NCAA Football News

Georgia Football: Projecting Who Will Win the Bulldogs' Open Starting Positions

Preseason practice for the Georgia Bulldogs is less than two months away, and there will be some interesting storylines that will develop as soon as they hit the field.

However, the top storyline will have to be the starting positions that will be open when players report to campus.

On offense, there are only a couple of starting spots that have yet to be determined because the majority of starters from last season make their return for the 2014 year.

The defense has 10 returning starters coming back, but defensive coordinator Jeremy Pruitt has made every position on the unit wide open.

So the defense that was on the field last year will look a lot different this year. Here’s a projected look at who will win the Bulldogs’ open starting positions.

Begin Slideshow

Alabama Football Recruiting: 8 Commits and Top Targets to Watch at The Opening

A large portion of Alabama’s 2015 recruiting class will be on display at The Opening next month.

Nine current Tide commitments are scheduled to compete at the camp, which pits some of the nation’s top prospects against one another at the Nike headquarters in Oregon.

With a healthy mix of committed prospects and top targets in attendance, the action between the various seven-on-seven teams and the offensive and defensive line drills will be must-see TV for Tide fans.

Which players should Tide fans zero in on during The Opening?

 

All rankings courtesy of 247Sports Composite Rankings. Players listed in alphabetical order.

Begin Slideshow

College Football Teams with Easiest, Hardest Road Game Schedules in 2014

Home-field advantage is a tremendous factor in college football. It is something we always talk about—and with good reason. Stadiums are loud and refs are stupid, and players are too young to cope with that. They get rattled and choke away games that they ought to win. It happens all the time.

This is why we spend so much time parsing through schedules during the offseason. A great team with an adverse road slate might fare worse than a good team with an auspicious one—not because the latter is actually better necessarily, but because it is better-equipped.

This list includes the seven hardest and seven easiest road schedules in college football. For reasons that I hope are obvious, only power-conference teams (and Notre Dame) were included. You don't need me to tell you that the Sun Belt plays easier opponents than the SEC.

The method used for this ranking was relative to each conference.Obviously, if you believe the SEC is light-years ahead of the other power conferences, you would want to place all its teams in the "hardest" section. This list abstained from doing that.

Also of note: Discretion was used for games that will be played at neutral sites. One team on this list, for example, will travel across the country to play Washington State at CenturyLink Field in Seattle. That has been counted as a road game, as one team is a) close to home and b) has a distinct advantage over the other.

Most neutral-field games, however, have been ignored.

Make sense? Cool.

Sound off below and let me know what you think.

Begin Slideshow

Latest on Torrance Gibson: Tennessee Still Pursuing, Auburn 'Has the Edge'

Quinten Dormady, a 3-star quarterback, committed to the Tennessee Volunteers recently. What does this mean for their recruitment of the hottest prospect in the class, Torrance Gibson? Tennessee was tied with Auburn when Gibson announced his top school recently. Where do Tennessee and Auburn now stand with the stud quarterback?

Watch JC Shurburtt break down the latest news on Gibson.

 

Highlights courtesy XOS Digital. All recruit rankings from 247 Sports

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Shelby Osborne Follows Female Trailblazers Toward College Football History

The home crowd had plenty to cheer about at Jeffersonville High School (Indiana) on Aug. 30, 2013, as the Red Devils put the finishing touches on a 61-7 victory over Seymour High School in the team's conference opener.

An elated group of fans at Blair Field celebrated nine Jeffersonville touchdowns but saved their best for last.

A reserve Red Devils defensive back sprinted onto the field and the crowd began to chant in unison:

Shelby! Shelby! Shelby!

Just like that, Shelby Osborne became a varsity football player.

"I hated it [the chanting]," she said. "I just wanted to be on the field to play... It wasn't fair to the other guys."

And so it goes with Osborne, who is set to make college football history. As the nation focuses on her gender, she's only concerned with her footwork and upcoming college debut at Kentucky's Campbellsville University.

"I’m just one of the guys," she said. "I want the same treatment, to hit just as hard."

The 5'6", 140-pound cornerback is about to become the first female defensive back in college football history after signing a letter of intent on June 4.

Some have called Osborne a trailblazer. She'd prefer to be referred to as a football player.

"I am fully and wholeheartedly in love with this game," Osborne said.

 

Planting the Seed

Osborne has always been an athlete. She played tennis and soccer as an underclassman, and also joined the track team.

Her ambitions changed in November 2012.

Osborne was in attendance for the Red Devils' postseason matchup against Castle High School. With a trip to the Class 5A (currently in 6A) state quarterfinals on the line, Jeffersonville suffered a lopsided loss and provided one member of the fanbase with a fascinating thought.

"We weren’t playing so hot or even to the best of our ability," Osborne recalled. "I said to myself, 'I could play better than that,' and that’s what planted the seed."

Rather than deliberate the idea internally and open the door for self-doubt to creep in, she decided to approach the one person who had the power to stand in her way.

"The first person to find out was Coach Lonnie Oldham," Osborne said. "I went up to him and explained who I was and why this tiny little girl was talking to him."

Oldham, hired as the Red Devils head coach in 2011, is a gridiron veteran who previously led a pair of high school programs in Kentucky. He gave the tiny little girl a green light to join his team, but it came with a succinct condition.

"I told her, 'You can play but you have to do everything that everyone else on the team does,'" Oldham said. "If she put the time in the weight room then she could be on the team."

It's a different response than the one Jen Welter received when she revealed her intentions to play high school football.

The former Boston College rugby star became the first woman to suit up at a position aside from kicker in a professional men's football league earlier this year. She signed with the Texas Revolution of the Indoor Football League and earned her first carries at running back in February.

Welter's football journey began later than she would've preferred.

Like Osborne, her youth was filled with athletic involvement. Welter served as a team captain on the soccer team while attending Sebastian River High School near Vero Beach, Florida.

Though she commanded plenty of respect for her soccer prowess, Welter would look longingly at the football practice field. She wanted to give the sport a shot, but it was radical and largely unheard of almost two decades ago when Welter attempted to talk head coach Randy Bethel into it.

Bethel was blunt about her football prospects.

"He told me, 'You’re a heck of an athlete and I think you could help this team but I don’t want you to do it because someday you’ll make a guy look really bad on the field. He’ll be embarrassed and retaliate. If you get hurt, it would be tough for me not to go after him,'" Welter said.

Instead of feeling disgruntled, she took time to digest his words.

"It was such an honest breakdown of what it might be like on the football field for me," Welter said. "It wasn’t about questioning my athleticism, it was about who I’d be going up against. There is a sheer size difference."

She would return to train with Bethel during her transition from Boston College rugby to professional women's football.

Welter, who stands at about 5'2", 130 pounds, understood the risks involved. So did Osborne.

She launched a personal campaign to physically prepare for the demands of life as a positional player.

"I gave everything," Osborne said. "From waking up before everyone in my house was awake to run before school, joining track, weightlifting and sports performance classes during school, to staying after with the coaches every day... I don’t return home from training till 8 or 9 on most nights."

Osborne also knew she would have to be mentally tough in order to turn her dream into reality. There was pressure not to play, even at home.

"The task of convincing my parents came along after (talking to Oldham), and this was no easy task," she said. "They were completely and utterly against me playing."

Many parents can probably identify with Robert and Kim Osborne, who weren't available to speak with Bleacher Report. We've entered an era of football that focuses on head trauma and player safety, so sending your teenage daughter onto a field featuring 280-pound linemen isn't exactly ideal.

Osborne felt alone on her journey at times during its earliest stages. Eventually, the process would take her to heights she never imagined.

"I was the only person in the world that believed in myself," Osborne said. "But day by day I slowly began to change people’s minds."

 

Strap 'Em Up

Even though he gave her an opportunity, Coach Oldham never envisioned Osborne would reach the Red Devils sideline in 2013.

"To be honest, I didn’t think she’d make it through the offseason," he said.

High school football comes into focus for about three months but it takes a year's worth of work to build a winning team. A spot on the Jeffersonville roster requires dedication in the weight room.

Just as she promised, Osborne never allowed other teammates to outpace her. They might have been six inches taller or 100 pounds heavier, but she was equally invested in the team's quest for success.

"Shelby showed up to the weight room day after day from November to May," Oldham said. "She had perfect attendance and was always on time. As a coach, that's all you can ask for."

Osborne soon became embedded as a member of the team. Fellow players and coaches respected the work she was willing to put in and her reluctance to be treated differently than anyone else fighting for time on the field.

Instead of complicating locker room dynamics, she became a team catalyst. Osborne was voted a junior varsity captain.

"It was never any kind of distraction," Oldham said. "I go by last name. When I said 'Osborne,' she was always there. We hardly noticed there was a girl on the team because she went through the same drills as every high school football player in America and was just another part of the team."

Welter also went through the process of earning respect from teammates as a new member of the pro team in Texas. She knew there was only one way to solidify her spot on the squad while competing against former college standouts.

"I earned respect by getting hit, getting my butt whooped and getting back up again," Welter said. "If you’re a football player, that’s how you earn respect. After that, they realized I’m a football player."

When the 2013 Jeffersonville season arrived, Osborne did her best to make sure she was strictly viewed as a football player—particularly in the eyes of opponents.

"Most of them didn’t know I was a girl because I would hide my hair and do anything possible to not show I was a girl," Osborne said. "I never wanted anyone to take it easy on me."

The payoff came during postgame handshakes.

"They only realized I wasn’t a guy when I unsnapped my helmet and my hair began to fall out of it," she said. "Shaking the hands of my competitors was my favorite part of the game because I showed I could play with them and they couldn’t discount what I did because they never knew I was a girl."

Osborne made five varsity appearances at defensive back, serving as a Red Devils team captain in one contest. The Jeffersonville bleachers erupted with chants of "Shelby" each time she sprinted onto the field.

There were no postseason accolades or grand celebrations waiting for her when the journey ended in the second round of state playoffs. Still, an undeniable sense of accomplishment overwhelmed Osborne.

It was a feeling she simply wasn't prepared to walk away from.

 

Breaking Barriers

"I didn’t decide I was going to pursue (college football) until after the (season) was over," Osborne said. "I knew I couldn’t face a time where I didn’t hit the field each day and strap up my cleats."

Plenty of former players can identify with that sentiment. The vast majority of athletes reach the end of their competitive football careers as high school seniors.

Against all odds, Osborne searched for a way to avoid that fate.

"I didn’t send a single letter to colleges about Shelby, but she was relentless," Oldham said.

He estimates Osborne sent letters to at least 200 schools regarding the possibility of earning a roster spot. However, college coaches weren't clamoring for a 5'6" prospect with one year of experience.

Things changed when she attended an open recruiting event at Campbellsville University, located in central Kentucky. It was the atmosphere Osborne always wanted.

"After I left from a visit, half the team and recruits hit me up on Twitter or Instagram, messaging me and expressing how cool it is of me to be trying," she said. "They were actually more accepting than my high school team was at the beginning."

Conversations with the coaching staff led to Osborne's historic signing:

Campbellsville competes in the Mid-South Conference. It featured a student population of 3,318 last spring.

Just like in high school, nothing is guaranteed for Osborne at the next level.

"She wanted to play college football, and now she has the chance," Campbellsville head coach Perry Thomas told Jonathan Lintner of The Courier-Journal. "I think she understands the grind and so forth it takes to come in here and do that."

Support swiftly arrived from her future teammates on Twitter.

"It'll be an honor to play the defensive back position with you next year," wrote Alex Franklin, an incoming freshman from Somerset, Kentucky.

Senior defensive lineman Shane Williamson made it clear Campbellsville is ready to welcome Osborne with open arms.

"She's a girl. She's our teammate. Who cares," he wrote. "Worry about your game. She gives her all. She's cool in my book."

Osborne is the first female athlete to pursue a collegiate career at her position, but others helped pave a path for women in the past.

Placekicker Katie Hnida is one of them. She remains the only woman to score a point in Division I-A (now known as FBS) competition, breaking the barrier with New Mexico in 2003.

Her historic career started at Colorado, where she became the first woman to suit up for a bowl game in 1999. However, she dealt with dark times in Boulder before deciding to transfer.

"When I was at CU, I kind of shut down," Hnida said. "I wasn’t reaching out for help from the people I was close to. I thought I could just handle it all myself. College football is very challenging and demanding, and that’s true for both men and women. But when you’re always under that microscope, it’s very difficult."

Hnida helped set the stage for young women to view college football as a possibility. She's communicated with Osborne in the past and reached out to her immediately after hearing about the signing.

"Every girl who goes out and does this is still breaking some kind of barrier," she said. "As long as you’ve got the size, speed and ability, who cares if you’re a girl, boy or Martian."

Osborne expressed deep appreciation for the guidance Hnida has offered.

"Every time I needed help with the process of recruiting she was there willing to help," Osborne said. "She really is a remarkable person."

 

For Love of the Game

The next challenge that lies ahead for Osborne is to prove she can handle the rigors of playing a position that can require you to cover 6'3" receivers with speed and tackle 230-pound fullbacks.

It certainly sounds like a tall task, but it's something she's willing to try. Her heart won't let her leave the game she loves just yet.

It's a love that millions of players can comprehend, whether their career ended in high school or the NFL Hall of Fame.

"The No. 1 thing is about someone being able to do what they love regardless of their gender," Hnida said. "It’s a beautiful thing."

Osborne leaves behind a legacy at Jeffersonville High School, regardless of how many varsity games she played. Coach Oldham hopes she inspires his Red Devils in the future.

"I’ve already used her as an example as we start a new season," he said. "You’ve got to advocate for yourself in order to achieve goals. A lot of people talk about doing stuff, but that’s just talk. Shelby wanted to play football and she went out and did it."

 

All quotes obtained firsthand by B/R college football recruiting columnist Tyler Donohue unless otherwise noted.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Clemson's Monster Recruiting in June Could Lead to National Championship

The Clemson Tigers are poised to have a monster June in terms of recruiting. Can any other program challenge the Tigers and win the month? Ohio State has only landed two recruits for its 2015 class. What will the Buckeyes' class look like when the month is over. 

Check out JC Shurburtt give his top five schools that could win the month. 

 

Highlights courtesy XOS Digital. Recruit rankings from 247 Sports

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

USC Football: End of Sanctions Can Awaken a Sleeping Giant

Were USC's sanctions fair?

That debate will rage for years. Along with the unprecedented action taken against Penn State in 2012, those sanctions will be the measuring stick by which future NCAA sanctions are compared. 

Like driving, discussing whether X team was shafted can cause level-headed folks to unleash a fit of uncontrollable expletives. 

USC athletic director Pat Haden is a bit more restrained. He has to be. 

"I will go to my grave thinking they were unfair," Haden told Gary Klein of the Los Angeles Times about the sanctions. "I'd be surprised if that kind of penalty will ever be imposed again."

Tuesday marks the end of those sanctions levied against the program four years ago, brought about (in part) by impermissible benefits received by former running back Reggie Bush. USC received a two-year postseason ban and a loss of 30 scholarships over three years as a result.  

All because, in the eyes of the Committee on Infractions, coaches and administrators "should" have known what was going on. 

But USC has served its time. Now, the Trojans are ready to return to normal—which, for them, means competing for Pac-12 and national championships. 

The question is how soon USC can make it happen. 

The postseason ban was inconvenient, but nothing compared to the loss of scholarships. As Klein notes, the reductions were only part of the formula that left USC with little more than half of a normal roster: 

Scholarship reductions combined with injuries, transfers and attrition left USC's football team with 44 available scholarship players for last season's Las Vegas Bowl. That's 41 fewer than the NCAA maximum, so it will take at least two years of signing maximum-size recruiting classes of 25 before the Trojans are back to full roster strength.

The Times' timeline for a return to an 85-scholarship roster makes some sense mathematically. USC signed 19 players—five were early enrollees—as part of the 2014 class. Starting next February, first-year head coach Steve Sarkisian will be able to sign a full class. 

Factor in another class or two and the Trojans should finally be back to or near the 85-man limit. But there are always early departures, transfers and natural attrition to take into consideration. 

Whether the rebuilding project takes two, three or four years, the consensus should be that it won't take seven, eight or nine. 

USC has shown it can win without depth too; it just couldn't do it consistently. The Trojans won 10 games last year, most of them with interim coach Ed Orgeron, with 40-something scholarship players in the second-toughest conference in college football. Two seasons before that, USC went 10-2 and would have had a spot in the inaugural Pac-12 championship game had it not been for the postseason ban. 

Overall, a 35-17 record during the four-year probation is a sign that USC can survive, and sometimes thrive, in difficult circumstances. 

"That’s a testament to what SC’s about," tight end Randall Telfer, who is entering his final season at USC, told B/R's Trenise Ferreira. "But at the same time, we hold our team to the highest standard. We got guys who are capable of going the distance and for a year or two we fell short.

"But in light of the sanctions, we accomplished a lot and I am very proud of this team."

As odd as it sounds, former coach Lane Kiffin deserves some kudos for that. For all the criticism Kiffin received, he recruited well amid the sanctions. Three times, Kiffin hauled in a top-10 signing class, according to 247Sports. Sarkisian's first class in February ranked 11th nationally. 

USC will never have trouble recruiting, but even the most vocal Kiffin critics have to admit having top-10 classes with sanctions is impressive. 

Ultimately, it was Kiffin's inability to do anything consistently with that talent that cost him his job. And, yes, injuries played a role—especially in 2012 when USC went 7-6. That's when the roster attrition hurts the most: when second- and third-string players aren't the same caliber as usual. 

What USC needs is a full roster of blue-chip players and a top-tier coach to maintain long-term success. That's true for any program with championship aspirations. 

The talent part shouldn't be an issue. Soon enough, depth won't be an issue. If USC can't get back to competing for conference championships, let alone national championships, within the next five years, that's on Sarkisian. 

Too much is made about "splash hires"—Pete Carroll certainly wasn't one when he took over USC in 2001—but Sarkisian is a wild card. In fact, USC's persistence about staying within the Carroll coaching tree has been questioned (Sarkisian was an assistant under Carroll). 

Hired last December to replace Kiffin, Sarkisian went 34-29 in five seasons with Washington. To post an overall winning record with a program that had gone winless the year before his arrival is nothing to scoff at. 

At the same time, Washington isn't lacking in the resources department, and Sarkisian posted a top-25 recruiting class following each full season in Seattle. Yet, the Huskies never won more than eight regular-season games under Sarkisian. Furthermore, Sarkisian recorded just one victory against Stanford (2012) and no wins against Oregon. 

There may not be much shame in losing to Stanford and Oregon—the two are among college football's best at the moment—but the 1-9 record against them stands out all the same. 

But these are just numbers—past numbers, at that—and in no way indicative of the future. For all anyone knows, Sarkisian may be the guy to take USC to the level of success it once enjoyed under Carroll. 

USC is, if nothing else, confident. 

"No program in the country could have endured the past four years the way USC has," Haden said in an official statement through USCTrojans.com

The program did manage to upgrade its facilities and expand its compliance department, all while running a balanced budget. All in all, the sanctions were nowhere as crippling as they first appeared.

Furthermore, the court of public opinion has turned on the NCAA, and many now wonder why athletes receiving benefits is such a big deal. It's amazing how the roles of bad guy have flipped. 

Adding another thrust into the heartbeat of the NCAA would be for USC to come back as strong as it was before the sanctions. 

The pieces are in place for that to happen. 

 

Ben Kercheval is a lead writer for college football at Bleacher Report. Quotes courtesy of Trenise Ferreira unless specified otherwise. All recruiting information courtesy of 247Sports.com

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

UCLA Football Recruiting: 4 Top Targets to Watch at the Opening

The nation's top recruits in the class of 2015 converge on Beaverton, Oregon, next month for this year's edition of The Opening.

UCLA Bruins fans should keep an eye on the event's proceedings—UCLA coaches certainly will be. 

Head coach Jim Mora and his staff are in the hunt to sign several of the recruits showcasing their abilities at the event.

Four of the Bruins' top prospects participating could be cornerstone signees for the coming year, and The Opening is a unique glimpse into what each might offer in the Pac-12.

Begin Slideshow

Texas, OU Red River Rivalry Game Will Remain at Cotton Bowl Through 2025

For at least another decade, the Big 12's (and perhaps America's) greatest rivalry will remain in its customary place.

According to Tom Benning of The Dallas Morning NewsTexas and Oklahoma have agreed to a five-year extension that will keep the "Red River Showdown" at the Cotton Bowl in Dallas, Texas, through 2025. The previous deal ran through 2020.

"The schools appreciate the venue," said Dallas civic leader Pete Schenkel, the former chairman of the State Fair of Texas (during which the game is played). "It’s more of an event, than it is a game."

Schenkel led negotiations for the the city and the State Fair of Texas, settling on a fee of $500,000 in direct payments to each school for playing at the Cotton Bowl. They also get a split of the ticket sales.

This news must be considered a win for the fans—who love the spectacle of playing at the State Fair—and for the Cotton Bowl itself.

Jerry Jones negotiated a deal to move the AT&T Cotton Bowl Classic away from its namesake in 2009, when it began being played in AT&T Stadium in Arlington. The Red River Showdown remains unmoved.

"There's no question that’s a nice stadium out at AT&T, but we have a nice stadium, too," Schenkel continued. "This is such a nice tradition."

There might be good news on the Classic's front as well.

According to Monday's big story in the Sports Business Journalthere has still been no word on whether AT&T will renew its terms as the Cotton Bowl's title sponsor during the College Football Playoff era:

To say the game might move back to its namesake is speculative. AT&T is a longtime sponsor of the Classic, and even if it did, for some reason, drop out, there is no guarantee it would move locales.

But it would certainly make things easier.

AT&T does, after all, have its name on the building in Arlington. It is not so fortunate to have the same on the building in Dallas.

But for now, that is looking a little too far down the road. Texas and OU will play in their proper spot every season for the next 11 years.

And that is something to celebrate.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Texas A&M Football Recruiting: 13 Commits & Top Targets to Watch at The Opening

Nike's The Opening has developed into the premier college football recruiting event of the summer. The Texas A&M football team will have multiple recruiting targets and verbal pledges participating in the 2014 edition. 

The Aggies have five verbal commitments who are participating in. The fact that the Aggies have five verbal pledges participating in a national recruiting event speaks volumes about the state of Texas A&M recruiting at this time. 

The Opening gives a large group of the elite recruits in the country the chance to compete and compare themselves with each other. It allows fans of college football recruiting the chance to get an unfiltered look at recruits. 

This is a look at the Aggie recruiting targets and commits who are competing in The Opening. 

 

Begin Slideshow

Scouting Report, Highlights and Predictions for 5-Star WR Preston Williams

Preston Williams is among the most interesting prospects in the 2015 class. His size, speed and strength are all traits of a dominant receiver on the college level.

Although he is committed to Tennessee, schools from all over the nation are still trying to recruit Williams. However, he has the skills to come in right away and help the passing game on Rocky Top.

Williams' high ceiling warrants a more in-depth look.

All recruiting ratings and rankings are from 247Sports' composite rankings. Player evaluations are based on review of tape at Scout.comRivals and 247Sports.

Begin Slideshow

USC Football Recruiting: There's No Excuse for Steve Sarkisian Post-Sanctions

Midnight strikes on one of the more turbulent periods in USC football history, as the harshest NCAA sanctions levied in 20 years conclude. With the proverbial handcuffs off, Trojans head coach Steve Sarkisian has no excuse for not dominating the recruiting scene in the Pac-12 in the years to come.

The end of the sanctions hardly means USC is out of the woods. Returning to a full, 85-man roster will not happen with just one recruiting class, or perhaps even two, as Josh Webb of USCFootball.com notes: 

Ironically, the sanctions became a double-edged sword for USC on the recruiting front. The hit the program took to its depth after three years of reduced scholarship allotment was an obvious negative, but it also meant newcomers had to contribute immediately. 

Those immediate playing opportunities kept 4- and 5-star prospects coming to USC amid the turbulence. Sarkisian's predecessor, Lane Kiffin, signed classes ranked No. 9 and No. 12 nationally in 2012 and 2013. 

Sarkisian continued that trend in 2014, landing the nation's No. 11-ranked class, and the best overall class in the Pac-12 despite staff turnover as Sarkisian supplanted interim head coach Ed Orgeron. 

"To think, in the past six weeks, the majority of which being a massive dead period in the middle, we signed, of our 19, 12 kids who weren't committed to us," Sarkisian said in his national signing day press conference, per USCFootball.com

Among those late signees were 5-star prospects Adoree' Jackson and John "JuJu" Smith, both of whom should see significant playing time right out of the gate. 

Indeed, the Trojans will still need an influx of talent ready to contribute immediately from the cream of its recruiting crop. As the star prospects come in and shine early, they are typically not long for the program. 

To wit, USC was tied for the most early entries into last month's NFL draft with five, despite having one of the thinnest rosters. 

Wide receivers Robert Woods and Marqise Lee each starred as first-year players, and both left early for the NFL. Nelson Agholor enters the 2014 campaign as one of the nation's premier receivers, and could very well continue that trend. 

However, Sarkisian will need a lower portion of his signing classes to contribute immediately going forward, and that's one of the true recruiting boons of the sanctions ending.  

Starting in 2015, national signing day will be as much about adding depth as filling immediate, pressing needs in the starting lineup. That's already beginning to manifest in the 2015 recruiting class, currently ranked atop the Pac-12

Sarkisian has eight commitments, including two on the offensive line—a position that had its depth noticeably depleted by the sanctions. The 2014 signing class brought in five new linemen. Some, like spring breakout performer Toa Lobendahn, must contribute immediately.

But talented prospects in the 2015 class will have more opportunity to develop without being thrown immediately into the fray.  

Another boon: Sarkisian will not have to rely heavily on mid-year enrollees, as was the case for USC in the sanctioned recruiting cycles. As Sarkisian said in his signing day press conference, the final weeks were the most important in bringing together the 2014 class.

A midyear graduate exception allowed USC to sign additional recruits, but only those able to enroll early. Those scholarships were on a use-it-or-lose-it basis. The expiration of the sanctions allows Sarkisian and staff to cast a wider net, no longer having to focus on signing a particular number of early enrollees. 

As recruits replenish the Trojan ranks, USC should take a big step toward once again being the Pac-12's preeminent program. 

 

Recruiting rankings and information culled from 247Sports.com.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Updated Travis Waller Odds: Where Will Hottest QB Recruit Play College Football?

Four-star quarterback Travis Wallerannounced his top four schools recently, so we broke out the odds board to predict where the most hotly recruited QB of the class will land.

Notre Dame offered Waller last week, and he was extremely excited about the chance to play for the Fighting Irish. Where does Notre Dame land on our odds board?

Watch Adam Kramer break down which program is most likely to land Waller. 

 

Highlights courtesy of XOS Digital. Recruit rankings from 247Sports Composite

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Best College Football Value Bets to Throw Down This Summer

If the offseason is a tunnel, we have come to its darkest point. There is no time with less relevant college football news than mid-June and early July. This is as bad as it gets.

However, because we have made it through the false illumination of recruiting season and spring practice, being in the darkness does not seem so bad. For the first time since we entered this tunnel six months ago—since we were forced to take the on-ramp in Pasadena—we can properly see the light on its other side.

One of the rays that is irradiating from that light is the release of early prop bets. Whether they be player-, team- or even Week 1-specific, these bets give us something to talk about, argue over and—if you live in Nevada, of course!—wager on in the run-up to the season.

Deriving value from these numbers is a difficult exercise. A sharp would recommend some sort of algorithm or power number, and a square would bet with his heart. I fall somewhere between these two extremes, preferring to think like a sharp—I understand the basic tenets of gambling—but not having access to their super-arcane data.

Which means these bets were derived from a combination of the two. I looked at the rosters, the schedules and the advanced stats to determine where some value might lie, but I also, in a couple cases, went with my gut or on a whim. Why not?

Sound off below and tell me where you disagree.

 

Note: Betting information came from one of two sources: Adam Kramer's blog, Kegs 'N Eggs, or these two posts at CBSSports.com

Begin Slideshow

2015 College Football Recruits with Best Kick-Return Skills

A big part of the game of football is special teams, especially the return game. Recruits who have the skills and potential to also help a team as punt returners or kick returners only see their value increase.

Looking around the 2015 class, several prospects appear to have the needed skill sets to excel as returners. Explosiveness, elusiveness, vision, awareness, quickness, agility, creativity and speed are traits a top return man needs to have.

Whether it's a 4-star running back from Texas looking like a potentially dynamic kickoff returner, or an explosive 4-star athlete from Ohio with excellent punt return skills, the 2015 class features a ton of future returners.

All recruiting ratings and rankings are from 247Sports' Composite Rankings.Player evaluations are based on review of tape at Scout.comRivals and 247Sports.

Begin Slideshow

Notre Dame Football: How 4-Star Travis Waller Would Fit in QB Depth Chart

Even in June, recruiting chaos can take hold of the college football world. And the last week has put the quarterback carousel into quite a spin. In less than 48 hours, Notre Dame went from having one of Southern California's best quarterbacks top-lining their recruiting class to having another top SoCal signal-caller in their crosshairs.

Even though the Irish coaching staff thought it was finished recruiting quarterbacks when Blake Barnett committed to the Irish back in November, less than 48 hours after Barnett's decommitment, the Irish put out three offers and became the favorites to land Travis Waller, arguably a better prospect than the one the Irish started the week with. 

So with Barnett gone and Waller trending toward the Irish, let's take a step back and see how one crazy week impacted the Irish quarterback depth chart. 

 

What Just Happened?

If you took off on your summer vacation last week, you might have missed everything. So just in case you did, let's go over the highlights. 

  • Around this time last week, Barnett was saying all the right things about his commitment to Notre Dame. He even talked up his upcoming June visit to South Bend with Rivals.com's Adam Gorney (subscription required). 
  • But behind the scenes, Barnett had planned an unofficial visit to Oregon, and fresh off of it, 247Sports' Justin Hopkins first reported that Barnett decommitted from the Irish. He also cancelled the June visit to Notre Dame, eliminating the Irish from consideration.  
  • The Irish coaching staff reopened its quarterback recruitment by taking aim at three top prospects: Travis Waller, Texas Tech commit Jarrett Stidham and Florida quarterback Deondre Francois.
  • Waller posted a cryptic tweet Monday that had many thinking he was ready to commit to Notre Dame, sight unseen.
  • Instead, Waller named his four finalists, with Notre Dame, Northwestern, Ohio State and Alabama in the final grouping. He'll decide on July 1. 

In a matter of days, Notre Dame rebooted its quarterback evaluations, targeted three elite players and made well-received offers for all three. Even Jared from Silicon Valley would've been impressed at the Irish's pivot. 

 

How Waller Compares to Barnett

It's no surprise that Notre Dame would be interested in Waller. He's a perfect system player for the Irish offense. He comes from a Notre Dame pipeline school in Anaheim's Servite, which most recently produced former tight end Troy Niklas.

Waller also works out with noted quarterback guru Steve Clarkson, Jimmy Clausen's personal quarterback coach. The South Bend Tribune's Bob Wieneke caught up with Clarkson and asked about his most recent star pupil, and as you'd guess, Clarkson gave Waller a glowing review

One of the things that Clarkson pointed out is how Waller has played against big-time competition, listing national powers Long Beach (Calif.) Poly, Concord (Calif.) De La Salle and Las Vegas Bishop Gorman as teams Servite has tangled with.

"And he's been a dominant player in those games," Clarkson said." He'll fit in at any system. He's what I like to call a pro-style athlete. He can operate out of a pro system but also is your new-wave spread quarterback. He's very gifted athletically. he's extremely accurate as a passer."

Clarkson said Waller is hopeful to make a visit to ND soon and expects a decision within weeks. A top four or five could be announced this weekend.

"He's a great kid, he's an outstanding football player," Clarkson said. "If Notre Dame is fortunate enough to get him, they're not going to be ... they're not going backwards that's for sure. The kid's one heck of a football player."

It's worth noting that Clarkson has worked with both Waller and Barnett, so he's seen the apples-to-apples comparison of both quarterbacks. His last comment is likely an evaluation as well as a statement of support for Waller. 

On the field, Waller fits the mold of recent Irish quarterback recruits, capable of being both a dynamic runner and passer. Playing some of the top prep competition in the country, Waller shows a great deal of talent doing both—and doing so from a spread offense that's highly evolved. 

"He's a very dynamic kid running the ball," Servite head coach A.J. Gass told AL.com on May 20. "Athletically, he's like a linebacker in the backfield. When he's got to stand back and throw, he's got great arm strength and tremendous accuracy. He's truly one of the best dual-threat quarterbacks in the nation."

From a prospect perspective, Barnett's raw abilities seem to project a higher upside, and they've been a big reason why his ranking shot up during this summer evaluation period. Barnett has a big arm and a little bit more size and speed than Waller. But he's also a far less finished product and plays in an inferior high school program as well. 

 

How Does Waller Project in Notre Dame's QB Depth Chart...If He Chooses the Irish?

If Waller does pick the Irish on July 1, he'll enter the same competitive situation that Barnett had signed on for. Everett Golson is a senior on paper but will have a fifth year of eligibility in 2015. Both Malik Zaire and DeShone Kizer enter the 2014 season with all four years of eligibility. Unless something drastic happens, Kizer will redshirt, giving him four years at the start of 2015 as well. 

On paper, Waller—just like Barnett—is a higher-rated recruit than either of the Irish's young quarterbacks. But as Brian Kelly showed with Tommy Rees, Dayne Crist and Gunner Kiel, star ratings don't matter once the ink is dry on a letter of intent.

Still, Waller is another custom-made quarterback for what Brian Kelly wants to do with his offense, likely part of the reason the Irish were so quick to offer and recruitniks were so quick to connect the two prospects. 

While over 80 percent of 247Sports' Crystal Ball predictions have the Irish landing Waller, it'll be a fierce competition for his signature as well. As the Irish make up for lost time, it's also worth noting that the tectonic shifts among elite quarterbacks has added some interesting twists to a handful of recruitments. 

Some believed Waller would end up at Oregon...until it looked like Barnett was ready to commit to the Ducks. Now, Barnett wants to visit (subscription required) Alabama, Georgia and LSU before making a decision, putting Oregon's quarterback choice likely on hold for a bit longer as well. 

Alabama had 5-star quarterback Ricky Town committed until Lane Kiffin became the Tide's offensive coordinator (Town's now committed to USC). That leaves Nick Saban still looking for a quarterback, with one additional target off the board after Quinten Dormady pledged to Tennessee on Monday, per his 247Sports page. 

Deondre Francois is interested in both Alabama and Florida State, and there's a good chance he wants to come up and see Notre Dame as well. His high school coach, Chris Weinke, has ties to FSU, where he won a Heisman. He also has great respect for Notre Dame and is a part of the Cretin-Derham Hall family that has supplied so many players to the Irish in recent years. 

For the past seven months, the Irish have felt good about their quarterback situation in the 2015 recruiting class. They still could by the end of the month if Waller commits, which certainly would be no consolation prize after losing out on Barnett. 

But with three offers out and a dozen elite quarterbacks still trying to decide on a college, Waller's decision is one of the many dominoes yet to fall.

(And another reason why following college football is so fun.) 

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

USC Football: Players and Fans React to the End of NCAA Sanctions

As of today, the book penned by USC during the four years of its sanctions finally comes to a close. 

What a relief. 

As much as USC has done to shake the weight of what are now considered to be some of the most vindictive sanctions in sports history, it feels different to formally be able to break the chains that confined the Trojans to mediocrity. 

For the students, fans and student-athletes who went through the sanctions, Tuesday marks an important turning point for the program.

“When I was deciding, one of the main things was I wanted to go to school with a lot of school spirit and sports," said Taryn McNamee, who graduated from USC in 2013.  "When I was in high school, I liked going to football games, so I wanted to go to a football school."

McNamee's first year of USC football was defined by the Trojans going 9-4, and Pete Carroll leaving for the NFL. And that was only the beginning.

“I loved going to the games. The student section was live. The whole ‘Big Balls Pete thing’, it was all good times," McNamee said. "I felt like the whole school was together as one during those games.”

Then, everything changed.

“I was already sad at the end of our first season because we didn’t go to the Rose Bowl. And then the next year, they didn’t have a bowl, so I was like, ‘Are you freaking kidding me?’ All of sudden, we couldn’t go to anything."

She wasn't the only one who felt that way.

For those first two years, USC's student population was in flux; is it worth it to go to games when the team can't play for anything?

Zack Jerome, owner of the LostAngeles blog and USC alumnus, had the answer. 

"I noticed when looking through Facebook and Twitter," Jerome said, "there were so many younger students coming in that were not excited about going to games. And not in a bad way, but in that general malaise around the fact that the games wouldn't count.

So I got frustrated that people weren’t excited about walking down Trousdale and going to games. The championship is such a small part of the experience," Jerome said.

USC students over the sanctions years will remember Jerome's weekly posts leading up to and recapping Trojan football games during the two seasons the bowl ban was in effect. He got students riled up, excited for the possibility of sticking it to the NCAA.

And it worked wonders. 

"When I saw how the posts went, and seeing people use my signs on game day and when players were buying the shirts, when that stuff started happening, I was like, ‘I struck a nerve,'" he said. "I felt a deep sense of community."

For two years, USC students eagerly awaited Jerome's posts, donned his shirts with slogans that read "Bowls are for salad" and "You can't sanction the endzone", and embraced the us-against-the-world mentality that Jerome encouraged.  

"I thought I just had a good beat on what our team and our fans and what our school wanted to say if they could, so I took that role very, very seriously," Jerome said. "To me, that time will always be the most special."

In a sense, the whole four-year period that USC went through was special. Special for the extremely difficult situation the Trojans were in, and special for the way the Trojans responded to it all.

"For those of us who worked so hard to get to USC, football was supposed to be a bonus," McNamee said.  "So you feel bad for the guys on the team who committed to go there and got crushed. They just had to deal with it all, but they did it well."

For veterans like tight end Randall Telfer, the USC he came into four years ago and the program he represents now are completely different. But even through it all, he's proud to have been a part of this era in Trojan history. 

"I grew up watching USC to a certain extent," Telfer said. "My cousins went there and my aunt worked there, so I would come to 'SC every now and again to hang out. But before high school, I was playing soccer and basketball so I didn’t follow it a lot."

Once he got to high school and started taking football more seriously, he knew there was nowhere else he wanted to go. He saw Troy get crushed by the NCAA his senior year of high school, but that didn't turn Telfer away.

"Unless USC went up in flames, I was gonna attend USC."

So he did, though he didn't fully anticipate just how devastating the sanctions would be on his tenure there. 

"I didn’t know all that it entailed or what damage it would do. I was like 30 scholarships over three years; how bad can that be? No bowl games, whatever. It didn’t really hit me."

It didn't take too long for him to understand, however.

"When I really realized it was 2011 when we went 10-2. That’s when it really hit me. I was so excited; we’re winning, we kicked UCLA’s butt. We should be playing for a Pac-12 championship or in a cool bowl, and then nothing. That’s when it hit me. Like, dang, we’re sanctioned."

As we know, it went all downhill from there. 

After the first two years, USC really started to feel the debilitating impact of the scholarship reduction, which completely decimated the Trojans' depth across all positions.

"Our staff was struggling," Telfer said.  "Especially at tight end. We didn’t have many to begin with. So reps that would've been taken by the 3rd or 4th string guys in practice were taken by first string ones."

At the college level, it's normal for guys to want to take more reps, to have more of a role in helping the team. At the same time, they need to take care of their bodies. The sanctions prevented USC's players from doing that. 

"Naturally, we are going to come up with injuries that wouldn’t have happened had there been there depth. That’s where it really hurt us. D-line, O-line...a lot of guys had to take reps they would’ve foregone," Telfer said. 

Over the past few seasons, USC had an ungodly number of players go down with injuries. So many that the Trojans had just 44 scholarship athletes available when it entered its Las Vegas Bowl against Fresno State, which USC ultimately won.

It was another instance of sticking it to the NCAA, something the Trojans had gotten used to doing while going 35-17 during those sanctioned years.

Some teams would kill to post that record in a four-year period under normal conditions. USC did it while severely limited, and in the eyes of die-hard Trojans, it wasn't good enough.

That's a hard feeling for Telfer to shake.

"It sucks that my class and I couldn’t get 'SC to a greater level," Telfer said. "I feel like I let some people down. Yeah, there were some years a bowl game was out of the question, but after that…we let some people down."

He also feels like his class in particular wasn't given a fair shot, given the circumstances.

"To a certain extent, I feel like my college experience was taken from me. I will tell you that the 'SC I committed to is different than it is now. I expect that. I expect programs to change. I didn’t get to experience a post season for my first few years and it sucks.

We got to go to one after that, but it would’ve been interesting to see where we would’ve been had we had those scholarships, if we didn’t have those bowl bans."

Having gone through it all puts Telfer in a prime position to lead the next generation of Trojans through what will be a completely clean state. New coaches and the end of probation signal a new beginning, and it's one Telfer and the other veterans embrace.

"I feel like I've got a lot more experience than the average vet just because we have seen a lot, we've been through a lot," he said. "Some kids will play for the same coach throughout their whole career. I got recruited by Pete [Carroll], [Lane] Kiffin was my coach, then O [Ed Orgeron], then [Clay] Helton in the bowl game, and now Sark [Steve Sarkisian]. That’s unheard of."

And even beyond the coaching changes, Telfer has changed a lot as a player.

"I've got a lot to teach the younger guys. I've played, I've started, I've been injured and now I'm back from that. So I plan to lead by example of what it is to be a Trojan," he said.

Telfer said the team hasn't given much thought to their sanctions being lifted, a testament to just how over the whole ordeal they are. They're ready to grind and learn under Sarkisian, and put forth a great effort in 2014.

But if you would have told Telfer he would have witnessed USC get sucker-punched by the NCAA, only to see the Trojans bounce back relatively unscathed, he wouldn't have believed it could be done.

But USC proved otherwise.

"For the old guys like me, it sucks that our careers were under the sanctions, but ultimately it feels good. It feels like we have a lot to prove, a lot to gain this season. Our program has been up and down, especially with this past season. But we were able to compete with every other team in the nation," Telfer said.

And that ability to still contend with the best is something Telfer—and the Trojan Family as a whole—are particularly proud of.

"That’s a testament to what 'SC’s about," he said. "But at the same time, we hold our team to the highest standard. We got guys who are capable of going the distance and for a year or two we fell short. But in light of the sanctions, we accomplished a lot and I am very proud of this team."

Looking ahead to the future, Telfer just has one thing in mind.

"We put our heads down, do work and win games," he said.

It's that kind of toughness that enabled USC to succeed so much pre-sanctions, and a return of that mentality could serve the Trojans well going forward into this new era. 

Four years ago, Trojan fans were very angry about what had happened to their program. And in the wake of other, arguably more egregious violations committed by the likes of Oregon, Ohio State, and Miami, many Trojan fans are still angry about it.

But for most, the past four years are bittersweet.

"It was a moment that I look back and reflect upon," Jerome said.  "Like wow, that was crazy; what a journey. To go from the Roman Empire to the fall of Rome, to being back again in some form. That was crazy, looking back on everything that happened."

For Jerome and many others, the way USC weathered the storm makes them feel proud to be Trojans.

"I think for me, it makes me really proud that we took literally the best punch that the NCAA had. And in the end we were a winning program that had to sit out of bowl games. Nothing they did stopped us from being there. I look at our record and I'm very proud," he said.

Jerome does point out, though, that the chain being lifted doesn't mean USC is ready just yet to return to full prominence.

"It'll probably be another two years before our deck is stacked enough. But it's nice to know that that part's over. At the same time, the world is so much different. We have changed the way people feel about how college sports are covered.

Even people that hate USC, that were the most excited when they got hit. Now, you’d be hard pressed to find an educated college football fan that thinks it was right. So I think that's one of those things where we changed the climate of how things are," he said.

In four years, USC went from being the program that got what it deserved to being the victim of the NCAA's vendettas. The team and the fans had to come together in ways they hadn't had to previously, bringing new meaning to the Trojan Family. Is USC better for it? Definitely, and they will continue to be going forward in this rebuilding process. 

And is college football better for it? Well, Jerome has an answer for that, too.

"Anyone can win a bowl game, or a championship, or a Heisman. But very few people can win the battle of public opinion against their captors," Jerome said. "And that’s what gets me fired up every time I hear the fight song. It’s so cool."

 

All quotes were obtained firsthand, unless otherwise stated.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Why SEC Has UCLA to Thank for Its Legacy of BCS Dominance

The SEC dominated the second half of the BCS era, winning seven championships and firmly establishing itself as the premier conference in college football. That has led to an expansion of its footprint, added riches from television contracts and a nascent network to be launched this August.

But none of it happens without the biggest upset in BCS history, a game that took place on the West Coast on the final day of the 2006 regular season. The end of one dynasty begot another.

USC entered its annual rivalry game in 2006 ranked No. 2 in the BCS standings. The Trojans were poised to appear in an unprecedented third consecutive BCS title game, and all they had to do was handle their downtrodden 5-6 crosstown rival. And why not? USC had won seven straight in the series and mauled the Bruins the year before, 66-19.

A simple USC victory would've set up a BCS title game against Ohio State, leaving Florida (and the SEC) on the sideline. It would've been an eighth consecutive season without an undisputed national title for the conference. After Tennessee won the first championship of the BCS era in 1998, the SEC only appeared in one title game in the subsequent seven seasons, and that resulted in LSU's split title with USC in 2003.

There was little doubt that USC would go on to trounce the Buckeyes in the BCS title game, as Florida eventually did. The Trojans would've won their third national title in four years and left little doubt as to who truly rules the BCS. They likely would've gone to another one or two BCS title games in the following two seasons.

But that dynasty inexplicably got derailed on that December afternoon at the Rose Bowl by the underdog Bruins. USC's high-powered offense was totally stifled and shut out in the second half. It was the only time in Pete Carroll's final eight seasons at USC that his team would be held under double digits.

USC's 13-9 loss not only opened the door for the SEC to return to the BCS title game, but it gave birth to a new narrative. After Florida ascended to No. 2 and then routed undefeated Ohio State for the national championship, the argument that the SEC as "the toughest conference" began to take hold. 

That in no small part contributed to the SEC's earning of a spot in the BCS championship game for both 2007 and 2008. In both seasons, the SEC won the title after sending a second-ranked team that edged teams from other conferences with the same number of losses.

In both seasons, one of those teams was USC. Had the Trojans won the 2006 title, it's easy to see how the narrative and argument would've gone very differently. USC probably would've been the one that beat out the other two-loss teams for No. 2 in 2007. And in 2008, the one-loss Trojans might've gone on to play in their fifth consecutive BCS title game.

The SEC can thank Karl Dorrell and DeWayne Walker, whose game plan in that fateful 2006 game teed up the conference's enduring run in the second half of the BCS era. They're both actually working in the neighborhood now, as Dorrell is the offensive coordinator at Vanderbilt and Walker the defensive backs coach for the Jacksonville Jaguars.

 

Follow on Twitter: @ThePlayoffGuru.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

USC vs. Stanford: Where Should Big-Time CB Iman Marshall Play College Football?

Iman Marshall is projected to be a starter from day one for whichever program he chooses. The 5-star cornerback is being pursued by some of the top schools in the country, with Stanford and USC leading the pack. 

Where will Iman Marshall decide to play college football, and who will benefit from his talents and skills?

Watch B/R's Michael Felder make his prediction on where Marshall will land and where he will contribute the most.

 

Highlights courtesy of XOS Digital. All recruit rankings from 247 Sports' composite rankings.

 

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

QB Hutson Mason Has Experience and Weapons to Lead Georgia to National Title

With Aaron Murray heading to the NFL, Georgia head coach Mark Richt will look to his next play-caller, redshirt senior Hutson Mason. After coming off a stellar spring, Mason will look to bring Georgia back to its national title goals. 

Will the tandem of Mason and running back Todd Gurley be enough to bring the Bulldogs back to a national championship? 

Watch B/R's analysts Michael Felder and Barrett Sallee make their projections on Mason's 2014 season. 

 

Highlights courtesy of XOS Digital.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Pages