NCAA Football News

South Carolina Football: Early Game-by-Game Prediction for the 2014 Season

It's almost summer, which means that the college football season is also not too far away for the South Carolina Gamecocks. 

South Carolina is coming off its third straight year of having a top-five ranking at the end of the season. The Gamecocks have quickly become an elite squad in the realm of college football, though this year's team could be more talented than the teams prior. 

Offensively, the Gamecocks pack a huge punch with a versatile rushing attack led by Mike Davis who works behind one of the country's best offensive lines. Defensively, South Carolina has some gaps to fill, but the athleticism is there to carry this team a long way. 

The Gamecocks still have their eyes set on an SEC title under head coach Steve Spurrier's era. And this could also be the year they make a run at the national championship in the new playoff format. 

It's early in the year with regard to college football, but it's time to start making picks. 

Here is my early game-by-game prediction for the South Carolina Gamecocks' 2014 college football season. 

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College Football Playoff Is Here to Stay for a While ... or Is It?

Like it or not, the College Football Playoff, set to debut this coming season, will be around until at least 2025. It will outlast the next Bush (Jeb) or Clinton (Hillary) administration.

At least that's what Bill Hancock, the CFP executive director, insisted will be the case when he spoke at the AWSM convention in Orlando over the weekend.

There's just one catch: While the CFP has signed over the entire postseason to ESPN in a 12-year, $5.64 billion deal, the contracts with the six bowls that will take turns to host the semifinal games remain unsigned just three months before the season will start.

CBS Sports' Dennis Dodd reported Wednesday that the bowls—Rose, Sugar, Orange, Fiesta, Cotton and Peach—have not yet come to terms with the CFP. The primary hangup appears to be that the bowls, which have long operated independently even during the BCS era, are having some second thoughts about surrendering all of their autonomy so they can be run in a centralized fashion much like the Final Four.

Hancock, however, told Dodd the contract holdup is only a formality and nothing to worry about:

"We're continuing to discuss the contracts," he said. "This is nothing unusual. We're just plugging away and everything will get finished."

That may be so, but the longer this drags on, the more likely the bowls will get cold feet. By submitting themselves to the CFP arrangement, each bowl already will lose its own uniqueness. The Rose Bowl, for example, may never get another matchup between the Pac-12 and Big Ten champions, as it did last season as well as every year after World War II and before the advent of the BCS.

Whereas the BCS mostly preserved the bowl system that has been in place for nearly a century, the CFP more or less will obliterate it. The big bowls used to send their representatives (sporting those tacky blazers) to games all over the country to scout teams that they might want to invite. Now teams will be assigned to them by a selection committee.

Though it's too early to speculate whether the entire CFP apparatus might fall apart before it even gets started, it's safe to say that the CFP is still a work in progress. While there has been much talk about expanding the playoff field to eight teams or even 16 teams, that is very much a non-starter, because we haven't even dotted the I's and crossed the T's for the the four-team CFP.

First things first.

Follow on Twitter @ThePlayoffGuru

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College Football's Best Passing Tandems for 2014

There were some truly outstanding quarterback-wide receiver tandems on display during the 2013 college football season.

Unfortunately, fans will never again see the powerful passing partnerships of Texas A&M's Johnny Manziel and Mike Evans, Fresno State's Derek Carr and Davante Adams, Clemson's Tajh Boyd and Sammy Watkins and LSU's Zach Mettenberger and Odell Beckham Jr., since all those talented playmakers have moved on to the NFL.

Luckily, though, there are still plenty of intriguing passing combinations to get excited about.

Here's a look at college football's best passing tandems for the 2014 season. 

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Nick Saban Says He Would Recruit Openly Gay Player at Alabama

Few college football head coaches have enjoyed more success than Nick Saban. So when the Alabama head coach speaks, people listen. That's why his comments about being willing to recruit an openly gay player to join the Crimson Tide are important.   

Antonya English of the Tampa Bay Times provided part of Saban's response about the topic, which has become one of the most talked about hot-button issues in sports over the past few years:

Mark Long of the Associated Press passed along further remarks:

The comments come after Michael Sam became the first openly gay player drafted into the NFL. The Missouri product was selected in the seventh round by the St. Louis Rams.

Jason Collins, Brittney Griner and Derrick Gordon are among the other athletes who served as trailblazers by publicly stating they are gay while still active in the sports world.

One of the most prominent discussions when it comes to gay players is the supposed distraction they will cause due to the added media coverage surrounding them. How that's any different from any other popular athlete who attracts widespread attention is unclear.

Saban, who knows a thing or two about building a program with sustained success, doesn't seem to believe that would be an issue. He's seemingly more concerned about building a strong relationship with the athlete than anything else.

Kevin McGuire of NBC Sports' College Football Talk believes Saban's response is a positive sign:

The response is everything you would hope to hear from a football coach. Saban is saying he would not be opposed to recruiting a gay football player as long as a comfortable environment can be created that works for everyone in the program. Though the quote may come off needing a little more polish, the sentiment is one that would apply to any football recruit. In recruiting, everybody needs to feel comfortable with each other, between coaching staff, players and family.

Over time, it's a sentiment that will likely spread throughout sports. Just like anything else, it will come down to whether players are capable of helping a team win games and not the off-field situation that determines whether they end up on a certain teams.

Whether that will take another year or another decade is the biggest question. Openly gay athletes like those mentioned above are helping show younger athletes it's possible to chase their dream while still being themselves. It's a trend likely to continue.


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Florida State Football Star Shining Bright for Track Team

Jalen Ramsey has been on campus less than a year, but the trophies, rings and accolades are already adding up.

The Florida State safety started 14 games in helping the Seminoles win the national title. And he’s already picked up a few rings on the track this spring, too.

"This has been a big year for me," Ramsey said. "I got three rings in football and now two in track. Just adding rings to the collection."

He may need an expanded display case.

Ramsey made 49 tackles as a freshman and was named a freshman All-American by College Football News. He practiced with the football team in the spring but has also made an impact on the track.

In April, Ramsey and backup quarterback John Franklin II joined Dentarius Locke and James Harris on the 4x100-meter relay team that won the ACC Outdoor title in 40.19 seconds. His long jump of 25 feet (7.62 meters) earned him third place, matching the third place he also earned at the ACC Indoors in February.

Ramsey first tried the long jump as an eighth-grader in Smyrna, Tennessee. He kept improving and, in his senior year, set the Tennessee high school record with a jump of 25 feet, 3.25 inches in helping Brentwood Academy win its third straight state title.

"Long jump was always my favorite," Ramsey said. "I just stuck with it."

Ramsey is hoping that one of his next long jumps earns him a spot in the NCAA Outdoors in June. On Thursday afternoon, Ramsey and the Seminoles begin competition in the NCAA East Regional in Jacksonville. Ramsey has set his sights on jumping between 7.70 (25 feet, 3.25 inches) and 7.90 (25 feet, 11 inches) meters. The top 12 jumpers advance to Eugene, Oregon, on June 11-14.

FSU jumps coach Dennis Nobles said the long jump is ideal for Ramsey because of the initial speed he generates down the runway and the explosiveness at takeoff.

"He's a rare talent," Nobles said. "Obviously his future is football. We're just very appreciative to have him. He has done a great job for us. … But he's somebody we would have been recruiting if he didn't play football."

When the track season concludes in mid-June, Ramsey’s focus will return to football. FSU football coach Jimbo Fisher said this spring Ramsey can play any position in the FSU secondary, from corner to safety to nickel.

"Jalen can do about anything he wants," Fisher said.

Fisher was talking about Ramsey, the football player. But he’s been nothing short of impressive on the track, too.


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

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SEC's Streak of 7 Straight Titles Won't Be Replicated in Playoff Era

When the curtain closed on the BCS era, it also closed on one of the most remarkable streaks in sports.

The SEC's streak of seven straight titles came to an end when Florida State quarterback Jameis Winston hit Kelvin Benjamin in the final minute of the 2014 BCS National Championship Game, and Florida State beat Auburn 34-31 to claim the 2013 national title.

The new College Football Playoff era brings new rules, and new hurdles for the SEC—and teams from every other conference—to clear in order to claim college football's ultimate prize.

SEC commissioner Mike Slive told reporters in Destin, Florida for SEC spring meetings that it's going to be hard to replicate the success the SEC enjoyed since the mid-2000's:

Slive: 'I don’t think anybody is ever going to win seven straight national championships again—unless it’s us.'

— Chuck Dunlap (@SEC_Chuck) May 27, 2014

One of the coaches in his conference, Arkansas' Bret Bielema, believes that the SEC will have plenty of opportunities:

Bret Bielema why he made move from Wisconsin to Arkansas "SEC will get minimum of 2 teams in 4-team playoff"

— Brett McMurphy (@McMurphyESPN) May 27, 2014

Whoa now. A minimum of two teams?

That's a bit of a stretch, especially considering we don't know how much weight individual committee members will give arbitrary conference titles and other regional factors once the rubber meets the road and they begin the real selection process.

The streak was impressive, but it is a thing of the past that won't be replicated.

Even if the SEC gets multiple teams into the playoff in any given year, it still adds an extra game against a tough opponent that could match up well.

SEC teams benefited tremendously from the layoff between the conference title game and the national title game. It has been recruiting on a different level for more than a decade, led the way in terms of hiring and retaining quality assistant coaches and combined the two to excel on the game's biggest stages.

Look at the teams right now who are considered elite or have jumped into the discussion over the last few years.

Florida State and Ohio State are routinely in the top 10 in the final team recruiting rankings each year, USC navigated through sanctions while maintaining a solid recruiting foundation and there's no shortage of talent at UCLA, Oregon, Notre Dame and programs that litter the top of the college football polls each week.

There is good football played outside of the SEC. 

The added game (or games, depending on the year) gives the SEC more of a chance to stumble—especially if a team is on a comparable or better level talent-wise, like Florida State was to Auburn last year.

It was a good run, but all good things come to an end. 

In a new era where individuals not only determine participants, but also matchups, it'll be hard to repeat the seven-year streak.

Just getting two teams in the playoff will be considered a monumental feat.


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


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LSU Football: Analyzing Tigers' Top 5 2015 Recruiting Targets

LSU head coach Les Miles and the rest of the coaching staff has been hot on the recruiting trail this offseason. The Tigers are looking to build off their spectacular 2014 class, which featured four 5-star prospects. 

The Tigers already have 11 commitments and are looking to add more this summer. has their recruiting class ranked No. 5 in the country but No. 3 in the SEC. 

Here are five players not currently committed to the Tigers to keep an eye on this offseason. 


Kendall Sheffield, CB

LSU already has a 5-star corner committed in Kevin Toliver II, but defensive back coach Corey Raymond would love to have another. 

Kendall Sheffield has the ability to be the next great defensive back in college football. Sheffield has elite ball skills and could be a dangerous playmaker on special teams as a returner. 

It will be hard to pull Sheffield from the state of Texas, but the Tigers will try their hardest to do so. 


Daylon Mack, DT

Daylon Mack is the No. 2 defensive tackle prospect in the country, and rightfully so. Mack is an explosive force in the middle of the defense who loves to make plays in the backfield. 

Mack has been in constant contact with defensive line coach Brick Haley, per Shea Dixon of (subscription required). He is currently committed to Texas A&M, but that can easily change before signing day. The Tigers were able to flip 4-star defensive tackle Travonte Valentine from Miami to LSU late in the 2014 recruiting period.

Miles knows the importance of stopping the run. His teams have consistently produced defensive tackles who get drafted. Mack certainly fits the mold of a future NFL starter.


Terry Beckner Jr., DE 

LSU will have a surplus of defensive ends for years to come. The Tigers have at least seven who will see the field, with Jermauria Rasco as the only senior. But Danielle Hunter could bolt early if he has breakout season.

Nevertheless, Haley would love to have a defensive end the caliber of Terry Beckner Jr. commit to the Tigers. Beckner Jr. can get after the quarterback with reckless abandon and does a great job of anchoring against the run. 

The Crystal Ball Projection only has Beckner Jr. as a 6 percent chance of signing with LSU, but anything can happen from now until signing day. 


Tyron Johnson, WR 

Tyron Johnson is the No. 1 prospect in the talent-rich state of Louisiana. Johnson is a smooth pass-catcher who could be the best receiver in the country at making defenders miss in tight spaces. 

LSU is in the lead by a wide margin in the Crystal Ball Projection for Johnson, who has the talent to be the next Jarvis Landry. If the Tigers show promising signs in the passing game, particularly with 5-star 2014 signee Malachi Dupre, it will help their chances of keeping Johnson in-state.


Donte Jackson, ATH

Donte Jackson could play on both sides of the ball at the college level. 

Jackson could have the most entertaining highlight tape in the country. His kickoff returns and sideline-to-sideline carries could make a viewer dizzy. While talent evaluators struggle to figure out his future position, the bottom line is that he is dangerous with the ball in his hands. 

The Tigers can always use a threat on special teams, out of the backfield and/or in the secondary. Jackson, with his smaller frame, could be the next Trindon Holliday


*Rankings via 247Sports. Follow Carter Bryant on Twitter @CarterthePower

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What Early College Football Win Totals Tell Us About 2014 Season

It has become a ritual of sorts, as much of the offseason buildup as preview magazines and conference media days. The it is the leisurely release of college football odds, point spreads and prop bets, and things just became much more interesting now that the first legitimate win totals have hit the market. 

For those familiar with it by now, welcome back. Please, take your assigned seats. For those of you new to this ritual, welcome.

A win total is exactly what it sounds like: a number posted by a sportsbook to be wagered on. These numbers serve as an assessment of sorts, an educated number to speculate for how many regular-season victories college football teams are expected to finish with.

With this number there are two choices to make: over or under.

There’s also the juice, an important part of the win total experience that is often overlooked. It’s not just the number you need to look for, but it’s also the juice attached to every over or under. 

For example, an over with (-220) juice would mean a bettor would have to wager $220 to win $100. This would be a significant favorite. An over with (+170) attached would mean a bettor would only have to wager $100 to win $170. In the second instance, the over would be a substantial underdog, and thus would pay much more favorably.

With this concise crash course out of the way, let’s get to the win totals that were just posted on the Kegs ‘n Eggs Blog

Some of the notable numbers are below.

What stands out? What do they mean? Where is the value?

Here are some observations on the initial numbers posted.


Even Without a QB, Alabama’s Expectations are Still Close to Perfection

Nick Saban spent much of his time at the SEC meetings on Monday defusing the Jacob Coker buzz building at quarterback.

Nick Saban says "everybody" is way ahead of him thinking Jacob Coker will start at QB. "I haven't seen him throw a ball since high school"

— George Schroeder (@GeorgeSchroeder) May 27, 2014

It hasn’t stopped the buzz from building regardless, and it will continue to do so around Coker. It also hasn’t stopped the oddsmakers from placing a high win total of 10.5 on the Crimson Tide. Making this number even more impressive is the robust (-140) attached to the over.

This is nothing new, of course. Alabama will be favored for the 55th consecutive game against West Virginia in Week 1, and that would likely be the case if you were under center.

The schedule, by SEC standards, isn’t terribly daunting. It's not a cakewalk, either. Trips to Ole Miss and LSU headline the road voyages, while home games against Florida, Texas A&M and Auburn are the notable home matchups.

With a win total of 10.5, Alabama has exactly one loss as a cushion for the over to cash. That second loss—if it comes—will trigger an under cash. I suppose now is the time to point out that Alabama has lost more than one regular-season game once since the start of the 2008 season, and it’s been cashing on similar over bets for years.


Sanctions and All, the Oddsmakers Love Penn State 

James Franklin has done plenty on the recruiting front since he’s touched down in Happy Valley, although it won’t end there. The Nittany Lions have been given a regular-season win total of 8.5, which is remarkable given everything that has gone over the past few years. 

The over at (+100) is an underdog in this instance, but not a significant one. Penn State could certainly reach the nine-win mark, especially if quarterback Christian Hackenberg delivers more of the superhero throws that he did in spring practice.

Seriously, this throw should come with a disclaimer.

The other item certainly working in the Nittany Lions’ favor is the schedule. Road trips—outside of any early trip to Ireland to take on UCF—include stops at Rutgers, Michigan, Indiana and Illinois. They’ll also get Ohio State and Michigan State at home.

They’re not all layups, but it could be much, much worse.


The North Carolina Love Isn’t Completely There…Yet

It might just be the best value on the board, even with (-140) tagged to the over.

North Carolina has been given a regular-season win total of 7.5, and it might not be enough. It won’t be if the team that won (and covered) in six of the last seven games shows up against Liberty on August 30.

Now, Liberty won’t be a problem. Neither will San Diego State the following week. Road trips to Clemson, Miami and Duke, however, will determine whether the eight-win mark is reached. It doesn’t hurt not to have Florida State on tap, though. Each and every game on the schedule is winnable, even without the services of dynamic tight end Eric Ebron.

The offense should be Larry Fedora’s best yet; it simply comes down to taking that next step and winning games that haven’t gone their way over the last few years. Even if just one or two of those games go in the Tar Heels' favor, the over should be feasible.


Even With a Talent Exodus, Missouri Still Has Lofty Expectations

The losses are noteworthy: James Franklin, Michael Sam, Kony Ealy, L'Damian Washington and the unexpected departure of Dorial Green-Beckham are all key pieces Missouri will be without in 2014.

And yet, even despite those losses, the Tigers were handed a regular-season win total of 9.5. Perhaps they're not ready to fade back into mediocrity like many believe.

Of course, the juice is significant. The under is heavily favored at (-230), but that doesn’t make the win total any less intriguing. The schedule sets up favorably, although it isn’t without its landmines. Mizzou will travel to South Carolina, Florida and Texas A&M. The Tigers will also welcome Georgia and Central Florida at home.

Betting the over will come with perks. The (+170) tag is a fair amount of value for a team with a manageable path, although you’ll have to get 10 wins to get paid. That’s no easy task. If you believe that quarterback Maty Mauk will be as good as he has looked with limited snaps, however, it might be a surprising plunge worth taking.


Other Observations

-Should we be surprised to see Duke—yes, football Duke—with a robust win total of 8.5? Even though the under is favored, it’s incredible to see how far this program has come in just a few seasons. (With this schedule, there are not many people lining up to bet that under, either.)

-What do we possibly make of Texas? The Longhorns were handed a win total of 8.5, and the under is a substantial favorite. Perhaps the bigger question—bigger than any Charlie Strong-related matter—is what will the Longhorns get out of quarterback David Ash? He will likely swing this bet one way or another.

-Oklahoma was not included in the first batch of win total releases, which shouldn't be all that shocking. No team, particularly from a gambling standpoint, will be more difficult to assess heading into the season. The schedule sets up well, the defense is loaded and Trevor Knight could be as good as advertised. Expect a number in the 10 to 10.5 range once it's released.

-Florida State has also not been given a win total yet, although it will at some point. It’s likely that the Seminoles will open with a total around 11 or 11.5 when they are, meaning the over/under will likely come down to whether or not the Seminoles deliver back-to-back regular seasons.

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Florida QB Jeff Driskel Is Perfect Fit for New Offense, Expect Huge Numbers

Jeff Driskel is back from injury and ready to return to his role as quarterback for Will Muschamp and the Florida Gators. The redshirt junior will be a huge playmaker in new offensive coordinator Kurt Roper's offense. 

Driskel has the skills to be a true dual-threat QB in the new offense. He has the speed to break out long runs and the arm strength to take the top off defenses. 

Watch B/R analysts Michael Felder and Barrett Sallee discuss what to expect from Jeff Driskel in 2014. 


Highlights courtesy of XOS Digital

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Georgia Football: Todd Gurley Won't Win the Heisman, but That's a Good Thing

Last month, Seth Emerson of TheTelegraph (Macon, Georgia) reported that a fan asked Georgia head coach Mark Richt about the possibility of a Heisman campaign for star running back Todd Gurley.  Richt responded by saying:

I don't think you have to have a campaign for the Heisman. I think the numbers will speak for themselves. I think his highlights will speak for themselves. The Heisman usually goes to a team that's winning and somebody that's just doing superb work, and has a little bit of a flare about him.

In many ways, Richt accurately summarized Gurley's career as a Bulldog.  He's been statistically impressive while generating highlight after highlight and contributing at a high level to Georgia's success.  

That being said, even a continuation of such stellar performance won't garner Gurley a Heisman Trophy in 2014, but that's a good thing for Georgia.


Crowded Backfield

Georgia's backfield will be crowded in 2014 when Gurley is rejoined by Keith Marshall, who is expected to be back from injury, Brendan Douglas and two of the nation's best incoming freshmen, Sony Michel and Nick Chubb.  Add A.J. Turman (who redshirted as a freshman in 2013) to the mix, and there's little surprise as to why J.J. Green, the team's second-leading rusher last season, so eagerly moved to defensive back this spring.

And yet despite boasting what may be the SEC's deepest stable of running back talent, Gurley is unquestionably the group's leader thanks to his immense talent and history of top-tier performances—particularly in Georgia's biggest games.  That wealth of surrounding may push Gurley during practice, allow him to catch his breath on a few more plays and otherwise support him, but there's another consequence to having so many options.

Those players are going to take some carries that could have otherwise belonged to Gurley.

If the past 10 years of Georgia football are any indication, Gurley is unlikely to garner more than 45 percent of the Dawgs' total rushing attempts.  In fact, over the past decade, only one Bulldog back—Knowshon Moreno—has accounted for that much of Georgia's total workload on the ground.

It's worth noting that 2008 was a true anomaly within the confines of recent Georgia history.  That season, Moreno was backed up by Caleb King, a redshirt freshman who carried the ball just 61 times on the season.  Quarterback Matthew Stafford was third on the team with 55 rushing attempts.  Wide receiver A.J. Green was fourth on the team in rushing yards despite carrying the ball just four times.  Moreno did not have a crowd comparable to the depth Georgia will have at running back in 2014.


High Demands for Heisman Winners

Ultimately, the depth and variety in skill sets provided by the likes of Marshall, Douglas, Michel, Chubb and Turman make Georgia a better team.  As last year demonstrated, there's no such thing as too much depth—especially when ACL injuries become mysteriously contagious.  Furthermore, having a number of fresh legs ready to come in and share the load during late-season conference games is invaluable.

So while those players may get a few carries of their own, it will be for the greater good of the team.  But that dispersion could realistically cost Gurley the Heisman.

Only five running backs have won the Heisman Trophy over the past 20 years.  All five of those running backs received more carries than one can reasonably expect for Gurley in 2014.  The table below shows the last five Heisman-winning running backs and their rushing attempts per game for all matchups prior to the Heisman Trophy ceremony (this data excludes bowl games).

Over the course of his career, Gurley has registered 387 rushing attempts in 24 games for an average of 16.13 attempts per outing.  Even if his partial games (he missed sizable portions of the Clemson, LSU and Florida games last season due to injury) are removed, that average only moves to 16.67 attempts per game.  The five Heisman-winning running backs of the past 20 years have collectively averaged over 25 rushing attempts per game en route to taking home the most coveted hardware in college football.  Gurley has carried the football 25 or more times in just two games over the course of his career.

For Gurley to even average 20 rushing attempts per game, he'd have to take on an uncharacteristically high percentage of the Dawgs' carries, which seems unlikely given the aforementioned embarrassment of running back riches.  Over the past 10 seasons, Georgia has averaged roughly 36.5 runs per game.  Twenty totes per outing would represent nearly 55 percent of that total figure.  Even when he was completely healthy in 2012, Gurley only accounted for 42 percent of the team's carries.


Exceptions and Implications

Obviously, there are exceptions to statistics, and for Gurley's offensive production, that exception is an obvious one: His role as a receiver.  Gurley has been increasingly active in Georgia's passing game and finished 2013 with an astounding 441 receiving yards and six touchdowns on 37 catches.  If he continues to be used by quarterback Hutson Mason, then the usage models above (which rely exclusively on running backs' running) may be somewhat obsolete.

Furthermore, as Mark Ingram showed in 2009, being the most noteworthy player on a dominant team can also generate Heisman votes.  If Georgia were to win the SEC and punch a ticket to the first round of the inaugural College Football Playoff, and Gurley were the most deserving Bulldog, there's a tremendous chance that he would find himself in New York City for the ceremony.  But he'd still probably need an increase in workload and a successful season as a dual-threat offensive producer to win outright.

The award, however, is not Gurley's only priority, and as Richt implied while shooting down the notion of launching a formal campaign in support of his stud running back, it's not at the top of the team's to-do list either.  

In that light, Heisman hype may give Bulldog fans something to talk about—and rightfully so.  But a prolific ground attack led by Gurley and balanced out by a host of his backfield companions gives him the best shot at staying healthy and the Dawgs the best shot at winning the conference.

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The Case for Bill Belton as Penn State's Starting Running Back

The Nittany Lions will be looking for a vocal senior leader on offense in 2014, and running back Bill Belton is the perfect player to assume the role.

Over the past two seasons, Zach Zwinak has received the bulk of the carries for Penn State, but Belton adds a different dimension for an offense that will be in need of playmakers and pass-catchers—both strengths of the New Jersey native.

Bill O'Brien liked to use a running back-by-committee approach, which limited Belton's ability to get in a groove in all aspects of the offense. He still rushed for over 1,000 yards in that time, caught three touchdowns and averaged nearly half a yard more per carry than Zwinak in 2013.

Huff says Bill Belton and Zach Zwinak have some of the qualities of C.J. Spiller and Fred Jackson.

— Black Shoe Diaries (@BSDtweet) January 24, 2014

Word out of camp is that Belton looks stronger than ever and has picked up the new offense quickly. With his speed and elusiveness, added strength would make him the complete package as a running back.

As a receiver, Belton can quickly contribute in the absence of the top two receivers from last season. Departed receivers Allen Robinson and Brandon Felder accounted for 125 catches in 2013. Only two players on the current roster have more career catches than Belton.

Perhaps the most important thing that Belton can provide for the offense is his leadership and resiliency. As a player who took time to find his role on this team and battled academic issues at one point, Belton is a player who has matured in front of his teammates and is one of the most respected men on the team. 

Penn State RB Bill Belton tells NBC10 he and players spoke to BOB and are happy for him. "He gave PSU a sense of life in a very dark time"

— John Clark CSN (@JClarkCSN) January 2, 2014

When called upon to shoulder the load last year, Belton stepped up with a fierce performance against Michigan and, later, a 200-yard rushing game in an overtime win over Illinois. In fact, every time he received more than 10 carries, he responded with at least 81 yards.

Belton played a large role in the win over Ohio State his freshman season. He scored the game-winning touchdown against Michigan last year. He has shown the ability to excel under pressure and has bounced back several times in his career.

When he talks in the huddle, his teammates listen and believe in him. He can score from anywhere on the field in a number of ways. 

Zwinak and Akeel Lynch will be a part of this offense, but Bill Belton should be Penn State's starting running back.

All stats courtesy of

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