NCAA Football News

Florida Football: Gators Primed for Breakout Seasons

After a 4-8 season last year, the Florida Gators are going to need everybody to step up in order to bring about a turnaround.

That’s obvious, but the Gators also need breakout seasons from some underachievers.

That includes a quarterback who has been a turnover machine and never blossomed into that leader the offense desperately needs, and a receiver who has been with the team four years and has four receiving touchdowns.

If Florida is truly going to make a genuine run at an SEC East title, these players and others need to fulfill their potential.

Here are some of the players who you can count on having that breakout season.

 

Jeff Driskel, Quarterback 

If Driskel doesn't figure things out this season, there's always a baseball future to fall back on. 

Seriously, Kurt Roper’s offensive system was built for a quarterback such as Driskel. Spread the field, allow the quarterback to use his legs when needed, get the ball out quickly and allow the receivers to make things happen. In past years, Driskel was asked to do too much and wasn't able to take advantage of his athleticism. 

There's a reason Roper was drooling over Driskel the second he arrived on campus, according to Robbie Andreu of Gainesville.com. Roper said of Driskel:

He's really talented. I didn't get to see him much before I got here. I watched him in high school and knew he was heavily recruited and those things. I don't know that I was one of his choices, so now I get the luck of the draw here, I guess I should say.

But that's a big, powerful, fast-twitch, natural throwing motion. He's talented, folks. I mean we're sitting here talking about a guy that's really, really gifted. And his experience shows whenever we have conversations. He understands football. It's not his first rodeo.

Roper obviously sees something many others don’t about a quarterback who has 14 career touchdown passes and 10 interceptions.

These two should click and could bring Florida its most successful season from a quarterback since the Tim Tebow era.

Get excited. 

 

Jonathan Bullard, Defensive Lineman 

Sometimes that third year really is a charm. That's where Bullard comes in.

The versatile defensive lineman is capable of more than the three sacks and 7.5 tackles for loss that he's racked up in two seasons. Bullard has the size (6'3", 271 pounds,) explosiveness and the overall strength to be a monster in the SEC and possibly even make the all-conference team this season. His skill set is unique, and there are not many offensive linemen who can stop him when he's focused on the football field.

Being dialed in was a problem last season, as Bullard didn't enjoy moving from defensive end to defensive tackle. The switch inside really frustrated Bullard and didn't help his production, but he's made the proper adjustments in camp, according to Marty Cohen of 247Sports:

I’ve got the hang of it, I can read things better at D-tackle like I could at end. Now it’s kind of even and to be honest, I’m trying to embrace it, enjoy it, rather than last year not really wanting to but knowing I had to. Now I’m trying to embrace it and do it at a high level. Now I look at it as a plus because I can also play end and I can play inside and if I can do both at a high level it helps me in the long run.

Having a talented player along the defensive front who can play multiple positions only helps Florida's defensive line. Bullard is too gifted not to have that breakout season. Expect big numbers from the third-year defensive lineman. 

 

Andre Debose, Wide Receiver 

This will be the season Debose lives up to the hype.

Wait, haven't we heard this the past four seasons? Actually, it feels more like a decade. 

Debose, who tore his ACL last spring, has been cleared for full contact in the fall, according to Edward Aschoff of ESPN:

[Team doctors] didn’t think there was any way he’d participate in non-contact in spring practice, and right now he’s been cleared for everything in the summer. Here’s a guy who’s really worked his tail off to put himself back into position to do some things.

That's great news for a receiver who has been given a sixth year by the NCAA. Debose seems a sure bet to be successful, as—like with Driskel—Roper's offense fits him perfectly. He'll be asked to help spread the field and become that deep threat that has been missing from Florida's offense since Percy Harvin.

Debose will face many one-on-one situations, which you have to believe he'll be able to win due to his elite speed. Having Quinton Dunbar, Latroy Pittman and Debose on the field at the same time would cause headaches for opposing defenses. 

Debose, who was one of Florida's top recruits in 2009, hasn't contributed much on the offensive side of the ball. With the change at offensive coordinator and the drastic need for playmakers at wide receiver, that's likely to change this season.

Better late than never. 

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Will Lack of Experienced SEC QBs Hold Conference Back in 2014?

In the iron-sharpens-iron SEC football environment, only the battle-tested survive and rise to the top of national rankings.

So what happens when iron goes up against a weaker substance?

It cuts right through.

Therein lies the concern for SEC programs this season.

The normally star-studded league still features some of the country’s elite talent—players such as Georgia tailback Todd Gurley, Auburn receiver Sammie Coates and Florida cornerback Vernon Hargreaves.

For the SEC to be the top conference in 2014, though, it must do so with at least eight quarterbacks who will start the majority of their teams’ games for the first time this season.

More than half the league will turn to quarterbacks with six career starts or fewer, including recent powerhouses Alabama, LSU, Georgia and South Carolina.

Gone are Heisman Trophy winners (Texas A&M’s Johnny Manziel) and finalists (Alabama’s AJ McCarron).

So, too, are conference record-setters (Georgia’s Aaron Murray) and program record-setters (South Carolina’s Connor Shaw).

So the nation’s perennial top conference must reload at the game’s most pivotal position or risk falling back toward the middle of the pack in the college football landscape.

Right?

Well, that gets into what “holding back the conference” really means.

Do all the new signal-callers really mean the SEC champion will be kept out of the inaugural College Football Playoff?

Those odds are probably about as closer to zero as Kentucky winning the national title.

Face it: The SEC will get at least one team into the four-team playoff this year.

No matter how bold the College Football Playoff committee intends to be, it won’t be prepared for the backlash of leaving out the SEC champion—no matter how justified it might be in such a decision.

It seems more likely that two teams from the SEC would make the playoff than zero.

So from that perspective, inexperience at the quarterback position won’t impact the conference in any real way.

As long as the SEC remains at the top of college football in the court of public opinion, it will be difficult to erase the perception.

National championships certainly go a long way toward building a case for being the best league in America.

Then again, no sane person outside of the 14 ACC programs is arguing the ACC is better than the SEC based on Florida State beating Auburn last year.

With no football equivalent of the Big Ten-ACC Challenge in men’s basketball, all arguments against the SEC remain conjecture or speculation.

No matter what the eye test tells us about the Pac-12 and its experienced quarterbacks, such as Oregon’s Marcus Mariota and UCLA’s Brett Hundley, many fans will still side with the SEC.

The Pac-12 and Big 12—two of the leagues most likely to stake a claim for top-conference honors—will have a hard time proving on the field they’re better than the SEC.

Teams from the SEC play Big 12 opponents just four times during the coming regular season.

Two of those games feature Tennessee and Arkansas, who combined for two wins in conference play last season. They play at Oklahoma and Texas Tech, respectively—both of whom qualified for bowl games last season (and the Sooners reached the Sugar Bowl).

Meanwhile, Alabama should be a prohibitive favorite in a neutral-season opener against West Virginia.

Only the nationally televised Thursday night Auburn-Kansas State game should be evenly matched—and could easily be explained away by dismissive SEC defenders should the Tigers fall.

There are no SEC-Pac-12 matchups scheduled for the 2014 regular season.

Any “best conference in America” will be a matter of opinion.

Over the course of the last decade, the SEC has built enough of a reputation to earn benefit of the doubt in the “best conference” conversation.

Thus, inexperience at quarterback won’t hold the league back there, either.

Here’s where it could hurt the league—whether the SEC is “held back” or not: The best teams in the SEC might not emerge with the resumes they have compiled in recent years.

If LSU’s young quarterbacks struggle, a win over a 4-4 or 5-3 Tigers team won’t mean what it has in years past. Namely, beating Les Miles’ team won’t necessarily mean a program has a reasonable chance to make a run in its division.

Texas A&M could be in for a fall as well with Manziel now gone, weakening the SEC West, which is at very least a strong contender for best division in the country.

An SEC program will reach the College Football Playoff this year.

The league often represents well in big games—Alabama’s performance against Oklahoma notwithstanding.

This season will likely be no different.

New quarterbacks won’t hold back the SEC this year.

They could, however, lead to a weaker top-to-bottom conference in 2014.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

2014 Heisman Contenders: Analyzing Top Candidates for Prestigious Award

Heading into the NCAA preseason, and with media days behind us, there are a few players who stand out as compelling prospects to watch for the 2014 Heisman Trophy award.

To make matters more interesting, the two previous winners have been redshirt freshmen, and the trophy has been awarded to underclassmen more frequently since the early 2000s. That means the field of inclusion for the award is wider than ever—as long as you're a quarterback or running back. 

The following players' seasons will play an important role in the competition as they attempt to win their first—or perhaps second—Heisman.

 

Marcus Mariota, QB, Oregon

When head coach Chip Kelly departed Oregon prior to the 2013 season to coach the Philadelphia Eagles, many thought it would result in a hit to Mariota's stats and a less productive offense across the board for the Ducks. But new coach Mark Helfrich led the team to an 11-2 finish and emphasized the passing game. Mariota had 3,665 passing yards compared to 2,677 in 2012 under Kelly.

Mariota's accuracy decreased in 2013 from a 68.5 completion percentage in 2012 to 63.5 percent, but that's not unusual with 50 more attempts (h/t Sports-Reference.com). In 2014 he'll continue to benefit from the Ducks' high-octane spread offense, which should allow him plenty of opportunities to pad his stat sheet.

In 2013, Mariota demonstrated a keen ability to progress quickly through his reads. He lost two top targets from last season (Josh Huff to the NFL and Bralon Addison to a torn ACL in spring practice), but he has a corps of young talent in Chance Allen, B.J. Kelley and Dwayne Stanford.

The stats also suggest that Mariota's knee injury in Stanford game affected the rest of his season considerably. Though he hadn't thrown an interception to that point, he threw four over a two-game stretch against Arizona State and Oregon State, and he didn't rush for a single touchdown post-injury after scoring nine prior. Better health in 2014 should translate to better production from Mariota. 

If Mariota falls out of Heisman discussions, it'll likely be because the Ducks don't have the weapons he needs. But if he can match or exceed his production last season, and if the young receivers step up, he'll be at the front of the pack.

 

Todd Gurley, RB, Georgia

Despite only playing in 10 games last season, Todd Gurley racked up 989 yards and 10 touchdowns for the Bulldogs in 2013. He also dramatically increased his role in the passing game, notching 37 receptions for 441 yards compared to 16 for 117 in 2012. 

That increased production as a pass-catcher gave Gurley the opportunity for six additional scores, bringing his total to 16 over 10 games. 

What's really impressive about Gurley's 2013 campaign is that, as Tony Barnhart of the SEC Network pointed out, he only had four games last season with 20-plus touches. 

With Aaron Murray's departure, the Bulldogs will feature the ground game more prominently in 2014, and provided he can stay healthy, Gurley should have his best season yet. Being a high-profile player in a high-profile conference certainly won't hurt him either as Heisman discussions begin to gather steam. 

 

Jameis Winston, QB, Florida State

In 2014, Winston could make a legitimate push to be just the second player in college football history to win consecutive Heisman awards—a feat accomplished first by Archie Griffin in 1974 and 1975. 

If Winston can even come close to replicating his production in 2013, it's hard to imagine he won't be a frontrunner for the award. The Seminoles face a tough season opener against Oklahoma State, along with Notre Dame further down the stretch, but their conference schedule is winnable.  

Last year, in the best freshman season by a college quarterback on the books, Winston set single-season NCAA freshman records for passing yards (4,057) and touchdowns (40). Though he lost receivers Kelvin Benjamin and Kenny Shaw to the NFL, the Seminoles return top target Rashad Greene, while Isaiah Jones and Kermit Whitfield could fill holes on the outside and in the slot, respectively. 

It will be hard for anyone to touch Winston in the Heisman race if he repeats his performance from 2013. 

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Freshman QBs Who Will Win Starting Jobs This Fall

If there is a stigma in college football about starting a freshman quarterback, well, there shouldn’t be.

Just look at how the last two seasons have played out and any worries about youth should be totally debunked.

Two years ago, a previously unknown redshirt freshman named Johnny Manziel burst on the scene and won a Heisman Trophy for Texas A&M. Last fall, Jameis Winston emerged as college football’s most exciting player, winning a Heisman and leading Florida State to a BCS National Championship in his first season of college football.

Youth has been served in college football, and don’t be surprised if a number of freshmen emerge as stars this fall.
Here is a look at some freshman quarterbacks who would surprise no one by winning a starting role this fall.

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Bleacher Report's Preseason Top 25 at the Start of Fall Camp

Can you feel it? College football is right around the corner.

We've gone through the various media days for each conference, with coaches and selected players telling us how excited they are about the upcoming 2014 season. Some preseason all-conference teams and league-standings predictions have been made, and goals are being set for number of wins as well as division and conference titles and maybe spots in the first-ever College Football Playoff.

Preseason top-25 polls are the next step. The Amway Coaches Poll, which is the old USA Today poll but with a new sponsor, is set to release its initial rankings on Thursday, and the Associated Press will follow on Aug. 17 with its preseason media poll.

Ours is ready right now.

Here's Bleacher Report's Top 25 heading into the start of fall camp. The rankings are a projection of how teams will fare in the 2014 season based on returning players from the year before, incoming talent that is expected to contribute and offseason events which may have an impact on how a team will perform this fall.

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UCLA Football: 3 Games That Could Ruin the 2014 Season for the Bruins

There are three opponents in particular with the ability to upend a potentially special season for Jim Mora and the UCLA football team. 

Two of these contests exist on the road. One will test the Bruins' ability to not only travel a great distance, but to also compete against a less-than-ideal start time. The other road game will feature a daunting home crowd in addition to adverse weather conditions. 

Lastly, UCLA could theoretically be facing its biggest rival for a division championship. A loss in such an affair would likely rival a punch to the proverbial stomach. 

Here are three games that could ruin the 2014 season for the Bruins.

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Ohio State Football: Best Quotes and Key Takeaways from Big Ten Media Days

Urban Meyer and a trio of his players—highlighted by quarterback Braxton Miller—represented the Ohio State Football team at the annual Big Ten media days in Chicago this week.

Ohio State is gearing up for another run at a national title after last year's quest fell short. Meyer has the pieces to contend, but fall camp will be a pivotal time for the Buckeyes to patch their remaining holes and really grasp the vision of the coaching staff.

Meyer and the players he brought with him to Chicago echoed that sentiment universally.

Here are the biggest Buckeyes-related takeaways from Big Ten media days.

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Brady Hoke Won't Quiet Hot Seat Questions Without Michigan Victories

Brady Hoke told reporters at Day 1 of Big Ten Media Days, including MLive.com's Nick Baumgardner, that he's not worried about his job security at Michigan. But that doesn't mean the questions are going to stop anytime soon. 

Athletic director Dave Brandon has dispelled notions that Brady is on the hot seat this season multiple times, most recently to Bob Wojnowski of the Detroit News. "I have all the confidence in the world that he’s bringing in the right kids, that he continues to do the right thing in terms of getting his staff lined up," Wojnowski said. "I’m convinced we’re heading to a very, very good place."

But the question is, what if Michigan doesn't get to that very good place by January? Hoke is coming off a 7-6 season entering his fourth year with the program. In a vacuum, his 26-13 overall record looks promising, but it doesn't tell the whole story.

After leading the team to a strong 11-2 finish in 2011, his squad dropped to 8-5 in 2012 before the dangerously-close-to-.500 2013 campaign.

That record included a strong undefeated start that went south quickly as the season progressed, as BTN.com's Tom Dienhart pointed out during Hoke's presser. 

And though the team was perfect at home under Hoke in each of his first two seasons at the helm, they dropped two at Michigan Stadium in 2013—including a game vs. archrival Ohio State on November 30, which has left a bitter taste in Wolverines fans' mouths. Hoke's gutsy decision to go for a two-point conversion rather than tie that game with an extra point fueled many fans' disenchantment. 

"I've done this at two other schools," Hoke said Monday, per Baumgardner. "You come in as a new coach, and you don't put a timetable on anything. Because you don't know." Though Hoke may not admit to having a timetable in place, rumblings about his days at the program being numbered will continue if the team doesn't make serious strides in 2014. 

There were some moments in the 2013 season Hoke would undoubtedly like to forget, such as the Wolverines' embarrassing loss to in-state rival Michigan State on November 2, in which the team rushed for a record-low minus-48 net yards. 

Last season's 7-6 record would have been more understandable in Hoke's first season. The Wolverines were transitioning from a spread offense under Rich Rodriguez (who, incidentally, went 7-6 in his last season in 2009 before Hoke was brought in), which is not a process that happens overnight. 

But the year-to-year decline in Hoke's squad's performance is what gives fuel to the hot seat questions, and not unfairly so. 

The expectations are elevated for the coach of the winningest program in college football, and Hoke understands that. Brandon told Wojnowski he doesn't have a target record in mind for the 2014 season because that would be "grossly unfair," but it's not hard to imagine he or the fanbase will be satisfied with another 7-6 or even 8-5 season. 

Three of Michigan's losses in 2013 were by four points or less, so the team has a foundation to build on. Hoke hired new offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier and opened competition at multiple positions, according to Baumgardner.

That includes the offensive line, for which Brady has yet to name the front five starters, and the receivers group, which lost Jeremy Gallon to the NFL and now includes Devin Funchess, Amara Darboh, Drew Dileo, Jehu Chesson and true freshman Freddy Canteen. 

Of course, some key factors aren't in Hoke's control, such as Devin Gardner's performance. 

He's moving things in the right direction for the Wolverines, but college football is a numbers game, and until Hoke can deliver a record that will please the fans and Brandon, the questions surrounding his job security will continue.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Miami Football: 5 Hurricanes Poised for Breakout Seasons

College football followers are familiar with Duke Johnson, Stacy Coley and Denzel Perryman, but five lesser-known Miami Hurricanes are poised for breakout seasons in 2014.

Youth, injury and nationally popular teammates have overshadowed the members of the list, keeping them as relatively unknown commodities beyond the conference landscape.

The following 'Canes are organized by position, not by a subjective interpretation of the respective performances each player is capable of this season.

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Georgia Football: 3 Games That Could Ruin the Bulldogs' 2014 Season

The Georgia Bulldogs could do a lot of special things this season.

If they can stay healthy and the defense improves from what it was last season, they could have a chance to not only win the SEC, but also be one of the four teams that reach the first annual College Football Playoff.

But the Bulldogs have been in position before to have a chance to be a national champion and came up short because they lost a game early or late in the season, and it came back to bite them.

So here’s a look at three games that could ruin the Bulldogs’ 2014 season.

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Biggest Storylines Heading into Clemson's Fall Camp

The Clemson Tigers are just days away from the unofficial beginning of the 2014 college football season. Fall camp opens, and the countdown is on for the Tigers' trip to Georgia on August 30 to open the new season. 

Much of the offseason talk has centered on Clemson's quarterback situation—and rightfully so. It's the most important position on the field, and the Tigers just graduated the top passer in the school's rich history. 

But even with the loss of Tajh Boyd and wide receiver Sammy Watkins, there is a palpable buzz around the program. The Tigers are coming off three consecutive 10-win seasons and are in position to challenge defending national champion Florida State for ACC supremacy despite the loss of some key personnel.

Can senior Cole Stoudt replace Boyd? Or will Clemson rely on one of the most experienced and talented defensive lines in the country to carry the team in 2014?

Here are four storylines Clemson fans should keep an eye on as fall practice begins. 

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Nebraska Football: 5 Cornhuskers Primed for Breakout Seasons

Nebraska football fans will be anxiously watching the 2014 season to see which players will become breakout stars. It’s the breakout stars, not the proven commodities, who can help propel a team like Nebraska from almost-there to contending for conference and national titles.

So which Cornhuskers are primed for breakout seasons? Here are five candidates.

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10 College Coaches Who May Not See Their 2015 Recruiting Class Graduate

Every head college football coach in the country is assembling his 2015 recruiting class with much hope that every recruit graduates in four-to-five years.

However, college football is also big business, which means winning is the most important thing for a coach's future. Whether it be a coach on the hot seat, the calling of the NFL or possible retirement, there are a few college coaches who very well may not see their next recruiting class get all the way through their programs.

An SEC coach has some fire under his seat, while an ACC coach may be running out of time. Plus, a respected Big Ten coach could be replaced before his 2015 class graduates.


All recruiting class ratings and rankings are from 247Sports' Composite Recruiting Rankings.

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

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Texas Football: Biggest Storylines Heading into Longhorns' Fall Camp

2014 has been a year of change for the Texas Longhorns. When one considers the new head coach and coaching staff, multiple dismissals from the team and a change of culture in the football program, this offseason has been anything but ordinary in Austin.

All of the change has led to a number of interesting storylines, which Texas fans across the nation are eager to follow.

 

Change of Culture

One of the most significant storylines has to be the complete 180-degree culture change first-year head coach Charlie Strong has brought to the team.

Last week, Orangebloods.com first reported that running back Jalen Overstreet and defensive back Chevoski Collins were dismissed from the team due to a violation of team rules.

The duo being removed from the team was quickly followed up by news courtesy of Orangebloods.com that Strong had dismissed two other players on the roster, running back Joe Bergeron and safety Josh Turner.

In six months, Strong has dismissed six Longhorns and indefinitely suspended two others.

Some Texas fans may like his no-nonsense approach, some may not. However, whichever side of the fence you fall on does not really matter.

Strong has made it clear it's his way or the highway, and nobody is going to question him in doing so.

It will be interesting to see if he keeps it up or wavers, but all signs are pointing toward a continuing change of culture for the Longhorns.

 

Depth at Safety

A storyline that is a spin-off of the recent dismissals is the lack of depth at safety. Following Turner's dismissal from the team, the safety position became a lot less clear.

Senior Mykkele Thompson is now the only safety with starting experience. Behind him are five young players—two (Kevin Vaccaro, Adrian Colbert) have a little game experience on special teams and the remaining three (John Bonney, Erik Huhn, Edwin Freeman) have not seen playing time in college.

One could argue that Thompson's role will not be up for grabs, but the role beside him could be anyone's game.

Sophomore Colbert has a chance of being a hard-hitting safety that Texas will need this season, but he has yet to see the field aside from on special teams. True freshman Bonney could have the chance of being a contributor, but depending on an incoming freshman is not always the best answer.

In other words, the depth at safety is nonexistent. Nevertheless, Strong will need to find the best option available before Texas takes the field on Aug. 30.

 

Quarterback

At Big 12 media days, Strong said junior David Ash would be the starting quarterback for the Longhorns heading into fall camp. However, a major question surrounding Ash is his ability to stay healthy.

After missing the majority of 2013 with recurring concussion symptoms, Ash was ready to take the field for spring practice.

Unfortunately, the hopes of his return were shut down early after he suffered a Jones fracture in his left foot and missed the second half of the spring.

He has officially been cleared to participate in fall camp, but that does not necessarily mean his health issues are a thing of the past.

In fact, Strong told ESPN's Joe Schad that he has had discussions with Ash on the importance of sliding and not taking a big hit:

Even if Ash can stay healthy and holds on to the starting role, it will be interesting to see which quarterback makes a name for himself as Ash's backup.

Sophomore Tyrone Swoopes and true freshman Jerrod Heard will be battling it out to take on the No. 2 role this fall, but nobody is quite sure what either quarterback will bring to the Longhorns due to the lack of playing time between the two youngsters.

Will Swoopes' limited playing time and inconsistent spring-game performance hinder his ability to take the next step? Will Heard not enrolling until the summer hurt his chances of being the No. 2 guy?

These are all questions that could get answered during fall camp, but it may take longer to get the answers some Texas fans are anticipating.

At the end of the day, nobody truly knows what the future holds for Texas football under Strong. There are a lot of issues that will not immediately be sorted out for the Longhorns, but the time to get some of the questions answered is right around the corner.

 

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.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Ohio State Football: Jeff Heuerman Is Urban Meyer's Next John Simon

At Ohio State, the role of what he calls the "heart and soul" of the Buckeyes is not one that Urban Meyer takes lightly.

Two years ago, it was defensive end John Simon. Last season, it was left tackle Jack Mewhort. Type A personalities propped up in the preseason by the Ohio State head coach looking for leaders.

Asked at Big Ten media days who this year's version would be, Meyer didn't point to the star quarterback or veteran defensive lineman that he brought with him to Chicago. Rather, Meyer opted to anoint the nontraditional tight end who was hardly tailor-made for his spread offense.

"Jeff Heuerman is a guy who's got that kind of work ethic and leadership," Meyer said.

Given that the tight end position has hardly been highlighted and isn't even on the field for every offensive play for Ohio State, it's hard to imagine one being the "heart and soul" of the Buckeyes. But with Heuerman's ability—as well as fellow tight end Nick Vannett's—Meyer said that it's safe to throw away any preconceived notions about where OSU's leadership will come from.

"He will be (on the field for every offensive play)," Meyer insisted of Heuerman. "I have two legitimate pieces to the puzzle I've never had. You're going to see some two-tight end offense."

Just as dual tight ends aren't traditional in Meyer's spread offense, how Heuerman got here isn't your standard story, either. In fact, it was just three years ago that the Naples, Florida, native was admittedly unsure whether or not he had a future in Columbus.

A mere four months after arriving on campus as an early enrollee in January 2011, Heuerman witnessed the man who recruited him to Columbus get fired when Jim Tressel was ousted from Ohio State due to NCAA violations. What followed wasn't pretty, either, as the Buckeyes limped to a 6-7 season, with Heuerman catching one ball for 25 yards in his freshman campaign.

"I remember just like it was yesterday, that Memorial Day when we woke up and found out Coach Tressel resigned," Heuerman recalled. "I was like, 'What are you talking about? He was one of the reasons I came here.'"

But even as the hiring of Meyer in November 2011 breathed some much-needed excitement into the Buckeyes program, Heuerman found himself not sharing the same sentiment. A 3-star tight end in high school, according to 247Sports, Heuerman wasn't recruited by his new head coach despite playing right down the road from him in Florida.

"When he first got here, he didn't know me. He really didn't know me because he didn't recruit me," Heuerman said. "I was like, 'Oh man, here we go. A coach who didn't recruit me is coming in.'

"Everyone's telling me, 'Oh, you'll be like Aaron Hernandez.' We both know I ain't Aaron Hernandez—on and off the field. But you watch Aaron Hernandez highlights, and that's not the way I play football. We're two different body types. Obviously, some doubt crossed my mind."

Only adding to Heuerman's concern was his status on the depth chart, which pegged him as the third-string tight end entering his sophomore season. But when Reid Fragel was converted into an offensive lineman and Jake Stoneburner moved to wide receiver, it was Heuerman who found himself starting for an Ohio State squad that went 12-0 in 2012.

"I woke up one day, and I was the starting tight end at Ohio State," Heuerman recalled. "Jake and Reid were in front of me going into my sophomore year. I wasn't even supposed to play. I was the third-string tight end. And they both moved positions, and one day, I'm like, 'Here we go.' You could say I've come a long way."

Although he was merely an option as a sophomore, the 6'5", 255-pounder grew to be an integral role in the Ohio State offense as a junior, catching 26 balls for 466 yards and four touchdowns in 2013. A workout fiend who possesses the best bench press and highest vertical jump on the Buckeyes roster, Heuerman surely would have catapulted up draft boards following an impressive showing at the NFL Scouting Combine had he decided to forgo his senior season of eligibility.

But after meeting with Meyer—the same coach he was unsure of just two years earlier—mere moments after Ohio State's loss to Clemson in the Orange Bowl, Heuerman decided that he had unfinished business in Columbus.

"I really didn't know until after the bowl game. Coach Meyer and I sat down in some office in the Orange Bowl stadium," Heuerman recalled. "I probably could have left, and everything would have worked out. But we sat down and weighed the options, and I decided to come back. I don't really look back or dwell on the past."

And while classmate and star quarterback Braxton Miller may be the face of the Buckeyes, Heuerman now finds himself the unlikely heart and soul of an Ohio State squad with national championship aspirations and expectations. That's just fine with Heuerman, whose natural leadership has helped him overcome the trials and tribulations that he's already faced in his college career.

"It's special," Heuerman said. "Guys look at you differently. You're a captain now. You're not a young sophomore or junior. You're kind of up there. Guys are always looking at you or what you're doing. But also, it's nice.

"I embrace it. Being a captain at Ohio State's a pretty big deal."

If Heuerman can have the same impact that Simon did two years ago, it will be an ever bigger one.

 

*Unless otherwise noted, all quotes obtained firsthand.

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Michigan Football: Best Quotes and Key Takeaways from Big Ten Media Days

Brady Hoke is quite familiar with the song and dance of Big Ten media days. 

During the conference's big day on stage in Chicago, the Wolverines' fourth-year coach answered questions about rebounding from a 7-6 season, facing off against rivals Ohio State and Michigan State, the quarterback situation and Jabrill Peppers, Team 135's incoming super frosh. 

This slideshow will cover all things Michigan-related that came out of the Windy City. And to get your motor revving, here's Hoke on Shane Morris, a sophomore, versus Devin Gardner, the senior incumbent, via MLive.com's Nick Baumgardner

I think (Morris) has a legitimate chance (to win the job), but I would also say that Devin's done a nice job of working every day to try and solidify that. To some degree, we all need motivation.

But Devin did a nice job, in my opinion, of processing his performance from a year ago (from both a positive and negative standpoint).

Hoke touched on the subject but didn't say anything that would indicate that the job is anyone but Gardner's. Now in his second year, Morris should be competing for top reps. After all, he was one of the best quarterbacks of the 2013 class, not to mention one of Hoke's highest-rated signees.

Begin Slideshow

Winners and Losers from 2014 Big Ten Media Days

CHICAGO — “Talking season,” as Steve Spurrier likes to call it, is over. It’s time for football.

The best and brightest of the Big Ten flocked to the Chicago Hilton for Big Ten Media Days, one of the final stops before fall camp.

Day 1 consisted of a more formal podium session, giving each coach in the conference 15 minutes to address the media and answer questions. Day 2 wasn’t nearly as structured. All players and coaches in attendance sat at roundtables, answering questions for roughly two hours as media members pinballed around the room.

As for the winners and losers of the weekend—including a cameo from Kenny Bell and his fabulous media-day attire—here are some takeaways.

 

Adam Kramer is a lead writer for college football at Bleacher Report. All quotes obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted. All stats courtesy of CFBStats.com.

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20 College Football QBs Who Have a New No. 1 WR Target in 2014

Of the 12 players who had more than 1,340 receiving yards last season, only one, Duke wide receiver Jamison Crowder (1,360), is returning to college football in 2014.

Which is crazy because only three of those players—Jordan Matthews, Jeremy Gallon and Chandler Jones—were seniors in 2013. Seven of them were juniors, and two of them, Mike Evans and Davante Adams, were only redshirt sophomores.

But you can't really blame them for leaving, can you?

Other than Willie Snead of Ball State (who went undrafted), every underclassman from that group who declared early was taken in the first or second round of the 2014 NFL draft. This is just the world that we live in, a climate where players have every reason to leave after posting a 1,340-yard season, to strike while the iron is hot.

College football will go on without them, just as it will without the players who departed via graduation. And for 20 FBS quarterbacks who are returning to starting jobs this season—here defining that as "players who threw at least 200 passes in 2013"—it means they will have to break in a new No. 1 target in the passing game.

Chime in below and let me know which QB you think will fare the best.

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4 Florida State Football Players Star in Terrible Rap Video

Florida State's football team may have been the best in the nation last season, but this year's recruiting class doesn't look like it will be winning a Grammy anytime soon.

Four Seminoles defensive players—Demarcus Christmas, Derrick Nnadi, Lorenzo Featherston and Jacob Pugh—just released a music video for their single, "Gotta Make It to the Top."

The Florida State freshmen (otherwise known as New Seminoles) gave rapping a shot, but it's probably best if they just stick to playing football.

[YouTube, h/t Lost Lettermen]

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How Charlie Strong Is Slowly Building His Brand in Texas

Warren McCarty didn't mince words: "It's a cliquish and secretive brotherhood." 

That's how McCarty, a former high school football player from Amarillo, Texas, described the fraternity of the state's high school football coaches. "It's an old-school mentality," says McCarty, who now runs a recruiting service in Colorado called "My Passion is Football"."Everyone knows someone who knows someone."  

And that is what first-year Texas coach Charlie Strong is trying to break through. Get to the coaches. Get to the recruits. 

 

The Network

At more than 20,000 members, the Texas High School Coaches Association's connections within it run deep. Many coaches move from one job to another within the state. Some get promoted to the college level.

Baylor coach Art Briles famously got his start in the Texas high school ranks, as did Clemson offensive coordinator Chad Morris. Both served terms at Stephenville High School among other places.  

Many of Texas' high school coaches stay in contact with one another or check in with scores from around the state after the Friday night lights have been turned off. 

"Everything is cliquish," said Todd Moebes, the head coach at Abilene Cooper High School. "You have your loyalties, the people you trust." But he also defended the fraternity. "That's not any different than coaching anywhere else," he added.

The network is a close circle where word travels fast, which can be a good or a bad thing depending on the impression a college coach makes.

In March, William Wilkerson of HornsDigest.com published the opinions of four "prestigious"—albeit anonymous—high school coaches and their take on the direction of the program. The results were understandably mixed, but this response from "Coach D" about relationships with high school coaches stood out:

It's going to be the key. Mack was the best I'd ever seen. Mack welcomed them with open arms. And he remembered names. You don't think Mack knows your name? He'd walk up to you and have a conversation with you like there was no tomorrow. He's very friendly. It was unbelievable. I'll give Charlie the benefit of the doubt because I want those guys to be successful. I have kids down there. But if you don't get the relationship with the high school coaches, especially the right ones, recruiting is going to be hard at UT. A&M and Baylor are killing the state.

Suffice to say, relationship-building is paramount, a point Strong has driven home from his first press conference. 

"You can be at the world's greatest school," said Tom Nolen, the head coach at Lamar High School in Houston, "but you have to have good relationships with high school coaches." 

For Strong, that began with proving he was a man of action. 

 

The Strong Impression

On Thursday, July 24, the clock hit zero. 

In the span of two days, Strong suspended or dismissed six players. Wide receivers Kendall Sanders and Montrel Meander were arrested in connection to a sexual-assault allegation, but four other players—defensive backs Chevoski Collins and Josh Turner and running backs Jalen Overstreet and Joe Bergeron—were reportedly released for various undisclosed reasons. 

According to ESPN.com's Max Olson, "as many as five more Texas players could be facing dismissals due to violations of team rules." Chip Brown of HornsDigest.com advanced the story Monday, reporting that three more players—receiver Daje Johnson, senior offensive tackle Desmond Harrison and junior offensive tackle Kennedy Estelle—were risking suspension. 

It had been roughly six months since Strong took over the program. That was more than enough time for the Texas roster to adjust to Strong's core values—honesty, treating women with respect, no drugs, no stealing and no weapons—and expectations. Anyone who still wasn't on board was shown the door

Strong was blunt at Big 12's media days. "Do what I ask," he said. "It's not hard." 

The cuts resonated not only with the media and fans but with those who know the Texas high school system. "The high school coaches I've spoken with say they want to send players to a place where there is sound discipline," said Daron Roberts, a former West Virginia assistant and Texas graduate who is preparing to teach at his alma mater. "Everyone knows that Strong means what he says." 

Moebes agreed. "We're in the development business," he said. "We want to make our players better citizens in society, but you also have to look at how that affects the program. I admire him." 

The results show. Instead of scaring away prospects, Strong received two verbal commitments in 48 hours: 4-star wide receiver John Burt, who has family ties to Austin, and 3-star defensive tackle Du'Vonta Lampkin

The moves even registered in California with La Mirada coach Mike Moschetti. 

"He'll ease off in a few years," Moschetti said," but right now, he has to change the culture." 

 

The Recruiting Question  

The dismissals sent a message. Will the players and coaches in Texas' high schools get it? That's what Strong is banking on. 

Over the past two recruiting cycles (2013'14), the Longhorns have been losing to Texas A&M, and Baylor has been gaining ground. The 2015 classes are shaping up similarly. And while there's still talent on Texas' roster, the previous staff did a poor job in their final years of developing it. Nothing proved that as much as the Horns being shut out of the 2014 NFL draft. 

Beyond any skepticism over how Strong would handle the politics of Texas, both internally and with the media, was the recruiting question. Strong has longstanding ties to the state of Florida dating back to 1983, when he began his career as a graduate assistant with the Gators. He would coach three more stretches as an assistant in Gainesville over the next 27 years. 

Those connections helped Texas when Strong was desperately trying to keep the Horns' 2014 class together. In February, Strong signed two last-minute defensive-tackle prospects—Poona Ford from South Carolina and Chris Nelson from Florida—after a string of decommitments. 

Strong's connections to Florida are a great supplement and could be viewed as an advantage. As Gerry Hamilton of ESPN tweets, former Texas coach Mack Brown never recruited a kid out of Florida during his 16 years in Austin. 

There's no need to abandon those recruiting lifelines altogether—Moschetti believes there's no reason Texas can't recruit nationally—but in-state recruiting is a battle Strong and his staff have to win. 

"Our coaches have broken down, and each one of them have a part of this state," Strong said during media days. "They know just how critical it is, how critical it is to go recruit the top players and get them into our program."

 

The Pitch

The recruiting plan started once the wheels were down in Austin. 

"As soon as the new coaching staff landed in Texas, they reached out and made the high school coaches aware that they wanted to bring the top in-state talent to Austin," Roberts said. 

That could take time—it's no secret Strong and his staff haven't started hot on the recruiting trail—which goes against a culture bred on instant gratification. Texas' 2015 class is first in the Big 12 and 16th nationally, but it's difficult to asses the overall success or failure of a class in July when it's nowhere near complete. 

It's an interesting challenge for Strong. At Louisville, Strong molded mostly 3-star recruits with chips on their shoulders into a hardened football team that took Florida and Miami behind the woodshed in the Sugar Bowl (33-23) and Russell Athletic Bowl (36-9), respectively.

It's a different story at Texas, which got its pick of the top in-state talent for years. As recently as 2012, the Horns had the No. 2 recruiting class in the country. 

"A fascination with the star ratings can get you in trouble," Roberts said. "Strong evaluates players and projects how they'll develop as football players." 

The other facet is the culture change. Strong was able to implement his brand of toughness at Florida as a defensive coordinator from 2003-09. Can he do it at Texas? 

"It's a different sales pitch for Strong," said McCarty. "Football is all about being fundamentally sound, not making mistakes and playing with fire.

"Do those three things and you're going to have a lot of success." 

Strong may not win a conference title right away, but the general consensus among the coaches interviewed was that Strong is the right man for the job long-term. 

"I think he's going to do fine," Nolen said. "Anyone who has that job has the respect of the coaches in this state." 

Debating which part of recruiting is more important—relationship-building or having a pre-existing level of respect—will find no clear-cut answer. However, it would appear Strong is using the latter to develop the former. It's unconventional, so only time will tell if it works.  

 

The Product

The 2014 football season is officially less than a month away. Strong knows he has to impress with "the product"—how Texas looks as a football team on Saturdays. That, according to Strong, is his best recruiting pitch. 

It's not a wins-and-losses pitch, however. At least not entirely. According to Jerry Palm of CBS Sports, the Horns have the 15th-toughest schedule in the country. Early non-conference games against BYU and UCLA act as appetizers for back-to-back games against Baylor and Oklahoma in early October. Road games against Kansas State, Texas Tech and Oklahoma State on the back end of the season are rarely easy. 

It's not far-fetched to think Texas could go 8-4, the exact same record that resulted in Mack Brown's "resignation" last December. Or it could be better if Strong is as good a coach as his high school counterparts say he is. It could also be worse—much worse—if players don't buy in. Truth is, it's hard to get a gauge on the Longhorns, who have a new coach but also a talented roster that has underachieved. 

Whatever the win total, there are a few questions that need to be answered: Will quarterbacks coach Shawn Watson finally get the most out of starter David Ash? Can the offensive line come together and provide a solid foundation for the offense? Can the defense live up to its potential?

Improvements on those fronts may lessen the sting of another so-so regular-season record and provide hope for the future. 

It could also show recruits that Texas is finally back on the upswing. Despite underwhelming results, players still know Texas is, well, Texas. 

"Texas is never a team to take lightly," Iowa State senior defensive end Cory Morrissey told David Ubben of Fox Sports Southwest. "It's like waiting for the dragon to wake up and come out of its lair."

There's no doubt Strong has the fire to succeed. It's starting to show with Texas' high school coaches. In time, that may rub off on the state's top recruits. Perhaps, then, the Longhorns could be considered "back." 

 

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

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