NCAA Football News

The Opening 2014: Each Top 25 Team's Most Important Target at Beaverton

More than 150 premier prospects were invited to compete at The Opening, a Nike football showcase being held July 5-10 in Beaverton, Oregon. The annual event promises to provide plenty of storylines, as a rare collection of talent assembles to prove their abilities against top contemporaries.

Aside from the on-field action, a large percentage of players are still working their way through the recruiting process. Many of them remain in search of the right collegiate fit, considering expansive lists of scholarship offers.

Teams will keep tabs on coveted athletes during The Opening and look to line up campus visits later this summer. We explored the primary targets for programs that currently claim a top-25 recruiting class in 247Sports' composite rankings.

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Oklahoma Sooners Football Team Unveils New Alternate Uniforms for 2014 Season

The Oklahoma Sooners are known for their traditional uniforms, but thanks to Nike, the football team will have more options to choose from.

Oklahoma unveiled new uniforms, dubbed "The Rough Rider," on Tuesday. For the first time, "Oklahoma," not "Sooners," will be across the front of the jerseys.

Although the uniforms will have a modern look to them, they will were influenced by the team's history, according to the team's press release.

These additional jersey-pants-helmet combinations were inspired by the rich heritage of the state of Oklahoma and the Sooners’ storied football history.

[...]

Nike’s white helmet design pays tribute to Wilkinson’s squads that captured national championships in 1950, 1955 and 1956.

[...]

Both jerseys also feature subtle touches such as “47 Straight” emblazoned on the inner Nike Flywire neckline, serving as a tangible reminder of the college football’s incomparable victory streak amassed during Wilkinson’s tenure.

Here's a look at the "47 Straight" tribute:

Not only are the jerseys and pants new, but the helmets also received a makeover:

Here are some details on the new helmet:

The modified version of Oklahoma’s iconic crimson helmet also features an enlarged interlocking OU above each earhole with the distinctive wood-grained design embedded into the protective outer shell.

Sooners fans who like the traditional uniforms shouldn't be too upset. These new uniforms will only serve as alternates to the traditional uniforms, but the team has not determined the games in which the new uniforms will be worn.

[Oklahoma Football, Phil Hecken]

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Alabama Football: 6 Position Battles to Watch in Fall Camp

With Alabama’s fall camp set to open next month, Tide fans will have their sights set on a few position battles in the practices leading up to the team’s season opener.

The race to find AJ McCarron’s successor will generate the most headlines, but other intriguing spots that will feature tight races include positions along the offensive and defensive lines and in the secondary.

Which positions are likely to field the toughest calls for Nick Saban and his staff to make before the season opener against West Virginia on Aug. 30?

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Top Uncommitted QBs to Watch for at the Elite 11 Finals

The Elite 11 Finals will take place simultaneously with The Opening July 5-10. That means 18 of the best quarterbacks seen at passing events this spring will get a chance to show their skills on a national platform.

Among those 18 field generals, several still remain uncommitted. While it's a bit late in the recruiting process for quarterbacks, all uncommitted passers in Beaverton will have something to prove.

A rising quarterback from California will be monitored closely, while a signal-caller from Florida will be looking to show he has all the tools. Plus, a few sleepers will be in attendance.

All recruiting ratings and rankings are from 247Sports' Composite Rankings.Player evaluations are based on review of tape at Scout.comRivals and 247Sports.

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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 CBSSports.com. "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 Rivals.com 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 247Sports.com 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 CFBStats.com and all recruiting information is courtesy of 247Sports.com.

 


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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 TomahawkNation.com, 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 al.com 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 CBSSports.com 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 ESPN.com

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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 AL.com'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 Pac-12.com

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 CFBStats.com.

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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 #Highlight@UnderArmour#goirishpic.twitter.com/ZUzYcj2Z1T

— 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 CFBStats.com and all recruiting information is courtesy of 247Sports.com.

 


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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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