NCAA Football News

Why USC Is Better Positioned Post-Sanctions Than Past Penalized Teams

When NCAA-mandated probationary periods end for college football programs, their struggles are often just beginning. 

The full burden of bowl bans and scholarship reductions is not often felt until after sanctions end. USC enters the 2014 season two years removed from the end of a two-year postseason ban and just weeks removed from a three-year scholarship reduction that could have crippled the program.

Head coach Steve Sarkisian inherits a situation much more favorable than past head coaches have faced with programs just emerging from the woods. 

"When we come out of this thing, it's truly going to show the power of USC," Sarkisian told Dennis Dodd of "Not many schools could have withstood that in the manner and fashion as USC. This is a very powerful place."

Indeed, USC is better positioned to return to prominence without hiccups than previous programs that endured heavy sanctions—including two of the most prominent on the current college football landscape. 

The sanctions levied against USC were the most severe given to any major program since Auburn in the mid-1990s. The Tigers were hit with a bowl ban, scholarship reductions and a television ban that prevented the public from seeing any of the 11 wins in their undefeated 1993 campaign.

Auburn finished 9-1-1 the next year while still barred from the postseason. By 1995, Terry Bowden had the Tigers back in the postseason in the first of two straight 8-4 runs.

But the real brunt of the NCAA penalties was felt when the reduced scholarship classes were the program's upperclassmen. In 1998, Auburn stumbled to 3-8, and Bowden was fired midseason—a move that should sound familiar to USC faithful. 

The Tigers finished 5-7 the next season while still adjusting with an imbalanced roster. 

Beating the long-term challenges of sanctions starts—of course—on the recruiting trail. When scholarship restrictions are lifted, a program's roster has a disproportionate ratio of underclassmen to upperclassmen.  

The challenge is ensuring the greatly outnumbered juniors and seniors are talented to compensate for the lack of depth and enough newcomers are prepared to play immediate roles. 

USC remained successful on the recruiting trail despite its limitations.

This year's juniors were the first signees in USC's scholarship-reduction era. It's a group that includes preseason All-Americans Nelson Agholor and Leonard Williams, cornerstones of the Trojans offense and defense, respectively. 

For his faults as head coach, Lane Kiffin continued to recruit well despite the limitations. USC is stocked with enough talent from its reduced classes to remain competitive while in transition. 

Sarkisian kept the ball rolling with the nation's No. 11-ranked class in 2014. His success in bringing together USC's final class with reduced scholarships is a positive indicator of the program's directions as it embarks on this new era.

Sarkisian capitalized on his familiarity with the local prep scene, the lifeblood of USC's recruiting. From his time as a Trojans assistant and in his tenure as head coach at Washington, Sarkisian built relationships in the Los Angeles-area high school football landscape that will power the Trojans for years to come.

Marvin Sanders is head coach of Loyola High School in Los Angeles. Loyola produced UCLA star Anthony Barr as well as 2014 USC offensive line commit Chris Brown. Sanders explained to me how the school's relationship with USC was mutually beneficial, and Sarkisian has established other such connections in other Southland high schools. 

Among them is Long Beach Poly, home of 5-star 2014 recruit John "JuJu" Smith: 

Sarkisian is looking like the right hire to bring stability to the program as it enters potentially choppy waters. Having such a leader navigate the post-sanction terrain is vital, lest the program suffer a setback similar to that which plagued Alabama in the first half of the 2000s.

Alabama initially hired Mike Price to replace Dennis Franchione, immediately removed from a two-year postseason ban and reduction of scholarships. The Crimson Tide were just seven years out of a different period of sanctions, further complicating their rebuilding. 

Price was dismissed in the spring after allegations of improprieties and just months after signing a recruiting class ranked No. 49. Such a scenario is unfathomable for Alabama a decade later. 

Price's dismissal left Alabama scrambling, and Mike Shula was tabbed for the job. His four-year stint ended with a whimper at 6-7. The ensuing rebuilding project began in 2007 under Nick Saban,  and even he mustered only a 7-6 campaign in his first year. 

Expectations on Sarkisian in his debut season at USC are higher—and understandably so. The Trojans may have faced particularly harsh sanctions, but they come out of them far more equipped for immediate success than past penalized teams. 


Recruiting rankings and information culled from composite scores unless otherwise noted. 

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Wake Forest Football Preview: The 2014 Schedule

Happy July.  Or rather, happy "one month until August," when football season starts.  

That's right: We're just 68 days away from Week 1 kickoff. So why not start the countdown with a preview of each regular-season game?

Here's a preview of all 12 games this fall, complete with some way-too-early predictions to boot. 

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Why Alabama DC Kirby Smart Is Wise to Wait for the Right Head Coaching Job

It isn't often that an Alabama assistant coach speaks publicly, so when one does, we listen.

Defensive coordinator Kirby Smart made an appearance with "The Front Row" on WCNN 680 The Fan in Atlanta on Monday with "Steak" Shapiro, Sandra Golden and Brian Finneran. In the interview, he discussed a laundry list of topics including potential leaders on his defense, the incoming class of potential stars and some of his fellow coaches that he's had the opportunity to work with in Tuscaloosa.

At the end of the interview, he was asked about the elephant in the room—his next step.

"I could finish my career being a defensive coordinator and say 'hey, he's Mickey Andrews'," Smart said, referring to the former Florida State defensive coordinator who coached from 1984-2009. "I'd be happy knowing that I had the success doing it and I was the best I could be at my job. But if the opportunity knocks, then so be it. There may be a time when I'm 45 or 50 that you get a little more antsy to be a head coach, but at 38, I'm not sitting here saying I got to go today in order to take one just to take it."

He shouldn't.

He made $1.15 million last year according to the USA Today coaching salary database, which made him the second-highest paid assistant in the country behind Clemson offensive coordinator Chad Morris. It would have put him 69th among head coaches last year had he carried the head coach title.

From a personal standpoint, he has something very rare in coaching circles—stability.

"My family is so happy in Tuscaloosa," Smart told . "My wife loves it. We have six-year-old twins and a two-year-old. We've been very fortunate. I moved seven times the first seven years I coached. The last eight—going on eight, I've been in the same place."

That's incredibly important for any man and any family, regardless of the profession.

Sure, he could have jumped at a head coaching job at a Sun Belt school or perhaps even one in the SEC a few years ago. But if it isn't the perfect gig at the perfect time, why bother?

Plus, he has no pressure.

Head coach Nick Saban is heavily involved with the defense as well. That, coupled with his policy that prevents assistants from talking to the media except during a few select appearances throughout the year, has created a pretty sweet gig for Smart.

Why would he leave?

He has the ability and structure within the framework of the program to focus strictly on X's and O's, without being pulled in a bunch of different directions. He has financial stability and clearly appreciates the opportunity to put down roots in Tuscaloosa, all while building his resume for "the big one."

Essentially, he is in "Will Muschamp mode" when Muschamp was the defensive coordinator and coach-in-waiting at Texas.

Sure, he's had opportunities. According to USA Today, he interviewed with Southern Miss before the Ellis Johnson debacle in 2012, and was connected to Auburn before the Tigers hired Gus Malzahn prior to the 2013 season. 

What's the hurry, though?

He can continue to cash those checks in Tuscaloosa in the same town he's lived in for the better part of the decade while waiting for the next "big one." All the while, he'll coach some of the most talented players around with one of the most distinguished defensive minds in the world in Saban—a man who shoulders some of the defensive load and virtually all of the blame.

Smart would be smart to stick around in Tuscaloosa. He has earned the right and ability to take a job at an elite program that's ready-made for a quick turnaround.

Until that job opens up, why bother?


* Barrett Sallee is the lead SEC college football writer Barrett Sallee. All stats are courtesy of and all recruiting information is courtesy of


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Aaron Hernandez Is 'Mr. July' in the 2014 Florida Gators Calendar

Aaron Hernandez put up good numbers in his football career, both at the University of Florida and in New England. However, given his current legal troubles, he may not be the best choice to be featured in a team calendar.

The former Gators tight end was featured as "Mr. July" in a 2014 calendar. (Tim Tebow also was featured.)

It may seem like a poor decision to include Hernandez in the calendar now, but the Gators football Twitter account explained how something like this happened:

Hernandez wasn't arrested until summer of 2013. Maybe it wasn't possible to make a change a few months after approval, but it certainly seems like it would have been worth trying.

It doesn't appear as though this calendar is one that the team put out:

No matter who created the calendar, it's not a good look for anyone right now.

[Twitter, h/t Deadspin]

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What Jameis Winston's Reported Insurance Policy Means for His NFL Plans

Whether Florida State quarterback Jameis Winston declares for the NFL draft in about seven months remains to be seen. But the Heisman Trophy winner has shown he's at least thinking about the future. 

According to Rand Getlin of Yahoo Sports, Winston purchased a "large disability and 'loss of value' policy that provides him with $8 million to $10 million in insurance coverage." The amount of the policy is based on a projection that Winston will be a top-10 draft pick in 2015. 

Getlin goes on to report that Winston's policy provides protection if he falls out of the first round due to injury or illness. Based on history, a policy as large as the one Winston reportedly purchased likely means he's headed to the NFL sooner rather than later: 

Industry experts say underclassmen who purchase insurance policies as large as Winston's almost always enter the NFL draft following the season for which they purchased coverage. That reality is largely due to the hefty premiums players have to pay out of pocket (often with the help of their families) to protect themselves. Policies the size of Winston's can carry a $55,000 to $60,000 premium payment per year, which industry sources say most players have to obtain by financing.

So, if nothing else, history suggests Winston is gone after this season. 

Bud Elliott of, who is as plugged in as anybody when it comes to Florida State, lists several other reasons why Winston is likely to depart for the NFL after the 2014 season. The simplest reason is the money. Elliott calculates that if Winston were to stay one more year in college, he could lose $15 million during his first five years in the league. 

For what it's worth, Winston's father told Jeff Sentell of in June that he wants his son to play two more years of football for the Seminoles. Winston's father certainly wouldn't be the first parent to want his son to get his degree. Winston also wouldn't be the first player to go against those wishes if he decides to declare. 

Winston has been on mock draft radars for a while. Dane Brugler of and Chris Burke of Sports Illustrated have Winston going No. 7 to Tampa Bay. Of course, it's July and mock drafts at this point are little more than fun conversation starters. Still, it provides an idea of where experts believe Winston grades out. 

Winston's biggest question mark isn't his tangibles or his locker room leadership. It's his off-the-field headlines. From an alleged rape incident in December 2012—it deserves to be noted again that Winston was not charged—to being cited for shoplifting crab legs from a Publix, Winston hasn't been able to keep a low profile. 

As Bleacher Report's Mike Freeman reported in April, multiple NFL scouts have started to drop Winston on their big board: 

This from an NFL scout: "When I heard about this, I was stunned. He was the top overall pick next year. Was. Not anymore. This latest thing shows a continuation of bad judgment. I don't trust him, and I can tell you very few teams in the NFL will trust him."

This from a front-office executive: "He's on his way to falling out of the first round."

If Winston were to hypothetically fall out of the first round because off-the-field issues, his insurance policy wouldn't cover the financial hit he'd take. 

But if Winston can improve on what was a stellar redshirt freshman year (4,057 passing yards, 40 touchdowns and 10 interceptions) while keeping his nose clean, character concerns could diminish rather quickly. Winston would almost certainly be a first-round selection, if not a top-10 or top overall selection, and the insurance policy wouldn't be needed. 

Purchasing the policy, though, shows that Winston is protecting the one thing he can't entirely control: his health. And when players aren't getting paid to play football, protection from every possible roadblock is necessary. 


Ben Kercheval is a lead writer for college football at Bleacher Report. All stats courtesy of

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Travis Waller to Oregon: Ducks Land 4-Star QB Prospect

Travis Waller officially announced his commitment to Oregon on Tuesday, spurning Northwestern, Notre Dame, Arizona and Ohio State in the process. 

A 4-star recruit out of Anaheim, California, the announcement has been scheduled since Waller pared down his considerable list of suitors. Notre Dame was considered one of the favorites, with the Irish seeming like a natural fit.

Waller's high school teammate Equanimeous St. Brown is also considering a South Bend trip, and the Irish had an opening following the decommitment of 4-star quarterback Blake Barnett. Still, Notre Dame was late to the party; it didn't even offer him a scholarship until early this month.

In the end, the Irish will miss out on one of the best quarterback prospects in the 2015 class.

Waller is considered the fourth-best dual-threat quarterback prospect and No. 79 overall recruit by 247Sports' composite rankings. Calling him a dual threat might be a disservice to his ability as a passer. While he is a solid runner and will be effective outside the pocket, Waller will make his name by throwing the football.

As a junior at Servite High School, Waller threw for 1,669 yards and 12 touchdowns against seven interceptions. The offense worked to highlight his athletic ability more so than his pocket passing; Waller added 1,293 yards and 13 touchdowns on the ground. 

"After the very first game, we realized he was the guy we were going to roll with," Servite head coach A.J. Gass told's Drew Champlin. "Every single week, Travis got a little bit better. He's a very dynamic kid running the ball. Athletically, he's like a linebacker in the backfield. When he's got to stand back and throw, he's got great arm strength and tremendous accuracy. He's truly one of the best dual-threat quarterbacks in the nation.

Listed at 6'3" and 190 pounds, Waller will need to bulk up before getting significant playing time. His body wouldn't withstand the week-to-week grind of being hit by major collegiate linebackers and linemen. Adding weight shouldn't be much of a problem over the next couple years. His frame has room for bulk.

Strength isn't an issue when Waller goes to throw the ball. He's able to make throws on a line and deep down the field with considerable zip; the ball rarely floats out of his hand. If anything, sometimes he needs to take a bit off the throw and ensure it's getting there accurately. Waller completed (slightly) more than half of his passes in 2013. As a dual-threat passer, he'll need to improve his accuracy level to warrant consistent playing time.

Concerns aside, the Ducks didn't offer Waller a scholarship so they could throw him in as an 18-year-old. He'll have considerable time to develop, where the coaching staff will attempt to refine his mechanics and work on the basics of quarterback play. Few signal-callers are 100 percent ready to go as freshmen. Even Jameis Winston and Johnny Manziel took a redshirt year.

The key is bringing Waller in and getting him to work. Oregon took care of the first part. Now it's up to him and Waller to figure out the rest.


Follow Tyler Conway on Twitter:

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QB Travis Waller Commits to Oregon: Next Step Toward Evolution of Ducks Offense

Travis Waller has officially committed to the Oregon Ducks. This 2015 quarterback has what it takes to come in and become the next star once Marcus Mariota's career has come to an end.

His unique combination of arm strength and scrambling ability allows him to make huge plays out of nothing.

How well do you think Waller will do at Oregon?

Watch College Football Analyst Michael Felder discuss this future Duck.

Highlights courtesy of XOS Digital.

Rankings from 247Sports' composite rankings.

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11 College Football Teams with Most Appealing Facilities

The "arms race" in college football has not been overblown. Programs compete with one another to have the boldest new jerseys and the grandest new facilities, hoping to lure high school recruits as they keep up with (and surpass) the Joneses.

Because so many college football teams take place in this arms race, and because so many athletic departments are rolling in the money, narrowing this list down to 11 was a difficult endeavor. There are more than 11 supremely impressive facilities in college football; the nature of this list demanded that a few of those facilities be left off.

This list comes with the disclaimer that I have never been to any of these places. If your favorite team has been left off, and you would like to vent off steam by writing in the comments and telling me I'm an idiot, you can use this to beef up your argument. Go ahead.

What I have done is spent hours researching each facility. I have taken all the virtual tours, am aware which ones were built or renovated most recently and have seen which ones recruits can't stop raving about. 

Factors such as modernness, sleekness and uniqueness of design were taken into account—which means, of course, that a big part of this was subjective. The facilities I thought stuck out, after looking at almost all of them, are the ones that I have included. But I am only one person. That doesn't mean you couldn't make an equally compelling case for 15 or 20 other options. I swear I don't just hate your team. 

Chime in below, and let me know what else you would have included.

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UCLA Football: Bruins Must Work Magic Again to Find Next Anthony Barr

Two-time All-Pac-12 linebacker Anthony Barr's departure to the NFL leaves UCLA with a tremendous void in its linebacker corps. After all, Barr accounted for 41 tackles for loss and 148 total tackles over the last two seasons. 

But Barr was an unknown commodity heading into the 2012 campaign, his first as an outside linebacker after languishing on the depth chart at running back. His transformation into one of the most feared pass-rushers in college football and a first-round NFL draft pick surprised even head coach Jim Mora. 

"I can't tell you that [UCLA coaches] foresaw that he was going to do the kind of things he's doing," Mora told me last season. "We saw a good athlete who had the measurables for the position...We saw a young man that had the athleticism and intelligence [so] we knew we wanted him on the field."

Barr's successor has a high standard to meet. However, Barr's success is proof that a star can shine unexpectedly. It's just going to take some magic from the Bruins coaches to unlock the next Anthony Barr's potential. 

Mora's outlook for how the Bruins will replace Barr is perhaps clearer than the coach's expectations when he moved Barr to linebacker. The third-year head coach rattled off several names of untested but high-potential prospects he expects to break out on the May 1 coaches teleconference call, via

Among them, Kenny Orjioke and Deon Hollins are front-runners to replace Barr. Their combined game experience is limited: Orjioke appeared in all 13 contests a season ago, though primarily on special teams. Hollins played in 11 games as a reserve. Orjioke recorded two tackles for loss in 2013, and Hollins made one. 

Adding further intrigue to the competition, Aaron Wallace rejoins the program. He was on leave because of an academic issue this spring. Wallace also saw time in all 13 games, but he was limited in his production. 

Still, all three have more of a collegiate linebacker background than Barr. 

The bad news for the Bruins in making this transition: Defensive coordinator Lou Spanos left for a position with the Tennessee Titans. Spanos' version of the base 3-4 defense thrived with Barr bringing pressure off the edge. 

Now that Barr's gone, one way in which UCLA may compensate for the loss is with a schematic adjustment. 

Spanos' replacement, Jeff Ulbrich, toyed with a 4-2-5 formation in the spring. The move got a stamp of approval from one linebacker in particular. 

"I hope we stay that way,” Hollins told Jack Wang of the Los Angeles Daily News. “We initially moved more nickel because we had a lot of injuries, but our nickel’s looking really salty."

The move to a nickel base also suits Orjioke, who played safety at the high school level. 

Among the qualities of the new scheme that looks promising is the freedom for supremely talented sophomore Myles Jack to roam. Jack made an immediate splash in the linebacker corps a season ago, and along with returning leading tackler Eric Kendricks, is the unit's pillar for 2014. 

Jack's ability to drop into pass coverage should free up Orjioke and Hollins as pass-rushers at the nickel linebacker spots. 

It's an adjustment that could do wonders for the 2014 Bruins linebackers. And if there's anyone on staff who knows about getting the most of the Bruins linebackers, it's Ulbrich.

He was the corps' position coach the last two seasons, overseeing its rise into one of the most formidable in the Pac-12. 

Ulbrich's success prompted the UCLA football Twitter account to share an image of him with the text "Linebacker U" last summer, a subtle play both on the coach's last name and challenging the title bestowed on various other programs—including UCLA's crosstown rival, USC.

As defensive coordinator, Ulbrich has an opportunity to solidify UCLA's new-found reputation as a linebacker's program—even without Barr. 


Quotes obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted. Statistics compiled via

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Wake Forest Football Preview: The Defense and Special Teams Under Dave Clawson

Defense should be the Demon Deacons' stronger side this year with most of the secondary returning and a productive linebacker core emerging.  

First year head coach Dave Clawson and defensive coordinator Mike Elko bring a new system from Bowling Green with them, and the first task will be covering up a inexperienced front line with their 4-2-5 scheme.

Given the inexperience of the line coupled with the strength of the secondary, look for linebackers Brandon Chubb and Marguel Lee to play downhill in an effort to get pressure on opposing quarterbacks.

Playing with only two true linebackers in this system means Chubb and Lee would normally roam free in both pocket pressure and coverage, but the dynamic cornerback tandem of Kevin Johnson and Merrill Noel will be relied on heavily in this transition year.

There's no shortage of confidence in that unit either.  "So I’m extremely confident in our defense. In the secondary, we’re trying to push to be the best we can possibly be," Johnson told ESPN's David M. Hale.

He'll get help in that quest from Ryan Janvion, a returning All-ACC Honorable Mention free safety.  With all of the experience in the back of the defense, Clawson's 4-2-5 could look more like a 6-5 system, especially at the start of the season as the defensive line gets in-game reps under its belt.

That line will have to replace Nikita Whitlock, who anchored the unit the last four seasons and had nine sacks in his senior campaign.  Josh Banks had one of the best springs on the team at defensive tackle.  

He should get a starting job and must make an immediate impact by containing the run game.

Next to Banks, sophomore Zachary Allen looks to be a perfect fit for the new scheme.  Clawson has favored speedy defensive ends in the past, so Allen and Lee should provide the explosive first step off the line to hurry the quarterback in passing situations.

On special teams, Wake Forest has been dead last in return yards in the ACC for six straight years.  Clawson and new assistant Adam Scheier will work with running back and return man Orville Reynolds to change that shortcoming, and the past makes the outlook favorable.  

Bowling Green returned seven kickoffs for touchdowns in five seasons under that coaching pair.  

Clawson will likely give kicker Chad Hedlund more chances than the last staff from outside of 40 yards as well.  Hedlund was just 1-of-3 from such distance last year, but the Deacs will need to grab points each chance they get if the offense is going to keep the team in games.     

The defense in year one of the new era has a nucleus of talent and experience, and both it and the special teams will need to help out the Demon Deacons' offense for the team to win games.

With the transition comes opportunity, and playmakers will will have to rise along the front line to help out a well-tooled secondary.

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Notre Dame Shows off Flashy New Cleats After Switch from Adidas to Under Armour

Perhaps the most iconic team in college football has made the switch from Adidas to Under Armour. 

Head football equipment manager Ryan Grooms tweeted out the team's new custom-colored high-top cleats.

Here is our custom color

— Ryan Grooms (@NDFBEquipment) July 1, 2014

Safe to say the switch appears to be going well.

[Twitter, h/t College Spun]

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Alabama's Title Hopes Resting on Secondary, Not Quarterback

One position on Alabama's roster is going to dictate whether or not the Crimson Tide will get back to the peak of the college football world, and it is one that is depending on fresh faces to up the level of the competition.

Quarterback, right?

Florida State transfer Jacob Coker has joined the battle with Blake Sims and Cooper Bateman this summer, complete with an ever-inflating reputation.

David Pollack says "hand the job" to Jacob Coker. "He can spin it better than any QB Nick Saban’s had at Alabama. It's not even close."

— Knox Bardeen (@knoxbardeen) June 30, 2014

Coker only completed 21 of 41 passes in Tallahassee for one touchdown and one pick. The 6'5", 230-pounder showed in limited action that he has a big arm and can make plays on the run, but having a definitive opinion on him one way or the other seems like a big stretch. 

He's a mystery.

Luckily for Alabama, its title hopes aren't resting on Coker's performance.

The secondary is a much more pressing issue.

One look at the stat sheet, and you'll think that the Crimson Tide's pass defense wasn't an issue. After all, 180.3 yards per game is pretty good. Good enough to finish in the second spot in the SEC and 11th in the country, anyway. But against teams that could actually throw—even teams that hadn't proved it like Oklahoma—the Tide got lit up like a Christmas tree.

Even Auburn—a team that was run-first, run-second and run-third—had a reasonable amount of success through the air against the Tide defense from an efficiency standpoint (160.93). It also missed two huge opportunities on blown coverages on poorly thrown balls to Ricardo Louis in the first and fourth quarters.

Deion Belue fought through injury on one side of the defensive backfield last year, and the other side had a revolving door of starters including Eddie Jackson, Bradley Sylve and Cyrus Jones—all of whom return in 2014. Sophomore Maurice Smith and true freshmen Tony Brown and Marlon Humphrey will all be in the mix as well.

The cornerback position needs to be settled early in fall camp.

The uncertainty came back to bite Alabama in a big way last year, and they can't afford that again in 2014. If that means trotting out youngsters Brown and Humphrey—which I think will happen—to take their lumps, so be it. Learning what not to do is the most important lesson young players can learn. If they're the future of the position, let them learn.

At safety, Landon Collins is entrenched at the strong safety spot, and the versatility he showed playing both spots in a pinch last year will be invaluable to the Crimson Tide defense. Jarrick Williams, who played nickel and safety last year, will likely move into more of a full-time role at free safety. 

That unit as a whole is the most important hurdle for head coach Nick Saban to overcome if he wants to bring another title to T-Town.

Florida should be able to pass much better under first-year coordinator Kurt Roper. Ole Miss' offense is extremely dangerous when it clicks. Texas A&M head coach Kevin Sumlin has proven throughout his career that he can produce prolific air attacks regardless of the quarterback. Tennessee's wide receivers could rival any in the SEC by season's end. Another year of work for Auburn quarterback Nick Marshall should open up the Tigers passing game more.

The margin for error isn't as thin this year as it has been in years past, but until we see the College Football Playoff selection committee in action, it'd be tenuous for any team to be on the playoff bubble without a conference title in its trophy case.

Coker has an insurance policy in the form of a deep and talented backfield and a wildly talented wide receiving corps. The secondary doesn't have that luxury. 

Because of that, Alabama's title hopes rest at the back end of its defense.


* Barrett Sallee is the lead SEC college football writer for Bleacher Report. All stats are courtesy of and all recruiting information is courtesy of


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Wake Forest Football Preview: The Offense Under Dave Clawson

A new season brings with it a new coach and system in Winston-Salem.  As the Demon Deacons adjust to life in the Clawson era, fans will also notice the stark contrast between the Jim Grobe option-oriented offense and Clawson's open attack.

Grobe preferred his quarterbacks to be at least efficiently mobile in order to run the option, but whoever is named the starter under Clawson will be asked to be both mobile in the pocket and create positive plays when a young offensive line breaks down.  Both returning backup Tyler Cameron and Kevin Sousa, who originally committed to Michigan as a quarterback before switching positions under Grobe, have the size and skill to shoulder that load.  Two freshmen, John Wolford and Travis Smith, will challenge for the job, but both are smaller than the returners and, while athletic, have the tendencies of more traditional pocket passers.

Given a confident signal-caller, Clawson's offensive model works.  Last year at Bowling Green, his offense ranked in the top 10 in the nation in offensive efficiency by utilizing short routes, run-pass options and an outside running game that attacks the edges of the defense.  The Deacons have the perfect man for that outside attack in speedy Orville Reynolds.

One of the first moves Clawson made during spring practice was moving Reynolds back from wideout to his natural position at running back.  The year at receiver should pay dividends, and the Clawson offense will call for him to both beat linebackers to the edge on the ground and find cushions in zone defenses for short yardage passes.  Look for Reynolds to be Clawson's do-everything man in a first-year offense that remains short on playmakers.

One similarity fans will see between last year and this coming fall will be the consistent and focused use of the slot receiver.  It will be impossible to replace Michael Campanaro, the Deacs' all-time leader in receptions (229), but Virginia graduate transfer E.J. Scott will have an immediate and significant impact.  

Scott caught 29 passes and three touchdowns in 2012 and will need to be a security blanket for whichever inexperienced quarterback needs to find him on short routes when things break down.  Also helping downfield will be big targets Jared Crump (6'3") and Jonathan Williams (6'4") who both showed they can high point and win balls in the air as redshirt freshmen last year.

One thing is for sure: Everything will look different this year on BB&T Field.  From the players to the coaches to the formations, Deacons fans will get to see something new.  After five straight losing seasons, the change should be welcome.  Progress will be slow, but Dave Clawson has shown his open attack can right the ship given time.

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Tennessee Football: Why Von Pearson Will Be Vols' X-Factor in 2014

Although Von Pearson is one of the highest-rated recruits in the Tennessee Volunteers 2014 class, his under-the-radar arrival on Rocky Top will give head coach Butch Jones a secret weapon and X-factor on the field this fall. 

Pearson's road to becoming a Vol was anything but traditional. He excelled as a wide receiver at Denbigh High School in Newport News, Virginia, catching 50 passes for 880 yards and seven touchdowns during his senior season. 

But after graduating in 2010, it appeared that Pearson's football career was over due to academic issues. Eventually, the talented wide receiver ended up working behind the counter at a McDonald's in his hometown until a friend suggested he enroll at Feather River College in Quincy River, California, according to's Jason Yellin.

Two outstanding junior college seasons later, Tennessee's coaching staff discovered Pearson's video-game-level highlight tape and gave him his first scholarship offer.

He accepted and immediately shut down his recruitment, despite other schools clamoring to add him to their rosters.

After enrolling at Tennessee in January 2014 and going through spring practices, Pearson emerged as one of the top wide receivers on the roster. In fact, the Knoxville News Sentinel's Evan Woodbery lists Pearson as the No. 3 wide receiver on his early depth chart, ahead of 5-star freshman Josh Malone and just behind redshirt sophomore Jason Croom.  

Pearson's talent isn't the only thing that stands out to coaches. It's also his relentless work ethic and positive attitude. 

Tennessee wide receivers coach Zach Azzanni, who trekked cross country to recruit the 4-star JUCO player, raves about Pearson's coachability and eagerness to please:

It's fun to coach him. Von has endless energy. He'll tap me on the butt when I'm yelling at him, and I love that.

I'm not sure Von has an off switch, which is good. He doesn't have a bad day, he's a glass half-full-all-the-time kid, and we like to be around that.

He is ultra-talented, there is no doubt about it. He makes acrobatic catches just like he did at Feather River, he's made a couple here the last couple of days.

When Pearson first committed to Tennessee, fans compared him to Cordarrelle Patterson, another JUCO to Rocky Top standout who showcased his supreme talent in the Division I ranks for one season before heading to the NFL. 

While it's certainly too early to place Pearson in the same category as an NFL Pro Bowler, he does possess an elite combination of speed, shiftiness and catching ability that could win games for Tennessee and launch his name to the top of the draft boards after the 2014 season. 

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Every Pac-12 Football Team's Biggest Recruiting Flop from BCS Era

There's no time like the present, but today we're taking a dip into college football's past to reveal some of the biggest Pac-12 recruiting flops in recent memory.

You can define "flop" a number of different ways, but for the purposes of this piece its definition will be short and sweet. Quite simply, a flop is going to be the difference between the hype and the result on the field. Those with the most hype and the smallest contribution to their programs will find themselves on the following slides.

It should be noted, however, that things don't work out for a variety of reasons. In some instances, the touted player just wasn't as good as everyone thought he would be. Other times you'll see poor academics or off-the-field troubles get in the way. Finally, there are scenarios where, for whatever reason, a player just didn't fit in with the program very well.

The deeper you dig into the past, the more recruiting information tends to become a bit muddied. Still, some players on this list were a clear-cut choice. Others will be hotly debated. There is no exact right or wrong here.

But here are the players we think are every Pac-12 team's biggest recruiting flops over the past 16 seasons.

Begin Slideshow

How College Football's Realignment Craze Has Affected Travel Schedules

When Tulsa plays its first league road game as a member of the American Athletic Conference this October, the trip to Philadelphia to face Temple will be the culmination of months of preparation and planning.

And none of that will have anything to do with the Golden Hurricane's plan for the game itself.

"Battles are won in the planning stages," said Kyle Grooms, director of football operations for Tulsa, citing one of his favorite quotes from Sun Tzu's The Art of War. "It's not about where you play, it's about how you travel."

As one of a dozen FBS programs switching to or joining a new conference for the 2014-15 season, Tulsa and its realignment brethren face much more than a change in the level of competition. With new cities to visit, some of which require cross-country trips, the logistics associated with taking a college football team on the road can be as intricate and involved as scheming to stop the opponent's read-option offense.

Concern about travel depends on the program, though. West Virginia was one of the first teams to make a major move, both competitively and geographically, in 2012, but Mountaineers coach Dana Holgorsen has focused more on the who instead of the where.

“We were facing a significant upgrade in competition,” Holgorsen said. “A lot of people want to make geography a part of it, but I don't buy into that. I've never viewed it as a problem.”

Whether it will bother Tulsa will depend on how well someone like Grooms does his job. A former Tulsa player (who experienced the program's move from the Western Athletic Conference to Conference USA in 2005) entering his fourth season handling all of the Hurricane's travel arrangements, he has had his work cut out for him of late. Including this season's American trips to Central Florida, Houston, Memphis and Temple, he'll have made arrangements for road trips to 11 different cities in the past three years just for league games.

“It gets easier the more you do it,” Grooms said.

Because C-USA went through a major overhaul in 2013—adding six schools while losing four—the Hurricane will take only one repeat trip (to Houston, in 2012 and this November) over a three-year span. And that's only because the American has become a de facto C-USA, with East Carolina and Tulane joining Tulsa in that league this year along with the four (Central Florida, Houston, Memphis and SMU) who joined last season.

Tulsa's move becomes official on July 1, the same as for most teams making a conference switch this year. Most notable are Maryland (ACC) and Rutgers (American) to the Big Ten and Louisville (American) to the ACC, though all told five leagues will feature new lineups for 2014-15.

And while the main motivation for the changes centers around improved competition and better exposure (i.e., TV money), one thing that hasn't seemed to factor into the shifts has been a regard for travel impact.

The massive realignment wave began in 2011 when Colorado and Nebraska left the Big 12 for the Pac-12 and Big Ten, respectively, but it was the next year when things got really wacky in terms of geography. That's when Missouri and Texas A&M left the Big 12 for the SEC, a move that resulted in Missouri getting lumped into the SEC's East Division with the likes of Florida, Georgia and South Carolina.

The Big 12 responded by adding TCU and West Virginia, the latter sliding over from the Big East and initiating a mass exodus from that league over the next two years that affected nearly every league in FBS.

For West Virginia, moving to the Big 12 meant far more travel than before when it came to league road games. In their last Big East season, in 2011, the Mountaineers' average conference away game was 422 miles from Morgantown. The first slate of Big 12 road games, in 2012, were an average of 1,018 miles from home.

The conference switch wasn't even a possibility when Holgorsen left Oklahoma State for West Virginia in December 2010. He came to the school to be an offensive coordinator in the Big East, then was tabbed as the head coach before the 2011 season and led the Mountaineers to a league title and a blowout win over Clemson in the Orange Bowl. During that 2011 season was when West Virginia announced its move, sending Holgorsen back to the Big 12 where he'd spent nine of the previous 10 seasons as an assistant.

“I had a lot of familiarity (with the Big 12), having been there before,” he said. “I thought I could pass that on to the players. I was able to hit a home run with some of the boosters when it came to recommending some of the best restaurants.”

Holgorsen said he was more worried about how his players would handle facing better teams in bigger stadiums than anything to do with travel. While in the Big East his team had short 60- or 90-minute flights to games at Rutgers or Syracuse, but they also bussed the 300-mile trip to Cincinnati. As a result, having to fly more than two hours to get to cities in Oklahoma or Texas wasn't a big deal, he said.

“Sometimes we would bus five hours; it doesn't take five hours to get to Lubbock,” he said.

The key to minimizing travel and road woes is to stick to a routine, Holgorsen said, noting that whether playing at home or away the goal was to always be at the team hotel by 5 p.m. the day before a game. He said kickoff times, dictated by TV, can cause the most trouble because you have less control on when you're able to return from a road game.

“It just affects you on the back end,” he said. "It might take you an hour or two to load everything up, and then you still have to get home."

Tulsa's Grooms echoed Holgorsen's routine sentiment, as he plans for a hotel arrival between 5 and 5:30 p.m. the day before away games. Any earlier or later can mess with the routine and lead to too much idle time or a cramped schedule.

“We want to make it so that we plan the same way whether we're playing in San Diego or New York,” he said. “We want to keep it the same no matter the distance or destination.”

Tulsa announced its move to the American in April 2013 but didn't find out which teams it was going to play until February of this year, and when those games would be wasn't finalized until March. That put extra importance on what Grooms called his “spring recon trips,” when he visits three or four hotels in each road city to find the best place to stay and start working out a travel package.

If planned properly, players will have little exposure to the inner workings of a road trip. That's how UTSA senior offensive lineman Nate Leonard has seen it.

“We're so secluded when we go on the road, if we don't look outside we wouldn't know where we are,” said Leonard, who has started as the Roadrunners' center since the school began its football program in 2011. “The bus ride is the only time we know our surroundings.”

In Leonard's career he's seen UTSA go from being an independent in the FCS ranks to part of the now-defunct WAC and now to C-USA. He's played road games as far west as California and as far east as West Virginia, with a trip to Florida Atlantic in Boca Raton this season. He admits that travel can “take you out of your comfort zone,” but it's hard to complain about the opportunity.

“Playing football all over the country is a dream come true,” he said.

All quotes obtained firsthand, unless otherwise specified.

Distances based on figures.

Follow Brian J. Pedersen on Twitter at @realBJP.

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Jameis Winston Reportedly Purchases Insurance Policy Worth Up to $10M

Florida State quarterback Jameis Winston has reportedly purchased an insurance policy that will pay him between $8 million and $10 million if an injury or illness forces him out of the first round of the 2015 NFL draft. 

Yahoo Sports' Rand Getlin provided the news, noting that Winston is the first returning Heisman Trophy winner since Sam Bradford in 2008 to purchase a similar plan. 

He provided more details: 

According to Getlin, an insurance policy of this nature has a steep premium of $55,000 to $60,000 per year. While it isn't known how Winston himself will cover that cost, Getlin notes that most collegiate athletes who take this route use financing. 

You don't have to go very far back in history to find an example of how this sort of plan can be beneficial. 

USC wide receiver Marqise Lee purchased a total disability insurance policy last August, and when he slipped to the second round in the 2014 draft after suffering an MCL sprain, he collected somewhere in the range of $5 million.

Most likely, nothing comes of this. Players such as Jadeveon Clowney and Johnny Manziel had insurance plans that didn't pay off. Still, when it comes to Winston, who is projected as a top-10 pick after an electrifying redshirt freshman season, it's better safe than sorry. 

Moreover, as Getlin noted, this likely means that Famous Jameis won't be staying in Tallahassee past his sophomore season: 

It has always been assumed that Jameis would throw his name into the 2015 NFL draft hat, but his father, Antonor Winston, recently told's Jeff Sentell there was a different plan in place: 

"We want Jameis to succeed with one more year in baseball and two more years in football," he said. "We've never strayed from our plan that he is going to be in college until he gets that degree."

Taking out this kind of policy suggests otherwise, however. 

Either way, the two-sport athlete can feel safe knowing that his future is protected from an unpreventable injury. 

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