NCAA Football News

6 Teams That Were Better Than Their Record in 2013

You've heard it in seemingly every pregame or in-game interview done in the last decade or so, and probably beyond.

“What do you have to do to win this game, Coach?”

“We have to win the turnover margin.”

It has turned into a cliche, trite comment, pulled from “The Great Book of Sideline Coaching Platitudes,” but here’s the thing: It’s pretty much true.

Move the ball with efficiency and turn the ball over less than your opponent, and there’s an excellent chance that you’ll walk away with a victory.

Among the NCAA’s top 11 teams in turnover margin in 2013, three were BCS qualifiers (Florida State, Michigan State and Baylor) and another five won at least 10 games (Louisville, Oklahoma State, Missouri, South Carolina, Northern Illinois).

In other words, teams that held onto the ball were successful.

But what about those that didn't? Who gave it away often or at key times?

Those were teams that often had disappointing seasons last fall.

Here's a look at six teams that were actually better than their records in 2013. 

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SEC Q&A on Breakout QBs, Alabama in Las Vegas and Kliff Kingsbury in the SEC

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

And we're off!

@BarrettSallee Which new QB in the SEC is the most likely to have a break-out all American season?

— Mitchell Tate (@Mitchell_Tate4) May 23, 2014

I assume you mean "new" as in "new starter." In that case, I'll go with Hutson Mason at Georgia due to his experience and the weapons around him.

He learned behind Aaron Murray for four years and looked like an Aaron Murray clone in the spring game, hitting his receivers on back-shoulder fades not only in the red zone, but deep downfield as well. 

Some pressure will be off of his shoulders thanks to Todd Gurley and that stout running back stable, and the weapons he has outside with Chris Conley, Michael Bennett, Malcolm Mitchell and Justin Scott-Wesley are just filthy.

Whoever emerges at Texas A&M will put up video-game numbers, and the eventual starter at Tennessee will have a wealth of talent outside to work with as well.

But right now, Mason and the Bulldogs are set up to explode on offense in 2014.

 

@BarrettSallee What is more impressive: Alabama favored by 10+ in 41 of last 54 favored games or 20+ in 28 of their last 54 favored games?

— Dan Vasta (@CI_StatsGuru) May 27, 2014

That's a really good question, and both are mighty impressive.

I'll go with Alabama being favored by 10 or more in 41 of its last 54 games. The bigger number is impressive, but Vegas wants to get action on both sides.

Against some of the lower-tier SEC teams and in occasional out-of-conference matchups—I said "occasional"...I know Alabama has tough schedules—a silly number is often warranted.

Being favored by double digits in 41 out of 54 games means that the middle tier of the SEC, which typically boasts some pretty strong teams, is included in that mix as well. That is mind-boggling.

I don't think that will end this year, unless Alabama falls off the cliff, which isn't likely. If Alabama is contending, people will still want to put big money on the Tide and expect them to win big, so more double-digit lines are likely.

 

@BarrettSallee here is a mailbag question for u. When will Kliff Kingsbury get a job in the sec? Needs to happen now.

— John (@jnorris10000) May 29, 2014

Oh man, can it happen yesterday?

He famously discussed keeping every practice fresh this week, including having ice cream delivered to one of his practices at Houston by bottle service girls

They have bottle service in the SEC, Kliff.

For Kingsbury to get an SEC job, though, it'll have to be a really good one. Coaching at his alma mater means a lot, especially since that school—Texas Tech—took a chance on him as a young, unproven head coach.

For Kingsbury to join the SEC, it'd have to be at one of the big schools.

Will Muschamp is on the hot seat at Florida, Steve Spurrier is inching close to playing amateur golf for a living and there's always a possibility of an entrenched coach jumping to the NFL at some point.

If that ever happens, though, he'd absolutely kill it on the recruiting trail. He's a personable coach who relates to prospects well and is constantly keeping things light while striving for big things. That would play well in the SEC, just as it does in Lubbock right now.

 

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

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


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Oklahoma State RB Devon Thomas Arrested: Latest Details and Updates

Big things were expected out of Oklahoma State football recruit Devon Thomas this season and in the future, but his status is very much up in the air due to a recent arrest.

According to Corey Jones of the Tulsa World, Thomas was arrested Wednesday in Broken Arrow, Oklahoma relating to an alleged armed robbery and shooting with intent to kill incident.

It is alleged that the 18-year-old native of Broken Arrow was one of at least four suspects who robbed a man of marijuana, money, shoes and clothing before firing a shot in the victim's direction.

The victim was not struck with the bullet, and Thomas reportedly denied being the gunman, per Jones.

According to Kelly Hines of the Tulsa World, Thomas has not been released from jail:

Hines also added that this isn't the first time that Thomas has been arrested:

Jake Trotter of ESPN also reported that the running back has a court date scheduled in June:

Thomas was a standout star at Broken Arrow High School who 247Sports ranked as the No. 14 running back recruit in the country.

He committed to Oklahoma State back in 2012 and seemed excited about the opportunity to make an impact for the Cowboys, per Scott Wright of NewsOK.com.

I've been over to OSU a lot the last couple seasons, and the coaches were telling me a lot of stuff about their facilities and everything, so I did my research on it and found out all of it was 100 percent. Coach (Jemal) Singleton is an awesome coach. He's coached a lot of great backs over the last few years, a lot of 1,000-yard backs. ... It's close to where I live, and I like that. I'm just glad that the recruiting process is over.

The accusations levied against Thomas are significant, and one can only assume that Oklahoma State might have second thoughts about him if he is ultimately charged.

Thomas has a ton of talent, but OSU can't afford much bad publicity in the wake of an extensive expose released by SI.com regarding the football program last year.

There is no question that Thomas deserves his day in court, however, he is faced with an uphill battle. This looks bad for him regardless, but perhaps he will be able to learn from it and become a better person moving forward.

 

Follow @MikeChiari on Twitter

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Notre Dame Flips 4-Star LB Josh Barajas from Penn State, What Move Means for ND

Penn State built plenty of recruiting momentum throughout the spring, but one of its key early commits has changed his plans. The Nittany Lions lost a pledge from 4-star linebacker Josh Barajas on Friday morning when he flipped to Notre Dame, according to Steve Wiltfong of 247Sports.

The 6'3", 210-pound prospect initially pledged to Penn State on March 30, capping off a two-week stretch that featured four 4-star commitments for James Franklin. His decision to back out of that verbal pact is a rare negative recruiting blow for the first-year head coach.

Notre Dame's Brian Kelly provided a social media jab in the aftermath:

Kelly and the Fighting Irish land a versatile defender who holds an expansive list of scholarship offers. Tennessee, Michigan, Oregon and Missouri are among teams who also pursued the Merrillville, Indiana prospect.

Barajas is rated No. 4 nationally among inside linebacker prospects in 247Sports' composite rankings. He is the top-ranked 2015 prospect in Indiana.

His junior season at Andrean High School included 92 tackles and five sacks. Barajas also intercepted a pair of passes.

He is an explosive run-stuffer who possesses the necessary frame to thrive as a pass-rusher in Notre Dame's defensive scheme. The Irish add an in-state talent capable of contributing immediately when he arrives on campus.

The university's proximity and past success played a key role in his choice to flip from Penn State, per Andrean head coach Phil Mason.

"When talking about tradition in college football, Notre Dame is the first thing that pops in your mind," Mason told Wiltfong. "Being close to home and playing on the national stage, and I can't say enough about the coaching staff."

New Notre Dame defensive coordinator Brian VanGorder arrived in South Bend after serving as linebackers coach with the New York Jets. He added a promising young pupil Friday morning.

According to a tweet from IrishIllustrated.com, Mason compared Barajas' impact abilities to another former Indiana high school standout:

Jaylon Smith, a 5-star 2013 Notre Dame signing, became the first Irish linebacker to start his career-opening game since 1995. He finished his freshman season as an unquestionable rising national star.

Those are lofty expectations to live up to for Barajas, who until today appeared headed to the place they call "Linebacker U." Barajas is Kelly's first pledge at the position during this cycle.

The Irish also remain in the mix for 5-star Cincinnati linebacker Justin Hilliard. Notre Dame holds nine commitments in the 2015 class, which rates 14th nationally in 247Sports' composite team rankings

 

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

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Satellite Recruiting Camps Good for Kids and That's All That Should Matter

If SEC coaches and admins had it their way, Penn State coach James Franklin would never leave Big Ten country to coach in a summer camp. 

According to ESPN's Brett McMurphy and Edward Aschoff, Franklin, formerly Vanderbilt's head coach, and his staff plan on coaching prospects at Georgia State (Atlanta, Georgia) and Stetson (Deland, Florida) camps in June. 

Franklin's smart to do so. He's taking advantage of a loophole within an NCAA rule (13.12.1.2) that limits where football programs can run high school camps. Basically, a program can't leave its state to operate a camp located more than 50 miles from campus. 

But there's nothing in the rule that says coaches can't work at those camps.

Franklin is hardly the first coach to do it. Oklahoma State head coach Mike Gundy has done it in the state of Texas, as profiled by Dan Wetzel and Pat Forde of Yahoo! Sports in 2013. 

Taking advantage of the loophole makes sense for Gundy and his staff, who heavily recruit Texas prospects. Joining camps at GSU and Stetson also makes sense for Franklin's staff, as they try to build Penn State's brand in the Southeast. 

Traveling to Georgia and Florida, the heart of SEC country, gives Penn State's coaches an opportunity to see players they may not have otherwise seen before. Maybe a handful of kids will seriously consider the Nittany Lions because of it. Some may even eventually sign. 

Guest coaching at camps isn't the same thing as taking an unofficial visit, as Bud Elliot of SB Nation Recruiting tweets. That's a big part of the experience of taking a campus visit. 

But taking unofficial visits are expensive. Not every recruit and their family can afford to do it. Official visits, which are paid by the school, aren't permitted until a prospect's senior year of high school. By allowing guest coaches to work camps anywhere in the country, face-to-face visits can take place sooner.

The evaluation process would be better because of that. 

Recruiting is at its best when kids have as many options as possible and are able to interact with as many coaches as possible—not the other way around. 

The reason the SEC is miffed is because it has a rule prohibiting what coaches like Franklin and Gundy are doing. Alabama's coaching staff can't appear at camp in Dallas, Texas, for example. As a result, the conference views guest coaches as an invasion of sorts. 

"That's our backyard, so anytime those things happen, your eyes and ears perk up to say, 'What do we need to address [the issue] if that's a hindrance,'" Ole Miss athletic director Ross Bjork said (via Schlabach). "If it's a competitive disadvantage, then we need to look at it."

It's borderline unfathomable to think of the SEC as being at a competitive disadvantage at anything, but there's data that supports Bjork's concern. 

College Football Matrix compiled heat maps showing where SEC (via USA Today) and Big Ten schools get their recruits. As you'd expect, the SEC rarely has to venture far for players, while the Big Ten would like nothing more than to break further into the Southeastern region. 

Of course, one option for the SEC is to simply lift their rule, not force everyone else to comply with its policy. Andy Staples of Sports Illustrated expands on that idea

So, can the nation's coaches and athletic directors, most of whom have spent their entire professional lives as part of a system in which the solution to any problem is to make more rules, handle a system that treats them like adults and expects them to act accordingly? The SEC's reaction to the Franklin conundrum suggests those groups aren't quite ready to handle the freedom they're about to receive.

Change is a hard concept in college athletics. Even as power conferences push toward autonomy within the NCAA, fear of what other conferences/schools might do is enough to table just about any deregulated legislation.

By lifting the rule, though, LSU could send coaches to a camp in St. Louis, or Tennessee's coaches could help out in Los Angeles. Suddenly, a kid in California who never considered the Vols before realizes he has the best connection with the team's running backs coach. By the time that kid makes an official visit to Knoxville his senior year, he has a better idea of what to expect. 

For some prospects, the recruiting process is a narrow scope. Some kids know they're bound for a certain school the moment they're offered a scholarship. But for many others, the process is far more open. It would behoove any recruit to interact with as many different coaches as possible. 

At most, players will generally get five years of college. It's a time to be enjoyed, so recruits should open up as many options as possible while they can. It'll be the last time they have those options. 

The SEC should hop on board with that philosophy.

 

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

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USC Football: Early Game-by-Game Prediction for the 2014 Season

College football is still three months away, but with summer on the horizon, fans can start getting excited for what's to come in August. 

For USC, the Trojans are looking to start Steve Sarkisian's inaugural season as head coach on the right foot, and to generate as much excitement at the start of 2014 as they ended with in 2013. The Trojans will have a decent amount of depth this season thanks to an influx of talent coming in later this summer, something they haven't had during these sanctioned years. USC has all the pieces to have a good 2014 campaign, and a pretty favorable schedule to work with. 

Here's an early look at USC's 2014 schedule, with game-by-game predictions for each tilt. 

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Making the Case for Major College Football Conferences to Drop Divisions

With all the bellyaching about the recent decisions by the SEC and ACC to keep eight-game conference schedules, a most important point was largely missed. The scheduling setup makes competition within those conferences unfair.

Whenever there's an imbalance in the strengths of the conference's divisions, the race for the championship will become lopsided. Essentially, you'll rarely get the two best teams to play in the conference championship games.

And on top of that there's also the issue of preserving the familiarity and cohesion within the conferences. When the SEC decided to adopt the 6-1-1 model, with seven of the eight conference games permanently set, it meant that six teams within your own conference won't set foot on your campus for an entire decade. In the case of the ACC, teams will see Notre Dame—technically not a member—more often than a few actual member schools.

There is an easy way to fix this, and it's already been put on the table: College football should dump divisions.

College basketball has been getting along just fine without divisions, even though some leagues have as many as 16 teams. Only three of the 32 conferences employ divisions, and none of the major conferences do.

The divisions came into existence in 1992 when then-SEC commissioner Roy Kramer exploited a little-known NCAA bylaw in order to stage a conference championship game after the SEC expanded to 12 teams. All other major conferences followed suit. But as realignment made conferences bigger—beginning in 2014 the ACC, Big Ten and SEC will all have 14 teams—the divisional setup has become more unwieldy.

In March, the ACC, in collaboration with the Big 12, submitted a proposal to drop divisions while allowing conferences to continue staging championship games. It was tabled during the NCAA's April meetings, but may be considered when the board convenes again in August.

The 10-team Big 12, currently the only one of the five major conferences without a divisional setup or a title game, believes dumping divisions only makes sense as we move into the College Football Playoff era this fall.

"You wouldn't any longer have to have 12 (teams)," Big 12 commissioner Bob Bowlsby told Dennis Dodd of CBS Sports in March. "You wouldn't any longer have to play a full round-robin in your subdivision. That would actually afford us the opportunity to have a playoff between two selected teams by whatever process we would want to select.

"Theoretically, we could say we're going to take the two highest in the BCS rankings and have them play at the end of the season."

In fact, the Big 12 has already taken steps toward making that a reality. This week the conference formally adopted a new tiebreaking procedure, tying it to the CFP poll as released by the selection committee. The same procedure obviously may be applied should it become necessary to determine the two teams to play in the conference championship game.

There is one other peripheral, though not unimportant, benefit to dumping the divisions. It is widely believed that the Big 12 will eventually expand back up to 12 teams in order to stage a conference title game. If that's no longer a prerequisite, then we might have some stability with conference memberships for awhile after five years of constant realignment maneuvers.

 

Follow on Twitter @ThePlayoffGuru 

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Ohio State Football: Analyzing Buckeyes' Top 5 2015 Recruiting Targets

Urban Meyer is widely considered one of college football's best recruiters, but what sets him apart isn't his ability to sign blue-chip prospects—it's that he finds the ones who perfectly fit his system.

Meyer wants tough, smart and angry football players. He wants his team to play with an edge, and building that starts on the recruiting trail by identifying the right players.

Ohio State is recruiting some of the country's top talent for its 2015 recruiting class, and although just three players have committed so far, Meyer has the Buckeyes primed for a strong finish.

Here's a quick look at some of Ohio State's top targets. 

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Why Notre Dame's QB Competition Won't End When the 2014 Season Starts

Brian Kelly finds himself in an attractive predicament, one that will stretch well past the summer heat and into the brisk South Bend fall.

He has two quarterbacks—each vastly different in terms of style, skill and makeup—and one vacancy to fill. It is an enviable position, although that is typically not the case in the sport he coaches. As the tried and true saying has taught us—the one hanging on the basement wall of every coach’s getaway lake home—two quarterbacks typically equate to no quarterbacks.

Not here, though.

This is the exception to the rule, a luxury at a position that rarely produces luxuries in bulk. With this rarity comes depth, but with such depth there also comes fine print. The Notre Dame quarterback competition won’t just be decided at some point this fall; it will likely be game to game, series to series and throw to throw. And for that reason, there’s a distinct possibility this attractive predicament could turn at some point.

More so than the candidates—which will be addressed momentarily—is the master puppeteer. Brian Kelly has already shown the propensity to go to his bullpen at any point, regardless of record, score or situation.

He couldn’t dip into his reserves last season because (a) the depth behind Tommy Rees was nonexistent and (b) outside of a handful of glaring, Tommy Rees-esque mistakes, the senior played quite well given the circumstances. But that’s not the case in 2014. Kelly’s itchy trigger finger could find life, and no one would be surprised given the arsenal he has to work with.

Following Notre Dame’s spring game, Kelly addressed the quarterback competition while speaking to the Chicago Sun-Times:

I would like to have one quarterback because they both can run the offense. This is not about having one offense for one quarterback and another offense for the other…I should be able to figure this thing out.

We should be able to get our players in a position where we can have a starting quarterback. I’ve been doing it long enough that I would hope I could figure it out come time to play Rice.

The two likeliest candidates are well established. In this corner we have Everett Golson, a year and a half removed from his trip to the national championship game and a year removed from his departure from Notre Dame after an academic mishap. He returned to Notre Dame before spring, meaning he was able to soak up valuable spring repetitions.

It was almost assumed—despite Brian Kelly’s magnificent extinguisher work to say otherwise—that Golson would immediately jump back into his role as starter. That still might be the case, although the term "assumption" no longer applies.

In terms of tools, no quarterback on the Notre Dame roster can match what Golson provides. In fact, in terms of overall arm strength, you’d be hard-pressed to find many quarterbacks nationally—excluding a handful of superhumans, starting with Penn State's Christian Hackenberg—that throw the football with the pace and distance that he delivers. His connection with Chris Brown in Notre Dame's 2012 victory against Oklahoma comes to mind.

He does this despite checking in right around 6’0” and 200 pounds, although his physical gifts are undeniable.

The other contender in this conversation is no longer simply a cult favorite in Notre Dame circles. Malik Zaire, fresh off his 292-yard, two-touchdown spring game, has seemingly obliterated the once-assumed canyon-sized gap between the two players.

Like Golson, Zaire does not come from the create-a-player QB mold. He’s listed at 6'0" and 208 pounds on his Notre Dame bio, similar in stature to his competition. Despite his lack of height, Zaire was still the No. 5 ranked dual-threat quarterback according to 247Sports’ composite rankings in the 2013 class, and he likely would have ranked much higher if he were a few inches taller.

Zaire, a lefty, runs exceptionally well. He’s not necessarily as explosive as Golson, however, and his game is built more on accuracy and control. That’s not to say he doesn’t have the physical gifts to excel at this level, but it’s simply acknowledging the obvious: He’s a different player than Golson. Each comes equipped with strengths and weaknesses.

Following a strong spring—highlighted by his electric performance in the spring game—Zaire added a bit more intrigue to the competition. Don't mistake this as one great performance in front of fans, either. He has been superb, and he also didn’t lack confidence when asked about his prospects of starting.

"Without a doubt. There will only be one guy starting on Aug. 30th against Rice at Notre Dame Stadium, there will only be one guy out on the field, and I believe that will be me," he said, courtesy of ESPN.com.

Kelly has yet to announce when he will decide on a starter, although he’ll likely use the early reps in fall camp and name a starter shortly after that. Given Golson’s experience, there’s still a hovering notion that he will be the starter for Week 1. If you had to guess who the starter would be at this moment, he'd probably be the name you lean toward.

That might be the case, although it’s anything but concrete. And even if Golson’s remarkable skill set and experience prevail, there’s no guarantee that will be the case come Week 4. Heck, there's no guarantee it will be the case for Week 2 when Michigan comes to town.

Kelly has already proven that he’s not afraid to make a switch without much warning. Golson knows this firsthand having been pulled for Tommy Rees a handful of times in the midst of Notre Dame's undefeated regular season.

Perhaps Kelly will have to make that call again. Or perhaps the quarterback chosen will take full advantage of the opportunity and never look back.

For now, Kelly can rest easy knowing he has the most impressive depth at the most important position in the country. It really is a wonderful luxury to have, one coaches likely marvel at from a distance. And then that first (or second) interception comes once the curtain goes up and a familiar cycle begins to churn.

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