NCAA Football News

Why QB Shane Morris Will Be 'Superstar' for Michigan in 2014

Michigan sophomore quarterback Shane Morris will be in a heated battle with senior QB Devin Gardner for the starting job in 2014. Gardner returns as the starter from last year, but we got a glimpse of Morris as he took the starting snaps against Kansas State in the Wolverines' season-ending loss.

Why will Morris emerge this season as a superstar and take the starting spot from Gardner? Who else will be a breakout star for the Wolverines this season?

Watch as Bleacher Report's CFB analysts Adam Kramer and Barrett Sallee break down the breakout stars for Michigan in 2014.

Highlights courtesy of XOs Digital.

Rankings courtesy of 247Sports

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Michigan Football: 5 Backups Critical To Michigan's Success in 2014

The murmurs of discontent that began during Brady Hoke’s second campaign turned into cries of frustration as Michigan slid to a 7-6 finish last season. Hoke shook things up in the offseason—jettisoning offensive coordinator Al Borges for Doug Nussmeier and shuffling his defensive coaches.

Michigan is now gearing up for a critical fall camp where it needs to work out the kinks in its new offense. Compounding the challenge, the team faces all of it key rivals—Notre Dame, Michigan State and Ohio State—on the road, where Hoke’s squads have struggled.

It’s a long season, and Michigan will need solid performances from key backups to bounce back from last season’s disappointment.

 

Running Back Justice Hayes

Doug Nussmeier has signaled that Michigan will re-emphasize the running game. With Derrick Green and De’Veon Smith dueling at the top of the depth chart (while Ty Isaac waits in the wings), carries will be few and far between for other backs.

Justice Hayes can carve out playing time by working on his pass-blocking skills. He showed good potential during spring camp and ran the ball hard during the public spring game.

Hayes can work his way into the rotation by doing the grunt work of picking up stray defenders attempting to crash the backfield and leaking out for the occasional dump pass.

 

Defensive Tackle Bryan Mone

Last season, the defensive line ran out of steam during Michigan’s 1-4 November. This season, the defense looks to be the strength of the team, but coordinator Greg Mattison will need to prevent a repeat of last year’s stall.

Freshman Bryan Mone will have an opportunity to work his way into the mix at defensive tackle and be an immediate impact player. Hoke raved about his performance in spring camp, and being an early enrollee, he’ll have significant time in the strength and conditioning program prior to fall camp.

 

Offensive Lineman Mason Cole

The problems of the Michigan offensive line are well documented. Hoke will need to replace his two best players from last season—tackles Taylor Lewan and Michael Schofield— who both have moved on to the NFL.

Cole, another freshman early enrollee, played with the first team in the public spring scrimmage but will likely start the season as a backup with Erik Magnuson returning to the lineup after missing spring camp.

One thing last season showed is that no returning player on the offensive line has a firm grip on a starting position.

Hoke might prefer to redshirt Cole, but expect his talent to propel him into prominent playing time before the end of the season.

 

Quarterback Shane Morris

When Devin Gardner went down last season, Morris stepped in and played admirably under difficult circumstances. He now finds himself back behind Gardner—at least for now.

Doug Nussmeier has not tipped his hand about which quarterback best fits his system.

Gardner is the starter and will have an opportunity to prove he can manage the new offense. But Morris will be ready if Gardner needs to be replaced. Michigan has needed its backup quarterback each of the last two seasons, and with its offensive line manned by several new starters, Morris might find himself on the field sooner instead of later.

 

X-Factor Jabrill Peppers

Barring injury, the Michigan defensive backfield looks to be solid heading into the season. But 5-star recruits like Jabrill Peppers have a way of working themselves into the lineup.

Hoke has already said it’s likely that Peppers will return the ball on special teams and that Nussmeier has designs on him at running back.

Expect Peppers to be in the rotation at defensive back, especially in nickel situations. But his biggest impact could come as a weapon of shock and awe on offense.

Peppers has drawn comparisons to another highly touted defensive star, Charles Woodson, who also played multiple positions. When Woodson entered the lineup on offense, opposing defenses would scramble to cover him, sometimes blowing coverages and opening up opportunities for others.

With Michigan’s dire shortage at wide receiver, Peppers could be a lethal weapon out of the backfield or at slot receiver. He won’t start the season at either position, but it could be where he makes his greatest impact.

 

Phil Callihan is a featured writer for Bleacher Report. Unless otherwise noted, all quotations in this article were obtained via Press Conferences or in person.

Follow @PSCallihan

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Davey O'Brien Award Watch List 2014: Full List and Bleacher Report Favorites

The watch list for the Davey O'Brien National Quarterback Award was released Wednesday, consisting of 39 players from all 11 FBS football conferences (Independents included).

Among the included players are last year's recipient and five other returning semifinalists. Despite numerous attempts, no player has won the award twice since Oklahoma's Jason White in 2003-04.

Here is the full 2014 watch list:

Need some favorites to look out for?

Here are five guys who stick out as particularly good candidates, along with one looming sleeper and some other names to watch.

 

Jameis Winston, Florida State

Like a title belt in boxing, the Davey O'Brien Award (and Heisman Trophy) belongs to Jameis Winston until someone comes and takes it from him. He is the rightful favorite to repeat in 2014.

Kelvin Benjamin and Kenny Shaw are gone, but three-time leading receiver Rashad Greene returns alongside a deep group of talented (albeit unproven) playmakers. Keep an eye on true freshmen Ermon Lane and Travis Rudolph to emerge during fall camp.

 

Marcus Mariota, Oregon/Braxton Miller, Ohio State

Lumped together because they were both finalists for the award in 2012, Oregon's Marcus Mariota and Ohio State's Braxton Miller are favorites to compete for the Davey O'Brien once again in 2014.

Both are losing a number of their top weapons—whether it be backfield mates or receiving targets—this season, but as dual-threat quarterbacks on teams projected to compete for a spot in the College Football Playoff, it is hard to find a pair of more qualified candidates.

 

Brett Hundley, UCLA

Speaking of dual-threat quarterbacks expected to compete for a spot in the playoff, UCLA junior Brett Hundley has been good—and borderline great—these past two seasons despite never really getting a fair shake. The offensive line has crumbled due to injuries in front of him, and the playmakers have been so-so at best.

This year, Hundley should have the best supporting cast he's had in this three years as a starter. He should also have a defense capable of winning the Pac-12 and competing for a national title. Combined with Hundley's talent, that is the recipe for an award winner.

 

Bryce Petty, Baylor

Baylor's offense continues to run in the post-Robert Griffin III era, and if last year was any indication, Bryce Petty has a chance to be every bit as good as the 2011 Heisman Trophy winner.

The Bears defense is a question mark once again—albeit not in the same way it has been in recent years—and the stable of playmakers around Petty, led by senior receiver Antwan Goodley, is amenable to a huge statistical season from the senior quarterback.

 

Sleeper: Davis Webb, Texas Tech

Head coach Kliff Kingsbury made the news this offseason when he told Bruce Feldman of FoxSports.com that his quarterback, Davis Webb, a true sophomore who didn't even start in Week 1 last season, has the potential to become a top-five NFL draft pick.

Webb is 6'5" with an accurate arm and has been adding weight to a slender-ish frame this offseason. He also plays in a passing-heavy system with talented playmakers around him and a defense that will necessitate some shootouts to win games.

Webb finished No. 12 in ESPN's Total QBR metric last season.

 

Other Names to Watch: Taylor Kelly (Arizona State), Trevor Knight (Oklahoma), Nick Marshall (Auburn), Dak Prescott (Mississippi State).

 

Follow Brian Leigh on Twitter: @BLeighDAT

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3 Issues We Would Love Ohio State's Urban Meyer to Address at Big Ten Media Days

When Urban Meyer took the stand in Chicago at last year's Big Ten media days, he had to answer a tough string of questions about the recent off-the-field incidents involving members of his Ohio State football team.

Star running back Carlos Hyde had just been given an indefinite suspension for an alleged physical altercation with a woman, and Bradley Roby, an All-American cornerback, was recently arrested on misdemeanor battery charges stemming from an incident at an Indiana bar.

That certainly wasn't how Meyer wanted to spend his afternoon, but fortunately for him and the Buckeyes, this year's event will have a much lighter feel to it.

Ohio State has certainly been the subject of some negative headlines this offseason, but on the whole, much of the focus will be on Braxton Miller and the Buckeyes' potential title run.

Here are three things we'd love Meyer to address when Big Ten media days kick off on July 28.

 

Braxton Miller's Health

Miller's health has been one of the hottest topics in Columbus since his freshman season in 2011, and that won't change in his final year as the Buckeyes quarterback.

Miller is coming off an offseason shoulder surgery that cost him all of spring practice, and his rehab has been an ongoing process throughout the summer.

Miller will be in Chicago to provide an update on his health, but Meyer's plan to keep his star player healthy is even more important. 

Without Hyde and a senior-fueled offensive line, Miller will be the most experienced and versatile weapon the Buckeyes have. Considering how injury-prone Miller is, Meyer will need to find a balance between keeping the ball in his hands and finding ways to get others involved.

Miller's ability to stay healthy could determine whether Ohio State makes a run at the College Football Playoff or not. 

 

The Incoming Freshmen

Ohio State will receive a huge boost when the No. 3 recruiting class reports for fall camp in a few weeks.

Whether they'll be allowed to make an impact remains to be seen.

Last year, Meyer was hesitant to play a number of freshmen—namely Vonn Bell, Gareon Conley and Trey Johnson. Those defensive standouts could have helped, especially down the stretch when the Buckeyes' broken defense surrendered an average 38.3 points per game to their final three opponents.

Meyer admitted to Buckeye Blogging's Dan Kadar that keeping his talented freshmen off the field was a mistake

Seven of Ohio State's 23 incoming freshmen enrolled early to take part in spring drills. Linebacker Raekwon McMillan, wide receiver Johnnie Dixon and kicker Sean Nuernberger stood out and gave themselves a great chance to earn playing time or starting roles this fall. 

Will Meyer talk about his incoming freshmen and, more specifically, how he plans to avoid the same mistake he made last year?

 

The Michigan State Game

Unlike former Ohio State coach Jim Tressel, Meyer doesn't hide his true opinions under layers of cliches and generic football terms—he's blunt and to the point.

Ask him about a game scheduled for November, though, and his response would bring a smile to Tressel's face. We'd almost certainly get a "one game at a time" response, because Meyer wouldn't want his players looking ahead to a Week 11 matchup with the Spartans.

Of course, the Michigan game will always be at the top of Ohio State's priority list, but the Buckeyes' trip to East Lansing will be the Big Ten's most anticipated game of the season. It will feature the two teams from last year's conference title game, and the Buckeyes will be looking to avenge the loss that snapped their 24-game winning streak and a chance to play Florida State in the national championship.

It was recently announced that the game will kick off at 8:00 p.m. ET, under the lights and broadcast on national television. 

Every Buckeye fan is looking forward to that game. It would be great to hear Meyer talk about it, even if it's still four months away.

 

All recruiting information per 247Sports.

David Regimbal covers Ohio State football for Bleacher Report.
Follow him on Twitter @davidreg412

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Re-Evaluating Florida's Recruiting Class After the 2014 Opening

The Florida Gators' 2015 recruiting process has gone a little slower than usual. Florida doesn't have a ton of commitments from top-tier prospects and, well, doesn't have many commitments period, as the program currently sits with 10 names who have given their verbals. 

With the 2014 opening in the books, we did find out a bit about who could help change Florida's fortune and if anybody is seriously considering the university. There are also a couple of current commits who continue to test the waters with national signing day still several months away.

Florida isn't getting many recruits to spill the beans on their recruiting status, but it is making progress with some of the top young men in this year's class.

Here's what the Gators' 2015 class looks like after the few days of practices at The Opening. 

 

Top Targets

During the event, running back Ray-Ray McCloud III announced that he was going to make his decision on July 28, and he already knew where he was going. Now, McCloud tells Luke Stampini of 247Sports (subscription required) that he plans on attending Florida’s Friday Night Lights next week, just days before making his announcement.

McCloud has visited Florida more than any other school and yet another trip seems have created the writing on the wall as to where he’s going. Nothing is guaranteed in the recruiting world, but if you can’t read that neon sign, well, I’m not sure what to tell you.

While most still believe it’s a pretty good bet that George Campbell is going to become a Gator, the highly ranked receiver admitted to 247Sports (subscription required) that he still hasn’t even spoken to new receiver coach Chris Leak.

"I haven't been worried about the recruiting process, so I haven't talked to any coaches," he said. "I'm just laid-back. I'm mainly focused on my high school team."

Leak has held the position for more than a month since Joker Phillips decided to step down unexpectedly. If that wasn’t enough to worry Florida fans, Campbell and a few other top recruits are expected to visit Florida State next weekend, according to Josh Newberg of 247Sports (subscription required). This could be a case of somebody exploring their options or someone who isn’t completely sold on the Gators. Whatever the case, Florida's coaching staff has to be a little more worried than before.

Defensive lineman Byron Cowart announced that Oregon and Florida are his top two schools, according to 247Sports. He admitted that those two schools are going to be tough to beat, and there is a possibility of him being a package deal along with other recruits such as CeCe Jefferson and Martez Ivey, according to the report. However, nothing is concrete when it comes to those intriguing talks. 

Speaking of Ivey, Luke Stampini reports (subscription required) that the massive offensive lineman might have already committed if Florida's record had been better last season:

While Apopka (Fla.) five-star offensive tackle Martez Ivey would not go on record with 247Sports confirming the following, there was talk that Ivey admitted at the Opening that had the Gators’ record been better in 2013, he would already be a member of Florida’s class. The good news about that is you have to feel great about UF’s chances for the 6-foot-6, 270-pound prospect if they put together a good season in 2014.

That may be the best recruiting news Florida has received all year. 

 

Florida's Commits

It’s pretty much the same song and dance it’s been with Florida’s recruiting class for months. The team makes all this progress with recruits, but very few are willing to give their commitments. It’s almost like kids are waiting to see how the team improves this upcoming season before jumping on ship. Florida has 10 commitments, and only four of them have come in the month of May or later. Again, it’s been a ghost town so far for Florida’s commits.

Probably the most exciting thing that’s happened so far for Florida’s recruiting class was the surprising commitment of Jerome Baker, who announced his decision late last week. Many expected Baker to stay in Ohio and become a Buckeye, but he shocked everybody when picking Urban Meyer’s former team.

Baker is a versatile player who can play either side of the ball, but he’s expected to add to Florida’s linebacker depth, a position that needs to improve heading into next season.

Cornerback Marcus Lewis committed in April, but that’s not stopping him from taking other visits and exploring his options. Lewis has three other schools in mind, according to 247Sports.

"Right now, I'm committed to Florida, but I'm still going to take visits," he said. "That's kind of where I'm at with everything. Right now the three visits I know for sure that I'm going to is Michigan, Oregon and Miami for officials."

Florida fans shouldn't worry much, as this is typical with kids during the recruiting process. Those official visits are there for a reason, and you might as well take them.

Other than that, it's really quiet with Florida's recruiting class, and things probably wont heat up until the product on the field improves.

Football season can't get here fast enough.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

SEC Media Days 2014: Day 3 Schedule, Live Stream, Participants and Predictions

The Wednesday lineup for the 2014 SEC media days will have little issue following up Tuesday's action—which was primarily centered on replacing Johnny Manziel—thanks to LSU's Les Miles as the leader.

It's the third of a four-day event that has only grown in recent years as the football calendar at all levels continues to morph into a full 12-month spectacle. The SEC's version is, of course, the most popular.

Wednesday's offering might just be the cream of the crop. Joining Miles in the action is the always entertaining and somewhat controversial Bret Bielema, and Gary Pinkel will kick of the action as he also talks some Missouri Tigers football.

Below are the pertinent details surrounding Day 3.

 

SEC Football Media Days Information

When: July 14-17

Where: Hyatt Regency Birmingham—The Wynfrey Hotel in Hoover, Alabama

Watch: ESPNU

Live Stream: WatchESPN

 

Wednesday, July 16
Session I: 9 a.m. - Noon
SEC Officials Steve Shaw & Justin Connolly
Missouri - Gary Pinkel; Evan Boehm, Center; Markus Golden, Defensive End; Maty Mauk, Quarterback

Session II: 1 - 4 p.m.
LSU - Les Miles; La'el Collins, Offensive Tackle; Terrence Magee, Running Back; D.J. Welter, Linebacker
Arkansas - Bret Bielema; Brey Cook, Offensive Guard; Trey Flowers, Defensive End; Alan Turner, Safety

 

Predictions

Bret Bielema's Stance on Rules Will Overshadow Program's Woes

The Arkansas Razorbacks have a lot of work to do in 2014 to avoid the cellar once more in the SEC.

After a 3-9 campaign a year ago and no wins in the SEC, Bielema's team faces a bevy of questions that include what appears to be—at least on paper—a tougher schedule than a season ago.

But rather than dial in on those topics, it is Bielema and his beliefs that will surely be the highlight of the session.

He most recently lost a very public battle concerning the rules that offenses face and the speed of the game overall, as George Schroeder of USA Today summarizes:

It's also why, after an offseason skirmish over a controversial rules proposal was boiled by many down to Bret Bielema vs. the Speed Merchants – the merchants rolled to a big victory, in the balloting and in public opinion – he says he has no regrets. Bielema, who insists his advocacy of a 10-second pause for offenses is solely in the interest of player safety, acknowledges taking 'a few beatings' in the argument, but adds:

'It was beatings from uneducated people. Education is the best way to relieve someone from a bad thought process.'

That quote alone is quality entertainment, something he is sure to provide on Wednesday despite certainly not being the biggest name in attendance at his position.

But back to the football for a moment, because it surely won't be on the receiving end of a ton of attention when it matters. Bielema is flanked by defensive end Trey Flowers, the clear-cut leader of the unit and a future pro prospect who has made plenty of preseason lists, as Robbie Neiswanger of the Arkansas News Bureau notes:

He'll be tasked with leading the team next season, and he's sure to be grilled about that uphill battle.

For what it's worth, though, Bielema certainly has friends in the conference who believe he can succeed, as radio host Bo Mattingly points out:

Regardless of how the media spectacle turns out, we know one thing for a fact, as Bielema recently told the media, per Schroeder: "I'm not afraid to say what I feel."

 

Les Miles Faces Litany of QB Battle and Arrest Questions

Accompanying Miles to the ring on Wednesday are three talented seniors in offensive tackle La’el Collins, running back Terrence Magee and linebacker D.J. Welter, all players who will be both tasked with LSU's success next season and have pro aspirations.

But they'll hardly be the focus.

Unfortunately for the three, they don't play the most important position of all. This offseason, the quarterback battle between sophomore Anthony Jennings and freshman Brandon Harris has yet to see either gain significant ground, which is an issue.

One would think Jennings has an edge based solely on experience, and nobody will soon forget his 99-yard, game-winning drive against Bielema's squad last year after Zach Mettenberger went down with an injury.

That said, his Outback Bowl performance—7-of-19 for 82 yards and an interception—certainly left something to be desired.

As Bleacher Report's Barrett Sallee notes, Harris has many of the same traits as Jennings but just needs to learn:

In many respects, Harris and Jennings possess similar skills. So "getting it" is really the only piece of the puzzle left for Harris. Since the offense is clearly changing a bit to become one that thrives with a dual-threat quarterback, there's going to be a period of adjustment for Jennings too.

While a major hot point of the day's proceedings will be on that battle, Miles will also have to deal with major questions about a player's arrest for the second year in a row.

It was now-Cincinnati Bengals running back Jeremy Hill last year, and this year it is cornerback Jalen Mills, who was arrested for alleged felony battery in June, although the outcome of the case is still up in the air, according to Glenn Guilbeau of The Advertiser.

Miles was quick to hand down an indefinite suspension and was quite vague on the manner overall in a statement provided by Matt Boudreaux of NBC33:

A perfect world in Miles' mind would be one in which that statement is enough, but as Day 3 of the event will prove, there is no end to questions surrounding such a manner.

Thus is life at the SEC media days, a turning point in the offseason for fans of the beloved conference. Football is back.

 

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

9 Recruits Who Could Join 4-Star ATH Isaiah Langley at USC

Isaiah Langley is a 4-star recruit who committed to USC on July 8. He is a talented in-state player who can play both cornerback and receiver at a high level.

At 5'11" and 170 pounds, Langley is a quicker-than-fast athlete who has great short-area burst. He is confident in his athleticism, and he isn't going to back down from anyone on the field.

With 11 commitments, USC is recruiting well. Langley's pledge will surely help the Trojans acquire several more before the end of this recruiting cycle.

All recruiting ratings and rankings are from 247Sports' Composite Rankings.

Player evaluations are based on review of tape at Scout.comRivals and 247Sports

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New College Football Starters Poised for Breakout Seasons in 2014

In college football, change is the only constant.

Each fall, stars emerge to thrill us with game-breaking performances, big hits, big throws and unbelievable catches.

Each January, like clockwork, many of them declare for the NFL draft and leave college early after two or three seasons, depending on whether they were redshirted in their first season on campus. The rarest of all stars stay for four years, gracing us with their presence and talents for the maximum time allowed.
This is why recruiting is so important: Coaches are always looking for the next superstar, the next big thing.

Each year, new stars emerge, and each winter, many of them leave. As college football prepares for the 2014 regular season, we’re on the front end of that cycle.

Which players will take advantage of increased playing time and take the next step forward?
Here are a few new college football starters who we think are poised for breakout seasons in 2014.

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5 Issues We Would Love for Miami's Al Golden to Address at ACC Media Days

Miami Hurricanes head coach Al Golden will appear before a slew of reporters at ACC Media Day on July 21, answering questions about the upcoming college football season.

Followers of the program certainly have wondered aloud about a variety of topics and issues around the program we would love for Golden to address.

Of course, Golden is a master of sidestepping questions, finding a way around giving a direct response. Consequently, even if asked, a couple of the following topics will definitely not be answered, but it doesn't mean we can't wish.

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Every Power 5 Conference Team's Greatest Moment from BCS Era

On Monday we got our first glimpse of the hardware that's going to be given out to the winner of the College Football Playoff, the new system created to determine the FBS national champion.

The 26.5-inch, 35-pound trophy, that may or may not resemble a fountain pen holder, replaces the crystal football that was given out to the winner of the Bowl Championship Series title game each year from 1999 to 2014. That iconic award has been retired, along with the system that gave us 16 years of great championships and plenty of other memorable moments.

And that got us thinking: During the just-completed BCS era, what stood out the most for every power-conference program during that time? It couldn't always be something related to a BCS bowl, as only 45 of the teams currently in the ACC, Big 12, Big Ten, Pac-12 or SEC have earned an invite to one of the top-tier games.

We've culled through the history of all teams from the power conferences, as well as noted independents BYU and Notre Dame, to chronicle each program's greatest moment from the now-complete BCS era.

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Georgia Football: Why Damian Swann Will Shock All in 2014

There always has to be that one player on each team that is going to surprise everyone. The player is talented but has had issues either staying healthy, being in a position to make plays or just playing consistent football.

For the Georgia Bulldogs, there are a number of candidates that could be the surprise player of 2014, but when it’s all said and done, fans, coaches, players and media members will look back at the end of the year and wonder what got into Damian Swann.

The secondary for the Bulldogs has been the talk of the entire preseason because of all the changes that have been made. But the one thing that has been constant is Swann because he has started in every game since the start of the 2012 season.

The only problem is Swann did not have a great 2013 season. After leading the team in interceptions in 2012 with four and also getting two forced fumbles and two fumble recoveries, Swann did not have one interception and did not create one turnover.  

Many thought that last season would be the year Swann took the next step. But he struggled to get anything going for him because he did not have the experience surrounding him like he did in 2011 or 2012. He was caught up in helping players—like Brendan Langley, Quincy Mauger and Shaq Wiggins—so his game took a step back.

But that will not be the case this season, though, it’s true that he will have a different and younger cast around him and the entire defense will be different from what it was last season. But with defensive coordinator Jeremy Pruitt at the helm, he will put Swann in position to succeed.

Damian Swann with the one handed INT. that's how uga boys do ithttps://t.co/cTdhFmk1TT

— Bryce andrew dixon (@dixonbryce) June 22, 2014

The problem last season for Swann was he was responsible for a lot of duties when he was on the field, and former defensive coordinator Todd Grantham had a scheme that was very perplexing. Now that Swann is working with Pruitt, things will be simpler for him and the entire unit, which will lead to more opportunities to make plays.  

But for Swann, it’s not necessarily about making plays. Since he’s a senior and has started in every game the last two seasons, he has to provide stability to the secondary. And with Pruitt’s help and leadership, Swann will be able to do that, which will lead to the secondary being much improved.

Also, Swann does not want to end his career at UGA on a sour note. He wants to prove to the world that the 2012 version of him is still there and that not only he can lead the team in interceptions, he can create turnovers, shutdown receivers and get after the quarterback.

And if he can do that, the secondary will be better, which means the defense will be better, and that will lead to more wins for the Bulldogs.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Every Top 25 Team's Best Recruiting Sales Pitch to Their Top 2015 Target

A great deal of recruiting boils down to what exactly is a team's sales pitch to a recruit. Some programs tell a prospect all he wants to hear to get him to come to their school, while others take a more honest approach.

No matter what the sales pitch is, every program in the final AP Top 25 poll from last season has something they're trying to sell their top 2015 recruiting target on.

Auburn is selling a 5-star defensive tackle on the chance to join a family-oriented program. Clemson is pitching a 5-star receiver on the idea of joining his close friend in college, while Baylor is trying to convince a 5-star linebacker to stay in his state and be the cornerstone of its defense.

All recruiting ratings and rankings are from 247Sports' Composite Rankings.Player evaluations are based on review of tape at Scout.comRivals and 247Sports.

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Nebraska Football: 4 Backups Critical to Cornhuskers' Success in 2014

Nebraska football fans are legendary for their knowledge, and it is not uncommon for those diehards to know the backups (and the backups for the backups) inside out. Football is a rough game, and a long season means teams will frequently have to rely on their depth to get through a game or more.

So, which of Nebraska’s current backups will be most important for NU to challenge for a divisional title? Here are four backups who could prove vital.

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SEC Media Days: 'More Than 10' True Freshmen Will Have Huge Impact for Vols

Day 2 of SEC media days is in the books with Tennessee head coach Butch Jones and some notable Vols taking center stage. Tennessee's freshman class was the hot topic of the day with Jones and his players praising the class for its dedication and the impact it will have in 2014. 

Which early enrollee freshmen will have an impact this season? How many have a shot to start in 2014?

 

Highlights courtesy XOS Digital

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

SEC Media Days Buzz: Biggest Stories of Day 2

Day 2 of the 2014 SEC Media Days is in the books in Hoover, Alabama. Texas A&M, South Carolina, Mississippi State, and Tennessee were center stage Tuesday as players and coaches fielded questions from the media.

Watch Bleacher Report SEC lead writer Barrett Sallee break down the biggest stories coming out of Day 2, including how a new starting quarterback is adjusting to the spotlight. 

 

Highlights courtesy of XOS Digital.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Butch Jones Says QBs Will Be Strength for Tennessee, and He's Absolutely Right

Butch Jones took the SEC media day podium Tuesday as the coach of a Tennessee football team without a clear-cut starting quarterback a season removed from finishing with the 13th in the league in passing.

So, why did he proceed to tell the circus of conference media and millions of fans watching on ESPNU that the position would be a "strength" for the Volunteers in 2014?

Because with the praise Justin Worley and Joshua Dobbs received this offseason and the infusion of dynamic playmakers around them, he's confident the Vols are going to enjoy a passing revival.

He should be.

There's far too much talent at Tennessee's skill positions for the quarterbacks not to thrive if they've got time to throw the ball.

Sophomore Marquez North is a physical specimen who is poised to emerge as a top-tier receiver. With some of the pressure lifted thanks to freshman Josh Malone and JUCO transfer Von Pearson, North should become a force.

Jones also went out of his way to praise the offseasons of Jason Croom and Alton "Pig" Howard, who both appear ready to make a bigger impact.

Throw in the freshman tight end duo of Ethan Wolf and Daniel Helm, and whoever wins the quarterback battle will feel like he walked into a pinball game with all the targets.

A season ago, UT's quarterbacks were atrocious, but they had to feel at times like the weight of the entire team was on their shoulders.

They couldn't generate any big plays in the running game, and teams double-teamed North because there were no other viable weapons.

All the talent Jones and his staff brought in will certainly benefit the position, but it's far from the only reason why optimism permeated his media day signal-caller discussion.

Even with one of the two quarterbacks who'd earned first-team spring reps—redshirt freshman Riley Ferguson—bizarrely transferring, UT still has three quarterbacks on the roster with SEC starting experience.

Worley had his two most complete performances of 2013 in his final two full games, completing 36 of 65 passes for 394 yards, two touchdowns and no turnovers against Georgia and South Carolina before being lost for the season against Alabama.

Dobbs played his best game of the year in the season finale against Kentucky then followed that up with an electric Orange and White Game where he completed 6 of 9 passes for 199 yards, three touchdowns and a long rushing score.

So, both had some momentum going into the offseason.

Even after strong springs for both, they went to work harder than ever. Rather than soaking up the sun all summer, both UT signal-callers absorbed themselves in the playbook and weight room.

They also sought external advice to improve their games.

Both Worley and Dobbs traveled on their own dime to San Diego to participate in the prestigious Whitfield Quarterback Academy earlier this summer, according to 247Sports' Brad Pope.

Worley also excelled at the Manning Passing Academy this month, making it all the way to the semifinals. Jones told the media horde in Hoover, Alabama, that he received a call from legend Archie Manning complimenting Worley's performance.

Worley's performance drew rave reviews from analysts on hand as well. The nation's top passers were present at the event, and Worley was in the competition until nearly the end.

The most surprising takeaway from the Manning Passing Academy experience in regards to Worley was that his accuracy—a major weakness last year—was lauded by NFL draft analyst Michael Detillier.

That alone is reason for optimism.

Throwing accurately in a camp setting and with a 260-pound SEC defensive end breathing down your neck are two completely different things, but the returns on Worley's progress have been encouraging, to say the least.

The words from Jones on Tuesday only strengthens the idea that UT has gotten much better at the position from a year ago.

Dobbs also has been making noticeable strides. He hit the weights, packing on 15-20 pounds to get to his now-listed weight of 203. In that spring finale, Dobbs boasted surprisingly improved arm strength from just a year ago, and now he has the physical strength to go along with it.

Considering he was thrust into action much earlier than he needed to be last season, it's difficult to hold his five shaky games against him. If Dobbs takes the next step, he will compete with Worley for the job and have a bright future.

So, Jones' words may have been surprising to some, but they are hardly far-fetched.

Both of UT's viable quarterback candidates made tons of progress, and the Vols' offense will be transformed by the talent around them.

Jones is an eternally optimistic person whose enthusiasm is infectious, and that translates well in recruiting and permeates his players. But the coach has been frank all offseason about the obstacles his young team faces and the very real struggles that come with rebuilding a program.

For him to call out his quarterbacks as a team strength isn't just lip service.

All the ingredients are there for Tennessee to turn around its passing offense. The Vols just have to put everything together.

 

All recruiting rankings and statistics courtesy of 247Sports Composite. All statistics gathered from CFBStats.com.

Brad Shepard covers SEC football and is the Tennessee Lead Writer for Bleacher Report. Follow Brad on Twitter here:

@Brad_Shepard

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UCLA Football: 5 Backups Critical to Team's Success in '14

There are five reserves in particular who are critical to the success of the UCLA football team this upcoming season. 

Three of the aforementioned five reside on the defensive side of the ball. UCLA's defense will in all likelihood provide multiple looks. Although the base defense is a 3-4, one can expect to see an array of alignments and formations. 

As a result, multiple "backups" could be seeing starter minutes. 

The other two members of the team in this piece will look to provide UCLA's offense with some explosiveness and effectiveness from the skill positions. 

 

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SEC Media Days: Why Playing in Kyle Field Is Best College Experience in Country

Day 2 of SEC media days is officially underway in Hoover, Alabama. Texas A&M made a showing with head coach Kevin Sumlin leading the way. Kyle Field, home to the Aggies, encompasses one of the most magnificent atmosphere's in all of college football, and Sumlin and company explained why. 

Watch A&M's head coach, punter Drew Kaser, offensive lineman Cedric Ogbuehi and defensive back Deshazor Everett break down why Kyle Field is the best college experience in the country.

 

Highlights Courtesy of XOSDigital.

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How LeBron James' Return to Cavs Could Help Ohio State Athletics

Before he was a two-time national champion, Urban Meyer cut his teeth as the wide receivers coach at Notre Dame. And while the current Buckeyes head coach doesn't hear "no" often on the recruiting trail, one of his biggest misses came when he failed to convince LeBron James to take his talents to South Bend.

Although to be completely fair, Meyer never really stood a chance.

After James put together a stellar sophomore season as a wide receiver at Akron, Ohio's, St. Vincent-St. Mary in 2000, Meyer extended him a scholarship offer. But as it turned out, the then-Notre Dame assistant was unaware of his target's talents elsewhere. 

"'Thank you very much, I'll consider it,' and his coach started laughing," said Meyer, recalling James' response to his scholarship offer. "I didn't know what he was laughing at, so we went down and sat in a room and he said, 'Do you know who that is?' and I said, 'No' and he said, 'LeBron James' and I said, 'Who's LeBron James?' and he said, 'He'll be the next Michael Jordan' and I go, 'Come on.'"

Meyer would go on to become the head coach at Bowling Green in 2001 while the Cleveland Cavaliers selected James first overall in the 2003 NBA draft. Both men would head to the Sunshine State to capture a pair of titles each—Meyer with Florida and James with the Miami Heat—before returning back to their Ohio roots.

Nearly three years after Meyer returned to Ohio to coach the Buckeyes in 2011, James followed suit by announcing his return to the Cavs. And while he may not have opted to catch passes for the Fighting Irish 14 years ago, the four-time NBA MVP has since maintained a relationship with Meyer, which will only benefit the Buckeyes upon his return to the Buckeye State.

 

The King's Pitch

It's no secret that James is a big Ohio State fan, having made his presence felt on the sideline for football games and courtside at Buckeye basketball games in recent years. Last year, the then-reigning NBA Finals MVP made a splash when he attended Ohio State's prime-time battle with Wisconsin, and Meyer did the most he could to maximize The King's presence.

As has been customary in Columbus since Meyer took over in 2012, there was no shortage of blue-chip prospects in attendance for the Buckeyes' nighttime affair. But these Ohio State targets were treated to something different, as they witnessed James publicly address a pep rally and privately deliver a pregame speech.

And from all indications, the best basketball player in the world's presence delivered Meyer's desired effect.

"Everyone loves Ohio State," 4-star prospect, per 247 SportsKai Locksley told Cleveland.com. "From doctors, to alums to LeBron James. It really made a difference having him there.”

With his schedule taking him back to the shores of the Biscayne Bay before the end of fall, last season's game against Wisconsin was the only one in which James was able to attend. But with James now just a two-hour drive down I-71 away and three September home games on Ohio State's slate, expect him to be in Columbus as often as possible during the Buckeyes' 2014 campaign.

 

Learning From Greatness

Perhaps more so than any other superstar of his era, James has enjoyed playing the role of mentor. That was evident in his essay explaining his decision to return to Cleveland as he discussed the Cavs' youthful roster.

"I’m excited to lead some of these talented young guys. I think I can help Kyrie Irving become one of the best point guards in our league. I think I can help elevate Tristan Thompson and Dion Waiters."

It would be safe to assume that LeBron's lessons would extend to Columbus as well. In fact, some of them already have.

While James' relationship-turned-partnership with Johnny Manziel has drawn more attention, the 10-time NBA All-Star has also developed a bond with Buckeyes star quarterback Braxton Miller. The two have been exchanging tweets since Miller's freshman season and just this past year, James referred to the two-time Big Ten MVP as his "lil bro."

With Miller now right down the road and James having been issued an open invitation to the Ohio State facilities, the senior quarterback will only have more access to one of the world's greatest athletes. The same goes for any other budding star on the Buckeyes roster, as James has proved himself to be one of college sports' biggest fans.

 

Strive For Greatness

As for the basketball Buckeyes, Ohio State's offseason open gyms are often littered with NBA talent thanks to the likes of Mike Conley Jr., Evan Turner, Jared Sullinger and Greg Oden. But if James' time in Miami is any indication, these scrimmages may have just picked up a little more star power.

James became a fixture at Miami Hurricanes' open gyms, often bringing along fellow NBA friends. Former U-M coach Frank Haith admitted to James' presence being an advantage for the Hurricanes, in more ways than one.

"No question, it's great having those guys here," Haith said at the time, per the Associated Press (via ESPN). "It's a great influence for our players. They're some of the greatest players in the NBA, so it's obviously great for our guys and our program."

The drive might be a bit longer for James in Ohio than it was in Florida, but don't be surprised to see him mixing it up with the scarlet and gray on a regular basis. It would even be a mutually beneficial relationship for both, as James could provide his presence and Ohio State could give him the top open gym in the state.

And then there's the way that James raises everybody's game around him, whether he's playing or not. That was evident in Columbus when James was immersed in the NBA lockout in 2011 and opted to sit courtside for OSU's much-anticipated matchup with Duke.

The Sullinger-led Buckeyes beat down the Blue Devils, walking away with an 85-63 victory. Was James' presence a coincidence? Perhaps. But Ohio State forward Deshaun Thomas insisted to me at the time that the arrival of King James—as well as Dwyane Wade—added something to the atmosphere in Columbus that night.

“I saw them over there. They’re guys you watch in the NBA every day,” Thomas said of James and Wade. “It was great motivation to show off for them, ‘cause they show off for us when they’re on the TV.”

Now that LeBron's back home, Buckeyes on both the hardwood and gridiron alike have an excuse to show off all the more often.

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Will Spurrier and the USC Gamecocks Make Their Way Back to the SEC Championship?

Day 2 of SEC media days is officially underway in Hoover, Alabama. The South Carolina Gamecocks made a showing with head coach Steve Spurrier leading the way. How well do you think this big-time program will do in the 2014 season?

Watch Bleacher Report's SEC lead writer Barrett Sallee and 107.5 The Game's Michael Haney discuss the latest buzz surrounding the Gamecocks at SEC media days.

 

Rankings from 247Sports' composite rankings.

Highlights Courtesy of XOSDigital.

 

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