NCAA Football News
Ballots were released on Thursday for the College Football Hall of Fame class of 2014, listing 75 players and six coaches from the ranks of the FBS along with 87 players and 26 coaches from the other ranks of the sport.
Maintained by the National Football Foundation (NFF), the CFB Hall of Fame is currently in the midst of a physical transition. The longtime site in South Bend, Ind., has been shut down, but the new site in Atlanta, Ga., isn't set to open until the upcoming fall.
In this year's field, as with any year's field, there is no true thing as a "lock." When the NFF is involved, no case can ever be so sure.
On one hand, first-ballot inductees are rare because the voters often like to make them wait at least one year. On the other hand, it's hard to call a non-first-ballot candidate a "lock" because he's already been passed over by the committee—typically more than once.
Regional and positional quotas are adhered to. Unwritten rules and even rumors of corruption plague the process, making the final ballot a difficult chore to predict.
Because Nebraska and Texas both had players inducted last season, a pair of Heisman Trophy winners, Eric Crouch and Ricky Williams, have slim to no chance at getting in.
The list of locks below takes factors like these into account. It is a blend of college performance and actual likelihood for induction.
Former stars such as SMU's Eric Dickerson and Oklahoma's Brian Bosworth, for example, are on the ballot but have long been excluded for reasons that, ostensibly, do not have to do with on-field merit.
Do they belong in the hall? Sure. But are they locks for 2014?
Not at all.
RB LaDainian Tomlinson, TCU
LaDainian Tomlinson will be a first-ballot Hall of Famer in the NFL, and he probably should have been one in college too.
He was snubbed in 2013—apparently, one first-ballot running back inductee (Ron Dayne) was enough—despite having led the NCAA in rushing in back-to-back seasons in 1999 and 2000.
The first of those seasons was the year Dayne won the Heisman. In the second year, Tomlinson was an All-American and won the Doak Walker Award as the nation's top running back. All this despite TCU playing in the then-anonymous and now-defunct WAC.
What's more, Tomlinson holds the current FBS record for rushing yards in a game, having rushed for 406 yards against UTEP in 1999. His 287 yards in the first half (!!!) of that game are also an FBS record.
After finishing his career with 5,263 rushing yards, which is still one of the 10 highest totals in FBS history, Tomlinson went fifth overall in the NFL draft and was essentially "swapped" from the Atlanta Falcons to the San Diego Chargers in exchange for No. 1 overall pick Michael Vick.
From top to bottom, that is a Hall of Fame resume.
WR Raghib "Rocket" Ismail
One of the biggest the snubs from 2013, former Irish receiver Rocket Ismail was burdened by the same "rule" that should keep Crouch, Williams and the trio of Miami guys—Jerome Brown, Ray Lewis and Warren Sapp—among others out of the Hall in 2014.
Notre Dame tight end Dave Casper was inducted in 2012.
It's hard to argue with the merit of Ismail's resume though. Despite middling offensive stats, he was a two-time All-American and the 1990 Heisman runner-up behind Ty Detmer of BYU, who was enshrined in the Hall two years ago.
Ismail was the best kick returner in the country those two seasons, and maybe even the season prior, leading Notre Dame to the national title in 1988 and consecutive Orange Bowls in 1989 and 1990.
More important than that, though, Ismail was an icon. He was a player who defined his generation, someone whose jersey and number you think about when people mention late-80s college football. He meant something special to the game.
And he deserves to be enshrined because of it.
S Mark Carrier, USC
Like Ismail, Mark Carrier was "nominated" but not eligible in 2013 after a tight end from his school, former Trojan Hal Bledsoe, was elected to the Hall in 2012.
Might 2014 finally be his year?
Let's hope so.
Carrier was a first-team All-American in 1988 and 1989, leading the Pac-10 with seven interceptions and winning the Jim Thorpe Award as America's top defensive back in the second of those two seasons.
That is the only Thorpe Award in the esteemed history of USC football, and it came en route to a victory in the Rose Bowl.
So what, other than "time," has been keeping Carrier out?
DE/LB Derrick Thomas, Alabama
We save the best for last.
Derrick Thomas has, for whatever reason, been snubbed from the CFB Hall of Fame for too long. Just last season, another egregious wrong was righted with the induction of former Nebraska quarterback and 1995 Heisman runner-up Tommie Frazier.
Now, it is Thomas' turn for justice.
Thomas won the Butkus Award in 1988 and was a unanimous All-American. He also finished 10th in the Heisman voting, which, at the time, was even more rare than it is in 2014. And it's still pretty rare.
Why all the accolade? Easy. That season, Thomas set the NCAA sack record with 27 in one year—a mark that has still yet to be broken. At the time of his departure from Tuscaloosa in 1989, he also held the NCAA career sack record with 52.
Thomas, of course, tragically passed away after a car accident in 2000. But this induction would not be some sort of underserved posthumous recognition. He earned every bit of his spot in the CFB Hall of Fame, and keeping him on the outside makes little sense.
So why has it taken so long?
After Bruce Feldman of CBS Sports tweeted about Thomas on Wednesday, an interesting conversation took place in the replies between Zach Barnett of Football Scoop and Birmingham sports anchor Patrick Claybon.
Barnett, who says that he worked at the NFF for two years, and in whom there is no overt reason to mistrust, claims Thomas has been kept out because Alabama's athletic department wanted to get other Tide players in ahead of him:
When pressed later in the conversation, Barnett calls the Hall of Fame balloting process "nuanced"—a word smart politicians use in place of "corrupt"—and contends that the NFF collaborates with universities to decide who gets inducted:
I have never been big on conspiracy theories, but this one sounds totally plausible.
It's college football we're talking about, after all. Shadowy figures in suits pull the strings behind a tall, green curtain made of money. This is a sad reality of the sport, a side effect of its profitability.
But me? I prefer the path of the idealist. The belief that, conspiracy theory or no conspiracy theory, Thomas will get in over fellow Alabama candidates Paul Crane and Bobby Humphrey.
That the right thing will finally get done.
The media has squawked for years about Thomas' puzzling exclusion. In 2014, those voices are louder, angrier and more ubiquitous than ever, and you'd have to believe the NFF is aware of this. (Do a search query for "Derrick Thomas" on Twitter and you'll see what I mean.)
Considering the vitriol that will come if the NFF again leaves Thomas out of the Hall, it's hard to envision a world where he gets omitted in 2014. Wishful thinking? Maybe. But it has to be done eventually.
Why can't now be the time?
Follow Brian Leigh on Twitter: @BLeighDAT
Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com
The 2014 College Football Hall of Fame ballot was announced Thursday, and there are a handful of legendary names on the list.
According to a press release from the National Football Foundation, the organization has disseminated a 75-player, six-coach Football Bowl Subdivision ballot and an 87-player, 26-coach ballot from the divisional ranks.
Stars like Brian Bosworth, Derrick Thomas, Tim Couch, Eric Crouch, Eric Dickerson, Keyshawn Johnson, Ray Lewis, Cade McNown, Simeon Rice, Warren Sapp, Sterling Sharpe, LaDainian Tomlinson, Ricky Williams and many more are all vying to be enshrined with the Class of 2014.
It’s going to be tough for the 12,000 NFF members and current Hall members that make up the voting body to narrow down their choices. It will be even harder for the NFF Honors Court to make the final decision on who makes the cut.
There are simply so many worthy players on the ballot that some elite players are inevitably going to be snubbed. However, NFF President and CEO Steven J. Hatchell explained why even being listed on the ballot is a great achievement, via the press release:
It’s an enormous honor to just be on the ballot when you think that more than 4.99 million people have played college football. The Hall’s requirement of being a First-Team All-American creates a much smaller pool of only 1,500 individuals who are even eligible to be on the ballot, so being in today’s elite group means an individual is truly among the greatest to ever have played the game.
With a facility opening in Atlanta later this year, the crop of talent to be enshrined in the shiny new building may be one of the best ever.
Let’s take a look at the every FBS player and coach on the ballot, highlight the complete eligibility requirements and point out what folks around the web are saying about this announcement:
*Complete ballot can be found via the National Football Foundation.
There is an extremely limited amount of players that are even eligible to make the College Football Hall of Fame, largely due to stringent requirements. The NFF press release provides a breakdown:
To be eligible for the ballot, players must have been named a First Team All-American by a major/national selector as recognized and utilized by the NCAA for their consensus All-America teams; played their last year of intercollegiate football at least 10 years prior; played within the last 50 years and cannot be currently playing professional football. Coaches must have coached a minimum of 10 years and 100 games as a head coach; won at least 60 percent of their games; and be retired from coaching for at least three years. If a coach is retired and over the age of 70, there is no waiting period. If he is over the age of 75, he is eligible as an active coach. In both cases, the candidate’s post-football record as a citizen may also be weighed.
The NFF noted that just .0002 percent of those that have played college football in the last 145 years have been inducted into the Hall of Fame, a mere 934 out of the 4.99 million players to have ever played in college.
While the club is exclusive, some supremely talented collegiate stars have been barred from entrance.
Dennis Dodd of CBSSports.com pointed out that Joe Montana would never be a Hall of Famer unless the requirements change:
The NFF election process is arcane and confusing. Based on current rules, Notre Dame's Joe Montana will never be in the College Football Hall of Fame. He was never an All-American on a team recognized by the NCAA. If that sounds outrageous, consider that at one time hall of famers had to actually graduate.
Regardless, there are a ton of great candidates to choose from this year, and the 2014 Class should be one of the Hall’s best yet. Let’s take a look at some of the top-tier talent up for enshrinement.
Eric Dickerson, RB, SMU
Dickerson put together a special career during his time at Southern Methodist University.
He was a unanimous First-Team All-American and came in third during the Heisman Trophy voting in 1982, was the SWC Player of the Year on two occasions and holds numerous Mustangs records that still stand today, including most career rushing yards with 4,450.
Dickerson’s junior and senior seasons were two of the most memorable in college history. He rushed for 1,428 yards and 19 touchdowns in 1981 (his junior year) and followed that up with a 1,617-yard, 17-score outing in his final SMU campaign.
Matt Park said that Dickerson, who went on to have an immensely successful professional career, has to be a shoo-in to make the 2014 Class:
Due to his incredible body of work with the Mustangs, it’s hard to picture a College Football Hall of Fame without the Sealy, Texas, native.
Derrick Thomas, LB, Alabama
Thomas was an absolute nightmare for offensive coordinators to deal with during his time with the Alabama Crimson Tide.
The star linebacker was a unanimous First-Team All-American in 1988 and also won the Butkus Award and was named the SEC’s Defensive Player of the Year during the same season.
He helped the Tide roll to four straight bowl appearances and set the NCAA career sack record with 52. His total of 74 tackles for loss also ranks amongst the top in that statistical category.
It shocked Andy Staples of Sports Illustrated when he saw Thomas’ name on the ballot, as he figured that the superstar would have already been enshrined:
Regardless, it is better late than never for D.T. The Miami native was a clear standout during his time in Tuscaloosa and he should be forever remembered within the hallowed grounds of the College Football Hall of Fame.
Brian Bosworth, LB, Oklahoma
Bosworth had to wait 14 long years since the time he was eligible to finally get put on the ballot. It’s been a long time coming, but that has not diminished the superstar linebacker’s collegiate achievements one bit.
The Sooners product was a two-time consensus All-American in 1985 and 1986, also winning the Butkus Award in each of those seasons. His defensive prowess helped Oklahoma to three straight Orange Bowl appearances and the 1985 national championship.
Bosworth holds the Sooner record for most tackles in a game with 22 and led the team in that category from 1984 through 1986.
Don’t expect “The Boz” to be too excited about this, however, as he told Dodd he didn’t want to be part of the Hall of Fame back in 2012: "I don't need to be part of some club. To me, the last thing I want to do is be reminded I'm not playing anymore. It crushes me."
Regardless, voters should still elect to enshrine Bosworth to the Hall of Fame. He’s as worthy a candidate as any of the 75 on the ballot, and his tenure with Oklahoma was historically memorable.
Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com
An evolution at tight end has left coaches searching for athletes who can do much more than block and occasionally catch. Players at the position exhibit a blend of speed and size, adding a dynamic dimension to the passing game.
Blocking skills remain mandatory, and for many of the top 2015 tight ends, that development remains a major work in progress. College coaches are clamoring for talent at the position, while combing through this recruiting class, and we broke down game tape to get a better indication of prospects to keep tabs on throughout the cycle.
Our 2015 positional rankings continue with an examination of elite tight ends. We ranked America's 10 most promising prospects, keeping a close eye on their effort at the line of scrimmage and downfield.
All prospect information and statistics courtesy of 247Sports unless otherwise noted.
The Southeastern Conference is reportedly planning to review its policy regarding the sale of alcohol at neutral-site games.
Jon Solomon of AL.com reported Thursday morning that, according to SEC associate commissioner Herb Vincent, the alcohol policy at off-campus home games and neutral-site games is on its agenda for the spring.
If approved, this won't be a full move toward alcohol being sold at SEC home games, but it would be a step in that direction.
Commissioner Mike Slive said that he is happy with the current policy, though he is willing to hear alternate ideas.
"Up to now, we like our rule. I haven't heard any concerted interest in changing our rule, but our people would like to talk about it. We're institutions of higher education and alcohol on campuses has been an issue for a long while. I think this is an area where we want to walk slowly and carefully."
While it appears as though Slive might take some convincing, LSU athletic director Joe Alleva expressed his desire for beer to be sold at home games, citing that it could actually prevent alcohol-related incidents during on-campus games:
I don't think that's something that would necessarily be a negative for drunkenness and it might curtail the drunkenness if you sold beer. Right now, they drink excessively in the parking lot before they come in because they can't get alcohol inside. Perhaps if they had access in the stadium, they wouldn't drink as much when they come in. I think it's something we have to talk about. This may come down the road in the future, and I wouldn't be opposed to it.
Allowing the sale of beer in stadiums might sound counterproductive to incident prevention, but recent cases have proven otherwise. Most notably, West Virginia began selling beer at its home games while in the Big East and carried it over on its move to the Big 12 conference, and the results were remarkable.
As detailed by an Associated Press report (via the Charleston Gazette), the number of calls, arrests and charges filed were down, as were the number of behavioral complaints.
Meanwhile, concession sales were through the roof. The report stated that those sales were up an astounding 84 percent overall from the previous season.
Those numbers have schools in the SEC and around the country taking notice. Arkansas recently pushed through a plan to sell beer and wine in private suites, as Bob Holt of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette reported.
It is understandable that the SEC is slow to allow beer sales in its general seating areas. The approval of sales at off-campus games could be a good test for the league to see how it might work at on-campus stadiums.
Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com
The college football world experienced a devastating depletion of talent this offseason, which included a record 98 underclassmen who declared early for the 2014 NFL draft. Gone are big-name stars such as Johnny Manziel, Sammy Watkins, Teddy Bridgewater and many of the other top performers from the 2013 season.
Though the sport lost an almost unprecedented amount of star power, that doesn’t mean there aren’t many returning players who are worthy of praise and recognition. Defending Heisman-winner Jameis Winston is the sport’s biggest, most talked-about star, and he’s the face of one of the strongest groups of quarterbacks we’ve seen in quite some time. Still, Winston is just one of the many intriguing talents that will be on display this fall.
Who are the rest?
Here’s a look at the players who are projected to be college football’s top performers in 2014.
The now-tabled vote on slowing down hurry up no huddle offenses perhaps would have affected no rivalry more than Auburn-Alabama.
Battle lines were drawn on the up-tempo offense debate long before discussion began.
Alabama coach Nick Saban, one of the great defensive minds in the country, continues to build his hall-of-fame credentials around extraordinary defenses.
Auburn coach Gus Malzahn, an offensive guru, wrote the book on the hurry up no huddle offense.
Both coaches have the same offensive goal—to wear down the opponent.
They simply take opposite viewpoints as to how to accomplish the feat.
Saban employs a powerful, deliberate attack designed to beat opponents into submission.
Malzahn prefers to leave defensive players breathless, rushing his offense to the line and having them on edge until it snaps the ball.
Sometimes that means after 20 seconds have ticked off the playclock. Other times it means not even 10 seconds have rolled off the clock.
If the rule eventually comes to pass, offenses would be charged with a 5-yard “delay of game” penalty for snapping the ball before the 40-second play clock reached 29 seconds.
The proposed rule drew national headlines immediately because of the myriad programs—Auburn, Oregon and Baylor to name a few—that prefer the up-tempo approach.
That Saban and Arkansas coach Bret Bielema flew to Indianapolis to back the proposed rule while coaches from the hurry-up-no-huddle weren’t represented added fuel to an already blazing inferno.
For Saban and Bielema, not only would the rule take away an advantage specific to the offense, it would weaken the strength of several offensive-minded rivals in their division.
For coaches like Malzahn—and many others, including Texas A&M’s Kevin Sumlin, Ole Miss’ Hugh Freeze, Arizona’s Rich Rodriguez and Oregon’s Mark Helfrich—such a rule essentially threatened their way of life.
Naturally, it didn’t sit well with those coaches.
Even coaches who don’t utilize hurry-up attacks spoke out in opposition.
Spoiler alert: The Ol’ Ball Coach, who has built his empire on dynamic offenses, didn’t like a defensive-minded coach trying to take away a built-in advantage for offenses.
Therein lies the fundamental issue with the hurry up no huddle debate: Coaches—and worse, fans—of both sides are far too in the “what’s best for me” mindset to think rationally.
And as long as sweeping rules changes are on the table that would threaten to wipe out offensive strategies, the condition won’t improve.
With the coaches so entrenched in philosophical football debate, the hurry-up no-huddle conversation rages on as the fiercest debate between Alabama and Auburn fans.
Check message boards or al.com over the past few months.
The wars of words drifted from talk of Chris Davis and Alabama’s kickers to Auburn failing to extend the SEC’s streak of BCS national championships.
All those discussions are in the past now—or at least on hold.
In their place rushed the offensive tempo conversation.
And no. They can’t all just get along.
Neither can the coaches.
Saban’s case, in particular, makes sense.
If one accepts the premise that injuries occur on an average basis of x-number of plays, then increasing the number of plays in a game would increase the likelihood of injuries.
“The fastball guys (up-tempo coaches) say there’s no data out there, and I guess you have to use some logic. What’s the logic? If you smoke one cigarette, do you have the same chances of getting cancer if you smoke 20? I guess there’s no study that specifically says that. But logically, we would say, ‘Yeah, there probably is.’”
At some point that becomes a slippery slope, though.
Football is a dangerous game on the first play of the game, too. So why play that?
Or why add a game to the end of the season, as in the case of the four-team College Football Playoff set to launch this season?
Or why doesn’t the NCAA go back to 10- or 11-game schedules?
Hurry up no huddle proponents won’t even grant the premise submitted by Saban and Bielema.
“Once again, I don’t think we need to lose sight of the fact that the only way you can change a rule is the health and safety of our players,” Malzahn told a pool of reporters, per al.com. “And it’s got to be documented, and there’s got to be proof. And there’s not.”
The hurry up no huddle vote might not be sidelined for now, but the debate will continue to rage on strong.
It will hover over the Alabama-Auburn rivalry with plenty at stake.
Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com
Spring football begins at USC next Tuesday and with it comes the promise of a new football season.
There will be some differences in Troy this year, most notably the return of semi-open practices to the public. Head coach Steve Sarkisian will get to work installing the new up-tempo elements to USC offense, while a handful of position battles will get rolling on both sides of the ball. After about a month of drills and practices, the 2014 USC Trojans will start to take shape.
The USC athletic department released its spring media guide on Tuesday, and with it came a bevy of information regarding what we can expect from the Trojans at this time.
Listed in order of immediate importance, here are the Top 10 most important takeaways from the 2014 Spring Media Guide.
All stats and information provided by USC's Spring 2014 Media Guide, found here.
When it comes to the battle between student-athletes and the NCAA, just about every argument comes back to money.
Should the players receive it? How much and through what means? Through pay-for-play or simply receiving the full value of a scholarship?
As Northwestern players make a push for unionization, however, compensation isn't even a pressing topic—at least not yet. The National College Players Association (NCPA), which teamed up with Wildcats quarterback Kain Colter, outlined 11 goals for players on its website.
Only one of them, raising the amount of the scholarship, involves payment.
The rest of the goals call for better care of student-athletes. That includes lifting transfer restrictions.
From the NCPA website:
10. Guarantee that college athletes are granted an athletic release from their university if they wish to transfer schools.
Schools should not have the power to refuse to release college athletes that choose to transfer. Under NCAA rules, players that transfer without a release not only have to sit out a year, they cannot receive an athletic scholarship for a year. This contradicts the educational mission and principle of sportsmanship that the NCAA is supposed to uphold.
11.Allow college athletes of all sports the ability to transfer schools one time without punishment.
College athletes that participate in football, basketball, baseball, and ice hockey should not be denied the one-time no-penalty transfer option that is afforded to college athletes of other sports. Such a policy is coercive and discriminatory. All college athletes should have this freedom to ensure that they realize their academic, social, and athletic pursuits.
As it stands, schools have the power over the athlete when it comes to permission to contact other programs. In an interview with Bleacher Report, NCAA guru John Infante of AthleticScholarships.net said that's only likely to change with the help of an outside force.
"The pressure is going to have to come from outside, whether it’s a successful unionization that bargains for that, or a successful lawsuit," Infante said. "Or, say, congress gets involved."
If an athlete wishes to transfer, he has to seek permission to contact other schools from the athletic department in a written request. That permission technically comes from the athletic director, although in many cases, the responsibility gets delegated to the head coach.
The current school then has seven days to either approve or deny the request, otherwise, it is automatically approved. If permission to contact is denied, the athlete can file an appeal. That would be heard within 15 days by other university representatives, like members of the faculty senate or director of admissions.
If that appeal is denied, the athlete cannot be recruited or offered a scholarship for the first year by the school(s) in which they are interested in attending.
There is, however, a key difference between transferring and receiving a grant-in-aid to play football.
Technically, there's nothing preventing an athlete from transferring wherever they want. The NCAA and its membership can point to this as evidence that it isn't preventing an athlete from receiving an education.
Former Texas Tech quarterback Baker Mayfield, for example, was denied permission to contact Oklahoma and lost his appeal to do so. Still, the walk-on transferred to Oklahoma anyway without a football scholarship. Since he did not receive a one-time transfer exemption, Mayfield will have to sit out a season to satisfy NCAA rules and loses a year of eligibility to satisfy Big 12 intra-conference transfer rules. He will be eligible to play as a junior in 2015.
The larger question is whether athletes should have to abide by university-placed restrictions, especially since coaches are free to come and go as they please.
"That’s led to the idea that perhaps the NCAA should be more involved," Infante said. "The NCAA could say if a school wants to restrict anything outside its conference or schedule, then there better be evidence of tampering or improper recruiting."
The odds of that happening on a consistent basis aren't promising.
With as much flak as the NCAA catches, it can be easy to forget that it's an entity the sum of its membership. Legislation for items like recruiting deregulation and additional stipends for athletes ultimately went back to the drawing board because of disagreements among members.
And members are largely in control of the transfer process now. Hence, it would likely take a major force, like unionization, for change to occur.
"If we’re assuming unionization is successful and there’s collective bargaining, I think [transfers are] something you might see a school more likely to give on," Infante explained, "especially if athletes are fighting for something with a dollar amount attached to it.
"Even if that became a central issue, the fight might be to restrict a school’s ability to impose restrictions rather than have a free-for-all."
While there's no free-for-all in transferring, Stewart Mandel of Sports Illustrated wrote last month that there has been an increase in quarterback transfers, and many are eligible to play immediately.
The term "free agent" has been liberally attached to recent grad transfers like former USC quarterback Max Wittek. As Infante wrote on the Bylaw Blog in January, that's not an accurate term.
Like all other transfers, graduate transfers need permission to contact another institution. If a coach denies permission to contact and it is upheld on appeal, the athlete cannot accept an athletic scholarship at a potential transfer destination.
A recent example of this involves another Texas Tech quarterback, Michael Brewer. The redshirt sophomore is on track to graduate this spring and will transfer to Virginia Tech—but only because Texas Tech allowed it.
Brewer originally wanted to transfer to either TCU or Texas, citing academic reasons. However, it's no secret that the Horned Frogs and the Longhorns have quarterback questions. Not surprisingly, Tech denied Brewer's permission to contact those schools as well as his appeal.
Even with the NCAA closely examining a new governance model that would give autonomy to the five power conferences—the ACC, the Big Ten, the Big 12, the Pac-12 and the SEC—transfer rules would likely be untouched, according to Infante.
"The autonomy of the so-called 'Power Five' is going to be limited on certain topics, and transfer rules will likely be voted on in a similar process as it is now," Infante said.
Regardless of how the NCAA is eventually structured, transfer rules remain the prerogative of its membership. If athletes want that to change, they'll need to force the issue themselves.
Ben Kercheval is the lead writer for college football. All quotes obtained firsthand unless noted otherwise.
Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com
2013 was a solid year for linebacker play, featuring players across the nation who filled the spectrum of what coaches were looking for from the position. There were outstanding pass-rushers, guys who played downhill to make big impacts and versatile athletes who could do a little bit of everything.
As Anthony Barr of UCLA, C.J. Mosley from Alabama and Chris Borland from Wisconsin transition to the next level, the time comes to take a look at who will rise up to fill the void. Plenty of athletes showed promise a season ago, and now, in 2014, expect the linebacker position to be filled with another crop of elite players.
Here is a look at some of the top returners at the position, in alphabetical order.
The 2013 season didn't exactly go according to plan for head coach Mark Richt and the Georgia Bulldogs.
Injuries to key players—including running backs Todd Gurley and Keith Marshall and wide receivers Malcolm Mitchell, Justin Scott-Wesley and Michael Bennett—threw the team for a loop, and the Bulldogs finished with an 8-5 record and a third-place spot in the SEC East standings.
With quarterback Aaron Murray gone due to graduation, you'd think the Bulldogs might be set up for a rebuilding year.
You'd be wrong.
The reason is Gurley, who sat out three games in the middle of the season with an ankle injury and fought through that injury for the final two months of the season. Despite being limited by injury, Gurley managed to rush for 989 yards and 10 touchdowns.
According to Anthony Dasher of UGASports.com, Gurley is still bothered by that ankle injury and will be limited this spring:
Richt says Todd Gurley continues to not be full speed due to his ankle injury from last year and his spring schedule will be modified— Anthony Dasher (@AnthonyDasher1) March 5, 2014
It's never good to have your superstar on the shelf, but it's certainly smart for head coach Mark Richt and offensive coordinator Mike Bobo to be cautious with Gurley this spring.
Gurley is a known commodity at this point, and the last thing Georgia needs is that ankle injury flaring up during the regular season.
The 6'1", 232-pound Gurley is a bruiser between the tackles with the speed of a track star. Whether it's former quarterback Aaron Murray taking the snaps or rising senior and first-year starter Hutson Mason under center, Bobo's offense is predicated on establishing the run. Georgia establishes the run with one of the best backs in the country.
He's the key that starts the engine for the Bulldogs offense, especially in a season in which playmakers at skill positions are all around him. Mitchell, Bennett, Scott-Wesley and Chris Conley will all be back at wide receiver this fall, along with backup running back Keith Marshall and incoming freshmen Sony Michel and Nick Chubb.
Don't focus on the quarterback. Mason is a veteran who knows the system and has weapons all around him.
Besides, four of the last five BCS title-winning quarterbacks have been first-year starters. The only returning starter to take home the crystal football was Alabama's AJ McCarron, and he did so one year after winning it as a first-year starter. On top of that, seven of the last 10 starting quarterbacks in the BCS National Championship Game have been first-year starters.
Georgia can reach that level in 2014 if Gurley stays healthy.
He's a full-fledged superstar in a system that relies heavily on him performing at an elite level.
The Bulldogs play in a division that is littered with even more uncertainty than what exists in Athens. Getting by Clemson and South Carolina in the first two games of the season—with extra time to prepare for both border rivals—could launch Georgia to a special season.
Yes, even with that defense. Let's be honest—losing Todd Grantham as defensive coordinator is addition by subtraction. And Richt hiring Jeremy Pruitt, who is a coach and a teacher, might be the top coaching hire of the offseason.
* Barrett Sallee is the lead SEC college football writer for Bleacher Report. All quotes were obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted.
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An excellent story made its way around the Internet Thursday morning, courtesy of 247Sports' Kipp Adams, detailing the conflict and the journey of Ukrainian-born, class of 2015 offensive lineman Nikita Fair from Washington, Ga.
Not yet rated by 247Sports and without a current offer from an FBS school, Fair, who came to America in the fourth grade after his mother, Tanya, met and fell in love with an American man online, has already camped at Georgia and Alabama, seen interest from Vanderbilt, Clemson and Stanford and received letters from Big Ten powers such as Nebraska, Michigan and Michigan State.
For most prospects his age, football is the only thing that matters. Recruitment is the primary source of stress and unease. For Fair, however, the Russian military occupation of his home country, where his brother and sister still live, is weighing even heavier on his mind.
Fair explained his family's situation, per Adams:
It has been very hard for my family. My brother, who has a family of his own, and my sister are in Sevastopol, which is occupied by Russian military right now. The Russians have blocked access to the seaport and there is a heavy military presence right now. We cannot communicate because they cut off internet access in the Urkraine a week ago. We use Skype to communicate, so we have not spoken to them since.
"I am worrying 24/7 about them and this is strange to have these feelings about your family," Fair continued. "We do not know who is alive and who is dead."
With a heavy heart and an occupied mind, Fair will continue trying to make his way toward an FBS scholarship. He is a 6'5'', 285-pound offensive tackle at Washington-Wilkes Comprehensive High School, where he has started on the varsity football team since three games into his sophomore year.
European prospects were once a novelty, but they have begun to pop up en masse to make an impact at the FBS level.
German-born Bjoern Werner was the ACC Defensive Player of the Year and a Unanimous All-American for Florida State two seasons ago, parlaying that success into a first-round selection by the Indianapolis Colts. SMU's Margus Hunt, who hails from Estonia, was a second-round pick of the Cincinnati Bengals in the same draft class (2013).
This very recruiting cycle, Danish foreign exchange student Hjalte Froholdt, a 6'4'' defensive tackle at Warren Harding High School in Ohio, is a 4-star recruit and the No. 77 overall player on the 247Sports composite. He committed to Arkansas Dec. 2.
Fair has work to do before he reaches that level of prospect, but another season of practice and games at the high school level might be enough to earn him an FBS offer. Said Washington-Wilkes head coach Robbie Robinson of his Ukrainian-born tackle:
"He...get(s) better every time he takes the field."
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The Tennessee Volunteers made a huge splash in the recruiting world when they got 14 players to enroll in time for spring practice. Getting a few key players on campus early is a huge benefit for a team, and Tennessee took that to a whole new level.
Butch Jones addressed positions of need in this class, especially with offensive tackle Dontavius Blair. The 6'8" JUCO transfer should see time in the offensive line that lost a lot of talent.
Freshman wide receiver Josh Malone will be one of the stars of the already skilled receiver corps.
Watch Adam Kramer, Barrett Sallee, and Michael Felder break down the Tennessee Volunteers' key early enrollees.
Highlights courtesy of XOS Digital
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Well, that was a fun few weeks to pass the time between national signing day and spring practice.
According to Brett McMurphy and Chris Low of ESPN.com, the so-called "10-second rule," which would have prevented offenses from snapping the ball until 10 seconds have ticked off the play clock except in the final two minutes of each half, was tabled by the NCAA on Wednesday, one day before it was to be voted on by the playing-rules oversight panel.
It wasn't exactly surprising.
As my B/R colleague Ben Kercheval pointed out, the way the rule was conceived, the lack of evidence that hurry-up, no-huddle (HUNH) offenses put players at more of an injury risk and the lack of a coherent message during the politics phase doomed the rule from the get-go.
Those factors may have doomed the "10-second rule" permanently.
New-school coaches, including Rich Rodriguez who starred as Keanu Reeves in the Speed parody produced by the University of Arizona above, were justifiably angered by the way this was handled by the old-school guys.
Considering the rule was never discussed among the entire delegation at the American Football Coaches Association (AFCA) convention in January, it gives off the impression that the old-school guys were trying to pull a fast one on the "fastball" coaches.
Saban urged detractors of the rule to "use some logic" in an article by ESPN.com's Chris Low that was published shortly before the rule was tabled. He was referencing the overly simplistic idea that more plays create more of an injury risk.
That's accurate, but that's not an argument against HUNH offenses; that's an argument against football in general. In fact, CFBMatrix.com conducted a fantastic study, looking into injuries and pace of play, and suggested that bigger players playing in tighter spaces created more risk for injuries.
If player safety is that important, why is Saban the only coach in the conference in favor of the SEC—the nation's most physical football conference—adding a ninth conference game? Wouldn't that diminish the chances of scheduling a cupcake in favor of a game versus a conference foe with bigger, faster and stronger players?
Saban and Bielema lost this round, but there's more to come.
Next year isn't an "off year" for player-safety rules, so the old-school guys now have 365 days to come up with creative ways to slow down HUNH offenses. That means more studies into the subject, more headline-grabbing quotes designed to keep the debate at the forefront of the offseason discussion and more alternatives to the "10-second rule."
There may be some studies that suggest that hurry-up offenses create more injury risk, but those will likely be cancelled out by others, such as CFBMatrix.com's, that suggest otherwise.
Expect more honesty from the old guard moving forward. They don't like HUNH teams and want to slow them down.
What alternatives can be implemented?
College football could implement the NFL clock, which doesn't stop after first downs. Chains have to move on first down anyway, so the only real difference would be the clock moving while they set rather than stopping. The impact on fastball teams within each drive would be, at most, minimal; and the number of plays per game would drop, appeasing the old-school coaches.
The two-minute warning could also be implemented. That would give coaches another timeout late in each half, when players are typically worn out. A built-in break would allow substitutions and tired players a chance to get a breather. That would promote player safety and allow coaches to make schematic adjustments at critical times in each game.
Or just add one or two 30-second timeouts to the mix. One per half, two that can be used at any time during the game, whatever the compromise is; another short timeout would solve a lot of problems. If a player is gassed and can't get off the field, he would be able to. If a coach can't adjust to a team that's going warp speed at a critical time, he would be able to.
These are all options that will be discussed but don't expect the "10-second rule" to be in the mix. It was an ill-conceived rule from the get-go that would define segments of the game that would hurt all coaches, not just coaches who employ HUNH defense.
No, not many teams snap within 10 seconds anyway. But if coaches are down 14 with four minutes to play, they need to hurry—regardless of the scheme employed.
Saban and Bielema lost this round, and the "10-second rule" is hopefully gone for good, but the pace-of-play argument will be here for a while.
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Derrick Green may be the next in line for No. 1 duties at Michigan, but don’t dismiss De’Veon Smith from the conversation—the sophomore could be the Wolverines’ top option in 2014.
Lost along the way, the following information rarely gets mentioned while discussing the backfield: Per 247Sports, Smith, a 4-star recruit, was the No. 15-ranked running back of 2013.
Green, a 4-star recruit, was ranked No. 8. However, Rivals.com crowned him as the class’ best, providing a favorable tilt in his perception and leaving Smith on the backburner in the eyes of some fans.
At this point, it’s weighing 1A vs. 1B.
Now sophomores, each have demonstrated enough on the field to command a premium role in Doug Nussmeier’s offense, which should feature most of the fleet rather than one or two.
Per Angelique S. Chengelis of The Detroit News, the coaching staff’s new arrival said the following about the current state of the backfield:
We haven’t established a runner. There’s a group of running backs right now, and that will be an interesting competition to watch develop.
You’d like to use multiple backs. You look at the pounding the running backs take these days and how physical the game is. One back carrying the load all the time makes it awful difficult to stay healthy and sustain success over a season. I think you can accomplish the same things as an offense and get more guys touches.
It’s spring, so of course there’s an open competition.
As capable as the next guy, Smith should get his share of looks as Nussmeier and Brady Hoke further develop running strategy, which could easily flourish with Smith as the lead act.
Winged Helmet to Winged Helmet
Despite Team 134’s agonizingly inefficient rushing attack, there were late positives—Green and Smith. Honestly, Nussmeier can't go wrong with either one. And as mentioned above, he plans to fully extend his resources.
Plenty of totes are on the way.
In 2013, neither back was given a true chance to excel. Al Borges, Nussmeier's predecessor, absolutely refused to let anyone but Fitz Toussaint have carries during the heart of the schedule—and that's when the Wolverines' run game appeared at its weakest.
The following table compares Smith's freshman limited numbers to those of Green:
This table highlights noteworthy efforts:
As the evidence shows, stat-wise, neither were blockbuster runners this past fall.
However, the paltry lines were most definitely products of poor player management and a reluctant, stubborn coordinator. They're far more efficient and exciting than the samples suggest.
This past fall, pass blocking from anyone wearing maize and blue was scarce—linemen were terrible, tight ends had issues and running backs certainly weren't offering much assistance.
That being said, based on appearances, Smith showed promise in that department.
Green is more of a giver, whereas Smith seems to be comfortable in either situation. By virtue of talent, it'd be easy to view Smith as the lead-blocker type for Green, the "featured" runner of the set.
But be careful when attempting to cast the former Warren Howland star.
He's more than a speed bump for linebackers trying to sack the quarterback or nail Green—he's a multidimensional threat waiting to be let loose.
As soon as he was announced as the new guy, his old work was reviewed.
Needless to say, researchers weren't disappointed. Nussmeier's track record with running backs such as Eddie Lacy, T.J. Yeldon, Jalston Fowler, Dee Hart (remember him?) and Altee Tenpenny, among others, spoke for itself.
Alabama may have had NFL-ready O-lines, but it also had NFL-ready backs.
Nussmeier obviously realized something rather simple, and he ran with it—pairing quick, instinctive runners with size behind big athletic guys up front equals lots of yards and touchdowns.
Practical with his approach, Nussmeier intelligently distributed carries and allowed for development. He rarely fed the ball to an incapable suitor.
Whomever had the hot feet received the work. That's how Michigan's offense should have operated this past fall...but with Nussmeier, perhaps later is better than never.
A relationship with a player-minded, results-oriented coordinator should catapult Smith this season—if not past Green, with him to the top in terms of team production.
Together, they can restore power to the backfield.
But one of them must lead, and it doesn't necessarily have to be Green.
Follow Bleacher Report's Michigan Wolverines football writer Adam Biggers on Twitter @AdamBiggers81.
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Imagine a future where the Big Ten stretches across half the country, engaging the rich markets of the East Coast as well as the core Midwestern audience. Starting in 2014, we now have just that in this grand old football conference.
Now imagine a future where the Big Ten competes with other national power conferences to push at least one team into a college football playoff. As the tension builds through November toward conference championship weekend, the new East and West divisions will be in the spotlight starting this fall.
Now finally, imagine a future where the top contenders in the playoff chase hold the national television audience captive on the biggest stage of Saturday Night Football through the month of November. That will also finally come your way...
Wait, what? The Big Ten Conference still has that antiquated, old policy about no night games after the end of October? Well, actually, that policy is not really in place anymore, but television partners like BTN and ESPN/ABC have not gotten out of old habits yet and picked Big Ten night games for November.
With new conference partners creating many more overall conference games and the need to stay in the national spotlight highlighted by the new playoff system, now is the time for Jim Delany and the conference schools to force television's hand and push for a huge November night game presence. Final prime-time schedules will be released in April or May, and perhaps fans can help push for this and finally make this happen in 2014.
If you like the Big Ten and want it to succeed in the college football playoff world, 2014 has to be the year when November night games begin to become a regular thing. Let's take a look at what games and competitors could benefit the most this upcoming season.
After being run through the gauntlet at the NFL combine, Pac-12 players will now be put to the same tests at a pro day in the comfort of where they played their college ball.
For some guys, such as UCLA's Anthony Barr or Oregon State's Brandin Cooks, the event will be more or less a light workout as both players looked outstanding in front of NFL scouts in February, thus eliminating some of the pressure of needing to perform well in the second go-round.
Another group of players, which might include Oregon's Terrance Mitchell or Arizona State's Carl Bradford, the pro day may not offer a chance for much movement. Both guys will likely be taken in Day 3 of the 2014 NFL draft, and unless each can dramatically improve upon what he showed in Indianapolis, there won't be a lot of pressure here.
Who we're targeting are the players bursting with potential who may have seen their stock fall at the NFL combine. Not that Mitchell or Bradford don't have a chance to be great pros, but this particular group will be feeling the heat at the players' respective pro days because of the perception of how they should perform.
In other words, these five players have the most to gain with a big pro day, but they could also see their draft stocks fall with mediocre efforts.
Here are five former Pac-12 players who need monster pro days.
Speedy Noil is a 5-star receiver who is headed to Texas A&M. Already enrolled for the spring, he is sure to make a big impact on the Aggies offense.
At about 5'11" and 180 pounds, Noil was a monster at Edna Karr High School in New Orleans. He has outstanding speed and quickness, plus his great instincts and elusiveness help him to make rare plays with the ball.
While he played quarterback for a good portion of his career in high school, he has the makings of a dynamic college receiver. He shows a lot of those traits during his impressive highlight tape.
All recruiting ratings and rankings are from 247Sports. Player evaluations are based on review of tape at Scout.com, Rivals and 247Sports.
Every school has its traditions, so it's up to the university to carry on those traditions through the years.
The Clemson Tigers have a tradition to honor the football team's biggest victories. Every time the Tigers beat a ranked team on the road, they add a tombstone to "The Graveyard."
In the final game of the 2013-14 football season, Clemson knocked off No. 7 Ohio State in the Orange Bowl. Now there is a tombstone to commemorate the Tigers' 40-35 victory:
The tombstone carries on the tradition, and it will let fans reflect back on the only BCS bowl win in program history.
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With a record 98 underclassmen headed for the NFL draft, several positions are crowded, leaving players from the Big Ten Conference and across the country battling to keep their stock high.
Some of the Big Ten's top prospects, like Penn State's Allen Robinson, Ohio State's Carlos Hyde and Indiana's Cody Latimer, were able to show off their skills at the NFL combine.
However, all three were left with room to improve during their upcoming pro days.
Additionally, several top players, like Michigan State's Denicos Allen, were left out of the combine altogether.
We'll break down the situation facing those four former Big Ten stars, as well as a few others.
Spring practices are set to begin soon, and this is an important time for a team. It's when a coaching staff can start to develop players, see which positions are weak and strong depth-wise and also install new schemes.
Spring practices are also important because they allow coaches to get their hands on early enrollees from the newly signed recruiting class.
Florida State has a dazzling running back who is already on campus, while Texas A&M has two 5-star recruits who chose to head to College Station early to compete for playing time this fall. Plus, Penn State has a receiver who will surprise a lot of people this spring.All recruiting ratings and rankings are from 247Sports. Player evaluations are based on review of tape at Scout.com, Rivals and 247Sports.