NCAA Football News

Holy Cross Coaches Get Players Fired Up with WWE-Style Wrestling Match

In the College of the Holy Cross SummerSlam, Crusaders coaches turned the team huddle into a ring and had themselves a WWE-style wrestling match.

It was quite a show for the players.

Outside linebackers coach Alex Bresner (aka "The Marblehead Magician") and tight ends coach Steve Cully (aka "The Great Cullini") faced off in the huddle. Thankfully, running backs coach Jon Guynes was there to record it and then kind enough to share it for the world to see.

While there were some nice maneuvers throughout the match, it was the finishing move that sent the players into an absolute frenzy. 

[Jon Guynes, h/t Football Scoop]

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LSU Football: Depth Chart Analysis, Complete 2015 Preview and Predictions

After four straight 10-win seasons, LSU slid down to the middle of the road in the SEC West last year as two Mississippi schools made their rise.

LSU's 8-5 campaign was marked by bouts of frustration and promise on both sides of the ball—this was a program that dropped its first two SEC games but later knocked off a previously unbeaten Ole Miss team at home.

While the Tigers lost several defensive talents to the next level, most of the offense returns for what hopes to be a much better season in Baton Rouge. The biggest question at the most important role on the team will hang over Death Valley early in the season, but better performance could truly unlock the superstar talent at the skill positions.

On defense, the Tigers will have to battle some questions of their own in the wake of their coordinator's sudden move to a division rival. An elite unit still has room to improve, and several fresh faces could either make or break LSU's success in 2015.

What does the upcoming season hold for the LSU Tigers, a team fighting to get back into the championship picture? Here are Bleacher Report's complete preview and predictions for the Bayou Bengals.

 

Coaches

The biggest story in Baton Rouge this offseason was the departure of veteran defensive coordinator John Chavis to SEC West-rival Texas A&M. "The Chief" was the architect of several SEC-leading defenses during his seven-season tenure in Baton Rouge.

Fans saw Chavis' replacement, Kevin Steele, as an underwhelming hire. The former Alabama assistant hadn't been a coordinator since 2011, when his Clemson defense surrendered 70 points in his last game in charge. 

He also comes from a primarily 3-4 defensive system from his most recent job at Alabama, and the Tigers could start shifting from the 4-3 to that look as early as this season, according to James Smith of NOLA.com.

But Steele brings a lot of experience with him as an assistant at several college powerhouses and the NFL's Carolina Panthers, and he also brings new defensive line coach Ed Orgeron.

"Coach O" was a welcome move for the Bayou Bengals, as the former LSU player and veteran coach is known for his excellence at coaching defensive fronts, recruiting prowess and high energy.

"Our individual drills are NFL stuff and we start them full speed and end them even faster," defensive tackle Davon Godchaux said, per Ron Higgins of NOLA.com. "When we first started doing them at that speed, we were like, 'Is this man crazy?' Then we realized he's not crazy. ... He's coached players like Warren Sapp. When he hollers, I listen."

The other new addition to Les Miles' veteran staff is wide receivers coach Tony Ball, who has 30 years of experience coaching at the collegiate level. Ball came from Georgia, where he coached receivers for the last six seasons.

He will be tasked with helping offensive coordinator Cam Cameron reignite a dormant LSU offense that has plenty of potential. Like Orgeron, Ball is a high-energy presence for the Tigers.

"Coach Ball is more up-tempo," wide receiver Malachi Dupre told Ross Dellenger of the Advocate. "I don't want to say up in your face, but just more on the field…just has a lot of energy."

 

What to watch for on offense

Lackluster offense received most of the blame in LSU's 8-5 campaign last season, and the criticisms were plenty valid. The Tigers were ranked 13th in the SEC in scoring offense—only beating out cellar-dweller Vanderbilt—and were held to fewer than 14 points in three of their five losses.

The problems centered on the quarterback situation, and the battle between junior Anthony Jennings and sophomore Brandon Harris is still raging during fall practices. Neither signal-caller inspired much confidence last season as LSU had the worst passing attack in the entire conference at an average of only 163 yards.

While Jennings has more experience—Harris only attempted one pass after his abysmal start at Auburn last season—Miles recently said the sophomore is currently the leader for the starting job in 2015:

According to Bleacher Report's Christopher Walsh, Cameron said Harris has made "great improvement" this offseason, while Miles said the difference was "night and day" from the loss at Auburn.

If Harris can indeed be a stronger dual-threat quarterback for LSU this season, the Tigers have plenty of talent he can utilize in the skill positions.

Superstar sophomore running back Leonard Fournette, a former No. 1 overall recruit, will look to build upon his 1,034-yard freshman campaign with a season that could end with some major hardware. 

According to Odds Shark, Fournette is in elite company right now with the same Heisman Trophy odds as Auburn quarterback Jeremy Johnson, Clemson quarterback Deshaun Watson, Georgia running back Nick Chubb and USC quarterback Cody Kessler.

Fournette will be able to stay fresh in LSU's ground-and-pound offense this season with several talented backups, including Darrel Williams, Derrius Guice, Nick Brossette and David Ducre—a fullback who could also line up as a power running back.

"What we've always tried to do is have our backs be fresh, guys that could give their greatest effort on every play that they're in," Miles said, per Jim Kleinpeter of NOLA.com. "There's reason to say that Leonard could be that 20-carry (per game) back, but I think there's a point in time, too, where you don't want to wear him out, and you do not want an injury."

Travin Dural leads the receiving corps after catching 37 passes for 758 yards and seven touchdowns last season. Malachi Dupre and John Diarse are also set to return to their starting roles, and Miles said last month "you just can't afford to not play" Trey Quinn, per Dellenger.

On the offensive line, Vadal Alexander is back at right tackle after playing the last two seasons on the interior. Jerald Hawkins flipped to the quarterback's blind side at left tackle after nailing down the right tackle spot in 2013 and 2014.

"It's my natural position," Hawkins said, per Kleinpeter. "I love everything about it. I feel like I can be more physical than last year. I'm just trying to get better."

Junior Ethan Pocic will slide to left guard this season as redshirt freshman Will Clapp takes over at center. According to Kleinpeter, Pocic has the ability to play all five positions on the offensive line, and he'll be the leader for a unit that includes massive junior Josh Bouette at right guard.

 

What to watch for on defense

LSU has the starting talent to push through the transition it will have from Chavis to Steele, but depth could be an issue in a number of areas this fall.

The Tigers return defensive tackles Christian LaCouture and Davon Godchaux this season. Both players started double-digit games last season and will help shore up a defense that allowed 4.32 yards per carry in 2014.

Senior Quentin Thomas is back from injury to claim a key reserve role behind the two after the offseason departures of Maquedius Bain, Trey Lealaimatafao and Travonte Valentine. LSU will need bigger production from hyped underclassmen Frank Herron and Greg Gilmore.

Defensive ends are a different story, as the Tigers must replace their top performers in a unit that didn't get a ton of sacks last season. Miles has listed Tashawn Bower and Lewis Neal as his starting defensive ends, but a pair of true freshmen could easily break into the rotation this fall.

"We’re not going to be fearful to play some freshmen. This Arden Key, I think, is a guy we’re going to have to give a look to," Miles said, per Dellenger. "I like this Isaiah Washington, guy has more athleticism and speed. Gives us a chance to get on the field and pass rush. Arden Key has reminded to me of a young [Barkevious] Mingo."

Kendell Beckwith became an overnight sensation for the LSU defense at linebacker last season, starting the final seven games and still finishing second on the team in tackles. He also added 5.5 tackles for loss, three pass breakups and an interception.

Beckwith will most likely lead a four-man rotation at linebacker with fellow returning starter Lamar Louis and a combination of Deion Jones and Duke Riley. While it lacks established depth—reserve Devin Voorhees was moved from safety to linebacker this offseason—this unit has a ton of speed and experience.

LSU's defensive backs looked to be the deepest, strongest group on the team heading into the season, but a serious injury to senior safety Jalen Mills is a sizable loss at the moment for "DBU."

Rickey Jefferson is now set to be a starter in place of Mills, according to Dellenger, and he'll line up next to Jamal Adams, who started a pair of games as a true freshman last season. Corey Thompson will play behind the two safeties.

The cornerbacks took an interesting turn during fall practice as Dwayne Thomas has taken the lead for a starting spot opposite Tre'Davious White, per David Ching of ESPN.com. Thomas, a former dime back and safety, is still battling with highly touted underclassmen Ed Paris, Kevin Toliver II and Donte Jackson.

"I knew probably from Day 1 that I had to push these guys, but coming out here and making a lot of plays, I knew that Raymond would look towards me and be like he wants somebody out there that he trusts and that can be consistent and make plays," Thomas told Ching.

 

Injury news

The lone major injury at LSU right now is the one suffered by senior safety Jalen Mills, who has started three straight seasons for the Tigers.

Mills suffered an ankle injury in practice on Aug. 19, and the initial reports had him out for four to six weeks—leaving a possibility for a return in the SEC opener against Auburn.

But Miles said Tuesday that Mills underwent surgery on the injured leg and will be out for "at least six weeks."

"I’m still harboring personal feelings that we can get him back sooner rather than later," Miles said, per Dellenger. "We don’t know exactly how soon [he’ll return]."

Without Mills, the LSU defense loses its most experienced player and a leader in a secondary that ranked third nationally in passing yards allowed per game last season. LSU has some depth to manage without him, but Mills' extended absence is undoubtedly a big blow to the defense.

 

X-factor

Speed is the name of the game for LSU cornerback Donte Jackson, who was a borderline 4-star/5-star recruit in the class of 2015.

The athlete won Louisiana's state title in the 100-meter dash each of his last two years in high school—and his last win came with an unbelievable time of 10.30 seconds, per Sonny Shipp of 247Sports.

Jackson's elite gift makes him a strong candidate to play early and often at LSU, and coaches say he could play on offense, defense and special teams this season. He is currently in position battles at corner and returner.

"We look at what Patrick [Peterson] did in the NFL playing receiver, playing defense, and we kick ourselves," running backs coach and recruiting coordinator Frank Wilson told Kleinpeter. "We knew he had those abilities. ... Coach Miles made a vow not to let that happen again when we have someone with that type of ability. Certainly we see [Jackson] as that type of player."

Jackson will focus on being a defensive back first and foremost this season, especially with the shuffling the Tigers had to do in the wake of Mills' injury. But expect to see the coaching staff find ways to get this true freshman the ball in 2015.

 

Make-or-break games

LSU gets an early shot at revenge this season as it travels to Mississippi State in the second week of the season. After what should be a warmup win over McNeese State, the Tigers will open the SEC campaign against Dak Prescott and a reloading Bulldogs team in Starkville.

With a win over Mississippi State, the Bayou Bengals will have some momentum heading into their major home game against Auburn. A road loss, however, could line up a potential 1-2 start for Miles and Co. when Gus Malzahn's Tigers visit Death Valley in Week 3.

After what looks to be a manageable run through the middle of the season, LSU will get a big off week on Halloween ahead of its annual slugfest against Alabama. Both teams have question marks at quarterback, but they'll be more or less answered for a game that has gone in favor of the Tide four straight times.

While the Arkansas and Ole Miss contests will undoubtedly be important, put a special circle around the regular-season finale against Texas A&M—the "Chavis Classic." LSU will face its former defensive coordinator and look for a fourth straight win over the high-powered Aggie offense.

The emotions and bowl stakes should be huge for this contest, and it could play a major role in someone's title hopes.

 

Prediction: 9-3 (5-3 SEC)

With a decent quarterback, LSU's offense has the potential to bounce back in a big way this season. The Tigers have a Heisman contender at running back, several experienced receivers and a few veterans on the offensive line.

On defense, the depth issues are concerning, as LSU will open the season with only five returning starters and a brand-new coordinator. The talent up top is established, but several unproven players will have to grow up quickly in order for the Tigers to keep that elite level of defense going after Chavis.

The quarterback's performance in the Mississippi State game will have a big effect on how the SEC season shakes out for the Tigers, because Prescott still has several big-play weapons he can use in Starkville. An Auburn team that should be stronger on defense after a 41-7 win last season could be too much for a transitioning team early in the year.

Right now, with the quarterback situation still yet to be resolved and a few potential problems in the defense, I don't see this LSU team emerging as one of the top contenders in the SEC West. I have the Tigers falling to the top three teams in the division—Auburn, at Alabama and at Ole Miss—with home-field advantage winning out in matchups against Arkansas and Texas A&M.

What looks like a possible five-game winning streak in the middle of the season could spur LSU to pull off a win over the likes of Alabama or Ole Miss, but an early slump has the potential to lead into some tough home losses or surprise road defeats.

LSU will improve this season on offense and in the win column, but the changes on defense may hold the Tigers back from seriously contending for titles in 2015.

 

Recruiting information courtesy of 247SportsAll stats courtesy of cfbstats.com.

Justin Ferguson is a college football writer at Bleacher Report. You can follow him on Twitter @JFergusonBR.

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George W. Bush Shows Up to SMU Practice, Holds Up Play Card with His Face on It

Former President George W. Bush took some time to stop by SMU's football practice Tuesday. While there, he had some fun with one of the team's play cards.

The Mustangs, like many teams, use play cards for coaches to signal to the players on the field. Bush just happens to be featured on one of SMU's play cards, which led to quite the photo opportunity.

Hopefully, the Mustangs gave Bush a chance to see the play in action.

There was more than just play-card fun on this visit. The 43rd President of the United States also talked to the team at practice:

[Twitter, h/t Lost Lettermen]

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Will It Be Auburn or Florida State for 2018 QB Joey Gatewood?

With quarterbacks in 2016 and 2017 already committing at a rapid rate, a handful of elite passers in the 2018 class, such as Sunshine State standout Joey Gatewood, are drawing attention from college powers.

The 6’3”, 206-pound Jacksonville native already holds 30 offers heading into his sophomore season, but Auburn and Florida State have emerged as his two primary suitors.

According to Keith Niebuhr of AuburnUndercover, Gatewood has made plans to commit during the middle of this season.

“They exactly even,” Gatewood told Niebuhr. “Auburn—I’m big on Auburn. I always have been. I’m also big on FSU.”

So which school will be the eventual choice for Gatewood?

As Niebuhr details, his upcoming visits to both schools in the fall could play a major role in his decision.

Gatewood, who was a frequent visitor to FSU’s campus during the summer, will visit Tallahassee again next weekend for the Seminoles' home opener against Texas State.

He’s also scheduled two trips to Auburn for the Tigers' home dates against Mississippi State [Sept. 26] and Alabama [Nov. 28].

Another factor that could come into play would be the depth charts at each school.

Auburn recently earned a pledge from 2017 4-star quarterback Lowell Narcisse, which is something Gatewood admitted to Niebuhr that he’d like to discuss with Tigers head coach Gus Malzahn and his staff.

Meanwhile, Seminoles head coach Jimbo Fisher may elect to go a different route in his pursuit of Gatewood.

FSU has a commitment from 2016 4-star quarterback Malik Henry, but the Seminoles have yet to heavily pursue any top passers in the 2017 cycle—which paves the way for Gatewood to be the ‘Noles clear focus at the position in 2018.

“They [FSU] think they’re going to get me, so they’re not really recruiting a 2017 [quarterback],” Gatewood told Niebuhr. “They’re waiting on me."

Earlier in the summer, Florida State seemed primed to land a commitment from Gatewood.

Although he’s mentioned former Tigers star Cam Newton as a player he models his game after, Fisher’s history of developing quarterbacks could be the trump card that tilts the scales of his recruitment toward Tallahassee, as noted by Chris Nee of Noles247.

"The whole coaching staff was real easy to get along with,” Gatewood told Nee on his attraction to FSU. “They were nice people. Also, (head) Coach Jimbo (Fisher), he has some history behind him with quarterbacks. I also kind of want to stay in Florida." 

While Auburn has since made up ground on Gatewood, it would seem that the Seminoles are still in the driver’s seat to land his eventual pledge.

 

Sanjay Kirpalani is a National Recruiting Analyst for Bleacher Report. Unless otherwise noted, all quotes obtained firsthand and all recruiting information courtesy of 247Sports.

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How New DC Kevin Steele Will Revive LSU's Defense

Kevin Steele has a new role with the LSU Tigers, serving as their defensive coordinator.  Bleacher Report's Stephen Nelson and College Football Analyst Michael Felder discuss Steele and how his coaching techniques can potentially elevate this LSU defense.  

How well do you think LSU's defense will respond to Coach Steele?  Let us know below.  

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Insider Film Breakdown: Auburn's New-Look Defense Under Will Muschamp

Will Muschamp has a new team to prepare for this upcoming 2015 season. Bleacher Report's college football analyst Michael Felder breaks down Muschamp's approach with this Auburn Tigers defense.  

How well will the Auburn Tigers defense do this year? Tell us in the comment section below.  

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Texas A&M Football: Depth Chart Analysis, Complete 2015 Preview and Predictions

Remember when Texas A&M head coach Kevin Sumlin fielded question after question during the 2012 SEC media days over whether the Aggies could compete in the SEC? All A&M did that year was win 11 games and have a Heisman-winning quarterback in Johnny Manziel.

Since then, however, A&M's win total has declined each year. Entering a pivotal year four, Sumlin finds his team projected to finish next to last in the SEC West by the media. The reality is, in a stacked division in which all the head coaches are paid handsomely, someone is still going to finish (next to) last. A&M just hopes it's not them. 

But, with a high-powered offense and potentially rejuvenated defense, there is room for the Aggies to surge. Given that A&M doesn't even leave the state of Texas—note that this includes two neutral-site games—until the seventh game of the season, the schedule sets up well, too. 

What should you expect from the Aggies in 2015? We take a look in our complete team preview. 

 

Coaches

If you can't beat 'em, hire 'em. 

Easily, one of the biggest assistant coaching hires of the offseason was defensive coordinator John Chavis from LSU. As far as turnaround, Chavis can have a similar impact that co-offensive coordinators Sonny Cumbie and Doug Meacham had with TCU's offense in 2014. 

Not only did Sumlin swipe one of the top defensive minds away from a divisional rival, but Chavis had the magic formula to slowing down the Aggies offense. 

There's never a doubt that A&M's offense will be prolific, but what can Chavis do for the defense right away? This is a group that finished at or near the bottom of the SEC in major categories (points per game allowed, rushing defense, passing defense). Meanwhile, LSU routinely finished near the top of the SEC in points per game allowed under Chavis. 

However, the Aggies do have plenty of young talent, such as defensive end Myles Garrett, for Chavis to work with. 

We could look back six months from now and agree that Chavis was the best assistant coaching hire of the year. 

 

What to Watch on Offense

The heated quarterback battle between Kyle Allen and true freshman Kyler Murray was fun while it lasted. Ultimately, though, experience prevailed for Allen, a sophomore who started the final five games of the 2014 season.  

That doesn't mean Murray, a former 5-star recruit according to 247Sports, won't see the field at some point in the season, as Bruce Feldman of Fox Sports tweets:  

With the quarterback competition settled (for now?), A&M's offense is pretty much set. The wide receivers unit is talented and deep, led by Josh Reynolds, last season's leading receiver, and sophomore sensation Speedy Noil. Ricky Seals-Jones and Christian Kirk round out the starting line, which looks to be among the best in the SEC. 

Behind the starting four is a cluster of players who should see rotational time. Don't let the depth chart—which is unofficial, by the way—fool you; the difference between second and third string here is minimal at best. As Gabe Bock of TexAgs Radio tweets, plenty of guys are competing as backups: 

With leading rusher Tra Carson back for another year and center Mike Matthews anchoring the offensive line, A&M has the pieces in place to get back to the top of the SEC in offense. 

 

What to Watch on Defense

It starts with Garrett, who in 2014 broke Jadeveon Clowney's SEC freshman sack record with 11.5 sacks. Garrett is still improving on his overall game and should be a beast again, but his freshman effort is certainly a promising sign. 

“Obviously, he's gotten stronger,” Texas A&M defensive line coach Terry Price told Sam Khan Jr. of ESPN. “He's gotten healthier. He has done a better job at the point of attack. One of the biggest things we worked on this spring and this fall is hand placement ... and he’s worked hard at it, and he’s done a better job with his hands.”

However, despite having a pass rush that ranked among the best in the conference, A&M's pass defense left much to be desired. Only two teams—South Carolina and Vanderbilt—allowed more yards per attempt. Only Kentucky and Auburn allowed more passing touchdowns, and the Aggies recorded the fewest interceptions (five) of anyone in the SEC. 

So, theoretically, there's only way to go, right? It certainly can't get much worse. 

The good news is there's an anchor in the secondary despite the losses of Deshazor Everett and Howard Matthews. Armani Watts started from Week 1 as a true freshman and immediately had an impact, leading the team with eight pass breakups. 

The run defense, however, needs serious improvement after giving up five yards per carry and 23 touchdowns last year. As coordinator and linebackers coach, this will be Chavis' biggest area of concern. There's a lot of youth on the depth chart in the middle part of that defense—not to mention there were numerous injuries in the spring. There's a legitimate question over whether the run D will be fixed completely in a year's time. But if Chavis can knock that yards-per-rush average down a full yard—or even close to a yard—it will have been a successful year. ESPN's Khan explains: 

If the Aggies are to take a big step forward on defense, the linebackers have to be both healthy and consistently effective. With teams in the SEC West that run the ball effectively, which is almost the entire division, as well as downhill run teams like Alabama, Arkansas and LSU—there's nowhere to hide. 

The overall feeling is that if A&M's defense can even be in the middle of the pack in the SEC, the offense is more than capable enough of winning games. 

 

X-Factor

Sticking with the linebacker unit, Josh Walker gets the nod here. If A&M's defense is going to turn any type of corner this year, it has to be in the run D department. As the middle linebacker, this is where Walker can shine. Walker started four games as a freshman in 2014 and played in 10 games overall before suffering a season-ending foot injury.

The job of the middle linebacker these days is no longer defined by playing in a phone booth. Going sideline to sideline is a big part of defending today's spread offense. That said, performing in run defense is still a major part of the job. With Chavis overseeing linebackers, Walker is going to be working directly under one of the best defensive minds in college football. A breakout year for Walker would be huge for A&M's defensive efforts. 

 

2015 Schedule

 

Make-or-Break Games

Last year, A&M got off to a hot start by going on the road and beating South Carolina, a team projected to win the SEC East. Once again, the Aggies will be involved in a huge Week 1 game—but this time against an out-of-conference opponent. 

If the season opener against Arizona State in Houston isn't the single biggest game of the weekend, it's right up there. The Sun Devils are a trendy Pac-12 dark horse with, like A&M, a high-powered offense. Since A&M is not ranked in either preseason poll, a win here would be a huge boost to start the season. 

Though the season opener will be one of two neutral site games, the Aggies don't actually leave the state of Texas until Oct. 24 (at Ole Miss). Playing the Rebels on the road will be part of a critical stretch for A&M. In less than a month's time, A&M gets Alabama, Ole Miss, South Carolina and Auburn. 

Finally, the season-ending game at LSU will be huge. A&M is 0-3 versus the Tigers, but two of those losses have been decided by six points or fewer. With Chavis on the other sideline, can A&M finally topple LSU? 

 

Prediction

A&M won seven regular season games last year while going through a transition at quarterback and fielding an awful defense. With so many returning parts, the big difference is Chavis. What's he worth? One extra win? Two? That sounds reasonable, especially with a West division that could be wide open. 

The matchup against Arkansas could be tough because of how well the Hogs run the ball, and the annual game against Alabama is always huge. But I like the Aggies to pull off at least one win—be it against the Tide, Auburn or Ole Miss—that they're not supposed to. 

The SEC West looks to be ridiculously deep this year, and someone has to finish sixth. I just don't like that to be the Aggies. 

 

Overall Record: 9-3

Conference Record: 5-3

 

Ben Kercheval is a lead writer for college football. All quotes cited unless obtained firsthand. All stats courtesy of cfbstats.com

 

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Top 3 QB Recruits off the Board, Which 2017 Stud Will Commit Next?

Tennessee landed top-ranked 2017 quarterback Hunter Johnson over the weekend, and Texas A&M recently scored a commitment from No. 1 dual-threat signal-caller Tate Martell.  Watch as Stephen Nelson and Bleacher Report National Football Recruiting Analyst Tyler Donohue discuss who will be the next QB to commit in the 2017 class.

Which quarterback are you most excited to see in college?  Let us know in the comment section below!

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John Chavis' Defensive Revolution at Texas A&M Begins with 2015 Class

The Chief has a new home for the 2015 college football season. Bleacher Report's Stephen Nelson and B/R College Football Analyst Michael Felder discuss the impact defensive coordinator and linebacker coach John Chavis could have on this Texas A&M defense.

How well do you think Chavis and the Aggies defense will do this year? Tell us in the comments below.

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How USC Stars Adoree' Jackson, JuJu Smith-Schuster Will Avoid Sophomore Slumps

Adoree' Jackson and JuJu Smith-Schuster had remarkable first years for the USC Trojans. Bleacher Report College Football Analyst Michael Felder breaks down how these two stellar athletes can avoid sophomore slumps in 2015.  

Can Jackson and Smith-Schuster overcome potential sophomore slumps? Let us know in the comments section below.  

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Malik Zaire Confident He Can Be the Savior Notre Dame Has Been Waiting For

SOUTH BEND, Ind. — Notre Dame head coach Brian Kelly came to Archbishop Alter High outside of Dayton, Ohio, last year to recruit another football player to Notre Dame. He had already gotten quarterback Malik Zaire from there a year earlier.

Alter principal Lourdes Lambert saw this as a great chance. When you think of Notre Dame coaches, you think of legends: Knute Rockne, Ara Parseghian, Lou Holtz. Now Kelly was coming. So Lambert asked that when Kelly arrived that someone bring him to her office so she could meet with him.

When he did, he sat down to meet her, and there were pleasantries. And then…

"I just don't know why you're not starting Malik," she remembers saying. "I don't know Everett Golson, and I'm sure he's lovely, but I just don't see why there's any debate. Malik should be starting."

"Poor man. He was caught off guard," she said.

There is something delicious about Kelly, known for his occasional bouts of hotheadedness, being called into a principal's office and chewed out for starting Golson over Zaire as if he'd been caught clapping erasers together.

But Golson would start anyway. And he started great. And then he lost his confidence, fell apart and took the team with him.

Now it's Zaire's turn.

Golson transferred to Florida State because of Zaire's footsteps, not to mention his stellar start in Notre Dame's Music City Bowl victory over LSU.

His development, the patience…to…wait…his…turn—he surely is going crazy waiting for this sentence to end—has been an issue.

Zaire now gets the most visible job in college football. Starting quarterback. Notre Dame.

Can he save the Irish?

"Oh, I have 100 percent confidence in myself to be able to handle the job," Zaire said.

And anyone who knows him knows he has been saying that since the day he signed on with the Irish.

"Everyone feels that way to some extent," said receiver Chris Brown, who calls Zaire his "little bro."

"But Malik always said it out loud."

Zaire doesn't talk like your prototypical Notre Dame quarterback. He talks a lot. About himself. He talked openly the past two years about how he should have been starting. And when you hear the things he says—like his belief that the Irish will win all their games—you expect a certain cockiness and excessive self-absorption. You expect a person who you would like to have a comeuppance. Somehow in person, though, he doesn't come off that way.

In fact, he comes off as exactly what Notre Dame needs after last season's collapse: a confident leader whose main goals are (1) to win games and (2) to keep getting better until he is the best.

"Really? It's so nice to hear that," Zaire's mother, Stacy Carter, said. "I hope they all rally around him…

"Instead of him getting on their nerves. You probably heard about how he got along with his high school coach. Oh my gosh, Malik used to drive him crazy. He would do me the same way. He drove me crazy."

This is one of the trickiest, most important parts about coaching, and maybe parenting. It's a part people don't talk about much: confidence management. You have to build up some players' confidence. And you have to tear down others' so they know there are still things to learn.

"I agree 100 percent," said Notre Dame associate head coach Mike Denbrock. "You also have to find out what's real confidence and what's just talk. Malik is real confidence. And who wants to recruit a quarterback who doesn't want to be a starter from Day 1? I hope they all come in the door that way. That's not a bad thing.

"Yeah, there might be frustration when it doesn't come to fruition right off the bat. But what Malik has done with that frustration is point himself in a positive direction."

Well, not always. Zaire had an impossible time waiting. He told ND Insider's Mike Vorel this fall that he felt Golson was picked as the starter last year before any competition ever began: "It was like an unwritten thing: 'He's going to be the guy.'"

Zaire also complained about not getting reps in practice and just standing around for hours.

These are the comments that had people wondering about him.

Former Notre Dame coach Charlie Weis brought in top quarterback recruit Jimmy Clausen years ago, and it was a big show of ego. Clausen arrived with an escort of stretch Hummers and announced his college choice at the College Football Hall of Fame in South Bend. It was a show unlike what Notre Dame was used to.

You wondered from Zaire's comments if the Irish were in for a repeat.

But I don't think so. Believe it or not, Zaire's confidence doesn't come with the air of entitlement. When he's asking why he isn't starting, he's actually asking what it is that he's missing so he can work on it.

"Yes, I was upset," Zaire told Bleacher Report. "Nobody likes sitting on the bench. But it was just part of maturity for me to be able to simplify things. You don't have to know everything. Just stay consistent to the basics.

"Quieting my mind is something I've developed [through] talking with people that are great role models to me. People that keep it real with me."

One of those people is Lambert, the high school principal, who texts regularly with Zaire. She said his confidence comes from faith. Another is his high school coach, Ed Domsitz, who said that Zaire thought he should have been starting as a freshman in high school, too, even though Alter was coming off a 15-0 championship season and had its quarterback returning.

"It was a growing experience for him," Domsitz said. "I spent a good deal of time talking with him. He had come to our camp as a sixth-grader, and he was reading all these books about quarterbacking and motivation. That helped form his philosophy, his outlook. Sometimes the greatest competitors are the toughest to coach.

"He feels he has got to make it happen every week, week in and week out. I'd tell him 'Stay within yourself. Do what you do well. Understand you have a supporting cast out there.'"

This season, Mike Sanford becomes Zaire's third offensive coordinator in three years. He said that Zaire's success, and also maybe his biggest problem, is that he is so single-minded about reaching greatness.

If practice doesn't go right, Zaire might stay "out there two-and-a-half hours after to work on his throws," Sanford said. "Well, maybe not two-and-a-half hours. But he has to learn it's OK to make a few mistakes."

Brown knows Zaire can't accept that. He remembered the first time he met Zaire they went out throwing the ball around, and it wasn't going well. "I just wanted to have some reps," Brown said. "I was tired, and it was like 100 degrees. It wasn't going right. And he just wanted to keep going. There was no water out there!"

There's something to be said for the fact that Zaire is even still at Notre Dame. What we've seen more and more this fall is top recruits transferring away as soon as they realize they aren't starters. It happened at USC, where freshman quarterback Ricky Town has already left the team. Meanwhile, UCLA coach Jim Mora was publicly chewing out his freshman quarterback.

It's a new age in confidence management.

"Kids today, I think a lot of them feel like they deserve an opportunity to go out there and play right away," Denbrock said. "Some may feel their development is further down the line than it is. But there's always a place where the rubber meets the road.

"You're not going to sugarcoat anything for them. You have to be honest with them, say, 'Regardless if this is happening in the next 10 minutes, you're a valuable piece of the puzzle moving forward. Trust us as coaches to know the right time to put you out there.'"

Zaire said that he never would have left Notre Dame, that he would have considered that quitting. He figured his time would come. It just didn't happen soon enough.

Now it's here. Zaire still needs to grow up some. He said Sanford has already taught him about focusing on one thing at a time and also some technical things about his throwing base. But he is such a contrast to the fading confidence last year's team leader, Golson, was displaying.

Plus, Zaire did get evidence of his play in the bowl game.

"My confidence was always there," Zaire said. "The LSU game was just an opportunity to show other people that I'm here, too."

There might be some personality clashes with Kelly. Of course, Kelly might be patient if he doesn't want to be called back to the principal's office.

 

Greg Couch covers college football for Bleacher Report.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Dear Football: The 2015 Elite 11 Story | Ep. 9

Uninterrupted is a platform that allows personalities to connect with fans on a much deeper level, with insight and content not fit for other platforms, media outlets or channels.

Interested fans get a unique perspective that brings them closer than ever to the personalities they care about.

The Elite 11 camp brings together the top high school senior quarterbacks in the country in search of the best 11.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Remembering Top 2015 Heisman Contenders as College Football Recruits

The annual Heisman Trophy race captivates college football fans across the country, vaulting young athletes into national stardom. Several players enter the 2015 season surrounded by sky-high expectations and aim to justify the hype when games begin.

Every award-winning campaign has its origins, back to the hometowns and high schools that ultimately shaped these standouts. Those roots are also tied to their respective recruiting processes, as Heisman hopefuls took various paths into the spotlight.

Here's a look at eight potential candidates and how they performed as young prospects. Players listed are considered the top Heisman Trophy contenders, according to OddsShark.com.

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Tom Herman's Journey from OSU's Magical Title Run to New Challenges at Houston

The sun overpowered the Dallas horizon, and Tom Herman, still drenched in emotion from the previous evening, let the light wash over him. This was a moment he was hoping for—a fitting bit of symbolism for a man stuck between day and night, for a coach saying goodbye to one tremendous opportunity and saying hello to another.

It was the culmination of something spectacular. It was the start of a magnificent journey that was too terrifyingly incredible to pass up. As the sun overtook the world in front of him, Herman readied for the biggest transition of his life. But before he did, he finally enjoyed a few moments of euphoric calm.

Hours earlier, the former Buckeyes’ offensive coordinator helped guide Ohio State to a national championship with a third-string quarterback—a triumph that has yet to truly sink in long after the confetti has been swept away. Hours later, he would embark on his new life as Houston’s head coach with the blessings, wisdom and encouragement of Urban Meyer, his old boss and grand ambassador.

Before they said their goodbyes, Meyer passed along the following words of wisdom.

“He told me to hire people you trust and let them do their job, but always understand that it’s your name on the scorecard at the end of the day,” Herman told Bleacher Report. “Make sure everybody is in alignment—speaking the same language, delivering the same message. For the four hours we have them in our facility, the message needs to be very succinct.”

After Ohio State beat Oregon in the national championship, Herman didn’t sleep. He took his family to breakfast the next morning, dropped them off at the Ohio State charter home and hit the road—where he finally rested as the car chugged toward Houston.

When he arrived that night, he briefly greeted the new staff. It was less than 24 hours after his old team won a national title.

The next day, this staff met for 14 hours to outline a plan for the program and the mad dash to national signing day. The following morning, he was in a Texas high school before 7 a.m. to recruit.

The celebration was over. In reality, it had lasted just a few magnificent hours.

“It has been like trying to take a sip of water out of a fire hose,” Herman said. “As coaches we are not averse to work or long hours, but the added hours a day coupled with the mental responsibilities of holding down both jobs took its toll. But it was an opportunity I wouldn’t trade for the world, especially with what we did at Ohio State.”

Having known Cardale Jones since his days at military school, Herman gave the third-string quarterback a crash course leading up to and after the team’s Big Ten Championship Game demolition of Wisconsin. At the same time, Herman and the coaching staff had to manage a new timeline and an entirely new postseason structure—something unfamiliar to everyone involved.

When Houston became a realistic opportunity in early December, Herman couldn’t wait for Ohio State’s season to finish. In the midst of one of the most exciting and unprecedented runs in the history of the sport, Herman approached Meyer with the news that he had been offered the job.

The conversation, according to Herman, went something like this:

Meyer: “Houston?”

Herman: “Yes, sir.”

Meyer: “Oh, well that’s a real one, isn’t it?”

Herman: “Yes, sir. That’s a pretty good one.”

That was the extent of it. With coaching roots in Texas—he started off as a wide receiver coach at Texas Lutheran in 1998—this was a natural fit. Even after he exited the state and moved to Iowa State and then Ohio State, Herman recruited in Texas.

When the Cougars administration rolled out the red carpet, ensuring extreme flexibility during the national championship run, the decision became even easier.

Meyer supported his soon-to-be-former OC at the time, asking him if he could help in any capacity. At the same time, with so much on the line, he also reminded Herman that he still had a job to finish. By the middle of December, the exhaustion of working two time-demanding jobs started to show.

"He looks like someone hit him with a bat—a good bat, though," Meyer joked in the middle of December to Zach Braziller of the New York Post. "But he's a pro. I really admire him." 

While Herman had a wonderful situation in Columbus—and a handful of inviting offers that had surfaced along the way—he was immediately attracted to the new opportunity. The message delivered his way was precisely what he wanted to hear.

"I saw the commitment to winning and upgrading their lot in life, spearheaded by the new stadium and the coaches’ pool they gave me to pay my assistants," Herman said.

"Also, let’s not forget we’re in the best high school football-playing city in America in the best high school football-playing state in America. It’s not like you can handpick your recruits and they come, but the numbers are there in the city of Houston."

After Herman was introduced, he did everything he could for Houston while navigating Ohio State’s offense. He worked a few hours per day, mainly on the phones, setting a solid recruiting foundation for when he arrived.

More than six months later, Herman has done more than lay the groundwork for success. A string of successful recruiting grabs has shocked the expected timeline of the program. As of the middle of August, Houston had the nation’s No. 29 recruiting class and the No. 1 class in the American Athletic Conference, according to 247Sports. Last season the Cougars finished with the No. 90-ranked class; they were No. 76 the year before.

There is still a long time before any of this becomes official, although securing verbal commitments from elite players has altered the way the program has been perceived, especially from an outsider’s perspective.

Inside Houston’s walls, the players who are adjusting to their new head coach can feel a pulse unique from recent history. They haven’t held back from sharing their excitement.

"When you’re able to make some of the splashes that we have early on, it enhances your brand," Herman said. "One of the things I’m noticing is that our own players are looking at us and telling us we’re doing a great job recruiting. Well, yeah. What did you think we were, a bunch of slappies?"

As part of his recruiting pitch, Herman has refused to put his past behind him. In fact, in many cases, he’ll quite literally throw it right in the faces of anyone willing to listen. His championship rings from Ohio State are featured prominently in his office.

Take a step into Herman’s quarters and you’ll likely find yourself at the coffee table not long after you survey the room. Placed strategically in the center of the coffee table is the buffet of Ohio State bling Herman acquired over the past few seasons, headlined by his national championship ring.

"Whenever a recruit comes in and sits down, it’s literally the first thing they see," Herman said. "Trust me, their eyes gravitate toward it."

The prestige that traveled with him isn’t the only Ohio State influence to come along. Herman believes that the offense you watched power past Alabama and Oregon late last year will be similar to the one he runs in Houston.

It will take time to get all the necessary pieces in place to accomplish this goal, but he does not plan to veer away from what helped land him the job in the first place.

"We’re not going to stray from our core values or beliefs," Herman said about the offense while cycling through the uniqueness of some of the Ohio State teams he led during his tenure. "It will be very similar. I don’t know what it will look like at the end, but we’ll put our guys in the best position to succeed."

The next part is perhaps the most important. It’s finding a way to bottle everything he helped build at his last job and bringing it over. It’s igniting the indefinable—team camaraderie that is difficult to find even in the most successful places.

It’s unreasonable to expect Houston to consistently attract the type of talent the Buckeyes had to work with. And yet, perhaps more significant than any star power is the way a coach can get his players to buy into one another.

"One of the neatest things I saw with the team at Ohio State—and we preach about it all the time as coaches—is that the team genuinely played for the happiness, success and rings on the finger for the guy next to them," Herman said. "The results speak for themselves. When you play for the guy next to you, that’s when you win championships."

 

Adam Kramer is the College Football National Lead Writer for Bleacher Report. Unless noted, all quotes were obtained firsthand.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Odds Greyson Lambert Beats out Brice Ramsey for Georgia Starting QB Job

Georgia's three-man quarterback battle appears to be down to two.

According to Seth Emerson of DawgNation.com and the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Faton Bauta has been relegated to third on the depth chart, leaving redshirt sophomore Brice Ramsey and Virginia graduate transfer Greyson Lambert as the two remaining options for head coach Mark Richt.

Emerson noted that Ramsey and Lambert have been rotating with the first and second teams during the media viewing period over the last two practices, while Bauta was running with the threes. That rotation had been even up to this point in fall camp.

That's enormous, and it's about all Georgia fans should have expected during fall camp due to Lambert's late arrival from Virginia in late July and a slightly tweaked pro-style system under offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer that demands players to learn much quicker than under former coordinator Mike Bobo.

What are the odds Lambert beats out Ramsey for the starting job?

I'd say Ramsey still has a slight edge on the former Cavalier. We'll go with Ramsey at 3-1 and Lambert close behind at 5-1. It's very close—I won't give Richt what he truly wants.

"I'd like to know and have peace," he said on Saturday. "I'm looking for some peace."

The rubber will truly meet the road over the next few weeks now that they're splitting first-team reps between the two of them rather than three.

Lambert's biggest asset is the experience he gained while serving as the starting quarterback in Charlottesville. No, the stat line isn't exactly Heisman-worthy. He tossed 11 touchdowns and 13 interceptions over the last two seasons, but he did light up Florida State with 220 yards and three touchdowns late last year in Tallahassee—not too shabby.

But can he adapt to the system—which demands a quick learner—in only a month?

That work with Schottenheimer this spring is what Ramsey has working in his favor, and unless Lambert wows the coaching staff over the next week leading up to the season opener against Louisiana-Monroe, it will likely be what earns Ramsey first-team snaps in the opener.

With that said, though, how long will Ramsey have a hold on the starting job?

It's not like Georgia has a daunting schedule out of the gate, with the Warhawks at home followed by a road trip to Vanderbilt in Week 2. Ramsey will likely "win" the starting job, but it'll likely be more like winning the first spin of a roulette wheel at a casino. Ramsey might win the first spin, but that doesn't mean he's going to leave the casino with a pocket full of cash.

Whoever wins the job, Georgia has to find a way to stretch the field. 

With maulers up front and a deep running back corps led by superstar Nick Chubb, the eventual winner of the quarterback competition will have to keep defenses honest, pose a threat deep and prevent opposing defenses from bringing eight or nine in the box to slow down the running game. Georgia managed just 34 passing plays of 20 or more yards a year ago, which was the fourth-worst mark in the conference.

The first two games will likely be auditions for the two remaining contenders, with Ramsey going in as the leader while Richt and Schottenheimer find out which one is the best gamer. Ramsey has the arm strength and familiarity of the offense to get the first shot, but the underdog—Lambert—will still have a chance.

It should make for an interesting early-season battle before the Bulldogs host South Carolina in Week 3.

 

Quotes were obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted. Recruiting information courtesy of 247Sports. Statistics courtesy of CFBStats.com

Barrett Sallee is the lead SEC college football writer and national college football video analyst for Bleacher Report as well as a host on Bleacher Report Radio on SiriusXM 83. Follow Barrett on Twitter @BarrettSallee.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

10 Bold Predictions for 1st Month of 2015 College Football Season

It’s almost here. We’re just over a week away from the much-anticipated opening of the 2015 college football season, where coaches and players hope months of preparation and work will pay off with glory, victories and national acclaim. It’s the best time of the year because everyone is 0-0 and no one has absorbed a bad loss yet.

That’s about to change, of course. College football is wonderful because of its unpredictability. Who would have pegged Florida State or Ohio State as the last two national champions outside of Tallahassee or Columbus? And while the Buckeyes are the clear favorite to repeat as national champions, history tells us a challenger will come seemingly out of nowhere and emerge on the national scene.

We just don’t know who it is yet.

As we move into September, we’re sure to see surprises across college football, whether they take the form of teams thriving or struggling or an unexpected player emerging in a prominent role. Here are 10 bold predictions for the first month of the college football season.

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Big Ten Football: Storylines That Will Define the Season

With Michigan's season opener against Utah taking place next Thursday night, we are nearly one week away from the start of Big Ten football. And with Wisconsin taking on Alabama and Ohio State facing Virginia Tech, the conference should dominate the headlines of college football's opening weekend.

That would be par for the course for the Big Ten in 2015, a year which has already seen the league capture the first-ever College Football Playoff championship and hire one of the sport's most high-profile coaches. In fact, it's hard to remember a year where the conference has possessed this much hype heading into a season.

From Piscataway, New Jersey, to Lincoln, Nebraska, and every Big Ten stop in between, the league is buzzing with anticipation as the 2015 season approaches. With that in mind, let's take a look at the top storylines that will define the league in the upcoming year.

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Bleacher Report's Preseason 2015 College Football Award Predictions

We're a little more than a week away from the start of the 2015 season, when every team in play is hoping to have a shot at a division, conference or national championship. The players have their own goals as well, and for some of them, that involves picking up some fancy trophies in December.

College football has more than a dozen national awards that are doled out based on individual performance throughout the season, most notably the Heisman Trophy. Each has its own group of voters who pick the recipients, but Bleacher Report's college football staff has decided to take on the task of picking every award winner.

Our predictions are based on votes cast by 19 members of our staff: writers Ben Axelrod, Greg Couch, Justin Ferguson, David Kenyon, Ben Kercheval, Adam Kramer, Brian Leigh, Mike Monaco, Brian Pedersen, David Regimbal, Barrett Sallee, Brad Shepard, Greg Wallace and Christopher Walsh; video experts Michael Felder and Sean McManus; and editors Eric Bowman, Hunter Mandel and Eric Yates. The top vote-getter for each award is our choice, while the second-highest is the runner-up.

Some of our experts have also provided some insight as to why they chose a certain player to win the award over others.

Check out our predictions for 16 of college football's biggest postseason awards for 2015—then give us your thoughts in the comments section. 

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B/R CFB 250: Top 20 Safeties

Bleacher Report's CFB 250 is an annual ranking of the best players in college football, regardless of NFL potential. Through interviews with B/R experts Matt MillerMichael FelderBarrett Sallee and Adam Kramer, authors Brian Leigh and Brian Pedersen have studied, ranked and graded the top athletes in the country, narrowed that list to 250 and sorted by position. Today, we present the Top Safeties.

 

Other CFB 250 Positions

 

Three of the top five safeties return from last year's CFB 250, but only one returns at the same position.

Last year's No. 2 safety, Jalen Ramsey of Florida State, has returned to his former position at cornerback, while last year's No. 3 safety, Su'a Cravens of USC, has moved full-time to linebacker.

Those movements deplete the position and turn a strong year of safeties into a dubious one. Only one of last year's top 10 players returns to patrol centerfield. There is talent and potential to replace those lost players, but a lot of it is young and hard to count on.

The players on this list will have to grow up, and fast.

But before we dig into that, a disclaimer: The safeties who follow were graded as college prospects, not as NFL prospects.

Targeted skills such as run defense are important at both levels, but there is a difference between a college run defense and professional run defense. If a safety can set the edge and make plays in the SEC or the Big 12, it doesn't matter if he can set the edge and make plays in the NFC North—at least not here.

This is all about college performance.

 

Note: If two players finished with the same grade, a subjective call was made based on whom we would rather have on our team right now. Also, all recruiting info refers to the 247Sports composite rankings.

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Daniel Tosh Rips Nick Saban with Segment on 'Tosh.0'

Note: This video contains NSFW language.

Daniel Tosh doesn't like anyone, really. His brand of comedy—which has been wildly successful in recent years—pretty much boils down to ripping people apart.

His most recent victim? Alabama head coach Nick Saban.

During a segment on Tuesday's episode of Tosh.0, the comedian mocked the unauthorized biography that Saban recently discredited. Tosh hit on everything with a mock children's reading, including Saban's height, family and coaching history in the NFL.

It should be noted that Tosh is a Miami Dolphins fan, which might clear things up a bit. (Saban lasted just two years as the Dolphi head coach before leaving for Alabama.)

Even the kids joined in, though. Ouch.

[Comedy Central, h/t College Spun]

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