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Nebraska Football: Special Teams Are Cornhuskers' Biggest Question in 2014

Nebraska football fans have been freaking out a little about injuries, and rightfully so. Over the course of the last week, Nebraska lost a likely starting nickel (Charles Jackson), "Mike" linebacker (Michael Rose) and backup I-back (Adam Taylor) to injury.

In addition, the Cornhuskers saw likely starting safety LeRoy Alexander suspended for the entire 2014 season.

The reaction was predictable:

These Nebraska football injuries need to stop, holy moly. Feel for the guys #huskers

— Brian McMahon (@B_MacMan) August 9, 2014

.@Pontifex Do you have any blessings that you can say for the Nebraska football team? Something for injuries would be best.

— Bo's cat Bo Purrini (@boshuskercat) August 9, 2014

Those losses are all important and could impact Nebraska significantly in 2014. However, there is one loss to injury that hasn’t gotten nearly enough attention—one that could cost Nebraska wins.

Gabe Miller.

Who, you might ask (go to 0:41 of the video for the uber-geek reference)? Well, he’s Nebraska’s long snapper, and Corn Nation's Brian Towle reports he’s going to be out for “a while.”

That’s bad news for a special teams department that should terrify Nebraska fans at almost every level.

About the only area where Nebraska excelled last season was on kickoffs courtesy of Mauro Bondi. Nebraska finished No. 10 nationally in touchback percentage on kickoffs at 61.54 percent. Nebraska was fairly average on kickoff returns (No. 41), opponents' kick returns (No. 41) and opponents' punt returns (No. 68).

And we know how disastrous Nebraska was at punt returns, where NU was No. 123 (!) nationally with 3.04 yards per return.

Former Nebraska coach Tom Osborne and Brandon Vogel of Hail Varsity have pointed out the critical importance of field position in a team’s ability to succeed.

So has this guy, but who has time for that?

The place-kicking job was already a huge worry. Nebraska coaches clearly did not have enough confidence in scholarship kicker Bondi, as they brought in transfer Pat Smith in 2013. He won the job—and ultimately the game for Nebraska at Penn State.

This year, the team has brought in another kicker in true freshman Drew Brown. While nothing has been announced yet, it’s hard not to see Brown having every chance to win the starting job.

That would mean Nebraska would be rolling into the 2014 season with a true freshman as a place-kicker. We saw last year how a win in overtime in a hostile environment rested on the foot of a kicker.

How much harder will that be if the kicker is less than a year removed from his high school senior prom—and with questions at long snapper to get him the ball in the first place?

So, let’s assess. Awesome at getting touchbacks on kickoffs. Average at best in other areas. Massive questions at place-kicker—either a true freshman or second-choice kicker and an untested long snapper—the one area where stability and confidence is desperately needed. Tack on a punt return game that was an unmitigated disaster last year.

Forget about worries in the secondary. If Nebraska fans are going to panic about something, panic about special teams.

 

For a different look at Nebraska football, check out The Double Extra Point.

Or you can use the Twitter machine to follow @DblExtraPoint.

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Clemson Football: Week 2 Fall Stock Report

The Clemson Tigers just wrapped up their second full week of fall camp and are now just two weeks away from a trip to Georgia to open the 2014 season. After unseasonably cool temperatures at the beginning of the month, the heat picked up over the past week and so did the intensity.

After a scrimmage on Wednesday, the Tigers had a light practice on Thursday and plan to do the same on Friday. Saturday will be Clemson's next scrimmage, and head coach Dabo Swinney certainly hopes it goes much better than Wednesday's effort. 

"We would not have beaten anyone today," Swinney told the assembled media after practice, per Brandon Rink of the Anderson Independent Mail. "We had way too many mistakes. It has been a good camp until today, but there were just too many errors in all phases of the game."

What disturbed Swinney the most, however, was the amount of penalties on both sides of the ball:

We had situations where the offense jumped on third and one. We had a defensive back line up offsides. We had too many interference penalties on defense. We had a couple of running backs put the ball on the ground. I am glad we didn’t play a game today.

Was it simply a matter of players hitting the wall, or is it the sign of an undisciplined team? Fortunately for Clemson, it has 21 scholarship seniors on the roster—most ever under Swinney—and veteran teams are generally more mature and disciplined. 

 

Injuries

After two weeks of practice, of course there are injuries. The Tigers, though, are not in bad shape at the present time.

Left tackle Isaiah Battle was one player who returned to full participation this week after battling an ankle injury. Battle needs the practice time, as he's entering his first full year as a starter.

Tight end Stanton Seckinger is out for 3-4 weeks after suffering an ankle injury. Seckinger was third on the depth chart entering fall camp, and his absence has opened the door for sophomore Jay Jay McCullough behind Jordan Leggett.  

Fellow tight end Sam Cooper, also battling an injury, continues to improve and practice in a limited capacity this week.

Wide receiver Charone Peake, who missed the majority of last season with an ACL injury and had minor knee surgery at the end of July, continues to run on the side and should be ready to go for the season opener. 

 

Offensive Line Coming Together

Once the 2013 season ended, there were many concerns surrounding Clemson on the offensive side of the ball. Obviously, many wondered who would replace Tajh Boyd at quarterback and Sammy Watkins at wide receiver.

But what about the offensive line? The Tigers lost Brandon Thomas and Tyler Shatley from what was a strong group in 2013. 

Clemson returned a lot of experience along the offensive line in 2014, but the biggest questions centered around who would man each tackle spot. 

Battle is an extremely talented athlete. At 6'6", 288 pounds, he sometimes struggles to keep weight on and would like to start the season at close to 300 pounds. Battle sometimes lacks focus and was suspended one game last season for punching an N.C. State player. If Battle can put it all together, he could be an All-American left tackle. 

The biggest surprise of fall camp, though, has been right tackle Joe Gore. Throughout the spring, Gore was locked into a battle with Shaq Anthony to start on the right side. Gore, however, appears to have moved ahead of Anthony.

"Joe Gore has been outstanding," said Swinney, per Nikki Steele of TigerNet. "He's been as good as anybody in camp."

That was Swinney's response when asked about the right tackle position. No mention of Anthony. Expect this battle to continue into the season with Anthony suspended for the season opener. 

A plethora of experience returns to man the interior of the offensive line. Junior Ryan Norton returns at center, but he could also see time at guard. The offensive coaching staff has moved around each of the interior linemen throughout the spring and fall camp as a way to find the best five linemen. 

David Beasley, Eric Mac Lain, Jay Guillermo, Kalon Davis and Tyrone Crowder will also battle for time at the guard spots. For now, it appears that Beasley and Davis are the starters, but Crowder is a player to keep an eye on. 

 

Camp Standouts

The first name that comes to mind is sophomore tight end Jordan Leggett.

This is a recurring theme. Leggett was also terrific this spring.

On a team that lost over 50 percent of its receiving offense and lacks game experience at wide receiver, expect the tight end position to be heavily featured this fall. That's outstanding news for Leggett.

Wednesday's scrimmage may not have pleased Swinney overall, but Leggett didn't disappoint. The 6'5", 240-pounder caught seven passes and two touchdowns in the situational part of the scrimmage. Seckinger and Cooper's absences have also allowed Leggett to gain a rapport with quarterback Cole Stoudt. 

Offensive coordinator Chad Morris hasn't featured the tight end heavily during his time at Clemson, but that could also be a function of having so much talent at wide receiver. With the Tigers figuring out who will start at receiver, Leggett is showing coaches he may be the offense's most talented player. 

Another beneficiary of the injuries at tight end is McCullough. The 6'3", 248-pound McCullough is a talented athlete who can not only line up at tight end, but in the backfield, too. McCullough continues to rise up the depth chart.

In the team's first padded practice last week, McCullough put on a show. He had more than 100 receiving yards in the seven-on-seven drills and caught a touchdown in the 11-on-11 portion of practice. 

McCullough actually carried the ball in a game vs. Citadel last season, so he will allow Morris to be creative.

On defense, senior linebacker Tony Steward is having his best camp. Steward was once a top recruit, but he has struggled to stay healthy. Swinney is counting on Steward and Stephone Anthony at linebacker. 

All-American defensive end Vic Beasley continues to show why he is one of the top defensive players in the nation. In the scrimmage on Wednesday, Beasley had two sacks and two tackles for loss. He's poised for another big season. 

One of the biggest surprises of camp has been the emergence of redshirt freshman cornerback Ryan Carter. A high school teammate of Wayne Gallman, Carter entered camp at the bottom of the depth chart, but he has opened coaches' eyes by making several plays in practice, including a 50-yard interception return for a touchdown during the scrimmage. 

 

Dabo Having Fun

Professional billiards player Loree Jon Jones recently visited Clemson and provided some entertainment for the players, courtesy of the head coach.

Swinney laid down on the pool table and allowed Jones—a Clemson fan—to line up a trick shot off his lips. Once Jones took the shot, Swinney jumped up and asked if it went in.

It did, and Swinney displayed the same exuberance he does on Saturdays in the fall. 

Another reason why Swinney is beloved by his players. In the midst of fall camp and preparation for Georgia, the head coach took some time out to have fun with his players. 

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

College Football Predictions 2014: Picking Top Teams for 2014 Playoff

That itch for actual football is finally about to be scratched.

After months of waiting for competitive football, the college season is nearly here. While spring football and the lead-up in camp are fun, nothing beats the real action on the field when the best programs hit the gridiron.

This year, the national championship will be decided in a completely different manner. Instead of just two teams competing for the title, four programs will have a chance to stake their claim as the best in college football in the first-ever College Football Playoff.

Before the season officially gets underway, here are the four teams that will ultimately make the College Football Playoff at the end of the year.

 

Florida State

This one might be the obvious choice, but it's one that almost goes without saying.

Florida State comes into the season as the defending champion and looks the part yet again. While players like Devonta Freeman and Kelvin Benjamin have moved on to the NFL, Jameis Winston is the quarterback and the defense is still stacked.

Everyone knows about last year's Heisman winner by this point, but he comes into this season even more comfortable after no battle for the starting position. How comfortable, exactly? He was even working on a new position, per Natalie Pierre of the Tallahassee Democrat:

Besides the offense, which still has a plethora of weapons outside of Winston, the defense will be loaded yet again. In 2013, the team ranked second in points scored (51.6) and first in points allowed (12.1) and return an immensely talented defense.

Of those, Mario Edwards Jr. is a player who comes in with plenty to prove after recording 3.5 sacks last season. Head coach Jimbo Fisher believes otherwise for the defensive end, per Andy Staples of Sports Illustrated.

“Sacks don’t equate to greatness,” Fisher said. “You’d better go watch that film. You watch that film? That guy’s a heck of a football player. You watch when the draft comes around where he’s at.”

As simple as it is to criticize a player for their statistics, Edwards makes a difference in several different ways. With his impressive play on the line and an all-around game that limits nearly any team, expect FSU to be in the running again.

 

Alabama

Of the four programs listed, Alabama has the toughest road ahead.

In a stacked SEC that includes the likes of Auburn, LSU, South Carolina and Georgia, the Crimson Tide will have to find a way out of the conference. Luckily, they face only LSU and Auburn in the regular season and must play the likes of Tennessee and Ole Miss.

Having won three of the last five titles, Nick Saban has his team ready to contend yet again. As for the consistency under Saban, College GameDay provides a look at just how great the Tide have been over that stretch:

The one question looming for the Tide is who will lead them under center.

Of course, the two candidates are senior Blake Sims and Florida State transfer Jacob Coker. But with the season fast approaching, neither has been named the starter for the opener against West Virginia.

Saban remained close-lipped about the situation heading into Saturday's scrimmage. The coach referenced the battle during an ESPN "All-Access" interview, per Andrew Gribble of AL.com:

Nothing (different). Nothing. I mean, I don't know. What do you want me to say?. They're both going to take an equal number of snaps, just like they did last week. And if you keep asking questions about it, we probably won't give you their stats again.

... We want to get an equal amount of play to where both sides get an opportunity to be evaluated and the players on both sides get an opportunity to be evaluated

Regardless of who eventually takes over, Alabama has plenty of time to round into form. After West Virginia in Atlanta, the Tide will face Florida Atlantic and Southern Miss at home. By the time Florida rolls into Tuscaloosa, Saban will have his quarterback and full control of his team.

Though it is always a dangerous team, Alabama has the makings of an undefeated season coming up. If it can survive tough games against the two Tigers of LSU and Auburn, an SEC and national championship might be in the future for Saban.

 

Michigan State

OK, now we're breaking slightly away from the mold.

Florida State and Alabama are the last two champions, but Michigan State comes into the season with confidence. Claiming both the Big Ten title and a Rose Bowl victory, Mark Dantonio's team was outstanding.

Oh, and it also returns Connor Cook, the Rose Bowl and Big Ten Championship Game MVP. Coming into the year, Cook is the No. 6 quarterback in the country, according to Brock Huard of ESPN Insider (subscription necessary):

Cook, like many on this list, spent time away from campus honing his fundamentals and technique. By all accounts, he has returned to East Lansing bigger, stronger, smarter and more determined than ever to prove he belongs in the top tier among his peers. While Cook will never put up the numbers of other spread QBs in stat-hungry systems, his rating of 135.5 (61st in FBS in '13) will have to improve for Sparty to repeat as Big Ten and Rose Bowl champs.

Needless to say, Cook finished the season strong. If he can put up similar numbers throughout 2014, the junior could emerge as a dark-horse Heisman candidate.

Rather than resting on his laurels, the signal-caller has been hard at work this offseason. Chris Vannini of 247Sports shared Cook's comments about his effort over the summer:

Cook isn't the only strength of the team, especially with a defense that comes in after allowing just 13.2 points last season. The loss of Darqueze Dennard and others will hurt, but talent on the line with Shilique Calhoun and Marcus Rush will wreak havoc in the pass rush.

The Spartans still have a hurdle in getting past Ohio State in the Big Ten but will be a stout team all season. If all goes right for Sparty, they will be contending for a title at the end of the year.

 

UCLA

The Pac-12 has two potential NFL quarterbacks looking to make their mark. Outside of just racing for the Heisman, both might also be contending for a chance to make the first College Football Playoff.

Marcus Mariota and Oregon are the trendy pick for both the Heisman and Pac-12, but it might not be that simple. Brett Hundley and UCLA will also be in the running for both, and the quarterback will lead his program to new heights in 2014.

ESPN College Football provides a look at just how well Hundley performed last season:

Though Mariota and Winston will likely get more attention throughout the year, Hundley deserves some attention for his efforts. In fact, NFL.com ranks him as the No. 13 college player, with Daniel Jeremiah providing his thoughts on the quarterback:

"He has a strong arm and he can extend plays with his athleticism," Jeremiah said. "He deserves a lot of credit for the turnaround in Westwood."

Along with Mariota, Myles Jack will look to explode again this season as a two-way player. His talents on offense make him explosive, but he's also stout as a linebacker for the Bruins.

With an offense and defense that can get the job done in the Pac-12, the Bruins will need to prove themselves against top competition. If they can survive huge matchups with Arizona State, Oregon, USC and Stanford, the Bruins have a shot at competing for the title.

As for that Heisman, ripping it from the hands of Winston will be easier said than done throughout the season. But hoisting the national championship trophy at the end of the season might be even sweeter for Jim Mora and his squad.

 

Follow @RCorySmith on Twitter.

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Miami Football: Week 2 Fall Practice Stock Report

Two-a-day practices and an intrasquad scrimmage highlighted the second week of the Miami Hurricanes' 2014 edition of fall camp.

The most exciting news is easily the quarterback race being narrowed down to two healthy gunslingers, but that's not the only important update from South Florida.

Al Golden and his coaching staff concocted the fall's first depth chart, and motivating players is an overwhelming factor once again. That, or Stacy Coley isn't as good as we think the sophomore is.

However, the 'Canes lost a projected starter for the season, so not everything was business as usual for Miami.

 

Brad Kaaya -OR- Jake Heaps

Yes, it's highlighted every week, but the quarterback battle is and will continue to be the No. 1 storyline at GreenTree.

In true Al Golden form, he unleashed the dreaded "-OR-" on the initial depth chart. Of course, the expected public indecisiveness did eliminate Kevin Olsen—now set to wear a headset once again—and Malik Rosier, a true freshman who was pegged to redshirt anyway.

According to Susan Miller Degnan of The Miami Herald, junior Dallas Crawford said Kaaya and Heaps were each picked off once during the scrimmage. However, senior Denzel Perryman remained impressed with the poise of both players.

"Just from what I've seen, and I've watched pretty much every minute of practice so far through the first week-and-a-half," Matt Porter of the Palm Beach Post told Jeff Fischel of the ACC Digital Network, "Kaaya is more talented. Really tall, about 6'4", throws a really nice ball.

"But Heaps is a veteran....He has the experience, he's started plenty of games. And to ask a true freshman to go up there to Louisville on Labor Day night—national TV, crazy crowd, all that stuff—ask a true freshman to do all that, and that's asking a lot."

Golden has about two weeks to decide which quarterback will lead his team into Papa John's Cardinal Stadium—whether that's Kaaya or Heaps.

 

Rayshawn Jenkins Out for the Season

On Monday, junior Tracy Howard said he was happy about Rayshawn Jenkins returning from an injury, per Christy Cabrera Chirinos of the South Florida Sun Sentinel.

Two days later, Jenkins announced he would not be playing this season, and Manny Navarro of The Miami Herald reported the safety will undergo back surgery.

A member of the 2012 recruiting class who played immediately, Jenkins is eligible to take a redshirt season and return as a junior in 2015. While his injury is unfortunate, if there is one positional unit at which Miami can afford to lose a starter, it was safety.

Between Crawford, Deon Bush, Jamal Carter and newcomers Marques Gayot and Kiy Hester, the Hurricanes are plenty deep at safety. Crawford shined during the scrimmage, accounting for five tackles, forcing a fumble and taking an interception 50 yards to the house, per a UM release.

Additionally, David Lake of InsideTheU (subscription required) believes Crawford and Carter will earn the starting nods for the 'Canes against Louisville. Should Carter overtake Bush, Miami has a rather talented, former freshman All-American as a second-stringer.

 

News and Notes

Last season, senior Rashawn Scott missed eight games due to a broken collarbone he suffered in the opener against Florida Atlantic. Per Miller Degnan, Golden said Scott was having an excellent camp, but the wide receiver again injured his collarbone.

The severity is still unknown, but it would be a shame for Scott to miss an extended period of time for the second consecutive year.

Kc McDermott opened the fall as the starting right tackle before an injury held him out of one practice. Trevor Darling replaced McDermott, who is now working at left tackle, and remained atop the position following the scrimmage.

Ultimately, the offensive line will continue fluctuating while injuries occur, but they shouldn't keep Ereck Flowers, Jon Feliciano or Shane McDermott from starting on Sept. 1. Everyone else, however, could be affected by missing practices.

Depth-chart wise, Golden is likely back at his usual tricks, listing expected starters in reserve roles. At this time, Coley, Feliciano, Clive Walford and Al-Quadin Muhammad appear to be the targets of the fourth-year coach's motivational tactics.

Eight true freshmen, including defensive end Chad Thomas and kick returner Braxton Berrios, were listed as second-teamers. Darling and Trent Harris (defensive end) are the first-year players currently named starters.

The second scrimmage, which is on Monday, will provide a better look at where individual Hurricanes stand.

 

All quotes obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted.

Follow Bleacher Report college football writer David Kenyon on Twitter: @Kenyon19_BR.

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Throwback Thursday: LSU's Miracle Hail Mary in the 'Bluegrass Miracle'

SEC football has a storied history as one of the most dominant conferences in any sport, and few moments are as exciting as what became known as the "Bluegrass Miracle."

Back on Nov. 9, 2002, LSU led Kentucky 21-7 in the third quarter, but after an impressive comeback by the underdogs, Taylor Begley's field goal put the Wildcats up 30-27 with 11 seconds left.

The Wildcats began celebrating as if they had won, dumping water on their coach on the sidelines. Much to their dismay, LSU's Nick Saban then pulled out a string of plays that would make history. 

After a connection across the middle and a timeout, Tigers quarterback Marcus Randall took a shotgun snap with two seconds left. He rolled to his right and threw a bomb down the field that somehow escaped the outstretched hands of the Kentucky defensive backs and into the hands of LSU wide receiver Devery Henderson, who scampered into the end zone for the 33-30 win.

Is it college football season yet?

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UCLA Football: Week 2 Fall Camp Stock Report

Week 2 hasn't exactly been kind to Jim Mora and the UCLA football team. As is the case with most squads, there have been a rash of injuries in this second stanza of camp. 

Most notably, the offensive line has been hit considerably hard by various bumps and bruises. Fortunately, there haven't been any serious injuries to date. 

Additionally, two true freshmen may have solidified starting gigs. One of those players was highly touted coming out of high school. The other was projected to potentially redshirt. Due to a strong fall camp, a starting spot looks likely. 

Three true freshmen—previously suspended from the team—made their way back to the team for the second week of fall camp. 

 

Injury Report

Reserve linebacker Cameron Griffin and walk-on wide receiver Sam Handler are out for the season. Handler suffered a torn ACL, and Griffin endured a shoulder injury. Neither were projected to contribute this season. 

The offensive line in particular has been hit very hard by the injury bug. Starting center Jake Brendel went down with a minor MCL injury. It doesn't appear to be overly serious. Left tackle Malcolm Bunche expects Brendel to be back for the Memphis game at the latest, per Ed Lewis of BruinSportsReport

The injury does cause a ripple effect of sorts. Projected starting left guard Alex Redmond has taken some snaps at center. He also has been in and out of camp due to heat-related issues.

Sophomore Scott Quessenberry has been battling for the right guard job and is also the true reserve to Brendel. However, a concussion has taken him out of practice (per Chris Foster of the Los Angeles Times).  

Both Conor McDermott and Carl Hulick have also been battling ailments. Hulick has been plagued by overheating, and McDermott is still coming back from shoulder surgery. Not to mention, Bunche, Caleb Benenoch and NaJee Toran have also dealt with minor nicks and muscle pulls. 

UCLA suffered a scary moment with projected top receiver Devin Lucien. On Tuesday, the Crespi High School product fell during practice on an attempted pass catch. It appeared initially as if he hit his head on the ground. An ambulance came onto the field and took Lucien to a local hospital. 

Thankfully, he was released shortly afterward. Foster reported Lucien went down (again) due to the heat. 

Starting safety Randall Goforth dinged up his shoulder in practice. An MRI was taken, and it was negative. Reserve corner Marcus Rios has been out due to a migrane problem

Fortunately, the rest of the roster appears to be relatively healthy. 

With the number of heat-related problems, it will be interesting to see whether or not the camp will continue in San Bernardino, Calif. The hot, rugged climate allows for the team to function outside of Westwood—without distraction. 

Mora obviously instilled this plan three years ago in order to create a culture built upon toughness and grit. At this point, I believe this specific "goal" has been achieved.

In the future, it could be a scenario in which the team practices in Westwood for one week, whilst using the second week of camp for team chemistry building in San Bernardino, Calif. 

It will be something to monitor heading forward. 

 

Freshmen Starters?

Both Toran and linebacker Kenny Young have taken gigantic steps in solidifying starting spots for the Bruins. 

Toran is undersized, at only 267 pounds. However, he makes up for his lack of relative size with heart, effort and aggression. The injury to Quessenberry has helped his cause in potentially winning a starting gig. The two had been battling against each other for the vacant spot up until Quessenberry's injury. 

The Texas native benefited from enrolling in school early. It enabled Toran to acclimate to the program at a quicker pace, and thus also allowed for a more advanced understanding of the offense. 

According to Toran (via offensive line coach Adrian Klemm), it sounds as if he will get the starting nod versus Virginia in the season opener. 

Young has been perhaps the most impressive freshman during the camp. The New Orleans native has displayed uncommon maturity for a young player. He's constantly communicating on the field and seemingly has a firm grasp on the defensive scheme. 

Mora has been effusive in his praise of the young linebacker. As defensive coordinator Jeff Ulbrich told Jack Wang of the Los Angeles Daily News"[Young] has an uncommon desire to be great."

Per David Woods of BruinReportOnline.com, here's an interview with Young and his impression of camp thus far. 

It would be a relative shock to not see Young start next to Eric Kendricks in the middle versus Virginia. 

 

Miscellaneous Items

Jordan Lasley, Dwight Williams and Aaron Sharp have all rejoined the team. Initially, the plan was to keep the trio out until after the first game of the season. 

However, Mora has relented and brought the crop into camp. It's interesting development for sure and one which will help the group get into football shape. 

Of the three, Lasley is potentially the one with the best opportunity to play this season. 

Fellow freshman Adarius Pickett has switched from corner to running back. In his short time with the offense, he's been impressive. Mora in particular has commented about Pickett's ability to "run hard. He's only 190 pounds, but he runs heavy. You can feel it when he runs."

Pickett can add an interesting dimension to UCLA's backfield. There isn't a prototypical big back on the roster, and the freshman from El Cerrito, Calif. could potentially fit the bill. In high school, he was a vaunted tailback. 

Lastly, the outside linebacker starting spot opposite appears to be clearing up a bit. One would assume Deon Hollins, Kenny Orjioke and Aaron Wallace will all play this year.

Hollins has a terrific first step. His quickness alone will get him on the field on third down situations. Wallace is the best of the three versus the run, and he is also the most experienced. Orjioke is by far the most impressive physically and athletically. 

At this point, it looks as if Wallace has the inside track at the starting spot. Surely, his experience as a redshirt junior has helped him inch ahead. 

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UCLA Football: Week 2 Fall Camp Stock Report

Week 2 hasn't exactly been kind to Jim Mora and the UCLA football team. As is the case with most squads, there have been a rash of injuries in this second stanza of camp...

Read the full article on Bleacher Report...

The Adjustment That Made 5-Star Iman Marshall the Most Feared CB in 2015 Class

Iman Marshall sensed he was on the verge of stardom after his sophomore season. Early scholarship offers from USC, Notre Dame, Tennessee and Florida State cemented his spot as a coveted cornerback recruit in the 2015 class.

However, his 5-star status simply wasn't enough. There was still work to be done.

Despite an array of accolades, the Long Beach, California, product known as "Biggie" recognized he remained a work in progress. His father, Tony Marshall, made sure he didn't forget it.

"I’m lucky to have a dad who really pays attention to the way I play on a daily basis and identifies what I need to work on," Marshall said. "I kind of struggled with tackling during my sophomore year. He noticed it and talked to me about how it was holding me back from reaching my full potential."

Since that epiphany, his progress has proven again you can't put a price on fatherly advice.

"Our conversations helped change my mindset about how to play the game," he said.

Marshall blossomed into a balanced defensive back during his junior campaign, shutting down opponents through the air and on the ground. The combination proved disastrous for opposing offenses. 

The 6'1", 190-pound Long Beach Poly High School standout earned 2013 Defensive Player of the Year honors from the Long Beach Press-Telegram. His improvement in perimeter and downfield run coverage resulted in a career-high 64 tackles, validating an altered outlook.

"I learned that you just can’t be afraid of contact," Marshall said. "You have to get your nose in there and get after the ball. That’s not what I always did before, but it's definitely the way I play now."

He also stymied aerial attacks with greater efficiency than ever as a junior. Marshall didn't allow a single pass completion in six Moore League matchups, each resulting in a victory.

His signature effort occurred during a pivotal 35-28 victory over perennial state title contender Corona Centennial. Marshall thrived in man coverage, shutting down 6'3" wide receiver Barry Ware, a 4-star prospect who signed with Washington State.

Part of his approach against taller receivers includes a relentless effort to fight for position and knock opponents off balance upon the snap. Unlike finesse cornerbacks, Marshall likes to mix it up early in the progression of a play.

"He's really impressive at the line," 4-star Texas wide receiver Ryan Newsome said at The Opening, an annual invite-only prospect showcase held each July at Nike's world headquarters in Beaverton, Oregon. 

"He jams you up and you can tell he's been working on that part of his game because the technique is solid. You have to respect him because he's a humble guy and lets his play do the talking."

Newsome, a burner who holds offers from Oklahoma, Texas, Oregon and UCLA, shared his assessment with several highly skilled receivers in Beaverton. Top-ranked pass-catcher Calvin Ridley earned seven-on-seven tournament MVP honors, but even he had to tip his cap to the smothering Southern California defender.

"Marshall is the No. 1 cornerback in this class," the Alabama commit said. "I caught a big pass against him but he was always right on me, fighting for the ball. He doesn't fall for any moves either so he stays with you the whole time."

His aggressive style of play puts passers in a precarious situation. When downfield targets struggle to find space, it creates opportunities for the defensive front to generate a pass rush.

"Receivers really have to fight to get open against him because he always seems to be on the attack," 5-star Alabama quarterback pledge Blake Barnett said. "He's pretty fearless. That definitely doesn't make it easy on us quarterbacks."

USC commit Ricky Town credits Marshall's intelligence as a key factor in his effectiveness.

"You can tell how much he understands the mental part of this game," the 5-star passer said. "A lot of defensive backs have the size and speed but get lost in coverage. He can do it all."

Marshell views himself as a student of the game. Countless hours of film study and playbook adjustments allow him to adapt on a game-by-game basis, consistently creating problems for opponents.

"Preparation is so important because it helps you react as quickly as possible and that’s what playing defensive back is all about," he said. "When you study something over and over again, nothing is a surprise anymore. You understand what’s coming—the formations, the schemes, everything."

Marshall is versatile enough to shadow receivers of all statures, from shifty slot guys to towering targets. His anticipation helps him maintain stride-for-stride coverage and disrupt passing lanes at various vertical points.

"I’m always trying to make the most of each play by competing at a high level, regardless of who's lined up across from me," Marshall said. "I can play press or man defense. I can handle big and small receivers. I can help the defense out at cornerback, safety or at the nickel."

His whatever-it-takes attitude has won over plenty of prospects and coaches on the recruiting trail. Marshall, rated sixth overall nationally in 247Sports' recruiting rankings, carries dozens of scholarship offers.

College programs across the country continue to pursue him with all their resources as time ticks toward national signing day. Pac-12 contenders USC, Stanford and UCLA loom large but make no mistake, this is a nationwide chase.

LSU, Texas and Notre Dame provide potential landing spots beyond state borders, while an SEC squad recently entered the equation, according to Marshall.

"Texas A&M is a team I’ve become interested in," he said. "They’re up-and-coming and I’ve had a chance to get to know some of their commits. The program stands out to me."

It's big news for the Aggies, as head coach Kevin Sumlin attempts to elevate a defensive unit that has lagged behind the team's explosive offensive attack in recent years. However, Marshall remains a long way off from any commitment and admits he may be waiting too long to focus on finding the right college fit.

"I’m trying to weigh it all out because I want to make a sure and sound decision," he said. "I want to feel like I dotted my I’s and crossed my T’s during the process. The last thing I want to do is rush into a decision then regret it later and change my mind. I’ve kind of kept recruiting on the back-burner but it’s getting to the point where I understand I really need to start making some moves. No more delaying."

Due to his uncommitted status and supreme skills, Marshall was the recipient of several sales pitches at The Opening.

"I don't think there's a guy in this class who wouldn't want to team up with Biggie at the next level," 4-star USC cornerback commit Isaiah Langley said. "Everyone is trying to get him on board, including me."

If he does end up wearing a Trojans jersey—which is projected to happen by 100 percent of predictions in 247Sports' Crystal Ball—it would set the stage for showdowns with 5-star UCLA pledge Josh Rosen.

"He definitely challenges you," the nation's top-rated passer said. "It forces you to bring your best on each and every play. You can't afford to make a mistake."

Abundant admiration from fellow competitors is greatly appreciated by Marshall. In fact, it's paramount among goals he aims to achieve throughout his playing career.

"The most important thing is earning respect from your peers," Marshall said. "It’s an honor to be considered a top defensive back by some of the best quarterbacks and receivers in the country. I feel blessed about that."

Marshall patterns his game after former cornerback Darqueze Dennard, a first-round selection in the 2014 NFL draft. He cites the former Michigan State playmaker's physicality and relentlessness as traits to emulate.

To this point, his imitation is Hollywood-worthy.

"He's No. 1 for a reason," 5-star Georgia receiver commit Terry Godwin said. "He's physical, fast and he's a competitor. I like that. He's the kind of player who makes this game special."

Alabama commit Minkah Fitzpatrick, one of Marshall's premier contemporaries at cornerback, lauded that physical nature.

"He's another one of those bigger corners who can impact the game with his size," Fitzpatrick said. "He roughs up receivers off the line. I also think his football IQ stands out."

Again, Marshall's smarts are routinely pinpointed as an asset.

"Biggie is the best cornerback I've faced by far," 5-star Arizona receiver Christian Kirk said. "When I go up against him, I have to pull out everything I can because I know he's going to be ready to react."

That isn't by coincidence, Kirk explained.  

"Every time there's new information available and a chance to work on his craft, he's all over it," he said. "He's a sponge when it comes to learning and understanding new stuff because he wants to be ready for what the offense is doing at all times. You've got to respect that competitive attitude."

Marshall underwent an upgrade during his junior season and must take another step forward this fall. Pressure is in place following the departure of 5-star Long Beach Poly defensive back John Smith, who is now a freshman at USC.

"It was his team last year, it’s my team now," Marshall said." I have to be a leader and set the example. We want to do big things this season, and it’s my responsibility to make sure we get where we want to be. I've prepared for this moment."

 

All quotes obtained firsthand by B/R national recruiting analyst Tyler Donohue unless otherwise noted.

Recruit ratings courtesy of 247Sports.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

The Adjustment That Made 5-Star Iman Marshall the Most Feared CB in 2015 Class

Iman Marshall sensed he was on the verge of stardom after his sophomore season. Early scholarship offers from USC, Notre Dame, Tennessee and Florida State cemented his spot as a coveted cornerback recruit in the 2015 class.

However, his 5-star status simply wasn't enough. There was still work to be done.

Despite an array of accolades, the Long Beach, California, product known as "Biggie" recognized he remained a work in progress. His father, Tony Marshall, made sure he didn't forget it.

"I’m lucky to have a dad who really pays attention to the way I play on a daily basis and identifies what I need to work on," Marshall said. "I kind of struggled with tackling during my sophomore year. He noticed it and talked to me about how it was holding me back from reaching my full potential."

Since that epiphany, his progress has proven again you can't put a price on fatherly advice.

"Our conversations helped change my mindset about how to play the game," he said.

Marshall blossomed into a balanced defensive back during his junior campaign, shutting down opponents through the air and on the ground. The combination proved disastrous for opposing offenses. 

The 6'1", 190-pound Long Beach Poly High School standout earned 2013 Defensive Player of the Year honors from the Long Beach Press-Telegram. His improvement in perimeter and downfield run coverage resulted in a career-high 64 tackles, validating an altered outlook.

"I learned that you just can’t be afraid of contact," Marshall said. "You have to get your nose in there and get after the ball. That’s not what I always did before, but it's definitely the way I play now."

He also stymied aerial attacks with greater efficiency than ever as a junior. Marshall didn't allow a single pass completion in six Moore League matchups, each resulting in a victory.

His signature effort occurred during a pivotal 35-28 victory over perennial state title contender Corona Centennial. Marshall thrived in man coverage, shutting down 6'3" wide receiver Barry Ware, a 4-star prospect who signed with Washington State.

Part of his approach against taller receivers includes a relentless effort to fight for position and knock opponents off balance upon the snap. Unlike finesse cornerbacks, Marshall likes to mix it up early in the progression of a play.

"He's really impressive at the line," 4-star Texas wide receiver Ryan Newsome said at The Opening, an annual invite-only prospect showcase held each July at Nike's world headquarters in Beaverton, Oregon. 

"He jams you up and you can tell he's been working on that part of his game because the technique is solid. You have to respect him because he's a humble guy and lets his play do the talking."

Newsome, a burner who holds offers from Oklahoma, Texas, Oregon and UCLA, shared his assessment with several highly skilled receivers in Beaverton. Top-ranked pass-catcher Calvin Ridley earned seven-on-seven tournament MVP honors, but even he had to tip his cap to the smothering Southern California defender.

"Marshall is the No. 1 cornerback in this class," the Alabama commit said. "I caught a big pass against him but he was always right on me, fighting for the ball. He doesn't fall for any moves either so he stays with you the whole time."

His aggressive style of play puts passers in a precarious situation. When downfield targets struggle to find space, it creates opportunities for the defensive front to generate a pass rush.

"Receivers really have to fight to get open against him because he always seems to be on the attack," 5-star Alabama quarterback pledge Blake Barnett said. "He's pretty fearless. That definitely doesn't make it easy on us quarterbacks."

USC commit Ricky Town credits Marshall's intelligence as a key factor in his effectiveness.

"You can tell how much he understands the mental part of this game," the 5-star passer said. "A lot of defensive backs have the size and speed but get lost in coverage. He can do it all."

Marshell views himself as a student of the game. Countless hours of film study and playbook adjustments allow him to adapt on a game-by-game basis, consistently creating problems for opponents.

"Preparation is so important because it helps you react as quickly as possible and that’s what playing defensive back is all about," he said. "When you study something over and over again, nothing is a surprise anymore. You understand what’s coming—the formations, the schemes, everything."

Marshall is versatile enough to shadow receivers of all statures, from shifty slot guys to towering targets. His anticipation helps him maintain stride-for-stride coverage and disrupt passing lanes at various vertical points.

"I’m always trying to make the most of each play by competing at a high level, regardless of who's lined up across from me," Marshall said. "I can play press or man defense. I can handle big and small receivers. I can help the defense out at cornerback, safety or at the nickel."

His whatever-it-takes attitude has won over plenty of prospects and coaches on the recruiting trail. Marshall, rated sixth overall nationally in 247Sports' recruiting rankings, carries dozens of scholarship offers.

College programs across the country continue to pursue him with all their resources as time ticks toward national signing day. Pac-12 contenders USC, Stanford and UCLA loom large but make no mistake, this is a nationwide chase.

LSU, Texas and Notre Dame provide potential landing spots beyond state borders, while an SEC squad recently entered the equation, according to Marshall.

"Texas A&M is a team I’ve become interested in," he said. "They’re up-and-coming and I’ve had a chance to get to know some of their commits. The program stands out to me."

It's big news for the Aggies, as head coach Kevin Sumlin attempts to elevate a defensive unit that has lagged behind the team's explosive offensive attack in recent years. However, Marshall remains a long way off from any commitment and admits he may be waiting too long to focus on finding the right college fit.

"I’m trying to weigh it all out because I want to make a sure and sound decision," he said. "I want to feel like I dotted my I’s and crossed my T’s during the process. The last thing I want to do is rush into a decision then regret it later and change my mind. I’ve kind of kept recruiting on the back-burner but it’s getting to the point where I understand I really need to start making some moves. No more delaying."

Due to his uncommitted status and supreme skills, Marshall was the recipient of several sales pitches at The Opening.

"I don't think there's a guy in this class who wouldn't want to team up with Biggie at the next level," 4-star USC cornerback commit Isaiah Langley said. "Everyone is trying to get him on board, including me."

If he does end up wearing a Trojans jersey—which is projected to happen by 100 percent of predictions in 247Sports' Crystal Ball—it would set the stage for showdowns with 5-star UCLA pledge Josh Rosen.

"He definitely challenges you," the nation's top-rated passer said. "It forces you to bring your best on each and every play. You can't afford to make a mistake."

Abundant admiration from fellow competitors is greatly appreciated by Marshall. In fact, it's paramount among goals he aims to achieve throughout his playing career.

"The most important thing is earning respect from your peers," Marshall said. "It’s an honor to be considered a top defensive back by some of the best quarterbacks and receivers in the country. I feel blessed about that."

Marshall patterns his game after former cornerback Darqueze Dennard, a first-round selection in the 2014 NFL draft. He cites the former Michigan State playmaker's physicality and relentlessness as traits to emulate.

To this point, his imitation is Hollywood-worthy.

"He's No. 1 for a reason," 5-star Georgia receiver commit Terry Godwin said. "He's physical, fast and he's a competitor. I like that. He's the kind of player who makes this game special."

Alabama commit Minkah Fitzpatrick, one of Marshall's premier contemporaries at cornerback, lauded that physical nature.

"He's another one of those bigger corners who can impact the game with his size," Fitzpatrick said. "He roughs up receivers off the line. I also think his football IQ stands out."

Again, Marshall's smarts are routinely pinpointed as an asset.

"Biggie is the best cornerback I've faced by far," 5-star Arizona receiver Christian Kirk said. "When I go up against him, I have to pull out everything I can because I know he's going to be ready to react."

That isn't by coincidence, Kirk explained.  

"Every time there's new information available and a chance to work on his craft, he's all over it," he said. "He's a sponge when it comes to learning and understanding new stuff because he wants to be ready for what the offense is doing at all times. You've got to respect that competitive attitude."

Marshall underwent an upgrade during his junior season and must take another step forward this fall. Pressure is in place following the departure of 5-star Long Beach Poly defensive back John Smith, who is now a freshman at USC.

"It was his team last year, it’s my team now," Marshall said." I have to be a leader and set the example. We want to do big things this season, and it’s my responsibility to make sure we get where we want to be. I've prepared for this moment."

 

All quotes obtained firsthand by B/R national recruiting analyst Tyler Donohue unless otherwise noted.

Recruit ratings courtesy of 247Sports.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Tennessee Football: It's Now or Never for Starting QB Justin Worley

This is Justin Worley's last chance to make something of a mediocre career.

For the second consecutive season, head coach Butch Jones named the senior signal-caller as the Volunteers' starting quarterback, according to GoVols247's Wes Rucker. Jones made the less-than-surprising announcement Thursday at the annual preseason media day press conference.

If Worley doesn't find a way to build on the momentum he created in games against Georgia and South Carolina in 2013 before his season ended prematurely in a loss to Alabama, he never will.

With talent around him, in his second year in the offensive system and with more uncertainty surrounding candidates Nathan Peterman and Joshua Dobbs than him, Worley was the only choice—even if he isn't an exciting choice.

Even Jones' decision announcement Thursday seemed reluctant.

"Right now, Justin Worley gives this football team and this football program the best opportunity to win," Jones told the media.

Right now implies a current state that could change. Right now is far from final. Right now—at least on its surface—seems shaky, at best, and why shouldn't it?

There is a ton riding on Worley's 6'4", 220-pound frame, and there's also a lack of historical evidence that he will run with the job. That's a scary proposition for the Vols, whose season rides on him being able to orchestrate the offense much better than he did in 2013.

A season ago, as the hands-down favorite to win the job, he was named less than a week before the season opener. Three games into the season, Worley lost that job to Peterman, who handed it right back.

Worley's year ended after he had completed 55.6 percent of his passes for 1,239 yards, 10 touchdowns and eight interceptions.

Once healthy again this spring, Worley couldn't separate himself from Dobbs, Peterman or former UT quarterback Riley Ferguson. The inconsistency shadowed him into the first week-plus of fall practice.

But the past few days, Worley has reportedly played much better. His passes are crisper, and Rucker told Bleacher Report that the senior carries himself with a presence around practice and media opportunities like he is "The Man."

So, when Jones told the media Thursday, according to The Associated Press, via Dan Climer of USA Today, "I believe Justin is playing the best football that he's played in a long time," it holds much more water.

Perhaps that swagger Worley carries with him now is the element Jones had been needing to see. After all, he told Rucker (subscription required) back in late July that he'd name a starter "as soon as one person steps up and takes control of the offense and takes command of the program."

Command has been a struggle for Worley, even on the field. Last year, he grappled to grasp the tempo and timing of UT's transition offense, and the unit was constantly disjointed.

He looked like a different quarterback during the Orange and White Game, directing his receivers around with confidence and even throwing them open while methodically leading drives. Though he'll never be flashy, he distributed the ball to playmakers confidently.

Through an array of game-like situations thrown at the three quarterbacks in camp, Worley responded better than anybody else. That's an encouraging sign for a position that has been shaky for years in Knoxville.

A year ago, the Vols' quarterbacks had the world on their shoulders with the lack of a game-breaking ground attack and no other dynamic receivers to take the load off true freshman Marquez North.

This year, with all of Tennessee's new (albeit young) talent surrounding him, there are no excuses. Worley has the players in place to excel. He's in his final season on Rocky Top with a clear grasp of the playbook, and Jones' decision just announced to Worley and the world that this is his team to direct.

He will dictate the length of the leash.

 

All recruiting rankings and statistics courtesy of 247Sports Composite. All statistics gathered from CFBStats.com. Quotes obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted, and observations from spring were witnessed firsthand.

Brad Shepard covers SEC football and is the Tennessee Lead Writer for Bleacher Report. Follow Brad on Twitter here:

@Brad_Shepard

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

7 College Football Teams Sure to Be 0-1 After Week 1

While some power schools like to schedule cupcake opponents in Week 1, others tend to pit themselves against marquee opponents as an early test of their squad's fortitude. 

The great thing about the College Football Playoff is that one loss to a good team in Week 1 is no longer a death sentence, so more and more power conference teams will start facing each other earlier on in the year as time progresses. 

But for this year, we've already got some high-profile games, including Oklahoma State vs. Florida State, Alabama vs. West Virginia and even an SEC match between Auburn and Arkansas. 

Unfortunately for some of those teams, among others, the cards aren't in their hands this year, and they'll be starting at an 0-1 record after the opening week. 

Let's check out which teams are doomed for that fate. 

Begin Slideshow

Why September Could Be Make-or-Break Month for Florida's 2015 Recruiting Class

The month of September will be critical for the future of Will Muschamp and the Florida program.

For starters, on the field, the Gators will get a chance to wipe away the taste of last year’s 4-8 debacle. Considering their first three opponents are at home against teams who combined to go 5-31 last season, the Gators have a chance to get off to a strong start before heading to face Alabama on Sept. 20.

However, on the recruiting trail, the Gators could take a huge step forward in righting the ship if they can land a pair of 5-star prospects—defensive end Byron Cowart and wide receiver George Campbell—who each hail from the metro Tampa area. 

According to Josh Newberg of Noles247 (subscription required), both Cowart and Campbell are both on the verge of committing soon.

Getting commitments from two top-10 in-state recruits, both whom hail from one of UF’s most traditionally fertile recruiting territories, would send a message to its rivals and the nation that the Gators are back on their way to becoming a powerhouse.

Florida—a program who has finished outside of the top 10 in recruiting rankings only once in the last decade—currently has a modest class that checks in at No. 24 in the 247Sports 2015 class rankings.

Furthermore, the biggest problem appears to be Florida’s lack of momentum with the elite prospects in its backyard. 

Currently, the Gators’ five highest-rated pledges all hail from out of state, and they have yet to receive a commitment from a player ranked among the Sunshine State’s top 50 prospects.

To put that figure in perspective, Florida State has commitments from four homegrown recruits ranked among the state’s top 25 players. Miami and Clemson each have three.

With the ‘Noles and ‘Canes claiming the upper hand in-state thus far in the 2015 cycle, the upcoming decisions of Cowart and Campbell becoming magnified for the Gators—who were the heavy favorites for both players earlier in the process.

As Chris Nee of Noles247 detailed, Florida was the perceived favorite for Campbell after his early decommitment from Michigan until FSU made a surge for his services. The Gators still claim 36 of the 39 projections on Cowart’s 247Sports Crystal Ball page

Of the two, Cowart is likely the safer bet to end up in Gainesville—even though he admitted that a visit to FSU last month gave him something to think about:

However, the Gators’ struggles on offense and the shuffle in Muschamp’s staff have made their pursuit of Campbell trickier. Specifically, the unexpected departure of receivers coach Joker Phillips in June—who was replaced by former Gators quarterback Chris Leak—has left the 6’3”, 184-pound playmaker with more questions than answers about the Gators.

“Me and coach Leak have talked and we’ve had our discussions and that’s pretty much it,” Campbell told GatorBait (subscription required) last week. “[He is saying] pretty much just keep in touch and watch the Florida Gators as they go through this season and check them out.”

Regardless of whether they can land one or both of Cowart and Campbell, a strong start to the 2014 season will be the best medicine for the Gators' recruiting efforts. As Jeremy Fowler of CBS Sports noted, Muschamp and his team have to show a sense of urgency in order to get he and his staff off the proverbial hot seat. 

As the chart above illustrates, the Gators have never had problems luring talent to The Swamp when the program has been on stable ground.

Assuming the Gators get back on track this fall, expect the Gators to re-assume their place as one of recruiting’s most powerful juggernauts.

 

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

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

12 College Football Players with Most to Prove in 2014

What is college football if not one big proving ground?

Everybody wants to show somebody something, whether it's a well-respected player who is trying to vindicate his supporters or an ill-reputed player who is trying to silence his detractors.

Even reigning Heisman Trophy winner and national champion Jameis Winston, who is 14-0 as a starter and had the highest quarterback rating in the country last season, has critics that he needs to shut up.

For the most part, though—and this is painting with admittedly broad strokes—the players with the most to prove exist where hype exceeds production. That is, where what was expected of someone, at some point, has not yet been achieved...or perhaps was once achieved but now must be corroborated with another good season.

This is the case for 11 of the players on this list—the one exception being a freshman who hasn't had a chance to meet his hype, but whose hype is so big that he has a lot to prove regardless.

Not included on the list are players whose main thing to prove is "that they can stay healthy." Former blue-chip prospects such as USC wide receiver George Farmer and even semi-proven commodities such as Texas quarterback David Ash were considered but left off because injuries are the main thing that have derailed them.

By contrast, the players who did make the list are ones in whom we recognize potential greatness but aren't sure if we've seen it yet, even though they've had ample time to show us (with one exception).

Sound off below and let me know whom I might have missed.

Begin Slideshow

5 Rising Stars Emerging in College Football Fall Camps

 Preseason camps are underway, and in two weeks, real, live college football will be played. 

*Plays kazoo*

*Drops confetti from the ceiling*

But before the season can begin, depth charts have to be organized. It's a time for starters to cement themselves, if they haven't already, and new faces to step up. Which rising stars are emerging during August camps?

We choose five newcomers—a combination of freshmen and transfers from the five major conferences—who are making noise and could make an immediate impact on the field in 2014. 

 

 

Begin Slideshow

Should You Take the SEC or the Field to Win the 2014 College Football Playoff?

Different verse, same as the first?

The SEC dominated the BCS, winning nine of 16 titles from 1998-2013, including seven of the last eight. But it's a new day in college football, one that includes the four-team College Football Playoff.

Will the SEC's dominance continue?

Las Vegas seems to think so.

Of the 10 teams with the best odds to win the national championships, according to VegasInsider.com, five of them are members of the SEC. But the road to college football glory takes a turn this year with the playoff.

Two more teams in the meaningful postseason means more opportunities for SEC teams to get in, but also more opportunities to stumble and fall. If presented the choice, would you take the SEC or the field if you had to choose one to win the inaugural College Football Playoff national title?

The choice is simple—take the field.

Unless there's really no other options, it's unlikely that the SEC—or a team from any conference—will get multiple teams into the four-team playoff. Sure, the selection committee can wax poetic about taking the four best teams regardless of resume, as CFP Executive Director Bill Hancock did last month at SEC Media Days.

"The committee will select the best four teams, period, no strings attached," he said.

As I wrote last month, it also has a stated goal of emphasizing conference champions and an implied goal of making this a national spectacle. Those goals will take precedent over merit, which is a major problem.

Besides, even if it does land a second team in the four-team playoff, that team likely wouldn't be attractive.

"For the SEC to get a second team in the playoffs, that team would either be off an SEC Championship Game loss, or be a team that didn’t even finish first in their division," said R.J. Bell, founder of Pregame.com. "I don’t want to bet on that."

On top of that, you have top-tier programs from around the country—including defending national champion Florida State—with much easier paths to the playoff that would almost certainly get in the way of a second SEC team and perhaps even an undefeated SEC champion.

"Not only do you get the defending national champions (who power rate better this year than last) but you get the likes of Oregon, Oklahoma, Ohio State, UCLA, and a host of other power conference teams with much more forgivable schedules," said Todd Fuhrman, Vegas insider for Fox Sports 1 and OutKickTheCoverage.com.

Yes, the most talented players in the country typically gravitate toward SEC programs; and yes, more likely than not, an SEC team will be one of the favorites to win the national title. But many of the so-called favorites this year outside the conference are teams built as SEC clones.

Take Florida State, for example.

The Seminoles won the title last year with a head coach who has an SEC pedigree in Jimbo Fisher. Fisher spent 13 years as an SEC assistant at Auburn (1993-1998) and LSU (2000-2006), and has built his program as a virtual mirror image of the one Nick Saban had at LSU and has at Alabama. That program is fresh off a national title, has returning Heisman Trophy winner Jameis Winston at quarterback and a roster littered with 4- and 5-star talent.

"Right now, most oddsmakers believe Florida State would be favored over any other team in the nation," said David Purdum, a journalist who has covered the sports betting and gaming industry for six years. "So if the Seminoles were to reach the championship game, they’d likely be the favorite. Grabbing them at even money, per your hypothetical, in addition to the other top-tier contenders makes the most sense to me."

Toss in an Ohio State program that's entering its third year under former Florida head coach Urban Meyer—a man who knows a thing or two about building championship programs—an Oklahoma program that is fresh off a two touchdown victory over Alabama in the Sugar Bowl and a locked-and-loaded Pac-12, and the field should have the edge on the SEC heading into the season.

Of course, though, that's why they play the games. 

 

Barrett Sallee is the lead SEC college football writer for Bleacher Report. Quotes were obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted. All stats are courtesy of CFBStats.com, and all recruiting information is courtesy of 247Sports.

 


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Texas A&M Football: Week 2 Fall Camp Stock Report

The Texas A&M football team has completed their second full week of fall practices, and some pieces to the puzzle are starting to emerge. A few of the questions about positions that are up for grabs are being answered. 

The Aggies have had one scrimmage, which has helped the coaches better evaluate where all of the players are at. They have suffered some injuries, which may necessitate a change to the starting lineup for the South Carolina game.  

The goal for the remainder of camp is to have a few players step up and claim the starting spots that are up for grabs and remain as healthy as possible. The Aggies have about one more week of camp before they will begin game preparation for the Gamecocks. 

 

Hill Remains in Lead at Quarterback

There has been nothing official released about the quarterback competition between sophomore Kenny Hill and freshman Kyle Allen. However, Hill has been spotted working with the first team by the media at multiple practices and started the scrimmage on Saturday leading the first-team offense.

Hill led the ones on a two-play touchdown drive against the first-team defense to start the scrimmage. From what he has shown during the short periods that the media can watch him, Hill seems more than capable of leading the offense in 2014. 

Head coach Kevin Sumlin has reported that the competition is even at this time, according to The Houston Chronicle's Brent Zwerneman.

Either he is trying to fool the media by showing Hill with the first team so often, or Hill has a slight lead in the race to start. 

 

Speedy Noil Making His Presence Felt

True freshman receiver Speedy Noil did not take long to impress the spectators at the scrimmage on Saturday. On the first play of the scrimmage, he caught a long pass from Hill.

Noil was blanketed on the play by senior cornerback Deshazor Everett but went up and high-pointed the ball. Hill found Noil in the corner of the endzone on the next play to complete a two-play touchdown drive. 

Noil appears to have locked up his starting position at outside receiver opposite from Ricky Seals-Jones. The uber-talented freshman should be able to help the Aggies out at wide receiver and on special teams while returning punts. 

Recruiting is an inexact science, but Noil appears ready to be a difference-maker right away and live up to his ranking as the top receiver recruit in the nation in 2014. 

 

Defensive Ends Are Looking Better

The defensive end position may have transformed from a position of weakness in 2013 to a position of strength in 2014. Sophomore Daeshon Hall and true freshman Darrell Jackson flashed during the portion of the scrimmage attended by the media on Saturday. 

Hall got consistent penetration, and Jackson had a sack of Kyle Allen. Anything the team can get out of Jackson is icing on the cake. He was a late addition to the 2014 class who transferred from Blinn Junior College. 

If the former high school safety can apply some of that quickness to his pass rush, the Aggies will have a much improved situation at defensive end in 2014. The strong play of Hall, Jackson and true freshman Myles Garrett has allowed Julien Obioha to move back over to his natural position on the strong side. 

Obioha spent the 2013 season at weak-side defensive end where he only registered one sack on the season. He is simply not a natural pass-rusher. Obioha will excel on the strong side where he can hold the edge and prevent teams from running wide on the Aggies. 

There was no real depth at defensive end in 2013. In Hall, Garrett, Jackson, Obioha, Jarrett Johnson and Qualen Cunningham, the Aggies have nice rotation of talent at the two defensive end spots. 

 

Davis for Harris at Corner

Texas A&M starting cornerback De'Vante Harris is out right now with an injury to his urinary tract. There is no timetable for his return. 

It appears that redshirt freshman Victor Davis will start at corner opposite Everett if Harris misses the season-opener against South Carolina. Davis was playing with the first-team defense during the scrimmage. 

The 6-foot, 191-pound cornerback has the size to match up well with SEC receivers. Davis may offer a better defender against the run than the 5'11", 175-pound Harris. Even if Harris is better against the run than Davis, it is still a blow to lose a three-year starter at cornerback and replace him with a player who will see his first career action in a hostile SEC environment. 

Harris got into some trouble off the field during the offseason. It is not yet known whether he will be eligible to play in the South Carolina game or serving some kind of suspension. 

There are multiple younger players who are stepping up when given the opportunity and making an impact during practices. Whether this will continue when the lights go on in Columbia on August 28 remains to be seen. 

Aggies fans should be cautiously optimistic about the strides their defense is making, but the starters lost to injuries and suspensions on the defensive side of the ball remain a major concern. 

 

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Alabama Football: How New Practice Format Will Impact QB Competition

Alabama coach Nick Saban has been relatively mum on his quarterback competition so far in fall camp.

It's largely been generalizations about both players and how he'll play the best guy for the job. But otherwise, he's been quiet on specifics regarding Blake Sims and Jacob Coker.

On Wednesday, he offered a small bit of insight into the quarterback battle.

SportsCenter's Bus Blitz was in Tuscaloosa on Wednesday, and it got some extra access to Saban and practice. In a live hit after the first of two practices Tuesday, Saban revealed a new wrinkle he's added into the competition.

"We started out sort of splitting time with guys. Maybe one guy takes one period, the other guys takes the other period," Saban said. "But what we started doing here this week is, for a practice, a guy is the starter, the other guy is the backup. Then they take turns.

"So I think it gives a guy a better chance to show his leadership, show how he can affect other people and basically show how he can go out there and consistently execute and do the job for us. That's sort of what we're doing. So today, it was Blake's turn; tonight, it will be Jacob's turn."

Saban's new strategy will allow him to get a closer look at each player and how he'll operate the system over a long period of time rather than just a few reps here and there. It also has some advantages and disadvantages for each guy.

Let's take a closer look.

 

Running the system

This new style gives both quarterbacks a chance to run the offense for extended periods of time rather than alternating in short bursts.

There is a lot of benefit in playing like this.

A football game transpires over the course of 60 minutes; it ebbs and flows and doesn't always go according to plan. Practice is a much more controlled environment, with each repetition going under the microscope.

Giving the quarterbacks extended time running the offense can give coaches a better feel for how a guy would respond during those ups and downs during a game.

This probably gives Sims an advantage. His knowledge of the system, the offense and the style of play Saban is looking for should allow him to operate more comfortably and react appropriately to certain situations.

We saw him in a similar situation last season.

In a glorified scrimmage last year against Georgia State, then-starter AJ McCarron was pulled toward the end of the second quarter, and Sims was allowed to operate the rest of the game as if he was the No. 1 quarterback.

He ended the day 14-of-18 passing with 130 yards and a touchdown.

"Blake has made a significant improvement as a quarterback," Saban said at the time. "This was probably the first time that he's really played where we really allowed him to run the offense. We put him in there today, and I said, 'Look, I don't want any quarterback runs. He needs to run the offense just like he has to play.'"

 

Chemistry with teammates

The other benefit to this new way of looking at the quarterback is that it allows each guy to develop chemistry with his teammates over an extended period of time.

The advantage here is probably to Coker, who's only been enrolled since May and is essentially playing catch-up with Sims in that regard.

"I think that's a dynamic that's probably a difficult management for Jacob because everybody loves Blake Sims," Saban said Tuesday on SportsCenter. "He's a great teammate. He's a hard worker, and he'll do anything for the team. He'll play on special teams, he'll go play running back if we ask him.”

But Coker now has an opportunity to work with his teammates over a long period of time. He can learn how they'll respond to adversity or to certain situations, something that might be harder to do switching in and out previously during practice.

"Jake is a great personality, and I think the players really like him," Saban said. "But to develop friendships and relationships, I think, is really important in terms of team chemistry and a guy that's in a leadership position. And that takes a little bit of time. But I think the first step of it is the players have to respect him and they have to like him, and I think we're off to a good start with Jake in that regard."

 

Marc Torrence is the Alabama lead writer for Bleacher Report. All quotes were obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted. All stats come from cfbstats. All recruiting information comes from 247Sports.

Follow on Twitter @marctorrence.

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Who Is College Football's Best Defender Headed into 2014?

Defenders are often the unheralded heroes of college football's most successful teams. While offensive players get all the hype and plaudits, there are a number of supremely talented defenders in the game today.

But which player stands out as the country's best defender? Watch as our experts decide who takes the title. 

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Why QB Devin Gardner Gives Michigan Best Chance for Success in 2014

Michigan's Brady Hoke recently named Devin Gardner his starting quarterback for the team's season opener against Appalachian State on August 30. There have been question marks all summer revolving around Gardner and whether sophomore QB Shane Morris would steal the job from him.

Why does Gardner give the Wolverines the best chance for success? Will Morris get his chance?

Watch Bleacher Report college football experts Barrett Sallee and Michael Felder break down the QB position at Michigan.

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Ohio State Football: Dontre Wilson Is College Football's Most Undervalued Player

Vertical lines are supposedly slimming. But if Dontre Wilson looks bulkier when he takes the field for his sophomore season this fall, it won't necessarily be because he traded in the Ohio State's No. 1 jersey for the more familiar No. 2 in the offseason.

The Buckeyes' most highly-touted freshman a season ago, Wilson was supposed to play the "Percy Harvin role" in Urban Meyer's spread offense, a do-it-all wide receiver-running back hybrid who would be the perfect complement to OSU's already dynamic backfield. Only Wilson's size—he was listed at 5'10", 174 pounds in his freshman campaign—made him more of a novelty, with the DeSoto, Texas, native only accumulating 53 offensive touches and 460 yards in 2013.

That was a far cry from what was expected of Wilson at the start of his college career, and he's well aware. That's why the former Lone Star State star spent the majority of his first college offseason in the weight room, determined to bulk up to a size that will allow him to sustain an entire season.

"I've gained like 23 pounds," Wilson proclaimed. "I feel a lot stronger, a lot more compact."

Wilson's weight isn't all that's changed, however, as he's also now listed as a wide receiver on the Buckeyes roster. That's something that wouldn't have been possible a year ago, thanks to both his size and understanding of the OSU playbook.

"He couldn't play receiver last year. He didn't know what the hell he was doing," Buckeyes offensive coordinator Tom Herman said in the spring. "His ability limited us, and ability doesn't just include running fast and making guys miss. There's a lot that goes into usability in the offense."

That no longer appears to be the case, as it was clear in spring practice that the Ohio State staff was making a concerted effort to get the ball into Wilson's hands. That directive has carried over into fall camp, where the sophomore has been the Buckeyes' No. 1 slot receiver—the same position that was formerly occupied by last season's leading receiver, Corey "Philly" Brown.

Only Wilson can provide a dynamic to the OSU offense that Brown couldn't, with the ability to both catch the ball down the field and carry it out of the backfield. That happens to be the same way that Meyer used Harvin during his days at Florida, and is admittedly how Wilson envisioned he'd be used in his freshman season.

"I pretty much thought I was going to come in and be the Percy Harvin role that Coach Meyer wanted me to be," Wilson said. "But I wasn't as comfortable as I was [in high school]."

Also not helping was that every time that No. 1 came onto the field last season for the Buckeyes, he might as well have done so with a spotlight for opposing defenses. Wilson appeared to be snuffed out from the start on a lot of plays that he was in on, with his main presence coming as that of a decoy.

That may have been due to the preseason hype that accompanied Wilson, something that he now admits bothered him at times a year ago. At the first Ohio State media day of his college career, the then-freshman found himself swarmed by the local press, who was looking to learn all that it could about the Buckeyes' latest unknown commodity.

"I knew it was going to be tough and be a grind to get on the level that everybody else was already on," Wilson said of his freshman season. "I just wish that I didn't have all that hype and all that stuff before I got here."

Fortunately for Wilson, the hype that hampered him has seemingly disappeared, in favor of more realistic expectations for his sophomore campaign. At this year's media day, the crowd around Wilson was noticeably smaller, which is actually what he'd prefer.

"I just gotta perform," Wilson said. "I gotta stand up to the hype and live up to the hype."

If his new uniform is any indication, that shouldn't be a problem. He may be under the radar right now, but Wilson says he once again feels like the Texas prep product who tallied more than 2,500 yards and 46 touchdowns in his senior season—and brought more attention to Columbus with him than he could admittedly handle

Hence the switch to his high school digit.

"I just felt like I needed to get back to me. It feels like me again," Wilson said. "I had to get back to No. 2."

 

Ben Axelrod is Bleacher Report's Ohio State Lead Writer. You can follow him on Twitter @BenAxelrod. Unless noted otherwise, all quotes were obtained firsthand. All recruiting information comes courtesy of 247Sports.

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