NCAA Football News

What to Expect from Jameis Winston in Week 1 Against Oklahoma State

With a Heisman Trophy on his bookshelf, 14 wins under his belt and a crystal football in the athletic complex, it's safe to say Jameis Winston's first year as the starting quarterback for the Florida State Seminoles went pretty well.

Heading into the 2014 season, the question facing Winston now becomes, what will he do for an encore?

The 'Noles head to Arlington, Texas, on opening weekend to take on Oklahoma State in the Cowboys Classic in Jerry World, with all eyes on Winston and his quest to repeat as the champ and the Heisman Trophy winner.

So what should you expect from Winston against the 'Pokes?

 

Different Verse, Same as the First

Winston had no problems picking apart opposing defenses last year, throwing for 4,057 yards and 40 touchdowns as a freshman while, more times than not, taking a seat on the bench or putting it in cruise control late in games in which the 'Noles were up big.

It won't be as easy this year, but he'll make it look easy in the opener.

Oklahoma State returns just one starter in its secondary—junior Kevin Peterson—who takes over as the leader of that secondary after the departure of Justin Gilbert and his 12 career interceptions. Ashton Lampkin will join him in a more prominent role

Two new starters will also be present at safety, with Larry Stephens, Jordan Sterns, Deric Robertson and Tre Flowers providing options for head coach Mike Gundy.

Three fresh faces in the secondary going up against Winston, who still has his favorite receiver, Rashad Greene, from last year's squad?

Simply put, Oklahoma State's secondary resembles a hanging curveball to a Major League Baseball slugger. It's right there for the taking for Winston. Expect him to knock it out of the park.

 

Dual Threat? Not So Much

Winston has dual-threat capabilities, but he's much more of a pro-style passer than he is a true threat on the ground. He's fast in a straight line but isn't quick like Johnny Manziel, and it takes a little while for him to get going at full speed.

Those attributes won't be on display in the opener.

Florida State needs to develop some wide receivers behind Greene and needs to establish Karlos Williams as an every-down back now that James Wilder and Devonta Freeman are gone, which means Winston's chances on the ground will be limited to scrambles and nothing more.

Will he rush for more than the 219 yards he had a year ago? Probably, but that will come later in the season after the new pieces of the offensive puzzle are in place and in a groove.

 

Control and Poise

The last time we saw Winston in game action, he was leading Florida State downfield in the closing seconds of the 2014 BCS National Championship Game to cap off the comeback win over Auburn.

Prior to that point, though, Winston was clearly rattled by an average-at-best Auburn defense and perhaps the big stage. Oklahoma State probably can't even boast an average-at-best defense, but the stage at Jerry World can be replicated.

It won't be an issue for Winston.

Another offseason in the offense means more control for the redshirt sophomore and more knowledge of what's coming his way. 

Winston's head didn't spin much as a redshirt freshman, but he still had to learn the ropes. That experience will benefit him in 2014, when the pressure of repeating will be an added challenge to Winston's new role as a veteran on the FSU roster.

 

Stat Projection

Considering the unfair bar that's set for reigning Heisman Trophy winners and the quarterback power elsewhere in college football, Winston will probably have to throw for 10,000 yards to earn another Heisman. He will, however, set a nice tone for his campaign in the opener with a big win over the Cowboys.

Final stat projection: a completion percentage of 68 percent, 310 passing yards, four passing touchdowns, zero interceptions, 10.1 yards per attempt and 10 rushing yards.

Not a bad encore.

 

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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Is Jake Coker the Big Arm Alabama's Been Missing Under Saban?

MOBILE, Ala. — How many times has the question been asked, “What would Alabama do with a Sam Bradford or Andrew Luck or Teddy Bridgewater or some other first-round talent at quarterback?”

The Crimson Tide under Nick Saban have had first-round picks at nearly every position but not the most important one. What if 'Bama joined the modern age of the game and could really throw the ball for a change?

We are about to find out if Jake Coker is the guy who is going to enable the Tide to do that.

Alabama plays the essence of complementary football, with the offense, defense and special teams working hand in hand. But what if Coker can elevate Alabama's passing game and make it as formidable as Bobby Petrino’s at Louisville or Jimbo Fisher’s at Florida State?

Judging from a pass-heavy Aug. 16 scrimmage, Coker, the transfer from Florida State, is not there yet. He was not Bradford, Luck or Bridgewater. He was just a new quarterback trying to learn a playbook in three weeks and find his way with a new set of receivers nine months after undergoing serious knee surgery (meniscus).

It is a daunting task, and Coker scuffled, according to various people who witnessed the closed scrimmage.

In the scrimmage, Blake Sims, a fifth-year senior, completed more passes than Coker and looked more comfortable in the competition for the starting job. Coker threw a superb deep ball early in the scrimmage for a touchdown to Kenyan Drake, but he struggled mightily after that or looked like he was struggling because of dropped balls and some defensive pressure.

After a string of strong practices in the week leading up to the scrimmage where he appeared to seize the job, Coker fell back into a tie.

The scrimmage aside, those who have seen Coker’s skill set are convinced he is going to be the transcendent Alabama quarterback, the big arm the Tide have won big without for seven years under Saban.

“I will not be surprised if Coke-boy is in the middle of the Heisman thing before the season is over. He’s my guy, will talk about Coke-boy all day,” said former Florida State running back Devonta Freeman. “If Jameis Winston is a first-round pick of the NFL, then Jake is a first-round pick. If they came out next year, they would be the top two quarterbacks. I tell you no lie.”

 

Could Share Starting Job

Coker, for now, is not the obvious starter for the Tide’s Aug. 30 opener in the Georgia Dome against West Virginia. He got frustrated in the scripted, pass-heavy scrimmage on Aug. 16, and that is a no-no in the Saban structure.

In a practice a few days later, throwing with the other quarterbacks across the field during an open media period, Coker looked mechanical and did not display what scouts call “quick twitch” or burst in his motion. On a simple out route in a drill against air, Coker threw the ball two feet behind the receiver.

Is he the guy, or isn’t he?

Saban said Tuesday in a post-practice press conference that "somebody has got to take the job," which is a telling comment. Coker has not stepped up as expected.

There were no statistics kept in the Aug. 16 scrimmage, but Coker, who is not being made available to speak to the media, appeared to have completed just 30 percent of his passes and threw three interceptions. Alabama abhors the idea of a quarterback giving the other team field position with interceptions.

So, when the season begins, the storyline at quarterback might be Blake and Jake, a dual system, because the duel was not settled in August. This isn’t usually the way Saban operates, but it could be a two-man job-share for the first three games—WVU, Florida Atlantic and Southern Miss—with a starter to be declared by the time Alabama plays Florida in the fourth game of the season.

The scrimmage aside, no one is jumping off the Coker bandwagon.

“There is a competition going on at Alabama for quarterback, I respect that,” David Morris, Coker’s Mobile-based quarterback coach, said in mid-August. “But I will say this. I roomed in college and competed for four years with the first pick in the NFL draft [Eli Manning], and Jake, physically, is as talented as anybody I have ever been around.

"What made and makes Eli so good is his consistency, poise, toughness, intelligence, humility and work ethic. Jake has a lot of that too.”

”I loved his demeanor,” said Mark Stoops, the Kentucky coach and former FSU defensive coordinator. “You could see this guy coming. He has what it takes and can do it all. Coach Fisher would put pressure on him in practice, and he handled it. There is no question he can be a quality quarterback in the SEC.”

 

Physical Skills Galore

The people who know Coker can’t help but raise hosannas and declare him as the ascendant starter. He has mouthwatering skills. Look at the football above his ear, not down behind his ear, and the vertical, quick release. He has nimble hand-wrist action, the ability to shoot free throws with a football, which every quarterback needs and the rest of us call “touch.”

There is arm strength galore. Alabama wide receiver Chris Black said the ball is “humming” when it is on the way. The rule for receivers is hands up around Coker, or the ball is going to smack you in the facemask.

There is a video featured on QBCountry.com that Morris and Coker made in the spring of 2010. Just watch.

Morris had already applied some polish to Coker’s mechanics, but this is still Coker before the end of his junior year of high school when he was 16. Look at the ball coming out with that burst in motion. Watch the receivers stay in stride as they grab his throws.

Coker has had Morris coaching him the last four years, along with the quarterback-minded Fisher and one of the best quarterbacks coaches in the country, FSU assistant Randy Sanders. Alabama assistant coach Lane Kiffin might have struggled as a head coach, but Kiffin is a fine quarterbacks coach and has been working with Coker, too.

A lot more polish has been added in four years.

In this era of the quarterback, where the ball is spit out to receivers covering the field and defenses are constantly in backpedal, does 'Bama finally have a monster instead of a manager? Judging by this preseason, we’re not sure.

Fisher is sure.

"Including what they've had, he's much more talented than anything they've had," he told D.C. Reeves of TideSports.com. "I don't mean to discredit the previous guys. They were all great. But this guy is extremely talented. Arm and mind."

 

A Close Second to Jameis Winston

Coker is 6'5.5", 240 pounds, which is 10 pounds more muscle than his listed weight. Coker was “beaten out” for the starting quarterback job at FSU in 2013 by redshirt freshman Winston, who went on to win the Heisman Trophy and lead FSU to the national championship.

The competition between the two in the spring and August 2013 stirred debate on the Seminoles. Is Winston really better?

It was that close. Fisher has even told NFL scouts it was down to the wire. He said there was legitimate debate in his mind throughout camp about who was better. Freeman saw it up close. “Coke-boy made Jameis better, Jameis made Coke-boy better,” he said.

After Winston won the job, Coker was able to transfer from FSU to Alabama and play right away because he earned an undergraduate degree in May. At Alabama, Coker, like Winston at FSU, was expected to be the obvious choice as the starter, but Sims is pushing Coker the same way Coker pushed Winston.

 

From an Athletic Family

So, who is this guy?

Growing up, Coker's heroes were not football players, but soldiers. His grandfather, Al, his father Bryant’s father, was on a PT boat in World War II in the Philippines. Jake’s half-brother, Patrick, flies A-10s for the U.S. Air Force.

Coker got some of his toughness from both, as well as his dad, a Mobile fireman. At 11 years of age, Jake was playing pickup football with Patrick when Jake dove for a pass on the sideline. The out-of-bounds was the street next to the field. Jake caught the pass and bounced off the pavement but held on to the ball.

He was still holding the ball when Patrick rushed over, not to commend him for the catch and toughness but to shout, “Incomplete, your foot was out of bounds when you caught it.”

Coker’s athleticism is a product of work ethic as much as it is genetics. Patrick played football for the Air Force Academy his freshman year. Coker’s half-sister, Shelley Spires, is starting her freshman year at the Air Force Academy on the volleyball team. His mother, Michelle Spires, is considered one of the best tennis players in the state. His father is a sturdy 6'1" and works out regularly at 66 years of age. He was a college baseball player.

Coker did not go to football camps and enter the recruiting grinder until the summer before his senior season. He was having too much fun playing summer basketball, in addition to being a superb pitcher.

 

A Multisport Star in High School

You should be intrigued by that athleticism. Coker was first-team All-State 5A in Alabama in basketball. He was the Player of the Year in Mobile, which has plenty of basketball talent. Coker had point-guard skills but played inside because his team lacked height.

Jimmy Perry, Coker's high school coach at St. Paul's Episcopal in Mobile, said Coker was 6'2", 200 pounds his junior year. His senior year, Coker grew to 6'3", 215 pounds. “His sophomore year in high school, he was probably a better basketball player than football player,” Perry said.

Coker not only adored football and basketball (and could pitch), but he also won the 5A state competition in the javelin—not to mention he’s a terrific shot out in the woods, with rifle or bow.

“I was with him when he killed his first deer with a bow. I filmed it,” said Ethan Stokley, one of Coker's best friends and a receiver for St. Paul's. “Jake loves hunting more than anything. Any chance he gets, he is up there in the woods. ”

Coker fishes, too, and several times this summer, he met some former FSU teammates and current Alabama teammates for a fishing excursion.

“When you meet this kid, you fall in love with him because he is so genuine and humble,” said Perry, a former assistant coach at Auburn under Tommy Tuberville and now the coach at St. James School in Montgomery.

In 2011, Coker graduated from St. Paul’s Episcopal, the same school that produced former Alabama quarterback AJ McCarron. In his junior year at St. Paul’s, when most elite quarterbacks are getting offers from colleges, Coker ran a wing-T misdirection offense. The Saints did not have enough offensive-line size for a pro-style offense, so Coker did not compile a lot of passing tape to show recruiters.

In his senior season, with another year of weight training for his line, Perry installed a more pass-oriented offense, and Coker thrived. He was able to pass, but Coker was still a playmaker with his feet.

Perry remembers when the Saints were trying to hold off powerhouse Vigor and faced 3rd-and-4 from the 50. Vigor sold out to stop a sweep, but Perry had Coker keep on a naked bootleg. He ran down the middle of the field untouched for the clinching score.

“We did something like that against Spanish Fort, too, misdirection, only the play wasn’t in the playbook. We kinda just put it in on the spot,” said Stokley. “They had a lot of good players; Jake outran them all for the touchdown.”

 

In Demand as a Recruit

Coker finally went to some football camps in June 2010, before his senior season at St. Paul’s. He visited Tennessee, Ole Miss, Mississippi State, Duke and Florida State. He did not attend a camp at Alabama. By the time the schedule opened for the Alabama camp, Coker was worn out and could not muster the energy.

His first collegiate football offer came from Arkansas State, whose assistant coach was Tyler Siskey, a former coach at St. Paul’s and now the director of player personnel at Alabama. Hugh Freeze was the head coach at Arkansas State when it offered Coker a scholarship.

When it news broke that Coker was going to transfer from Florida State, Freeze, now at Ole Miss, inquired about Coker, but with the Rebels faithfully behind Bo Wallace in 2014, Coker was looking at bench time again and starting in 2015.

Duke head coach David Cutcliffe, who groomed Peyton and Eli Manning for the NFL and is a confidante and mentor to Morris, pulled Morris aside in Durham and said, “David, this kid is going to be special,” and put an offer on the table.

Dameyune Craig, then the Florida State quarterbacks coach and recruiting coordinator, convinced Coker to come to Tallahassee for the June camp in 2010. Fisher watched Coker throw and then marched him and his father into the head coach’s office and offered Coker a scholarship on the spot.

“You’re going to be a first-round pick in the NFL,” Fisher told them. That Jimbo and Jake were devoted hunters made it a bond.

 

Not Lacking Physical and Mental Toughness

But what about intangibles? The leadership and poise against the blitz?

Freeman remembers a series in practice when the FSU starters were sagging on offense. Coke-boy had the reins. “No more of this s--t,” he barked. “Let’s go, get this going.” The offense snapped to attention, Freeman said.

In the Wake Forest game in 2013, Coker suffered a knee injury in the second half (a torn meniscus). It was wrapped on the sideline, and he went back in the game for several series. He finally limped off. Later, Coker was asked why he didn’t take himself out of the game, and he said an anonymous FSU lineman was grimacing in pain from his own injury, and Coker wasn’t about to beg off.

The intangibles showed up bigger when Winston beat out Coker for the starting job. “He was disappointed and upset that he was not the starter, but not bitter,” Stokley said. “He always said to me ‘I’m not doing anything to mess with this team or separate them just because I’m not the starter.’”

 

Strong But Injury-Prone

Quarterbacks are not supposed to be put together the way Coker is put together. Morris put some pictures up on a screen in his office of Winston and Coker standing next to each other with broad smiles.

ACC defensive linemen talked about how difficult it was to get the 6'4" Winston to the ground, but just look at Coker. He is an inch and a half taller and 10 pounds heavier. His shoulders are wider than Winston’s. Coker benched 375 in the summer weight room at Alabama.

But Alabama should shudder at the thought of Coker trampling defenders because bad things can happen when quarterbacks run, and they have. The red flag for this new Red Elephant is that Coker has suffered three injuries—broken foot, shoulder, torn meniscus in his knee—and he has never even been a starter.

That should give some pause to Alabama fans and make them understand that Sims must be ready when called upon.

Here is the other thing to consider about Coker: He better be good, for the sake of the Southeastern Conference.

After losing a slew of juniors the last couple of seasons to the NFL draft and all the NFL-style quarterback talent from 2013, the SEC may not boast a great team in 2014. Alabama might be a great team, but it depends on the mystery man at quarterback or whether Sims is enough of a playmaker.

Perry and all the others overcrowding the Coker bandwagon cherish their well-rounded QB. And they do not fear for 'Bama or the SEC.

“Do they want a playmaker or somebody to run the football team? With him, they have both,” Perry said, “They have a decision-maker back there who knows where to go with the ball, and they have a guy that, when things go bad, is athlete enough to get the offense out of trouble.

“Jacob has been in some doggone good competition with EJ Manuel and Jameis Winston. He’s had to bring his A-game to practice every day. When you are in second place, you have to pedal faster.”

Coker has been pedaling in place as a career backup. He has not lost his ambition, but can Coker find his sharpness finally as a starter?

A lot is riding on the shoulders of Coke-boy.

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Texas Football: Final Game-by-Game Schedule Predictions

How much difference can a year make? Looking at a schedule that could have as many as seven losses, Texas Longhorn fans are hoping it's a significant one.

Charlie Strong's goal in his first season as head coach at Texas is to take chronic underachievers and get them performing like the talented players they are. Achieving that alone should yield a much better product on the field, especially from a defense led by Cedric Reed, Quandre Diggs and Malcom Brown.

And with fall camp winding down, Strong seems to have done that. David Ash has had an "unbelievable camp," per the Austin American-Statesman's Cedric Golden, Johnathan Gray is tearing it up and there is even some surprising depth emerging in the secondary.

Texans assistant Tommie Robinson noted Gray's effort, via HornsDigest.com's Chip Brown (and Strong):

Charlie Strong said #Texas RB coach Tommie Robinson said today, "Why can't all our players practice like Johnathan Gray?"

@ChipBrownHD, 14 Aug 2014

So much of Texas' success this season will depend on Ash's health, but this entire team has been put through the meat grinder since Strong was hired. It will compete in every single game, putting a 9-3 record well within reach.

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Ohio State Football: Depth Chart Analysis, Complete 2014 Preview and Predictions

What a difference one play can make.

From the moment that Braxton Miller announced he was returning to Ohio State for his senior season on Jan. 9, 2014 at 7:37 p.m., the Buckeyes were considered national title contenders for the 2014 season.

For more than seven months, fans in Columbus prepared to rewrite the Ohio State record book with Miller's name in it. Seven months of measuring the Buckeyes up against reigning Big Ten champion Michigan State. Seven months of preparing for the first-ever College Football Playoff.

Those seven months came to a screeching halt and proved to be null and void on Aug. 18, when a seven-yard pass attempt in Ohio State's afternoon practice ended with the Heisman-hopeful signal-caller tearing the labrum in his throwing shoulder—an injury that will cost Miller the entirety of the 2014 season.

While Miller's pursuit of virtually every OSU offensive record has been put on hold—he says he intends to return to the Buckeyes as a fifth-year senior in 2015—Ohio State's 2014 season appears to have lost a lot of its luster.

No longer do all roads lead to a Nov. 8 date in East Lansing, Michigan—which was supposed to host a de facto Big Ten East championship game between the Buckeyes and Spartans—and gone are realistic expectations for Ohio State to be playing in a national semifinal game on New Year's Day.

But what the Buckeyes' 2014 campaign lost in optimism, it now makes up for in intrigue. While a Big Ten title and potential selection to the inaugural playoff may no longer be likely, Urban Meyer provides just enough hope to make each appear possible in what will be his third—and most interesting—season in Columbus.

 

Coaches

After managing to keep his entire staff intact following the Buckeyes' undefeated season in 2012, Meyer had to deal with making the first coaching replacements of his Ohio State tenure this past offseason when two defensive assistants opted to take their careers elsewhere. And given the struggles of the Buckeyes defense in 2013, that may be for the better in Columbus.

Gone is co-defensive coordinator/safeties coach Everett Withers, who left Ohio State to become the head coach at James Madison University. In search of a new voice to overhaul his team's defensive philosophy, Meyer landed on Arkansas defensive coordinator Chris Ash, who held the same title at Wisconsin when the Buckeyes beat the Badgers in 2012.

The early returns on Ash have been positive, with the Ohio State players praising the "one unified voice" that they hear on their defense. Also tasked with total control of the Buckeyes secondary, Ash has installed a quarters coverage system that places an emphasis on press coverage.

"College football has always been run the ball, stop the run. And when you're facing some really good throwing teams or you [face] a Sammy Watkins, you have to be able to get more than one hand on him. We have the ability to do that now," Meyer said. "So far, it's exactly how I wanted to see it look."

The other new face on the Ohio State staff is defensive line coach Larry Johnson, who replaces now-Houston Texans assistant Mike Vrabel. An 18-year assistant at Penn State, Johnson has spent his entire college coaching career recruiting against the Buckeyes, who are now benefiting from his abilities.

"We lost a home run. I love Mike Vrabel,'' Meyer said. "We replaced Mike with a top-shelf coach. A guy that has great respect, very good recruiter, a very good coach, the players love him already."

Rounding out the rest of the Buckeyes defensive staff, Luke Fickell returns for his 13th season as a coach in Columbus, hoping to shore up a linebacker corps that is now without first-round NFL draft pick Ryan Shazier. With Ash in charge of coverage, Kerry Coombs now has more time to spend teaching technique to his cornerbacks while also focusing on his role as OSU's special teams coordinator.

On the offensive side of the ball, the Buckeyes return their entire staff for a second consecutive season, which should help ease some of the growing pains that will come along with a unit replacing seven starters from a season ago.

Offensive coordinator Tom Herman's primary objective will be to get J.T. Barrett ready to fill the enormous shoes that Miller leaves at the quarterback position, while Ed Warinner will be tasked with replacing four multiyear starters on what's been one of the top offensive lines in the country over the past two seasons.

Wide receivers coach Zach Smith, running backs coach Stan Drayton and tight ends coach Tim Hinton have each done an admirable job developing their respective units, as Meyer believes that the Buckeyes now possess the best set of skill players that they've had since he took over the Ohio State program in 2012.

 

What to Watch For on Offense

When Ohio State's quarterback for 2014 changed, so did its offense, as Barrett is hardly the dynamic runner that Miller's been through the first three seasons of his college career. The redshirt freshman doesn't have quite the arm strength that Miller possesses either, although the Buckeyes coaching staff is confident that he can more of a "distributor" behind center, a la former OSU backup Kenny Guiton.

"Kenny Guiton was one of the best I've been around as far as getting the ball out quickly and distributing to playmakers and letting them run with the ball, let them make plays," Meyer said. "That's what my initial evaluation of J.T. is—he's very good at that."

With less being asked of Ohio State's signal-caller this season, more pressure will be placed on a plethora of highly touted playmakers on the Buckeyes roster, many of whom have yet to live up to the hype that accompanied them to Columbus.

That includes H-back Dontre Wilson, who came to Ohio State expected to fill the "Percy Harvin" role in Meyer's spread offense. After being used as little more than a decoy in his freshman campaign, it's been clear that the DeSoto, Texas, product has become one of the focal points of the Buckeyes offense this offseason, and his usage rate should only increase in Miller's absence.

Another sophomore who could find himself shouldering a significant load of the OSU offense this season is running back Ezekiel Elliott. While Big Ten Running Back of the Year Carlos Hyde left a gaping hole in the Buckeyes backfield, Elliott has already shown flashes of a blend of size (6'0", 225 pounds) and speed that make for an intriguing fit in Meyer's spread offense.

While fifth-year senior Rod Smith and redshirt sophomore Bri'onte Dunn will serve as Elliott's immediate backup at running back, don't count out the impact that true freshman Curtis Samuel could make in his debut season.

A 4-star prospect by way of Brooklyn, New York, Samuel initially projected as a wide receiver at the college level but has already managed to make his mark at running back, stealing the heart of his new head coach in the process.

"I've got to be careful, because I do this, but I love that kid and man, oh man, does he go hard," Meyer said. "He's talented and he will play this year."

At the wide receiver position, a number of high-risk, higher-reward players line the Buckeyes roster.

Devin Smith has always been one of college football's top deep-threat wideouts, but he no longer has the benefit of Miller's big arm being able to find him down the field. 

Senior Evan Spencer has been steady but unspectacular and could soon find himself passed in the OSU pecking order by fourth-year junior Corey Smith and/or third-year sophomore Michael Thomas, each of whom took redshirts a season ago to preserve extra seasons of eligibility.

Also, don't count out freshman Johnnie Dixon, who has already drawn rave reviews from the Buckeyes coaches since arriving as an early enrollee in January.

While OSU's offensive line rebuilds under the eye of Warinner, the unit should benefit from the help of senior tight end Jeff Heuerman, whom Meyer has described as one of the best point-of-attack blockers in all of college football. And as a redshirt freshman quarterback searches for a security blanket, look for Heuerman to only continue to emerge as one of the top prospects at his position in next year's NFL draft.

Even without Miller, it's clear that the Ohio State offense has potential, but until the Buckeyes take the field, it's nothing more than just that. Without the safety valve of Miller's legs in Herman's back pocket, Barrett will need to prove that he's capable of being every bit the distributor that Meyer thinks he can be for the Buckeyes to have a successful season on the offensive side of the ball.

 

What to Watch For on Defense

Ash's new quarters coverage system may place an emphasis on the Buckeyes' back end, but Ohio State's defense will start up front this season with one of the best defensive lines in the country. Defensive tackles Michael Bennett and Adolphus Washington team with ends Noah Spence and Joey Bosa to create a more than formidable foursome that should apply constant pressure to opposing backfields.

Bosa may be the youngest of the bunch, but he's also probably the most talented, as his 13.5 tackles for a loss and 7.5 sacks in 2013 were nothing short of remarkable for a freshman. The 6'5", 278-pounder was named a Sporting News Freshman All-American a season ago, and it wouldn't be surprising to see him earn that same title—sans "freshman"—in the coming year.

Despite losing Shazier, who was selected 15th overall by the Pittsburgh Steelers in last May's NFL draft, the Buckeyes like what they have in their linebacking corps, which is headlined by senior middle linebacker Curtis Grant, junior Joshua Perry and redshirt freshman Darron Lee.

It's a now-or-never year for Grant, who has failed to live up to 5-star expectations since arriving in Columbus three years ago. He beat out 5-star freshman Raekwon McMillan to earn the right to start for Ohio State for a second consecutive season, but how long he stays with the Buckeyes first team will be dependent on how he performs.

A starter a season ago, Perry slides over to fill the void left at weak-side linebacker by Shazier, where he'll attempt to replicate stats similar to the 144 tackles and seven sacks that the now-Steeler accumulated a season ago. Lee moves into the lineup at the strong-side linebacker role, which will require him to also cover receivers in the slot.

In the secondary, Meyer likes what he has in senior cornerback Doran Grant, who is arguably the most athletically gifted Ohio State player on the defensive side of the ball. Meyer said that he has All-Big Ten expectations for the Akron, Ohio, native this season, as he appears to be a perfect fit in Ash's system.

As for who will be starting opposite Grant at corner when the Buckeyes take the field against Navy in Baltimore for the season opener, that remains up in the air.

Junior Armani Reeves is currently penciled in as Ohio State's nickelback this season, leaving redshirt freshmen Gareon Conley and Eli Apple to battle with true freshman Marshon Lattimore for the open starting spot. With Ash's plan to rotate corners, all three could see significant playing time this season.

Whereas Ohio State's safeties were a weakness for the Buckeyes a season ago, they suddenly appear to be a strength, thanks to a trio of talented sophomores.

Vonn Bell came to Columbus a year ago as a 5-star prospect but didn't get the first start of his college career until the Orange Bowl. It was there that he managed to show just why he was so highly touted, recording a diving interception on a pass thrown by Clemson quarterback Tajh Boyd.

Joining Bell in the Buckeyes defensive backfield will be Tyvis Powell, a redshirt sophomore who spent 2013 as Ohio State's starting nickelback. Now playing a new position at strong safety, Powell believes that he'll be capable of consistently making more big plays, like his two-point conversion interception that sealed the Buckeyes' win over Michigan last season.

Sophomore Cam Burrows will likely serve as the top backup to both and also possesses the ability to play the dime position in the OSU defense. Hard-hitting freshman Erick Smith has also emerged as another toy for Ash to play with and should find his way onto the field in his freshman season.

Like its offensive counterpart, the Buckeyes defense has talent but obvious questions about its new scheme. How quickly the players pick up on what Ash is trying to teach them will go a long way toward determining whether or not the Silver Bullets make a return to Columbus in 2014. 

 

Injury News 

The impact of Miller's injury goes without saying; the Buckeyes' odds of winning the national championship shifted from 12-1 to 50-1 as soon as it was confirmed that the star quarterback would be out for the entirety of the season, per Bovada (via CBSSports.com's Chip Patterson).

Ohio State went from national title contenders to a team that will be lucky to compete for a conference championship, as uncertainty swirls around its quarterback position.

As for the freshmen who have been lost for the season, Berger had been singled out as a player whom Meyer expected to contribute immediately, before the 4-star linebacker re-tore the same ACL that cost him his senior season at Cleveland St. Ignatius.

Thompson, a 3-star defensive lineman from Montini Catholic in Lombard, Illinois, was a likely redshirt candidate heading into his freshman season, but his fractured kneecap remains a setback in his development nonetheless.

 

X-Factor

With Miller out of the Ohio State lineup, it's hard to think of a bigger X-factor on the Buckeyes roster than Barrett, who now holds the fate of OSU's season in his hands.

In a best-case scenario for the Buckeyes, Barrett would prove to be a more physically talented version of Guiton, who got by on mental reps while sitting behind Miller in practice. The first quarterback prospect that Meyer personally recruited to Columbus, Barrett has already been lauded by the Ohio State coaching staff for both his preparation and leadership skills.

"This kid is kind of Guitonish," Meyer said of Barrett. "Very calm, cool and collected."

If Barrett can make good on his coach's kind words and the Buckeyes' skill players can live up to their hype, Ohio State's schedule could lead it right back into the national title picture. Barrett is no Miller—make no mistake about it—but every college star's story has to have a start, and this could be Barrett's.

Should Barrett not pan out, the Buckeyes will turn to third-year sophomore Cardale Jones, who entered fall camp as Ohio State's No. 2 quarterback. At 6'5" and 250 pounds, Jones isn't nearly as mobile as either Miller or Barrett, but the Cleveland-Glenville product does possess perhaps the strongest arm on the OSU roster.

Ohio State's worst-case scenario would be for neither Barrett nor Jones to prove effective, with all of Buckeye fans' worst fears about Miller's absence being realized. That's why it's important for Barrett to grab hold of the reins and prevent the OSU season from ever coming to that, as he'll get the first—and most important—crack at controlling the Buckeyes offense.

 

2014 Schedule

 

Make-or-Break Games

Prior to Miller's injury, Ohio State appeared to be on a collision course with Michigan State for Nov. 8. The rematch of last season's Big Ten Championship Game between the Buckeyes and Spartans was so highly anticipated heading into the 2014 season, that it was already moved to a prime-time television slot.

But like with all things Ohio State, Miller's injury throws a monkey wrench into the schedule, as it's now harder to look ahead to November and the ninth game of the season without wondering what will happen before then.

That's what makes the Buckeyes' Sept. 6 date with Virginia Tech so intriguing, as Ohio State will face its biggest pre-Michigan State test in just the second week of the season. Should the Buckeyes manage to down the Hokies, they'll likely find themselves favored in every game before their showdown with the Spartans.

An Oct. 25 trip to Happy Valley to face Penn State on the road is a tall task for any first-year quarterback, but if the Buckeyes can get past that, then their meeting with Michigan State should live up to the hype.

It will take two to tango, as the Spartans will also have a say in the magnitude of their Nov. 8 date, but it's not out of the realm of possibility that the one game that stood out on Ohio State's schedule prior to the start of the season maintains its meaning.

 

Prediction

Even before Miller went down, it was hard to get a finger on the pulse of this year's Ohio State season.

Now, it's nearly impossible to do so, as Barrett is yet to take a single snap in his college career. To me, it all comes down to that Virginia Tech game and whether or not Barrett and the Buckeyes can gain enough steam on their way to East Lansing.

I believe that they will, but once again, it will be Michigan State that brings an end to Ohio State's national title dreams. After that, I see another letdown on the schedule—perhaps a week later against the Golden Gophers in Minnesota. But all things considered, a 10-2 season would be far from the worst-case scenario for the Buckeyes this year.

Overall Record: 10-2

Conference Record: 6-2

 

Ben Axelrod is Bleacher Report's Ohio State Lead Writer. You can follow him on Twitter @BenAxelrod. Unless noted otherwise, all quotes were obtained firsthand. All recruiting information courtesy of 247Sports.

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Miami Football: Depth Chart Analysis, Complete 2014 Preview and Predictions

Game preparations will soon return for the Miami Hurricanes, signaling the beginning of the long-awaited college football regular season.

While those final days slowly pass, it's time for a complete preview of the 2014 'Canes.

From offensive and defensive depth charts to spotlighting a potential X-factor and new uniforms, everything you need to know about Miami is included.

And, of course, a preview wouldn't be finished without a careful look through the schedule capped by a season prediction.

 

Coaches

Head coach Al Golden is entering his fourth season at the school, sporting a 22-15 overall record with one shared division title.

Defensive coordinator Mark D'Onofrio and defensive line coach Jethro Franklin, who Golden brought from Temple, are under the most scrutiny following lackluster performances up front in recent years. 

Upon arrival at "The U," Golden rehired longtime Miami assistant Art Kehoe to join wide receivers coach Brennan Carroll and defensive backs coach Paul Williams. Kehoe is a fireball, Carroll has proved himself as an excellent recruiter and Williams has been the defense's best coach.

Linebackers coach Hurlie Brown spent 2013 teaching the running backs but recently switched to linebackers to cover for Micheal Barrow's sudden resignation. Tim "Ice" Harris, best known for three state championships at nearby Booker T. Washington High School, stepped in for Brown.

Tight ends coach Larry Scott was snagged from South Florida last season, rounding out the coaching staff.

 

What to Watch For on Offense

Note: Depth chart will be updated when a new one is released prior to season opener.

 

The 'Canes run a fast-paced, run-first attack, which offensive coordinator James Coley calls "tempro."

Miami is loaded at its skill positions, so the quarterbacks must distribute the ball effectively and efficiently. Granted, that's often easier said than done.

Nevertheless, the Hurricanes passing game must have a renewed focus on using the middle of the field—a place two-year starter Stephen Morris essentially avoided last year. Initially, either graduate transfer Jake Heaps or true freshman Brad Kaaya will be under center.

Once-anticipated starter Ryan Williams is set to return from an ACL injury sometime in September, likely meaning the senior either takes over for Heaps or becomes Kaaya's backup.

If All-ACC running back Duke Johnson avoids injury, he is one of the best in college football. Complemented by promising freshman Joe Yearby and powerful sophomore Gus Edwards, Miami's backfield is in good shape.

Led by sophomore and rising national star Stacy Coley, the 'Canes have solid wide receivers. Though not All-American-caliber this season, upperclassmen Phillip Dorsett, Rashawn Scott and Herb Waters are joined by youngsters Malcolm Lewis and Braxton Berrios.

Since Golden took over, Miami has been searching for more production from its tight ends. Senior and returning starter Clive Walford was impactful in 2013, but bigger things are expected from pass-catcher Beau Sandland and run-blocker Standish Dobard.

Up front, left tackle Ereck Flowers, left guard Jon Feliciano and center Shane McDermott are each superb. The right side of the O-line and overall depth of the unit are topics worth monitoring because the offense is extremely reliant on winning battles in the trenches.

Kicker Matt Goudis returns for his junior season after setting a Miami single-season record for most consecutive extra points made (57). He also converted on 13 field-goal attempts, knocking home a long of 49 yards.

Notable True Freshmen: QB Brad Kaaya, RB Joe Yearby, WR Braxton Berrios, OL Kc McDermott, OL Trevor Darling

 

What to Watch For on Defense

Note: Depth chart will be updated when a new one is released prior to season opener.

 

Depending on the situation, the Hurricanes employ both the 4-3 and 3-4 as well as the nickel defense.

Last season, Miami allowed a particularly awful 211 offensive plays of 10-plus yards—the ninth-worst mark in the nation. And that doesn't happen without a good number of missed tackles, which has consistently plagued the 'Canes.

Anthony Chickillo and Al-Quadin Muhammad are expected to earn the starting defensive end positions, while Tyriq McCord and Chad Thomas are key third-down edge-rushers. Olsen Pierre, Calvin Heurtelou, Ufomba Kamalu, Earl Moore and Michael Wyche are important pieces at tackle.

Behind senior and top NFL prospect Denzel Perryman, the linebacking corps is well-off depth-wise. Thurston Armbrister is the most game-ready player because of his 10 career starts, followed by Raphael Kirby, Jermaine Grace and Darrion Owens.

Cornerbacks Tracy Howard, Ladarius Gunter, Artie Burns, Antonio Crawford and Corn Elder will see plenty of action, especially as the utilization of three-receiver formations continues trending upward.

"It's a demanding position," Golden said, per Matt Porter of the Palm Beach Post. "We play a lot [of cornerbacks]. They're fighting for the starting job, but all those guys are going to play a lot, no question."

Overall, though the safeties are relatively inexperienced, the unit is deep enough to handle the loss of starter Rayshawn Jenkins to injury. Deon Bush, Jamal Carter and Dallas Crawford are the top three at the position and will contribute the most.

The team must replace punter and sixth-round draft pick Pat O'Donnell, who demolished a school record amassing 47.1 yards per punt. Transfer Justin Vogel and senior Ricky Carroll are competing for that spot, which took an indisputable hit.

Notable True Freshmen: DE Chad Thomas, DE Trent Harris, LB Darrion Owens, S Marques Gayot

 

Injury News

Ryan Williams left the 'Canes in Kevin Olsen's hands at quarterback before Heaps and Kaaya outperformed the redshirt freshman in fall camp. The senior's health is the underlying storyline for the first month of the year, because his return plays a major factor in who will lead Miami through its conference slate.

Rashawn Scott, who hurt his shoulder making a diving catch in the 2013 season opener, suffered an "exotic injury" to his collarbone that will sideline him for a few weeks. The Hurricanes' strongest overall unit is at wide receiver, so Miami is eager for Scott's return but need not rush him back.

Considering Rayshawn Jenkins accounted for 46 tackles, five pass breakups and three interceptions last year, the safety is an unfortunate loss for the defense. In addition to Dallas Crawford and Marques Gayot stepping up at the position, Deon Bush and Jamal Carter must help carry the burden in Jenkins' absence.

 

X-Factor

Malcolm Lewis made his presence felt in his collegiate debut in 2012, catching four passes for 42 yards and a touchdown. Since then, he has suffered a terrible ankle injury and underwent groin surgery.

But now, the redshirt sophomore is finally healthy and ready to shine.

Defenses must lock onto Johnson and Coley while keeping another eye on the speedy Dorsett, so the 'Canes need someone else to step up every week.

Via screens, drags, quick hitches or other short routes, Lewis can destroy teams with yards after the catch. Additionally, he complements Dorsett's straight-line speed and Coley's reliability in the intermediate range.

Lewis is a crucial factor in keeping the Miami quarterbacks focused on being distributors, not playmakers.

Runners-Up: DT Calvin Heurtelou, DT Michael Wyche

 

2014 Schedule

 

Make-or-Break Games

Since the Coastal Division is simply a scattered mess, five conference victories is the lowest realistic mark for Miami to contend for a berth in the ACC Championship Game.

The Hurricanes' meeting with Louisville sets the tone for 2014, and an early-season conference loss would be immensely difficult to overcome.

Overall, Miami has four swing games—Louisville, Duke, North Carolina and Virginia Tech—and three must-win contests in Georgia Tech, Virginia and Pittsburgh.

Florida State is a likely loss, so the 'Canes need at least two of their swing games and each victory against the lower-tier teams.

 

New Uniforms

Miami revealed new Nike uniforms in April, showcasing four jerseys, four sets of pants and three helmets. The uniforms are called Stormtrooper, Surge, Juice and Smoke.

On the shoulder of each jersey is an ibis—the school's current mascot and secondary logo about 10 years ago.

Additionally, the 'Canes will be lacing up black cleats on top of black socks—a classic look Miami fans loved to see return.

 

Prediction

Duke Johnson, Ereck Flowers and Denzel Perryman are selected to the All-ACC First Team, with Joe Feliciano and Tracy Howard on the following tier as second-teamers. Coley, the elder McDermott, Wyatt Chickillo and Deon Bush earn third-team distinction, while a few others are named honorable mentions.

Looking at the schedule, a 10-2 record during the regular season accompanied by a 7-1 mark in the ACC is the absolute best-case scenario for Miami.

But sorry, folks, that ain't happenin'. Above-average talent fills this team, but it's a matter of everything meshing together properly—something that has eluded the 'Canes for 10 years.

On paper, the offense should average around 400 yards and 27 points per game, and that would have tallied seven wins last season.

Assisted by an improved defense, closing the year 8-4 overall and 5-3 in conference play is the most realistic result for the 2014 Hurricanes. With that being said, five ACC wins is not a death sentence because the Coastal Division is so weak.

Ultimately, I won't back down from the recent game-by-game predictions: Miami finishes 9-3 (6-2) and shares the division crown.

 

Unless otherwise noted, all statistics courtesy of cfbstats.com.

Follow Bleacher Report college football writer David Kenyon on Twitter: @Kenyon19_BR.

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Oklahoma Football: Depth Chart Analysis, Complete 2014 Preview and Predictions

The Oklahoma Sooners enter the 2014 college football season with some lofty expectations.

Following a successful 2013 campaign—one that was capped off by a dominating Sugar Bowl victory over Alabama—the sky is the limit for these Sooners. There’s no doubt that the Big 12 title goes through Norman this season.

But just how good can Oklahoma be?

For the answer, let’s take a closer look at the squad. 


Coaches

If it isn’t broken, why fix it, right?

The Sooners return their entire coaching staff from a year ago. Entering his 16th season in charge, Bob Stoops has all the pieces to try to bring the school its first national title since 2000—his second year with the program.

Line coaches Bill Bedenbaugh (offensive) and Jerry Montgomery (defensive) will look to build on brilliant inaugural seasons. Meanwhile, second-year tight ends coach Jay Boulware will be called upon, as Oklahoma looks to finally get some production from the position again this season.


What to Watch for on Offense

The Sooners return seven of 11 starters on offense from a year ago. It doesn’t get any better than on the offensive line, where the team returns four starters, including three seniors.

Just how good the Oklahoma offense will be depends on what kind of quarterback it will get out of Trevor Knight. Will he be the hesitant youngster who crashed and burned his way out of a starting job before even completing two full games? Or will he be the confident playmaker that shocked an entire nation to the tune of 348 yards and four touchdowns in helping the Sooners throttle Alabama in the Sugar Bowl?

Sports Illustrated seems to expect the latter, as the publication posted the rising sophomore’s face on the cover of its college football preview issue:

At running back, Oklahoma will have to cope with the loss of each of their top three running backs. It doesn’t help matters that incoming freshman and 5-star running back Joe Mixon was recently suspended for the season, per ESPN.

Still, Keith Ford was formerly a 5-star recruit himself. Not to mention, Alex Ross is another one to keep an eye on.

Although the Sooners lost some talent at receiver, Sterling Shepard and incoming freshman Michiah Quick will really provide Knight with some options. Not to mention, if Dorial Green-Beckham is ruled eligible to play—which Oklahoma believes he will be, via The Oklahoman’s Jason Kersey—then Oklahoma will bet set.


What to Watch for on Defense

Once again, the defense will be a strength for the Sooners, with eight of 11 starters returning.

First-team All-Big 12 selection Charles Tapper and second-teamer Eric Striker return to give the unit one of the most formidable front sevens in the nation. Let’s not forget Geneo Grissom and Dominique Alexander, who should both have excellent years as well.

The departures of Aaron Colvin and Gabe Lynn definitely leave a whole in the secondary. However, Zack Sanchez and Julian Wilson look ready to step up. Incoming freshman Steven Parker is another name to watch.

All in all, Mike Stoops should have this unit ready to roll come opening kickoff.


Injury and Suspension News

It hasn’t been all good news for Oklahoma this offseason.

After a stellar freshman season, linebacker Frank Shannon found himself in the middle of an assault investigation. Although the victim finally decided not to press charges, per the Tulsa World’s Guerin Emig, Shannon was still suspended by the team.

Losing him is a huge blow to the Sooners. Shannon finished 2013 with 92 tackles (7.0 for loss), 2.0 sacks and an interception.

As noted above, Mixon also found himself in some trouble as he is currently being charged with a misdemeanor after an altercation with a female at a bar on his birthday. Oklahoma still has depth at running back. However, Mixon was expected to grow into a playmaker this season.


X-factor

The Fresno, California, native has the potential to take it to the house every time he touches the ball.

Other than at receiver, expect Michiah Quick to make some noise in the return game as well. It wouldn’t be surprising at all to see the coaching staff try to draw it up to get him some carries also.

A 4-star recruit, Quick has the skill set to be successful at the collegiate level. There may be a learning curve at the start, but by season’s end, look for Quick to be one of the players you hear the announcers calling out often.

2014 Schedule


Make-or-Break Games

There are three games that could make or break Oklahoma’s season.

1. Tennessee (Sept. 13)

The Sooners are fortunate that this game is at home and early in the season.

Head coach Butch Jones has done a tremendous job with the Vols since taking over. The team showed signs last season of the talent it possesses, and bringing in a handful of talented recruits over the offseason will help.

Given that Oklahoma will also have several highly touted recruits in-house, this game is a must-win in more ways than one.

2. Texas (Oct. 11)

Regardless of either team’s talent or record coming into the matchup, the game typically lives up to the hype.

The Longhorns will be breaking in a new system in head coach Charlie Strong’s first year, but don’t expect that to provide any sort of edge for Oklahoma. After all, Texas looked like a fish out of water last year before upsetting the Sooners.

Revenge will surely be on the mind.

3. Baylor (Nov. 8)

Speaking of revenge, the Sooners will certainly want to gain some retribution after the beating they took in Waco last season.

With quarterback Bryce Petty returning for his senior season, expect head coach Art Briles to once again have his Bears competing for the Big 12 title and more. Expect the winner to have the inside track to the conference title.


New Uniforms

 

Prediction

Optimism hasn’t been this high around Norman since former quarterback Sam Bradford announced he was coming back for his junior season in 2009.

But don’t be mistaken, all of this hype is certainly deserved. There’s a good chance Oklahoma will be brought up as one of the four entrants in the inaugural College Football Playoff.

Getting another 11 wins or more, along with the Big 12 title, is not too much to ask given how this year’s Sooners squad is shaping up. It certainly helps that almost all of their tough opponents will be at home.

However, once again, just how far the team will go depends on the play of Trevor Knight.

 

All stats, recruiting information and rankings used in this article are courtesy of CFBStats.com and 247Sports.

For complete coverage and everything Oklahoma football, you can reach Sebastian on Twitter and via email at Sebastian.LenaBR@gmail.com.

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College Football Predictions 2014: Dark-Horse National Championship Contenders

It’s easy to pick Florida State, Alabama or Oregon when discussing potential national championship contenders as we approach the 2014 college football season.

When does college football ever go according to plan, though?

With that in mind, let’s take a look at three teams fans should not overlook when it comes to the national title race.

 

Wisconsin

The Big Ten may not be the SEC, but it is better than it gets credit for on a national level. However, don’t look at Wisconsin’s strength of schedule if you want to make a convincing case for the conference’s strength.

The Badgers miss Ohio State, Michigan State and Michigan on this year’s slate and get Nebraska at home. The winner of that contest will have an inside track for the West Division crown.

Wisconsin could very well be favored in every single game it plays except the opener, which means plenty of wins. That opener comes against LSU, but don’t automatically assume the Tigers will walk away with a win.

The Badgers will rely heavily on their superstar running back in Melvin Gordon. Gordon ran for 1,609 yards and 12 touchdowns a year ago, and he could see even more carries now that James White is no longer on campus.

One of Wisconsin’s concerns heading into the season could also turn into a strength. The Badgers lost the majority of their front seven on defense, including Chris Borland, but this is a unit that finished fifth in the country against the run and sixth in scoring defense a year ago. Defensive coordinator Dave Aranda is one of the best in the country and will have his unit among the nation's best yet again. 

If that defense and Gordon find a way to get past LSU, it will be time to start buying stock in the Badgers.

 

South Carolina

Much like Wisconsin, South Carolina is partially on this list because it has a favorable schedule to go along with talent.

The Gamecocks avoid Alabama, LSU and what could be a dangerous Mississippi team but still have to play Clemson, Auburn and Georgia. It’s not like that is a walk-in-the-park schedule, but it is easier to navigate than others in the SEC.

South Carolina finished in the top 10 the last three years and was the only squad in the country to beat three teams that finished in the AP Top 10 last year. It has consistently finished among the nation’s best under Steve Spurrier but simply needs to take the one final step to win the SEC championship if it hopes to reach the College Football Playoff. 

The contest with Georgia will go a long way toward determining who wins the conference’s East division, and this year’s matchup is in South Carolina, where the Gamecocks have won 18 in a row at home.

If they can extend that streak and reach the SEC title game, they would be one game away from reaching the CFP because the SEC champion is definitely going to receive the benefit of the doubt from the selection committee.

Chris Low of ESPN.com thinks South Carolina will get to the conference title game:

The Head Ball Coach has a veteran offensive line, marquee running back and depth in the defensive line and at linebacker. While we're not ready to pick the Gamecocks to win the SEC championship game, we are picking them to get there and win 10 or more games for the fourth straight season. 

A healthy Mike Davis is a Heisman candidate at running back, especially behind this offensive line. If he can propel his team to a couple of critical victories this season (Georgia, the SEC title game and Clemson), a national title is not out of the question.

 

Ohio State

You would be forgiven if you left Ohio State for dead after Braxton Miller hurt his shoulder. After all, we are talking about a Heisman candidate and the two-time defending Big Ten Player of the Year who makes defenders look absolutely silly in the open field.

However, Urban Meyer has accumulated plenty of talent as he enters his third year in Columbus, and it will be up to redshirt freshman J.T. Barrett to find those playmakers in Miller’s absence.

The one positive about Miller’s injury is that he missed spring practice and most of fall training, so Barrett has taken plenty of first-team snaps. Familiarity with the offense will be critical because the Buckeyes plan on unleashing a high-octane attack, as offensive coordinator Tom Herman told Pete Thamel of Sports Illustrated:

“If used properly and effectively, tempo should help our cause from the standpoint of not needing the ridiculous dynamism that Braxton Miller provided.”

Barrett earned the nickname “the distributor” because of his ability to simply get the ball out to the offensive weapons and get out of the way. That’s exactly why the Buckeyes are still a threat in the national picture. They have so much speed and athleticism on the field that defenses won’t be able to lock in on just one or two guys.

Ezekiel Elliott, Rod Smith and Bri’onte Dunn give Meyer a three-headed attack at running back, but freshman Curtis Samuel and sophomore Dontre Wilson will see plenty of action from the slot and backfield. Samuel and Wilson are the speedsters who will give opposing defensive coordinators fits all year.

Throw in a receiving corps that features veterans Evan Spencer and Devin Smith, youngsters Jalin Marshall and Corey Smith, and Barrett's underrated rushing ability, and Ohio State’s offense will still be dynamic without Miller.

Bleacher Report’s Adam Kramer certainly thinks so:

Perhaps the most encouraging thing about Ohio State’s 2014 prospects is the fact that the defense should be improved under new coordinator Chris Ash. The Buckeyes will utilize more of a 4-3 base that presses up on wide receivers, which will ideally eliminate the gaping holes that Sammy Watkins exploited in the Orange Bowl. 

With a stronger defense and weapons all over the field, count the Buckeyes out at your own peril.

 

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Georgia Football: Depth Chart Analysis, Complete 2014 Preview and Predictions

The 2013 campaign did not go as Georgia fans, players or coaches expected.  Injuries on offense and stunted development on defense derailed the Bulldogs despite a strong early start.  Now, with (mostly) regained health and a new regime leading the defensive side of the ball, optimism lives anew.  

As is often the case with Georgia, this team is talented enough to reach great heights—even levels not previously achieved during the Mark Richt era.  The offense is loaded equally with weapons and leadership. The defense is jam-packed with potential stars eager for refinement.

Combine those elements with a schedule that is relatively favorable and a staff of hungry and diligent coaches, and this should be a memorable year for Bulldog fans.

 

Coaches

Two things stand out about the Bulldogs' coaching staff.  First and foremost is the stability brought by Richt, whose 14-year tenure is as long as any current SEC coach at a single school.  For a coach who is often underappreciated, Richt sure has demonstrated some staying power.

Conversely, the plethora of first-year assistants offers an equally intriguing element to the coaching staff.  The departure of former defensive coordinator Todd Grantham is well-documented and referenced often.  Less obvious is the fact that none of his assistants remain with the program.  When Jeremy Pruitt arrived from Florida State, he made quick work of finding talented assistants and filling his staff.

Already this coaching staff and its mix of old and new has cooperated on a number of fronts.  The group closed the 2014 signing class with a fantastic sprint to the finish line.  Collectively, this unit increased the intensity of practices by adding reps.  And the staff has not wavered from its traditionally high standard of conduct for players both on and off the field.

Now, the most daunting task lies ahead.  The 2014 season will be about players stepping up, but these coaches—and not just the new ones—must prove themselves as well.

 

What to Watch For on Offense

Hopefully, the theme for this year is "more of the same" from offensive coordinator Mike Bobo.  Star quarterback Aaron Murray may be gone, but fifth-year senior Hutson Mason seems more than ready to take over one of the most prolific offenses in the SEC.

At running back, a five-headed monster will be captained by Heisman Trophy candidate Todd Gurley.  The junior running back has accounted for 2,932 yards of offense and 33 total touchdowns on just 440 touches.  If he stays healthy and gets enough carries, Gurley will run all the way to New York for the Heisman ceremony.

Interestingly enough, his own teammates may keep him from getting the statistics needed to compete for the nation's most prestigious award.  He'll be joined in the backfield by:

  • Keith Marshall: 1,207 yards of offense, 11 TDs over two years.
  • Brendan Douglas: 517 yards of offense and four TDs as a true freshman last year.
  • Nick Chubb: The nation's sixth-best running back in the class of 2014 per 247Sports.
  • Sony Michel: The nation's third-best running back in the class of 2014 per 247Sports.

Mason will have plenty of weapons in the passing game as well. Michael Bennett and Chris Conley are two of the more consistent receiving threats of the Mark Richt era.  Both players have been major contributors over the past three seasons.  

Meanwhile, Justin Scott-Wesley and Malcolm Mitchell, arguably Georgia's two best big-play threats in the passing game, should be back from knee injuries at some point.  

Mitchell suffered a minor setback during fall camp, but Scott-Wesley is making strides, which Mark Richt pointed out to Seth Emerson of the Ledger-Enquirer, saying, "He gets work.  We just don't have him in a contact situation right now.  He's getting better.  We're just not ready to get him in a full-speed situation right now."

Assuming the offensive line can stay healthy, this should once again be an explosive offense.  The run/pass balance may move slightly toward the ground game, but Bobo will strive to keep defenses on their toes.  

 

What to Watch For on Defense

The new defense is still very much a work in progress under Pruitt. Coming into fall camp, the front seven was expected to be the cornerstone of this unit.  As Chip Towers of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution observed earlier this week, even the front half of the defense is chaotic:

The defensive line situation was kind of hard to figure. I hardly ever saw the Bulldogs line up in a traditional three- or four-man front, with a nose, tackle and end. Sometimes [Jordan] Jenkins was in a stance at an end position and often an end like Sterling Bailey or Josh Dawson was lineup inside as a 3-technique tackle. The one consistency I saw was senior Mike Thornton was almost always the nose with the No. 1 defense and looked very quick and effective in that role. Big John Atkins also stood out and even came up with an interception off a batted pass at one point. This is going to be a very interesting group to watch under Tracy Rocker’s tutelage.

It should come as no surprise that it took some time for the secondary to settle in as well.  After three defensive backs with starting experience (Josh Harvey-Clemons, Shaq Wiggins, Tray Matthews) left the program and another (Brendan Langley) moved to offense, this unit was in need of a makeover.  It certainly got one thanks to three newcomers—Shattle Fenteng, Dominick Sanders and Aaron Davis—who are slated to be atop the depth chart in the secondary.

Ultimately, Pruitt will move a lot of pieces in a lot of different places to show a lot of different looks.  That's what made his attacking defense so successful at Florida State last year.  Accordingly, it's conceivable that every player on the three-deep depth chart could become a factor in any given situation.  Watching that develop should be a unique experience for Georgia fans, especially if it yields on-field results.

 

Injury News

A number of players, led by Marshall, are back from season-ending 2013 injuries, but a few remain sidelined.  Keep an eye on the health of the following players:

The most permanent injury news relates to Merritt Hall, who was medically disqualified last week.  He will be missed as a fierce lead blocker from his fullback position.

As for the other three offensive stars, outlooks are relatively optimistic. While it's unlikely that all three are on the field against Clemson, that possibility has not been completely ruled out.  Rome seems the closest to seeing the field, followed by Scott-Wesley, who has at least been on the field running routes.

Ideally and realistically, getting two of these three Dawgs back in time for the trip to South Carolina on September 13 would be a huge bonus for Georgia.

 

X-Factor

While it would be easy to identify Mason as the team's X-factor in his first full season as the starter under center, fans for the most part know what to expect out of him—poise and sound decision-making.

To the contrary, two Bulldogs who recently changed positions could add tremendous but unmeasured value to the team in 2014.

Last year, J.J. Green racked up nearly 500 yards of offense as a running back, spelling Gurley and Marshall as they battled injuries. This year, he's a defensive back.  

The move, which was initiated by Green, could tremendously help a defensive secondary desperately in need of athleticism and playmaking ability.  He showed both of those attributes last year, and he's already put himself in a position to play in Pruitt's secondary.

On the offensive side of the ball, look for Hicks to add another wrinkle to Bobo's ever-evolving offense.  As a tight end, H-back or even his familiar fullback spot, look for Hicks to be used more often than he was in 2013.  Hicks showed flashes of stardom early in the season last year, but prolonged struggles in pass protection kept him off the field.  This year, he should be in position to succeed.

 

2014 Schedule

 

Make-or-Break Games

Most experts believe that either Georgia or South Carolina will win the SEC East.  With the programs at Florida and Tennessee struggling to regain momentum and Missouri needing to restock a host of weapons, that assumption is not entirely unfounded.  

Accordingly, Georgia's battle with the Gamecocks is greatly important.  South Carolina has a more difficult overall schedule, so a loss to Steve Spurrier and Co. won't necessarily doom the Dawgs' chances of winning the division, but an early-season win sure would be nice. 

Additionally, a win against Florida is always nice.  Georgia has won three consecutive matchups with the Gators for the first time since 1987-1989, but a fourth win would be especially sweet.  This is always an unpredictable game.  Even last year, when Florida floundered to a 4-8 record, Georgia barely managed to survive.  A loss to the Gators in 2014 could break the Bulldogs' season.

And of course, Georgia would love to exact revenge for a heartbreaking 2013 loss at Auburn.  By most accounts, big things are expected out of the Tigers in 2014, but Georgia almost ruined their dream season last year.  Payback would be especially sweet within the cozy confines of Sanford Stadium.

 

Prediction

The accuracy of two specific assumptions will define the 2014 season for the Georgia Bulldogs.  

First and foremost, the offense must continue to perform at the level fans have grown accustomed to.  Murray may be gone and the ground game may get more carries this year, but the Dawgs need to continue to march down field on long, methodical drives.

Secondly, the Georgia defense must take steps forward under Jeremy Pruitt.  Most expect the unit to improve, and many hope it already has. But these dreams need to come to fruition for the team to maximize its potential.

Neither of those assumptions is a given, but it's not unreasonable to presume satisfaction in both areas either.

Without question, the most daunting game on the schedule is the trip to South Carolina.  Outside of that outing, Georgia may be favored in every game on the schedule.  An accommodating schedule also gives Georgia a relatively easy seven-game stretch from September 20 through November 8.

Continued offensive prowess, an improving defense and a favorable schedule will yield an 11-1 regular-season record (7-1 in SEC play) with a lone loss coming to South Carolina.  Despite the loss to a division rival, this should be enough to get the Dawgs back to Atlanta for the SEC Championship Game.

Todd Gurley won't win the Heisman Trophy, as he won't have the numbers to captivate voters in an increasingly stat-driven contest.  He will, however, win the Doak Walker Award as the best running back in the nation.

 

Unless otherwise noted, all quotes obtained firsthand.

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Meet Nebraska's New Starters for 2014

Just like the changing of the leaves, every year Nebraska fans can count on seeing new starters shine. So as the new season is less than two weeks (!!) away, it’s time to look and see which new players will be getting the nod to start for Nebraska.

Of course, without an official depth chart, some of these are guesses (or as we call them in the business, “informed analytical speculation”). Areas of the team that are unlisted have all returning starters.

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Derrick Green vs. De'Veon Smith, the Friendly Battle to Be Michigan's Top RB

Derrick Green and De’Veon Smith aren’t roommates.

They’re closer than that.

Unlike roommates, they actually spend time together, eat together, study together and, well, be great friends together.

However, that bond all but disappears once the sophomores hit practice. As interchangeable 1A and 1B options in Michigan’s backfield, they’re chasing the same job—that of the true No. 1.

On Wednesday, Green was asked what he’s doing to gain leverage in the race for top billing—which is everything in his power, he says—but said he feels that running backs coach Fred Jackson and offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier will ultimately make that ruling, not the backs themselves.

Until that happens, he'll continue to encourage Smith to reach his goals—even if it’s the same one he wants.

“We’re competing. Every day we come out [and give full effort]—but at the end of the day, we’re brothers and we love each other,” Green said. 

And when he says “brothers,” he means “brothers.” They spend hours playing video games together. They’re pretty tight. So, it should come as no surprise that Smith had a similar answer when asked what he’s doing to claim the advantage.

“Right now, we’re pretty much even,” he said. (Note: Size-wise, that's true too. He's 5'11", 220 pounds; Green's 5'11", 230 pounds). “I honestly don’t know [what I’m doing to separate]—we’re really good friends, so we compete at every little thing we do. [Who’s No. 1] depends on who gets in Coach J’s [Jackson] room the most and studies film.”

Chances are, they’ll probably be together when that happens too. Maybe they’ll flip a coin to see who’s responsible for the popcorn?

All jokes aside, Green and Smith’s association can only make for a positive impact on their position group. When one’s down, the other will be there to pick up the slack. When one’s on a hot streak, competitive nature should take hold, forcing the bystander into becoming an active participant.

It’s yin and yang, running back-style.

Michigan can't lose either way. And it all starts Aug. 30 versus Appalachian State, Green said. 

And so did Smith. 

The calls for someone other than Fitz Toussaint rang loud and clear for most of 2013. The senior didn't perform to his previous standards, so fans wanted a change. Unfortunately, Michigan didn’t hear those pleas until late in the year, finally giving in and presenting Green and Smith real chances to prove themselves.

Generally speaking, they didn’t do very much as freshmen—that much is clear. But they were each vital contributors during the one that counts for double, the Wolverines' 42-41 loss to Ohio State. Smith had seven carries for 57 yards (obviously a season high), and Green chipped in with 12 totes for 47 yards.

As time evaporated, the hard-running bruisers moved the chains and wore down the Buckeyes defense, which was No. 34 overall in 2013, per NCAA.com. That game serves as the best example, to date, of their one-two-punch capabilities.

Back on media day, Smith mentioned his team’s heightened sense of continuity. In hindsight, there’s a chance he could have been making a reference to his friendship with Green or to other similar bonds that teammates share. 

During a recent ESPN survey, Hoke was asked to sum up the Wolverines with one word.

He said “together.”

Green and Smith embody that. 

Follow Bleacher Report’s Michigan Wolverines football writer Adam Biggers on Twitter @AdamBiggers81

Quotes were obtained firsthand by the writer.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Alabama Football: Final Camp Stock Report

TUSCALOOSA, Al. — It may be hard to believe, but fall camp is over for the Alabama football team, and the Crimson Tide can squarely turn their focus to West Virginia and the season opener in Atlanta.

There were plenty of storylines to follow for the last three weeks, as Alabama got back to the practice field as a team in preparation for the season.

Before the first week of the season begins, let’s wrap up the last week of fall practice and set the stage for the first week of in-season practice. Here’s the Week 3 stock report.

 

Closer unit

When asked what his biggest takeaway has been through these last three weeks with his team, Alabama coach Nick Saban said it was the off-field attitude of his team and hinted at something that could have been a problem last season.

"I think this team really and truly likes each other," Saban said. "I think this team is much more bought in at doing the things they need to do to be successful. There's not a lot of complaining. I don't hear a lot of negativity; I don't see a lot of negative people. And I think that's always a good sign."

The players’ leadership team took that upon them to remedy that negativity as well.

They’ve been planning team get-togethers like cookouts at players' houses. The defensive line plays video games (FIFA, Madden and UFC are the favorites) to bond.

Tight end Brian Vogler, right tackle Austin Shepherd and quarterback Jake Coker—who teammates call a “country guy”—went on a fishing trip. If players who don’t normally hang out in the same friend group see each other out and about, they’ll say hey and strike up a conversation, rather than struggle through the forced pleasantries of the past.

"We all like to play video games, and then of course we like to eat," defensive lineman Dalvin Tomlinson said. "We all go out to eat a lot."

It’s a fresh change from some of the reported contention in the locker room in 2013.

 

Final injury report

While there were a number of bumps and bruises along the way, Alabama came out of camp relatively healthy, which can’t necessarily be said of other top teams around the country.

In fact, the Crimson Tide’s situation is probably better than it was when camp started.

Eddie Jackson, likely Alabama’s top cornerback option after the 2013 season who sustained a knee injury in the offseason that required surgery, is much further along than many expected.

He’s taken part in fall camp from the first day, and while he’s been on what Saban calls a “pitch” count, Jackson could be ready to play sooner rather than later—a far cry from the vague “this fall” Saban announced at the time of his surgery.

"Eddie Jackson is back practicing and doing well," Saban said. "But probably not where he needs to be to be able to—because he missed a few practices—we're just going to take him one day at a time and see how fast he progresses, see where he gets to."

Otherwise, the players who suffered minor injuries during camp—linebacker Trey DePriest, defensive lineman A’Shawn Robinson and offensive linemen Leon Brown and Dominick Jackson—are just about back to full strength and getting back up to speed in terms of conditioning.

 

Team takes ice bucket challenge

The Alabama football team joined in with the thousands of people across the world taking the ice bucket challenge to raise awareness for ALS. (You can view the video on the team’s website.)

It went much better than the first time Saban was doused with liquid from a cooler, when he got hit in the head after winning the BCS National Championship against Texas.

“Oh yeah, we had them throw it off the porch so nobody could get hit in the head,” Saban said. “We had the whole team there and they had about 15 buckets. It was good. That's why I changed shirts.”

Saban challenged U.S. senator Joe Manchin, whom Saban grew up with in West Virginia, former Alabama running back Mark Ingram, college football personality Paul Finebaum and Florida head coach Will Muschamp.

“Something as small as that, that means more than a lot of things we've ever done as a team,” center Ryan Kelly said. “As a team, we can get off the field and help a great cause. It's something bigger than what we are. Things like that where somebody might overlook that as an outside person. But that just helps you build a team. "

 

Quarterback race as tight as ever

Vogler is one of the few players on Alabama’s roster who was around for the 2011 quarterback battle and the current one that’s still raging on. He senses a different atmosphere, though, this time around compared to when AJ McCarron and Phillip Sims duked it out.

“I think last time there was a competition it was kind of clear-cut who the favorite was and who took command of the offense—no offense to Phillip Sims or anything like that,” Vogler said. “It’s kind of harder to tell right now. Both guys are just taking control of the offense, and they want it so bad. We’re all comfortable with whoever it is that’s out there at the end of the day.”

By all indications, this race is still very much a close one. That can complicate things at times, but Alabama and Saban still aren’t ready to name a starter.

“It’s kind of an awkward thing to talk about,” Vogler said. “It’s hard making that transition where you go into the huddle and you see one face, then you come back out after a series, let the twos go, and go back out there and it’s a new face. You’re just like, ‘I gotta get used to a different cadence, I’ve gotta get used to hearing the play just worded a little differently.’ It’s been a little tolling on all of us, just with that contrast. But I think once it gets sets in stone, we’ll be rolling.”

Vogler shared a Coker story that sums up the Florida State transfer’s attitude toward the competition amidst the relentless talk around it.

In addition to being a “country guy,” he isn’t much for technology either.

Coker sat at his locker one day after practice, and the SportsCenter anchors on the TVs in the locker room started to break down Alabama’s quarterback competition—”Blake and Jake,” as Vogler called it.

A walk-on noticed and said, “Hey, Jake, you’re on TV.” Coker kept his head down, didn’t miss a beat and just responded: “Cool.”

 

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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We Remember: Michael Crabtree's Last-Second TD Upsets No. 1 Texas

The setting was November 1, 2008, in Lubbock, Texas, as No. 7 Texas Tech hosted No. 1 Texas in a Big 12 matchup. 

The game was a back-and-forth affair, as Tech jumped out to an early 19-0 lead in the first half, but the Longhorns, behind quarterback Colt McCoy, fought back to take a 33-32 lead with only 1:29 remaining in the game. 

However, that was plenty of time for the 2008 All-American tandem of QB Graham Harrell and wide receiver Michael Crabtree. After a 38-yard kickoff return by Tech, the stage was set. 

Using the famous "Air Raid" offense, Harrell moved his team into position for the finish. 

With eight seconds left, Harrell fired a deep out, looking for his favorite target. Crabtree was able to snare the ball out of the air, spin out of a tackle and find the end zone to give the Red Raiders a 38-33 lead with only a second remaining! 

The student section flooded the field thinking the game was over, causing two unsportsmanlike penalties on Tech, but the damage was done. Tech completed the upset. 

[YouTube]

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Texas Football: Final Fall Camp Stock Report

The Texas Longhorns are wrapping up the first fall camp of the Charlie Strong era, and the team seems confident of the product it will put on the field.

At least that's the case on one side of the ball.

Strong addressed the depth chart questions Thursday and stated that the defense is settled. However, the offense may still be a work in progress.

"On offense, we're still trying to piece it together. But on defense, we know exactly where we sit," Strong said Thursday. "You look at our offensive line, we're still shuffling it there. We still have not made a decision just yet on the complete five. When you look at the wide receivers, we're still trying to fill that position."

It should not entirely come as a surprise that the offensive line and wide receiver positions are not settled. Offensive line coach Joe Wickline has repeatedly expressed that the line will change week in and week out throughout the first half of the season.

Texas' depth at wide receiver took a hit when Strong dismissed Kendall Sanders and Montrel Meander earlier this month and when senior wide receiver Jaxon Shipley was sidelined with a hamstring injury the first day of fall camp.

But one concern for the Longhorns is when Shipley will be able to return to the team.

 

Injury Update: Shipley Still Not Cleared

The most veteran receiver on the roster has not practiced since the first day of fall camp. No timetable was set for Shipley's return after he sustained a hamstring injury on Aug. 4, but for him to not be participating in practice could be cause for concern for Texas fans.

Hamstring injuries are not something new to the senior receiver. Shipley sustained a hamstring injury in fall camp last year but was cleared in time to kick off the 2013 season.

Will that be the same case for him in 2014?

That question remains unanswered.

"I don't know if it's worse than the injury he had last year. It's not so much the injury, but he just hasn't had the reps at practice. It's about being game-ready because he hasn't been in the practice mode. It's just a matter of him going out there and running those routes," Strong said. "We need to get him back. I don't know if he's going to be at full speed in game one."

If Shipley is not ready for the Longhorns' first game of the season, the offense will likely have senior John Harris, junior Marcus Johnson and redshirt freshman Jacorey Warrick as the starting wide receivers against North Texas.

 

Strong Commends Quarterback and Running Backs

It is not all negative for the Texas offense. Strong gave junior quarterback David Ash a rave review, saying Ash has had a great fall camp.

Strong named Ash as the starting quarterback at Big 12 media days and has not once faltered on his decision.

After being sidelined for the majority of the 2013 season due to recurring concussion symptoms, Ash has taken the leadership reins for the Longhorns offense.

"I feel very calm and very relaxed out there. It's not my first rodeo," Ash said of his leadership role. "You have to keep working. Turn every mistake into fuel to make you want to get better the next day. Everything you do well can grow your confidence and make you keep doing it over and over again."

Being named the starter helped Ash's confidence. But it also helped the confidence that his teammates have in him.

"David is taking control. That's the thing that stands out to me," senior running back Malcolm Brown said. "If somebody messes up, he'll put them in their place and just roll with it. He is taking control. He showed it last year, but it's just a little bit more now."

But Ash is not the only offensive player Strong commended Thursday. Brown and Johnathan Gray were also praised for their fall camp performance and their work ethic.

"It's so fun to watch those guys go out and practice. They work hard each and every day," Strong said of Brown and Gray. "They have so much respect for one another. I don't even know if it would matter with them who's the starter because they know they're going to get their touches and the reps that they need."

Strong has not discussed how the offense will split the reps between Brown and Gray, but both running backs have shown the ability to be difference-makers on the field.

 

A Fair Shot for All Longhorns

It is not very common for Division I programs to feature walk-on athletes on the two-deep, but that is not the case for the Longhorns.

Walk-on safety Dylan Haines has caught the attention of the Texas coaches and is expected to see playing time next week.

"Some guys were blessed with the ability where they were given a scholarship, but look at the job that Ty Templin and Dylan Haines are doing for us now. They come out there and go to work each and every day, and they don't get the credit they deserve," Strong said. "When they have the chance, they're going to get the opportunity to play, and you feel comfortable playing them. Dylan is going to line up next week at safety and he knows what to do."

Haines first caught the attention of the coaches during spring practice, but the public may not have known who he was until the spring game, when he intercepted a pass from the first-team offense on the first drive of the Longhorns' Orange-White Spring Scrimmage.

"He came out in spring ball and really showed up," defensive backd coach Chris Vaughn said of Haines. "We didn't know much about him prior to spring ball, but he made some plays and showed he could be tough. He runs well; he's accountable. All of those things kind of spilled over."

Haines is battling with true freshman Jason Hall for the starting safety position, but keep an eye out for No. 44 when the Longhorns take the field next Saturday.

With all things considered, Strong has spoken confidently about his team and has displayed little doubt that this team will be able to compete against anyone on the schedule.

Is his confidence just coachspeak, or will the Longhorns surprise many college football fans this season?

Only time will tell, but the final countdown has officially begun.

 

Unless otherwise noted, all quotes were obtained firsthand.

Taylor Gaspar is Bleacher Report's featured columnist covering the Texas Longhorns. Follow Taylor on Twitter: @Taylor_Gaspar.

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College Football Teams Who Have Exploded on the Recruiting Scene in Last 5 Years

Recruiting success can serve as a precursor to a rise in the standings. Though top prospects don't always equate to increased win totals, college football coaches who can consistently stockpile talented classes eventually see their efforts come to fruition with improved on-field performance.

We've grown accustomed to certain teams residing atop national recruiting rankings, from Florida State and Georgia to Alabama and LSU. However, various factors fuel changes in the landscape and allow other programs to emerge as desired destinations for premier players.

During the past five years, the ebbs and flows of recruiting have resulted in a number of risers. Credit goes to dedicated coaching staffs, star performers and, of course, big victories.

Though they may not all be giants in the recruiting spectrum, here's a look at teams that continue to climb the ladder.

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Ranking the Top 50 College Football Team Schedule Posters of 2014

College football's schedule poster game is strong this season.

The glossy, stylized promotional posters that pretty much every school creates each year serve a few purposes, not the least of which is to remind fans when their favorite team plays this fall. But beyond that, the posters are meant to advertise the tone and theme for 2014.

Each school takes their own approach to these placards; some keep it simple, others blow the doors off conventional wisdom. Whatever the case, there's one common goal in mind: to be memorable.

We took a look at all of the schedule posters released by FBS teams for the 2014 season to find the best of the best, the ones we'd want on our wall. We've ranked the top 50 based on their noteworthiness, their uniqueness and how much they would inspire the casual fan to consider that team to be the coolest in the land.

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B/R Exclusive: 5-Star DB Iman Marshall Reveals How He Picked Schools to Visit

The frenzied recruitment of 5-star defensive back Iman Marshall includes dozens of college football programs across the country. Despite dealing with nationwide attention, the Southern California standout has played things close to the vest throughout this process.

That changed Thursday, when the Long Beach Poly High School senior declared his intentions to spend official visits at five campuses:

The announcement comes with a significant caveat, as Marshall hasn't yet made up his mind about one visit. He's asking fans to weigh in on whether Texas or Oklahoma is the right destination to complete his cross-country itinerary.

"Texas and Oklahoma are both known as top programs, so that made it really hard for me to pick one or the other," Marshall said. "Guys are always looking for different ways to make the recruiting process a little more interesting, and I thought this would be a cool thing to do. I'm bringing in the fanbases to help me out."

Followers of the Sooners and Longhorns had already poured in their opinions less than an hour after Marshall's tweet.

"Oh yeah, I've heard from a lot of people," he said. "It should he fun to see the reasons they come up with for me to make the trip."

Though Marshall doesn't know exactly when he'll determine which Big 12 rival will receive an official visit, his plan is to decide soon in order to arrange a jam-packed travel schedule.

"I have dates in mind for these visits, but I need to get them locked in," Marshall said.

Though the particulars remain a mystery, he is definitely headed to Notre Dame, Michigan, LSU and Florida State. Marshall, the top-rated cornerback in 247Sports' composite rankings, explained his rationale for each choice.

Notre Dame stood out due to its distinguished football history. However, Marshall maintains a future with the Fighting Irish is also alluring due to off-field aspirations.

"I think a degree from Notre Dame could really set me up well for a post-football career," he said. "The tradition there is also pretty amazing, and that certainly caught my interest. Coach [Brian] Kelly is one of the best, so I'm looking forward to that one."

The Irish have done a nice job fortifying a strong defensive front seven but could use an infusion of elite talent in the back end. Notre Dame flipped former Michigan commit Shaun Crawford, a 4-star cornerback, in June.

The Wolverines are still in search of his replacement, and Marshall would certainly fit the bill. It's another school that warrants respect for past accomplishments, according to the coveted defender.

"The legacy of that team is known, and a degree from Michigan can take you places," he said. "There's a lot to like about Michigan."

One of those things is the presence of true freshman Jabrill Peppers, who was considered one of the nation's top 2014 prospects and should make an immediate impact in the Wolverines' defensive backfield.

"Playing with Peppers would be crazy," Marshall said. "That would be something special."

His excitement also piques when he imagines pairing up with 5-star LSU commit Kevin Toliver. They competed together at The Opening last month and are viewed as the consensus top two cornerback recruits in this class.

"Toliver is a great athlete, and he's very competitive like me," Marshall said. "We could make some serious noise down there."

They would also continue a tradition of high-level play in the Tigers secondary, which has thrived under the direction of defensive coordinator John Chavis.

"LSU is known as 'DBU' for a reason," he said. "They send a lot of defensive backs to the league, which is important to me. It's a place where I feel like I could really develop and polish my skills."

Marshall would excel in a press-coverage setting that allows his aggressiveness to shine. The 6'1", 190-pound playmaker implements physicality as a key part of coverage.

"Receivers really have to fight to get open against him because he always seems to be on the attack," 5-star Alabama quarterback pledge Blake Barnett said at The Opening. "He's pretty fearless. That definitely doesn't make it easy on us quarterbacks."

While LSU jumps out as a top option in the southeast, Marshall also identifies Florida State as a place that perennially produces NFL prospects.

"Jimbo Fisher has a track record of developing guys and putting them in position to reach the next level," he said. "They could have three defensive backs enter the draft next year."

Of course, there's also another edge the Seminoles hold over teams.

"They're the defending national champions, so that's something everyone should be interested in," Marshall said.

Florida State currently claims commitments from 4-star defensive backs Tyrek Cole and Calvin Brewton, along with top-ranked safety Derwin James. The Seminoles would solidify a strong secondary foundation for years to come by reeling in Marshall from across the country.

Though he listed six possible landing spots today, Marshall isn't limiting things to just this group. Stanford, UCLA and USC remain major contenders.

"I'm very interested in those three California schools, but I wanted to take advantage of this opportunity to see what the rest of the country has to offer," he said. "I only have five official visits to use, and I didn't want to waste any here on the West Coast."

Experts agree he's likely to end up staying close to home. Prognosticators pick USC to sign him in 100 percent of 247Sports Crystal Ball predictions.

Marshall, who didn't allow a single pass completion in league action last season, was named to the USA Today All-USA Preseason Team on Thursday. His senior season begins Aug. 30 against Crenshaw.

 

All quotes obtained firsthand by B/R national recruiting analyst Tyler Donohue unless otherwise noted.

Ratings courtesy of 247Sports.

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Complete Predictions for Every SEC East Team in 2014

On Wednesday, the full SEC West predictions were released. Now, it's time to head across the division and pick the winners and losers from the SEC East. 

Will South Carolina get back to the SEC Championship Game for the first time since 2010? Can Georgia pick up the pieces and get back into the national discussion? Will Florida's offense get back on track?

The SEC East has been the lesser of the two SEC divisions over the last few years, but 2014 could mark its return to national power.

Full picks, previews and predictions for the SEC East are in this slideshow.

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Nebraska Football: Final Fall Camp Stock Report

It's the final week of fall camp for the Nebraska football team. Next week, Bo Pelini and his staff will start leading regular practices as the Huskers prepare for Florida Atlantic.

The final week has answered more questions about the quarterback position as well as shed more light on additional injuries and departures. There are still plenty of things that won't be settled until the first game rolls around, but things are taking shape for the season.

Adding to the excitement of the final week, the Big Ten Network also rolled into Lincoln for the Aug. 18 practice. Dave Revsine, Gerry DiNardo, Howard Griffith and Tom Dienhart were all on hand to watch practice and chat with players and coaches.

 

News from the Week

The whole Nebraska football team wished Jack Hoffman well this week as he begins another round of chemotherapy. The message from Pelini and his team is touching, and folks everywhere are cheering for Jack as he faces this new battle.

Junior defensive tackle Kevin Williams is battling another injury, as Jon Nyatawa of the Omaha World-Herald reported. Pelini says Williams' ankle injury is day-to-day and shouldn't keep him out of practice for too long. After two previous knee injuries, it has to be a big relief for Williams, and Pelini understands that.

"It's a very mild one," Pelini said about Williams, per Grant Muessel of HailVarsity.com. "I think it just scared him more than anything. When you've been through what he's been through, I can see why."

 

Important Position Battles

The battle for the starting role at quarterback continued this week. Per Sam McKewon of the Omaha World-Herald, Tommy Armstrong had his strongest practice on Aug. 18. Offensive coordinator Tim Beck agrees:

He really seemed to step his game up. Much more crisp in the passing game. Much more decisive in the run game, read game and option game. He really just saw things well and made good decisions. He was very consistent in what he was doing, and the ball placement was there. I saw a little extra gear in him.

At this point, it sounds like Armstrong is locking the starting role down.

According to an Omaha World-Herald report, Nebraska is in need of a long snapper to step up in Gabriel Miller's absence.

"If I had a crystal ball, I could tell you, but right now, I would say we're not counting on him," Pelini said, per McKewon.

Who will the Huskers count on then? It seems likely that it will come down to freshman Josh Faulkenberry and sophomore Nate Gerry.

 

Biggest Storylines

Aaron Curry has officially been released from the team, per the Omaha World-Herald. Why did he want to leave?

"He didn't like the fact that he was the fifth tackle," Pelini said, per Muessel. "There you go."

The Huskers have started prepping for their first opponent, Florida Atlantic.

"I'm ready to go hit somebody other than our teammates," sophomore Vincent Valentine said, per Nyatawa.

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Texas A&M Football: Depth Chart Analysis, Complete 2014 Preview and Predictions

The Texas A&M football team will kick off the 2014 season against South Carolina in just a week. The Aggies will try to mesh 10 new starters along with a new assistant coach and improve on their 9-4 record from 2013. 

The Aggies lost six starters on offense and four on defense from the 2013 squad. Defensive backs coach Marcel Yates took the defensive coordinator job at Boise State. Head coach Kevin Sumlin tapped Nebraska defensive backs coach Terry Joseph to replace him. 

The Texas A&M defense ranked No. 109 in the country in 2013. They were hurt by poor play at all three levels of the defense, but particularly at linebacker and safety. Defensive coordinator Mark Snyder needs to put a better unit on the field in 2014 or he will likely be looking for a new job in 2015. 

 

Joseph Joins The Team

Joseph has been tasked with one of the most difficult jobs on the staff. It is his responsibility to improve the play of the safeties on the 2014 team. The play by safeties Clay Honeycutt, Howard Matthews and Floyd Raven was very poor in 2013. 

Honeycutt was benched in favor of Raven after the Alabama game. Matthews was known more for his ineptitude against the wheel route than the three interceptions he made in 2013. 

It is Joseph's responsibility to put two quality safeties on the field from a group that includes Matthews, Raven, Honeycutt, Jonathan Wiggins, Nick Harvey, Armani Watts and Donovan Wilson. 

Defensive line coach Terry Price will have much more depth to work with than he did in 2013. He is a tremendous recruiter and will coach the unit that should be the strength of the defense in 2014. 

Mark Hagen coaches the linebackers and will be tasked with finding a way to build a unit that will help stuff the run in 2014. The 2013 Aggie defense allowed 5.4 yards per rush. The Aggie linebackers were simply too small to stand up to the punishing ground games of the SEC.

Hagen will try to form a competent unit with one returning starter dismissed from the team and an expected starter out with an injured collarbone. He will have to mix and match players in an attempt to find an effective group. 

On offense, Jake Spavital will continue to call plays after taking over those duties before the Chick-fil-A Bowl. In addition to being the offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach, Spavital is considered one of the bright young offensive minds in college football and will likely be a head coaching candidate if the Aggie offense performs as expected in 2014. 

Sumlin has assembled an all-star staff of recruiters. Offensive line coach B.J. Anderson and wide receivers coach David Beaty are two of the best recruiters in the nation and have played a huge role in the Aggies bringing in consecutivetop-10 recruiting classes. 

Clarence McKinney returns at running backs coach after Spavital replaced him as the offensive coordinator. He will have three very talented junior running backs to work with in 2014. 

 

The Offense

The Aggies run Sumlin's version of the hurry-up no-huddle spread offense. He will adjust the scheme to the talent available. His base offense includes a one-back scheme with the quarterback taking short drops and getting the ball out quickly. 

With Johnny Manziel under center, Sumlin inserted some zone-read into the offense in order to take advantage of Manziel's scrambling ability. Sophomore quarterback Kenny Hill will open the season as the starter at quarterback and ran a spread offense with a lot of zone-read in high school. He led Carroll High School in Southlake, Texas, to the 2011 class 5A state championship in that scheme. 

Expect Sumlin to keep the quarterback running game in the offense to take advantage of Hill's ability to run. When the play breaks down, he is an extra running back on the field and should prove invaluable as the offense breaks in three new starters at the receiver position. 

Ricky Seals-Jones, Speedy Noil, Josh Reynolds and Malcome Kennedy will start at wide receiver against South Carolina. Noil and Reynolds have never caught a pass in an FBS game while Seals-Jones has only caught three passes. 

All three are very talented and are expected to make life easier for Hill as he makes the adjustment to being the starter. Hill competed 16 of 22 attempts for 183 yards and a touchdown in 2013. Kennedy is the elder statesman of the receiving corps as a fifth-year senior. 

He caught 60 passes for 658 yards and seven touchdowns in 2013. Kennedy and 6'6", 285-pound tight end Cameron Clear will act as security blankets for Hill.

The Aggies return four of five starters from the 2013 offensive line. Left tackle Cedric Ogbuehi is an All-American and All-SEC candidate. He projects to be the third Aggie left tackle in a row to be selected in the first round of the NFL draft. 

That veteran line will block for three talented junior running backs in Trey Williams, Brandon Williams and Tra Carson. The 6'0", 235-pound Carson is expected to start. All three backs averaged more than five yards per carry in 2013. 

With Spavital calling the plays, this Aggie offense has enough talent to be the best in the SEC and among the top offenses in the nation in 2014. 

 

The Defense

The biggest question facing the 2014 Aggie football team is whether the defense will improve enough to allow the team to compete for championships. The 2013 defense allowed 475.8 yards per game. The 2014 version of the defense will have to be much improved to prevent every game from turning into a shootout. 

The defensive line should be the strength of the defense with three-year starter Julien Obioha moving back to strong-side defensive end. Hardrick Walker got one start at nose guard in 2013 but will be the backup to begin the 2014 campaign. True freshman Zaycoven Henderson has shown the coaches enough to earn a start in his first collegiate game. 

Alonzo Williams is a third-year junior who will start at defensive tackle. Daeshon Hall is a 6'6", 260-pound defensive end from Lancaster, Texas, who is poised to have a breakout sophomore campaign on the weak side. 

The difference between this defensive line and the 2013 line is that in 2014, the coaches have a lot more depth. They will be able to rotate linemen throughout the game to keep them fresh.

True freshmen Myles Garrett and Zaycoven Henderson are in the two-deep and will see immediate playing time in 2014. The second team defensive line will be Qualen Cunningham at strong-side defensive end, Justin Manning at defensive tackle, Walker at nose guard and Garrett at weak-side defensive end.

That is a strong eight-man rotation that should allow the Aggies to pressure the opposing quarterback while remaining strong against the run. 

At linebacker, Donnie Baggs will start on the strong side, with Jordan Mastrogiovanni in the middle and A.J. Hilliard on the weak side. None of the three is a proven playmaker, which is why the position is such a major question mark for 2014. 

Deshazor Everett returns at cornerback to lead the secondary. The four-year starter will compete for All-SEC honors in 2014. De'Vante Harris has started at corner opposite Everett for the past two years, but he is out for an undetermined period of time with a urinary tract injury. 

Redshirt freshman Victor Davis will start in his place. Matthews and true freshman Armani Watts will start at safety. The safeties will need to take a quantum step forward in their play if the back end of the Aggie defense is going to improve in 2014. Devonta Burns will start at nickel back when the Aggies open the game with five defensive backs on the field. 

 

Notable Injuries

The two most noteworthy injuries for the Aggies are on defense. Harris and Washington are two starters whom the Aggies were depending on to help improve the defense in 2014. Their absence is a major blow to a defense that has to be better than it was in 2013.  

 

Keep Your Eye On

The one player whom Aggie fans need to focus on in 2014 is Noil. He has the speed and elusiveness to be an impact player at wide receiver and on special teams. 

Noil could conceivably lead the Aggies in receptions and receiving yards as a true freshman. He will be their punt returner and has the ability to change games on special teams. 

All of the pundits who are focusing on the offense and defense need to realize that special teams is a major part of the game. Noil could have the biggest impact of any freshman on the team in that facet of the game. 

The most important game of the 2014 season for the Aggies will be the October 4 contest against Mississippi State at Starkville. The Bulldogs will be a competitive team in the west division and a tough test on the road. 

The Aggies are 2-0 against MSU since they joined the SEC. The game against Mississippi State marks the halfway point of the season. It is important for the Aggies to get a conference win in a hostile environment in order to get some momentum as they head into the second half of the season. 

The Aggies should be able to get a win at Starkville. They will end the season with a 9-3 record, 6-3 in conference with losses to South Carolina, Alabama and Auburn. 

The Aggies will surprise some with their ability to win games without Manziel under center, but they are not quite good enough yet to make a run at a conference championship. 

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Bleacher Report's Preseason College Football All Freshman Team

With the start of the college football season one week away—technically it starts this Saturday, but who's counting?—it's time to roll out preseason All-American lists.

With freshmen playing bigger and bigger parts for their teams, preseason freshman All-American lists are making the rounds as well. 

There's a lot of freshman star power making noise in preseason camps. Which ones, redshirt or otherwise, could have All-American seasons in 2014? We go position by position with the answers in the following slides. 

 

Ben Kercheval is a lead writer for college football at Bleacher Report. All recruiting information courtesy of 247Sports.com

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