NCAA Football News

Blake Barnett Opens Up to Former Texas QB Chris Simms on Decommitment from ND

4-star dual-threat QB Blake Barnett recently decommitted from the Notre Dame Fighting Irish and opened up his recruitment. Barnett will now go on a few more visits as a part of his renewed recruiting process. 

Former Texas QB and current Bleacher Report NFL Analyst Chris Simms went through a similar situation after committing to Tennessee early in his own recruiting process. Barnett and Simms met up to talk about their experiences and what Barnett is looking forward to in his football career. 

 

Highlights courtesy XOS Digital. Recruit rankings from 247Sports Composite

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Why the Big 12 Is Better off Sticking with 10 Teams, for Now

If orange is the new black, then 10 is the new 12.

That would be the Big 12, which is happy to stick with 10 teams.

A couple of Big 12's athletic directors told ESPN's Brett McMurphy that the conference is satisfied with the number of teams right now and has no immediate plans for expansion. They more or less echoed what conference commissioner Bob Bowlsby said a year ago.

And why not? The Big 12 last fiscal year actually made more money per school than the SEC and ACC, thanks to the lean and mean number of members.

Once on a deathbed, the Big 12 is now thriving with 10 teams. After losing Texas A&M and Missouri to the SEC and surviving the then-Pac-10's attempt to poach Texas, Texas Tech and both Oklahoma schools, the Big 12 now has stability following the additions of TCU and West Virginia in 2012.

Not to mention the most fair way to settle the conference championship in football. The Big 12 is the only one of the five power conferences that plays a true round robin, in which every member school faces the rest every season.

"The conference schedule is absolutely great," West Virginia's Oliver Luck told McMurphy. "Our tagline is 'one true champion.'"

The Big 12's lack of interest in expanding comes as bad news for a handful of schools with aspirations to join the big boys' club.

Cincinnati is one of the few longtime Big East schools not poached by the ACC and thought to be a prime target if the Big 12 decides to expand. BYU has made no secret about wanting in with the Big 12 and shedding its independent status. Both UCF and USF also desire to be in the mix as they're large public schools in the recruit-rich state of Florida.

While this isn't to say that the Big 12 will never expand, there is even less incentive for it to do so if a proposed legislation is passed by the NCAA. The Big 12 is backing an ACC proposal to allow conferences to stage championship football games without the need of having divisions. The legislation might be voted on as early as this August during an NCAA board meeting.

The only thing missing for the Big 12 as compared to the other four power conferences is the title game, which has not been held since 2010, after Nebraska bolted for the Big Ten and Colorado to the Pac-12.

But unless not having a conference championship game proves to be detrimental to the Big 12 in the upcoming College Football Playoff era, there isn't necessarily a reason to stage one. And chances are, the Big 12 might end up having the best of both worlds, getting to have a title game without needing to dilute the cash take for each member school.

Why not have the cake and eat it too, if you can?

 

Follow on Twitter @ThePlayoffGuru

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After Joker Phillips Departure, Pressure Is on Chris Leak at Florida

All most of us know at the moment is that Joker Phillips is no longer Florida's wide receivers coach, and Chris Leak is. 

On Wednesday, Phillips abruptly stepped down from his position after one-and-a-half years in Gainesville, citing "personal reasons.

However, ESPN's Brett McMurphy later reported that Phillips resigned because of possible recruiting violations. Footballscoop.com tweeted that the possible violation was a bump, which is nothing more than impermissible contact between a coach and a player during non-contact periods. It is considered a relatively minor violation. 

None of this really adds up. The only thing that can be said definitively is that Leak, the former Gators quarterback who won a national championship in 2006-07, is taking over an important position for Florida. In way, he's almost as important as first-year offensive coordinator Kurt Roper. 

Florida is not void of talent at wide receiver, but it is one of the weaker links for the offense transitioning into the 2014 season. The Gators finished 12th in the SEC in passing offense and their receivers hauled in just 11 touchdowns. That's not entirely on the receivers—the quarterback position was a revolving door—but there wasn't much help on the outside, either. 

Quinton Dunbar returns after catching 39 passes a year ago, but he didn't have a single touchdown. Andre Debose has had a lengthy career derailed by injuries and he's never quite fit in with previous offensive schemes. Demarcus Robinson was a 4-star receiver coming out of high school and saw the field as a freshman—but caught just six passes. 

On one hand, Leak has plenty to work with. On the other, he has a lot to work on. Until Florida gets inside the 5-yard line, that is.

Jokes aside, ESPN's Edward Aschoff thinks Leak is up to the challenge, citing former quarterbacks Tee Martin (Tennessee) Dameyune Craig (Auburn) who have successfully transitioned to wide receiver coaches. 

Leak's work will be on full display as more receivers should see the field this season in Roper's up-tempo offense. That places more importance on their development this offseason, as Roper explained to Bruce Feldman, previously of CBSSports.com, in April: 

We're talented at receiver. We 've got some guys that can run and make plays. We've just got to keep throwing and catching. For so long here they were in two-backs and a tight end, and all they would play was two wide receivers. We just need a ton of throwing and catching together. They haven't played in these formations as much as we're using them.  

When head coach Will Muschamp hired Roper away from Duke, it showed he was committed to turning the offense around in a hurry. After all, his job may depend on it.

The Gators ranked at or near the bottom of the SEC in major offensive categories. Injuries were a major issue for the entire team, but if the offense had been so much as serviceable, Florida likely would have been bowling instead of sitting with a 4-8 record. 

Clearly, Roper has a big job a head of him. But so does Leak, who has only served as a graduate assistant to this point. 

Like the rest of the Gators coaching staff, Leak will have to produce results quickly.

 

Ben Kercheval is a lead writer for college football at Bleacher Report. All quotes cited unless obtained firsthand. All stats courtesy of cfbstats.com

 

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Georgia Football Recruiting: Bulldogs Land Two Commits on Same Day

Georgia added a pair of defensive prospects to its 2015 recruiting class Wednesday, picking up in-state linebacker Gary McCrae and Florida cornerback Deandre Baker. The Bulldogs capped the day off with a commitment from McCrae, who pledged shortly after receiving an offer, per Radi Nabulsi of NBC Atlanta.

The duo gives Georgia 11 total commits in a class that currently rates 10th nationally in 247Sports' composite team rankings:

Head coach Mark Richt continues to stockpile defensive talent in a group of prospects that is heavy on that side of the ball. Among pledges, at least eight are expected to join Jeremy Pruitt's attack in 2015.

McCrae, a 4-star prospect from Randolph Clay High School (Cuthbert, Georgia), is a dynamic player along the edge who brings intimidating size to the field. The 6'4", 220-pound playmaker provides versatility, and he could develop into an effective pass-rusher at the next level with improved technique and added strength.

His loyalties to the Bulldogs are deep-rooted.

"My family members are all Bulldogs fans and I have a player that I look up to that went to school there to from my hometown: Thomas Davis," McCrae told Nabulsi.

Davis was an All-American linebacker and safety at Georgia. He now plays for the Carolina Panthers.

McCrae is the second linebacker to join the class in June. Florida product Juwan Taylor pledged last week and is viewed as the player best suited for an inside position.

McCrae is rated No. 22 nationally among outside linebackers in 247Sports' composite rankings. Rated 28th overall in Georgia, he is the Bulldogs' seventh in-state commit.

His offer sheet includes Kentucky, North Carolina, Louisville and Michigan State, among others.

Baker is the third player Richt has plucked from Florida during this recruiting cycle. The 5'11", 175-pound defensive back competes at Miami Northwestern, where he earned a U.S. Army All-American Bowl invite.

His commitment also came just hours after an offer was extended.

“Coach (Mark) Richt personally offered me," Baker told Rusty Mansell of 247Sports. "He was surprised I committed.”

He chose Georgia over the likes of Tennessee, Rutgers, Mississippi State and Clemson.

Baker is a 3-star recruit who rates 78th nationally among cornerbacks in 247Sports' composite rankings. He adds to a 2015 haul that already includes 4-star Tennessee cornerback Rico McGraw

 

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

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10 Ways Pac-12 Football Can Overtake the SEC in College Football Playoff Era

The Pac-12 is a tremendous football conference. In fact, you could make a very strong case that it's the second-best league in college football with Oregon, Stanford and UCLA all looking like top-notch teams heading into 2014.

But yes, the second-best conference. Because like it or not, the SEC still holds the title of the toughest league in the sport. A recent history littered with national titles and Heisman Trophies proves that. So does tons of first-round draft picks, highly rated recruiting classes and future Hall of Fame coaches.

Nobody in Pac-12 country wants to hear those same things 10 years from now, though. So what can be done about it?

To start, we must look at where the SEC excels over the Pac-12. What exactly is it that makes it a better overall conference? Then, the Pac-12 must bridge those various gaps if it hopes to contend for the title of best league in college football. Let's be clear, too, that this league isn't that far behind. We're not comparing an expansion team to the '97-'98 Bulls. But it is indeed behind.

Here are 10 ways that the Pac-12 can overtake the SEC during the college football playoff era. And let's be honest, if it goes the way of the BCS era, the SEC fans will become insufferable if they aren't enough already.

(Just kidding guys, you're welcome anytime and there's plenty of microbrews for everyone.)

 

All stats via cfbstats.com

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Clemson Football: Recapping the Biggest 2014 Offseason News so Far

The Clemson Tigers are coming off one of the most successful periods in school history. For just the second time since the school began play in 1896, the Tigers have reeled off three straight 10-win seasons. 

So naturally, much of the talk around Death Valley relates to Clemson's recent success.

However, this offseason has been more about what Clemson must replace to repeat that type of success versus enjoying what the program has built.

Tajh Boyd, arguably the greatest quarterback in school history, is gone. So is Sammy Watkins, one of the best offensive players in the history of the ACC.

Senior Cole Stoudt gets the first crack at replacing Boyd. Can he hold off true freshman Deshaun Watson?

Here is a look at four of the top news items of the 2014 offseason for the Clemson Tigers. 

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How Sound Mind, Sound Body Football Camp Evolved into One of Nation's Best Camps

Detroit is a fitting backdrop for the 10th annual Sound Mind, Sound Body football camp, which kicks off Thursday, June 12.

After all, the camp was founded in 2004 by Motor City native Curtis Blackwell as an integral part of his nonprofit organization—the Lifting As We Climb Foundation.

The foundation’s primary goal was to enhance college opportunities for young athletes and reverse negative trends—such as the 25 percent high school graduation rate, according to the Associated Press (via Fox News)—that existed in his hometown at the time.

What began as a local camp spread across the state of Michigan, into the Midwest and now will play host to some of the nation’s top prospects from across the country.

Over the last decade, SMSB has helped more than 1,000 student-athletes earn college scholarships—with current NFL players such as Nick Perry, William Campbell and Johnathan Hankins counted as SMSB alums.

But how did SMSB expand, and what makes it different from the number of camps popping up across the country?

As Blackwell’s childhood friend and fellow Detroit native Chanterius Brock—who serves as the Director of Player Recruiting for SMSB—describes it, the camp’s fabric is heavily influenced by what the two friends and alumni of Detroit’s Martin Luther King High School witnessed growing up.

“In a city like Detroit, it’s about trying to identify any and all opportunities to teach these kids before it’s too late,” Brock said. “They can’t see the tangible reality that is there for them if they work hard and apply themselves academically, trust in God, respect people and others and themselves. These are the skills that are lacking.”

Brock recalls seeing plenty of talented athletes fail to capitalize on the chance to make it to college, and it wasn’t because of a lack of athletic ability.

“We (Detroit players) were underachieving in terms of the gap between talent and actual success as student-athletes,” Brock stated. “The best players that I’ve played with and against and coached, these aren’t the kids that are playing Division I football or the ones who went on to have the most successful careers.”

When he went off to play his college ball in Tennessee, Brock bristled when classmates would tell him about the superiority of football in the South.

In his mind, the opportunities for success weren’t equal because the commitment to football in the two regions was vastly different. That’s where he and Blackwell worked to bridge the gap with SMSB.

“My thing was that we knew we had talent, but we just lacked the resources,” Brock said. “So I said to myself, ‘when I go home, I want to be able to provide those resources to kids like myself who didn’t have them.’ It was kind of like a divine type of thing for us (he and Blackwell) to connect because our visions were so similar.”

Together, they developed a term for their strategy in unifying their vision—“aggressive creativity.”

On a small scale, Brock—who spent time in Detroit as an assistant coach on the prep level—set out to establish opportunities for the kids he was coaching. Meanwhile, Blackwell’s focus was on networking and cultivating relationships with high school and college coaches, as well as with administrators on the college level.

The first major project put together was a winter camp dubbed the “Michigan Football Showcase” in February 2007 at the University of Michigan.

“We had about 400 or 500 prospects at that showcase,” Brock said. “That was really our inlet when it came to building relationships with schools and coaches. Kids came from all over the Midwest. That kind of surprised us, that we could get kids from out of town. That’s when it flipped for Sound Mind, Sound Body.”

However, their breakthrough moment on the national recruiting scene didn’t come until they were able to add one element that separates their camp from the litany of similar ones across the country.

Blackwell’s background as an intern with the NCAA and the American Football Coaches Association helped him develop relationships that contributed to the expansion of SMSB.

Furthermore, his role in managing and understanding compliance rules and regulations was critical in getting college coaches to actively participate in the SMSB camp a few years ago.

“First, the original battle was getting coaches and schools to recognize that it was legal,” Brock said. “Once they understood that and got things cleared with NCAA compliance, we were getting more and more schools who wanted to be a part of it.”

Once college coaches were on board, that helped SMSB lure top prospects from all over the country.

Additionally, landing a sponsor such as Adidas three years ago further established SMSB as a marquee event in recruiting circles.

“Adidas has come on board and been a great sponsor in terms of providing uniforms and cleats to every kid at the camp,” Brock said. “That’s been a huge partnership for us.”

This year, SMSB will feature more than 200 college coaches in attendance—including Michigan’s Brady Hoke, Michigan State’s Mark Dantonio and Penn State’s James Franklin. This year’s camp will feature hundreds of prospects from around the country, including 5-star standouts such as Jashon Cornell and Preston Williams.

Over the two-day camp, in addition to hearing from and being mentored by camp counselors such as former NFL great Jerome Bettis and current Broncos defensive lineman and SMSB-alum Kevin Vickerson, student-athletes will go through training sessions on topics ranging from NCAA eligibility to conflict resolution.

With the presence of the college coaching community and the multiple training sessions designed to teach invaluable life skills, SMSB has transformed into a unique camping experience.

The camp is now a self-sufficient brand that is thriving, even after Blackwell left his post as camp director last August for a position on Dantonio’s staff at Michigan State.

Brock marvels at the success stories that have emerged from SMSB. In returning to its Detroit roots, this year’s camp will be a celebration of an event that has turned into a source of pride for the Motor City.

 “We try to teach these kids that as they continue to climb, grow and get better and have success, we want to make sure that you are reaching back and lifting up the next man,” Brock said.

 

Sanjay Kirpalani is a Featured Columnist for Bleacher Report. Unless otherwise noted, all quotes were obtained firsthand. 

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Does Big 12 Football Have Any Legit Heisman Candidates for 2014 Season?

The last Heisman Trophy winner to come from the Big 12 was Baylor quarterback Robert Griffin III in 2011. As a whole, the conference has had five winners—Ricky Williams, Eric Crouch, Jason White, Sam Bradford and RGIII—since its inception in 1996. 

With that said, the Big 12 in 2014-15 seems to be lacking a good list of legitimate Heisman contenders, with only three guys that could honestly be brought into the conversation. 

At the top of the list is Baylor signal-caller Bryce Petty, who tore up defenses last season en route to a conference title. 

With that, let's look at the Big 12's best chances to grab a Heisman in the upcoming season. 

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Joker Phillips Resigns as Florida Assistant Coach: Latest Reports and Analysis

Florida wide receivers coach Joker Phillips abruptly resigned Wednesday afternoon, a move that left many in Gainesville scratching their heads and trying to find a reason.    

Phillips, 51, has been with the Gators since 2012. In addition to his assistant-coaching duties, he served as the team's recruiting coordinator. Phillips previously spent a decade at Kentucky, first as a position coach and recruiting coordinator before a three-year stint as head coach. The Wildcats fired him after the 2012 season, having compiled a 13-24 record in his three seasons, including a 4-20 mark in the SEC.

In a statement released by the university early Wednesday, Phillips cited "personal reasons" for his decision to step down.

“I’m thankful for the opportunity that the University of Florida and Will Muschamp provided to me and my family, but at this time I have decided to step down from my position on the UF coaching staff for personal reasons,’’ Phillips said.

ESPN's Brett McMurphy initially reported that possible recruiting violations led head coach Will Muschamp to force Phillips' resignation but later backtracked:

McMurphy did not recant his claim of recruiting violations being at the heart of his departure, but there were not any reports on their severity. Kentucky self-reported incidents involving Phillips in both 2012 and 2013. Both were minor in nature, dealing with text-messaging prospective recruits.

Phillips will be replaced by former Gators quarterback Chris Leak. Leak, who helped lead Florida to its 2006 national championship under Urban Meyer, was an offensive quality control coach as a graduate assistant in 2013. The 29-year-old retired from his playing career in 2012 and has seen his star quickly rise since joining Muschamp's staff.

“Chris is a bright young coach,” Muschamp said. “He is one of the all-time Gator greats and being at Florida is very important to him. He has been working with coach Roper and our offensive staff and is very familiar with our players and new system.”

Whether recruit-related or not, the Phillips fiasco is just the latest controversy for the increasingly embattled Florida program. Muschamp enters 2014 with perhaps the hottest seat in the entire nation. The Gators are coming off a dreadful 4-8 campaign, their first losing campaign since 1979. Many expected Muschamp to be fired after last season, but he was brought back as the Gators instead made major changes to his staff.

Most notably, Florida hired Kurt Roper as offensive coordinator in an effort to fix its dilapidated offense. The Gators averaged only 18.8 points per game in 2013, good for 112th nationally. Roper, who most recently served as a quarterbacks coach and offensive coordinator at Duke, will attempt to recharge the Gators' batteries with a no-huddle system.

Leak and Roper have worked closely together throughout the spring, so Phillips' resignation might create an even more cohesive staff. From the outside looking in, though, it's just the latest fiasco for a program that already came into the offseason teetering on the edge.

With the Gators home opener against Idaho less than three months away, Muschamp will need to nip the speculation in the bud and move on quickly before what is undoubtedly the most important season of his young coaching career gets underway.


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5 Burning Questions in 5-Star CB Torrance Gibson's Recruitment

Torrance Gibson is one of the hottest commodities on the recruiting trail.

At 6'4" and 200 pounds, the 5-star dual-threat quarterback is from Florida. He is a bit raw with his mechanics and other mental parts of the quarterback position, but he has a high ceiling.

Gibson's recruitment has a wealth of people on the edge of their seats. The following questions are the most burning ones that need answers.

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Uncommitted 2015 Recruits Sure to Leave Big Ten Country for SEC Football

The main heartbeat of the Big Ten's recruiting trail goes through the Midwest. States in the region make up "Big Ten Country," but SEC football powerhouses are not afraid to pluck players from this area.

While Big Ten studs such as Ohio State and Michigan do all they can to keep top recruits close to home, several 2015 prospects appear to be eyeing leaving the Midwest to play in the SEC.

A 5-star defensive end from Illinois may head to Missouri, while Florida is trying to sign a 4-star athlete from Ohio. Speaking of Ohio, both Alabama and Auburn are on the trail of one of the state's 4-star running backs.

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Penn State Recruiting: 5 Commits and Top Targets to Watch at the Opening

Held by Nike, The Opening is a high school combine of sorts that places the country's elite prospects against one another in various competitions and drills, including a seven-on-seven tournament.

With the success that James Franklin has had on the recruiting trail, Penn State will be well-represented in Oregon when The Opening kicks off on July 5.

Here's a list of prospects with Nittany Lion ties who will be competing in The Opening!

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College Football's 10 Most Underrated Players

Not everyone can be a star, at least nationally. 

For every Johnny Manziel or Jadeveon Clowney who claims the spotlight, there are dozens of other college football players who play at a high level every week. But, for whatever reason, many of those players just don't get the recognition they deserve. 

These are the underrated players of major college football. 

So it's time to put together a list of 10 of those underrated players. Of course, this list is going to exclude even more players, who are then, in turn, super underrated. 

Can't please everyone. 

Anyway, which players make the list of the most underrated? The answers are in the following slides. 

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Former Alabama WR Tyrone Prothro Gives Telling Testimony During O'Bannon Trial

Former Alabama receiver Tyrone Prothro spoke during Day 3 of the Ed O'Bannon trial Wednesday afternoon, and a good portion of his testimony was eye-opening.

Prothro has a unique relationship with the concept of amateurism. During the 2005 season, he made this ridiculous catch against Southern Miss that would come to define his career:

That play won the ESPY for "Best Play" at the 2006 ESPY Awards, and Prothro appeared headed for a future in the NFL.

However, he suffered one of the most gruesome injuries in recent memory—click here if you're a sadist—and had to end his playing career after completely fracturing the tibula and fibula in his left leg, according to Ken Bradley of Sporting News.

Prothro's catch, however, did not end its career in 2007. It continued to be played in Pontiac car commercials.

At the trial, Prothro talked about having to see that image of himself go by on a loop, expounding on how much money he knows was made off of it in other ways as well. Per Jon Solomon of CBS Sports:

However, according to Tom Farrey of ESPN.com, he was later told by Alabama that he had to purchase photos of his own catch to include in the book he was writing:

On other, non-catch-related issues, Prothro was candid about the opulence of Alabama's weight room, per Stewart Mandel of SI.com:

Mandel and Sara Ganim of CNN.com also tweeted some of Prothro's quotes about academics, which he claims were of little importance:

(Although, for all of this, Solomon was wise to point out that Prothro—like O'Bannon—had some inconsistencies between his court deposition and his testimony):

The O'Bannon case is about larger issues than Alabama pushing players toward a certain, easy major. Don't expect the Tide to come under investigation when the NCAA has bigger things to deal with.

If U.S. District Judge Claudia Wilken rules in favor of the O'Bannon plaintiffs, current and future college athletes could begin to see compensation for the use of their likeness. In theory, this would nullify the notion of "amateurism" that the NCAA has used to prevent its athletes from being paid for quite some time.

Bleacher Report will keep you updated throughout the trial.

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Clemson Football Recruiting: 5 Commits and Top Targets to Watch at the Opening

The Nike Opening is an exclusive camp that will be held in Oregon starting in just a few weeks. At each of the various Nike camps held throughout the country during the year, athletes are selected at each camp to take part in The Opening in July.

Pretty simple: The Nike Opening is the best of the best and features the top high school football prospects in America.

Clemson has some important targets and commits that will be attending this year’s premier Nike camp.

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Georgia-Florida Rivalry Game Won't Use EverBank Field's New Pools

The game formerly known as "The World's Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party," which annually pits Florida against Georgia on a neutral field, will not turn into the world's most regrettable pool party when the two teams meet at EverBank Field—home of the NFL's Jacksonville Jaguars—in 2014 and beyond.

The Jaguars just bulldozed 9,500 seats to build a two-story "party deck" with pools in their stadium, but the Associated Press (h/t USA Today) reports that Georgia athletic director Greg McGarity and Florida AD Jeremy Foley will not have them used.

Why? In the interest of fuller capacity. By using the pool and the accompanying cabanas, the programs would lose 7,000 seats that have already been sold to the fans.

"There's no wiggle room for lowering the attendance or seating capacity," McGarity said. "The most important thing for us is the number of seats."

The pool itself is a ridiculous concept. It has been mocked since its announcement for its not-so-subtle ploy at boosting ticket sales, which the Jaguars struggled with last year (finishing No. 28 in the NFL).

Stephen Colbert even dedicated a segment to the pool—and mostly to mocking the Jaguars—on Tuesday night's Colbert Report:

For what it's worth, the design would look something like this:

Foley and McGarity do not appear to have a philosophical problem with putting a pool inside a football stadium. Their problem is pragmatic—they would like as many fans as possible to see the game.

"Our No. 1 priority is to have the same number of tickets available to our fans and we don't have an interest in any scenario that reduces the number of tickets," Foley said.

And good for him.

Unlike the case at Jaguars games, Florida and Georgia do not need fans to avert their eyes—their puffy, red, chlorine-filled eyes—when their teams are on the field together. Even last year, when Florida was historically bad, the "Cocktail Party" was a three-point Georgia win.

The last four games have been decided by a total of 18 points.

 

Follow Brian Leigh on Twitter: @BLeighDAT

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5 Reasons 2015 College Football Recruiting Class Could Be Best of 2010s

College football recruiting offices spend a lot of time comparing prospects during early evaluations of a recruiting class. Coaches hand out grades, position by position, to determine which players will be sent early scholarship offers, which will be dealt with on a wait-and-see basis and which should pursue opportunities elsewhere.

The 2015 class offers plenty for programs to consider and, from top to bottom, may be the best we've seen this decade. A large collection of recruits began receiving offers as underclassmen, while others are just starting to see interest mount as dominoes fall across the country.

This group boasts big-time talent at each position with incredible depth in certain spots. We examine the strengths of this class that could separate it from the rest when measured against other classes of the 2010s.

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The Case for and Against Notre Dame Making College Football Playoff

Last year was, by every conceivable metric, a down year for Notre Dame football. One season removed from a 12-0 regular season and the fetching title of "national runner-up," the Irish slogged to a 9-4 record and had to settle for the lampooned title of "Pinstripe Bowl Champions!"

But a "down year" at Notre Dame is different than a "down year" elsewhere. A lot different. Besides winning nine games—a total that most schools envy—the Irish were the only team to beat Rose Bowl Champion Michigan State and also defeat Pac-12 South Champion Arizona State on a neutral field.

Which puts Notre Dame in an odd spot entering 2014. The world is not expected of it (outside of South Bend, Indiana, that is), but anyone would be foolish to cast it aside. The last time the Irish were cast aside in the preseason, they came within 60 minutes of winning the national title. Are we really dense enough to not learn from our mistakes?

Here's the case both for and against Notre Dame making the College Football Playoff.

 

The Case For

The case for Notre Dame is simple: It's Notre Dame.

Only three other teams have been to a national title game since 2013, and they (Auburn, Alabama and Florida State) are all expected to be ranked in—or very near—the top five of the major preseason polls.

Stretching back a year, the only other team to make a national title game since 2012 is LSU. The Tigers aren't fancied as well as those other three teams heading into 2014, but they were included among the nine teams with the best betting odds to make the CFP, per Jerry Hinnen of CBSSports.com.

Stretching back another year, the only other team to make a national title game since 2011 is Oregon. The Ducks, like Auburn, Alabama and Florida State, are expected to debut around the top five nationally.

Which puts Notre Dame in rarified company. After watching them get blown out by Alabama, a cynical mind would cast the Irish's 2012 season aside as a fluke, calling them "lucky to get where they got." But they still undeniably got there, which is something only the best teams in America can say they've done these past four years.

Notre Dame also has the benefit of balance.

During the past three seasons, its offense and defense have both been consistently solid—and occasionally great.

Despite the relative "down year" in 2013, Notre Dame still finished in the top 30 in offensive FEI and defensive FEI, according to Football Outsiders. It has accomplished that feat every season since 2011.

Here are the only other teams that can say that:

Obviously, what Alabama and Oregon have done these past three years is significantly better than what Notre Dame has. That is reflected in the numbers. Still, this is a feat that eludes most college football programs, even blue-bloods such as Florida State and LSU.

Notre Dame is one of only five teams to pull it off.

Which is important. One of the "basics" over Football Outsiders is that "the strongest indicator of how a college football team will perform in the upcoming season is their performance in recent seasons."

Here is how they elaborate on that thought:

It may seem strange because graduation enforces constant player turnover, but college football teams are actually much more consistent from year to year than NFL teams. Thanks in large part to consistency in recruiting, teams can be expected to play within a reasonable range of their baseline program expectations each season. Our Program F/+ ratings, which represent a rolling five-year period of play-by-play and drive efficiency data, have an extremely strong (.76) correlation with the next year’s F/+ rating.

And for good measure—since, as alluded to above, recruiting plays a big part in on-field stability—here are the teams with the best average recruiting classes since 2011, per the 247Sports team rankings:

Once again, this metric slots Notre Dame among rarified company. Especially with regard to talent depth—where only Alabama, Ohio State and LSU have landed more 4-star recruits since 2011—Notre Dame can compete on a national scale.

It also has those rare blue-chip prospects, a couple of whom are entering their second year and have thus far failed to make an impact.

But that doesn't mean they never will.

Safety Max Redfield and running back Greg Bryant were the Nos. 30 and 45 respective players on the 247Sports Composite last cycle, and both are expected to contribute in 2014. Bleacher Report's Keith Arnold listed Redfield as a starter and Bryant as a co-starter on his projected two-deep depth chart from the end of spring practice.

Which brings us—at long last!—to the makeup of the current roster. Despite last year's struggles, which were inexcusable, this team still has the pieces to compete for a spot in the Playoff.

Those pieces can be separated into three strengths:

 

1. The Offensive Line

According to Football Study Hall, Notre Dame finished No. 2 in the country in adjusted sack rate (pass blocking) and No. 22 in adjusted line yards (run blocking) last season. The only other teams to finish in the top 25 in both categories were Texas A&M, Northern Illinois, Miami, Arkansas, Toledo and Duke.

Despite the loss of first-round draft pick Zack Martin and three-year starter Chris Watt, the Irish return a lot of talent in the trenches, chiefly center Nick Martin, Zack's younger brother. It also saw enough potential breakouts this spring—hello, Mike McGlinchey!—to feel good about the line as a strength heading into next season.

 

2. Quarterback Depth

Man, what an upgrade from last year. Tommy Rees is gone, Everett Golson is back and Malik Zaire is older. No matter who wins the battle between Golson and Zaire—and make no mistake, it's a battle—will give the Irish a far better starting option that they had in 2013.

More than that, whoever loses the battle between Golson and Zaire will give ND a far better backup option than it had in 2013. Remember when Andrew Hendrix came in and stunk up the joint against USC, nearly choking away a rivalry game? The Irish need not worry about such things next season. They have two capable signal-callers.

And that's something most teams would kill for.

 

3. Evenly Distributed Defensive Star Power

Notre Dame's three best defensive players line up at different levels. Sheldon Day is being counted on to play with more consistency and anchor the line, Jaylon Smith looks like the next big thing at outside linebacker and KeiVarae Russell is finally the leader of the secondary and should emerge as one of the nation's top cornerbacks.

That type of distribution is important for any team, especially one that loses so many pieces from last year's defense. That every positional group has a potential superstar is important to the development of younger players, who need someone to emulate and revere.

Of that trio, Day is the biggest question mark. He's a physical freak who flashed massive potential in 2013 but has always been a bit of an enigma. If he puts it all together this season, ND could be scary good.

 

The Case Against

The case against Notre Dame begins and ends with something the team itself cannot control: the schedule. Man, what a doozy. 

The Irish don't have to play Michigan State for the first time since 1996, which appears, on the surface, like a nice bit of serendipity. This might be the best the Spartans have been since 1996! What a fortuitous time to miss out on them…right?!

Not so much.

For even though that may be true in a vacuum, the ACC games Notre Dame added to replace Michigan State are no joke. Syracuse is plucky enough to hang with Notre Dame in MetLife Stadium, North Carolina has been mentioned as a CFP dark horse, Louisville is always tough and Florida State is the defending national champion.

And that comes in addition to Notre Dame's usual slate of difficult games, which again includes Michigan, USC and both of last year's Pac-12 Championship Game participants, Stanford and Arizona State.

Here's a look at how the entire schedule pans out:

If you chalk up the road game at Florida State as a probable loss, Notre Dame would, in all likelihood, have to go 10-1 against the rest of that schedule to have a chance of making the CFP. No matter who the losses come against, a 9-3 team will not be included among the top four teams in America. Doing so would be unprecedented.

Is there another loss or two on Notre Dame's schedule? Definitely. Other than Purdue—which oddly always plays Notre Dame well—no other team on the Irish's schedule has even close to a losing record the past two seasons. Pac-12 powers Stanford, USC and Arizona State will be just as tough as usual, and Michigan and Northwestern should be much improved from the Big Ten. (Especially the latter.)

Are we sure Notre Dame has the weapons to contend with such an onslaught of quality opponents? A wagering man would say no.

The skill positions are depleted, and even though emerging players such as Bryant and tight end Ben Koyack have potential, it is hard to count on either (or anyone else) until they prove it on a Saturday.

The defense, meanwhile, has holes to fill. The part about distribution in the "Case For" section was a charming way to omit the reality: The defense returns three total sacks from last season; former walk-on Joe Schmidt is slated to start at middle linebacker; the secondary has little depth and is one injury away from disaster.

It's no wonder coach Kelly is starting to get desperate. He is not mincing words with the status of Jarrett Grace, a potential starter at linebacker who is recovering from a broken fibula.

"We're going to be very, very aggressive with him over the next two to three weeks," Kelly said on Tuesday, according to JJ Stankevitz of CSN Chicago. "We're going full go for him to be ready for Rice."

New defensive coordinator Brian VanGorder presents yet another wild card. He coached up some great Georgia defenses in the early 2000s, but he also coached down a pretty godawful Auburn defense in 2012.

Was that a fluke, or has the evolution of the college game in the intervening years befuddled him?

Can he really be trusted with such a high-ceiling, low-basement unit?

Is ND out of its mind to think it can make the College Football Playoff after losing both coordinators and half of its defense from a team that played (and didn't look great) in the Pinstripe Bowl?

When you put it like that…well, kind of.

 

Follow Brian Leigh on Twitter: @BLeighDAT

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Tennessee Football: Projecting Who Will Win Volunteers' Open Starting Positions

Heading into the 2014 season, head Tennessee football coach Butch Jones needs to fill several open starting positions on the Volunteers roster. 

In his second year on the job—a year when many new head coaches are first truly judged on their abilities to win football games—Jones faces a daunting schedule with a roster that includes zero returning starters on the offensive and defensive lines.

The Vols also lost key starters at the linebacker, running back and kicker/punter positions to graduation. 

Jones and his staff managed to haul in the fifth-ranked recruiting class in the country in February, per Rivals. Many of those talented newcomers will have every chance to earn significant playing time and even starting positions before the Vols kickoff against Utah State on Aug. 31.

But the SEC is an unforgiving league. Young players who aren't used to the speed of the college game and competing against the size and strength of NFL-bound athletes are often targeted and exposed by opposing offensive and defensive coordinators.

No matter how talented Tennessee's incoming freshmen are, they face a tall order when it comes to beating out the Vols' veteran players who have patiently waited for their turns to make a name for themselves on Rocky Top.

Here are the players who are most likely to win the Vols' open starting positions in 2014. 

 

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Florida State Football Recruiting: Commits, Top Targets to Watch at the Opening

The Florida State football team already has landed verbal commitments from three defensive backs in the class of 2015. 

In July, Derwin James, Tyrek Cole and Calvin Brewton will get the chance to prove themselves against the nation's top receivers in one of the most prestigious high school showcases for recruits, The Opening.

StudentSports.com calls The Opening "four days of dynamic training, coaching and competition" that will help players improve at their positions and also add speed and explosiveness. 

Quarterback De'Andre Johnson has also been invited to the event, which also features seven-on-seven games and a lineman challenge.

Here is a look at the four FSU verbal commitments as well as 14 players whom coach Jimbo Fisher and his staff are pursuing.

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