NCAA Football News

Nebraska Football: Spring Practice Position Battle Tracker

Nebraska football fans know that one of the best parts of spring is watching position battles, trying to get an idea of who will be starting in the fall and leading the Cornhuskers (hopefully) to gridiron glory.

While the starters at some positions are relatively obvious, there are a number of ongoing battles. Make no mistake, starting jobs will be won by performances in spring and fall practice.

Here are five position battles that are still in various stages of play. 

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Florida Gators Football: Will This Be the Season of a 1,000-Yard Wide Receiver?

One of the most mind-boggling stats involving the Florida Gators is that the program hasn’t produced a 1,000-yard receiver since Taylor Jacobs in 2002. That’s more than a decade ago. Just sit back and let that soak in for a few minutes.

To put that in a little better perspective, 2002 was the year Kelly Clarkson won the first season of American Idol. She’s now working on her seventh studio album, and the popular television series is still running strong. On a football scale, 44 receivers last season topped the 1,000-yard mark, and four of them were in the SEC.

Just think of all the great recruits to come through Florida over the years and all the solid pass-catchers. From Percy Harvin to Aaron Hernandez to Louis Murphy, none have come close to reaching the four digits. Riley Cooper has come the closet to reaching the mark, as he finished with 961 receiving yards in 2009. Heck, a Florida receiver hasn’t even cracked 600 receiving yards in the last five years.

Will this be the year Florida has an elite receiver who can take over games single-handedly?

It’s probably best to think baby steps after Florida finished last season ranked dead last in the SEC in total offense. Jeff Driskel remains a question mark at quarterback, and offensive coordinator Kurt Roper is entering his first season with the club. It’s also nearly impossible to forget that the Gators have countless receivers jockeying for the position after nobody emerged as the go-to guy.

This looks like a recipe for another year added to such a bizarre streak. This has got to be a statistic that could stump the Schwab.

Ahmad Fulwood, a receiver who is fighting for a starting job this spring, recently addressed this issue to Thomas Goldkamp of 247Sports:

I'm sure every team would like that (600-yard guy), but we're all right now just trying to contribute as much as possible, Fulwood said. If we have eight 300-yard receivers, that's just as good as having one 600-yard receiver.

Fullwood has got a point. After all, LSU's Jarvis Landry, Texas A&M's Mike Evans and Vanderbilt's Jordan Matthews put up eye-popping receiving numbers last season, and none of those programs reached the SEC Championship Game. Meanwhile, the Missouri Tigers had three receivers with more than 600 receiving yards, and they ended up being the surprise team in the SEC.

So, maybe the 1,000-yard thing is overrated a little. Still, it’s an individual goal that’s cool to fulfil and has turned into a streak that has to be broken sooner or later, right? Florida brings in too much talent each season for such a drought.

If you’re somebody hoping this streak gets put to bed soon, you may be in luck with Roper calling the shots as offensive coordinator. Roper is a coach who works with what he has and harps on his players’ strengths over and over until the defense figures out a way to stop it.

Last season, Jamison Crowder, a Duke receiver who topped 1,000 yards, caught 108 of the team’s 298 receptions. That’s good for a little over 36 percent of the Blue Devils' passing game. In 2012, Duke had two receivers top 1,000 yards (amazing, right?), and those two guys combined for more than 45 percent of the team’s receptions.

In other words, if Florida can find that one receiver who can separate himself from the pack, there’s a good chance this statistic won’t pop up on Jeopardy.

While Andre Debose has a chance to finally thrive in his last season, the player with the best chance of becoming that true game-breaker is sophomore Demarcus Robinson. Forget last year's suspensions and the disappointment—Robinson has made the coaching staff proud during spring practice and has coach Will Muschamp bragging a little, according to a Goldkamp report:

I think he has done some fantastic things in the passing game, Muschamp said. He’s an explosive receiver. He’s a tough match one-on-one because of his size, his athleticism. He’s got really good ball skills down the field.

I think, again, sometimes (it takes) maturing a little bit. We mature at different times. I think we’ve seen some strides there.

Robinson has elite receiver written all over him. You know, the type of talent it would take to reach the 1,000-yard plateau. With his size, hands, speed and the fact he’s going up against a top tier cornerback in Vernon Hargreaves III in practice, there’s no excuse for Robinson not to blossom into an all-conference receiver.

So, when will this streak become a thing of the past? Who knows? What I do know is that Florida has easily its most talented receiver on campus since Harvin and an offensive coordinator who knows how to put guys in position to thrive. 

Why not this season? 

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

11 College Football Teams That Give Opposing Quarterbacks Nightmares

Even in today’s era of dominant offenses in college football, certain defenses still leave opposing quarterbacks—and offensive coordinators—waking up with night sweats before big games.

Defenses can be dangerous to quarterbacks for several reasons—strong secondary play, takeaway ability, pass rush or ability to turn offenses into single-minded attacks.

Programs like Alabama, Stanford and LSU continue winning in volume with help from dominating defenses and power run games.

It’s no coincidence all three will find their names on this list.

However, the old cliché about defense winning championships no longer holds water.

Virginia Tech, for instance, fielded one of the strongest defenses in the nation this year. Yet the Hokies could never find consistent answers on offense and, therefore, finished the season 8-5.

That Michigan State struggled to a 7-6 campaign in 2012 wasn’t indicative of the team’s strong defensive prowess but rather its offensive ineptitude. The Spartans found a better, more polished attack in 2013. They won the Big Ten—and the Rose Bowl—as a direct result.

In other words, finding dominant defenses is no longer a matter of simply perusing the win-loss records of teams. More complicated factors must be examined instead—such as the ability to get after the passer, ability to create turnovers and a proven knack for holding teams below their season passing averages. 

With that in mind, this is a list identifying the 11 defenses most capable of making life difficult for opposing quarterbacks. This list examines teams that will scare quarterbacks in 2014—not which defenses scared them in 2013.

Arizona State and South Carolina would have been ranked highly if this was a 2013 list. Both lost so many players—and so many impact players—that reloading seems like a tremendous challenge.

Here is our list: 

 

All stats courtesy of http://www.cfbstats.com/2013/national/index.html.

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Ranking the Top 25 Freshmen Heading into the 2014 College Football Season

The last two Heisman Trophy winners have been freshmen. Redshirt freshmen, but still players in their first year of college football.

Who's to say this isn't the start of an annual trend, as it's starting to become in college basketball, that the best players in the game are often the ones with the least experience at that level?

Impact freshmen are a big part of college football nowadays, and this year shouldn't be any different. Dozens of the top recruits from the 2013 recruiting class saw significant time last season, and the same will likely happen this fall.

But there's also a solid crop of players who redshirted last year. Now with a full year of practice and development under their belts, they are ready to run, throw and tackle wild.

Here's our look at the top 25 freshmen heading into the 2014 season, factoring in their chance to start and make an instant impact. Becoming Heisman-worthy is entirely optional.

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Penn State Football: Grading Each Early Enrollee's Spring Performance

The bulk of Penn State's 2014 recruiting class isn't on campus yet, but the players who are have already been put to work. 

In January, the Nittany Lions welcomed five early enrollees—defensive tackle Tarow Barney, quarterback Michael O'Connor, wide receiver De'Andre Thompkins, defensive tackle Antoine White and offensive tackle Chasz Wright. All five are currently taking classes and participating in spring practices under the tutelage of new head coach James Franklin.  

While the adjustment period has been easier for some, the group in general has done a relatively good job. Some have even raised enough eyebrows to warrant consideration for regular playing time come August. 

When grading how each player has performed this spring, those two factors were taken into consideration—how well they've acclimated themselves to life in college, and their level of play on the field. 

Here's how each early enrollee has fared so far this spring.

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Big Ten Football: Updating Every Team's Quarterback Situation

It might seem as if college football is the sport farthest removed from springtime, but the most dedicated college football fans know that a team's fortunes can be won or lost during spring football practices, especially when it comes to the quarterbacking situation.

Quarterbacks are often the difference between winning and losing in today's game.  Even in April, coaches, fans and the media keenly watch for any signs of instability or change at the position.

With quarterbacks being so critical to the success of college football teams, it might be a good idea to get an idea about where each Big Ten team stands as we begin 2014 spring football in earnest.

Class years reflect the player's 2014 status.

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Michigan Football: What Should Fans Expect from Amara Darboh in 2014

Think of Amara Darboh as a figment of the imagination.

Time-wise, he’s approaching year No. 3 at Michigan—the 6’2,” 214-pound redshirt sophomore receiver signed with the 2012 class, coach Brady Hoke’s first.

But playing-wise, he’s been absent.

However, it hasn’t been his fault.

As a true frosh, Darboh played four games but was essentially shelved for later use.

When it came time for later use, an injury to his right foot—one which required surgery—threw the sophomore into a wayward course of recovery and waiting.

Then there was more recovery accompanied by more waiting.

Time-wise, he’s certainly due for something.

Team 135 will need at least that, especially since Jeremy Gallon’s career has come to an end. After a record-setting senior season, "Mr. Security Blanket" is NFL-bound.

Needless to say, the Wolverines are on an active search for their next play maker—and plenty of talent resides within their wideout depth chart.

Devin Funchess, a junior, could outgrow his conference star-in-the-making status and enter the national realm.

A close-to-proven commodity, Jehu Chesson, is also on the ascent. The redshirt sophomore will likely be on the end of several plays this fall. 

Assuming he makes a healthy return, sophomore Jake Butt should take a prominent role in the passing game. He’s a tight end. But why nitpick? He can catch, and Doug Nussmeier, the offensive coordinator, needs guys who can do that, regardless of position title.

Freddy Canteen, a true frosh, has impressed during spring drills. At the moment, he’s among contenders for a regular gig.

Another "up-sider," Drake Harris, Canteen's fellow early enrollee, was supposed to provide a boost to the receiving corps. However, due to a hamstring injury, 2013’s "Prize of Michigan" recruit will likely miss the rest of spring, including Saturday’s scrimmage at "The Big House."

Michigan has a lot in the cupboard. But Nussmeier and Hoke need a hero to get things cooking.

So why not Darboh? He’s completely willing to step into the mix. However, according to his coaches, he's not yet ready.

“Right now I feel like I’m 100 percent, but they’re keeping me out,” said Darboh to MLive.com’s Kyle Austin. “By the time fall camp comes around I should be 100 percent.”

Offensive progress hinges on the fingertips of the receivers. A challenging hand was dealt to Darboh, but don't discard him just yet. He represents a fraction of Michigan's untapped talent. 

 

Darboh Refresher

Hello... again... 

In the recruiting world, "a few years ago" seems like forever. Basically, anything that's not at least a year ahead of the current class is old news.

That being said, Michigan’s gone through some changes since 2012. For Darboh, the biggest change, of course, has to be the swapping of OCs—going from Al Borges to Nussmeier could present a few roadblocks.

Or it may open up things for the eager, former West Des Moines Dowling Catholic star looking to make a name for himself this fall. 

But before that conversation gets started, take a second to get reacquainted. Please find the following table useful while doing so.

Here's the link to his 247Sports profile. 

What Can He Do?

The following video from YouTube user kdutch98 looks about right...

It's a fair question...

What does he bring to the table? 

He's big.

But he's not a Megatron-like target.

At 214 pounds, he has enough mass on his 6'2" frame to absorb a few tackles and break through linebackers and defensive backs. With a 4.42-second 40-yard dash, he has the speed to get away from them, too. 

Pegging him as a sideline specialist seems about right. He's nimble and has reliable mitts. Those guys move chains and use every last horizontal inch of the field. 

But he can get vertical as well. 

The following report is from Allen Trieu of Scout.com.

Above average size and speed ratio. Maybe not a burner, but has solid deep speed. Excellent hands, ball skills, and ability to go up and get the ball in traffic. He tracks the ball well and has good body control. After the catch he has good ability and is a pretty strong kid that can break tackles in the open field. - Allen Trieu

Sold. 

All of that sounds perfect. Michigan will take two. 

What's not to like about Trieu's assessment? It gives reason to anticipate Darboh's arrival. However, he has zero catches for zero yards and zero touchdowns. As mentioned above, he's played just four games as a receiver. 

Thanks to special teams, his three-year resume boasts all of 11 games. 

 

Quality, Not Quantity 

Former OC Al Borges saw Darboh's potential from the start...

OK, so basically, Darboh is unproven stock. But if Hoke and Nussmeier invest proper resources, they could be in for a surprising return in 2014. 

Sometimes, the best and most useful players don't lead on the stat sheet. That much was true for Butt, who slipped into the rotation on a regular basis after a late-season surge. Statistically speaking, Gallon, who reeled in 89 receptions for 1,373 yards and nine touchdowns, was Michigan's "leader and best" in 2013. 

But there's a strong argument for Funchess, who finished the year with 49 catches for 748 yards and six touchdowns. Gallon was the go-to, but Funchess, who is 6'4" and 230 pounds, was a great bailout option for Gardner, who could find a similar friend in Darboh this fall. 

It's not all about numbers. Inflated values mean nothing when compared to efficient, steady production. 

Imagination time is about to expire. Darboh is a concept-player who's one step closer to becoming a finished product.

 

Follow Bleacher Report's Michigan Wolverines football writer Adam Biggers on Twitter @AdamBiggers81

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Ohio State Football: Spring Practice Position Battle Tracker

The Ohio State Buckeyes need 10 new starters for the 2014 season and with spring practice winding to a close, the competition is heating up.

While the Buckeyes are fortunate to return senior quarterback Braxton Miller, Urban Meyer will need to replace Carlos Hyde (the team's leading rusher), Corey Brown (the leading receiver) and Ryan Shazier (the top tackler), along with a host of leaders from the offensive line and secondary.

Here's a breakdown of Ohio State's spring position battles.

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Notre Dame Football: Spring Practice Position Battle Tracker

SOUTH BEND, Ind.—We’re closing in on the Blue-Gold Spring Game, meaning it’s an appropriate time to take stock of various position battles.

There’s obviously still the caveat that we’re roughly five months away from the season opener and things will undoubtedly change but let’s take a look at what we’ve learned so far and try to understand how things look right now and how they could look come Week 1.

 

*All quotes obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted.

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Scouting Report, Video Highlights and Predictions for 5-Star Martez Ivey

Martez Ivey is a 5-star offensive tackle who is one of the most athletic blockers ever evaluated at the high school level.

The sky is the limit for Ivey, as he could develop into an All-American left tackle in college. His size and potential are just two of the many reasons college coaches are drooling over him, and he has offers from a ton of elite programs.

Ivey warrants an in-depth look as a prospect.

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Clemson Football: Week 3 Spring Practice Stock Report

The Clemson Tigers returned to the practice field last week for their second session of spring practice. It was perfect timing for the Tigers with their first scrimmage scheduled for Monday.

Monday's scrimmage was the coaches' first chance to see all three quarterbacks taking snaps in live action. Head coach Dabo Swinney was pleased with his team's first scrimmage, particularly the offensive line, per Clemson's official website:

The offensive line played with pride today and it carried over to everyone on that side of the ball. The defensive line got exposed in some ways. What was called an easy sack previously was not a sack today. 

Swinney's comments are surprising in the sense that it's the first time we've heard of the defensive line struggling at all this spring. It's good news for the offensive line, which was without two starters in the scrimmage. Center Ryan Norton and guard Eric Mac Lain both missed the scrimmage with injuries. 

Surprisingly, for the first time in Swinney's tenure as head coach, he kept the purple jersey off the quarterback, and defenders could hit the quarterback.

Why did Swinney allow his defenders access to the quarterback?

"It was good for both sides of the ball," Swinney told orangeandwhite.com

Swinney understands the need to simulate each scrimmage as close as possible to a game situation in order to fully evaluate all three quarterbacks. 

As far as allowing the defense to hit the quarterback, it was something Swinney said was done during his time as a player at Alabama. 

 

Three-Way Race at Quarterback Heats Up

Just last week, offensive coordinator Chad Morris said senior Cole Stoudt, sophomore Chad Kelly and freshman Deshaun Watson were in a "three-person race" to be the Tigers' starting quarterback, according to David Hood of TigerNet.com.

All three quarterbacks, plus redshirt sophomore Nick Schuessler—not a contender for the starting job—combined to go 27-of-48 for 379 yards and four touchdowns in Monday's scrimmage.

The biggest news from the scrimmage was that none of the four signal-callers turned the ball over in 100 total offensive snaps.

Swinney was pleased with his quarterbacks Monday, per Hood:  

We have good competition a quarterback. I have said before that I am not worried about that position this year. We have talented players at that position. Overall it was a good first scrimmage. There was back and forth. The offense would stand out, then the defense would come back strong. We hope all the players learn from today's scrimmage and come back next Monday even stronger. 

Yes, it was just the first scrimmage, but Swinney and Morris had to be happy with how efficient the quarterback group was. 

 

Young Wide Receivers Impressing

Germone Hopper, Charone Peake and Mike Williams were all expected to be big contributors in 2014 with Sammy Watkins and Martavis Bryant heading to the NFL. That still may be the case, but, for different reasons, only Williams has participated fully thus far in spring practice.

Peake tore his ACL last September and is still rehabbing. Fortunately for the Tigers, Peake was granted a medical redshirt last week and will now have two years of eligibility remaining. 

Hopper is another story. The super-talented Hopper is Clemson's best chance at a big-play threat this fall, but he first must take care of things in the classroom.

Last week, Swinney sent Hopper home for the remainder of spring practice to focus on his academics. It's a tough blow for Hopper as he is Clemson's second-leading returning receiver from a year ago. 

Suffice to say, Swinney was not pleased with Hopper (subscription required), per Scott Keepfer of the Greenville News:

He’s a good young man, talented, but not very focused or committed to doing what he needs to do academically. So I’m giving him some time to go focus at Vickery Hall. That’s what he’s going to be working on these next few weeks.

While Williams has been on the practice field, he struggled early on. Morris was disappointed with Williams during the first week of practice, but in recent days, Williams began to impress coaches. 

That has opened the door for three true freshmen who enrolled in January: Demarre Kitt, Kyrin Priester and Artavis Scott. 

Priester spent 2013 at prep school after failing to qualify academically last year. Both Kitt and Scott came to Clemson after graduating early.

With the attrition at the position, a door has opened for at least one of the young players to contribute immediately. 

According to Aaron Brenner of the Charleston Post and Courier, Swinney even compared Kitt to former Clemson star DeAndre Hopkins recently:

Demarre is going to remind a lot of people a little bit of a Nuk (DeAndre) Hopkins type of guy. He's not as long or gangly as Nuk, but he's slinky and smooth like Nuk. He's got a great knack for getting his body in position to make plays.

Senior Adam Humphries is the only sure thing among the receivers, and he isn't necessarily a big-play guy. Whoever plays quarterback is going to need someone to step up opposite of Humphries among this group of young and talented wideouts. 

 

MacKensie Alexander Has Coaches Excited

Every few years it seems like the Tigers land a transcendent talent. Whether it's C.J. Spiller or Sammy Watkins, Swinney has had no trouble landing some of the top players in the country.

Perhaps the player who most fits that bill on this year's squad is redshirt freshman cornerback MacKensie Alexander.

Alexander likely would have played as a true freshman, but an injury early in fall practice set him back and allowed coaches to bring him along slowly. 

It looks as if that move will pay off big for Clemson.

A 5-star recruit in 2013, according to 247Sports (subscription required), Alexander looks like he will fill Bashaud Breeland's shoes capably in 2014. 

Count defensive coordinator Brent Venables among those impressed, per Hood:

I would just say MacKensie is the one because we lost a couple of starters at a position where we're thin. He's had a nice first seven, eight practices. Adrian Baker has as well. They give you reason to believe by the end of fall camp that we'll have some guys ready to play, as far as guys who have not been on the field for us. 

Cornerback is not a position that is often conducive to early success. Players take their lumps early on. But Alexander has a year in the program under his belt, and going up against Watkins and Bryant in practice last year should benefit him in 2014. 

The Tigers are just over a week away from the annual spring game, but don't expect any answers at the quarterback position until the summer. For the receivers and the defensive backs, though, spring practice is an opportunity to separate from the competition. 

 

 

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Power Ranking Top 10 2015 Recruiting Classes Right Now

With April now upon us, recruiting is starting to move along in the 2015 cycle. Recruits are starting to form relationships and bonds with coaches, lists are on the verge of being narrowed, and summer visits are starting to be scheduled.

However, some prospects have sped up their process to a point where they're already committed to a school. With commitments comes the forming of recruiting classes, and with the forming of recruiting classes comes the need for those classes to be ranked.

Looking at the top recruiting groups right now, several are from the SEC. However, a Big Ten school not named Ohio State or Michigan is coming on strong, plus a surprise school from the Big 12 has one of the better classes in the country.

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10 College Football QBs with Most to Prove in 2014 Season

Few spotlights are brighter in football than the one fixated on the quarterback. More often than not, the quarterback receives more praise than he deserves and more blame than is warranted. 

In the offseason, the quarterback competition garners the most attention. In the fall, the position is one of the biggest storylines.

As such, plenty of quarterbacks have a lot to prove in 2014. Whether it's staying healthy, fending off competition or winning a first-ever conference championship, all of the following signal-callers have something to aim for this year. 

Which quarterbacks have the most to prove?

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Miami Football: Al Golden Sending Message with Leadership Shakeup

Earned. Never Given.

The famous United States Marine Corps slogan is a mantra various individuals surely have followed, and it's applicable to what Al Golden has done with the Miami Hurricanes football team.

Playing football has few direct comparisons to serving in the military, but one such shared trait is leadership. Where the armed services have different ranks, Golden and his coaching staff present the 'Canes' hardest workers with orange and black jerseys, signifying offensive and defensive leaders respectively.

Denzel Perryman, Raphael Kirby, Stacy Coley and Ereck Flowers—who are each expected to be key contributors during the 2014 season—have been mainstays in the coveted colors throughout the spring.

However, following Miami's first scrimmage, Tracy Howard, Alex Figueroa, Thurston Armbrister, Gus Edwards, Jon Feliciano and Danny Isidora were stripped of their status.

Four players are leading the charge for their respective positions and two are competing for valuable playing time, but Golden is sending a message by taking away specifically colored jerseys.

According to David Lake of 247Sports (subscription required), offensive coordinator James Coley said Edwards lost his orange jersey because "he had a couple of plays where we feel like he could have given a better effort."

Per Barry Jackson of The Miami Herald, defensive coordinator Mark D'Onofrio had a simple reason explaining why Howard and Figueroa lost the jersey, saying they were "not up to the standards" in the scrimmage. "It's just about being consistent," D'Onofrio said. "We love Tracy. We want [the black jersey] to be something special. You've got to grade out higher to be at the level of a championship."

Howard has a habit of donning the black jersey, earning it as a freshman in 2012 and as a sophomore in 2013 before starting the 2014 spring with one. But after the 'Canes' best corner returned to the green jersey, it is still nowhere close to "freak-out time."

Considering many coaches will find details for a player to give extra attention and improve upon, losing the desired color is something foreseeable and not a major cause for concern. Golden, James Coley and D'Onofrio are delivering clear messages to their best players:

Get better.

D'Onofrio voiced the desire to mold championship-caliber athletes, and he believes Howard, among others, is not performing equivalent to his great abilities. Per Lake, Coley added that Edwards has improved specific parts of his game. Yet, the running back was still demoted.

Get better.

While the aforementioned players are being motivated by discipline, a handful of Miami players were rewarded for their recent performance. Following the weekend, coaches awarded Jermaine Grace, Earl Moore, Dallas Crawford, Artie Burns and Taylor Gadbois the first-team jerseys.

While somewhat overlooked in an important competition at linebacker, Grace is making plays and standing out to the coaches. Moore is stepping up at a position of need, and Crawford is executing while adjusting to a new position.

Per Jackson, D'Onofrio said Grace "made a lot of plays [in Saturday's scrimmage]. Didn't have mental errors. Has a ways to go, but doing a good job" and Moore "has been really consistent."

D'Onofrio continued, saying Crawford "did what I knew he would do when the lights went on. Physical guy. Great feel for playing the game. For what he's done in a 10-day period [moving over from running back] is really remarkable, not making mental errors."

In other words? They got better.

Note: As seen in the accompanying video, Crawford laid some absolutely brutal hits on senior RB De'Andre Johnson, which certainly helped his quest for the black jersey.

Most importantly, though, between previous and new wearers of black and orange jerseys, the Hurricanes are finding more leaders on the team. From seniors in Perryman and Rashawn Scott to sophomores in Stacy Coley, Grace, Burns and Gadbois, Miami has both veteran leadership and a youthful spark.

To steal another cliché, "competition breeds excellence." Looking back at previous years, the 'Canes have not had this level of competition at every position. It was relatively apparent who would emerge for a given starting job.

But this spring session is not the same. Golden isn't simply handing returning high-profile starters their jobs for the 2014 season. Every athlete must consistently outshine his competition.

Earned. Never Given.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Why Notre Dame Will Need to Use 2 Quarterbacks in 2014

Barring something unforeseen, Everett Golson will be the starting quarterback at Notre Dame next season. 

It matters not what talented freshman backup Malik Zaire might think—specifically that he will take the first snap against Rice in the season opener on Aug. 30—or what head coach Brian Kellymight insinuate. These are only words. The job belongs to Golson.

For now.

This seems fair given Golson's rosy on-field history. Before being suspended for academic misconduct last season, he led the Irish to an undefeated regular season, No. 1 BCS ranking and trip to the national title game against Alabama as a redshirt freshman in 2012. Those are not the credentials of a player who loses his job.

However, that does not mean Zaire will not have a role to play. A 4-star recruit in the class of 2013 who actually had a higher rating on the 247Sports composite than Golson did in 2011, Zaire almost certainly will factor into the Irish's plans next season—even if (when) he is named the No. 2 quarterback before Week 1.

This is nearly certain for more than one reason.

Kelly has a quick hook with quarterbacks who struggle, standing unafraid to replace a starter when he's playing poorly. For relevant examples, look no further than Golson himself when he was yanked in favor of Tommy Rees against Purdue, Michigan and Pittsburgh in 2012.

Golson also struggles to protect his body, making it through his redshirt freshman season without an extended absence but playing through ticky-tack pain during much of the schedule. He missed the BYU game entirely with a concussion and was slow to get up numerous other times throughout the year.

For these reasons alone, a betting man might wager on Zaire to play some meaningful snaps behind Golson next season. When the starter is prone to bouts of ineffective play and nagging injuries, the backup QB is almost as important as any other player on the roster. 

Even if Golson operates at a near-perfect level and stays healthy the entire season, though, Zaire still might have a role to play in this offense. Specifically in the red zone, his speed outside the tackles and mastery of the option offense—even compared to Golson, who is no slouch in these regards—might make Zaire a frequent offensive sub.

Writes B/R's Keith Arnold:

In a few open looks at the Irish last week, Zaire's striking athleticism was on display. Many marveled at the clear distinction between Zaire and Golson once they broke into the open field. Golson is a more than competent runner, leading the team in touchdown runs in 2012, but Zaire is electric, a far more dangerous playmaker in the open field.

One other area where Zaire would be a clear upgrade is in the option run game. If the zone read is going to anchor the Irish rushing attack this season, Zaire could be the better trigger man. After three years in a mostly running system in high school, he is a wizard in the option.

A few glimpses at the UND.com practice videos show a quarterback that could single-handedly fix the Irish's red-zone struggles with his running and ball skills. He's already showing a mastery of the fakes and deception that make the option so deadly around the goal line.

College football is slowly starting to age from the days of the platooning quarterback, but one player spelling another in the red zone is neither unheard of nor unwise. It worked well for Oklahoma in the final years of Landry Jones' tenure, when backup Blake Bell rushed for 24 touchdowns. Why shouldn't it work, even in sporadic doses, if employed next year at Notre Dame?

Those calling for Zaire to start outright in 2014 can't be blamed. His upside is considerable—higher than that of Golson—and the pluck he's shown in fighting for the job has been reassuring.

It's also a little short-sighted, however, and even hints a bit at being spoiled. Golson has never lost a regular-season game and engineered the nation's ninth most-efficient offense (per the Football Outsiders offensive F/+ ratings) as a freshman. Redshirt or no redshirt, that is pretty darn impressive. And yet still there is a faction of the fanbase eager to question his place on the field, the role he should play on next year's team. What more does the man have to do?

Zaire pushing Golson in camp should help both players improve this spring and fall, even if the competition is not as open as the quotes coming from South Bend seem to indicate. Either way, however, Zaire's performance will dictate the size of his impact in 2014—the amount of slack Golson is given each time he struggles; the number of Zaire-tailored packages included in the playbook each week.

There's a way for this spotlight to be shared.

 

Follow Brian Leigh on Twitter: @BLeighDAT

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AJ Harris Commits to Missouri: Tigers Land 4-Star OL

Versatile offensive lineman AJ Harris became the third member of Missouri's 2015 recruiting class Tuesday. The 4-star Kansas prospect unveiled the Tigers as his choice on Twitter:

Harris, a 6'4", 297-pound Blue Valley High School junior, is rated No. 17 nationally among offensive guard prospects in 247Sports' composite rankings. He pledged to the program during a campus visit in Columbia.

His offer sheet extends throughout various conferences and features Ohio State, Nebraska, Kansas State and Missouri. Harris picked up multiple scholarships following an impressive sophomore season.

"Missouri is getting a phenomenal player," Blue Valley head coach Eric Driskell told 247Sports reporter Keith Niebuhr. "He('s) an even better kid. He's a great young man, a great student."

Harris helped pave the way for an offensive attack that produced 5,000 offensive yards during a 10-win season, per Columbia Daily Tribune writer David Morrison. The campaign concluded with a state championship victory.

He joins 4-star junior college running back Chase Abbington and 3-star in-state standout Ryan Williams in the Tigers' 2014 class, which ranks 36th nationally in 247Sports' team ratings.

Harris is a stout run-blocker who uses tremendous upper-body strength to gain an early advantage. He does a good job with hand placement, which allows him to direct traffic up front.

The Tigers are attempting to beef up the offensive front while adjusting to life in the SEC. Missouri picks up a prospect who can play anywhere along the interior, including center.

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Texas AD Steve Patterson Not Interested in Renewing Rivalry Game vs. Texas A&M

Texas and Texas A&M played football against one another most recently—and perhaps for the final time?—in November 2011, before the Aggies decamped the Big 12 and found the greener pastures of the SEC.

Despite the incessant message-board bickering and lobbying from fans of the schools for the rivalry to be restored, Texas A&M athletic director Jason Cook said in November 2013 that he had no desire to play the Longhorns unless it's in "a BCS bowl or playoff," according to Brett McMurphy of ESPN.com.

On Tuesday, first-year Longhorns AD Steve Patterson confirmed that the feeling was mutual—at least at this current juncture.

Patterson's exact words, per Max Olson of ESPN.com:

There's a lot of great tradition with Texas A&M. At some point in time, does it make some business sense, some branding sense to play again? I don't know. It's not at the top of my list. I'm really more focused on how we grow the footprint of the department.

When he says "grow the footprint of the department," Patterson is likely referring to global expansion. Texas has not been shy in its attempt to build an international brand, Patterson himself having already scheduled a men's basketball game against Washington in China during 2015.

According to Kirk Bohls of the Austin American-Statesman, Patterson has also shown interest in scheduling football games in Mexico City, among other cross-border locales:

The Aggies and Longhorns played 118 games between the first on Oct. 19, 1884, and the last on Nov. 24, 2011. Since leaving the Big 12, Texas A&M has seen Johnny Manziel win the Heisman, scored 71 points in two games against Alabama, won the 2013 Cotton Bowl and slowly but surely begun to dominate recruiting in the Lone Star State.

Texas, it would reasonably seem, could stand to benefit from getting a shot to stunt the Aggies' momentum on the field.

Texas A&M, meanwhile, would definitely love to kick the Longhorns when they're down—something that rarely happens in the sport of football.

It seems like there should be an obvious solution between the teams: Just suck up your pride and play.

Unfortunately, as usual, it appears things are a little more complicated than they appear.

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Florida State Recruit's Campus Visit Was Highlighted by Meeting 'Red Lightning'

Florida State coach Jimbo Fisher shouldn't have much trouble recruiting players right now, but it looks like he may have a secret weapon at his disposal if all else fails.

Any player who visits Tallahassee has plenty to see. After all, it's home to the 2013 Heisman Trophy winner (Jameis Winston), and the Seminoles won the 2014 BCS National Championship.

Those two accomplishments should be enough to sell any wide receiver recruit. If those aren't good enough selling points, Fisher has the ability to bring out the ball boy to sell Florida State to recruits.

Four-star recruit Auden Tate was recently in town for his campus visit. It sounds like meeting the legendary "Red Lightning" was the highlight of Tate's visit, via 247Sports's Josh Newberg:

I looked over and (FSU ball boy) Red Lightning was hanging jersey’s. I recognized him and asked if I could get a picture. He’s real famous. He was real cool and I told him I saw him on the sidelines all the time on TV.

I told him to keep doing what he’s doing because he’s the best out there. Nobody is on his level right now.

The Seminoles apparently have a surprising recruiting tool. 

[Instagram]

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Why College Conference's Push for Autonomy Is NCAA's Best Option Against Union

As the NCAA fights battles on multiple fronts, the wise move would be to give some ground in order to stop the process that may ultimately lead to the destruction of its empire. The power players, composed of the five biggest conferences, have opened the door for concessions to be made, but it is on the NCAA to open the valve and release the pressure.

The NCAA's long standing course of action has been to dig in its heels, fight against change and dare anyone to contest its policies. Unfortunately for those who believe in the ideals of amateurism and view the NCAA as a positive group, digging in against the courts is more difficult than battling college kids on free tattoos, loans from agents or free shoes.

While the organization battles concussions, the O'Bannon lawsuit and eyeballs the appeal in the Northwestern union case, budging on the small things should take center stage. Especially because those small things align with the union desires, conference desires and would help slow the steady trickle of criticism that is eroding the NCAA's foundation.

Dennis Dodd of CBS Sports obtained a document that highlighted a list of desires. Desires that include lifetime education, more health and nutritional benefits, clearing up red tape surrounding sports agents and redefining what constitutes a scholarship, among other things. Desires that are remarkably pro player, yet do not come from the player side of the equation.

No, the push is still coming from the major conferences. The ACC, SEC, Pac-12, Big 12 and Big Ten are behind this strongly athlete-sided list of desires. The goals mesh with the language conference commissioners have used dating back to the 2013 media-days cycle. Despite being generated from the top down, the policies blend well with the Mission and Goals of the National Collegiate Players Association and the College Athletes Players Association.

NCAA President Mark Emmert has recognized, at times, the need for changes in an evolving landscape. As his organization takes on water from multiple punctures to the system's hull, his efforts to give have been met with grand resistance from the same schools from which the power conferences are pushing to separate. 

The players are asking for it. The conferences are demanding it. Here is a chance for the NCAA to split the difference with its players, providing some relief, while appeasing the most powerful member institutions. In a time where saving face is a must for a group that has been dragged through the mud, action to shift would help relieve some of the pressure.

As smaller factions hold back the NCAA's bigger programs by working against progress under the guise of equity, the NCAA itself is showing weaknesses at the seams. Forcing the agenda through, working to concede ground, in order to save the entity, is a must, and it starts with showing, by agreeing with the conferences, that concessions can certainly be made.

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Oregon Football: Ducks Show Up for Spring with Major Weight Changes

Oregon released an updated list of weights for its players on the morning of its first spring practice Tuesday, highlighted by a couple near-30-pound increases along with some smaller improvements from the Ducks' most important players.

Here is the complete list of notable changes, per Matt Prehm of Duck Territory on the 247Sports network:

Sam Kamp tops the list and jumps off the page for obvious reasons, having added 29 pounds from a season ago. Recruited as a sprightlier 240-pound, 3-star defensive end, Kamp now looks poised to crack the rotation at defensive tackle.

Also standing out is rising sophomore tight end Johnny Mundt, who added 20 pounds to his frame after a breakout freshman year that saw him replace troubled starter Colt Lyerla (who left the team after a cocaine arrest in October) and finish with 16 catches for 281 yards and three touchdowns.

Further but not far down the list lie some of Oregon's top projected contributors in 2014: Junior defensive lineman Arik Armstead gained 17 pounds, sophomore running back Thomas Tyner gained 14 pounds, senior cornerback Ifo Ekpre-Olomu gained 10 pounds and junior wide receiver Bralon Addison gained nine pounds.

The last two players listed above, Ekpre-Olomu and Addison, are arguably the most talented outside-the-numbers players on Oregon's offense and defense, respectively. Though their games are predicated more on speed and agility than power, putting on weight—provided it's the good kind—should help them build on 2013 and hold up better against physical teams (read: Stanford) this season.

Oregon will hold its spring game on Saturday, May 3 at 2:00 p.m. EDT

 

Follow Brian Leigh on Twitter: @BLeighDAT

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