NCAA Football News

10 Biggest College Football Stories You Likely Missed During March Madness

For roughly three weeks each calendar year, college football is not the most important NCAA sport. For the other 11-and-change months, pigskin is given a disproportionate amount of airtime and media attention, and it would be selfish to not let basketball enjoy its brief moment in the sun.

But it's not like the news cycle grinds to a halt. Even if we, the college football-obsessed, are distracted by the sound of squeaky shoes and torn-up brackets, there are still stories of import being broken.

To ensure you aren't lost when fall practice or the start of next season rolls around, here are 10 stories you might have missed—or, in some cases, seen but not entirely researched—during your three-week preoccupation with the NCAA tournament.

Only four more months until August!

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Ross Dellenger of the Advocate: QB Brandon Harris #1 After Spring Game

The LSU Tigers wrapped up spring practice and early enrollee Brandon Harris emerged as the leader in a heated quarterback battle. His numbers in the spring game weren't enough to put him ahead of the competition, but his ability to throw the deep ball really impressed Cam Cameron and Les Miles.

Junior Danielle Hunter was the breakout star of the spring game. The defensive end took over the starting role last season, but really excelled in the spring game. Look for Hunter to have a stellar season in 2014.

Watch Ross Dellenger from The Advocate break down LSU's spring game with Adam Lefkoe.

 

Highlights courtesy of XOs Digital.

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Is Alabama's Offense the Most Talented Group Lane Kiffin Has Ever Coached?

Alabama head coach Nick Saban shocked the college football world when he hired former USC and Tennessee head coach Lane Kiffin to replace Doug Nussmeier as the offensive coordinator of the Crimson Tide after Nussmeier left Tuscaloosa to take the same job at Michigan.

When Kiffin arrived in town, he found a virtual All-Star team of offensive weapons to work with in his first season in T-Town.

Junior wide receiver Amari Cooper is back to lead a talented and veteran wide receiving corps, and T.J. Yeldon and Derrick Henry are vying for the starting spot at running back in front of an insanely deep group of talented and versatile running backs.

Is this the best offense Kiffin will have ever worked with?

No, but it's close.

While the 2014 Crimson Tide team is loaded, the 2004 and 2005 USC teams, of which Kiffin served as wide receivers coach and offensive coordinator for, respectively, have this year's Tide beat in terms of overall talent. Each of those two Trojan teams played for the national title, with the 2004 team vacating its title and the 2005 Trojans falling to Texas in the Rose Bowl. Both boasted elite offenses, with the 2005 team having a slight edge in terms of overall talent.

Let's compare the 2005 Trojan offense to the 2014 Crimson Tide offense.

 

Quarterback

This is no contest in favor of USC. Sure, Matt Leinart's career essentially peaked in college, but there's no denying how good he was within that system. The 2004 Heisman Trophy winner returned in 2005 to throw for 3,815 yards, 28 touchdowns and eight interceptions for a whopping 8.9 yards per attempt.

What's more is that was actually a disappointment after his Heisman campaign, which saw him throw for fewer yards (3,322) but more touchdowns (33) and fewer interceptions (six). 

Argue his talents at the next level until you're blue in the face, but there's no questioning that Leinart was an elite college quarterback.

Alabama's quarterback spot is a big question mark this year. Senior Blake Sims has emerged as the front-runner midway through spring practice, according to AL.com's Michael Casagrande, but all eyes will be on Jacob Coker when he transfers from Florida State this summer.

Even if you believe Coker will be the second-coming of AJ McCarron, eclipsing Leinart's season in 2005 will still be incredibly challenging for Coker, Sims or whoever wins the 'Bama job.

Advantage: USC

 

Running Backs

USC had two running backs go north of 1,000 yards in 2005—LenDale White (1,302 yards, 24 TDs) and that season's Heisman Trophy winner (which was later returned), Reggie Bush (1,740 yards, 16 TDs).

That thunder and lightning combination is a high bar for Alabama to eclipse, but the Crimson Tide have done it with the group Kiffin will have in Tuscaloosa for 2014.

T.J. Yeldon will undoubtedly be the headliner after the rising junior rushed for more than 1,000 yards in each of his first two seasons. But nipping on his heels is the 6'3", 238-pound sophomore Henry, who rushed for 100 yards and a touchdown in Alabama's Sugar Bowl loss to Oklahoma. 

It's a legitimate battle between the two, but Kiffin creating a similar "thunder and lightning" scenario with the duo is certainly possible. But with Alabama, there are still even more options. Kenyan Drake rushed for 694 yards and eight touchdowns last season and is even more dangerous in space than Yeldon. Toss in Altee Tenpenny and bruising fullback Jalston Fowler, and the depth in Tuscaloosa is impossible to ignore.

Advantage: Alabama

 

Wide Receivers

Cooper had 736 yards and four touchdowns last season in Tuscaloosa, and that was considered a relatively down season when compared to the 999 yards and 11 touchdowns he posted as a true freshman in 2012. 

Behind him, DeAndrew White, Christion Jones and several talented prospects are there to solidify the wide receiving corps and help ease the transition for the eventual starting quarterback.

But up against USC's group from 2005, there's no comparison.

Dwayne Jarrett had 91 catches for 1,274 yards and 16 touchdowns in 2005, which was the second of three straight seasons in which he eclipsed the double-digit mark in touchdown catches. His running mate was Steve Smith, who had 957 receiving yards that year and would wrap up his college career the next season with 3,019 yards and 22 touchdowns.

That one-two punch is too much for this group of Crimson Tide receivers to overcome, even if Cooper rebounds from his 2013 "down year."

Advantage: USC

 

Tight End

USC had the dynamic duo of Dominique Byrd and Fred Davis at tight end in 2005, both of whom enjoyed tremendous careers in the City of Angels. Byrd had 306 yards in 2005, while Davis had 145 and two touchdowns. 

Can current Tide tight end O.J. Howard top them?

I think he can. 

The world got a glimpse of what the 6'6", 237-pound monster was capable of on his 52-yard catch-and-run in the second quarter of Alabama's 38-17 win over LSU last season. He's an elite route-runner who presents matchup nightmares for opposing defensive coordinators.

The new Crimson Tide quarterback needs a safety valve, and Howard will be it. He will be one of the top tight ends in the country in 2014 and could be the best one Kiffin has ever worked with as a college coach.

Advantage: Alabama

 

Offensive Line

This is where USC really separates itself from Alabama. While the 2014 Crimson Tide offensive line is talented, USC's version was simply next-level.

Left tackle Sam Baker, left guard Taitusi Lutui and center Ryan Kalil were all first-team All-Pac-10 members that season, with right guard Fred Matua being named to the second team, according to the archived list on Washington's website. Lutui was a consensus All-American that year, according to Sports-Reference.

Alabama has some talented pieces along the defensive line this season, including Austin Shepherd, Alphonse Taylor, Leon Brown and incoming star Cam Robinson; but Kiffin and head coach Nick Saban are still moving those parts around to find the right fit, according to Andrew Gribble of AL.com.

USC's 2005 offensive line was the perfect storm of stars aligning, which was a big reason—"pun" intended—why USC played for the national title that season.

Alabama's offense is loaded with talent, and Kiffin's track record as an offensive guru (when he's not distracted by the responsibilities of a head coach) certainly makes the future bright for the Tide offense. 

But this group has some work to do if it wants to overcome the 2005 Trojans as the most talented offensive college team that Kiffin has ever coached.

Advantage: USC

 

Barrett Sallee is the lead SEC college football writer for Bleacher Report. All stats are courtesy of Sports-Reference.com unless otherwise noted.


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Michigan Football: Sophomore RB Derrick Green Will Be No. 1 Option Next Season

Michigan sophomore running back Derrick Green is looking to step into a bigger role in his second season for the Wolverines. The 5'11", 227-pound athlete is a physical runner who was one of the top recruits coming out of high school.

Watch as Bleacher Report experts Michael Felder and Barrett Sallee break down why Green will be the No. 1 option at running back next fall, as well as what numbers should be expected from Green and fellow sophomore RB De'Veon Smith next season.

Highlights courtesy of xosdigital.com

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Michigan Finally Seeing Big Picture with Night Game Scheduling Trend

For only the third time in its venerable history, Michigan Stadium will host a night game. When the Wolverines take on Penn State on Oct. 11 at 7 p.m., it will be the first Big Ten game to be played entirely under the lights at the Big House.

It's about time.

Night games are a fact of life now in college football, and there really isn't anything wrong with that. Saturday is the ideal night to stay up late anyway. You can sleep in the day of and after the game, still catch the late Sunday Mass or service and be awake enough for the first NFL kickoff at 1 p.m. This isn't like starting a World Series game at 8 p.m. on a school night.

As for Michigan and the Big Ten, it's a sign of the times.

Though its Big Ten title drought has now reached a decade, Michigan is still among the five most powerful brand names in college football. The Big House, with its 109,901 seats, is still the biggest stadium in the land. Having games played in primetime under the lights is an important part of staying competitive and relevant in the 21st century.

The SEC has made Saturday night games an attraction during the BCS era, with a few epic battles between LSU and Alabama coming immediately to mind. The Pac-12 has also used night games to get increased face-time, with a built-in time-zone advantage as those primetime games start at a not-so-late 5 p.m. kickoff time.

The Big Ten—particularly Michigan—has resisted playing at night until recent years, with tradition and weather the primary considerations. The Big House finally hosted its first night game in 2011, when Michigan rallied to a miraculous win over Notre Dame. The Wolverines repeated that feat last year with another electrifying win over the Irish.

The choice of Penn State as the foe for the 2014 night game is inspired. While the Nittany Lions are still on probation for the Jerry Sandusky transgressions, they're also one of the marquee names in college football. These teams, who have not met in Ann Arbor since 2009, are now division rivals in the realigned Big Ten.

Perhaps the most memorable Michigan-Penn State game ended under the lights, even though it didn't start at night. In 2005, Mario Manningham caught a Chad Henne TD pass on the game's final play as Michigan handed the Nittany Lions their only loss of the season, one that denied them a shot at the BCS championship.

Michigan coach Brady Hoke endorsed playing under the lights, according to a statement released by the school:

"The night game atmosphere created by our fans has been electric and we expect that same type of energy for our first-ever conference night game against Penn State. Our players really enjoy playing in primetime at Michigan Stadium."

The 2014 game will be televised on ESPN (or ESPN2) as part of a revamped primetime schedule for the network. The Wolverines have always been a Bristol favorite for Big Ten night games, though until the coming season they've always played on the road.

About the only thing to spoil the idea is a lack of moderation. As long as Michigan plays only sparingly at night and never past mid-October, the Big House under the lights will be a welcome new sight for college football.

Follow on Twitter @ThePlayoffGuru

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Nick Baumgardner of MLive: Devin Gardner Gives Wolverines 'Best Chance to Win'

Michigan's spring game is in the books, so let's take a look at some of the biggest storylines going into the fall. Neither Devin Gardner nor Shane Morris had stellar performances in the spring game. Which QB has what it takes to lead the Wolverines in 2014?

Early enrollee WR Freddy Canteen had a great game on Saturday, showing that he does have the skills to make an impact on offense. Will he emerge as one of Michigan's go-to playmakers in 2014?

Adam Lefkoe caught up with Nick Baumgardner from Mlive.com to break down Michigan's biggest storylines coming out of the spring game. 

 

Highlights courtesy of XOS Digital

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If Dorial Green-Beckham Can't Play, Who Becomes Missouri's Go-To Player?

Missouri wide receiver Dorial Green-Beckham just can't seem to stay out of trouble, and this time, his playing status is in doubt.

The 6'6", 225-pound rising junior for the Tigers was suspended indefinitely by the program for violation of team policies, according to a release sent via email by Missouri on Monday afternoon.

It's the third time in his career Green-Beckham has been in trouble publicly. He was arrested along with two other men earlier this year for possession of a controlled substance. That incident is still under investigation, according to Tod Palmer of the Kansas CityStar. He was arrested in 2012 for suspicion of possessing 35 grams or less of marijuana and pleaded the charge down to misdemeanor trespassing. 

Is his suspension related to the most recent arrest? He is the subject of an ongoing investigation according to Palmer, but the specifics of that investigation are not known.

Pinkel commented on the suspension in the release.

It’s been disappointing to have this, and other issues which have taken place lately. It’s frustrating, because we work very hard to instill responsibility and discipline in our young men so that our program represents Mizzou the right way. These actions aren’t representative of those expectations, and we are addressing these issues head on.

Whatever the reason, or reasons, for his suspension, it's clear that Missouri and head coach Gary Pinkel felt that the time is right to distance themselves from the star receiver.

Green-Beckham caught 59 passes for 883 yards and 12 touchdowns last season during Missouri's magical run to the SEC East title. In the SEC Championship Game versus Auburn, he caught six passes for 144 yards and two touchdowns and was arguably the best player in the building—a building that included former Auburn running back Tre Mason, who rushed for about five miles (OK, 304 yards and four touchdowns).

So who will step up for the Tigers?

L'Damian Washington and Marcus Lucas exhausted their eligibility last season, so if Green-Beckham's issues keep him out of a game or games this season, a lot of pressure will fall on 6'2", 210-pound senior Bud Sasser. Sasser caught 26 passes for 361 yards and a touchdown last season and was listed as the starting "Y" receiver on Missouri's pre-spring depth chart.

While Sasser has the experience and likely would take on more of a leadership role, finding a replacement at Green-Beckham's "X" spot is more important. Junior Wesley Leftwich, 6'1", 200 pounds, was listed as his backup before the spring, and Darius White, J'Mon Moore and Jake Brents—all of whom are 6'3"—are candidates to slide over to that spot.

That trio of tall receivers could be the cure to the Green-Beckham conundrum. White had 65 yards and a touchdown in Missouri's first scrimmage of the spring on Saturday, while Brents had three catches for 39 yards and Moore caught four for 31 yards, according to stats released by Mizzou

There are options for Pinkel if Green-Beckham's suspension lingers, and having a crowded group of tall receivers at the "Z" spot makes it easier for him to plug the holes if he loses his star for a prolonged period of time.

The good news for Missouri is that there are options. Russell Hansbrough, Marcus Murphy and Morgan Steward are all talented running backs. If Green-Beckham's issues keep him from playing, the Tigers could become more of a ground-and-pound team—as was the case in 2011 when they finished ninth in the nation in rushing (243.46 YPG). Toss in the dual-threat capabilities of quarterback Maty Mauk, and there's a recipe for success on the ground in Columbia.

Make no mistake though, Green-Beckham is the most talented wide receiver in the SEC. If he can't get his head screwed on straight, he could be what prevents the Tigers from repeating as division champs in the wide-open SEC East.

 

* Barrett Sallee is the lead SEC college football writer for Bleacher Report. All quotes and suspension information were obtained firsthand via release from the University of Missouri, and all statistics are courtesy of CFBStats.com.

 


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Medical, NFL Draft Prognoses for Brandon Thomas Following His Torn ACL

Devastating news made its way through the NFL draft community on Monday when ESPN's Adam Caplan reported former Clemson University guard Brandon Thomas suffered a torn ACL last week.

The injury comes as quite a shock, as many experts projected Thomas to be a potential early-round talent in the 2014 draft.

While there is not yet reason to panic—athletes routinely recover from ACL reconstruction surgery without complications—Thomas will almost certainly miss most or all of the 2014 NFL season. Additionally, the unfortunate timing of his injury—just over one month prior to the draft—casts doubt over his competitiveness in this year's field due to his presumed absence next year.

After all, despite the relative frequency of ACL injuries in football, the recovery time remains long. Most of the time, an athlete will need well over six months of rehabilitation—and sometimes over a year.

Furthermore, not all ACL injuries heal without issue. For instance, if an ACL tear comes with other ligament or cartilage damage, rehab becomes much more complicated.

Luckily, at this point, no news of additional injuries exists, so it seems safe to assume Thomas suffered a non-contact ACL injury—though precise medical details are still scarce.

Often, non-contact ACL tears occur when an athlete jumps and lands awkwardly on one leg or sharply plants his or her foot in an attempt to make a cut. If the knee twists inward too far—the exact type of motion the ACL tries to prevent—the ligament can tear.

On the other hand, contact ACL tears frequently involve a hit to the outside of the knee that forces it to bend inward. The MCL or meniscus—or both—also suffers damage in a large portion of contact injuries.

Following a tear, an athlete may still be able to move forward in a straight line, but when he or she attempts to cut or change directions, the knee may buckle inward—not a good recipe for a budding offensive lineman in the NFL.

ACL tears almost always require reconstructive knee surgery. During the operation, an orthopedic surgeon will actually replace the torn ligament with a piece of the athlete's own hamstring tendon. The tendon then serves as the new ACL and, over the weeks and months that follow, the body cements it into place within the knee.

Thomas will almost certainly undergo surgery soon—if he has not already. By the time the draft rolls around, he will then likely be working through the initial stages of rehab—such as quadriceps strengthening and range-of-motion exercises—but not yet weight-bearing or agility drills.

In other words, NFL teams will be able to gauge his very early progress prior to the draft, but his ultimate outcome will remain a mystery for at least a few more months—as opposed to ACL tears from several months ago during the prior college football season, for instance.

That degree of unknown may make teams shy away from calling him to the podium early on draft weekend.

What's more, if a team originally ranked Thomas highly because he could address an immediate need on the offensive line, this injury might cause his stock to fall significantly with that particular squad.

That said, if Thomas' injury is, indeed, a run-of-the-mill non-contact ACL tear—and if his recovery proceeds uneventfully—his prognosis is still likely excellent in the long run. With that in mind, a team with a goal of addressing long-term needs on the offensive line may still draft him in the middle rounds.

In the end, his draft stock depends—as always—on a combination of medical and football risk-versus-reward analyses by each of the 32 NFL teams, and every team and medical staff might value him differently. Some may downgrade him a round or so, and others may take him off the board entirely.

Fortunately for Thomas, however, it only takes one.

 

Dr. Dave Siebert is a resident physician at the University of Washington who plans to pursue fellowship training in Primary Care (non-operative) Sports Medicine.

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Bleacher Report's Top 25 College Football Tailgating Schools for 2014

College football is about so much more than just the game.

While  football is the main reason why upwards of 100,000 people (sometimes more) congregate on Saturdays between late August and early December each year, the game serves as only one piece of the puzzle.

If college football games were part of a meal, it would be the main course. But it's the courses that lead up to the entree—and the accompanying beverage pairings—that often separate one dining/game-day experience from another.

Yes, we're talking about tailgating—the age-old practice of setting up temporary camp near a football stadium and usually spending more hours in that festive party atmosphere than at the game that drew us there.

Every school has its tailgating traditions, practices and approaches, but some stand out from the pack. Here's our completely unscientific ranking of the top 25 college football tailgating schools for the 2014 season.

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Miami Football: What Ryan Williams Injury Means for 2014 Season

The Miami Hurricanes received unfortunate news this week when it was made known senior quarterback Ryan Williams suffered a major injury.

During the second scrimmage of the spring session, Williams tore his ACL while rolling out, quite possibly leaving in the past his dream of starting for the team he loved growing up.

The devastating setback, however, means the Hurricanes will not just start a new quarterback, it will likely be a redshirt freshman.

Plus, Miami will need a few returning starters to improve their respective performances to aid their young gunslinger's progression.

 

Kevin Olsen Must Step Up

Per Susan Miller Degnan of The Miami Herald, Williams was the clear-cut starter prior to his injury.

But now, Bleacher Report's Ben Kercheval says the senior's injury opens the door for Olsen to take his job, and he's certainly correct. According to the depth chart for the spring game, Olsen is officially the first-stringer.

For now, Gray Crow will serve as his backup, and the sophomore may even hold off Brad Kaaya and Malik Rosier during the fall because of his familiarity with the playbook.

While speaking on 560 WQAM's Hurricane Hotline, via Christy Cabrera Chirinos of the South Florida Sun Sentinel, Golden said, "[Olsen's] got a good cast around him. He's got to trust the cast and not try to do too much and he needs to prepare, as does Gray."

Fortunately for Olsen, he isn't surrounded by second-tier offensive players.

 

Paging Duke Johnson, Joseph Yearby and Stacy Coley

Still working through his recovery period, junior running back Duke Johnson will be carrying an even heavier load next season. However, he's ready for it.

According to Matt Porter of the Palm Beach Post, "Golden said those who haven’t seen Johnson lately 'are going to be blown away by him—205, 206 pounds. He has really turned a negative into a positive, changed his body. He has an edge about him, can't wait to come back.'"

Porter also notes Duke and Joseph Yearby will "take snaps in controlled settings and could be running full speed by next month."

Though Yearby is an unproven commodity, his highlight film from his time at Miami Central High School is rather impressive.

The Hurricanes are expecting the one-cut back's best skill to translate at the collegiate level, giving "The U" a pair of outstanding finesse backs alongside the powerful Gus Edwards. But as the matchup with Virginia Tech in 2013 showed—28 yards on 24 carries—Miami needs its best running back to carry the team.

Sophomore Stacy Coley is the most explosive wide receiver, evidenced by his 10 total touchdowns scored in four different ways. Flanked by Rashawn Scott, Phillip Dorsett and Malcolm Lewis, Coley will have plenty of opportunities to show off his elite skill as a playmaker.

Olsen simply needs to distribute the ball to his best weapons and ignore any desires to take over a game because a handful of players are better suited to do just that.

 

Temper Your Expectations, Be Patient

Miami was in no danger of surprising the nation and embarking on a 12- or 13-win campaign with Williams at the helm, but the 'Canes are still expected to have a decent season.

Key word there, my friends: decent.

Olsen is mere months removed from being suspended for the Russell Athletic Bowl and Golden questioning his focus. Per Chirinos, Olsen has turned the corner during the offseason and become "process-oriented" on the practice field.

But the Wayne Hills, N.J., product has not taken a single in-game snap at the collegiate level. Olsen has plenty of potential, but he must be given time to develop, too. The maturation of a college quarterback is not an overnight operation.

Looking at the 2014 schedule, Miami travels to Louisville, Nebraska and Virginia Tech and hosts Florida State and North Carolina. Frankly, two wins would be sufficient while three or four would be an outstanding accomplishment.

As much as every fan of the Hurricanes wants the upcoming campaign to mark the first 10-win season in 11 years, demanding it from a redshirt freshman will result in avoidable disappointment.

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Dorial Green-Beckham Involved in Alleged Assault of Woman

Dorial Green-Beckham's career at Mizzou is in jeopardy as reports are coming out that implicate him at the center of a criminal assault investigation.

Columbia Police Sergeant Joe Bernhard confirmed that Green-Beckham the subject of an investigation, but has not been arrested.

In new details coming from The Maneater, Green-Beckham was witnessed by five to 10 people outside of his apartment building assaulting "a girl." Green-Beckham's sophomore roommates Mike Henke and Chris Connor were in their Brookside Apartments townhouse when at about 2 a.m. they heard yelling coming from outside.

After making their way down to the street, they encountered a neighbor who was frantic for them to call 911.

"He said some guy was hitting a girl," Connor recalled of the neighbor. That neighbor was then heard telling others that Green-Beckham was the assailant.

Talking of the suspension, head coach Gary Pinkel said in a press release, per the Columbia Missourian, "It's unfortunate, but it's the right thing to do for our football program, for the athletic department, and also for Dorial."

As Green-Beckham was leaving the incident in a white Dodge Charger, a woman beat on the side of the vehicle he was riding in. Other unidentified Mizzou teammates told the crowd of witnesses not to call police, according to Connor.

The crowd disobeyed and Columbia police arrived 15 minutes later.

Green-Beckham is a former No. 1 overall recruit out of high school and would be the top wide receiver in the emerging SEC offense at Mizzou. Regardless of whether or not he is found guilty in a criminal proceeding, Green-Beckham's days at Mizzou may be numbered as Pinkel's language may already be an indication that the University is ready to cut ties with the troubled star.

Per Tod Palmer of The Kansas City Star, Sgt. Bernhard said that the results of the criminal investigation would be made available later this week, but made no specifications beyond that.

Follow Dan Irwin on Twitter@danirwinsports or on Faceboook.

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Pac-12 Football: 5 Players Who Must Step Up as Leaders in 2014

Talent can only take you so far in a power conference like the Pac-12; the rest, ultimately, falls on the leadership of veterans like Oregon's Marcus Mariota or UCLA's Brett Hundley, both of whom will need to be vocal both on and off the field in order to take their respective teams to the top.

But the aforementioned players are obvious candidates to be leaders of their squads. They're talented, experienced and looked up to by younger players, especially during the tough times.

What we're looking at here are players who you might not necessarily identify as leaders, but who must nonetheless step their game up in that department in 2014. To be clear, this isn't a knock on the following five guys, but rather a call to action due to a key offseason graduation or presumed expanded role on the field.

All five players have proven skills and played integral parts in their team's successes in 2013. Now, they must learn to become leaders as well.

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Terry Godwin vs. George Campbell: Which 5-Star ATH Is Better?

Terry Godwin and George Campbell are two of the best overall prospects in the 2015 class. The pair of talented football players can play several different positions, which is why they're listed as athletes.

From Georgia, Godwin is already committed to UGA. Campbell was once committed to Michigan, but he's backed off that pledge and is back on the market. 

Receiver and defensive back are both athletes' main positions, so the focus between which is the better prospect will be at those spots.

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11 Recruits Who Could Join 5-Star S Derwin James at Florida State

Derwin James is a 5-star safety who has been committed to Florida State for two years. At 6'2" and 201 pounds, the Florida native is a physical player who has good vision and awareness.

James quickly reads plays, then attacks to make tackles. He's a future stud for the Seminoles, and many uncommitted 2015 recruits would be smart to align themselves with him. Florida State will surely build its 2015 class around James, who is sure to attract more talented recruits.

A pair of 5-star defensive linemen could join him in Tallahassee, while another big defensive back could be James' running mate with the 'Noles. There's also an athlete in Alabama who is looking hard at FSU.

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

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7 College Football Teams That Won't Break a Sweat Until October

Do you remember when Illinois streaked to a 6-0 start in 2011 only to drop six straight to finish 6-6?

The Illini’s early-season run caught college football by surprise, taking a team which had received only four votes in the preseason AP poll to a No. 16 ranking before the bottom fell out.

Though at the time it looked like Ron Zook had finally righted the ship, the truth was Illinois’ early schedule made it look better than it was.

The Illini did beat No. 22 Arizona State 17-14 in Week 3, but other than that, the wins came against Arkansas State, FCS South Dakota State, Western Michigan, Northwestern and Indiana.

The frailty of their 6-0 start was exposed in subsequent losses to Ohio State, Purdue, Penn State, Michigan, Wisconsin and Minnesota.

So, which programs are ripe to be the 2014 version of Illinois in 2011?

These are programs with back-loaded schedules, meaning they could climb the charts early only to fall flat by late October.

 

Schedule information courtesy of FB Schedules, statistics courtesy of Sports Reference/College Football.

 

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Top 2015 College Football Recruit Each Big Ten Coach Covets the Most

Recruiting around the Midwest and within the Big Ten can get highly competitive. Each Big Ten coach covets a host of recruits, but chances are their rivals also have their sights set on the same group of prospects.

Recruiting classes are built by acquiring multiple players, but each coach has that one potential crowning jewel he absolutely loves. A linebacker is a favorite of Iowa head coach Kirk Ferentz, while the same goes for Michigan State head coach Mark Dantonio.

Plus, one Big Ten coach already has a commitment from the recruit he covets the most.

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

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Texas Football: Meet the Longhorns' Linebackers of the Future

Texas linebacker coach Brian Jean-Mary inherited one of the most experienced position groups when he was hired, but the experience has been somewhat overshadowed by adversity. The Longhorns return all of the starters from 2013, however, the history of injury from the position should not be overlooked.

Last season, six linebackers either nursed injuries from the previous season or suffered injuries during the year that forced them to miss playing time. Jordan Hicks and Tevin Jackson have also missed spring practice because of last year's injuries.

Hicks has flashed signs of how good he could be, but has missed the majority of the last two years due to somewhat freak injuries and is still recuperating a torn Achilles tendon. Unfortunately for Hicks, and for Texas fans, his injured past makes it difficult to expect much of anything from him in 2014.

"It's the older group, so you expect guys to come out and make more plays with Hicks being down right now. But we have enough there in the backup position where we can rotate guys," head coach Charlie Strong said of the linebackers.

Here are a few of the younger guys to keep an eye on in 2014.

 

Tim Cole

Tim Cole was a reliable backup for Texas when Hicks and countless other linebackers suffered injuries in 2013. The 6'2", 232-pound sophomore saw playing time in 11 games at last season, including one start against Iowa State.

Cole earned All-American, all-state, all-area and three-time first-team all-district honors during his time at Brenham High School, which shows he has a lot of potential for the Longhorns at linebacker.

 

Deoundrei Davis

Redshirt freshman Deoundrei Davis spent the 2013 season sidelined with a knee injury he suffered during his senior year of high school, but Davis is now healthy and has the opportunity to show Strong and his staff what he brings to the table. The 6'3", 228-pound linebacker earned All-American accolades during his time at Cypress Woods High School.

Rivals.com ranked Davis as the No. 5 outside linebacker in the 2013 recruiting class due to his ability to make plays in space. If he can stay healthy, Davis has the chance to be the type of linebacker that can help Texas against the uptempo offenses in the Big 12.

 

Andrew Beck

Early enrollee Andrew Beck has been turning heads in spring practice, mainly because of his measurables. The 6'3", 233-pounder was rated the No. 23 inside linebacker by Rivals.com, No. 46 outside linebacker by ESPN.com and No. 36 middle linebacker by Scout.com.

In other words, Beck appears to be a versatile, talented linebacker. Strong said Beck's decision to enroll early has helped him in learning the Longhorns' new system and has helped him become a backup option early in spring practice.

 

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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USC Football: Steve Sarkisian's Offense Quickly Erasing Memories of Lane Kiffin

This time last year, spring ball went a little something like this: The Trojans would run a play, then former head coach Lane Kiffin and his staff would take several minutes to break it down. Then they would run another play, wash, rinse and repeat. The beloved Pete Carroll coached in a similar manner, as did the coaches before him. This had been the norm at USC for year, and to a large degree, it worked out just fine.

Then Steve Sarkisian became the head coach, and the whole game changed. 

The uptempo offense Sarkisian is installing at USC has dominated storylines since his introductory press conference back in December...and for good reason. The Trojans are one of the few Pac-12 schools to still run a pro-style offense, and many feared that too much change would be disastrous for a program known for its aggressive, bruising power offense. 

By this point, it's become pretty clear that USC will still utilize its traditional scheme and that the uptempo elements will just rejuvenate the offense, making it more competitive. 

It's hard to really conceptualize how much faster the new offense is than the one we're used to seeing. The Los Angeles Daily News' Scott Wolf puts things in perspective:

That breaks down to roughly 111 plays per 90-minute scrimmage, and 1.23 plays per minute. That's similar to the break-neck pace established by the Oregon Ducks, who ran 2.83 plays per minute in 2012, according to SB Nation's Football Study Hall

While USC is not looking to install its own version of "The Blur," the increased pace is pretty remarkable. Previously, the Trojans might run one play every five minutes during practices.  

The Trojans have never moved so quickly on the field, and with speedy playmakers like Buck Allen, Nelson Agholor, Tre Madden and Darreus Rogers in the ranks, the heightened pace stands to make USC's offense even more threatening.

For the quarterbacks, the new attack really enhances the nature of the position battle. The signal-caller who picks up his responsibilities and carries them out with the most efficiency and fewest hiccups will be crowned QB No. 1, and through three weeks, Cody Kessler commands the advantage over Max Browne. 

Last season, Kessler blossomed from a timid presence in the pocket to a playmaker, and the flexibility of the new scheme enhances his abilities to do just that. "Sark" has already noted how quickly Kessler is releasing the football and hitting his hot route, an improvement from last season, where he would sometimes hang on to the ball for too long.

Things are still coming together, but it appears the uptempo scheme is bringing out the best in both Kessler and Browne.

And it's not just the quarterbacks who are benefiting from the change of pace. 

Sarkisian spoke with the media after Saturday's scrimmage, and highlighted a trio of athletes who stand to be especially lethal in the new scheme:

Additionally, offensive coordinator Clay Helton spoke about the tight ends, saying there's "no question" that they will have a more prominent role in the new offense. 

The transition the Trojans are going through is unfolding as smoothly as any new coach could hope for, especially one dealing with the injury woes and depth limitations that Sarkisian has inherited.

That said, the quickened pace is certainly having an impact on the team.

"They're really winded [afterwards], but they're having fun with it," senior tight end Randall Telfer said. He's sitting out spring ball while nursing a knee injury, but he's out there every day, learning through observation.

"We run five or six plays in the time it took to run three or four. There's a big emphasis on 'next play' mentality'," he said.

It's a good thing for the offensive players, because it means they can showcase their talents more frequently.

"More plays equals more yards," Telfer said.

On defense, things are coming along well for coordinator Justin Wilcox and his players, though there is still a lot of work to be done. Wilcox told Garry Paskwietz of ESPN that right now the defense starts scrimmages strong, but there's a tendency for them to fade as the session wears on:

That’s where we have to continue to emphasize finishing strong because the end of the game is when you get up there in play count. When you get to plays 100 to 120, that’s when you really need to sustain things mentally and that’s something we’ve got to work on. The effort has been good, we just have to get better. I would have thought through nine days that we would have it down pat and look great, but I don’t know if that’s reality.

Some of the defensive hangups can be attributed to the absence of veterans who are being held out to preserve them for the fall. Furthermore, the Trojans aren't tackling much, something that has been common in Troy throughout the sanction era.

Wilcox touched on how the Trojans are dealing with that this season:

You would love to practice [live tackling] all the time, but you have to be smart about the way you do it. You work on tackling in controlled environments where you limit the number of bodies potentially going to the ground, you work that way in one-on-one drills, you work it on bags. But when you get to go live, you have to go. There’s nothing like live tackling.

More physical practices are on the horizon for USC, but for right now, getting the scheme installedand making sure the team can keep up with itis the priority. 

Next week the Trojans take to the Coliseum for the annual spring game, and when they do, we will get our first true glimpse of what the new-look offense can do. 

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Oklahoma State Football: Early Analysis of the Quarterback Battle

The Oklahoma State Cowboys entered their spring practice with major question marks across the roster because of the vast number of starters and key role players graduating after the 2013 season.

However, no position battle is more important than the one taking place at the quarterback position.

Oklahoma State has entered into the last few springs with a major battle taking place amongst the team's signal-callers, and this year is no different.

Obviously, J.W. Walsh is the favorite given his starting experience over the last two seasons. That said, Mason Rudolph is a blue chip prospect with a cannon for an arm and experience in the Air Raid system from high school. And the story doesn't end there, as Daxx Garman has emerged as a surprising contender with a head-turning spring performance.

Where does the position battle stand after last weekend's Orange Blitz event? Read on to find out.

J.W. Walsh, the Incumbent

If you're looking for the definition of even stock, Walsh is your guy.

Lost in the hype generated by Rudolph's arrival and Garman's progression is what Walsh has been doing on the practice field. He has stayed steady and remained a game-changing presence with his ability to run and pass.

If the real games started today, Walsh would probably be the starter. He's a proven commodity the coaches know can run the offense and make plays. 

However, the same knocks on his game are still there, though they've certainly lessened this spring. His arm is probably average at best and he still seems inconsistent with his accuracy.

If Walsh's arm strength isn't as improved as it looked at the Orange Blitz, it might be enough to open the door for Rudolph or Garman. The Pokes have a plethora of receivers (namely Jhajuan Seales and Blake Webb) who can get open deep and Walsh has shown in the past that he can't always take advantage of that.

If Rudolph or Garman can prove they have the subtleties of the offense down, they could make a convincing case for being the Day 1 starter.

Mason Rudolph, the Star Freshman

Mason Rudolph came into Stillwater with the kind of hype that met Wes Lunt a few years ago. Both looked like the prototype you would build for the Air Raid offense and both had a chance to start as true freshmen.

That said, every time Mike Gundy has been asked about Rudolph this spring, he's talked about how young Rudolph is. Often referring to him as a high school kid (Rudolph was an early enrollee this spring). 

That might not be the glowing praise fans might've expected given Rudolph's hype; however, it's a smart tactic from Gundy.

It's likely that Oklahoma State's head coach simply doesn't want anything to get to his young quarterback's head and is being very metered in his praise. He can't go touting Rudolph as the best thing since sliced bread from Day 1 and expect him to keep working hard.

Regardless of how well Rudolph is actually playing, these are the kind of comments you should expect from Gundy during this entire process.

Additionally, Rudolph's mostly playing behind a makeshift offensive line this spring, making it even harder to gauge his performance during his first action as a Cowboy.

However, I still think Rudolph is below Walsh (and maybe Garman) on the totem pole right now. Gundy doesn't want another Wes Lunt on his hands and will likely let Rudolph sit and learn for a season before handing him the reins in 2015.

Daxx Garman, the Big Surprise

Of all the news coming out of Oklahoma State's spring practice, the progression of Garman has to be the most surprising.

Garman spent his spring being praised by the coaching staff and former players alike. When former Cowboy great Brandon Weeden stopped by, he said that Garman could "flat-out spin it" and talked about how good the young man looked in the pocket.

Weeden's right.

Even though Garman hasn't played organized football in a few years, you wouldn't know it from watching him throw darts all over the field.

Unfortunately, in the practice before the Orange Blitz, Garman hurt his knee on a non-contact play and had to be carted off the field. It's a very unfortunate setback for a guy who was playing so well prior to that practice.

However, we still have five months until the season starts, meaning Garman could come back and make a play for the starting spot.

At the end of the day, Walsh is still the likely starter, but don't be surprised if Garman or Rudolph makes a big push and uses their superior arm to take over.

Let's just hope we don't get a repeat of 2013 and see Walsh struggle early before getting replaced by a better arm. This is a decision Gundy has to get right from Day 1 if the Pokes want to compete in 2014.

 

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South Carolina Football: 5 Players to Watch in Spring Game

What: South Carolina spring game

When: Noon ET, April 12.

Where: Williams-Brice Stadium, Columbia, S.C.

South Carolina's spring game is Saturday, and although a lot of the established starters will take most of the day off, it's a great time for younger players to make an impression on the coaching staff.

Invariably, there will be a few "spring game heroes" who are never heard from again, but it's also not uncommon for a previously unknown talent to use the game as his personal coming-out party.

South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier is guaranteed to infuse some fun with a trick play or two.

Last season, that included a long pass to Jadeveon Clowney, who stepped illegally off the sideline to catch it, stumbled and fell, and got up illegally to score a "touchdown."

Here are a few individuals worth keeping an eye on in the spring game.

 

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