NCAA Football News

Meet Nick Bhardwaj, the 25-Year-Old CEO Who Won a College Football Spring Game

Nick Bhardwaj will always remember the Powerade bath at Arkansas State. Not because of how cold it was on the back of his neck—or the fact that the sideline cleared out shortly before he was dosed in liquid ice—but because his defense, on his call, gave up a touchdown before the victory celebration began.

“I was pissed,” Bhardwaj said with utmost seriousness. “The guy came over to take my headset with two minutes left and I didn’t know why. Then everyone next to me started to clear out and I had an idea it was coming. To be honest, though, I was still thinking about the score we gave up.”

Such mentalities are typically acquired over time. It has taken Nick Saban decades to master the art of the unhappy sports drink shower, but not the 25-year-old CEO from San Francisco given the keys to a football Ferrari.

It took him just one afternoon.


The Head Coach

To put it bluntly, Bhardwaj’s resume is much more interesting than yours or mine. Still in his mid-20s, he’s now embedded in the app world, leading a tech company—Beyond Games—that is hoping to make a splash in the mobile and tablet arenas.

Before that, he was a college dropout at San Jose State after dabbling with the idea of practicing law. “It wasn’t for me,” Bhardwaj said. “So I made a change.”

From that change he turned his focus to online poker, putting his analytic prowess to good use and even playing full-time for a while. Once he got tired of that, he tried his luck as a part-time high school teacher—just your run-of-the-mill transition.

Eventually he touched down into the tech world, which is where his current professional interests lie. For a weekend, however, he put those duties aside, picking up a headset and putting down the endless stream of code.

He was the head coach of a college football team, at least for one day.

It was an opportunity made possible by Arkansas State. The Red Wolves auctioned off a coaching spot in their annual spring game on eBay, a move that drew significant attention and intense bidding.

The posting caught the eye of Bhardwaj as he stumbled upon it while searching for his daily dose of sporting news. A junkie of all sports, the possibility of coaching a major college football team in its spring game was instantly attractive.

“This was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity,” Bhardwaj said. “A lot of my mentors and people close to me have stressed the importance of building experiences. There’s no materialistic thing that could replace something like this.”

As the bidding increased—starting at $2,500 and bumping up throughout the week—Bhardwaj kept up the ante. He didn’t quite know when he might stop, because how do you put a cap on something so unique?

“My brother sent me a message telling me to check out this awesome opportunity and included a link to the Arkansas State eBay page,” Bhardwaj laughed. “I responded, ‘Dude, I know. I’m the leading bidder right now.’”

When the auction finally closed, Bhardwaj’s bid of $11,700 was victorious. With his date on the sideline sealed, it was time to get to work.

This was not a publicity stunt for him or a means to get more eyeballs on a business he hopes to grow. This was a young man with means, a passion and the chance to do something no one else had done.

Instead of focusing on the way to seize the opportunity and market the business he runs, Bhardwaj took this time to prepare. He spent the next few days learning about the Arkansas State program, the offense and the style.

“Madden and NCAA are one thing, Bhardwaj said of the popular video games. “But I wanted to know what would happen when you got into the thick of it.”

There’s a reason for this, a mentality that explains why someone with no affiliation with Arkansas State—let alone someone who had never stepped foot in the state of Arkansas before the weekend—would spend a generous down payment on a luxury car for access to a program he didn’t live and breathe.

It’s in his blood to coach, to lead and to love sports. It’s why when asked about his sporting idols he fired off the names “Belichick” and “Walsh” rather than the players were accustomed to hearing.

Perhaps the leap from head chair to headset is smaller than one might believe. At the very least, Bhardwaj was anxious to find out.


The Experience

Let’s start with the home movie theater capable of seating 20 people in the booster’s home. That might seem like an odd place to begin when discussing the opportunity to coach Arkansas State’s spring game, but it’s also a perfect place to begin. 

Bhardwaj’s experience in Jonesboro, Ark., included accommodations at the home of a nearby Red Wolves’ booster. This home—or perhaps compound is more appropriate—included access to a home theater, golf simulator, popcorn machine and just about every whiskey you could ask for.

The infinity pool? It’s under construction. In case you were curious.

He was there for the game, but as he soon found out, his experience included so much more. There was the wining and dining, the handshakes, the press conferences and endless amounts of free swag in his very own locker. But he was there to work.

Once he dropped off his luggage, he became a sponge.

In the days leading up to the spring game, Bhardwaj followed first-year head coach Blake Anderson everywhere, asking questions and pushing his involvement in the process as far as they were willing to allow.

“Wherever coach Anderson went, I was there,” Bhardwaj said. “They were handing me the exact same things that they were handing every other coach in the meeting. It was fantastic.”

His desire to learn led to access the average college football fan would die for.

He sat in with offensive coordinator Walt Bell—a coach he guarantees will be leading his own team sooner than later—and he absorbed the offense, the calls, the checkdowns and the mindset that comes with a high-power spread offense. One night, after he came back from dinner, he and Bell spent time watching tape well past midnight. 

Watching film breakdown with @NickLukan and ASU Offensive Coordinator, Walt Bell.

— Justin Lewis (@JustinLewisLR) April 18, 2014

If he wasn’t learning about the spread or getting a crash course on special teams, he was likely in the defensive room. Defensive coordinator Joe Cauthen spent hours with Bhardwaj, breaking down the various coverages and blitz packages at his disposal. It would come in handy later on.

“When they weren’t busy, I wanted to learn,” Bhardwaj said. “Anyone I could have access to, I listened to. They were really open to helping me.”

Such help included plenty of hours in the film room. Altogether, Bhardwaj tallied roughly 10 hours of film in Jonesboro: Three hours with coaches, three hours by himself in Arkansas State’s state-of-the-art viewing chamber and four more hours ‘after hours’ as he vacuumed up more knowledge heading into the game.

He loved every second of it.


The Game 

His pregame speech could have been better, at least by his own accord. But with his moment in front of his team shared—and with the film room sessions behind—it was time for Bhardwaj’s sideline debut.

His team, the Black team, was going up against the Red team. In a surprise move, former Arkansas State coaching legend Larry Lacewell was on the opposing sideline, hoping to spoil the young man’s coaching debut.

Lacewell wasted little time putting the new head coach on his heels, running a fumblerooski out of the wishbone in his very first drive for big yardage. The game was moving fast, and he had a hard time staying with it at first.

“It took me a bit of time,” Bhardwaj said. “The whole first quarter I felt like I was 10 seconds behind on everything. I wasn’t seeing the right play immediately, and it was frustrating. I’m not a guy who likes to feel lost like that.”

Soon, however, the Black team took over and Bhardwaj settled in.

As part of the experience, Bhardwaj was able to communicate through the headset and identify certain matchups he thought his team could expose. He also made play suggestions and had the final say on all fourth-down calls.

I’m sorry to disappoint you, video-game fans. But he did not decide to go for it on fourth-and-goal from the 19-yard-line in the first quarter.

His call sheet—which he brought home with him—included roughly 60 plays, 30 on offense and 30 on defense. As more plays were called from this sheet and he logged more on-field minutes, the game started to slow down.

The Black team’s offense got rolling—in large part because of quarterback Fredi Knighten’s big afternoon—which meant it was time to change it up. It was time for a trick play.

The situation, one Bhardwaj identified before the game, called for it.

Shortly after the second-string team was giving way for the third-stringers, Bhardwaj called for a halfback pass. After throwing to running backs in the flat all day, he felt the opportunity for something more was there.

“I wanted to ensure that there was a change on the field with the players and that we had a down where they wouldn’t be sending pressure,” Bhardwaj said on calling the trick play. “So we ran it on first down.”

The result was a picture-perfect 70-yard touchdown pass from the back, one Bhardwaj knew they had well before the pass was ever thrown. The film hours had paid off.

“The corner and the safety bit and the closest defender was 25 yards away,” Bhardwaj said. “It ended up working out perfectly.”

On defense, Bhardwaj called five blitzes on the afternoon. The first four worked out brilliantly, ending in three sacks and a batted pass. The last blitz called, which came as the game was winding down, ended up resulting in a long score for the Red team—one of their few big plays of the day.

Moments later, the Powerade waterfall engulfed the man who was still dwelling over his decision to send pressure.

Nick Bhardwaj just got the Powerade bath...

— Chris Hudgison (@ChrisHudgison) April 19, 2014

Despite his mixed emotions at the time, Bhardwaj led the Black team to a comfortable 48-17 victory. It wasn’t even close. His experience—one that proved to be much more than a fan simply enjoying life on the sideline—was complete.

“It was one hell of an experience,” Bhardwaj said. “These guys at Arkansas State were willing to help and were truly genuine. I hope this is a relationship I can continue with the school.”

As for the prospects of coaching and a life in sports, Bhardwaj didn’t completely close it out. His obsession with numbers and analytics certainly has a place in all sports, especially in an era where numbers rule. He also could see himself getting into high school coaching if the opportunity ever presented itself down the line.

For now, however, it’s back to the real world—back to San Francisco. Back to lead a company on the verge of breaking through in a crowded market. The college dropout turned poker player turned teacher turned CEO can officially add head coach to his resume, although it’s off to his next endeavor.

“I am retired,” Bhardwaj said. “For now.”

All quotes obtained firsthand unless stated otherwise.

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SEC Football: Things We Learned from 2014 Spring Games

Eleven of 13 SEC spring games are already in the books (Texas A&M will not play one, due to renovations at Kyle Field), and the two that aren't, at Arkansas and Kentucky, involve teams that went 0-16 in conference play last season and are 2-30 in that regard since 2012.

So now feels like a fair enough time to reflect.

With so much turnover within the conference—especially at quarterback—the SEC feels more wide open in 2014 than it has in years past. That holds doubly true after the spring game at Alabama, where AJ McCarron was sorely missed under center.

But other offenses did not look quite so rusty, and some looked downright impressive in their first public sample before the season.

How much that means is up for debate (and different in every case), but after Jameis Winston parlayed his great spring game into a Heisman Trophy and national title at Florida State last season, we would be remiss to ignore any big-time performances.

Here's what spring season has taught us. 

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Arkansas Is the Latest SEC School to Have a Mascot-Themed Car

We have already seen a half Alabama/Auburn car driving around SEC states, now we have this wonderful masterpiece from the University of Arkansas. 

[Clay Travis]

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Alabama Signs Multimedia Extension with Learfield Sports for Up to $160M

According to a report by Michael Smith of SportsBusiness Journalthe University of Alabama is set to sign a lucrative new multimedia extension with Learfield Sports, which is worth between $150 million and $160 million over the next 10 years.

Per the report:

The University of Alabama is set to capitalize on its success over the last five years by signing one of the nation’s most lucrative multimedia rights deals with Learfield Sports worth at least $150 million to $160 million over 10 years.

...The new financial terms of $15 million to $16 million a year double Alabama’s guarantee previously and put the Tide among the top three schools in multimedia rights revenue behind Texas and Notre Dame, both of which have unique TV arrangements that boost their overall figure.

Learfield has worked with Alabama since 1998 and is now set to continue that relationship until 2024. The Crimson Tide's success over the past five years, when they have won three national titles, make this raise and extension understandable for both parties.

"A lot of things have changed since the last time we negotiated a deal," said Alabama athletic director Bill Battle, according to Smith's report. "This option gave us a chance to look around the marketplace and see how things look now versus five years ago.

"Alabama has been on a pretty good roll since then."

Even before the arrival of Nick Saban (in 2007) and the run of success he has found the past five years, Alabama has long been a name-brand program whose multimedia rights are ostensibly coveted. However, the Mike Shula era in the mid-2000s was one of the most average in program history, which helps explain why the Tide were hitherto so far behind the highest-earning multimedia deals.

Now Alabama will reportedly be one of the top three schools in America in this respect, alongside Texas and Notre Dame. However, both of those programs are bolstered by their TV arrangements (with NBC Sports and ESPN, via The Longhorn Network, respectively) which inflate the bottom line.

Alabama has no such unique arrangement, although this fall it will begin its relationship with the forthcoming SEC Network. Per the report, the only difference between this deal and the previous one between Alabama and Learfield—other than the annual guarantee increase—is that "third-tier" football and basketball games are now controlled by the SEC Network rather than Learfield.

Because each contract is unique and includes different rights to different things, it is difficult to compare them straight up. According to Smith, however, Alabama will now be the clear leader for traditional arrangements (as opposed to those of Texas and Notre Dame), with Ohio State and Georgia both trailing at close to $11 million per year.

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Are College Football Spring Games Becoming Irrelevant?

As spring football games wrap up this week, think about what the biggest, most memorable story of college football’s spring was.

Think about it, and think hard. Was it a player emerging as a superstar? A key position battle? A team that looked lost?

Or was it a cat?

If you said a cat, you’d probably be correct. Nebraska coach Bo Pelini blew up Twitter during the BCS national championship game when he interacted with parody account @FauxPelini, famous for its avatar featuring Pelini and a cat.

And the Huskers’ combustible coach took the joke to the next level last week, when he entered Nebraska’s spring game holding his cat over his head, Lion King-style.

Was it funny? Yes. Did it show wry, self-deprecating humor? Absolutely.

Did it have any impact on what the Huskers will become or could become this fall? Nope. Nada. Zip. Zilch.

The fact that Pelini and his furry, feline friend were the biggest story of spring games shows just how irrelevant those games truly are. Sure, they create buzz and serve as an oasis in the middle of spring for pigskin-starved college football fans. But the stories that come out of them are few and far between.

If college football programs really wanted to reward their fans, they’d end spring football with real, meaningful competition, something that doesn’t truly exist.

Make no mistake, fans do care about spring football, which is borne out just by looking at attendance figures. Alabama’s A-Day game attracted 73,506 fans (which was 19,000 below the program’s previous high of 92,310, set three years ago). Across the state, Auburn drew 70,465 fans, and Penn State drew 72,000 for James Franklin’s first spring game as Nittany Lions head coach.

25 programs attracted at least 10,000 fans.

But what do those who show up get for their troubles? Not much.

With most spring games televised or available online, cautious coaches have little reason to give their fall opponents anything to study. Offenses are vanilla, with few flashy plays or new concepts.

Defenses are basic as well.

Due to fear of injury, quarterbacks are rarely “live.” Clemson’s defense piled up 14 “sacks” in its spring game without ever tackling a quarterback.

Squads are often mixed and matched, with some programs “drafting” their teams from the available roster and others pitting their No. 1 offense against their No. 2 defense and vice versa.

By the middle of the third quarter, the clock is running, the fans have decamped to their tailgates and players who make even the sharpest of beat writers say “Who?” are in the game and making plays. Better get a look at them now, because they won’t have any impact in the fall.

The final score is often utterly meaningless as well. Maryland, for example, saw the White team defeat the Red team by a final score of 187-143.

How did that happen, you ask? Coach Randy Edsall used a scoring system that counted plays from previous practices and scrimmages, rewarding both the offense and the defense for big plays.

Here’s a hint: If you need a scorecard to keep score in your spring game, those in attendance are going to be lost, too.

How do you fix spring games, you ask?

Make them matter by turning them into outside competition.

How much fun would it have been to see Clemson-Auburn this weekend? How about Alabama-Florida State? Is that something you might be interested in? Of course it is.

Giving teams an opportunity to finish spring with a controlled scrimmage against a regional rival is an idea that would give college football fans something special to savor in spring.

With college football moving toward expanded conference schedules and the need for many programs to play seven home games to maximize revenue, regional rivalries are few and far between.

A home-and-home series like Clemson-Georgia is the exception, not the rule, and both programs had to work hard to fit the series into their slates. Neutral-site games like the Chick-fil-A Kickoff and Cowboys Classic are far more common. They’re exciting, but they’re typically one-game contracts, keeping rivalries from blooming.

Even with restrictions, seeing Alabama travel to Florida State for a spring showdown (Jimbo vs. Saban) would be fascinating. Fans could surely handle quarterbacks not being “live” if it meant seeing Jameis Winston squaring off against the Crimson Tide’s stingy defense.

Programs could sign two-year home-and-home contracts. ESPN would froth at the mouth to televise the concept and add revenue to programs’ coffers (ideally, programs could charge a reduced rate and split the gate).

But what of the fans who’d be robbed of a chance to see their local team on their turf? Simple. The spring game is the 15th practice of spring. Turn the 10th or 14th practice into a stadium practice and throw open the gates, inviting all inside.

It’d increase visibility and goodwill for programs and give fans something to truly get excited about during spring.

Outside competition would be fun and meaningful, and it is the best way to fix a concept which is quickly becoming irrelevant.

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Texas vs. Baylor Rivalry Heating Up Is Just What Big 12 Football Needs

The best postgame comments are the ones you least expect. On Saturday, no one was expecting Texas linebacker Steve Edmond to take his shot at Baylor. 

Following the Longhorns' spring game, Edmond, apparently unprovoked, told reporters he still felt the sting of last December's 30-10 loss to the Bears that helped decide the Big 12 title. Interestingly, he didn't actually play against Baylor last season because of a lacerated liver he sustained the previous week in a win against Texas Tech.

Here are Edmond's comments from Mike Finger of the San Antonio Express-News

I really don’t like Baylor. I still feel they’re trash.

Y’all think it’s funny, but I’m dead serious. They’ve had some good players. … But I don’t understand how we lost to Baylor.

Baylor gets a win and act like they haven’t won before. They won it. So what? They still suck to me.

Not surprisingly, Baylor's players weren't impressed by Edmond's comments: 

For anyone curious, Baylor and Texas will meet Oct. 4 in Austin, so get your popcorn ready, because it's going to be spectacular. 

First, a hearty congratulations to Baylor is in order. It's not often you draw the ire of someone from Texas, so the Bears have truly made it to the top of the mountain. And, as B/R's Adam Kramer previously wrote, they are there to stay

Secondly, Edmond's comments weren't the smartest if recent history is taken into consideration. In three of the past four meetings, Texas has lost to Baylor by an average of 17 points. Edmond's tired of it, though, and he's calling his shot.

If you're a Texas fan, the past three years have angered you too. No team in the Big 12 moves the interest meter like Texas, especially an angry Texas. The Big 12 needs that to generate interest coming off a season when conference perception was bad. As Travis Haney of ESPN tweets, Baylor vs. Texas is turning into a fun rivalry that could move into Texas vs. Texas A&M's old slot:

Texas and A&M won't be playing anytime soon, despite their own war of words, so the conference needs another lively rivalry besides the Red River Shootout Rivalry Showdown.

Head coach Charlie Strong will likely get in Edmond's ear about his comments. He's also likely to tell Edmond to channel that anger in a constructive way this offseason to give his team an edge. The biggest knock on the Horns from the past three years is that they haven't played with one.

The same couldn't be said about Strong's Louisville Cardinals, especially in bowl wins over Florida and Miami. For Strong and his players, those bowls were extra personal. 

Now, Strong is working from the inside-out to change the culture at Texas. Edmond's comments are only a reflection of that, but it would appear the "nice guy" days in Austin are over. 

The term "class" is overrated anyway in a game where the objective is to violently hit the opponent. Besides, Baylor players could have been classy and refused to dignify the comments. Instead, some pointed to the scoreboard, and you can bet head coach Art Briles is going to have those quotes posted around the locker room.

Now there's a juicy storyline for the next several months. 


Ben Kercheval is a lead writer for college football at Bleacher Report. All quotes cited unless obtained firsthand. 

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How Brian Kelly Can Solve Quarterback Problem Before the Start of the Season

Fifteen practices later, Everett Golson is still standing. The quarterback entrusted with the Irish football program made it through spring practice after failing to make the grade last May, an academic casualty that derailed the Irish before the 2013 season started.

Now he's tasked with a different challenge: winning a quarterback battle not many people saw coming. 

Golson rejoined the program in January, returning to Notre Dame as he pledged he would. He did his best not to throw away the 2013 season, spending 10 weeks with quarterback guru George Whitfield in San Diego. But while Golson's return had him looking like a savior to a program without a quarterback that's taken a competitive snap, he returns to a battle far more competitive than many expected. 

If you're looking for a sign of program strength, viable options at quarterback is a good indicator. But that asset can turn to a liability pretty quickly, and Irish fans witnessed something similar just a few years back. 

It may feel like an eternity ago, but the last time Notre Dame had two scholarship quarterbacks in spring practice, Dayne Crist and Tommy Rees were learning Brian Kelly's system together. There couldn't have been more disparate quarterbacks on a roster. Crist, a well-put-together junior, was a 5-star recruit handpicked by Charlie Weis who looked the part of an NFL quarterback. Rees, a scrawny early-enrollee freshman, looked like a kid plucked from the dorm league with scholarship offers only modestly better. 

But pitfalls early in the 2010 season had Irish fans grumbling about Crist, even before a second major knee injury ended his first season as the Irish's starting quarterback. And while Kelly kept the status quo intact by naming Crist the team's starting quarterback entering the 2011 season, the decision lasted exactly 30 minutes, with the Irish head coach pulling the plug at halftime after Crist completed less than half his passes and threw an interception in the end zone against South Florida. 

To compare Golson to Crist is a major stretch. Golson led Notre Dame to the BCS title game in his debut season, while Crist completed just 10 passes as a redshirt freshman backing up Jimmy Clausen. But Malik Zaire's strong spring game made it clear that the sophomore quarterback plans on doing more than just talk about winning the quarterback job, even if it appeared that Golson was entrenched at the position. 

We will hear nothing official between now and August about a position battle that may or may not be open. But leadership is needed out of the quarterback position, and while Kelly owes nobody a decision on his starting quarterback, his team will be looking to the position to run the offseason workouts that will continue to build the foundation of this program.

That balance has made things interesting in summers past. And in a program that stresses competition, fostering a battle while maintaining stability is a delicate balance, one that Kelly hasn't always navigated properly. 

Crist left the program after 2011, choosing to play out his fifth year under the head coach who recruited him to South Bend. Andrew Hendrix did the same this winter, heading to Miami (Ohio) to join Chuck Martin. Gunner Kiel left the program when he didn't believe he had a chance to play. While Irish fans feel certain that says more about the quarterback than the head coach, it's another datapoint that shows a rocky evolution at a position critical to overall success. 

In 2012, Golson was beloved by some fans for being the quarterback he wasn't. He wasn't Dayne Crist, the prototype who struggled processing the information presented to him on the field. He wasn't Tommy Rees, the overachiever who got every ounce out of his talents but made too many mistakes. 

Golson isn't the new kid on the block anymore. And he's used up any goodwill after his self-inflicted mistake cost him last season. Viewed as the missing link in 2013, he's going to need to play like it. 

Because at a program like Notre Dame, the backup quarterback is everybody's favorite player. And after flashing plenty of talent in the Blue-Gold game, Zaire is gaining fans quickly. 

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Auburn Football: QB Nick Marshall Ready for Monster 2014 Season

Auburn quarterback Nick Marshall jumped onto the scene in 2013 as he led the Tigers to a 12-2 season and an appearance in the BCS National Championship Game. The senior is gearing up for a big 2014 season as he hopes to lead Auburn back to the title game and this time walk away a champion.

What kind of stats will Marshall put up in 2014?

Watch as B/R's Michael Felder and Barrett Sallee break down what to expect from the dual-threat QB this upcoming season.


Highlights courtesy of XOS Digital.

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Will Oregon Ducks Steal 5-Star Dual-Threat QB Kyler Murray out of Texas?

Dual-threat QB Kyler Murray recently took an unofficial trip to Oregon. The Ducks have had some success recruiting nationally, but it would be huge if they could land the 5-star, Allen, TX native. 

Murray is a true dual-threat, throwing for 46 touchdowns while running for 19. The 5'11" 170-pound athlete is a little undersized, but he makes up for it with incredible playmaking abilities. Can Oregon land Murray and does he have what it takes to be Marcus Mariota's replacement?

Check out Andrew Greif from The Oregonian break down the latest on Kyler Murray with Adam Lefkoe


Highlights courtesy XOs Digital

All rankings from 247 Sports Composite 

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Is Tarean Folston Unquestioned No. 1 RB for Irish?

Tarean Folston and Cam McDaniel will be the top returning running backs for the Fighting Irish in 2014. As a freshman last year, Folston improved every week. Look for him to continue building on that success this season. 

Folston has great potential in South Bend, but he may need to split time with Notre Dame's other running backs. Will Folston be the clear leader at the running back position and put up huge numbers his sophomore year? 

Check out Michael Felder and Barrett Sallee break down what to expect from Tarean Folston in 2014. 


Highlights courtesy XOs Digital.

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Auburn Football: Top Performers from the Tigers' Spring Game

AUBURN, Ala. — The Auburn Tigers elected to go with a starters vs. reserves game last Saturday at Jordan-Hare Stadium, which led to one of the most lopsided A-Day Games in school history.

The Blue Team starters, as expected, had no problem moving the ball and playing defense against their White Team backups. Auburn's starters put up 657 yards of total offense and led 44-3 at halftime, when most of the first team was pulled for the rest of the afternoon.

So what can you gather from a spring game that featured a 55-point margin of victory and a running clock for the entire second half?

While broad statements on the quality of the starters are probably not the wisest takeaways from A-Day, Auburn fans should focus on the individual playmakers from the high-scoring spring game.

Here are seven of Auburn's first-team players whose stock rose with their impressive performances in the defending SEC champions' spring practice finale.

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Karlos Williams: FSU RB Will Explode, Challenge for Heisman in 2014

FSU running back Karlos Williams is preparing for a monster 2014 season. The 6'1", 219-pound senior rushed for 730 yards and 11 TDs least season, but he had to split carries with former Seminoles RBs James Wilder Jr. and Devonta Freeman. 

What will Williams' stats look like this upcoming season? Could he compete for the Heisman?

Watch as B/R's Barrett Sallee and Adam Kramer break down what to expect from the the star running back in 2014.


Highlights courtesy of

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Virginia Tech Football: 4 Players to Watch in the Hokies' Spring Game

The Virginia Tech football team has just one week of practice left before the team’s spring game, and several players have really started to make it clear that they deserve attention in the spring’s final scrimmage.

The Hokies are still trying to replace quite a few playmakers from last year’s squad, and they’ve been fortunate that some guys have started to step up and fill those roles.

However, the quarterback position remains unsettled, making the spring game a crucial proving ground for the players vying to get consideration for the top job this fall.

Between the players that have the potential to evolve into stars on the field this fall and the two main competitors for the QB spot, there will be plenty of players to watch on April 26 when Tech takes the field.

Read on to find out exactly who deserves the attention.


Unless otherwise noted, all quotes come from the team’s media availability immediately after the Hokies’ third spring scrimmage.

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How Brady Hoke Can Solve Offensive Issues Before the Start of the Season

Offensive coordinator Al Borges paid the price for Michigan’s offensive inconsistency last season and was fired by Brady Hoke who replaced him with Doug Nussmeier from Alabama.

Nussmeier was hired to resurrect the Michigan running game to help the team compete in the new Big Ten East Division which now includes last year’s Big Ten champion Michigan State and runner-up Ohio State.

The offensive storylines out of spring practice revolved around the quarterback competition, the resurrected running attack and the emergence of freshman wide receiver Freddy Canteen.

But fans who attended the Michigan spring game hoping to see the newly minted offense roll up and down the field left disappointed.

On his first play from scrimmage, quarterback Devin Gardner threw an interception. The offense struggled to make first downs. Michigan running backs dove into the line of scrimmage struggling to find seams.

Things looked a lot like last season.

Here is what Brady Hoke needs to do fix the Michigan offense before next season.

Pick the Right Quarterback

Brady Hoke has been cagey on this all spring. Last week he said that Gardner would probably be his starter but that the competition was ongoing.

Devin Gardner poses an interesting problem heading into next season. His career experience and performance from last season make him the presumptive favorite to be the starter. But his confidence took a beating, and his demeanor in postgame press conferences revealed a player who was beat down by season’s end. He played admirably with an injured foot versus Ohio State but Michigan still fell short against its bitter rival. Gardner missed the bowl game rehabbing opening the door for Shane Morris to gain valuable experience.

It remains to be seen which quarterback style fits Nussmeier’s offense best. Morris closed the gap when Gardner was out at the tail of last season and both quarterbacks have worked equally with Nussmeier this spring. Borges paid the price for gradually implementing his offense—will Nussmeier choose Gardner who will be learning his third offensive scheme in his last season, or invest his time in a quarterback with multiple seasons of eligibility left?

Hoke and Nussmeier need to make a clear decision. Gardner is feeling the pressure—he acknowledged as much when he pushed himself to be ready and surprised his teammates and coaches by fully participating at the team’s first practice.

If Gardner can’t make the throws necessary in this new offense and his running ability isn’t valuable, then he needs to be replaced. It’s a decision that could threaten the team’s chemistry, but it may be time to move on with a new quarterback.


Solidify the Offensive Line

The offensive line was a disaster last season. A position group that needed a consistent group of starters to improve instead saw nine players rotate throughout the five starting positions because of injury and performance issues.

The projected starters are likely Erik Magnuson and Ben Braden at the tackles, Kyle Kalis and Kyle Bosch at the guards and Graham Glasgow at center. Jack Miller and Davis Dawson are also in the mix. The wildcard is freshman Mason Cole. Do the coaches risk having a true freshman play tackle while trusting him to protect the edge of the Michigan offensive line?

Miller took his lumps early last season but should be better prepared if needed to fill in at center or guard.

Last season, Michigan’s offensive line suffered from bad luck and poor play but the constantly morphing offensive attack didn’t help. Offensive linemen thrive on run blocking and endure pass blocking. Under Nussmeier, the offensive lineman should benefit from a more consistent running attack but will still need a more regular group of starters to be successful.

Hoke needs luck to avoid injuries but hiring Nussmeier was the right move to stabilize the offensive identity of his team. The team will miss tackles Taylor Lewan and Michael Schofield, but the added year of experience should help the returning players improve.

Damn the Torpedoes

Last season Michigan won early, barely eking out victories against teams with less talent. There was no impression of gradual improvement—one close call was followed by another until the wheels fell completely fell off in November with a 1-4 record.

Hoke needs to finish the Big Ten slate strong this season and he may need to let the offense struggle until Nussmeier’s new scheme gets on track.

The boos may rain down at Michigan Stadium but if early struggles lead to victories on the road later in the season versus Michigan State or Ohio State fans will forgive him.

When you're the coach at Michigan boos don't hurt you but repeated losses to Michigan State and Ohio State can be fatal.


Phil Callihan is a featured writer for Bleacher Report. Unless otherwise noted, all quotations in this article were obtained via Press Conferences or in person.

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Auburn's Defense Needs Improvements, but Tigers Have Talent to Succeed

The dominant storyline exiting Auburn's spring game was the play of the offense and quarterback Nick Marshall in particular, as Marshall lit up the Tigers defense with 236 passing yards and four touchdowns.

But that was against a unit that was littered with second-teamers and, because of various minor injuries on that side of the ball, some third-teamers.

When the first-team defense was on the field, it shined. The No. 1 unit gave up just three points—a 50-yard field goal by Daniel Carlson in the second quarter—against quarterback Jeremy Johnson and the second-team offense, and gave up just 73 yards in the first half.

This was without presumed starting defensive ends Carl Lawson and LaDarius Owens, both of whom skipped the game nursing injuries.

The strong play from the "ones" was something head coach Gus Malzahn expected.

"We kind of mixed and matched," he said. "With some guys that played with both groups. I do not read anything into the score. I think it is just a matter of both sides, at least with our 'ones' are better than they were last year at this time. It should be expected.”

So what went well for the Tigers?

The makeshift defensive line that saw defensive coordinator Ellis Johnson utilize his "rhino" package that features defensive tackle Gabe Wright at defensive end seemed to work well. On top of that, sophomore defensive end Elijah Daniel—who can also drop down and play defensive tackle in certain situations—had 2.5 tackles for loss, one sack and got consistent pressure.

Linebacker and defensive MVP of the game Kenny Flowers had seven tackles, 2.5 tackles for loss and one sack, proving himself to be a viable backup behind outside linebacker Kris Frost and middle linebacker Cassanova McKinzy.

The rebuilt secondary looked solid, with a converted wide receiver running with the "ones," breaking up two passes and looking very comfortable on the defensive side of the ball. Junior college transfer safety Derrick Moncrief looked comfortable as well, recovering a fumble and breaking up a pass starting at the boundary safety spot.

Auburn's starting defense has the chance to be really good in 2014, but the depth should be concerning.

The "twos" looked incredibly lost in the spring game.

Granted, they were facing Marshall and the first-team offense which returns eight of 11 starters from last season, but the second-team defense will have to step up and provide that quality depth this fall.

Luckily for Malzahn and Johnson, help is on the way.

Tre' Williams, a 5-star linebacker from Mobile, Ala., will add even more depth to the linebacking corps. Up front, the Tigers will benefit from the arrival of defensive ends Justin Thornton, DaVonte Lambert and Andrew Williams, as well as defensive tackle Dontavius Russell—all of whom are 4-star prospects. In the back end of the defense, 4-star corners Nick Ruffin, Kalvaraz Bessent and Stephen Roberts will provide quality depth once they arrive on campus.

Defense doesn't win championships anymore, "just enough" defense wins championships. What qualifies as "just enough" varies from team to team based on the offense a team runs. Auburn almost had enough last season and came within 13 seconds of claiming the national title.

It's still a work in progress in 2014, but the foundation is there. The first-teamers look like they've become more consistent, depth has been built along the defensive line thanks to some openings created from nagging injuries and there's help on the way this summer to finish off depth in the two-deep.

"Just enough" defense may become the reality for the Auburn Tigers in 2014.


* Barrett Sallee is the lead SEC college football writer for Bleacher Report. All quotes and spring game statistics were obtained firsthand, and all recruiting information is courtesy of


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Jordan Cronkrite Commits to Miami: Hurricanes Land Versatile 4-Star

Miami landed a talented local prospect Sunday when Jordan Cronkrite committed to the Hurricanes. The 4-star Westminster Christian School junior revealed his collegiate intentions on Twitter:

The 5'11", 196-pound playmaker is commitment No. 10 for Miami during the 2015 recruiting cycle. Cronkrite can play a variety of positions, exceling at running back and defensive back.

He rushed for 1,343 yards and 15 touchdowns in 2013. It was a breakout campaign in the offensive backfield for Cronkrite, who has steadily impressed as a receiving threat in high school.

His stat sheet includes 44 receptions for 706 yards and eight scores since 2011. Cronkrite presents a variety of options for the Hurricanes coaching staff.

He tallied 35 tackles, a sack and an interception on defense. His efforts also extend to special teams, where Cronkrite routinely makes an impact as a kick returner.

He's rated No. 22 among athletes in 247Sports' composite rankings, which list him at No. 34 overall in the Sunshine State. The Hurricanes now hold eight in-state commitments, including Winter Garden running back Dexter Williams.

Williams, rated the No. 5 player at his position in 247Sports' composite rankings, pledged to Miami earlier this month. His presence provides competition in the offensive backfield if that's where Cronkrite ultimately ends up.

The Hurricanes have picked up five commitments since March 20. Aside from Williams and Cronkrite, head coach Al Golden has added pledges from defensive end Scott Patchan (Tampa, Fla.), offensive tackle Hayden Mahoney (Malvern, Pa.) and tight end Bowman Archibold (Dade City, Fla.) in the past month.

Miami's 2015 class currently rates top 10 nationally in 247Sports' composite rankings.

Cronkrite committed to the Hurricanes from a collection of scholarship offers that includes Clemson, Florida State, Alabama and Oregon. 

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Will Muschamp Close to Solving Offensive Issues Before the Start of the Season

Until the results change in a game that actually matters, the Florida Gators will be considered a talented team with an offense that couldn’t move the ball the length of a coffee table. So, even though the Gators looked much improved offensively in the spring game a week ago, Florida fans still remember 122 passing yards in a loss to Georgia Southern.

You can almost envision Will Muschamp in a dungeon somewhere slaving over game film in hopes of finding the answer.

Truth is, there’s no magic wand that’s going to turn things around or make a Percy Harvin 2.0 and the second coming of Tim Tebow appear. The Gators can only keep doing what they’ve been doing, and that’s working hard under offensive coordinator Kurt Roper, buying into the new offense and eventually knowing the plays better than Aaron Craft knows Pi.

Over the next few months, players and coaches will have limited contact. That means until fall camp rolls around, it’s up to the players to put the work in and come together as a team to get this offense moving in the right direction. This time of year is all about timing and getting on the right page with your teammates, as quarterback Jeff Driskel told Robbie Andreu of Gator Sports.  

The summer is for timing on the offensive side. We’re going to have to throw a lot and get our timing down. You can’t go back into fall camp without being in rhythm. So we’re going to have to do that, but we’re used to that. We’ve done that the past few summers. It’s nothing new to us, and we’re looking forward to it.

Timing seems to be the key to making this offense work. The players and talent are there, but it’s a new system and a quarterback who has been out of action for nearly an entire season.

Driskel completed only 56.25 percent of his passes in the spring game, as many of his passes sailed out of bounds or were underthrown. Getting comfortable with everybody on the field, knowing when the ball is supposed to come out and where receivers like the football could improve Driskel by leaps and bounds, which improves the offense by a great deal.

Truthfully, if you look at the players on the roster and the progress they showed in the spring game, you shouldn’t be as concerned about this unit as you were a few months ago.

Tell Muschamp he can stop watching replays of the 48 combined turnovers over the last two seasons. Yes, the spring game is nothing more than a glorified practice, and the defense is as vanilla as it gets. However, keep in mind that the Gators would have struggled scoring on some high school teams last season.

There was confidence shown, receivers were actually holding onto the football and running backs were getting more than two yards and a cloud of dust. Even though they were playing against teammates, the Gators offense looked nothing like last year’s unit.

Muschamp told Jeff Barlis of ESPN how happy he is with the progress the players have made in a short amount of time.

I'm extremely pleased with the day offensively with 15 practices and how far we've come. I think you can attribute all that to [new coordinator] Kurt Roper and the offensive staff and the job they've done. 

Our kids have been very receptive and have confidence in what we're doing. I think it's a good fit moving forward.

With the jump the Gators have already made, it’s logical to believe that another three months would produce an offense that could score more than 17 points against Vanderbilt.  

Like it or not, Driskel has a lot of upside and a skill set that should thrive in this uptempo offense. The running back depth is loaded, with Kelvin Taylor leading the way. Demarcus Robinson has All-SEC wide receiver written all over him. The Gators also have an experienced offensive line that should fare much better in pass protection than a year ago.

Yes, the offense still has some tweaking that needs to be done. But you can at least sleep well at night knowing that Florida is ahead of the curve. There's a lot less offensive issues to worry about. 

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Pro Player Comparisons for College Football's Top 25 Stars

College football greatness doesn't always translate to NFL success. Just look at some of the players who won the Heisman Trophy in the past decade, as illustrious pro careers weren't in the cards for USC's Matt Leinart, Ohio State's Troy Smith or Florida's Tim Tebow.

Yet each time a college athlete achieves star status, the first thing we want to do is compare him to an NFL player as a way of gauging how likely it is he'll make it in the big leagues.

The current stars of college football face the same comparisons, as we have identified the pro player each most closely resembles in terms of size, skill and approach to the game.

(Note: Players are listed in alphabetical order, not in terms of ranking)

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Clemson Football: 4 Things Standing in the Way of an ACC Championship

The Clemson Tigers last won the ACC title in 2011. That was former quarterback Tajh Boyd's first full season as the starter and Sammy Watkins' freshman season.

In 2012 and 2013, the Tigers came up just short because they couldn't beat the Florida State Seminoles.

Now that FSU is coming off a national championship season and the Tigers are replacing several stars, can Clemson dethrone the 'Noles and take back the ACC?

Florida State isn't the only thing standing between Clemson and the ACC title. Here are four reasons why getting back to the ACC Championship Game—and winning it—won't be easy for the Tigers.

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Austin Joyner to Washington State: Cougars Land 4-Star ATH Prospect

Athleticism and versatility translate at any position in college football. One player who shows that as well as anyone is Austin Joyner.

The 4-star athlete is projected as an all-purpose back with the ability to play running back and cornerback. According to Adam Gorney of, he ultimately made the decision to play on defense and committed to do so with Washington State:

Joyner's 5'11", 186-pound frame makes him perfect for either position, but the Cougars clearly have an idea in mind for the class of 2015 recruit.

Even after posting 2,038 rushing yards and 24 total touchdowns at Marysville Pilchuck in Marysville, Wash., Joyner clearly decided to stay close to home as a defensive back.

Braulio Perez of Fox Sports notes the importance of the commitment for the Cougars:

David Krueger of The Herald reports that Being in the Pac-12 was one of the main reasons for Joyner announcing his commitment to Washington State:

I already saw all my options and had all the information I needed. No point in waiting. I just feel like I have a chance to play early there. And it's in the PAC-12, which is kind of what drove me away from Boise State.

I wouldn't go there if it was for offense. They don't run the ball enough. ... It's a good location. I kind of wanted to stay home and participate in stuff around here. I'm an outdoors person. I don't like the big city. I like places where I can go fishing and hunting.

Two of his biggest strengths following his junior season are his feet and explosiveness.

What might need improvement during his final campaign in high school is his change of direction, a crucial component for any cornerback. The growth for Joyner will be much steeper in his senior year now that he knows he's playing defensive back with the Cougars.

Competing in the Pac-12 against the likes of Oregon and some of the fastest uptempo offenses in the country, Joyner will need to progress rapidly to earn the starting role when he comes to Washington State.

If he can grow into a great corner for the Cougars, his commitment could help the program continue to progress toward being competitive in the conference. With Mike Leach slowly returning Washington State to relevance, Joyner might be another crucial component to making that happen.


Recruit rating and information courtesy of

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