NCAA Football News

Nebraska Football: What Tommy Armstrong Must Do to Succeed

Coming out of spring practice, Nebraska quarterback Tommy Armstrong has established himself as the clear-cut starter for 2014. It certainly wasn’t on the performance at the spring game, where he went 4-of-8 for 97 yards and an interception.

But based on all reports, at the conclusion of spring practice, Armstrong was pretty well-ensconced as Nebraska’s starting quarterback next year. So if Armstrong is to lead Nebraska to greater glories, what must he accomplish?

 

Be More Accurate

Let’s do a thought experiment. Here are the blind statistics of two quarterbacks. Take a look, and think about what conclusions you can draw.

 

Completion Percentage

Touchdown/Interception Ratio

Quarterback A

51.9

9/8

Quarterback B

59.2

10/7

In comparing the two, it’s pretty clear that while neither signal-caller would be confused with Peyton Manning, Quarterback B had a fairly decided advantage in terms of general accuracy, scoring and avoiding turnovers.

Quarterback A is, of course, Armstrong’s stat line from 2013. Quarterback B? That would be for Taylor Martinez in his freshman year of 2010.  Yes, that Martinez, the one who wowed us all with his legs but terrified us with his mechanically awkward throwing motion and predilection for incompletions and interceptions. That Martinez is the one who looks statistically superior to Armstrong’s production in 2013.

Now, in many ways, the comparisons aren’t really fair. Martinez won the starting job in fall camp, where Armstrong was pressed into service midway through the season due to injury. Martinez in 2010 had a defense that was much more reliable than Armstrong did in 2013. And Martinez was so dangerous with his legs that the passing game was far more open than it was—or will be—for Armstrong.

But the numbers don’t lie, regardless of what Mark Twain said. If Armstrong is to be successful as Nebraska’s quarterback, those numbers simply have to get better.

 

Manage The Game

It may very well be unfair to ask Armstrong to make a quantum leap in his passing stats from 2013 to 2014. But given what Nebraska has on offense, the onus likely will not be on Armstrong to be successful.

Nebraska’s best weapon on offense, pretty clearly, will be I-back Ameer Abdullah. Behind Abdullah are a number of talented backs, including Imani Cross and Terrell Newby who both demonstrated unexpected flexibility in the spring game. Nebraska’s receiving corps, led by Kenny Bell and including Jamal Turner and Jordan Westerkamp, may be the deepest and most talented in the school’s history.

Of course, what Armstrong does under center will be critically important. But it doesn’t look like Nebraska will need to lean on Armstrong to be the driving offensive force. Instead, Nebraska will need Armstrong to perform in a role similar to Russell Wilson for the Super Bowl champion Seattle Seahawks—provide leadership, make plays and move the chains when needed and protect the football.

(And yes, that gratuitous reference to Wilson comes from a Seahawks fan still basking in the glow of Super Bowl XLVIII and looking for any excuse to bring it up in print. Get used to it.)

 

Just Win, Baby

Yes, I understand this argument is circular—the thing Armstrong needs to do in order to win is to win. But at a certain level, that’s the nature of the job. In his freshman year, Armstrong was dazzling at times and cringe-worthy at other times.

But ultimately, Armstrong is 7-1 as a starter. That kind of momentum and production is part of the reason he has been able to establish himself as a leader in the huddle and on the field. Football is, ultimately, a funny game with an odd-shaped ball that takes weird bounces. Throughout the course of the 2014 season, Armstrong will be presented with unpredictable obstacles to overcome.

If he is able to figure out a way to guide Nebraska through those obstacles and keep winning, he will be able to keep the momentum going he has generated already and allow his success to beget further success.

 

Statistics courtesy of the invaluable cfbstats.com.

If you'd like to contact Patrick, send an email to patrickrunge@gmail.com.

Or you could also always use the Twitter machine to follow @patrickrunge

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Clemson Football: Top Performers from the Tigers' Spring Game

Clemson's annual spring game is now in the books. While the most noteworthy topic surrounding Clemson football this week was the dismissal of sophomore quarterback Chad Kelly, the spring game saw several Tigers stand out in a big way.

The White squad, led by senior quarterback Cole Stoudt, easily won the game by a score of 24-5.

While he played well, it was the defense that left Death Valley buzzing.

Both the Orange and White squads combined to allow just 588 total yards on 132 plays for an average of less than 4.5 yards per play. 

Is this a sign of things to come? Or was the offense's inability to consistently move the ball a direct result of several key departures on that side of the ball?

The truth probably lies somewhere in the middle.

So what players stood out the most? Here are some of the Tigers' top performers from Saturday's spring game.

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UCLA Football: Detailing Jim Mora's Recruiting Philosophy

Jim Mora's recruiting philosophy is a fascinating sight to behold. A revamped strategy from the previous regime has UCLA football recruiting at an extremely high level.

During his time in Westwood, Mora has utilized a five-pronged plan in regards to garnering sustained success on the recruiting trails. By demonstrating vigor, zeal and doggedness, Mora and his staff are truly attempting to catapult UCLA into the upper echelon of college football. 

Below will detail Mora's philosophy when it comes to recruiting. Each part of the five-pronged plan will be detailed in its own section. 

 

Target Versatile Prospects

Mora has been a part of three recruiting classes during his time in Westwood. A recurring theme is versatility. This characteristic might be the most integral for Mora when evaluating a prospect. 

Versatility allows for a myriad of things. For one, a prospect (or player) won't be specifically defined to one single position. Positional versatility offers more flexibility from both a personnel and schematic standpoint.  

Myles Jack is a perfect example. Mora has utilized Jack at both linebacker and in the backfield as a running back. When speaking purely about Jack's ability as a defender, he's got the versatility to perform in the base defense, as well as in the nickel formation (when tasked with covering more ground). 

With regards to the 2013 recruiting class, multiple members were employed on both sides of the ball.

Starting defensive linemen Kenny Clark and Eddie Vanderdoes were used in UCLA's defensive-laden package on offense. Vanderdoes even scored a rushing touchdown in the 35-14 victory over Southern Cal in the Coliseum. Defenders Cassius Marsh, Jordan Zumwalt and Keenan Graham were also deployed as blockers in this package. 

In regards to a possible recruiting pitch, schools will mention the possibility of a prospect competing on both sides of the ball in college. In some cases, this sentiment could even be promised (should the said recruit opt to sign with the school).

UCLA can illustrate this thought with actual game tape. This should make UCLA even more attractive to elite high school athletes. 

In the 2014 class, expect the likes of Adarius Pickett, Ainuu Taua and Jaleel Wadood to be given the opportunity to participate on both offense and defense (in some capacity). 

By employing players on both sides of the ball, Mora is catering to the unique attributes of each athlete. He's essentially utilizing their respective talents to the fullest. 

 

Making Inroads in the Southeast

There's no question the Southeastern portion of the country is a hotbed for elite high school football talent. 

UCLA has had mild success during Mora's tenure—in large part to his NFL experience. He was the head coach of the Atlanta Falcons for three seasons. At the time, the athletic brilliance of Michael Vick was on full display. 

Mora's name still holds tremendous clout in the general area. High school recruits are perhaps too young to remember Mora's tenure in Atlanta, but their respective families likely remember his time as the head man. 

Under Mora, UCLA has gotten its proverbial foot in the door with many highly regarded recruits in the South. The Bruins were a finalist for top recruits such as Malachi Dupre and Rashaan Evans. 

UCLA was able to poach starting corner Fabian Moreau and starting punter Sean Covington out of Florida. Asiantii Woulard—the quarterback of the future—also hails from the Sunshine State. Stud linebacker Kenny Young—a native of New Orleans—chose to sign with the Bruins over the likes of LSU and Texas A&M. 

Within the last three years, the state of Texas has been particularly good to the Bruins. Simon Goines, Caleb Benenoch, Zach Whitley, Najee Toran, Aaron Sharp, Deon Hollins and Eldridge Massington all hail from the Lone Star State. Whitley was committed to Alabama before switching his pledge to UCLA. 

The vigor of recruiting in the South for 2015 hasn't waned one bit. Elite defensive tackle and Florida native CeCe Jefferson has been effusive in his praise of UCLA. Other prospects such as Roquan Smith, Jeffery Holland, Ryan Newsome and Soso Jamabo figure to be targeted as well. 

Even if the percentage of signing recruits from the South isn't overly high, UCLA is making itself known in the region. If the Bruins continue to win at a high clip, the interest in coming to Westwood will continue to grow. 

 

Reestablishing Ties to Local High School Power Programs

Mora is doing, and has done, a fantastic job of targeting top high schools in the greater Los Angeles area. 

Traditionally speaking, UCLA hasn't recruited well at two of the top high schools in the area: Gardena Serra High School and St. John Bosco High School in Bellflower, Calif. 

In the '14 class, UCLA was able to sign two Serra prospects in Dwight Williams and Jordan Lasley. 2014 signees Wadood and Jacob Tuioti-Mariner both hail from St. John Bosco. UCLA has a commitment from 2015 quarterback Josh Rosen—also a Bosco product. 

It's imperative for UCLA to put a fence around the Southern California area. Realistically, the Bruins don't have to leave California. The talent pool in California is amongst the best in the entire country. 

By keeping tabs on the top high school programs in the state, it enables UCLA to build relationships at these schools. It should, in theory, pay dividends down the road. 

 

Being Active on Twitter

Mora is extremely active on the social media site Twitter.

Much of his content addresses the program as a whole. Anything from practice schedules to motivational messages or even pictures of the campus are constantly shown. 

For recruits residing outside of Los Angeles, it offers a great grasp of life from within the university and the football program itself. Twitter also allows for Mora to connect with recruits in a more convenient fashion. In this day and age, it's also more conventional for teenagers. 

Quarterback Brett Hundley's Heisman campaign has been virtually birthed by Mora on the social media website. The #BruinRevolution has also become a staple. 

It's a very shrewd course of action from Mora's perspective. By promoting the brand of UCLA football across social media in such an ardent fashion, he's drumming up considerable excitement for the program. 

 

NFL Experience

Mora has compiled a staff with possibly more National Football League experience than any other currently existing in the collegiate game. Mora himself has been associated with the NFL for 25 years.

Offensive line coach Adrian Klemm is a three-time Super Bowl Champion with the New England Patriots. Wide receivers coach Eric Yarber has coached Pro Bowl receivers in T.J. Houshmandzadeh and Chad Johnson, and defensive coordinator Jeff Ulbrich was a 10-year veteran with the San Francisco 49ers. 

Offensive coordinator Noel Mazzone had prior experience coaching with the New York Jets. Running backs coach Kennedy Polamalu is widely respected as an excellent teacher of the game.

During his time with the Jacksonville Jaguars, running backs Fred Taylor and Maurice Jones-Drew, and fullback Greg Jones all garnered Pro Bowl honors. 

This could be perhaps the most important recruiting tool UCLA has to offer. Mora and his staff have the ability to get perspective recruits to the NFL. The mass amount of experience proves this notion.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

10 College Football Teams Having the Best and Worst Offseasons so Far

The eight months that separate one college football season from the next are just as important as the four when the games are actually played.

While some squads use the offseason to build momentum with a string of positive incidents, others are faced with a long line of challenges that produce more questions than answers.

What remains to be seen is how the long months off the field will affect the final scores in September, October, November and December.

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Breaking Down LSU Recruit Trey Quinn's Highlight Tape

Trey Quinn is a 4-star receiver who signed with LSU in February. Among the best players in Louisiana last year, he hails from Barbe High School in Lake Charles. 

At 6'1" and 200 pounds, the talented pass-catcher has great quickness in the slot. He separates from defenders by running crisp routes, plus he attempts to catch everything with his hands.

With 6,566 receiving yards in his career, he holds the national all-time record in that category for high school football, according to 247Sports.

He is expected to develop into a productive starter in Baton Rouge. Based on what he shows on his highlight tape, that expectation is correct.

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College Football: Breaking Down Each 2015 5-Star WR Recruit

Programs looking to add an elite receiver prospect must take a look at one of the 5-star receivers in the 2015 class. It's tough to get a sure read on prospects due to the many variables that surround the position, but each 5-star receiver exhibits terrific traits.

Not all of them are similar players, however. A receiver in Texas makes plays by possessing good strength and fantastic hands. Meanwhile, a speedster from Arizona has dynamic quickness and run-after-the-catch skills.

Plus, a receiver in Florida has the size to do a lot of different things on the perimeter.

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BYU Football: Who Will Emerge as Cougars' Top Receiver?

BYU has plenty of depth at wide receiver this season, and although the Cougars will be without players Cody Hoffman, Skyler Ridley and JD Falslev, several receivers own the potential to replace those vacancies.

But who will emerge as Taysom Hill's No. 1 target? Ross Apo or Mitch Mathews might, as well as any number of the transfer wideouts, among others.

Here are BYU's top wide receivers.

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Oklahoma State Football: Game-by-Game Predictions for 2014

Now that spring practice is over, the 2014 Oklahoma State Cowboys roster is beginning to take shape. Because of that, we can begin to make early predictions for how this fall season is going to play out.

Obviously, it's still very early and things could drastically change between now and the start of the season. However, last season I projected a 10-2 regular season record for the Pokes, and that's how it ended up (of course I picked the wrong losses, but that's besides the point). Therefore, it makes sense to try my hand again at being a sage.

How are the Cowboys going to fare in 2014? Read on to find out.

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Alabama Football: 3 Offensive Linemen Who Must Step Up in 2014

With Alabama in the final stages of its preparations for Saturday’s spring game, one unit that fans and coaches will be paying close attention to is the offensive line.

As pointed out by Bleacher Report’s Michael Felder, a priority for Nick Saban and his staff is getting the offensive line to regain its physical identity up front. This is key to the Tide’s quest to claim a spot in this season’s upcoming playoff.

After a spring filled with a number of experiments, Saban and offensive line coach Mario Cristobal have used the same first unit over the last two weeks. BamaOnline’s Marc Torrence reports that—from left to right—the line consists of Brandon Greene, Arie Kouandjio, Ryan Kelly, Leon Brown and Austin Shepherd.

Bleacher Report’s Christopher Walsh noted earlier this month that Saban has been pleased with that unit’s progression in the spring, but the final starting five likely won’t be settled until fall camp.

“I’m sure that probably before the end of spring we’ll probably shuffle them a little bit like we did last spring with some guys playing different spots to see if there’s a different combination of guys that gives us a better opportunity to be successful. So we’ll at least know heading into the fall, adding some new players who will be competing as well, what guys' capabilities are and what they can do,” he said.

Regardless of which players fill out the Tide’s starting group against West Virginia on Aug. 30, developing the type of cohesion and consistency that characterized the units on the Tide’s title-winning teams under Saban will be critical to the team’s offensive success.

Which players among the Tide’s trench unit will be counted upon to step up this fall?

 

Ryan Kelly

After a bitter ending to the 2013 season, the Tide’s offensive line entered spring with virtually an open competition for all of the spots along the line.

However, with the transfer of veteran Chad Lindsay, fourth-year junior Ryan Kelly is probably the safest bet to assuming a starting role at center.

One of three returning starters from last season’s line unit, Kelly can provide a steadying presence at a position often referred to as the “quarterback” of the offensive line.

For Kelly, who missed some time last season due to a knee injury, staying healthy and providing the type of leadership that his predecessor, former Tide All-American Barrett Jones, displayed throughout his career will be an area of focus for him in 2014.

 

Leon Brown

When reliable senior right guard Anthony Steen was lost for the Sugar Bowl due to injury, Saban and Cristobal turned to JUCO transfer Leon Brown—originally recruited as a tackle—to fill in.

After starting out the spring getting work at both tackle spots, Brown appears to be settling into the spot he manned against Oklahoma. As AL.com’s Mike Herndon detailed, Saban endorsed Brown as a player with a good shot to be in the starting lineup against West Virginia on Aug. 30.

"Leon Brown has played in the bowl game and we have a lot of confidence in him and I think he's probably a guy that'll be in the best five guys," Saban said.

If Brown ends up at right guard, he will have his hands full replacing the most dependable player on last season’s unit.

 

Arie Kouandjio

After battling injuries throughout his career, it was a minor miracle for Arie Kouandjio to earn a starting job alongside younger brother Cyrus prior to last season.

With his brother off to the NFL, the elder Kouandjio is tasked with building on his first year as a starter—one that included its share of rough moments.

Thus far through spring, Kouandjio has maintained a grip on the left guard spot he occupied last season. He will have to continue to improve in order to hold on to that post with the Tide set to welcome a number of talented linemen from the 2014 recruiting class in the summer.

 

While the depth chart is still a long way from being finalized, another year of seasoning for players such as Kouandjio, Brown and Kelly will only help them grow individually and make the line stronger as a unit.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Best Sales Pitch for Each Top 4 Team to Land 4-Star QB Zach Gentry

Zach Gentry ranks highly among remaining uncommitted 2015 quarterback prospects, pulling in several scholarship offers since his junior season. The 4-star recruit has plenty of programs to consider but is currently focused on four specific schools, according to his conversation with Rivals.com reporter Rob Cassidy (subscription required).

He identified Texas, Tennessee, Alabama and Oklahoma State as primary suitors at this stage, though Gentry wouldn't go as far to eliminate other teams just yet. The 6'7", 230-pound passer presents an intriguing option for his favorites, who each feature unique situations at the position.

Gentry, a standout at Eldorado High School in Albuquerque, N.M., is rated ninth nationally among 2015 pro-style quarterbacks in 247Sports' composite rankings. His offer list also includes Louisville, Maryland, Northwestern and Oregon State.

He passed for more than 3,600 yards and 26 touchdowns during the past two seasons combined. Though Gentry possesses a massive physical frame, his mobility is also a factor for opposing defenses.

He rushed for 617 yards and 16 scores as a junior.

With four squads rising to the forefront for his services, we examine what each favorite has to offer.

 

Texas

The Longhorns will undoubtedly undergo some alterations to roster-structure philosophy with new leadership in place. Texas welcomes 4-star quarterback prospect Jerrod Heard to campus this summer, though he didn't commit to the current regime.

Head coach Charlie Strong saw Teddy Bridgewater elevate Louisville in recent years and understands the importance of pairing his defensive-minded approach with a potent passer. Gentry traveled to Austin on Thursday for a closer look at the Longhorns.

The other two visitors—brothers Kirk and Collin Johnson—committed while on campus. Gentry didn't follow suit, but he still had an opportunity to develop a clearer picture of what the program offers.

First-year offensive coordinator Joe Wickline has previous knowledge of Gentry from his time at Oklahoma State, where he helped orchestrate one of America's most potent passing attacks during a nine-year tenure in Stillwater.

Texas has yet to secure a quarterback in the 2015 recruiting cycle, but already holds commitments from impressive offensive difference-makers like Dallas running back Jordan Stevenson and Houston tackle Toby Weathersby.

Heard might be first in line to carve out a role as Texas' quarterback of the future, but Gentry would be the first player at the position handpicked by Strong and his staff. He picked up an offer from the Longhorns in late March and has quickly reciprocated interest.

 

Tennessee

Head coach Butch Jones assembled one of the country's most impressive 2014 classes following his first season at the helm. He signed more than 30 players, including explosive early enrollees Josh Malone (wide receiver) and Jalen Hurd (running back).

The Volunteers' 2015 class already includes Georgia receiver Preston Williams, who rates fifth nationally at the position in 247Sports' composite rankings. Jones has loaded up on offensive weapons in the past few months but he's still in search of a game changer at quarterback, a position that didn't receive fresh talent in the 2014 class.

Tennessee picked up a pledge from 4-star athlete Jauan Jennings earlier this month. The in-state commit aims to play quarterback at the next level, but could ultimately end up at another position.

Gentry would provide another option in a class that will probably end up with two passers. Florida prospect Torrance Gibson, rated the consensus No. 1 dual-threat quarterback in this cycle, visited Knoxville days before Gentry arrived in late March.

Gentry and Gibson are arguably the two hottest quarterback commodities on the market right now, so Tennessee aims to secure one soon. Gibson has already stated his intentions of spending an official visit with the Volunteers, while Gentry told 247Sports reporter Ryan Callahan he was "blown away" by his trip to the university.

Either quarterback would arguably be a favorite to start as an underclassman. That may encourage Gentry to pull the trigger on a commitment sooner rather than later.

 

Alabama

Nick Saban doesn't have to do much to sell his vision at Alabama. His three national championship trophies since 2009 get the point across pretty clearly.

The Crimson Tide are typically ultra selective when it comes to offering quarterbacks, so Gentry should feel flattered by the way Alabama has pursued him since extending an offer in February. He is one of just three uncommitted passers to currently hold a scholarship offer from Saban, per 247Sports.

New offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin has made Gentry a top priority, so his upcoming visit to campus is pivotal for both parties. He'll be in attendance this Saturday at Alabama's spring game, per 247Sports reporter Charles Power (subscription required).

"It’s going to be really attractive with all the fans and the first game day setting, first true spring game that I’ll be watching," Gentry told Power. "I’m looking forward to that game atmosphere and seeing the practice, the facilities, and getting to know their coaches."

The Tide are under pressure to lock up a passer after losing a commitment from 5-star California Ricky Town in January. He flipped to USC and left Alabama searching elsewhere.

Gentry has been on campus at each of his four favorites except Alabama. Expect the program to play up its game-day environment throughout a weekend in Tuscaloosa that features several high-profile visitors.

 

Oklahoma State

The Cowboys offered Gentry in January but don't necessarily have as strong a need for him as the other teams on this list. Oklahoma State received a commitment from 3-star in-state quarterback John Kolar last month.

Still, the opportunity to lead an up-tempo attack in Stillwater has to be appealing for any passer. During the past four seasons, the Cowboys have scored at least 50 points in 19 games, including seven 60-point outbursts.

Oklahoma State is two years removed from a Big 12 title and Fiesta Bowl Championship. The program has picked up steam under the guidance of head coach Mike Gundy and through the financial support of T. Boone Pickens.

The Cowboys can offer Gentry a chance to compete in a pass-happy offensive scheme that would allow him to regularly sit back in the pocket and sling the football downfield. He wouldn't be the team's only incoming quarterback, but could view immediate competition as a challenge worth accepting in order to take the reigns of a nationally feared offense.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

B/R's Recruiting Buzz: Expect 5-Star CB to Commit to Alabama

The battle for the top recruits of the 2015 class is heating up, with huge commitments coming almost every day. According to B/R's Recruiting Insider Adam Donaldson, 5-star CB Minkah Fitzpatrick will be visiting Alabama this weekend for the spring game. Could this be the weekend Fitzpatrick's recruitment comes to an end?

Adam Donaldson broke down some of the insider recruiting info he has been hearing the past few days with Adam Lefkoe.

 

Highlights courtesy XOS Digital

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Alabama Releases Crimson and White Rosters for 2014 A-Day

On Thursday, Alabama revealed the rosters for this weekend's annual A-Day game, and while it's hard to say anything for sure, it appears that the first-team offense (on Team Crimson) will go up against the first-team defense (on Team White).

The full rosters can be found here, courtesy of AL.com's Andrew Gribble. These are obviously not ironclad—and aren't even definitely what head coach Nick Saban considers the current version of each unit—but they are, at the very least, a good indication of where the depth chart might stand on each side of the ball after spring camp.

Of the notable decisions, Blake Sims' inclusion with the first-team offense seems most important—albeit predictable. His two main competitors for the No. 1 job this spring, Alec Morris and Cooper Bateman, are both paired up with the second-stringers.

If Sims does not play well, he will have no excuse.

Also of note is the inclusion of early enrollee Cam Robinson with the first-team offense, where he is expected to be protecting Sims' blind side. Robinson was the No. 4 overall player and top-rated offensive lineman on the 247Sports Composite, and he appears to have at least a slight edge over redshirt sophomore Brandon Greene (who was assigned to Team White).

On defense, the early edge at the biggest position battle goes to Reggie Ragland, who was included on the first-team defense over Reuben Foster after enjoying a nice camp. The Tide can't go wrong with either player in that competition, though, as Ragland was the No. 1 inside linebacker on the 247Sports composite three cycles ago, and Foster was the No. 1 inside linebacker the cycle after that.

Alabama's spring game will kick off Saturday afternoon at 2:00 p.m. ET and will be broadcast live on ESPNU.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Taiwanese Animation Takes on 'Dirty' SEC Programs Based on SB Nation Report

The Southeastern Conference has ruled college football for much of the past decade, so some fans believe that the teams in the conference aren't running clean programs.

SB Nation's Steven Godfrey introduced the world to "the bag men" earlier this month. For those who don't want to read the lengthy report, the video above gives its take on bag men and the SEC.

[YouTube]

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Alabama Football: Why OJ Howard Will Be Lane Kiffin's Best Friend in 2014

TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — One can’t have a discussion about University of Alabama sophomore tight end O.J. Howard without mentioning the play.

It was against rival LSU last season, and host Alabama was down 7-3 in the second quarter. The then-freshman was the lone player to line up wide right, with three wide receivers all on the left side. After catching the slant pass in stride he kept going, outracing all of the defensive backs to the end zone for a momentum-changing 52-yard touchdown.

“Everybody always refers back to that one, because I got to show off my speed a little bit,” Howard said. 

“I think what happened was I caught the ball and I saw a seam and I was like, 'I'm running full-speed no matter what,' and those guys didn't think I was going to be that fast because I was a tight end. They were like jogging and when they tried to speed up it was too late, so I kind of shocked them a little bit.”

He kind of shocked a lot of fans at Bryant-Denny Stadium as well, who also weren’t necessarily used to seeing something so big (6’6”, 240 pounds) move so fast. While the phrase “He gone!” can be heard in these parts, long touchdowns by tight ends have been anything but commonplace.

It only added to the excitement about Howard, who hopes to become sort of a cross between Rob Gronkowski of the New England Patriots and former North Carolina tight end Eric Ebron, considered by many to be the best tight end available in this year’s NFL draft.

"To have a tight end like him that is certainly a threat in the passing game, either vertically, horizontally or play-action passes, is really a tremendous asset for us,” Nick Saban said about Howard after Alabama went on to beat LSU, 38-17. "He's really matured a lot as a player and is becoming a better blocker and a good all-around player.

"I think that guy's going to be an outstanding tight end for us."

Nevertheless, Alabama didn’t throw to the tight ends as much under Doug Nussmeier as it did with previous offensive coordinator Jim McElwain, and last year the Crimson Tide had their worst receiving production at the position since Saban arrived in 2007.

Even with his 52-yard touchdown, Howard still only had 14 receptions for 269 yards.

During the previous six seasons, the leading receiver among tight ends had at minimum 24, Michael Williams in 2012 just edging out Preston’s Dial’s 25 in 2010.

Yes, even though Williams was primarily known as a blocking tight end, he had 10 more receptions the previous season despite Howard averaging 19.2 yards per reception and 11.4 yards after the catch. Additionally, Brad Smelley’s longest reception when he played for the Crimson Tide was 37 yards (which occurred during his freshman season), and Colin Peek’s was 33 yards.

Howard also only had one reception in the red zone, for his other touchdown, which was 17 yards.

Overall, all of the tight ends combined made just 27 catches for 380 yards, which works out to 9.04 percent of all Crimson Tide receptions. That figure doesn’t include Jalston Fowler, who was more of a running back and fullback but will line up more as a receiving tight end this season in the position Alabama calls H-back. Even with his statistics factored in, the tight ends still would have had only 34 receptions for 385 yards.

That's expected to change under new offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin since there are few, if any, linebackers in college football fast enough to cover Howard. It's an obvious mismatch to be exploited. 

While Saban—who has coached an All-American player at every position except punter and tight end—covets more explosive plays, Howard himself calls the revamped offense “tight-end friendly.”

“It's like getting our athletes in space and showing off our ability,” he described. “We have a lot of speed on the offensive side of the ball. It's going to really help our athletic ability and show it off for us.”

Meanwhile, Howard has become more accustomed to the collegiate game and is playing with a lot more confidence this spring. His route-running has improved, he doesn’t second-guess himself nearly as a much and, perhaps most importantly, he’s been working on the part of his game he didn’t have to do much of in high school, blocking.

Obviously Howard already had the receiving and running parts down, as LSU learned the hard way last October.

“It was like a big change in the game, and then everybody was like, 'Oh man, who was that guy? He was fast,'” Howard recalled.

“It was exciting for me too.”

 

Christopher Walsh is the lead Alabama football writer for Bleacher Report. All quotes were obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted. 

Follow @CrimsonWalsh

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Clemson Fan Paints Tiger Paw on In-State Rival South Carolina's Football Field

Clemson and South Carolina like to argue about who runs the state. Based on the latest prank, the Tigers have the upper edge.

It looks like being the first team from South Carolina to win a BCS bowl wasn't enough for Tigers fans. At least one Clemson fan thought things should be taken up a notch by painting the Tiger paw on the Gamecocks' football field. 

Bold move.

[Twitter, h/t College Spun]

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Texas Football: Complete Spring Game Preview

Texas football fans eager to watch some gridiron action will get their fix Saturday at the annual Orange-White spring football game. The Longhorns have finished the first spring practice of the Charlie Strong era, and it has not been all smooth sailing.

A handful of potential starters will not participate in Saturday's game due to new and lingering injuries, including the injury of potential starting quarterback David Ash. He suffered a Jones fracture in his left foot and will be sidelined for the spring game.

But not all news heading into Saturday's game is dreary for the Longhorns. Here's a look at what to watch in the Texas Longhorns spring game.

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Oregon Football: Who Will Step Up After WR Bralon Addison's ACL Injury?

Oregon received some terrible news when it was reported that junior wide receiver Bralon Addison had torn his ACL in spring practice. Addison recorded 890 yards and seven touchdowns last season for the Ducks and is known for his explosiveness on the field.

Bleacher Report spoke with Andrew Greif of The Oregonian, who discussed who could step up in Addison's place as well as Oregon's national title chances without its star receiver.

Can Oregon still win the whole thing without Addison?

Watch the video and find out.

Highlights courtesy of xosdigital.com

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Nebraska Football: Bo Pelini's 4 Biggest Concerns Post-Spring Practice

"Overall, I thought it was a very productive spring for us," head coach Bo Pelini said during his spring game press conference. "I thought we got a lot accomplished."

While there were plenty of distractions on the field (specifically, a cat), it did seem Pelini was right. The Huskers did appear to have accomplished a lot during spring practice.

The secondary looked sharp, as well as the I-backs. Those were definitely two areas that left little for fans to be concerned about for 2014.

However, there were still a few positions that likely left Pelini a little concerned. The good news is that the coach has a few months to get those things corrected.

Read on to find out what the positions are.

 

 

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Brothers Kirk and Collin Johnson Commit to Texas Longhorns

The Longhorns landed commitments from brothers Kirk and Collin Johnson on Thursday, picking up a pair of impressive California recruits. The duo, sons of former Texas star Johnnie Johnson, declared their intentions on Twitter:

Texas head coach Charlie Strong welcomes players who maintain program tradition and effectively bolster two recruiting classes. Kirk is a junior running back and defensive back, while Collin is a sophomore wide receiver.

Their father earned All-American honors at cornerback with the Longhorns in 1978 and 1979. He was a first-round NFL draft pick in 1980 and went on to a lengthy career with the Los Angeles Rams.

Johnson was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame in 2007. He apparently passed plenty of his football genes to Kirk and Collin, who each hold several scholarship offers.

Kirk, a 3-star prospect, is rated No. 43 nationally among 2015 athletes in 247Sports composite rankings. He was limited to seven games at Valley Christian High School (San Jose, Calif.) in 2013 due to injury but still managed to rush for 1,228 yards and 11 touchdowns.

He burst onto the scene as a sophomore, when he gained 1,469 yards and 21 scores on the ground. Kirk, who stands at 6'0", 191 lbs. also holds offers from Washington, Utah, Cal and Arizona State.

Collin's recruitment process has certainly been more accelerated.

The 6'4", 180-pound playmaker already warranted scholarships from USC, Arizona State, Utah, Rutgers, Cal and TCU since late February. He is rated No. 15 nationally among 2016 receivers in 247Sports' composite rankings.

Collin caught 10 passes for 99 yards and three touchdowns last season, leading the team in all three receiving categories, according to MaxPreps.

Both brothers collected an offer from Texas in early March. They spent time in Austin with their father for a junior day and didn't delay long before deciding to commit to the Longhorns.

Kirk is the ninth member of Texas' 2015 class, and the second this week. Houston area running back Tristian Houston pledged to the Longhorns on Monday.

The class ranks 10th nationally in 247Sports' composite rankings. Texas rates second in the Big 12, behind only West Virginia.

Collin is the Longhorns' first sophomore pickup.

 

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

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Dan Dierdorf Will Be Color Commentator for Michigan Foootball Radio

In his first year of "retirement" after three decades of doing TV work for ABC and CBS, college football and NFL Hall of Famer Dan Dierdorf will spend the fall doing color commentary for Michigan games on the school's IMG Radio Network.

The move was announced in a press release from the university, which also tabbed veteran color commentator Jim Brandstatter as his partner and play-by-play announcer:

The University of Michigan Athletic Department and IMG College, the university's multimedia rights partner, announced today (Thursday, April 17) that college and NFL Hall of Fame player and broadcaster Dan Dierdorf will be joining Jim Brandstatter in the radio booth for Wolverines football broadcasts on the Michigan IMG Radio Network beginning this fall.

Brandstatter, who has served as the team's color commentator on the flagship radio broadcast for the past 34 years, will handle play-by-play duties, and Dierdorf will provide color commentary for the flagship broadcast of Michigan football, heard on WWJ-AM (950) in Detroit.

Dierdorf went to high school in Canton, Ohio, but chose to play for Michigan and head coach Bo Schembechler in the late 1960s. A speedy offensive tackle, he helped the Wolverines win the Big Ten in 1969, going All-Conference that season and All-American in 1970.

"I'm so excited to be able to come back to my alma mater and contribute in this manner," said Dierdorf, according to the release. "This is the only broadcasting job that I would have considered after retiring from network television. It's a chance to return to the city where Bump (Elliott) gave me an opportunity to play for the greatest program in the world and Bo (Schembechler) made me a man."

Dierdorf was part of the ABC Monday Night Football booth from 1987-99. He left for CBS following the 1999 season and spent the next decade and a half sharing booths with the likes of Dick Enberg and, more recently, Greg Gumbel.

Brandstatter is a legend in his own right, having spent the past 34 years doing color on Michigan games for the school's flagship radio station. He has also hosted the Michigan football coach's show since 1980. However, this is his first foray into calling play-by-play, so it should be interesting to see how he adapts to the new role.

Head coach Brady Hoke does not seem too concerned.

"Jim and Dan are hall of fame broadcasters and great Michigan men," Hoke said, per the release. "They will provide a unique perspective to the broadcasting booth that I'm sure our fans will enjoy on football Saturdays, and you can guarantee they will have a keen analysis of Michigan Football on each broadcast."

Michigan opens its 2014 season at the Big House against Appalachian State, of all teams, on Aug. 30.

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