NCAA Football News
ATLANTA — Thirteen seconds mean the world to Auburn head coach Gus Malzahn.
When Florida State quarterback Jameis Winston hit wide receiver Kelvin Benjamin for the game-winning touchdown of the 2014 BCS National Championship Game, 13 seconds were left on the clock. When they ticked off, Auburn's national championship hopes—which seemed ever so close to becoming reality just a few hours before—went with them.
The number "13" will always be special for the 2013 Tigers, first for their improbable run to the title game and later for what might have been.
It's also serving as motivation for the 2014 team.
"TnT XIII" is the new slogan for the 2014 football team. It stands for "Tough-N-Together" with the Roman numeral for 13 serving as a reminder of those final seconds of the BCS National Championship Game and just how close the Tigers were to capping their season with a shiny crystal football.
"It's a mindset," Malzahn said shortly before his appearance at the Atlanta Auburn Club meeting at Druid Hills Golf Club. "We have to be 13 seconds better in everything we do. From a coaching standpoint and from the way our players perform on the field and in the weight room and everything that goes with it."
Despite the constant reminder of what might have been, the way the title game ended and the 21-3 lead Auburn let slip away aren't consuming Malzahn or the football program. It isn't "national title or bust" for Malzahn.
"We have high expectations at Auburn," he said. "It's a process. We're going to be as good as we can possibly be. That will be our goal again."
But just how good can the Tigers be?
For the first time in his college coaching career, Malzahn has a starting quarterback coming back for Year 2 in his system.
That quarterback, senior Nick Marshall, was phenomenal in his first season as Auburn's starting quarterback, passing for 1,976 yards and 14 touchdowns and rushing for 1,068 yards and 12 more scores.
But it was a run-first, run-second and run-third mentality for Auburn in 2013, and Marshall's consistency in the intermediate passing game was one of the primary goals for Malzahn this spring.
Now that it has wrapped up, he's had time to evaluate how much Marshall improved.
"He's got a better understanding now," Malzahn said. "You can tell he's more confident. His eyes are in the right spot, he's throwing the ball on time and his checkdowns are right. He's just got an overall better feel for the offense."
Toss in four of five starters returning on the offensive line, the addition of D'haquille "Duke" Williams to a veteran receiving corps that already includes Sammie Coates and a talented group of running backs that includes Cameron Artis-Payne and Corey Grant, and it's going to be tough to stop Auburn's offense.
Defense doesn't win championships anymore; "just enough" defense wins championships. The definition of "just enough" depends on the offense a team boasts. Auburn's was nearly good enough last season, and with six starters returning on defense and plenty of depth being built through the last two recruiting classes, the defense doesn't need to take a gigantic leap forward.
It just needs to take a small step.
If it does, there won't be a need for a Roman-numeral reminder of what might have been for next year's Tigers.
That title could become reality.
* Barrett Sallee is the lead SEC college football writer for Bleacher Report. All quotes were obtained firsthand and all stats are courtesy of CFBStats.com.
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Believe it or not, the college football season is truly right around the corner, which means that the recruiting process is heating up as well. Throughout the summer, recruits are going to be making visits, eliminating teams, possibly committing and breaking hearts of football fans everywhere.
The Florida Gators currently have one of the better 2015 recruiting classes in the country with seven commits, but it can certainly be a lot better. Florida has the attention of several elite recruits, and a few of them you should be watching very closely.
Some of these guys, once thought to be locks to end up in Gainesville, are getting cold feet. Others have taken that next step in their recruiting process.
Overall, here are the five key Florida targets you should be following.
Much attention was given to the quarterback battle between Cody Kessler and Max Browne, one that was, for all intents and purposes, decided well before spring camp even began. Despite new head coach Steve Sarkisian's claims that this position duel was anyone's game, we knew that Kessler's experience would trump however impressive Browne's arm strength is.
But it doesn't really matter how much Kessler has improved as a quarterback or how much he has grown into his role as a starter if his offensive line can't protect him.
Sark has made it clear that giving the O-line a facelift is high on the to-do list in Troy, and as we transition into the fall, it needs to be priority No. 1. Through the spring, we saw a lot of progression from young guys like Khaliel Rodgers and Zach Banner, as well as early enrollees Toa Lobendahn and Jordan Austin. We also were reassured of the abilities from veterans like Max Tuerk and Chad Wheeler.
Aundrey Walker, Jordan Simmons and Nico Falah missed all of the spring due to injury, so depth concerns severely limited just how much Sark and offensive line coach Tim Drevno could push for improvement. It wasn't always pretty, but it looked as if the Wheeler-Lobendahn-Tuerk-Rodgers-Banner rotation could be promising.
But according to Sark, musical linemen will still be the name of the game come the fall.
The fact that Sark isn't set on Tuerk as center is a bit troubling because he is the most experienced veteran on the O-line, and his transition has gone swimmingly. Not only that, but Kessler has openly discussed with Steve Bisheff of ESPN how much he likes having Tuerk at center:
I think Max [Tuerk] is doing a great job so far. He is feeling a lot more relaxed out there. The nice thing about us rooming together is that we can get in extra work. This past Sunday, Max, Nelson [Agholor] and I came out here and worked for an hour and a half. Max was snapping the ball to me and Nelson ran routes. It’s nice to be able to do that whenever you want.
Furthermore, Tuerk evaluated his own development at the position and spoke favorably about his new responsibilities:
I love it. I think I’ve adjusted and I feel really good at center. The more reps I get, the more comfortable I feel. So far, I’ve been enjoying it a lot. I especially like calling out the blocking schemes before every play. The way it works is, Cody gets the call from the sideline, he repeats it to me, then I try to read the linebackers and the defensive linemen and make my call.
With chemistry swirling between Tuerk and Kessler, what sense does it make to disrupt that in the fall?
It's not like the Trojans will be particularly short on talent at that time. As previously mentioned, Walker, Simmons, and Falah will return from injury. Then the highly touted signees in Damien Mama, Viane Talamaivao and Chris Brown will join the ranks, adding depth across the board.
In a teleconference earlier in May, Sark spoke about his plans for Mama and Talamaivao, the two newcomers who stand to be the biggest assets to the O-line:
It appears Rodgers and Lobendahn have the respective starting spots at right and left guard locked up, but Mama and Talamaivao will certainly provide spirited competition. Both are considered to be game ready, so however it ultimately shakes out, USC will have quality guards in the rotation.
But Walker is also expected to line up at an interior spot next fall, so there won't be a whole lot of depth at right tackle behind (or potentially in front of) Banner.
Sark's indecision about Tuerk at center could be that he would rather play Tuerk at right tackle—where he lined up against Oregon State last season while Kevin Graf was out—instead of the inexperienced Banner.
Moving Tuerk away from center for that reason is still questionable, though, as Banner has excelled throughout the spring and made a statement about how ready he is to contribute to the team.
Having a weak O-line has been USC's M.O. for the past few seasons, and that's not going to fly anymore if Sark plans to return the Trojans to greatness by way of his new uptempo offense. And the head coach should already be well versed in how disastrously things can go when fielding with a shaky O-line, as he had to deal with it himself at Washington in 2012.
To avoid getting off to a similar rough start at USC, it's important that Sark correctly places his experienced linemen.
“I do know that Max Tuerk is a tremendous football player,” Sarkisian said to Johnny Curren of ESPN. “He’s played a lot of football. He’s going to play for us this fall. He went through the entire spring as our center. We’ll obviously take a good, hard look at that early in training camp, along with a couple other guys.“
It's still a bit too early to be really concerned, but shuffling Tuerk's position again could be a bad call for the Trojans next season. Sark still has a few months to figure out how he wants things to look and really start cementing the starters in August.
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Fans of the Miami Hurricanes have entered the truest form of the football offseason, where spring practice has concluded, summer camp is just out of grasp and the next campaign seems like years away.
But recruiting never ends.
Head coach Al Golden and the Miami assistants will be reaching out to 2015 recruits throughout the summer months, looking to snag a few verbal commitments as the next class begins to take shape.
The Hurricanes are already off to a solid start, but many elite targets in the current class are worth watching as the respective players slowly move ever so closer to signing day.
Torrance Gibson, Quarterback
Torrance Gibson has always been an important prospect for the 2015 class, but a new development makes him even more significant. Sitting alongside Bleacher Report's Michael Felder, 4-star quarterback and high-priority Miami target Brandon Wimbush gave his pledge to Penn State.
Gibson stars at nearby American Heritage, so the 'Canes can visit him whenever the 5-star gunslinger sees fit and vice versa.
However, Gibson is worth watching because he may not be headed to Miami. On Twitter recently, the left-hander provided his top schools:
Though "The U" is currently listed seventh, it's been said before and cannot be stressed enough that should Gibson choose another program, it will not for a lack of trying by Golden and Co. If he commits elsewhere, the Hurricanes will then be forced to move to Plan C.
Nevertheless, Gibson will remain on Golden and Co.'s radar. It's impossible to ignore a player who threw for 19 touchdowns to just three interceptions while racking up 2,852 total yards in your program's own backyard.
Tyrek Cole, Cornerback
If he doesn't supplant Ladarius Gunter during the 2014 campaign, Artie Burns will easily replace the senior in 2015. But the Hurricanes are still looking for Tracy Howard's successor, and they are hopeful to find him at Howard's alma mater.
Miramar defensive back Tyrek Cole has already given a verbal commitment to Florida State, but Miami will carry on recruiting against its rival. The 4-star cornerback has tallied 74 tackles, four interceptions and 32 pass breakups over the past two seasons.
Bleacher Report's Edwin Weathersby compares Cole's skills to Alterraun Verner of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, who deflected 32 passes in 2012 and 2013 combined.
With talents like that, the 'Canes will be pursuing the cornerback until early February. And fans should be following him—not tweeting at him—like yesterday.
Devonaire Clarington, Tight End
Perhaps the most valuable offensive target for Miami is tight end Devonaire Clarington.
Gibson, Wimbush, Jordan Scarlett, Shawn Burgess-Becker, Calvin Ridley and a few other receivers are certainly more impactful, but Clarington potentially fills the biggest position of need for Miami.
According to of Ryan Bartow of 247Sports (subscription required), the 4-star tight end loves the hometown school but expects constant communication from the team.
"They have a lot of resources," Clarington said. "I can see my family if I stay here and the weather is good. If I go somewhere else, then I am going to have to adapt quick to different weather. Miami has a lot of reasons to stay, but if they aren't on their job then I will make a decision."
After hauling in 46 passes for 890 yards last season at Westminster Christian, Clarington transferred to Champagnat Catholic for his final season before college.
Of course, all that means is that the 'Canes get to track him down at a different school and continue to hold off Mario Cristobal and Alabama.
Tim Irvin, Athlete
A local 4-star athlete, Tim Irvin is near the top of the Miami board.
The Hurricanes are recruiting Irvin as a safety, but he has made his presence felt on both offense and defense in high school. Through his junior season, Irvin has amassed 2,055 yards and 23 touchdowns on the ground, 1,249 yards and 11 scores as a receiver, 147 tackles, five interceptions, two sacks, and two forced fumbles.
Jordan Cronkrite, Irvin's teammate at Westminster Christian, recently committed to Miami, and the running back told David Lake of 247Sports (subscription required) that he would be helping the 'Canes recruit:
I am going to try my hardest to help Miami recruit and bring in the best guys. I know guys like Tim Irvin, Jaquan Johnson, Tarvares McFadden, and Torrance Gibson. They are on my 7-on-7 team. I will just tell them that with Miami you can look at the past with all the South Florida guys that stayed at home and had success at UM. We should bring that back.
Miami fans hope Irvin is truly part of a package deal that would also bring 4-star Jaquan Johnson to The U, which could be a result of Cronkrite's encouragement and could eventually entice Clarington, a former high school teammate, as well.
While that scenario will lead many into dreamworld, followers of the 'Canes should be keeping tabs on those four prospects along with Gibson and Cole.
Note: All recruit information courtesy of 247Sports.
Follow Bleacher Report CFB Writer David Kenyon on Twitter: @Kenyon19_BR.
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The Tigers lost some very good players on offense from last year, but they should be able to reload with talent for the upcoming fall. Replacing Tajh Boyd, Sammy Watkins and Martavis Bryant won't be easy, but they have some offensive playmakers who will step up this season.
As you'll see, there are a lot of receivers on the list, as I expect the Tigers to throw the ball a good bit. With uncertainty at the running back position, Dabo Swinney's squad will likely rely on senior Cole Stoudt to lead the offense.