NCAA Football News

Big Ten Football Players Who Had Best Pro Days in 2014

It's expected—or at least hoped—to be a bounce-back draft class from the Big Ten this season, one year removed from 2013, when no one was selected until the Dallas Cowboys took Wisconsin center Travis Frederick at No. 31.

And even that was considered reaching at the time.

One of the biggest steps in restoring the league's good name was the pro-day circuit, and a number of Big Ten players did well to improve their stock in these semi-private workouts.

Whether that was much-needed or icing on the cake might vary, but it was helpful in every single case.

Who did the most to boost their value?

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What to Expect from Charlie Strong's Texas Spring Game Debut

Texas fans will get their first real visual of the Charlie Strong era on Saturday during the Longhorns spring game. 

While no one is sure how the team will look, one thing seems more certain: There's going to be a lot more intensity. 

Like most storylines, the focus starts on offense. Earlier this week, Texas announced in an email statement that quarterback David Ash suffered a Jones fracture in his left foot and would miss the rest of spring. Though Strong hasn't been ready to name Ash the starter, he's still the presumed front-runner. 

That is, unless sophomore Tyrone Swoopes can show up in a big way on Saturday. Here's what Strong had to say about Swoopes earlier this week, via B/R's Taylor Gaspar

I told Tyrone: 'The key for you is all about confidence. It is all about doing everything we ask you to do and playing within yourself. I said, 'Now that you are the quarterback, just take the field and know this is your team and it is up to you to go lead it.'

We need everyone to perform and when you do lose a quarterback, whomever you lose, someone else will have to step up. Now it is Swoopes' job to step up. 

With Ash sidelined with a concussion for most of last season, fans were anxious to see what Swoopes could do, but he only saw limited playing time behind Case McCoy. 

Texas' offense may not look exactly how it will in the fall personnel-wise. In addition to Ash, running backs Johnathan Gray (Achilles) and Joe Bergeron (personal reasons) also won't play. Even though the Horns should have one of the best backfields in the Big 12 in 2014, it won't be on display this weekend much beyond senior Malcolm Brown. 

So, like any team facing these issues, spring games are about the next guys up who can make a name for themselves. With a new-look offensive line, Strong will likely keep it simple from a play-calling perspective. You don't want to throw too much at Swoopes; at the same time, you'd like to see him show some command of the offense. 

Expect lots of running plays and easy-read passes for Swoopes. In many ways, Texas is going to have that smashmouth style of offense this fall because it caters to its strengths. 

Defensively, Strong is all about bringing intensity and edge, something that has been lacking for the Horns on that side of the ball in recent years. With three-fourths of the starting defensive line returning, expect the defense to have the edge in the trenches. 

As B/R's Michael Felder pointed out last month, there's a lot less concern about talent on defense. This is a veteran group that's been through it all, and new defensive coordinator Vance Bedford is going to reap the benefits: 

The roster boasts quality at all three levels, and the returning players bring leadership along with the ability to get on the field and make plays. That will pay dividends for Bedford's unit as he breaks down a Texas defense that was too complex, at times, for the players to run to the football and just make plays.

Ideally, fans should see a defense that's fast, that flies to the ball and tackles with a little extra attitude. Those were signature qualities for Strong's Louisville Cardinals the past two seasons. 

And, of course, Bedford wants his players to have fun doing it. 

From the moment he was hired, Strong has been bent on instilling a tougher attitude with his players. Whether it's earning the right to throw up the "Hook 'em, Horns" or restarting practice halfway through because of poor effort, he's content on whipping his team into shape. 

"They're searching for that. They want discipline," Strong told David Ubben of Fox Sports Southwest. "They've heard so much about what they haven't done. Now, they want to prove to everyone that they can do it."

They'll get their first chance to do so in front of their fans on Saturday.

 

Ben Kercheval is a lead writer for college football at Bleacher Report. All quotes cited unless obtained firsthand. 

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Alabama Football: Compete Spring Game Preview

With Easter on Sunday, University of Alabama fans are enjoying a sort of double-holiday weekend as the Crimson Tide will close this year’s spring practices with the annual scrimmage known as A-Day.

It’s almost as big as a home game in the fall, both in size and potential impact, as Tuscaloosa is similarly overrun. Some of the events corresponding with what happens inside Bryant-Denny Stadium are a fan fest, the walk-of-fame ceremony to honor last year’s captains, numerous autograph sessions, the third annual Chris Rogers Paintball Tournament for former players, golf tournaments, a charity basketball game with the Tuscaloosa Police Department and a whole lot of tailgating.

“This A-Day game, I look at a little bit like it's an exhibition game for our players and our team,” coach Nick Saban said. “It's an opportunity for them to go out and play a game-like circumstance, a game-like situation, and it's really your first opportunity as an individual, as a unit or as a team, to really create an identity for who you are and how you play, how you compete, the kind of effort you give, the kind of toughness you play with, the kind of discipline you have to execute. The ability to focus on the next play regardless of what happened on the last play.

“Those things are important, I think, in being able to compete through the tough circumstances and adversity that we have in our league and the tough teams and tough places to play.”

The coach is also looking for another big crowd, and although Alabama hasn’t had a six-figure turnout yet, it did reach capacity his first year at the Capstone in 2007, before the south end-zone stadium expansion was completed.

This year’s game is expected to be in the 80,000-to-90,000 range.

Before Saban, Alabama’s A-Day attendance record was 51,117, set in 1988. Only six other times had it attracted 35,000 or more fans.

However, in addition to being a big celebration for the fans, it’s also a huge recruiting tool for all of the athletic programs.

“We'll have a ton of people here that are guys we're looking at for the future, in terms of recruits, that can be very much impressed by the energy, enthusiasm and passion that we show in this game, and I think it's a tradition and something that we're very proud of and something that has helped the program tremendously,” Saban said. “I hope that we continue to show that kind of support for our team and the program. I think it's very, very beneficial.”

 

Alabama’s Biggest A-Day attendance

2011: 92,310

2007: 92,138

2010: 91,312

2009: 84,050

2012: 78,526

2013: 78,315

2008: 78,200

 

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Is Alabama Really the Best College Football Team in the State?

Either Auburn or Alabama has appeared in each of the last five BCS National Championship Games, and there is no good reason to think—now that the field has been swollen from two to four—that this year's debut of the College Football Playoff will lack both Heart of Dixie juggernauts.

But which has the better team in 2014?

Auburn won the head-to-head matchup and made it farther last season, but Alabama has a five-year sample of success that every school in the country would kill for—the Tigers included.

In fact, according to the F/+ ratings at Football Outsiders, 'Bama was still the better team in 2013—and even in 2010, when Auburn won the national title with Cam Newton:

Auburn returns more starters from last season, but that doesn't mean it returns more talent. It might have a top-three talented team in the country, but this is one of the few cases where it loses out.

The way Alabama recruits—its last four classes have been first, first, first and first in the country on the 247Sports team rankings—it will always have the talent, on paper, to beat whoever lines up across the line. The question is whether it can execute.

To that end, I think it will take time.

If Auburn and its group of seasoned, experienced players drew Alabama in the early part of the schedule, I think it could and would win. The Tide also have some guys who have played in a national title game, but the Tigers have more. And that would make the difference.

However, as the season trudges onward to the Iron Bowl, Alabama will begin to figure who its best players are and where and how often those players should play. Auburn is ahead of Alabama in this respect, but once Nick Saban deciphers the puzzle of his ranks, the Tide should restore their place atop the state of Alabama rankings.

There are two good arguments an Auburn fan—or, really, anyone who disagrees—would make to oppose this. The first has to do with the most important player on the field: the quarterback.

Auburn has Nick Marshall, who led the Tigers to an SEC championship, nearly won a national title last year and is now listed on most preliminary Heisman boards. Alabama, on the other hand, has a four-man competition led primarily by a career backup (Blake Sims) and a transfer who has yet to step on campus (Jacob Coker).

Advantage, Auburn.

However, Auburn supporters should be wary before offering that as their chief point. Last year, after all, the Tigers entered spring camp with a four-man competition, while Alabama returned AJ McCarron: a three-time national champion who had started in two of those wins.

In that case, the preseason advantage was profoundly in Alabama's favor. But by the end of the season...well, we all saw what happened.

Quarterbacks get better with playing time, and with the aid of T.J. Yeldon, Derrick Henry, Amari Cooper, DeAndrew White, Chris Black and O.J. Howard, whoever wins the Alabama job will be functioning at a high level by the end of next season.

The other argument an Auburn fan might offer is the obvious one: that it beat Alabama last season.

This is also fair—but also flawed. Auburn didn't get "lucky" to beat the Tide in the 2013 Iron Bowl, but it was definitely the luckier team on the field. The broken-play touchdown to Sammie Coates and the field-goal return to end the game were both incredible feats by incredible athletes, and Auburn deserved to win the game because of them.

They just wouldn't be able to be replicated.

I'm not arguing that Alabama was leaps and bounds better than Auburn last season. I'm arguing, like the table above, that it was slightly better than Auburn last season. That if it played the Iron Bowl at Auburn 10 times, it would have won six; and if it played the Tigers on a neutral field 10 times, it would have won seven or eight. 

With the personnel losses from last year to this, I am willing to deflate that prediction by one game on each side. If this year's Alabama played Auburn in Jordan-Hare 10 times, I think the two teams would split it; if they played on a neutral field 10 times, I think the Tide would win six.

Because I think so highly of this year's Alabama team—no, I am not a homer, I promise—my saying that is intended as a compliment. The Tide, in my opinion, will come out hungry after losing two games to end last season, which is terrifying to think about.

As Saban himself said, according to Mike Herndon of AL.com:

We lost two games in a row so that's a losing streak that I'm not real proud of. I think a lot of the things that were the principles and values that the program was built on in the very beginning, a lot of the energy and enthusiasm that everybody in our state had for the program, that I think we all got a little entitled in terms of what we needed to do to continue to be successful.

These are two of the five best teams in college football, so picking between them is nitpicky. There's a good chance the Iron Bowl, once again, amounts to something of a de facto SEC semifinal—which fits nicely in the first year of the College Football Playoff.

However, at least at the current moment, the slight edge goes to the team that has proven it over a longer sample. In cases this close, the statistics nerd in me always wins.

I'll still take the Crimson.

 

Follow Brian Leigh on Twitter: @BLeighDAT

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LSU, Cam Cameron Need to Forget Zach Mettenberger and Embrace Run-1st Offense

LSU offensive coordinator Cam Cameron has a tough task ahead of him.

LSU lost the core of its offense from 2013. Quarterback Zach Mettenberger was a 3,000-yard passer, running back Jeremy Hill was a 1,000-yard rusher and receivers Jarvis Landry and Odell Beckham Jr. both eclipsed 1,000 receiving yards.

Prolific.

Unfortunately, Cameron will basically start from scratch next season.

The Tigers will have a new quarterback. The winner of the signal-caller battle between sophomore Anthony Jennings and freshman Brandon Harris will not be determined anytime soon.

LSU's top returnee at wide receiver is Travin Dural, who only caught seven passes in 2013. The Tigers will have growing pains there as well.

The Tigers put on an uncharacteristic air raid in 2013 thanks to the talents of Mettenberger, Landry and Beckham Jr. Their timing was precise thanks to Cameron's tutelage, which created a diverse playbook.

Harris and Jennings are nowhere near Mettenberger as passers. However, they do bring a wrinkle to the offense that Mettenberger didn't, which is the ability to run. As seen in this video, Cameron practiced the read-option with the quarterbacks this spring.

No matter who lines up at quarterback, though, LSU will pound the ball early and often next season with traditional running plays.

Cameron will have to rely on LSU's experienced offensive line, which returns four of five starters, to dominate games. And that is not a problem with head coach Les Miles.

Left tackle La'el Collins, left guard Vadal Alexander, center Elliott Porter and right tackle Jerald Hawkins did not receive much attention this spring, which is good. This indicates there were no injuries and their play was fine.

New offensive line coach Jeff Grimes will have a difficult decision to make at right guard. Seniors Evan Washington and Hoko Fanaika have gone back and forth for the starters role.

"Those guys have alternated every day," Grimes said after the spring game. "They both have looked good this spring."

Miles, a former offensive lineman at Michigan, loves smashmouth football. No matter who lines up at guard, the Tigers will have three seniors, one junior and one sophomore on the line.

Miles also trusts the guys who will run behind the big uglies up front.

Terrence Magee, the likely starter for the season opener against Wisconsin, finished second on the team in rushing last season. Kenny Hilliard is an experienced back who has 21 rushing touchdowns in his college career.

Also expect to see 5-star signee Leonard Fournette, arguably the highest-profile recruit in Miles' career, to get plenty of carries early. Fournette will be the most talented back in LSU's backfield.

Miles has made no mystery of his love for Fournette. WWLTV.com reports he readjusted LSU's 2013 recruiting class for Fournette, subtweeted him during the recruiting process and 247Sports indicates that he referenced him during spring practice.

"Buga Nation" could take reign in Baton Rouge quickly.

Cameron has moved on from Mettenberger and the spectacular offense of 2013. His task to reshape the LSU passing attack will be an arduous one, so fans must be patient.

Miles will want to keep things simple next season with a run-heavy attack. With a new starting quarterback, inexperienced receivers and seasoned offensive line, the aerial attack that captivated LSU fans last season will not be the same in 2014.

Wisconsin plays smashmouth football as well. Expect an old-school slugfest even Ali-Frazier fans would envy.

Miles has won with ground-and-pound football for the majority of his career. Winning trumps everything else for college football programs—even if it is boring.

 

Statistics and rankings were provided by LSU Sports Information and 247Sports.com. Quotes were obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted. Follow me on Twitter @CarterthePower

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USC Football: Max Browne Still Has a Shot to Steal QB Job from Cody Kessler

USC head coach Steve Sarkisian named Cody Kessler the Trojans' starting quarterback a few days ago. After a surprisingly strong 2013 season in which he threw for 2,967 yards and 20 touchdowns, Kessler and the Trojans hope to make a push for a Pac-12 championship.

Redshirt freshman Max Browne, the No. 1 pro-style QB of the 2013 class, will back up Kessler and should see some time, according to Scout.com's Lindsey Thiry. Can Browne eventually take over the starting role if Kessler struggles?

Thiry broke down the latest on the USC QB situation with Adam Lefkoe

 

Highlights courtesy XOS DigitalAll recruiting rankings from 247Sports.

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University of Washington Football Unveils New Nike Uniforms for 2014 Season

The University of Washington and Nike released a new collection of football uniforms for the 2014 season on Friday. The uniform release features three jerseys, four pants and three helmet colors that the Huskies can mix-and-match this season. 

This is the all-black alternate uniform: 

According to Nike, the number features a marking in the top left corner that is sure to upset some of the other teams in the Pacific Northwest:

The new uniform design will also introduce a customized number font that pays homage to the Pacific Northwest, with a gold facet on the NW corner of each digit asserting the school’s ownership of the territory. The numbers are the final touch on a new uniform system designed to allow the “Dawgs” to claim their position at the head of the pack.

According to Phil Hecken of uni-watch.com, the white helmet has a new texture:

Here you can see the UW players reacting to the new unis: 

[Nike]

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USC Football: New Faces, Position Changes Shaping Offensive Line

Of the many changes a new season brings to USC, one of the more significant is the restructuring of its offensive line. 

The Trojans were young and lacked depth across the front five in 2013, two traits that were readily apparent at times. USC surrendered 34 sacks on the season, 21st-most in the nation, and the unit's growing pains led to some offensive struggles in the first half of the campaign. 

The improvement of both quarterback Cody Kessler and the team as a whole coincided with improved offensive line play. However, the early departure of center Marcus Martin for the NFL draft and a rash of injuries challenged the group in the initial workouts of 2014. 

Various offensive linemen have used the vacancies this spring to develop, which should manifest in the 2014 season as some sorely needed depth. 

USC will return the injured among its offensive line ranks, including Jordan Simmons, Nico Falah and 2013 starter Aundrey Walker, and that's good news. With head coach Steve Sarkisian introducing a hurry-up, no-huddle offensive scheme, the Trojans will need as many game-ready contributors as they can muster. 

 

Statistics compiled via CFBStats.com. Recruiting rankings and information culled from 247Sports.com

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Texas Tech, Kliff Kingsbury Will Have to Weather the QB Storm for a Year

If you were looking for the worst-kept secret in college football this spring, it was in Lubbock, Texas. 

Sophomore Davis Webb will be Texas Tech's starting quarterback this season. That much was known heading into spring practices, since Baker Mayfield and Michael Brewer opted to transfer out of the program over the past several months. 

However, only last week before the Red Raiders' spring game did head coach Kliff Kingsbury make it official. 

"It'll never be harder for him mentally than it was last year with that kind of yo-yo of starting, not starting," Kingsbury said via the Associated Press (H/T the Charlotte Observer). "That was as tough as it will ever be for him. It's downhill from here for him as far as mentally."

So while Webb's role as the starting quarterback is a sure thing, depth behind him is not. 

The Lubbock Avalanche-Journal reported Thursday that walk-on quarterbacks Tanner Tausch and Mike Richardson were leaving the program. Tausch will remain at Tech while focusing on academics; Richardson is looking for more playing time elsewhere. 

Normally, a pair of departing walk-ons is hardly news worthy. However, that means Webb is, literally, the only quarterback on Tech's roster. The Avalanche-Journal notes that a handful of walk-ons will be joining the team this summer. Still, this isn't an ideal situation to say the least. 

The good news is that the Red Raiders have entered the low-key portion of the offseason with only "voluntary" summer workouts. The No. 1 goal for Webb, not unlike the spring, is to stay healthy and wait for reinforcements. 

Momentarily, that could have been Texas A&M transfer Matt Joeckel. The redshirt senior announced on Wednesday through a university release that he would spend his final year of eligibility elsewhere. Since Joeckel graduated in December, he could play immediately. 

Tech would have been a great fit for Joeckel, who ran a similar offense at A&M under Kingsbury when he was the offensive coordinator there two years ago. However, Joeckel tweeted on Thursday that he instead was transferring to TCU. 

Instead, help for Webb will come in the form of 3-star prospect Patrick Mahomes, a two-sport athlete in football and baseball who will join the program later this summer. Immediately, Mahomes would slide into the backup spot, which could be appealing to him. 

Kingsbury has shown he can win with a true freshman if need be. He did so last year with Webb and Mayfield, both of whom had nearly identical passing stats through the regular season. What Kingsbury hasn't shown is that he can keep a roster of quarterbacks. 

This is Webb's team now, though. Barring injury or a major meltdown, the Tech offense is going to go as he does. Mahomes feels more like an emergency backup if/when he arrives.

If Webb can stay healthy for the next eight months or so, Tech could be breathing much easier in a year. Last month, 4-star dual-threat quarterback prospect Jarrett Stidham verbally committed to the Red Raiders. Not only would Stidham give Tech another badly needed body at quarterback if he signs next February, he would possibly upgrade the position as well. 

Since quarterback is officially a position of need for Kingsbury, early playing time will undoubtedly be a strong recruiting pitch he makes to quarterback prospects everywhere. (Or, to their moms. Either one.) 

Kingsbury may feel good about Webb as his starting quarterback, but he nevertheless needs to get through the 2014 season unscathed. If Tech can make that happen, well, that's reason to celebrate:  

 

Ben Kercheval is a lead writer for college football at Bleacher Report. All quotes cited unless obtained firsthand. All recruiting rankings courtesy of 247Sports

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SEC Football Q&A: Top RBs, Nick Marshall's Passing Game and Vols in the East

Every Friday, we feature questions from Twitter. Do you have a question for next week's Q&A? Send it to SEC Lead Writer Barrett Sallee on Twitter at @BarrettSallee.

 

You have SEC questions, and I have SEC answers. Thank you for your questions. If I didn't get to them this week, they will be saved and used in the future.

And we're off! 

@BarrettSallee Who is the best running back in the sec? Why?

— Ben Wallace (@Bill_Braskyy) April 11, 2014

I wrote before spring practice that the best running back in the SEC is Todd Gurley, and nothing has shifted this spring to change my mind.

At 6'1", 232 pounds with track-star speed, Gurley is everything you want from a running back. He is a bruiser between the tackles, a fantastic receiver out of the backfield and a home run hitter when he gets behind the defense.

No disrespect to South Carolina's Mike Davis, Arkansas' Alex Collins or Alabama's duo of Derrick Henry and T.J. Yeldon, but if you're starting your college football team with a current SEC running back, I don't see how you go with anybody other than Gurley.

He dealt with a nagging ankle injury last season that cost him three games in the middle of the campaign and hampered him during the final six games. But he still managed to rush for 989 yards, adding 441 yards receiving and 16 total touchdowns for the year. 

Only two running backs have won the Heisman Trophy since 2000, and it's unlikely that one will take it home in 2014. If one does, it'll likely be Gurley.

 

@BarrettSallee do you think nick Marshall's passing game will improve enough to take some load off the running game.

— Andy Forbus (@AndyForbus) April 11, 2014

Nick Marshall's passing game will absolutely improve.

Marshall clearly has a big arm, but he struggled with consistency when he took something off on short and intermediate routes. But he did have success in those situations, including his game-winning touchdown to C.J. Uzomah against Mississippi State and his absolutely perfect pass to Marcus Davis that set up the game-winning touchdown vs. Texas A&M. He again hit Uzomah for a touchdown in the Iron Bowl.

The potential is there. He just has to be consistent. What Auburn's coaches have working for them this offseason is that they already know that Marshall is fantastic at running the zone read and hitting the deep ball, and they can focus more on what needs work. Because of that, you have to expect that he's going to become a bit more consistent in the passing game.

But does he really have to for Auburn to be successful?

Head coach Gus Malzahn has four returning starters on the offensive line and has produced 11 1,000-yard rushers in eight seasons as a college assistant. The Tigers will be able to produce an offense in 2014 similar to the one that led them to the BCS National Championship Game after last season.

If Marshall adds just a little bit of consistency in the intermediate passing game, I'm not sure how teams will stop that offense.

 

@BarrettSallee Vols chances of winning the SEC? I'll hang up and listen.....

— FWIW (@JulianBucio) April 15, 2014

Their chances are less than 15 percent. 

Tennessee's offense will be solid in 2013 with Jalen Hurd and Marlin Lane toting the rock, and Marquez North, Josh Malone and Von Pearson presenting matchup nightmares outside.

But will the Vols stop anybody? Head coach Butch Jones was disappointed in his defense's poor tackling following the spring game.

"The thing I was kind of disappointed in, in the spring game today, was the drop off from ones to twos," he said in quotes released by Tennessee. "We need to generate outs defensively and we didn't generate very many three and outs today."

If that doesn't get significantly better in a hurry, it's hard to imagine the Vols being consistent on defense. That offense will likely be able to pick up the slack no matter who wins the four-man quarterback battle among Justin Worley, Riley Ferguson, Joshua Dobbs and Nathan Peterman. But can it pick up the slack consistently?

I don't think so. Not enough to win the East, anyway.

 

Do you have a question for next week's Q&A? Send it to SEC Lead Writer Barrett Sallee on Twitter at @BarrettSallee

* Barrett Sallee is the lead SEC college football writer for Bleacher Report. Quotes were obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted. All recruiting rankings are courtesy of 247Sports, and all stats are courtesy of CFBStats.com.

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Oregon Football: Week 3 Spring Practice Stock Report

Oregon's third week of spring practices was the Ducks' first without wide receiver Bralon Addison, who suffered a knee injury April 10. Reshaping the offense in his absence took center stage for Oregon, which is now more than halfway through its spring slate. 

Beat writer Andrew Greif of The Oregonian discussed replacing Addison with Bleacher Report this week: 

Of those competing to play a prominent role in Oregon's passing game, redshirt freshman Devon Allen was a standout. Allen caught touchdown passes last Friday and Monday, per Rob Moseley of GoDucks.com

Also trying to get into the mix is Johnathan Loyd, whose transition from the basketball team generated headlines a week ago. Loyd was the basketball Ducks' point guard, guiding Oregon to the third round of the NCAA tournament each of the last two seasons. 

He certainly has a learning curve, not the least of which is learning the nuances of Oregon's offense. Loyd told 247Sports' Will Rubin about some of the challenges:

I’m not really surprised. When I used to watch the games and I was looking at the sidelines and seeing all those people doing signs and stuff, I’m like ‘man that’s got to be crazy.’ I knew it was going to be tough for me, but I’m getting it down. 

Loyd is not content just to be on the team, but rather is out to make an impact. 

"I’m a competitor. I’m not coming on the team just to sit on the bench and cheer lead," he said Wednesday, per Gary Horowitz of The Statesman Journal. "I feel like I can do something out here, so I’m committed to it."

Should he find his way into the receivers rotation, it will not come as a surprise to those familiar with his abilities. Former Las Vegas Bishop Gorman teammate Jalen Grimble, now a defensive tackle at rival Oregon State, told KEZI that Loyd "most definitely" can make a splash on the gridiron. 

"I told him, 'If basketball doesn't work out...I honestly wouldn't be surprised if you stepped out on the football field,'" Grimble said. "

 

Quarterback Controversy 

A team needs contingency plans. Quarterback Marcus Mariota is entering his third year as Oregon's starter, and the redshirt junior is a favorite to compete for the Heisman Trophy. But should something sideline Mariota at any point in 2014, the Ducks need a Plan B. 

Jake Rodrigues and Jeff Lockie are competing for that role. 

Oregon's many lopsided wins—four out of 11 were decided by at least 39 points—afforded the reserves opportunities to appear in games last season. However, their production was limited to 13 pass attempts and five rushes for Lockie and six pass attempts with four rushes for Rodrigues. 

Springtime is a chance for both to take more meaningful snaps and for the coaching staff to evaluate their strengths and weaknesses.   

"Those guys did some good things in the scrimmage (and) also a couple things that they would definitely like to have back," Helfrich said, via Greif. "Jeff probably made a few more plays than Jake did overall (in Monday's scrimmage)."

Helfrich told reporters last week that the emphasis was on getting them up to the speed at which the Ducks are accustomed to playing. 

"We’re very simplified in every phase, trying to get those younger guys out there playing fast and competing," Helfrich said, via Moseley of GoDucks.com

Even if neither current backup sees any significant playing time in 2014, the competition has long-term significance. This season can set the foundation for 2015, when the Ducks will presumably be without Mariota. 

Additionally, a team always risks a transfer when a quarterback slides on the depth chart, which Oregon saw last season with the departure of Bryan Bennett. 

Bennett landed at Southeastern Louisiana, where, according to The Washington Post, he passed for 3,165 yards and 21 touchdowns and rushed for another 1,046 yards and 16 touchdowns. He led the Lions to the quarterfinals of the Football Championship Subdivision playoffs. 

 

Duck Food 

The NCAA enacted a major provision this week, green-lighting unlimited meals and snacks for all scholarship and walk-on athletes. The latter caveat is particularly noteworthy, as, previously, walk-ons were not allowed free training table meals. 

Oregon offensive lineman Tyler Johnstone told told Greif that the decision was long overdue:

The walk-ons put in just as much work and more work in some cases and then they'd have to go home hungry. It didn't really make a lot of sense to us. It's a huge step for them...We're excited about being able to eat with the entire team finally.

Coincidentally, those extra meals could have come in handy in the winter. A number of Ducks arrived at the first day of spring practice with considerably more weight than a season ago.  

The formula was simple.

"You can lift three times a day, but if you're not fueling your body properly you're not getting the gains out of it," sports dietitian Adam Korzun said, via Greif

 

Practice Makes Perfect 

GoDucks.com's Moseley reports that Helfrich called Oregon's practice Wednesday the team's best of the spring slate:

If that's the standard, we're going places. Every period, we competed—which they have been [doing previously]. But the give and take of spring ball took effect. The defense would win a situation, and then the offense would come back. Collectively, everybody kind of surged.

Perhaps spurring on the team's inspired play were former Duck linebackers Kiko Alonso and Michael Clay, who dropped in on workouts:

 

Recruiting Updates

Cody Creason paid a visit to Oregon this week. The 4-star offensive lineman from Folsom, Calif., tweeted high praise from his unofficial drop-in:

Kyler Murray, a 5-star recruit out of Allen, Texas, was one of two highly regarded quarterback prospects to visit Oregon this week. Murray declared Oregon one of his top five finalists in January, along with Clemson, Florida, Texas A&M and Texas Tech:

Baltimore Gilman 4-star standout Kai Locksley also swung by Eugene, Ore., for an unofficial visit. Locksley tweeted from the scene of practice Friday morning:

247Sports.com has Maryland projected as the favorite to land Locksley. His father, Mike Locksley, is the Terrapins' offensive coordinator. 

Oregon has just two verbal commitments in its 2015 class, according to 247Sports.com, but the past week proved the Ducks are in the hunt for high-quality prospects.  

 

Statistics compiled via CFBStats.com unless otherwise noted. Recruiting rankings and information culled from 247Sports.com

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Alabama Football: Top Recruits Visiting Tide for Spring Game Weekend

Alabama head coach Nick Saban annually uses the A-Day spring football game to keep his current players competitive and his fanbase frenzied. It also serves as a tool to lure in eventual roster replacements.

The Crimson Tide annually welcome an abundance of impressive high school prospects to Tuscaloosa during this event weekend, showcasing the campus, stadium atmosphere and all those recent championship rings.

In addition, it gives visitors and their families an opportunity to build personal relationships with members of the coaching staff. It's an element to watch closely as first-year offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin acclimates to his new role.

The list of anticipated recruits on campus continues to emerge and could still grow to include more prospects as the weekend approaches. Here's a look at those expected to be en route to Tuscaloosa.

 

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

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NCAA Division I Leadership Council Proposes Transfer Policy Rule Change

The Division I Leadership Council has proposed a new rule that would alter the NCAA's transfer policy, granting players who apply to transfer because of hardship or family circumstances an extra (sixth) year of eligibility if they qualify, according to a press release from NCAA.org.

Per the release:

Council members propose that student-athletes who cannot transfer and play immediately without a waiver be allowed a sixth year to complete their four years of eligibility, if they qualify. 

The change would primarily impact student-athletes who play baseball, basketball, bowl subdivision football and men’s ice hockey as well as those in other sports who already used the one-time transfer exception.

These student-athletes would no longer be able to seek a waiver to transfer and compete immediately.

That last part is important. Previously, players who transfer in these circumstances could apply to become eligible immediately—without sitting out the otherwise mandatory year.

An example of this would be now-sophomore defensive tackle Eddie Vanderdoes, who asked to be released from his national letter of intent by Notre Dame in July 2013 so he could transfer to UCLA and be close to a sick family member.

Vanderdoes won his appeal and was allowed to play last season, finishing with 37 tackles and 4.5 tackles for loss. Had Vanderdoes lost his appeal, he would have had to sit out last season and would have lost a year of eligibility, per Bruce Feldman of CBS Sports.

Under the new proposed rule, Vanderdoes would not have been able to play last season, but he still would have been granted five years to play four seasons rather than four years to play three.

Amy Huchthausen, chair of the Leadership Council subcommittee that examined the transfer issue, said the following, per the release:

We hope this change will encourage student-athletes who must transfer based on hardships to focus on the circumstances prompting the transfer during their first year and adjust to their new school, while giving them a season back to complete their eligibility.

The proposal will be reviewed by the Division I Board of Directors at its meeting April 24. If passed, the rule would go into effect for the 2015-16 academic year.

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Auburn Football: Complete Spring Game Preview

After a long slate of spring practices, the Auburn Tigers will return Saturday to where their remarkable run to the 2014 BCS National Championship began last season—A-Day.

The Tigers will kick off their annual spring game April 19 at Jordan-Hare Stadium, where 83,401 Auburn fans watched the return of new head coach Gus Malzahn's hurry-Up, no-huddle offense and celebrated the final rolling of the historic oak trees at Toomer's Corner.

Fans on the Plains and all over the country (thanks to an ESPN broadcast) will get their first look at the Tigers' high-powered attack, a more experienced 4-2-5 defense and a brand-new special teams unit at A-Day. 

With all the spring game festivities just hours away, here is what you need to know about the defending SEC champions' A-Day Game.

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Your Best 11 Mailbag: The ACC Coastal Division, Hoosiers Football and More

I was in New York getting ready for the draft with some B/R colleagues and folks. We are excited for what the offseason Super Bowl will bring come May. Now, I'm back in Charlotte and ready to get into the college football life after spending a couple of days talking potential, upside and best player available. Here we go!

The defense is going to be better. The offense gets a healthy Duke Johnson, Clive Walford and Phillip Dorsett to go with Stacy Coley. Mix in nine early enrollees, many of whom will have a shot to make an impact, and Miami is in good shape. 

All the Canes need is a quarterback, and Kevin Olsen seems to have won that job, as Ryan Williams is sidelined with a knee injury.

Independent of all things, Miami is trending upward. This team played good football in spots and just has to improve its consistency to turn nine wins into double digits and an ACC Championship Game berth.

This season, the fourth under Al Golden, should be pushing toward 10 wins as he gets his personnel into the mix and players understand the schemes.

Now, in looking at the schedule, three games jump out: Louisville, Nebraska and Florida State.

The Cardinals are an interesting wild card because they lose Teddy Bridgewater, but they have so many offensive weapons that it makes them a tough opponent to start to the season—especially when it is Bobby Petrino pulling the strings on those weapons.

Nebraska in Lincoln is never easy, even as it hopes Tommy Armstrong emerges as a reliable quarterback on a game-to-game basis.

Florida State is loaded to the gills and that game is going to be an uphill battle.

The rest of the schedule should be manageable, although Virginia Tech and North Carolina are pushing to be Coastal Division champions—the same as Miami. The Coastal Division champ will likely come from this mix of three, with Duke hoping to make it a four-horse race.

Right now, I think Miami should win. To do that, however, it has to be consistent and show up big—that means avoiding efforts such as the ones against the Hokies and Devils in 2013.

A healthy Duke Johnson should help in that regard. At the moment, in April, I'm penciling the 'Canes in for nine wins and an ACC Championship Game appearance.

Speaking of the ACC Coastal Division, the Tar Heels are going to be the biggest threat to Miami, and part of UNC being successful is going to be running the ball.

I actually did get to watch some of the spring game and did not notice as much of a focus on the run game. T.J. Logan looked great, as expected, plus the Charles Brunson and Khris Francis kids looked like they will be contributors.

Big-time early enrollee Elijah Hood is still learning how to run in this system and UNC is still trying to figure out how to use a running back with Hood's very different skill set.

In the land of shifty backs where Logan and Francis work solid on the wide runs and zones that allow them to pick their way through traffic, Hood's bruising, straight-line approach is going to take time to figure out.

Getting Bentley Spain and Caleb Peterson healthy on the offensive line will help the rushing effort, and that is a positive for the Heels.

Logan will be the leading rusher, but we will all be watching UNC to see if it does commit to running the ball more than it did in 2013. That means Logan with more than 150 carries, compared to the 93 that led all running backs a season ago.

I was high on Indiana last year. I thought that it would be in a bowl game for sure with the high-powered offense leading the way. The losses to Navy and Minnesota were crushing, and I was hoping to see Kevin Wilson's team pull them out.

As for this year, I love Tim Bennett. He is one of my favorite college football corners for the 2014 season—he's just a kid who understands how to play the position at the collegiate level.

However, losing Cody Latimer, Kofi Hughes and Ted Bolser hurts. It hurts a lot. Latimer is one of those big-time sleeper picks in the NFL draft and he would have been a beast for whoever plays quarterback in Bloomington.

This brings me to Nate Sudfeld and Tre Roberson. I do not mind that the Hoosiers run with the hot hand. It works for them and both quarterbacks are so different that they tax defenses in a myriad of ways that create drive-extending moments for Indiana.

Defensively, outside of Bennett, I am not in love with a lot of what Indiana has on that side of the ball.

With that said, it played a ton of youth a season ago at key positions and players tend to fully understand the schemes and fits in their second year, which should lead to some positive results for the Hoosiers.

The new alignment is not doing Wilson's team any favors whatsoever, though. Penn State, Ohio State, Michigan and Michigan State are on the schedule, and that is an uphill battle. Throw in Mizzou in the nonconference slate and the Hoosiers will have to be nearly flawless the rest of the way.

Flawless will be tough because of the youth at the receiver position.

However, Indiana should be in the hunt for a bowl game entering the final three weeks of the season against Rutgers, Ohio State and Purdue. Beating the Scarlet Knights and the Boilermakers to get to six or seven wins would be a solid achievement for Indiana. 

Honestly, probably nothing. Over the course of the last two seasons I've saved my cooking for during the week and in the offseason. Saturdays are full-blown workdays, and that means standing up from noon until two in the morning with a couple sit-downs to write reaction pieces.

Just a lot of water and whatever leftovers I have in the fridge.

The more football I get to on Saturdays, the less I have to go back and re-watch on Sunday and the more forward planning I can do for weekly videos, articles and the like.

Therefore, I've sacrificed cooking on Saturdays in favor of getting work done and set up for the week.

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NCAA President Mark Emmert Held #AskEmmert Q&A, and It Didn't Go so Well

NCAA President Mark Emmert appeared on ESPN's Mike & Mike radio show Friday morning, ostensibly to help clean up some of the comments he's made about college unionization over the past month.

The highlight (lowlight?) of the interview was Emmert's response to Northwestern University football players, who were recently deemed employees of the school by the National Labor Relations Board, according to Brian Bennett of ESPN.com.

In Emmert's own words:

On discussing the new change to the NCAA's food policy, whereby players can now enjoy free meals without restriction, Emmert also had a flippant reply to Connecticut basketball player Shabazz Napier, who claimed there were some hungry nights were he "goes to bed starving," per Darren Rovell of ESPN.com:

Interviews like these do not endear Emmert to the public, which is troubling because, in that respect, he is digging himself out of a perpetual hole. Perhaps, as Bill Connelly of SB Nation suggests, we've reached the point where he should stop granting interview requests altogether:

Ridiculous as those two comments were, the rest of Emmert's morning didn't go so well either. Mike & Mike prompted viewers to tweet questions for the president with the hashtag #AskEmmert, but the exercise predictably devolved into ridicule (h/t Deadspin):

Emmert has a difficult job. He is the public face of a disliked organization. His job, in part, is to placate the gluttonous college presidents, and doing so makes him an easy target of scorn in the sporting world. 

He's only part of the problem, but he's the easiest and most convenient NCAA figurehead to attack.

But, hey. You have to earn that $1.7 million somehow.

 

You can listen to the full, 26-minute interview here

Follow Brian Leigh on Twitter: @BLeighDAT

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Alabama's Landon Collins Trash Talking Oklahoma Is Not a Good Look

Twitter is a wonderful tool that allows all of us to communicate, share news and information and interact with people who we normally wouldn't interact with instantaneously in 140 characters or less.

Alabama safety Landon Collins didn't use it wisely Thursday night.

The rising junior safety for the Crimson Tide went on a Twitter rant against Oklahoma fans who haven't let him forget about the Sooners' 45-31 victory over Alabama in the 2014 Sugar Bowl in January.

What were some of Collins' posts?

I guess OU fans fill some way lol 😂😂😂y'all feel some type of way...but y'all coming at me like I care about y'all...watch our successe

— LANDON COLLINS (@ALLAMERICAN_2) April 17, 2014 

He wasn't done.

Plus OU when the last time y'all played for a BCS or was in the running smh lol respect the SEC

— LANDON COLLINS (@ALLAMERICAN_2) April 17, 2014

What does the SEC have to do with it? Oklahoma beat Alabama straight up in a BCS game just three-and-a-half months ago.

Much love to y'all bruh...but all in all son y'all riding off one game...smh play for the BCS then talk noise..something that we always do

— LANDON COLLINS (@ALLAMERICAN_2) April 17, 2014

Again, is talking smack to the fanbase of a team that lit up the SEC's second-best defense to the tune of 348 passing yards really the best thing to do?

Yes, those Oklahoma fans that have Collins all riled up are riding on one game. The last game. One in which a quarterback, Trevor Knight, passed for 42.5 percent (348 yards) of his yardage total for the entire season (819 yards) against what's supposed to be a stingy and consistent pass defense.

Not to be big head but I don't respond because I'm watch by the nation..y'all are apart of the nation that just hates #bama #RTR

— LANDON COLLINS (@ALLAMERICAN_2) April 18, 2014

Is talking trash to Oklahoma fans really a smart move?

This speaks to the complacency that set in towards the end of last season. You know, the complacency that, according to SI.com's Stewart Mandel, Saban and linebacker Trey DePriest said has been disappearing since the Sugar Bowl.

Apparently it's not completely gone yet.

Alabama isn't going to beat teams simply because it's wearing crimson and white. It's going to beat teams because it respects the opponent and executes the game plan that the coaches come up with. Simply "being Alabama" shouldn't be anywhere in the minds of its players, especially after back-to-back losses to Auburn and Oklahoma to end last season.

It's a bad look for Collins.

Twitter is great way to connect with people, but using it to talk trash to Oklahoma fans after what happened in New Orleans is not responsible Twitter usage.

 

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

 

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College Football Players with Most Pressure on Their Shoulders in 2014

Pressure is derived from stakes. The more you have at stake, the more pressure you are under; the more you have to lose, the more you need to win.

Because of the way we talk about football, quarterbacks are almost always under more pressure than their counterparts at other positions. They are the ones whose legacies are tainted by the stain of non-accomplishment, who live with the burden of never having won "the big one" during college.

I'll give you an example. Adrian Peterson was one of the best running backs in college football history. His numbers are deflated because he only played three years and suffered a couple of injuries, but when he was on the field, there was almost nothing like him.

Because he played running back, though, we tend to forget that he was 0-2 in BCS bowl games, losing the national championship game by 36 points to USC as a freshman and the Fiesta Bowl against Boise State as a junior. But no one brings any of that up, and when he got to the NFL—where he has still yet to win anything of import—Peterson was not labeled someone with a monkey on his back.

Compare this with how we talk about Peyton Manning. He always came up short in college, and if not for his one Super Bowl with the Indianapolis Colts, he would still be regarded among the greatest losers of all-time, alongside other quarterbacks such as Dan Marino.

Which is to say: There's a reason this list skews toward quarterbacks. They do not make up the entire list, but they make up most of the list, and they do so with purpose.

In some cases, they need to justify their old recruiting ranking. In others, they already have by putting up big stats...but now only winning will ensure their name gets remembered fondly.

The pressure has been cranked up to 10.

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Virginia Tech Football: Frank Beamer's 3 Biggest Spring Practice Concerns

The Virginia Tech football team has been practicing for the better part of three weeks this spring, yet there are still a few position battles that have to be giving head coach Frank Beamer headaches.

While some players have stepped up to make their roles more clear, others haven’t shown the kind of progress the coaching staff had hoped for.

Others still are struggling with injuries, making it difficult for the Hokies to make definitive decisions about how several position groups will shake out. 

With another week to go before Tech’s spring game, the Hokies still have some time to sort things out, but these three position battles have to be concerning for Beamer.

 

Unless otherwise noted, all quotes come from the team’s media availability after its second open scrimmage.

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Is Kyle Allen Lock to Win Texas A&M QB Job with Matt Joeckel's Transfer?

That three-man quarterback rack in College Station got reduced to two this week, when Texas A&M announced that senior quarterback Matt Joeckel will transfer for his senior season. 

Joeckel started the 2013 season opener versus Rice and finished his Aggie career with 335 passing yards and two touchdowns.

"I have loved my four and a half years at Texas A&M," Joeckel said in a release from Texas A&M. "I am glad I had the opportunity to play for Coach Sumlin, [quarterback coach] Coach [Jake] Spavital and the rest of the coaches."

That leaves sophomore dual-threat quarterback Kenny Hill and true freshman early enrollee Kyle Allen as the two contenders to the throne formerly occupied by 2012 Heisman Trophy winner Johnny Manziel.

Hill threw for 183 yards and a touchdown as a freshman last season, and was recently reinstated to the program after a brief suspension following an arrest for public intoxication, according to Andrea Salazar of the Bryan-College Station Eagle.

Who has the advantage?

Right now, it has to be Allen.

The former 5-star prospect and No. 1 pro-style quarterback in the class of 2014 has everything it takes to be a superstar in head coach Kevin Sumlin's system. He has a big arm, is accurate downfield and doesn't sacrifice accuracy when he takes velocity off on short and intermediate routes. 

Joeckel's departure is bigger news for the 6'3", 205-pound Allen, because now Allen's primary competition for the job is gone. Since Joeckel was the other pro-style contender, half of Allen's battle has already been won. He's made himself the No. 1 pro-style option, and now his job is to convince he coaching staff that veering more towards the air-raid style that Sumlin was successful with at Houston is a better option than using Hill to run an offense more similar to the one under Manziel in College Station.

Does that make him a lock to win the job?

Not yet.

But since Hill was suspended for the final week of spring practice, the Texas A&M offense veered more towards his strengths as it came to a close. That experience will be beneficial not only to him, but to the rest of the players on that offense who got more reps in an offense that's more suited to his skills. 

That was an unexpected development and will undoubtedly benefit Allen as he heads into summer workouts.

Right now, Allen has to be the favorite. If he impresses the coaching staff early in fall camp, don't be surprised if he wins the job.

 

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

 


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