NCAA Football News

Bleacher Report's Complete Guide to July 1 Conference Realignment

Tuesday, July 1, will mark another round of conference realignment musical chairs. Maryland and Rutgers will head to the Big Ten, Louisville will go to the ACC, and a swarm of other "Group of Five" schools will shuffle among conferences.

It's enough to make your head hurt. 

So we here at Bleacher Report have decided to clear it all up. Not only will we tell you which schools are going where, we have a brief rundown of what each move means. Furthermore, we predict how each new conference member will do in its new home.

And whether it was a good move at all. 

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How Nebraska Joining Big Ten Has Worked so Far

The Big Ten is expanding once again. With the addition of Maryland and Rutgers, the Big Ten will now boast a total of 14 universities.

It's hard to believe it was a conference of only 11 until three years ago. Much like Maryland and Rutgers now, Nebraska made the switch to the Big Ten in 2011.

Since then, the Huskers have spent time getting acclimated to the new conference. How has it all worked out?

From a football perspective, the Big Ten has been nothing short of a roller coaster for the Huskers. In 2011, Nebraska stepped into its new conference with high hopes. It was assumed the Huskers would have a great shot at representing the "Legends" side of the division in the Big Ten championship.

Things didn't go exactly as planned. The Huskers fell 48-17 to Wisconsin in prime time that year. Nebraska then went on to lose 28-25 to Northwestern and 45-17 to Michigan, which ultimately seated Michigan State at the top of the "Legends."

As for 2012, the Huskers did make it to the Big Ten championship. Nebraska fell to UCLA 36-30 and Ohio State 63-38 during the regular season, but the team managed to get past those setbacks and make it to the championship game. Unfortunately, the Badgers handed Nebraska an embarrassing 70-31 loss.

In its third year in the conference, Nebraska football once again did not make it to Indianapolis. With losses to UCLA, Minnesota, Michigan State and Iowa, it was ultimately too much for the Huskers to overcome.

In the three seasons of Big Ten play, Nebraska football has ended with four losses. Fans are torn on what that number means, as Paul Myerberg of Pre-Snap Read noted in 2012. He even went on to question if nine-win seasons are the norm. Two years later, the question still remains.

It's not that things have been bad for Nebraska in the Big Ten. It's just been repetitive, as Matt Brown of SportsOnEarth.com said. "But Nebraska remains a good fit for the Big Ten culturally, and it now stands as the clear power, historically, in the new Big Ten West," he concluded.

Ultimately, Brown is right. Nebraska has been a good fit for the Big Ten and the Big Ten has been a good fit for Nebraska. It hasn't been an easy three years for the football program, but overall, it hasn't been a bad deal.

Looking at the Huskers' 2013-14 postseason recap for all sports shows promise. From men's basketball making it to the NCAA tournament for the first time in 16 years to the baseball team winning one game in the Stillwater regional, Nebraska has made its presence known.

From a financial standpoint, things are also looking up for the Huskers. As reported by Henry J. Cordes of the Omaha World Herald, "In 2017, when Nebraska will finally be on equal financial footing with the core Big Ten schools, the school's annual revenue from the conference could well swell to between $40 million and $50 million a year. Such a figure is astounding compared with four years ago, when the Big 12 paid NU $9 million."

As Maryland and Rutgers prepare to join the Big Ten, Nebraska can look back on the last three years and feel at ease with how it's gone so far. There are plenty of goals left to achieve, but it hasn't been a bad move overall.

There will always be the fans who miss the Big 12 (or the Big 8, specifically), but the Big Ten has been pretty good to the Huskers.

A season with less than four losses just might make it great.

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T.J. Simmons Commits to UCLA: What the Florida RB Recruit Brings to the Bruins

Jim Mora and the UCLA football team received some good news Monday as talented 3-star running back T.J. Simmons committed to the Bruins, as reported by Amy Campbell of Scout.com and Ed Lewis of BruinSportsReport.com

The Lakeland, Florida native opted for UCLA over the likes of Ohio State, Florida, Auburn, Notre Dame and Wisconsin, among others. 

Simmons' addition is a massive coup for Mora and the staff. It is no secret that the Bruins are targeting speed on the offensive side of the ball for this recruiting cycle. This axiom is especially true in regards to the backfield. 

Nicknamed "Speedie," Simmons brings very good speed to the table and is a threat to take the ball to the house at any time—as seen in his highlights. This characteristic is somewhat lacking within UCLA's current stable of backs.

Not only is Simmons proficient when it comes to quickness and pure speed but he's also a powerful runner with a strong lower base. He's good at getting low and exploding through holes up the field. 

Simmons won't be overly elusive in terms of making people miss, but he's a one-cut-and-go type of runner. In essence, he's in the mold of a traditional Kennedy Polamalu running back.

From a personality standpoint, Simmons is impressive. He appears to be a very respectful and articulate young man. 

As is the case with many commits on the other side of the country, holding onto Simmons might be difficult. Last year, fellow Florida running back Marlon Mack had committed to the Bruins. However, he ended up staying closer to home and signed with South Florida. 

Simmons has visited UCLA unofficially. Mack committed to the Bruins without stepping foot on campus. Having a familiarity with the campus and area could bode well for the Bruins in the long run. 

The commitment of an elite tailback from Florida truly does add credence to the thought that UCLA is becoming a prominent program. In previous years, UCLA beating out perennial powers for the likes of a recruit of this level would be unheard of—especially one residing on the opposite coast. 

He and current running back commit Bolu Olorunfunmi could make a nice combination of power and speed for the Bruins in the future.

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Complete Preview for The Opening 2014: Which Recruits Will Break out in Oregon?

The biggest names in the 2015 class will be heading out to Oregon for The Opening in a few days. Recruits from all across the country are excited to show how they can perform against the best of the best. 

Who do you think will stand out? Which matchup are you most excited to see?

Watch Bleacher Report's College Football Analyst Michael Felder and 247Sports Analyst JC Shurburtt discuss who to watch at The Opening.

Highlights courtesy of XOS Digital

Rankings from 247Sports Composite

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LSU Football: Why Kwon Alexander Will Be Tigers' X-Factor in 2014

LSU linebacker Kwon Alexander's type of play can make anyone feel some type of way

Alexander's flashes of brilliance on film are impressive as any on LSU's defense. He is a physical force in the running game and can also defend a slot receiver in man-to-man coverage. It is unusual for a linebacker to be that versatile. 

Alexander has the capability of being LSU's leading tackler next season. But it all comes down to if he can master the little things required to be a great linebacker.

Here is why Alexander will breakout next season.   

 

Position Change

Alexander will have more freedom to make plays next season as he moves from strong-side to weak-side linebacker to replace the departed Lamin Barrow. Barrow led the team in tackles comfortably and was arguably LSU's best defensive player the last half of the season. 

Alexander is not as strong between the tackles as Barrow, but he does have more sideline-to-sideline range. Ball carriers attempting to turn the corner on his side of the field are often unsuccessful doing so. 

LSU defensive coordinator John Chavis will likely give Alexander a green light to play more aggressively this season. There are few, if any, linebackers in the SEC better than him at darting into the backfield to make plays. 

In the spring game, Alexander showed off his skills in his new role and jersey number. He only recorded three tackles but had a smooth 26-yard interception return for a touchdown. 

Now I'm getting older, heart getting colder pic.twitter.com/0owJ4XHACy

— Alexander the Great (@Showtime17Kwon) June 25, 2014 

 

Pass Defense 

Alexander's most valuable asset is in pass coverage, as he possesses the swiftness of a defensive back. He should have more opportunities to make plays now Barrow is gone. 

LSU's base defensive formation is a 4-3, but defensive coordinator John Chavis runs plenty of "Nickel" packages. The Nickel substitutes a linebacker off the field in favor of a defensive back. Last season, Alexander was often the linebacker taken off the field in favor of Barrow and D.J. Welter. 

Expect Alexander and Welter to be the linebackers on the field when Chavis calls for the Nickel. But even if LSU is in its base 4-3 package, the speed of Alexander is a near equivalent of having an extra defensive back on the field while not having to sacrifice a ferocious run-stopper.

 

Little Things

An X-factor does not necessary have to make that plays that make the highlight reel or stat sheet. Sometimes the little things are what makes a difference in a defense. 

Alexander can change offensive game plans. If he threatens to blitz pre-snap, a quarterback must also know he can sink back in coverage. The ground he covers can be frustrating for opposing offenses.

Alexander is also a superb special teams performer on both return and coverage units. His special teams duties may change now his defensive snaps will increase, but expect him to shine if given the opportunity. 

 

Conclusion

The LSU linebackers, despite losing Barrow, should be better a whole. The Tigers' second-leading tackler D.J. Welter returns as the starter up the middle. Lamar Louis should join Alexander and Welter in the starting lineup. Backups Debo Jones, Kendell Beckwith and Ronnie Feist should keep the unit fresh. 

Alexander was LSU's highest rated player in the 2012 recruiting class. His All-SEC talent has yet to be fulfilled, but expect him to be the star of the group and the X-factor for LSU.

There is a downside for LSU if Alexander performs at his best. The junior could bolt early to the NFL next offseason if he has a stellar 2014 campaign. He references the future riches that could lie ahead in his Twitter bio

If his dreams become reality, he could eventually be known as "Rich Homie Kwon."    

 

*All statistics and rankings were provided by LSU Sports Information and247Sports.com. Follow me on Twitter @CarterthePower

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Florida State Football: Incoming Freshmen Most Likely to Impact This Season

Florida State may not have won the 2013 national title without a pair of true freshmen.

Jalen Ramsey and Nate Andrews both started at defensive back and were key to a defense that was No. 1 in the nation against the pass. Ramsey started first at corner and then moved to safety, recording 49 tackles and an interception. Andrews added 35 tackles and ended up leading the team with four interceptions.

Which true freshman will have an impact for the Florida State football team in 2014? The roster is deep and experienced, but the most likely position where a newcomer could start would be at wide receiver.

FSU returns just one consistent, established receiver in senior Rashad Greene (76 catches, 1,128 yards, nine touchdowns). Senior tight end Nick O'Leary (33 catches, 557 yards, seven touchdowns) is the No. 2 returning pass-catcher, and he's improved each year at finding holes in defenses. But FSU needs more receivers to establish themselves, players who can be counted on to complement Greene and O'Leary.

The Seminoles have two seniors in Scooter Haggins and Christian Green. A trio of sophomores—Jesus Wilson, Isaiah Jones and Kermit Whitfield—are also options.

But three true freshmen have arrived on campus in the past few weeks: Travis RudolphErmon Lane and Javon Harrison. All of them have begun learning the playbook and working with teammates during the summer, including seven-on-seven workouts.

Rudolph is 6'1'' and 185 pounds. He's not the tallest, but he is fast (4.5 seconds in the 40-yard dash). He's tough and physical, runs good routes and is able to turn short catches into big gains. He also has a 34-inch vertical.

Lane is 6'2'' and 180 pounds. He's an instinctual receiver who uses his body to get an inside position on a corner and also goes up for the ball well (as indicated by a 36-inch vertical).

Harrison is 6'1'' and 190 pounds. He runs the 40 in 4.68 seconds (not elite speed) but makes up for it with a 33-inch vertical.

FSU coach Jimbo Fisher said all are taller, physical receivers but have the versatility to line up outside or inside.

"When you get three of them to be able to spread the field, inside guys, outside guys," Fisher said. "These guys are all big body guys. But big body guys that are outside guys that have the capabilities to go inside, which is very rare."

FSU fans can only hope that a few of the freshmen make an impact in 2014. And they will be mentored by Greene, who had one of the best seasons of any FSU freshman receiver when he had 38 catches for 596 yards and seven touchdowns in 2011.

"I've definitely been taking those guys under my wing," Greene said. "Teaching them the right things, how to run different routes and concepts. Giving them a head start on the playbook. We're definitely going to need those guys right away. I don't want anyone on this receiving corps to miss any steps going in to fall camp. I'm doing a great job at coaching those guys and those guys are doing a great job at wanting to be coached and wanting to learn."

 

Bob Ferrante is the Florida State Lead Writer for Bleacher Report. All quotes obtained first-hand unless otherwise noted. Follow Bob on Twitter. Stats are courtesy of seminoles.com and NCAA.com. All recruiting information is courtesy of 247Sports.

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Oregon Football: Why Arik Armstead Will Be Ducks' X-Factor in 2014

He arrived at Oregon in 2012 amid much fanfare, a 5-star defensive line prospect and standout in two sports. Two years later, Arik Armstead's sole focus is on the football field, where the junior is the X-factor in the Ducks defense. 

Improved line play is a point of emphasis for Oregon heading into 2014. To that end, Armstead's emergence as a major contributor should play an integral role in the Ducks' Pac-12 championship pursuit—particularly because Armstead is taking on a bulk of the duties Taylor Hart leaves behind. 

Hart was—pardon the pun—the heart and soul of Oregon's defensive front in 2013 with 75 tackles, six tackles for loss and 3.5 sacks. That's the level of production Armstead must match in his third season with the Ducks. 

The line rebuilds with 2013 breakout performer DeForest Buckner as its anchor. As his progression into a star playmaker continues, Oregon has the foundation for a devastating defensive presence up front. That would answer one recurring criticism of the Ducks' championship credentials. 

But for the unit to meet its potential, Armstead must reach his individually. His first two seasons did not quite live up to the lofty billing he garnered as a recruit. He made 26 tackles in 2012, but he suffered a sophomore slump with just 15 in 2013. 

First-year defensive coordinator Don Pellum obviously needs more from Armstead, and the junior is ready to respond in what he called a "takeover season." 

He isn't the only one looking for a takeover season. CBSSports.com NFL draft analyst Rob Rang has Armstead tabbed as a breakout candidate in the coming campaign:

Armstead's production is far from staggering but he boasts such an incredible combination of size and athleticism that he could wind up as Oregon's hottest NFL prospect on the defensive side of the ball...A monstrous man with natural power and light feet, Armstead's upside is undeniable.  

One dramatic step Armstead took this offseason was turning his attention exclusively to the gridiron. 

He left the Oregon basketball in January, giving him a full offseason to prepare for an expanded role. When asked by Victor Flores of DailyEmerald.com if the decision was beneficial, Armstead said: "Definitely. Being around my teammates more and lifting a lot more than I would have definitely helped me."

The result of that extra time spent in the weight room is 16 additional pounds of muscle, as reported by Matt Prehm of 247Sports. Armstead is now pushing 300 pounds on his 6'8" frame. That's a sizable load with which opposing offensive lineman must contend. 

That combination of length and mass should make Armstead more effective in shedding blocks, an area in which he has faced growing pains.

The below highlights from Oregon's 30-7 defeat of Texas in the Alamo Bowl show Armstead's struggles with the big, physical Longhorns offensive line. 

Should Armstead prove ready to meet his potential and indeed take over, the junior will be the X-factor Oregon needs on its defense.  

 

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

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Five-Star LB Justin Hilliard: Top Prospect Knows Where He's Going in 2015

Justin Hilliard is one of the biggest names in the 2015 recruiting class. On July 2, he will announce where he will be playing football at the collegiate level. 

Which school do you think he will choose?

Watch College Football Analyst Michael Felder interview Hilliard about his relationship with each program.


Highlights courtesy of XOS Digital.

Rankings from 247Sports' composite rankings.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Predictions for Every Team Joining a New Conference in 2014

Conference realignment will tone itself down in 2015, but the upcoming college football season features almost as many moving parts as any season in recent memory.

It's not just at the lower levels, either.

With Maryland and Rutgers moving to the Big Ten and Louisville moving to the ACC, even some of the "power-five" leagues will experience important turnover in 2014.

The movement of those bigger programs began a chain reaction as they all needed to be replaced by teams from middling conferences such as Conference USA. In turn, those teams from C-USA needed to be replaced from even lower-regarded conferences, and the teams from those lower-regarded conferences needed to be replaced as well.

But how can every new member be expected to fare in 2014? Is there a Texas A&M lurking in the bunch that is ready to compete for a conference championship? Or will everybody struggle to adjust?

Here is a realistic prediction for them all.

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What RB Recruit Josh Adams Commitment Means to Notre Dame

Notre Dame added a surprising piece to its 2015 recruiting class Monday afternoon, landing a commitment from Pennsylvania running back Josh Adams, who was heavily favored to land at in-state Penn State.

The Irish had only a six percent chance of landing Adams on the 247Sports Crystal Ball; the Nittany Lions had all of the other 94 percent. But the 6'2", 208-pound power back from Central Bucks South High School is heading to the Midwest instead.

"I called all of Notre Dame's coaches and they were so excited," Adams said, per Ryan Bartow of 247Sports.com.

And excited they should be: Adams is exactly the type of player Notre Dame was looking to land this recruiting cycle. He is the true power back its current roster lacks and the only running back among its 15 committed players for next season.

That need is likely a big reason Adams chose to play for the Irish instead of the Nittany Lions. Penn State already has two running backs, Andre Robinson and Saquon Barkley, committed in the 2015 class, and both are higher-regarded prospects than Adams.

Mike Farrell of Rivals.com agreed that this played a factor:

Whether he "wanted" to play at Penn State or not, Adams falls into what could be a nice situation in South Bend. Redshirt freshman Greg Bryant, the No. 45 overall player in the 2013 class, is the Irish's feature back of the future, but they could use a power complement such as Adams to spell him and convert short-yardage situations.

Adams is "only" a 3-star recruit and the No. 379 player on the 247Sports Composite. However, a big part of that might have to do with the knee injury that cut short his junior season in 2013.

The 247Sports subjective rankings favor him more keenly than the Composite, ranking him a 4-star recruit, the No. 16 running back and the No. 168 overall player in the class. Per Bleacher Report's Tyler Donahue, he had 2,800 yards and 22 TDs as a sophomore in 2012:

ESPN Scouts Inc. (subscription required) is a fan of Adams' versatility, lauding his taller, leaner frame and suggesting he could possibly fit as a slot receiver at the next level as well.

Parsing through the past two recruiting classes, it seems Adams would fill a bigger need at running back than at receiver. The Irish landed a pair of 4-star recruits, Justin Brent and Corey Holmes, at receiver in 2014 and have a pair of talented 3-star recruits, C.J. Sanders and Jalen Guyton, signed up in 2015.

Adams is the only running back it has signed in that span.

Still, there is no way to project with certainty how any of those players will pan out, so Adams' versatility, while unlikely to force a position change, remains a valuable asset at this early stage of recruitment.

If Bryant pans out as well as some Notre Dame fans hope, he could theoretically declare for the NFL draft after the 2015 season, leaving a hole for Adams to emerge as a feature back as a sophomore or redshirt freshman. More likely than not, Bryant will stay at least one more season after that and Adams will fight to be his complement.

Any way you swing it, though, Adams is an important signing for a Notre Dame team that lacked depth in its backfield for the future.

Now it just needs to hold onto his commitment.

 

Note: Unless otherwise cited, all recruiting info courtesy of the 247Sports Composite.

Follow Brian Leigh on Twitter: @BLeighDAT

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Notre Dame Football: Why Max Redfield Will Be Irish's X-Factor in 2014

As Notre Dame prepares for the 2014 season, most of the focus has been on Brian VanGorder's rebuilt front seven. Replacing stars Stephon Tuitt and Louis Nix—not to mention longtime starters Prince Shembo, Dan Fox and Carlo Calabrese—will be no easy task. 

But in VanGorder's attacking system, the pressure falls on the secondary. And as the cornerbacks are asked to switch from playing a majority of zone coverage under Bob Diaco to man-to-man in the new system, one breakdown in the back end can result in six points for the opponents.

Enter Max Redfield.

Notre Dame's sophomore safety has been tabbed to be the Irish's free safety. He'll be both the last line of defense and one of the Irish's top athletes on the field, serving as a center fielder responsible for keeping big plays to a minimum, but sometimes using his speed to come blitzing off the edge in VanGorder's exotic scheme.

That's a lot of pressure on a young player who has exactly one start under his belt, a game where Brian Kelly forced him into the starting lineup for the Pinstripe Bowl. But Redfield's ascent, and the need for him to play good football after barely playing at all, makes him the X-factor for the Irish in 2014.

Notre Dame's defense has been reliant on great safety play since Kelly arrived in South Bend. One of the first orders of business for Kelly and then-secondary coach Chuck Martin was to fix Harrison Smith. There were doubts that Smith could play safety after a difficult 2009 season that saw him bounce to linebacker, seemingly getting beaten by receivers and missing tackles from either position.

But under Martin's tutelage, Smith bloomed. And the Irish defense improved with him. Smith's tackle total jumped from 69 to 93 from 2009 to 2010, finishing behind only Manti Te'o for the team lead. More amazingly, he became a ball hawk, making seven interceptions after failing to make one the season before.

In 2011, Smith finished with 90 tackles, again only behind Te'o. And while he failed to register any interceptions, he broke up 10 passes and defended 10 more on his way to being drafted in the first round by the Minnesota Vikings.

With Smith gone, Notre Dame's 2012 defense also relied on rock-solid safety play as Zeke Motta stepped to the forefront. After being a part-time starter in 2010 and 2011, Motta slid into Smith's role as the defense's quarterback, and his 77 tackles were again second on the team, trailing only Te'o's 113 on a defense that finished the season as the nation's second-best scoring unit.

Losing Te'o certainly hurt Notre Dame, with the Irish dropping to 27th in scoring defense, down 25 spots (and 10 points a game) from the year before. But a big part of that was not having a safety to rely on in the back end.

In 2013, no safety finished with more than 50 tackles. Matthias Farley, who started the season as the team's top returning safety, finished with 49. He's been moved to cornerback, where he transitioned in the spring. Austin Collinsworth started 11 games but only made 43 tackles.

While Collinsworth will return at the position, playing closer to the line of scrimmage as a strong safety, the free safety job is Redfield's. And on paper, he's a perfect fit.

Redfield has all the athleticism you'd want from a safety, and the 6'1", 194-pounder was among the best players in the country when he walked away from a commitment to USC and chose Notre Dame at the Under Armour All-American game. 

Finding his way onto the field in Diaco's defense was a struggle, with the safety position asked to handle a lot of pre-snap responsibilities. And while the learning curve has been steep as the Irish learn VanGorder's new system, Redfield solidified his job with a strong spring practice. 

Just because Notre Dame has switched defensive coordinators doesn't mean the safety position will be less important. One look back at VanGorder's defensive stats at Auburn show you how vital the team's safeties were. 

VanGorder's 2012 Tiger defense had a safety as the second- and third-leading tackler. Demetruce McNeal started all 12 games for Auburn at free safety, making 90 tackles and seven tackles for loss. Strong safety Jermaine Whitehead made 86 tackles with four behind the line of scrimmage. 

While certainly an imperfect science, neither McNeal (who finished his career at West Alabama before signing as an undrafted free agent with the Packers) or Whitehead were in the same stratosphere as Redfield as recruits. And while Redfield will be learning and seeing things for the first time, those numbers give you a baseline for the expectations the Irish coaching staff will have for the position.

Putting up 90 tackles and making plays behind the line of scrimmage is a long way from the one start and 12 total tackles Redfield put together in his freshman season. But it's what was expected from the high school All-American when he signed with the Irish. 

With the starting job Redfield's and great expectations on his shoulders, the young Irish safety is one of the keys to Notre Dame's season.

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Which Program Gives 5-Star DE Terry Beckner Best Chance at Success?

Terry Beckner is a 5-star defensive end in the 2015 class, according to 247Sports' composite rankings. This Illinois native has narrowed down his list to a few schools across the country. 

Beckner has the potential to become one of the next great DEs in college football. Which school do you think he will choose?

Watch College Football Analyst Michael Felder break down how Beckner fits in each program.

 

Highlights courtesy of XOS Digital.

Rankings from 247Sports' composite rankings.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Where Will Big-Hitting 2015 Safety Jamal Peters Have Most Success?

Big-time 2015 safety Jamal Peters has everyone fighting over his talents. Still uncommitted, he has shown serious interest in top ACC and SEC programs. 

Peters' ability to take on the lead block allows him to play in multiple defensive schemes. Where do you think he will land?

Watch College Football Analyst Michael Felder talk about Peters' future.

 

Highlights courtesy of XOS Digital.

Rankings from 247Sports' composite rankings.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Former Texas QB Chris Simms 1-on-1 with Alabama Commit QB Blake Barnett

Blake Barnett is a 5-star quarterback committed to the Alabama Crimson Tide.

The No. 3 dual-threat QB in the 2015 class, according to 247Sports' composite rankings, Barnett will be a great asset for Nick Saban in the future.

Bleacher Report's NFL Analyst Chris Simms had a one-on-one session with Barnett in New York City.

How do you think he will do at the next level?

Check out the video to find out.


Rankings from 247Sports' composite rankings. 

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

The Case for Michigan Freshman Sensation Jabrill Peppers to Play Both Ways

For Brady Hoke, the scenario entering the 2014 season is pretty simple: Win, or else.

The “or else” requires no further elaboration. The upcoming campaign will drive his coaching future one way or another, whether at Michigan or elsewhere.

Pressure has started to build—fair or not—despite the university’s unwavering public support for its current head coach. He needs a successful season, or a familiar process will pitch a tent in Ann Arbor and likely be his undoing.

It’s for that reason that Hoke should count on incoming freshman Jabrill Peppers however he can, whenever he can, at whatever position(s) he believes he can handle from Day 1. Take those classic freshman protocols and abandon them entirely.

This is not your typical freshman, and more importantly, this is also not your typical situation.

Peppers, the No. 3 overall player in the class of 2014, according to 247Sports' Composite ranking, is one of the most explosive high school players to emerge in the past five years. He projects as an elite cornerback, not a label many high school corners acquire before playing their first collegiate game.

At 6 feet tall and more than 200 pounds, he already has an NFL body. He also has elite speed, something that was on display as he won another New Jersey Non-Public A state track title in the 100-meter dash.

His time of 10.52 seconds was nearly a half-second better than Minkah Fitzpatrick, an Alabama commit and the nation’s No. 42 ranked incoming recruit, according to 247Sports' Composite ranking.

He is, quite simply, a physical specimen.

“Peppers is one of the most dynamic football players I have seen at the high school level,” JC Shurburtt, the national recruiting director at 247Sports told Bleacher Report.

“He was special on defense and with the ball in his hands. There probably hasn't been a high school player I've seen with that type of versatility and skill set since Joe McKnight in the 2007 class."

The buzz is real. It’s prompted a flurry of questions regarding how Hoke will use Peppers out of the gate. Such talk will only continue as we inch toward conference media days.

Speaking with Bonnie Bernstein of Campus Insiders, Hoke offered the following on whether Peppers could assume a Charles Woodson-like role:

Jabrill is a guy that obviously we think is a very good football player. Will he get the ball in his hands, not just play defense? Maybe. We’ll see how things go. We’ll see. Believe me, I’ve got a new offensive coordinator who wants him to play tailback. We’ll see. We’ll go through it pretty well with him.

That coordinator is Doug Nussmeier. Nussmeier was paid handsomely to leave Alabama this offseason, and Hoke hopes he can revive an offense that struggled mightily—especially along the offensive line—in 2013.

Although Devin Gardner had his struggles at quarterback, particularly with turnovers, he didn’t have much help when it came to protection, and the running game didn’t do him any favors.

Such issues were evident while assessing the woeful numbers from a season ago.

Despite the carnage, there’s good news coming. (There’s also a bit of bad.)

The bad news is that the team’s top offensive lineman, Taylor Lewan, is off to the NFL. As one might expect, the issue didn’t suddenly resolve itself this spring without its most proven commodity. The offensive line struggled without Lewan, particularly in the team’s spring game, and it remains a work in progress.

The good news is it really can’t get much worse than it was a season ago. Beyond the obvious, the other, actual bit of good news is that Derrick Green—the prized running back recruit from the 2013 class—has cut weight and looked the part this offseason.

And then there’s Peppers and the spark he could provide.

His role has yet to be defined, but it has gained some clarity. Hoke announced that Peppers will likely start at nickelback, according to Nick Baumgardner at mlive.com.

Keep in mind this could change. Peppers could turn heads in fall camp and acquire a more prominent role in the secondary. Included in this role could be some touches on special teams, and that’s where things could get interesting for the freshman.

"We'll probably have him return some kicks and we'll probably have him do some kickoff returns -- just see how capable he is," Hoke told Brendan F. Quinn of mlive.com. "We think (he is) very capable."

He is, and he will be. And it likely won’t take long.

While corner feels like his permanent landing spot, few can do the things he can with the football in his hands. This play from a high school scrimmage last season served as a reminder of the sheer absurdity he’s capable of.

"I think Peppers absolutely can play both sides,” Shurburtt added on his potential. “In fact, I am not sure how wise Michigan would be if the Wolverines did not attempt to get the ball in his hands at least a few times per game. He's just such an explosive player."

It may not be the more deliberate handoffs. In fact, it shouldn’t be. Those honors should go to Green or De’Veon Smith, another promising young back who, with Green, will likely see the bulk of the traditional carries.

But given the issues with the running game, one would only assume that Peppers will be used in unique ways. He has to be. His presence alone could alter how defenses approach this team, which is an enormous advantage for a unit in desperate need of an edge.

While it’s presumptuous to assume that Peppers will come in and immediately be Percy Harvin—although that won’t stop usage comparisons given the head coach—the upside is too great to deny him for long.

He’s a game-changer—along with tight end Devin Funchess—who will keep opposing coordinators’ coffee makers active well after dinner. Not because of what they’ll do on their 15 to 20 touches, but because of what they can do on that one screen pass or option, that one unassuming play, that a team wasn't ready for.

For Brady Hoke, a coach teetering toward the place no coach wants to go, no scenario should be disregarded. You can’t possibly put all your hopes on one individual player—especially a non-quarterback who has yet to participate in his first collegiate practice—but the potential is too boundless to ignore. Counting on him feels appropriate.

It isn't normal to set these kinds of expectations for a player with a blank canvas, but again, Peppers requires a different protocol entirely. With desperation and necessity blending together as a critical season approaches, no avenue should go unexplored.

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Power Ranking Auburn's Positional Units for 2014

After a remarkable 12-2 season that finished with an SEC Championship and a spot in the final BCS National Championship Game, the Auburn Tigers will have a target on their backs this season.

Fortunately for the Tigers and their fans, they have the strength to handle the pressure of SEC and national-title hype.

Auburn returns eight starters from one of the nation's most potent offenses and has depth across the defensive line and linebacker units.

However, Gus Malzahn and his staff will need to see improvement from an underwhelming secondary while implementing an entirely new set of specialists.

Here is a bottom-to-top look at the Tigers' positional units, ranked by experience, performance in previous seasons and an outlook toward the near future. Returning starters are listed as top players, while projected new starters and role players are listed as question marks heading into the 2014 season. 

Begin Slideshow

Kevin Sumlin Needs to Find a 'Johnny Manziel' on Texas A&M's Defense in 2014

Two short seasons ago, there was uncertainty in College Station, Texas.

The Texas A&M Aggies were entering their new life as a member of the SEC West, fresh off a 7-6 season with a new coach and a new quarterback.

A slow transition process was inevitable. Well, until a redshirt freshman quarterback named Johnny Manziel stepped on the field and set the college football world on fire.

Fast forward two years, and it's another big season in College Station littered with high stakes and plenty of uncertainty. My B/R colleague Ben Kercheval noted earlier this month that the expectations generated from head coach Kevin Sumlin's first two seasons at the helm coupled with Texas' downward spiral into national irrelevance makes this a critical year for Texas A&M.

What would help? Finding a "Johnny Manziel" for that defense would be a huge benefit.

Manziel came along at a time in the SEC when defenses dominated. He, along with an influx of new head coaches like Sumlin, Ole Miss' Hugh Freeze and Auburn's Gus Malzahn, helped change that. Defense doesn't win championships anymore; "just enough" defense wins championships.

Texas A&M hasn't had enough over the last two seasons.

Not even close.

Isaiah Golden looked like he could be a force in the middle of the defensive line in the second half of the Chick-fil-A Bowl vs. Duke, but he was dismissed from the team earlier this month. Linebacker Darian Claiborne led the Aggies in tackles last year, due in part to running backs continually getting to the second level. A full offseason of work could have turned him into "that guy" as well. But he was dismissed with Golden after an offseason of tumult.

Somebody has to step up, because while there are weapons all over the Aggies offense and creativity within the coaching staff to succeed no matter who's the quarterback, it's unlikely the Aggies offense will be as potent as it was with the most dynamic college football quarterback of this generation taking the snaps.

Sumlin needs to catch lighting in a bottle on the defensive side of the ball.

One potential candidate would be defensive end Myles Garrett. The No. 2 overall player in the class of 2014 has incredible burst off the edge, the size to be a force against the run and the potential to be one of the most disruptive players in the SEC once he gets his feet wet.

But when, exactly, will that be?

Julien Obioha and Gavin Stansbury are likely candidates to start at rush end and strong-side defensive end, respectively. If Garrett emerges as a force, it could allow defensive coordinator Mark Snyder to drop one of them down to defensive tackle in passing situations and let Garrett's strength—his pass-rushing ability—shine early and often.

If that happens, that would help out a secondary that, while experienced, has dealt with quite a few passes being completed on them over the last two seasons. Then, maybe, cornerback Deshazor Everett will live up to that first-team All-SEC tag Phil Steele gave him in his 2014 preview. 

They better find a star in a hurry, because as was the case in Manziel's first season at quarterback, the Aggies open with an SEC opponent: on the road Aug. 28 vs. South Carolina. 

If a new star doesn't emerge before then, it could be the start of a long season in College Station.

 

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

 


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Why Devin Gardner Should Be Michigan's Starting Quarterback in 2014

Michigan's critical 2014 season doesn't rest solely on its quarterback, but it's a major storyline nonetheless. That said, head coach Brady Hoke wants to eliminate that story as soon as possible. 

Speaking on SiriusXM last Thursday, Hoke said he expects to know which quarterback will take the field—Devin Gardner or Shane Morris—early in fall camp (via Nick Baumgardner of MLive.com):

Even though we have a starter coming back (at quarterback), I think that's a great competition. At the end of the day, somewhere early in fall camp, I think that position will be secured by one guy.

(Someone) who will go out there and lead this offense and lead this team. But, at the same time, having the ability (to have depth) if a guy gets dinged up, or a guy isn't having the day he wants to have or we want him to have. There's an opportunity for the next guy to come in, and that's what's been great (about this).

The battle between Gardner, a senior, and Morris, a sophomore, was closely watched through the spring, with Hoke indicating (via Baumgardner) that Morris had made up ground on Gardner. But Hoke has also maintained that, if the season opener against Appalachian State were tomorrow, Gardner would likely be the choice. 

So unless Morris transforms during summer workouts, it wouldn't be surprising to see Gardner named the starter in the early stages of preseason camp. That will allow Gardner to prepare with confidence and for the rest of the offense, which finished 87th in the nation last season, to jell. 

Make no mistake, allowing the competition to stretch through the spring was a good move by Hoke. That pushes Gardner to show that he's the runaway favorite and Morris can gain some confidence knowing he has a legitimate shot. For that matter, new offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier can get a good feel for both quarterbacks. 

Ultimately, the nod should go to Gardner. Otherwise, the longer the competition goes into preseason camp, the better chance Morris has of being named the starter. 

Gardner's numbers were far from terrible last season—2,960 passing yards, 21 touchdowns and 11 interceptions—but he also had no protection. The offensive line is a major question mark again for the Wolverines, one that could easily determine the outcome of the season. 

If the offensive line is problematic again, it won't matter as much who is behind center. But, of the two, Gardner is a bit more dynamic running the ball. Expect the quarterbacks to run less in Nussmeier's offense, but with Gardner in the backfield, the threat is still there. 

"Absolutely, that's the plan," Gardner said about running the ball via Dave Dye of Fox Sports Detroit. "That's what Coach Nuss is always talking about even when we have (quarterback) read plays where I'll read the (defensive) end. It used to be if it's a question, we'll take it and go (on a keeper). Now if it's a question, we want the running back to hold the ball and to continue to run."

Gardner has the experience and athleticism to give him an edge in the competition. But as Dye also notes, Gardner has a "now or never" urgency that fits in with Michigan's attitude this season. 

Gardner is going to be a fifth-year senior. Starting August 30 against Appalachian State, it will become 'now or never' time for him.

'He's always been kind of a football junkie, but I think he's worked at it more so this spring,' Hoke said.

Gardner added: 'It's your last opportunity to make something happen, leave your stamp, part of your legacy here.'

It's not that Morris doesn't share the urgency to win, but he's still developing at the quarterback position. The Wolverines don't have a lot of time or patience right now. Morris filled in well for Gardner in the Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl loss to Kansas State, showing off a nice arm. He may be Michigan's quarterback of the future one day.

For now, though, Hoke has implied Gardner gives this team the best chance the win. That's what he has to go with. As Hoke said, that can always change down the road if Gardner doesn't live up to expectations. 

 

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

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Notre Dame Football: Over, Under Stat Projections for DaVaris Daniels in 2014

It’s been just more than a month since Irish wide receiver DaVaris Daniels was readmitted to Notre Dame:

Ready to get back to it.

— Toot Daddy Fresh™ (@DaVarisDaniels) May 30, 2014

As we discussed in our power ranking of Notre Dame’s positional units heading into 2014, Daniels provides a huge boost to the Irish receiving corps. A rising senior, Daniels possesses plenty of past experience (12 starts) and production (80 receptions and seven touchdowns).

But what is reasonable to expect from the Vernon Hills, Illinois, native this season? Without T.J. Jones, is Daniels poised to post elite, Jones-like numbers?

We’ll set over-under lines for Daniels for some of the key receiving statistics and predict if he falls short or tops the mark.

 

Receptions: 70

We’ll set the line at 70 receptions for Daniels in 2014. In three of the last four seasons since Brian Kelly took over as the head coach at Notre Dame, a Fighting Irish wide receiver has reached 70 grabs.

However, it wouldn’t be too surprising for Daniels to fall slightly short of the 70-reception plateau. There’s a deep stable of young, talented pass-catchers behind Daniels, so there likely won’t be an overreliance on the senior.

Moreover, Notre Dame’s running backs appear ready to shoulder a major offensive load, as senior Cam McDaniel and sophomores Greg Bryant and Tarean Folston combine to form a capable three-pronged attack. Their ability may result in fewer pass attempts in 2014.

For Daniels to notch 70 or 80 receptions like Jones and Michael Floyd, he’ll need to improve upon a porous catch rate, according to Bleacher Report's Keith Arnold. Arnold observes that Daniels was actually targeted two more times than Jones in 2013, but Daniels had a catch rate of less than 50 percent.

 

Receiving Yards:1,000

In three of Kelly’s four seasons in South Bend, Indiana, the Irish have had a wide receiver clip the 1,000-yard mark. And while we may not be as bullish on Daniels duplicating the reception totals of Jones and Floyd, he stands a better chance at cracking 1,000 receiving yards.

Daniels has averaged 15.4 yards per catch during his two seasons on the field with the Irish. At that rate, it would take Daniels roughly 65 receptions to amass 1,000 yards.

Those numbers appear within reach for a wide receiver who averaged 10.7 yards per target playing with quarterback Everett Golson in 2012, according to Arnold, compared to 6.7 with quarterback Tommy Rees. That 10.7 yard-per-target average is more in line with that of top receivers. Jones, for example, produced 10.2 yards per target, per Arnold.

Daniels should top 1,000 yards considering his penchant for long plays, too. The rising senior has recorded a reception of at least 20 yards in 15 of the 24 games played in his career. Daniels had touchdown grabs of 61 yards (BYU), 82 yards (Purdue) and 32 yards (twice against Temple) in 2013.

 

Receiving Touchdowns: 9

It might seem like nine touchdowns is selling Daniels short. After all, he registered seven scores as the No. 2 receiver in 2013. But it’s worth analyzing the touchdown totals of past leading receivers under Kelly.

While it wouldn’t be surprising for Daniels to record double-digit touchdowns given the aforementioned proclivity for big plays, the Irish have a capable group of pass-catchers to steal some red-zone targets. Tight end Ben Koyack (6’5”) and wide receiver Corey Robinson (6’4.5”) present longer options than Daniels (6’1.5”).

Seven different Notre Dame players hauled in touchdown grabs last season, up from five in each of the previous two seasons. The Irish appear willing to spread the wealth around again in 2014.

Still, touchdowns are a fickle statistic. Daniels could very well explode for 12, as Floyd did in 2010, or be limited to four, as Jones and tight end Tyler Eifert were in 2012 during the run to the BCS National Championship Game.

 

All statistics are from UND.com unless otherwise noted.

Mike Monaco is a lead Notre Dame writer for Bleacher Report. Follow @MikeMonaco_ on Twitter.

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Should More College Football Programs Offer 4-Year Scholarships to Recruits?

On the surface, it sounds revolutionary. A major step forward in the welfare of college football players.

Last week, Southern California sent ripples across the college football landscape when it announced that it would begin offering guaranteed four-year scholarships to football, men’s basketball and women’s basketball players, as reported by Everett Cook for the Los Angeles Times.

"In taking this action, USC hopes to help lead the effort to refocus on student-athlete welfare on and off the field," USC athletic director Pat Haden said in a statement.

The Big Ten followed suit by issuing a statement reaffirming its stance on offering four-year scholarships, which it actually adopted in 2012.

As recently as 2010, all NCAA scholarships were renewed on a year-by-year basis before legislation passed allowed (but did not require) programs to offer four-year scholarships.

Does it matter? Should more college football programs offer four-year scholarships to recruits? Is it the wave of the future or simply a good public relations gesture that covers up a larger problem?

One prominent college football recruiting analyst says the ripple is just that. A ripple.

“The Big Ten will sell it to every kid, and if parents bring it up, they’ll brag about it a lot,” said Kipp Adams, a 247Sports national recruiting insider with a focus on Southeastern recruiting. “But I think it’s a leaf in the wind. I don’t see it being a big deal in recruiting.”

As Ed O’Bannon’s landmark antitrust lawsuit against the NCAA wraps up arguments, player welfare has become a hot topic, along with topics like player payments and paying “full cost of attendance.”

Four-year scholarships are a natural step. The Big Ten, for example, will guarantee its scholarships even if players are no longer able to compete or if they leave early for a professional career. League institutions will also cover “full cost of a college education, as defined by the federal government” and feature improved medical insurance.

Adams, who is based in the Atlanta area and has spent eight years as a recruiting analyst, says the topic hasn’t registered much with the prospects he speaks with on a regular basis.

“Maybe one or two kids mentioned it the week it came out, but I never heard it mentioned as a factor in a decision,” he said. “It’s had little to no effect.”

Ten of the 14 current SEC schools supported the four-year scholarship proposal when it narrowly survived an override proposal in 2012. Alabama, LSU, Tennessee and Texas A&M did not, although Alabama coach Nick Saban later said that his program would offer four-year scholarships.

However, according to a 2013 report by the Chronicle Of Higher Education, only six programs (Florida, Ohio State, N.C. State, Michigan State, Arizona State and Auburn) had offered at least 24 four-year scholarships in the most recent academic year.

Do those promises really matter? Adams thinks programs will find plenty of other ways to manage their rosters.

“If the coach doesn’t want you anymore, doesn’t think you’re up to the part, they’ll switch your position, tell you you’ll never see the field, bury you on the depth chart,” he said. “There’s always the medical disqualification, although the SEC has an oversight committee that makes sure they’re all medically proper decisions.

“There’s always the ‘violation of team rules’, and it’s such a vague rule. They can make life miserable for you, and say if you’re tardy for two team study halls, they’ll say you’re off the team, changing times so you don’t even know when the study hall is. They’ll practice you at different times other than the rest of the team, tell them they’ll never see the field. Kids will transfer on their own.”

SEC coaches, Adams says, have plenty to sell beyond four-year scholarships.

“They’ll make sure to put it in the back of any prospect’s mind,” he said. “They’ll talk about production, the NFL, the quality of education, the assistance they’ll give kids and graduation rate, and that’s all they need to push to guys,” he said.

"College coaches are recruiters as much as coaches and they’re really good at their job. If parents bring it up, they’ll go to the retention rate, graduation rates, NFL rates and hammer that home. (Parents) will forget why they brought it up. That’s why they’re great at their jobs, why they get paid the salaries they do.”

If anything, the scholarships will only expand the gap between college football’s “haves” (the ACC, Big Ten, Big 12, Pac-12 and SEC) and its “have-nots” (everyone else).

It is another opportunity for big-time programs to flex their financial muscles and take advantage of the huge television contracts they’ve signed.

Four-year scholarships are also excellent public relations and a way to show the general public that major programs care about student-athletes.

However, even if guaranteed scholarships gain major acceptance across college football, there’s no denying that coaches will still find a way to prune their rosters of the unwanted, one way or another.

More programs should offer four-year scholarships, but that doesn’t mean that college football will be fundamentally changed.

 *Unless otherwise noted, all quotes for this article were obtained directly by the author.

*Connect with Greg on Twitter @gc_wallace

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