NCAA Football News

Georgia Football: Biggest Storylines Heading into Fall Camp

The Georgia Bulldogs will start fall camp on Tuesday, which means the regular season will be only a month away.

After what some would say was a disappointing season for the Bulldogs last season (10-3, 6-2 in SEC play), they are looking to get back to where there were in 2011 and 2012, which is the SEC title game.

There are some talented players returning from last season, and they will be counted on to take the Bulldogs to the next level. However, there are some questions the Bulldogs need to answer before the season begins. Some of those questions have to do with key positions, and some have to do with the men in charge.

Here are the biggest storylines for the Bulldogs as they head into fall camp.

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Preseason College Football Rankings 2015: Date and Predictions for Amway Poll

Nothing says college football is right around the corner quite like the release of a major top-25 poll. Thursday will provide fans with the necessary excitement when the Amway Coaches Poll is revealed, though there's no mystery at the very top. 

Ohio State is the defending national champion. The Buckeyes return 14 starters from that team, including quarterbacks Cardale Jones and J.T. Barrett, star running back Ezekiel Elliott, and arguably the nation's best defensive end in Joey Bosa. 

It's a great time for Urban Meyer and everyone associated with the Buckeyes, but the drama opens up starting with the No. 2 spot in the polls. 

 

Amway Coaches Poll Top 25 Information

Release Date: Thursday, July 30

Time: 12 p.m. ET

Find: Various sports websites, USA Today

It's amazing how quickly Meyer has turned Ohio State into the nation's most powerful program. His first season in 2012 was met with cynicism because of the schedule despite the team's 12-0 record.

Two years ago, the Buckeyes lost the last two games of the season, including the Orange Bowl, which left lingering questions about their ability to handle the big stage against top-tier programs. Those doubts were squashed last season with wins over Alabama and Oregon in the College Football Playoff. 

Now, everyone is expecting Ohio State to steamroll its way to another undefeated season. According to Todd Fuhrman of FoxSports.com, oddsmakers project the Buckeyes to be double-digit favorites in each of their 12 regular-season games. 

"The closest game for Ohio State in the eyes of oddsmakers is the November 21 home date against Michigan State, where OSU is currently listed as a 13.5-point favorite," Fuhrman wrote.

Fuhrman does note Ohio State's 2015 schedule, which includes only one game against a team predicted to be in the Top 25 (Michigan State), so it's not like the Buckeyes are facing a murderers' row of talent. 

Michigan State is the one team in the Big Ten that's had any success against Ohio State in the Meyer era. The Spartans handed the Buckeyes their only conference loss since 2012 in the conference title game two years ago.

Last year's matchup seemed like an opportunity for history to repeat itself, but Ohio State racked up 568 yards against Michigan State's defense en route to a 49-37 win. Now, it's on every other team to prove it can compete with the Buckeyes.

Beyond Ohio State, there's a lot of high-quality depth in college football this season. TCU gets a slight edge as the No. 2 team in these predictions because it's returning 10 offensive starters from a team that averaged 46.5 points per game in 2014.

Jerry Hinnen of CBSSports.com does try to keep some of the Horned Frogs' expectations in perspective, noting a lot of the buzz is likely to come because of a 42-3 win over Mississippi in the Peach Bowl:

Let's define a "surprisingly emphatic" victory as one in which (a) either an underdog won by 14 points or covered the spread by 21, or (b) a favorite of a field goal or less covered the spread by 21.

Over the past five seasons, seven teams have claimed a bowl win matching those criteria and gone on to be ranked in the following season's AP preseason top 25; those teams have gone 0-for-7 in matching or exceeding that preseason ranking in the final AP poll.

While it is often foolish to expect a team will be successful because of the result of a game six months ago, the Horned Frogs have so much talent coming back that it would be a surprise if they weren't in the playoff mix once again. 

The three teams predicted to round out the Top Five—Auburn, Alabama and Baylor—all have the talent to be in the Top Two at some point in 2015, but immediate questions at the quarterback position keep them behind TCU. 

Despite losing Bryce Petty, Baylor seems like it's in the best position to succeed because Art Briles' system is so quarterback-friendly. The Bears averaged 44.5 points per game in 2012, the season after Robert Griffin III won the Heisman Trophy and went to the NFL, for example. 

Auburn and Alabama are facing situations not unlike what LSU seems to go through every year. Jeremy Johnson is a 23-year-old junior playing for Auburn, but he's got 78 career attempts over the past two seasons. 

Nick Saban got a great performance from Blake Sims throughout most of 2014, but whoever the new starting quarterback is won't have the luxury of throwing to Amari Cooper.

Both the Tigers and the Crimson Tide are so good at recruiting talent and depth that they can win 10 games with a mediocre starting quarterback, but there's a difference between winning double-digit games and being a true title contender. 

Preseason polls rarely paint an accurate picture of what's going to happen in college football. South Carolina started 2014 ninth in the rankings, so there will be a lot of turnover. The only thing that seems like a given in 2015 is Ohio State will be fantastic. 

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Clemson Tigers Are Dark Horse Contenders to Make the College Football Playoff

The Clemson Tigers seem to be floating around the national championship race every season but are always left on the outside looking in. Still, Clemson has been one of the most consistent programs in the country over the past few years and should be a team to look out for in the 2015 College Football Playoff race. 

The Tigers have won 10 or more games in each of the last four seasons. Those 10-win seasons have ultimately amounted to an Orange Bowl victory in 2012 and an ACC Championship in 2011. But this season, Clemson should have its sights set on college football's biggest prize. 

Clemson is loaded with talent this season, especially on offense, and any talk of that talent starts with sophomore quarterback Deshaun Watson. 

Watson took over for Cole Stoudt as the starter midway through the 2014 season. When he was on the field, Watson was spectacular. In eight games last season, he threw for 1,466 yards, 14 touchdowns and only two interceptions. Watson also rushed for another five scores. 

The problem was he had a tough time staying on the field. 

Watson dealt with a couple of nagging injuries last season. Most notably, a torn ACL kept him out of Clemson's win over Oklahoma in the Russell Athletic Bowl. But to the delight of Clemson fans, Watson plans to be back and healthy for the season opener against Wofford, per SI.com's Zac Ellis.

Head coach Dabo Swinney is extremely confident in the ability of his young quarterback, per 247 Sports.

"My confidence level comes from the young man’s ability, his aptitude, his work ethic, his commitment to being great. He’s above and beyond in all those areas – if the scale is 1 to 10, he’s a 12 in everything."

If he can stay healthy in 2015, Watson is a potential Heisman candidate, and he'll have plenty of weapons around him. The Tigers return top receivers Mike Williams and Artavis Scott for the upcoming season. Williams and Scott combined for just under 2,000 receiving yards last season. 

True freshman Deon Cain was the top receiver in the country out of high school and should also have some influence in the passing game for Clemson. Leading rusher Wayne Gallman will also be back for his sophomore season. 

The only real question on offense comes at the line of scrimmage where the Tigers will have to replace three starters from last season. 

The biggest hurdle for Clemson in 2015 will be replacing so many key players from a defensive unit that led the nation in total defense last season. 

Top tacklers Stephone Anthony and Robert Smith are out of eligibility, and premier pass-rusher Vic Beasley is now with the Atlanta Falcons. All-ACC performers Grady Jarrett and Garry Peters are also gone.

Junior linebacker Ben Boulware and defensive lineman Shaq Lawson will be asked to step up to fill some of the voids left on the defensive front. Christian Wilkins, a 5-star recruit, should also contribute right away to make up for some of the lost production. 

However, the secondary has less rebuilding to do as it returns starters at cornerback and safety from last season in Mackensie Alexander and Jayron Kearse. Clemson ranked second in the country in pass defense last season, and that should once again be a strength. 

Swinney recognizes there might be a drop-off on defense from 2014, but he still believes in the potential of the 2015 group.

"I don’t know that we can lead the nation in 11 categories, but I don’t think we have to,” Swinney told Aaron Brenner of the Charleston Post and Courier. “But I do think we can be one of the best defenses in the country.”

Although Clemson has won 32 games in the past three seasons, the ACC Atlantic has been owned by Florida State since Clemson's conference title in 2011. Clemson has the chance to buck that trend this upcoming year. 

Florida State is bringing back 11 starters and lost most of its top playmakers on offense. Jameis Winston and Rashad Greene are both in the NFL, while running back Dalvin Cook is suspended indefinitely, per Yahoo Sports' Sam Cooper

The Seminoles have enough talent on the roster to reload, but for the first time in a while they don't seem to be head-and-shoulders above the rest of the conference. That bodes well for Clemson's hopes to take back the ACC crown. 

The 2015 schedule also falls in Clemson's favor. Heading into the season, the biggest matchups for the Tigers appear to be against the Seminoles, Notre Dame and Georgia Tech. Clemson has the luxury of having all three of those game in Death Valley.

The closest thing that Clemson has to a daunting road test is probably their Week 3 game against the Louisville Cardinals. 

Obviously an undefeated team would be in the playoff, but a one-loss ACC champion would also have an excellent chance of being included. 

The Clemson Tigers have all the right ingredients of a championship-caliber team in 2015. They have a Heisman candidate quarterback surrounded by dynamic playmakers, a talented defense led by coordinator Brent Venables and a more than navigable schedule. 

This could be the season when the Tigers finally put it all together. If they do, you'll see them playing in a semifinal on New Year's Day. 

Recruiting info via 247Sports.com

Stats via cfbstats.com

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Chadarius Townsend to Alabama: Crimson Tide Land 4-Star ATH Prospect

According to 247Sports' Hank South, 2017 4-star athlete Chadarius Townsend has committed to the University of Alabama. 

"He had a verbal commitment on June 3, but he wanted to have the opportunity to visit other colleges to see what they had to offer as well," Townsend's father said, according to South.

While Townsend's recruiting classification leaves his position a bit ambiguous, he's functioned as a dual-threat quarterback for Tanner High School throughout the early stages of his career. 

According to AL.com's Daniel Boyette, Townsend piled up 1,571 yards and 20 touchdowns on the ground as a sophomore while toting the rock 153 times. He added 857 yards and 18 touchdowns through the air. 

Boyette added that Townsend rang up a 4.3 40-yard dash time to add to his growing resume. 

According to 247Sports, he also had offers from Auburn University and the University of Kentucky, but Alabama always remained the most likely destination for the Tanner, Alabama, native. 

The rising junior is the 20th-ranked athlete in the class of 2017, per 247Sports, and he should provide head coach Nick Saban with plenty of versatility on the offensive side of the ball in a couple years thanks to his elite speed.

With brief experience returning kicks, per Boyette, the nimble 6'0", 180-pound stud should have multiple avenues to acquiring playing time once he suits up for the Crimson Tide. 

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Mike Leach Makes Proposal for 64-Team College Football Playoff, Again

Washington State head coach Mike Leach is known for going against the grain. 

For example, Leach's Air Raid attack with the Cougars averaged a gaudy 64 pass attempts per game last season, which was the first in the College Football Playoff era.

And that's the exact number of teams Leach wants to see in future editions of the playoff—64. 

According to Heather Dinich of ESPN.com, Leach said Wednesday in a playoff-specific interview with the network that he wants to see the four-team field expand exponentially.

"I don’t know why you don’t have 64 teams," Leach said. "The notion of pinpointing and selecting four perfectly, well that’s not going to happen. That can’t happen effectively."

This isn't the first time Leach has proposed the mega-playoff. He first made headlines with his idea back in 2012, when the plus-one system was picking up steam.

Leach's idea for a 64-team playoff, per Dinich, starts with all FBS teams playing a 10-game schedule. By the end of the playoff, the last team standing would have only played 16 games, which is just one more than 2014 champion Ohio State played last season.

The Washington State head coach told ESPN that narrowing the field of teams down to just four by the end of the season creates too much controversy.

"It would be indisputable that it was settled on the field and somebody that wins playoff games accordingly deserves to be champion and there’s no debate," Leach said. "It would be great fun to watch—just like it is at all the other levels."

Unfortunately for Leach, no other level of NCAA football has a playoff quite as large as the one Leach proposes.

FCS and Division II football currently have 24-team playoffs, with the top eight teams earning byes to the second round. Division III football has a standard 32-team playoff.

The 64-team concept has been a fun "what if?" scenario to talk about in the last few offseasons. Bleacher Report's Adam Kramer made the latest of his annual March Madness-style brackets in April.

Don't expect Leach's idea to get much traction, even with all the talk of playoff expansion just one year after the first four-team edition. The CFP is currently contracted to be the four-team format for the next 11 seasons

But like many things Leach has said in his coaching career, it's definitely going to grab attention—again.

 

Justin Ferguson is an on-call college football writer at Bleacher Report. You can follow him on Twitter @JFergusonBR. 

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Offensive Coordinators Every Blue-Chip Recruit Should Want to Play For

Though high school football recruits should be choosing their colleges based on the school itself and what it has to offer them from an academic standpoint, we know this isn't always the case. It's the football program, and specifically the coaches they'll be working with, that often carries the most weight.

And for top offensive prospects, the coach calling the plays should be the most important one in the group.

The offensive coordinator is the one whose scheme and play selection help set the stage for his players' success. Without a good play-caller, even the most talented and athletic blue-chip recruits will have their development stunted. 

There's a group of OCs in the college game today who should be on the short list of every notable prospect, since their systems are such that they put the players in a position to shine on every snap.

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Power 5 College Football Teams Still in Search of 2016 QB Recruit

The recruiting process in general has accelerated, with early offers and commitments becoming the norm in recent years.

Perhaps no position illustrates that fact more so than the quarterback position. As noted by Bleacher Report’s Tyler Donohue, 66 of the nation’s top 80 quarterbacks in the 2016 class have already committed.

After his commitment to Arizona State earlier this week, 4-star Texas standout Dillon Sterling-Cole can be added to that list.

With his pledge and Florida earning a commitment from 2-star passer Kyle Trask, 54 of the nation’s 64 programs that makeup the Power Five conferences have at least one quarterback committed for the 2016 class. 

Which 10 schools are left out, and what reasons explain why their classes are devoid of a quality signal-caller?

Let’s break down the teams in each league still in search of a 2016 quarterback recruit.

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Jordan Smith Commits to South Carolina: Gamecocks Beat Georgia for 4-Star DE

The state of Georgia has an abundance of 5- and 4-star talent in the class of 2015, and the in-state Bulldogs are in the hunt for many of them. But one of the state's top 25 prospects is headed to an SEC East rival—South Carolina.

Jordan Smith, a 4-star defensive end from Lithonia, Georgia, committed to South Carolina on Wednesday afternoon. He is the Gamecocks' 13th commitment for their class of 2016, which is now ranked No. 30 nationally.

Smith had an impressive list of 24 scholarship offers, including ones from Georgia, Tennessee, Florida State, Alabama, Ohio State and Notre Dame.

The 6'6" defensive end told reporters he liked several aspects of South Carolina, and they weren't limited to the football field.

"First, Coach (Jon) Hoke and the new defensive scheme he is putting in," Smith said, according to Tony Morrell of 247Sports. "Also, I just love South Carolina. I love the facilities, the place, Columbia, everything. ... Once I started looking at academics, scheme, everything, then I knew South Carolina was the choice."

South Carolina currently has two other defensive ends from Lithonia High School, where Smith plays, on its roster—senior Cedrick Cooper and sophomore David Johnson.

The Gamecocks made up plenty of ground in a short amount of time to snag a commitment from Smith. The talented defensive end released his list of top 10 schools in June, and South Carolina was fourth behind Clemson, Georgia and Alabama.

Smith made an unofficial visit to South Carolina later in June and named the school his new leader July 20.

"It’s South Carolina, then Georgia, Clemson, Florida and Tennessee in that order," Smith told JC Shurburtt of 247Sports. "(The Gamecocks) have taken the lead because I see that I can make an early impact there and be an early contributor."

Nine days later, he made it official with the Gamecocks.

According to Rusty Mansell of 247Sports, Smith has plenty of potential, but he needs to add some pounds to his tall frame. He currently weighs around 220 pounds—a small number for a future SEC defensive end.

"He has a 1 percent body to me," Mansell wrote in April. "I use that term, because he is a very small percentage of guys that can rush the passer in a 6'6" body. He is long and ridiculous reach in his wingspan. He is however around 215-220 pounds right now, and needs to get a lot stronger."

 

Recruiting information courtesy of 247Sports.

Justin Ferguson is an on-call college football writer at Bleacher Report. You can follow him on Twitter @JFergusonBR. 

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Ranking the Top 5 Players in the SEC Heading into 2015 Season

The 2015 college football season is just around the corner. Bleacher Report College Football Analyst Barrett Sallee sat down with Stephen Nelson to list his top SEC players heading into the season.

Who do you think should be No. 1? Watch the video, and let us know!

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Top Takeaways from 247Sports' First Rankings for Class of 2018

College football's future standouts are currently tearing up the competition at high schools across the country. Attention typically surrounds senior athletes, but plenty of underclassmen warrant a closer look following stellar freshman seasons. 

The 2018 recruiting class, a star-studded assemblage of football's most promising sophomore players, stepped into the spotlight Wednesday when 247Sports unveiled top-100 rankings of the group.

It's an early glimpse at prospects who could someday develop into household names. Upon review of these rankings, here are a few takeaways worth highlighting as we acclimate ourselves with a new crop of coveted talents.

 

QB Trevor Lawrence Claims Top Spot

The 6'5", 191-pound Peach State passer finds himself sitting at No. 1 with a target on his back and three years remaining in high school. No relationship in recruiting commands more investment and trust than the bond between quarterbacks and college coaches, so it's no surprise Lawrence already holds nearly 20 scholarship offers.

His college options include Tennessee, Clemson, Ole Miss and in-state Georgia.

Lawrence led Cartersville High School to the state semifinals last fall, throwing for 3,042 yards and 26 touchdowns as a freshman, according to Barton Simmons of 247Sports. 

"I've had all these college coaches ask me, 'tell me about your quarterback'," Cartersville head coach Joey King told Simmons. "My response is that he's legit in whatever category you want to come up with. We clocked him at a 4.7 40. He's tall, strong. He cleans 230 pounds as a freshman. He's a solid student, he loves the game, he studies it and he's a humble kid."

Lawrence is one of 12 quarterbacks featured in the initial 2018 rankings, joined by Matt Corral (California; No. 16), Joey Gatewood (Florida; No. 23), Allan Walters (New Jersey, No. 44), Chris Scott (Mississippi; No. 47), Casey Thompson (Oklahoma; No. 50), Emory Jones (Georgia; No. 56), Tyler Desue (Virginia; No. 62), Dorian Thompson-Robinson (Nevada; No. 66), Jack West (Alabama; No. 72), Jaelyn Nolan (Texas; No. 74) and Alontae Taylor (Tennessee; No. 89).

 

RB Zamir White Snatches Second 5-Star

Only two 5-star labels were handed out in these rankings. The first went to Lawrence. North Carolina running back Zamir White takes top honors as well, following a freshman campaign that featured 1,200 yards and 18 touchdowns. 

"We don't like to make a lot of running backs 5-stars but because White has unique size, he already flashes game burst and he's a physical dude at 15 years old, he's got the kind of rare traits that we don't often see at the position. Todd Gurley is his ceiling," Simmons wrote.

White stands 6'1", 202 pounds and carries offers from Clemson, Georgia, Florida State and Ohio State, among other powerhouse programs.

 

More Dominant Defensive Ends on the Come Up

The 2016 recruiting class includes an expansive collection of elite defensive linemen. It appears this 2018 group could take similar shape.

Among the top seven recruits in these rankings, four players are projected to play defensive end. The list is led by Pennsylvania pass-rusher Micah Parsons.

The 6'3", 225-pound Central Dauphin High School sophomore already holds Big Ten offers from Penn State, Rutgers and Michigan. 

Southeast standouts Xavier Thomas (South Carolina) and Justin Mascoll (Georgia) claim several SEC opportunities, while 6'4", 235-pound Max Wright is the top-rated Lone Star State product.

 

Miami Mighty Strong Early in 2018 Cycle

The Hurricanes hold a nation-best three pledges from players who made this list. Cornerback Al Blades Jr. (No. 39), defensive end Billy Joseph (No. 81) and athlete Jalen Patterson are each 4-star prospects who made early commitments to Miami.

Alabama, LSU and Tennessee are the only other teams to carry top-100 commitments in the 2018 class. Each program landed one member of the list.

The Hurricanes' 2018 recruiting efforts have resulted in an NCAA-high five committed athletes.

 

Sunshine State Features the Most Stars

Florida annually produces an abundance of college football prospects who ultimately reach stardom in college and the NFL. This latest wave of athletes is apparently no different, as it features 15 players in top-100 rankings.

That total easily outpaces other states, as Texas and California follow behind with 10 apiece. Alabama, Georgia, South Carolina and Tennessee each produced at least five top-ranked 2018 recruits, providing further evidence of how the SEC stays strong.

 

Tyler Donohue is a National Recruiting Analyst for Bleacher Report. All player ratings are courtesy of 247Sports' composite ratings. Follow Tyler via Twitter: @TDsTake.

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2017 QB Sam Ehlinger Gives Texas Another Dual-Threat Playmaker for the Future

As someone whose popularity is on a steady rise, 2017 quarterback Sam Ehlinger considers Texas his "dream school."

He always has.

On Tuesday, Ehlinger committed to the school he's been a fan of since he was a small child, per EJ Holland of 247Sports. There wasn't a need to take any out-of-state—or out-of-city—visits to help finalize his college plans.

His future college home literally is minutes away from his current Austin, Texas, residence. Ehlinger, a 3-star prospect and the nation's No. 11 dual-threat quarterback, committed to the Longhorns over early offers from Houston, SMU and McNeese State. He joins 4-star wide receiver Damion Miller in Texas' 2017 class.

Ehlinger's pledge says a lot about the Longhorns. They've yet to play a down in the 2015 season, and they already have quarterback plans for the next three seasons.

"I've always loved Texas," Ehlinger told Holland. "It's always been my dream school. My family loves Texas, too. We grew up watching them, so I always knew that I wanted to play at Texas. We're all really excited about it."

Ehlinger's commitment gives Westlake High School another quarterback to be on the lookout for. Westlake has a nice lineage of quarterbacks, including Super Bowl champion Drew Brees and Pro Bowler Nick Foles.

Additionally, Westlake is coached by Todd Dodge, who played quarterback for the Longhorns in the 1980s. Ehlinger's parents also attended Texas.

"I know of a lot of kids wait really long to see how many offers they can pick up," Ehlinger told Brian Davis of the Austin American-Statesman. "To me, it was about waiting to get the offer from Texas. I didn't see any point in waiting any longer.

"I grew up going to DKR [Darrell K. Royal-Texas Memorial Stadium] and watching football games. It was my childhood school and childhood dream."

Texas is getting an athlete who is riding a streak of confidence. Ehlinger led Westlake to a 7-on-7 state championship earlier this month, and he shined during the Longhorns' Under the Lights Camp. The camp was on July 18, and when he went back to the campus the following day, he received the offer.

At 6'1" and 207 pounds, Ehlinger isn't the biggest quarterback, but he's a game manager who makes minimal turnovers. As a sophomore, Ehlinger threw for 2,300 yards and 24 touchdowns with only six interceptions. He completed 179 of 272 passes (65.8 percent)—and he still has two years of varsity play to improve.

Additionally, Ehlinger rushed for 722 yards and nine scores, which says a lot about his footwork, versatility and overall ability to evade defenders. Having Ehlinger on campus with 2016 commit and Elite 11 quarterback Shane Buechele gives Longhorns fans much to cheer about for the future at the position.

"I think the offense is a perfect fit for me," Ehlinger told Holland. "What they're planning to do this year is really similar to what we're doing at Westlake. I think it really fits what I can do."

Quarterbacks coach Shawn Watson will have his stable of athletic quarterbacks to choose from when Ehlinger is a freshman. Jerrod Heard will be a redshirt junior, Kai Locksley will have been on campus three years and Buechele will have been there two years.

And when his name is called, expect Ehlinger to be a competitor for the school he's rooted for all his life.

 

Damon Sayles is a National Recruiting Analyst for Bleacher Report. All player ratings are courtesy of 247Sports' composite ratings. Follow Damon via Twitter: @DamonSayles

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Auburn Football: Biggest Storylines Heading into Fall Camp

This summer on the Plains, the only things hotter than the sky-high temperatures have been the takes on where Auburn's football team will finish in 2015.

Some experts pencil Auburn as a potential national title contender. Others have the Tigers finishing with another middle-of-the-road season.

But the time for talking is about to be over, because fall camp is right around the corner.

Auburn will open fall camp August 4 with eyes on September's season opener against Louisville in the Georgia Dome.

This 2015 Auburn team has plenty of talent and potential, but it will also have its fair share of question marks when it returns to the practice field next week.

Here are three major storylines to watch as Gus Malzahn's Tigers head into fall camp.

 

Wanted: More than one go-to receiver

Auburn's offense might be inexperienced, but Malzahn and his staff have a lot to work with this fall. Jeremy Johnson is getting legitimate Heisman buzz at quarterback. The running back room will be led by two former 5-star recruits, Roc Thomas and Peyton Barber, and the offensive line has three players with starting experience.

That leaves the wide receivers—a position where the Tigers have their most established offensive star—and not much else in terms of consistency.

D'haquille "Duke" Williams had 24 more catches last season than the second-best returning receiver, former Georgia game hero Ricardo Louis. The reception counts drop down to 13 with Marcus Davis and then bottom out into single digits.

Auburn has plenty of players behind Williams, and they will need for them to step up this fall.

Sammie Coates was a deep-ball specialist, shaky hands and all, with speed to stretch defenses past their breaking points. Louis has the potential to be his replacement, along with Tony Stevens.

"I've been progressing as a receiver, getting better and learning," Louis said in January, according to Ryan Black of the Columbus Ledger-Enquirer. "I've been learning from Duke as well. Next year, we're going to be 'them guys.' We're going to be those guys the quarterback looks to."

Davis' steady hands make him a top contender for a starting job, while Melvin Ray and Stanton Truitt have shown flashes of big-play potential in the past. Myron Burton Jr., Darius Slayton and Ryan Davis haven't had much of a chance to prove themselves.

Now that Auburn has a stronger presence in the pocket with Johnson, the team needs to see improvement from its receiving corps outside of Williams.

Fall camp will be a great chance for a receiver or two to step up and earn some major playing time.

 

How will the freshmen fit in?

Auburn had several top recruits from the class of 2015 enroll early, most notably the JUCO trio of Jovon Robinson, Jason Smith and Maurice Swain.

But fall camp will be the first chance for the rest of Auburn's newcomers to hit the practice field.

The 5-star defensive end Byron Cowart headlines this list, and there's a real chance he could carve out a major role in a defense that struggled in the trenches for most of the 2014 season.

"At worst, Cowart will start the season as a situational pass-rusher. At best, he wins a starting job immediately," James Crepea of AL.com wrote. "The only thing slowing Cowart from seeing the field instantly would be a subpar fall camp or if easing him into the action is part of Will Muschamp's grand plan for managing the hype that surrounds the heralded defensive end."

Another top freshman to watch is 4-star running back Kerryon Johnson. The electrifying former Mr. Football winner could break into the backfield like Thomas did last season or find a way to contribute as a return man.

"I really feel like he will factor," Malzahn told Phillip Marshall of AuburnUndercover. "He’s a guy we expect to play. He has a unique skill set and can do a lot of different things. He can do a lot of things with the ball in his hands."

Other names to watch during fall camp will be defensive pickups Jeff Holland, Darrell Williams and Jordan Colbert. The young players will get their first major opportunities to impress Muschamp and the rest of the staff as Auburn rebuilds its defense in 2015.

 

Cornerback depth

A special group of newcomers will have even bigger pressure to perform in 2015—the cornerbacks.

Auburn signed the trio of Carlton Davis, Javarius Davis and Jeremiah Dinson in February. While they lack the name recognition of a Cowart or Holland, these freshmen will play big roles in a thin position group.

"We’re going to depend on some freshmen. We’re going to need a few guys to step up and play the way we need them," senior cornerback Jonathan Jones told Ryan Black of AuburnUndercover. "I think the older guys are going to get them ready and once we get to fall camp and we get the chance to be out there with the coaches, the younger guys who are going to need to help us are going to be ready to work."

The Tigers lost cornerbacks Kamryn Melton, Joe Turner and Kalvaraz Bessent to transfers this offseason. Spring injuries to backups such as T.J. Davis forced the staff to start walk-ons at cornerback for the A-Day Game.

With Josh Holsey transitioning to nickel back in Muschamp's system, Auburn needs bodies at cornerback behind Jones and Michigan transfer Blake Countess.

"That was part of the deal in the recruiting process," defensive backs coach Travaris Robinson told Black. "Right now we just lack numbers. ... We're going to need some guys that can finish down the field."

Auburn's pass defense has ranked 12th or worse in the SEC in four of the last five seasons. Last year, the Tigers ranked 91st nationally in allowing pass plays of 20 yards or more.

As Bleacher Report's Barrett Sallee has said multiple times this offseason, Auburn doesn't need great defense in order to compete for championships.

Malzahn's offense makes it so that the Tigers need "just enough" defense, and they'll have to rely on some brand-new players in order to cross that threshold this season.

 

Recruiting information courtesy of 247Sports.

Justin Ferguson is an on-call college football writer at Bleacher Report. You can follow him on Twitter @JFergusonBR. 

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Biggest Obstacles to Ohio State Buckeyes Repeating as National Champions

Ohio State enters the 2015 season as the favorite to win the national championship once more and for good reason. 

The Buckeyes return 15 starters from a team that was dominant down the stretch despite being forced to use its third-string quarterback in the Big Ten championship and the College Football Playoff. 

Head coach Urban Meyer sports a ridiculous 38-3 in three seasons in Columbus, and this year’s team is looking like his best yet. Quarterbacks J.T. Barrett and Cardale Jones and Heisman Trophy front-runner Ezekiel Elliott return on offense, while possible future No.1 overall NFL draft pick Joey Bosa is back to lead the defense. 

Ohio State is not perfect, and there will be some challenges to repeat as the team replaces some key players while getting by some tough opponents. 

Here is a look at three concerning hurdles the Buckeyes must overcome to remain atop the college football universe.

 

Defensive Line Depth Issues 

Ohio State’s defense impressed last season, especially in the final three games. 

The unit was strong and disruptive up front while displaying plenty of speed and playmaking ability throughout the linebacker and defensive back groups. 

The defense finished 29th nationally in total yards in 2014, but the strength of the unit was pass defense. Ohio State racked up 45 sacks, seventh in the nation, and 25 interceptions, second most in the country. 

The run defense was a slightly different story. The team ended up 45th nationally, which is decent. However, strong competition was able to gash the Buckeyes on the ground. Navy gained 370 rushing yards, Indiana totaled 281 and Alabama had 170. 

Those numbers could end up even worse this season, as the team had to replace three big contributors on the defensive line in Michael Bennett, Steve Miller and Rashad Frazier. Other than Bosa, Tommy Schutt and Adolphus Washington, there is very little experience up front. 

Players like Tyquan Lewis and Donovan Munger will need to prove themselves as capable rotation pieces, or Ohio State could be in trouble. Michigan State is a strong team in the trenches, and if the Buckeyes make it back to the playoffs, power-running teams like Alabama, Auburn and Georgia could fare well if matched up with Meyer’s squad. 

Ohio State has enough talent on defense to make up for any deficiencies against the run, and the team will still be able to dominate most of its schedule. If the unit can finish around where it did last year, the Buckeyes will be in good shape. If they fail to find any answers to the depth problem up front, it could lead to some close calls and possibly the wearing out of Bosa and Washington.

 

Replacing Devin Smith 

Ohio State possesses a plethora of playmakers on offense this season with Elliott, Jalin Marshall and Curtis Samuel, yet none can duplicate what receiver Devin Smith brought to the unit. 

With his blazing speed and tremendous leaping ability, Smith was arguably the nation’s best deep threat for much of his career. Last season was his best yet, as he finished with 933 yards, 12 touchdowns and an absurd average of 28 yards per catch. 

Take a look at his highlight reel, which displays the wide array of skills Smith brought to Ohio State that resulted in game-changing plays: 

Not only are plays like these exciting for fans, but they also change the momentum of games and can change the defense’s entire game plan. Smith was able to stretch the field and make defenses play with help over the top nearly every play. This created more space for Elliott in the run game as well as giving his fellow receivers more cushion. According to SB Nation’s analytics, Smith was the second-most explosive receiver in college football last season. 

The Buckeyes still have a lot of talent at receiver. Michael Thomas led the team in receptions in 2014, Corey Smith was effective out of the slot and tight end Nick Vannett is a reliable security blanket. Also, sophomore Noah Brown may be ready for a breakout season after a strong spring, per Ari Wasserman of Cleveland.com: 

Smith’s 30 career touchdowns will not be easy to replace. Ohio State does not seem to have a big-play receiver, which could hurt in must-pass situations. However, the depth at the position should provide enough relief for the Buckeyes to still excel through the air.

 

Michigan State 

Looking at Ohio State’s schedule, it is a safe bet to think the team will roll through its opponents. One game does stick out, though. 

Michigan State is responsible for Urban Meyer’s only Big Ten loss, as the two teams have been the class of the conference the past few seasons. This year is no different, and in order to get back to the College Football Playoff, Ohio State will need to knock off Sparty on Nov. 21. 

Head coach Mark Dantonio’s team returns 13 starters from last season, which ended with an 11-2 record. The biggest name is quarterback Connor Cook, who turned down a possible first-round draft destination to return for his senior year. 

The team will also likely have the conference’s best offensive line, which will be anchored by senior Jack Allen, who earned All-American honors in 2014. This could give the Buckeyes trouble, especially if they do not find some depth on the defensive line.

The Spartans do have to replace some big-time contributors from last season, including running back Jeremy Langford, receiver Tony Lippett and defensive backs Kurtis Drummond and Trae Waynes. Also, Pat Narduzzi, who coordinated a defense that finished in the top nationally the past four seasons, has left to lead Pittsburgh’s program. 

So how do these teams match up? The Buckeyes offense will have its hands full with returning Big Ten Defensive Lineman of the Year Shilique Calhoun, but it has enough talent to gain the slight edge here. 

On defense, Bosa will need to consistently pressure Cook or else he could pick apart the secondary. Michigan State returns enough quality receivers to give Ohio State trouble, but the running back position is still not settled. Whoever ends up carrying the rock for the Spartans will be the difference in this game, as the Buckeyes’ only slight weakness is defending the run. 

In the end, Ohio State should prevail, as Michigan State may not be able to produce enough on the ground to win. The game will also be in Columbus, which greatly helps the Buckeyes. Look for Ohio State to be undefeated once more heading into the Big Ten championship game.

All statistics are courtesy of ESPN.com.

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LSU Football: Biggest Storylines Heading into Fall Camp

Was last season's 8-5 record the exception to the rule, or is LSU regressing as a program?

That question won't be answered until the end of November, but the college football world will get clues this August when LSU opens fall camp for head coach Les Miles' 11th season as the head coach of the Tigers.

It's an important season for Miles and his staff.

The quarterback position has been a near-constant sore spot ever since Matt Flynn brought a national title to Baton Rouge after the 2007 season. Offensive coordinator Cam Cameron is in the final year of a three-year deal, and another underwhelming season will almost certainly create a situation in 2016 where Miles is coaching for his job.

What should you keep an eye on this August during LSU's fall camp?

 

Fix The Glitch

Whether it's junior returning starter Anthony Jennings or sophomore Brandon Harris who wins the starting quarterback job this summer, the play has to improve.

Aside from Zach Mettenberger's senior season in 2013, an LSU quarterback hasn't finished higher than eighth in the conference in yards per game since Jarrett Lee finished fifth in 2008 with 170.3. 

Miles hopes last season's struggles by both Jennings and Harris will be a blessing in disguise in 2015.

"Well, experience isn't something that you can just will on a guy," Miles said at SEC media days. "The good news is we have a guy who's started eight games or so, and we have a guy that's been around it now and played through two springs and been through a fall. So our quarterback play will be better, legitimately better."

LSU fans have heard that before, and at this point, it's hard to believe it until one of those guys proves it on the field.

Harris has a bit of an edge right now. Jennings was suspended indefinitely following an arrest for unauthorized entry into an inhabited dwelling, which has given Harris—a dual-threat weapon from Bossier City, Louisiana, uninterrupted first-team snaps during summer workouts.

"He's changed a lot. He's stepping up," said running back Leonard Fournette at SEC media days. "Brandon has improved tremendously. He's making the right reads, reading defenses and making a lot of plays."

Will those snaps be what creates separation? Miles has said Jennings will be given a chance to win the job back once his case is resolved, according to Ross Dellenger of the Advocate.

If that happens between now and fall camp, the battle between Harris and Jennings will be the most important battle in the SEC. LSU has the talent to be a division title contender if Miles can find just a little consistency from one of his signal-callers, and one of them has to earn that confidence in August. 

 

What's the Identity?

Miles brought in former Alabama linebackers coach and Clemson defensive coordinator Kevin Steele to replace John Chavis. The 57-year-old has typically worked in 3-4 schemes, and LSU has been primarily run and recruited for a 4-3.

What will the identity be this year?

The Tigers lost starting defensive ends Danielle Hunter and Jermauria Rasco from last year's defense—a defense that totaled just 19 sacks, second-worst in the conference. That has to change if LSU is going to contend for a division title. The secondary is second to none (or maybe "second to Florida") in the SEC, but it simply won't be as consistent as it needs to be if quarterbacks have all day to throw.

As CBS Sports analyst Gary Danielson told ESPN 104.5 in Baton Rouge earlier this month, new defensive line coach Ed Orgeron could help in that department.

Can Tashawn Bower be that edge threat in a more hybrid system this year? How will Davon Godchaux and Christian LaCouture develop inside? How will Steele mix in 3-4 looks with 4-3 personnel?

There's no shortage of playmakers on the defensive side of the ball, but they all need to settle into their roles in the new scheme this summer.

 

A Little Help?

Fournette is getting a ton of Heisman love after rushing for 1,034 yards and 10 touchdowns as a true freshman a year ago. 

But this is LSU—a program that typically spreads carries around to a number of ball-carriers in an effort to keep everybody fresh for a full four quarters and full 12-game season.

That could be even more of a goal for this particular LSU team because Fournette, who returned 24 kickoffs for 625 yards and a touchdown last year, could see more time on special teams this year. After all, if LSU's offense is going to struggle and Fournette can make life a little easier, why wouldn't Miles put his best offensive player back deep? 

"He'll certainly get that opportunity. He sure was good last year," Miles said earlier this month, according to Dellenger.

It seems as though you can probably write his name down in ink as a consistent special teams mainstay based on Miles' comments Wednesday (via Jim Kleinpeter of NOLA.com):

Derrius Guice and Nick Brossette were signed as part of the 2015 class and could come in and contribute right away. Both of the newcomers are true all-purpose backs who are big enough to take the punishment between the tackles and fast enough to be dangerous in space.

Will they push sophomore Darrel Williams for primary backup carries?

"Darrel Williams has had a great summer, another, in my opinion, will be an elite back," Miles said at SEC media days.

Whether that's this year or not really doesn't matter. The trio of Williams, Brossette and Guice need to combine to be one elite back behind Fournette.

It'll be up to Miles and Cameron to figure out how that rotation is going to work in fall camp so the Tigers can hit the ground running during a critical September that includes games against division foes Mississippi State and Auburn.

 

Quotes were obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted. Recruiting information courtesy of 247Sports. Barrett Sallee is the lead SEC college football writer and national college football video analyst for Bleacher Report as well as a host on Bleacher Report Radio on Sirius 93 XM 208.

Follow Barrett on Twitter @BarrettSallee.

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Alabama's Derrick Henry, Kenyan Drake May Be SEC's Most Dangerous RB Tandem

TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — There’s something that’s a little different about Alabama senior running back Kenyan Drake, and we’re not talking about his impressive speed.

Shortly after suffering a season-ending injury at Ole Miss—a fractured leg and dislocated ankle that were nothing short of horrific—Drake asked to be shown the video of the play.

“I’m completely comfortable with it,” he recently told a group of disbelieving reporters at SEC media days.

“I actually wanted to see it. I heard it was pretty crazy. I know they didn’t show it on the scoreboard so I wanted to see how loud I was screaming on national TV.”

That he could be heard along the sidelines and even up in the press box at Vaught-Hemingway Stadium made most people cringe, if not seeing Drake’s leg and foot sticking out in odd directions. But he didn’t want to shy away from it then, and he still doesn’t now.

Perhaps it’ll only help Drake when he takes his first real hits on a football field since the injury.

“Kenyan is a huge part of this team,” senior center Ryan Kelly said. “If you were at the Ole Miss game, and you see him doing sprints, running and cutting, and all those things in the springtime and it’s just amazing. I think it shows you the kind of man Kenyan is and the kind of guy he’s become.”

With Drake poised to be ready when the Crimson Tide open training camp next week, Alabama’s backfield might not only be a real strength in 2015, but with Derrick Henry could feature the most dangerous duo in college football.

That’s not to say that they’ll have the most rushing yards. Arkansas senior Jonathan Williams and junior Alex Collins are the obvious preseason choice for that, as they’re both coming off 1,000-yard rushing seasons, the Razorbacks love to run the ball and Bret Bielema has put them behind yet another huge offensive line.

There are some other terrific tandems in the league as well, including at Auburn, Missouri and Tennessee, while LSU’s Leonard Fournette and Georgia’s Nick Chubb sort of stand out on their own. 

But when you consider which two running backs may be the most complementary for each other, Henry and Drake stand out because they can be used simultaneously as offensive weapons. In addition to taking handoffs, Drake spent part of the spring running routes with the wide receivers.

So if Henry’s in the backfield and Drake goes in motion, should the defense expect a run or a pass?

“You can spread him out, put him in the backfield, throw him a little slant and if that first guy misses he might go all the way,” Alabama senior linebacker Reggie Ragland said about Drake.  

A perfect example was the first snap against Florida last season, as Alabama had noticed in certain situations the Gators almost always put a linebacker on a running back when he shifted out wide. If the defender played off of him the play would be a slant pass, but if he moved up, the call was a slant-and-go because there was probably no way the linebacker could keep up with Drake.

When Antonio Morrison gave Drake a 10-yard cushion, quarterback Blake Sims couldn’t get the ball out fast enough. The result was an 87-yard touchdown that let the Gators know they were in for a long day.

“It obviously worked out to perfection,” Drake said.

It’s because of plays like that, and Henry’s physical prowess (6'3", 242 pounds), that fans are quick to call them a thunder-and-lightning backfield. Their styles also draw comparisons to two players who won the Heisman Trophy: Eddie George and Reggie Bush.

While it’s unrealistic to expect that either player will post similar numbers, Henry more than physically resembles what George looked like at Ohio State, and offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin made the comparison between Drake and his former standout at Southern California.

“When I was younger Reggie Bush was definitely a back I looked up to,” Drake said. “It’s very humbling to be mentioned in that same air with Reggie Bush, but it I also know that I’m Kenyan Drake and I’m going to try and accomplish something that I want to accomplish.”

Overall, Drake’s played in 29 career games with 1,087 rushing yards and 20 total touchdowns while the top of the depth chart featured Eddie Lacy, T.J. Yeldon and Henry. He’s averaged 7.0 yards per carry, 17.3 with each reception, and a touchdown every 8.65 times he’s touched the ball on offense.

A lot of players would have gotten frustrated at not contributing more, and Alabama has had numerous running backs leave for a variety of reasons, but Drake says the last three years have given him a chance to develop and grow physically and mentally.

Had his injury occurred when he was a “snot-nosed freshman,” he might not have handled it as well. Age and experience have instead put him in position to be one of Kiffin’s key contributors.

“He has so many things that he does well,” Nick Saban said. “He has great speed. He has very good running skills and running instincts, but he's a fantastic receiver.

“In his position, it's a little bit easier to almost create mismatches for him to be able to use those skills as a receiver than it would be if we played him at receiver, because I think if we played him at receiver he would be one of the better receivers on our team. And I think this is one of the assets that he's going to possess moving forward that's going to make him a very, very effective player in the future for us and as well as probably being a really good professional player.”

Regardless, with Drake back the HD backfield is something Alabama is very eager to see.

“It’s going to be a fun year watching him play,” Ragland said.

 

Quotes were obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted.

Christopher Walsh is a lead SEC college football writer.

Follow Christopher on Twitter @WritingWalsh.

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Nigel Warrior Releases Top 10: Which School Is Best Fit for 4-Star DB?

After a standout performance at The Opening earlier this month, 4-star safety Nigel Warrior proved why he’s one of the nation’s premier defensive backs in the 2016 cycle.

While a host of top programs are coming after him, Warrior announced on Tuesday via Twitter he has cut his list to a lucky group of 10 schools.

Warrior, whose father is former Tennessee and NFL defensive back Dale Carter, has the Volunteers among his final group.

Also among the schools in the running for the 5’11”, 188-pounder are Alabama, Auburn, Florida, Georgia, LSU, Miami, Notre Dame, Ohio State and Oregon. 

But which program provides him with the best fit at the next level?

Warrior flashed his range and ball-hawking ability at The Opening—which revealed his propensity for being a center fielder in the secondary.

Many schools could use a player with those capabilities, including a handful of programs found in Warrior’s current top 10.

The in-state Georgia Bulldogs have a defensive coordinator in Jeremy Pruitt who has a lengthy history in developing standout defensive backs dating back to previous stops at Alabama and Florida State.

In fact, the Bulldogs are pitching the nation’s No. 4 safety on being a perfect fit for what they are looking for at the position, as detailed by Kipp Adams of Dawgs247.

"Georgia actually tells me they really need a safety like me, and they let me know how being a safety would be a great thing," Warrior told Adams. "They need immediate help on defense."

Another place where Warrior could make an impact would be Ohio State. The last time Buckeyes head coach Urban Meyer went into the Peach State to pluck an elite safety he ended up landing 5-star Vonn Bell, who led the Buckeyes with six interceptions last season.

Besides possessing similar measurables to Bell, Warrior also has a game that resembles the current Buckeyes standout.

If Bell decides to test the NFL draft waters following the upcoming season, Warrior could be a fitting candidate to replace him should he opt to head to Columbus.

As an added bonus, the Buckeyes did not take a safety in their 2015 class and have yet to land a pledge from a prospect at that position in the current cycle.

Alabama’s Kirby Smart and Auburn’s Will Muschamp are also two gifted defensive minds who have had success in developing standout safeties throughout their careers.

As noted by Ourlads, the Tide have a pair of upperclassmen in junior Eddie Jackson and senior Geno Smith slated to start this season—which could help Warrior find the field early if he signs with Alabama.

Meanwhile, similar to when Pruitt took over at Georgia last year, Muschamp is hoping to revitalize the Tigers defense—with overhauling the secondary among his chief priorities. Adding a piece such as Warrior would be a huge boost to a unit that has struggled mightily in recent years.

Finally, the Volunteers are on the rise under third-year head coach Butch Jones. With senior starters LaDarrell McNeil and Brian Randolph set to exhaust their eligibility after this season, the Vols could also present Warrior with an opportunity to get on the field early.

The Vols had a loaded defensive class in 2015, but it only featured one safety in 3-star Stephen Griffin. Considering that Warrior is a legacy recruit who could fill a primary need, he fits the bill as a priority recruit for Jones and his staff in the months leading up to national signing day.

Warrior is a versatile player who could fit in well at any one of his finalists. But when you factor in his ties to the Volunteers and their need at the safety position, Tennessee gets the slight nod as presenting him with the best opportunity to flourish at the next level.

 

Sanjay Kirpalani is a National Recruiting Analyst for Bleacher Report. Unless otherwise noted, all quotes obtained firsthand and all recruiting information courtesy of 247Sports.

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Will Any College Football Team Go Undefeated in 2015?

Going undefeated in college football is difficult. These days, it's even harder.

Of the 1,500-plus teams that have suited up for Division I-A or now FBS competition since 2000, only 15 of them have finished a season with an undefeated record.

Five of those teams came from non-power conferences. Three had to win only 12 contests for perfection. The majority didn't have to play in a conference championship game.

Simple mathematics say it gets harder to go undefeated with each game you play. The chances drop when the season goes longer. Another game means another 60-plus minutes a team must go to stay unbeaten, and the competition is usually stronger in conference championship and bowl games.

The perfect season is a monstrous goal to reach, and that's why six of the last 10 national champions have had at least one loss on their record.

"Most championship teams are going to lose somewhere along the way, and it's all about how you respond to that loss," Akron head coach Terry Bowden, who led Auburn to an undefeated season in 1993, told Brian Bennett of ESPN.com in a 2013 interview. "To go undefeated, everything has to go right. The ball has to bounce your way a bunch of times."

Now, with the advent of the College Football Playoff, the odds of a team winning every game in a given season are even longer. After a 2014 without an unbeaten team, will perfection make its return this season?

The small list of probable candidates for an undefeated 2015 can be placed into three categories. Let's take a look at each group and its best chances at perfection.

 

The 15-0 Crowd

Most teams that could go undefeated in 2015 must do something that has never been done before in the history of college football—complete a 15-0 season.

In the BCS era, the most games a team had to win in order to complete the perfect campaign was 14. Before bigger schedules and conference title games, undefeated national champions normally had 11 or 12 wins.

Now, if you're a team in a Power Five league, you most likely have to win 12 regular-season contests, a conference championship game and then navigate through a national semifinal and title game. Florida State is a testament to the toughness of that feat as it entered last year's playoff as the lone undefeated team, eventually losing to a powerful Oregon team in the Rose Bowl.

Pulling off the first 15-win season will require a lot of overall strength, even more depth and a favorable schedule.

That third bit of criteria will knock out plenty of teams, especially ones in the SEC West and the Pac-12 South. Those treacherous divisions have several possible title contenders, but they all face each other during the regular season.

Only three SEC teams have gone undefeated since 2000, and the Pac-12 has just one, a 2004 USC team that played in the pre-conference title days.

Cross-divisional opponents can't get away from the tough competition, either. This year, Georgia plays Auburn and Alabama, while Oregon faces Arizona State and USC on top of a road contest at nonconference power Michigan State.

The ACC doesn't have a surefire candidate for an undefeated season, either. Preseason favorite Clemson, which only has three returning starters on defense, plays Notre Dame and Georgia Tech. Three-time defending ACC champion Florida State must go to Clemson and Georgia Tech with plenty of new starters this year.

That leaves the Big Ten and what should be the unanimous preseason No. 1 team—Ohio State. The Buckeyes have most of their starters back from last season's national title team, and their toughest game of the season will be a home contest against fellow contender Michigan State.

Ohio State is by far the best bet to pull off the unprecedented 15-0 season in a year that will have many potential contenders but only one hands-down favorite.

However, Urban Meyer's team should know better than anyone else about the upset-friendly nature of college football, and it must also travel to Virginia Tech, the team that prevented a perfect OSU season last year.

 

The Big 12 Exception

Of course, that journey through the Power Five conferences left out one major league—the Big 12, which has a pair of title contenders this season in Baylor and TCU.

If the winner of the Baylor-TCU matchup on Nov. 27 exits the game with an undefeated record, it has the advantage of not having to play in a conference championship game. (Baylor will have to beat Texas the following week to get to 12 wins.)

The Big 12 has a 10-team, round-robin format, and the "one true champion" is, well, supposed to be determined in the regular season. An undefeated Big 12 champion would enter the College Football Playoff with a 12-0 record, meaning it would only need to win 14 games to pull off a perfect campaign.

Mathematically, that's an easier road, and it looks even easier when you put team names next to those 14 possible matchups.

Baylor's nonconference schedules have been notoriously soft in recent years, and this season the Bears face SMU, Lamar and Rice before hitting league play. Now Baylor is looking to strengthen those slates for the future, a move that is long past due, according to Jake Trotter of ESPN.com.

"It's about time," Trotter wrote. "Having won back-to-back Big 12 titles, Baylor has emerged into a big-time program. It's time the Bears start scheduling like one, too."

TCU has one tougher nonconference game when it opens the season on a Thursday night at Big Ten opponent Minnesota, but the Horned Frogs should take care of business there. They then play Stephen F. Austin and SMU.

Baylor and TCU should be favorites in every game leading up to a brutal month of November, when the quest for an undefeated season gets infinitely tougher. Both teams play Oklahoma, Oklahoma State and each other.

Stacking those challenges on top of each other will make it extra difficult for the hypothetical undefeated team from the Big 12. Neither Baylor nor TCU will be able to cruise into the final four—it will have to survive and advance against a field of battle-hardened schools from other top conferences.

 

The Outsiders

With the 15-win objective for most of the Power Five schools and the rough ending to the schedule for the Big 12, college football's best bets to have an undefeated team at the end of the season come from elsewhere.

Top independent Notre Dame has a lot of experience coming back in 2015, but it also has a tough-looking schedule with games against Georgia Tech, Clemson, USC and Stanford. Getting through that slate undefeated with a relatively new quarterback will be a tough task.

Better candidates can be found in the smaller-school ranks. Of the nine schools Bleacher Report's Brian Pedersen slated with the best chances at an unbeaten record earlier this year, four came from the lower leagues.

The original "BCS buster," Boise State, could have the best odds at an undefeated run. The Broncos return 17 starters from a 12-2 team that defeated Arizona in the Fiesta Bowl, and the regular-season schedule sets up well after an opener against Washington and a road trip to BYU.

Getting into the College Football Playoff with that schedule and a Mountain West Championship Game victory seems nearly impossible for Boise State. But the Broncos would be a tough team for any power foe in a New Year's Six bowl—after all, they have plenty of experience winning the big game in January.

The second-best school for a perfect regular season is all the way at the bottom of the NCAA's strength of schedule list, according to FBSchedules.com's Kevin Kelley.

Marshall's 12 opponents for the 2015 season combined for an atrocious 54-89 record last year. Despite the talent that's gone from the Thundering Herd's 13-1 team from a season ago, this is still a strong candidate to run the table.

"Marshall is still going to be more athletic than its competition on what is, yes, another pretty weak slate," Bill Connelly of SB Nation wrote. "A Purdue-Ohio-Kent State nonconference slate would have been pretty challenging in 2012, when all three went bowling, but none of those were top-80 teams in 2014. In fact, only one 2015 opponent was." 

Each of these top contenders for a perfect 2015 season—Ohio State, an undisputed Big 12 champion or a Group of Five power—have great setups for success heading into the fall. But they also face the great unknown of the postseason.

A lot can change over the course of a wild college football season. A power team could surprise the experts and get on an unbeatable roll. But plenty of undefeated seasons fall every single year thanks to unbelievable upsets and crushing letdown losses for teams like Boise State and Marshall.

Thanks to the playoff system, picking against the chance of a perfect season seems like a safe bet in 2015.

Going undefeated is even harder these days. Good thing losing isn't fatal in the new system.

 

Justin Ferguson is an on-call college football writer at Bleacher Report. You can follow him on Twitter @JFergusonBR. 

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Jaden Hunter Tweets Top 11: Odds on Where 4-Star OLB Lands

Jaden Hunter, one of the country's premier rising junior prospects, released an ordered list of college favorites Tuesday afternoon.

The linebacker's collection of possible collegiate landing spots features a tie at No. 1, with Florida State and LSU splitting the top spot:

His list includes programs across the country, ranging from three conferences. The SEC—represented by six teams—seems to be his most likely destination. The ACC saw four squads make the cut, while UCLA is the lone Pac-12 outlier.

Hunter, a 6'3", 207-pound playmaker from Westlake High School in Atlanta, Georgia, began racking up scholarship offers after his sophomore season. Virginia Tech, Illinois and Nebraska are among interested schools left on the outside of his recruitment process at this point.

He tallied 89 tackles—10 for loss—and eight sacks last season, per Tony Crumpton of TigerNet.com. Rated eighth nationally at outside linebacker in 247Sports' 2017 composite rating, Hunter is viewed as an elite defensive target in the Southeast.

Now that we know which programs are picking up momentum in this recruitment, here's an updated look at a few key contenders' odds of landing Hunter.

 

Alabama: 4-1

The Crimson Tide once sat atop this list, but a four-spot fall doesn't bode well for Alabama's ability to reel in the Peach State product. Outside linebackers coach Tosh Lupoi is the driving force in Tuscaloosa, and he is among the most accomplished recruiters in college football, so count him out at your own risk.

Alabama impressed Hunter during a campus visit in June and nearly landed a commitment, according to Hank South of 247Sports. He's enjoyed a busy summer since then, and the luster of that trip may very well have faded, especially considering NCAA rules that prevent coaches from contacting underclassmen.

Head coach Nick Saban and company could insert themselves right back into the upper echelon of his favorites by lining up another on-campus experience this season.

Crimson Tide defensive coordinator Kirby Smart actually played alongside Hunter's dad in college.

 

Florida State: 3-1

The Seminoles extended an offer less than two weeks ago and instantly became a favorite. Just days ago, Florida State emerged as a co-leader with Alabama, per South.

Hunter has shuffled his deck of favorites a bit since that revelation, and despite a few interesting changes, the Seminoles remain situated up top. This time around, the team shares that No. 1 billing with LSU.

Florida State is a brand-new offer, so it's worth monitoring whether the initial excitement of an opportunity in Tallahassee begins to fade moving forward. If not, the Seminoles might just be the team to beat in this race.

 

Georgia: 2-1

Family ties should always keep the Bulldogs in this mix, and Georgia continues to maintain its status as one of Hunter's top options. His late father, Brice Hunter, played wide receiver in Athens and his mother, Brandi Hunter, is a former Bulldogs basketball standout.

Hunter told Jeff Sentell of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution:

Most people might think I’m going to play at Georgia because my dad played there. But my mom wants me to keep an open mind with these schools that offer me because Georgia might not be the best fit for me. But I am always going to consider playing at Georgia because of the connection I have there.

He visited Florida State and LSU in July but skipped Georgia's Dawg Night, which is arguably its biggest recruiting event of the summer.

 

LSU: 4-1

The Tigers made a strong impression on Hunter when he spent time in Baton Rouge earlier this month. Head coach Les Miles already holds a commitment from phenom linebacker and top overall 2017 recruit Dylan Moses.

It would be difficult to find a more promising defensive duo in the 2017 cycle if Moses and Hunter ultimately join forces. The Georgia standout expressed interest in returning to LSU following his latest visit:

Former Alabama linebackers coach Kevin Steele serves as Hunter's primary recruiter. He took over the Tigers' defensive attack this offseason and quickly identified him as a key focus on the recruiting trail.

More shakeups are sure to come in this recruitment, but LSU has to feel good about its new outlook as a co-leader.

 

Tyler Donohue is a National Recruiting Analyst for Bleacher Report. All player ratings are courtesy of 247Sports' composite ratings. Follow Tyler via Twitter: @TDsTake.

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Every College Football Playoff Contender's Most Important Fall Camp Battle

As July ends, we’re moving from one phase of college football’s preseason to another. Talking season—which is characterized by the dog and pony shows that are conference media days scattered across the nation—is wrapping up.

As we turn the calendar to August, another season will begin as teams open preseason practice. Proving season. Every team from the bottom to the top of the Football Bowl Subdivision has questions to be answered before it takes the field in early September, and preseason practice is about nailing those queries to the best of their abilities before facing live opponents.

Even the top contenders for the College Football Playoff have questions, believe it or not. Here’s a look at the most important camp battle for every College Football Playoff contender. We limited the scope to the top 12 teams in Bleacher Report’s projected preseason top 25 by Justin Ferguson this week. If your team didn’t make the cut, that isn’t to say they’re out of contention already. After all, nobody pegged TCU as a preseason contender last fall. But we had to draw the line somewhere. Let’s go.

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What Would Have to Happen for the SEC to Miss the Playoff in 2015?

After two straight seasons without a major bowl win in the BCS or the "New Year's Six" that include the College Football Playoff, the foundation of SEC power has developed some cracks. 

Coaches from around the country recognize the surprising instability of the SEC's pedestal, and they are taking shots and knocking it down during "talkin' season."

Jimbo Fisher, head coach of the 2013 national champion Florida State Seminoles, is one of them, according to Chris Low of ESPN.com.

Fisher has also started the playoff political race early, lobbying against "SEC power" if the conference cannibalizes itself, according to Joe Schad of ESPN.

Generally speaking, Fisher is right. Although it's incredibly silly for him—or anybody—to speak in such absolutes without knowing specifically how a season plays out, how those losses came about, what other teams are in contention and other specific resume bullet points that are part of the decision-making process.

I wrote last week that the SEC has lost the benefit of the doubt in terms of its best team undoubtedly being considered the best in the nation simply because of that SEC patch on its jersey. That's the way it really should be anyway, because, as Dave Bartoo of CFBMatrix.com noted on Twitter, strength of schedule should only matter when everything else is equal.

If the SEC champ has one loss and every other Power Five champ runs the table, there's a good chance that the SEC would be left out. Unblemished is unblemished, and while that SEC champ might be better than one or more of those undefeated teams, losses do (and should) count for a lot in the race for the four slots in the playoff.

In years past, that might not have been the case.

We saw one-loss Alabama ranked No. 1 ahead of undefeated Florida State last year after the Seminoles struggled mightily to maintain that undefeated season throughout the regular season. But there was never any doubt that Florida State should be in the playoff, the debate was just on where.

Alabama wouldn't get the benefit of the doubt if the same circumstances occurred this year, and undefeated conference champs would almost certainly get the late bump from the committee after the conference championship games.

What if the Big 12, ACC and Pac-12 champs are unbeaten and the debate becomes one-loss Big Ten champ Ohio State or Michigan State vs. one-loss SEC champ?

Historically, that would have been a no-brainer in favor of the SEC. After what Ohio State did last year, though, I'm not so sure.

Another wrench that could be thrown in the works this year is Notre Dame.

I know, I know, ever since the Fighting Irish got throttled by the Crimson Tide in the BCS National Championship Game following the 2012 season, they've been a polarizing force in college football discussions and viewed largely as "overrated."

That might change this year. Head coach Brian Kelly's crew returns a potentially potent offense that features a stud tackle, a defense that features tackle Ronnie Stanley and wide receiver Will Fuller, linebacker Jaylon Smith and defensive back KeiVarae Russell, and a schedule that—at least by Notre Dame standards—is forgiving.

Keep in mind that the SEC is a conference that has had just four undefeated conference champs this century, one of which was LSU in 2011 which lost the national title game. If that happens again and Notre Dame either runs the table or finishes with one loss, would the SEC get the nod over the Irish?

I'm not so sure.

Notre Dame could knock a second Power Five conference out of the mix on selection Sunday, and the SEC could be one of the conferences sweating it out.

The bottom line, though, is that the benefit of the doubt is gone, the SEC patches on the front of those jerseys don't matter as much as they used to in the minds of voters/committee members and teams will judged on their individual merit moving forward.

More often than not, the SEC will still land the SEC champ in the playoff. But if an upset occurs in the SEC Championship Game or the conference cannibalizes itself while others don't, it could be on the outside looking in this season and beyond.

 

Quotes were obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted. Recruiting information courtesy of 247SportsBarrett Sallee is the lead SEC college football writer and national college football video analyst for Bleacher Report, as well as a host on Bleacher Report Radio on Sirius 93, XM 208.

Follow Barrett on Twitter @BarrettSallee.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

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