trevone Boykin (whom the media picked as the preseason Offensive Player of the Year) and four other players who were named to the league's preseason squad.

Boykin currently sits as the Heisman Trophy favorite, according to Odds Shark, given 6-1 odds to win the award given to college football's top player.

Since going back to a single division in 2011, only one team that the media has picked to win the Big 12 has accomplished that feat. That was Oklahoma in 2012.

The Big 12 media days are set for July 20-21 in Dallas.

 

Follow Brian J. Pedersen on Twitter at @realBJP.

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How the Big Ten Has Infiltrated SEC Media Days Bonanza

Featuring a four-day format intended to highlight some of the biggest names in college football, it's probably not a coincidence that SEC media days happen to fall on the slowest week of the sports calendar, with only the MLB All-Star Game and the ESPYs to compete with for attention

But as opposed to 2013, when Johnny Manziel's appearance required around-the-clock coverage, or last summer, when Nick Saban's hiring of Lane Kiffin took center stage, this year's SEC media days has seemed to lack the same buzz as its predecessors.

And the Big Ten may just be the biggest reason why.

In fact, of the few notable headlines that the SEC's annual media affair has produced this week, the Big Ten has been either at the root or a major part of most. That was the case on Wednesday, when Saban spoke of the process players go through to get their draft evaluations from the NFL and how it affected Alabama's preparation for Ohio State in last season's Sugar Bowl.

"I just felt like, in our experience last year, our team chemistry from the SEC Championship Game to the playoff game was affected by something," Saban said during his Wednesday press conference. "We're trying to get ready for a game, and all of a sudden, a guy finds out he's a first-round draft pick or a guy that thought he was a first-round draft pick finds out he's not a first-round draft pick, and we're trying to get ready to play a playoff game. I think that it would be better not to submit that information to a player until he was finished competing in college."

Columnists, blogs and the Twittersphere were quick to paint Saban as an excuse-maker, unwilling to admit that his team was outplayed—and he was outcoached—by the Buckeyes and Urban Meyer. The Crimson Tide head coach went on to clarify his comments, denying that he was attempting to absolve himself of blame for Alabama's second consecutive bowl loss, but by then the damage had already been done.

But what was perhaps even more damning to Saban's SEC media day appearance was that for perhaps the first time since he took over the Crimson Tide in 2007, it wasn't the biggest story of the day in college football.

That title—just like the national title—would also belong to Ohio State. With three nominations on the night—including Best Team, Best Breakthrough Athlete and Best Coach/Manager—four Buckeye players and Meyer made their way to Los Angeles for the ESPYs, giving Ohio State a nationally televised platform to celebrate its championship season for the final time.

And while the Buckeyes ultimately didn't walk away with any of the three ESPYs they were nominated for, quarterback Cardale Jones proved to be one of the stars of the night as he made Twitter passes at UFC star Ronda Rousey and model Kendall Jenner from his seat in the Microsoft Theater.

In the grand scheme of things, the attention Jones attracted means very little—at least from a football standpoint—and will ultimately be forgotten about by the time the 2015 season rolls around. But it's worth noting that on a day Alabama—and by proxy, the SEC—is used to owning, it was the Big Ten making the headlines and not just because of Ohio State either.

Because while it was the Buckeyes who helped produce the most noteworthy response from Saban's Wednesday press conference, it was Jim Harbaugh who was responsible for the first one, with the opening question of the Alabama head man's presser focusing on Michigan's offseason use of satellite camps.

Saban was diplomatic in his answer, but it was interesting nonetheless that in a week dedicated to the SEC, Harbaugh was still managing to make headlines.

Not just in Hoover, Alabama, either, but internationally as well, as the new Wolverines head coach has been documenting his trip to Paris with his wife, Sarah, with his ever-popular Twitter account.

Harbaugh's offseason antics may be beginning to draw the ire of critics as "contrived" with fewer than two months to go until the start of the season, but it's hard to argue with a head coach who manages to make himself relevant by simply posting pictures during his vacation.

Back in Hoover, the only buzzworthy headlines the SEC has managed to produce over the course of the past week have been Dan Mullen's decision to wear Yeezys to his press conference and the return of a confident Bret Bielema clad in Air Force One shoes

Meanwhile in the Big Ten, Michigan and Penn State have both managed to make waves with apparel-related stories of their own this week, with the Wolverines revealing that their Nike deal is the biggest of its kind in college athletics, per MLive.com (h/t Jerry Hinnen of CBSSports.com), and the Nittany Lions announcing that they'll no longer be wearing names on the back of their jerseys.

But while headlines are nice, the reality is that in order for the Big Ten to truly take over the SEC as the best conference in college football, it will need more stories like Ohio State's earned trip to the ESPYs than the social media-driven stories that often come out of media days.

The Buckeyes proved in January that their conference has gained ground on the field in relation to the SEC, but the Big Ten is still lacking the substance of a league that is just two years removed from a seven-year run of national championships.

"I think the SEC as a league is still one of the, top to bottom, one of the best leagues there are," Saban said. "And that includes the East and the West [divisions]."

For now, however, the Big Ten will settle for the sizzle that it's found, with the reigning national champions and a collection of some of the hottest head coaches in the country on its side.

Whether that will serve as a precursor to the Big Ten eclipsing the SEC in performance as well remains to be seen, but rarely has the conference received this much attention—let alone during another league's media days, with even fans of Big Ten programs making waves in Hoover.

And with the Big Ten's media days set for July 30-31, the league's sudden momentum shouldn't be dying any time soon.

 

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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SEC Media Days: 2015 Is a Pivotal Year for Les Miles at LSU

HOOVER, Ala. — Maybe it was simply the end of a long week for reporters, or perhaps it’s that no one’s quite sure what to make of this year’s team, but Thursday ended up being a pretty low-key day for LSU coach Les Miles.

That’s not to say his appearance at SEC media days wasn’t a little unusual—they all are when it comes to Miles—yet it was anything but typical for the Tigers.

There was little or no buzz. The ballot for preseason All-SEC selections wasn’t overflowing with Tigers. The few LSU fans in the lobby of the Wynfrey Hotel were easily outnumbered by those from Georgia and Ole Miss.

“Eight wins. Certainly not enough,” Miles said.

He wasn’t talking about a 1970s comedy-drama series, rather last season. After four straight 10-win seasons, his team stumbled to an 8-5 finish that had it closer to the bottom of the SEC West than the top.

“Shy of our goals. We want more.”

Since then, the headlines in Baton Rouge have been dominated by suspensions and departures, including defensive coordinator John Chavis for Texas A&M. That not only had the faithful scratching their heads, but the players.

“It was strange,” junior linebacker Kendell Beckwith said. “Coach Chavis was like a father figure for me.”

Consequently, combined with the rest of the SEC West apparently on the rise, LSU’s status as a division power can no longer be taken for granted.

Specific to this year, the Tigers may be the only team that one could make as good of a case for them to finish first as last. On Thursday, the media sort of split the difference for their predicted order of finish and voted LSU third behind home-state favorites Alabama and Auburn.

Only Miles and LSU have been here before. During his first three seasons leading the Tigers, they went 34-6, with two SEC titles and one national championship.

In 2008, though, LSU finished 8-5, 3-5 in league play to place third. It came back for a 9-4 record in 2009 before starting a four-year run of 10-win (or better) seasons, including the 2011 run to the national title game.

In terms of overall talent, there’s no doubt that Miles has another loaded lineup, one that will be extremely tough defensively and feature a strong running game led by outstanding running back Leonard Fournette.

Miles even went so far as to rattle off some specifics regarding the National Football League:

- Eight defensive players selected in the 2013 draft, all in the first five rounds, a first for the modern era.

- LSU has had 24 defensive players drafted since 2010, tied for the most in the SEC during that span.

- LSU has had at least one defensive lineman selected in every draft for the last 12 years and five defensive players picked in the first round since 2010.

The flip side to that, of course, is that having so many players leaving, especially underclassmen following the 2013 season, caught up to the Tigers.

“We're in a spot there where maybe the youth at quarterback and some of the juniors that we lost may well have given us a little bit of—gave us a difficult season,” said Miles, who called it “very significant.”

“I don't know how you correct it. I've worked hard against it.”

Last year, Miles played 17 true freshmen, and he expects to match that again this fall. While no one still believes that every first-year player in the lineup translates to a loss during the season, there’s no way to deny that there’s an impact.

It’s especially true at the quarterback position, which will probably go a long way toward determining LSU’s success this season. Brandon Harris showed some flashes of his potential as a freshman last year, while Anthony Jennings—who completed 111 of his 227 attempts for 1,611 yards, with 11 touchdowns and seven interceptions in 2014—was suspended after being arrested with two teammates for unauthorized entry of a dwelling and simple burglary.

“Experience isn't something that you can just will on a guy,” said Miles, who announced that he expects Jennings to return to the team. “The good news is we have a guy who's started eight games or so and we have a guy that's been around it now and played through two springs and been through a fall. So our quarterback play will be better, legitimately better.”

But everyone’s wondering how much better, along with:

Can Fournette carry the load and not get worn down?

Will the defense be great again under coordinator Kevin Steele and new line coach Ed Orgeron?

Can it still dominate?

That’s the real question LSU will be answering during this pivotal season.

"I like my team,” Miles said. “If we stay healthy and improve, I don't care who we play. We look forward to playing them."

 

Quotes were obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted.

Christopher Walsh is a lead SEC college football writer.

Follow Christopher on Twitter @WritingWalsh.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

How 2016 QB Recruits Will Re-Shape Big Ten Football

Spearheaded by reigning national champions and further revitalized by the arrival of a coaching superstar, the Big Ten conference cruises toward football season carrying substantial momentum.

The forecast this fall is strong. Conference action could include as many as three 2016 first-round NFL quarterbacks, a repeat title quest in Columbus and a Jim Harbaugh-led resurgence in Ann Arbor.

Turn attention to conference recruiting efforts, and the outlook becomes even rosier.

Only the Big Ten currently features four programs—Penn State, Ohio State, Michigan and Michigan State—with 2016 classes rated in top-10 national composite rankings

"These successful recruiting classes mean everything for the conference. They're going to make a major difference and help get the Big Ten back to where it used to be," Michigan State quarterback commit Messiah deWeaver told Bleacher Report. "People need to remember the SEC isn't college football's only power conference, and I think this group of young players is going to remind them."

Plenty of that positivity can be credited to blue-chip passers like deWeaver, who was one of six Big Ten-bound quarterbacks to attend national Elite 11 finals July 6-10 at Nike's world headquarters in Beaverton, Oregon.

The annual event features 18 invitees handpicked by an accomplished coaching staff led by Super Bowl champion Trent Dilfer. Its alumni include No. 1 overall NFL draft selections Matthew Stafford, Jameis Winston and Andrew Luck.

Quarterbacks journeyed to the Pacific Northwest representing 12 different states. No conference featured more committed prospects in attendance than the Big Ten. 

This development continues an overall trend on the 2016 recruiting trail, as 11 Big Ten squads situated among the top 40 FBS classes. It's a total only matched by SEC representatives.

"There should be a lot of quarterback duels ahead in the next few years," said Maryland pledge Dwayne Haskins, who put himself in position to earn 5-star status with a stellar performance.

He's one of five Elite 11 competitors slated to join the Big Ten East in 2016. Haskins (Maryland), deWeaver (Michigan State), Anthony Russo (Rutgers), Jake Zembiec (Penn State) and Brandon Peters (Michigan) are passers with potential to swiftly alter the division's competitive landscape.

"The Big Ten East is already one of the top three divisions in football. There are a lot of tough teams on the come-up, so every week is a test," Haskins said. "If things turn out well, it's going to become even more intense because of the quarterbacks who are coming in."

Southern California quarterback Patrick O'Brien—a Nebraska commit—is the Elite 11 outlier, as the Big Ten West awaits him.

Beyond the young men who traveled to Beaverton, 4-star Texas talent Tristen Wallace (Ohio State) and Arizona gunslinger Kare' Lyles (Wisconsin) are also expected to join the party next year. It's an influx that should resonate for years to come.

"This is a group of guys who can take over, as leaders and passers," Russo said. "The Big Ten already does a great job producing good quarterbacks, legit quarterbacks, and I think this group can really keep that trend going or even take things to a new level."

Russo is on track to play for Rutgers, one of two conference newcomers that arrived last summer along with Maryland. To the delight of Big Ten officials, both programs carried themselves well during inaugural conference campaigns.

The Terps finished 7-6, claiming road victories at Michigan and Penn State. The Scarlet Knights completed an 8-5 season by pummeling North Carolina in the Quick Lane Bowl.

Now both coaching staffs hold commitments from quarterbacks who earned spots in the final 2015 Elite 11, unveiled July 10:

"Rutgers and Maryland, being the conference's new teams, needed to come in and make a statement. With Dwayne at Maryland and me at Rutgers, we can definitely do that," Russo said. "We might be the new guys on the block, but we'll be ready to compete with all the biggest programs on a national stage. That makes the conference stronger as a whole."

Peters, a 4-star prospect and fellow Elite 11 finalist, agrees. He also points to factors beyond his position resulting in Big Ten improvement.

"You can see the Big Ten is moving up by looking at the recruiting classes a lot of these teams are putting together. The quarterback's position is definitely an important part of that, but so are the conference's coaches," Peters said. "When you've got guys like Urban Meyer, who has won national championships, and Jim Harbaugh, who accomplished a lot in the NFL and coached in a Super Bowl, that's huge for everyone."

There are no guarantees when athletes transition from hometown high school action to 100,000-seat college stadiums. If all six Elite 11 competitors ultimately thrive in the Big Ten, it would beat the odds.

Still, in a game that growingly revolves around the guy behind center, this group represents a major step forward for the conference. After a week of drills, tests and tournament action in Oregon, it's also a collection of quarterbacks who've grown respect for one another.

"The thought of competing in college is exciting stuff because we're all really cool with each other now. Down the road we'll be able to say, 'What's up?' before games, and then it's all business after kickoff," Zembiec said. "You already have some big-time quarterbacks in the conference, like [Penn State's] Christian Hackenberg and the guys at Ohio State. We've watched and learned from them. Soon it will be time for us to step up and create our own legacies."

Hackenberg and Buckeyes star J.T. Barrett were in Beaverton, serving as camp counselors. They provided mentorship weeks before returning to prepare for a conference title chase on their respective campuses.

Established Big Ten stars like Hackenberg, Barrett and Michigan State's Connor Cook highlight the current crop of standout conference quarterbacks. Last week's event provided a promising glimpse of the future.

"We're the next generation," deWeaver said. "I know we all want to become the face of our programs, earn respect and win championships. I think we all feel the same way. We're ready to get out there and compete. It's going to be an exciting time for Big Ten football."

 

Quotes were obtained firsthand by Bleacher Report National Recruiting Analyst Tyler Donohue.

Recruit ratings are courtesy of 247Sports.

 

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Florida Football: Best Quotes and Key Takeaways from SEC Media Days

Jim McElwain was the only newcomer among coaches at the SEC Media Days this week in Hoover, Alabama, yet the first-year Florida coach got the kind of treatment you'd expect from someone who's been around for quite some time.

So it goes with expectations for the Gators despite being in a transition year with a relatively empty cupboard. Will Muschamp only won 10 games in his final two seasons in Gainesville, stepping down before Florida's bowl win over East Carolina, and he left behind a team that (because of injuries, graduation and early NFL entry) only returns 10 starters and must completely overhaul its offensive line.

"It doesn't happen just overnight," McElwain said Monday of turning around a program, per Gary Smits of Jacksonville.com. "And yet, every time we go to work every day, every time we wake up, our responsibility is to try to go out there and win."

Florida was picked to finish fifth in the SEC East by conference media, getting only one first-place vote. It finished third last year, but with so much uncertainty about its offense this season the projections have taken a major dip.

The Gators ranked 96th nationally in total offense at 367.6 yards per game, and its 179.9 passing yards per game came in 106th in FBS. They've finished in the bottom three in passing in the SEC for three straight seasons.

Florida's offensive deficiencies wasted the work of a pretty good defense, which ranked 15th in yards allowed.

"As a defensive player, it was very frustrating," cornerback Vernon Hargreaves III told Sporting News' Matt Hayes. "You try not to show it, try not to let the offense see it. But it's not like they were oblivious to it. They knew they were struggling."

McElwain's previous team at Colorado State was eighth in passing (321.6) and 19th in total offense (480.9) last year, a huge rise from the numbers that existed prior to his arrival in 2013.

That quick turnaround was a big reason that Gators athletic director Jeremy Foley zeroed in early on McElwain in his search to replace Muschamp. Names like Oklahoma's Bob Stoops, Arizona's Rich Rodriguez and even Mississippi State coach Dan Mullen were mentioned as potential candidates, but McElwain proved to be the best fit in Foley's mind.

Now comes living up to the faith that Foley—whose previous hires include Urban Meyer and Billy Donovan, both of whom won a pair of national titles for their respective sports at Florida—instilled in him.

"It's kind of great to have expectations," McElwain said, per Tim Bee of FirstCoastNews.com. "That's something that we look forward to and we embrace. Fitting the parts in that we have and finding out how exactly we're going to go about it is something that we look forward to building as we get there in August."

 

Improvement starts up front, not at QB

Nowhere does Florida have more work to do this year than on the offensive line, where four starters are gone from a year ago. What returns is far from experienced, with a combined 10 starts for their career, all of those coming from fifth-year senior Trip Thurman.

Only eight scholarship linemen were able to participate in spring drills, and that number quickly shrunk after redshirt sophomore Roderick Johnson was forced into retirement after being diagnosed with a congenital spine condition.

Any progress made up front essentially starts over when training camp begins Aug. 6, when a slew of new linemen get involved in the competition for the first time. That includes Martez Ivey, the top-rated offensive tackle in the 2015 recruiting class (per 247Sports), and Fordham graduate transfer Mason Halter, a two-time All-American at the FCS level.

Six of Florida's 22 signees for 2015 are offensive linemen, and almost every one has a chance to play right away because of the depth issue.

 

Speaking of QBs...

Sophomore Treon Harris and redshirt freshman Will Grier both looked good during spring practice, but the competition to be Florida's starting quarterback will continue during the preseason. McElwain gave the edge to Grier after spring ball, per Robbie Andreu of the Gainseville Sun, but the battle resumes in August.

Harris finished the 2014 season as the starter, taking over for Jeff Driskel (who ended up transferring to Louisiana Tech) midway through the year and went 4-2 over the final six games. He threw for 1,019 yards and nine touchdowns and added 338 rushing yards and three scores. 

Grier, who redshirted last year, was rated by 247Sports as the No. 2 pro-style passer in the 2014 recruiting class. At 6'2" and 201 pounds, Grier is closer to Garrett Grayson (McElwain's quarterback at Colorado State) in size and style than the 5'11", 195-pound Harris.

Grayson threw for 7,702 yards and 55 touchdowns in his final two seasons under McElwain, parlaying that into a third-round NFL draft selection by the New Orleans Saints. Tim Tebow was Florida's last quarterback to be drafted, in 2010.

 

Powell on the move

Florida has question marks up and down its offense, but one player that doesn't have such uncertainty attached to him is Brandon Powell even though he's made a position change from last season.

The 5'9", 186-pound sophomore has been converted from running back to slot receiver for 2015, where he performed better as a freshman in 2014 with 15 catches for 147 yards and a touchdown, compared to just 16 carries for 70 yards and a score.

His move gives Florida two viable weapons on the outside, whereas last year it was either Demarcus Robinson (53 receptions, 810 yards, seven TDs) or no one.

"Now it's just on me to work and better myself and my teammates so we can make this offense one of the top offenses in college football," Powell told Edgar Thompson of the Orlando Sentinel.

 

Throwing shade while preaching respect

Hargreaves III, Florida's junior cornerback, could be the first defensive back taken in the 2016 draft if he turns pro as expected after this season. And a player with that high of a profile is the kind whose every move is liable to be broken down for its impact and meaning.

That's already been the case even before the 2015 season has begun. During SEC Media Days, Hargreaves was asked about the recent assault allegations against players from rival Florida State. His response might be interpreted as a dig at the Seminoles, but at the same time, it represented the kind of mentality you'd hope to see from today's college athletes.

Hargreaves' father, Vernon Jr., is a linebackers coach at Arkansas.

FSU dismissed freshman quarterback De'Andre Johnson after video surfaced of him punching a woman in a Tallahassee bar, while sophomore running back Dalvin Cook has been suspended indefinitely amid allegations he struck a woman outside a bar.

 

Follow Brian J. Pedersen on Twitter at @realBJP.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Predicting the Pac-12 Offensive Player of the Year

The Pac-12 conference is loaded with top-tier talent on the offensive side of the ball. 

Bleacher Report College Football Analysts Michael Felder and Adam Kramer joined Stephen Nelson as they each revealed their pick for Pac-12 Offensive Player of the Year.

Who is your pick? Check out the video and let us know!  

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Les Miles Tries to Save Cameraman Before He Backs into Pole at SEC Media Days

The cameraman can only blame himself for backing into the pole behind him because LSU coach Les Miles did everything he could to stop it from happening.

As Miles answered questions while walking at SEC media days, he noticed a cameraman was about to run into a pole. The Tigers coach gave a warning, but the camera operator did not heed his advice.

The result: thud.

[Twitter, h/t Lost Lettermen]

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Best and Worst Dressed from 2015 SEC Media Days

Every summer, each SEC head coach and some of the conference's best players suit up and hit Hoover, Alabama, for what has been described as the unofficial start of football season.

But the stars of the league don't wear their typical jerseys and coaching polos. Suits, ties and even some special footwear dominate the landscape at SEC media days. Much like it is at the NFL draft, what a player or coach wears at the event is dissected and discussed all over social media.

Most of the players and coaches brought their suit A-game to the big stage in Hoover, but there were a few fashion missteps during the week.

Before we break down some of the best outfits at media days and some that didn't quite work, let me preface all of this with an important statement: I am a college football writer attempting what is supposed to be a fun, lighthearted offseason piece—not a fashion expert making serious judgments from my superior taste.

That being said, let's look at the best and worst dressed from the 2015 SEC media days.

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SEC Media Predicted Order of Finish Indicates a Wild Season Ahead

HOOVER, Ala. — One of the most anticipated aspects of SEC media days each year is the release of the predicted order of finish, as voted on by the more than 1,000 credentialed media members on hand at the Hyatt Regency Wynfrey Hotel.

This year's vote is...strange.

Auburn was picked to win the conference with 96 first place votes, but division foe and intrastate rival Alabama was picked to win the SEC West with 1,405 total points. Auburn was picked second in the division with 1,362. Georgia was picked to win the SEC East in a landslide with 1,498 points.

When asked how Auburn can be the pick for the conference champion and Alabama can be picked in the division, Ole Miss head coach Hugh Freeze was as confused as everybody else.

"I don't know...y'all have had a long week," he said.

What does this mean? 

Buckle up because the SEC is going to be a wild ride this season.

The only team that didn't receive at least one vote to win its division was Vanderbilt. Yes, even Kentucky—which lost six straight games to close the season and missed the postseason—earned a vote to play in the SEC Championship Game.

There is quite a bit of uncertainty in the West, especially at the top. It's safe to assume Auburn—the pick to win the title—is in an all-or-nothing situation in the minds of voters. Those who think head coach Gus Malzahn's Tigers are going to be good are buying in big-time while those who don't seem to feel the same way view them out of contention all together.

Meanwhile, Alabama clearly received the benefit of the doubt. The Crimson Tide have a defense that gave up far too many big plays defensively and have only two returning starters on offense, but the track record of head coach Nick Saban replacing stars with stars is too impressive to be ignored.

What does the vote mean? Not much. The combined media vote has been accurate just five times since the divisional split in 1992 but did nail it last year when Alabama was picked to win the conference.

The preseason vote is a strong indication that the ride to find out if it's going to be a two-year winning streak for the media will be long, winding and unpredictable.

 

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. 

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Laquon Treadwell Injury: Updates on Ole Miss Star's Recovery from Broken Leg

After suffering a horrific leg injury against Auburn last season, Ole Miss wide receiver Laquon Treadwell has been rehabilitating with the hope of being ready for the 2015 season, and he appears to be on schedule to do just that.  

Continue for updates.

Treadwell Expected to Be Ready for Upcoming Season Thursday, July 16

Per Chase Goodbread of NFL.com, Ole Miss coach Hugh Freeze said on Thursday that Treadwell is on the way to making a full recovery. Freeze also noted that the star wide receiver should be ready for camp, per Mark Schlabach of ESPN.com, and that he lost weight and feels "more explosive," per Riley Blevins of the Clarion Ledger.

Treadwell was Ole Miss' most dangerous offensive player last year, catching 48 passes for 632 yards and five touchdowns in nine games. 

But in a 35-31 loss to Auburn that ended Ole Miss' national championship aspirations, Treadwell was tackled from behind by linebacker Kris Frost a yard short of the goal line, fumbling the ball in the process after the tackle left him with broken fibula and a dislocated ankle.

His recovery is excellent news for an Ole Miss team that will need his explosive playmaking ability to compete in the always difficult SEC. While it might take him some time to be the same player he was a year ago—recovering from such brutal injuries can take a mental toll as well as a physical one—it would appear that Ole Miss will have its catalyst back on offense for the 2015 season.

 

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Davey O'Brien Award Watch List 2015: Full List and Bleacher Report Favorites

The preseason award watch list rolls on with one of the more well-known trophies: The Davey O'Brien Award, given annually to the top quarterback in college football.

In the past, the O'Brien Award has had a Heisman flavor to it. In fact, the last five winners, from Cam Newton to Marcus Mariota, won the Heisman the same year they won the O'Brien. Some of the other quarterbacks to accomplish the same include Tim Tebow (2007) and Troy Smith (2006). 

Could history repeat itself this year? There are 24 players on this year's watch list, a few of which, like TCU's Trevone Boykin and USC's Cody Kessler, have been mentioned among the preseason Heisman hopefuls. Boykin and Mississippi State's Dak Prescott were O'Brien finalists last season and are included on this year's watch list. Michigan State's Connor Cook, an O'Brien semifinalist last year, is also on the watch list. 

Being named to the O'Brien watch list is not a prerequisite to winning the award, so don't be too upset if your favorite player isn't mentioned. Sixteen semifinalists will be named on Nov. 2 and three finalists will be selected on Nov. 24. The winner will be named during ESPN's College Football Awards show on Dec. 10. 

Who are some early favorites to win? We highlight them in the following slides based on past production, accolades and projections for this season. 

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