NCAA Football News

Virginia Tech Football: 3 Players Who Need to Turn It Around in Spring Practice

The Virginia Tech football team’s spring drills are only two weeks old, but already there are some players that are worrying the coaching staff with some slow starts.

Tech’s spring game isn’t for another three weeks, so there is some time for them to turn things around, but the way they’ve started is still a little troubling.

There are plenty of open spots on the depth chart, and many of the team’s most important position battles will be resolved by this spring practice session, so these next few days are of paramount importance to these veterans.

If these three players don’t step up in a hurry, they’ll quickly find themselves sliding down the bench as more players arrive for fall camp.

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College Football Figures as Characters from Game of Thrones

Summer is coming.

Like the long-teased Winter in HBO's Game of Thrones—an adaptation of George R.R. Martin's A Song of Ice and Fire—a dead season is approaching for fans of college football.

In roughly a month, when not even spring games exist to distract us from earnest football's absence, the time will be barren for everyone who cares about the sport.

Perhaps the only thing that can ease us through these doldrums is the return of premium cable. Thrones itself premiered its fourth season Sunday evening, saving us from another weekend without football and great television to watch.

So now, in the show's honor, here are some college football figures re-imagined as Game of Thrones characters. For the sake of being germane (and spoiler-free), these comparisons refer only to the TV series and not the books. But if you sincerely want to nerd out and talk ASOIAF, feel free to shoot me a message or an email.

Enjoy!

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In Defense of Teddy Bridgewater, the NFL Scout's New Favorite Target

I suppose a defense of Teddy Bridgewater should begin with one of the best throws I’ve ever seen a quarterback make at any level.

Building a resume off a single moment is a ridiculous, anti-scout thing to do, but then again, this was quite a throw. It came on December 5 of last year against Cincinnati. Louisville was down four halfway through the fourth quarter when the Bearcats called a well-timed blitz and the pocket collapsed before it ever formed.

From there, Bridgewater delivered the spectacular throw. I remember shrieking like a child on Christmas morning and then frantically saving the replay to my DVR. It’s still there.

Mechanically, it was a mess because it had to be a mess. The fact that there was any play at all still boggles the mind. In the scouting world, however, such magnificent improv will be—and likely has been—docked accordingly.

“Well, goodness, look at how far his arm dipped on that pass. Horrendous mechanics.”

“I can’t believe while being swarmed by roughly 35 defenders he didn’t execute his reads accordingly.”

“That’s a pretty selfish way to score a touchdown; clearly, there’s an attitude problem.”

As ridiculous as these criticisms might seem, we’re approaching this threshold with Bridgewater.

One of the most consistent, accurate and downright productive quarterbacks to leave the college ranks in quite some time is quickly becoming one of the most polarizing players in the draft. There’s no reason this should be the case, of course, but the scouting process often targets a select few like an overzealous bacteria with no antidote to speak of.

In the case of Bridgewater, the contrarian opinion has gone mainstream. It’s no longer different enough to be different—it’s how different are you. And taking the stance that one of the best college quarterbacks in recent years is actually pretty good is slowly—and shockingly—becoming the minority.

This chatter began with his average-to-below-average pro day, one that received a fair amount of backlash from notable draft personalities.

ESPN’s Todd McShay provided his thoughts on Bridgewater’s performance (via ESPN.com's Michael DiRocco):

In coming to these pro day workouts for 14-15 years, the vast majority of them, almost all of them, the QB ends up outperforming what you see on tape. There's no defense. There's no pass rush. You're in shorts and a T-shirt and it's a scripted workout that you've been working on for 30-40 days with your wide receiver. So to see Bridgewater come out here today and be the exception to the rule ... this is a rare occurrence for a QB in his pro day, who is not nearly as efficient and effective when he is when studying his tape.

It’s only a pro day, although the conversations surrounding his lackluster performance, at least by some, were reasonable. This depends a great deal on how much you value pro days (hopefully not much), but the feedback from this glorified backyard throwing session was at least understood. You may not agree with it, but you understand it.

Where we’re headed next, however, is where the ship veers off course and crashes into the nearest iceberg.

Bleacher Report’s own Matt Miller tackled this topic in the latest Scouting Notebook when he spoke to an anonymous scout about the sudden Bridgewater shift. While Miller loves Bridgewater—he has him at No. 1 on his latest Big Board—the unnamed individual he talked to felt differently.

'What am I missing?' was my question to him. The answer? '(I'm) not high on him, honestly. Biggest concerns on him are the mental and inconsistencies in mechanics. In my opinion, you don't see him go through many progressions, a lot of primary, target-only reads. Mechanics-wise, I think he has good feel for pressure in the pocket but drops his elbow too often. He definitely flashes elite ability, but the lack of consistency is alarming.

Let’s dive deeper. Former NFL scout John Middlekauff, who now works for 95.7 The Game in San Francisco, took this one step further when talking about Bridgewater’s potential draft prospects.

More specifically, he took the idea that Bridgewater could still be the No. 1 overall pick and smashed it with an industrial-sized hammer.

More NFL people I talk with the more I think Bridgewater falls to the 2nd round

— John Middlekauff (@JohnMiddlekauff) April 4, 2014

Middlekauff then followed up with the scouting equivalent to a 99.5-yard touchdown pass that bounced off the scoreboard and then the mascot’s groin.

That’s right: Former Pitt quarterback Tom Savage and Teddy Bridgewater are now being lumped together in one of the strangest and unforeseen taste tests imaginable.

Honestly wldnt be that shocked “@IanKenyonNFL: I said this yesterday, if Tom Savage is drafted over Bridgewater, I'm going to lose my mind.”

— John Middlekauff (@JohnMiddlekauff) April 4, 2014

Before my brain explodes and the column ends abruptly, let’s go back to where we started: the remarkable touchdown pass from late last season against Cincinnati (or, "The Day My DVR Stood Still").

The spectacular for Bridgewater in this particular moment identifies the canyon between anatomical perfection and production. There’s nothing about this that should be taught to young QBs. In fact, you can’t teach it. But when you see something like this happen—something completely absent from the scouting handbook—it makes an impression.

Of course, the scouting process never boils down to one moment, throw or game. In fact, if you assess NFL worth based off this limited sample size, you’ll likely be doing so as a hobby for the foreseeable future.

For Bridgewater—and like every college QB that has come through the system—the collective performance wasn’t always perfection. But I can’t imagine telling someone with a straight face, with the utmost seriousness, that his “consistency is alarming.”

Just, no.

This includes the days when Bridgewater was backing up the loveable Will Stein at about 175 pounds—soaking wet—coming in off the bench with very little idea of what he was doing at the position. Even then, in his rawest of form, he had promise. Since then, he added about 30 pounds, learned an offense and made his gorgeous wrist-flick throwing motion slightly more potent.

My defense of Bridgewater is by no means a guarantee that he’ll be the next (insert choice NFL quarterback with promise here). Projecting NFL quarterbacks is like playing darts after a long night at the bar. You’ll hit sometimes, certainly, but you’ll also miss the board—maybe taking out a patron every now and then— despite exhibiting the utmost confidence on each throw. It’s one of the most difficult assignments in all of sports with absolutely no blueprint to follow.

Yet there’s also a legitimate way to approach a player’s faults and potential holes.

In the case of Bridgewater—and the countless others who are often taken apart and left disassembled for no reason at all—the over-the-top criticisms don’t match up with authentic areas of concern.

I watched far too much bad American Athletic Conference and Big East football to sit quietly on the sidelines for this particular argument. While “scout” is nowhere to be found on my business card, you don’t have to be a football projection wizard to understand that Bridgewater is an exceptional talent who does a lot of things exceptionally well.

If you don’t believe his game will translate to the NFL, that’s fair. But at the very least, let’s assess why with more evidence than hand size, shirt-and-shorts box scores and bogus bullet points. He deserves so much better than that, and I have the DVR to prove it.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Mississippi State HC Dan Mullen Talks Dak Prescott, Expectations and More

Mississippi State appeared to be headed for a sub-.500 season in mid-November 2013, but back-to-back overtime wins, including a 17-10 Egg Bowl victory over intrastate rival Ole Miss, sent the Bulldogs to a bowl game for the fourth straight season.

All they did in that bowl game is dispatch Rice 44-7 in the Liberty Bowl.

With 16 starters returning, including quarterback Dak Prescott—who took the job over from Tyler Russell last season when Russell was injured—they could be set up for a breakout season in 2014.

What does head coach Dan Mullen think of his team as spring practice closes? Barrett Sallee caught up with the sixth-year head coach of the Bulldogs to get an update on the state of the program.

 

Bleacher Report: Your quarterback, junior Dak Prescott, is getting a little bit of Heisman Trophy love. How good can he be and how important is it for you to have a full offseason as the unquestioned starting quarterback?

Dan Mullen: It is important, but I don't know how important. He started a couple games for us because of injuries last year. I had a guy who won the Heisman in his first year as a starter when Tim Tebow won it [in 2007] at Florida. Dak is a guy who has a lot of work to do, and he is a great worker. He doesn't get too caught up in the hype or anything like that. He's competing as if he's trying to win the starting job, which is always good. You want to have quarterback competitions and guys pushing for playing time.

The biggest thing with him is work ethic. He's always trying to get himself better, whether it be how fast he's making his reads and his decision-making when things break down. It's easy to make the right reads, but how good are you when things get a little funky? He's good at those things.

 

B/R: You've got a lot of talented running backs coming in, most notably of which is Josh Robinson, who looked good in limited snaps last year. What do you expect from him and how important was some of the extended playing time last year for his development?

DM: We like to have a lot of tailbacks, and we always try to rotate guys. He got a lot of reps last year, and really the last couple of years, he's gotten more and more. He's going to be more the "A" position for us this year rather than the "B" back, and he's done a really great job. He has breakaway speed, which he's shown in games last year, as well as a physicality where he can drop his pads and run in between the tackles. You always want guys to stay healthy, and if he stays healthy, he has a chance to be a really good all-around back.

 

B/R: Jameon Lewis (64 rec., 923 yards, 5 TDs) being the leading returning receiver in the SEC might be a bit surprising to some folks. Is he the best receiver who not many people have heard of?

DM: Sure, I guess. I mean, we know a lot about him here. He set a lot of school records last year. He's an explosive guy. He's done a really good job at working at becoming an all-around player. You know, the techniques, the fundamentals and everything it takes to become that. Instead of being a great athlete—you know, being the great high school quarterback that he was—learning the receiver position and the ins and outs of that, I think he's done a great job developing year to year. He had his first time as a starter last year and really took advantage of that and had a great season.

 

B/R: Who else has impressed you this spring at wide receiver?

DM: We've had a bunch. Robert Johnson is coming into his senior season and he's had a really good spring. De'Runnya Wilson has really gotten to learn a little bit more about the game at the receiver position. I expect some things out of him. Fred Ross is a guy as a true freshman played for us last year a little bit. Now with another guy like De'Runnya who has the opportunity to learn what's going on rather than scrambling and getting caught up and all the adjustments those guys go through to really learn has had a really good spring. 

 

B/R: Defensively, Mississippi State looked pretty solid in several games last season. A lot of those impact players on that side of the ball are coming back. How important is having that experience in your back pocket as you build that depth you need in the SEC West?

DM: Coming into last year, we had a very, very young defense. They got better every game as the year went on and were really peaking towards the end of the year. You look at that crew, 19 of the 22 on our two-deep are back; as well a guy like [defensive back] Jay Hughes, who missed the entire season with an injury—and he was a starter too. For us, the depth is really important because we want to rotate in and out. I love rotating guys. I love looking at the stats at the end of the game and the snaps played stat never hits 40 for any defensive player. If that happens, then those guys will be playing with the passion and the effort that we expect them to play with.

 

B/R: Four straight bowls for Mississippi State and you've still had to deal with doubters. And I'll be forthcoming, one of those was me and you proved me wrong. You've been on record saying that it's hard to take that next step in the SEC West because it's not just a regular step, it's a really big step. What do you have to do to make that step?

DM: Here's the thing, we're in position to do that. Last year, I give our staff a lot of credit, I think it was the best coaching job we've done since we've been here. We had almost 120 games missed by starters due to injuries last year. On top of that, I think we played, statistically speaking, one of the top three or five hardest schedules in the country. I think we were the only team in the top five hardest schedules in the country to make a bowl game—and we won the bowl game. For all of the injuries we had, to make it and win that bowl game and win four out of five Egg Bowls—which is huge here—is pretty special.

That next step, if you're going to compete for a title, you have to be a consistent program. We've created expectations. When I first got here, the expectation was to maybe go to a bowl game. That's not a good enough expectation for me. I don't like that expectation of "hey, let's just have a winning season" and call that good enough. We want to compete for championships.

Certainly within that program that expectation has been changed. Outside the program, doing something that's never been done in over 100 years of this program still puts you on the "hot seat," that's a good thing to me. Because that means that expectations have changed. People look at our program and expect us to win a championship.

The difference in the SEC West is that, in the last five seasons, six SEC West teams have competed for the national championship. A lot of times, the next step is "hey, we've built a program as a consistent winner; now let's go win a conference championship." In the SEC West, you skip that step. A conference championship is also a national championship here. And that's just in the West, never mind the Florida run before that. Our next step is to play for a national championship, because that's where it's been if you win the SEC West.

Obviously, with the new College Football Playoff, that can change. But those are our sights. Those are expectations for guys within this program to play for the SEC title and I guess at that point the national championship.

 

B/R: What did you think of the BCS and do you like the idea of a four-team playoff?

DM: I don't know. Hard to say because we have to see it play out first. Besides the 2004 season, I think the BCS got it right. I was on the bad end of it that year with the University of Utah. I thought we could have beat anybody in the country with that team, and I'm sure Auburn has a lot of claims to it as well that year and they didn't get an opportunity.

If you wanted to do it perfect, I guess that year you should have had a four-team playoff. Other years, you may not have needed it. Maybe one year one team gets a berth and two others do a one-game playoff while one team waits for the winner.

It seems to me [the BCS] kind of got it right most years. I like the old way. I love going to your pre-slotted bowl games and hey, if there are two national champions, then there are two national champions. I don't know if there's an exact way to do it.

Look at basketball. There's a No. 7 and a No. 8 seed in the Final Four. Essentially, then, the regular season meant nothing to those teams. All that matters is that you get in the tournament. 

The last time there were co-national champions in 2003, do both sets of kids consider themselves national champions? That's an unbelievable experience, isn't it? That's educational. That's motivational for young people. What a great opportunity for student-athletes. Instead of just 85, 170 got to call themselves national champions. What a great educational experience for those young people. 

 

B/R: Last year's ending to the Egg Bowl against Ole Miss was riveting, with Dak coming off the bench, sending it to overtime and then you guys winning after recovering a fumble on the game's final play. How big was that for your program, and how much does that come up when you're out on the road in Mississippi?

DM: In this state, it's 24/7/365. That's the game that matters. Winning that game is everything. It sounds maybe crazy, but here in the state of Mississippi, that's what people talk about. Year-round, that game will be talked about nonstop. I haven't heard many people talk about our bowl win, but they all talk about the Egg Bowl because it's a neighbor against neighbor game. Everywhere you turn, you're either one school or the other. That lasts the whole year.

 

B/R: Do you have any thoughts on the effort by Northwestern's players to unionize, and what are your general thoughts on player compensation?

DM: I love player compensation. I don't consider myself a super smart person, but I do understand that most people don't pay attention to the tax implications. I can tell you this, the IRS is not going to not get their share—especially with April 15 coming up on us. Maybe I'm off on this, but if our players are going to have to pay tax on the value of their scholarship, which could be the case if you're an employee, I don't think a lot of people would be into that. 

But I do think that, however way possible, players should get a little bit more spending money to put in their pocket. There are methods out there. If you want to give them minimum wage like any other job, that's fine. I'm not sure how you do it. I think the cost of attendance is the one that people come up with who are smarter than me, and they understand the intricacies of the tax code.

I mean, you can't pay the players for playing because they have to then file income tax in every state in which a game is played like the NFL does. You're looking at an IRS nightmare for these players; now they're going to have to go hire accountants and they'll end up losing money. 

These guys do have a lot of value built in in addition to the scholarship. You know, there's tutoring, they get exposure not just as a football player, but when they go on a job interview they have job recognition that "Johnny Averageman" doesn't.

I am great for players having a voice and a say, and I'd love to compensate them for the work they put in. However we can do it, allow them to do it. I'm into all of that. There are a lot of smart people working on it, and I hope they come up with some good answers that better improve the lives of these young men. But I don't know if some of the things we've seen are the best ways to do it.

 

B/R: Are you relieved that we don't have to talk about the 10-second rule for the next 10 or 11 months?

DM: The injuries and all that, I don't know about all that. Everyone's looking to get an advantage. The thing I liked about the 10-second rule was consistency. In the SEC, we have great officials in this league. Not that they don't make mistakes, but as a coach, you want consistency. If they say they're going to call it tight, then they're going to call it tight the whole game. If they're going to call it loose, they're going to call it loose the whole game. As long as it's consistent, I'm great. 

The one thing that a 10-second rule would have done would be to give you a consistent snap point for the ball. When you go to another league's officials, all of the sudden they spot things differently. I never had a substitution issue with tempo offenses that we played last year. I never thought it was an injury or health issue, to be honest with you. There are much bigger health issues in the game than snapping the ball within 10 seconds. 

I do think it was going in the right direction. Let's look at all the snaps that took place within 10 seconds, and let's review those. Were there any deception issues? Was the umpire out of the way? I'm an offensive coach and I think [tempo] is a neat deal sometimes, but as a head coach, here's the umpire putting the ball down and turning his back to the line of scrimmage when the ball is snapped and he's actually in the way blocking either your "Mike" linebacker or your 3-technique [defensive lineman] while the ball is being snapped. I never saw that happen with us in the SEC, but I do think [the 10-second rule] would lead to consistency from league to league. That part of it, to me, was interesting.

 

* Barrett Sallee is the lead SEC college football writer for Bleacher Report. All quotes were obtained firsthand and all stats were courtesy of CFBStats.com.

 

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

5 Unanswered Questions Heading into the Florida Gators Spring Game

The Florida Gators Orange and Blue spring game takes place this weekend (April 12), and there’s still plenty of questions that have yet to be answered. Don’t be alarmed: This is all part of the process, but it’s key to identify the problems so the team knows what to continue to work on heading into fall camp.

For the Gators, a lot of their issues are on the offensive side of the ball.

With a new offensive coordinator and a new system being implemented, there’s going to be a few growing pains along the way. Finding playmakers, ironing out the issues at quarterback and discovering depth at certain positions are crucial. There’s also a major concern on special teams and an issue defensively that must be addressed.

Let’s take a look at the major remaining questions for the Florida Gators.

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Clemson Football: 4 Players to Watch in Tigers' Spring Game

It's finally time for football as Clemson plays its annual spring game on Saturday in Death Valley.

There are a lot of questions surrounding the Tigers. 

Who will replace Tajh Boyd at quarterback? Will head coach Dabo Swinney choose experience or go with a dynamic true freshman who could be the future of the program as soon as this year?

The Tigers lost several talented stars from last year's Orange Bowl-winning team. Aside from Boyd, receiver Sammy Watkins is the most glaring loss. Watkins was the best receiver in college football last year and the greatest in school history. 

Here are four players—or positions—to pay close attention to this Saturday. 

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College Football's 10 Most Intriguing Spring Game Storylines of 2014

College football's spring-practice season is hitting the final stretch, with many schools set to hold their annual spring games in the next week or two. These contests, although completely unofficial, provide us with the last tangible evaluation of teams and players before the pads and helmets are put away until preseason training camp.

There is so much to look for during these spring games, from individual player development to position battles to overarching schematic changes. The storylines number the hundreds.

We've identified the 10 most intriguing spring-game storylines that will set the stage for the 2014 season. Some are specific to a certain team or player; others are more general and apply to many schools.

Either way, they'll leave us with some lasting impressions of what to expect this fall.

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