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Tennessee Football: 5 Stars Who Will Break Out in 2014

With the Tennessee Volunteers' 2014 season only two days away, the team's biggest playmakers will soon begin to emerge, starting with the team's opening game against the Utah State Aggies. 

Although many fans are looking toward the freshmen who enrolled in the winter and spring as the biggest X-factors on the team, some of the most promising stars are those with a year or more of experience under their belts who are poised to take the conference by storm.

For Tennessee to have a successful season and reach a bowl game, it not only needs its freshman class to grow up in a hurry, but it also needs its established stars to become truly dominant at their positions.

Here are five players on the Tennessee roster who have the best chances of becoming breakout stars in 2014. 

 

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4 Bold Predictions for Wisconsin's 2014 Season

With the college football season beginning in earnest on Thursday, now seems like as good a time as any to make bold predictions for Wisconsin's upcoming season.

Questions abound at quarterback with the incumbent Joel Stave being replaced—at least for the first snap of the season, according to Jeff Potrykus of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel—by Tanner McEvoy, at receiver with how to replace one of the best in team history in Jared Abbrederis and at linebacker with how to replace one of the best defensive players in history in Chris Borland.

Let's take a look at this year's team and make a handful of bold predictions.

 

Considerable Increase in Team's Interception Total

Last season, the Badgers had nine interceptions. Of those, four came from true freshman Sojourn Shelton. The Badgers return virtually their whole secondary, and freshman Lubern Figaro looks to be an impact player immediately.

Shelton, Darius Hillary and Devin Gaulden provide a formidable trio along with freshman Derrick Tindal, all of whom have shown an ability to force turnovers.

Replacing Dezmen Southward, a third-round pick who was inconsistent at best while wearing cardinal and white, is Figaro. He should form a terrific tandem at safety alongside Michael Caputo.

Furthermore, while Borland was excellent at diagnosing plays, his coverage skills were not the best.

While I am hardly saying Derek Landisch and Michael Trotter will be better than the Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year, they could still intercept more passes than Borland did—he didn't record an interception in his junior or senior season.

To put a number on it, I'm going to guess the Badgers will pick off 15 passes this season. With more aggressiveness in their front seven, putting more pressure on the quarterback will lead to more interceptions on the back end.

 

Melvin Gordon Will Be Invited to New York

He won't win the Heisman Trophy, though. A big game against LSU on Saturday would do a lot to raise his already-high national profile.

One has to go all the way back to 2009 to find a running back who won the Heisman (Mark Ingram), with the last four winners being quarterbacks.

In a year when guys like Marcus Mariota and Brett Hundley chose to return along with defending Heisman Trophy winner Jameis Winston, it will be tough for any running back to break through here. Throw in Georgia's Todd Gurley, and Gordon has a ton of competition for the Heisman.

Even if Walter Football considers Gurley the better pro prospect, I think Gordon has a great chance to grab the most votes of any running back and get a trip to New York.

However, I don't think he will be the third Wisconsin running back—Ron Dayne and Alan Ameche the others—to take home the trophy.

 

Joel Stave Will Start Multiple Games

This is not an indictment of McEvoy, as I think the coaching staff will give him every chance to succeed.

With that being said, Stave has been very good throughout his collegiate career, though he has been a bit inconsistent at times.

Stave has a bigger arm than McEvoy, and while there were plenty of times when Abbrederis got behind the defense only to have to come back to the ball to catch it, Stave was still able to push the ball down the field on play-action passes time and again.

If McEvoy comes out strongly against LSU, with the coaching staff's seemingly strong preference to play a mobile quarterback—a look through whom they have been recruiting gives a good clue—maybe Stave won't get a chance.

Either way, these are bold predictions. Even without an injury, I still see Stave taking the opening snap of multiple games this season.

 

At Least 2 Players with 40-Plus Receptions

One needs to go all the way back to 2011 to find a Badgers team that had a pair of guys with more than 40 receptions. This year, with Abbrederis gone, multiple receivers will need to fill the massive void left by his absence.

Three names to watch are tight end Sam Arneson and receivers Jordan Fredrick and Kenzel Doe.

Arneson has gobbled up touchdowns in his limited reps, snaring four on 10 career receptions, and should be a good red-zone threat for the Badgers.

For the receivers, with eight traveling to Houston, it will be interesting to see whether anyone can really separate themselves enough to make four or five receptions a game. If anyone is able to, it will probably be Fredrick or Doe.

Doe has been inconsistent as a receiver but looked really strong throughout both the spring and fall camps. He will be the No. 1 guy when the Badgers line up on Saturday.

As for Fredrick, who stands 6'4" and 214 pounds, he will get a lot of looks in the slot and his blocking ability will keep him on the field.

If I were to pick two guys from this group to reach or surpass the 40-catch mark, I'd go with Arneson and Fredrick. Depending on how things shake out in the early going, however, we could see as many as six or seven players with 10-plus receptions by the end of the season.

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College Football Picks Week 1: B/R's Expert Predictions for the Top 5 Games

After a wild offseason that included major lawsuits, big time transfers and suspensions, college football fans sure are ready for some real football.

Week 1 surely will not disappoint.

Will Ohio State State struggle against Navy without star quarterback Braxton Miller, or will his replacement, redshirt freshman J.T. Barrett, step in and carry the Buckeyes to glory?

Who will emerge as the true signal caller for Alabama when the Tide battle West Virginia, Jake Coker or Blake Sims? Dana Holgorsen will aim to play spoiler in the Georgia Dome, but his Mountaineers will have their hands full trying to shut down the Tide’s talented backfield.

Georgia will play host to Clemson, hoping to get revenge for losing in Week 1 a season ago. Both teams will be ushering in new quarterbacks, so this showdown is sure to be an exciting one.

Defending national champions Florida State look to hold off a hungry Oklahoma State team aiming to prove itself on the national stage.

And the fifth marquee game of Week 1 pits LSU vs. Wisconsin in what should be a prime example of how to run the football.

Each week of the 2014 season, Bleacher Report’s college football experts Adam Kramer, Michael Felder, Barrett Sallee, Mark Blaudschun and Ben Kercheval will be making their predictions on the top five games of the week. These five have a strong background in college football and bring great knowledge and insight to readers.

Whether you agree or disagree with our expert picks, be sure to sound off in the comments below!

*All picks made straight up. Spread is not a factor.

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Josh Shaw Investigation: Updates, Details on Injured USC CB

Suspended USC football star Josh Shaw has been coy about the events that led to him jumping out of a second-story balcony, leading to two sprained ankles. The latest update isn't going to make the backlash go away anytime soon. 

According to Gary Holland and Gary Klein of the Los Angeles Times, Shaw and his girlfriend are being investigated to determine whether they "were involved in a domestic-violence incident."

Capt. John McMahon, head of Central Division patrol, said Friday that Shaw, citing his attorney’s advice, has refused to be interviewed about the case.

“We would have like to hear from Mr. Shaw to provide some clarity about the situation, but that is not going to happen,” said McMahon. “In light of that, our investigation into a possible domestic dispute will continue.”

Donald Etra, Shaw's attorney, is quoted in the report as saying that his client talked "to the LAPD twice. We believe that is enough. The matter is over and there is no need to talk to them further. ... Enough is enough."

McMahon also said that Shaw's girlfriend has spoken to the police and "'did not indicate she was a victim of domestic violence."

Police officer Sara Faden describes in the piece that cops went to a third-floor apartment in downtown Los Angeles on August 23 "after receiving a report of a woman screaming" and officers had to break open the door after no one answered the initial knocks but didn't find anyone inside.

Faden did say that the officers saw “the window had been pried open," and that witnesses said they saw "a man with dreadlocks climbing from the third-floor balcony of the apartment. The woman who resides in the unit then arrived on the scene."

This story comes out days after Shaw was suspended indefinitely from the USC football team after admitting that he lied to the school about the way he suffered the injury.

The original story Shaw told, via Kyle Bonagura of ESPN.com, was that he jumped off a second-story balcony and into a pool to save his nephew from drowning. That tale of heroism garnered national attention, including on social media and morning talk shows. 

However, according to Meghan Keneally of ABCNews.com, Shaw's story first started to come apart shortly after his tale of heroism gained steam because "a man named Josh Shaw matching the football player’s description was listed in a police report stemming from a disturbance call."

Shaw's future on the field has never looked less clear, but right now that's the least of his concerns. He's gone from being viewed like a hero and role model to an outcast and pariah in the span of a few days because of this huge lie he concocted. 

It's important to note that this is just an investigation at this point. No one has been charged with anything, nor has anyone been arrested. 

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Darian Roseboro to Michigan: Wolverines Land 4-Star DE Prospect

Given the importance of pass-rushing in today's football world, the news of 4-star defensive end Darian Roseboro committing to Michigan has huge ramifications for the 2015 recruiting class. 

247Sports' Steve Lorenz first broke the news about Roseboro's decision:

As Wolverine247 predicted and many believed, Michigan has secured the commitment of four-star defensive end Darian Roseboro, beating out home-state N.C. State and North Carolina among others for his pledge.

Roseboro, the nation's No. 7 strong-side defensive end recruit and No. 109 prospect overall based on 247Sports' composite ratings, has turned into a pass-rushing monster at Lincolnton High School in North Carolina over the last three years. 

According to 247Sports, Roseboro had more than 30 offers from top programs across the country and was seriously considering six in early August. On that list was Alabama, Clemson, Michigan, North Carolina State, North Carolina and Tennessee. 

He said on Twitter, via Pack Pride, that those were his final six schools and the decision would come at the end of August:

As a freshman, Roseboro was already a beast with 107 tackles, 12 tackles for loss and seven sacks. Those are scary numbers for a quality high school senior, let alone a player in his first season at that level. 

Yet when you look at the constant evolution for Roseboro, it's easy to see why power schools like Alabama, Michigan and Clemson were all after him. His performance continued to improve with 107 tackles, 30 tackles for loss and eight sacks in 2012 to go along with four forced fumbles. He followed that up by posting 125 tackles, 21 tackles for loss and 11 sacks as a junior. 

Every school across the country needs help rushing the quarterback. Since defensive backs are all but forbidden from touching wide receivers, having a player who can get in the backfield is paramount to success on defense. 

Roseboro brings a ferocious, attacking style and insane athleticism at 6'4", 285 pounds with a 4.64 40-yard time to the next level. The scary thing is, he will only get better with more seasoning and higher-level coaching. 

 

If you want to talk sports, hit me up on Twitter. 


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LSU Professor Asks Students to Clean Up Les Miles Quotes for Homework

Some coaches may talk a lot but never provide much useful information. One LSU professor has decided that students can learn how to be clear and concise by translating Tigers coach Les Miles' quotes.

For homework, the instructor asked the students to read through some of Miles' statements and clean them up a bit. The students were asked to translate "coach talk" to concise—and grammatically correct—sentences.

Hopefully the professor will hand over the papers to Miles and let him read through them so he can learn how to get to the point quickly in the future.

[Twitter, h/t SB Nation]

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UCF Unveils Irish-Themed Helmets for Season Opener in Ireland

Central Florida is doing its best to win over fans in Ireland for its season opener against Penn State.

The Knights and the Nittany Lions will square off in the 2014 Croke Park Classic in Dublin this weekend, and to get in the spirit of the game, UCF has made a slight tweak to its helmet. To commemorate the special game, two Irish clovers and a pot of gold have been added to the Knights' helmets.

Playing in Ireland is a unique situation for both teams, and this was a cool way for UCF to pay tribute to the country.

[UCF Football, h/t Sports Illustrated]

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College Football Week 1: Previews and Predictions for the Top 5 Games

It’s the most wonderful time of the year! College football is back in full swing with a full slate of games that will have national significance. 

Kenny Hill and Texas A&M went into Columbia, S.C., on Thursday evening and blew out the Ol' Ball Coach's Gamecocks 52-28. While that was viewed as a big upset already for Week 1, this weekend could be presented with upsets that have significance on the new College Football Playoff.

Clemson and Georgia, as well as LSU and Wisconsin, are all teams that could be playing in the six major bowl games at the end of the season.  

With that said and a lot to look forward to this weekend, here are the top five games to watch. 

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Power Ranking Top 10 Alabama Crimson Tide Players Heading into 2014 Season

Backed by talent all over the roster, the Alabama Crimson Tide once again will be challenging for a national title in 2014.

After winning three of four BCS titles, the Tide saw their run come to a heartwrenching end last season. But while the rest of college football fans bask in the end of a dynasty, head coach Nick Saban and Co. seem poised to begin Act 2.

These are the top 10 players who should prove the most beneficial to Alabama in its pursuit for championship No. 16.

Each player was given a ranking based on several factors. Among the factors used were each player's career stats, experience on the team and awards/recognitions earned.

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Eastern Illinois LB Takes a Cheap Shot at Minnesota Player, Gets Ejected

Things didn't go so well Eastern Illinois through the first three quarters of its season opener against Minnesota, but the opening play of the fourth quarter had to be the worst moment of the night for the Panthers.

The Golden Gophers were leading 21-0 entering the fourth quarter and driving for another score. After Minnesota picked up a first down and moved closer to the goal line on the first play of the quarter, Panthers linebacker Kamu Grugier-Hill decided to give Golden Gophers offensive lineman Zac Epping a shot below the belt.

Not only did the cameras pick it up, but the referees did as well. Grugier-Hill was flagged for a personal foul and ejected from the game.

Minnesota won the game, 42-20.

[The Big Lead]

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Quarterback Shuffle the Main Reason for Vanderbilt's Blowout Loss to Temple

The Derek Mason era at Vanderbilt couldn't have gotten off to a worse start, as the team kicked off the 2014 season with a blowout loss to Temple.

Temple won just two games last season, and this win marks the program's first over an SEC school since 1938.

The 90-plus minute weather delay forced the game to a 9:50 p.m. kickoff, but that is no excuse for the 30-point loss. Mason looked confused in his first game at the helm, and his inexperienced players followed suit. 

Clay Travis of Fox Sports commented on this being one of the worst head coaching debuts ever:

The five worst college football coaching debuts of all time. Starring Derek Mason: http://t.co/5WfZXOWdLA

— Clay Travis (@ClayTravisBGID) August 29, 2014

What Mason and the Commodores have to do to make this embarrassing loss a distant memory is the question now.

The Commodores have to turn the page quickly and understand that this non-conference loss can be quickly forgotten if the team pulls off an upset against No. 18 Ole Miss next week. It may seem like it would take a miracle for the Commodores to avoid another blowout to a much better team, but crazier things have happened.

One upset somewhere along the way can still lead to a bowl berth with this favorable schedule. But the quarterback situation will have to be figured out quickly to keep this from snowballing into a season that the program became accustomed to prior to James Franklin.

The fact that Mason pulled Patton Robinette in the first half appeared to be a knee-jerk reaction, and that was where the wheels began to fall off.

Mason's offense was never able to settle in after seeing three different quarterbacks lining up under center during the course of the game. 

It's very puzzling that Mason pulled Robinette so quickly after displaying that he didn't want his starting quarterback to look over his shoulder, per David Climer of The Tennessean.

Stephen Rivers saw the most action but never looked comfortable. He finished 12-of-25 for 186 yards and two turnovers.

Johnny McCrary also got into the game for a short stint. He threw three passes, and two of those were interceptions. McCrary was quickly pulled after those blunders, and it led to more confusion for the offense.

Mason has to make his choice for a starter and ride them out for a while, through both the high points and the low points. By changing quarterbacks so many times, he showed his inexperience as a head coach. 

The running game also was abandoned too early. Panic seemed to set in before halftime even arrived, which could be another sign of inexperience as a head coach.

All of this negativity can change in a hurry if a couple wins are strung together, but Mason has to stick stick with one quarterback to give this offense a chance.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

USC Football: Cody Kessler Can Erase Trojans' Bad Week

Week 1 of a new era in USC football is not off to an ideal start for Trojans head coach Steve Sarkisian.

Redshirt senior cornerback Josh Shaw was suspended for lying about the circumstances of his ankle injury, per Jordan Moore of USCTrojans.com. Then Thursday, former cornerback-turned-running back Anthony Brown lambasted Sarkisian in a social media tirade, captured by USCFootball.com's Ryan Abraham.  

It's been a week to forget for USC off the field. However, one Trojan can play a big part in making it a distant memory with his performance on the field Saturday against Fresno State: quarterback Cody Kessler. 

Sarkisian's first big splash as USC head coach was made in April, when he named Kessler the Trojans' starter. He wasn't exactly going out on a limb with the decision—Kessler started all 14 games and led USC to 10 wins a season ago. 

But with the buzz surrounding redshirt freshman Max Browne, Kessler also wasn't grandfathered into the No. 1 spot. His own performance in spring football and Sarkisian's vote of confidence made it official.

Saturday is Kessler's chance to validate his head coach's first major decision.  

"Cody has a chance to step his game up and go to a whole other level," Sarkisian said on Tuesday's Pac-12 coaches teleconference call. "Generally speaking, a quarterback in his second year starting really starts to see those strides."  

Kessler went to that next level in last year's season finale, a 45-20 rout of the same Fresno State team USC sees on Saturday. He went 22-of-30 passing and reached career highs with 344 yards and four touchdowns.  

It started from an opening drive in which Kessler hit wide receiver Darreus Rogers for 20 yards and Nelson Agholor for 14. That set the table for two scoring strikes of 40 yards. 

Kessler effectively buckled the Fresno State defense's knees with his big plays. Bulldogs head coach Tim DeRuyter said in his press conference on Monday said he's using last year's slow start as motivation, via GoBulldogs.com

"We did not compete as well as what we hoped to last December," he said. "We've challenged our team with that." 

Of course, Fresno State is seeing a much different USC offense than it did in the Las Vegas Bowl. Along his naming of Kessler the starting quarterback, the other big splash Sarkisian made in the offseason was his implementation of the no-huddle system. 

Saturday is the new offense's debut with Kessler at the controls. 

"I think he really has a nice grasp of what we're trying to do offensively," Sarkisian said. 

Fresno State sees a fair amount of no-huddle offenses playing in the Mountain West Conference, DeRuyter said. But USC's version poses a unique challenge to the Bulldogs defense. 

"I don't know that the tempo itself will be something new," he said. "The athletes they have doing it will be different than what we've seen in the past."

Perhaps more than anything else in last season's bowl win, Kessler made effective use of that athletic advantage. Six different receivers from three different positions caught at least two passes. 

Agholor will certainly get his targets Saturday, but look for Kessler to also hook up with sophomore running back Justin Davis. 

Sarkisian commended the speedy Davis' ability to catch the ball out of the backfield, which should develop into a fundamental component of the Trojans' hurry-up attack. 

As for Kessler, blocking out distraction is nothing new when it comes to running the new offense. In fact, he said it's a primary responsibility. 

"The tempo is awesome," Kessler said last month at Pac-12 media days. "Especially at the skill spots, you've got to be ready to go...You've got to be locked in and focused the whole time." 

Focusing this week could be a challenge, given all the negative outside attention drawn on the Trojans in the past few days. But should their collective focus manifest Saturday with another win over Fresno State, it would be a real testament to the team's leadership. 

If Kessler flourishes in the new offense, memories of last week should be wiped away, but memories of even longer ago should come flooding back.  

Kessler said he's taken the success of recent Trojans quarterbacks like Matt Leinart and Mark Sanchez as motivation heading into the season.  

"You expect to win every week. You expect to be in the national championship discussion because of everything that surrounds you. These guys have set the bar so high, you don't want to let them down." 

 

Quotes obtained firsthand unless otherwise cited. Statistics compiled via CFBstats.com

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USC Football: Cody Kessler Can Erase Trojans' Bad Week

Week 1 of a new era in USC football is not off to an ideal start for Trojans head coach Steve Sarkisian . Redshirt senior cornerback Josh Shaw was suspended for lying about the circumstances of his ankle injury, per Jordan Moore of USCTrojans .

Read the full article on Bleacher Report...

Auburn Football: What to Expect from the Tigers' True Freshmen in 2014

AUBURN, Ala. — A team that returns 14 starters and picked up several of the nation's top junior college players shouldn't be having a youth revolution.

That hasn't stopped the defending SEC champions.

Auburn's first two-deep depth chart of the season featured a surprising six true freshmen from a 2014 recruiting class that finished sixth nationally in 247Sports' composite team rankings.

Although the Tigers returned experience at every position on offense and defense, the coaching staff opened competitions for key spots on the depth chart, and several talented newcomers took advantage.

"They've earned it," head coach Gus Malzahn said Wednesday in his final press conference before Saturday's season opener against SEC West foe Arkansas. "We've put the ball down and given everybody an opportunity and those guys have earned the right to be there. There's nothing like true game experience, but we think all of them that are in the two-deep are talented enough and mentally tough enough to do it, too."

None of these true freshmen will be among the first on the field against the Razorbacks, but their places on the depth chart suggest they will play some role Saturday and in the weeks to come. Here's a look at what you could see out of these highly-touted newcomers this fall.

 

Braden Smith

Smith took the Plains by storm this fall and received universal acclaim from everyone associated with the program. He also received a handful of unique nicknames—"The Terminator," "The Hulk" and "Drago," to name a few—for his massive 6'6", 299-pound physique.

"That's a huge dude," senior defensive end LaDarius Owens said. "When I first saw him on his recruiting visit, I thought he was someone's dad."

But Smith, who was called "one of the strongest guys on the team" by sophomore guard Jordan Diamond, brings more to Auburn's veteran offensive line than raw power.

His position coach, 30-year collegiate coaching veteran J.B. Grimes, sees a complete physical skill set that has drawn comparisons to the Tigers' top offensive lineman from last season, No. 2 overall NFL draft pick Greg Robinson.

"He’s in the 99th percentile, maybe the 99-point-ninth percentile of guys who are strong enough, at the right size now, have the ability to bend—all of those things," Grimes said. "There might not be but 10 freshmen in the country who have what he has."

Smith will start the season as the backup to Robinson's successor, sophomore Shon Coleman, and he could see playing time in any lopsided games Auburn might play this season. He could serve as an extra tackle with an eligible-receiver number on certain running plays, a position Coleman played several times in 2013.

 

Roc Thomas

Thomas also is an offensive star the Tigers want to get into the open field this season.

"We have Roc Thomas," Malzahn said in his Tuesday press conference. "He has a chance to be in the game [at running back], and he also has a chance to play kick returner."

The 5-star running back will back up Corey Grant and Ricardo Louis on special teams, but he will also play a role not clearly defined on Auburn's depth chart: reserve running back.

With Grant and Cameron Artis-Payne serving as running backs "1A and 1B" on the roster, Malzahn confirmed Wednesday that Thomas will have a chance to be a valuable substitute for the seniors, along with redshirt freshman Peyton Barber.

"He's really good," Artis-Payne said. "Explosive, he's quick, he has good speed, he's everything he's advertised to be. He'll be a real good player here, I know that."

Thomas stood out to his new team this fall with his quickness and elusiveness—Malzahn referred to him as a player with those video game-type "B-button moves"—and he will be a key member of the running back committee and special teams unit in his first season.

 

Stanton Truitt

Another true freshman adjusting to a new role is Truitt, who arrived at Auburn in the spring as an early enrollee.

A former high school quarterback, Truitt took full advantage of extra practice time to lock down a backup slot receiver spot behind Marcus Davis, who made a similar move last season.

"He’s tough," offensive coordinator Rhett Lashlee said. "He’s smart. He played some quarterback in high school too so he really wants to do well. There is a chance Stanton could have a good role for us." 

Auburn's coaching staff is already drawing up ways to play the young speedster in the offense this season.

"Here's the deal with Stanton: He is super-fast," Malzahn said. "He's got electric speed. So finding ways to get him the ball in space or maybe in the return game or something like that, he's capable of taking it the distance anywhere on the field."

Truitt might not get a chance to catch a pass or grab a reverse handoff against Arkansas because of the veteran players in front of him, but he will be one to watch against teams like San Jose State and Louisiana Tech.

 

Tre' Williams

Auburn's top recruit on the defensive side of the ball will also get a chance to make an instant impact this season.

Williams' quickness as an all-around linebacker stood out to defensive coordinator Ellis Johnson this fall. The Tigers are looking for added depth behind starters Cassanova McKinzy and Kris Frost, and the veteran coach feels like he found it in the talented Mobile native.

"If I graded him out, he's probably about the fourth-best linebacker I've got," Johnson said. "Tre’ had two really good scrimmages, very good production picking up the scheme pretty quickly. He just seemed real comfortable out there."

Williams was one of the nation's top inside linebacker recruits last year, but he debuted on his first Auburn depth chart as the second-string weak-side linebacker behind Frost. He has been able to make that move, according to his teammates, because of how fast he has picked up the Tigers' defensive system.

"They just want to learn," McKinzy said about Williams and fellow true freshman De'Shaun Davis. "As far as them being physical...those guys are headhunters. Football, 90 percent of it is mental and the other 10 is physical. They've caught on real fast, and I've been very surprised."

 

Nick Ruffin and Stephen Roberts

The position switches continued on defense with Ruffin and Roberts, two highly-rated cornerbacks out of high school who have found backup roles in new spots on the secondary.

Ruffin was one of the tallest secondary players in Auburn's 2014 recruiting class, and he brings the physicality the coaches want to see out of the hybrid Star position. With senior Robenson Therezie still out indefinitely with "an eligibility issue," Ruffin will have to step up fast to provide depth behind junior Justin Garrett.

"He’s got a lot of the same skills that Therezie has," Johnson said. "He’s a natural DB. The biggest thing he’s had to improve on right now is the big receivers stock blocking him out in space or coming off the edge and having to take on a running back on a blitz or an outside run play. He’s kind of got DB skill sets and he’s looked very comfortable out there."

Roberts, who also played some quarterback in high school, will back up senior and longtime starter Jermaine Whitehead at free safety. The freshman from nearby Opelika will have chances to showcase his athleticism in the secondary and on special teams, as he practiced at punt returner during fall camp.

"Stephen Roberts is another guy that we felt good about, and I think as the season goes on you could possibly see him back there [at returner], too," Malzahn said.

 

Justin Ferguson is Bleacher Report's lead Auburn writer. Follow him on Twitter @JFergusonAU. All quotes were obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted. All recruiting rankings and information courtesy of 247Sports. All stats courtesy of CFBStats.com.

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Cold Hard Fact for Friday, August 29, 2014

Fact: Kenny Hill is the third quarterback in SEC history with 40 completions in a game. Tim Couch did it five times, and Eli Manning did it once.

Bleacher Report will be bringing sports fans the most interesting and engaging Cold Hard Fact of the day, presented by Coors Light.

Source: ESPN Stats & Info

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How South Carolina Can Rebound from Devastating Week 1 Loss

If you’re a South Carolina Gamecocks fan, there’s nothing else you can do except look at the positives.

At first glance, sure, it may be hard to find something to hang onto following Thursday’s 52-28 thrashing at the hands of SEC rival Texas A&M. However, once you weed through the plethora of points, the 680 yards of total offense and the seven touchdowns conceded, there is quite a bit of reason for optimism.

In fact, it’s enough to believe South Carolina will be back in College Football Playoff contention by the end of the month.

Coming into this season, one of the biggest question marks surrounding the Gamecocks was the offense. More specifically, how would senior Dylan Thompson handle the pressure under center?

After Thursday’s showing, it’s safe to say that the Boiling Springs, South Carolina, native will play a big role in the team's revitalization. 

Thompson completed 20 of 40 passes for career highs of 366 yards and four touchdowns—albeit some of it when the game was already well in hand. He also showed great vision, working the ball around to 10 different receivers while registering a quarterback rating of 154.9—the second highest in his career.

That’s pretty good from a quarterback who entered with just 1,827 yards and 14 touchdowns to his name over three seasons.

But Thompson wasn’t the only bright spot in the passing attack. Senior wide receiver Nick Jones had a good day too.

After averaging a mere 207 yards and two touchdowns per year over his first three seasons in Columbia, Jones hauled in five passes for 113 yards and a pair of scores on Thursday. That included bringing in a 69-yard strike from Thompson.

Given that South Carolina was expected to be carried by its rushing attack, the play of Jones and Thompson was rather surprising. But it quickly became a necessity when the ground game struggled to get going—the Gamecocks finished with just 67 yards on 22 carries.

As good as he was on Thursday, don’t expect Thompson to focus on anything else but the bigger picture.

“It doesn’t matter how I thought I played,” he said, per The Post and Courier’sDavid Caraviello. “The scoreboard tells the story.”

Premature or not, the poor showing by South Carolina in its opener has some questioning whether head coach Steve Spurrier’s window for an SEC championship has finally closed.

With clashes against No. 12 Georgia and No. 24 Missouri coming up in September, the Gamecocks SEC title hopes—along with any national championship aspirations—will certainly be on the line. But if anything else, that kind of schedule should only fire up the team.

Since 2010, South Carolina hasn’t lost more than two games in a season. Furthermore, over the last five years, the team is an impressive 18-3 in the month of September.

Nobody said 2014 would be a smooth ride for the Gamecocks. But if anyone can rally the troops from such a hole, it’s Spurrier.

 

All stats and rankings used in this article are courtesy of CFBStats.com.

Sebastian can be reached on Twitter and via email at Sebastian.LenaBR@gmail.com.

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The Weird Saga of Alabama's 2014 Quarterback Battle

Perhaps, as offseason chatter in need of definitive answers tends to do, media folks jumped the gun on anointing Florida State transfer quarterback Jake Coker the future at Alabama. 

On the eve of the Crimson Tide's season opener against West Virginia in Atlanta, head coach Nick Saban still hasn't officially announced a starting quarterback. He did, however, drop a hint that redshirt senior Blake Sims will take the field first.

Via Andrew Gribble of al.com: "We have faith, trust and confidence in Blake Sims. We're not going to evaluate Blake and he doesn't have to look over his shoulder while he's playing. I think there may be some occasion where the other guy deserves an opportunity at some point in time this season to show what he can do."

That quote was supplemented by a report from Jeremy Fowler of CBSSports.com, which stated that Sims would "start" against the Mountaineers—and "start" is a loose phrase. Coker could see the field in Week 1 as well, though that has not been confirmed either. As of Aug. 25, the two are listed as co-starters on the depth chart. 

It's been the most-watched quarterback battle in college football given Alabama's preseason No. 2 ranking in the Associated Press and USA Today coaches poll

That battle unofficially began when Alabama announced in January that it had signed Coker, who had lost the Seminoles' quarterback competition to eventual Heisman Trophy winner Jameis Winston the year before. 

Since the Tide were replacing AJ McCarron, who helped lead the program to a pair of national titles, the initial assumption was that Coker—a 6'5", 230-pound physical specimen with a great arm—would be the successor. And why not? Coker was immediately eligible upon his graduation at Florida State, and quarterback transfers have been a vogue trend lately.

For instance: Michael Brewer, the former Texas Tech quarterback, was recently announced as Virginia Tech's starting quarterback earlier this month. A graduate transfer quarterback is the most identifiable quick fix. 

So when ESPN college football analyst David Pollack said in June (h/t Knox Bardeen, Fox Sports South.), "You can go ahead and hand it (the starting job) to [Coker]," it fell in line with the narrative. 

But the longer the competition went on, the less the narrative played out according to plan. As Bleacher Report's Ray Glier reported earlier this month, Coker has had his struggles in practice: 

Judging from a pass-heavy Aug. 16 scrimmage, Coker, the transfer from Florida State, is not there yet. He was not Bradford, Luck or Bridgewater. He was just a new quarterback trying to learn a playbook in three weeks and find his way with a new set of receivers nine months after undergoing serious knee surgery (meniscus).

It is a daunting task, and Coker scuffled, according to various people who witnessed the closed scrimmage.

One practice doesn't make or break anyone's chances to start—Sims wasn't all that impressive in Alabama's spring game—but Saban has been high on Sims throughout the offseason. In a situation that lacks a definitive answer, this much is clear: Sims won't, nor was he ever going to, take a back seat to Coker. 

"Saban is giving Sims the first snap here because of his experience in the offense and his familiarity with the players," said Marc Torrence, B/R's Alabama Lead Writer. "His teammates love him, and they barely know Coker."

To be clear, Coker could still start for Alabama. His physical tools are obvious, and it could be a matter of the light turning on for him. It would appear, based on practice reports, that Sims has an edge, but that could change in live game situations. Though Sims is the "program guy," he's every bit as unproven as Coker.

It's Saban's job to find out which quarterback can prove himself. That could take a week, or a month. According to Torrence, Saban isn't in a major rush to name a starter (nor is he interested in hypothetical situations). Rather, he's content to let things play out. 

"The feeling is that they don't have to name a permanent starter until Florida [Sept. 20]," Torrence said. 

It wouldn't be the first time Saban has done this. In 2011, McCarron and another Sims—Phillip—split snaps in the Tide's season-opening win against Kent State. That season, if memory serves correctly, turned out alright. 

"Is Coker the better talent who will eventually win the long-term starter role? I think so," said Torrence. "Is Sims the best option right now, all things considered? Yes."

Alabama, along with the rest of the college football world, will find out Saturday. The quarterback two-deep may be a fluid situation, but Saban's history in Tuscaloosa suggests it'll level out eventually. Anxious minds just have to get on Saban's level of patience. 

  

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

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College Football Playoff 2014: Preseason Rankings and Postseason Predictions

The 2014 college football season is officially underway, and the talk has already begun regarding the new playoff system. With the archaic BCS gone and a traditional four-team postseason in its place, it’s an exciting time to be a fan of the sport.

After the final rankings of the year are released, the top four teams will be seeded in the semifinals of a bracket-style playoff system. The winners of each semifinal matchup then advance to the championship game January 12.

With plenty of teams fighting for the honor of being the first to run the college football playoff table, here are the preseason rankings and the postseason predictions.

 

*Full Amway Coaches and Associated Press Top 25 polls.

 

Breaking Down the Final Four

The departure from the traditional BCS postseason is a dream come true for most college football fans. While many were hoping for a more expansive playoffs (possibly eight or 10 teams), the fact that actual change was implemented is a step in the right direction.

Now, the focus shifts to which four teams will contend for the national title.

Last year’s defending champion Florida State Seminoles will be a favorite to repeat this season with Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback Jameis Winston under center once again. While the roster has encountered a high turnover after the NFL draft, the recruiting from Jimbo Fisher has helped the program replenish the voids.

Florida State starts the season as the No. 1 team in both the AP and the Amway Coaches polls. The pressure will be on the Seminoles from Day 1, but if the program can withstand the scrutiny throughout the season, Florida State will be tough to beat in the postseason.

One team who won’t let Florida State win without a fight will be the Alabama Crimson Tide.

While Alabama is known mostly for its elite play on the defensive side of the ball, the team boasts an underrated offensive unit this season that will shock the SEC. Led by senior quarterback Blake Sims, the unit also features talented running back T.J. Yeldon and standout wide receiver Amari Cooper.

The Crimson Tide may start the season as the No. 2 team in the nation, but with a more difficult schedule than Florida State (the SEC is superior to the ACC), expect the two programs to be fighting for the top spot in the nation throughout the season.

Another team looking to spoil the Seminoles attempt to repeat will be the Oregon Ducks, with quarterback Marcus Mariota leading the dynamic offensive unit against a tough Pac-12 conference schedule. If Oregon can beat the likes of Michigan State, UCLA and Stanford this season, there will be no doubt that the Ducks advance to the four-team playoff.

There are questions about how the Oregon defense will be able to withstand the talent of the tough competition on the schedule, but the program has the firepower to stun many of the top teams in the nation. If the Ducks beat Michigan State in Week 2, expect the team to remain part of the championship conversation all season.

One team not getting the love it deserves is the Auburn Tigers. After stunning Alabama last season, Auburn looks to capitalize on a schedule that doesn’t look as strong as it once did. While a meeting with Texas A&M could prove to be tough, matchups against rebuilding programs such as LSU and Ole Miss could help build confidence among the players in the program.

If the Tigers were able to knock off Alabama in the Iron Bowl to close the regular season, the team would be a serious championship contender. Even if Auburn loses the final game, a stellar regular season could still earn the program a berth in the postseason.

Regardless of which four teams make the new playoff format, the excitement from college football fans across the country will make it feel special. It’s good to have the BCS gone, and it’s even better to have a postseason format the fans can support.

Predicted National Champions: Alabama Crimson Tide

 

*Stats via CFBStats.com.

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Alabama Football: What to Make of Blake Sims Starting Reports and Other Notes

TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — Alabama coach Nick Saban all but laid out his plans for his quarterbacks Thursday night during his first weekly Hey Coach radio show of the season.

"We have faith, trust and confidence in Blake Sims," Saban said, according to Andrew Gribble of al.com. "We're not going to evaluate Blake, and he doesn't have to look over his shoulder while he's playing. I think there may be some occasion where the other guy deserves an opportunity at some point in time this season to show what he can do."

Reading between the lines, that looks pretty much like Sims is the starter, for now, while Florida State transfer Jake Coker will continue to be brought along and up to speed.

A few minutes later, CBSSports.com's Jeremy Fowler said that "barring any unexpected last-minute changes," Sims will start, but that Coker "is expected to play."

Fowler's report made waves through college football Twitter last night as everyone watched the late-night games. But it shouldn't come as any surprise, since that's very much in line with what Saban has said all throughout fall camp, most recently on that Thursday radio show.

There's been no indication whatsoever that Coker was going to start this game.

Sims' teammates love him, having known him for going on five years now. He's the epitome of a "program guy." Sims has changed positions a couple of times without complaint and has always been a helping hand and welcoming presence, even though he hasn't been a starter during his career.

He also has a much better understanding of the offense in terms of what Saban expects from a quarterback. At this point in the game, the coaches simply trust him more, a huge factor for Saban and his staff when deciding who goes out under center.

"Blake has a lot more familiarity with the system, having been here longer," Saban said Monday. "I think he's more comfortable in doing the things that we do and has done a really good job. Has played really, really well in this fall camp, has played well in the scrimmages. The team has had a good rhythm when he's in there at quarterback.

"Jacob is obviously the newer guy of the two, who doesn't have the same knowledge and experience. I think we're just trying to get him more and more familiar so that he plays with the rhythm that we need to play with offensively."

That's not to say that Coker is out of this, by any means. He just isn't quite where the coaches want him to be from a trust and confidence standpoint. The coaches know what they have in Sims. He's a proven commodity while Coker gets assimilated into the system.

"Starter" for this game is a fairly meaningless term, anyway. Yes, he'll take the first snap, but that doesn't necessarily mean that whoever it is has been declared the winner of the quarterback competition, or even will play 100 percent of the snaps.

Both guys will likely play, and this thing is far from over.

Here are some other notes before the Chick-fil-A Kickoff.

 

Freshmen abound

Alabama fans should get plenty of opportunities to see members of the Crimson Tide's No. 1 2014 recruiting class (per 247Sports) on the field Saturday. Alabama listed 16 players from that group on its official depth chart, including 14 true freshmen.

Several of those will play key roles.

Most notably, 5-star recruit Cam Robinson, the No. 4 overall player in that 2014 class, is expected to start at left tackle. The other starting freshman is JK Scott, who has handled punting duties during fall camp and could make a cameo at kicker if called upon.

Otherwise, Josh Frazier, Da'Shawn Hand and Rashaan Evans provide depth in Alabama's front seven, and those three could rotate in at some point up front. Cornerbacks Marlon Humphrey and Tony Brown, both 5-star recruits, could be called upon in the secondary, with Brown the early favorite since he enrolled in the spring.

Saban cautioned, though, against expecting any of them to light the world on fire from Day 1. This age of recruiting coverage, combined with the national exposure of college football, has placed tremendous pressure on the shoulders of 18- and 19-year-olds to perform right away, when in reality their full development as a college player takes a couple of years.

"We wouldn't put guys in the game if they weren't ready to be in there," Saban said. "We also don't expect them to play perfect."

 

Saban's country roads

Nick Saban isn't the least bit shy of his upbringing. He frequently cites his West Virginia roots and working at his dad's gas station as the foundation for his mentality and coaching philosophy that has brought him so much success.

It also means that his childhood college team growing up is the one his Crimson Tide will face Saturday.

"That was the biggest thing going when I was a kid, to go to Mountaineer Field and watch West Virginia play. That was like the highlight of my year," Saban said.

"I still have great memories of home and great memories of the people and relationships that I have at home. I've always kind of been a Mountaineer fan. I remember as a kid sitting in the old Mountaineer Fieldhouse. I used to sit in the upper deck with my feet hanging over the deck looking in between the rails watching Jerry West play. I remember that. I was probably only seven, eight, nine years old or something, but I remember that."

Saban still has plenty of relationships from those days, including U.S. Senator Joe Manchin, whom Saban nominated for his Ice Bucket Challenge.

TideSports.com's Tommy Deas traveled to Saban's hometown to report on a piece that is well worth your time and provides excellent insight into his childhood and what made him the way he is today.

"You don't forget stuff like that," Saban said. "But now I'm Alabama's coach. I'm an Alabama fan. We don't really have to be concerned about any of that. We want to do what's best for our team and the relationships that we have here.

"But we also respect their traditions and the relationships that we've developed through the years in West Virginia."

 

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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Notre Dame Football: Brian Kelly's Final Thoughts on Irish Offseason

SOUTH BEND, Ind. — Notre Dame football kicks off its regular season Saturday when it battles Rice inside Notre Dame Stadium.

It’s been an eventful offseason for the Irish, especially over the past two weeks since news of the academic investigation broke. So while we have one final opportunity, let’s break down some of Notre Dame head coach Brian Kelly’s final thoughts on the offseason.

 

Everett Golson Named the Starting Quarterback

When Kelly named quarterback Everett Golson the starter just more than two weeks ago, the expectation finally became a reality. Asked this week how Golson has looked since being named the No. 1 signal-caller, Kelly pointed to the senior’s consistency.

“I think there is still room for growth there in that position, but consistency, decisiveness, those are good words to use with the quarterback's growth,” Kelly said Tuesday. “I think I've seen that. As a leader I think could probably use the same thing relative to consistency. He's consistently been that vocal leader on the offensive side of the ball.”

Kelly said the expectations for Golson don’t change even though his last live game action came during the BCS National Championship Game against Alabama—some 600 days ago. The head coach did say Notre Dame needs to be cognizant of the long layoff and focus on getting Golson back into an early rhythm.

“I think once he starts to get comfortable playing the game at a fast pace, then we just call the game like we normally would,” Kelly said.

 

Young Defense Will Be Tested

Six freshmen crack Notre Dame’s two-deep this week.

Six sophomores join them.

It became clear early in the offseason that Notre Dame would feature a remarkably young and inexperienced defense in 2014. For Kelly, while the unit is certainly green, he also highlighted the raw ability.

“Defensively it's one of the more inexperienced groups, but it's probably one of the more athletic groups, too,” Kelly said. “So there is a give and take there from that perspective.”

With all that youth on the defensive side of the ball, Kelly said Notre Dame must adjust the learning curve while also recognizing the need to play with a high level of sophistication.

“I think you're always teaching to the level that allows you to be successful,” Kelly said. “You can't say, well, we just have a bunch of young guys—we have to be basic. They've got to catch up to us.”

Kelly admitted there will assuredly be times when the Irish coaches are “gnashing our teeth,” but he said it’s important to trust the athleticism of the youngsters.

 

Early Expectations

It has been almost exactly eight months since Notre Dame last took the field, when it topped Rutgers, 29-16, in the Pinstripe Bowl at Yankee Stadium. A lot has changed since then, and a lot of work has been done.

So when the Irish square off with the Owls on Saturday, Kelly said he wants to progress from the offseason.

“You want to know that all the work that you put in is paying off a little bit, that we’ve put in since January,” Kelly said Thursday.

Kelly said he’ll look for a strong start. He wants solid fundamentals. He wants to avoid turnovers and sloppy football. In other words, Kelly wants what every coach wants in a season opener.

But he’s also looking for steady quarterback play from Golson and confidence for some of those aforementioned young defensive players.

“I think if that comes out of a win, obviously it’s going to be a great day for us,” Kelly said.

 

All quotes obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted.

Mike Monaco is a lead Notre Dame writer for Bleacher Report. Follow @MikeMonaco_ on Twitter.

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