NCAA Football News

10 College Football QBs with Most to Prove in 2014 Season

Few spotlights are brighter in football than the one fixated on the quarterback. More often than not, the quarterback receives more praise than he deserves and more blame than is warranted. 

In the offseason, the quarterback competition garners the most attention. In the fall, the position is one of the biggest storylines.

As such, plenty of quarterbacks have a lot to prove in 2014. Whether it's staying healthy, fending off competition or winning a first-ever conference championship, all of the following signal-callers have something to aim for this year. 

Which quarterbacks have the most to prove?

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Miami Football: Al Golden Sending Message with Leadership Shakeup

Earned. Never Given.

The famous United States Marine Corps slogan is a mantra various individuals surely have followed, and it's applicable to what Al Golden has done with the Miami Hurricanes football team.

Playing football has few direct comparisons to serving in the military, but one such shared trait is leadership. Where the armed services have different ranks, Golden and his coaching staff present the 'Canes' hardest workers with orange and black jerseys, signifying offensive and defensive leaders respectively.

Denzel Perryman, Raphael Kirby, Stacy Coley and Ereck Flowers—who are each expected to be key contributors during the 2014 season—have been mainstays in the coveted colors throughout the spring.

However, following Miami's first scrimmage, Tracy Howard, Alex Figueroa, Thurston Armbrister, Gus Edwards, Jon Feliciano and Danny Isidora were stripped of their status.

Four players are leading the charge for their respective positions and two are competing for valuable playing time, but Golden is sending a message by taking away specifically colored jerseys.

According to David Lake of 247Sports (subscription required), offensive coordinator James Coley said Edwards lost his orange jersey because "he had a couple of plays where we feel like he could have given a better effort."

Per Barry Jackson of The Miami Herald, defensive coordinator Mark D'Onofrio had a simple reason explaining why Howard and Figueroa lost the jersey, saying they were "not up to the standards" in the scrimmage. "It's just about being consistent," D'Onofrio said. "We love Tracy. We want [the black jersey] to be something special. You've got to grade out higher to be at the level of a championship."

Howard has a habit of donning the black jersey, earning it as a freshman in 2012 and as a sophomore in 2013 before starting the 2014 spring with one. But after the 'Canes' best corner returned to the green jersey, it is still nowhere close to "freak-out time."

Considering many coaches will find details for a player to give extra attention and improve upon, losing the desired color is something foreseeable and not a major cause for concern. Golden, James Coley and D'Onofrio are delivering clear messages to their best players:

Get better.

D'Onofrio voiced the desire to mold championship-caliber athletes, and he believes Howard, among others, is not performing equivalent to his great abilities. Per Lake, Coley added that Edwards has improved specific parts of his game. Yet, the running back was still demoted.

Get better.

While the aforementioned players are being motivated by discipline, a handful of Miami players were rewarded for their recent performance. Following the weekend, coaches awarded Jermaine Grace, Earl Moore, Dallas Crawford, Artie Burns and Taylor Gadbois the first-team jerseys.

While somewhat overlooked in an important competition at linebacker, Grace is making plays and standing out to the coaches. Moore is stepping up at a position of need, and Crawford is executing while adjusting to a new position.

Per Jackson, D'Onofrio said Grace "made a lot of plays [in Saturday's scrimmage]. Didn't have mental errors. Has a ways to go, but doing a good job" and Moore "has been really consistent."

D'Onofrio continued, saying Crawford "did what I knew he would do when the lights went on. Physical guy. Great feel for playing the game. For what he's done in a 10-day period [moving over from running back] is really remarkable, not making mental errors."

In other words? They got better.

Note: As seen in the accompanying video, Crawford laid some absolutely brutal hits on senior RB De'Andre Johnson, which certainly helped his quest for the black jersey.

Most importantly, though, between previous and new wearers of black and orange jerseys, the Hurricanes are finding more leaders on the team. From seniors in Perryman and Rashawn Scott to sophomores in Stacy Coley, Grace, Burns and Gadbois, Miami has both veteran leadership and a youthful spark.

To steal another cliché, "competition breeds excellence." Looking back at previous years, the 'Canes have not had this level of competition at every position. It was relatively apparent who would emerge for a given starting job.

But this spring session is not the same. Golden isn't simply handing returning high-profile starters their jobs for the 2014 season. Every athlete must consistently outshine his competition.

Earned. Never Given.

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Why Notre Dame Will Need to Use 2 Quarterbacks in 2014

Barring something unforeseen, Everett Golson will be the starting quarterback at Notre Dame next season. 

It matters not what talented freshman backup Malik Zaire might think—specifically that he will take the first snap against Rice in the season opener on Aug. 30—or what head coach Brian Kellymight insinuate. These are only words. The job belongs to Golson.

For now.

This seems fair given Golson's rosy on-field history. Before being suspended for academic misconduct last season, he led the Irish to an undefeated regular season, No. 1 BCS ranking and trip to the national title game against Alabama as a redshirt freshman in 2012. Those are not the credentials of a player who loses his job.

However, that does not mean Zaire will not have a role to play. A 4-star recruit in the class of 2013 who actually had a higher rating on the 247Sports composite than Golson did in 2011, Zaire almost certainly will factor into the Irish's plans next season—even if (when) he is named the No. 2 quarterback before Week 1.

This is nearly certain for more than one reason.

Kelly has a quick hook with quarterbacks who struggle, standing unafraid to replace a starter when he's playing poorly. For relevant examples, look no further than Golson himself when he was yanked in favor of Tommy Rees against Purdue, Michigan and Pittsburgh in 2012.

Golson also struggles to protect his body, making it through his redshirt freshman season without an extended absence but playing through ticky-tack pain during much of the schedule. He missed the BYU game entirely with a concussion and was slow to get up numerous other times throughout the year.

For these reasons alone, a betting man might wager on Zaire to play some meaningful snaps behind Golson next season. When the starter is prone to bouts of ineffective play and nagging injuries, the backup QB is almost as important as any other player on the roster. 

Even if Golson operates at a near-perfect level and stays healthy the entire season, though, Zaire still might have a role to play in this offense. Specifically in the red zone, his speed outside the tackles and mastery of the option offense—even compared to Golson, who is no slouch in these regards—might make Zaire a frequent offensive sub.

Writes B/R's Keith Arnold:

In a few open looks at the Irish last week, Zaire's striking athleticism was on display. Many marveled at the clear distinction between Zaire and Golson once they broke into the open field. Golson is a more than competent runner, leading the team in touchdown runs in 2012, but Zaire is electric, a far more dangerous playmaker in the open field.

One other area where Zaire would be a clear upgrade is in the option run game. If the zone read is going to anchor the Irish rushing attack this season, Zaire could be the better trigger man. After three years in a mostly running system in high school, he is a wizard in the option.

A few glimpses at the UND.com practice videos show a quarterback that could single-handedly fix the Irish's red-zone struggles with his running and ball skills. He's already showing a mastery of the fakes and deception that make the option so deadly around the goal line.

College football is slowly starting to age from the days of the platooning quarterback, but one player spelling another in the red zone is neither unheard of nor unwise. It worked well for Oklahoma in the final years of Landry Jones' tenure, when backup Blake Bell rushed for 24 touchdowns. Why shouldn't it work, even in sporadic doses, if employed next year at Notre Dame?

Those calling for Zaire to start outright in 2014 can't be blamed. His upside is considerable—higher than that of Golson—and the pluck he's shown in fighting for the job has been reassuring.

It's also a little short-sighted, however, and even hints a bit at being spoiled. Golson has never lost a regular-season game and engineered the nation's ninth most-efficient offense (per the Football Outsiders offensive F/+ ratings) as a freshman. Redshirt or no redshirt, that is pretty darn impressive. And yet still there is a faction of the fanbase eager to question his place on the field, the role he should play on next year's team. What more does the man have to do?

Zaire pushing Golson in camp should help both players improve this spring and fall, even if the competition is not as open as the quotes coming from South Bend seem to indicate. Either way, however, Zaire's performance will dictate the size of his impact in 2014—the amount of slack Golson is given each time he struggles; the number of Zaire-tailored packages included in the playbook each week.

There's a way for this spotlight to be shared.

 

Follow Brian Leigh on Twitter: @BLeighDAT

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AJ Harris Commits to Missouri: Tigers Land 4-Star OL

Versatile offensive lineman AJ Harris became the third member of Missouri's 2015 recruiting class Tuesday. The 4-star Kansas prospect unveiled the Tigers as his choice on Twitter:

Harris, a 6'4", 297-pound Blue Valley High School junior, is rated No. 17 nationally among offensive guard prospects in 247Sports' composite rankings. He pledged to the program during a campus visit in Columbia.

His offer sheet extends throughout various conferences and features Ohio State, Nebraska, Kansas State and Missouri. Harris picked up multiple scholarships following an impressive sophomore season.

"Missouri is getting a phenomenal player," Blue Valley head coach Eric Driskell told 247Sports reporter Keith Niebuhr. "He('s) an even better kid. He's a great young man, a great student."

Harris helped pave the way for an offensive attack that produced 5,000 offensive yards during a 10-win season, per Columbia Daily Tribune writer David Morrison. The campaign concluded with a state championship victory.

He joins 4-star junior college running back Chase Abbington and 3-star in-state standout Ryan Williams in the Tigers' 2014 class, which ranks 36th nationally in 247Sports' team ratings.

Harris is a stout run-blocker who uses tremendous upper-body strength to gain an early advantage. He does a good job with hand placement, which allows him to direct traffic up front.

The Tigers are attempting to beef up the offensive front while adjusting to life in the SEC. Missouri picks up a prospect who can play anywhere along the interior, including center.

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Texas AD Steve Patterson Not Interested in Renewing Rivalry Game vs. Texas A&M

Texas and Texas A&M played football against one another most recently—and perhaps for the final time?—in November 2011, before the Aggies decamped the Big 12 and found the greener pastures of the SEC.

Despite the incessant message-board bickering and lobbying from fans of the schools for the rivalry to be restored, Texas A&M athletic director Jason Cook said in November 2013 that he had no desire to play the Longhorns unless it's in "a BCS bowl or playoff," according to Brett McMurphy of ESPN.com.

On Tuesday, first-year Longhorns AD Steve Patterson confirmed that the feeling was mutual—at least at this current juncture.

Patterson's exact words, per Max Olson of ESPN.com:

There's a lot of great tradition with Texas A&M. At some point in time, does it make some business sense, some branding sense to play again? I don't know. It's not at the top of my list. I'm really more focused on how we grow the footprint of the department.

When he says "grow the footprint of the department," Patterson is likely referring to global expansion. Texas has not been shy in its attempt to build an international brand, Patterson himself having already scheduled a men's basketball game against Washington in China during 2015.

According to Kirk Bohls of the Austin American-Statesman, Patterson has also shown interest in scheduling football games in Mexico City, among other cross-border locales:

The Aggies and Longhorns played 118 games between the first on Oct. 19, 1884, and the last on Nov. 24, 2011. Since leaving the Big 12, Texas A&M has seen Johnny Manziel win the Heisman, scored 71 points in two games against Alabama, won the 2013 Cotton Bowl and slowly but surely begun to dominate recruiting in the Lone Star State.

Texas, it would reasonably seem, could stand to benefit from getting a shot to stunt the Aggies' momentum on the field.

Texas A&M, meanwhile, would definitely love to kick the Longhorns when they're down—something that rarely happens in the sport of football.

It seems like there should be an obvious solution between the teams: Just suck up your pride and play.

Unfortunately, as usual, it appears things are a little more complicated than they appear.

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Florida State Recruit's Campus Visit Was Highlighted by Meeting 'Red Lightning'

Florida State coach Jimbo Fisher shouldn't have much trouble recruiting players right now, but it looks like he may have a secret weapon at his disposal if all else fails.

Any player who visits Tallahassee has plenty to see. After all, it's home to the 2013 Heisman Trophy winner (Jameis Winston), and the Seminoles won the 2014 BCS National Championship.

Those two accomplishments should be enough to sell any wide receiver recruit. If those aren't good enough selling points, Fisher has the ability to bring out the ball boy to sell Florida State to recruits.

Four-star recruit Auden Tate was recently in town for his campus visit. It sounds like meeting the legendary "Red Lightning" was the highlight of Tate's visit, via 247Sports's Josh Newberg:

I looked over and (FSU ball boy) Red Lightning was hanging jersey’s. I recognized him and asked if I could get a picture. He’s real famous. He was real cool and I told him I saw him on the sidelines all the time on TV.

I told him to keep doing what he’s doing because he’s the best out there. Nobody is on his level right now.

The Seminoles apparently have a surprising recruiting tool. 

[Instagram]

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Why College Conference's Push for Autonomy Is NCAA's Best Option Against Union

As the NCAA fights battles on multiple fronts, the wise move would be to give some ground in order to stop the process that may ultimately lead to the destruction of its empire. The power players, composed of the five biggest conferences, have opened the door for concessions to be made, but it is on the NCAA to open the valve and release the pressure.

The NCAA's long standing course of action has been to dig in its heels, fight against change and dare anyone to contest its policies. Unfortunately for those who believe in the ideals of amateurism and view the NCAA as a positive group, digging in against the courts is more difficult than battling college kids on free tattoos, loans from agents or free shoes.

While the organization battles concussions, the O'Bannon lawsuit and eyeballs the appeal in the Northwestern union case, budging on the small things should take center stage. Especially because those small things align with the union desires, conference desires and would help slow the steady trickle of criticism that is eroding the NCAA's foundation.

Dennis Dodd of CBS Sports obtained a document that highlighted a list of desires. Desires that include lifetime education, more health and nutritional benefits, clearing up red tape surrounding sports agents and redefining what constitutes a scholarship, among other things. Desires that are remarkably pro player, yet do not come from the player side of the equation.

No, the push is still coming from the major conferences. The ACC, SEC, Pac-12, Big 12 and Big Ten are behind this strongly athlete-sided list of desires. The goals mesh with the language conference commissioners have used dating back to the 2013 media-days cycle. Despite being generated from the top down, the policies blend well with the Mission and Goals of the National Collegiate Players Association and the College Athletes Players Association.

NCAA President Mark Emmert has recognized, at times, the need for changes in an evolving landscape. As his organization takes on water from multiple punctures to the system's hull, his efforts to give have been met with grand resistance from the same schools from which the power conferences are pushing to separate. 

The players are asking for it. The conferences are demanding it. Here is a chance for the NCAA to split the difference with its players, providing some relief, while appeasing the most powerful member institutions. In a time where saving face is a must for a group that has been dragged through the mud, action to shift would help relieve some of the pressure.

As smaller factions hold back the NCAA's bigger programs by working against progress under the guise of equity, the NCAA itself is showing weaknesses at the seams. Forcing the agenda through, working to concede ground, in order to save the entity, is a must, and it starts with showing, by agreeing with the conferences, that concessions can certainly be made.

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Oregon Football: Ducks Show Up for Spring with Major Weight Changes

Oregon released an updated list of weights for its players on the morning of its first spring practice Tuesday, highlighted by a couple near-30-pound increases along with some smaller improvements from the Ducks' most important players.

Here is the complete list of notable changes, per Matt Prehm of Duck Territory on the 247Sports network:

Sam Kamp tops the list and jumps off the page for obvious reasons, having added 29 pounds from a season ago. Recruited as a sprightlier 240-pound, 3-star defensive end, Kamp now looks poised to crack the rotation at defensive tackle.

Also standing out is rising sophomore tight end Johnny Mundt, who added 20 pounds to his frame after a breakout freshman year that saw him replace troubled starter Colt Lyerla (who left the team after a cocaine arrest in October) and finish with 16 catches for 281 yards and three touchdowns.

Further but not far down the list lie some of Oregon's top projected contributors in 2014: Junior defensive lineman Arik Armstead gained 17 pounds, sophomore running back Thomas Tyner gained 14 pounds, senior cornerback Ifo Ekpre-Olomu gained 10 pounds and junior wide receiver Bralon Addison gained nine pounds.

The last two players listed above, Ekpre-Olomu and Addison, are arguably the most talented outside-the-numbers players on Oregon's offense and defense, respectively. Though their games are predicated more on speed and agility than power, putting on weight—provided it's the good kind—should help them build on 2013 and hold up better against physical teams (read: Stanford) this season.

Oregon will hold its spring game on Saturday, May 3 at 2:00 p.m. EDT

 

Follow Brian Leigh on Twitter: @BLeighDAT

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Georgia Football: Evaluating Jacob Park's Spring Performance

Normally, the Georgia Bulldogs have a handful of recruits that enroll early to get a leg up on the competition.

This year it’s different because there is only one early enrollee—quarterback Jacob Park.

With Park already on campus, that meant that he is currently taking part in spring practice. And he’s been doing everything the coaches have asked him when it comes to doing the individual drills as well as the 11-on-11 drills.

But Park got his chance to shine when the Bulldogs took part in the first official scrimmage on Saturday at Sanford Stadium. It was not a very good outing for the true freshman as he completed one of his seven passes for 11 yards. But according to Marc Weiszer of the Athens Banner-Herald, head coach Mark Richt said that there were a lot of dropped balls by the receivers and tight ends.

So based on how Park did in the scrimmage, it seems like he’s not having a great spring. But the reality of the situation is it was only one scrimmage and he is still learning the system.

When Park enrolled early, he had to learn the ways of Georgia football and it started with work off the field with the conditioning, specifically matt drills. Park told Gentry Estesof 247 Sports (subscription needed) that he never had that many coaches yelling at him at the same time very early in the morning.

Park told Estes that when he was talking to fellow teammate Brice Ramsey, who enrolled early last season, he said that he would regret it. But Park has no regrets and has gotten adjusted to college life.

Park played high school football in South Carolina and was arguably the best player in the state. 247 Sports listed him as the second best player in South Carolina and the fifth best pro-style quarterback in the country. However, he was never recruited by Clemson and South Carolina.

#UGA early enrollee QB Jacob Park pic.twitter.com/5KPqNMnSC1

— Radi Nabulsi (@RadiNabulsi) March 20, 2014

 

So he made his way to Georgia because he loved the stability with the coaching staff, especially with head coach Mark Richt and Mike Bobo who are both former college quarterbacks themselves.

When he first arrived at Georgia, he did not throw right away because there was tightness in his shoulder. But he was ready to go at the start of spring practice and Estes reported that he is one of the 10 Bulldogs players that have impressed him during the spring season. Estes said Park throws a nice, tight spiral, he’s accurate and he has great footwork.

When it comes to putting a final grade on Park, it has to be an incomplete. He has looked good during the practices, but had a hard time completing passes in the first scrimmage. However, there is still another two weeks of practices left which include the G-Day game. So there’s plenty of time for Park to improve.

And even if Park gets redshirted this season, it’s not a bad thing because that will give him time to learn the offense and work on his craft. Odds are Park won’t see a lot of playing time this season, but if he continues to improve throughout the spring and fall practices, he could be in the running for the No. 1 quarterback spot in 2015.

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Texas Football: Breaking Down Texas' 2014 Early Enrolles

By enrolling early, three Texas Longhorns have given themselves an extra offseason to get a head start on their college careers. In doing so, at least one of them has increased his chances of contributing as a freshman.

Blake Whiteley, Alex Anderson and Andrew Beck are Texas' lone freshmen participants in spring practice. Whiteley is the most anticipated after being rated as the nation's top junior college tight end, while Anderson and Beck each possess the talent to become impact players before their time is up.

By participating in the first offseason under the new regime, each has shown the commitment to advance that timeline.

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Oregon Football: Ducks Will Take Next Step in Year 2 Under Mark Helfrich

A two-year absence from the Pac-12 championship game isn't an eternity, but for Oregon, a team that likes to do things quickly, it's been long enough. 

The last time the Ducks made an appearance? The inaugural conference title in 2011, a 49-31 win over a then-hapless UCLA. For the past two seasons, Stanford has been the gold standard for the Pac-12 North—and the gold standard for the conference, for that matter—by winning the division. 

For Ducks head coach Mark Helfrich, Year 2 in Eugene, Ore., means taking the next step by getting back to the conference championship game after an 11-2 campaign last year. 

Can he do it? Absolutely. 

It starts by addressing some more pressing needs during spring practice—which began on Tuesday—namely in the secondary. Thankfully for the Ducks, even this storyline isn't cause for too much concern. 

Yes, this group loses corner Terrance Mitchell and safeties Avery Patterson and Brian Jackson. However, star corner Ifo Ekpre-Olomu, who tied for second on the team in pass break-ups (six) and interceptions (three), returns.

 

Fellow corners Dior Mathis and Troy Hill have plenty of experience in backup roles, as does safety Erick Dargan. That should bridge some of the concern and make this a matter of reloading rather than rebuilding. 

In that vein, Helfrich believes that he can have a seamless transition with first-year defensive coordinator Don Pellum. A familiar face around the program as the team's linebackers coach, Pellum takes over the entire defense with the retirement of Nick Aliotti. 

“I don’t think I got hired because I’m an Oregon guy, and for the love,” Pellum said via Ryan Thornburn of the Eugene Register-Guard. “I know coach Helfrich sees the right characteristics and right integrity and right discipline … the right things to make this decision.”

The Ducks were among the best defenses in the Pac-12 a year ago, finishing first in the conference against the pass. 

On offense, there's no shortage of playmakers, even with the departures of De'Anthony Thomas and Josh Huff. Quarterback Marcus Mariota should be on preseason Heisman lists after accounting for nearly 4,400 total yards and 40 total touchdowns.

 

He'll have protection, too. The Ducks aren't lacking experience along the offensive line with seniors Jake Fisher, Hroniss Grasu and Hamani Stevens. 

For the most part, the Ducks are a year older and wiser on that side of the ball—and they're looking for payback. 

For the past two years, Stanford's defense has been the difference when it comes to winning the North Division. Oregon has averaged roughly 48 points a season during that span, yet has only averaged 17 points in two loses to the Cardinal. 

2014 could be the year to finally break that trend. Like Oregon, Stanford is breaking in a new defensive coordinator, Lance Anderson, for the departed Derek Mason. Furthermore, the Cardinal lose a lot in the defensive front seven with the departures of defensive ends Ben Gardner and Josh Mauro, and linebackers Trent Murphy and Shayne Skov. 

The final thing to look for with the Ducks is whether this team can reclaim some of the edge it lost down the stretch in 2013.

It's not something that shows up on a stat sheet necessarily, but anyone who watched the 42-16 loss to Arizona saw a more talented team get pushed around. Mariota may have been nursing a knee injury, but that had nothing to do with the Wildcats putting up 304 yards on the ground. 

It was the worst loss for the program since falling to USC 44-10 in 2008. 

If Helfrich really is cut from the same cloth as former head coach Chip Kelly, he'll have Oregon ready to go in 2014. 

With Stanford replacing so much on offense and defense, this year's Pac-12 North belongs to the Ducks. 

 

Ben Kercheval is a lead writer for college football at Bleacher Report. All stats courtesy of cfbstats.com

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UCLA Football: Eddie Vanderdoes Suffers Injury, Torian White Kicked off Team

A couple bits of bad news came out of UCLA camp on Tuesday afternoon—one concerning injury, and another concerning disciplinary action. 

Firstly, rising sophomore defensive tackle and former 5-star recruit Eddie Vanderdoes will miss the rest of spring practice with a broken bone in his foot, according to Chris Foster of the Los Angeles Times:

Vanderdoes originally committed to Notre Dame, signing to play for the Fighting Irish in February 2013. However, he got cold feet that summer and was released from his national letter of intent to transfer nearer to home and be closer to his family, which led the Auburn, Calif., native to Westwood.

After joining the team late and struggling to find his footing early, Vanderdoes slowly emerged as one of the best players on UCLA's defense and was named to the FWAA Freshman All-America Team.

Now missing his second consecutive spring practice, Vanderdoes will forfeit a great opportunity to improve his technique under defensive line coach Angus McClure. However, provided his foot is healthy by the fall, he has the build and skill to compensate for the lost reps.

Elsewhere, offensive tackle Torian White has been dismissed from the team for an unspecified reason, according to Bruin247:

White started all 14 games at left tackle for the Bruins as a redshirt freshman in 2012 and kept that role for the first four games in 2013 before breaking his ankle against Utah and missing the rest of the season. According to Foster, he was arrested for suspicion of sexual assault in November 2013, though it's currently unclear whether that incident was indeed the cause for his dismissal.

While not entirely unexpected, White's absence hurts the depth of UCLA's offensive line, as he was tentatively being counted on to reassume a starting role if eligible.

With fellow tackle Simon Goines out recovering from a broken leg he suffered before the regular-season finale in late November, the Bruins are now dangerously thin at the position.

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UCLA Football: Bruins Must Combine Toughness and Growth for Championship Goals

UCLA head coach Jim Mora promised Bruins' spring practice, which opens this week, would be "physical" and "demanding," per ESPN.com on Monday. An approach reliant on toughness is no surprise from Mora, but combining it with veteran savvy is central to the Bruins' championship pursuit in 2014. 

Instilling toughness was one of the cornerstones Mora and his staff emphasized upon their arrival at UCLA. It is also the necessary foundation for the Bruins' most anticipated season in years. 

Mora began the process of developing UCLA's collective toughness in 2012 by moving its preseason camp from campus in Westwood, Calif., to San Bernardino, Calif. Mora told Chris Foster of the Los Angeles Times in December 2013 that the team will return there this August. 

Preferring a style that's a bit more Junction Boys than Hollywood, Mora transformed UCLA into one of the most aggressive teams in the Pac-12. The Bruins ranked top 10 nationally in both sacks and tackles for loss in 2012. Their output dipped somewhat in 2013, but they remained one of the more aggressive defenses in the conference. 

In 2014, they build the defense around a talented front seven that includes linebackers Eric Kendricks and Myles Jack, as well as linemen Eddie Vanderdoes and recently returned from injury Owamagbe Odighizuwa. 

Those are just a few of the veteran corps returning in 2014 that has national championship buzz swirling around the program. UCLA returns the most starters in the Pac-12 per PhilSteele.com, including quarterback Brett Hundley.

All that experience means familiarity with Mora's style, but the Bruins also need it to translate to more consistent, headier play.  

"We're in the infancy stages of where we want to be," Mora said between the Bruins' trips to Stanford and Oregon last fall, via UCLABruins.com.  

Those two October 2013 dates account for three of the Bruins' losses. The third came against South-division champion Arizona State. 

Not coincidentally, all three finished ahead of the Bruins in the Pac-12 standings. All three also featured more veteran leadership than the Bruins. 

Mora expounded on the challenges of playing a youthful lineup, particularly on the offensive line, where three true freshmen started.  

They have [made] their mistakes. They have their space-outs and mental errors...You're going to see that from young guys. But what's important is...they come out here and work hard every day. We're confident if they keep playing they're going to get better.

The offensive line's maturation is a crucial building block in the effort to cut down on flags. According to NFL.com's Dan Greenspan, the first day of spring practice was a positive step. 

Aggression was no issue; mistakes were. At times, too much aggression compounded those mistakes. The Bruins lost offensive tackle Caleb Benenoch in the first quarter of their rivalry showdown with USC in November 2013.

It was just one incident, but indicative of a larger, overall issue Mora and his staff must iron out in this offseason. UCLA was the most-penalized team in the Pac-12 each of the last two seasons and drew the most flags in the nation in 2012. 

Penalties cost UCLA in its late-season showdown with Arizona State, which was a de facto divisional championship. Though flagged only six times—2.1 below their per-game average—a pair of holding penalties on the Bruins' final possession doomed their rally effort. 

The veteran Sun Devils had successfully combined tenacity as the nation's sixth-most prolific sacking defense but also discipline. They ranked atop the Pac-12 in penalty yards. That combination proved to be a contributing difference between winning a championship and not. 

There's little doubt UCLA will play a brand of hard-nosed football in Mora's third year, and if the Bruins can strike the right balance of physicality and discipline, it could make 2014 a season to remember. 

  

Statistics compiled via CFBStats.com  

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What Alabama Must Pitch to 5-Star DE CeCe Jefferson During Visit

The revolving door of high-profile recruiting guests continues to spin at Alabama this week, as head coach Nick Saban is set to welcome 5-star prospect CeCe Jefferson to Tuscaloosa. 

The ferocious Florida defensive end shared his intentions on Monday afternoon:

Jefferson, a 6'2", 250-pound junior at Baker County Senior High School, emerged as a key target for the Crimson Tide during early phases of the 2015 recruiting cycle. Alabama extended an offer during a team camp held the summer before his sophomore season.

Since then, Jefferson's stock has continued to soar. He holds offers from a lengthy list of programs, including Florida State, Auburn, LSU and Missouri.

Jefferson, rated the nation's No. 1 strong-side defensive end and the No. 7 overall prospect in 247Sports' composite rankings, enjoyed an outstanding junior season. He tallied 68 tackles and 17.5 sacks, per MaxPreps.

His dominance has been on display with 42.5 sacks through three high school seasons. That production keeps college teams in hot pursuit.

Jefferson spent time on campuses at Georgia and Florida last month. He comes from a household that quickly identified the Gators as a favorite.

“If it was up to my parents, I’d be signing with Florida right now," Jefferson told Gainesville Sun reporter Zach Abolverdi last July.

Nearly a year later, the coveted defender isn't in a rush to close the book on his recruitment. Despite a disappointing 2013 season and burgeoning uncertainty surrounding the coaching staff, Florida remains in the mix but is hardly alone.

His upcoming visit to Alabama is the latest step in a journey to find the right collegiate match.

"College is a four-year deal, and it could change your life or it might be miserable if you don’t pick the right place," Jefferson told Saturday Down South in March. "You might as well enjoy (the recruiting process) and take your time and find the best fit for you. That’s my take on it.”

The Crimson Tide hope to convince him that fit can be found in Tuscaloosa. 

Alabama isn't clamoring for talent at any position after filling the roster with four straight No. 1 recruiting classes. Still, even the Tide would have a hard time keeping Jefferson off the field in 2015.

His versatility can open the door for Saban and defensive coordinator Kirby Smart to design schemes that allow for Jefferson to start plays with his hand in the dirt or in a standing position.

"I can help you at multiple positions,” Jefferson told Saturday Down South. “They could label me as an ‘athlete’ instead of just defensive end, and I’d take that as a compliment, you know?"

And that's exactly how Alabama should address his potential role with the program. Prospects appreciate possibilities more than pigeonholes.

Many players are promised an opportunity to compete at various positions, but their fate is sealed long before they set foot on campus as an enrolled student. Given Jefferson's skill set, the Tide are likely encouraged to use an imaginative approach while implementing him within a star-studded defensive unit.

Saban can certainly stress the importance of playing alongside other elite athletes.

Alabama already landed a commitment from 5-star Georgia defensive end Mekhi Brown, but he complements what Jefferson brings to the field. The 6'6", 230-pound prospect is better suited for a career on the weak side, though he too possesses excellent range beyond the line of scrimmage.

The two have already addressed the possibility of teaming up in Tuscaloosa. Lofty expectations would undoubtedly be in place:

The Tide also hold a commitment from dominant 4-star defensive end Jonathan Ledbetter, who is viewed as another potential instant-impact performer. If Jefferson is looking to earn his way onto the field, few programs compare to Alabama.

He would also contend with members of the team's 2014 recruiting class for multiple seasons.

Standout junior college defensive end D.J. Pettway is already on campus, while 5-star edge-rushers Da'Shawn Hand and Christian Miller arrive this summer. As usual, there's a surplus of stars in the Tide's trenches.

Jefferson shouldn't have any doubt about the team's ambitions with him. The early offer, combined with multiple visits from Saban and Smart tell the story.

Alabama presents an opportunity to compete against the best before your first collegiate football game kicks off. Practice performances ultimately determine who develops as the next star players in crimson and white.

Those who can't keep up fall by the wayside, relegated to reserve duties.

Jefferson has warranted a top ranking with his efforts and growth in high school. A commitment to Alabama would further signal that he has the confidence to live up to that lofty praise by beating out some of his most impressive contemporaries for playing time.

That's the challenge Saban stands to reiterate this week, as Jefferson takes a close look at yet another potential destination.

 

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

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Auburn Football: Tigers' Run Game Won't Miss Tre Mason

It's fair to say that Gus Malzahn's first year as head coach of the Auburn Tigers was a success. All he did was turn a three-win team into the SEC champions and come within 13 seconds of winning the BCS National Championship.

Statistically, the turnaround was also staggering. The Tigers gained just 305 yards per game in 2012, but Malzahn's offense in 2013 gained 501.3 yards per game—the second-highest mark in the SEC.

A big reason for that offensive turnaround was running back Tre Mason, who rushed for 1,816 yards, 23 touchdowns and was invited to New York City after the regular season as a finalist for the Heisman Trophy.

Since Mason jumped early to the NFL, Auburn's running game will struggle, right?

Wrong.

Auburn's running game won't miss a beat without Mason in the backfield, and here's why.

 

Loads of Talent

Tre Mason was awesome last season and when he rushed for 1,002 yards in that ill-fated 2012 season when everybody on the planet knew not only that Mason was getting the ball, but where the play was going.

But he wasn't the only running back on campus. 

Cameron Artis-Payne was "1B" to Mason's "1A" for the early part of the 2013 season, before Mason got hot and put the Tigers on his back. Artis-Payne, now a senior, rushed for 610 yards and six touchdowns last year, including 100-yard games versus Arkansas State and Western Carolina. 

Artis-Payne said last week that he could put up similar numbers, given the opportunity.

"I definitely feel like with those carries that I could do something similar," he said according to AuburnTigers.com. "I could put up those types of numbers."

He could, but he has plenty of competition.

Corey Grant was used primarily as the changeup/outside-the-tackles back last year. After rushing for 647 yards and six touchdowns for a whopping 9.8 yards per carry average, he's almost assured of that same role again in 2014. But the 5'11", 203-pound senior wants more, according to AL.com's Joel A. Erickson.

"That’s one thing I do want to do, establish myself, because you know it’s a question if I can run between the tackles," he said. "I want to get that established throughout spring and going into the fall."

Whether he takes over some of those inside carries or stays outside, Grant's ability to hit the home run will still be a big part of the Auburn rushing attack.

Behind the two veterans, 5'11", 225-pound redshirt freshman Peyton Barber has the build to be Tre Mason 2.0, and 5-star signee "Roc" Thomas will join the mix for fall camp.

The crowded backfield is a rich man's problem. Malzahn was comfortable letting Mason emerge as the star during the 2013 season, and he'll likely follow the same path with this talented group of running backs in 2014.

 

Malzahn's Track Record

In Malzahn's eight seasons as either a college assistant or head coach, he has produced at least one 1,000-yard rusher in every season and his offenses have produced 11 total 1,000-yard rushers.

Let that sink in for a second. 

Regardless of the school, the talent he had on the roster or the hand he was dealt coming in, he finds ways to make things happen on the ground at an elite-level consistently, without exception. Malzahn's scheme is the most important part of Auburn's running game, not the specific running back.

That's not to say Mason isn't a phenomenal running back. He is. You don't rush for 164 against Alabama's defense—which finished with the SEC's best rush defense (106.23 YPG), follow it up with 304 in the SEC Championship Game versus Missouri and then break off 195 against Florida State in the BCS National Championship Game without being talented. 

Plus, two of the three pieces of the puzzle are already put together. 

Quarterback Nick Marshall rushed for 1,068 yards and 12 touchdowns last season and is back to lead that dangerous read-option attack. Grant will, at the very least, play the same role he did last season on the edge. All Malzahn has to do is find the final piece of the puzzle to complete the running game picture. 

His track record suggests that won't be much of a challenge.

 

 

Opening Things Up

Whether Auburn was one-dimensional by choice or necessity last season, it was one-dimensional and it didn't really matter.

The Tigers wore down defenses with that diverse running game led by Marshall and Mason, and then, when the time was right and defenses stacked the box, they took the top off of them in the passing game.

But what if Marshall takes the next step and progresses as a passer?

He was only the starter for two-and-a-half weeks heading into last season, but still managed to complete 59.4 percent of his passes (142-of-239) for 1,976 yards and 14 touchdowns. Now he has all offseason to work with the coaching staff to become more efficient in the passing game. The goal, according to offensive coordinator Rhett Lashlee (via Brandon Marcello of AL.com), is for Marshall to complete 65 percent to 70 percent of his passes this season.

If he meets that goal, that means opposing linebackers and defensive backs will have to respect the passing game a bit more and won't creep up into the box as much to stop the run. That means more room for Marshall and all the running backs in the running game.

Don't focus on the absence of Mason.

Sure, he is a tremendous running back with a bright future in the NFL. But Auburn has the pieces, starting with head coach Gus Malzahn, to withstand the loss.

 

Barrett Sallee is the lead SEC college football writer for Bleacher Report. All recruiting information is courtesy of 247Sports and all statistics are courtesy of www.sports-reference.com.

 


 

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Texas A&M Recruiting: Did Kevin Sumlin Land the Next Michael Oher?

Kevin Sumlin and the Texas A&M football coaches landed their first commitment for the 2016 recruiting class and it was a big one, both literally and figuratively. In Patrick Hudson, the Aggies have landed the physical reincarnation of Michael Oher. 

Hudson gave a verbal pledge to Sumlin and the Aggies during the Friday Night Lights recruiting event on March 28. He is a 6'6", 320-pound offensive tackle from Silsbee, Texas. 

Hudson is the most physically impressive offensive lineman in the state of Texas and is only a sophomore. Players with his frame and athleticism do not come around very often. 

Oher gained national fame after being chronicled in Michael Lewis' book The Blind Side and the subsequent movie with the same title. He was adopted by a wealthy family and developed into a star on the football field. Oher was a blue-chip offensive tackle recruit who went on to star at Ole Miss and became a first-round draft pick of the Baltimore Ravens.

Like Oher, Hudson is a physical freak of nature. Athletes of that size who can move around that effortlessly are rare even in the NFL. Hudson is the type of athlete who can project into an NFL offensive lineman at 16 years of age. 

Recruiting is not a science, but Hudson has the type of athleticism where something would have to go terribly wrong for him to not end up in the NFL. There are no recruiting rankings out yet for 2016, but Hudson will likely rank as the top offensive tackle in Texas and the nation. 

In Hudson, the Aggies have their future right or left tackle. If needed, he could even move inside to guard. With limited experience in pass protection right now, he looks like a future right tackle. 

Hudson is a road-grader in the running game. When Oher was in high school he once blocked a player off of the field and into a fence that surrounded the field. This incident was featured prominently in the Disney movie about Oher. 

A lot of the highlights from Hudson's sophomore season resemble that movie scene. He was quite simply the most dominant run-blocker in the state of Texas as a sophomore in high school. 

In addition to his prowess on the football field, Hudson is an accomplished power lifter. He finished third in his division at the state meet in 2014 with a three-lift total of 1,690 pounds. His best lifts for the year were 640 pounds in the squat, 425 pounds in the bench press and a dead lift of 625 pounds. Those are exceptional numbers for a sophomore in high school.

Sumlin started off the Aggies' 2016 class with a bang. They added possibly the top-ranked recruit in the class and a future NFL player in Hudson. He should be an anchor for the Aggies' offensive line for years to come.  

 

 

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Which Big Ten Team Stands the Best Chance Against SEC Contenders?

At the dawn of the College Football Playoff era, the once-dominant but currently meh Big Ten is hoping for a swift turnaround and return to its former football glory.

In order to get there, it will need to prove it can compete against the best. And though the national title resides with Florida State in the ACC, and the Pac-12 could make a compelling case for the distinction, it is still widely accepted—and, in my opinion, correct—to say the SEC is the strongest conference in the country.

In order to beat the best of the SEC, a team must be able to match its physicality—especially in the trenches but also in the second level (where linebackers meet fullbacks and guards) and on the outside (where cornerbacks meet receivers). This size and strength necessity eliminates from the discussion a minority of teams in the Big Ten, leaving a smaller but predictable group of contenders at the top.

Michigan State sticks out from that list as the most "SEC-style" team, in large part thanks to the culture established by head coach Mark Dantonio and defensive coordinator Pat Narduzzi.

The Spartans even beat Georgia, 33-30, in the Outback Bowl three seasons ago, although they also lost by 42 points to Alabama in the same game the previous year.

This current MSU team is more of a legitimate defensive force but not by much. Those old MSU teams were also quite good defensively and even better than the current team on offense. Which brings us to the second vital quality for a team that can beat an SEC contender—and the reason Michigan State, the defending conference champion, is not the horse I will choose to back in this race.

Ball control.

Even with its steady improvement at the end of last season, Michigan State finished No. 43 in Football Outsiders' offensive F/+ ratings.

When it appeared to have turned a corner for the first time during the middle of conference play, MSU regressed and put up 14 points and averaged 4.39 yards per play in a fair-weather game against Purdue.

Yuck.

You can't beat an SEC team without an offense that is capable of consistently moving the chains. A three-and-out is death-dealing against an SEC offense, because it puts the defense back on the field with minimal rest. And as every Big Ten team would be at least slightly overmatched in the trenches against Auburn, Alabama or LSU's offensive lines, a tired defense would likely be a doomed one.

As good as Sparty looked on offense against Stanford, that sample was just one game. Over the course of the past few seasons—the more adequate sample—two Big Ten offenses from the table above have stood out with capable-enough defenses behind them to boot.

Wisconsin and Ohio State are both traditionally good programs with NFL talent along the lines and offensive systems that could give an SEC team trouble. The recent history of pitting them against SEC foes is unfavorable—Wisconsin having lost most recently against South Carolina in the 2014 Outback Bowl—but the Badgers will get a shot for revenge against LSU in Arlington during the first week of next season.

If forced to choose between the two, I would ignore Ohio State's recent program history against the SEC—see: the 2007 and 2008 BCS National Championship Games—and focus instead on the new era of Buckeyes football before us. Specifically, I would focus on the presence of head coach Urban Meyer.

From 2005-2010, Meyer led the Florida Gators, one of the SEC's own, to a 65-15 record, three 13-win seasons and two national titles. He once hung 51 points on a Les Miles-John Chavis LSU defense and beat Alabama in the conference championship in the same year. He knows the conference from the inside and is well-versed at how to beat it.

Meyer admitted the SEC's dominance in a recent interview with Jeremy Fowler of CBSSports.com, but he lauded the league for its parity more than its top-heaviness.

"The SEC is so unique because there are just so many," said Meyer, who does think some other conferences are (slowly) gaining ground. "I don't know if you'll ever catch them top to bottom. The talent down there—there are so many players."

Meyer's claims are undoubtedly true—Ole Miss finished sixth in the SEC West, for example, and might have contended for a league title in the Big 12 and ACC—but he knows that the gap has closed between the Alabamas of the world and the Ohio States. Having slain each SEC blue blood at least once and recruited just as well in Columbus as he did in Gainesville, why shouldn't he beat the best?

To go with Meyer's scheme, the Buckeyes have a senior QB in Braxton Miller who is capable of keeping the chains moving with his arm and his feet.

On the other side of the ball, a defensive line with Joey Bosa and Noah Spence could give any offensive line, even that of Auburn, headaches for 60 full minutes.

The Buckeyes secondary is a weakness, but this might be the year that they can mask that against the powers of the SEC. Almost every contender is breaking in a new quarterback, and the primary one that isn't (Auburn) trots out a converted defensive back at QB and had 11 or less completions in eight different games last season.

I'm not sure I would pick any Big Ten team to compete against the best SEC teams next season. I'm not sure I would pick only one. That's the beauty of talking college football in April: Anything can still reasonably happen. Especially at the start of an important new era, we can tear up the record books and look straightaway toward the future.

Will the Big Ten become a national contender in the first few years of the College Football Playoff? Your guess is as good as mine.

If it does, though, Ohio State should be the team at the vanguard.

 

Follow Brian Leigh on Twitter: @BLeighDAT

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UW's Damore'ea Stringfellow Reportedly Will Be Charged with Misdemeanor Assault

Washington wide receiver Damore'ea Stringfellow is expected to face charges of misdemeanor assault and malicious mischief in connection with two separate incidents on the night of the Super Bowl.

Adam Jude of The Seattle Times reports Stringfellow was identified as the suspect by a woman who was struck and had her camera damaged during a melee near campus as well as a man who was assaulted after telling two men he was a Seattle Seahawks fan.   

The report also notes quarterback Cyler Miles is not expected to face charges after being previously linked to the situation. Official word from prosecutors is expected soon as both players remain suspended from the team, per Jude:

The prosecutor's office released a statement on Monday evening saying that an announcement would be made "shortly."

Both players remained suspended from the team as of late Monday afternoon, with the Huskies set to resume spring practices Tuesday morning.

The female victim told police that a male "had attempted to rip a video camera from her hands and then knocked her out." The extent of the damage done to a camera lens and the cost to replace it will decide the level of the malicious mischief charge, according to the report.

It also notes the second victim replied "something like, 'Yeah of course, are you Broncos fans?'" when the two men asked him if he was a Seahawks supporter. The man who was assaulted worked with a friend to identify the attacker based on roster photos for the Huskies.

Washington has not provided an update on the suspensions based on the information.

Stringfellow showed promise as a freshman. He caught 20 passes for 259 yards and a touchdown while playing a rotational role in the offense. A bigger role was likely on the horizon next season following multiple departures in the passing game.

Now his status is very much up in the air as the legal process runs its course. The last comments on the matter came from new head coach Chris Petersen in early March. Jude provided his brief remarks: "I have nothing new to report on that. We’ll just let that play out and see how it goes."

If the report is accurate and charges are filed in the near future, the next step in the process for Stringfellow should then become available.

 

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