NCAA Football News
Aaron Murray left the University of Georgia as a four-year starter and the holder of practically every school passing record. He led the Bulldogs to two SEC East Championships, set several new highs in conference statistical categories and was the face of the Bulldog program from 2010-2013.
But he isn't Georgia's best pro prospect in this year's draft.
That distinction belongs to tight end Arthur Lynch.
Two Impressive Careers
One would be hard-pressed to nitpick the collegiate accomplishments of Murray or Lynch.
Murray completed 62 percent of his career passes while throwing for 12,885 yards and 119 touchdowns. From the tight end position, Lynch was—particularly over the past two seasons—one of the record-setting QB's favorite targets.
Sure, the Dawgs never claimed an SEC Championship during the duo's tenure in Athens, but even that relative shortcoming does not rest squarely on the shoulders of these offensive stars. Over the course of their final three seasons in Athens, Murray, Lynch and the rest of the Dawgs lost a total of 11 games. Opposing offenses scored 31 or more points in 10 of those outings.
Murray's statistics speak for themselves, and Lynch's role as a foundation for Georgia's passing game was unquestioned, but season-end accolades probably tell the best story of their individual careers. At the end of the season, Georgia players selected four permanent captains from the 2013 team. One was Murray; another was Lynch.
Mock Draft Projections
Despite recent success, Murray and Lynch may be the lone Bulldogs drafted this week. And experts don't exactly agree on where either player could land.
Bleacher Report's Matt Miller has tabbed Murray as the Saints' third-round pick (No. 91 overall) in his latest mock draft. Interestingly enough, he has Lynch joining him in New Orleans via a fifth-round pick (No. 169 overall).
With such unclear futures ahead, this week's draft can have a drastic impact on the careers of both players. That wide array of possibilities is what makes Lynch a better NFL prospect.
For Murray, much of his success will depend on outside factors. He seems to be fully recovered from a late-season knee injury, but if that's not the case, his progress as a rookie will be hindered. Similarly, if he's drafted by a team that resigns him to third-team duty, he may miss out on valuable reps early in his career, and as a result, he could be lost in the shuffle.
Murray possesses many of the skills necessary to succeed at the NFL level, but some of his best qualities are intangibles that won't necessarily be displayed if he's on the sideline holding a clipboard while the top two quarterbacks on the roster duke it out for playing time.
Lynch, on the other hand, can fit in just about anywhere. Murray supporters are quick to point out his experience in Georgia's pro-style offense as a selling point for his NFL future, but Lynch thrived in the very same offensive system. Accordingly, he's an NFL-ready football player in several regards.
He's a capable run-blocker. If he wasn't, he wouldn't have seen the field as a Bulldog. In his two years as a full-time starter, he helped pave the way for Georgia runners to rack up over 4,700 yards on the ground. That skill will translate to the NFL, where a big, sturdy, blocking tight end is still valued.
Additionally, he's capable of getting open downfield as a receiver. He registered 13 games with three or more catches as a starter at tight end. He averaged more than 16 yards per catch over the course of his career.
Lynch does not fit the hyperathletic mold of a Jimmy Graham or even a Rob Gronkowski, but he does have a diverse skill set that can help practically any team in the draft immediately—even if only on special teams.
Murray may also have a fantastic NFL career, and he's certainly hard to write off. But in the simplest of terms, this may be a matter of supply and demand.
Most teams keep three tight ends and three quarterbacks, but the usage rate of a third tight end is much higher than that of a third passer. Combine that notion with the fact that many major outlets have Lynch ranked higher than Murray in their respective position groups, and Lynch seems to have a more firm NFL future.
To be sure, neither player's work is done. Murray must strive to take ownership of a new playbook and master control of an offense the same way he did at the University of Georgia. Lynch must pick up the finer points of footwork and continue to add size and strength to be a formidable force within an offense.
If their time at Georgia is any indication, NFL fans can expect both players to handle their business in a professional and diligent manner. But for Lynch, there may be fewer obstacles beyond his control.
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ATLANTA — Thirteen seconds mean the world to Auburn head coach Gus Malzahn.
When Florida State quarterback Jameis Winston hit wide receiver Kelvin Benjamin for the game-winning touchdown of the 2014 BCS National Championship Game, 13 seconds were left on the clock. When they ticked off, Auburn's national championship hopes—which seemed ever so close to becoming reality just a few hours before—went with them.
The number "13" will always be special for the 2013 Tigers, first for their improbable run to the title game and later for what might have been.
It's also serving as motivation for the 2014 team.
"TnT XIII" is the new slogan for the 2014 football team. It stands for "Tough-N-Together" with the Roman numeral for 13 serving as a reminder of those final seconds of the BCS National Championship Game and just how close the Tigers were to capping their season with a shiny crystal football.
"It's a mindset," Malzahn said shortly before his appearance at the Atlanta Auburn Club meeting at Druid Hills Golf Club. "We have to be 13 seconds better in everything we do. From a coaching standpoint and from the way our players perform on the field and in the weight room and everything that goes with it."
Despite the constant reminder of what might have been, the way the title game ended and the 21-3 lead Auburn let slip away aren't consuming Malzahn or the football program. It isn't "national title or bust" for Malzahn.
"We have high expectations at Auburn," he said. "It's a process. We're going to be as good as we can possibly be. That will be our goal again."
But just how good can the Tigers be?
For the first time in his college coaching career, Malzahn has a starting quarterback coming back for Year 2 in his system.
That quarterback, senior Nick Marshall, was phenomenal in his first season as Auburn's starting quarterback, passing for 1,976 yards and 14 touchdowns and rushing for 1,068 yards and 12 more scores.
But it was a run-first, run-second and run-third mentality for Auburn in 2013, and Marshall's consistency in the intermediate passing game was one of the primary goals for Malzahn this spring.
Now that it has wrapped up, he's had time to evaluate how much Marshall improved.
"He's got a better understanding now," Malzahn said. "You can tell he's more confident. His eyes are in the right spot, he's throwing the ball on time and his checkdowns are right. He's just got an overall better feel for the offense."
Toss in four of five starters returning on the offensive line, the addition of D'haquille "Duke" Williams to a veteran receiving corps that already includes Sammie Coates and a talented group of running backs that includes Cameron Artis-Payne and Corey Grant, and it's going to be tough to stop Auburn's offense.
Defense doesn't win championships anymore; "just enough" defense wins championships. The definition of "just enough" depends on the offense a team boasts. Auburn's was nearly good enough last season, and with six starters returning on defense and plenty of depth being built through the last two recruiting classes, the defense doesn't need to take a gigantic leap forward.
It just needs to take a small step.
If it does, there won't be a need for a Roman-numeral reminder of what might have been for next year's Tigers.
That title could become reality.
* Barrett Sallee is the lead SEC college football writer for Bleacher Report. All quotes were obtained firsthand and all stats are courtesy of CFBStats.com.
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Believe it or not, the college football season is truly right around the corner, which means that the recruiting process is heating up as well. Throughout the summer, recruits are going to be making visits, eliminating teams, possibly committing and breaking hearts of football fans everywhere.
The Florida Gators currently have one of the better 2015 recruiting classes in the country with seven commits, but it can certainly be a lot better. Florida has the attention of several elite recruits, and a few of them you should be watching very closely.
Some of these guys, once thought to be locks to end up in Gainesville, are getting cold feet. Others have taken that next step in their recruiting process.
Overall, here are the five key Florida targets you should be following.
Much attention was given to the quarterback battle between Cody Kessler and Max Browne, one that was, for all intents and purposes, decided well before spring camp even began. Despite new head coach Steve Sarkisian's claims that this position duel was anyone's game, we knew that Kessler's experience would trump however impressive Browne's arm strength is.
But it doesn't really matter how much Kessler has improved as a quarterback or how much he has grown into his role as a starter if his offensive line can't protect him.
Sark has made it clear that giving the O-line a facelift is high on the to-do list in Troy, and as we transition into the fall, it needs to be priority No. 1. Through the spring, we saw a lot of progression from young guys like Khaliel Rodgers and Zach Banner, as well as early enrollees Toa Lobendahn and Jordan Austin. We also were reassured of the abilities from veterans like Max Tuerk and Chad Wheeler.
Aundrey Walker, Jordan Simmons and Nico Falah missed all of the spring due to injury, so depth concerns severely limited just how much Sark and offensive line coach Tim Drevno could push for improvement. It wasn't always pretty, but it looked as if the Wheeler-Lobendahn-Tuerk-Rodgers-Banner rotation could be promising.
But according to Sark, musical linemen will still be the name of the game come the fall.
The fact that Sark isn't set on Tuerk as center is a bit troubling because he is the most experienced veteran on the O-line, and his transition has gone swimmingly. Not only that, but Kessler has openly discussed with Steve Bisheff of ESPN how much he likes having Tuerk at center:
I think Max [Tuerk] is doing a great job so far. He is feeling a lot more relaxed out there. The nice thing about us rooming together is that we can get in extra work. This past Sunday, Max, Nelson [Agholor] and I came out here and worked for an hour and a half. Max was snapping the ball to me and Nelson ran routes. It’s nice to be able to do that whenever you want.
Furthermore, Tuerk evaluated his own development at the position and spoke favorably about his new responsibilities:
I love it. I think I’ve adjusted and I feel really good at center. The more reps I get, the more comfortable I feel. So far, I’ve been enjoying it a lot. I especially like calling out the blocking schemes before every play. The way it works is, Cody gets the call from the sideline, he repeats it to me, then I try to read the linebackers and the defensive linemen and make my call.
With chemistry swirling between Tuerk and Kessler, what sense does it make to disrupt that in the fall?
It's not like the Trojans will be particularly short on talent at that time. As previously mentioned, Walker, Simmons, and Falah will return from injury. Then the highly touted signees in Damien Mama, Viane Talamaivao and Chris Brown will join the ranks, adding depth across the board.
In a teleconference earlier in May, Sark spoke about his plans for Mama and Talamaivao, the two newcomers who stand to be the biggest assets to the O-line:
It appears Rodgers and Lobendahn have the respective starting spots at right and left guard locked up, but Mama and Talamaivao will certainly provide spirited competition. Both are considered to be game ready, so however it ultimately shakes out, USC will have quality guards in the rotation.
But Walker is also expected to line up at an interior spot next fall, so there won't be a whole lot of depth at right tackle behind (or potentially in front of) Banner.
Sark's indecision about Tuerk at center could be that he would rather play Tuerk at right tackle—where he lined up against Oregon State last season while Kevin Graf was out—instead of the inexperienced Banner.
Moving Tuerk away from center for that reason is still questionable, though, as Banner has excelled throughout the spring and made a statement about how ready he is to contribute to the team.
Having a weak O-line has been USC's M.O. for the past few seasons, and that's not going to fly anymore if Sark plans to return the Trojans to greatness by way of his new uptempo offense. And the head coach should already be well versed in how disastrously things can go when fielding with a shaky O-line, as he had to deal with it himself at Washington in 2012.
To avoid getting off to a similar rough start at USC, it's important that Sark correctly places his experienced linemen.
“I do know that Max Tuerk is a tremendous football player,” Sarkisian said to Johnny Curren of ESPN. “He’s played a lot of football. He’s going to play for us this fall. He went through the entire spring as our center. We’ll obviously take a good, hard look at that early in training camp, along with a couple other guys.“
It's still a bit too early to be really concerned, but shuffling Tuerk's position again could be a bad call for the Trojans next season. Sark still has a few months to figure out how he wants things to look and really start cementing the starters in August.
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