NCAA Football News

Texas Football: Will Thin RB Depth Doom the Longhorns in 2014?

When Charlie Strong hired Tommie Robinson to coach the running backs, Robinson inherited one of the most seasoned positions for the Texas Longhorns in 2014.

But the recent dismissals of senior Joe Bergeron and sophomore Jalen Overstreet have made Robinson's job a lot more difficult.

Texas currently has two veteran running backs on its roster: senior Malcolm Brown and junior Johnathan Gray.

When the two are healthy, they combine for one of the most potent one-two punches in college football. But the health issues are not something one can overlook.

Gray missed the final portion of the 2013 season after he suffered a torn Achilles against West Virginia on Nov. 10.

After missing the entire spring, Gray was cleared to return to the team in time for fall camp.

The Texas medical staff would not have cleared him if he wasn't healthy, but how hard should he push it during fall camp? 

It's difficult to ignore the concern of if he is returning too soon. Gray said he feels as if he is 95 percent healthy, but does that mean everyone should entirely ignore that remaining five percent?

Absolutely not.

On the other hand, Brown proved to be a reliable option to take over after Gray's injury at West Virginia. He finished with more than 100 yards rushing in three of the final four games of the season.

But 2013 was the first season Brown completed without having an injury withhold him from seeing the field.

Brown's health is probably not something Texas fans should worry about week in, week out, but it's difficult not to have it in the back of your mind when one considers the thin depth at his position and how an injury to either running back could destroy the Longhorns offense.

Let's think worst-case scenario for a minute. If something unfortunate were to happen to both starting running backs, Texas would be forced to either play true freshman Donald Catalon or rely on the receivers and the passing game.

And that brings up an even bigger concern for the Longhorns.

One of the thinnest positions on the depth chart is wide receiver. Wide receiver coach Les Koenning's job became a lot more difficult with the dismissals of Kendall Sanders and Montrel Meander. Add in the Orangebloods.com report (subscription required) that Jaxon Shipley suffered a hamstring injury in practice, and the receiving core is holding on by a string.

Texas did sign five wide receivers in the 2014 class, and some of those true freshmen will likely be needed this season.

But if the Texas offense is forced to be built around the receiving core, it's nearly impossible to expect a positive outcome for Strong's inaugural season in Austin.

Of course, these are all hypothetical situations. There's a good possibility that Gray and Brown will both stay healthy, which would likely lead Texas to build the offense around the dynamic duo. 

But if anything were to happen to Gray and/or Brown, the thin depth at running back could very likely doom the Texas offense.

 

Unless otherwise noted, all quotes were obtained firsthand.

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

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

UCLA Football 2014: Complete Preview and Predictions

Head coach Jim Mora has been successful in recent years in his efforts to rebuild the Bruins. After contending during the season for a potential Pac-12 championship game berth and finishing with a 10-3 record, UCLA now enters the 2014 campaign with high hopes and a ton of momentum. Brett Hundley has proven to be a leader for the Bruins and many expect him to contend for the Heisman Trophy this year. Watch as Bleacher Report's experts examine the UCLA Bruins before the 2014 season.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Eddie Jackson's Early Return the Answer to Alabama's Biggest Question on Defense

TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — When Alabama cornerback Eddie Jackson went down with a knee injury during spring practice, it looked like disaster for the Alabama secondary.

Jackson had been Alabama’s best option opposite the departed Deion Belue in 2013 and entered the spring as its No. 1 guy.

Crimson Tide coach Nick Saban wouldn’t divulge what the injury was, only that it occurred in a non-contact situation. Alex Scarborough of ESPN.com reported that Jackson sustained a torn ACL.

Jackson promptly had knee surgery and the only timeline Saban gave for his return was “this fall” in a university release.

On Friday, as reporters spilled onto the practice field for a short viewing period at the start of fall camp, there was Jackson running through drills.

It’s still unclear when exactly he’ll be 100 percent ready, but Jackson’s early return would solidify the one place on the defense where there is uncertainty this year and make Alabama an elite unit on that side of the ball.

Saban cautioned reporters following that Friday practice. He said Jackson was back practicing, but that doesn’t mean that he’s at all ready to go.

“We're going to kind of keep him on a pitch count that will gradually increase and see when he gets back to 100 percent,” he said. “Eddie took all the tests and passed them, so straight-line running is not the issue. It's cutting, changing direction, doing those kinds of things and seeing what issues those things create.”

His teammates weren’t surprised to see Jackson rehab so quickly.

“Eddie's a tough competitor, a hard worker,” linebacker Denzel Devall said. “He's just got a great spirit out there when he's out there. He loves helping the younger guys out and just helping out the team anyway he can. It felt good to see Eddie out there getting into some work and doing some drills. I'm happy for him.”

Jackson’s return would be just what the defense needs.

Last season, cornerback was a major weakness. While Alabama finished second in the SEC in passing yards against per game, it was lit up to the tune of 464 yards against Texas A&M, 241 against LSU and 348 against Oklahoma. Cornerback play was a big reason for that.

Belue was the No. 1 guy, but there was never a solid No. 2 next to him all season. Cyrus Jones and Bradley Sylve got their turns but could never lock down a starting role.

As a freshman, Jackson showed flashes of brilliance, including a play against Ole Miss where he stayed with his man on a wide receiver pass and ended up with an interception.

During the spring, Saban said Jackson was “probably our best corner, most consistent” before his injury. All signs pointed to Jackson being the No. 1 guy.

Elsewhere, the defense is loaded.

Alabama has two experienced guys at safety in Landon Collins and Jarrick Williams. The defensive line could be one of the best position groups in the country, though it may be without two of its top options to start the season.

There’s also depth at linebacker, with talented guys like Reuben Foster, Reggie Ragland and Dillon Lee who have been in the system and are ready to have their shot.

At corner, Alabama brought in two 5-stars in Tony Brown, who enrolled in the spring, and Marlon Humphrey. The pair could eventually develop into stars, but it’s probably not wise to throw both straight into the mix right away with championship aspirations.

That’s why Jackson’s return is key.

“Eddie's kind of doing what he can do right now,” Saban said on Tuesday. “I'm pleased with the progress that he's made and where he is. We just want him to continue to work, and it may take awhile for him to get back to where he needs to be. But I think he's doing the things that he needs to do.

Maybe he's not doing it 100 percent, but for him to be able to do it 100 percent, I think he needs to continue to do the things he's doing right now and get confidence and as his leg gets stronger, he'll be able to do it more and more effectively.”

 

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

Follow on Twitter @marctorrence.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Oklahoma Football 2014: Complete Preview and Predictions

The Oklahoma Sooners enjoyed a successful 2013 campaign as they finished with an overall record of 11-2 (7-2 record within the Big 12 Conference) and a victory against Alabama in the Sugar Bowl. After such an impressive season, Bob Stoops' program will be expected to achieve greater success and contend for the national championship.

Watch as B/R's experts examine the Sooners ahead of the 2014 season.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Wisconsin Football: 5 Best QBs Badgers Will Face in 2014

Looking around the Big Ten, there are a number of high-profile quarterbacks.  There's Heisman candidate and two-time Big Ten Offensive Player of the Year Braxton Miller, 2013 Big Ten Freshman of the Year Christian Hackenberg, Big Ten Championship Game and Rose Bowl Offensive MVP Connor Cook and the prolific Devin Gardner.

Fortunately for the Wisconsin football team, the Badgers avoid playing every single one of those quarterbacks as they all fall into the newly realigned East division.

While the Badgers schedule is far from soft, there is a pretty noticeable lack of top quarterbacks on their schedule.  They catch LSU in their first game without Zach Mettenberger at the helm, though facing a top-tier SEC team can never be an easy game, even with the Tigers replacing numerous starters on both sides of the ball.

Once the Badgers get into the Big Ten portion of their schedule, they face a variety of good offenses; however, few have top quarterbacks leading them.  An honorable mention goes to Tommy Armstrong Jr., as he could be really good, though he was far too inconsistent last season to crack this list.

To put this list together, I looked at their career stats, how the system has developed quarterbacks in the past as well as a proprietary formula of rash opinions based on what I've seen from these players.  Let's start with No. 5 in the land of Lincoln.

Begin Slideshow

5-Star WR Recruit Christian Kirk Tweets Final 6 Schools

Scottsdale, Arizona, receiver Christian Kirk, a 5-star recruit and the No. 36 overall player in the 2015 recruiting class, trimmed his list of potential schools down to six Wednesday afternoon.

He announced in a Tweet that he will be choosing among Arizona State, Auburn, Ohio State, Texas A&M, UCLA and USC:

Kirk is 5'10", 191 pounds and checks in as the No. 4 receiver in the country. No other player in the national top 25 is listed at under 6'0", which is a testament to Kirk's shiftiness in the slot.

According to Bleacher Report's Tyler Donohue, who was on location in Beaverton, Oregon, Kirk stood out as a quarterback favorite during Nike's The Opening in July. Some of those QBs might not be done playing with Kirk by the time next season rolls around.

"I've got a lot of quarterbacks talking to me about maybe playing together in college," Kirk told Donohue. "They're all trying. It's cool."

Chief among those quarterbacks are Texas A&M commit Kyler Murray and USC commit Ricky Town. The Aggies and Trojans are the two favorites on Kirk's 247Sports "Crystal Ball," and according to Donohue, they have both pitched Kirk on coming to their schools.

"Kirk is on my list," said Town. "He's a guy we're pursuing at USC and someone who would be great to throw the ball to at the next level."

"He's my boy and he knows the deal," chimed in Murray. "I don't think I even need to say anything to Christian about that."

Here Murray is connecting with Kirk in the seven-on-seven tournament:

The third favorite on Kirk's "Crystal Ball" is Ohio State, and even though the Buckeyes didn't have a QB around to pitch Kirk in Beaverton, Adam Gorney of Rivals.com thinks they are in the mix to get him:

No matter where he commits, and no matter who is throwing him the ball, Kirk looks like a potential game-changer at the next level. Comparisons with Percy Harvin should never be taken lightly.

It's a good day for all six of these schools.

 

Note: All recruiting info refers to the 247Sports composite rankings

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Florida State Football: 2014 Has Special Significance for Hunter, Haplea

Tyler Hunter played in just three games last season for the Florida State football team before suffering a neck injury. Kevin Haplea's year was done in the summer when he had a knee injury. 

Both were on the sideline and forced to watch the BCS Championship Game from a distance.

That changes in 2014, as both Hunter and Haplea are in position to see significant playing time. Hunter is competing for a starting job at safety with Nate Andrews. And Haplea won't start over Nick O'Leary, but FSU will use more formations with two tight ends—especially in the red zone.

Hunter, a junior, was all smiles after Monday's first preseason practice. Players weren't allowed by the NCAA's acclimation rules to be in pads yet and there's very little hitting, but Hunter said his neck felt "like it never happened."

"It's amazing just to be back out there," Hunter said. "Been waiting on this for a long time. Just like a kid. Taking every play. Just loving it. I've been waiting on this moment for a long time."

Hunter had 26 tackles and three interceptions in 2012 and started three games at nickel corner. But just three games into last season, Hunter went down during a mid-September win over Bethune-Cookman. He wasn't able to play again, and in October he opted to have surgery on a bulging disc.

Hunter was able to play in the spring but wasn't cleared for contact. Now he's been given the green light.

"He's like a kid at Christmas," FSU coach Jimbo Fisher said. "It's like he's two or three when you first started knowing Santa Claus is coming. To me as a coach it's very rewarding. That tells you how much it means to him."

Haplea, a junior, has been wearing a knee brace for a year since having surgery in July of 2013. He caught three passes for 15 yards and a touchdown in 2012 after transferring from Penn State, and Haplea figured to be more involved in the offense last year.

But after a year on the sideline, Haplea said he's excited for FSU's season opener on Aug. 30 against Oklahoma State.

"I've been running faster than I was before I got hurt," Haplea said. "I'm looking forward to the season."

As FSU looks for a consistent No. 2 receiver after losing Kelvin Benjamin and Kenny Shaw, the transition is eased by the return of two experienced tight ends. Fisher plans to use O'Leary and Haplea to provide run support and catch passes.

"He ought to have a great year for us," Fisher said. "We're counting on him." 

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

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Wisconsin Football 2014: Complete Preview of Badgers Offense and Defense

In his first year as Wisconsin head coach, Gary Andersen guided the Badgers to a Capital One Bowl appearance and a 6-2 record within the Big Ten.

Now in his second year at the helm of Wisconsin's program, many will expect the Badgers to achieve even greater success. Watch as B/R's experts examine Wisconsin before the 2014 season begins.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Pages