NCAA Football News

Caleb Kelly Sets Official Visits: Which Team Has Best Chance to Land 5-Star?

The race to land 5-star linebacker Caleb Kelly is beginning to take shape as the stud California defender announced Wednesday that he’s set all five of his official visits.

Michigan, Notre Dame, Oklahoma, Oregon and Texas will all get a crack to host the nation’s No. 2 outside linebacker and No. 17 player overall in the 2016 cycle.

The 6’3”, 215-pounder already visited Michigan and Oklahoma in the offseason. However, with his fall agenda now in focus, which program currently has the inside track on landing one of the nation’s top defenders?

The Wolverines and the Sooners appear to be the two teams that have grabbed Kelly’s interest from the beginning of his recruitment, as detailed by Bleacher Report’s Damon Sayles.

"I know Michigan will probably be in there, and Oklahoma because they've been there for forever," Kelly told Sayles. "But there are a lot of schools that I haven't had a chance to visit. I'm going to Notre Dame hopefully soon. I want to go to a few places before the end of the summer."

Of those two, Oklahoma seems to have the most buzz with Kelly for a couple of reasons. For starters, as Sayles detailed, Sooners head coach Bob Stoops gave Kelly his first offer.

Additionally, Stoops and his staff have recruited the state of California aggressively and with a good amount of success. Since 2012, the Sooners have signed 15 players from the Golden State and have 4-star linebacker Bryce Youngquist already committed in the current cycle.

Included in the pipeline of California standouts heading to Norman are fellow Fresno natives in receiver Michiah Quick and safety Hatari Byrd, as detailed by Ryan Bartow of 247Sports.

Playing time also appears to be something that could work in the Sooners' favor. As detailed by Ourlads, five of the Sooners' top eight linebackers are upperclassmen.

With Michigan, new Wolverines head coach Jim Harbaugh and his staff made a strong impression on Kelly when he visited Ann Arbor back in March, according to Steve Lorenz of Wolverine247.

What I liked is that the coaches weren't about themselves. They were laughing and joking and having a really good time. They're funny guys. You can tell they've worked with each other before and know each other really well. I wondered what it would be like around them because they've been in the NFL, but you can tell they all love being there and are glad they are at Michigan. When it's time to get serious with the players and at practice, they flip the switch on and get to work, but they have fun doing it.

Of the other trio of suitors he will visit, Notre Dame—which gets the last crack at Kelly on Dec. 11—may have the best chance to make a move with him.

As Steve Wiltfong of 247Sports notes, the Irish will finally get him on campus after planned trips in the summer fell through.

While both the Irish and the Wolverines have a chance to wow Kelly on his visits, it’s the Sooners who have the edge heading into the stretch run of his recruitment.

 

Sanjay Kirpalani is a National Recruiting Analyst for Bleacher Report. Unless otherwise noted, all quotes obtained firsthand and all recruiting information courtesy of 247Sports.

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Predicting Top College Football Week 1 Performers

In just one week, college football will be back, and so will the eye-popping individual performances that will have fans everywhere talking for days.

"Hey, did you see how many yards (star player) had against (downtrodden opponent) on Saturday? Or what about (breakout player) for (Group of Five team), who had (nearly record-breaking statistic)?"

The opening weekend of the season is a perfect time for top performers to pick back up where they left off a season ago and for some less-heralded players to command some attention for themselves. 

Here are 15 college football players—three each for the major categories of passing yards, rushing yards, receiving yards, sacks and interceptions—who have great chances at shining the brightest in Week 1. These players were chosen based on their individual success in a statistical category and their opponents' strength for a particular matchup. 

Let us know who you think will have the biggest Week 1 performances in college football in the comments below.

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SEC Football: Who Will Be the Biggest Stars of Opening Weekend?

We are a week away from toe meeting leather and the kickoff of the 2015 college football season.

Opening weekend has brought us several surprise stars over the last few seasons, including former Texas A&M quarterback Kenny Hill, former Georgia star Todd Gurley, current Auburn wide receiver "Duke" Williams and current Tennessee linebacker Jalen Reeves-Maybin.

The SEC has plenty of big games in Week 1 this year that can vault players into college football stardom in 2015.

Who will be the stars of Week 1? Our picks based on talent, matchup and exposure are in this slideshow.

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Oregon Mascot 'Puddles' Spoofs Alabama Sorority's Recruitment Video

With students around the country going back to school and football season quickly approaching, Oregon Ducks mascot Puddles made a video to get students to pledge their allegiance to the best house at Oregon—Autzen Stadium.

And he had some fun making it at the University of Alabama's expense.

Alabama's Alpha Phi sorority received a lot of backlash for its recruitment video. That video inspired Puddles to make a recruitment video—well, a spoof—of his own.

It's just a Duck having fun in the place he loves most. Now he's hoping for some friends to join him.

[GoDucksdotcom]

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How Nick Saban's 2000 LSU Peach Bowl Team Helped Set Up the Alabama Dynasty

ATLANTA — Could a non-BCS bowl game played eight years prior to Nick Saban's first SEC West title at Alabama provide the foundation for the Crimson Tide dynasty?

One certainly had an impact.

Saban's first LSU team in 2000 topped Georgia Tech 28-14 in the Peach Bowl, capping off an 8-4 season that set up the Tigers for an SEC title run in 2001.

It seems crazy considering how much Saban's coaching star has risen since, but it took a lot of work and some lobbying from Saban to get his Tigers into that bowl game in the first place.

"In 2000, [Saban] called me when he was the head coach of LSU," said Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl president Gary Stokan, who is a friend of Saban. "He said 'Gary, we have got to get to your bowl game. It's the best bowl game we can get to, we need to start to change the culture around here.' It's the only time I met with the chancellor. Mark Emmert was the chancellor at LSU, and I met with him and Nick."

Saban wanted the Peach Bowl badly due to its unopposed New Year's Eve time slot on ESPN and its location in the fertile recruiting ground of Atlanta.

"I go back a month later to see Nick," Stokan, explained, "and he says 'everybody that we signed this year in the recruiting class watched that game. They signed because they liked what they saw. We closed on every single one of them.' That team [that signed] was the one that helped LSU win the 2003 national championship."

Fast forward eight years, and Saban again saw opportunity knocking in Atlanta.

The NCAA passed legislation in 2005 that allowed schools to schedule a 12th regular-season game effective in 2006. Stokan, whose Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl was steadily climbing to become one of the more prominent non-BCS bowls due in part to the same reasons Saban wanted to play in it in 2000, began brainstorming on how to capitalize on an extra game.

Because of the addition of the 12th game, the Chick-fil-A Kickoff Game was born.

But where would Stokan turn to fill the slot in 2008? He already had Clemson on board, Alabama was interested and Stokan wanted to replicate the traditional ACC vs. SEC matchup that had helped the postseason bowl game ascend to its current level.

"When I called [Nick] about 2008, I said 'Nick we're doing this kickoff game, we'd love to have you come over and play against Clemson,'" Stokan said. "He was coming off a 7-6 season and had lost to Louisiana-Monroe. He said, 'OK, I'll do it. You helped me out, I'll do it."'

Saban's reasoning was simple.

When the game was announced in January 2008, Clemson was coming off an overtime loss to Auburn in the bowl game but expected to contend for the ACC and national titles in the upcoming season. It'd be a huge test to open his second season in Tuscaloosa, but it would serve as a huge benefit to the future of the program.

"He did it for all the right reason for Alabama—the payout and the opportunity to play a good Clemson team would help them, but he also said, 'If I can finish No. 1 in Alabama in recruiting and second in Georgia, we'll play for national championships,'" Stokan said.

Saban's 24th-ranked Crimson Tide knocked that opportunity out of the park.

They throttled No. 9 Clemson 34-10 on prime time on ABC in that inaugural Chick-fil-A Kickoff Game and set the tone for an undefeated regular season, SEC West title and a return trip to Atlanta to take on Florida in the SEC Championship Game. 

"It gave us reassurance that we could contend with anyone," said former Crimson Tide quarterback and current SEC Network analyst Greg McElroy, who was a sophomore on that 2008 team. "Coach Saban was always preaching the process and the importance of preparation. We wanted to leave no doubt."

It also reassured the players that what Saban was selling was working.

"He always says, 'Everybody has sight, but very few people have vision,'" said former wide receiver Brandon Gibson, who was a redshirt freshman in 2008. "He set the vision for us and said that we'd win national championships if we did the right things and bought into the process. Beating Clemson in the way that we did, that was just the first step."

They fell to the Gators in that SEC Championship Game but kept momentum going in February by reeling in the nation's second-best recruiting class.

That class included offensive guard and Georgia native Chance Warmack, who was a big part of the Tide's title run. He followed it up with another stellar recruiting class the following year that included linebacker Adrian Hubbard, tight end Brian Vogler, quarterback Blake Sims and offensive tackle Austin Shepherd—all Peach State products.

"We're recruiting Atlanta because it's three hours away and they've got a lot of great football players and a lot of good football programs," Saban said in September 2008, according to Gentry Estes, formerly of the Huntsville Times. "Georgia is fourth (nationally), I think, maybe in prospects, and it's relatively close to us."

What seemed like a meaningless LSU vs. Georgia Tech bowl game in 2000 might not have seemed like a big deal to Alabama fans at the time, but that game proved to Saban just how big a national stage in a fertile recruiting ground is for the future of a program.

When kickoff games were reborn with the Chick-fil-A Kickoff Game in 2008, it was only natural for Stokan to offer an invitation to the man who shared the same vision to help launch the event.

Would Alabama have played in the 2008 kickoff game if Saban hadn't pleaded to receive a 2000 Peach Bowl invitation? Maybe. But the impact of that showdown with Georgia Tech was part of what built Saban to what he has become and played a part in a magical five-year run for Alabama between 2008-2012, in which Saban brought three national titles to Tuscaloosa.

 

Quotes were obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted. Recruiting information courtesy of 247Sports. Statistics courtesy of CFBStats.com

Barrett Sallee is the lead SEC college football writer and national college football video analyst for Bleacher Report as well as a host on Bleacher Report Radio on SiriusXM 83. Follow Barrett on Twitter @BarrettSallee.

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4-Star Devin Duvernay Ready to Change the Game in Football, Track

Sachse, Texas, 4-star wide receiver Devin Duvernay doesn't say much. Unless he has down time with friends or family, no one should expect him to say more than 20 words at a time.

There are athletes who epitomize the phrase "silent assassin," where literal verbiage takes a back seat to first-class performance, whether it's on the football field, the track or wherever the athlete excels.

"I don't really say a lot," Duvernay said while lacing up his cleats to prepare for drills. "I just want to go out and work."

Duvernay isn't a talker. He's the classic doer. Ask those who try to catch him in the open field—whether it's as a versatile football standout or as a sprinter with potential world-class speed at Sachse High School.

And when he's dialed in, consider Duvernay nearly unstoppable.

At least, that's been the case so far throughout his high school career. He's compiled nearly 1,800 receiving yards and 20 receiving touchdowns the last two seasons. He's also is averaging nearly 10 yards a rush (58 rushes, 557 yards, five touchdowns) as a varsity athlete.

And then there's his track resume. Duvernay's the reigning UIL Texas Class 6A 100-meter dash state champion. He won Texas' largest classification in the spring with a blazing time of 10.27 seconds, the third-fastest high school time in the nation.

Duvernay's athletic success is recognized with nearly 40 offers from schools from coast to coast, as well as the invitation to play in the 2016 Under Armour All-America Game in Florida in January. Recruiting-wise, Duvernay said schools like Baylor, Texas, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, Ohio State, Alabama, Auburn, LSU and Oregon have peaked his interest early, but he's keeping all options open.

The key to his success? Setting a goal and doing everything possible to reach it.

Simple, right?

"I envision success," he said. "I envisioned running a 10.29, and I got a 10.27. Normally, with my visions, I expect to get them."

 

High expectations at a young age

Duvernay is the son of Henry and Zena Duvernay. He's also the twin brother of Donovan Duvernay, who is a two-way athlete at cornerback and receiver for Sachse.

Henry was a multisport athlete at Joseph S. Clark Preparatory High School in New Orleans. He didn't play football but was a sprinter for the track team and also played basketball and baseball.

Zena's athletic past wasn't as decorated, but she had four brothers who were either football standouts, baseball standouts or both. Calvin Murray played professional baseball for the San Francisco Giants, Texas Rangers and Chicago Cubs in the late 1990s and early 2000s.

Kevin Murray was an all-conference quarterback for Texas A&M who eventually signed as a free agent with the San Francisco 49ers. His son, Texas A&M freshman quarterback Kyler Murray, led Allen High School to three consecutive state championships. Allen is currently riding a 43-game winning streak.

In short, the talent genes are there for Duvernay. But with the talent came training—tons of training.

"It didn't come overnight. It was a process," Henry Duvernay said. "Both Devin and Donovan have run track all their lives, and they know if you want to achieve something, you have to work hard at it."

"I feel like because of my genetics, I'd still be fast," Devin added, "but it's my training that pushes me further."

Zena remembers the first time the "it factor" was displayed with Devin and Donovan. They were four-year-olds playing soccer, and a basic task from their soccer coach turned into their first athletic "wow" moment.

"One of the coaches threw the ball down the field and told the players to run for the ball and bring it back," she said. "Devin and Donovan just took off, and they pretty much were on their way back with the ball before the other kids had even gotten down to where the ball was.

"Since then, it seemed like whatever they were doing, they excelled at. Even at an early age."

It's now come to the point where every time the brothers touch the football, they are expected to either score or make a big play. Devin, the nation's No. 4 receiver and the No. 40 player overall, caught 62 passes for 990 yards and nine touchdowns as a junior, according to the Dallas Morning News' stats. He also rushed 33 times for 290 yards and three scores.

Consider last year's success as routine around the Duvernay house.

"It's just a natural habit with what we've seen over the years," Henry said. "Playing in Garland peewee football, if any one of them touched the ball, something was going to happen. We expect that now with them in high school. Any time they touch the ball, we expect something positive."

 

"He's just so dynamic"

Kevin Murray has spent his life shaping his son and molding him to be a great quarterback at the next level, but he knows a quarterback is only as good as a reliable wide receiver.

So when he talks about his nephew's ability to be great, it's not a fluke, nor is it a nepotic bias.

"Devin and Kyler are alike in that they're introverts until you get them on the field," Murray said. "They let their actions speak for themselves. They're not attention-seekers, and from our perspective, that's kind of unusual from some successful kids this day and age.

"With Devin, I've seen him make so many plays in the open field. When he gets into space, it's bye-bye. He does what great players do."

Duvernay, in addition to the training outside of regular workouts at Sachse, gets extra work in by snagging passes at his uncle's quarterback academy. Murray runs Air 14 Football Quarterback Academy, which helped to develop Kyler Murray, Baylor's Seth Russell, LSU's Justin McMillan and Houston 2016 commit Bowman Sells.

For Duvernay, the time spent with his uncle not only gives him extra repetitions but also sound advice from someone who has made it to the professional football ranks.

"We'll catch up and have just normal family time," Duvernay said of Murray. "He's a really competitive guy, but he has that cool side to him where you can just relax with him."

The same rules apply when Duvernay is with his older cousin. Kyler Murray left Allen High School as one of the most prolific, competitive quarterbacks in Texas high school history. Duvernay, however, knows him as the guy who imparted knowledge and allowed Duvernay to bounce ideas off him in an effort to get better.

"He played in an age group above us, so we never played together, but we've always been around to watch each other play," Duvernay said.

"When we are together, everything is just chill. We talk about life, football sometimes, maybe recruiting sometimes. It's cool to just catch up with each other."

Many who follow Duvernay focus on his speed as his primary asset. After all, Duvernay did win the state track championship in the 100, and he did run the 40-yard dash in 4.32 seconds at The Opening last month in Oregon.

Kevin Murray, however, believes it will be his other attributes that will enhance his future star-caliber potential.

"You've got to look at his hands and his ability to catch the football and ability to run routes," he said. "Initially, I think when he was a sophomore, there was talk of him being a running back. At the high school level, you can put him anywhere you want, but his position at the collegiate level is receiver.

"He's just so dynamic."

 

Inseparable since birth

One advantage of having a twin brother, Devin said, is always having someone around who is equally driven. Devin and Donovan have been teammates since they were in preschool.

"We've always been competitive and always played together," Devin said. "We've always wanted to win and be great. That's something we always try to do: keep working and keep getting better."

As the oldest brother by four minutes, Donovan is a 3-star athlete with double-digit offers, including ones from Baylor, TCU, Michigan and Kansas. Much of his work came as a defensive back last season, but when called to play receiver he delivered, finishing the year with 20 catches for 452 yards and five touchdowns. In other words, Donovan averaged a touchdown every fourth reception.

The twins hold each other accountable and are competitive in everything they do, from athletics to academics to video games.

Especially video games.

"We play everything. Madden, 2K (basketball), FIFA (soccer)...and we hate losing," Donovan said. We're real competitive, but at the end of the day, we know it's just a game, so we don't get too mad about it."

While the two share that competitive fire, Zena said there's a noticeable difference in personality. While Donovan is more laid-back, Devin is always moving. It's been that way since they were toddlers.

"Devin was always the child with all the energy. He was always wired," Zena said. "They always played well together, but Devin was always my little busybody. He'd always take toys from Donovan, and I'd make him give them back. It was so funny how one was so wired, but the other was so relaxed."

That level of energy has been a catalyst for Devin during his recruiting process. You can see that second gear during the yards after the catch or 40 meters into a sprint.

It helps, Devin added, to have a brother who motivates him to find that next level. Donovan is more than a twin brother to Devin. He's a muse, a confidant and a best friend.

"We do everything together. With him, you don't have much to worry about,' Devin said. "It's like another you out there. You know what he can do, and he knows what you can do. You can trust him."

To which Donovan responded: "I'm really excited for him. He has a lot of things ahead of him with the season and the Under Armour game. He deserves it. He's earned it."

 

Picking the right school

Duvernay wants to be a record-breaking wide receiver and a legendary sprinter at the college level. Along with playing receiver, he said he also wants to return punts and kicks wherever he plays. He added that every school he's interested in has given him the green light to run track during the offseason.

So now the question is: Where will he go?

With so many options, recruiting can be a silent distraction, but Duvernay doesn't let the process wear him down. He's already pushed a decision back to after his senior season and isn't opposed to waiting until national signing day.

"I'm taking my time," he said. "I'm looking for a winning team where I can succeed and play. I want to develop and get to the next level, and I want to have fun."

Duvernay is quick to add that while he has a shortlist of interested schools, no school is out of the running. Many Texas A&M fans are hoping he will join his cousin to form a solid, one-two punch in Kevin Sumlin's offense.

Making the right decision is key for Duvernay. Part of that decision will involve his twin. He has stressed the fact that he wants to play college ball with his brother, although he isn't opposed to seeing his brother make the best decision for himself.

Don't be surprised, however, if their parents are making only one college trip each week to watch their sons line up as teammates.

"They want to go to school together, and hopefully that'll happen," Henry said. "As a parent, you want to keep them close. Every weekend, we'll be headed somewhere."

"I can't tell the future, but if it happens, it happens," Donovan added. "We're trying to go to school together, though."

Of Devin's nine interested schools, Baylor is the only one that has offered both Duvernays thus far. That can change in the upcoming weeks, as schools will get additional looks at Donovan with Sachse's regular season starting.

If they do make the same choice, the winning school will get not one but two playmakers. They'll also get athletes who understand the true definition of hard work and dedication.

And while Devin may not vocally address the masses with his intentions, look for him to make an impact that will be heard loudly.

"I just want to be someone who changes the game," he said.

 

Damon Sayles is a National Recruiting Analyst for Bleacher Report. All quotes were obtained firsthand. All player ratings are courtesy of 247Sports' composite ratings. Follow Damon via Twitter: @DamonSayles

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James Franklin Has Penn State Acting Like an Elite Program Again

STATE COLLEGE, Pa. — If Penn State no longer deserves to be considered one of college football's premier programs, somebody forgot to tell James Franklin.

Observing the Nittany Lions' practice on Wednesday, you'd never know that this was a team just eight months removed from needing an overtime win over Boston College in the New Era Pinstripe Bowl to secure a winning season. 

After three seasons marred by unprecedented sanctions and a combined 22-15 record, it's back to football—and only football—for Penn State, which will open its 2015 season next Saturday against Temple with a newfound optimism surrounding its program.

"I think we've had a really good camp," Franklin said. "I feel completely different about our team at this point than we did last year."

From a numbers standpoint, it'd be tough for the second-year Nittany Lions head coach not to.

Back at 85 scholarship players for the first time since the NCAA trimmed Penn State's roster starting in 2012 following the Jerry Sandusky scandal, the Nittany Lions are finally fielding a full football team once again.

Last season, Penn State was allowed 75 scholarship players, and the addition of 10 roster spots has been noticeable for Franklin's squad this preseason—whether it's been at wide receiver, defensive back or, most importantly, on the offensive line.

But while the increased depth alone should aid Penn State in its attempted to return to prominence, the culture it's helped create—or recreate—could prove to be just as important. 

"It's becoming a lot more competitive," Franklin said.

That competition is crucial and something the Nittany Lions have been without for the past three years. The sanction-stricken numbers simply wouldn't allow it, eliminating a key element football coaches are constantly searching for in order to create an atmosphere where iron sharpens iron.

Asked by Bleacher Report about the benefits that competition within a program brings, Penn State wide receivers coach Josh Gattis could hardly contain his smile.

"It's our No. 1 job to create the most competitive environment in all of college football," Gattis said. "That's how you build a roster, with depth that's not only going to be able to help you win games in Week 1 but help you win games in Week 12."

The absence of such in Franklin's first season with the Nittany Lions was evidenced by its highs and lows, which included a 4-0 start followed by a four-game losing streak and eventually back-to-back losses to Illinois and Michigan State to close out the Big Ten campaign.

Due to injuries, Penn State was fielding just 41 scholarship players by the end of the year.

But with more fresh bodies now readily available, Franklin believes his team is set up for the duration of a season.

Even if the makeup of his roster is still relatively young due to the timing of the sanctions—Franklin signed 26 players in 2014 and 25 last February—the newfound depth is apparent with just one look at the collection of players.

"We went in the [Beaver Stadium] last night because I wanted to make sure the first night game we played there wasn't that game. So we had a practice in that environment," Franklin said. "Just standing out there looking at our D-line, they look different. Looking at our safeties, they look different. You look at the wide receivers. The whole group has improved."

This depth has also allowed Franklin to be more flexible when it's come to roster management, as he's already given the green light to true freshmen Saquon Barkley, Brandon Polk, Juwan Johnson and cornerback John Reid to play this season rather than redshirt.

According to PennLive.com's Bob Flounders, he also moved redshirt freshman Koa Farmer from linebacker to safety midway through camp based on the needs of his team, a move he may not have been able to make a year ago.

But while the Nittany Lions' influx of talent and a manageable schedule—not to mention star quarterback Christian Hackenberg—could make them a sleeper team in the top-heavy Big Ten East, it's not just the makeup of the roster that creates the appearance of an elite program in Happy Valley once again.

A lot of that has to do with the presence of Franklin, who is every bit as much the CEO of Penn State football as he is the head coach.

With a calm and collected demeanor while dealing with the press, it's not hard to see how the former Vanderbilt head coach has put together a 2016 recruiting class that currently ranks fifth in the country. Franklin picks his spots and focuses on what he wants to, typically only elaborating on the positives of his program.

Of course, it's helped that media access to the Nittany Lions has been limited in training camp, with only 10 minutes of practice and interview sessions with Franklin and a chosen assistant being available to reporters each week.

That makes Penn State more open than Michigan has been—the Wolverines have entered a fall camp "submarine" under Jim Harbaugh—but less so than Ohio State and Michigan State, who have each made players available for interviews on a weekly basis.

It may seem silly to read into media availability when judging a program, but for the Nittany Lions, it's somewhat telling. No longer is Penn State concerned about putting positive headlines in the press post-sanctions. Rather, it is insulating itself as much as possible to prepare for the upcoming season.

For the Nittany Lions, it's football—and only football—once again.

Just how long it will take Penn State to return to playing like an elite program remains to be seen.

But thanks to their finally full roster and the confident head coach in charge of it, the Nittany Lions are already acting like one.

 

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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Tommy Tuberville Considering Withholding Cost-of-Living Funds for Breaking Rules

Cincinnati head football coach Tommy Tuberville stated Thursday that he's considering a plan to withhold a portion of a player's cost-of-attendance money for off-field issues or other violations.

Joe Schad of ESPN confirmed Tuberville's stance as schools begin to utilize the increased funds available to athletes. The 60-year-old coach provided a simple explanation for the idea, per Schad.

"We are holding them accountable," he said.

Cincinnati athletic director Mike Bohn called the plan an "accountability measure" for student-athletes and tried to explain it further, via Schad.

"It's not a fine. It's not a threat. It's a tool," Bohn said.

Steve Berkowitz of USA Today notes the NCAA's five wealthiest conferences agreed to a plan in January that allows them to provide scholarships that cover the full cost of attending the school. All Division I programs can offer the additional benefits, but it's not required.

The plan is already causing concerns in the college community. Jake New of Inside Higher Ed reported some schools with high-profile athletic programs "are sharply increasing" the cost of attendance this year, thus making more available for the scholarships.

Brian Murphy of Yahoo Sports points out that "college coaches sounding more and more like employers/bosses every day."

Tuberville's comments will surely raise some questions about these guidelines, but it's currently unclear how much of an impact this will have on his team and elsewhere in college athletics. 

 

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Could Jared Goff Be the Second Coming of Aaron Rodgers at Cal?

Halfway down the hill from the nearly 100-year-old stadium where the University of California plays its football games, Jared Goff points to the patch of grass and trees where his family used to tailgate when he was a kid.

This wasn’t really that long ago, considering that Goff won’t turn 21 until October. The players he grew up watching in that stadium, among them Aaron Rodgers, Marshawn Lynch and DeSean Jackson, are at the peaks of their NFL careers, and it’s possible that by the time Goff finishes two more semesters at Cal he'll be ready to join them.

This will be Goff’s third year as the starting quarterback at the university his father, an ex-Major League Baseball catcher, and mother attended, and he enters the 2015 season as a dark-horse candidate for the Heisman Trophy.

There is enough speculation about the NFL swirling around him (including a Mel Kiper column that rated him the top quarterback prospect among underclassmen, ahead of Penn State’s Christian Hackenberg and Ohio State’s Cardale Jones) that Cal felt the need to issue a statement from Goff declaring that he wouldn’t talk about such things until after the season.

Were he playing anywhere other than Cal—if he were at USC or UCLA or Oregon or somewhere in the Big Ten or SEC—the crush of attention might be even heavier, the Heisman hopes even more concrete. But in a way, Goff is lucky, because he plays at a school where major college football is often a secondary concern for the student body.

“Most of the time,” Goff says, “they’re focused on splitting the atom.”

This is an attitude Goff, who grew up in nearby Marin County, hopes to alter at least somewhat this fall, as those other star players did before him and as the Bears did from time to time under former coach Jeff Tedford, maximizing their resources and building around a few marquee talents to win 10 games in both 2004 and 2006.

Still, this is a Cal program that hasn’t played in a Rose Bowl since 1958 and played in only one other bowl between 1959 and 1990. Even their successes are shrouded in geekdom and weirdness.

The most memorable play in Cal history—maybe the most memorable in college football history—is a flukish convergence of luck and physics that ended with a wayward trombone player getting mauled. And one of the enduring nationally televised moments under Tedford came when broadcaster Brent Musburger went on a rant against environmental protesters (“aging hippies,” he called them) who were protesting the destruction of trees around the stadium.

Goff was originally recruited by Tedford’s staff, but Tedford was fired shortly after, as the Bears went searching once more for a new identity, for someone who could elevate their program in the Pac-12 hierarchy.

And while Stanford, Cal’s private-school analogue (and fierce rival) in Bay Area nerdiness, has managed to construct a first-tier Pac-12 program by embracing physicality over the conference-wide trend of offensive prowess, Cal hired a native Texan and Mike Leach disciple named Sonny Dykes, who immediately instilled a wide-open Air Raid offense and put Goff at the center of it, as in his freshman year.

In that first season, with Goff essentially learning on the job, the 2013 Bears were a mess, the worst team in the Pac-12, going 1-11 and losing all of their Pac-12 contests. Last year, they improved to 5-7, and if ever there were a time for the Bears to turn the corner, it would be now, in what could well be Goff’s final season before professional football lures him away.

“Growing up watching guys like Rodgers and Lynch and Jackson, and seeing them win 10 games every year, that’s kind of what we want to bring it back to,” Goff says. “There’s no time to waste. This is the year to do it.”

Cal has always been a bit off an odd fit for a major college football program, given its location at the radical epicenter of American culture and the hardcore academic environment of the place (it is continually ranked as the top public school in the country, according to the U.S. News & World Report). The culture of football isn’t infused with the same urgency at Cal as it is at nearly any other school in the South or the Midwest, or even among certain rivals in the Pac-12.

When the Bears are good, the student body tends to focus in a little more deeply and trudge up the hill to Memorial Stadium on Saturdays. But most of the time, football exists on the periphery of a campus where certain parking spaces are specifically reserved for Nobel laureates.

“It’s not like Florida State or LSU, where they’re just driven by the football program,” says Jerry Goff, Jared’s father, who was a walk-on punter at Cal for a season and now works as a firefighter in the Bay Area. “You gotta remember, you’re in class with these kids who are super-geniuses, four-point whatevers, you’re competing against that in the classroom, and you’re competing against the rest of the Pac-12 on the field.”

This is especially apparent to Cal offensive coordinator Tony Franklin, a quarterback guru who spent most of his career coaching in the South at places like Kentucky and Auburn. Since coming to Berkeley, Franklin has embraced the spirit of the place to the point that he told CBS Sports’ Jon Solomon last spring that he’s transformed from a Republican to a Democrat (Goff calls Franklin “the most unique coach I’ve ever had”).

This is an ethos that Franklin says he’s tried to pass on to his players; he looks out at them, he says, and sees a future generation of world leaders. My age group has screwed the world up, he sometimes tells them. You guys get a chance to fix it.

“When (Jared) goes to class, he knows he’s sitting beside someone who may change the world with a medical discovery or may be the leader of a foreign country,” Franklin says. “When he walks to class, he doesn’t get bombarded. He doesn’t have an entourage.”

Indeed, while Goff and I are talking on campus next to the Campanile, the tower that’s perhaps the most recognizable building in Berkeley, no one interrupts our conversation. There are other things happening, summer classes in session, and that sense of perspective is part of the reason Goff chose Cal in the first place (perhaps his most recognizable moment among Bay Area sports fans to date came when he celebrated after catching a ground-rule double at a Giants game at nearby AT&T Park).

He wasn’t heavily recruited coming out of high school, with offers coming in from places like Washington State and Boise State, but when Cal offered, it made so much sense to both him and his family that he couldn’t refuse: hometown school, academics, a chance to play in the Pac-12.

His first day on campus, he says, “was Coach Dykes’ first day. Coach Franklin came in and said, ‘I don’t care how old any of you are. I don’t care if you’re a freshman or a 25-year-old, whoever’s gonna play is gonna play.”

And so Goff immediately competed for the job, and immediately won it. Franklin was impressed by his “sneaky” mobility, his ability to keep plays alive in the way Peyton Manning often does. In the first game of his career in 2013, against Northwestern, Goff threw for 450 yards, and he continued to put up huge numbers game after game as the Bears struggled to stop any Pac-12 offenses.

In back-to-back weeks last season, he threw for 458 yards and seven touchdowns in a 59-56 overtime win over Colorado, then threw for 527 yards and five touchdowns in a wild 60-59 victory over Washington State. At that point, Cal found itself with a 4-1 record; suddenly, the campus began to flare with excitement.

“It was like we’d won the Super Bowl,” Goff said.

In the wake of the win over Colorado, Goff went back to the house he shared last year with several roommates. He was sitting on a bench, talking to some friends, when some members of the school’s marching band happened by. One of them asked, “Do you want us to come in and play?”

And so they did just that. Goff still has the photos on his phone of him conducting the band inside the house, the kind of glorious and spontaneous collegiate moment he hopes can inspire an oft-indifferent campus again this fall.  

The Bears struggled through the remainder of the Pac-12 schedule in 2014, losing six of their final seven games in large part because of a suspect defense. Still, Goff finished the year with 35 touchdown passes and only seven interceptions, and Franklin says his 6'4" quarterback has only gotten bigger and stronger and more confident since then.

“I’m a lot more comfortable at the line of scrimmage,” Goff says. “(Coach Franklin) will say I have the best view of the field from where we’re at. The plays are more complicated, a lot more decisions to be made, stuff I wasn’t able to do two years ago.”

Two years ago as a freshman, says receiver Bryce Treggs, Goff would often try to air the ball out rather than check down a throw to his running back. “He used to like to show his arm off,” Treggs says. “He was trying to score on every play.”

Perhaps the biggest positive for Goff is that his teammates have grown up around him. Cal has fielded one of the youngest rosters in the country the past couple of seasons, as Dykes has attempted to rebuild the program in his own image, and so Goff has gotten to know his receivers, just as his receivers have gotten to know him.

They’ve worked together enough by now that tight end Stephen Anderson says all Goff has to do is give him a look for him to know the ball is coming to him. “Just a silent signal,” Anderson says.

Because of that—because they’ve worked together for so long—Goff has already been more critical of his receivers (and of himself) when they have made mistakes in fall camp. His demeanor, his manner, even his posture is more commanding than it has been in the past, according to his coach.

“He’s a different person this year,” Dykes says. “He just carries himself differently. The confidence that others have in him is different. From a leadership standpoint, he’s just a calming presence.”  

No longer does Goff have to think through his progressions. He can make those decisions almost instinctively now and has Franklin’s permission to do so. He can more easily figure out when to audible and when to check down to a running play, as well as when to step up in the pocket and avoid the rush.

“His feet are definitely some of the best I’ve ever seen,” Treggs says. “He’s not the fastest guy, but he always keeps hot feet. His pocket presence is amazing.”

“He has a really good clock in his head,” Dykes says. “Just being able to anticipate the rush and being able to avoid it. Feeling the rush, but not feeling the rush.”

The obvious model for Goff growing up was Rodgers. The two have never met, in part because Rodgers largely backed away from the program in the wake of Tedford’s firing, but Goff has watched copious amounts of Rodgers on television and film and admires the fact that “he takes a lot of pride in every throw he makes. I don’t think he’s throwing the ball just to throw it.”

Still, when I ask Franklin if Goff reminds him of anyone he’s worked with in the past, he brings up a name that may cause certain NFL scouts to cringe.

“I didn’t coach Tim Couch (at Kentucky), but I was on the staff at that time, and he (Goff) reminds me of Tim,” Franklin says. “Tim had incredible footwork and leadership abilities and was able to extend plays in college. Jared has a better arm, but Tim was probably a better all-around athlete.”

Couch’s failures, of course, came after he’d molded himself into a top pick in the NFL draft, but no one around Goff is allowing him to think that far ahead. And he has the added benefit of professional perspective in his own household.

For six seasons, Jerry Goff was a borderline major leaguer, a backup catcher who would get a start here and there and put so much pressure on himself to make the most of those starts that he often couldn’t relax. One bad run of at-bats, he thought, and he could easily be sent down to Triple-A. “I was a mess,” he says.

In that way, Jerry tells me, he and his son are polar opposites; he never sees his son getting rattled in the way he did when he played.

And so he doesn’t imagine Jared will put too much pressure on himself to live up to the speculation of scouts like Kiper (who will no doubt scrutinize Jared more closely because he plays in a spread offense where numbers are often inflated, and of which NFL scouts are often skeptical). He sees, in his son, someone who’s embraced the challenge of elevating his hometown team into something special.

He also sees someone who’s willing to enjoy the moment he’s in, who has seemingly absorbed Franklin’s constant reminders that as a hometown kid quarterbacking his hometown team in a diverse and intellectually stimulating community, “You’re one of the luckiest humans alive.”

“He’s got so much room to grow,” Jerry Goff says, “and you can’t do that when you’re just looking to your future. And there’s no guarantee, you know? You want this to be fun as much as you can.”

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

B/R CFB 250: Top 31 Linebackers

Bleacher Report's CFB 250 is an annual ranking of the best players in college football, regardless of NFL potential. Through interviews with B/R experts Matt MillerMichael FelderBarrett Sallee and Adam Kramer, authors Brian Leigh and Brian Pedersen have studied, ranked and graded the top athletes in the country, narrowed that list to 250 and sorted by position. Today, we present the Top Linebackers.

 

Other CFB 250 Positions

 

Other than maybe running back, linebacker is the best position group in college football.

Although some great players left for the NFL this offseason—Eric Kendricks, Paul Dawson, et al.—so much talent returns that it was hard to find an order for this list. Any way we ranked it, multiple players felt too low.

Included among this year's linebackers are the reigning Bronko Nagurski Trophy and Chuck Bednarik Award winner (both of which are given to the nation's top defender), the No. 1 overall prospect on Matt Miller's NFL draft board, a converted safety with All-American potential and a pair of reigning national champions.

And that's just the tip of the iceberg.

But before we dig into that, a disclaimer: We graded these linebackers as college prospects, not as NFL prospects.

Targeted skills such as run defense are important at both levels, but there is a difference between college run defense and professional run defense. If a linebacker can set the edge and make plays in the SEC or the Big 12, it doesn't matter if he can do so in the NFC North. At least not here, it doesn't.

This is all about college performance.

 

Note: If two players finished with the same grade, a subjective call was made based on whom we would rather have on our team right now. Also, all recruiting info refers to the 247Sports composite rankings.

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UCLA Football: 'The Rosen One' Has Arrived for Bruins

Well, it's official. 

On Wednesday afternoon, head coach Jim Mora announced true freshman Josh Rosen as the starting quarterback for the season opener versus Virginia on Sept. 5. 

For some, it was a no-brainer decision. Rosen was a consensus 5-star recruit by virtually every publication. He starred at one of the top high school programs in the country in St. John Bosco. Not only did he throw for 29 touchdowns in one of the toughest high school leagues nationally, but he also accrued a 4.3 grade-point average. 

Rosen's mother went to Princeton and is related to Joseph Wharton of the Wharton School of Business fame. Rosen's father went to Penn and is a spine surgeon.

Both of his parents were also excellent athletes during their younger days, with his father narrowly missing out in becoming an Olympian figure skater and his mother being a lacrosse player in college. Rosen himself was a tennis prodigy as a child before transitioning to other sports. 

Everything screams "special" when it comes to this individual. 

With this special thought comes special expectations. Rosen is given the keys to a car that includes 18 returning starters and a thirst for a Pac-12 Championship. 

The media hype train will be in full swing the week before his first start. How will he manage expectations? Can he take care of the ball and make the proper reads? Can he lead UCLA to the promised land? 

These are things he'll have to answer—one way or another. 

He beat out Jerry Neuheisel for the job. A fan favorite, the floppy-haired blond personality is universally well-liked throughout the program. He doesn't possess the physical tools that Rosen has. However, Neuheisel is the perfect second-string quarterback in the sense he's intelligent, battle-tested and a great teammate. 

Rosen will have his share of mistakes. It's expected considering he's a true freshman. It will be imperative for Rosen to not perpetuate these mistakes. He's afforded a deep group of receivers and arguably the best running back in the conference in Paul Perkins.

He doesn't have to win UCLA games…he just has to take care of the football. 

There are some games on the schedule in which he'll be tested. Virginia figures to blitz him a lot, as does Arizona State. Early-season clashes at Arizona and versus BYU won't be easy. Road contests in inclement weather versus Oregon State and Utah will certainly test his mettle. 

Of course, he'll end the season versus crosstown rival Southern Cal (assuming he stays healthy). 

This is an exciting time for UCLA football. Mora has built this program virtually from the ground up. It's one rooted in energy, toughness and accountability. The results have spoken for themselves over the course of the past three seasons. 

With that said, the Bruins under Mora have failed to win a conference crown. Mora can only hope the true freshman taking the reins of his team can live up the moniker of "The Rosen One" and lead the squad to new heights. 

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

UCLA Football: 2015 Game-by-Game Schedule Predictions

The UCLA football team will begin its quest for a Pac-12 title on Sept. 5 as the Bruins kick off the 2015 season at home versus Virginia.

Times are exciting for Jim Mora and the Bruins. The team returns 18 starters—including the likes of elite talent such as Jordan Payton, Myles Jack and Kenny Clark. Dually, UCLA has just named highly touted true freshman Josh Rosen as the starting signal-caller

This piece will offer schedule analysis—and game predictions—for the 2015 season.

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Blind Long Snapper Jake Olson Seeking Clearance from NCAA to Play at USC

The story of blind long snapper Jake Olson has made its rounds to all corners of the sporting world after he graduated high school and prepared for his freshman year at USC this fall. But he is still waiting to be cleared to hit the field, as an NCAA rule is keeping him from the Trojans, according to Kayla Lombardo of SI.com.

Olson accepted a Swim With Mike scholarship, which is given to physically challenged athletes, to attend USC and announced his intentions to join the Trojans for the 2015 season, per Gary Klein of the Los Angeles Times.

In fact, USC head coach Steve Sarkisian told Klein his intentions with Olson.

"Someday, he's going to snap in a game for us," Sarkisian said. "When? I don't know. But it will happen. When that day comes, it will be awesome."

But because Olson accepted the scholarship, NCAA rules count it toward USC's 85 scholarship spots. Lombardo explains:

Per NCAA rules, FBS schools have annual caps of 25 initial counters, which are incoming freshmen and transfers, in conjunction with 85 total scholarships. Because USC has already reached its limit of initial counters for this season, Olson is currently unable to officially join the team. USC is still awaiting a waiver from the NCAA in order for Olson to be cleared.

Suffering from retinoblastoma since birth, which took vision away from his left eye at 10 months old, Olson has been a motivational presence for USC since 2009, when as a 12-year-old, he spent time with the program before surgery on his right eye completely took away his sight.

He developed a relationship with former USC head coach Pete Carroll while maintaining his fanaticism for the Trojans and found a way to get on the field to play his favorite game, becoming a long snapper at Orange Lutheran High School in his junior year.

No timetable has been set on when the waiver from the NCAA will be released or when Olsen will find out his football-playing fate. But on the field or off, one can make a safe assumption that he is going to be a prominent figure around the program for years to come.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Virginia Tech AD Nixes Asst. Coach's Idea of Fining Hokies Football Players

It didn’t take long for Virginia Tech athletic director Whit Babcock to issue a statement Wednesday regarding defensive coordinator Bud Foster’s controversial comments.

Tom Fornelli of CBS Sports noted Foster responded to questions about potentially fining players some of their cost of attendance scholarship money as a disciplinary tactic with the following answer:

We're going to look at that. Instead of, you know, some people got in trouble for getting up and punishing people at six in the morning. And obviously you need some discipline. I think that's one way that you can potentially do that, to control that a little bit. These guys now, they haven't had access to money unless they've been Pell Grant recipients. So they'll want that when it's all said and done at the end of the day.

Foster also added that the coaches “would consider doing additional things like reducing a player’s game ticket allotment, and he also said Virginia Tech coaches have done similar things with player’s bowl stipends in the past,” according to Fornelli.

Babcock quickly ended those thoughts, though, when he released a statement that said “it will be discontinued immediately.” 

Stewart Mandel of Fox Sports commented on the speed of Babcock’s response:

It is important to note that in any discussions surrounding financial punishments, it is against NCAA rules for coaches to reduce a player’s financial aid, as Fornelli stated. Foster clearly didn’t know that (or remember it when he was talking to reporters), which wasn’t a surprise to Ralph D. Russo of the Associated Press:

Many coaches may not understand the cost of attendance scholarship rules like Russo claimed, but Foster probably will moving forward, after discussions with his athletic director following Wednesday’s developments.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Josh Rosen Named UCLA Starting QB: Latest Details, Comments, Reaction

Following a heated quarterback competition, the UCLA Bruins have decided to let a fresh face command the team's offense.

Head coach Jim Mora announced Wednesday night that true freshman Josh Rosen will be the team's starting signal-caller, according to UCLA Football on Twitter.  

Rosen had been jockeying with the option of starting redshirt junior Jerry Neuheisel after Brett Hundley bolted for the NFL following the 2014 season.

Mora spoke highly of Neuheisel during his meeting with reporters, according to the Los Angeles Daily News' Jack Wang: 

During the 2013 and 2014 seasons, Neuheisel completed 37 of 52 passes for 318 yards, two touchdowns and an interception in spot duty. 

But now the spotlight will shift to Rosen, who arrived at UCLA as a 5-star prospect and the top-rated pro-style signal-caller in his class, per 247Sports

On Aug. 21, Mora discussed the strides Rosen has made since arriving in Los Angeles. 

"He was able to compete in our winter conditioning program; he was able to participate in spring practice," Mora said, per Sports Illustrated's Colin Becht. "There’s a certain comfort level that he’s gained from being able to do that, and then there’s a certain level of confidence that his teammates have in him because they’ve been able to get to know him and watch him perform and compete."

Speaking on Aug. 25, offensive coordinator Noel Mazzone made it clear the team wasn't looking to implement a system that embraced a rotation under center. 

"I’m not a two-quarterback guy," Mazzone said, according to the Orange County Register's Joey Kaufman. "I never have been. Whoever is our guy, when he’s out there, he’s our guy, and you have to go through the good times and the bad times." 

As UCLA seeks to secure a third straight 10-win season and just the 10th such campaign in program history, Rosen will be tasked with commanding an offense that's loaded with promise and a few question marks. 

"It will be interesting to see if UCLA can live up to the hype while also dealing with the bumps in the road that come with playing a true freshman at the most important position on the field," CBSSports.com's Tom Fornelli wrote.  

With Rosen officially tabbed as the man to lead the 13th-ranked Bruins, all eyes will be on the true freshman when UCLA opens its season Sept. 5 against Virginia.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Noah Brown Injury: Updates on OSU WR's Leg and Return

Ohio State may be the No. 1 team in the country to start this season, but the Buckeyes will be without star wide receiver Noah Brown after he suffered a broken leg during practice on Wednesday. 

Continue for updates. 

Brown's Broken Leg Will Require Surgery  Wednesday, August 26

Ohio State coach Urban Meyer confirmed the bad news, adding Brown is expected to make a full recovery, according to Tim May of the Columbus Dispatch

Ari Wasserman added a pop was heard before the sophomore went down. 

Even though the Buckeyes are loaded with talent, which is a key reason they were the first preseason unanimous No. 1 team in the Associated Press pollSports Illustrated's Stewart Mandel did note why Brown's absence could be a detriment to their hopes of repeating as national champions:

Brown played sparingly as a freshman, recording one catch in two games, but he garnered a lot of hype over the spring with Ohio State receivers coach Zach Smith raving about his young star to Bill Landis of the Northeast Ohio Media Group in April. 

"Noah Brown has had probably as good of a spring as I could've wanted," Smith said. "He's dropped 25 pounds. He's at a different level than he was in the fall. He's come a long way and still has a lot to do, but he looks like a guy who's going to contribute in the fall."

Ohio State was already starting the season short-handed after suspending defensive end Joey Bosa, H-backs Jalin Marshall and Dontre Wilson, and wide receiver Corey Smith for the opening game against Virginia Tech on September 7. 

The Buckeyes lost last year's leading receiver, Devin Smith, to the NFL. Brown was in line to play a much bigger role on the team in 2015. Depending on the severity of the injury, Ohio State's grip over the Big Ten may loosen significantly. 

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Bo Graham, Todd's Son, Reportedly Resigns Due to Relationship with ASU Student

Arizona State assistant coach Bo Graham, the son of head coach Todd Graham, has entered his resignation after the school found out about an inappropriate relationship he had with a student. 

Former Arizona State quarterback Rudy Carpenter first started the rumor Monday, which was confirmed by Doug Gottlieb of CBS Sports in a series of tweets Wednesday:

Todd Graham has been mum on the situation since the news broke, telling reporters his son left for an "exciting opportunity" but offering little detail. 

"I'm very grateful to Bo for the time he spent here,'' Graham said Tuesday, per Doug Haller of the Arizona Republic. "It means a lot to me. Wish him the best in his new job. That's obviously all I'm going to say about it. It's a personal matter."

Bo Graham has worked under his father since 2012. He was entering his third season as the team's running backs coach after previously serving as a recruiting coordinator

"Bo is a young, up-and-coming coach who has been around the great game of football his entire life," Todd Graham said about his son in an ASU release. "He coached a career 3,000-yard rusher at Tulsa and he connects very well with today's players. He is an excellent recruiter and we will take advantage of that by having him on the road in recruiting."

Graduate assistant Josh Martin has taken over as running backs coach following Graham's departure. It is unclear whether Graham's new opportunity is in coaching football or if he's moved away from the sport altogether. Either way, it's not exactly the controversy Arizona State wants as it enters 2015 as a fringe contender for the College Football Playoff.

 

Follow Tyler Conway (@tylerconway22) on Twitter.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

10 Players Every SEC Coach Wishes Were on His Team

One of the great things about college football is that on every team there are certain players nearly every fan can’t help but root for, even in the Southeastern Conference. 

In recent history maybe it was Alabama offensive lineman Barrett Jones, Georgia running back Todd Gurley or South Carolina walk-on Carlton Heard.

We’re talking players who have overcome extreme adversity, excelled in the classroom or are just a great story.

The following are 10 of them, some of whom may or may not be the best players on their team or game-winning playmakers on the field this fall.

But if someone suddenly had to start an SEC team from scratch, these are the kinds of players he or she should want on it:

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Rahshaun Smith Changes Visit Plans: Which Schools Hold Edge in Race for 4-Star?

Since backing off an early commitment to Clemson earlier this month, the interest in 4-star linebacker Rahshaun Smith has heated up leading into his senior season.

According to ESPN’s Gerry Hamilton, the Tigers are still in the race to land Smith, and they are one of three lucky programs to secure an official visit from the nation’s No. 2 inside linebacker and the No. 55 player overall in the 2016 class.

“I’ve got three official visit set up,” Smith told Hamilton. “So I got Clemson, Maryland and Auburn set up. I have Auburn Nov. 14 for the Georgia game, Clemson Dec. 11 and Maryland Dec. 4.”

A previously scheduled visit to LSU appears to have been cancelled, and he mentioned Miami, Oklahoma and Oregon as schools that could net his final two visits.

With his fall visit schedule beginning to take shape, the visits will play a critical role in his final decision—especially considering he has plans to enroll at his program of choice in January.

So which programs are trending with Smith entering the fall?

Both Auburn and Maryland are making a strong push to land Smith, who is originally from Baltimore.

As noted by Steve Wiltfong of 247Sports, both programs have reasons to feel good about landing Smith.

New Tigers defensive coordinator Will Muschamp impressed him when he took a visit to the Plains last month, according to Keith Niebuhr of 247Sports.

“When I went up there, it was crazy,” Smith told Niebuhr. “The first thing [Muschamp] did was sit me down in the meeting room and pull the film out. He showed me so many places he could play me at. From an outside linebacker to a rusher to a 'Mike.' It was so many places, it was like, wow.”

As he detailed to Hamilton, he also enjoyed the family vibe and the college-town feel on campus during his visit to Auburn. Another bonus for the Tigers is that he will get to experience the game-day atmosphere upon his return—which is significant since his other two scheduled trips to Maryland and Clemson will come after the season.

While he transferred to IMG Academy in Bradenton, Florida, for his senior season, going back closer to home for college appeals to him, which makes the Terps a factor.

As noted by Ahmed Ghafir of 247Sports, Terrapins head coach Randy Edsall made a huge hire in adding new director of player personnel Cory Robinson, who has an established relationship with Smith as noted by Hamilton.

Robinson and a prominent current Terps pledge are leading the charge to recruit Smith back to his home state. 

“Because of what [Maryland is] building now—with the 2016 class and the facilities that are coming along,” Smith told Niebuhr. "They have a chance to make a run for it and [quarterback] Dwayne Haskins is a great recruiter. That’s one of my best buddies right there. They’re making a run for it.”

Haskins leads a strong class for the Terps that has a considerable amount of local flavor in it. Adding Smith to it would top off a huge cycle for Edsall and his staff.

While Clemson and a few other programs are still in the mix with Smith, it appears that Auburn and Maryland are going to figure heavily in his thought process until he makes a final decision.

 

Sanjay Kirpalani is a National Recruiting Analyst for Bleacher Report. Unless otherwise noted, all quotes obtained firsthand and all recruiting information courtesy of 247Sports.

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FSU Football: Depth Chart Analysis, Complete 2015 Preview and Predictions

The year 2015 hasn't been kind to Florida State so far.

The Seminoles opened the new year with a devastating 59-20 loss to Pac-12 champion Oregon in the Rose Bowl playoff semifinal, ending their long winning streak and hopes of a repeat national championship.

A massive exodus of starting talent from that 2014 team to the NFL—combined with the disastrous semifinal—has plenty of college football experts down on Florida State heading into the 2015 campaign. A spring camp with several injury woes and a pair of off-field incidents didn't help matters for the program, either.

But this is still the same team that won 29 straight games and is the three-time defending ACC champion. If a certain graduate transfer can step in for a former Heisman winner and lead a young but extremely talented roster, these Seminoles should stay championship contenders.

Here is Bleacher Report's complete preview of the depth chart, schedule and outlook for the 2015 Florida State Seminoles.

 

Coaches

Jimbo Fisher has an almost entirely intact staff coming back for the 2015 season, with the only exception being new defensive ends and outside linebackers coach Brad Lawing. The coaching veteran replaces Sal Sunseri, who joined the NFL's Oakland Raiders.

Lawing has been in the SEC for the last several seasons, serving as an assistant for Steve Spurrier at South Carolina from 2006-2012 before spending the last two years with Will Muschamp at Florida. According to Brent Sobleski of CollegeFootballTalk, Lawing has developed 15 NFL defensive linemen, including former No. 1-overall pick Jadeveon Clowney.

The newest FSU assistant will be tasked with fixing a pass rush that only recorded 17 sacks last season—which ranked No. 108 nationally.

Florida State is transitioning to a 3-4 system under second-year defensive coordinator Charles Kelly after struggling in 2015 with a 4-2-5 base, according to Brendan Sonnone of the Orlando Sentinel. The creation of more pressure off the edge will be a work in progress, Lawing says, because of the changes.

"If you got schemes that are constantly changing, sometimes you end up with square pegs you are trying to fit in a round hole," Lawing said, via Tom D'Angelo of the Palm Beach Post. "It’s not their fault, it’s just things changed. We’ve tweaked a few things, but we feel now we got our guys in positions where they can do what we want them to do."

 

What to watch for on offense

One of the biggest stories of the entire college football offseason has been the battle to replace former Heisman-winning quarterback Jameis Winston. While this year's No. 1 overall NFL draft pick struggled with turnovers in 2014, he still finished 27-1 as a starter for the Seminoles and will be a tough act to follow.

Winston's backup, Sean Maguire, is currently locked in a head-to-head battle with Notre Dame graduate transfer Everett Golson for the starting job.

Golson also had problems with interceptions last season but provides much more game experience and athleticism than Maguire, whose main advantage is his familiarity with Fisher's offensive system.

The two players are currently splitting first-team reps at quarterback during practice, according to Curt Weiler of Tomahawk Nation. With so much inexperience on offense—only four returning starters—Fisher's sticking with Maguire wouldn't be completely surprising. But Golson's skills and resume still make him the favorite.

Fisher's reluctance to name a starting quarterback could be due to the rest of the first-time starters on offense.

"It makes it hard for them to get in a rhythm (and) hard for them to gain confidence," Fisher said after a recent practice, via Safid Deen of the Tallahassee Democrat. "You throw a ball, and a guy (doesn't) get open or things like that. It's hard to gain confidence, and then you start doubting."

Florida State lost its top two receivers from last season in wide receiver Rashad Greene and tight end Nick O'Leary. Their replacements come from a deep group, but they haven't had a ton of success as a whole.

Sophomore Travis Rudolph and junior Jesus Wilson each had four touchdown receptions last season and will have to be leaders for a unit that has blue-chip talent in George Campbell, Ermon Lane, Da'Vante Phillips and Ja'Vonn Harrison.

The biggest concern will be on the offensive line, where the Seminoles must replace four starters. Sophomore Roderick Johnson, who started just five games last season, is the lone player with quality experience—FSU has the second-fewest line starts in college football, as noted by Phil Steele.

But it's not like Florida State is completely devoid of bodies on the offensive line. Earlier this week, Sonnone broke down the battles during fall camp:

Eberle and fellow redshirt freshman Corey Martinez took turns at center during camp, and right guard was a rotating door between sophomore Wilson Bell, junior Chad Mavety and true freshman Cole Minshew. Minshew also worked at center but a sprained ankle has slowed his progress thus far. Right tackle is a little more stable, as redshirt freshman Derrick Kelly has received a majority of the first-team reps during the portion of practice that is open to the media.

Last, but certainly not least, Florida State received a boost to its offense earlier in the week when sophomore running back Dalvin Cook was found not guilty of battery stemming from an incident with a woman in June.

Cook's reinstatement to the team gives Florida State its leading rusher from last season and solidifies its depth at the position. With Cook away from practice, Mario Pender impressed coaches with his work as a first-team running back. A healthy Pender should form a nice combination with Cook this fall.

"Whenever he's been healthy, he's been pretty good for us," co-offensive coordinator Randy Sanders said, via Matt Baker of the Tampa Bay Times. "He's fast. He's strong. He's elusive. He's intelligent. He understands protections. He understands what his role is when he's not getting the ball."

 

What to watch for on defense

Florida State's defense is much more experienced than the younger group on the offensive side of the ball. The Seminoles will be led by their dynamic secondary, which returns three players with starting experience.

After standing out at nickel last season, Jalen Ramsey is back to his natural position at cornerback, where he is a surefire candidate to be one of the nation's best players in 2015.

"As an all-around defender, Ramsey rivals (USC's Su'a) Cravens for all-purpose adaptability, finishing fourth last year on FSU’s blue-chip defense in total tackles (79), second in tackles for loss (9.5), first in passes defended (12, including two interceptions) and tied for first in forced fumbles (two)," Matt Hinton of Grantland wrote.

Ramsey is joined by Marquez White at the other cornerback position, senior Tyler Hunter at the star and Lamarcus Brutus at free safety. Nate Andrews is currently listed as the first-team strong safety, but 5-star early enrollee Derwin James emerged as a potential starter this offseason, especially after his pick-six of Maguire in the spring game.

Florida State's linebacker corps has experience in seniors Reggie Northrup, the team's leading tackler in 2015, and Terrance Smith.

But the depth behind the two is lacking, especially after JUCO transfer Lorenzo Phillips wasn't cleared to practice until earlier this month. Matthew Thomas was supposed to be a factor after recovering from a shoulder injury but has been ruled ineligible for the season.

Like the linebackers, the defensive line was also nicked by injuries in spring camp, but that unit has recovered to develop some more depth in the offseason.

Senior DeMarcus Walker was third on the team in tackles for loss last season and will step back into a spot at defensive end. Derrick Nnandi and Nile Lawrence-Stample are currently on the first-team defensive line with Walker, according to Ariya Massoudi and Lucas Casas of the Orlando Sentinel

Lorenzo Featherston and Josh Sweat have each battled health issues at the "Buck" edge-rusher position this offseason. Sweat, a top-10 recruit, missed the entire spring while recovering from a knee injury, but he's been going full speed at practice and looks ready to be an important contributor.

"Fisher categorized Sweat’s recovery as 'freaky' and has routinely gone out of his way to make mention of the rookie’s performance in camp," Sonnone wrote. "For a team in need of natural pass-rushers, it is likely that the Seminoles will turn to Sweat sooner rather than later this season."

 

Injury news

Both Casher and Featherston underwent arthroscopic knee surgery earlier this month and are still away from practice, according to Weiler.

Featherston's recovery is expected to be shorter than Casher's. The first-team Buck received high praise from Lawing earlier this month.

"He’s just got to continue to stay on the field in practice," Lawing said, via D'Angelo. "Coming out of high school, there were a lot of times he missed playing time."

Casher, who is listed as a third-team defensive end, could be out for a lot longer. He suffered an MCL sprain before the scope.

As D'Angelo noted, the junior has failed to live up to his 5-star billing out of high school, as he has just made two starts in his Seminole career. 

 

X-factor

Kermit Whitfield had a sophomore slump in 2014 after a freshman campaign that included a momentum-changing, 100-yard kick return for a touchdown against Auburn in the national title game. Last season, Whitfield failed to return a kickoff for a score, and his average return fell by 16 yards.

The speedy junior is focused on a bounce-back year on special teams but is also working to improve his game on the offensive side of the ball. He only had 11 catches for 145 yards last year and just three carries for 40 yards.

"He had always been a great return guy but (in high school) they didn’t throw a lot," Fisher said, via D'Angelo. "Details of routes, learning how to play and interacting with zone and man and all the things you learn in college, takes time and maturity. He still has to prove it. But so far I’ve been very pleased."

Whitfield's breakaway speed would be a welcome boost to the inexperienced Florida State offense this season, especially with a new quarterback. Look for him to be more of a home run threat as a receiver this year.

"You can do all different types of things with him," Fisher told D'Angelo. "When the ball is in his hands and you miss him, the numbers on the scoreboard change."

 

Make-or-break games

While Florida State's nonconference schedule doesn't have an early test such as Oklahoma State or a midseason matchup against Notre Dame, the slate still has a few tests that will be challenging.

Louisville is a dark horse in the Atlantic division this season, and the Cardinals will be coming off a bye week when they visit Doak Campbell Stadium in the middle of October. If their new starters can come together early in the season, the Cardinals defense could cause some problems for the young FSU offense.

Florida State follows up that contest with a trip to Atlanta to face Georgia Tech. The Yellow Jackets played close games with Florida State in two of the last three ACC Championship Games, and now the Seminoles must deal with the Paul Johnson option attack earlier in the year.

Then, of course, the biggest game of the Florida State schedule will come on Nov. 7, when the Seminoles visit Clemson. The winner of this game has gone on to win the division every year since 2009, and this time the Tigers will most likely be the favorites—they are already the preseason pick to win the league.

The intriguing matchup at that point in the season will be between Florida State's offense and Clemson's defense, two units that have blue-chip talent but not a lot of experience coming back from last season. The last time FSU visited Death Valley, it smashed Clemson, 51-14, and went on to win the national title.

 

Prediction

Along with Alabama, no other team in college football is more adequately prepared to handle a large amount of turnover on a title-winning roster than Florida State. The top-five recruiting classes and the trophies under Fisher explain it all.

Luckily for Florida State, the defense that regressed in its first season under new leadership has the potential to bounce back thanks to the presence of Ramsey, Northrup, Andrews and Smith. There are depth issues, especially at linebacker, but the move toward more of a 3-4 system should benefit the areas that ailed the Seminoles last season.

The offense is a major question mark without knowing who the starting quarterback will be. Golson has a strong arm and a willingness to make plays with his feet, while Maguire can bring some much-needed consistency to an offense in transition. The easier start to the season will help the new-look offensive line jell.

Looking at the schedule, it's difficult to see this Florida State team going undefeated, but neither should there be a breakdown. The inexperience will hurt in some road matchup, and the Seminoles will split the Clemson and Georgia Tech contests. The new starters should be able to pick up solid wins before the true tests start.

Other than those big games and a trap contest against Louisville, Florida State should be able to flex its 5-star muscles on a weaker-looking schedule. The best-case scenario here is a loss at Georgia Tech, a bounce-back win at Clemson and a shot at revenge on the Yellow Jackets in the ACC title game.

Overall Record: 11-1

ACC Record: 7-1

 

Recruiting information courtesy of 247SportsAll stats courtesy of CFBStats.com.

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

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