NCAA Football News

Arizona State Unveils New Copper-Themed Uniforms for 2014-15 Season

The Arizona State Sun Devils have found a way to include copper on a uniform for this upcoming season.

In order to pay tribute to Arizona's copper production, Nike has incorporated copper into every part of the Sun Devils' new uniform. The main color of the uniform is anthracite, but copper is a big part of the new look. From the helmet to the jersey to the pants, it can be found everywhere.

Here's what coach Todd Graham had to say about the new look, via the Arizona State Sun Devils:

We wanted to pay homage to this great state while keeping the team’s look consistent. We are one of the top few teams in the nation with as many looks and combinations as we have, and this plays an important role in building a national fanbase and molding Arizona State University into a household name.

Arizona State will wear the anthracite and copper uniforms at some point this season, but no game has been selected yet.

Here are some more looks at the uniforms:

 

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Projecting USC Football's New-Look Offense for 2014 Season

Steve Sarkisian joked at Pac-12 media days that the biggest change he's introducing in his first season as USC's new head coach are "glow-in-the-dark uniforms."

Fans need not brace themselves for neon duds, but Sarkisian is introducing at least one dramatic change in the coming season. 

"Obviously, the uptempo [offense] is a big change," Sarkisian said. "We're going to go fast, and that is something that will be very different than has ever been seen at the Coliseum."

This year's Trojans are abandoning the offensive style past Trojans employed, seemingly dating back to the leather-helmet era.

OK, so the pro-style may not be quite that firmly entrenched into USC tradition, but it was part of the program's identity. 

Of course, the introduction of a no-huddle system doesn't mean USC will emulate Pac-12 counterpart Washington State by lining up four or five receivers every down. Neither will the Trojans be running the zone-read option Arizona's Rich Rodriguez is known to employ. 

"The schemes are going to look similar, but we are going to go fast," Sarkisian said.

USC's new system is more of a modern twist to the traditional concepts. But what exactly does that entail? 

Nearly nine months of suspense come to a head on Aug. 30 when the Trojans' new-look offense is unveiled against Fresno State. Spring practices, fall camp and Sarkisian's 2013 Washington Huskies offer some insight into what can be expected of USC this season.

Washington took 1,023 snaps through 13 games in 2013, 17th most in the nation and 99 more than USC had in 14 games.

As this season is for the Trojans, 2013 was the Huskies' first operating in the hurry-up system, and their number of plays increased from 904 the season prior. 

That breaks down to fewer than 10 more snaps per game, which may not seem significant on the surface. But for Washington, those extra snaps were taken in three minutes, 10 seconds of possession less per game than the 2012 season. 

Extra snaps obviously equate to more touches to be spread among the offensive playmakers. And, since Sarkisian promises a continuation of USC's longstanding run-pass balance, the extra opportunities should spread to the run and the pass accordingly. 

In other words, USC should have roughly 40 passes and 60 rushes more for which to account. 

Quarterback Cody Kessler is tasked with distributing those additional touches.

Sarkisian said the redshirt junior is uniquely equipped to handle to the on-the-fly improvisation necessary to flourish in the uptempo offense.

"He can make and see things extremely well and make decisive decisions quickly," Sarkisian said. "I think that comes from his basketball experience, playing point guard, having him make those types of decisions."

Comparing the modern tempo of college football offenses to basketball is nothing new, and Sarkisian brings up an interesting point. The back-and-forth pace on the hardwood doesn't allow for huddles between each sequence, so the point guard gets his play-call from the sidelines. 

This is true for a quarterback running a no-huddle offense. And, like a basketball team getting out in transition, the hurry-up offense's goal is putting the defense back on its heels. 

Kessler's ability to do that effectively will be an immediate boon for his individual production. 

The change in systems benefited Washington's Keith Price last season virtually across the board. His completion percentage, yards per pass attempt, touchdowns and interceptions all improved markedly. 

Price also distributed his passes more evenly among his teammates. His total number of attempts dipped in 2013, yet he connected 20 or more times with six different receivers. In 2012, he found just four different targets for 20 or more receptions. 

That uptick in distribution bodes well for Kessler with Marqise Lee gone for the NFL. Lee was the focal point of the Trojans' passing attack in 2012 and through the first half of 2013, before battling injury. 

USC returns talented playmaker Nelson Agholor, who last season caught a team-high 918 yards on 56 receptions. Agholor is likely to exceed 60 catches in his junior campaign. 

Darreus Rogers is a breakout candidate, and Victor Blackwell was involved in some noteworthy plays during fall camp. 

George Farmer is a potential X-factor. Injuries and position changes have hindered Farmer thus far into his USC career, but Kessler is seeing him develop into a weapon. 

"He's making cuts he wouldn't have made eight months ago," Kessler said last month at Pac-12 media days. "He's really starting to get back into the swing of football." 

Keeping Kessler upright is crucial for USC to push the tempo, but last year protecting him was sometimes an issue. The Trojans gave up 34 sacks to rank No. 104 in the nation. 

That was bad, but Washington's 38 sacks allowed in 2012 were worse. Price's struggles in his junior campaign were partially attributable to porous protection.

The Huskies shaved eight off that total in 2013—not necessarily ideal, and not particularly impressive on the surface. But with Washington running almost 120 plays more in 2013 than 2012, sacks were coming far less frequently. 

And, in general, Price was able to operate with far less duress. Similarly, Kessler's acclimation to the hurry-up will rely heavily on the offensive line's development. 

Offensive line play is USC's biggest question mark heading into the season, so look for the Trojans to particularly emphasize building from the rush through the first few weeks.  

Past USC teams have employed multiple ball-carriers, and that won't change with the arrival of the no-huddle. 

Sarkisian leaned primarily on one, workhorse back to shoulder much of the responsibility in his time at Washington, whether it was Chris Polk or Bishop Sankey. But Sarkisian didn't have two proven No. 1 backs at Washington, as he does in USC's Javorius "Buck" Allen and Tre Madden. 

Madden rushed for 703 yards on 138 carries last season, and he exceeded 90 yards in each of the first five games.

Getting him back healthy from a hamstring injury means opposing run defenses will get no relief from a relentless ground attack. 

"[Madden is] definitely a big asset for this team," Kessler told Rich Hammond of the Orange County Register. "I think him and Buck will be a really good one-two punch."

Sophomore Justin Davis also figures to be in the mix. Davis has impressed in fall camp and appears to be fully recovered from the foot injury that shelved him midway through last season. 

The trio should split somewhere in the neighborhood of 500 carries. Allen and Madden could combine for around 400 of those. However, Davis is fast making his case to be more than just a change-of-pace option. 

No matter who is getting the touches, Allen told Gary Klein of the Los Angeles Times the no-huddle offense means one thing: 

"There's enough to go around," he said.  

 

Quotes obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted. Statistics compiled via CFBstats.com.

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Why Recent Recruiting Losses Shouldn't Worry Crimson Tide Fans

The script flipped for Alabama this past weekend, as a pair of SEC opponents plucked two prized prospects from the Crimson Tide's clutches. Well on his way to an unprecedented fifth straight No. 1 recruiting class, head coach Nick Saban certainly won't wallow in despair about the duo's sudden departure.

Supporters of the team in Tuscaloosa and beyond should adopt a similar attitude after experiencing a slight—and rare—step backward on the recruiting trail.

Keep calm and roll on.

Did Alabama lose a versatile 2015 defensive end when Jonathan Ledbetter pledged his allegiance to Georgia? Sure.

Would defensive tackle Benito Jones have become a foundational member of the Tide's 2016 class had he not jumped over to Ole Miss? Probably.

However, in today's recruiting climate, few programs overcome a bump setbacks en route to national signing day like Alabama. Do you think offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin is still lamenting the loss of 5-star quarterback Ricky Town?

The Tide acted swiftly following his flip to USC and identified multiple targets, many of whom have dual-threat skill that simply haven't been featured at the position during an incredibly successful run.

National champions Greg McElroy and AJ McCarron combined to rush for five touchdowns during the past five seasons. Town, another prototypical pocket passer, would have maintained that mold. Instead, Alabama altered its course and appeared intent on landing a dual-threat talent.

Saban found his man in Southern California quarterback Blake Barnett, who initially committed to Notre Dame last year.

"Coach Kiffin and Coach Saban were very fond about the idea of their quarterback being able to run the ball several times in each game," he said following an Elite 11 practice in Beaverton, Oregon. "It's something they were looking for, and it made sense as a fit for me."

A sensational summer and Elite 11 title sent Barnett soaring in national rankings, moving ahead of Town in the process. Barnett projects as a playmaker who can challenge for the starting job as an underclassman and bring a new dynamic to Alabama's talent-laden lineup.

"When a play breaks down and the pocket starts to close in, I can make things happen," he said. "I think I'll be able to bring that element to the offense and maybe open things up for other teammates."

That's one heck of a way to fill the massive hole left behind by Town.

Alabama has lost three commitments during past month (Jones, Ledbetter and top-ranked inside linebacker Leo Lewis), but the Tide managed to plunder other recruiting classes in the process.

Earlier this month, Alabama bolstered its secondary by flipping 4-star defensive backs Rico McGraw (Georgia) and Ronnie Harrison (UNC). They join a stacked backfield that already includes 2014 5-star signees Tony Brown and Marlon Humphrey.

Both of those coveted cornerbacks committed during the final stretch toward last signing day. They filled needs created by the departures of Stephen Roberts and Kalvaraz Bessent, who flipped to Auburn and didn't carry the same clout in recruiting rankings as their eventual successors.

When it comes to replacing Ledbetter and Jones, just look at the impressive list of defensive linemen who've expressed interest in attending Alabama. Rest assured, Saban will find new beasts up front.

Rashan Gary, a 5-star 2015 defensive tackle, deserves to be in the conversation when it comes to naming America's top rising junior. The New Jersey native has expressed significant interest in Alabama since receiving an offer.

He currently maintains strong communication with assistant coach Mario Cristobal and listed the Tide, Michigan and Ohio State as teams "I’m talking to the most," per Steve Wiltfong of 247Sports.

While speaking at The Opening, he admitted an opportunity to play in the SEC could eventually create an advantage for Alabama.

"It felt like things really reached a new level when the SEC offers started arriving," Gary said. "When I realized those teams decided early that they want me, it was an honor. That's grown-man football."

More immediate attention is needed when it comes to replacing Ledbetter, who is rated fifth nationally among strong-side defensive ends in 247Sports' composite rankings.

Alabama already has a superb stable of talent at the position but remains in pursuit of pass-rushers in this class who can dominate the edge. Top possibilities include CeCe Jefferson (Florida) and Kyle Phillips (Tennessee).

Though some rivals may have reveled in a rough weekend for Alabama's recruiting efforts, any hopes for a full-scale class implosion is foolhardy.

Saban has set a sky-high standard in Tuscaloosa and should feel confident he can raise the bar even higher by the end of this cycle.

 

All quotes obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted. Recruit ratings courtesy of 247Sports. 

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Alabama Football: Final Game-by-Game Schedule Predictions

In less than two short weeks, the Alabama football team will finally hit the field in a competitive game against somebody other than itself for the first time since a crushing 45-31 loss to Oklahoma in the Sugar Bowl to end the 2013 season.

Can the Crimson Tide get back to the top of the college football mountain?

That will be the question on just about everybody’s mind during the 2014 season. The talent is certainly there, but Alabama also has more question marks than it has had in recent memory—not the least of which is at the game’s most important position.

And so, as things stand right now, here are our final Alabama game-by-game predictions for the 2014 season.

Begin Slideshow

Preseason College Football Rankings 2014: Major Differences in Amway, AP Polls

There was just a bit of disparity between the 2014 Amway Coaches Poll and the Associated Press preseason poll.

Florida State earned the top position in each poll, however, further establishing itself as the premier team in the nation for the upcoming season. With kickoff just a few weeks away, teams will be scrambling to finalize their depth charts in hopes of catching the Seminoles by season's end.

These polls no longer matter for the playoff system now in place, but they serve as a good benchmark to tell which teams are playing well and which teams are spiraling downward. For now, the rankings stand as such:

You'll notice a few differences between the two lists. You'll find a breakdown of three of the most noticeable differences below.

 

Missouri

Maty Mauk may not have a clear reserve behind him, but that shouldn't scare people away from the Missouri Tigers. If Mauk suffers an injury, then this team might be doomed. With him under center, they'll be just fine.

The Amway poll didn't trust the Tigers, as they didn't even rank on the list. The AP had enough confidence in Mizzou to place them 24th, however, there's a good chance they finish even higher than that very safe ranking.

Mauk is enough to keep this team in the top 25 all by himself. After taking over as the starter last October, the signal-caller never looked back. He'll have plenty of help behind him in 2014, as junior running back Russell Hansbrough is a proven commodity.

Marcus Murphy will also get touches at tailback, but the senior has served primarily as a slot receiver in training camp this year.

Lucas Vincent leads a very strong defensive line. Vincent is actually a player to keep an eye on this season, and Dave Matter of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch already outlined his goals for 2014, via NCAA.com:

"He's playing at a different level than he's ever played,"[head coach Gary] Pinkel said after Tuesday's scrimmage, when Vincent was the most disruptive lineman from a front four that camped in the backfield all day.

Missouri has developed a reputation for churning out NFL-ready defensive linemen, with eight D-linemen from the Pinkel years currently in NFL training camps. Senior defensive end Markus Golden is widely considered the next elite pro prospect, but for now, Vincent has more immediate goals.

"I want to be All-SEC and All-American," he said.

While neither poll placed Mizzou particularly high, the AP poll was a bit more accurate in its assessment of the Tigers' talent.

 

Texas

It's rare to see the Texas Longhorns not in the discussion as one of the top 25 teams in college football. Amway liked Texas at No. 24, but the AP wanted nothing to do with the Longhorns. They failed to crack the list altogether.

One of the most important positions on the field is running back. A dynamic back can dictate the pace of a game and the overall explosiveness of an offense.

The Longhorns were deep at the position in 2013, but all of that has changed heading into this season.

Jonathan Gray's Achilles injury puts his status in jeopardy for 2014. Even if he is healthy, no one knows how he'll be able to produce when on the field. Joe Bergeron was dismissed from the team at the end of July, leaving Malcolm Brown as really the only viable option at the position.

This is certainly enough to make fans wary, so it's not a surprise to see the AP poll keep Texas out of the top 25.

That said, preseason polls only mean so much. It's impossible to quantify the impact of rookies, transfers and unknowns prior to the start of the regular season. Training camp and practices are good indicators, but anything can happen on the field.

Texas could very well sneak into the top 25 in a few weeks, but the running back depth could ultimately keep this team from finishing better than 7-5.

 

Oregon

The Oregon Ducks ranked No. 4 in the Amway poll and No. 3 in the AP poll. That's not a huge discrepancy, but it will be up to Marcus Mariota to prove that his team is even better than either poll has suggested.

The junior is one of the favorites to go No. 1 overall in the 2015 NFL draft (should he choose to leave school). He threw just four interceptions last season, though his completion percentage of 63.5 needs a little work.

Regardless, the pundits are in his corner. ESPN College Football predicted that he would win the Heisman Trophy over defending champ Jameis Winston:

The outcome of the 2014 season for Oregon is entirely up to Mariota. Two losses in November derailed the team's hopes at a trip to the national championship game last season, and consistency must be key for this explosive offense moving forward.

All the defense has to do is play well enough to keep their team in the lead. You never want to see a defense allow 30 points per game, but this Ducks offense can easily outproduce that.

Oregon could finish anywhere from No. 1 to No. 10, given how difficult it is to rely on an explosive offense to drop 45-plus points every game.

 

Follow Kenny DeJohn on Twitter: @KennyDeJohn_BR

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What Travonte Valentine's Clearance to Play for LSU Means for Les Miles, Tigers

At a time of year more prone to bad news (injuries, transfers, suspensions, etc.) than good news, LSU received a major boost when freshman defensive tackle Travonte Valentine confirmed that he was ruled eligible by the NCAA Clearinghouse.

 

Update: Monday, August 18 – 1:38 p.m. ET

Apparently, this may have been a bit premature.

According to Jeremy Fowler of CBSSports.com, Valentine jumped the gun with his announcement, which has not yet been made official. His paperwork is still going through the "final phases of (the) admission process," so he is not quite ready to join the team:

It still sounds like Valentine will be ruled eligible, it's just not a sure-thing. And he might have even less time to practice with the team.

We'll keep you updated as we learn more.

--END OF UPDATE––

 

Original Text

Valentine tweeted the news Monday afternoon, demonstrating exactly how much he has to learn about LSU by calling it the wrong name:

Note: To Valentine's credit, he corrected himself 90 minutes later.

Valentine was the No. 65 overall recruit and No. 3 defensive tackle in the country, per the 247Sports composite rankings. At 6'3", 338 pounds, he ostensibly has the size to contribute as a true freshman.

That is particularly important for LSU at defensive tackle, where last year's starters, Anthony Johnson and Ego Ferguson, both declared early for the NFL, and backup Quentin Thomas is dealing with a torn biceps injury that could slow him down at the start of the year.

Thomas was projected to start alongside Christian LaCouture, and even though his recovery from the injury has been impressive, it wasn't so long ago (less than a week) that Ross Dellenger of The Advocate was reporting he might be done for the season.

Even if he comes back to play against Wisconsin, his health, at best, should be considered a major question mark going forward.

Those questions make Valentine a valuable addition behind LaCouture, Thomas, Mickey Johnson and a trio of redshirt freshmen, Frank Herron, Greg Gilmore and Maquedius Bain. But because of all those bodies, it didn't necessarily make him an imperative one, as Bleacher Report Lead LSU Writer Carter Bryant pointed out:

Valentine will likely take some time getting up to speed during fall camp, which could, in theory, limit his early workload. Twelve days with the team is not enough to master John Chavis' defense.

However, considering LSU's Week 1 opponent—a Wisconsin team with a massive, experienced, road-grating offensive line, arguably the best running back in the country (Melvin Gordon) and a history of jamming the ball down opponents' throats—it might not be afforded the opportunity to ease Valentine into action.

Even Bryant, who didn't want to overstate the importance of Valentine's eligibility, was quick to note that Valentine is the biggest tackle on LSU's roster (which is a priority against the Badgers):

His size might be needed from the get-go.

Herron, after all, is "only" 6'4", 278 pounds, which makes him more of an oversized defensive end than a true defensive tackle.

Gilmore and Bain are 300-pounders whose size should be a benefit on the ground, but neither was as highly regarded as Valentine coming out of high school, and especially if Thomas cannot play or is not at full strength against Wisconsin, all hands will be needed on deck.

Still, it is best not to hail Valentine has a savior for this year's run defense. According to ESPN Scouts Inc. (subscription required), his raw potential against the run was curtailed by his inconsistency. In terms of crowding the ball, using his hands and maintaining a low enough pad level, he needs to be coached up a little bit.

In this regard, missing the lion's share of fall camp was particularly detrimental.

Valentine, more than most LSU players, could have used the extra time to learn under Chavis and position coach Brick Haley. More likely than not, he will have to develop technical consistencies on the fly, which should expedite his learning curve but also lead to occasional poor results.

Wisconsin has the type of veteran offensive line that can expose such raw deficiencies, so Valentine might be counted on in more of the short-yardage role Bryant alluded to than as a true rotation tackle. If he improves as the year goes on, that should change.

Any way you swing it, though, it's better to have Valentine eligible than to not. He is at the very least another giant body to trot out. The more of those you have, the fresher you can keep the starters at a position where fatigue is often an issue. It's also a safeguard against injury.

Unlike Herron, Gilmore and Bain last season, Valentine will not have a redshirt year to learn from the sidelines.

This front seven needs him to play—and play soon.

 

Follow Brian Leigh on Twitter: @BLeighDAT.

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Predictions for Florida State in 2014 After AP Preseason Poll Release

For the sixth time in its prestigious history, Florida State football rests as the No. 1 team in the land after the AP preseason poll reveal.

Rightfully so, too. After a national title and with a returning Heisman winner under center, the Seminoles are far and away the best team in the nation on paper, especially when the loss of recognizable names can be countered with the next-man-up philosophy.

As ESPN Stats & Info notes, history smiles upon the Seminoles:

It is a great sign, but the Seminoles must leave it all on the field now that the proverbial target is on their back. Below, let's take a look at the full poll to get a better idea of how the collegiate landscape shapes up and nail down some predictions for the Seminoles after the jump.

 

2014 AP Preseason Poll

Poll courtesy of The Associated Press.

 

 

Predictions

Seminoles Run the Table...But Not Without Struggles

Yes, the road to a national title is more difficult than last year's schedule, but there is little to suggest the Seminoles will not post a goose egg in the loss column once again.

Many will point to a matchup against Oklahoma State to start the season as an issue, but we're talking about a team that lost 29 seniors and an offense that is a shell of its former self going against what was an elite defense a season ago led by end Mario Edwards.

The real struggle will come against Clemson. As Andy Staples of Sports Illustrated notes, the team's playoff aspirations hinge on that one game thanks to the ACC:

The Seminoles can probably lose a game and still make the playoff. They’ve beefed up their nonconference schedule with home dates against Oklahoma State (Aug. 30) and Notre Dame (Oct. 18), and annual rival Florida (Nov. 29) should be better than last year. The ACC’s overall improvement will help too. Their must-win game is a Sept. 20 visit by Clemson. An FSU loss likely means no ACC Atlantic Division title and no ACC title. An SEC or Pac-12 team might make the playoff without winning its division, but that probably won’t be the case in the other leagues.

It is difficult to hype up the match too much, though. Clemson lost names such as quarterback Tajh Boyd and wideouts Sammy Watkins and Martavis Bryant to the NFL. Last year's contest in Memorial Stadium was a 51-14 train wreck.

No, the real problem for the Seminoles is themselves. We have yet to really find out what the team looks like if Winston posts a poor performance, and the chance of a sloppy contest littered with penalties could make road encounters with NC State and Miami (Fla.) tricky.

Home contests against Notre Dame—a team that touts dual-threat quarterback Everett Golson—and Florida should prove tricky, but an elite defense once again will do much to counter any potential issues under center.

 

ACC Championship Rout

The ACC Coastal Division is a complete wild card.

North Carolina seems to be a favorite, but Duke and Virginia Tech have enough talent to make a run at the top, too. Do not sleep on the Hurricanes, either, not with elite running back Duke Johnson leading the way (920 yards and six scores with a 6.3 average last season).

No matter which team emerges, though, it all ends at one roadblock—a loss to the Seminoles.

Let's pretend for a moment that Duke falls off a cliff with Kurt Roper gone to Florida and quarterback Brandon Connette now under center for Fresno State. So let's give the nod to Miami, an athletic team that does not get enough credit for its depth.

Under the spotlight of a championship game, even Johnson will not be able to run wild on a defense that surrendered just 12.1 points per game last season, the best mark in the land.

While Florida State resides heads and shoulders above the rest of the conference talent-wise, critical questions for every other team only make things worse. For the Hurricanes, it is who lines up under center.

If the Hurricanes cannot put a wealth of points on the board against an elite unit, this year's ACC title game will look similar to last year's—when Winston and Co. handed Duke a 45-7 loss.

 

Back-to-Back Champs

Going undefeated two seasons in a row is ridiculously difficult, but Jimbo Fisher has a roster in place to do just that, especially in a weak ACC. 

It hardly matters which teams make the playoff when one ponders just how much talent is on its way back to Tallahassee. Led by top NFL prospect Cameron Ervin, Winston will play behind the nation's best offensive line.

NFL.com's Chase Goodbread explains the senior's talent best:

A fifth-year offensive tackle, Erving could be the first ACC player drafted next year. He has the requisite size and length at 6-foot-6, 302 pounds and provides Winston with outstanding pass protection. Erving was a first-team All-ACC pick last season.

Protected by that line, Winston will only improve. The bright lights of a playoff are no big deal, either. Not just because of last year's triumph, but because of the razor-sharp approach the signal-caller employs, as best captured by Brandon Mellor of Seminoles.com:

Given the way the preseason poll aligns with schedules and the like, the likely three to join the Seminoles seem to be Alabama, Oregon and the defensive-minded Michigan State Spartans.

Of the three, the team that poses the biggest threat is Oregon, which would make for one heck of a final matchup.

Really, as great as it sounds on paper, the Oregon defense is a major question mark when tasked with the physical Florida State offense, and the Seminoles' veteran defense can at least slow an offense led by Marcus Mariota.

So the AP got this one right. Until Winston departs and Fisher stops being the nation's best recruiter, polls will continue to open with the Seminoles on top. Really, it is only fitting that the team to win the final title of the BCS era also kicks off the playoff era by lifting the hardware.

 

Note: Statistics courtesy of ESPN.

 

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Michigan Football: Running Back by Committee Is Best Shot at Success

Brady Hoke still believes that a running back will separate himself from the pack and seize the top position on the depth chart.

"Things will shake out a bit, and then we'll have a No. 1 and some other guys we're still excited about,” said Hoke earlier this week.

But with less than two weeks before the season opener, sophomores Derrick Green, De’Veon Smith and Drake Johnson are in a logjam, poised to be running back by committee in Michigan’s new offense. 

Last week, Hoke announced that Smith was the top back by a narrow margin, but during Saturday’s night scrimmage Green was on top.

For some teams, the tight competition might indicate a lack of talent, but for Michigan it’s the exact opposite—Derrick Green and De’Veon Smith were both 4-star recruits, and last season Johnson had beaten both out to backup senior Fitzgerald Toussaint before being sidelined by an ACL injury during the first game of the season.

While Hoke may prefer that one back assert himself, offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier is more pragmatic on the subject.

“We’re gonna play a number of guys—and what you look at who is going to shoulder the load,“ said Nussmeier last week during the team’s media day. “There are a lot of variables…we’re not gonna be a one-back team.”

Also in the mix is transfer Ty Isaac and veteran Justice Hayes. Isaac, a 4-star transfer, is awaiting a decision on his eligibility, and Hayes made an impression during spring practice with his blocking ability.

“We’d love to get to one guy for sure, but right now we’re just not there yet,” said Hoke. “All four, five if you want to count Ty [Isaac], have done some really good things and they’ve all made some bonehead mistakes.”

After watching Michigan’s offensive line struggle to open up running lanes during the team’s public night practice on Saturday, the running backs look to be in for a beating this season.

Michigan’s eventual top back may very well be determined by whoever can avoid injury while finding the microscopic openings created by an offensive line still looking for its groove.

The backs will also be judged on their ability to pass protect and navigate the inside and outside zone running plays that Nussmeier’s offense depends on. With a number of backs getting reps, Hoke may just find the right combination to make Nussmeier’s offense go.

That Derrick Green and De’Veon Smith are battling is not surprising considering how they performed at the end of last season, but Drake Johnson’s strong return is a bonus. Johnson, a lightly regarded 3-star recruit who played his high school football across the street from the Big House at Ann Arbor Pioneer, has forced himself into the conversation at running back.

Hoke may be frustrated by the tight competition to run the ball, but after seeing the current state of the team’s offensive line, he might need his entire running back committee by the end of the season.


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.

Follow @PSCallihan

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Bleacher Report's Preseason All-America College Football Team

There is an abundance of football talent scattered throughout the nation. Only a small portion of these players—a percent of a percent—can be preseason Bleacher Report All-Americans.

Of course, such labels are only labels. There are no prizes or trophies for the select few picked—that’s still a violation, probably—although it’s still a label you’d rather have than not. And with the college football season inching oh so close, it’s time to crown the truly exceptional (and enrage excluded fanbases accordingly). 

Crafting this team took the following into consideration: statistical performance from last year, team impact, award presence, 2014 projection and the vital eye-test addition. This is how a pool of thousands was narrowed to just 25. 

The All-America team consists of 11 offensive players, 11 defensive players and three specialists (a kicker, a punter and a return man). A second team was also handpicked, and these players are highlighted on each positional slide.

Here they are. Your outrage undoubtedly to follow.

Begin Slideshow

10 Most Underrated Offensive Recruits in Class of 2015

The 2015 class is stacked with plenty of offensive weapons destined to help keep scoreboard operators busy for the foreseeable future.

However, recruiting has never been proven to be an exact science.

For example, none of the three quarterbacks taken in the first round of the 2014 NFL draft—Blake Bortles, Johnny Manziel and Teddy Bridgewater—were ranked as Top 100 recruits in the 2011 class.

In particular, Bortles rose from a player tabbed as the No. 169 recruit in the state of Florida into the No. 3 overall pick of the Jaguars. 

The 2015 class has its share of offensive standouts who carry a rating of 3-star or below.

Which offensive players in the 2015 class are underrated and being overlooked by recruiting experts?

*All players listed in alphabetical order. All recruiting info courtesy of 247Sports and all rankings courtesy of 247Sports Composite Rankings unless otherwise noted.

 

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Notre Dame Football: Final Game-by-Game Schedule Predictions

SOUTH BEND, Indiana — As Irish head coach Brian Kelly stressed when he discussed the academic investigation Saturday, the season goes on for Notre Dame football.

For now, the Irish are without wide receiver DaVaris Daniels, cornerback KeiVarae Russell, defensive end Ishaq Williams and linebacker Kendall Moore, who are being held out of practice and competition during the ongoing investigation.

“I care deeply about the four young men,” Kelly said following Saturday’s practice. “But I’ve got a job to do. And I’ve got another 100 players that I have to be concerned with.”

Kelly must also concern himself with a rigorous schedule, one that features Michigan, Stanford, North Carolina, Florida State, Arizona State, Louisville and USC.

Five ND opponents also in the poll: FSU(1), Stanford(11), USC(15), Arizona State(19) and UNC(23).

— Dan Murphy (@BGI_DanMurphy) August 17, 2014

Only six teams play more AP Top 25 teams than Notre Dame this year. And five of those are from the SEC. Stanford is the other.

— Irish Illustrated (@NDatRivals) August 17, 2014

Let’s go game by game through Notre Dame’s schedule and predict the outcome.

For now, it’s only appropriate to approach this exercise as if Notre Dame will be without Daniels, Russell, Williams and Moore for the entire season. Obviously, should any of the four be cleared, these predictions are subject to change.

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Texas A&M's Kenny Hill Is the Ultimate Long Shot for the 2014 Heisman Trophy

Don't call him a favorite and don't even call him a dark horse, but if you're looking for the ultimate long shot for the 2014 Heisman Trophy, look no further than Texas A&M quarterback Kenny Hill.

Hill, the 6'1", 215-pound sophomore from Southlake, Texas, was tabbed as Johnny Manziel's replacement as the starting quarterback for the Aggies over the weekend by head coach Kevin Sumlin.

“The competition was close and that competition will continue to help us improve,” Sumlin said in a release from Texas A&M. “I have talked to both quarterbacks as well as the team and we will prepare with Kenny getting the first-team reps.”

Hill completed 16 of 22 passes for 183 yards, one touchdown and zero interceptions as the third-string quarterback last year, adding seven carries for 37 yards on the ground. He was rated as a 4-star prospect and the No. 8 dual-threat quarterback in the nation in 2013 by 247Sports.

Surprised? I was.

I had been back and forth between Hill and true freshman Kyle Allen all offseason but settled on Allen, an early enrollee, as the winner as fall camp began.

Sumlin commented on the race to Brent Zwerneman of the Houston Chronicle Saturday afternoon.

Sumlin said Kyle Allen took news "maturely" and knows he's one play away from starting -- whether from "subpar play or injury."

— Brent Zwerneman (@BrentZwerneman) August 17, 2014

Either way, though, the quarterback at Texas A&M is going to be successful. He has to be, and if you're looking for a long shot to win the Heisman Trophy, Hill is it.

It wasn't too long ago when a redshirt freshman was tabbed as the starter in Aggieland midway through fall camp. Eleven wins, 5,116 total yards and 47 touchdowns later, Manziel made history as the first redshirt freshman to ever win the Heisman Trophy.

Hill is perfectly set up to come out of nowhere to repeat the feat.

"Kenny throws a beautiful deep ball," TexAgs.com senior writer Billy Liucci told me at SEC media days in July. "In this offense, as we've seen the last two years, they're not afraid to take deep shots. They'll do that without [former wide receiver] Mike Evans out there."

As I wrote last week, Sumlin's offenses have finished in the top 11 nationally in total offense in each of the last six seasons and tops in the country twice, during his time as the head coach of Houston (2008-2011) and Texas A&M (2012-present). The offense has the weapons around Hill both up front and at the skill positions for him to step in and shine from the moment toe meets leather.

The biggest criticism of this Aggie team is its defense, which finished last in the SEC and 111th in the nation in total defense last year (475.8 YPG). On top of that, defensive coordinator Mark Snyder lost several key contributors unexpectedly, including defensive tackle Isaiah Golden and linebacker Darian Claiborne.

While that's a criticism of the team, it's a benefit for Hill's  Heisman chances.

He has the dual-threat capabilities and the coaching staff to put up the video game numbers Heisman voters like, and, more importantly, he probably has to put up those stats if the Aggies are going to win football games.

That's what will hold Hill up regarding the Heisman. The award has evolved into a quarterback-centric award that is reserved for signal-callers who are on teams that, at the very least, are competitive within their division or conference. 

Texas A&M plays in the toughest neighborhood in college football in the SEC West—a division that has sent six teams to the national title game over the last five years. Hill will elevate from a "long shot" to "dark horse" if his defense fixes the glitch, which may be easier said than done but is certainly not impossible given the way Texas A&M has recruited over the last few years.

If you're looking for that long shot—that player out of nowhere who is beyond a dark horse but could put the pieces of the puzzle together to produce a Heisman-level season—it's Hill.

Several of those pieces are already in place. He has the coach, the system, the exposure and the defense that will bolster his Heisman case. Now he just needs the wins. 

It seemed crazy two seasons ago, too, and look how that turned out.

 

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.


Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Auburn Football: Final Game-by-Game Schedule Predictions

On Sunday night, the Auburn Tigers officially ended fall camp.

Following an off day Monday, the defending SEC champions will be in full preparation mode for their upcoming schedule—and what a tough schedule it will be.

Auburn will play seven teams that are ranked in both the preseason coaches and The Associated Press polls, more than any other team in the country. For the first time in program history, the Tigers will have to travel to both rivals Georgia and Alabama.

Even with the brutal 2014 schedule, preseason expectations are extremely high for Auburn, which returns most of its starters from its impressive offense and its steadily improving defense.

After all the off-the-field drama and on-the-field action of the summer on the Plains, I've revisited my May predictions. Has anything changed in my opinion of head coach Gus Malzahn's Tigers and their upcoming season? Let's take a game-by-game look.

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College Football Head Coaches Who'll Make the Most Improvement in 2014

College football is a win-now business. This is not exactly breaking news: The ever-increasing influx of television and bowl money into the game has ratcheted up the pressure on head coaches to show on-field success, and immediately.

According to Syracuse.com's Patrick Stevens, only 57 of the 128 Football Bowl Subdivision head coaches have spent more than three seasons in their current positions.  College football’s coaching carousel is constant.

Per Stevens, the median hire date for an FBS head coach is Dec. 8, 2011. If coaches don’t win immediately, athletic directors and boosters have shown they aren’t afraid to pay a buyout clause and find someone who can.

When the 2014 season begins in less than two weeks, fans across the nation will be looking for signs of improvement from their favorite programs. Here is a look at some college football head coaches who should make the most improvement in 2014, running the gamut from newbie to established.

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Florida Gators Football: Final Game-by-Game Schedule Predictions

We are less than two weeks away from the college football season, and now those predictions everybody has been throwing up against the wall finally mean something. While it’s great to look at the schedule and talk about matchups, it’s tough to predict games months in advance.

Back in May, I had the Florida Gators finishing with a respectable 9-3 record considering the season they had a year ago. Not much has changed with the results considering Florida is pretty much the same team it was a few months ago, and the opponents are still as tough as ever.

Although with updates throughout camp and the attitude players have toward the upcoming season, it’s worth looking at these games again and throwing out a few updated predictions.

Here is how the Gators will fare in 2014.

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2014 Big 12 Football Conference Predictions

It was a bit of a mystery who would come away with the Big 12 title in 2013, but this year it won't be.

Oklahoma and Baylor are the favorites coming off solid seasons. The Sooners' big win over Alabama set the tone heading into the 2014 season, while the Bears proved they could play with the best by winning their first Big 12 title and playing in the Fiesta Bowl. 

While most focus on Oklahoma and Baylor, Kansas State could be in the running if coach Bill Snyder can use his magic to surprise as he did in 2012, with a senior quarterback and talent on the defensive end. 

Other teams in the mix might be Texas, who will now be led by head coach Charlie Strong, as well as Oklahoma State and Texas Tech. It’s expected that the Pokes and the Red Raiders will finish in the middle of the pack, but you never know in the wild Big 12. 

A dark-horse candidate will be TCU, who will be trying to forget what occurred in 2013. Going 4-8 is almost unheard of for a Gary Patterson team, but the Horned Frogs could be a threat to be reckoned with if the offense can click right away with new offensive coordinators. 

The Big 12 will be highly competitive this season for the most part and should see at least two teams advance to major bowl games at the end of the season. 

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UCLA Football: Final Game-by-Game Schedule Predictions for 2014

With the start of the season a mere two weeks away, it seems prudent to make a few prognostications as to how Jim Mora and the UCLA football team will fare in 2014. 

The Bruins' schedule is one of the more difficult ones in the entire country. Per the first AP Top 25 Preseason Poll, UCLA will face five ranked teams (Oregon, Stanford, Southern Cal, Arizona State, Washington). 

Additionally, the No. 7 Bruins face a tough non-conference tilt against the Texas Longhorns in the Lone Star state. The season opener on the opposite side of the country, against an upstart Virginia squad, isn't an easy task, either. 

This piece predicts how the Bruins will ultimately perform in 2014, on a game-by-game basis. Obviously, every single team on this list will suffer injuries throughout the season (to varying degrees), but predictions have been made under the assumption both teams are fully healthy.

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Meet Notre Dame's New Starters for 2014

With Notre Dame's 2014 season thrown into chaos with the announced suspension of four players, the Irish will be forced to depend on a few more new faces this season.

With the fate of starters DaVaris Daniels, KeiVarae Russell and Ishaq Williams awaiting an academic investigation, the Irish could be even more green (pun intended) heading into their season opener against Rice. 

After building a roster with successful recruiting campaigns since he arrived in South Bend, head coach Brian Kelly is better suited to play a young team than ever before. Even after losing Zack Martin, Stephon Tuitt, Troy Niklas, Louis Nix and Chris Watt in the first three rounds of the NFL draft, the Irish have a roster that Kelly has repeatedly called one of his deepest. 

With less than two weeks until the Irish welcome Rice to Notre Dame Stadium, let's meet the new starters for 2014. 

 

Offense

With Chuck Martin off to coach at Miami University (Ohio) and trusted assistant Mike Denbrock named the new coordinator, Kelly decided to reclaim the play-calling duties this offseason. He's also reopened his playbook, turning back to the spread-heavy concepts that helped build his offensive guru reputation. 

Of course, Everett Golson had a big reason to do with that. Returning to the starting lineup after a dismissal from school that cost him the 2013 season, Golson's abilities fit perfectly in the spread. Let's look at the newcomers joining him on offense. 

 

Ben Koyack

The most experienced of the new starters, Koyack is a three-year contributor at tight end who came on near the end of the 2013 season.

A candidate to be one of the team's captains, Koyack looks like another prototype NFL tight end, continuing a run of early draft picks that date back to the beginning of the Ty Willingham era with Anthony Fasano and continued on with John Carlson, Kyle Rudolph, Tyler Eifert and Niklas. 

At 6'5", 254 pounds, Koyack has the ability to attach to the line of scrimmage as well as flex out to create a mismatch. He averaged 17.1 yards a catch last season playing as the Irish's No. 2 tight end behind Niklas, whose early exit to the NFL opens the door for Koyack to join him in 2015. 

 

Chris Brown

A fairly disappointing sophomore season seemed to be salvaged during bowl season for Brown, who finished the year with his most productive game against Rutgers, making five catches in the Irish's 29-16 Pinstripe Bowl victory. 

Brown was forced into a leadership role this spring with the academic suspension of Daniels, suddenly becoming the elder statesman in a young but talented receiving corps. That position of authority carried into the summer and fall camp, where Brown's done a great job holding onto a starting job at a very talented position. 

Brown has the pedigree to be a very good player. A high school track star who scored more points individually at the South Carolina state meet than all but seven teams competing, Brown has sprinter speed and leaping ability that put him on the U.S. Junior National team. 

After making 15 catches in 2013, Brown's poised to have a breakout junior season. 

 

Corey Robinson

With Daniels' future in limbo, sophomore Corey Robinson is the next man in at outside receiver. Son of NBA Hall of Famer David Robinson, Kelly and his staff plucked the lanky receiver—a raw stringbean playing private small-school Texas-prep football at San Antonio Christian—out of obscurity.

Notre Dame was the first offer for Robinson, but after enrolling early he showed quickly what the staff saw in him. At a listed 6'4.5" (and likely a little bit taller), Robinson only made nine catches last season, but he dazzled with a pair of velcro hands and a catch radius that make him a very large target. 

Paired with Everett Golson and given the opportunity to spend a lot of time in single coverage, Robinson was set to thrive this season anyway. But if Daniels is lost for an extended period, then Robinson moves into a key role for the Irish offense. 

 

Tarean Folston

Entering Notre Dame relatively off the radar with most eyes focused on classmate Greg Bryant, Folston took control of the running back job down the stretch and enters fall as the team's starter. A smooth, efficient running back who has also showed a knack for breaking a long run, Folston will have opportunities to make a difference both as a runner and pass-catcher.

A starter leading a committee, Folston will share carries with Bryant and Cam McDaniel, though he's got the ability to take the job over. And with Golson piloting the offense, the threat of a mobile quarterback should open up a ground game that could power the Irish offense.

  

Matt Hegarty

One of the more amazing stories in college football, Hegarty was nearly out of the game when he suffered a stroke in November of 2012, needing heart surgery to repair two holes in his heart. The procedure put his career in jeopardy, but Hegarty recovered in 2013 and played key snaps at center when Nick Martin suffered a knee injury against BYU. 

Hegarty filled in valiantly in the season's three final games and continued to play center during spring practice while Martin recovered. But while most had sophomore Mike McGlinchey starting at right tackle after playing during spring drills, Hegarty is at left guard while Steve Elmer plays tackle.

A senior with a fifth-year available, Hegarty adds a veteran body on the interior of the offensive line.

 

Defense

We already knew Brian VanGorder's defense was going to be young. But suspensions to key starters KeiVarae Russell and Ishaq Williams push two new names into the starting lineup. At this point, it might be easier to tell you who returns, but let's get the introductions started. 

 

Andrew Trumbetti

The early-enrollee freshman has overtaken junior Romeo Okwara at defensive end, pushing his way onto the field, the first freshman defensive lineman to open the season as a starter since Anthony Weaver in 1998. Trumbetti was an Under Armour All-American last year and a 4-star recruit who chose the Irish over Florida and Michigan State, so the pedigree is there.

At 6'3.5" and 251 pounds, Trumbetti has decent enough size and has been lauded for his motor and pass-rushing skills. With multiple personnel packages, it's not as if Trumbetti will be an every-down player for the Irish, but he'll have a ton of responsibilities on his shoulders from the start of the season.

 

Jarron Jones

He may feel like a veteran at this point, but Jones only worked his way onto the field when Irish defensive linemen started dropping like flies last season. Originally a defensive end, Jones was the next man in after injuries took Louis Nix and Kona Schwenke off the field at nose guard. 

Playing an impressive game against BYU, Jones held his own against Stanford and Rutgers, giving Notre Dame hope that life after Nix wasn't going to be too painful. Shifting into a four-man front takes some of the burden off Jones as a pure nose guard, but he'll still be asked to eat blockers and wreak havoc, something he should do fairly well. 

 

Isaac Rochell

With senior Ishaq Williams off the field on Friday as the academic investigation began, Rochell was in his place at strong-side defensive end. After playing in 11 games and making 10 tackles as a freshman, Rochell hardly looked ready to take over a starting job, but the options behind him aren't great.

That's not to say the Georgia native doesn't have promise. Kelly surprised a lot of people when he called Rochell "a beast" last week during a press conference, a declaration that wasn't made to pump the young lineman's tires but rather because the 6'3.5" 287-pounder looks like a completely different player than the one who played last season.

There's no telling how prepared Rochell is to take significant snaps, but at this point he's going to take as many as he can handle. With offers from Alabama, Auburn, Georgia and other SEC powers coming out of high school, Rochell looked the part of a blue-chipper. We'll have to see if he's ready to play that role in 2014. 

 

Joe Schmidt

After being one of the surprises of spring football, Schmidt has solidified his place in the middle of the Irish defense. The former walk-on (who has been on scholarship for two seasons) was buried on Bob Diaco's inside linebacker depth chart in the 3-4, but he is a much better fit playing behind a four-man front. 

Undersized but instinctive, quick and tough, Schmidt is more than a Rudy-like story; he's a really good football player. With Jarrett Grace still making his slow return back, Kendall Moore suspended and Nyles Morgan swimming in very deep water as a true freshman, this is Schmidt's defense to run.

 

James Onwualu

If Schmidt's spot in the starting lineup is surprising, maybe Onwualu's is even more far-fetched. After starting four games at wide receiver for the Irish as a true freshman, Onwualu converted to the defensive side of the ball in the spring and began his transition as a safety before moving to linebacker. 

Onwualu has packed five pounds onto his 6'1" frame after playing last season at 215. That's not enough bulk to take on offensive linemen, but Onwualu will start against teams that attempt to spread the Irish defense out, capable of covering just about anybody while also showing a toughness that allows him to do plenty of jobs.  

Kelly has a reputation for flipping productive players from one side of the ball and making them better on the other. That looks to be happening quickly for Onwualu, who outbattled John Turner and Ben Councell for the starting job. 

 

Cody Riggs

The decision to transfer to Notre Dame looks like a brilliant one for Riggs right now. (And for Notre Dame, who accepted the temporary fix.) Having already won a starting cornerback job opposite KeiVarae Russell, Riggs will ascend to the top cover corner role as long as Russell is off the field. 

Starting 26 games between corner and safety over three-plus seasons (he received a medical redshirt after an early-season injury), Riggs wants to prove to NFL scouts he can make it as a cover man. He'll do more than just that for the Irish, sliding inside and out as a versatile piece of VanGorder's aggressive coverage schemes.

 

Cole Luke

With or without Russell, Luke was going to play a lot of football. But with Notre Dame's top cover corner held out of practice on Friday, the Irish turn to Luke, hoping the sophomore is ready to take on a much bigger responsibility. 

Luke played in all 13 games last season, seeing a lot of time in the secondary playing nickel and cornerback for Diaco. But there's little Cover 2 in VanGorder's scheme, and Luke will be asked to do much more this season than he did just dropping into his zone as a freshman. 

 

Max Redfield

After Kelly pushed Redfield into the starting lineup against Rutgers, the sophomore has solidified himself as the team's starting free safety. A former 5-star recruit, Redfield had a frustrating freshman season unable to work his way into Diaco's rotation at safety with the mental grind of the position holding him back. 

While Kelly talked about limiting the decision-making Redfield needs to do on the field last week, the sophomore safety is ready to take ownership of the back end of the defense. Probably the most physically gifted safety the Irish have had since Harrison Smith, Redfield has all the talent in the world; he just has to play mistake-free football. 

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Miami Football: Final Game-by-Game Schedule Predictions

The countdown to the 2014 regular season is dwindling, and the Miami Hurricanes are preparing to take the field on Sept. 1 against new conference foe Louisville.

Blood pressure rising, excitement building and game-by-game predictions forthcoming.

As the 'Canes continue to work through a quarterback battle, now narrowed to a transfer and true freshman, Duke Johnson, Denzel Perryman, Stacy Coley and Ereck Flowers lead a high-ceiling, low-floor Miami roster.

The following are based on the current health status of all involved teams, which is subject to change at any moment. But that doesn't mean we can't take a shot at the predictions.

Because football is great. Any disagreement? No? OK. Onward!

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Ohio State Football: Final Game-by-Game Schedule Predictions

The Ohio State football team is gearing up for another national title run, but with the inaugural College Football Playoff on the horizon, Urban Meyer and the Buckeyes will be navigating a much tougher schedule in 2014.

The realigned Big Ten divisions have given Ohio State a loaded league slate, and a tougher nonconference lineup will challenge the Buckeyes early.

Can Ohio State put together its third consecutive undefeated regular season? 

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