NCAA Football News

5 College Football Blue Bloods Primed to Re-Enter the Spotlight in 2014

2013 was a down year for some of college football's traditional powers. As a result, some coaches, like Texas' Mack Brown, lost their job. Others are now squarely on the hot seat heading into 2014. 

Can this be the year that Texas or Florida turn things around? Can Michigan finally start trending upward again with head coach Brady Hoke? Usually, talent isn't an issue at these programs. But because of injuries, coaching struggles or both, results haven't been up to par. 

The good news for these programs is that they can bounce back quickly.

Which five blue-blood programs are primed to re-enter the national spotlight this season? Our answers are in the following slides. 

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3 Reasons 4-Star DE Jashon Cornell Will Sign with Notre Dame

James Onwualu. Michael Floyd. Ryan Harris. Rashon Powers-Neal. Marcus Freeman. 

Notre Dame's pipeline to St. Paul's Cretin-Derham Hall has been open and flowing for over a decade, with Minnesota's top Catholic football program feeding a handful of players to the Irish. Head coach Brian Kelly has another big reason to head back to the Twin Cities, with current CDH defensive end Jashon Cornell among the top prospects in the 2015 recruiting cycle. 

Cornell made early waves when some recruiting services had him pegged as the top recruit in the country heading into his junior season. And while his rating bounced around a bit after an injury-riddled 2013 season, Cornell has taken to the recruiting circuit this offseason to reestablish himself as one of the country's top defensive linemen. 

Cornell was in Columbus, Ohio, this weekend at the Nike Football Training Camp, where he was named the defensive line MVP of the camp. He also punched his ticket to The Opening, Nike's top invite-only football camp of the summer. 

The competition will be steep for Cornell. With offers from just about every elite program in the country, the 6'4", 255-pounder will likely choose between Notre Dame, Michigan, Michigan State, Ohio State and Alabama. 

Here are three reasons why Irish fans should still feel confident that Cornell will end up in South Bend.

 

Recruiting Pitch Will Be Different with Brian VanGorder and Mike Elston 

News breaking this weekend has Ohio State fans feeling very good about Cornell's recruitment. That's because Cornell called his visit to Ohio State one of his favorites, pushing the Buckeyes into the lead group of schools. 

The Buckeyes are relatively new players in the Cornell sweepstakes, though a desire to play with Ohio State target (as well as key Notre Dame recruit) linebacker Justin Hilliard has Buckeye fans hoping to double down with two elite defensive prospects. And while new Buckeye defensive line coach Larry Johnson built a reputation at Penn State as one of the best defensive line recruiters in the country, Irish fans shouldn't lose sleep over another recruiting war with Urban Meyer

One thing going in the Irish's favor is the coaching changes on the defensive side of the ball for Notre Dame. New defensive coordinator Brian VanGorder will breathe life into Cornell's recruitment.

VanGorder's attacking schemes are much more appealing for pass-rushers like Cornell and better fit his body size. In former defensive coordinator Bob Diaco's scheme, Cornell likely would've been a 3-4 defensive end, growing into a 300-pounder like Kapron Lewis-Moore. Under VanGorder, Cornell can walk onto campus and fit in at defensive end, playing upfield and aggressively chasing quarterbacks as opposed to holding the point of attack. 

The Irish were one of the first teams to recruit Cornell, identifying him before his sophomore season at Cretin-Derham Hall. And while the continuity of building relationships for the long haul is helpful, in recruiting, fresh and new is sometimes most important.

Cornell recently mentioned that his relationship with defensive line coach Mike Elston is getting better. He also plans on spending time with VanGorder on his next visit to South Bend. Add to that Kelly is taking on Cornell's recruitment personally and it's clear that Notre Dame has made Hilliard one of its priorities.  

 

Seantrel Henderson's Nightmarish 3 Seasons at Miami Will Play in Notre Dame's Favor

There's no question that Cornell wants to be his own man. And blazing his own path at a different school could be appealing for the blue-chip defensive end. 

But the tumultuous three seasons Seantrel Henderson spent at Miami should likely weigh on Cornell's mind. Another Cretin-Derham Hall prospect, Henderson's free-fall from No. 1 recruit in the country to seventh-round draft pick is a cautionary tale.

Henderson severely underachieved at Miami, choosing to play for the Hurricanes after passing up Notre Dame and backing away from a commitment to USC. 

If you are looking for appealing college destinations, it's no surprise that Notre Dame finished behind Southern Cal and Miami for Henderson. And while Kelly has never backed away from the academic challenges that come with going to Notre Dame, he can point to the success he's had not just graduating his roster, but developing players for the next level, with the Irish's resurgence in the NFL draft the past few years a key data point.

Cornell should have candid conversations with former CDH athletes like Onwualu and Floyd. The latter can walk him through the challenges he faced at Notre Dame before coming out victorious, as Floyd battled through adversity before earning his degree and becoming a first-round draft pick. 

But Cornell should also seek Henderson's counsel as well. It will likely help him understand the road in front of him and hopefully help avoid some of the pitfalls that got in Henderson's way. 

 

When It Comes to Aligning Incentives, Notre Dame Offers Too Much of What Cornell Wants 

Getting a grasp on Cornell's top school is difficult work. 247Sports.com's most recent Crystal Ball has 36 percent of experts picking Ohio State, 24 percent choosing the Irish, 21 percent choosing Michigan State, 12 percent picking Alabama and 5 percent guessing Michigan. 

But Cornell has identified three key factors to picking a school: academics, early enrollment and an opportunity to play early. All three of those desires line up perfectly with Notre Dame.

Academically, Notre Dame is among the top schools in the country, and the top institutional match of football and education on Cornell's list. If early enrollment is a key factor, Cornell only needs to ask his cousin how that went, as Notre Dame sophomore James Onwualu was the first CDH student-athlete to graduate early and enroll at a college for the spring semester of football. 

And early playing time looks like it won't be difficult to predict. Right now the Irish have senior Ishaq Williams and junior Romeo Okwara starting at defensive end. Behind that is a question mark. While Notre Dame brought in a large collection of talented edge players in the 2014 recruiting cycle, none are as highly-rated as Cornell. 

There's a reason that Notre Dame has had success at Cretin-Derham Hall, and that Irish head coaches Bob Davie, Ty Willingham, Charlie Weis and Brian Kelly have all landed top prep prospects from there. It's the institutional fit that has many CDH and Notre Dame grads feeling like the college experience is an extension of the one they had in high school. 

(This writer included.)

Cornell has more trips scheduled for the summer, including visits to SEC country and Penn State. He's also set to return to South Bend in the next few weeks.

So while there are more than a few twists and turns left in his recruitment, expect Cornell to end up at Notre Dame in the end. 

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Florida State Football: Position-by-Position Preview of Seminoles' 2014 Roster

Florida State loses 10 starters from the 2013 national championship team. But the Seminoles were so deep (and ahead by so many points in many games) that they were able to extend playing time to second- and third-team players last year.

There are holes to fill, but none are insurmountable. Years of top-10 signing classes by Jimbo Fisher have ensured that he and his staff have plenty of options. 

With Jameis Winston and so many playmakers returning, FSU's offense should again be prolific. And the defense is expected to be just as stingy, which could help the Seminoles win the ACC title and earn a spot in the new College Football Playoff.

 

Quarterbacks

Projected starter: Jameis Winston

Backups: Sean Maguire and John Franklin III

Incoming freshman:JJ Cosentino

It's impossible to do better than what Winston accomplished on the field as a freshman, throwing for 4,057 yards and 40 touchdowns (a single-season school record)—and, of course, winning a Heisman Trophy and a national title. Expectations are high for Winston again.

His numbers may not be as high in 2014, especially with FSU replacing two starting receivers in Kelvin Benjamin and Kenny Shaw. 

After Jacob Coker's transfer to Alabama, Maguire has the inside track to win the No. 2 job ahead of Franklin III and Cosentino. But if Winston leaves early, that trio will be battling for the starting job in 2015.

 

Running backs

Projected starter: Karlos Williams

Backups: Ryan Green, Mario Pender, Freddie Stevenson and Nigel Terrell

Incoming freshman:Dalvin Cook (early enrollee)

Williams' move from safety to running back helped FSU overwhelm defenses on the ground in 2013. He was often the No. 2 or 3 option, though, and the majority of his 91 carries, 748 yards and 11 touchdowns came in the second half.

But Williams could enjoy a breakout season. He loves to run outside the tackles and use his burst to get into the open field, so he is a threat to score anytime he touches the ball.

The big question is: Who will be Williams' backup? It's likely that FSU will use a mix of Cook, Pender and Green (Stevenson should start at fullback over Nigel Terrell). Even with Winston throwing the ball, FSU found a way to run 505 times in 14 games. Jimbo Fisher will again hand off as much as he throws in an attempt to wear out defenses. It worked in 2013 … will it work again in 2014?

 

Wide receivers

Projected starters: Rashad Greene, Scooter Haggins and Jesus Wilson

Backups: Isaiah Jones, Kermit Whitfield and Christian Green

Incoming freshman:Travis Rudolph, Ermon Lane and Javon Harrison

FSU's season will hinge on finding a No. 2 receiver after playmaker Rashad Greene (1,128 receiving yards, 9 TDs). Winston and Greene have excellent chemistry and should again be able to connect frequently in games. But the No. 2 option could be a senior like Haggins or Green. Or one of the talented sophomores like Wilson, Jones or Whitfield.

If he stays healthy, Haggins could win the slot receiver job. Winston said after the spring game that Wilson was ahead of the other sophomores, so he could hold on through August to start the opener. But if they don't, Fisher has plenty of choices. The three freshmen should be able to contribute more as the season goes on (Fisher's playbook is very complex), and expect all three to be vying for starting jobs in 2015.

 

Tight ends

Projected starter: Nick O'Leary

Backups: Kevin Haplea and Jeremy Kerr

Incoming freshmen:Mavin Saunders and Ryan Izzo

O'Leary had 33 receptions for 557 yards and seven touchdowns, and his 11 career TDs are already the most by a tight end in school history. O'Leary could have better numbers in 2014 simply because he's FSU's No. 2 receiving option at the moment.

Haplea and Kerr both suffered season-ending knee injuries in the summer. But the healthy return of both means that Fisher will be able to use more sets with two tight ends. Haplea is an exceptional blocker, and the 6'5" Kerr was a strong blocker in high school. 

With a wealth of talent, Fisher will likely redshirt Saunders or Izzo (or both). Saunders has played just two seasons of football, one at receiver and another at tight end. But the former basketball star has soft hands and is exceptional in the red zone. Izzo had nearly 1,100 receiving yards his last two high school seasons.

 

Offensive line

Projected starters: LT Cameron Erving, LG Josue Matias, C Austin Barron, RG Tre Jackson and RT Bobby Hart

Backups: Wilson Bell, Ruben Carter, Ryan Hoefeld and Alec Eberle

Incoming freshmen: Kareem Are (early enrollee), Roderick Johnson, Derrick Kelly, Corey Martinez, Chad Mavety and Brock Ruble

FSU is loaded with playmakers, but the reason for the Seminoles' success is an offensive line that pass-blocks well and clears holes for the running game. The Seminoles had 7,267 offensive yards in 2013, and they could again have one of college football's top offensive lines.

Erving opted to return for his senior season, and it's a decision that should help him in the eyes of the NFL but will also protect Winston's blind side. The ACC's Jacobs Blocking Trophy winner in 2013, Erving could be a first-round pick in 2015.

Matias and Jackson have both been All-ACC picks, and they are physical blockers inside. Hart has struggled at times and needs to develop more of a nasty edge. Barron has five games of starting experience and should start at center. 

 

Defensive ends

Projected starters: Mario Edwards Jr. and Chris Casher

Backup: DeMarcus Walker

Incoming freshmen:Lorenzo Featherston and Rick Leonard

After bruising quarterbacks with pass-rushers like Bjoern Werner and Tank Carradine, FSU used linebackers and defensive backs to bring the heat in 2013. Of FSU's 35 sacks, just 6.5 came from Edwards Jr., Casher and Walker.

Edwards Jr. is a monster at 6'3" and 295 pounds, and he should increase his numbers from 29 tackles and 3.5 sacks. But he also likes to slide inside and play defensive tackle as FSU adjusts its fronts (a linebacker also often comes down to play on the line).

Casher didn't start in 2013, but he is in line for increased playing time. Walker earned valuable experience as a true freshman and will battle Casher for the starting job. Featherston was considered the top prep recruit in North Carolina by ESPN. Leonard was named Maryland's prep defensive player of the year in 2013, when he had 14 sacks.

 

Defensive tackles

Projected starters: Eddie Goldman, Nile Lawrence-Stample

Backups: Desmond Hollin, Keith Bryant, Derrick Mitchell, Giorgio Newberry and Justin Shanks

Incoming freshmen:Demarcus Christmas, Frederick Jones, Derrick Nnadi, Adam Torres and Arthur Williams

FSU will, of course, miss defensive tackle Timmy Jernigan, who was a second-round pick of the Baltimore Ravens. Eddie Goldman, who was considered the nation's top defensive tackle in the class of 2012, may be poised for a breakout season.

He has steadily improved (19 tackles, two sacks in 2013), and while it's not likely he will have a Jernigan-like season, Goldman could collapse the pocket from the middle and be an effective run-stopper. Fisher praised both Lawrence-Stample and Hollin in the spring, and both will be part of a deep rotation of defensive tackles.

FSU reloaded in February, signing five defensive tackles. Coaches clearly must redshirt some, but not after what should be an entertaining competition in August.

 

Linebackers

Projected starters: Terrance Smith, Matthew Thomas and Reggie Northrup

Backups: Ukeme Eligwe, E.J. Levenberry and Ro'Derrick Hoskins

Incoming freshmen:Jacob Pugh, Kain Daub and Delvin Purifoy

FSU loses its leading tackler and emotional leader in Telvin Smith (90 tackles) as well as hybrid linebacker/end Christian Jones (56 tackles). The Seminoles will start junior Terrance Smith (59 tackles) and then surround him with some rising stars.

Fisher and new linebackers coach Bill Miller have plenty of choices. Northrup didn't start in 2013 but still showed his playmaking ability and accumulated 46 tackles. Levenberry (39 tackles) and Eligwe (28 tackles) both saw significant playing time as freshmen. The best of the group may be Matthew Thomas, a 5-star prospect who missed most of 2013 with a shoulder injury.

Daub, Pugh and Purifoy are all highly regarded and could contribute as backups in 2014.

 

Defensive backs

Projected starters: Jalen Ramsey, Nate Andrews, Ronald Darby and P.J. Williams

Backups: Tyler Hunter, Nick Waisome, Keelin Smith, Lamarcus Brutus, Marquez White and Colin Blake

Incoming freshman:Trey Marshall (early enrollee)

FSU allowed a national-low 156.6 passing yards per game. And even after losing senior corner Lamarcus Joyner and senior safety Terrence Brooks, the Seminoles could still have one of the nation's top defensive backfields.

Darby and Williams are both lockdown corners that helped FSU hold opponents to just 14 passing touchdowns in 14 games in 2013. Ramsey is a fast, physical safety. Andrews said this spring that he thought he would be taking a redshirt in 2013 but instead led the team with four interceptions.

Fisher raved about Marshall's versatility in the spring, saying that he could play corner, nickel corner or safety.

 

Specialists

Projected starters: PK Roberto Aguayo, P Cason Beatty

Backup: P Jonathan Hernandez

Aguayo won the Lou Groza Award as a freshman, making 21 of 22 field-goal attempts. He's a confident kicker with a strong leg. If FSU struggles in the red zone with a new group of receivers, Aguayo could be called on more often to kick a few chip-shot field goals.

Beatty averaged 41.1 yards per punt but needs to be more consistent. If he struggles in the preseason or early in the year, Fisher could look to the walk-on Hernandez or even Cosentino, who was signed as a quarterback but has a strong leg and punted in high school.

 

Bob Ferrante is the Florida State Lead Writer for Bleacher Report. All quotes were obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted. Follow Bob on Twitter.

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Lane Kiffin Has Great RBs at Alabama, but He Took It Too Far with NFL Comments

It took a while, but we're finally getting a taste of the old Lane Kiffin we all know and love.

Alabama head coach Nick Saban generally doesn't let his assistants speak to the press very often, with the exception of once during fall camp and required press events leading up to bowl games. 

But Saban lets his assistants speak at select offseason events that, while they are public, technically aren't press events. 

New offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin was a guest speaker at the DEX Imaging 20th Annual L'Arche Football Preview late last week in Mobile, Ala. According to Mike Herndon of AL.com, the former USC, Tennessee and Oakland Raiders head coach had high praise for his running backs.

"As you guys know extremely well, I think the offense is led by the tailbacks," Kiffin said according to Herndon. "There probably aren't three more talented tailbacks in the NFL on a roster than we're fortunate to be able to work with at Alabama."

Well hello, Mr. Kiffin. The college football world—and live microphones in general—missed you.

He's referring to his trio of running backs—T.J. Yeldon, Derrick Henry and Kenyan Drake—all of whom are talented and excel in different areas. That gives him the luxury of keeping any one of the three in as a feature back, but mixing and matching based on the scheme, strengths and weaknesses of the opposing defenses.

But better than NFL running backs?

Come on.

There's nothing wrong with Kiffin talking up his guys, but let's tone down the hype meter just a bit. 

Henry is going to be a superstar, and he will likely vault in front of Yeldon on the depth chart this fall—especially if Yeldon's fumbling woes continue. Drake has been solid as a backup and certainly has the burst to be a big-time weapon—especially when put in positions to succeed.

But better than NFL running back corps?

The Houston Texans had Arian Foster and Ben Tate in 2013, and the San Francisco 49ers currently boast Frank Gore, Kendall Hunter, LaMichael James, Marcus Lattimore and Carlos Hyde. They're just two of several teams who would vehemently disagree.

This is the same conversation that popped up last October, when the question of "Can Alabama beat the Jacksonville Jaguars?" first arose. John Ewing of Prediction Machine (via USA Today) shot that down in a hurry.

No, of course not.

Now, are Alabama's running backs the best group in the SEC?

With apologies to Georgia's Todd Gurley and Keith Marshall, as well as the small village Texas A&M boasts and Arkansas' trio of Alex Collins, Jonathan Williams and Korliss Marshall, yes, Alabama's running backs are the best.

With a new quarterback who's coming in during the summer in Jacob Coker, Alabama's running backs will be counted on to ease that transition. All of the eggs are in Coker's basket at quarterback, and if he struggles, the running back corps will be even more of an offensive focal point than it already will be.

Now they have some insurmountable hype to live up to on top of the razor-thin margin of error that exists at a place like Alabama, where championships are expected.

No pressure, kids.

 

* Barrett Sallee is the lead SEC college football writer for Bleacher Report. All stats are courtesy of CFBStats.com.


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