NCAA Football News

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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USC Trojans Football: Final Fall Camp Stock Report

The transition from preseason camp to game-week preparation approaches for USC. Saturday's Salute to Troy officially welcomes the 2014 season with a fan barbecue and an autograph session. 

Before the fun on Saturday, however, the Trojans are putting in work—especially on Tuesday. 

"Tuesdays are lunch-pail, hard-hat kind of days," head coach Steve Sarkisian said, per Sarah Bergstrom of USCTrojans.com. "We've got to work and there's no easy way around it. We've got to get a lot done and it's going to be a physical practice." 

Bringing some of that physicality this week, per Scott Wolf of the Los Angeles Daily News, was linebacker Scott Felix. 

Felix has continued the momentum of a standout spring game through fall camp. His emergence gives defensive coordinator Justin Wilcox options in the Trojans' blitz packages, as Sarkisian explained to Wolf: 

When he’s playing like that and with [J.R. Tavai] on the other side, those guys are two forces. It made it difficult for us at times. Scott is really starting to come into his own. Maybe he will remind us of a couple other guys that came off the edge in the past.

On the topic of options, freshmen John "JuJu" Smith and Adoree' Jackson offer USC plenty. The two 5-star gems of Sarkisian's Pac-12-leading recruiting class have been working on two-way roles, practicing on both offense and defense.

But this week, each demonstrated the capacity to play three-way football in the 2014 season.  

A role in all three phases is unlikely for Smith, however. Sarkisian said via Bergstrom that Smith is establishing himself as an invaluable asset in a wide receiving corps seeking playmakers. 

"He's going to play so much for us offensively and he's earned it, it probably wouldn't be fair to him right now [to play defensive back]," Sarkisian said. 

With Smith strutting his stuff on offense, Jackson showed off some on defense. Jackson's prep alma mater, Junipero Serra High School in nearby Gardena, California, tweeted the below image of Jackson breaking up a pass attempt to Smith. 

Considering their immediate acclimation into USC's plans, it's no wonder USA Today's Paul Myerberg includes Jackson and Smith among his Trojans to watch.

Myerberg tabs USC as the nation's No. 13 squad in his complete Football Bowl Subdivision rankings. Of course, as is the case for any preseason projection for the Trojans in 2014, meeting this benchmark requires staying healthy. 

Tuesday's physical practice Sarkisian touted brought it with a few dings. Evan Budrovich of ConquestChronicles.com reported that freshman defensive back John Plattenburg, a standout last week, as well as linebackers Anthony Sarao and Michael Hutchings suffered minor injuries.     

The biggest injury news of this week's practices is that running back Tre Madden appeared at practices Wednesday wearing a boot, per The Orange County Register's Michael Lev: 

USC is loaded at running back, with last year's breakout star Javorius "Buck" Allen back in the fold and sophomore Justin Davis impressing through fall camp. However, Madden's injury takes away some of the possibilities for the Trojans' rushing attack. 

Some good news for USC on the injury is that defensive tackle Antwaun Woods, who had been facing Week 1 uncertainty after suffering an elbow injury, is once again practicing. 

Woods told Gary Klein of the Los Angeles Times he's "99 percent" ready and will be 100 percent in time for the Trojans' season opener against Fresno State on Aug. 30. 

The sooner Woods returns to USC's lineup, the better; teammate and All-American Leonard Williams said Woods is a potential difference-maker for the Trojans.  

 

Quotes obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted. Statistics compiled via CFBstats.com. Recruiting rankings and information culled from 247Sports.com composite scores. 

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Ohio State Football: Final Fall Camp Stock Report

If this were an actual stock report, the market in Columbus would have crashed this week when it was announced that Ohio State star quarterback Braxton Miller will miss the entirety of the 2014 season due to a torn labrum.

Or maybe the Buckeyes would have turned into a value stock, with their national championship odds dropping from 12-1 to 50-1 in the blink of an eye.

Regardless of how you look at it, Ohio State's final week of fall camp has been an eventful one, as a single shoulder injury has turned the Buckeyes' season on its ear. In the span of a day, priorities—and perhaps expectations—in Columbus have changed, as Ohio State finds itself just nine days away from opening the 2014 season in Baltimore against Navy.

 

Next Man Up

With Miller out until at least the 2015 season—he hopes to return as a fifth-year senior—Urban Meyer now turns to redshirt freshman J.T. Barrett, who only recently was named the two-time Big Ten MVP's top understudy. The OSU offense will undoubtedly change with Barrett at the helm, as the 6'1", 225-pounder doesn't possess the arm strength or leg speed that made Miller one of college football's most dangerous weapons for the past three seasons.

But while Barrett may not be the one-man highlight show that Miller has been, he's also plenty capable, particularly in the passing game. Look for the Buckeyes to install more of dink-and-dunk approach than they used with Miller, as Barrett will try to distribute the ball to Ohio State's plethora of playmakers.

If you're looking for a comparison for what the Buckeyes offense could resemble in the coming year, look no further than to a year ago, when Miller missed the better part of three nonconference games with a sprained MCL. It was then that backup quarterback Kenny Guiton stole the show, passing for a combined 643 yards and 12 touchdowns in three games.

And while Barrett may now be three years younger than Guiton was at the time of his hot streak, Meyer sees a lot of similarities between the two signal-callers. In fact, Meyer compared Barrett to the now Los Angeles Kiss quarterback, adding a new adjective to the Ohio State dictionary.

With game week approaching, the Buckeyes have only nine days to get Barrett ready for the first start of his college career. And although Meyer didn't rule out playing Cardale Jones in Ohio State's season opener as well, Barrett's teammates appear to be behind him and confident that he'll make the most of his opportunity.

 

Where To Now?

With the Buckeyes now aware of the task at hand, Ohio State players and coaches alike find themselves facing one overarching question: How do expectations change for the 2014 season?

While the company line may be that they won't—that the Buckeyes' season will still be defined by its championships—they aren't naive to the situation they currently find themselves in. As a player who once compared Miller's importance to Ohio State to LeBron James' importance to the Cleveland Cavaliers, tight end Jeff Heuerman didn't necessarily back down from his comparison, but did state that the Buckeyes now must find their versions of Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love.

"We understand what happened and what we lost," Heuerman said. "But just like the Cavs, just because LeBron is out, you don't put them out, do you? They have a lot of other playmakers and that's kind of the situation we're in. We have a lot of playmakers and we're going to have to rely on them."

As for Meyer, the third-year Buckeyes head coach said that Ohio State responded to the news of Miller's injury with perhaps its best practice since he arrived in Columbus. Asked how expectations should change for the Buckeyes after their star quarterback's season-ending injury, Meyer refused to take the bait, but didn't shy away from expressing optimism.

“You know the answer to that,” Meyer responded to a reporter. “Got practice 21 [Thursday] and I still like our team. After today’s practice, I really, really like our team.”

As for the pundits writing Ohio State out of the national title picture, senior linebacker Curtis Grant had a message as well: Just watch.

“That’s cool on their part,” Grant said. “We can show you better than we can tell you.”

 

Buckeye Battles

Speaking of Grant, Ohio State's battle at the middle linebacker spot appears to be over, with the senior getting the better of 5-star freshman Raekwon McMillan.

That leaves just the starting spot opposite Doran Grant at cornerback up for grabs on the Buckeyes defense, with Armani Reeves, Gareon Conley, Eli Apple, Marshon Lattimore and Damon Webb all vying for playing time. With co-defensive coordinator Chris Ash's new press coverage scheme in place, all have a chance at experiencing significant action this fall, but one is yet to emerge from the pack as a solidified starter.

On the offensive side of the ball, three spots in particular remain unfilled, with Ohio State still searching for starters at running back, left guard and center.

At running back, sophomore Ezekiel Elliott had a firm grasp on the Buckeyes' starting role through the first two weeks of camp, before wrist surgery knocked him out of action for a week. That opened the door for fifth-year senior Rod Smith, third-year sophomore Bri'onte Dunn and true freshman Curtis Samuel to take reps with Ohio State's first team, giving the Buckeyes backfield more of a committee feel heading into game week.

As for the two vacancies on the offensive line, Ohio State is still waiting for a pair from a plethora of interchangeable parts to emerge and grab hold of its two open starting spots. Chad Lindsay, Jacoby Boren, Billy Price, Joel Hale, Chase Farris and Antonio Underwood are all still in the hunt to start at either center or left guard, where they'll team up with set-in-stone starters Taylor Decker (left tackle), Pat Elflein (right guard) and Darryl Baldwin (right tackle).

With an inexperienced quarterback behind it, the need for the Buckeyes offensive line to be a cohesive unit has only increased in the past week. Meyer and his staff will spend the next nine days attempting to ensure that they have just that before they head to the Charm City, as their battle with the Midshipmen is right around the corner.

 

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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5-Star Recruit Iman Marshall Asks Fans to Decide If He Visits Texas or Oklahoma

The recruiting process can be a lot to handle, so defensive back Iman Marshall is turning to fans in the Red River Rivalry to help him decide which schools he will visit.

Marshall is a 5-star recruit, according to 247sports. He is one of the top players in the Class of 2015, so many schools will make a big push for him. Unfortunately for him, he is only allowed to go on five recruiting visits.

It appears that he has already decided that he will visit four schools (Notre Dame, Florida State, LSU and Michigan) for sure. With one possible visit remaining, he must decide between Texas and Oklahoma. Given the intensity of the Red River Rivalry, Marshall is asking fans from both sides for input.

Fans will be able to tell the 17-year-old what is so good about their school and rip the other one at the same time. Once he gets some feedback, it will be up to the high school senior to make the final call.

It's a unique—and fun—way for Marshall to make a tough decision that could determine his future.

[Iman Marshall]

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10 Biggest Upset Alert Games of the 2014 College Football Season

It's difficult to put a team on upset alert before the season, because the best upsets materialize over a gradual interval of time. Injured players, breakout stars and other in-season developments play a huge role in setting the stage.

Still, in perusing the schedule each preseason, a handful of games manage to jump off the page as potential upsets-to-be.

This can happen for a number of reasons. 

Sometimes, a certain underdog matches up well against a certain favorite. Its strengths nullify the favorite's strengths and/or magnify the favorite's weaknesses.

Sometimes, the underdog catches the favorite at the most opportune time. It gets the favorite tired on the heels of a close game and/or looking ahead to the following week.

Other times, it's as simple as having the best player on the field: a weapon that the favorite can't stop. Football isn't basketball, where the best player on the court out of 10 has a disproportionate impact, but we have seen heroic one-man efforts lift a team.

All three of those upset types have been included in this article, albeit to varying degrees. We also made an effort to include all different magnitudes of upset: some that we think actually will happen but others that we admit are far-fetched.

Even if it is the latter, though, that doesn't mean the favorite should get a pass. There were still enough elements of an upset to put it on notice—especially since the biggest upsets of every season are the ones that sound "admittedly far-fetched" in August.

Sound off below with any games you think I might have left off.

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Notre Dame Football: In Search of Clues to Brian VanGorder's Defensive Strategy

SOUTH BEND, Ind.—With assistant coaches and a select group of players available to the media Tuesday at Notre Dame, I went out in search of clues, trying to unravel the mystery of Brian VanGorder's defense. After four years playing Bob Diaco's system, the Irish will unveil a defense that looks nothing like the one we've seen Notre Dame run during the Brian Kelly era. 

But what exactly can we expect? Having already dug through the archives to check out VanGorder's Georgia defenses, I dipped my toes in the water in South Bend, trying to unlock the mystery behind a system that sounds like a marriage between Dr. Frankenstein and Bigfoot, all designed by a mad scientist named VanGorder.

Nobody would bite. With just 10 days before the Irish have the chance to spring a surprise on unsuspecting opponents, just about every coach or player made available kept things cloak and dagger. 

Take middle linebacker Joe Schmidt. As bright and articulate as any player on the Irish, he must've said, "as you'll see against Rice" a half-dozen times. When pressed, this was the best the senior linebacker gave. 

"We’re extremely multiple now in our schemes and how we are going to attack offenses," Schmidt said. "It’s a little bit different in that there’s some similarities with some defenses that we run. You guys will see soon against Rice, but there are some key differences, and we're a little bit more multiple than we’ve been in the past."

One thing that stood out in an otherwise bland quote was the word "attack." Diaco's defenses didn't attack. They relied on limiting big plays and forcing an offense to beat you with a 10- or 12-play drive. But the loss of key personnel like Louis Nix, Stephon Tuitt, Prince Shembo and inside linebackers Dan Fox and Carlo Calabrese forced a reshuffling. Paired with a coaching change, things are going to be drastically different. 

"The system that we were in was awesome. We won a lot of games with that system. I think we were 21-5 over the last two years," secondary coach Kerry Cooks said. "There was nothing wrong with the system and the philosophy that we had. But the system right now allows these guys to be flexible and be more aggressive, which I think young kids, by nature, it's part of their mentality."

The Irish defense likely wouldn't have been ready to take on VanGorder's system if it weren't for the seasons under Diaco. Taking over a unit that was a punchline under Charlie Weis, Diaco's system demanded operational excellence, with assignment-correct football key.

He also spent time rebuilding the psyche of his personnel, instilling a "B.I.A." (Best in America) chant on the practice field, something most Irish fans chuckled at until Diaco almost pulled it off in 2012, fielding the No. 2 scoring defense in the country. 

VanGorder was a busy man on Tuesday, fielding questions from a throng of media, all trying to figure out how the former NFL assistant planned to develop a defense filled with teenagers. After spending the majority of the last decade working with professionals, VanGorder talked about the teaching aspect that he relishes at the college level.  

"All these guys are so developmental in the game. For me, that’s a good thing in respects that I still like to coach from a developmental standpoint," VanGorder said. "It’s constant. It’s occurring on every play. You’ve just got to stay focused and stay on it and keep the standards and expectations on top of the players."  

The entire defensive staff has spent the past six months teaching, prepping a defense that got significantly younger with the indefinite loss of KeiVarae Russell, Kendall Moore and Ishaq Williams and counts on freshmen and sophomores all across the two-deep. 

Kelly plans to have freshman Andrew Trumbetti and sophomore Isaac Rochell starting at defensive end. Rochell is backed up by freshman Grant Blankenship while Trumbetti has junior Romeo Okwara behind him, though Okwara is playing defensive end for the first time. 

Freshman Daniel Cage is in the two deep at defensive tackle. Sophomore James Onwualu is a starter at linebacker, one year removed from starting four games at wide receiver. Sophomores Max Redfield, Cole Luke and Devin Butler all will be counted on in the secondary, a ridiculously young group that needed to start at ground zero in the spring.

This personnel will drive VanGorder's defense. It'll also allow the depth of the roster—another dozen backups are expected to be key contributors in select personnel groupings—to add versatility to a unit that needs to accentuate the positives if it's going to be successful.  

"I think that the fundamentals of the game are always critical. We want to start there," VanGorder said. "[But] going back to what the player does best and building the scheme, that allows us to feature that part. Sometimes, it also involves scheming to hide, maybe, a weakness. Fundamentals, effort, effort, effort and a defense that can constantly be changing based on the development of players and new players coming in."

We've seen countless practice videos showing corners playing tight man coverage after spending four seasons in a Cover 2 base. At practice Tuesday, we saw defensive tackle Sheldon Day dropping into coverage and rushing off the edge, while Trumbetti lined up at linebacker on a few snaps.

A sign of things to come? A smoke screen, like the vanilla packages we saw in the Blue-Gold game?

I guess we'll find out against Rice. 

 

*Unless otherwise noted, all quotes obtained firsthand. 

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Michigan Football: Final Camp Stock Report

Michigan breaks camp on Saturday following a final practice at Michigan Stadium before starting game-week preparations for its season opener versus Appalachian State.

“If [you're] good enough, [you’re] old enough,” said Brady Hoke during his weekly press conference acknowledging the impact of true freshmen Mason Cole, Freddy Canteen, Jabrill Peppers and Bryan Mone.

The defense appears to be set with no major surprises, the main question being when and where top defensive recruit Jabrill Peppers will make his appearance when the season starts. The defense held the upper hand during the team’s public scrimmage, smothering the offense for most of the evening.

“Our defense is going to be great,” said running back Drake Johnson.

After the team’s practice under the lights last Saturday, Hoke had voiced his hope that the running back and offensive-line positions would be settled this week, but the competition is ongoing.

Devin Gardner will start at quarterback, but key questions remain on offense.


Running Back Battle

For most of camp, De'Veon Smith, Derrick Green, and Drake Johnson have been vying to be top back in Doug Nussmeier's new offense. This week, they all avoided declaring why they should start over their teammates.

For all the attention given to the competition, they all seem confident that however the depth chart shakes out, each will receive an opportunity to carry the ball.

This coincides with previous statements from Nussmeier, who has said that he expects to utilize multiple backs. If this holds, it will be a major change from last season’s offense that featured one primary back for most of the season.

Hoke specifically cited Drake Johnson and Justice Hayes as skilled third-down backs, which leave Smith and Green in the battle to start.

“Derrick and De’Veon...both of them need to keep improving,” said Hoke.

Green has transformed his physique—dropping twenty pounds from last season—and put in his best effort to this camp. Last season he struggled with conditioning, suffered a minor injury during fall camp and didn’t compete for reps until later in the campaign.

Smith has run hard according to Hoke and has been in a daily battle with Green for the starting position.


Offensive Line

After an inconsistent performance during its public scrimmage last Saturday, the offensive line is almost set.

Hoke gave his criteria for how he evaluated his offensive line.

“You got to play with good leverage, you need to be positive with your footwork, your hips need to get downfield and you need to finish your blocks.”

Hoke announced that Ben Braden and Mason Cole will start at tackle with Jack Miller anchoring the line at center. At guard, the situation is still murky. Erik Magnuson has locked down the left-guard position, but right guard is still up for grabs with Joey Burzynski, Kyle Bosch and Kyle Kalis working to fill the final guard position.

Graham Glasgow (suspended for the first game) will be in the mix at center or right guard when he returns.


Jabrill Peppers Watch

Hoke continues to hedge on whether Jabrill Peppers will start at cornerback versus Appalachian State next week.

“Decisions will be based on film [and] based on production,” said Hoke. “He’s playing very well...we’re competing and he’s doing a nice job.”

In a battle of true freshman, Peppers lined up several times versus slot receiver Freddy Canteen during Saturday’s scrimmage.

“He’s playing some corner, but we’re going to focus on nickel when he’s in there,” said Hoke.


Wide Receiver Dismissed

Brady Hoke has dismissed wide receiver Csont'e York after a video emerged of the player assaulting another man and breaking his jaw.

Last week, Hoke had insisted that despite the incident York was "...still part of the program,” but he apparently had a change of heart. The Michigan athletic department released the following statement from Hoke:

Csont’e York has been dismissed from the Michigan football program. Representing the University of Michigan is a privilege and, while second chances are certainly deserved, sometimes it's better for everyone if that happens somewhere else. Overall, I have been proud of how responsible our team has been this offseason and how hard they’ve worked to prepare for the season.


No Word on Captains

Hoke said that while the team has great senior leadership, no formal captains have yet been selected.


Phil Callihan is a featured writer for Bleacher Report. Unless otherwise noted, all quotations in this article were obtained via press conferences or in person.

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5 Non-SEC Teams That Could Finish with the No. 1 Recruiting Class

Florida State ended the SEC’s run of on-field dominance by capturing the 2013 BCS title, and Jimbo Fisher’s Seminoles are among the handful of non-SEC clubs who are capable of ending the league’s dominance on the recruiting trail.

The ‘Noles are one of three non-SEC teams whose classes are currently ranked in the top 10 of 247Sports' team rankings.

Aside from FSU, a fellow ACC power, a pair of Big Ten titans and a Pac-12 juggernaut are among the schools capable of ending Alabama’s streak of No. 1 classes.

Which non-SEC teams have the best chance to finish with the nation’s top recruiting class?

Begin Slideshow

Ranking College Football's Top 25 Tailgating Schools for 2014

With the opening of college football’s 2014 regular season one week away, fans across the nation are anxiously awaiting kickoff of their teams' campaigns. They’re ready to see what that highly touted quarterback can do. How stout their team’s defense looks this fall. How that new head coach or offensive coordinator looks as he charges onto the field for the first game that matters.

And, of course, they’re excited about the tailgating.

Tailgating is as much a part of fall as college football as games are. Heck, some fans never leave their souped-up RVs or SUVs, preferring the comfort of friends old and new, a flat-screen television plugged into a generator, grilled meat and adult beverages over fellowship inside the stadium with 80,000 of their closest friends.

Tailgating is an American art, and college football fans are its top practitioners. Whether you arrive a couple hours or a couple of days before the game, a tailgate is the perfect way to prepare for a college football game. 

Here is a look at the top 25 tailgate spots in college football. The list is entirely unscientific and based on my travels as a college football writer, as well as national reputation.

Begin Slideshow

College Football 2014: Who Is the No. 1 WR Heading into the Season?

Sammy Watkins and Mike Evans dominated headlines last year due to their explosive skills. Now that both have advanced to the NFL, a new crop of wide receivers will be fighting for the opportunity to be called the top receiver in the nation.

Watch as B/R's experts examine who has the right to be called the No. 1 wide receiver in college football.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Florida State Football: Final Camp Stock Report

Now the fun really begins for the Florida State football team.

Tuesday's scrimmage—followed by a well-deserved day off on Wednesday—marked the end of the Seminoles' preseason camp. Coach Jimbo Fisher said Thursday's practice is the first day where FSU will focus entirely on game preparation for the Aug. 30 season opener against Oklahoma State in Arlington, Texas.

"I don't really have areas of concern," Fisher said. "I think we still have some battles going on where you feel good about two or three guys at a position. Building that depth."

As FSU transitions from camp to game prep, let's take a look at four storylines for the Seminoles:

 

New Starter on OL Should Fit Right In

With four returning senior starters on the offensive line, that group will be one of the Seminoles' strengths.

Austin Barron hopes to blend right in and fill the starting role that has been vacated by Bryan Stork, who won the Rimington Trophy as the nation's top center in 2013.

"I think I'm improving a lot," Barron said. "I have to keep on grinding."

Barron is a senior who has five starts under his belt, including one at Wake Forest in November 2013 when Stork was injured. But now it's Barron's turn to start, and he is happy to be finishing his college career alongside the linemen from the class of 2011.

FSU's line is anchored by left tackle Cameron Erving, the ACC's Jacobs Blocking Trophy winner in 2013, and also features All-ACC guards Tre' Jackson and Josue Matias and an improving right tackle in Bobby Hart. Now Barron slides into the center role, a veteran with some experience who also is very familiar with how the men next to him work.

"We all came in together, we all had a mission together, we all want to play together," Barron said. "Our freshman year, we were taking reps in practice together and we're saying, 'Can't wait until we all finally get to play together.' And now it's finally happening."

Barron may not be nearly as good as Stork, but with four veteran starters around him, he should do just fine.

 

Could Greene and Green Be FSU's Starting Receivers?

Fisher has said that he wants to find consistent options at receiver in preseason camp. That seemed to indicate that he would choose a senior like Scooter Haggins or Christian Green as a starter over sophomore Kermit Whitfield or freshmen Travis Rudolph, Ermon Lane or Ja'Vonn Harrison.

When asked who FSU would start at receiver if a game were this weekend, Fisher didn't hesitate to say Rashad Greene and Christian Green. Greene is a slam dunk, a playmaker who has led the team in receptions each of the past three seasons. Green is a mild surprise given that he has just 42 receptions in three seasons and none were touchdowns.

But it's also clear that FSU will mix in a number of receivers. FSU's preseason camp achieved a major goal of ensuring that a large group of talented but mostly inexperienced receivers have received significant playing time with the first- and second-team offense.

"I feel very comfortable with eight guys in that rotation," Fisher said. "I really do. I say that's not playing them all, but I feel very comfortable if they had to go into the football game."

Green is 6'2" and 200 pounds, and he had 26 receptions for 450 yards as a redshirt freshman in 2011. He's talked about being patient and dedicating himself to improving, and he feels his time has come.

Expect to see plenty of Greene and Green. But FSU will also blend in Haggins, Whitfield and Jesus "Bobo" Wilson (who could still be facing a suspension after he reached a plea deal on reduced misdemeanor charges stemming from his alleged theft of a motor vehicle).

Rudolph has been repeatedly praised by Fisher, but the freshman's foot injury has limited him at times in August. Still, expect to see Rudolph and Lane (and possibly Harrison) on the field against Oklahoma State.


 
Even the Backups in the Secondary Are Good

Starting corners Ronald Darby and P.J. Williams missed the past week with hamstring injuries. Fisher has said that this is really not significant, as he knows what they bring to the table. Both simply need to rest and let the hamstrings heal, and Fisher felt they would return to practice Thursday afternoon.

In their place, FSU bumped senior Nick Waisome and sophomore Marquez White up to the first-team defense.

"If they had to play, you'd feel very comfortable putting those guys—Nick Waisome and Marquez [White]—in the game," Fisher said.

Waisome started 14 games in 2012 and had 21 tackles. White played mostly on special teams as a freshman in 2013. 

With Waisome, coaches know what they have. He's a capable cover corner, although not as good as Darby and Williams. White's future appears to be good, and he's opted to focus entirely on football.

White said that he has given up playing college basketball. After working out with the basketball team following the football team's national title run, White played just 10 minutes and made a three-pointer.

"I felt like there are certain things that I wanted to accomplish and do," White said. "To say that I did it. Playing college basketball was one of them."

It's tough playing two sports in college, especially when those sports significantly overlap. White tried, but he knows that his future is in football, and he is dedicated to improving himself as a corner.

 

Maguire's Knowledge, Comfort Is Rising

FSU fans should see plenty of backup Sean Maguire late in games with the Seminoles in control.

It's hard to believe that Maguire was once FSU's No. 4 quarterback in the spring of 2013. But after Clint Trickett transferred to West Virginia in May 2013 and Jacob Coker followed suit in May 2014, Maguire is now the unquestioned No. 2 option for FSU.

When Coker went down with a knee injury in November, Maguire stepped in and completed 13 of 21 passes for 116 yards and two touchdowns in late-season blowout wins. Maguire spent the spring working with the No. 2 offense and gained invaluable experience.

"I remember last year saying you can watch all the film you want," Maguire told Warchant.com's Powell Latimer and Ben Jones (subscription required). "But it's different when you go out there. You can draw X's and O's all day and know the offense in and out, but until you go out there and see it and see the defense move and call the 'Mike' calls ... it's different."

Fisher has watched as Maguire has grown, seeing that he makes sound decisions each play.

"A quarterback's first job is to not lose a football game and to be able to distribute the ball to the right guys at the right times," Fisher said. "He is understanding the running game and making the right decisions in the passing game. I am very proud of his knowledge of what's going on."

Maguire may not play a significant minute of football in 2014. Every game may be out of hand when he plays. But with Jameis Winston eligible to enter the NFL draft in 2015, Maguire can gain a step up with the playing time he will earn in the second half of games.

 

Bob Ferrante is the Florida State Lead Writer for Bleacher Report. All quotes obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted. Follow Bob on Twitter. All recruiting information is courtesy of 247Sports.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

De'Veon Smith on Michigan's Offensive Line, It's 'Better Than It Was Last Year'

As running backs do, De'Veon Smith dodges and dances around blockers. 

However, during a media session Wednesday at the university’s Towsley Museum, the Michigan sophomore was straightforward and concise when asked about his offensive line. Despite losing Taylor Lewan, an All-American left tackle, and Michael Schofield, an All-Big Ten-caliber right tackle, the 5’11”, 220-pounder says the Wolverines won’t experience lag up front.

“I think our offensive line isbetter than it was last year,” he said. “I would say that confidently. I believe in my offensive line and I just can’t wait to see what they can do this year.”

Of course, there are checks to be made. Devin Gardner, the starting quarterback, was sacked 34 times in 2013, the third-most among FBS quarterbacks. An average of 3.3 yards per rush only added to the woes of the Big Ten's No. 10-ranked total offense

This year, being sharper is the only option. And as a whole, the O-line has shown “definite” improvement since this past year’s 7-6 tumble, says Smith, who enters the season as 1A or 1B on the depth chart (his status can change daily).

During this past Saturday’s scrimmage, other than Mason Cole, a true frosh who’ll likely start at left tackle, the linemen weren’t at all consistent; quarterbacks were harassed, running backs were stopped in the backfield and plays collapsed before they even started.

But Saturday’s follies can’t be solely blamed on the guys in the trenches. The running backs have to make certain they're on the same page as well. 

“We have to get better with our progressions,” says Smith, who wasn’t overly pleased with his showing under the lights. However, with coach Fred Jackson’s guidance, the position group will—and he stressed will—establish a steady “downhill” attack.

During his meeting with the press, Hoke revealed a starting front—the one that would "start today,” that is.

LT: Mason Cole (6'5', 292 pounds, Fr.)

LG: Erik Magnuson (6'6", 294, RS So.)

C: Jack Miller (6'4", 299, RS Jr.), Patrick Kugler (6'5", 299, RS So.), Graham Glasgow (6'6," 311, RS Jr.; scheduled to return and start in Week 2). 

RG: Joey Burzynski (6'1", 299, RS Sr.), Kyle Bosch (6'5", 303, So.), Kyle Kalis (6'5", 298, RS So.)

RT: Ben Braden (6'5", 322, RS So.)

Seemingly set on most of the lineup, Hoke said that he's keeping an eye out for right guard candidates such as Kalis, who can play both sides, and Bosch, another versatile cog with which to experiment. Burzynski's also a clear option. 

“We have an idea, but I don’t think we’re set at that right guard position right now,” Hoke said, later adding, “We still have to move the line of scrimmage better, and that’s a constant that we’ll have.”

Since failing to conquer the middle ground (and its own defense) on Saturday, the line has escalated efforts in order to support its backs and "make things easier" for the team.

Smith attributes "improved communication" between backs and brutes as one of the reasons why he's ready to co-sign for his shield of mammoths, which has "done great things" since disappointing over the weekend. 

Blocking is on the rise. Assignments aren't being missed as often. Backs are hitting gaps, holes and lanes, and they're gaining decent yardage in practice. 

Plus there's that Cole kid—Cole man, rather—who has the potential to be pretty special in Ann Arbor. And he's just getting started, which is all the more encouraging. 

"I wouldn't think he was a freshman if I just met him," said Smith, laughing. "He's a very mature person and [O-line] coach [Darrell] Funk is getting him right every day. He's a very mature person." 

 

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

Meet the Bo Pelini Nobody Knows

I watched Bo Pelini's coaching career go up in flames last season.

It was November 29. Nebraska just finished an uninspired 38-17 home loss to Iowa in the regular-season finale. This wasn’t what did it, though. Well, not exactly. It served as a catalyst for the events to follow—as did Pelini’s umpteenth encounter with an official on the sideline, this time nearly clocking an unassuming referee with hat clenched in hand.

The moment came a short while after the game, when Pelini had just a few moments to process the events of the day. In front of a room full of people anticipating—better yet, hoping for—an explosion, the coach did not disappoint.

“If they want to fire me,” Pelini said, lighting the match himself. “Then go ahead.”

That was it. The tension of it all—the Deadspin audio, the cartoonish sideline eruptions and the inability to live up to unrealistic expectations—culminated in a moment that was, in many ways, inevitable.

There was no coming back from this, not when the marriage was already torn asunder.

We waited for word that Pelini would be relieved of his duties. The silence was eventually broken the following day with a surprising (and cryptic) vote of confidence from athletic director Shawn Eichorst. It was open to interpretation, so we interpreted. Despite throwing a bucket of cold water on the flames, the fire didn’t abate.

And then something strange happened. The narrative changed. The pitchforks were tucked away.

Nebraska beat an SEC team in the Gator Bowl on January 1—albeit a dilapidated Georgia squad—but the result was an exact reversal of fortune from the previous year. This helped soothe the souls that required soothing.

Pelini took his image overhaul one step further during the BCS National Championship broadcast. Out of nowhere, with a crystal football ready to be handed out, Pelini tweeted at his own parody account. It was harmless, playful and out of character. It also involved a cat, but you’re well aware of this by now.

@FauxPelini ok enough is enough... I want my cat back. You've had her long enough!

— Bo Pelini (@BoPelini) January 7, 2014

You’re also well aware that Pelini one-upped himself by holding a live cat up to the sky at the Nebraska spring game. (For the record, this was not Pelini’s cat. Her name is Anya, and she belongs to someone in the marketing department.)

In a matter of one week, a reputation was resuscitated. It’s not perfect—and perhaps it never will be in his current situation—but he made it past a point few coaches in this position rarely come back from.

We assume that the man simply changed. Or that the PR department finally sat down with its coach, outlined a plan to smooth out the rough edges, and the entire project worked brilliantly.

The reality, however, is that college football’s most complex personality runs far deeper than the competitive machine you see on camera. There are standards, and then there are Pelini standards.

As it turns out, this packaged “new and improved” Pelini—the one we didn’t know existed—has been there all along. 

 

A Hammer and a Family Room Table

Let’s go back one full year, to the first day of Nebraska practice in 2013.

An angry and distraught Pelini had just re-entered a football meeting holding a hammer and wearing a face you’ve seen before. It’s the one Big Ten officials know and dread.

Without a break in sequence, Pelini—still irate that his first post-practice meeting of the fall was interrupted—lifted the destructive device overhead and drove it downward at a cellphone that had rung moments earlier. To ensure it was in ruins, he hit it once more.

The cellphone scattered in pieces throughout the room.

No one moved, except for then-senior Thad Randle. Randle studied the remains of the device—his device—scattered throughout. He then stormed out. Pelini followed.

The team, still trying to assess what had just happened, listened and waited.

Outside there was yelling. The distant sounds of a scrum echoed through the Nebraska football facility hallways. Players, including star tailback Ameer Abdullah, made an attempt to intervene. All efforts to leave the room were halted.

“I thought this was it,” Abdullah said. “I thought this was the breaking point of Nebraska football.”

A flustered Pelini returned to the room, solo and sweaty. He confronted his team, and as he did, he pointed to the wall. The message was written clear as day.

“GOT YA.”

It was at that moment that the Nebraska Cornhuskers realized the fray was a setup—the latest in a line of pranks from their head coach.

As the team tried to find solid footing, it discovered the next piece of the message. Instead of practicing for the second time on the first day of camp, the Huskers were headed to a movie.

“He’s a good actor,” Abdullah laughed, recalling the situation. “He could go to Hollywood, for real.”

Abdullah has seen just about every side of Pelini during his time at the school. A senior and one of the nation’s premier tailbacks, Abdullah ran for nearly 1,700 yards in 2013.

Before he was an All-America candidate and a fashionable dark-horse Heisman choice, Abdullah was a 4-star recruit according to 247 Sports. The Alabama product was a hot commodity in the SEC: South Carolina, Arkansas and an intrigued coordinator at Auburn named Gus Malzahn pursued him actively. Many of these schools saw Abdullah as a cornerback, including the Tigers, the team he grew up rooting for. He felt differently.

"It kind of ate me up," Abdullah told Paul Myerberg of USA Today about the recruiting process. "It really hurt my feelings. At a young age, my dream was to play running back. For your dream school to tell you that, it really hurt."

Enter: Bo Pelini. Literally.

The coach, looking to add a spark on offense, visited the running back—and that’s what he wanted him as—in his home. He made himself comfortable the moment he walked through the door.

“When Bo came and sat in my living room, he was the guy holding up the cat,” Abdullah said. “He kicked off his shoes like he had been living there for seven years and put his feet up on my table.

“I’m like, ‘look at this guy.’ That’s who Bo is, though.”

On that same visit, after the sock etiquette settled in, Pelini made another impression. He didn’t send out the full-court press and usher in a parade, but rather, he did the exact opposite.

“He didn’t promise me a thing, which was really odd,” Abdullah said. “He came to my house and offered me a free education and an opportunity to potentially play on this football team. He left it at that, and that really sat with me.”

It was different. Better yet, it was real. As Abdullah processed extravagant pitches and promises from some of the most established minds and programs in the country, Pelini’s honest pitch stood out. It wasn’t orthodox, but it hit home. So Abdullah left his.

“That’s really what attracted me to Nebraska,” Abdullah added.

 

Training Rooms and Random Phone Calls

Let’s go back a bit further.

Before Pelini was kicking his feet up on the Abdullah’s family room table, he was one of the hottest defensive coordinators in the country. 

In his three years with LSU between 2005 and 2007, Pelini’s defenses produced six first-team All-American selections and dominated almost every defensive statistic imaginable. When LSU beat Tennessee in the 2007 SEC Championship Game, Pelini was offered the head coaching job at Nebraska the next day. He happily accepted, although he did so with a caveat.

Pelini was introduced at Nebraska with a press conference and hit the recruiting road shortly thereafter. But instead of abandoning LSU—which has become protocol—he returned to coach the defense for the BCS National Championship.

"I have a tremendous amount of love and respect for these guys," Pelini told Cory McCartney of Sports Illustrated at the time. "We're close and we started something together and we're aiming to finish it together. I owe it to them. I would never have felt right. It would have felt like I was walking out on them."

Yes, it was the national championship—a game LSU won. But for an occupation that has seemingly jettisoned the concept of loyalty, this meant something. It meant something to the players he promised. Specifically, it meant something to former LSU defensive end Kirston Pittman.

“You have a lot of respect when a man looks you in the eyes, tells you something and then lives up to what he told,” Pittman said. “That’s something I’ve taken with me. It was a great life lesson.”

Pittman’s college football career featured both highs and lows. In 25 starts, Pittman had 15.5 sacks and 26 tackles for loss. His eight sacks in 2007 led the Tigers in that category. He could play, there was no arguing that. It came down to being able to play.

Before his breakout senior season, however, he battled a foot injury in 2005 and then tore his Achilles in offseason workouts. Pittman missed back-to-back seasons. He spent countless hours in the training room, trying to get healthy and back on the field. It was a long journey but, thankfully, Pittman had company.

Pelini would log sessions with his defensive tackle as he rehabbed. He would motivate him or make him laugh; it all depended on the day. One day, Pelini asked Pittman a simple (but honest) question.

How good do you want to be? You have the potential; we have the scheme.

“I can’t say I’ve been around a much better coach that expected so much of you and was able to get it out of you at the same time,” Pittman said. “He was one of the most down-to-earth coaches I ever played for. He was outspoken and would definitely speak his mind. At the same time, he was a player’s coach.

“Every Saturday, we went to bat for Coach Bo.”

Long after Pittman left LSU, just a few short years ago, his cellphone rang. There were no hammers in the vicinity.

On the other end of this call was his former coach, Bo Pelini, a voice he hadn’t heard in some time. The two—now on very different football paths—talked. They talked football, life and everything in between. There was no particular reason for the call; Pelini simply wanted to check on a player—better yet, a person—he cared deeply about.

“It was a beautiful thing. It was very genuine,” Pittman said. “You can talk with Bo about anything. He’s a fun guy, a warm guy. I just think he gets a bad rap.”

 

Onward and Upward: The Next Chapter of the Image Overhaul

By his own admission, Pelini can do better. Not necessarily as a coach, but as a representative for the university he works for. 

“You just got to look for opportunities to kind of show people that isn't who you are all the time, ”Pelini said. “And hopefully I can do a better job of showing that side of me, even during competitions.”

In a sport fueled by violence, four-letter words and tidal waves of masculinity, it shouldn’t have to come to this. It should be assumed that coach and person are two vastly different entities. Trying to judge character based off of six-second video clips and facial expressions can be a dangerous business.

Unfair or not, it's part of coaching.

“People see me on the sideline in competition and they think that’s who I am all the time. They think that’s who I am at home, with my kids,” Pelini said. “I was pretty intense as a player, going all the way back to when I was little. When it was your job to compete, you competed. That’s not who you are 24 hours a day.”

Slowly, this mentality is being celebrated and appreciated by the people who truly matter when it comes to the assessment. Since firing off his cryptic defense of his head coach last December, Nebraska AD Shawn Eichorst has upped his efforts when offering support.

Somewhat quietly, an extra year and $100,000 were tacked onto Pelini’s contract this offseason. While coaching contracts are only as good as the guaranteed dollars attached, Eichorst has been much more open about the situation.

"I really enjoy what he brings to the table," Eichorst told ESPN.com. "He's the first to admit he's kind of walked that line a little bit. Everybody is different. You've got calm and collected, high strung and everything in between. I try not to make judgments about that."

While cat encounters and elaborate pranks will erase some of the angst that still lingers, the next chapter of Pelini’s PR battle is set to begin.

A Big Ten championship could go a long way in beefing up a 58-24 mark at the school, which still stands pretty comfortably by its lonesome. It’s also worth highlighting the four schools that have won at least nine games each of the past four seasons: Alabama, Oregon, LSU and, you guessed it, Nebraska.

It’s that next echelon of success that still remains unexplored. And in a results-oriented business, it will continue to hover until Nebraska is able to add hardware to its robust archives.

For the first time in a while, however, the support system is stable. The administration is openly backing its coach, which is a drastically different message than the one that was being delivered last November.

The fans, slowly but surely, have learned to embrace—and better yet, understand—the man tasked with leading the football team. This remains a work in progress, but progress has been made. 

And, most importantly, the players—current, former and future—are ready to run through a wall for “Coach Bo” when necessary. This is all that truly matters—no matter what anyone else tries to tell you—and this isn’t anything new.

We simply haven’t looked hard enough.

 

Unless otherwise noted, all quotes obtained firsthand.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Florida Gators Football: Final Camp Stock Report

Fall camp is over and done with for the Florida Gators, and now it’s time to prepare for next week’s opponent in the Idaho Vandals. Football season is finally here, ladies and gentlemen!

With camp finally wrapped up, we leave you with one final update on all of the key things that happened over the last week.

The coaching staff continues to marvel over quarterback Jeff Driskel, the offensive line continues to take steps forward and a certain defender seems to be back on the right track. Oh, and coach Will Muschamp was the latest to take one for the team.

 

Offensive Line Has Made Progress 

Florida’s offensive line depth has been a major concern this offseason. While the Gators have one of the top starting offensive lines in the SEC on paper, the backup unit is inexperienced and raises a cause for concern.

Head coach Will Muschamp addressed this issue last week, according to Antonya English of the Tampa Bay Times.

"Depth on both lines of scrimmage, especially on the offensive line," Muschamp said. "Again, I feel really comfortable probably with seven guys right now. We need to have eight or nine. That's a critical issue."

With Chaz Green and D.J. Humphries injury-prone and the physical toll it takes to play in the SEC, Florida needs quality depth in the trenches. However, Kurt Roper seems to be just fine with his offensive line with the season opener about a week away. Florida’s new offensive coordinator doesn’t seem worried, according to Thomas Goldkamp of 247Sports.

"I think we're pretty good there," Roper said. "We've got to go play a game. You like to take it one game at a time and not get too far ahead of yourself but I think we've got a good group. I really do."

Speaking of Humphries, Muschamp really likes what he sees from his left tackle. 

Depth concerns or not, Florida has to hope it can avoid the injury bug in order to stick with the five starting offensive linemen who give the team the best chance to win.

 

Antonio Morrison Is Back 

Although he finished second on the team in tackles last season, Antonio Morrison didn’t exactly have the sophomore year many expected. It started with off-the-field issues, suspensions and then showing up overweight and not being the explosive player he was as a freshman.

With the past behind him, Morrison expects to be a completely different player and live up to expectations, according to Edgar Thompson of the Orlando Sentinel.

"I don't even like thinking about last year anymore," he said. "We learned from it and we know what to do this year. Win."

It all started with dropping weight, as Morrison is a healthy 220-225 pounds, according to the report, instead of the 240-plus he was last season. That will certainly allow him to be more effective and become a bigger part of what projects to be one of the top defenses in the country.

Defensive lineman Darious Cummings likes what he sees from his teammate, per Thompson.

He's going into this year like he has a chip on his shoulder because he didn't play as well as he wanted to last year. And so, just the fact that he hurt himself and the fact of stuff that happened off the field, too, he feels like he has a lot more to prove.

And it's rubbing off on us, too.

With a healthy and motivated Morrison along with the rest of Florida's defensive talent, the Gators should have no problem possessing one of the better defenses in college football. 

 

Quarterback Update

With fall camp pretty much in the books, it’s only right we leave you with one last quarterback update. After all, it’s been the ongoing story throughout Florida’s offseason.

Updates with Jeff Driskel remain positive. He’s adjusting to the speed of his new offense, making quicker decisions and is starting to look more like an actual quarterback. Although the one thing that has really caught Roper’s eye is his confidence, according to Robbie Andreu of Gator Sports.

I guess since I’ve been here, he’s a confident guy. He’s got a great look in his eye. He’s a bright-eyed guy. I don’t think he’s ever lacked confidence. I think where you see the confidence growing is in understanding what we’re doing offensively.

The more understanding you have, the faster you can make decisions, the faster you can play. You have to be able to play fast and be decisive. I think that’s probably the most important attribute a guy has is being decisive as a quarterback. I think I see his confidence growing in that realm.

It's no secret that Driskel has been heavily criticized throughout his Florida career, and if that hasn't rattled him yet, nothing will. It's always good to have a confident quarterback and somebody who can focus on the next play. 

As for the backup position, Florida's coaching staff has as many answers as they did before practice began, per Robbie Andreu

“Right now, really no separation at quarterback behind Jeff,” Muschamp said. “We'll continue to work throughout the week. We don't have a definite timetable on that right now. Just after watching the film on Saturday there was some good and bad. We'll continue to work through that.”

The job will likely be decided between freshmen Will Grier and Treon Harris. 

 

Extra Point

Muschamp was the latest to get involved in the Ice Bucket Challenge after being called out by Alabama head coach Nick Saban.

Way to go, coach!

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Bold Predictions for Every Pac-12 Football Team's 2014 Season

When it comes down to it, college football is just a game, and amid all the Pac-12 previews about trap games, top freshmen and exciting matchups, we like to have a little fun.

That means coming up with a bold prediction for every team in the conference, though bold here does not necessarily mean happy or good. By the same token, I'm not placing my reputation on the line here either; otherwise you'd see slides like "Mariota wins the Heisman" or "USC wins 10 games."

Neither of those predictions would be very bold, so we're putting out ones that should make you take a second glance. Of course, that doesn't mean you'll see "Leonard Williams gets 30 sacks" either; that's not just bold—it's flat-out insane.

But enough rambling—click ahead to see one bold prediction for every Pac-12 team's 2014 campaign. 

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