NCAA Football News

Like It or Not, Nebraska's Prime-Time-Heavy Schedule Ups Pressure in 2014

Take a look at Nebraska's 2014 schedule. Notice something?

It should become apparent pretty quickly for Husker fans. After a 2013 season with only one night game (the home opener versus Wyoming), Nebraska now has five prime-time games in a row in 2014. That's quite the change in schedule from one year over the next.

Since the game-time announcements, the reactions have been mixed.

For example, wide receiver Kenny Bell was not pleased. As College Spun reported, Bell took to Twitter to share his frustration over all of the night games. He eventually dropped the subject, but it definitely got fans' attention at the time:

As for the Omaha World Herald's Dirk Chatelain, he questioned what so many night games would do to ticket holders:

When the Huskers are hosting Illinois at 8 p.m. on Big Ten Network, that’s asking too much of your ticket-holders. Those from Omaha or Grand Island, for instance, won’t be getting home until 1 or 2 a.m. Is it really worth it to watch Illinois?

Sooner or later, they’ll say 'Why don’t we just stay home?'

Both Bell and Chatelain make valid points, which led to a bigger discussion of the pressure prime-time games put on a program. A schedule full of them definitely ups the ante for head coach Bo Pelini and his team.

Prime-time games haven't been the friendliest to Nebraska in recent years. For instance, the 2012 season is the most telling. The Huskers lost in prime time to UCLA, Ohio State and Wisconsin. Nebraska also fell to Wisconsin in prime time in 2011, too.

And beyond just the prime-time games, there's always the chance ESPN's College GameDay may roll into town for the matchup with Miami. That's pure speculation at this point, but it wouldn't be crazy to assume the classic rivalry isn't on the short list of possibilities. If that were to happen, it would only add additional pressure.

After all, Nebraska hosted College GameDay in 2007, only to lose, 49-31, to USC. As for the Wisconsin game in 2011, the popular preview show was in Madison to watch the Huskers lose, 48-17. Needless to say, the prime-time factor has not been kind to Nebraska recently.

That has to put a little pressure on Pelini and staff. But like it or not, it's the reality Nebraska must face.

Additionally, it's important the Huskers get comfortable in prime time. At the end of the day, it's good for recruiting, and it's good for national exposure.

It's safe to assume the Miami game will entice plenty of recruits to town. The prime-time atmosphere will give those players a great opportunity to see Nebraska at its finest, and it will be imperative for the Huskers to win. As Pelini looks to secure one of his best recruiting classes in 2015, a big win at home under the lights can't hurt.

Needless to say, a lot of fans are concerned about prime-time games for more reasons than tailgating all day and staying up late. Many fans remember those prime-time games gone wrong and have found the Huskers tend to fare better in earlier time slots.

That may sound crazy, but after quite a few big losses in prime time, it's hard to not feel the pressure.

But there is good news. As the Lincoln Journal Star pointed out, the Huskers are actually in a much better position than fans assume, as "Nebraska is 39-5 in night games at Memorial Stadium since the first one against Florida State in 1986. The Huskers have won 13 in a row in such a setting."

That's right. Despite the losses in prime time on the road, Nebraska has performed well during that time slot at home. That means Miami and Illinois have the odds in the Huskers' favor.

As for Fresno State, Michigan State and Northwestern, Nebraska will be battling to overcome the prime-time curse (for lack of a better word) that follows the team on the road.

Prime-time games add pressure, regardless of the team. Pelini is in the same spot as any other team with a prime-time game. It just feels different for Husker fans because some of the biggest losses in recent years have come at the hands of a prime-time game.

So the pressure is on in 2014 as the season of early kickoffs is gone. Can the Huskers beat the pressure? Like it or not, they're going to have to.

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What's the Success Rate of 5-Star QB Recruits from Last 5 Years?

The 5-star quarterback is one of the nation's most coveted recruits. As the 2015 cycle gets heated with spring evaluations and revs up for the coming camp season, four players hold the distinction of being 5-star players, according to 247Sports: Josh Rosen, Ricky Town, Torrance Gibson and Kyler Murray.

In 2014, Kyle Allen was the only quarterback to draw the 5-star distinction. The Arizona quarterback, who enrolled early at Texas A&M, is the front-runner in many minds to win the starting job over Kenny Hill, his lone competition.

Max Browne, a 2013 5-star recruit, is playing the backup role to Cody Kessler at USC in his second season, while fellow 2013 5-star Christian Hackenberg is the starter at Penn State and tracking for big success.

While the jury is still out on those young men's futures, a look at the previous five seasons shows a truly mixed bag when it comes to the cream of the quarterback crop in recruiting. From 2008 to 2012, 10 quarterbacks earned the distinction of being 5-star players, an average of two per year, although no players garnered the accolade in 2010.

The 2008 class all sits in various stages of the NFL. Dayne Crist, who started at Notre Dame before transferring to Kansas, is currently a free agent after being waived by the Baltimore Ravens prior to the start of the 2013 season. The Seattle Seahawks recently acquired Ohio State alum Terrelle Pryor as another backup to Russell Wilson, something Bob Condotta of the Seattle Times noted, despite discussion of Pryor changing positions.

EJ Manuel, a first-round pick in the 2013 draft, is 10 games into his NFL career with the Buffalo Bills and has posted 11 touchdowns, nine interceptions and 1,972 yards passing. While his NFL future remains to be written, he left college as a success, winning an ACC championship and the Orange Bowl in Florida State's return to the BCS stage.

Although Crist never truly got going in college, both Pryor and Manuel had solid collegiate careers. Pryor helped the Buckeyes win the Sugar Bowl in 2011 following the 2010 season and the Rose Bowl following the 2009 campaign. The kid was a decorated collegiate player, earning the Big Ten Freshman of the Year award after starting nine games in 2008 as well as the Rose Bowl MVP the next season.

Scandal will accompany Pryor's name, but on the field the former 5-star certainly came close to living up to the hype. He helped his team to three BCS bowls, was a productive player and, had he been around for his senior year, would have likely been mentioned in the Heisman discussion.

Of the 2009 class, two are currently on NFL rosters, while the third 5-star, Garrett Gilbert, is hoping to be selected in May's NFL draft.

Matt Barkley was a collegiate stud who saw his draft stock take a hit during a senior year where his USC Trojans team struggled to string together wins. Although he is an NFL backup, at USC and in the Pac-12 Barkley found his way toward the top of many career achievement lists.

As a four-year starter who was the heart and soul of the USC program during his time, Barkley certainly lived up to the 5-star billing.

Garrett Gilbert seemed poised to do the same on the wings of his freshman performance for Texas in the BCS National Championship Game. However, his next year was disastrous and ultimately led to Gilbert transferring to SMU after he missed most of the 2011 season with a shoulder injury.

The former 5-star finished his career throwing for over 6,000 yards with the Mustangs and 36 touchdowns. Gilbert missed the last two games of 2013 with a knee injury, but he is an interesting commodity in the draft, as ESPN's Kevin Weidl notes:

For his part, Gilbert is realistic about his chances.

"I've got no idea. I really don't. … In all honesty, I'd really just love the opportunity to continue to play this game somewhere, and that's what I'm looking for," he told the Houston Chronicle.

Russell Shepard, the third 5-star in the mix for the 2009 class, never actually played quarterback in college. Shepard spent time as a running back-wide receiver hybrid before settling at wide receiver with the LSU Tigers. Whether scored as a receiver or a converted quarterback, Shepard struggled to find his way, some of which can be attributed to LSU's lack of inventiveness on the offensive side of the ball.

The undrafted quarterback turned receiver is now a special teams contributor and reserve receiver for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

The 2011 class boasted two 5-star quarterbacks, both of the dual-threat variety: Jeff Driskel and Braxton Miller. Although draft-eligible, both are back at school for their senior campaigns, Miller the only one of the two who had serious prospects for the 2014 NFL draft.

Driskel, who was injured for the bulk of 2013, has struggled to show the skills that made him the nation's No. 1 quarterback. The Florida Gators QB has been inconsistent, inaccurate and not as swift on the move as expected upon enrollment.

Meanwhile, Miller has lived up to the top billing associated with 5-star recruits. He came in and stole the Ohio State starting job as a freshman, and despite being limited in his passing ability, the kid was clearly the Buckeyes' best option at the position. The last two seasons have seen Miller lead undefeated regular-season campaigns and wow observers with his ability to heave the deep ball or go the distance on both broken plays and designed runs.

Miller's upcoming senior campaign is all about getting his team a Big Ten championship and a spot in college football's inaugural playoff. Individually, Miller is a Heisman front-runner and a name on every college football fan's short list of elite players. As he polishes the throwing elements of his game, the NFL is certainly a viable option. Depending upon his performance and improvements in 2014, he could find himself pushing into the first round.

Driskel's goals are not quite as lofty. The quarterback has to work with new offensive coordinator Kurt Roper to develop an efficient offense and hopefully return to the ball-control team that went to the Sugar Bowl following the 2012 season.

Finally, the most recent class worth noting is the 2012 duo of 5-star quarterbacks: Jameis Winston and Gunner Kiel.

Winston has already etched his name into history with a Heisman Trophy, an ACC championship, a BCS National Championship and a host of other awards to his name at Florida State. The 2014 campaign is about repeating for the redshirt sophomore, as well as elevating his NFL stock from "one of the best quarterbacks" to "the best quarterback" for the 2015 draft.

The other 5-star, Kiel, will finally get to show what he can do after two seasons of sitting on the bench. The Notre Dame enrollee was buried on the depth chart in South Bend in 2012 and then forced to burn a year waiting to play after transferring to Cincinnati. Kiel, as Tom Groeschen of The Cincinnati Enquirer reported, looked ready to play in the spring game, and folks will get to put eyes on the former top-ranked quarterback recruit.

Quarterback is a mixed bag, not because stars do not matter, but rather because it is a position that requires incredibly favorable conditions for players to succeed. Natural talent is great, but if coaching changes or injuries occur, not to mention the struggle to adjust to the collegiate landscape, natural talent does not solve the problems.

Of the five players during the time period who could be drafted into the NFL, only three were selected: Barkley, Pryor and Manuel. Pryor, of course, was a supplemental draft pick by the Oakland Raiders. In that same group of five, four are currently on NFL rosters, while Crist sits as an unaffiliated free agent. Although only Manuel is a true starter, the 80 percent roster rate is still quite high, and Gilbert hopes to add his name to that list, making it five of six on NFL rosters.

In 2014, the nation will be watching all seven of the active 5-star players, each of whom is set to start for his current program, except for Browne at USC. The quarterback position is not an easy one, and as guys jockey for team and individual success, even the big names are not guaranteed to produce.

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'Jameis Winston King Crab Legs' Now Available at Alabama Grocery Store

Florida State star Jameis Winston recently found himself in trouble with the law after he was caught shoplifting crab legs from a grocery store in Florida. Now, an Alabama grocery store is using the situation to take a shot at the dual-sport star.

The Internet had fun Wednesday creating memes mocking Winston for the incident. Now, one company has taken it upon itself to sell "Jameis Winston King Crab Legs."

It's understandable that people in Alabama want to take a shot at the 2013 Heisman Trophy winner after he led the Seminoles past the Auburn Tigers in the 2014 BCS National Championship Game. This opportunity was too good to pass up.

[Twitter, h/t Fox Sports]

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South Carolina Football: Steve Spurrier Jr. in No Hurry to Be a Head Coach

COLUMBIA — Steve Spurrier Jr. is not saying he doesn’t want to succeed his father as the next head football coach at South Carolina.

He’s also not saying he does.

What he will say extends beyond "no comment" but falls short of answering the question.

“That’s certainly a question I won’t answer,” Spurrier Jr. said when asked about the possibility of taking over when his father eventually retires. “It’s something I don’t worry about, something I’m not talking about, something I’m not politicking for. I don’t want to have a comment either way about that.

"Certainly South Carolina is a great program and has gotten better every year. Whenever my father does decide to retire it’s going to be an excellent job, a wonderful opportunity. We’re going to have good players. We’re going to have some momentum versus a lot of teams we play. Whenever that day comes, it will be a good job. I’ll talk about whatever I’ve got to talk about when that happens.”

The truth of the matter is that Spurrier Jr. is quite content in his present assignment as South Carolina’s recruiting coordinator, co-offensive coordinator and wide receivers coach.

“I’m doing well,” he said. “I’ve got a bunch of kids. I’ve got a great job making a lot of money. Anytime you hear somebody talk about security in coaching football, it doesn’t happen very often. I know eventually something’s got to happen and I’ll deal with it when it comes. Certainly in coaching, you have to have your eye looking forward, but you have to press on and do the best you can in the job you have right now.”

Spurrier Jr. has spent nine seasons at South Carolina and is the only remaining coach from his father’s original staff.

South Carolina’s coaches received across-the-board raises in January, and Spurrier Jr.’s raise took him from $325,000 to $380,000 a year.

Only defensive coordinator Lorenzo Ward ($700,000 per year) and co-offensive coordinator/offensive line coach Shawn Elliott ($430,000 per year) make more.

Born in 1971 in Palo Alto, California, during the period when his father was playing quarterback for the San Francisco 49ers, Spurrier Jr. has grown up around the game.

Spurrier Jr. played at Duke as a walk-on wide receiver (after his father had left his coaching job at Duke to take the head coaching job at Florida), eventually earning a scholarship.

He has coached under his father at Florida, with the Washington Redskins and at South Carolina, but he also spent two seasons under Bob Stoops at Oklahoma and one season under Mike Stoops at Arizona.

Spurrier Jr. has had nibbles for offensive coordinator jobs and at least one head coaching job—at Coastal Carolina.

“Coastal Carolina called me,” he said. “That didn’t get very far, but that was certainly a very interesting opportunity. It’s a good program and a good team. The athletic director was a good guy, the president was a good guy. It’s a program that’s got every reason to be successful.

“I’ve had people contact me about different things. I don’t know what my next move will be, whether its offensive coordinator somewhere or I got the opportunity to be a head coach somewhere.”

Either way, Spurrier Jr. says he’s not obsessed with being a head coach.

“No,” he said, when asked if that was a burning ambition. “Certainly there are people like that who think, ‘What’s my path? What’s my strategy to be a head coach?’ I don’t have an agent. I know people every time I see them, they’re shaking hands with somebody giving them their resume. That’s something that, when the day comes, I will have earned the right to whatever option I get.”

Spurrier Jr. looks like his father, talks like his father and has a lot of the same mannerisms and patterns of speech.

Whether or not he can coach like his father remains to be seen.

Spurrier Sr. has made it clear he will have no involvement in selecting his successor.

“I would have no input whatsoever on who follows me here at South Carolina,” Spurrier said. “I have never thought a head coach should even make suggestions. We have two men here very capable, Ray Tanner (athletic director) and Harris Pastides (university president). The athletic director and the president, they make the call.”

Maybe so, but when reading the tea leaves, there are a lot of factors that appear favorable for a Spurrier-to-Spurrier Jr. transition when the senior, who just turned 69, decides to resign.

Spurrier likes Columbia and plans to stay here after he gives up coaching. Both sons, Spurrier Jr. and Scott Spurrier, live here—as does one of his two daughters.

He has already agreed to stay on at South Carolina in the role of special adviser after he steps down as head coach.

Almost certainly, Spurrier Sr. would enjoy the post a lot more if Spurrier Jr. was head coach.

South Carolina athletic director Ray Tanner, having been elevated to his position from head baseball coach, would likely prefer an in-house hire for the continuity it would provide.

Tanner has hired two head coaches since taking over as athletic director and both have been in-house hires: Chad Holbrook, who took over for Tanner as head baseball coach, and sand volleyball coach Moritz Moritz, who was an assistant coach on the indoor volleyball team.

Granted, selecting a head football coach is a much more serious matter than selecting a sand volleyball coach or even a baseball coach, but if the Gamecocks keep on winning, it will be hard for Tanner to go outside the program when selecting a successor.

Both Spurrier and Spurrier Jr. have paid their dues, and Tanner will respect that.

In the meantime, with South Carolina having unprecedented success in the form of three consecutive 11-2 seasons and three consecutive top-10 finishes, Spurrier Sr. is in no hurry to give up coaching.

Likewise, Spurrier Jr. is in no hurry to succeed him.

“I do think it’s neat that everything he enjoys in life comes from being a football coach,” Spurrier Jr. said. “I don’t think I’ve ever once heard him say, ‘When I retire, I’d like to do this.’ He has never mapped out a plan or things he would like to do that retiring would permit him to do.

"Everything he likes to do, everywhere he likes to travel, all the things he does are through being the head football coach at South Carolina. He’s got a lot of momentum going, the program does, I’m very fortunate to be a part of it. Right now, we’re going to worry about getting ready for Texas A&M.”

All quotes obtained firsthand unless otherwise indicated.

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Texas A&M Football: Final Winners and Losers from Spring Ball

The Texas A&M football team completed its 2014 spring practices on April 13. The Aggies had a few players step up and a few who hurt their standings on the team during the spring. 

Spring practice is a time for coaches to work on the fundamentals with the players and to experiment with new ideas. Coaches will switch players around to different positions to see how they respond, and the spring practices allow them to get a closer look at some of the younger members of the roster. 

The coaches moved some players around during the spring with success. They also left the spring season with some lingering questions at certain positions. 

This is a look at the winners and losers from the Aggies' spring practices.  

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SEC Network to Feature Every Conference Team in First Four Weeks of 2014 Season

The forthcoming SEC Network, which will launch on August 14, has announced its schedule of live football games for the first four weeks of next season, and it's a list that should make all 14 conference teams happy.

Per a release from the SEC Digital Network, eight SEC teams' openers will be broadcast on the network, and each program will be shown at least once on its home field during the first four weeks.

Here is the full released schedule:

The first game broadcast on the network will be a good one, an All-SEC affair between Texas A&M and South Carolina on Thursday, Aug. 28 that doubles as one of the best games in Week 1.

The Aggies are one of three SEC teams, along with Arkansas (at Auburn) and Kentucky (at Florida), that will have a road game broadcast in the first four weeks, and as such, each school will be on the network a second time, at home, before the first four weeks are through.

"The fact that the SEC Network will originate a game from every stadium in the conference in the first four weeks of the 2014 season is testament to the depth of coverage fans can expect from the network," said SEC commissioner Mike Slive, according to the release.

"The schedule includes quality and depth from across the conference," chimed in Justin Connolly, ESPN senior vice president, college networks.  "The full breadth of teams and stadiums showcased in the first month alone speaks volumes on the type of programming sports fans should expect on the SEC Network."

This is a good first step for the network, showing a concerted effort, at least at first, to give teams such as Kentucky as much play as blue bloods such as Auburn and Alabama.

Clay Travis of FoxSports.com, who has been all over the SEC Network coverage from the onset, agrees that this is a good move:

How do you feel about the opening four-week schedule?

Chime in with some comments below.

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Alabama Football: Could Former Tide Stars' Bama Pedigree Hurt Them in NFL Draft?

Gil Brandt, the legendary former vice president of player personnel for the Dallas Cowboys (1960-89) who now works for NFL.com, offered one of his annual pieces of advice on Wednesday when tweeting: “Always tell prospects this time of year to lock themselves in a room and don't come out until draft is over.”

This spring it’s especially true with the NFL draft bumped back a couple of weeks to May 8-10, giving it even more of a buildup. Combined with the extremely talented pool of players, resulting in probably the widest range of opinions ever about who should be selected when, the rhetoric is at an all-time high.

Take, for example, ESPN analyst Mel Kiper Jr.’s conference call with reporters last week, during which he took aim at the University of Alabama’s defensive players.

For months he’s been saying that Calvin Pryor of Louisville and the Crimson Tide’s Ha Ha Clinton-Dix are the two best safeties available. Since Pryor is more of traditional strong safety and Clinton-Dix more of a free safety, they’re very different in style.

However, Kiper is using Alabama’s recent draft history as part of his reasoning for preferring Pryor.

"Alabama's defensive players in general have struggled in the NFL,” he said. “Not just one or two, it's a pretty good list of names you can throw out there of guys who have not gotten it done on the defensive side of the ball. Mark Barron still hasn't played up to the level you thought he would with Tampa Bay. That's a concern to me, and it has to be factor in here."

Barron, the No. 7 selection in 2012, was selected to the Pro Football Writers Association All-Rookie Team after finishing eighth in tackles and seventh in passes defensed among first-year players. He’s started 30 games for the Buccaneers as part of an outstanding secondary.

Kiper also touched on it when asked about the possibility of Pittsburgh selecting linebacker C.J. Mosley with the 15th pick (“I don’t see Mosley as a Steelers type of linebacker,” he said), leading to a direct question about his sudden distaste for the Crimson Tide.

“In terms of the Alabama players, is it a trend? Is it one or two, no, it’s more than that,” he explained before specifically mentioning cornerback Kareem Jackson, Barron again, cornerback Dre Kirkpatrick, linebacker Rolando McClain and Terrence Cody.

"There is a concern about that, and it's probably because they're coached up so well. They're in a great system. They all complement each other. They come into the league thinking they're pretty much as coached as they can be ... and basically they've hit their ceiling. They're as good as they're going to get. There's not that upside that you see with all the other guys. Maybe that's a factor.

“But it is something that you have to look at because there's been a number, a host of players out of that Alabama defense, over the years that have come out as high draft choices and, frankly, have been major disappointments."

At this point, there’s no denying that McClain, who was the eighth selection in the 2010 draft, was a great college player but an NFL bust as he recently retired a second time, and in terms of draft value Kiper may have an argument. Was Jackson worthy of being the 20th pick in 2010? Probably not.

But too coached up? Is there such a thing?

Just three years ago that very thing clearly helped Alabama players in the 2011 draft. Due to a labor dispute that wasn’t resolved until July, there were no offseason camps or free-agent signings, with rosters locked in place during the four-and-a-half-month lockout.

Players who could step in and potentially contribute immediately were highly coveted, with four Crimson Tide players selected in the first round.

It also wasn’t too long ago that former Crimson Tide offensive tackle Andre Smith was being called a draft bust. Last year he got a new three-year, $18 million contract from Cincinnati.

Targeting Alabama just before the draft isn’t anything new. Go back to a year ago, and ESPN’s Adam Schefter questioned the durability of Alabama players in general, suggesting that they were too beat up and had too many surgeries. The other vocal “concern” was specific to the running backs, as neither Mark Ingram Jr. nor Trent Richardson had lit up the NFL as hoped.

Nevertheless, after having eight players selected in 2012, nine were picked in 2013, including running back Eddie Lacy, who went on to be the Offensive Rookie of the Year. Alabama could top that this year, with most of the selections on the defensive side.

Overall, from 2009-13, Alabama led all college programs with 14 first-round selections after not having any between 2000 (Chris Samuels and Shaun Alexander) and 2009 (Smith), and no draft picks at all in 2008. The 11 first-round picks from 2011, 2012 and 2013 alone equaled the output of the previous six Crimson Tide coaches and 22 years combined.

Last fall, Alabama had 30 former players on NFL rosters for opening weekend, not including those on injured reserve or on practice squads. That was seventh among college programs, with Southern California edging out Saban’s former LSU Tigers for the top spot, 40 to 39.

That’s roughly twice as many as Alabama had when Saban took over in 2007, and the Crimson Tide weren't listed among the top 25 programs in that category until 2011.

Meanwhile, with former linebacker Jerrell Harris recently signing with the Denver Broncos and cornerback DeQuan Menzie with the Detroit Lions, every starter on the national championship 2011 defense, which led the nation in every major category, is under contract with an NFL team.

Consider that rhetoric, empty rhetoric, especially since every prospect gets judged and evaluated on his own.

 

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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Heisman Handicapper: Ranking the Top 20 Candidates Post-Spring Games

As long as he can stay out of serious trouble this offseason—lest we forget last year's "Summer of Johnny"—Florida State quarterback Jameis Winston will return to defend his Heisman Trophy as a redshirt sophomore in 2014.

Competing to best him is a field of candidates who didn't come close last season, as the other five finalists who joined Winston in New York for the Heisman ceremony have all entered the 2014 NFL draft.

But that doesn't mean there's a lack of quality options.

Four quarterbacks who could have entered the NFL draft—and whom many experts were surprised to see return to school—highlight the cast that could knock Winston off his throne, along with some other talented QBs and running backs.

Or maybe the man to unseat Jameis will be a dark horse—the exact title Zac Ellis of SI.com gave to Winston at the start of last season.

Here are some names to keep an eye on.

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Power Ranking Every Big 12 Quarterback, Post-Spring Practice

The Big 12 is a league known for its prolific gunslingers. But 2014 may be a different year, particularly with all the quarterback battles going on this offseason. 

Kansas, West Virginia, Iowa State, Oklahoma State and even Texas and TCU don't have a solidified player at the most important position on the field. 

But nevertheless, spring practice is over, and it's time to power rank each of the Big 12's likely starting quarterbacks. 

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How Realistic Are Leonard Fournette's Expectations for LSU?

Sports Illustrated got right to it, probably because LSU running back commit Leonard Fournette came right out with it. 

In a 5:30 video feature on Fournette and his story, it took five seconds to get to the money quote. 

"My expectations: Heisman candidate, All-American, national title," Fournette said about the 2014 season. "That’s just my first year as a freshman, though."

Every player, from incoming freshmen to fifth-year seniors, has high expectations. It's also the heart of the offseason, when newsy items are spun around unfiltered comments. 

But, unlike every other prediction of a national championship or All-American selection, Fournette may actually be able to realize one, or several, of those goals.

 

Heisman Candidate

The last two Heisman winners, Florida State quarterback Jameis Winston and Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel, were freshmen. Redshirt freshmen, but freshmen all the same. 

Furthermore, the precedence for a true freshman running back as a Heisman finalist has been set. In 2004, Oklahoma's Adrian Peterson finished second in the voting behind USC quarterback Matt Leinart. 

Not surprisingly, Fournette has been drawing a lot of Peterson connections because of his size (6'1" and 226 pounds, per his 247Sports profile), speed and vision. 

To be a Heisman finalist, though, a player's offense basically needs to run through him. (Defensive-only players, unfortunately, have taken a back seat in Heisman consideration.) That's why 12 out of the last 13 Heisman winners have been quarterbacks. When Alabama running back Mark Ingram won the trophy in 2009, he accounted for nearly 2,000 total yards and over half of the Tide's offensive touchdowns. 

Similarly, the two running back Heisman finalists last season—Auburn's Tre Mason and Boston College's Andre Williams—had more than 1,800 and 2,100 rushing yards, respectively.

By losing running back Jeremy Hill and quarterback Zach Mettenberger to the NFL draft, LSU could rely heavily on Fournette right away if he shows he can get up to speed in preseason practice. 

Presuming he can handle the load and stay healthy, Fournette does indeed have a shot to be a Heisman finalist as a freshman. 

 

All-American

Like the Heisman consideration, Fournette could be named an All-American as a freshman if his production is good enough. There are other questions that need to be answered, too. Can he be the bell cow running back for the Tigers? Can he make plays at crucial times and put the team on his back, a la the virtual Greg Jennings of "Madden" fame?

Again, it's been done before. According to his Minnesota Vikings profile, Peterson was a consensus All-American as a freshman, including an Associated Press first-team selection. 

Fournette seems like a rare talent, but it can still be difficult for anyone to successfully adjust to the college game in their first year. Oftentimes, that truth gets blurred behind high expectations. But the potential for Fournette is certainly there, and it wouldn't be surprising if he did earn All-America honors as a freshman. 

 

National Championship

Unlike the other two goals, this is purely a team effort. Yes, the other two cannot happen without the help from teammates, but a national championship is a collective accomplishment in its truest form. Thus, it is undoubtedly the hardest goal to achieve, since so much has to go right for it to happen. 

Does LSU have a shot at a national title? Of course. It starts with the four-team playoff. The College Football Playoff selection committee vows for transparency, but problems with selecting the four best teams could arise,t according to B/R's Samuel Chi. 

In any case, the Tigers would probably either have to win the SEC or come awfully close with only one or two losses to be selected. From there, it's all about matchups. 

LSU won't be favored to win the West Division; that will belong to either Alabama or Auburn. If the Tigers can get through their division with double-digit wins, they'll at least be in the conversation for a playoff berth at year's end. 

 

Ben Kercheval is a lead writer for college football at Bleacher Report. All quotes cited unless obtained firsthand (h/t CollegeSpun.com) 

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Releasing a Top 25 Weekly Poll a Dangerous Move for CFP Selection Committee

It's going to feel a lot like BCS 2.0, but with people, faces and personalities to blame. And if you don't think that's going to push patience, fanbases and message board servers to the brink of annihilation, I have only one question for you: Where have you been for the past five years?

The formulas and computers have been unplugged and tucked away, replaced with a room of esteemed human beings handpicked for the job. The members of the selection committee will stow away all biases—at least we hope—delivering your updated College Football Playoff standings on a weekly basis, starting on Tuesday, October 28.

Weekly rankings will be released on @ESPN starting Oct. 28. Additional rankings will come out Nov. 4, Nov. 11, Nov. 18, Nov. 25 and Dec. 2

— CFB Playoff (@CFBPlayoff) April 30, 2014

Think of it as the BCS, only with a few more seats. The name is different; a rebrand that was decided upon to remind you of just how different it is. And yes, the Sunday suspense that came with the BCS—which often didn't provide any suspense at all—has been moved to a night when it doesn't have to compete with prime-time NFL games.

That doesn't just make sense; it's brilliant.

It's the messaging delivered on a weekly basis that could highlight holes in the committee's mindset and consistency. Forget about getting it right at the end of the year—the only thing that truly matters with the committee—now you have to show your work along the way.

Remember that in your test-taking days? That was the worst.

Arkansas athletic director Jeff Long, chairman of the selection committee, doesn't believe that to be the case. Or, at the very least, he believes the check-ins will provide more good than bad.

Speaking on behalf of the committee, he believes a weekly unveiling is a necessary part of the process that fans crave.

Via the Associated Press:

We felt we wouldn't be meeting our responsibility. Once we made a ranking, we felt then we needed to make them weekly. That's what the fans have become accustomed to, and we felt it would leave a void in college football without a ranking for several weeks.

Long won't just be helping to decide the playoff teams with his colleagues. He'll have a much more critical role than that.

Likely accompanied with 1,200 pounds worth of beefy security guards, a flak jacket and the world's most elaborate first-aid kit, Long will be tasked to explain the committee's latest rankings each and every Tuesday on live television, as reported by Sports Illustrated's Stewart Mandel.

It's both sadistic and applause-worthy. It'll be Long's job to disappoint weekly, to enrage a fanbase that just won its game by a comfortable margin yet somehow fell to fifth in the latest poll.

He'll be the voice of the playoff—a walking, talking, reasoning Grim Reaper. It doesn't quite reach the misery threshold of being president of the NCAA, although this job isn't far behind.

The show will undoubtedly do extraordinarily well from an interest (and viewer) standpoint. Each week, just like we did with the BCS, we will tune in like zombies and demand more blood. With little football to compete with—outside of the occasional MAC football game—Tuesday night will become playoff night.

In the end, it's a business. This entire charade is structured around running a successful postseason and making as much money as possible. You can decide which order those should be listed in.

This will meet all of the financial requirements and then some. Beyond the cash grab, however, there are various concerns regarding this weekly roller coaster. For one, inconsistencies in the evaluation process—a process that will be new to the creators and the consumers—will be spotlighted. The pressure on those tasked with picking college football's four playoff teams was already unimaginable. Now, starting in October, it will stay that way throughout the homestretch.

Adding to this concern, at this present time, there is still confusion regarding how teams will be evaluated and picked over one another. This was always going to be the case with human influence, so perhaps it's not surprising. But at the very least, we'll need further clarity to help us center our future outrage.

Jeff Long says it's not most DESERVING teams, but the focus is the BEST four teams that shall get into the bracket

— Joe Schad (@schadjoe) April 30, 2014

Regardless of why a team is ranked the way it is, a weekly evaluation provides little context to the method. If conference championship games are stressed as much as we've been told they will be, then what exactly does a midseason or three-quarter report card tell us?

In the end, the only ranking that matters is the final one. Everything up until that point is a parade of the procedure.

The top four will be the top four at that time while the rest of the Top 25 will help shape some of the marquee bowl games. Teams will lose, rankings will adjust drastically, and outrage will follow whether it's warranted or not.

We will be able to relate to this unnecessary ride because we've grown accustomed to hitting the reset button weekly. This same procedure, however, comes from the system we're now trying to distance ourselves from.

With the BCS, there was the math to lean on. There were voters, too, but they were a part of the numbers and percentages that helped us accept the ups and downs. It's strange to look back at the system that way, but it really did a fine job of packaging the chaos into numbers we somehow understood. We didn't always agree with it or accept it, but math couldn't be convinced it was wrong.

Committee members present a slightly different scenario. They have feelings, they have televisions, and they have the Internet. They also have an integral part that the former system lacked—a human element—although this can be both good and bad.

Allowing this group of dignified football minds to decide on the postseason is one thing. Forcing it to show exactly how it got there—following a procedure still taking shape—is another.

We'll be playing the role of that dreaded math teacher you despised in school, looking for distinct and exact reasoning for why the rankings are the way they are. At that same time, we'll know we're only seeing a percentage of the final equation. It'll be Jeff Long's job to satisfy, which will be an impossible task.

It’ll be wildly entertaining regardless of how efficient it is packaged and delivered. It's going to generate a flurry of debate and, in turn, mountains of cash for the network that now owns that playoff. And yes, it's going to take an already chaotic process and highlight the potential for problematic reasoning.

It is, quite simply, going to be complete and utter anarchy.

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Oregon Ducks Unveil New-Look Uniforms for 2014 Spring Game

A new era has begun for the Oregon Ducks football team.

Sure, the team returns some of its biggest stars from last year's squad. However, next year's team will have a new look to it, which fans will get a glimpse of this weekend.

Nike introduced the world to Oregon's "Mach Speed" uniforms back in December. With the 2014 spring game being played Saturday, Nike has unveiled the uniforms the Ducks will be wearing during the game.

Here are some more looks at the spring game uniforms:

Those uniforms will look nice with Oregon's awesome cleats:

[Nike, B.J. Kelley]

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Nick Saban Wants You to Know He Thinks the Big Ten Is 'A Really Good Conference'

Alabama head coach Nick Saban, who played at Kent State and has coached at Ohio State, Toledo (as a head coach) and with the Cleveland Browns, gave a speech in the state of Ohio this week for the first time in as long as he can remember, according to Doug Lesmerises of the Cleveland Plain-Dealer.

It didn't take long before Saban was asked about the Big Ten, where he coached for five years at Michigan State before moving to LSU in 2000, and how long it might take for his former league to catch up with his current conference, the SEC.

To which Saban had some flattering comments, per Lesmerises:

Everybody grows up a college football fan (in the south). There’s no Cincinnati Bengals fans. There’s no Cleveland Dawg Pound. There’s no other choice for people in terms of how they grew up. So that passion for athletics, especially football, is really, really strong. In the Southeast, the school is still the center of a lot of communities. So there’s a lot of positive self-gratification for people to be involved in programs.

I think we have a little bit of an advantage when it comes to the recruiting base we have in the Southeast. But I think the Big Ten is a really good conference. And I want to be quoted on that.

Saban may think—or say—the Big Ten is a really good conference, but his last few results against the league sort of belie that point.

Most recently, Alabama destroyed Michigan, 41-14, in the first game of the 2012 season, which the Wolverines entered ranked eighth in the country after winning the 2012 Sugar Bowl over Virginia Tech.

Before that, the Tide swept a (relatively close) home-and-home with Penn State in 2010 and 2011 and beat 11-win Michigan State, 49-7, in the 2011 Capital One Bowl, out-gaining Sparty by 375 yards.

Comparing these results—and the results of the Big Ten at large the past few seasons—with Saban's flattering comments has thus led to some predictable backlash, like this funny comment from Tom Fornelli of CBSSports.com:

Fornelli sums it up even better in his post on the comments, writing:

Lies! Damnable lies!

Seriously, I say this as somebody born and raised in Chicago who has spent their entire life following Big Ten football: the Big Ten is not "really good." It's not nearly as bad as some folks want to believe it is, but it's not quite really good, either. If ranking the five power conferences I'd have the Big Ten settling into fifth. Not miles behind fourth place, but with work to do to catch up.

That about sums up my stance on the issue, although I'd consider putting the Big Ten (slightly) ahead of the Big 12.

This is little more than Saban playing politics.

 

Follow Brian Leigh on Twitter: @BLeighDAT

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4-Star Recruit Osa Masina Tweets Top 8 Schools

There's still a long way to go in his recruiting process, but coveted athlete Osa Masina made inroads toward a decision with an announcement late Wednesday night. The 4-star Utah prospect posted a list of his top eight collegiate options on Twitter:

His favorites feature several formidable programs, including the in-state Utes. Fellow Pac-12 programs Arizona State, UCLA, USC and Stanford also made the cut.

Michigan and Wisconsin are contenders out of the Big Ten Conference, while Notre Dame also remains in the picture. Masina visited each of the three eastern options last year.

He made the most of a jam-packed 2014 spring break, spending time at Stanford, Cal, USC, UCLA and Arizona State, according to Matthew Piper of The Salt Lake Tribune. His older brothers, Uaea and Lo’i, are currently on the Utah roster.

Uaea was a 3-star linebacker in the 2013 class and has worked his way up the depth chart. Lo'i is a reserve in the defensive backfield.

The latest Masina prospect out of Brighton High School (Salt Lake City) is the most heralded. Osa, a 4-star talent, rates No. 8 nationally among outside linebackers in 247Sports' composite rankings.

He is listed as the No. 2 prospect in the state and has attracted attention from colleges across the country.

Oklahoma, Oregon, Nebraska, BYU, Vanderbilt and Washington are among teams that didn't make the cut for his favorites list. Masina began compiling scholarship offers early, holding several as a sophomore.

His accomplishments have come on both sides of the ball at Brighton. Masina dominated during a run to the state championship game in 2013.

The 6'4", 218-pound playmaker rushed for 1,683 yards and 25 touchdowns as a junior, per Piper. He also tallied 57 tackles, including 8.5 for a loss.

Masina is projected to commit to Utah by 90 percent of expert predictions in 247Sports' Crystal Ball. Now that he's down to a top eight, expect each contender to step up their pursuit of the talented prospect.

 

Recruit information courtesy of 247Sports unless otherwise noted.

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CFB Playoff Committee Strives for Transparency, but Faces Tough Challenges Ahead

The College Football Playoff management committee hammered out a series of protocols over a two-day meeting in Dallas that concluded Wednesday. The 10 FBS commissioners, along with Notre Dame athletic director Jack Swarbrick, laid out procedures for the 13 members of the selection committee as the CFP begins its inaugural season in 2014.

Until Wednesday, how the 13 members should go about their business was mostly guesswork. Now at least we have some clarity, as the CFP power brokers should be commended for their decision to strive for transparency.

That said, there remains many other questions and challenges ahead. Here's my look at what the committee did right and where it might have left itself open to criticism:

The Good

Weekly standings: The committee, after all, decided to go with a weekly release of its own top 25 poll starting Oct. 28 and then every Tuesday until the final matchups for the two playoff games and four other CFP bowls are announced on Dec. 7. The standings will air live on ESPN at 7 or 7:30 p.m. with chairman Jeff Long on hand to explain the rankings.

The data: The CFP has retained SportSource Analytics to provide the data platform for the committee. The members should have a wealth of statistical information to help them with ranking the teams as opposed to be the selection committees of other NCAA championships who lean heavily on the unreliable Ratings Percentage Index (RPI).

The Bad

Five-step procedure: The committee laid out an extremely convoluted protocol where it takes at least four votes and most of the times many more to establish the top 25 rankings that it will release every Tuesday. This is an unnecessarily cumbersome procedure that doesn't actually enhance the strength of the rankings.

Tuesday release: Whereas the BCS standings were released each Sunday night in the second half of the season, the CFP will wait an extra 48 hours to unveil its rankings. While the fact that committee members will meet in person each week (sorry, Skype) has merit, the real reason why we must wait until Tuesday night is without a doubt television. ESPN has a Monday night football game to broadcast.

The Ugly

Recusal policy: Though most committee members have ties to at least one (and most several) FBS programs, the protocol bars them from voting for schools they current draw a paycheck from. This decision actually puts six teams at a distinct disadvantage: USC, Stanford, Wisconsin, West Virginia, Clemson and Arkansas. I had advocated and maintain that stance even more now: There should be no recusal policy at all.

The "best four teams": These are allegedly the teams that will be put into the CFP playoff field, according to Long, and at least that vernacular goes against the committee's previous commitment to reward conference champions. The nebulous concept is exactly what gave us the all-SEC debacle in the 2011 BCS title game, and the committee would be better served not to give in to this and stick with its original plan.

Overall, the committee has shown itself to be sensitive to public opinion as best attested by its decision to release a weekly ranking. But even the best-intentioned plans are just that—an idea—until they're put to test in a true trial-by-fire inaugural season of 2014.

Follow on Twitter @ThePlayoffGuru

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Jalen Julius Commits to Florida: Gators Beat OSU for Speedy DB Recruit

Jalen Julius quickly became one of America's hottest recruiting commodities this spring, collecting scholarship offers in bunches. The Sunshine State speedster opted to stay close to home with a commitment to Florida on Wednesday, per Orlando Sentinel reporter Chris Hays.

His decision gave the Gators a seventh pledge in the 2015 class as April came to a close.

"It feels good. I just got off the phone with head coach Muschamp," Julius told Hays. "I'm very excited to be a Florida Gator right now."

The 5'10.5", 170-pound Orlando product recently transferred to West Orange High School (Winter Garden, Florida). He starred at Evans High School as a junior, exhibiting elite athleticism in various capacities.

Julius contributed as a cornerback, running back and receiver, while playing a pivotal role on special teams.

He averaged more than six yards per carry and scored three touchdowns as a rusher in 2013, per the Sentinel. Julius also returned two kicks for scores.

Rated No. 38 nationally among cornerback prospects in 247Sports' composite rankings, his offer sheet also includes Ohio State, Auburn, Tennessee and Ole Miss.

The majority of offers arrived this year. Florida joined the race in late March.

His speed—documented at 4.31 seconds in the 40-yard dash, according to the Sentinel—creates plenty of possibilities at the next level. Julius is expected to initially land in the defensive backfield.

Florida has compiled quite a haul at cornerback in recent months.

Marcus Lewis, a 4-star prospect from Washington, D.C., pledged to the Gators two weeks ago. Head coach Will Muschamp was able to flip 5-star 2014 cornerback Jalen Tabor—another Washington, D.C. recruit—from Arizona just a few days before his early enrollment in January.

Julius already has high expectations for his upcoming career in Gainesville:

He may also eventually help Florida land another in-state standout during this recruiting cycle. New high school teammate Dexter Williams, a Miami commit, may be swayed to take a closer look at Florida.

The 4-star running back is expected to spend time on campus with Julius in coming months, per 247Sports reporter Luke Stampini:

It remains to be seen whether the Gators can turn this into a package deal. At the very least, Florida has its hands on a dynamic threat who could make an impact in multiple roles.

The addition of Julius pushed Muschamp's 2015 class to No. 23 in 247Sports' composite team rankings. It rates 11th among SEC squads. 

 

Recruit information courtesy of 247Sports unless otherwise noted.

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