NCAA Football News

Jacob Daniel Commits to USC: What 4-Star DT Brings to Trojans

Jacob Daniel helped fortify the future of USC's defensive front Tuesday when he announced his commitment to the Trojans.

The 4-star in-state defensive tackle became the sixth member of Steve Sarkisian's 2015 class and unveiled his intentions on Twitter:

He is the third lineman pledge for USC in a three-week span, joining offensive tackles Roy Hemsley (Los Angles, California) and Chuma Edoga (Powder Springs, Georgia). Daniel adds to a defensive haul that includes 3-star cornerback Taeon Mason (Pasadena, California).

Rated No. 8 nationally among defensive tackle prospects in 247Sports' composite rankings, Daniel emerged as a key USC target earlier this year. The Trojans extended him a scholarship offer in February during a campus visit.

USC faced stiff competition from several Pac-12 foes, including Oregon, Stanford and Arizona. Suitors from beyond the conference include Texas A&M, Ohio State, Miami, Notre Dame and Alabama.

This is the second time Daniel has pledged to Sarkisian. He committed to the coach at Washington in November before eventually backing off that decision in late December.

The 6'4", 310-pound menace helped lead Clovis North High School to the Central California Championship as a junior. He displays excellent lateral range and short-area quickness that complements his massive frame.

His versatility presents plenty of options for the Trojans, who could be tempted to use him in a 3-technique setting during obvious passing situations. Depending on how the team decides to approach his training and physical conditioning, there's also a possibility of Daniel putting on additional bulk and anchoring the front interior.

If impressive physicality combines with quick comprehension on the practice field, Daniel stands a strong chance of contributing as a true freshman.

He spent time on campus with the USC staff in February, creating a lasting impression.

"They just told me that they really want me to be a Trojan and showed me what they had to offer," Daniel told Fresno Bee reporter Austin Kemp.

The sales pitch apparently stuck with him for the past three months, ultimately leading Daniel to pull the trigger on a commitment as his junior year comes to a close.

The 2015 USC class now includes two 5-star prospects and a 4-star recruit. It's rated 21st nationally in 247Sports' composite team rankings.

 

Recruit information courtesy of 247Sports unless otherwise noted.

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Marqise Lee Injuries Drop Him in NFL Draft but Lead to Insurance Payout

The NCAA often talks about its catastrophic insurance plan as one of the reasons that players should stay in school. For players like Johnny Manziel or Jameis Winston, forced by NCAA and NFL rules to stay at the amateur level, Loss of Value insurance is a must.Marqise Lee is certainly glad he had the Lloyd's of London policy now that a knee injury forced him down to the second round in last week's NFL draft.

Players like Jadeveon Clowney, Manziel and Lee are all at risk of injuries while in college and all three had coverage, though Clowney and Manziel are likely glad they didn't get to collect. Any injury could take them from a sure thing to a question mark, which could shift their place in the draft. Their financial prospects would take a major hit. By paying for this insurance, which does not come cheaply, a player is protected against that loss. 

What most don't know, including the players, is how difficult it is to get this kind of insurance to pay off. In fact, Marqise Lee, the former USC wide receiver, is in line to become the one of the first players to have the policy pay. After falling out of the first round, Lee could collect as much as five million dollars on the policy he bought in the summer before the 2013 season. Lee was selected in the second round, going to the Jacksonville Jaguars.  

It's not just Lee. Another USC player, linebacker Morgan Breslin, is in line to collect on his loss of value. His drop was more severe, going from a possible first rounder to an undrafted free agent. Breslin did sign after the draft with the San Francisco 49ers, but the odds of making the NFL are long for him, making his benefit perhaps his only payoff for his years of football. 

USC has long encouraged its players to get this type of coverage. Matt Leinart and Carson Palmer both had this type of policy, though neither got a payoff as Lee and Breslin are likely to. Lee's policy was in excess of the NCAA's policy, which is capped at $5 million. The $10 million total payoff will not be in place here. For the NCAA, the amount would only be in place for a "total disability," which is clearly not the case for Lee and is restricted to disability, not loss of value.

That has been an issue in the past. Ball State WR Dante Love was ticketed by many to be a first round pick before a devastating spinal injury ended his football career. However, Love was not covered under the NCAA's policy. While the school did pick up his significant medical bills, Love's dream of playing in the NFL ended before he could do the things many dream of. 

Another recent case that brought this type of insurance to the forefront was that of Nerlens Noel. The Kentucky and Philadephia 76ers player had a dramatic knee injury, but was selected high in the first round of the NBA draft despite it. The policy did not pay off because he had no major loss of value. 

Lee's drop from a top wide receiver pick to the second round was costly. Comparing what he'll get as a second round pick to what he might have gotten is easy due to the NFL's slotting system. Lee could have been projected to go somewhere in the same range as Odell Beckham, who will receive a bit more than $10 million under the current rookie wage scale

At 39th overall, Lee is likely to receive something near $5 million dollars, though the exact value is not known. Last year, Robert Woods, another USC WR, was picked at slot 41 and received a contract from the Buffalo Bills for $4.9 million. That five million dollar gap is where the Loss of Value insurance will come in, though it will not be matched dollar for dollar due to provisions in the insurance contract.

Marqise Lee suffered from a moderate (Grade II) MCL sprain during the 2013 season. While he was able to get back on the field, it was clear that he never really got back to 100 percent. That was confirmed at the NFL Combine in February, where several teams "red flagged" Lee due to laxity in the knee. While the MCL is usually not repaired surgically, many believe that that laxity can lead to more injuries down the line.

Breslin had a much more serious injury. He had to have hip surgery in November and was not able to return. While details of Breslin's injury has never been publicly disclosed, an internal hip issue that requires surgery is rare but not unheard of in the NFL. Colts TE Dwayne Allen missed much of the 2013 season after injuring his hip. Ed Reed and Percy Harvin had to have their hip labrums repaired, which cost significant time and value.

Chris Larcheveque, the EVP of Sports for International Speciality Insurance, the company that underwrites these types of policies for Lloyd's, explained to me that the players are valued at the time of underwriting. "We take a look at where he is expected to go. We talk to scouts we have relationships with and look at two or three trusted NFL voices, like Matt Miller." 

The value of the contract takes care of the gap between the evaluated value and the actual value. "There's a formula, since the benefit is tax free. Five million is really like nine million due to taxes, but it's relatively cut and dry. We'll know in a matter of weeks with Lee. It will will take longer for Breslin since he'll have to make the roster before he gets a contract," Larcheveque told me by phone.

The insurance is expensive, normally around $10,000 per $1 million in coverage. Since an NCAA player shouldn't have $100,000 lying around the dorm room, the premium is usually delayed and will be paid by the player's first professional contract. If a player is unable to be signed, the premium is deducted from the benefit at the time of payment. 

While the availability of these policies has been around for years, it is very difficult to meet all the conditions in order to receive the benefit. A player not only has to be injured while playing football, they also have to have a demonstrable loss of value, specifically due to the injury. A player like Lee could have slid to the second round on production or his team having a poor season, which has always been the previous argument. 

If NCAA stars are going to stay in school and risk their future earnings potential at the same time the NCAA is fighting to not pay them or even increase their in-school benefits, insurance policies become even more necessary. While a check can't replace a player's ability to chase his dreams, it can compensate his work in order to help him figure out what comes after football.

 

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Why the SEC Is the Real Toughest Conference in the Nation

College football fans used to love their team, hate their rivals and not give a care about what happened to anyone else. However, in the past decade or so, there has been a large movement toward conference affiliation trumping team fandom.

Who can forget the moment we all heard the first "S-E-C" chant?  

LSU winning that 2007 title was the second in a row for the Southeastern Conference against Ohio State, and little did we know that the college football world would be hearing that chant for the next seven seasons in a row. 

For conferences and the fans of schools in conferences like the Big 12 and Big Ten, the obsession over beating the SEC became almost all consuming. So much so that the other four conferences banded together in rooting for anyone to break the SEC's winning streak. 

It happened thanks to Florida State this past season, and for some around the nation, it was cause to point out that the SEC isn't the toughest conference in the country anymore. 

But what measure were they using? The SEC will always throw seven national titles in a row in everyone else's faces, but that's more about individual team success than anything the entire conference is about. 

It's not as if anyone is claiming the ACC is now the king of the hill because it houses Florida State. There has to be more than one category to consider when looking at the toughest conference to play in. 

So, here are the five criteria we used to determine which conference sits atop the standings heading in to 2014: 

  • SRS (Simple Rating System: a rating that takes into account average point differential and strength of schedule. The rating is denominated in points above/below average, where zero is average—courtesy Sports-Reference.com)
  • Strength of Schedule (rolling four-year average for the conference) 
  • Returning Starters per team in 2014
  • Number of first-team all-conference players returning
  • Bowl teams

With each of these categories, we attempt to look at the past to predict the future, as well as give deference to the here and now. Each of the criteria are broken down with five points given to the best in each category on down to one point for the worst number in each category. 

So, let's get in to who reigns at the top of the conference ladder. 

When you look at the combination of offense, defense and strength of schedule, the SEC comes out on top—and it's not even close. The difference is by nearly two points, and the SEC's four individual year averages rank in the top six overall from all five conferences in the past four years. Only the Pac-12's 2013 season of 10.49 and the 2011 Big 12 season of 9.89 broke up the SEC party. 

Speaking of the Pac-12, it made things a little less of a run-away contest in our next category—strength of schedule: 

While the biggest criticism of the SEC from folks in the Big Ten and Big 12 is that SEC teams aren't willing to play anyone, the actual truth is that the Big Ten has a lot of work to do in the future to up its own strength of schedule. It also appears that the SEC has done a really good job over the last four years of highlighting matchups amongst its best schools, helping to negate any drawbacks from the nonconference schedule.

There's little doubt that the SEC and Pac-12 are giving the college football world some of the best competition we've seen over the last four years, but what about looking at what is about to come?

Let's take a look at the average returning starters per team:

In 2014, the Big Ten could put itself in a good position to be more competitive because it is more experienced on the whole. Not only does the conference lead the average, but it also has the top three teams—Indiana, Maryland and Northwestern—amongst all five conferences in returning players, with 18, 17 and 17, respectively.

What is most interesting is that Florida State's conference is ripe for the picking of a team with a really good recruiting class, as the team with the most returning talent is North Carolina (15). It is the lowest of the high total of any conference in the "Big Five."

With lower numbers returning overall, what about the talent of those returning players—a true indication of just how deep a conference may be. That story is one of the more interesting in our criteria, so let's take a look at it: 

Not only does the ACC lead the overall total, it happens to have perhaps the most explosive of the returning bunch thanks to six returning members of the first-team offense. That's the most of any side of the ball.

With those kinds of numbers for the ACC, one could see why it also happens to lead in our final category—bowl teams from 2013.

The 2013 season was a banner one for the ACC, as not only did it have the BCS national champions, but it also sent the most schools to bowl games in conference history. Even if you take away bowl-eligible Maryland and insert new conference member Louisville into the equation, the total remains at 11 bowl teams for the conference heading into the season.

Only the Big 12 failed to get more than half of its conference into bowl games last season, despite the tight race for the conference crown all season long.

So, when you add it all up, we see one conference that is at the top of nearly every measure available—the SEC. It means the winner is the obvious choice, the one that everyone outside of SEC territory loves to hate the most. 

As much as everyone across the rest of the college football world wants it not to be true: The SEC is the best conference in the country heading in to 2014.

However, its grasp on the top rung of the ladder isn't as firm as it once was. Another non-SEC national champion could go a long way toward knocking the conference off its top spot after this year. 

No matter your affiliation, one thing is for sure—college football has never been as competitive from top to bottom as it is right now. 

 

Andy Coppens is a national college football featured columnist. You can find him on Twitter: @AndyOnCFB. 

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Jacob Daniel to USC: Trojans Land 4-Star DT Prospect

Jacob Daniel, one of the premier talents in the Class of 2015, has finally decided where he will play his college ball. The 4-star defensive tackle recruit will reportedly suit up for the USC Trojans.

Justin Hopkins of 247Sports reported the news:

Head coach Steve Sarkisiandid a solid job recruiting the Clovis, Calif. native and beat out a number of suitors from across the nation. As per 247Sports, the defensive tackle received offers from prestigious programs such as Oregon, Texas A&M, Washington, Alabama, Notre Dame, Miami, Ohio State and more.

It’s not surprising that so many recruiters threw their hat in the ring and attempted to persuade Daniel to join their programs. The 6’4”, 310-pound tackle is widely regarded as one of the best talents at his position in this class, as he was ranked the No. 8 DT and No. 53 overall prospect on 247Sports’ composite rankings.

On top of his height and massive frame, Daniel possesses a number of key attributes that will make him a great run-stuffer and even part-time pass-rusher at the collegiate level. He’s explosive, especially when he times the snap count right, and comes out firing at a low pad level.

Daniel excels at the bull rush to collapse the pocket, but also has lateral movement speed that allows him to maneuver between the tackles. That sort of versatility should help him get on the field quickly, especially if the defensive-line depth starts to dwindle.

While he tends to get tangled up in blocks and must improve his ability to separate from his man, the raw potential for Daniel to be a consistent contributor is readily present. His ceiling is high and once he is on a regular weight-training program and getting coached up at USC, Daniel should start showing rapid improvement.

It shouldn’t be too much of a surprise that this young man isn’t the most polished prospect in coach Sarkisian's crop of talent, as Daniel did not start playing football until high school and is a late bloomer.

According to an interview with Erik McKinney of ESPN (subscription required), Daniel revealed he enjoyed basketball more and wasn’t a big fan of football until one game changed his opinion:

We were playing Clovis High and we were undefeated. There were about 5,000 people in the stands and there was all that noise. I thought, 'Wow, this is fun.' That sealed the deal for me with football.

Trojans fans will be cheering him on soon enough and this young man should be a fixture on USC's defensive line for the foreseeable future.

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SEC Undrafted Free Agents Who Will Have Successful NFL Careers

One of the more remarkable streaks in college football was kept alive over the weekend, as the SEC led all conferences in players drafted for the eighth straight season.

A grand total of 49 former players heard their names called in New York City at the world's biggest televised job fair.

But while those 49 players realized their dreams, the former SEC stars who didn't get a phone call from an NFL franchise during the draft is perhaps the most shocking development of the draft from a college football perspective.

Former stars like Tennessee offensive lineman Antonio "Tiny" Richardson and Florida cornerback Loucheiz Purifoy had to go the undrafted free-agent route to make it to the league.

Which SEC undrafted free agents have the best chances of having successful NFL careers? The top five are in this slideshow.

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Alabama's Derrick Henry Shows off New Car Causing Fans to Allege NCAA Violations

Whenever a college athlete—especially an SEC football player—gets something nice, accusations of NCAA violations are sure to follow.

Alabama's Derrick Henry found that out recently.

On Monday, the Crimson Tide running back posted a picture of him standing with his new car. Now, he is the center of fans' criticism.

A car like that has some fans wondering how he was able to afford it:

Henry wasn't a fan of the allegations:

This is why we can't have nice things.

[Derrick Henry, Twitter;  h/t Dr. Saturday, SB Nation]

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Clemson Football: Realistic Expectations for the Tigers' 2014 Season

When one begins to break down Clemson’s potential 2014 season, there are a few factors that come into play. In some cases I think fans have very high expectations for next season, and in other cases, fans aren’t ready to dance in the streets just yet. Clemson’s season will be similar to the past two seasons in that it will all ride on the two big games: Florida State and South Carolina. This year you throw Georgia into the mix again, but those two big games will be the deciding factors again.

 

Breaking Down the Schedule

When you take a look at the Tigers’ schedule, there are three different categories you can place each game.

The two games that should definitely be won are South Carolina State and Georgia State. Then you have the games that should be won but will still present challenges.

Those games are North Carolina, NC State, Wake Forest, Louisville, Syracuse, Georgia Tech and Boston College. Georgia Tech and North Carolina really jump out of that category.

The Tigers always seem to struggle a bit with Georgia Tech, and North Carolina is a sleeper in the ACC this year. The Tar Heels have the potential to have a really good season, so that will likely be a close game.

Georgia, Florida State and South Carolina make up the third category, for obvious reasons. These are the three games that will be very difficult for the Tigers to win, and it will all depend on how they come to play on that particular day.

Playing in Athens will be tough because of Georgia’s power running game and its much-improved defense. Going to Doak Campbell is never an easy task, especially this year with Heisman winner Jameis Winston leading the offense again. There isn’t much to say about that last game. I can sit here and break down every little detail about the Clemson-Carolina game, but all that really matters is which Tiger team comes to play on November 29.

 

Comparing 2013 and 2014

While ESPN analysts will continue to focus on what Clemson lost this season with Tajh Boyd and Sammy Watkins, I am going to instead focus on what the Tigers have returning.

When you look at the quarterback position, there isn’t going to be a drastic change. While Cole Stoudt can’t make all the throws that Boyd did, the Tigers still have a veteran leader who has a great feel for the system. Stoudt has had plenty of experience under Chad Morris’s offense, and I think that level of comfort will show on the field this season.

At running back, veterans D.J. Howard and Zac Brooks return, while Wayne Gallman and Tyshon Dye will also look to get into the mix. C.J. Davidson is a speed guy who will likely be used on certain plays and formations.

While there are many backs in the mix, I think the fact that one hasn’t broke away from the pack yet is a slight concern. We are only through spring ball at this point though, and the summer will present an opportunity for a running back to outright win the starting job.

The Tigers have plenty of options at wide receiver with veterans Charone Peake and Adam Humphries leading the way. There are also many young guys that will contribute including Mike Williams, Germone Hopper, Artavis Scott, Kyrin Priester, Demarre Kitt and Trevion Thompson.

Offensive line and the secondary are areas of concern. The offensive line situation can be better measured at the end of the summer, but anytime a team loses two solid starters like Brandon Thomas and Tyler Shatley, there is going to be a little concern.

The secondary can be very good, but it’s hard to judge at this point because of the youth. The Tigers have many young players in the secondary who can be playmakers, such as Mackensie Alexander, Adrian Baker, Korrin Wiggins, Jayron Kearse and T.J. Green. Hopefully for the Tigers, guys like Martin Jenkins and Garry Peters will step up and be leaders in that secondary.

The other areas such as linebacker and defensive line should be just as good, if not better, than last season. These positions should not be any worry at all to Tiger fans.

 

The Realistic Expectations

When you take into account what Clemson has returning with the defensive line and the weapons on the offensive side of the ball, I think it can have a very good year. Last year there were preseason mumbles about a national championship, but that would just be wishful thinking for 2014.

With the question marks on the offensive line and the youth in the secondary, it will be tough for the Tigers to run the table against physical teams like South Carolina and Florida State.

 

Realistic Expectation: 9-3 or 10-2

Bottom Line: It will be another year like the previous ones in which the Tigers have a very good team but still just aren't quite ready to get over the hump. The offense should be very good again, and the defense will be improved, but will it be enough to take down Florida State and South Carolina?

 

 

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Texas A&M: Breaking Down Where Cedric Ogbuehi Landed on 2015 NFL Draft Boards

The 2014 NFL draft is complete and three Aggies were selected in the first round. In 2015, Aggie left tackle Cedric Ogbuehi is projected to extend the Aggies' streak to five years of having a player selected in the top 10 picks of the draft. 

Von Miller started it all in 2011 when he was selected No. 2 overall by the Denver Broncos. Ryan Tannehill was selected No. 8 overall in 2012 by Miami, with Luke Joeckel going No. 2 overall to Jacksonville in 2013. 

Two added to the Aggies' newest tradition in the 2014 draft, with offensive tackle Jake Matthews selected No. 6 by Atlanta and wide receiver Mike Evans selected No. 7 by Tampa Bay. 

If Ogbuehi is selected in the first round of the 2015 draft, he will be the third offensive linemen from the Aggies' 2010 recruiting class to accomplish the feat. Ogbuehi may be the most physically gifted of the trio.

The lean 6'5", 305-pound athlete resembles a linebacker or tight end more than a typical offensive lineman. He has rare speed for his size and has reportedly ran a 4.7 in the 40-yard dash during testing at A&M.  

Ogbuehi was recruited to A&M by former head coach Mike Sherman with the hopes that he would develop into a left tackle. He started at right guard in 2012 and right tackle in 2013 as he waited for his turn behind Joeckel and Matthews. 

Ogbuehi has quick feet and tremendous balance. He is the prototype of what the NFL is looking for at the left tackle position. He is a big body with catlike quickness and agility. Those are the kind of offensive linemen who end up starting in the Pro Bowl at the left tackle position. 

 

NFL Farm System

The Southeastern Conference is playing the best brand of football outside the NFL. The SEC produces the most NFL draft picks on a yearly basis. It is a physical brand of football highlighted by the battle in the trenches. 

For the second consecutive year, the No. 2 pick in the draft was a left tackle from the SEC. In 2013 it was Joeckel and in 2014 it was Greg Robinson from Auburn. Offensive linemen in the SEC go up against the best defensive linemen in college on a weekly basis. 

Left tackles for colleges in the Eastern Division of the SEC had to face Jadeveon Clowney on a weekly basis for the past three years. Some people think he was the best college prospect available in the 2014 draft, and he was the No. 1 overall pick.

Competing against the top defensive linemen in college football on a weekly basis helps develop the offensive line talent in the SEC. It has allowed players like Joeckel, Matthews and Ogbuehi to prove their worth to NFL scouts.   

When you compete with Dee Ford, Ed Stinson and Michael Sam on a weekly basis you are going to improve as a player. 

 

Draft Projections

Ogbuehi is expected to be one of the first offensive tackles off the board in the 2015 NFL draft. You simply do not find too many tackles with his skill set. 

He is predicted to be the No. 12 overall pick of the first round by CBSSports.com. The pundits at WalterFootball.com have him going No. 6 overall. 

Josh Norris of Rotoworld.com has Ogbuehi going No. 7 overall. He is predicted to be selected No. 8 overall by draftsite.com. A lot can change between now and the 2015 draft. 

Ogbuehi is almost a consensus top-10 pick right now. Before the 2013 season, there were people who thought A.J. McCarron would be selected in the first round of the 2014 draft. 

Nothing is guaranteed in college football. Ogbuehi could blow out his knee in the Aggies' opening game against South Carolina and ruin his draft status. 

Ogbuehi and Laremy Tunsil from Ole Miss enter the 2014 season as the top offensive tackles in the SEC. They both are legitimate candidates to be all-conference and All-American. If Ogbuehi has the kind of year that is expected, he will hear his name called during the first round of the 2015 NFL draft. 

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WR JaQuay Williams Will Reportedly Transfer from Texas A&M

After failing to make much of an impact during his freshman season, former blue-chip receiver JaQuay Williams will transfer out of the Texas A&M football program.

The news was first reported Monday by Michael Carvell of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution and confirmed Tuesday by Bruce Feldman of Fox Sports:

"Yes, he is transferring," said Williams' uncle, Kevin Ofchus, per Carvell. "It was the distance, and standard things that college kids go through. Things just didn’t work out, and that happens sometimes."

Williams committed to Auburn out of high school in 2012, when he was a 4-star prospect and the No. 100 overall player in the class on the 247Sports Composite.

After failing to qualify academically, he spent a year at Fork Union Military Academy in Virginia, became the No. 4 overall player on the Prep School Composite and committed to Texas A&M after seeing what Kevin Sumlin and Johnny Manziel did in 2012.

At 6'4", Williams is an imposing physical threat who could, with the proper coaching and situation, become a valuable red-zone target if not more. According to Carvell, however, if he transfers directly to another SEC school, he would likely have to sit out two seasons per the conference's transfer policy.

So where might he end up?

Louisville is a popular speculative candidate.

New head coach Bobby Petrino can sell his SEC-approved vertical passing system, and rumors also have former Georgia cornerback Shaq Wiggins, a high-school teammate of Williams' at Sandy Creek High School in Georgia, connected with the Cardinals.

Several people have told Carvell "not to be surprised if Williams and Wiggins both end up at Louisville."

If that is how things play out, Wiggins would reunite with former Georgia defensive coordinator Todd Grantham, and Williams would team up with an offensive mind capable of unleashing him.

The move would be a coup for the Cardinals as they transition out of the Charlie Strong era and into the ACC.

We'll keep you updated as we learn more.

 

Follow Brian Leigh on Twitter: @BLeighDAT

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USC Football: How Cody Kessler Can Validate Steve Sarkisian's Vote of Confidence

Quarterback Cody Kessler is in the driver's seat of the USC offense for 2014. He can keep firm control of the steering wheel by adhering to a strict road map. 

Trojans head coach Steve Sarkisian made an authoritative, if not controversial stance at the conclusion of spring practice last month, naming redshirt junior Kessler the team's No. 1 quarterback. Despite starting last season and leading USC to 10 wins, Kessler was embroiled in a well-publicized competition with redshirt freshman Max Browne. 

Browne will continue to push Kessler when the Trojans reconvene for preseason camp in August. Sarkisian had high praise for Browne on a May 1 Pac-12 teleconference call, via Pac-12.com

Max had a tremendous spring...He showed tremendous development, not only physically but mentally. He's a really good fit for what we're doing offensively, and to Max's credit, he's an unbelievable competitor. He's going to continue to compete with Cody all the way through. And I believe when Max's number is called, he's going to play great football for us.

For Kessler to maintain his spot atop the depth chart, he must build on the momentum he established down the stretch of 2013. 

Kessler progressed nicely over the course of the campaign, overcoming a tumultuous start to lead USC to a 7-2 finish. The Trojans offense operated much more efficiently as the quarterback gained confidence. 

A cornerstone of Sarkisian's offense is a power-run game, of which redshirt junior running back Javorius "Buck" Allen is sure to be central. Allen also proved integral to Kessler's play. 

Kessler and Allen developed a chemistry during the Trojans' second-half run. Allen became a more integral part of the offense, starting with USC's win over Arizona and exploding when the Trojans visited Oregon State. At the same time, Kessler flourished.  

The tandem connected as passer and receiver 22 times for 252 yards last season. 

Kessler also built an evident on-field rapport with wide receiver Nelson Agholor, the team's No. 1 target a season ago. He will again be the focal point of the Trojans' passing attack, but Kessler's ability to find a consistent corps of receivers is necessary to keep defenses from overwhelming Agholor. 

USC cannot afford another rocky start, particularly with Pac-12 rival Stanford looming as the second opponent on the schedule. To that end, Kessler must find a way to operate effectively behind an offensive line still on a steep learning curve. 

Kessler faced a similar proposition a season ago and struggled initially. As the line's collective performance improved, so too did Kessler. 

This year's front five isn't just having to integrate some new faces. Depth is of greater concern, and veterans like Max Tuerk are acclimating to new positions.

"Solidifying our offensive line," was a lingering concern Sarkisian addressed on the teleconference call. "Who's going to be where and the depth...is one key component for us." 

All of this is happening while the team learns a new offense, too. Kessler explained the challenges of the hurry-up, no-huddle scheme to Stewart Mandel of Sports Illustrated

Sometimes it's difficult because you want to talk to guys between plays. You can't do that. If you miss a throw or miss a play, you can't sit there and be upset about it because you have to run three or four plays after that.

To that end, improvisation is crucial to Kessler's early-season success—both in how he calls plays, and how he reacts to any potential breakdowns in blocking. 

Kessler has his new head coach's confidence and the starting quarterback job. Now it's up to the redshirt junior to lead the Trojans offense to success in 2014. 

 

Statistics compiled via CFBStats.com

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Power Ranking Top 25 2015 College Football Recruits from the West Coast

This could be the deepest class of recruits that the West Coast has produced in 10 years.

The main state on the recruiting trail out West is certainly California, but states such as Arizona, Washington and Nevada put out more talent than many people realize.

While two 5-star quarterbacks receive most of the attention, the region also features four 5-star defensive prospects. The state of Hawaii has two studs on this list, plus Utah is represented since it has a school that competes in the Pac-12.

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UCLA Football: Realistic Expectations for the Bruins' 2014 Season

"Expectations." It's a popular word around UCLA football right now.

With the most experienced and largest returning starting corps in the Pac-12 and the momentum of a 10-win season, the Bruins have high expectations for their 2014 campaign.

A second Pac-12 South Championship in Jim Mora's brief tenure as head coach is a realistic expectation, albeit somewhat short of the grandeur quarterback Brett Hundley expresses in the trailer for Pac-12 Networks' The DriveHundley mentions playing in a Rose Bowl and pursuing a national championship. 

Indeed, the program's first conference championship since 1998 is one expectation the team has not shied away from discussing.

"We feel like we've taken another step up," Mora told Dan Greenspan of the Associated Press

Taking another step last season meant winning 10 games, a program-best since 2005. In the coming season, another step means joining college football's elite.

Doing so won't be easy. UCLA plays one of the more difficult schedules in the Pac-12, drawing each of the North Division's top three teams from a year ago: Oregon, Stanford and Washington.

Competing for the Pac-12 Championship means the Bruins must go 2-1 against their divisional competition to ensure that they lock up the South Division.

Competing for a national championship means securing an invitation to the inaugural College Football Playoff. A Pac-12 Championship might seem like a golden ticket into the tournament, though the formula may not be that simple.

Stanford won back-to-back conference titles in 2012 and 2013, sporting two losses each season. The Cardinal were ranked No. 6 in the final BCS standings of 2012 and No. 5 last year.

Thus, precedent suggests anything worse than a one-loss season will have the Bruins on the outside of the College Football Playoff looking in. Should UCLA go 2-1 against the North, it must then run the table against Arizona, Arizona State, Texas and USC—teams that won a combined 36 games in 2013.

Star players will be crucial to UCLA's pursuit of a championship, but not burdening them too much with expectations is of equal importance.

Consider sophomore linebacker Myles Jack. His star turn as a two-way playmaker last season earned him Pac-12 Defensive and Offensive Freshman of the Year, but this year presents Mora and his staff with a dilemma.

Jack is central to the Bruins meeting their expectations, so striking the right balance between his defensive and offensive contributions is a delicate act. Mora explained this on the May 1 teleconference call:

I don't plan on minimizing him. He's a really good football player and we're going to get him the ball in as many ways as we can, but we don't want to ever take away from what he means to our defense because he's a truly special linebacker. 

Jack played offense exclusively in the Bruins' 38-33 loss to Arizona State. While the UCLA offense needed his presence at running back, the defensive void was evident in the first half. The Sun Devils blindsided the Bruins with 35 first-half points and built a gap UCLA never quite bridged.

The loss cost UCLA a second straight Pac-12 South Championship.

"We'll never do that again," Mora said of using Jack exclusively on offense.

Jack again excelling as a two-way player is a realistic expectation—just within moderation.

"As far as my running back role, it'll come down to situations. We have good running backs," Jack said. "Coach Mora views me as a defensive player, so he's going to make sure my offense doesn't sacrifice my defensive production."

In much the same way Mora and his staff cannot rely too heavily on Jack, the same is true for Hundley. The redshirt junior quarterback is indeed the catalyst of offensive coordinator Noel Mazzone's uptempo scheme, but is at his most effective with another standout helping to shoulder the load.

Hundley rushed for a team-leading 748 yards in 2013 and also passed for 3,071 yards.

His run output more than doubled from 2012, a byproduct of the same circumstances that forced Jack onto the offensive side. Conversely, Hundley passed for almost 700 fewer yards than in his freshman campaign.

Hundley's rushing stats may drop in 2014 if a consistent No. 1 running back emerges, but there's plenty of room to produce even gaudier passing numbers.

With a deep receiving corps and another year of experience under his belt, more effective passing from Hundley isn't just a possibility—it should be an expectation.

 

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

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NCAA Makes NFL Player and Girlfriend Sign Affidavits for Relationship

The NCAA needs proof that people are dating for love, not the financial benefits.

Former Oklahoma center Gabe Ikard recently signed as an undrafted free agent with the Tennessee Titans, but he still has to worry about the NCAA. 

The Sooners have had their share of NCAA violations, although some of them have been laughable in recent years. The school's compliance department is taking no chances on having any preventable violations.

Ikard and his girlfriend are no strangers to sitting courtside at Oklahoma City Thunder games:

With that in mind, the NCAA needs to make sure that both Ikard and his girlfriend are in the relationship for love.

Before the 2014 NFL draft, the Academic All-American shared an interesting tidbit during his interview with WWLS' The Morning Animals, via SoundCloud:

Here's a bit of what he said, via SoonerScoop.com:

They did some digging and I’m actually compliant official with my girlfriend. We had to sign a signed affidavit that she was not dating me just because I was a football player.

They kind of drafted it themselves. I said she just likes big guys, just accept it.

Ikard was also able to use Oklahoma's pasta scandal to his advantage:

(Olive Garden) asked me if I was doing a draft party or having a get together and I said I was doing a little party after the draft and they volunteered to cater it for free. It’s the power of Twitter man. It’s kind of sad but that’s really the truth. I got connected with them during the pastagate thing and I’ve kept a relationship with their social media staff. 

Even after college, the NCAA can still be an issue for athletes.

[H/t Fox Sports]

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Why SEC Football Teams Should Sell Beer at Football Games

College football, and spectator sports in general, are constantly fighting the battle against 70" flat screens, 11-step commutes to the bathroom and the lure of the La-Z-Boy.

What could help SEC stadiums keep fans in the seats rather than in their man caves?

Beer. Lots and lots of beer.

According to Glenn Guilbeau of USA Today, LSU athletic director Joe Alleva hopes that the SEC will lift its rule prohibiting member institutions from selling beer at athletic events in general seating areas.

"As we talk about the fan experience, which is very important, I think there may come a day that we may sell beer at college events at LSU," Alleva said on Monday, according to Guilbeau. "I think at some point—I don't know if it will be five years from now, 10 years from now—but I think at some point, I think it's going to happen."

Sound risky?

Of course it does.

Allowing alcohol sales in football stadiums in the SEC will, in theory, increase drunken behavior, something that colleges and private security firms work against at every stadium in the conference.

But let's be real, if you're an athletics director, you'd rather fans have access to beer or wine legally within the stadium than have them sneak hard liquor in, which happens everywhere. 

Sure, the liability would be huge, and you'd have to pay more for added security and insurance. But the end result would be a safer and more fan-friendly game experience.

West Virginia started selling beer inside Milan Puskar Stadium in 2011, and the number of game-day arrests dropped by 35 percent, according to the WVU police department (via Freakonomics).

Selling alcohol in the stadium will discourage fans from breaking the rules and bringing in the harder stuff. Adding more security would also create a safer environment.

There could be a financial benefit too.

According to the Associated Press (via The Charleston Gazette), West Virginia made nearly $520,000 off beer and wine sales in its first season selling. The University of Minnesota also recently allowed beer and wine sales at TCF Bank Stadium. Despite losing $16,000 in its first season selling in 2012, it spent $30,000 in startup costs, according to Kyle Potter of the Associated Press (via the St. Paul Pioneer Press)

It should happen in the SEC, which is reviewing its alcohol policy for neutral-site games this spring, according to AL.com.

Or, at the very least, athletic departments should have the option to sell if they feel like it's a good move for the fans and for the bottom line.

It would be a win-win. It'd help keep those bottom lines healthy and fans would be more willing to not only come to games but stay inside the stadium rather than hitting the tailgates early. 

 

Barrett Sallee is the lead SEC college football writer for Bleacher Report. 


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With Notre Dame Partnership, ACC Football Smart to Use SEC League Game Model

If the ACC's proposed scheduling model sounds a lot like the SEC's proposed scheduling model, it's because it is.

Jeremy Fowler of CBSSports.com reported on Monday that there is "significant support" among ACC athletic directors to stay at eight conference games. Faculty athletic representatives are expected to ratify the decision either Tuesday or Wednesday, though ESPN's Brett McMurphy tweeted that the vote has already been cast in favor of the status quo. 

The apparent requirement, however, is that ACC teams must schedule at least one team from the so-called "power five" conferences each year. 

(How that is enforceable for either the ACC or SEC will be interesting to follow.)

Similar to the SEC, this changes little for the ACC. Teams like Louisville, Clemson, Georgia Tech and Florida State already have longstanding rivalries with teams in power five conferences. And since Notre Dame will play five ACC opponents every year in football as part of a scheduling agreement, the Irish will "count" toward that requirement. 

From Fowler: 

League officials have been asked to consider a model similar to the SEC's – an eight-game conference schedule, plus the guarantee of at least one game against another power conference. Many ACC schools already do this.

Notre Dame's commitment of five ACC games per year lessens the pressure to jump to a nine-game format, which the Pac-12 and Big 12 already use. The Big Ten will begin a nine-game schedule in 2016.

Fowler tweeted separately that, although the ACC would never admit it, support for eight conference games is bolstered by the SEC's model. 

With several longstanding out-of-conference rivalries and the addition of Notre Dame fitting the description of an acceptable opponent, there's almost no incentive for the ACC to move to a nine-game conference schedule. The only way that would change is if an ACC team is, somehow, left out of the College Football Playoff because of an eight-game conference slate.

The ACC is the latest conference to wait and see just how the CFP selection committee weighs factors like strength of schedule. The overwhelming vibe seems to be that if conferences don't have to change their philosophy, then they won't. 

Samuel Chi, B/R's resident playoff guru, writes that other major conferences shouldn't lend the SEC—and, perhaps now, the ACC—a helping hand with the nonconference scheduling requirement. "The SEC wants to have its cake and eat it, too," Chi wrote. "The other conferences shouldn't lend it a fork."

It's an interesting point of view. It could also show that college football needs a commissioner—and it needed one yesterday. Not NCAA president Mark Emmert, who doesn't have much in the way of individual power; his job is to speak and act on behalf of the membership. Rather, college football needs someone who can approve or deny things like realignment, make conference schedules equal across the board and approve playoff access criteria. 

If the five most powerful conferences are granted autonomy within the NCAA, there would be no better time to add a commissioner for that group.

But that's wishful thinking. Conferences have the ability to act by themselves and in their own best interest. For the ACC, that means staying at eight conference games and forcing the selection committee to prove it needs to adapt. 

It's hard to blame them, too. 

 

Ben Kercheval is a lead writer for college football at Bleacher Report. All quotes cited unless obtained firsthand. 

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The Unique Pressures of Being a Superstar Legacy College Football Recruit

In the end, there was never a lot of doubt where Mitch Hyatt would play his college football.

The seeds were sown long ago. It was just a matter of Clemson harvesting them.

When Hyatt announced his commitment to the Tigers on the evening of February 5, a full year before he could officially sign a national letter of intent, it was the culmination of a process that began 35 years ago when Dan Benish walked onto Clemson’s campus as a defensive tackle signee.

Benish, Hyatt’s uncle, loved his time at Clemson, helping the Tigers win their only national championship in 1981.

Now fans hope Hyatt can live up to the high standards that his uncle set. The expectations are certainly high already. Hyatt—a Suwanee, Georgia, native—is rated as the nation’s No. 4 overall prospect and No. 2 offensive tackle, per 247Sports.com.

By committing to Clemson, Hyatt put extra pressure on himself. But it’s the only place he really wanted to be.

“He enjoyed himself, but he doesn’t enjoy that whole recruiting side of life,” said Hyatt’s North Gwinnett High School coach, Bob Sphire. “His whole thing with me was, ‘I know what I want to do, and I want to focus on helping North Gwinnett be as good as we can be this fall.’ By going to Clemson, getting that done, he can focus on us and his teammates.”

Hyatt had a laundry list of offers from the likes of Auburn, Florida, Georgia, Michigan, Miami, South Carolina, Southern California, Ohio State, UCLA and more.

But he never found anything quite as special to him as Clemson.

He grew up going to games with Benish, who played at Clemson from 1979-83 and spent four seasons in the NFL with the Atlanta Falcons and Washington Redskins.

“Going into it, Clemson had a clear head start,” Sphire said. “His association with Clemson, going to games growing up, being around the program. It was Mitch’s choice where he wanted to go. It wasn’t about where his uncle wanted him to go at all. He had a very great feel for Clemson already, a positive outlook on them.”

Sphire praised Clemson’s coaching staff for their recruitment of Hyatt (offensive line coach Robbie Caldwell was the recruiter of record).

“They went into the game with the lead,” he said, “and they didn’t screw it up. That’s for sure.”

Over an 18-month period, Hyatt visited numerous campuses, in Sphire’s words, “doing his due diligence.”

“He was going places and seeing things, but he kept comparing it to Clemson,” he said. “It never lost its luster for him. The shine never came off it.”

About a week before national signing day, Sphire said he could see Hyatt’s recruiting process drawing to a close.

“The whole community, I loved it,” Hyatt told 247Sports. “I went there for a visit for junior day and talked with coach (Dabo) Swinney face to face. He told me how the future would look if I went there, and I liked the plan. It seemed like it was for me.”

According to Sphire, Hyatt is a “quiet, unassuming kid” who didn’t truly enjoy the recruiting process and “is not a recruiting thrill-seeker at all. ... He’s not geared for getting on a plane and going to see Oregon’s uniforms.”

So Hyatt approached him with a plan. North Gwinnett typically honors its seniors who have signed scholarships on the evening of national signing day, a big event for the community.

How would everyone feel if he announced his choice that night? “I thought it was a great time to do it then,” Sphire said. “He didn’t want to steal thunder from the seniors, but we’re a tight-knit team and they were tickled to have Mitch as a part of that. We thought it was the right thing to do with the community, too. Everyone loves Mitch and looks up to him, thinks the world of him.”

So Hyatt announced for Clemson, giving the Tigers’ 2015 class a huge boost just as the calendar turned to officially start the new cycle.

“I wanted to go under the radar,” he toldThe Atlanta Journal-Constitution. “Everyone was focused on the signings, so I wanted to slip in there, tell them, keep it under the radar.”

Committing early also allowed Hyatt to recruit for Clemson, trying to convince other elite players to jump on board with the Tigers. Since then, Clemson has also received a commitment from 4-star offensive tackle Jake Fruhmorgen.

Hyatt currently stands 6’5”, 271 pounds, also plays basketball and even dabbles as a defensive lineman.

“I think he’s the total package,” Sphire said. “He’s pretty good in all phases of the game and extremely athletic for the size he has. He’s effective as a run-blocker, a pass-blocker, can really play out in space and go out on screens. Some linemen are really good maulers in the run game or pass sets, but he does everything well. He finishes every play, every drill, he’s extremely coachable and has football intelligence.”

And the best is yet to come, Sphire said.

“Once he gets to college, they’ll put about 20 pounds of quality weight on him, beef him up, change him physically,” he said. “With his footwork, his demeanor, he understands the game of football really well. In terms of a lot of the things we do (with a spread offense) he’ll transition to the college game really well.”

He’ll do so while playing on the same field where his uncle played 30-plus years ago, hoping to lead Clemson to similar glory.

It’s a tough assignment, but one that Mitch Hyatt has fully embraced.

 

*Unless otherwise noted, all quotes for this article were obtained directly by the author.

Connect with Greg on Twitter @gc_wallace

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