NCAA Football News

Dish Network Gives JaMarcus Russell a Chance to Relive the Glory Days

Dish Network has already given USC quarterback Matt Leinart, Tennessee quarterback Heath Shuler and Oklahoma linebacker Brian Bosworth a chance to relive the glory days. Now, former LSU signal-caller JaMarcus Russell is joining those former college stars.

The No. 1 pick in the 2007 NFL draft had a backyard barbecue with the trio of former stars. Given the chance to relive his college days, Russell decided to join in on the fun.

[DISH, h/t Dr. Saturday]

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Alabama Football: Don't Sleep on Kenyan Drake in 2014

TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — Much has been made about Alabama’s vaunted backfield this offseason.

There’s T.J. Yeldon, the returning starter who’s rushed for more than 1,000 yards in both of his first two seasons on campus and has a good chance at breaking Alabama’s career rushing record. And there’s sophomore Derrick Henry, a 6’3”, 241-pound beast of a human who, in his first significant game action of the season, rushed eight times for 100 yards and a score and took a screen pass 61 yards to the house against Oklahoma.

Lost in all of this has been Kenyan Drake, a junior who was Yeldon’s backup for most of last season and electrified with his speed, but whose fumbling issues relegated him for the Sugar Bowl. He didn’t help his cause with a July arrest for crossing crime-scene tape, either.

But he’s putting together a productive fall and shouldn’t be slept on in that talented backfield. That’s not to say that he’s going to explode to the top of the depth chart and take over the offense. Just that he still has a meaningful role, and his presence could give Alabama yet another dimension in its skill positions to make the offense even more dangerous.

Drake’s speed is his No. 1 asset, and he very much uses it to his advantage. When he came in off the bench as the No. 2 in 2013 and the No. 3 in 2012, he was always a threat to break the big play and did that several times.

“Kenyan, he has great speed,” tight end O.J. Howard said. “He's really a scatback kind of guy. He's really quick. He can make you miss with one move. He gets you open space, it's hard to bring him down.”

His yards per carry stats support that, too:

What’s held Drake back, though, has been a combination of on- and off-field issues.

Off the field, while he hasn’t done anything too drastic, he hasn’t exactly had a clean slate either.

He was suspended for a late-season game against Western Carolina in 2012, his freshman year, for a violation of team rules that coach Nick Saban didn’t specify, though he said that Drake had already been warned once before. Last year, he didn’t make the trip to Atlanta for the season opener against Virginia Tech.

Then in July, he was arrested for obstructing governmental operations when police said he crossed crime-scene tape because his car was inside the marked-off area. Saban suspended Drake after the incident, but Drake was at practice to open fall camp and has been working with the team ever since.

The individual incidents on their own aren’t really cause for concern, but collectively they could be.

His biggest issue on the field is ball security. According to TeamRankings.com, Drake fumbled four times and lost three last season, but it was the timing that made them worse.

Against Kentucky, he fumbled inside the 5-yard line and on the goal line against Tennessee, killing two drives.

So it’s been a point of emphasis for Drake and the running backs as a whole this offseason.

"It's something that you drill in practice," Saban said, according to Andrew Gribble of AL.com. "I think because you practice so much against each other, the better your defense is at finishing and trying to create turnovers, and the more ball awareness and ball security you actually develop on offense."

The fumbling and off-field issues seemed to make Drake a long shot to play meaningful snaps in 2014, but his fall camp performance might say otherwise. So far, he’s put up impressive stats in the two fall scrimmages.

Both scrimmages were closed to the public, so it’s difficult to put context to those numbers, though Saban did say that one of Drake’s touchdowns was a 65-yard reception, so he’s still making big plays.

He’s also drawn praise from his teammates, who note his explosiveness. Saban and new offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin also called him a “mismatch” player who could create problems.

And his presence would give Alabama three running backs with very different skill sets who could throw almost anything at opposing defenses.

“Drake's more of the speed guy,” Yeldon said. “Derrick's power and speed. And [Henry and I are] both power and speed, too.”

Drake seemed to get lost in the shuffle this offseason, but a productive Drake would just give Alabama another dimension to its offense.

 

Marc Torrence is the Alabama lead writer for Bleacher Report. All quotes were obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted. All stats come from CFBStats. All recruiting information comes from 247Sports.

Follow on Twitter @marctorrence.

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How Braxton Miller's Injury Will Cause College Football Playoff Madness

The Ohio State Buckeyes have taken a huge hit with Braxton Miller re-injuring his right shoulder, as he will reportedly miss the entire 2014-15 season due to the injury, according to Brett McMurphy of ESPN. Bleacher Report College Football Analysts Michael Felder and Barrett Sallee discuss how Miller's injury will affect the Big Ten and the College Football Playoff.

Which four teams do you think will end up in the College Football Playoff?

Watch the video and let us know.

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Cold Hard Fact for Monday, August 18, 2014

Fact: Alabama has been ranked one or two in five straight preseason AP polls. The record is six, held by Ohio State from 1954 to 1959.

Bleacher Report will be bringing sports fans the most interesting and engaging Cold Hard Fact of the day, presented by Coors Light.

Source: ESPN Stats & Info

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Video: Houston Cougars Head Coach Tony Levine Can't Avoid Ice Bucket Challenge

Tony Levine had some fun with the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge.

After explaining certain bylaws of the challenge exempted him from participating, Levine was immersed in copious amounts of ice water the way head football coaches traditionally receive the honor, as two University of Houston football players sneak up on him from behind.

Levine called out people he's been told he looks like to take the challenge next, including actor Stanley Tucci, Houston Texans quarterback Case Keenum and meteorologist Jim Cantore from The Weather Channel. 

 

Kelsey McCarson covers University of Houston football for Bleacher Report.

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Under Armour Unveils Notre Dame Football's Uniforms for 2014-15 Season

The Notre Dame Fighting Irish have made the change from Adidas to Under Armour, but the team isn't making any drastic changes to its uniforms.

The football team has a very traditional look. Fans who were worried that the team may get a new look with the change to Under Armour can breathe a sigh of relief.

Notre Dame will wear blue jerseys at home.

The Fighting Irish will wear white jerseys on the road.

[Under Armour]

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Clemson Football: Final Game-by-Game Schedule Predictions

It’s time to take one last look at Clemson’s 2014 schedule, which will begin with Georgia in less than two weeks. The 2014 slate offers a couple of tough road games, and features home games against surprise teams within the ACC.

There are a couple of trap games for the Tigers, but the three big games will once again determine the outcome of the season.

Begin Slideshow

Why Alabama Quarterback Battle Won't Be over Before the Beginning of 2014 Season

While quarterback battles in Aggieland and on Rocky Top have come to a conclusion, the most high-profile one in the SEC continues to burn white hot.

Senior Blake Sims and Florida State transfer Jacob Coker are still vying to become AJ McCarron's replacement as the quarterback for the Alabama Crimson Tide, and there doesn't appear to be an end in sight.

Head coach Nick Saban hasn't provided stats following either scrimmage during fall camp, and according to AL.com beat writers Andrew Gribble and Michael Casagrande, Sims may actually have an edge over Coker—a guy who reportedly pushed eventual Heisman Trophy winner Jameis Winston for the top spot on Florida State's depth chart in 2013.

Surprised?

Maybe a little bit.

Coker wouldn't be in Tuscaloosa unless Saban and new offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin expected him to win the job, and the hype surrounding this kid has elevated him to near-superhero status before ever taking a meaningful snap in Tuscaloosa.

"Physically, he's just so gifted," ESPN's Kirk Herbstreit said. "He's been around now for a number of years, and even though he hasn't been getting a ton of reps at Florida State, but he's been around some pretty good stuff."

But the odd set of circumstances with Coker still learning the offense on the fly, coupled with Alabama's early-season schedule, allows the coaching staff to let the battle wage a little longer than others around the country.

"The big thing that none of us know about him is how he's going to react when he gets out there and faces some adversity," Herbstreit said. "Is he going to be able to check into good plays and check out of bad plays? Is he going to be able to recognize coverages? Recognize fronts? Avoiding disastrous plays is a big part of it."

It will last into the season, just as the fight to win the job did for McCarron, who didn't win the job over Phillip Sims in 2011 until Week 2 on the road at Penn State.

Luckily for Saban, the staff and the quarterbacks, Alabama's schedule lends itself to a similar situation unfolding again in 2014.

Sure, when Alabama signed on to play West Virginia in the 2014 Chick-fil-A Kickoff Game, the Mountaineers were coming off of a 70-33 thrashing of Clemson in the Orange Bowl. But head coach Dana Holgorsen's crew has lost 14 of its last 20 games and is a far cry from the team that was routinely contending for BCS games.

After that, Florida Atlantic and Southern Miss will provide a nice tuneup for the Tide before the vaunted Florida defense rolls into town on Sept. 20.

"It's smart if there is any doubt to get both of those guys out there and get them game reps," Herbstreit said. "You'd think with defense and special teams alone they'd be able to win those games by running the football. We don't have preseason in college football, so the only way you really find out about your quarterbacks is to play them when they're in front of 80,000 or 90,000 people on national TV."

Coker was brought in to be the guy, and while it's unfair to Sims—a senior—that a newcomer gets the benefit of the doubt, that's the bed the coaching staff made for itself. For Saban and Kiffin, sleeping in it shouldn't be an issue.

Whoever emerges at the top spot on the quarterback depth chart, he'll have a solid running game to fall back on and weapons at receiver all over the place.

If it takes a few auditions in real games for one to step up, so be it. Considering the circumstances and the schedule, that might actually be an advantage for Alabama.

 

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

 


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Nebraska Football: How Huskers Can Withstand Aaron Curry's Departure

Another one bites the dust for Nebraska football.

After two weeks of fall camp, the Huskers have lost another player. This time it's junior defensive tackle Aaron Curry, per Rivals and SoonerScoop.com, via the Omaha World-Herald. Can Nebraska withstand his departure?

The short answer is yes. While the loss of Curry is not ideal from a depth concern, he spent most of spring and fall camp practicing with the No. 2, and occasionally the No. 3, defense, per the Omaha World-Herald.

While Curry started eight games in 2013, his experience was put to the test by sophomores Maliek Collins and Vincent Valentine. As fall camp went on, it was clear he would likely be playing backup to both and that his playing time would be much less than last season.

While it was a less-than-ideal situation for the junior, he provided good security behind Collins and Valentine. Who will step up instead? It seems likely that sophomore Kevin Maurice will now back up Collins and Valentine.

Junior Kevin Williams could also back Collins and Valentine up, but his status is currently unknown. As Brian Christopherson of the Lincoln Journal Star reported, Williams went down during the Aug. 18 practice with a lower leg injury. Bo Pelini calls Williams' injury a "day-to-day thing."

Until more is known, Maurice has the talent alongside Collins and Valentine to make an impact.

When word of Curry's departure first came to light, it seemed like he would be transferring to Oklahoma. However, Carey Murdock of SoonerScoop.com learned that wasn't the case.

Regardless of where he lands, Curry has officially been released from Nebraska, per the Omaha World-Herald.

The biggest loss Curry leaves behind is depth. ESPN 590's Joe Quinn made a good point on the matter.

Beyond depth, what the Huskers lose in Curry is experience. The junior played in 17 games during his two seasons with the Huskers, which includes all 13 games in 2013. According to Huskers.com, Curry has 30 tackles overall, with 26 of those from last season.

That experience is a definite loss. However, as stated, the Huskers have a strong and talented group at defensive tackle. Beyond those listed previously, Nebraska has freshmen Mick Stoltenberg and Peyton Newell to look forward to.

However, before Curry's departure, it was clear that Collins and Valentine were going to be the starters. They've been impressive through fall camp, which should give plenty of Husker fans something to look forward to.

Nebraska can, and will, withstand Curry's departure by continuing on. Valentine will be able to provide some experience to the team, which is beneficial. He had 21 total tackles in 2013, per Huskers.com.

Continuing to focus on him and Collins is exactly what Nebraska needs to keep doing. As for the rest of the group backing those two up, it's all about staying healthy.

Curry's decision is understandable. For the Huskers, it is survivable. Pending no additional injuries, this unit should recover just fine.

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Oregon Commit QB Travis Waller Makes Bold Prediction for Marcus Mariota, Ducks

Travis Waller is one of the top dual-threat quarterbacks in the 2015 class. His accuracy and mobility provide him with a great set of tools to build upon at the next level. This Oregon commit took some time to talk with Bleacher Report about Eugene and his predictions for the 2014 season. 

How well do you think Waller will do at the next level?

Watch the video and let us know.

 

Rankings courtesy of the 247Sports composite system.

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How Accurate Are College Football's Preseason Polls?

There are two contrasting narratives about preseason polls: First, that they're meaningless, or conversely, that they unfairly influence the final regular-season standings. 

Ultimately, though, the preseason polls' influence on college football's postseason lies somewhere in the middle. Technically, the USA Today coaches poll factored into the BCS. But polls are also bound to change—oftentimes dramatically—throughout the year. 

In other words, take the recent preseason Associated Press and USA Today Amway coaches polls with a grain of salt. Neither will officially play a role in deciding a four-team playoff, and they're nothing more than (educated?) guesses. 

But how accurate have those guesses been? A look over the past 10 years shows that, generally speaking, teams which played for the BCS championship began the year ranked in the top 25—often in the top 10. Notre Dame (2012) and Auburn (2013) were the exceptions. 

Twice—in 2004 and '05—the No. 1 and No. 2 teams went wire to wire. 

Each year of the BCS has its own story, but this is how the past 10 years of preseason polls have played out.

 

2004

2004 can be an example of revisionist history. What's easy to remember is undefeated Auburn being screwed by the BCS because Oklahoma got destroyed by USC, 55-19, in the Orange Bowl (the BCS championship). Since The Trojans and Sooners went wire to wire at No. 1 and No. 2, the Tigers were victims of starting the season in the middle of the top 25. 

Or were they?

Ralph Russo of the AP tweets an interesting point: The Tigers were perhaps a greater victim of conference perception. There was a time, believe it or not, when the SEC wasn't viewed as the dominant conference it is today. 

Was Auburn destined to be screwed because of where the Tigers were ranked to start the season? It's possible, but there could easily have been other factors at play, like conference perception, that affected the final votes. 

 

2005

2005 was among the most clear-cut seasons for the BCS. USC and Texas also went wire to wire on their path to the Rose Bowl. There were no other undefeated teams to state their cases. This was an example of pollsters getting it right from the start. 

 

2006

2006 began the SEC's string of dominance over the rest of college football. The controversy here, if you will, was over whether Florida or Michigan should have played Ohio State for the national championship—and that was only because USC lost to UCLA 13-9 to end its season. 

The Buckeyes and Wolverines were No. 1 and No. 2, respectively, heading into their Nov. 18 game, which Ohio State won 42-39. The Gators were rightfully chosen to play Ohio State in the BCS championship and won 41-14. Michigan lost to the Trojans in the Rose Bowl. And all postseason decisions were validated. 

 

2007

Ah, yes, 2007: The year no one wanted to play for the BCS championship. Besides 2011 (see below), it was the strongest indication that the championship field needed to be expanded. 

The two teams which played for the national title, Ohio State and LSU, began the season ranked in the top five of the major preseason polls. Thanks to late-season losses by Missouri and West Virginia, the Buckeyes and Tigers backed their ways in to the big game. 

 

2008

2008 is otherwise known as the year of the Big 12 tiebreaker. Or heartbreaker, if you're a Texas fan. 

Texas, Oklahoma and Texas Tech finished atop the Big 12 with identical conference records. The Longhorns beat the Sooners 45-35 but lost on a last-second touchdown to Texas Tech, which then lost to Oklahoma by 44 points three weeks later. 

Since the tiebreaker was decided by BCS standings, Oklahoma got the nod. Was Bob Stoops' team aided by its top-five preseason ranking? Perhaps, but more than anything, this was a result of when a team lost, which in this case favored Oklahoma. 

The Sooners would go on to lose the BCS title to Florida, 24-14. 

 

2009

Another clear-cut BCS National Championship Game came in 2009 when Alabama played Texas. Both were preseason top-five teams in the AP and coaches polls. 

There were two other undefeated teams at season's end—Cincinnati and TCU—but neither realistically had a shot to play for it all. 

 

2010

If anything, 2010 proved two things: first, that two teams could climb from outside the top 10—with help, of course—to reach the BCS National Championship Game and, second, that they could easily pass an undefeated non-BCS team along the way. 

Those were the paths taken by Oregon and Auburn, which started outside the top 10 in preseason polls but won every regular-season game. Undefeated TCU, despite beginning the year as a preseason top-10 team, didn't have a chance. 

 

2011

2011 was a quandary for voters trying to decide between two teams for one spot. LSU, a preseason top-five team, was an obvious choice for a title-game appearance after going undefeated. The question was whether voters should give the other spot to Alabama, whose sole loss came to the Tigers, or to Oklahoma State, the Big 12 champs.

Ultimately, the Tide were given another chance because of the Cowboys' stunning overtime loss to unranked Iowa State on Nov. 18. Since all three teams began the season ranked in the top 10, this was a case of determining which loss was worse. Alabama won out, and won the BCS title 21-0 in a rematch against LSU. 

 

2012

In 2012, Notre Dame proved that you didn't have to start the season ranked to end up in the BCS championship. The Irish went undefeated during the regular season but lost to Alabama in the national title. Ohio State, which also went undefeated, did not participate in a bowl game because of NCAA sanctions. 

 

2013

Auburn became the second straight team which began the year unranked to play for a BCS championship. The Tigers won the SEC and, coupled with a loss by undefeated Ohio State in the Big Ten championship, played Florida State for the crystal ball.  

 

What Does It Mean?

The accuracy of preseason polls resembles a game of horseshoes: Voters try to get close enough. Obviously, there are bound to be major misses along the way. Arkansas and Florida began the 2012 and '13 seasons, respectively, ranked No. 10. Both finished 4-8. 

The next question is whether those polls will influence the College Football Playoff selection committee even though they're not officially to be considered. In the new postseason format, the selection committee will create its own Top 25 and select the top four teams at year's end. 

Recent BCS history suggests that championship games are more closely tethered to what happens at the end of the year than where things begin. The anomaly was in 2003, when Oklahoma, the preseason No. 1 team in the coaches poll, played for the BCS title even though it had just lost its conference championship game. 

The selection committee must keep a team's entire body of work in mind, not simply what happened in the past few weeks.

If it does that, it will be on the right path to fielding the first four-team playoff. 

 

Ben Kercheval is a lead writer for college football at Bleacher Report. *Indicates team was not eligible for postseason play. 

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Predicting College Football's Offensive, Defensive Juggernauts for 2014

When you look at your team’s 2014 schedule, which opponents keep you tossing and turning in bed at night?

Think of the squads that have that rare but lethal combination of previous success, inherent skill and experience—either as an entire team or an individual unit—creating an overwhelming, destructive force. 

Some such opponents are as obvious as their win/loss record from last season, while others hide under the shadows of total team mediocrity, ready to pounce on their unaware victims without so much as a single warning. 

Here’s a look at 16 individual units that will be among the toughest nuts to crack this season—these are the matchups that we should look forward to not looking forward to.

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UCLA's Brett Hundley a Dark-Horse 1st-Pick Candidate

Every football fan in the country knows about Jameis Winston and Marcus Mariota, but out at UCLA there is another quarterback making a run at becoming the No. 1 prospect in the 2015 draft. The NFL knows about Brett Hundley, and fans should too.

 

The Tale of the Tape

6'3", 227 lbs

53 touchdowns, 20 interceptions (career)

320 career rushes

 

Accuracy

Many college quarterbacks are spending their Saturdays throwing checkdowns and bubble screens, but not at UCLA. The Bruins offense asks Hundley to move the ball down the field. The quarterback in this system must read the field, find the best option and deliver passes at varying levels. That's great for showcasing Hundley's accuracy and understanding of space.

Want an NFL-level play from Hundley? This throw against Nebraska shows it all.

The Cornhuskers show an off coverage at the snap—the cornerback near the top of the video is eight yards off the line of scrimmage when the ball is snapped. Hundley reads this pre-snap and knows where his primary target is. 

Post-snap, Hundley does a good job of letting the play develop. He has options on the right side of the formation with the deep sideline route and the underneath seam route from the slot receiver. He holds the safety as long as possible before cutting the coverage with a sideline throw.

The ball placement here is perfect as Hundley drops the ball between the cornerback and the closing safety. This is called "dropping it in the bucket" and is executed to perfection. Over the course of watching his 2013 season, I saw many times when Hundley threw this same route with the same ball placement.

He is able to make this throw consistently, and it is one of the most difficult passes a quarterback will be asked to make.

Hundley can get erratic at times if you're looking for a spot-on pass every throw. The good in that is his passes are generally catchable. You don't see him completely miss the mark on many throws—and every quarterback will miss several throws per game—and his missteps are still close enough to be reeled in.

 

Pocket Presence

The area where Hundley scores best right away is in pocket presence. In the pocket he's strong, fluid and moves with grace whether pressured from the front or the side.

Hundley is a physically strong player, and defenders will struggle to bring him down. He uses that strength to his advantage and doesn't get impatient in the pocket or look to tuck and run too soon. He resets his feet and shoulders well when scanning the field and has a light bounce in his step at the top of his drop.

One fix to Hundley's game for NFL scouts will be to have him avoid traveling backward away from the line of scrimmage when pressured. Many young quarterbacks like to try to spin out of pressure and start pulling themselves away from the line, and Hundley likes to do this too by reversing out of the pocket. This will set up jaw-dropping runs and moves in the pocket but is something NFL teams will want to limit.

There are times when Hundley seems to hold on to the ball for too long, but compared to the other top-tier quarterbacks in college football during the 2013 season, he was working with the least amount of NFL-caliber talent. The aforementioned problem could be a habit the NFL needs to break, but it could also be brought on by receivers struggling to get open or linemen struggling to sustain a block.

 

Mechanics

Mechanics can make or break a quarterback, especially when it comes to their lower-body mechanics in the pocket.

The Jacksonville Jaguars reinvented Blake Bortles' lower-half mechanics in the offseason, and he looks like a different quarterback through the preseason. With Hundley, no revision is needed.

When a quarterback locks on to a target and sets up to throw, you want to see alignment of the shoulder, core, hip and feet. The lead shoulder (which is Hundley's left) should point to the intended target. The core should line up with the hips in a loaded position (you want the hips and shoulders aligned as opposed to having the shoulders opposite the hips) and the front foot (again, Hundley's left) pointed to the target.

This lines up the quarterback's body and allows for a quick, powerful torque to throw the ball.

The key to improved consistency for Hundley is to maintain this platform on all throws. He has struggled with accuracy on the move because he doesn't reset his shoulders and align his body on the move. This is something the Jaguars (and quarterback coach Jordan Palmer) fixed with Bortles to great early success. Hundley can make this same tweak and will see quick improvements in his accuracy on the run.

The biggest negative in Hundley's game as it was in 2013 is that movement creates a disjointed throwing platform. This is an easy fix with repetition, though, and is only a long-term factor if he cannot adjust his motion on the move.

 

Football Intelligence (FBI)

The popularity of spread offenses in college—be it the Air Raid or the read-option—has led to fewer quarterbacks reading the entire field. Pro-style offenses, like the one run at UCLA, are becoming a rarity, and so too are quarterbacks in college with experience diagnosing coverages.

Hundley handles the complexities of the offense well and works across the entire field when scanning for a target. This is not a one-read offense. This is not a half-field offense. Hundley is expected to work the entire field, and does.

Moving to an NFL offense will not be difficult for Hundley. He will have to adapt to the speed of the pros, just like every other rookie, but from a reads and execution standpoint, he's ready.

 

Comparison

Comparisons for Hundley have ranged from Donovan McNabb to Cam Newton, but when I watch the big UCLA quarterback I see a Ryan Tannehill-like athlete. Hundley does seem much further ahead going into his senior season in terms of vision and pocket presence, but the two passers share a style.

As a runner, Hundley does remind me of Newton, thanks to his power as a runner, but he's not an explosive open-field mover. 

When looking at Hundley's pocket presence and throwing motion, I see more of a Matt Ryan-type arm. Mix Ryan's accuracy and touch with Tannehill's speed and Newton's power, and you have Hundley.

Heading into the 2014 season, Hundley is one of my favorite players in the draft class, regardless of position. He has a clear shot at being the No. 1 quarterback and No. 1 overall player taken if his play continues at the high levels seen in 2013.

On a talent grade alone, Hundley looks like a top-five pick.

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Georgia Football: Final Game-by-Game Schedule Predictions

We are two weeks away from the start of the college football season, and the Georgia Bulldogs have put in a lot of work this month in order to great ready for the 2014 campaign.

The AP poll was recently released, and the Bulldogs came in at No. 12. That means the media thinks the Bulldogs will have a bounce-back season and will have a chance to win the SEC and be a part of the first-ever College Football Playoff.

But will this be the year the Bulldogs take the next step and make a run at the national title? Will they be able to survive their SEC schedule and not have any loses that would keep them from their goals?

Here’s a final look at the game-by-game schedule predictions for the Bulldogs.

Begin Slideshow

Braxton Miller Injury: How the Loss Affects Buckeyes and Big Ten Race

As first reported by Tim May of The Columbus Dispatch, Braxton Miller re-injured his shoulder during practice on Monday afternoon. The severity of the injury is yet to be known, but it appears that he did not have enough recovery time from his February surgery to be ready for full-contact football. 

While the primary story will focus on the seriousness of Miller's injury and the length of his absence, the Buckeyes now must move on quickly to prepare for a new offensive identity. At least the first part of 2014 will be dominated by a quarterback battle between freshman JT Barrett and sophomore Cardale Jones. 

And if the worst-case scenario develops, Ohio State will need to rely on one or both of these youngsters for the entire 2014 season.

But how will this new quarterback situation change the outlook for the Buckeyes and the Big Ten race at large? Let's take a look. 

---

Starting with the Buckeyes, the good news is that Barrett and Jones have received all of the spring and most of the fall camp reps due to Miller's rehabilitation. That being said, Jones did not show the ability to effectively run around pressure or lead a dominant passing attack in limited playing time during the 2013 season. 

Furthermore, Barrett has apparently moved past Jones on the depth chart (as referenced in the Tim May piece linked above), so the relevant question is whether this redshirt freshman can replace Miller's role in the 2014 offense. 

Barrett likely has the natural tools to fit the mold of a Terrelle Pryor and a Braxton Miller with time. But behind an inexperienced offensive line replacing four starters, Barrett will not be able to take the extra time a freshman normally needs to consistently make the right decision. Barrett is surrounded by great skill position talent, but he will be forced into playmaking by most opposing defenses this season.

Unlike a decade ago, Ohio State is not completely unfamiliar with playing freshmen at quarterback. Both Terrelle Pryor and Braxton Miller started most of their freshman seasons, although both had a proven veteran with which to share time (Todd Boeckman for Pryor in 2008, Joe Bauserman for Miller in 2011). Here are stat lines for those seasons:

Pryor in 2008: 12 touchdowns, 4 interceptions, 1,311 yards on 60.6 percent passing, 139 rushes for 631 yards, season ended with 10-3 record (highlighted by loss caused by Pryor's fumble against Penn State).

Miller in 2011: 13 touchdowns, 4 interceptions, 1,159 yards on 54.1 percent passing, 159 rushes for 715 yards, season ended with 6-7 record (highlighted by losses caused when Miller had to leave field with injury, including a 21-point lead blown at Nebraska). 

Considering Barrett may have similar skills to both of these talents (as a freshman), similar numbers could likely result. Those numbers are nothing like what Pryor managed in his final two seasons, which were Big Ten championship seasons, or what Miller accomplished during back-to-back 12-0 regular seasons in the 2012 and 2013 campaigns. 

That means Ohio State will need to become a defense-first team. Part of the big difference between the success of 2008 and the struggles of 2011 was having Jim Tressel at the helm of a dominant defense. The defensive cupboard is not as barren as in 2011 thanks to Urban Meyer's great recruiting, but he and new defensive coordinator Chris Ash are building the defense from scratch after a poor run in 2013. 

Accordingly, despite boasting one of the best defensive lines in the country (if not the best), Ohio State cannot just expect to shut all teams down like the best Tressel teams in the last decade. At multiple points in 2014, perhaps against the likes of Cincinnati and Maryland, Barrett and the offense will need to outscore the competition. 

In all likelihood, that will be a problem in at least one, if not two or three, of those games. The dreaded freshmen mistakes will probably derail the Buckeyes or make it much more difficult to win a couple of these close games. 

Despite redshirt freshmen Johnny Manziel and Jameis Winston winning the last two Heisman Trophies, the trend is much more likely to go against Buckeye fans' wishes. Manziel and Winston had much better offensive lines and perhaps more natural talent, which goes a long way when determining how well a freshman season will play out. 

Assuming Miller cannot play at all in 2014, the schedule looks a bit more daunting overall for the Buckeyes. Here's how the games stack up:

  • Should Win (5): at Navy, Kent State, Rutgers, Illinois, at Minnesota
  • Tricky Tests, Still Favoring Buckeyes (3): Cincinnati, at Penn State, Indiana
  • Toss-Ups (3): Virginia Tech, at Maryland, Michigan
  • Likely Loss (1): at Michigan State

Barring a total surprise, this type of schedule analysis does not bode well for a playoff appearance in the inaugural four-team bracket. A loss to Michigan State plus one other Big Ten loss would almost certainly eliminate the Buckeyes from contention in the East Division. Which means, this team has no room for error—a tough spot to be in with a freshman (or sophomore) quarterback. 

Thus, Ohio State is likely tracking towards a similar season as in 2008: competitive but not championship material. The sky is not falling, though, as a likely nine- or 10-win season would possibly set up for a huge run in 2015, especially if Miller takes a redshirt and comes back to the team in 2015 (a real possibility considering he decided to stay to improve his draft stock this offseason).

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Turning to the Big Ten at large, this injury reshapes the East Division race in a huge way. Michigan State benefits the most, going from a co-favorite in the division to a prohibitive favorite. Mark Dantonio's defense totally stymied Braxton Miller in his worst start as a freshman, and a trip up to East Lansing is bad news for JT Barrett or Cardale Jones. 

The Spartans also get the other division contender Michigan at home, as well as the only tough crossover game against Nebraska. That means Maryland, a newcomer and relative unknown in the Big Ten race, could have the best chance to knock off the Spartans the week after the OSU-MSU showdown. It seems unlikely that Maryland will win more than six conference games in its first Big Ten season, which means there is little chance anybody other than Michigan State shows up in Indianapolis this December. 

The West Division race will likely not be affected by Ohio State's woes, although the loss of Venric Mark to Northwestern should cement that as a three-team race: Iowa, Wisconsin and Nebraska. The Hawkeyes get all season to prepare for the other two teams, and the Badgers and Cornhuskers have to go to Kinnick Stadium. 

The talent level might be slightly better overall at Nebraska and Wisconsin, but Iowa is due to take advantage of that schedule and have another big season. Nebraska has the only really tough East Division game at Michigan State, so expect the West Division to come down to Wisconsin and Iowa. 

Wisconsin has battled well with the Spartans, including in the first Big Ten Championship Game three seasons ago. Meanwhile, Iowa has not played particularly well against Michigan State in recent seasons, likely as a result of having an offense that plays right into Sparty's hands. 

Consequently, if Iowa makes it out of the West Division, Michigan State should be heavily favored to win the championship and likely then make the College Football Playoff. If Wisconsin survives to Indianapolis, then it will be more of a toss-up for a trip to the top bowls. 

If nothing else, the Miller injury provides a new, clear narrative for the Big Ten in 2014. How will the other teams knock Michigan State off the high perch achieved with the Rose Bowl win in the 2013 season?

Although Michigan State would rather beat a fully healthy Ohio State to bolster its resume for a playoff appearance, fate seems to be smiling on East Lansing these days. The Green and White parade should continue deep into the 2014 season thanks to this critical development. 

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How do you see the Big Ten and the Ohio State seasons playing out, assuming Miller cannot play? Please provide your comments and counterpoints in the comments section below. I look forward to bringing you more great coverage of the Big Ten in 2014. 

David is a columnist focusing on Big Ten football for Bleacher Report. He has been a Featured Columnist in 2011-2013, and you can follow him on Twitter @Buckeyefitzy for more discussion. Please provide any article suggestions you have there. Thanks for reading!

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J.T. Barrett Must Grow Fast for Buckeyes to Contend After Braxton Miller Injury

The Ohio State Buckeyes received some devastating news Monday when it was revealed starting quarterback Braxton Miller reportedly re-injured his throwing shoulder.

Tim May of The Columbus Dispatch got wind of Miller's ailment and proceeded to name Miller's prospective successor should he miss the 2014 season:

This is extremely discouraging because Miller underwent arthroscopic surgery on the shoulder in February. Now the Buckeyes will likely have to turn to another dual-threat QB in J.T. Barrett, a redshirt freshman who has never thrown a pass at the college level.

Barrett must learn the starting job and do so in swift fashion to rescue Ohio State from this potential disaster scenario.

Although he is an unknown commodity, Barrett may catch opposing defenses and NCAA football fans by surprise as a result. The S.H. Rider High School (Wichita Falls, Texas) product was a 4-star recruit and the third-ranked dual-threat QB in the class of 2013, per 247Sports' composite rankings.

That's encouraging enough—unless you're a Buckeye fan with extremely high expectations and happen to look at the following anecdote from ESPN Stats & Info:

Ohio State offensive coordinator Tom Herman seems to believe Barrett gives the Buckeyes the best chance to win in the event Miller can't go, per Cleveland.com's Ari Wasserman:

The offense moves better when he's in there. You can throw all the completion percentages – he's probably completing more balls and making more of the right reads in the run game. But at the end of the day, the offense moves when he's in and sometimes it doesn't as much, not that Cardale is doing a bad job, but the offense moves more frequently when J.T. is the quarterback, and that's the sign of a good one.

Eleven Warriors alluded to a potential silver lining created by Miller's circumstances in the spring, too:

But ESPN college football personality Rece Davis doesn't seem confident the Buckeyes can contend for the national title, much less in the Big Ten:

Hard to blame many people for having that opinion. Bleacher Report's Matt Miller went a step further:

Braxton Miller has held the starting job since part of the way through his true freshman year and is the leader of this team. Now he is in danger of not taking to the gridiron at all, pressing a player in Barrett who had to think his chance to shine wasn't coming for at least another year.

The glowing review by Herman, someone who doesn't know Barrett as well, is a good sign, however.

The following testimony from Barrett's Rider coach Jim Garfield (h/t The Columbus Dispatch's Bill Rabinowitz), also hints there may be more reason for optimism in Columbus than meets the eye:

J.T.’s stats are not what you would call superstar stats, but it’s the hidden yards that you really can’t see from statistics. He just kept the chains moving. He kept our defense on the field. He made great decisions. He ran the ball well, threw the ball well. I can’t say enough about way he handled the game. His leadership, that’s always been the main selling point to the guys who were recruiting him. He’s great kid, one of the best personalities I’ve ever been around in coaching. He’s one of the best leaders I’ve been around in coaching. When J.T. talks, everybody listens.

It sounds as though Barrett is in the business of winning games more than putting up good numbers, which may be just what coach Urban Meyer's Buckeyes need.

As an expected Heisman Trophy contender, Miller would attract a lot of individual attention if he were to be capable of starting under center. For an offense that lost star running back Carlos Hyde to the NFL, the onus would have been on Miller to pull the weight. The media would also focus on him with scrutiny amid his senior season.

Pittsburgh Steelers first-round linebacker Ryan Shazier was a big loss from the 2013 Ohio State defense, yet he was also the only returning starter on that front seven. Thus, the Buckeyes should be as defensively sound as ever in the Meyer era.

With an underdog but apparent leader in Barrett, whose intangibles and grasp of the offense seem swell enough in light of what Herman and Garfield purport, perhaps Ohio State can exceed expectations under his guidance. The schedule isn't too harsh, as No. 8 Michigan State is the only Top 25 team on the slate at the moment, though that game does take place in East Lansing.

It stands to reason that even competent play by Barrett could keep the Buckeyes' high hopes for 2014 alive.

But for that to even be feasible, Barrett has to take control, limit mistakes despite his inexperience and use his legs to help drive the rushing attack. In the Buckeyes' spread system, they can keep it on the ground, control possession, lean on defense and get occasional big plays in the passing game to still be Big Ten contenders.

Getting it done in the spring is one thing. Performing on such a massive platform for Buckeye Nation, in a power conference and with the pressure that comes with it is another matter entirely. Should Miller miss the year, Barrett will make or break the Buckeyes' chances of winning both the Big Ten and national title amid a new playoff system.

Quite the tall task for a quarterback who has yet to throw a collegiate pass.

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Pac-12 Football: Every Team's Biggest Trap Game for 2014 Season

Nearly every team in the Pac-12 can break its schedule up into three parts: games that should be won, games that will likely result in a loss and, of course, toss-ups.

Unless you're Cal, which has zero automatic wins on the 2014 docket, or you're Oregon, which doesn't have any contests that look like definite losses (the same can be said for UCLA and Stanford, for that matter), every week of the season likely fits into one of those categories.

But which games in the first category (should be won) don't belong there at all? Which seemingly easy victories could end up being challenging and maybe even a loss altogether?

We're taking a look at the trap games, which don't normally stand out as dangerous or tricky on the schedule. Trap games typically come just before or right after a major showdown, and they usually happen against teams with talent and potential that haven't been able to put it together.

Oregon and UCLA are not trap games, because no one is overlooking either squad this season.

So where lie the losses we can't see coming? Which teams will be overlooked? Here's the biggest trap game for every team in the Pac-12 in 2014.

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Braxton Miller Injury: Updates on Ohio State Star's Shoulder and Return

Ohio State's national title hopes rest on the arm and legs of quarterback Braxton Miller, but his status is up in the air after reportedly suffering a shoulder injury in practice on Monday, according to Tim May of The Columbus Dispatch:

Jeremy Fowler of CBS Sports described how the injury occurred while Patrick Maks of Eleven Warriors provides more information on the type of shoulder injury the star QB endured: 

Bruce Feldman of FOX Sports reports on what's next for Miller: 

Lori Schmidt of 97.1 The Fan said the team was mum about the situation:

Stewart Mandel of Fox Sports provided his initial take on the injury:

Miller is among the most exciting players in college football due largely to his dual-threat nature. He has a penchant for making things happen with his legs when plays break down, but that also inevitably leaves him susceptible to injuries.

That was apparent last season, as Miller missed close to three games with an MCL injury and then later injured his shoulder against Clemson in the Orange Bowl.

Miller's injury history prompted the Buckeyes to enter the 2014 season with plans to reduce Miller's designed runs as much as possible in order to lower the risk of him getting hurt again, per Jeremy Fowler of CBSSports.com.

While Miller was somewhat limited during the offseason after undergoing shoulder surgery, he insisted in late July that he felt good and was ready to return to action in the near future, according to ESPN.com's Austin Ward:

I feel like it's stronger. Man, everything that was damaged in there has been cleaned out. So even if I didn't have that injury, I feel like everything from before that injury has been cleaned out. I barely had any rust when I came back. With my footwork and everything like that, I had been focused on that throughout the spring. That's all I was doing, going back to work on my footwork, breaking down the defenses, and I watched a lot of film to make sure everything's good. Everything is in place. I'm at the end of my recovery, feeling pretty good and ready for camp. I'm ready to go for real.

Miller did heal up in time for the start of the regular season, but there was still reason for concern considering how many ailments he dealt with in 2013. In addition to consciously minimizing Miller's workload in terms of running the ball, though, every indication was that he entered the campaign in peak condition.

Per Bruce Feldman of Fox Sports, Miller spent the offseason getting leaner and stronger:

Buckeyes head coach Urban Meyer echoed Miller's comments and was extremely complimentary as the season approached, according to ESPN.com's Brian Bennett:

With so many positive reports surrounding Miller, he was viewed as a potential Heisman Trophy candidate in 2014. Despite missing a couple of games in 2013, the Huber Heights, Ohio, native had what was easily the best statistical season of his collegiate career.

He put up well over 3,000 total yards and scored 36 total touchdowns. With even more emphasis being placed on his passing as the 2014 campaign approached, the expectation was that Miller would certainly be in the conversation for college football's most prestigious individual award.

Injuries robbed Miller of that opportunity last year, and the same could potentially happen to him this season. It is difficult to say with any type of certainty how many games Miller might miss, if he misses any at all, but sitting out even one contest could destroy his Heisman hopes.

Also, the Buckeyes no longer have quarterback Kenny Guiton, who filled in admirably for Miller last season and even outperformed him at times. Without a backup of Guiton's ilk in the picture, Ohio State is very much in danger of losing if Miller has to sit.

With the College Football Playoff putting four teams in position to vie for the national championship, there is slightly more room for error than in years past, but a single loss can be devastating and demoralizing nonetheless.

The Ohio State faithful certainly hope to see Miller back on the field during the Buckeyes' opening game at Navy, but it is entirely possible that they will have to find ways to win without their best player.

 

Follow @MikeChiari on Twitter

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Every Top 25 College Football Team's Toughest Game in 2014

Even the most diehard college football can't deny that their team's schedule has at least one land mine.

No matter how good a team is, each year there's always that one game that causes a skip to the heartbeat, for sweat to form on the brow.

It's not necessarily going to result in defeat—often it's not the perceived "best" team on the schedule—but that game is the one that a team's fans should be most worried about. Maybe it's against a heated rival, where records get thrown out the door. Or it could be the timing of the contest, where it's being played or that it's on a weeknight or has a late (or early) kickoff.

Whatever the case, there's something about the game that just screams danger.

Using the Associated Press preseason Top 25 poll as a list, we've gone through the 2014 schedules of FBS' best teams and picked out the one game on each of their schedules that will be the most stringent challenge.

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Oklahoma RB Joe Mixon Suspended for Season by Program

The Oklahoma Sooners announced Monday that running back Joe Mixon has been suspended by the program for the entire 2014 college football season.    

NFL.com's Bryan Fischer reported the news on Twitter, and included an official statement from Oklahoma on Mixon's punishment:

Mixon was a 5-star recruit in the class of 2014 out of Freedom High School in Oakley, California. He was listed as the 21st overall prospect in the nation and the No. 4 all-purpose back, per 247Sports' composite rankings.

Unfortunately, Mixon has already made a major misstep before even setting foot on the gridiron in Norman. According to OKCFox.com's Jay Dillon, Mixon has been arraigned on charges after a physical altercation with a woman.

The report outlines more details of the incident, and Mixon had been ordered to turn himself in by 4 p.m. on Monday:

Police said they were called to investigate an assault at Pickleman's Gourmet Cafe just after 2:30 a.m. on Friday, July 25. Norman police say Mixon was an "involved party" in the incident but stopped short of calling him a suspect. Police say Mixon and a 20-year-old female got into an altercation and it turned physical and ended with the woman having injuries to her face.

SoonerScoop.com's RJ Young supplied information regarding the arraignment at Cleveland County Courthouse, which occurred hours before Mixon's suspension was announced:

Young then compared the Sooners' current crop of ball-carriers to the other loaded backfields Oklahoma has had during head coach Bob Stoops' tenure:

The Sooners lost three of their top four rushers from 2013 in Brennan Clay, Damien Williams and Roy Finch. Starting dual-threat quarterback Trevor Knight is the only one of that quartet returning. An opportunity was imminent for Mixon to have an immediate impact as a true freshman until he exercised poor judgment.

This situation has at least brought immediate closure in terms of Mixon's status for the 2014 campaign. A once bright future for Mixon is now in doubt, especially now that he is unable to establish himself and develop within the program for a significant period of time.

Offensive coordinator Josh Heupel will have to rely heavily on Knight's talents to allow Oklahoma to compete for a College Football Playoff spot this season. The next man up to potentially grab the No. 1 running back spot figures to be sophomore Keith Ford, who ran for 134 yards and a touchdown on 23 carries last year.

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