NCAA Football News

Breaking Down USC's Latest Depth-Chart Moves Midway Through Fall Camp

USC head coach Steve Sarkisian said at last month's Pac-12 media days that the Trojans' Week 1 lineup would be a work in progress well into fall camp.

"We're going to go back into training camp and let guys compete like crazy," he said.

With one week of practices complete, some dynamics to the ongoing competition changed.

The Trojans were dealt a major blow when linebacker Jabari Ruffin suffered a season-ending knee injury Sunday.

Ruffin was competing for the starting job at SAM linebacker, but his absence likely means Quinton Powell takes over the spot. Behind Powell is freshman Uchenna Nwosu.

The other big roster shakeup from the Trojans' first week of fall camp was the loss of Jalen Cope-Fitzpatrick, who was declared academically ineligible (h/t SI.com).

With USC already thin at tight end, Cope-Fitzpatrick's departure leaves the Trojans with senior Randall Telfer and freshman Bryce Dixon as the only scholarship players on the depth chart.

Chris Wilson helped fill the void USC faced at tight end last season, playing in four games while Telfer was injured. His ability as a blocker could get him into the rotation, with the Trojans dealing with uncertainty on the offensive line.

Veteran Max Tuerk anchors the unit in his third year as a starter, though is continuing his transition to center. Left tackle Chad Wheeler is also back, but the rest of the starting spots are up for grabs.

Freshman Toa Lobendahn's quick acclimation earned him first-string repetitions last week, living up to Sarkisian's billing at Pac-12 media days:

To Toa's credit, he's worked extremely hard. He's done great in the classroom, had a really good spring practice, and he's worked really [well]. I would foresee him being the middle of the battle for a starting spot.

Redshirt freshman Khaliel Rodgers capitalized on his opportunity at right guard. Sarkisian told Michael Lev of the Orange County Register that veteran Aundrey Walker may be losing ground to the youngsters while recovering from an ankle injury.

He’s just not bouncing back the way we would have hoped. Obviously, these are valuable reps that he’s missing out on that young guys are getting, and they’re getting better and better and better.

On the opposite side of the line, the first week of fall camp has been an all-around trying time. Antwaun Woods, who earned high praise from both Sarkisian and teammate Leonard Williams at Pac-12 media days, is sidelined for a brief duration with an elbow injury.

USC was already without Kenny Bigelow at nose tackle, who was ruled out for 2014 with an ACL tear in July, while Cody Temple, a third at the position, sustained a concussion. The assortment of ailments forced reshuffling along the defensive front.

Meanwhile, Williams sat out Sunday to rest a sore shoulder—though not the same shoulder he had surgery to repair this offseason, per Gary Klein of the Los Angeles Times 

While only Ruffin's knee injury appears to impact USC's Week 1 lineup against Fresno State, the rash of minor injuries is a reminder of issues that plague the Trojans' depth chart. With fewer than 70 scholarship players, the result of three years of NCAA-mandated scholarship reductions, the situation is tenuous.

Running back stands out as one position in which depth is not a concern, and Sarkisian could make the most of it.

USC will rotate ball-carriers, per the Orange County Register. Last year's breakout star, Javorius "Buck" Allen, seems to endorse the move.

"It’s great to have guys back,” Allen told Lev. He referred to Tre Madden and Justin Davis, both of whom missed the back half of 2013. “If we can get a rotation going, everybody’s fresh, nobody’s getting beat up.”

  

Quotes obtained firsthand unless otherwise cited. Statistics compiled via CFBstats.com 

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Preseason College Football Rankings 2014: Predicting the AP's Top 25

We're less than three weeks away from the opening of the much-anticipated 2014 college football season, with teams beginning their second week of preseason workouts and two-a-day practices.

New faces are emerging, position battles are being fought and fans across the country are forming opinions about who they think will emerge as contenders for the inaugural College Football Playoff.

Sunday, another piece of that thought process will fall into place when the Associated Press releases its annual preseason Top 25 poll. Voted on by college football media members across the nation, the poll has no influence on the College Football Playoff selection committee's deliberations but is nonetheless an important milepost for the 2014 season and how the national picture is viewed.

Here is a look at how we think the AP Top 25 will shake out when it is released. Note that this is not a matter of personal opinion, but how we believe the poll will look next Sunday. Here's a look at our projected AP Top 25.

Begin Slideshow

Gus Malzahn, Auburn Handling Delicate Nick Marshall Situation Perfectly

It was almost a month ago when Auburn pulled senior quarterback Nick Marshall the night before the Tigers made the rounds at SEC media days in Hoover, Alabama, after Marshall was cited for possession of less than an ounce of marijuana and illegal window tinting.

Since then, he's been off limits.

That changed on Sunday, when he appeared before the media following Auburn's fan day.

"I made a mistake and I'm just trying to gain my trust back from the coaches," Marshall said, according to Charles Goldberg of AuburnTigers.com. "I let my family down and I'm also trying to gain their trust back and also the Auburn fans. The incident that happened, it's just going to change me as a better man on and off the field."

The way head coach Gus Malzahn handled this entire ordeal will also make Marshall a better man on an off the field, which was his goal from the beginning.

"We have high expectations for our players, but specifically our quarterback, being the face of our program," Malzahn said in Hoover. "Up until last Friday, Nick has been a model student, teammate, and citizen. Nick made a mistake and he'll have to deal with the consequences."

Malzahn didn't have to string this out, and doing so is part of Marshall's punishment.

He could have announced that Marshall wouldn't start the opener, brought him to Hoover and forced him to answer the same repetitive questions about the incident all afternoon long, and the drama would have been over with.

Instead, he made a spectacle out of Marshall, which served as pretty severe punishment. Marshall's absence made him the talk of the town in Hoover, which is something that will stick with him through the season and the NFL draft process—which also may include a position change. On top of that, he missed out on a trip to Los Angeles two days later for the ESPYS with Malzahn and several teammates.

He then waited a few weeks to announce that Marshall won't start the opener vs. Arkansas. His absence isn't really the punishment. Whether it's a series, a quarter, a half or a game; backup Jeremy Johnson should be able to hold down the fort until Marshall makes his 2014 debut.

The punishment draws out the process even more, and it will be a storyline up until toe meets leather. Time is punishment—more so than missing a few snaps.

Make no mistake, it was still important for Malzahn to make a point with his quarterback and force him to miss some time.

While some, including former tight end Ricky Parks, spoke of a "zero tolerance policy" regarding Auburn's football program and marijuana, its official school policy doesn't include an automatic suspension for the first marijuana offense, a suspension for half the season on the second and permanent suspension on the third.

Malzahn went above and beyond with Marshall to prove a point, and judging from Marshall's first media appearance of fall camp, it seems like the message was received loud and clear.

Shouldn't that be the point?

 

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Ohio State Football: Sights and Sounds from Buckeyes Media Day

On the heels of its second week of fall camp, the Ohio State football team held its annual media day, giving members of the press an opportunity to meet with the Buckeyes players and coaches. After Urban Meyer provided an update on the status of his squad—including where star quarterback Braxton Miller's health stands—members of the OSU roster flooded the practice field inside the Woody Hayes Athletic Center for their first interviews of the preseason.

What follows is an eyewitness look at the top takeaways from the Buckeyes' meeting with the media. Ohio State returns to the practice field on Monday with its second two-a-day session of the preseason.

 

Monitoring Miller

As has been the case for the better part of the past four offseasons, all eyes were on Miller on Sunday, and for good reason. After undergoing offseason shoulder surgery that kept him out of the Buckeyes' spring session, the two-time Big Ten MVP has been limited thus far in fall camp, hardly participating in an Aug. 6 practice that was open to the media.

And while some may have expected Miller to be further along with three weeks to go until the start of the season, that doesn't appear to be the case. As Meyer explained on Sunday, his starting quarterback was held out of a Saturday scrimmage, although he still views Miller's recovery as "on schedule."

"I anticipated this," Meyer said. "I've dealt with guys with arm issues before, and we're being very cautious. He could have practiced yesterday but we're in it for the long haul, so he's right on schedule."

That's not to say, however, that Miller is yet at full strength. In fact, his head coach even admitted that if Ohio State's opener against Navy was today, the Buckeyes game plan would need to be adjusted.

"If the game was tomorrow, because of where he's at, we would be very cautious with Braxton," Meyer admitted. "But we have three weeks."

As for Miller himself, the senior signal-caller stuck to the company line that he'll be good to go when Ohio State takes the field on Aug. 30. Miller insisted that his limited reps have been the result of proactive—and not reactive—behavior from the Buckeyes coaching staff.

"Right now, I feel pretty good. I feel great," stated Miller. "[Saturday] I took a day off to be where I need to be. I'm doing rehab, icing it and taking ibuprofen. I'll be fine."

But no matter how sure of his health Miller seems to be, expect for his activity to continue to be monitored by the media between now and the start of the season.

 

Fast Four

Given the limited media availability that freshmen are typically given throughout the season, first-year players are often the stars of the show at each OSU media day. This year was no exception, with even Meyer heaping praise on one particular newcomer in running back Curtis Samuel.

"I gotta be careful because I do this, but I love that kid, and man, oh man, does he go hard," Meyer said. "He is talented, and he will play this year."

Hours later, Meyer's actions backed up his words when he announced that Samuel was one of the first Ohio State freshmen to have his black stripe removed—a ritual signaling that he had "officially" joined the Buckeyes roster.

Asked what's led to his sudden success at the college level, the 5'11", 190-pounder pointed to the jump-start he got as an early enrollee in the spring. As the Buckeyes look to replace Big Ten Running Back of the Year Carlos Hyde, Samuel appears to be a lock to help carry the load—and sooner rather than later.

"I'm just working hard on the field and in the weight room," said Samuel, who also played wide receiver in high school. "I got my mind right before I got here to play running back. I just got my body ready to take a lot of pounding."

 

Eager Elliott

While replacing Hyde's production remains one of Ohio State's top priorities, the Buckeyes backfield endured a blow last week when presumed starter Ezekiel Elliott underwent wrist surgery following an injury suffered in camp. Like Miller, Elliott will ease back into action but is expected to be full-go for Ohio State's opener against Navy.

"[He] should be practicing later this week," Meyer said of Elliott. "He will probably not have contact until the following week but projected to play in the first game, was doing great and he's fine."

Speaking about his surgery, Elliott explained that he had a pin inserted into his wrist that he'll be able to play with throughout the season. He doesn't expect it to hinder him either, as he looks to pick up from what was already a promising fall camp for the sophomore tailback.

"I've had a pretty good camp, and I had a pretty good spring," Elliott said. "I had a little bit of momentum. This injury set me back a little bit, but I'm going to keep on pushing."

 

Getting Defensive

Unsurprisingly, the Ohio State defense received its fair share of attention at media day, as the Buckeyes look to bounce back from a disappointing 2013 campaign. By season's end, Ohio State ranked 57th in the country in yards surrendered per game (400.3) and 118th (out of 125 teams) in opponent passing yards per game (286.3).

Enter new co-defensive coordinator Chris Ash, who was brought in from Arkansas to overhaul the Buckeyes defensive scheme. But as second-year linebacker Darron Lee explained, if Ohio State sees a drastic improvement this fall, it will be thanks to the Buckeyes' newfound attitude that stems from last season's struggles.

"The chip's too big for our shoulder. We carry it on our back," Lee said emphatically. "We're very serious as a whole defense. Every single unit. We know what is clear, and we know what we have to get done."

From a scheme standpoint, Ash said that he expects the Buckeyes to play more base defense than they have in the recent past. A lot of that has to do with the versatility of a player like Lee, who has the ability to contribute in both run support and pass coverage.

"A lot of it comes down to what your personnel is, what you're asking those guys to do," Ash explained. "With us right now and what we're asking our guys to do, Darron Lee and [redshirt freshman linebacker] Chris Worley are perfect. I mean, they're the typical guy that we want. If we could go out and recruit more guys like that to play that position—that's what we need to do."

 

Nothing But Navy

The most memorable moment from this year's media day came from Meyer's press conference when the third-year Buckeyes head coach was asked about the ruling in the Ed O'Bannon lawsuit, which will increase the amount of money that schools are allowed to allocate to players. Pleading ignorance, Meyer insisted that his focus is on Ohio State's upcoming opponents and nothing else.

"I apologize, I probably should know more about the whole situation. I don't," Meyer said. "I gotta get a team ready to play a very good Navy team and very good Virginia Tech team. I know I probably should be more up to speed on that, but I'm not."

Only that wouldn't bring an end to questions about the topic, as Meyer was asked twice more about the ruling. The two-time national champion head coach never backed down from his stance, however, leading to this humorous exchange with TheColumbus Dispatch sports editor Ray Stein.

Stein: "The idea in general of stipends to players?"

Meyer: "Beat Navy."

Stein: "Idea about stipends for your players?"

Meyer: "Na-vy."

Suffice it to say, the Midshipmen have Meyer's full attention.

 

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

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

7 Things We've Learned About Tennessee Through Fall Camp So Far

When you're dealing with a "team of unknowns" entering a college football season like the Tennessee Volunteers are, there's no way of learning everything in less than two weeks of fall practice.

But the picture is becoming a bit less murky for head coach Butch Jones. 

UT's talented troop of newcomers has elevated the level of play considerably. The Vols' trio of quarterbacks is taking a step forward after a rocky start. And there is an underlying sense of optimism as the youngsters begin to play faster and better.

But are the perceived improvements good enough to make a major impact in the win column?

Jones may have seen enough already from his team to make some decisions, including the most important lingering uncertainty—who is going to play quarterback.

UT's coach told John Brice and Chris Low on The Nation radio show Sunday night: "I think our quarterbacks are starting to perform now the way we expected. I'd like to get to a point where maybe even this week we name a starting quarterback, and we go with it."

Though there are plenty of questions remaining that need to be answered before the season kicks off Aug. 31 against Utah State, some are clearing up. 

Let's take a look at seven things we've learned about the Vols through the first 10 days of fall camp.

Begin Slideshow

5 Things We Have Learned About USC Through Fall Camp So Far

As USC continues its journey through fall camp in preparation for the 2014 college football season, some things have become clear while others remain murky.

While those players deemed starters remain so for the time being, spirited battles for positions on the depth chart are a daily occurrence and are being monitored very closely by the coaching staff.

Installations of offensive and defensive schemes and game plans are of primary importance and this is also a focus of the coaching brain trust as well.

This slideshow will look at some of the things we have learned so far in this critical set of practices before the games start for real.

So without further delay, here are some observations on what we have seen so far in USC's fall camp...

 

 

Begin Slideshow

Things We've Learned About Florida Gators Through Fall Camp So Far

The Florida Gators are a week deep in fall camp and preparing hard for a 2014 season that is quickly approaching. There’s only so much that happens during a week, but the Gators have already experienced an interesting incident and have made progress on the offensive side of the ball.

The Gators have a lot of work to do if they’re truly going to be one of the most improved teams in college football this season. There’s a lot of positive news coming out of Gainesville so far.

While nothing really groundbreaking, here are the main tidbits from fall camp for Florida. 

Begin Slideshow

Big Ten Football: Power Ranking Top 15 Players Heading into 2014 Season

Fall camps are well underway across the Big Ten, and the countdown to kickoff will soon transition from weeks to days. 

In order to whet your appetite for the impending 2014 college football season, let's take a look at some of the stars—both new and returning—who will be poised to make a major impact on their teams this fall.

We've put together a list of the top 15 Big Ten football players heading into the 2014 season.

While a great player—or even a collection of great players—does not instantly make a team successful in the win column, there are guys who certainly make a coach's job easier.

We'll be keeping our eyes on these players throughout the season to see what kind of impact they'll have in the race for the Big Ten Championship Game and a College Football Playoff berth.

You should, too.

Begin Slideshow

4 Things We've Learned About Ohio State Through Fall Camp so Far

Week 1 of fall camp is officially in the books for Urban Meyer and Ohio State, and a number of big storylines have already emerged as the Buckeyes prepare for another national title run in 2014.

Two of Ohio State's most important and explosive offensive weapons are nursing injuries. The Buckeyes' rebuilding process along the offensive line is hitting a crucial point. And to Meyer's satisfaction, a host of true freshmen are already making their presence felt.

Here are four things we learned about the Buckeyes this week.

Begin Slideshow

Breaking Down Georgia's Latest Depth Chart Moves Midway Through Fall Camp

Fall camp for the Georgia Bulldogs hasn't just been about getting players ready for their season-opening bout with the Clemson Tigers.  This year—even more so than in recent history—camp has been vital in giving the Georgia coaching staff an opportunity to tweak the depth chart.

On both sides of the football, head coach Mark Richt, his coordinators and their assistants are fine-tuning the lineup.  These are the changes you need to keep an eye on.

 

Offensive Line

Heading into fall camp, Georgia's offensive line figured to be comprised of returning starters at center (David Andrews) and tackle (John Theus and Kolton Houston) and whichever Bulldogs put a stranglehold on the two guard positions.  That assumption has already proven false.

Watts Dantzler, a senior, was projected to contend for playing time at the guard position but has emerged as the starter at right tackle—at least for now.  The rise of Dantzler has pushed Kolton Houston inside to a guard spot.

Richt told Nick Suss of The Red & Black there are at least five capable linemen, but an emphasis on cross-training on the line has remained a point of emphasis.  

"You’d like for a left tackle to know what a left guard does," Richt said. "In case you have injury, you can move a guy in or move a guy out. If he knows what the guy is doing next to him, it’s just easier to do that."

Adding Dantzler to the starting lineup maximizes size and experience on the offensive line and also allows Houston, who struggled at times against the outside pass rush from his tackle spot in 2013, to move into the interior.  

Assuming Greg Pyke ultimately holds on to his spot at right guard, the Bulldogs offensive line could be one of the most impressive—at least in stature—in the country.

 

Tight End

Quayvon Hicks had something of a breakout season as a fullback in 2013.  He promptly turned around and spent spring practice cross-training as a tight end.  With Jay Rome, Georgia's lone returning tight end with game experience, continuing to battle injuries and miss reps, Hicks' efforts will prove invaluable.

"Quayvon has become a legitimate tight end,” Richt told Chip Towers of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. “He’s not just a fullback trying to be a tight end. To me he’s really become a tight end who can still play fullback. That’s an advantage to him.” 

Georgia's offense always relies on the tight end, and although no formal change has been made on the depth chart, it is evident that Hicks will be featured at the position.  Rome, if healthy, is still likely the starter, but Hicks is no longer an emergency option.

Of course, that rise may not be entirely unexpected.  Although he was rarely used in the passing game last season, Hicks did turn five receptions into 67 yards.  

Hicks' emergence as a viable option at tight end makes this offense better, if for no other reason than his ability to provide yet another safety valve for new starting quarterback Hutson Mason.

 

Defensive Backs

Damian Swann, a two-year starter, will start at cornerback.  That's actually news in and of itself under new defensive coordinator Jeremy Pruitt.  Pruitt, who's brought open competition, wouldn't even concede that much following spring practice.  Now, according to Marc Weiszer of the Athens Banner-Herald, Swann is winning his new coach over.

"Damian’s very smart,” Pruitt told Weiszer. “Football comes easy to him. He’s got a very high IQ for football. He’s very instinctive. He’s got good ball skills. He’s got good initial quickness, can change direction.

And for what it's worth, Pruitt's impressing Swann as well.  "Who wouldn't want to play for Pruitt?"  Swann asked, per Weiszer.  "He's done it before."

That assurance that Pruitt has done big things before should keep Georgia fans from panicking even as the Dawgs struggle to secure starting spots.

Outside of Swann, the rest of the secondary is unknown, but a few names are starting to stand out.  

Shattle Fenteng, a JUCO transfer, looks like an early contender to start opposite of Swann, while J.J. Green, a former running back, appears to be the early leader for the star/nickel position.

At the safety spots, Quincy Mauger and Corey Moore are the most experienced Dawgs, but walk-on Aaron Davis and true freshman Dominick Sanders are coming on strong.

This may be the last position group to settle on a firm rotation, but that's not necessarily a bad thing.  After all, it's also the group most in need of improvement.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Biggest Winners and Losers from College Football Offseason

You've almost made it, college football fans. Just a couple of weeks left before the 2014 season is finally here.

While it will never compare to the action and excitement of a season of Saturdays, the offseason has been far from boring and uneventful. The seven months between Florida State's thrilling last-second win over Auburn in the national championship game—officially ending the BCS era while ushering in the age of the College Football Playoff—has given us quite a bit of news to tide us over.

As is usually the case, the news wasn't always good. The offseason was as full of losers as it was winners, whether it be players, coaches, teams or collegiate governing bodies that ended up on the wrong side of a landmark legal ruling.

Here's our look at the most notable winners and losers from 2014's offseason.

Begin Slideshow

LSU Football: How Tigers Plan to Rebound at DT After Quentin Thomas Injury

BATON ROUGE, La. — There is still hope for LSU defensive tackle Quentin Thomas. 

Thomas suffered an injury last week during fall camp that will sideline him for an undisclosed amount of time. Ross Dellenger of The Advocate reported Thomas suffered torn biceps and would be out for the 2014 season. He could be, but head coach Les Miles has not ruled him out.

Nor has Thomas.

"Mentally, I do not feel like I am out for the year," Thomas said. "My confidence was high and is still high. I'm expecting to come back and put up big numbers. I want to be All-SEC, hopefully All-American." 

Thomas was projected to be a starter alongside Christian LaCouture at defensive tackle. LSU must rebound quickly as the season opener against Wisconsin is only weeks away. The Badgers are a power-running team led by Heisman hopeful running back Melvin Gordon.

Despite his injury, he feels comfortable with the talent LSU has behind them. 

"I have no doubt in my mind they come in and fill in, if not perform better than me," Thomas said.  

He might be right. 

 

Redshirt Freshmen Backups

LSU has a multitude of talent at defensive tackle that can play right away. Maquedius Bain, Frank Herron and Greg Gilmore all redshirted last season. The once-prized recruits are ready to prove their worth at the college level. 

Overall, defensive coordinator John Chavis is not worried with the unit's youth.

"We're going to be young (at defensive tackle)," Chavis said. "We are getting better every day. I can assure you, it will not be a weakness." 

Miles announced Sunday Herron will step in alongside LaCouture for the starting role. Herron emphasized that nothing is set in stone though until the season opener against Wisconsin.

"I don't know if I'm the starter," Herron said. "I know any one of these guys can help our team win."

Defensive line coach Brick Haley and Chavis said the competition is still open. 

Bain and Gilmore will remain the backup duo for now. Bain said he still does not mind coming off the bench, especially with the chemistry he and Gilmore have dating back to their time together at the Under Armour All-American Game. 

"He's like a brother to me," Bain said. 

Bain's explosiveness has been noticed by his teammates. He has the potential to be the best defensive tackle on the team. 

Bain switched his jersey number to No. 90 this offseason. The last two LSU players to wear that jersey were defensive tackles Michael Brockers and Anthony Johnson, both of whom were key pieces to the 2011 SEC Championship defense. But he said he idolizes a player on that defense who played a different position. 

"I want to be like a Tyrann Mathieu, but on the D-Line," he sai. "That guy that has a swagger about everything."

 

Incoming Freshmen

LSU's 2014 recruiting class brought in a nice group of defensive tackles. 

Travonte Valentine is the biggest defensive tackle on LSU's roster and could be a huge asset in short-yardage situations. But the 6'3'', 325-pound Valentine must first be cleared academically by the NCAA Clearinghouse in order to play. 

Miles said they are still monitoring the situation for Valentine's eligibility. 

Davon Godchaux, like Herron, has made a move from end to tackle. Godchaux says the transition has had its rough points, but he feels he is ready if called upon. 

"Three-technique is a lot more physical. But I am bringing my athleticism from end to tackle, so I feel I can make plays," Godchaux said. 

LSU's history of redshirting talented defensive tackles is a tradition under Miles. He might want to do the same with Valentine and Godchaux, but both could hold their own in the SEC if called upon in 2014.  

 

Conclusion

LSU's starting duo of Johnson and Ego Ferguson last season played below expectations, but in their defense, both played extensive snaps. The Tigers' talented group will need to rotate more often this season. 

The Tigers must become better pass-rushers. LaCouture stressed the first goal is to slow down the run but that getting to the quarterback will be important as well. 

"We are wanting to be multidimensional," LaCouture said. "We have improved since the spring, and that is a great sign for us." 

Miles has been working sophomore defensive end Lewis Neal inside to help improve the quickness of the unit. Neal is undersized at 6'1'', 255 pounds, yet can certainly be a threat on 3rd-and-long. 

The injury to Thomas is a blow, but it's one that is not insurmountable. The Tigers have enough depth to match up with the likes of Alabama and Auburn.  

Herron says the unit feels the pressure and has a point to prove. 

"I'm looking forward to showing the world we have the best defensive front in the country. Each one of us are going to play our heart out, and we are not going to leave this field without a win," he said. 

LSU's defensive line might not be the best in the country, yet they have the potential to be. Nevertheless, one injury should not derail what should be an improved unit. 

LSU is "Defensive Line U" for a reason.  

 

Rankings and stats provided by cfbstats.comSports-Reference and 247Sports. Quotes were obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted. Follow me on Twitter @CarterthePower

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Miami Football: Why Clive Walford Is Crucial to 'Canes Offense in 2014

Bubba Franks. Jeremy Shockey. Kellen Winslow. Greg Olsen. The Miami Hurricanes boast a history of NFL-caliber tight ends, and Clive Walford is looking to revive the NFL pipeline.

The senior has one final year in Coral Gables to impress, and his team definitely needs another season of production similar to his previous campaign. As a junior, Walford snared 34 passes for 454 yards and two touchdowns.

In 2014, Miami's marketing slogan for the team's season is "Renewed," focusing attention on the resurgence of the program.

Well, the Hurricanes offense needs to have a renewed focus on attacking the middle of the field, and that all starts with Walford.

 

Where Has Walford Been Utilized?

To understand how crucial the tight end is for Miami to reinvent its passing game, looking through his junior year is important.

Last season, Walford snagged passes on a total of eight routes, but he was most often targeted on misdirection play-action calls, where the blockers flowed one direction while he sneaked the other way. Or he was the checkdown option who found open space in the flat.

In fact, 12 receptions followed a fake to the running back, and four more were on arrow routes to the sideline:

Overall, Walford made 31 of his 34 catches outside the hashmarks, and his three remaining grabs over the middle barely made it past the line of scrimmage. Additionally, he reeled in 24 balls within five yards of the line of scrimmage.

Yes, you read that correctly. A tight end made 8.9 percent of his total receptions between the hashes, and only 32.3 percent were farther than five yards away—that's it.

"There are so many options to go to—particularly with the weapons they have on the outside that'd you'd expect to see more opportunities in the middle of the field," Bleacher Report's Adam Kramer said. "It's surprising, to be honest, because he has the big-play potential. I'd love to see what he could do when loose in the middle of the field."

To be clear, each marking on the following chart is where Walford physically caught, dropped or was missed by a pass, not the final distance of a given reception:

Walford was merely a short-distance option for the majority of 2013, but the 'Canes finally found him vertically during the bowl game. Against Louisville, Walford ran a beautiful wheel route down the left sideline and caught the pass 23 yards away from the line of scrimmage.

OK, that was down the sideline, so did he ever run a skinny post up the seams? Only one comes to mind, and guess what? It worked—yet again opposite Louisville. Morris connected with Walford 19 yards downfield just outside the hashes en route to a 32-yard gain.

Overall, while he has been a valuable option in the short passing game, Walford offers so much more than being a checkdown receiver.

Sure, he dropped six throws last year, but the Glades Central product kept the Miami offense going; of Walford's 34 receptions, 20 resulted in first downs or touchdowns. And if the Hurricanes send him vertically in 2014, he'll move the chains even more.

 

What's Next for Him?

As Miami breaks in a new quarterback, it will be a run-first team driven by the playmaking ability of Duke Johnson and the blocking of his offensive line.

According to Derek Stephens of CBS Sports, Walford "struggles as a blocker and has been plagued by drops in the past, but has the talent to be an explosive weapon at the next level." 

Walford will be again tasked with sealing the edge on stretch handoffs, an area he must improve because that specific play can be so dangerous for Miami. With Johnson and Joe Yearby in the backfield, driving the linebacker outside opens the lane for a lengthy gain.

But when Miami throws the ball, offensive coordinator James Coley needs to use Walford as a vertical threat—even if that means setting the tone early before essentially becoming a decoy. 

"Establishing a tight end with deep-play potential can change an offense entirely," Kramer explained. "It can give your wideouts more safety-less throws, and yes, you can really alter the way opposing linebackers key on your backs.

"And when you look at Miami's sudden uncertainty at quarterback, Walford can aid these issues a great deal. He can improve all facets of production without really touching the ball."

The senior is listed at 6'4" and 263 pounds, so he is built to overmatch, especially smaller linebackers.

"If you match up Walford with an ACC linebacker—maybe with the exception of a few teams, starting with Florida State, you feel great about the chances of winning the one-on-one," Kramer said. "I'd like to see him start on the line and see how much they can stretch the field as the wideouts do their thing."

Kramer wants to see it happen, I want to see it and the Hurricanes absolutely must try it.

Otherwise, they are constantly relegating their tight end to a role that could be significantly more threatening with a simple fix. Don't avoid the play-action misdirection receptions; those calls certainly have value.

But Miami cannot repeat making the short route Walford's sole offensive responsibility either, because that, simply, is misusing a crucial part of its offense.

 

All quotes obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted.

Follow Bleacher Report college football writer David Kenyon on Twitter: @Kenyon19_BR.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Why Oregon-Oregon State Rivalry Is College Football's Most Underrated

When one thinks of intense college football rivalries, intrastate and regional feuds such as Ohio State-Michigan, Stanford-Cal and Auburn-Alabama come to mind for most fans.

While these matchups have certainly earned a place in the annals of college football, the Oregon-Oregon State rivalry, also known as the Civil War, is one that has remained under the radar for those outside of the Beaver State, but for those who know—has a storied and controversial past.

In the following slides, we’ll highlight some of the more controversial and exciting moments in the feud—both on and off the field, which truly make this rivalry one of college football’s most underrated.

Begin Slideshow

Miami Hurricanes Incorporate Dodgeball into Football Practice

The Miami Hurricanes are apparently getting pretty creative with some of their drills during football practice.

During Sunday's practice, head coach Al Golden and his staff incorporated dodgeballs into one of their workouts. Considering some of the other, more strenuous drills football teams usually go through, I'm sure the players enjoyed doing something different.

[Twitter, h/t College Spun]

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Auburn QB Nick Marshall Addresses Media for 1st Time Since Citation

Auburn senior quarterback Nick Marshall hasn't made headlines for the right reasons this offseason after leading the Tigers to a 12-2 record, an SEC title and a berth in the BCS National Championship in 2013.

Marshall received a citation for marijuana possession in July and won't start Auburn's Aug. 30 season opener against Arkansas as a result. On Sunday, the quarterback spoke to the media for the first time since the incident, saying, via Charles Goldberg of AuburnTigers.com:

I made a mistake and I'm just trying to gain my trust back from the coaches. I let my family down and I'm also trying to gain their trust back and also the Auburn fans.

The incident that happened, it's just going to change me as a better man on and off the field.

Per James Crepea of the Montgomery Advertiser, the quarterback also said, "It's been tough because I'm not too much worried about the Heisman. I'm trying to go out there and win the trust of my teammates."

These statements were solely intended for the press, as Crepea tweeted none of Marshall's teammates or coaches were in attendance:

John Zenor of the Associated Press explained that Marshall had previously apologized to the team:

Head coach Gus Malzahn is still in Marshall's corner going forward. He said earlier this month that the dynamic signal-caller is "still our quarterback," according to Alex Scarborough of ESPN.com.

In 2013, Marshall broke out as a dual-threat quarterback, passing for 1,976 yards and 14 touchdowns while rushing for 1,068 yards and 12 scores. This season, Marshall will be heavily leaned upon as he orchestrates Auburn's offense without the presence of speedy running back Tre Mason, whom the St. Louis Rams drafted in the third round of the most recent NFL draft.

Bleacher Report's Michael Felder, Barrett Sallee and Adam Kramer broke down Marshall's upside and outlook for the 2014 season:

Unfortunately, we'll have to wait to see the quarterback in action due to the team-imposed suspension that will force him to sit on the bench for an undisclosed amount of time against Arkansas.

Until Marshall returns, we can expect to see sophomore Jeremy Johnson take the reins. Last season, Johnson looked sharp in limited snaps, completing 70.7 percent of his passes for 422 yards, six touchdowns and two interceptions.

While Johnson looked fine in that small sample size, Auburn will need Marshall back in the fold to remain competitive in a very difficult SEC. A threatening presence on the football field, Marshall's playmaking ability with his arm and legs will continue to cause nightmares for opposing defensive coordinators.

With a full year of experience under his belt, Marshall should be expected to take some significant steps forward this season. If that's the case, we will certainly be hearing his name mentioned in Heisman Trophy conversations on a regular basis.

Auburn is currently ranked No. 5 in the Amway Coaches Poll and has substantial aspirations for the season ahead.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

4 Things We've Learned About Texas A&M Through Fall Camp so Far

The Texas A&M football team has completed its second week of fall camp, and some themes have started to emerge. The Aggies will be improved on defense, but how much they are improved remains to be seen. 

The central theme that most prognosticators have been hitting on during the offseason has been that the Aggies will take a step back on the field because their offense will drop off without quarterback Johnny Manziel at the helm. They also expect the defense will still struggle to be effective. 

Most pundits are ignoring the fact that the Aggies played a lot of freshmen on defense in 2013, and they will improve simply through maturing. There will not be as many busts because those sophomores will have a better understanding of the defense, and they will be more physically prepared to face off against SEC offenses. 

The defense—particularly the front four—should be improved in 2014. This is a look at that defensive improvement and a few other things that have become apparent during the second week of fall camp.

Begin Slideshow

Florida State Holds Jameis Winston Q&A on Twitter, Crab Leg Questions Pour in

The Florida State Seminoles football program thought it would be a good idea to hold a Twitter Q&A with starting quarterback Jameis Winston.

Unfortunately for the team, people seemed more concerned about his incident involving crab legs than they were about the coming football season.

There were plenty of funny responses, but here are a few of the best using #AskJameis:

[Twitter]

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

SEC Football: Ranking Fastest Players Heading into 2014 Season

"SEC speed" is a much-talked-about topic in every pocket of the country, and even though it's superiority is probably blown out of proportion, it is not altogether wrong to call the conference the fastest in America from top to bottom.

Unfortunately, the argument over which players best contribute to that speed is always an infuriating one to have.

How do we measure who is fastest? With quantifiable scores such as the 40-yard dash and track times or with what we see on game tape? And if it's the former, what times can and can't we trust? How do we know which hand-timed 40 is legit and which one isn't?

This list attempted to use a combination of those factors. We found all the official 40 times and track results we could, and we did our research to consider the unofficial scores as well. Then we watched some tape and saw which players looked the fastest on the field.

Alas, this list is still sure to end in disagreement, which is fine. It is not intended as a definitive ranking of the fastest players in the league, because putting together one of those would literally be impossible. Short of getting all these players together in a controlled environment on multiple occasions to take multiple samples running some sort of ringer of sprints, there is no way to know for sure who is fastest.

All we can realistically do is process the available data and make our most educated guess. That is what this list represents.

Sound off below to let me know why I'm an idiot!

Begin Slideshow

Max Wittek Rumors: Latest News, Buzz and More Surrounding QB's Transfer

USC quarterback Max Wittek is reportedly close making his long-awaited move away from the vaunted Southern California football program.

According to CBS Sports' Jeremy Fowler, Wittek is expected to join the University of Hawaii program later this month:

He is looking to transfer away from USC in the wake of young signal-caller Cody Kessler's rise to the starting role. Kessler came into his own in 2013, tossing 20 touchdowns against just seven interceptions.

Wittek would have to sit out the next season at Hawaii due to the NCAA's transfer rules, unless some sort of unforeseen exception is granted. This would leave the incoming junior with just one year of eligibility.

The 6'4" pocket passer appeared in just five games for the Trojans last season, completing 14 of 26 passes for 212 yards, no touchdowns and one interception.

This isn't the first report of a move away from Southern California for Wittek. He appeared to be set to move to the University of Texas, but Brian Davis of the Austin American-Statesman reported in May that Texas backed away from offering Wittek a scholarship for undisclosed reasons. It appears that indeed nothing ever materialized.

If Wittek does join Hawaii, he will have the opportunity to learn from vaunted quarterback guru Norm Chow, who is the head coach of the Rainbow Warriors. Chow also has connections to the USC program, having served as the offensive coordinator there from 2001-04.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Pages