NCAA Football News

South Carolina Fans Get a Glimpse of the Future at The Opening 2015

South Carolina is looking to return to the top tier of the SEC, and with head coach Steve Spurrier in place for the time being, the Gamecocks can concentrate on top talent in the 2016 class.

Bleacher Report College Football Analyst Michael Felder talks about some big-time Gamecock commits leading up to The Opening.

How good can South Carolina's 2016 recruiting class be? Check out the video and let us know!

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Texas A&M Commits Look to Continue Dominance at The Opening

Texas A&M had a huge recruiting cycle last year, landing some of the most coveted recruits in the country at some very important skill positions.

Bleacher Report College Football Analyst Michael Felder talks about some big-time Aggie commits leading up to The Opening.

How good can Texas A&M's 2016 recruiting class be? Check out the video and let us know!

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Georgia's Top in-State Targets on Display at the Opening 2015

Georgia is looking to rebound after a disappointing 2014 season, as the Dawgs narrowly missed the SEC Championship Game, getting edged out by Missouri.

Bleacher Report College Football Analyst Michael Felder talks about some huge Georgia commits leading up to The Opening.

How good can Georgia's 2016 recruiting class be? Check out the video and let us know!

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Florida State Defensive Commits Will 'Beast' Top Talent at The Opening

Florida State is trying to rebound defensively after a subpar year on that side of the ball. The Seminoles are looking to return to national-championship form. 

Bleacher Report College Football Analyst Michael Felder discusses who he thinks can step up for the FSU defense.

How good will Florida State be next season? Check out the video and let us know!

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Why David Cornwell Should Be Alabama's 2015 Starting QB

For the second time in as many years, Alabama—which has long been known for quarterback stability—is embroiled in one of the fiercest quarterback battles of the offseason.

Senior Jake Coker, junior Alec Morris, sophomore Cooper Bateman, redshirt freshman David Cornwell and true freshman Blake Barnett are all squaring off to win the top spot on the depth chart, with Coker and Cornwell apparently separating from the field at the conclusion of spring practice.

Should the veteran Coker get the nod, or is Cornwell the man for Alabama in 2015 and moving forward?

Head coach Nick Saban and offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin should roll with Cornwell.

Here's why:

 

Youth Gone Wild

There's no such thing as a rebuilding year in Tuscaloosa; the Crimson Tide just reload. But in this specific situation with the youth across the roster on the offensive side of the ball, it's possible for Alabama to rebuild/reload while also planning for the future.

In former Bleacher Report Alabama lead writer Marc Torrence's post-spring depth chart projections, there are young skill players littered all over the place.

Projected starting wide receivers (and co-stars of the spring game) Robert Foster and ArDarius Stewart are sophomores, fellow wide receiver Chris Black is a junior and Alabama only has two senior wide receivers—graduate transfer Richard Mullaney and former walk-on Parker Barrineau.

If the story of the Crimson Tide offense is going to be "youth," Kiffin and Saban should go for it.

Plus, it's not like Cornwell is battling with a veteran who has significant game experience. After all that we heard about Coker coming in, he attempted just 59 passes last year—most of which came in mop-up duty and against cupcakes.

There's going to be a steep learning curve for whichever quarterback Kiffin goes with, so if it's close, why not go with the player who has the eligibility clock working in his favor?

 

So Different, Yet so the Same

If the battle does indeed boil down to Coker vs. Cornwell during fall camp, it might seem like it's a battle between two polar opposites. 

The veteran vs. the rookie.

The nomad vs. the homegrown talent.

The backup vs. the upstart.

None of that is true. In fact, Coker and Cornwell are incredibly similar. Both stand tall in the pocket at 6'5", both can move more than they get credit for, both have fought through leg injuries (Coker's meniscus and Cornwell's ACL/ankle) and both have cannons.

One of Cornwell's biggest attributes coming out of high school was arm strength that 247Sports rated as a "nine" out of 10. I saw firsthand Coker sling it 60 yards with relative ease before the West Virginia game after just a few minutes of warm-up with that knee wrapped.

If the race is close and the two players are similar, wouldn't it be wise to go with the one with the most room to grow? Without a doubt, the one with the most room to grow would be Cornwell. After all, if it were Coker, wouldn't he have won the job last year?

 

Moving On Up

Cornwell sits at the unquestioned No. 2 after spring practice, and if you don't find that overly impressive, you should probably think again.

He enrolled at Alabama in January 2014 as a 4-star pro-style prospect, fresh off of a torn ACL suffered during his senior season of high school football in Norman, Oklahoma. He rehabbed during his first few months in Tuscaloosa and participated in some work last spring.

After spring practice, he underwent surgery to repair an ankle injury. According to Marq Burnett of the Anniston Star, he never really felt comfortable after that surgery until midway through his redshirt season of 2014.

"It's been great," Cornwell told Burnett in January. "Great experience with coach (Lane) Kiffin and coach (Nick) Saban. Coach (Scott) Cochran has been a part of it. I've lost some weight and got healthy finally."

Finally.

That's important, because the first time that the coaching staff got a look at Cornwell at 100 percent in college, it was this spring. All he did was elevate himself to a clear-cut No. 2 in a five-man quarterback battle that included players with much more game and practice experience than he had coming in.

If Cornwell was able to make up that much ground in half of a spring practice session, that tells me that he has impressed the staff far more than expected and has a ton of momentum heading into summer workouts. If he's a close No. 2 now with all the momentum, the best is yet to come and his ceiling hasn't been reached.

 

Faith

For the second straight spring game, the Crimson Tide offense left a lot to be desired. 

According to stats released by the University, Coker completed 14 of 28 passes for 183 yards, one touchdown and one interception playing with the first-team offense against the first-team defense, while Cornwell connected on 12 of 24 passes for 110 yards, one touchdown and two picks with the "twos."

Neither quarterback looked comfortable and Cornwell took two sacks, but Saban went out of his way to compliment Cornwell and everybody with the second team based on the specific setup of the spring game.

"This game was set up to try to look at the quarterbacks, to try to give them an opportunity," he said in quotes released by Alabama. "I think the guys that played with the second team, because of the offensive line, was not up to snuff and where it needs to be, relative to the second defensive line. They probably didn't have the same opportunity to have success."

That's not coach speak. He's exactly right.

Alabama's two-deep in the defensive front seven is as loaded as any team in the country, while even its first-team offensive line is looking to plug holes and stabilize itself.

Is the second-team offensive line going to hold off that pass rush? That's not likely. At least, not in spring practice.

It seems like Saban and the staff have more faith in Cornwell than it appears on the surface, which bodes well for his future.

 

Quotes were obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted. All stats are courtesy of cfbstats.com unless otherwise noted, and all recruiting information is courtesy of 247Sports' composite rankings.

Barrett Sallee is the lead SEC college football writer and college football video analyst for Bleacher Report as well as a host on Bleacher Report Radio on Sirius 93, XM 208.

Follow Barrett on Twitter @BarrettSallee.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Nebraska Football: Why Cethan Carter Will Be Cornhuskers' X-Factor in 2015

Nebraska football fans know the college football season is right around the corner, and they are trying to prepare themselves. Amid the barbecues and swimming pools, fans are combing through the 2015 roster trying to determine whom (in addition to new head coach Mike Riley) they can look to as the reason why Nebraska will take the next step and contend for a Big Ten title.

One candidate for next year is tight end Cethan Carter. Here's why.

 

We haven't seen his best yet

Carter will be a junior in 2015, but his production in his first two years at Nebraska has been limited. As a true freshman in 2013, Carter played in all 13 games, catching 10 passes for 127 yards. Coming into his sophomore season, the team hoped Carter would continue the momentum from his freshman campaign and become a difference-maker for Nebraska.

But a combination of injuries and offensive scheme blunted Carter's impact. He played in only nine games, catching six passes for 98 yards. So while the potential is there for Carter, we certainly haven't seen it translate to production on the field as of yet.

 

He's got the talent to succeed

But look at what Carter did when he returned from injury last year. Four of his six receptions were in Nebraska's last two games for a total of 73 yards. Sure, no one is going to mistake that production for a scarlet and cream Rob Gronkowski, but those numbers suggest at least the possibility of things to come.

Coming out of high school, Carter was a 3-star prospect (according to 247Sports) who projected as a pass-catching tight end. His size (6'4", 240 lbs) and athletic ability make him the perfect matchup problem for opposing defenses, being too athletic for a linebacker to cover him and too big for a safety to cover him. If he can stay healthy, he should have the offensive structure around him to succeed.

 

He's got the opportunity

Nebraska's transition from Bo Pelini to Riley might benefit the tight ends more than any other offensive position. Under Pelini, offensive weapons at tight end would frequently evaporate from the game plan (otherwise known as the "Mike McNeill effect"). But according to Michael Bruntz of 247Sports, tight ends under Riley are more of a focal point offensively.

Riley's teams at Oregon State, according to Bruntz, tended to throw out of 12 personnel (meaning one running back and two tight ends) and other run-heavy formations. This spring, tight ends saw more work, including (gasp) tight end screens.  So Riley and new offensive coordinator Danny Langsdorf seem primed to utilize the tight end in Nebraska's new offense.

And the tight end is a natural fallback for a quarterback learning a new offense. Tommy Armstrong struggles with accuracy to start with, and between those struggles and the new offensive scheme, it's a natural fit for him to look to a player like Carter, who tends to run more routes and presents size mismatches to make easier throws for the quarterback.

In the NFL, we've seen how a pass-catching tight end can transform an offense. Carter (along with incoming freshman Matt Snyder) has the body type and skill set to provide Nebraska with the possibilities to ask those questions of opposing defenses. Given the absence of such a threat in the past, look for Carter to get his opportunity in 2015.

 

This column first appeared at the Double Extra Point, which you can follow on Twitter @DblExtraPoint.

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Power Ranking Virginia Tech's 2015 Schedule from Easiest to Toughest

It's never too soon to start looking ahead to the new college football season. After all, the Virginia Tech Hokies open the 2015 season in just under 70 days on Labor Day night in Blacksburg. The Hokies host defending national champion Ohio State in a rematch from 2014.

Everyone knows how that game ended last season. The Hokies pulled off one of the biggest wins in school history at the Horseshoe. 

On the 2015 schedule, Virginia Tech plays nine opponents that were on its 2014 schedule. In addition to Ohio State, the Hokies also play East Carolina again. The Pirates defeated the Hokies last season just one week after Tech's triumph in Columbus. 

Who is Virginia Tech's toughest opponent in 2015? Here's a look at Tech's schedule, ranking it from easiest to toughest for the upcoming season.

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Urban Meyer's National Championship Homecoming Celebration in July

GENEVA, Ohio — Urban Meyer claimed he was on vacation.

His mannerisms suggested otherwise.

For the fourth straight year, Meyer found himself spending a July morning standing in front of a rather sizable crowd at the impressive SPIRE Institute in Geneva, Ohio—just outside of his hometown of Ashtabula.

And for the fourth straight year, the Ohio State head coach found himself interrupting his own speech, making sure that he had the attention of every member of his audience.

"Eyes up here, eyes up here," Meyer repeated. "No. 5, eyes up here."

Only Meyer's directions to the person in the No. 5 scarlet and gray jersey weren't aimed at Braxton Miller or Jeff Heuerman but rather a child who couldn't have been any older than six or seven years old. This hasn't been an uncommon occurrence at the annual youth camp that bares Meyer's name—along with that of childhood friend and Eastern Kentucky head coach Dean Hood—where campers grades 1-8 enjoy the full Meyer experience at no cost.

But as opposed to last year's camp, where Meyer's keynote speech—and presence for that matter—felt more like a mere formality, Wednesday's seemed as if he were accepting a lifetime achievement award. Announced as the reigning national champion that he is as camp came to a close, Ashtabula's favorite son didn't only relay his message by reflecting on the Buckeyes' run to the college football crown but spoke to the resurgence of the region that raised him.

"In this great state's history, I can't remember momentum like this," Meyer said. "Northeast Ohio is starting to roll a little bit. LeBron James has done so much for this state. I was so proud when I went up to Game 3 [of the NBA Finals], that this is my home state, this is my hometown.

"To see the energy in the state of Ohio is fantastic."

The fourth-year Ohio State head coach would go on to admit that he's a part of that as well, thanks to the Buckeyes' capturing of the first-ever College Football Playoff National Championship. Meyer's camp in Ashtabula has always been a big draw, but this year was different, with 100 more campers than the year prior attending the event that might as well have doubled as a homecoming coronation.

"I loved growing up here," Meyer said. "I want to see Ashtabula do great."

As it often is, it was hard to ignore Meyer's presence in Geneva, as he was rarely unable to spend more than five minutes without being asked to sign an autograph or pose for a picture. Dressed in a white Nike pullover and khaki shorts, he always obliged, even if having to do so while directing campers to their next drill.

Having spent more than a decade in the spotlight as one of college football's top coaches, Meyer is no stranger to the handshakes and hugs that come along with being a public figure. But the attention he received on Wednesday was different than what he's experienced in previous years at the same event, although not necessarily different from what he's already seen throughout the offseason.

Because while Wednesday may have been his true homecoming, the past six months have served as an almost nationwide celebration of the Buckeyes' national championship. Between an appearance on the Late Showfirst pitches in New York, Cleveland and Cincinnati and the customary White House trip, Meyer has seemingly been everywhere this offseason, even if he downplayed his championship tour.

"I expected life to get a little simpler when we won [the national championship at Florida] in '06, and the thing that I shared that our players and our coaching staff in particular is that it just gets a little more complicated," Meyer said. "That one's over, you have to move forward. It's sometimes hard throwing out first pitches everywhere, but it's time to move on. I watch that real close."

The Ohio State head coach, however, did allow himself to express excitement over attending the ESPYs later this month, as well as taking part in next week's festivities at the MLB All-Star Game in Cincinnati.

That, too, should serve as a homecoming of sorts for Meyer, who was a walk-on defensive back on the University of Cincinnati football team in 1984. But it won't come close to the scene that was set on Wednesday, with even one of his closest childhood friends finding himself in awe.

"It's kind of like watching your kids [play sports]. You're more nervous for them than for yourself," Hood said of witnessing the Buckeyes' championship chase. "When I was watching the Ohio State games, I was more nervous than I was at any point in our games."

Participating in a press conference that was as much for show as it was the media members in attendance, Meyer and Hood answered questions about OSU's quarterback competition—no real update—and defensive end Noah Spence, who transferred from the Buckeyes to EKU after being ruled ineligible by the Big Ten.

But all the attention always found its way way back to Meyer, who brought up on his own that it was just 10 months ago that his team found itself losers of three out of four games.

"I'm in vacation mode right now," Meyer said as he downplayed questions about the upcoming season.

And maybe he was.

But on this July afternoon, all eyes were on Meyer—even the ones that belonged to that kid in the No. 5 jersey.

 

Ben Axelrod is Bleacher Report's Big Ten lead writer. You can follow him on Twitter @BenAxelrod. Unless noted otherwise, all quotes were obtained firsthand. All statistics courtesy of CFBStats.com. Recruiting rankings courtesy of 247Sports.

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4-Star 2017 QB Jake Allen Commits to Florida, Calls Gators His 'Dream' School

Jim McElwain and the new Florida Gators regime secured their first commitment from a quarterback on July 1 and it's 2017 standout Jake Allen.

The 4-star prospect received an offer three weeks ago and didn't wait long to reveal his intentions, calling Florida's staff Wednesday shortly after a cross-country tour that featured visits to Michigan, Notre Dame and Stanford.

"I felt like I owed it to myself to explore some other campuses and understand what else is out there, but by the time I got home I knew I belonged in Gainesville," Allen told Bleacher Report in an exclusive interview.

Allen, a 6'3", 191-pound playmaker from St. Thomas Aquinas High School in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, grew up a huge fan of Gators legend Tim Tebow and has trained under a former Florida quarterback since sixth grade.

"The biggest reason it's a dream offer for me is because my quarterback coach Eric Kresser—who played for the Gators—has been telling me since middle school that I was going to become the starting quarterback at the University of Florida someday," Allen said. "He's given me insight and shown me how to handle myself."

He is also itching to get in the middle of the Florida vs. Florida State rivalry. 

"FSU versus UF is the best rivalry in football," Allen said. "I really feel like the atmospheres are very different at those schools. For me, Florida is family now and Florida State is a rival. My mom went to Florida State, so that should make things more interesting around the house."

Allen admitted that, while his mother Leslie was thrilled for him, she also expressed slight lament about needing to now invest in Gators gear.

Gators coaches responded with widespread enthusiasm when he made the call midday Wednesday.

Allen is rated 11th nationally among 2017 pro-style quarterbacks in 247Sports' composite rankings and is exactly the kind of pickup who could produce momentum for McElwain's recruiting efforts.

"It was awesome to hear how excited Coach Mac and his whole staff were when I told them about my decision," Allen said. "(Offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier) is definitely looking forward to having me up there and he wants me to enroll early. They make me feel at home there, so I wanted to pull the trigger."

At this point, Allen is the only scholarship quarterback hand-picked by Florida's current staff, but he isn't shy about the sky-high expectations he plans to bring to Gainesville.

"It's the perfect situation. From a quarterback standpoint it couldn't be better. I think it's 100 percent the best offense I could be in," Allen said. "I want to win a national championship. That's the ultimate goal."

That journey begins now, as the Gators attempt to build toward a program rebound through strong recruiting.

"I'm going to lead this class. Ask my coaches, ask my teammates—they'll tell you I'm a leader," he said. "I believe I was born to play quarterback. I still have two years of high school football to play, but my goal is already to help build something special at Florida. I'm going to do everything I can to make sure this is a top-10 class."

He doesn't need to search far for talent. St. Thomas Aquinas teammates Trevon Grimes and Sam Bruce are both coveted wide receiver recruits and St. Thomas tight end Michael Irvin Jr. is also on his radar. 

Grimes, a 5-star talent, is rated No. 1 overall among 2017 pass-catchers and Bruce, the top-ranked member of rival Miami's 2016 recruiting class, is listed fifth among rising senior receivers.

"Sam and 'Tre' are both my boys. I'm definitely going to talk to them about becoming Gators," Allen said. "That's where I need to start getting guys, at my own school. They know I'll be honest with them about the process and they'll be honest with me. It would be huge to play with them both in college."

Allen is already starting to recruit them as he plans to bring Bruce with him to the "Friday Night Lights" recruiting event on July 24 in Gainesville, where former star St. Thomas Aquinas running back Jordan Scarlett is a freshman.

In addition to his teammates, Allen is putting together a "hit list" of athletes he aims to team up with at Florida. He mentioned IMG Academy receiver Emmanuel Greene and Ohio State commit Bruce Judson as 2017 targets near the top of that group.

"I believe I'm a guy that other recruits want to play with, and that's my most important thing now," Allen said. "It was big for me to commit early so I can help get this class going and get some playmakers around me."

His admiration for Florida has deep roots, leading him to call the opportunity a "dream offer"

Allen earned MVP honors last month at the inaugural Rivals Quarterback Challenge in Baltimore and will orchestrate the offensive attack for a national powerhouse this fall. 

"I'm a confident kid, and I know I can get the job done," Allen said.

Florida finally has its quarterback of the future. 

 

Quotes obtained firsthand by Bleacher Report National Recruiting Analyst Tyler Donohue.

Recruit ratings courtesy of 247Sports.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

The Opening 2015: Each Top-25 Class' Most Important Target at Beaverton

The massive high school football showcase that is The Opening is on tap for July 5-10 at Nike's world headquarters in Beaverton, Oregon, where hundreds of the top prospects from the 2016 recruiting class will compete against one another in various drills and events.

Many of the players on display have already committed to colleges for next year, but a good number are still undecided and hoping a strong performance at The Opening will push them toward the right school. It works both ways, actually, as nearly all of the top programs in the nation will be keeping close tabs on the competition and on specific players, especially those whom they've targeted for the future but have yet to lock down with a commitment.

Using 247Sports' latest recruiting rankings, here is a look at the most important target that every top-25 class will be paying the most attention to at The Opening.

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Top 5 Matchups We Can't Wait to See at The Opening 2015

The Opening is a great chance to pit the nation's top offensive recruits against the top defensive recruits and watch them battle it out. 

Watch as Stephen Nelson sits down with Bleacher Report College Football Analyst Michael Felder to discuss the best matchup at The Opening. 

Who are you excited to see match up at The Opening? Check out the video and let us know!

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Predicting 2015 Won-Loss Record for Every New College Football Head Coach

It won’t be long now. As the calendar flips from June to July, we’re officially on the downhill slide to the beginning of the 2015 college football season. Sure, actual games that matter are still two months away, but we aren’t far from college football media days, then preseason practices and, finally, games.

Before long, new coaches will get their first chance to make an extended impression on reporters at media gatherings, creating storylines and forming impressions. That said, the real impressions will be formed when the 2015 season actually commences in September.

The 2014-15 coaching carousel was lighter than usual, with only 15 programs hiring new leaders. The Big Lead's Ty Duffy ranked the major college football hires here. Here’s a look at how we think each coach will fare this fall, with the final predicted records being influenced by returning personnel, the state of the program and the coach’s overall reputation.

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The Opening: LSU Fans Get Early Look at QB of the Future at Elite Showcase

The LSU Tigers have a strong recruiting class coming to the Bayou. Which of these commits will shine at the Opening out in Oregon? 

Bleacher Report's Michael Felder answers that question and more in the video above.

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The Opening: Alabama Defensive Commits Should Recruit Top Uncommitted Talent

Alabama fans should get excited for some of their top recruits to represent the Crimson Tide in Beaverton, Oregon, at The Opening Finals.

Bleacher Report College Football Analyst Michael Felder breaks down the defensive commits as well as a target who is a must-land for the 2016 class.

How well do you think the Alabama defensive commits will do at The Opening? Watch the video and let us know!

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Tennessee Football: Vols Unveil New Nike Uniforms

After more than a decade of Adidas uniforms and a year of speculation, Tennessee football entered a new era Wednesday with the unveiling of its new Nike uniforms.

The three new Mach Speed uniforms, which are part of a department-wide contract with Nike that was announced in 2014, introduces a taller, sleeker number font and striping that is half-checkerboard—matching the famous end-zone art at Neyland Stadium.

Tennessee showcased four possible combinations of home and away uniforms, including the all-orange home look and the all-white "Stormtrooper" set.

In addition to the traditional orange and white sets, Tennessee will also have a grey alternate uniform that represents the Great Smoky Mountains.

The alternate helmet has a mountain pattern to go along with the iconic Power T logos and new half-checkerboard stripe.

Tennessee's smoky alternate set has a darker grey on the jersey's shoulders.

One of the unveiled set of gloves has the Power T logo on the palms.

"It's extremely fitting that this partnership be formed," Tennessee athletic director Dave Hart said in a press release. "Nike excels as it relates to branding and marketing. Their level of expertise in that space is nationally renowned, Nike does that as well or better than anyone. We feel blessed to be aligned with Nike and are excited to form this tremendous partnership."

Volunteers head coach Butch Jones and sophomore running back Jalen Hurd also spoke highly of the new partnership with Nike:

Hurd was one of the few Tennessee athletes who got the opportunity to wear the uniforms at the unveiling event.

"It's amazing," Hurd told the school's website. "Not many people get to say that they [were one of the first to wear new uniforms], especially transferring over to Nike. We're making this move and I'm one of the people that gets to show it off, it's pretty cool."

 

Justin Ferguson is an on-call college football writer at Bleacher Report. You can follow him on Twitter @JFergusonBR.

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TCU's Future Is Bright with Key Recruits Looking to Dominate the Opening

TCU narrowly missed the first annual College Football Playoff, getting beat out by the eventual champions from the Big Ten, the Ohio State Buckeyes. 

Bleacher Report College Football Analyst Michael Felder gives his preview of TCU at The Opening. 

How good can the Horned Frogs be next season? Check out the video and let us know!

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Rapid-Fire Interview with Jim Harbaugh: 'I'm a Tupac Man'

Jim Harbaugh may be one of the most interesting figures in college football. From his trademark khaki pants to his unwavering intensity, the man always keeps us coming back for more. 

Bleacher Report caught up with the fiery leader of Michigan's football program as he answered some rapid-fire questions in the video above. 

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10 Best Live College Football Mascots

It's officially July, which means the college football offseason has reached its apex. It's time to rank things, like live college football mascots.  

Ranking live mascots is all subjective anyway, so we've used a very scientific formula to cut out any guesswork. On a 10-point scale, 10 being the best, mascots are judged in five categories: weaponry, attire, cuteness, originality and chances in a fight. Rankings are based on total points tallied. 

So, take a look and vehemently disagree with our study because that is the offseason's primary purpose. 

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Is Arkansas a Legit Contender for 2015 SEC Title?

What if I told you that a team with two SEC wins in two years, an offense that is one-dimensional and a defense that lost its three best players is a contender in the toughest division in college football?

You'd say that I'm crazy, right?

Well, that's exactly where Arkansas finds itself, after shutting out LSU and Ole Miss last November and throttling Texas in the AdvoCare V100 Texas Bowl to close out the season.

Where did that strong late-season push land Arkansas? In the SEC West's elite, apparently.

Arkansas' over/under win total for the 2015 season is at 8.5, according to 5Dimes (via CBSSports.com). That may not seem too lofty, but it's tied for second with Auburn and Ole Miss for the second-most in the SEC West, and it's only one game behind Alabama, which has an over/under at 9.5.

Clearly, Vegas seems to think that Arkansas is a contender. But as Todd Fuhrman of Fox Sports notes, that confidence isn't exactly steadfast.

Let's follow along with the pros in Vegas and pump the brakes on the Arkansas hype train.

While Arkansas is going to be improved, it's much more likely to be this year's version of Ole Miss than it is to be a true division-title contender. 

Remember what Ole Miss was last year? A team that was in the mix for a couple of months before injuries took their toll and the lack of championship-level depth reared its ugly head?

That's where Arkansas is most likely headed in 2015.

Offensively, the Hogs will be fine.

The dynamic duo of Jonathan Williams and Alex Collins at running back behind one of the most fearsome offensive lines in the country clearly works. Can Brandon Allen take the next step and become more of a difference-maker than a game manger? He has his doubters, including Bo Bounds of 105.9 in Jackson, Mississippi (via Sports Talk with Bo Mattingly in Arkansas).

Still, the presence of new offensive coordinator Dan Enos—who has produced four 3,000-yard passers in the last five seasons as the head coach of Central Michigan—should at least help Allen take the next step and look like a downfield weapon from time to time. 

That might be all the offense needs to really hit its stride.

The real concern, though, is on defense, where head coach Bret Bielema and defensive coordinator Robb Smith have to replace stud defensive end Trey Flowers, monster defensive tackle Darius Philon and last year's leading tackler, linebacker Martrell Spaight.

Bielema and Smith will be counting on players like tackles Bijhon Jackson and Taiwan Johnson as well as end JaMichael Winston to become difference-makers up front.

Not just difference-makers, though. Consistent difference-makers. 

That's not the easiest thing to do, nor is it something that should be expected. 

Besides, it's not like Arkansas' defense was that consistent down the stretch. Sure, the shutouts in November were awesome, but they also gave up 459 yards and 7.40 yards per play at Mississippi State in early November, as well as 423 yards and 5.10 yards per play at Missouri to close out the regular season.

There were consistency issues last year even when Arkansas' defense was "hot," and now some of its key contributors are gone.

The logical next step for Arkansas is to take a small step forward rather than a gigantic leap. A small step forward would be an eight- or nine-win season, staying competitive in every game and showing a little more consistency on the road.

Anything more would be considered too much, too soon in the SEC West.

 

Quotes were obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted. All stats are courtesy of cfbstats.com unless otherwise noted, and all recruiting information is courtesy of 247Sports' composite rankings.

Barrett Sallee is the lead SEC college football writer and college football video analyst for Bleacher Report as well as a host on Bleacher Report Radio on Sirius 93, XM 208.

Follow Barrett on Twitter @BarrettSallee.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

The Opening 2015: 10 Sleeper Recruits to Watch in Beaverton

Each year, blue-chip prospects abound at The Opening, the elite recruiting showcase at Nike's headquarters in Beaverton, Oregon. Most of the invites to the event sport 5- or 4-star rankings and massive offer sheets.

However, these top recruits aren't the only ones who will be on the big stage in Oregon on July 7-10. Across the country, several players with lower ratings earned invitations to The Opening with their stellar performances at regional combines.

All eyes will be on the star-studded targets in Beaverton next week, but college football fans should watch for these under-the-radar talents.

Here are 10 players on The Opening roster who will enter the event with 3-star or lower ratings from 247Sports' composite rankings, which combines several top recruiting outlets.

Don't sleep on these possible breakout players who could earn more stars and more scholarship offers in Oregon next week.

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