NCAA Football News

SEC Members Consider Creating New 'Division IV'

The ball is now in the NCAA's court after Southeastern Conference commissioner Mike Slive sent a strong message to the organization on Friday on the final day of SEC meetings.

Slive stated that the Power Five conferences, which include the Atlantic Coast Conference, Big 12, Big Ten and Pac-12, would consider moving to a "Division IV" if the NCAA doesn't award them autonomy and free up the big five to create their own set of bylaws, according to ESPN.com.

Slive made it clear that he and his colleagues would prefer to avoid shifting to a new division, per ESPN.com:

It's not something we want to do. We want the ability to have autonomy in areas that has a nexus to the well-being of student athletes. I am somewhat optimistic it will pass, but if it doesn't, our league would certainly want to move to a Division IV. My colleagues, I can't speak for anybody else, but I'd be surprised if they didn't feel the same way.

According to the ESPN.com report, moving to a new Division IV would allow the Power Five conferences to remain under the NCAA, while at the same time providing those conferences with the power necessary to offer their student-athletes increased benefits and resources. 

The Advocate's Scott Rabalais provides some financial perspective:

The SEC is leading the charge on a proposal for the voting threshold, which, if adopted by the NCAA steering committee, would allow the Power Five conferences to pass legislation much more easily. The NCAA board of directors will vote on the proposal in August. 

Although we'll have to wait a few more months before learning of the NCAA's decision, it's clear the SEC and the other members of the Power Five conferences are determined to gain autonomy. 

By introducing the idea of a Division IV, Slive and his colleagues have put the pressure on the NCAA to provide them with the independence they covet before they potentially change the landscape of college sports in an effort to secure it.

 

Follow Bleacher Report Featured Columnist Patrick Clarke on Twitter. 

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Texas Football: Legacy Coaches Key to Reviving Longhorns' Tradition

When Texas head coach Charlie Strong hired his new coaching staff, he expressed the importance of his staff having ties in the state of Texas. But two of his assistant coaches' ties are much deeper than the others.

Defensive coordinator Vance Bedford and wide receiver coach Les Koenning have a significant understanding of what it takes to be a football player at the University of Texas.

They understand how it feels to run onto the field at Darrell K. Royal-Texas Memorial Stadium. They understand the history and tradition of Texas football. They know what it takes to win games and conference championships at Texas and what is expected of the team when it takes the field.

"There is a reason to say 'The' University of Texas because it represents the state of Texas," Koenning said in a Q&A with Texassports.com. "And getting a chance to come back, you should set your ceilings high with goals and winning championships. That's what it is about."

But what they may not have expected was the chance to ever return to their alma mater as a football coach.

"Les Koenning and I both came here in 1977. We were freshmen together and were both captains in 1980," Bedford said. "We've talked over the years and felt like for us to have a chance to work together wouldn't happen. For us to have a chance to come back and work at the University of Texas, it wasn't going to happen. But it has happened."

And it happened in a familiar fashion.

When Bedford and Koenning arrived in Austin in 1977, the Texas football program was undergoing a major change in its foundation. Legendary coach Darrell Royal had just retired after his 20th season as the Texas head coach, and the Longhorns hired Fred Akers—who had only been the head coach at one university—as his replacement. 

Sounds familiar, right?

Bedford and Koenning's personal understanding of what it's like to not only be a football player, but to also go through a major change in the Texas football program as a student-athlete makes them very relatable to the team.

One goal Bedford has is to help his players realize the importance of what it means to be a football player at the University of Texas. 

"Sometimes young people today don't really understand who they are or where they came from," Bedford said. "Time goes by too fast and they aren't enjoying the moment. You have got to enjoy the ride sometimes. And that's part of my job to help those guys understand that."

Bedford and Koenning's experience as players at Texas included playing among many Longhorn legends who played a significant role in building the tradition of Texas football. And that tradition can be seen in the halls of the football facilities.

"I look at the pictures on the walls and I can say, 'I played with Earl Campbell. I played with Russell Erxleben. I played with Jerry Gray.' And the list goes on and on," Bedford said. "It gets me excited thinking about it. Those guys are a part of some of the history of the University of Texas."

Now it's time for the current Longhorns to make history of their own. Bedford, who also coaches the secondary, was a part of the Texas tradition of great defensive backs, otherwise known as "DBU." But he expects more than just continued success from the defensive backs and wants to further expand the tradition to other position groups.

"DBU started with Raymond Clayborn, Johnnie Johnson, William Graham, Derrick Hatchet, Glenn Blackwood, Ricky Churchman, that's where it started," Bedford said. "Mack Brown kept it going and we want to keep those things going. But not just DBU. We're going to make LinebackerU, D-LineU, whatever it takes to get the best players in the state of Texas to come here and get this program back to the top where it belongs."

 

Unless otherwise noted, all quotes were obtained firsthand.

Taylor Gaspar is Bleacher Report's featured columnist covering the Texas Longhorns. Follow Taylor on Twitter: @Taylor_Gaspar.

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Optimistic, Pessimistic and Realistic Predictions for Every Big Ten Team

The offseason is nothing if not a time for predictions. That's why it's time for optimistic, pessimistic and realistic predictions for every Big Ten team this season. 

No one was surprised to see Ohio State in last year's Big Ten title game, but how many figured Michigan State would become one of the hottest teams in the country by year's end? 

Will this season have any more surprises? Or will it be preseason favorites dominating the top of the standings again?

Our optimistic, pessimistic and realistic picks are in this slideshow.

Begin Slideshow

10 Redshirt Freshmen Who Will Be Impact Offensive Players in 2014

Redshirt freshmen have stated their importance by proxy the past two seasons, as quarterbacks Johnny Manziel and Jameis Winston—two guys who did not see active duty in their first year out of high school—won back-to-back Heisman Trophies. The latter won a national championship, too.

But it's not just quarterbacks who can make an impact after sitting out a year. Redshirt freshman Shock Linwood emerged as a force at running back for Baylor last season, and in 2012, redshirt freshman Mike Evans emerged as Manziel's favorite target at Texas A&M.

Offensive weapons should emerge in like manner this upcoming season. Based on their pedigree, the reports coming out of spring camp and the battle for playing time around them, certain players are set up to post huge numbers after sitting out their true freshman season—no matter the reason they might have sat out.

Here are just 10 of the best.

Sound off below and let me know who I missed.

Begin Slideshow

Florida State Football: Analyzing Seminoles' Top 5 2015 Recruiting Targets

If there were five recruits to add to Florida State's 2015 signing class, a wish list for the future, who would be on it?

National signing day is still eight months away, but Florida State has 12 "hard commitments'' according to 247Sports, including Friday's commitment from tight end Jalen Wilkerson from Coffee in Douglas, Georgia. The list should grow as the rising seniors take visits to Tallahassee over the summer (with many of them arriving for coach Jimbo Fisher's camps on June 11-13 or July 16-18).

Let's take a look at five prospects that FSU would love to sign.

 

DE Josh Sweat (Chesapeake, Virginia, Oscar Smith)

At the top of the list, at least in the opinion of 247Sports analyst Chris Nee, is defensive end Josh Sweat. The 5-star prospect is quick off the ball and at 6'5" can still add to his 235-pound frame.

"He may be the best player in the entire country regardless of position," Nee said.

Sweat had 94 tackles and 22 sacks as a junior in 2013. The 247 Crystal Ball predictions for Sweat are split, with Virginia Tech and FSU as the two leaders.

 

DE Cece Jefferson (Glen St. Mary, Florida, Baker)

FSU is also pursuing defensive end CeCe Jefferson—but he appears to be a distant second. He had 68 tackles and 17.5 sacks as a junior.

The 6'2", 250-pound Baker product is an athletic, fast pass-rusher. The 247 Crystal Ball predictions lean heavily toward Jefferson signing with Florida. Jefferson said he knows where he will attend college but told 247Sports that he won't tell anyone but his mom and ex-girlfriend until national signing day.

 

DB Tarvarus McFadden (Fort Lauderdale, Florida, American Heritage)

FSU has landed three defensive backs, including a 5-star safety in Derwin James. Landing Tarvarus McFadden would give FSU a prospect that 247Sports considers the No. 5 corner in the nation.

At 6'3" and 200 pounds, McFadden has the size and physicality to match up with a team's No. 1 receiver. 247Sports' Josh Newberg believes that FSU is "in the driver's seat" for McFadden. The 247Sports Crystal Ball predictions have McFadden leaning heavily toward FSU over LSU.

 

RB Jacques Patrick (Orlando, Florida, Timber Creek)

At 6'1" and 220 pounds, Jacques Patrick has steamrolled defenses for three seasons, racking up 5,385 yards and 67 touchdowns. He's surpassed 2,000 rushing yards in each of the last two seasons.

The 247Sports Crystal Ball projects that Patrick will land at FSU.

Jimbo Fisher loves to stockpile running backs. He simply can't have enough. This may not be a position of need in 2015, but for the long haul, Patrick could be a key part of the Seminoles.

 

RB Johnny Frasier (Princeton, North Carolina)

Considered the top running back in the nation by 247Sports, Johnny Frasier put up video game numbers last season (3,042 rushing yards, 45 touchdowns). While not as tall or big as Patrick (Frasier is 5'11", 200 lbs), he is a physical, powerful back. Frasier is pretty fast, too, clocking in at 4.45 seconds in the 40-yard dash.

Despite interest from Duke, North Carolina and Georgia, 247Sports' Crystal Ball predicts that Frasier will choose FSU.

Bob Ferrante is the Florida State Lead Writer for Bleacher Report. All quotes obtained first-hand unless otherwise noted. Follow Bob on Twitter.

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Ex-Ohio State LB Mike Mitchell's Transfer to Texas Tech Huge for Kliff Kingsbury

Less than a year after arriving at Ohio State as a heralded freshman, Mike Mitchell is heading home. According to 247Sports.com reporter Taylor Hamm, the Plano, Texas, product has decided to transfer to Texas Tech:

The 6'3", 222-pound linebacker left the Buckeyes' football program in February to seek opportunities elsewhere after the spring semester.

At the time, Eleven Warriors writer Kyle Rowland reported that his father's health played a factor in the decision.

After weighing multiple options in the Lone Star State, Mitchell is the newest Red Raider.

His choice caps off a stunning turn of events for a recruit whom many expected to make an immediate impact in Columbus. Rated No. 5 nationally among outside linebackers and No. 58 overall as a prospect at Prestonwood Christian Academy, Mitchell was a marquee member of Urban Meyer's 2013 class.

He registered 337 total tackles and 22 sacks during his junior and senior high school seasons, securing scholarship offers from more than 20 teams.

Mitchell committed to Ohio State over Oregon and Texas A&M in front of a national television audience at the U.S. Army All-American Bowl.

On Friday, with far less fanfare, he officially moved on from the Buckeyes following a redshirt season.

Texas Tech offers Mitchell an opportunity to push the reboot button on his collegiate career, just a few hours away from his hometown. Luke Zimmerman of Land-Grant Holy Land suggests that he also considered Baylor and Texas A&M (again).

Red Raiders coach Kliff Kingsbury adds to a growing collection of impressive incoming defenders.

It remains to be seen whether Mitchell will be receive a waiver and be ruled eligible for the 2014 season, but standard transfer rules require players to sit for a full season before returning to game action.

Texas Tech has already assembled a solid 2015 recruiting class, which is currently rated 26th nationally in 247Sports' composite team rankings. Much-needed defensive help anchors the group.

The class includes 4-star Hawaii defensive tackle Breiden Fehoko and highly productive in-state linebacker D'Vonta Hinton, who tallied 329 tackles during the past two seasons.

With Mitchell's commitment and a few key pledges between now and national signing day, there's serious potential for a major influx of defensive talent in Lubbock.

Texas Tech surrendered 30 points per game in 2013, ranking 88th nationally in that category.

 

Recruit ratings and information courtesy of 247Sports.com unless otherwise noted.

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SEC Sets Record with $309.6 Million Payout to Teams, but Best Is Yet to Come

The final day of SEC spring meetings means it's time for Mike Slive to hand out some checks. 

No, they weren't those oversized novelty checks that Adam Sandler demanded in Happy Gilmore, but Slive did need quite a bit of room to fit all of the zeros in.

The conference announced a record revenue distribution of $309.6 million, which averages out to over $20.9 million per school. For perspective, the SEC distributed a total of $304.7 million a year ago and $165.9 million in 2009.

So what does it all mean?

 

The Numbers

According to Jon Wilner of the San Jose Mercury-News, that puts the SEC ahead of the Pac-12 on a per-team distribution basis. The Pac-12, which owns its own network, distributed $228,242,350 to its schools, with no school breaking the $20 million mark in fiscal year 2013, which ended on June 30, 2013, according to USA Today.

It did, however, eclipse the SEC in terms of total revenue with $334 million for 2012-13, which more than triples the $111.8 million it reported in 2010-11. But expenses, which included start-up costs associated with the Pac-12 Network, knocked down the per-team payout a bit.

The Big Ten, which doled out $298 million, didn't eclipse the SEC in terms of total distribution. But with two fewer teams, the only team to receive fewer than $23 million over the same fiscal year was Nebraska ($15,411,595), according to Mike Carmin of JCOnline.com, which joined the conference in 2011.

The Big 12 announced Friday that it will distribute approximately $212 million to its 10 teams, with eight of the 10 teams receiving approximately $23 million, and TCU and West Virginia, which joined the conference in 2012, taking home $14 million each.

The ACC's figures aren't out, but it distributed $293 million in 2012-13, according to the Kansas City Star, an average of $24.4 million per team.

 

What the Numbers Mean

Clearly the Big Ten Network is paying off big time for its members, and the Pac-12, which leads all conferences in revenue, has Pac-12 Network start-up costs and other expenses knocking down its per-team split.

The SEC doesn't have much rent (a conference official told me its rent is $1.00), and since the new SEC Network is owned by ESPN and headquartered at ESPN's previously existing campus for ESPNU in Charlotte, North Carolina, start-up costs are minimal compared to conferences that have gone down this path in the past.

That's huge for the conference, because its per-team distribution is already healthy and competing with the Big Ten (which already has an established network) and the Big 12, which only has four fewer teams.

When the SEC Network money starts rolling in, the SEC might as well establish a mint at its headquarters, because it'll be printing money.

 

The SEC's Financial Future

Instead of printing money, the SEC should just plate its offices in gold, because that's essentially what's going to happen anyway.

According to Scott Rabalais of The Advocate, the new cable network could be worth a cool $35.7 million per team once the network reaches its full distribution goals, assuming it gets a rate of $1.30 per customer per month, and it achieves its goal of 30 million subscribers.

But how realistic is full distribution?

The SEC Network has deals in place with DISH Network, AT&T U-Verse, Google Fiber and other smaller distributors. But the bigger fish in the pond—DirecTV and Comcast—aren't on the hook yet.

Don't worry, because it'll happen. In fact, it'll surpass that number. It already has around 20 million customers thanks to the DISH and AT&T deals, and more will come with DirecTV and Comcast.

Since the network is wholly owned by ESPN, it can and will leverage its other properties, including non-sports content like the Disney Channel and Disney Junior, to force the hand of potential partners.

The SEC's future is paved in gold. Gold generated from the new cable network.

 

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

 

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Deon Cain to Clemson: Tigers Land 4-Star WR Prospect

Clemson got a big boost to its 2015 class by adding playmaking wide receiver Deon Cain.

The 4-star receiver is considered the ninth-best player at his position and the No. 76 player overall in the 2015 class, according to 247 Sports' composite rankings. He picked up offers from virtually every big school in the southeast, but he decided that he wanted to be a Tiger.

Cain was ready to make a decision right after visiting the school last month. According to Paul Strelow of TigerIllustrated.com, the Florida native explained, "I saw everything I needed to see. It was a great school."

The 6'1" player will now try to become the next in line for what has become a great school for receivers. Position coach Jeff Scott was quick to point out the recent success for Clemson on Twitter:

With good speed and outstanding agility, Cain has the ability to add to this legacy. His quickness to make plays in traffic allows him to score whenever he touches the ball, and he is certain to only get better.

As Jamie Newberg of Scout.com points out, he was a quarterback until this year:

This gives him an excellent handle of the offense, but it also means that he is quite raw at the position. Still, you can improve route running and learn how to use your body in the air; you cannot teach explosiveness or agility. 

The Tigers might go through a bit of a rebuilding year in 2014 after losing so much offensive talent, but there are still quality players on the roster. As a result, it would not be surprising to see it take some time before Cain makes an impact on the field. The good news is that he can be an all-conference performer within a few years.

In order for Clemson to remain a national powerhouse, it needs to keep getting talented players from all areas. Cain's commitment will help ensure more wins and will likely help bring in even more elite recruits in the coming months.

 

Follow Rob Goldberg on Twitter for the latest breaking news and analysis.

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4-Star WR Deon Cain Commits to Clemson, Will Be 'Superstar' in ACC

Four-star wide receiver Deon Cain has committed to play his college football at Clemson. The 6'1", 190-pound athlete has a great combination of size and speed, which makes him a serious threat at the next level.

What does Cain's commitment mean for the Tigers? Which player does he compare to?

Watch the video as Bleacher Report's Barrett Sallee answers these questions and breaks down the newest Clemson Tiger.

Highlights courtesy of xosdigital.com

Rankings courtesy of 247sports.com

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Proving Alabama's Nick Saban Is Still College Football's Best Big-Game Coach

It’s one of those statistics that now just seems preposterous, but single-handedly demonstrates the University of Alabama’s turnaround under Nick Saban.

In 2008, when Alabama was 8-0 and en route to playing in the Southeastern Conference’s title game, it also had a losing streak in games played during the month of November spanning three seasons and nine games.

From 2003 to 2007, its record during the month was an abysmal 3-14 (17.6 winning percentage). It had lost six straight to rival Auburn and five to LSU, both series records. As a starting quarterback, senior John Parker Wilson was 0-2 against Mississippi State.

"We have a point to prove that we can finish," senior safety and co-captain Rashad Johnson said at the time.

Obviously, the Crimson Tide figured it out. Even though Alabama’s now seemingly annual national title chase came up short last year, losing at Auburn on a 100-yard return off a missed field goal as time expired, Nick Saban still has to be considered the best big-game coach in college football.

Yes, flat Alabama was beat by Oklahoma in the Sugar Bowl and, yes, Saban is just 8-7 in bowl games (0-3 at Michigan State and 8-4 with SEC teams).

Consider the bigger picture:

He’s 4-0 when the national title is on the line.

Saban’s 4-1 in conference championships, the lone loss in 2008 to Florida when Tim Tebow was running Urban Meyer’s offense and Saban had just one full recruiting class at Alabama. 

Over his 18-year career as a head coach, including stops at Toledo, Michigan State and LSU, Saban’s teams are 51-35 against ranked opponents (59.3 winning percentage), and 27-17 (61.6 percent) against top-10 teams. Among coaches who have faced at least 20 opponents ranked in the Top 10, only one has had a better career winning percentage: Frank Leahy. (Note: Among active coaches, Meyer is 12-5, or 70.6 percent).

Saban’s four wins against opponents ranked No. 1 is tied for the most by any coach since the Associated Press poll was created in 1936. He shares the distinction with Lou Holtz, Jimmy Johnson, Jack Mollenkopf and Joe Paterno, who are all in the College Football Hall of Fame. Paul W. “Bear” Bryant did it only three times.

But with the BCS and creation of the four-team playoff, November has become more important than ever, especially in the Southeastern Conference’s Western Division, easily the toughest in college football. Even if you took away Alabama’s three recent titles, the other West teams still have won more BCS championships than any other conference, never mind division.

By then teams are beat up, have been exposed and the season becomes a test of survival. It’s when the 2011 Crimson Tide defense, considered by many to be one of the best of all time, gave up 51 points, compared with 55 during the rest of the season, and Texas A&M’s Johnny Manziel had his signature win at Bryant-Denny Stadium.

It’s also when the 2007 season, Saban’s first with the Crimson Tide, completely fell apart. No. 17 Alabama was a respectful 6-2 and coming off a 41-17 thrashing of Tennessee, but never recovered from the loss of five suspended players, including starting offensive linemen Antoine Caldwell and Marlon Davis, after the university's investigation into textbook disbursement.

It lost 41-34 to No. 3 LSU, at MSU 17-12, to Louisiana Monroe 21-14 and at rival Auburn 17-10. Wilson had six of his 12 interceptions that season during the month, and no running back reached 100 rushing yards.

"The suspensions hurt us a lot," offensive lineman Mike Johnson said at the time. "All the different offensive lines we played with, I switched from right tackle to guard, but you can't put your finger on one thing. We just struggled overall as a group. We went downhill."

But that was nothing new for the Crimson Tide. Since 2003, Alabama had been 41-30 overall, meaning that nearly half the program’s losses during that time span were in November. The 2004 team was 5-3 entering the month, 8-0 in 2005 and 6-3 in 2006. Had Mike Shula gone .500, or even won back-to-back games once in the month, things might have been very different.

Instead, the 2008 Crimson Tide began a November winning streak that lasted eight games and helped lead to the 2009 national championship. It’s 16-4 (80 percent) in the month since then, 72-9 overall (88.9 percent), and captured two more crystal footballs.

Win November and anything is possible, especially this year when Alabama has to visit Tiger Stadium, Auburn is coming off playing for the national title and all three division games could be against ranked rivals.

 

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

Follow @CrimsonWalsh

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Which School Gives 5-Star ATH Torrance Gibson Best Chance at Stardom?

2015 5-Star ATH Torrance Gibson has released his top seven schools consisting of Tennessee, Auburn, LSU, Oklahoma, Ohio State, Miami, and Central Florida.

Gibson is an electrifying playmaker at the quarterback position, but has also garnered attention as a wide receiver.

Bleacher Report's CFB analyst Michael Felder broke down how Gibson would fit with his top seven schools and where he believes the 5-Star prospect will have the most success.

Which school gives him the best chance at stardom?

Watch the video and find out.

 

Highlights courtesy of xosdigital.com

Rankings courtesy of 247sports.com

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Notre Dame Football: Better Late Than Never for FieldTurf

A single second had been returned to the game clock. And on a perfect October afternoon in 2009, Jimmy Clausen and Charlie Weis were given one final chance to beat Pete Carroll and USC. 

On 3rd-and-goal from just inside the 5-yard line, Clausen dropped back from the shotgun and rifled a pass to Duval Kamara, just across the goal line. The throw was never close.

Kamara slipped making his cut on Notre Dame Stadium's fabled natural grass. And just like that, another fable—the Notre Dame Turf Monster—claimed one more victim.  

It's amazing to think what could've happened had Kamara not slipped. A touchdown would've sent the Irish and Trojans into overtime. An Irish victory over the No. 6 Trojans would've vaulted the Irish into the Top 15.

That Halloween day massacre of Washington State that ended up being Charlie Weis' final victory at Notre Dame's head coach? It could've had the Irish ranked in the Top 10 entering November.

Could Notre Dame still have lost four straight to Navy, Pitt, UConn and Stanford to close out the season? Sure. But let's say one or two of those coin-flip games went the Irish's way. Could you fire Weis after an 8-4 season? 

As we're reminded each year, Weis' contract was a bitter pill that's still being swallowed. But at 6-6 and after another late-season swoon, Jack Swarbrick didn't have much of a choice. 

Five years later, Swarbrick wasn't given much of a choice in this controversial decision, either. Putting an artificial surface inside the House That Rock Built was a no-brainer.

Even after replacing the sod multiple times last season, the playing surface inside one of college football's most historic stadiums was a joke. So during the Blue-Gold game televised nationally on NBCSN, Swarbrick made the announcement that FieldTurf was coming to Notre Dame Stadium.  

"We had a strong predisposition to stay with a natural grass field,” Swarbrick said in April, when the university officially released the news. "However, the reality is that in two of the last three seasons since we moved Commencement to the Stadium we have been unable to produce an acceptable playing surface.

"That, combined with the likely impacts of future construction at the Stadium, led me to conclude that we would continue to struggle to maintain a grass field that meets the expectations of our student-athletes and fans as it relates to appearance, performance and safety."

For Irish fans that take pride in the throwback experience inside Notre Dame Stadium, seeing the game take place on FieldTurf could take some getting used to. But then again, not seeing the home team slip and slide when trying to cut upfield or make a tackle could help ease the pain. 

For years, Notre Dame tried using its poor field conditions to its advantage. When Florida State came to town in 1993 for the Game of the Century, Bobby Bowden wondered if the groundskeeper got lost.

In 2005, when Weis nearly beat the Trojans, there were more complaints about the grass, and it was blamed for USC kickoff returner Desmond Reed's ACL tear. 

"I stood on it and I can tell you, if it was your backyard, the Homeowners Association would send you a citation," SI.com's Stewart Mandel wrote after the game

But as the Irish have upgraded their athleticism and personnel, too often it's been the home team that's suffered. Five seasons into the Brian Kelly era, the speed on the Irish roster is as good as it has ever been, turning the natural grass surface into a handicap. 

Just as crippling, the difficulties of keeping the playing field in acceptable condition has lessened the Irish's home field advantage.

Lukewarm crowd support has long been a complaint among the Irish faithful looking at the donors sitting on their hands in the gold seats. But too often, Notre Dame players feel like visitors in their own stadium, unable to practice in the stadium other than pregame walkthroughs. 

"It’s really about getting a surface where there’s some consistency week‑in and week‑out for our players," Kelly said after the Blue-Gold game. "I think today was an indication. We can’t even practice out there.

"We want to be able to get out there with our team. We want some safety issues to be not part of the equation. I think everybody is in agreement. If we can get the best surface there in grass, we’d love to have that. We just haven’t been able to get to that. This is my fifth year here at Notre Dame and we haven’t been able to get to that."

The Irish have been practicing on FieldTurf since the LaBar Practice Complex was built in 2008. Their indoor practices at the Loftus Center have been on the same surface. Matching the playing field with a surface the team practices on daily only makes sense. 

It's been no secret that Kelly has been a proponent of FieldTurf. But after Swarbrick and Notre Dame's brass toured college and professional facilities learning about their options, the only logical one was to install a synthetic surface. 

It may not have been soon enough to help Weis finally beat Pete Carroll, but it'll help Kelly and the Irish continue to improve their home field advantage in South Bend.  

 

*Unless otherwise noted, all quotes obtained firsthand. Follow @KeithArnold on Twitter. 

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Doesn't Look Like Texas A&M Recruiters Will Give Charlie Strong Much of a Chance

One of the biggest priorities for first-year Texas coach Charlie Strong is to take back the state of Texas on the recruiting trail. 

Texas A&M would like a word about that. And the word is "no." 

(Or, "YESSIR." Either way.)

On Thursday, the Aggies landed a verbal commitment from 4-star wide receiver Kemah Siverand of Cypress Ridge High School in Houston, Texas. That pledge came one day after 5-star dual-threat quarterback Kyler Murray, the No. 1 prospect at that position in the country, verbally committed to A&M. 

As always, this is the time to point out that verbal commitments don't mean a thing until pen meets paper meets fax machine next February. Still, Murray's family ties to A&M should mean his verbal is solid. With that likely being the case, Murray is one of the influential cornerstones of the Aggies' 2015 class. 

Consider this blurb from Dave Behr of the Austin American-Statesman about A&M's recent string of recruiting news: 

Wednesday’s announcement by Murray seemed to be the catalyst for Siverand to make his decision public. News of Siverand’s intention to declare Thursday broke shortly after Murray committed, and this came just one day after Siverand released a top 18, which included Texas, Texas Tech and TCU among other national power programs.

Murray’s decision also seems to have affected A&M’s top overall recruit, Gladewater defensive tackle Daylon Mack. The five-star prospect tweeted Thursday, 'I have cancelled my summer visits,' after weeks of speculation he might open his recruitment.

With eight whole months until signing day, A&M already has a pair of 5-star commits—Murray and Mack—and the No. 4 class in the country. Nine of A&M's 13 commits are one of the top 50 players in the state. 

Yes, things are bound to change (for better or worse) between now and then, but A&M has shown no signs of slowing down on the recruiting trail. A&M is heavily in the running for three other top-10 in-state players: linebacker Malik Jefferson, cornerback Kendall Sheffield and wide receiver Damarkus Lodge

The last time a school reeled in five of Texas' top 10 players was in 2012 when the Longhorns signed running back Johnathan Gray, defensive tackle Malcom Brown, tackle Kennedy Estelle, guard Curtis Riser and receiver Cayleb Jones. 

It's not that Texas isn't in the running for top-tier prospects for the '15 class—Sheffield is also high on the Horns—or that Strong is bound for a disappointing class. Texas can't control what A&M does. The only thing the Horns can do is go out and win. Do that and it wouldn't be surprising to see the Horns pick up the momentum they've lost on the recruiting trail. 

But there's no denying A&M has the momentum in Texas at the moment. When you have momentum, the last thing you want to do is give it up. 

Especially to Texas. 

 

Ben Kercheval is a lead writer for college football at Bleacher Report. All quotes cited unless obtained firsthand. All recruiting information courtesy of 247Sports

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Auburn Paints Path of Chris Davis' Kick Six at Jordan-Hare Stadium

The Auburn Tigers are coming off one of the most memorable Iron Bowl wins in history, so why not take advantage of it? 

The Tigers are hosting "Big Cat Weekend," a recruiting event in which recruits and their families are brought in for non-football related activities. So there is no better time to dust off the famous "Kick Six" to impress the future Tigers. 

Chris Davis' return for a touchdown on the final play of the 2013 Iron Bowl gave the Tigers a 34-28 victory over rival Alabama, and it's something the Tigers will never forget. 

For Auburn fans, watching that play doesn't get old. So it's not hard to see why Auburn takes every chance it can get to bring it up. 

[Auburn, Auburn, h/t: AL.com]

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10 Most NFL-Ready Players Who Aren't Eligible for 2015 Draft

The NFL stipulates that in order for a player to be eligible for the draft, he must be three years removed from his last year of high school. Even if they took a redshirt, players from the 2012 recruiting class can declare for the 2015 NFL draft if they so choose, but players from the 2013 and 2014 classes cannot.

This rule has run into some problems in the past. Former Ohio State running back Maurice Clarett and former USC receiver Mike Williams tried to circumvent it (unsuccessfully) in 2004, and more recently, South Carolina defensive end Jadeveon Clowney incited debate after dominating college football as a true sophomore in 2012.

The point being this: Every year, there are players who are ready to declare for the NFL but aren't allowed to because of their age. It's the truth. Whether that rule is fair or not is an argument for a different day; their existence, however, is undeniable.

To my mind, though, no player can be deemed NFL-ready before he's stepped on a real college football field—no matter how gifted he is physically.

For purposes of this list, that means no true or redshirt freshmen have been included. LSU running back Leonard Fournette has been likened to Adrian Peterson, but I refuse to say he's ready to play against professionals before he's played in the FBS ranks.

That means this list is comprised entirely of true sophomores.

These are 10 second-year players who, based on their physical profiles and freshman-year production, could probably stand to make the leap after this season and do fine. Their junior year will likely help them, of course, but it will not be absolutely vital to their draft stock.

Sound off below and let me know whom I missed. 

 

Note: Unless otherwise cited, all recruiting info. courtesy of the 247Sports Composite.

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How Auburn's Dameyune Craig Is Reclaiming the Mobile Pipeline for the Tigers

From four-time Pro Bowl offensive tackle Willie Anderson to Lombardi Award-winning national champion Nick Fairley, Auburn has seen success over the years in recruiting players from the Mobile area, a region stocked with some of Alabama's top high school football talent.

Perhaps the most famous football alum from Alabama's Bay Area for Auburn fans is Dameyune Craig.

After leading Mobile's Mattie T. Blount High School to a pair of state championships, Craig had a record-breaking career as Auburn's dual-threat quarterback from 1994-1997.

Craig backed up current Auburn radio color commentator Stan White for his first two seasons and was the starter for his final two, becoming the Tigers' all-time single-season passing leader with 3,277 yards in a 10-win senior season.

The Mobile native had a short stint in the NFL and later NFL Europa, the now-defunct league in which he set the world professional football record for passing yards in a game with 611 yards as a member of the Scottish Claymores.

He had greater success in the coaching ranks, moving from high school assistant to quarterbacks coach at Florida State in the span of seven years, with stops in the SEC and the NFL along the way.

After four seasons under head coach Jimbo Fisher, Craig returned to his alma mater in 2013, when new head coach Gus Malzahn hired him to be co-offensive coordinator.

Under Malzahn, Craig has three major responsibilities: assist with running the hurry-up offense, coach wide receivers and make Auburn a force once again in his old stomping grounds.

"This is football country," Malzahn said earlier this month at one of his Tiger Trek stops in Mobile. "If you look at Auburn's history, they've done extremely well when they've done well in Mobile."

In the days of Anderson and Craig, Auburn had a strong foothold in the area, winning recruiting battles against the likes of Florida, LSU and Tennessee.

But Nick Saban's arrival at rival Alabama in 2007 started a mass exodus from Mobile to Tuscaloosa.

While Auburn was still able to snag under-the-radar Mobile prospects like Fairley, Alabama simply dominated the recruiting war for the region's blue-chip prospects:

When Malzahn hired Craig, who had a reputation for building relationships with some of his home state's top talent for the ACC's Seminoles, Auburn immediately became a major player in the Mobile area.

Auburn recently signed three players from the region—5-star linebacker Tre' Williams from St. Paul's Episcopal in Mobile, 4-star defensive end Justin Thornton from Vigor in Pritchard and 3-star linebacker De'Shaun Davis, also from Vigor—while Alabama signed only one, 4-star center Josh Casher, who was Williams' high school teammate.

"That area is very important," Malzahn said. "Dameyune Craig did a great job down there. We got three players that are all impact players. That’s exciting for the future."

As the area's top player in the class of 2014, Williams' highly publicized recruitment came down to a decision between Auburn and Alabama. 

The 5-star linebacker was originally a Craig recruit for Florida State, but when he made the move back to Auburn, Williams decided to follow and make his commitment to play for the Tigers back in May 2013.

"Coach Craig recruited me since my freshman year," Williams told AL.com's John Talty. "He was at two separate schools, but he was still the same guy. He didn't pressure me; he was just always real with me."

Thornton was also a Mobile recruit who stayed solid in his long-term commitment to the Tigers through their wild run to the SEC title.

"Once I made my decision my mom said 'You aren't going against your word, once you commit you are locked in,'" Thornton told Talty. "Auburn hasn't given me a reason to decommit. If it did, it'd be a different story."

Thornton's teammate Davis had a chance to become one of the state's best recruits in the class of 2014, but a leg injury kept him out for his senior season. Even with the drop to three stars in recruiting ratings, Malzahn and his staff looked at the Vigor star as a key recruit to their class.

"He's just a hard-nosed physical guy that just has the nose for the football," Malzahn said. "If he would have played this year, he would have been very highly recruited. We really feel great about him."

Although the area appears to have a down class of 2015 with only two 4-star recruits—current Alabama running back commitment Desherrius Flowers and Auburn junior college athlete commitment Jason Smith—Malzahn has stressed the importance of continuing to mine the area for talent.

"We got some very good players out of this last class, and we'll continue to recruit this area," Malzahn said.

One of Alabama's top players in the early projections for the class of 2016 is Darius Whitfield, an offensive guard who was a former teammate of Williams at St. Paul's. The Crimson Tide appear to be the early leaders, but Auburn will still be in the hunt with Craig leading the recruiting efforts.

After all, with the success the Tigers had in Mobile with this latest class, Williams does not see anything slowing down for Malzahn, Craig and Co. in the southwest corner of the state.

"Auburn owns Mobile," Williams said, according to Talty. "They will own Mobile until we leave."

 

Justin Ferguson is Bleacher Report's lead Auburn writer. Follow him on Twitter @JFergusonAU. All quotes were obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted. All recruiting rankings and information courtesy of 247Sports.

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6 Teams That Were Better Than Their Record in 2013

You've heard it in seemingly every pregame or in-game interview done in the last decade or so, and probably beyond.

“What do you have to do to win this game, Coach?”

“We have to win the turnover margin.”

It has turned into a cliche, trite comment, pulled from “The Great Book of Sideline Coaching Platitudes,” but here’s the thing: It’s pretty much true.

Move the ball with efficiency and turn the ball over less than your opponent, and there’s an excellent chance that you’ll walk away with a victory.

Among the NCAA’s top 11 teams in turnover margin in 2013, three were BCS qualifiers (Florida State, Michigan State and Baylor) and another five won at least 10 games (Louisville, Oklahoma State, Missouri, South Carolina, Northern Illinois).

In other words, teams that held onto the ball were successful.

But what about those that didn't? Who gave it away often or at key times?

Those were teams that often had disappointing seasons last fall.

Here's a look at six teams that were actually better than their records in 2013. 

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SEC Q&A on Breakout QBs, Alabama in Las Vegas and Kliff Kingsbury in the SEC

You have SEC questions, and I have SEC answers. Thank you for your questions. If I didn't get to them this week, they will be saved and used in the future.

And we're off!

@BarrettSallee Which new QB in the SEC is the most likely to have a break-out all American season?

— Mitchell Tate (@Mitchell_Tate4) May 23, 2014

I assume you mean "new" as in "new starter." In that case, I'll go with Hutson Mason at Georgia due to his experience and the weapons around him.

He learned behind Aaron Murray for four years and looked like an Aaron Murray clone in the spring game, hitting his receivers on back-shoulder fades not only in the red zone, but deep downfield as well. 

Some pressure will be off of his shoulders thanks to Todd Gurley and that stout running back stable, and the weapons he has outside with Chris Conley, Michael Bennett, Malcolm Mitchell and Justin Scott-Wesley are just filthy.

Whoever emerges at Texas A&M will put up video-game numbers, and the eventual starter at Tennessee will have a wealth of talent outside to work with as well.

But right now, Mason and the Bulldogs are set up to explode on offense in 2014.

 

@BarrettSallee What is more impressive: Alabama favored by 10+ in 41 of last 54 favored games or 20+ in 28 of their last 54 favored games?

— Dan Vasta (@CI_StatsGuru) May 27, 2014

That's a really good question, and both are mighty impressive.

I'll go with Alabama being favored by 10 or more in 41 of its last 54 games. The bigger number is impressive, but Vegas wants to get action on both sides.

Against some of the lower-tier SEC teams and in occasional out-of-conference matchups—I said "occasional"...I know Alabama has tough schedules—a silly number is often warranted.

Being favored by double digits in 41 out of 54 games means that the middle tier of the SEC, which typically boasts some pretty strong teams, is included in that mix as well. That is mind-boggling.

I don't think that will end this year, unless Alabama falls off the cliff, which isn't likely. If Alabama is contending, people will still want to put big money on the Tide and expect them to win big, so more double-digit lines are likely.

 

@BarrettSallee here is a mailbag question for u. When will Kliff Kingsbury get a job in the sec? Needs to happen now.

— John (@jnorris10000) May 29, 2014

Oh man, can it happen yesterday?

He famously discussed keeping every practice fresh this week, including having ice cream delivered to one of his practices at Houston by bottle service girls

They have bottle service in the SEC, Kliff.

For Kingsbury to get an SEC job, though, it'll have to be a really good one. Coaching at his alma mater means a lot, especially since that school—Texas Tech—took a chance on him as a young, unproven head coach.

For Kingsbury to join the SEC, it'd have to be at one of the big schools.

Will Muschamp is on the hot seat at Florida, Steve Spurrier is inching close to playing amateur golf for a living and there's always a possibility of an entrenched coach jumping to the NFL at some point.

If that ever happens, though, he'd absolutely kill it on the recruiting trail. He's a personable coach who relates to prospects well and is constantly keeping things light while striving for big things. That would play well in the SEC, just as it does in Lubbock right now.

 

Do you have a question for next week's Q&A? Send it to SEC Lead Writer Barrett Sallee on Twitter at @BarrettSallee

Barrett Sallee is the lead SEC college football writer for Bleacher Report. Quotes were obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted. All recruiting rankings are courtesy of 247Sports.com and all stats are courtesy of CFBStats.com.


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Oklahoma State RB Devon Thomas Arrested: Latest Details and Updates

Big things were expected out of Oklahoma State football recruit Devon Thomas this season and in the future, but his status is very much up in the air due to a recent arrest.

According to Corey Jones of the Tulsa World, Thomas was arrested Wednesday in Broken Arrow, Oklahoma relating to an alleged armed robbery and shooting with intent to kill incident.

It is alleged that the 18-year-old native of Broken Arrow was one of at least four suspects who robbed a man of marijuana, money, shoes and clothing before firing a shot in the victim's direction.

The victim was not struck with the bullet, and Thomas reportedly denied being the gunman, per Jones.

According to Kelly Hines of the Tulsa World, Thomas has not been released from jail:

Hines also added that this isn't the first time that Thomas has been arrested:

Jake Trotter of ESPN also reported that the running back has a court date scheduled in June:

Thomas was a standout star at Broken Arrow High School who 247Sports ranked as the No. 14 running back recruit in the country.

He committed to Oklahoma State back in 2012 and seemed excited about the opportunity to make an impact for the Cowboys, per Scott Wright of NewsOK.com.

I've been over to OSU a lot the last couple seasons, and the coaches were telling me a lot of stuff about their facilities and everything, so I did my research on it and found out all of it was 100 percent. Coach (Jemal) Singleton is an awesome coach. He's coached a lot of great backs over the last few years, a lot of 1,000-yard backs. ... It's close to where I live, and I like that. I'm just glad that the recruiting process is over.

The accusations levied against Thomas are significant, and one can only assume that Oklahoma State might have second thoughts about him if he is ultimately charged.

Thomas has a ton of talent, but OSU can't afford much bad publicity in the wake of an extensive expose released by SI.com regarding the football program last year.

There is no question that Thomas deserves his day in court, however, he is faced with an uphill battle. This looks bad for him regardless, but perhaps he will be able to learn from it and become a better person moving forward.

 

Follow @MikeChiari on Twitter

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Notre Dame Flips 4-Star LB Josh Barajas from Penn State, What Move Means for ND

Penn State built plenty of recruiting momentum throughout the spring, but one of its key early commits has changed his plans. The Nittany Lions lost a pledge from 4-star linebacker Josh Barajas on Friday morning when he flipped to Notre Dame, according to Steve Wiltfong of 247Sports.

The 6'3", 210-pound prospect initially pledged to Penn State on March 30, capping off a two-week stretch that featured four 4-star commitments for James Franklin. His decision to back out of that verbal pact is a rare negative recruiting blow for the first-year head coach.

Notre Dame's Brian Kelly provided a social media jab in the aftermath:

Kelly and the Fighting Irish land a versatile defender who holds an expansive list of scholarship offers. Tennessee, Michigan, Oregon and Missouri are among teams who also pursued the Merrillville, Indiana prospect.

Barajas is rated No. 4 nationally among inside linebacker prospects in 247Sports' composite rankings. He is the top-ranked 2015 prospect in Indiana.

His junior season at Andrean High School included 92 tackles and five sacks. Barajas also intercepted a pair of passes.

He is an explosive run-stuffer who possesses the necessary frame to thrive as a pass-rusher in Notre Dame's defensive scheme. The Irish add an in-state talent capable of contributing immediately when he arrives on campus.

The university's proximity and past success played a key role in his choice to flip from Penn State, per Andrean head coach Phil Mason.

"When talking about tradition in college football, Notre Dame is the first thing that pops in your mind," Mason told Wiltfong. "Being close to home and playing on the national stage, and I can't say enough about the coaching staff."

New Notre Dame defensive coordinator Brian VanGorder arrived in South Bend after serving as linebackers coach with the New York Jets. He added a promising young pupil Friday morning.

According to a tweet from IrishIllustrated.com, Mason compared Barajas' impact abilities to another former Indiana high school standout:

Jaylon Smith, a 5-star 2013 Notre Dame signing, became the first Irish linebacker to start his career-opening game since 1995. He finished his freshman season as an unquestionable rising national star.

Those are lofty expectations to live up to for Barajas, who until today appeared headed to the place they call "Linebacker U." Barajas is Kelly's first pledge at the position during this cycle.

The Irish also remain in the mix for 5-star Cincinnati linebacker Justin Hilliard. Notre Dame holds nine commitments in the 2015 class, which rates 14th nationally in 247Sports' composite team rankings

 

Recruit information and statistics courtesy of 247Sports unless otherwise noted.

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