NCAA Football News

Miami Football: 5 Things Standing in the Way of an ACC Championship

The 2014 season may be a long way off, but a handful of reasons stand in the way of the Miami Hurricanes' first outright division title ever.

Despite some struggles in spring practice, Miami is still a front-runner in the Coastal Division to earn a spot in the ACC Championship Game.

A couple of variables stand out, but the 'Canes must battle through a few conditions that will change neither before nor during the upcoming campaign.

And with an unfavorable schedule comprised of four matchups against the conference's best programs, including three on the road, Miami is facing an uphill battle for that elusive ACCCG berth.

 

Recruit ratings courtesy of 247Sports.com.

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Scouting Report, Video Highlights and Predictions for 5-Star WR Damarkus Lodge

Damarkus Lodge is a 5-star receiver who is one of the better prospects at his position in the 2015 class. Lodge has great size and length, plus he displays other traits that will make him a successful player at the next level.

Lodge is coming off a terrific junior season in Texas, but he's looking for more. He's also searching for the right program to utilize his talents properly in college, and he has many schools to sort through.

Lodge deserves a more in-depth look as a prospect.

All recruiting ratings and rankings are from 247Sports' Composite Rankings. Player evaluations are based on review of tape at Scout.comRivals and 247Sports.

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Georgia Football: How Mark Richt Can Solve Defensive Issues in 2014

With spring practice over, the Georgia Bulldogs can focus on what they need to do to get better before the 2014 season begins in the end of August.

We know the offense will be in pretty good shape despite not having Aaron Murray under center. Hutson Mason proved he can get the job done last year, and having players like Todd Gurley and Keith Marshall behind him as well as Malcolm Mitchell and Justin Scott-Wesley beside him will make things a lot easier.

The defense, on the other hand, will have a few question marks coming into the season.

The unit struggled last year under defensive coordinator Todd Grantham, who is now at Louisville. Former Florida State defensive coordinator Jeremy Pruitt has taken over Grantham’s spot, and while the group did some good things during the spring game, Pruitt knows that this unit will be a work in progress all summer long.

So how can Mark Richt and Pruitt resolve the issues on the defensive side of the ball before the season begins?

The first thing is to find out what the real issues are on defense. The Bulldogs did give up 29 points per game, which ranked near the bottom of the SEC. However, they also ranked sixth in the conference in run defense, giving up 148 yards per game and 3.7 yards per carry last season.

The front seven for the Bulldogs is solid and the group is led by linebackers Ramik Wilson and Amarlo Herrera. Both players placed in the top three in tackles last season and both got better as the season progressed.

The outside linebackers for Georgia were not bad either, as Jordan Jenkins and Leonard Floyd each had at least five sacks last year.

The defensive line was also strong, but there could be some changes this season just to make it stronger.

Sterling Bailey had a good year and should be back in the mix for starting defensive end. As for the other defensive end spot, Ray Drew, James DeLoach and Josh Dawson are battling for that spot.

As for nose tackle, Chris Mayes made eight starts last year, but Johnathan Taylor and Mike Thornton are making a push for the starting job as well.

Therefore, the battle for the starting defensive line rotation is something Richt will have to finalize in preseason practice.

However, that is not the most glaring issue for the Bulldogs.

The secondary for UGA last season had its share of ups and downs last year. Based on the big plays it gave up in crucial moments of important games last season, fans will remember the downs more than the ups.

Jeremy Pruitt thinks UGA's tailbacks and its QB look pretty good. His defense? 'We've still got a long ways to go.' http://t.co/k1CG1JktoC

— Marc Weiszer (@marcweiszer) April 16, 2014

The one thing Richt and Pruitt have to do is start from scratch and make every position in the secondary an open competition.

Damian Swann, Tray Matthews, Corey Moore and Aaron Davis were on the first-team defense during the spring game, but that is not set in stone. Everyone—including Shaq Wiggins, Lucas Reed, Sheldon Dawson, Quincy Mauger, Devin Bowmann, Reggie Wilkerson, Brendan Langley and J.J. Green—should and will get a chance to win a starting job.

Richt said during the UGA Days speaking tour that no player has nailed down a starting position in the secondary. He also said that he wants to see what the new players have to offer.

Those new players are Shaquille Jones, Dominick Sanders, Shattle Fenteng and Malkom Parrish.If any of those four players impress Richt or Pruitt, they could see themselves thrown to the wolves this season.

Despite what Richt says, it’s safe to say that Swann has one cornerback spot down and Green will likely play the "star" position. After that, it’s anyone’s guess and something the coaching staff will have to figure out quickly.

Even if the Bulldogs do set the secondary starting lineup in stone, it will still have growing pains because the group is learning a new defense despite still being a 3-4 scheme.

The most important thing Richt and Pruitt can do is make things simple. Don’t have the players worry about terminology and anything that will prevent them from making plays. All the players need to do is line up in the right sport and get after the skill players.

It sounds simple, but it’s something the Bulldogs lacked last year.

If Richt can make sure he has the right 11 players ready to go and they know exactly what to do each time they are on the field, the defense could make significant strides in 2014.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Clemson Football Recruiting: Breaking Down the Top 2015 Target at Each Position

Three straight seasons of winning 10 or more games has a way of boosting one's talent level. That's precisely the case for the Clemson Tigers.

With the departures of Tajh Boyd, Sammy Watkins, Martavis Bryant and Brandon Thomas, among others, now is the time to see how good Clemson's recent recruiting classes are. 

But it's never too early to start talking about next year. 

Currently, the Tigers are ranked No. 4 in the class of 2015, per 247Sports, with 13 verbal commitments. 

2015 is shaping up to be a big year for Clemson on the recruiting trail. The Tigers currently have a commitment from 247Sports' second-ranked offensive lineman, Mitch Hyatt, and just two weeks ago added 4-star offensive tackle Jake Fruhmorgen.

Here's a look at Clemson's top target at each position for 2015. Keep in mind, since verbal commitments aren't official until signing day, we will include the players who have committed as targets. 

All recruiting ranking and information courtesy of 247Sports

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5 Players to Watch in College Football's Remaining Spring Games

Spring games are coming to an end, which means college football junkies really will be going out of their minds for the next three months before preseason camp starts. 

Of course, the less you hear about your favorite team this offseason, the better. 

In the meantime, there's business to attend to. Since not all teams are finished with their spring practices, there are still teams and players that are piquing interest. Which players are on our radar with just a couple of weeks left before the full offseason goes into effect?

The answers, as always, are in the following slides. 

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Alabama Football: Nick Saban's Biggest Concerns Post-Spring Practice

After the conclusion of Alabama’s spring practice, Crimson Tide fans have a better picture on some of the areas that could be of concern for Nick Saban and his staff leading up to fall camp.

While issues such as finding a new starting quarterback, new offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin getting acclimated with his new surroundings and fighting off complacency have driven the headlines for the Tide’s offseason, a handful of concerns remain for a team coming off an 11-2 season.

Some holes caused by graduation or early departures to the NFL are still prevalent, while depth at other positions are areas that need further development.

What are the most pressing issues that Saban will be planning heavily to solve in the fall?

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USC Is a Pac-12 South Contender in 2014, but Only If Trojans Can Stay Healthy

The University of Southern California wrapped up the spring season with a less-than-impressive offensive showing.

Nevertheless, Steve Sarkisian's first Trojan team should still have eyes on the Pac-12 South—as long as the team can get healthy and remain that way through the 2014 season.

Cody Kessler was named the starter prior to the spring game, as Fox Sports West reported, but ultimately the final scrimmage was a lot less about the quarterback than it was about the defense. As linebackers Hayes Pullard told Durga Ghosh over at Neon Tommy, "Ones and twos, every single one of the D-linemen I think had a sack each."

Those ones and twos, of course, did not include Leonard Williams, who watched the action from the sidelines.

Williams, one of the Trojans' best players, was one of many expected contributors who could only watch as the teammates scrimmaged. Joining Williams were offensive linemen Aundrey Walker, Jordan Simms, defensive backs Josh Shaw and Su'a Cravens, and offensive skill players Justin Davis, Randall Telfer and Steven Mitchell.

That's a lot of talent on the sidelines for a team that is trying desperately to rebuild its depth.

It's also a lot of talent that will go a long way toward contending in the Pac-12 South.

A season ago, USC was a 10-win ballclub, coming a head-scratching three-point loss to Washington State to start the season away from an 11-win campaign. Although the Trojans lose some talented pieces, the core of last year's success returns to set the pace.

That starts with the defense. The offense limped through spring, both literally and figuratively. Injuries limited the rushing efforts, with linemen out and running back numbers remarkably low.

The unit, outside of Nelson Agholor, struggled to consistently put together quality offensive performances.

Meanwhile, the defense remains a strength for USC—a strength that new defensive coordinator Justin Wilcox will be pushing to improve upon.

Getting better means finding a solution for the two other Pac-12 South contenders: UCLA and Arizona State. The Bruins and Sun Devils put up 97 total points against USC in 2013 and were two of just three teams to score more than 30 points against the Trojans defense. Arizona's fast-paced attack put 31 up in a loss following Lane Kiffin's firing.

The Bruins and the Sun Devils are the roadblocks, and beating those teams starts with Sarkisian's squad being healthy.

This team will need bodies to overcome the high-powered offenses from Westwood and Tempe: offensive linemen to create space in the run game, healthy running backs to keep the ball away from quarterbacks Taylor Kelly and Brett Hundley, and defenders at every level to stop the points that seemed to come so easy for both teams.

If USC wants to be in the Pac-12 South race, health is job No. 1. Job No. 2 will be improving against the other two contenders within the division.

Sarkisian's offense has to continue to get better and Wilcox's defense, which surrendered 94 total points to UCLA and Arizona State while he was at Washington, has to perform for the Trojans to remain in contention.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

One Game Every Hot Seat Coach Must Win in 2014

It takes more than one game for a coach to stave off the hot seat; in most cases, after all, only long-term disappointment can land a coach there in the first place, so why should one minuscule victory set him free?

Having said that, one ill-timed loss can turn a hot-seat coach into a dead man walking or—if the situation calls for it—a now-former coach right there on the spot. (For more information, see: Kiffin, Lane.)

No job is ever "safe" in college football, but of the 65 head coaches in major conferences (plus Brian Kelly at Notre Dame), 10 stick out with hotter seats than others. That doesn't mean they are the only ones who can be forced out—Frank Beamer at Virginia Tech, for example, might suffer the same fate as Mack Brown after another bad season—but they are the ones who must tread the most carefully and whose teams must make the most improvement.

And in each case, there is a game (or games) they can't afford to lose.

Let's take a closer look.

 

Note: For the sake of being germane to the highest number of readers, only coaches from the five power conferences were included. I haven't forgotten about you, Ron Turner and Norm Chow.

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Texas A&M Football: 4 Things Standing in the Way of an SEC Championship

The Texas A&M football team has completed spring practice and is preparing for the 2014 season. The Aggies will face multiple obstacles in their quest to win the SEC title in 2014.

To win a championship in any league, you need to have talent, depth and a little bit of luck. It is very rare that you can find a football team that is "up" on every Saturday of the season. There is going to be a game where everything seems a little off and the team is going to need some luck to scrape out a win.

A team needs to be able to avoid injuries to significant players and off-the-field issues. It takes a lot more than simply assembling a roster of good football players to win a championship.

This is a look at some of the hurdles that stand in the way of the 2014 Texas A&M football team winning a conference title.

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Where FSU Turns After Hometown 4-Star D'Anfernee McGriff Committed to Auburn

Florida State fell short in its pursuit of hometown talent D'Anfernee McGriff despite multiple campus visits in recent months. The 4-star offensive playmaker committed to Auburn on Tuesday afternoon during an announcement ceremony at Leon High School in Tallahassee:

McGriff earned the Tallahassee Charlie Ward Offensive Player of the Year Award in 2013, leading the Leon attack in a variety of facets. He spent significant time at quarterback, passing for 772 yards and two touchdowns on 130 attempts, per MaxPreps.

His most impressive production occurred on the ground. McGriff rushed for 2,025 yards and 29 scores in 12 games, including four 200-plus yard efforts in the final five contests of the season.

The 6'1", 230-pound prospect emerged as a premier offensive threat, capable of contributing to an offensive backfield in a variety of ways. He is likely to end up at running back in college and is rated No. 13 nationally at the position in 247Sports' composite rankings.

McGriff has been clocked at 4.34 seconds in the 40-yard dash, according to 247Sports. His physical prowess and game production earned him an avalanche of scholarship offers after his junior campaign.

Despite holding a major advantage in proximity, the Seminoles had to deal with several SEC contenders. Alabama, South Carolina, Florida and Auburn each emerged as serious threats leading up to his pledge to the Tigers.

Florida State has seen fellow national title contenders claim key commitments from its top targets in recent weeks. Alabama picked up a trio of players with Seminoles offers last weekend, including a pair of Sunshine State prospects.

Minkah Fitzpatrick, a 5-star cornerback from New Jersey, committed to the Crimson Tide on Saturday two months after visiting Tallahassee. So did wide receiver Calvin Ridley and safety Shawn Burgess-Becker, 4-star teammates in Pompano Beach, Fla. who were more likely to land in Miami if they remained in Florida for college.

Auburn edged Florida State for a commitment from running back Kerryon Johnson earlier this month. Both programs were finalists for the 5-star Alabama athlete.

The Seminoles are looking for some recruiting momentum after missing out on a series of key prospects. Head coach Jimbo Fisher and his staff have landed just one 2015 pledge since Feb. 22, exactly two months ago.

Though Florida State has hosted several recruits during the span—including McGriff—commitments have been hard to come by. David Robbins, a 3-star offensive guard from Maryland, joined the class during the first weekend of April.

The Seminoles have assembled a strong class with nine pledges. It rates seventh nationally in 247Sports' composite rankings.

Florida State's largest 2015 need right now is at offensive skill positions, particularly after whiffing on various players who could've quickly contributed to the Seminoles attack. Fisher has several other targets lined up.

Orlando running back Jacques Patrick is a primary prospect who visited Tallahassee last Month. Georgia target Taj Griffin, rated No. 1 nationally among all-purpose backs in 247Sports' composite rankings, still has the Seminoles on his radar.

Running backs Johnny Frasier (Princeton, N.C.) and Eric Swinney (Tyrone, Ga.) also hold Florida State offers. The Seminoles are also looking for help at receiver, where in-state targets Deon Cain (Tampa) and Da'Vante Phillips (Miami) could provide solutions.

The team hopes to avoid losing another local prospect when Tallahassee prospect John Burt eventually announces his decision. The 4-star receiver views Texas as a favorite and also has Auburn among his top choices.

Florida State struck out with a premier prospect in its backyard on Tuesday. The Seminoles now aim to turn things around in order to end a momentary recruiting lull.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

D'Anfernee McGriff to Auburn: Tigers Land 4-Star ATH Prospect

D'Anfernee McGriff, a 4-star athlete from Tallahassee's Leon High School, made his commitment official on Tuesday afternoon, deciding to play for the Auburn Tigers as part of their 2015 recruiting class.

Michael Langston of Rivals.com confirmed the news on Twitter following McGriff's announcement:

Justin Hokanson of Rivals.com talks more about the decision:

The 6'1", 230-pounder is listed as both a running back and dual-threat quarterback. While there's no denying his talent as a ball-carrier, his passion over the last several seasons in high school has been playing behind center and getting the job done with both his legs and arm.

Before the announcement, McGriff spoke fondly of the program Gus Malzahn has built in Auburn. Though the Tigers emerged just recently in the recruiting process, McGriff knew the fit would be a great one as he might have a chance to play quarterback, per Keith Niebuhr of 247Sports (subscription required):

"I like everything they do," McGriff said. "I feel like I'll go in and fit in perfectly with what they do. ... That stuck out—the way they use their quarterback in the read option with the QB running—and that's what I like."

McGriff's commitment looked all but solidified before he ever stepped to the podium, with Florida State and Florida holding onto a glimmer of hope, as War Eagle Recruiting noted: 

Michael Langston of Rivals also gave his prediction on where the prized recruit would go:

Along with the chance to play quarterback, McGriff also comes to a program with a need at the position after the 2014 season. With Nick Marshall playing out his senior campaign this fall, McGriff could be the heir apparent.

With the exact same height and 20 more pounds on Marshall following his junior season in high school, McGriff could grow into a dynamic signal-caller for the Tigers.

He possesses a good arm. He also runs a 4.34 40-yard dash, so it's clear that McGriff has enough speed to be a running quarterback or tailback who could help continue Auburn's success in the SEC.

Getting the Tallahassee native's commitment is a huge one for the Tigers because of his potential to be a true game-changer. As a dynamic athlete with raw talent, McGriff should be ready to line up at two different skill positions, making him a difference-maker for Auburn in the coming seasons.

 

*All recruiting information courtesy of 247Sports.

 

Follow R. Cory Smith on Twitter:

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4-Star RB D'Anfernee McGriff Commits to Auburn, Will Get Chance at QB for Tigers

The No. 13 running back of the 2015 class, D'Anfernee McGriff, has committed to the Auburn Tigers. This is a huge get for Gus Malzahn, who continues to land top athletic talent.

The 6'1", 230-pound athlete has the potential to play anywhere on the field, but look for him to land at the quarterback position when he arrives on campus and play the Nick Marshall role for the Tigers. Check out the video above to see Michael Felder break down what McGriff means to the Auburn Tigers.

 

Highlights courtesy XOS Digital. All rankings from 247 Sports Composite.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

USC Football: How Many More Offensive Linemen Will USC Sign After Edoga Pledge?

The Trojans received some very welcome news yesterday when Scout.com 4-star offensive lineman Chuma Edoga gave his verbal pledge to come west and ply his trade for the men of Troy.

A massive lineman at 6'4", 277 pounds, Edoga made up his mind to USC after a recent visit to the campus.

According to Scout.com's Chad Simmons (subscription required), Edoga had a great time at USC. "When I took my visit, I knew that is where I wanted to go," said Edoga. "I loved the feeling I had there during my visit and it felt right on campus and around the coaches."

While the news of Edoga's verbal is great for the class of 2015, it does beg the question of how many more offensive linemen the Trojans will target in this class.

As of this writing, USC has 11 scholarship linemen with three (Giovanni Di Paolo, Aundrey Walker and Nathan Guertler) of those being seniors in 2014.

Of the remaining eight linemen on the roster, all except Max Tuerk—who is a junior—are either redshirt sophomores or freshmen.

Also, true freshmen offensive linemen Damien Mama, Viane Talamaivao and Chris Brown will all be for the fall which gives the Trojans 11 "big uglies" heading into the 2014 season.

Assuming that Edoga follows through on his pledge, that will give USC 12 scholarship offensive linemen for the following year, so how many more should the Trojans sign for the 2015 class?

In reviewing the list of Trojans offers, Scout.com shows that eight linemen, in addition to Edoga, hold offers from USC, and they are pretty much split between guards and tackles.

When it comes to college football rosters, the quantity of offensive linemen varies depending on what kind of offense a team runs.

According to SB Nation.com's Ian Boyd, a pro style offense (even one the employs a "hurry-up" scheme, I assume) will need 14-18 linemen, and since USC will be running more plays, you can assume that the Trojans will need to rely on a rotation that features more linemen.

If one assumes that the Trojans will need upward of 18 offensive linemen, then Sark and the recruiting crew still have a lot of work to do by the time letter of intent signing day arrives in February.

And let's not forget that injuries and/or insufficient grades may require even more attention to be paid to this unit going forward.

Can USC deliver at least another four or five O-linemen in this class?

It is difficult to say, but at least this year—for the first time since the class of 2011—they will have a full complement to give out.

And that is a very good thing because they may need to use a large portion of those "schollies" on more linemen for the offense.

 

Follow me on Twitter: @RickMcMahan

 

 

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

UCLA Football: 5 Unanswered Questions Heading into the Spring Game

An experienced and talented roster has UCLA football striving for lofty goals in 2014. Head coach Jim Mora enters his third season at UCLA with the Pac-12's most veteran starting lineup, led by Heisman Trophy contender and quarterback Brett Hundley. 

But as the Bruins finish the first phase of an expectation-filled year, they still face some burning questions that must be addressed if they are to meet their ambitious bar.

Answers to some of those more significant questions should be somewhat more clear after Saturday, when UCLA concludes its spring practice season at the StubHub Center in Carson, Calif.

 

Statistics compiled via CFBStats.com. Recruiting rankings and information culled from 247Sports.com

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The Most Impressive Freshman Performances in Spring Games so Far

Spring games—and, really, spring camp in general—is less about the older, proven players and more about the younger, still-learning prospects on a roster.

The youngest, most-in-need-of-learning of those prospects are the true freshman early enrollees—players who have graduated early from high school to join the program before spring term and begin the long process of learning the system.

This is often met with mixed results. Early enrollees have a long ways to go, especially at the more cerebral positions like quarterback and safety. However, even at more physical positions like defensive end, the transition from high school to college is substantial and requires a decent learning curve.

Some players throw this curve, however, and look game-ready by the time spring camp closes. Perhaps stoked by the energy of playing on a real college field, before an almost-real college crowd, for the first time in their careers, they end spring workouts with an exhibition of their improvement and make a loud statement prior to summer.

And no true freshmen have done better in their spring games—at least so far—than these ones.

 

Note: Again, to be clear, this list only includes true freshman early enrollees. No redshirt freshmen or JUCO transfers were included.

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Charlie Strong Is Just Being Realistic Saying Texas Won't Play for Title in 2014

It remains to be seen how Charlie Strong will do in year one as Texas' head coach, but there's no denying he's good at one thing: pouring an ice-cold bucket of water on high expectations. 

Via Brian Davis of the Austin American-Statesman, Strong downplayed the Longhorns' chances of playing for a national title in 2014-15 during a promotional tour stop (of all things) in Fort Worth: 

We have everything available, and I don’t know why we can’t be successful. There’s no reason for us not to be. Now, I can’t tell you how soon it’s going to be. Don’t hold me to that. Don’t say, 'Ooh, Coach said next year we’ll be in the national…' We will not be in the national championship game.

Before going any further, Strong later clarified his comments during an interview with 105.3 The Fan in Dallas.

We still have a long ways to go now. We still have a lot of work. You look at it, having the chance to get through spring ball. You look at it, just talent-wise with what we have right now. It’s a lot of work. To get to that game, you have to have a really good football team, and I just don’t know how good we are right now.

That's a reasonable statement, one that didn't have to be made at all. Strong is being realistic. Texas hasn't performed to expectations since 2009. Heading into this season, the Horns have important question marks at quarterback and offensive line. 

Above all else, Strong is attempting to change a culture in Austin 16 years in the making. That's hard, if not impossible, to do instantly. Revisionist history says that Nick Saban never struggled at Alabama, but he went 7-6 in his first year (2007), losing at home to Louisiana-Monroe. 

Saban's "Process" hadn't paid dividends yet. It takes time. 

As Texas cornerback Quandre Diggs, who opted to return for his senior season, noted after Saturday's spring game, "You’ve had no choice but to buy in [with Strong] or leave" (h/t Chuck Carlton of The Dallas Morning News).

Carlton also tweeted an excellent point. Strong is a disciple of former Notre Dame head coach Lou Holtz, and few coaches were better at downplaying expectations to the masses than Holtz. 

Strong's comments shouldn't be viewed as a negative, but the problem with the "what have you done for me lately?" mentality is that it's morphed into "what have you done for me today?" As wrong as that is, it has been reinforced by coaches like Auburn's Gus Malzahn, who took the Tigers to the BCS National Championship Game in year one last season. That's noted by Chase Goodbread of NFL.com: 

Will the Horns make a national championship appearance in 2014? Strong told The Fan that he doesn't know because he doesn't have expectations. Fans and administrators do, though. At $5 million a year, Strong is going to have to get there sooner rather than later. 

But this is year one for Strong. He was hired because he's considered one of the best coaches in the country. Like every coach, he deserves time to confirm that. Brown didn't win a national championship until year eight and with one of the best players in the country, Vince Young. It's not that the Horns weren't good before 2005, but other factors, like Oklahoma's national power streak, played a role as well. 

In short, it's hard getting to the national championship, but some programs are better equipped to do it than others. Texas is one of those programs, and Strong said as much. 

But there's nothing wrong with calling it like you see it. 

 

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

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Will Brutal 2014 Schedule Doom Bret Bielema, Arkansas?

After a 3-9 season and a nine-game losing streak to close the season, the honeymoon is over in Fayetteville. Head coach Bret Bielema's second season as the head coach of Arkansas means that it's time for the Hogs to get back to a competitive level in the SEC West.

There's a problem, though: That's a steep hill that's only getting steeper in 2014.

Arkansas has two things working against it this season: a brutal schedule and the lower-tier SEC West teams getting significantly better.

Let's start with the schedule.

The Hogs open the season on the road against defending SEC champ Auburn in one of the biggest games of opening weekend. That won't be easy for the Hogs, especially since Auburn's offense looks like it has added the extra dimension of an intermediate passing game based on quarterback Nick Marshall's spring game performance.

Arkansas' cross-division rivalry shifts from South Carolina to Missouri in 2014. That may have seemed like a blessing this time last year, but all the Tigers have done since then is win the SEC East and come within a quarter of winning the SEC title. That game is at Missouri at the end of the season, when depth—something Arkansas lacks—is usually of utmost importance.

It's rotating cross-division rivalry games is in Little Rock against Georgia. While the jury is still out on the Bulldogs, particularly because of their defense, they have all of the pieces and the schedule to make a run at a national title.

Even if they don't, Arkansas gets them fresh off a visit from Alabama. Over the last three seasons, SEC opponents are 7-11 the week following playing Alabama, with only three of those wins being against SEC competition. Teams are worn out after playing the Crimson Tide, which makes them ripe for the picking the following week.

What's more is that the lower-tier teams in the SEC West—Mississippi State and Ole Miss—are loaded with returning talent with 16 and 15 returning starters, according to Phil Steele, respectively. 

Sure, Arkansas will benefit from a healthy quarterback in Brandon Allen, another year of experience from running backs Alex Collins and Jonathan Williams and a defense that should be more consistent with new coordinator Robb Smith and senior defensive end Trey Flowers. 

But the lower-tier SEC West teams should take leaps forward, which means that unless Arkansas catches lightning in a bottle with a few key players, the gap it's facing at the bottom of the division is actually widening.

Toss in a tough road game against Texas Tech in Week 3, and Arkansas' schedule is simply brutal. That will spell doom for the Hogs, even if they do improve and become more consistent in 2014.

Another 3-9 or 4-8 season is likely for these Razorbacks based on the current landscape of the division. That won't put Bielema's job in jeopardy by any means, but it will make 2015 quite interesting in Northwest Arkansas.

 

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


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Where Mark Richt, Georgia Turn After in-State 5-Star OT Edoga Commits to USC

Georgia standout Chuma Edoga announced Monday evening that he intends to sign with USC next February. His Twitter declaration left fellow finalists Tennessee, Texas A&M, Stanford and the in-state Bulldogs searching for other options:

The 5-star offensive tackle from McEachern High School (Powder Springs, Ga.) spent time in Athens earlier this month, attending the Georgia spring game on April 12. Less than two weeks later, Edoga decided he'd rather play college football on the other side of the country.

It's a tough development to take for the Bulldogs, who extended an offer to Edoga last July. At the time, he wasn't coy about his feelings toward the team.

"Right now I'm putting Georgia at the top. They are my top school," he told Rivals.com reporter Jake Rowe. "Georgia has been one of my favorite schools growing up so I've always wanted to get an offer there so that I can maybe play there in the future."

Offers from Alabama, Ohio State, Oregon and Oklahoma arrived last fall. USC extended a scholarship in February.

Despite established familiarity with the Bulldogs, an April visit to Southern California during spring break was enough to help sway his collegiate outlook.

"The most important factor was getting the best of both worlds in academics and athletics. I think USC is very strong in both areas," Edoga told Rivals.com after his commitment. "I loved the academic tour at USC. I want to study Aero Astronautical Engineering so I can design planes."

Georgia, a squad that invested significant resources into recruiting the 6'4", 276-pound lineman, could still receive an official visit from Edoga, but he maintains that USC will be hard to beat.

"I’m going to still take my visits, but it will probably take a lot to swing me to another school," he told Atlanta Journal-Constitution reporter Michael Carvell. "I’ll probably take all five of my official visits during the fall.”

Georgia head coach Mark Richt and his staff may not be entirely out of the running for Edoga just yet, but it's an appropriate time to turn to contingency plans at the tackle position. After missing out on one of the country's premier front-line bookends, the Bulldogs must come up with an answer.

Edoga, rated No. 4 nationally among offensive tackles in 247Sports' composite rankings, is the second 5-star Peach State blocker who plans to bolt for an opportunity elsewhere. Mitch Hyatt, ranked No. 2 at tackle and No. 5 overall in this class, committed to Clemson in February.

Both linemen are listed as top-five talents in Georgia this year. Athlete Terry Godwin—the lone Bulldogs commit from the state's top 10 prospects—has visited Alabama twice this month.

Georgia is packed with 2015 talent, so it's imperative for Richt to secure in-state commitments. The loss of a player like Edoga limits options when it comes to targeting upper-echelon players.

"This is up there with the best classes I’ve seen in Georgia," Daryl Jones, the Bulldogs' director of on-campus recruiting, told Bleacher Report earlier this month. "Our recruiting home base is strong."

Georgia currently holds seven commitments in its 2015 class, including four composite 4-star recruits. The Bulldogs have done a nice job addressing the defensive line but remain in search of prospects along the offensive front.

Richt signed a slew of intriguing offensive linemen in the 2014 class—headlined by 4-star Atlanta tackle Kendall Baker—but Georgia is in serious need of significant talent on the depth chart for next season.

The Bulldogs gained a pledge from promising junior college tackle DeVondre Seymour in February. The former North Gwinnett High School standout initially signed with Georgia in 2013.

Despite whiffing on the state's top two offensive linemen, several options remain in play for Georgia.

Offensive tackle Kaleb Kim (Hoschton, Ga.) is rated a composite 4-star prospect. The Bulldogs have been in the mix for his commitment throughout the year, but South Carolina and Auburn have also made inroads.

Massive Atlanta product Mike Horton picked up an offer this week. The 3-star tackle obviously received a bump on Georgia's recruiting board after Edoga's decision.

The team could also be tempted to explore options with fellow Atlanta tackles Malik Mackey and Sage Hardin, who've yet to receive an offer from the Bulldogs. Beyond state borders, Georgia will continue to keep tabs on 4-star offensive linemen Tyler Carr (Gadsden, Ala.) and Zack Bailey (Summerville, S.C.).

Edoga is the latest top-tier Georgia target seemingly headed beyond state borders. Richt and the Bulldogs are entering a pivotal stretch of this cycle, as the team attempts to reel in its first in-state commitment since March.

The coming months will be key if Georgia aims to capitalize and maximize on an outstanding crop of homegrown players. Addressing the offensive line could kick-start the process.

 

Recruit information and rankings courtesy of 247Sports unless otherwise noted.

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Big Ten Network Releases Schedule for 2014 Prime-Time Football Games

The Big Ten Network released a six-game prime-time schedule for the upcoming season on Tuesday. It includes five conference tilts and one in-state nonconference battle between Cincinnati and Ohio State, according to Tom Dienhart of BTN.com.

Here is the full six-game schedule:

Rutgers, entering its first Big Ten season, is the only school that will host two prime-time games on the network, while Nebraska, no longer the league's newest member, is the only other school scheduled to play two prime-time games on the network.

The timing of the Maryland-Michigan State game is also of note. November night games had long been non grata in the Big Ten, but, as Dienhart writes, "this is a new era."

Ohio State will play a prime-time game against Illinois during November, albeit on ESPN or ABC instead of the Big Ten Network.

All in all, the Buckeyes are tied with Nebraska with four prime-time games scheduled in total. They will also play Virginia Tech on ESPN or ABC in September and Penn State on ESPN or ABC in October. Per Ari Wasserman of Cleveland.comthis is the first time Ohio Stadium will host three night games in one season.

The Huskers, in addition to the two Big Ten Network games listed above, will host Miami on ESPN or ABC in September and travel to Michigan State on ESPN or ABC during October.

The only schools that won't play a prime-time game this year are Indiana, Iowa, Minnesota, Purdue and Wisconsin.

 

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Pac-12 Network Running out of Time to Get on DirecTV

DirecTV just brought The Weather Channel to its knees. Will the Pac-12 follow suit and beg for forgiveness?

The Pac-12 Network is about to enter its third year of existence, yet there are no signs that it soon will be carried by DirecTV, one of the nation's top programming distributors—and the major one among sports fans. The two sides haven't even had any tangible discussions in 2014, so a resolution to the impasse is anything but imminent.

And that's very bad news for the Pac-12.

With the SEC Network about to enter the fray this August, the Pac-12 can ill afford being shut out of DirecTV for a third year and likely beyond. Should the SEC join the Big Ten to launch its network on DirecTV, it'll further cement Pac-12's status as an also-ran with its TV network further marginalized.

The biggest mistake the Pac-12 and its commissioner Larry Scott made was not to bring DirecTV into the fold when the network was launched in August 2012. And soon after the initial talks fell apart, the Pac-12 carried on a confrontational tactic that asked its fans to switch from DirecTV, with conference athletic directors leading the charge, including this one from Sandy Barbour:

The Weather Channel used the same playbook when it was dropped by DirecTV in January, taking out a full-page ad in the Wall Street Journal to taunt DirecTV. Scott should ask David Kenny, the CEO of TWC's parent company, how that worked out. Kenny finally got TWC back on DirecTV on April 9 by pledging to cut back on reality TV shows and issuing a humiliating apology.

Make no mistake: DirecTV is in no rush to make a deal with the Pac-12. It has already sustained whatever loss of subscribers it was going to be hit with over the past two years and is not at risk to lose a chunk more. It also needs to prioritize whom it needs to make a deal with in an increasingly crowded and expensive sports programming market.

With more than 20 million subscribers around the nation and nearly two million in its base in Southern California, DirecTV is currently embroiled in a spat with Time Warner Cable, which launched a new Dodgers channel this spring. All major carriers in SoCal so far have resisted Time Warner's fee demand of nearly $5 per subscriber and having the channel placed on the basic tier.

On a different front, DirecTV is actively in negotiations with the SEC Network ahead of its August launch. DirecTV has to seriously engage the SEC after its opening gambit was met with tremendous blowback from SEC fans, as well as the fact that the SEC Network is co-owned by ESPN, the most powerful entity in sports television.

The Pac-12, on the other hand, has no such clout. By deciding not to take on a partner, the conference left its network with no leverage whatsoever. And since the Pac-12 fanbase is not as rabid as SEC fans and the conference footprint contains six NFL franchises, massive fan defection from DirecTV just hasn't materialized. DirecTV remains the exclusive provider of the NFL Sunday Ticket through 2014.

Being shut out of DirecTV for two years has hurt the Pac-12's recruiting and branding, not just in football but also other sports, particularly men's basketball. This past March, a majority of the Pac-12's conference tournament games were available only to a fraction of the national audience, when every other major conference had every game on TV.

The endgame here isn't going to be pleasant for Scott, who must compromise way more than DirecTV would be willing. The Pac-12 needs to lower its demands and perhaps offer give-backs to other distributors that already carry the network.

Time is of the essence. Once DirecTV cuts a deal with the Dodgers and the SEC, there will be little to no room left for the Pac-12.

 

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