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LSU Football: Tigers' Most Important Players at Each Position

LSU football will look to rely on its key players as the Tigers try to rebound from a disappointing season last year in 2014. 

After an 8-5 season characterized by an inept offense and inconsistent defensive play, the Bayou Bengals return a solid core of contributors at every positional group, which puts the team in a promising spot to improve. 

The Tigers return 15 starters from a team that still was able beat Mississippi and Wisconsin and take Alabama to overtime a year ago, according to Phil Steele

LSU was also picked to finish third in the SEC West by the media.

Here is a list of LSU’s most important players at each position based on the player’s status as an X-factor as well as being the one of the overall best players at his position.

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Winners and Losers from 2015 Big 12 Media Days

DALLAS, Texas—That's all from Big D, folks. Big 12 media days are officially in the books. What, exactly, did we learn?

We learned TCU might be the only group with tempered expectations for the season. We learned why Kansas coach David Beaty is such a strong recruiter. We learned that Oklahoma feels it's much closer to competing for a Big 12 title than you may think. 

That, and much, much more. 

So let's take a few minutes to reflect on what the last two days have brought us. Here are the winners and losers—which, generally, aren't "losers" since there are no losers this time of year—from Big 12 media days, based on the best quotes and moments of the week. 

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Ranking the Best 5th-Year Seniors in College Football in 2015

With one of the main goals of every college football player being to get to the NFL, it's come to where the best of the best tend to spend as little time in school as necessary before setting off on a pro career. Though they can play four seasons and attend class for up to five, once three years are in the books many will make the move to the NFL.

Sticking around and using up every bit of eligibility has somehow become a red mark when evaluating a player's talent level, the feeling being that if they were good enough to turn pro earlier they would have done so. But life sometimes gets in the way, thus requiring a college student to spend their full five years in school.

And there are plenty of rewards for doing so. Besides the obvious benefit of being able to complete their college degrees, there's the ability to establish themselves as a team leader while also honing their craft to the point they have less of a learning curve at the pro level. And for the teams they play on, having fifth-year seniors is a huge boost in the experience department.

There are varying reasons why the best fifth-year seniors in college football needed that year away from the game. Many weren't ready to compete when they first arrived five years ago, or their teams were stacked at that position and it made sense to bring them along slowly. Others were forced to sit out a season either due to transfer rules or because of injury, but that time away has added to their drive and dedication.

As we creep ever closer to the 2015 season, here's our ranking of the best fifth-year seniors in college football based on their performance to this point in their careers and their value to their respective teams this fall.

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Winners and Losers of 2015 ACC Media Days

Conference media days are in full swing, and the ACC joined the preseason party Monday and Tuesday with its annual Football Kickoff event in Pinehurst, North Carolina.

Each of the ACC's 14 schools sent its head coach and two player representatives to face the media and preview the upcoming season.

Several players and coaches highlighted the event with their quotes, while the preseason polls handed out some unfortunate results for a few teams.

Then, of course, there was the eye-opening media guide phrase that thrust the conference into the spotlight Monday afternoon.

With the event wrapping up Tuesday afternoon following the head coaches' turns at the podium, let's recap the ACC's media days with some winners and losers from the event.

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Steve Spurrier Comments on South Carolina's Domestic Violence, Drug Policies

South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier is willing to show some leniency for certain violations or rules a player may commit or break. He absolutely has a zero-tolerance policy for domestic abuse and striking women, however, as he told Mike & Mike on Tuesday morning, per Robby Kalland of CBS Sports.

I have had that rule I think every year I've been at South Carolina, so 10 years, and we have lost two players. I tell the team when they first arrive on campus, all the freshman know right now, if you ever hit a girl, punch a girl, whatever, you're finished. You can go somewhere else, transfer somewhere else, but you're not going to be on our team.

That's just a rule I have, a personal rule. Some other coaches don't have it. They think they'll give a guy a second chance, but we don't have second chances for that.

Those comments mirrored his remarks about domestic violence last week during SEC media days, when he noted that he dismissed two players in the past for hitting women. But those players weren't stars, so the dismissals didn't become national stories.     

But Spurrier also shed a bit of light on his policy for marijuana offenses, telling Mike & Mike, "You can smoke pot and get lectured on it—three pots and you're finished—and we have our rules for all our other things. We haven't had anything happen [with domestic violence] in about eight years now, so I think it's a good rule and if you enforce it it's really helpful."

His stance on domestic violence is particularly relevant in football circles given the increasing incidents tied to football players in recent years, namely at the NFL level. But it is also a topic at the center of the college football world right now, as former Florida State quarterback De'Andre Johnson—who was dismissed from the team after video surfaced of him striking a woman at a bar in June—and current running back Dalvin Cook are facing battery charges for allegedly striking women.

Spurrier's candor about his lack of tolerance for domestic violence makes him an excellent example for other coaches at both the college and NFL level, especially as this issue continues to be such a pressing one within football culture. 

 

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UAB Announces Return of Football Program for 2017 Season

UAB has a plan to reinstate the football program in 2017 after cutting the sport in December, according to a release from the school's website Tuesday.  

Per that release, the UAB "currently is working with donors who committed enough financial support earlier in the year to enable the programs’ return without impacting the school’s budget beyond its current subsidy." The NCAA informed the school that football can return for the 2017 season, with the team competing at the Football Bowl Subdivision level. 

The team would also be eligible for bowl competition and a Conference USA championship immediately.

The news thrilled head coach Bill Clark, per the school's release: 

I am so excited that UAB Football will return to FBS competition in 2017. Like our fans, I wanted to light the scoreboard much sooner, but doing it right is more important than doing it fast, and this was our best option. We want a program that is here to stay. We have to start by building a new, stronger foundation. We need to take our time to do it right, then we can compete for conference and bowl championships.

Given the number of players who transferred after the program met its demise, rebuilding the roster before 2017 may have been a tall task.

In December, UAB's president, Ray Watts, announced that football, rifle and bowling would be abolished (all three were reinstated Tuesday), as he claimed that maintaining football wasn't financially viable.

But with donors helping out, fundraising efforts in place and the support of the NCAA and Conference USA, the university appears to have a sustainable plan in place to maintain the football program.

It's a bittersweet result, perhaps, for those players who were so devastated when the school initially cut the program and who won't have eligibility in 2017, but for those who fought to have football reinstated, this is nonetheless a huge win.

 

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Why Ohio State vs. Virginia Tech Rematch Is Already Worth the Hype

COLUMBUS, Ohio — Between the preseason loss of the star quarterback, the seemingly devastating defeat suffered in the second week of the season and a team rallying around its third-string quarterback when everybody else was counting it out, Ohio State's 2014 national title run followed a script that could have only been written in Hollywood.

And with seven weeks to go until the start of the 2015 season, the sequel appears already appears poised for a strong start.

At least that's the vibe that's been emanating from ACC media days in Pinehurst, North Carolina, where the Buckeyes have been a big topic of conversation despite the Big Ten still being a week away from holding its media days. But with one of the ACC's tentpole programs preparing to get the first crack at the defending national champions, it shouldn't come as a surprise that Urban Meyer's squad has once again made its presence felt outside of its own league.

Especially when you take into consideration that the Buckeyes' first opponents in their national championship defense will be the same team that handed them that aforementioned "seemingly devastating defeat" a season ago—their only loss of the 2014 campaign. Heading to Blacksburg, Virginia, on Labor Day for its 2015 opener, Ohio State will take on Virginia Tech, who will be just a year removed from having beaten the Buckeyes, 35-21 in Columbus.

And while Ohio State has already opened up as 14-point favorites according to Bovada (via Odds Shark), the hype for the rematch between the Buckeyes and Hokies has already made it one of the can't-miss games of college football's opening weekend.

"Talent-wise, they're by far the No. 1 team in the country," Virginia Tech head coach Frank Beamer said of the Buckeyes during his Tuesday press conference. "They're coming to Blacksburg on a Monday night. You don't have that opportunity that often. I know for fans, they've looked forward to it. We have, too. I mean, it's the best team in the country coming to your house. You want to make the best of that."

Only adding to the excitement from the Hokies' perspective was Monday's announcement by school president Tim Sands that Virginia Tech won't be holding classes on Labor Day this year, as it has traditionally done in the past. It's not a coincidence that Sands' decision to cancel classes on the holiday has come in the same year in which the Hokies are hosting the defending national champions, nor will it likely have much of an affect on the attendance in the Blacksburg classrooms on that day anyway.

"To be honest, I don't think anyone was going to be going to class that day anyway," Virginia Tech cornerback Kendall Fuller said, via Andy Bitter of the Roanoke Times. "I seriously doubt it. If someone was going to class, kudos to them."

Added Hokies quarterback Michael Brewer: "Regardless, class or no class, it’s going to be a crazy environment," Brewer said. "The fans are extremely excited about it. We’re excited about it. It’s good for college football. The defending national champions coming into a historically great place to play, 'Enter Sandman,' Frank Beamer, Urban Meyer. It’s awesome. It’s what you grow up watching, stuff like this."

But rest assured, the excitement for the Ohio State-Virginia Tech rematch extends well outside of Blacksburg, even if the Buckeyes already find themselves as double-digit road favorites. The reality is that it wouldn't matter to Meyer's team if it was favored by 100 points or underdogs for the fourth game in a row, after the Hokies put the lone dent in an otherwise storybook 2014 season in Columbus.

Ohio State has wisely been mum on the subject publicly, with most of the offseason attention paid to the Buckeyes focusing on the unprecedented upcoming quarterback competition between Cardale Jones, J.T. Barrett and Braxton Miller. But inside the walls of the Woody Hayes Athletic Center, the Hokies have served as a major source of motivation in offseason workouts, a sentiment that has occasionally leaked into the players' social media accounts.

Not that Virginia Tech will be caught off-guard by the Buckeyes' thirst for revenge, which isn't exactly a secret strategy in the Meyer playbook. In a Q&A with Bitter earlier this offseason, Hokies defensive coordinator Bud Foster admitted as much, using a bit of hyperbole to illustrate his point.

"Regardless of who their quarterback is, they’ll want to score 100 points on us, I know that," Foster said. "They’ll want to beat us down."

It's highly unlikely the Buckeyes will actually reach triple-digits, but an Ohio State blowout, given the Buckeyes' motivation, wouldn't be all that surprising. That's not to say that Virginia Tech should be entirely counted out from scoring its second upset over OSU in as many years, even as the Buckeyes return 14 starters from a season ago and are a near-lock to be the nation's preseason No. 1 team.

Because despite Ohio State's decisive talent advantage over the Hokies, it was Virginia Tech's X's and O's that beat the Buckeyes a year ago, rather than its Jimmies and Joes. Employing a cover-zero scheme that dared Barrett to throw the ball downfield in the second start of his college career, the Hokies stifled Ohio State with a defensive scheme that admittedly flustered Meyer.

And according to Fuller, Foster's unit once again has a surprise up its sleeve.

"Guess we'll have to see if y'all like it," Fuller said of the Hokies' secret strategy at media days, via Mike Barber of the Richmond Times-Dispatch.

Of course, the Hokies don't even know what they're exactly preparing for yet, as Meyer has yet to decide between Jones, Barrett and Miller as his starter, with all three quarterbacks possessing unique skill sets. Then again, the possibility exists that Meyer and his staff won't yet be 100 percent sold on their first choice at quarterback, either, and some second-guessing could play into Virginia Tech's favor.

Ultimately, however, we still have seven weeks to dissect the rematch between the Buckeyes and the Hokies and decide if the latter has a realistic shot at scoring another monumental upset.

But if the hype that it's been receiving in Pinehurst is any indication, Blacksburg will be the home of one last summer blockbuster come Labor Day.

 

Ben Axelrod is Bleacher Report's Big Ten lead writer. You can follow him on Twitter @BenAxelrod. Unless noted otherwise, all quotes were obtained firsthand. All statistics courtesy of cfbstats.com. Recruiting rankings courtesy of 247Sports.

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Jimbo Fisher Taking Responsibility for FSU's Troubles a Step in Right Direction

Jimbo Fisher faced the music Tuesday morning at the ACC Football Kickoff.

Fisher fielded plenty of questions about the recent incidents of violence against women involving former quarterback De'Andre Johnson and indefinitely suspended running back Dalvin Cook. However, the Florida State coach had an expected but welcome tune to his responses. 

Fisher placed the responsibility of his players' actions on himself. He spoke of ways the program was becoming more proactive in preventing future incidents.

"Just like it is anywhere else in the country, you as the head coach take responsibility, and you continue to educate," Fisher said, according to Jared Shanker of ESPN.com. "You hope they don't make mistakes, and when they do, you punish and adjust and continue to educate so they don't do it again."

Fisher's time at the podium in Pinehurst, North Carolina, on Tuesday marked his first press conference since the Johnson and Cook incidents.

To his credit, Fisher didn't shy away from any off-the-field questions. A lackluster press conference would've only made the issues worse for him and his Florida State program, but Fisher was direct with his answers—just like he needed to be.

Fisher said Florida State continues to have a zero-tolerance policy regarding violence against women.

"You're judged by what you do and we've had a couple of instances, just like other people have, too," Fisher said, according to Tom D'Angelo of the Palm Beach Post. "It's not a Florida State problem, it's a national problem. It's not just an athletic problem, it's a domestic problem across our country...we don't tolerate it or accept it."

While Fisher is correct in saying that this problem doesn't just affect Florida State—several other powerhouse programs have dealt with similar incidents in recent years—the recent cases of Johnson and Cook aren't the first under his watch.

According to Shanker, "at least six" Seminoles have been accused of violence against women during Fisher's time as Florida State's head coach.

That should be an extremely hard number to swallow.

Fisher said his program has been proactive with character issues in the past with classes and conducting background checks for recruits "as much as we possibly can." 

However, he plans to add to those efforts in the wake of Johnson and Cook's incidents, which came within days of each other.

"We've had a very extensive program," Fisher said, per D'Angelo. "We go 40 days a year of bringing in character-building people, developmental conditioning with issues: drugs, alcohol, opposite sex, domestic violence. We’ve done it from the very first day I’ve been there."

Shanker reports Florida State's players are now in a four-step program following the recent arrests. 

Fisher said he has enlisted the help of several high-profile people for a greater emphasis on character-building, including former FBI agent Bob Delaney, members of the Navy SEALs and Seattle Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson's "Pass the Peace" campaign against domestic violence.

All these actions by Fisher—taking responsibility, new programs, more character education—are small steps in the right direction for Florida State.

But they're just small steps.

Fisher knows the actions of a few of his players have affected the image of the team and Florida State as a whole. And he knows these aren't just isolated incidents this season.

"You want to change perception, you have to have continual performance in the right way for long periods of time," Fisher said, per D'Angelo. 

Changes need to be made, and Fisher is saying all the right things in response to the growing questions about his program. And the result of Cook's situation will show how much Fisher backs up those words of "zero tolerance."

Fisher said he would "wait for the facts to come out" about Cook before making a decision. According to Chip Patterson of CBS Sports, Cook's court date has been pushed back to Sept. 2—three days before FSU's 2015 season opener.

It was an easy decision for Fisher to dismiss Johnson, a backup quarterback, after video surfaced of him brutally punching a young woman at a bar.

But what will Fisher do with the results for Cook, who led Florida State in rushing last season?

How Florida State handles its top running back and prevents future instances of violence against women will be the true measures of progress for this program.

Perhaps the added hours of off-field learning will get through to Fisher's team and prevent more of these awful incidents.

Maybe Florida State's players, who Fisher said were involved in a decision to make bars off-limits, are taking more responsibility for the actions of one another.

"They said they’re not putting themselves in those positions," Fisher said, per D'Angelo. "It's a collective ban. They collectively as a group said the same thing, 'We don’t need to be in there.'"

The head coach can create countless new rules and programs, but it's ultimately up to Florida State's players to end this deeply troubling trend.

Fisher's words on Tuesday were good, but they can only go so far.

Actions—or the lack of actions in this situation—speak louder than words.

 

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

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Ole Miss Head Coach Hugh Freeze's Proposal for Playoff Change Isn't Ideal

"Talkin' season" is still in full gear for another couple of weeks, and SEC coaches are hitting the home stretch this week by going through a "car wash" at ESPN world headquarters that sends them to virtually every outlet at the Worldwide Leader.

Apparently, some coaches are taking the opportunity that ESPN's massive distribution network provides to politic for change in the postseason format.

Most notably, Ole Miss head coach Hugh Freeze.

According to ESPN.com's Brett McMurphy, Freeze suggested a change to the College Football Playoff that will not only add teams to the mix but take away several big games along the way.

Freeze isn't the only one asking for change.

Arkansas' Bret Bielema made the rounds Tuesday and lobbied for the playoff to double in size, according to Alex Scarborough of ESPN.com.

Auburn's Gus Malzahn got into the mix Tuesday as well, according to ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg.

Guys, come on. Can we have a few years of the four-team playoff first before begging for it to expand?

Of course coaches want more access because they get bonuses and enhanced job stability for reaching the playoff. The truth of the matter, though, is that Freeze's plan won't fly.

First, there's the obvious. The only way the Power Five would ever approve of an expanded playoff—even to six teams—would be if conference champions received automatic bids. Is that really what we want college football to be? Should teams that win their arbitrarily—and oftentimes geographically—determined conference automatically be considered title-worthy?

Of course not.

And spare me the comparison to other professional leagues. College football isn't like any other sport and has a much different landscape due to the number of FBS teams. It's unique, and it should stay that way.

Did Wisconsin, a team that was 8-5 after winning the 2012 Big Ten Championship Game, deserve as much of a shot at the national title that year as undefeated Notre Dame and one-loss Alabama? Of course not. Suggesting otherwise would be insane.

Of course, in Freeze's plan, there would be no Big Ten Championship Game for Wisconsin to win. So would a Nebraska team that was 10-2 and ranked 12th in the BCS heading into championship weekend be worthy of national title consideration?

Nope.

A team that's worthy of a national title being left out of the four-team playoff every once in a while is much more acceptable than one that's not worthy getting hot in the postseason and winning the whole thing. When access becomes the most important factor in determining playoff participants, college football will have lost its way.

Zach Barnett of FootballScoop.com is with me when it comes to being against the expansion of the College Football Playoff.

Besides, in Freeze's plan, conferences would give up the programming and financial cash cow of the conference title games and eliminate the 12th regular-season game. 

Television partners and athletic directors would flip if that idea ever gets serious traction.

Whether the absence of the 12th game eliminates tough out-of-conference games, neutral-site kickoff games or cupcakes that help programs generate home-game revenue, it's simply not going to fly. Money talks, and while the addition of more playoff games would help negate some of that lost revenue, it's a lot to ask programs and television partners to give up that much regular-season inventory just to double the size of the meaningful postseason.

The College Football Playoff just wrapped up Year 1 of a 12-year deal and doesn't look like it's changing anytime soon.

"There has been no talk about expanding the playoff," CFP executive director Bill Hancock said at SEC spring meetings in Destin, Florida, in May. "We are set for 11 years. Four is the right number."

Can we just enjoy what we have for a little while before rushing to expansion?

 

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

Follow Barrett on Twitter @BarrettSallee. 

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Art Briles Says Baylor's 6'8" TE LaQuan McGowan Has 'Slimmed Down' to 403 Pounds

I've got good and bad news for Big 12 secondaries.

The good news is LaQuan McGowan has slimmed down significantly this offseason. The bad news is he's still the size of a logging truck.

Baylor head coach Art Briles dropped a terrifying progress nugget on the assembled press at Big 12 media days Tuesday. According to Fox Sports' Bruce Feldman, Briles said his 6'8" tight end has worked himself down to 403 pounds since season's end.

The scary thing is, Briles wasn't being entirely facetious. As Fox Sports' Stewart Mandel noted, McGowan said he was 440 with pads on at the Cotton Bowl in January.

Even once you've subtracted pad weight (which maxes out at around 15 pounds), you're still looking at a weight loss of around 25 pounds—a measurable drop for McGowan and a huge figure for standard-issue humans who aren't frost giants.

This means McGowan could be faster this year—a scary prospect for anyone who watched him waltz in untouched for a touchdown against Michigan State in the Cotton Bowl.

Briles said he'll be keeping McGowan to a limited play count, presumably as an act of mercy for opposing safeties.

Now, clearly, McGowan at tight end is an absurd luxury only college football could provide. No coach should be able to have a 6'8", 400-pound specialty player tucked away just for red-zone passing patterns.

But here we are, in the Year of Our Lord 2015, watching Andre the Giant stand-ins carve through secondaries like sashimi. What a time to be alive.

 

Dan is on Twitter. The key to tackling McGowan is getting low to the ground and just staying there until he's gone.

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Clemson Picked to Win ACC, Deshaun Watson Voted as Player of the Year

Florida State has won the last three ACC titles, but the media members who cover the conference are picking Clemson to end that streak.

The ACC released the league's 2015 preseason poll results Tuesday morning as part of the ACC Kickoff event in Pinehurst, North Carolina. 

Clemson led the ballot with 84 of the media's 158 picks for the winner of the ACC championship. Florida State and Georgia Tech followed Clemson for the overall title and four other schools received championship votes.

The Tigers are coming off a 10-3 campaign in 2014 in which they finished second in the Atlantic Division. Last year, Florida State went undefeated in ACC play for the second straight season and fell to Oregon in the semifinals of the first College Football Playoff.

Clemson won the preseason media poll in 2013 but finished 7-1 in ACC play with a lone loss to Florida State.

And while the SEC media failed to put its overall champion as the winner of its own division, their ACC brethren got it right by picking Clemson (84 first-place votes) to edge Florida State (41) in the Atlantic Division poll. Louisville received one vote to win the Atlantic.

Georgia Tech led the way with 96 first-place votes in the Coastal Division. Virginia Tech came in second with 44 votes, while four other teams grabbed division-title nods from media members.

Clemson also topped the vote for the ACC's Player of the Year on Tuesday.

Sophomore quarterback Deshaun Watson, who threw for 1,466 yards, 14 touchdowns and two interceptions in eight games last season, edged Pittsburgh running back James Conner for the preseason award.

After winning the starting quarterback job following Clemson's overtime loss to Florida State, Watson threw for 435 yards and six touchdowns in his first career start against North Carolina.

Several injuries, including a torn ACL, limited his playing time for the remainder of the 2014 campaign.

Watson and preseason favorite Clemson will take on defending champion Florida State on Nov. 7.

The winner of the annual matchup between the Tigers and Seminoles has gone on to win the Atlantic Division and play in the ACC Championship Game each of the last six seasons.

 

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

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Tre' Shaw Reveals Top 5: Which Schools Hold Edge for 2017 4-Star?

Georgia defensive back Tre' Shaw took a step forward in his recruitment on Monday, revealing a list of five favorites on Twitter:

Shaw, a 4-star prospect in the 2017 recruiting class, identified the programs in order of preference. Ole Miss leads the way, with Florida, Georgia, Auburn and North Carolina following behind.

The 6'0", 180-pound playmaker is likely to pounce on an offer sooner rather than later. According to Keith Niebuhr of 247Sports, the process is "not expected to drag on" and one of Shaw's coaches said, "His plan is to commit somewhat early."

Rated 23rd nationally among cornerbacks entering their junior year, Shaw is a standout at Cedar Grove High School. He began collecting FBS scholarship offers during his sophomore season, accumulating a list of collegiate opportunities that also includes South Carolina, Duke, Kentucky and Virginia Tech.

Shaw secured an Ole Miss offer in late February and clearly appreciates how the Rebels have handled his recruitment.

Head coach Hugh Freeze has enjoyed success targeting Peach State products in past cycles, headlined by No. 1 overall 2013 prospect Robert Nkemdiche.

Ole Miss signed top-rated Georgia running back Eric Swinney in the 2015 cycle and already holds three 2016 commitments from the state. The Rebels are still searching for a 2017 pledge, and it now appears Shaw could ultimately be the first player to climb aboard.

Niebuhr suggested in May that Auburn was viewed as a leader in this race, but Shaw's latest update sees the Tigers slip to fourth in his pecking order.

“Auburn is standing out right now because of the academics and their sports programs,” he said. “That really puts them over the top. 

Florida may be the biggest threat to Ole Miss for Shaw's commitment despite a total coaching overhaul last winter. The Gators began targeting him under the direction of former head coach Will Muschamp, who carried that recruitment over to his new gig as defensive coordinator at Auburn.

Shaw picked up a Florida offer—the first for him—on his 16th birthday and still feels love from The Swamp.

Another element to monitor moving ahead is his relationship with close friend and high school teammate Antwuan Jackson, a 4-star defensive tackle. The rising senior named Auburn and Ohio State co-leaders on July 4, with Georgia (third), Florida (fifth) and Ole Miss (ninth) also making the cut for his top 10.

While Jackson is a year older than Shaw, it remains to be seen which player pledges to a college program first. The elder's signing-day decision could eventually affect where Shaw lands in 2017.

 

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

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4-Star QB Dillon Sterling-Cole Reveals How He Narrowed Down to a Top 5

Of the nation's top 30 pro-style quarterbacks in the 2016 recruiting class, 27 are verbally committed to a college. On Monday, Dillon Sterling-Cole inched closer to becoming commit No. 28.

The 4-star talent from Houston trimmed his list of favorites from eight schools to five, tweeting that Arizona State, Florida, Texas A&M, Mississippi State and Houston made the cut:

Sterling-Cole, the nation's No. 9 pro-style quarterback, had his reasons for choosing his quintet of schools. Overall comfort is the primary reasoning.

"I just based it off my previous top eight, the relationships that I have built with the coaches and the areas in which the schools are located," Sterling-Cole said. "[I looked at] the programs as a whole and thought if I'd be able to flourish as a person and player at that university.

"More so, I just sat down with my parents and family members making sure that they're comfortable with my decision-making."

What made Sterling-Cole's list even more interesting is that he announced the schools in order of where they currently rank in his mind. Texas A&M currently is sitting in third place, perhaps an unexpected turn of events for Aggie fans, as Sterling-Cole is the son of former Texas A&M wide receiver Chris Cole.

Those rankings could change in the next couple of weeks, but for now, the Westfield High School standout is Arizona State's to lose.

"Arizona State is No. 1 right now because of the relationship I have built with [offensive coordinator] Coach [Mike] Norvell," Sterling-Cole said. "My family loved the unofficial visit when we went, and I feel comfortable with what they are doing."

The month of June included unofficial visits to UCLA (June 8), Arizona State (June 9) and Florida (June 16). Of Sterling-Cole's top five, Houston is the only school with a quarterback currently committed.

Wherever Sterling-Cole ends up, look for him to want to compete early and put up solid numbers. He threw for 2,325 yards and 24 touchdowns with six interceptions as a junior. As a sophomore, Sterling-Cole threw for 2,303 yards, 26 touchdowns and seven picks.

As an Elite 11 participant, Sterling-Cole was fun to watch during the semifinal round in Los Angels and the finals in Oregon. It wasn't long ago that he was an unknown target, but he worked his way up the recruiting charts, winning the Elite 11 Dallas regional in March and watching his stock skyrocket through the spring and summer.

Now, the world will wait for Sterling-Cole's next step. What will be his next announcement? A tweet of the top three? Perhaps a tweet announcing his verbal commit?

"Maybe just a top two," he said.

 

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

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Retirement Is Not an Option for South Carolina's Steve Spurrier, for Now

"I breezed right through age 60, breezed right through 65, and I'm going to try my best to breeze right on through 70."

South Carolina's Steve Spurrier didn't shy away from the retirement question earlier this month at SEC media days in Hoover, Alabama. He met it head on.

From the way the "head ball coach" sounds this summer, hanging up the headset in favor of the golf clubs doesn't seem like something that's rattling around his visor at the moment.

That's not to say that there weren't rumblings, especially after a grueling 2014 season that saw the Gamecocks finish 7-6 and struggle to close out games.

"I don't know how close I came to walking away, but when you lose four out of five, and three of them we had a two-touchdown lead with four minutes to play...Those were some tough losses," Spurrier said.

The retirement question might get old for Spurrier and for South Carolina fans, but it's not going away. He just turned 70 and was asked in December how much longer he planned on sticking around. He initially said two to three years and then quickly switched that to four to five years, according to David Cloninger of The State.

Why the change?

I'm sure part of the reason was because potential signees in the 2015 class and future classes don't want it to be set in stone that they're going to go through a coaching change during their Gamecock careers.

Besides, why would Spurrier walk away now?

Sure, last season was stressful, and the Gamecocks have plenty of roster holes. But he still plays in a down division, managed to post a big win over Georgia last year and has a roster littered with youth.

The window for SEC East success might be closed, but it certainly isn't locked.

The Gamecocks have a Heisman-caliber receiver in Pharoh Cooper, who has been used downfield, as a threat at running back and even as a quarterback during his first two seasons in Columbia. Despite every defense focusing on him, Cooper is ready for even more responsibility in 2015.

"Teams are going to be keying on me, so I'm going to have to get the ball a lot more out of the Wildcat position," Cooper said. "I'm still going to do the same things as last year and still could throw the ball. I'll probably be in the backfield more this year."

If Spurrier and his staff can get Cooper in even more advantageous situations, and catch lighting in a bottle with whomever wins the quarterback job, the offense could be alright.

Defensively, there are the obvious issues that hold over from last year, including an underwhelming defensive line and a secondary that is still rather young. But communication was a big issue last year, and the presence of new co-defensive coordinator Jon Hoke could fix those issues.

"We've got good coaches, but for whatever reason, we just didn't communicate," Spurrier said. "We can play a lot better defensively, and I think everybody's going to see that this year. So that's given all of us, I think, an extra life there at South Carolina."

There likely isn't a timeframe on Spurrier's retirement plans, just more of a general idea on what needs to happen in order for him to hang up the visor. When things were cooking at a high level, and the Gamecocks were in the division-title discussion every year from 2010-2013, an SEC title seemed like the right time for Spurrier to ride off into the sunset.

Now, the definition of "going out on top" might have changed a bit.

A division title, 10-win season or even a win over highly ranked Clemson and decent bowl game might be enough to send Spurrier to the links on a more full-time basis.

His contract runs through 2018, and considering he's never been a guy who spends 24 hours a day and seven days per week at the football complex, it's conceivable that he rides that out and then moves on.

If his team gives him a reason to go out "on top," he probably will take that opportunity a little bit earlier.

The definition of "on top," though, is what has changed after last year's struggles.

 

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

Follow Barrett on Twitter @BarrettSallee. 

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Inside Oklahoma's Healing Process in the Aftermath of the SAE Racism Scandal

Charles Tapper, a junior defensive end for the Oklahoma Sooners, was lounging around his off-campus apartment playing NBA 2K with fellow lineman Charles Walker and cornerback Zack Sanchez on the evening of Sunday, March 8. With a 5:45 a.m. workout scheduled for the next day, the time was quickly approaching for them to head to bed.

Then Tapper, a team captain, got a call.

"Man, where are you guys?" yelled Eric Striker, fellow captain, his gravelly voice at a fever pitch. "Why aren't y'all flipping out about what's going on? You haven't seen what happened with the SAE guys?"

"Nah, what are you talking about?" Tapper asked.

"Man, I'm gonna send you the video!" Striker said. "Y'all need to get over here right now! We can't just let this slip under the rug."

In the bowels of the Citrus Bowl after last year's embarrassing 40-6 loss to Clemson—which ended an 8-5 debacle of a season—Oklahoma football coach Bob Stoops told the assembled media, "I want to start off expressing my disappointment and anger at the way this season went. I take accountability, responsibility for all of it. It starts with me and ends with me."

Little did he know that his disappointment and anger would deepen a few months later after an unforeseen controversy during what some would suggest was the most critical stretch of spring practices during his tenure.

College football coaches, at least those with Stoops' distinguished resume, are all about control. But the Sooners coach instinctively grasped that in order for his team to move forward, in order to heal and grow as football players and men, things didn't necessarily need to start or end with him.

He realized that, in this specific instance, he couldn't micromanage—he needed to cede the play-calling to his players.

The wobbly, slightly out of focus nine-second video clip was captured by someone's cell phone aboard a chartered bus carrying members of the University of Oklahoma's Sigma Alpha Epsilon chapter, their dates and a number of high school students who were potential fraternity recruits on Saturday, March 7.

Dressed in formal attire, they were headed to a party to celebrate SAE's Founders Day.

At some point during the ride, the fraternity members began excitedly clapping their hands, animatedly pumping their fists and boisterously reciting a racist chant that had seemingly been rehearsed and customarily woven into the fabric of their chapter's culture.

Two young frat members stand up, their red faces beaming with joy as they lead the cheer. The mantra is recited to the tune of the popular children's song "If You're Happy and You Know It."

"There will never be a n----r in SAE. You can hang them from a tree, but they'll never sign with me. There will never be a n----r in SAE."

Warning: This video contains offensive language.

The next day, the university's student paper, the Oklahoma Daily, received the video in an email. Within the next 24 hours, it became one of the hottest trending topics on Twitter. A national furor ensued.

Every major news outlet descended on the Norman campus. A highly touted football recruit in the Class of 2016, 6'5", 280-pound offensive lineman Jean Delance of Mesquite, Texas, was so disturbed by the incident that he rescinded his verbal commitment to Oklahoma.

School President David Boren launched an immediate investigation and swiftly moved to have the chapter banned from campus. SAE's national office closed the chapter and suspended its members hours after the video surfaced.

By March 10, moving trucks were hauling away furniture and the fraternity members' personal possessions. OU facility workers removed the large Greek letters from the SAE house as the expansive building was shuttered.

Two of the students who had taken a leadership role in the incident, Levi Pettit and Parker Rice, were expelled.

Tapper had actually viewed a sliver of the video earlier, when a classmate from his Cherokee foreign language class asked him if he'd seen it.

"When I saw it earlier, I couldn't really hear all the words and what they were saying," Tapper recalled as he sat outside of the team's locker room on a too-small chair, still attired in his dirt- and grass-stained white practice uniform two days before OU's spring football game. Salty remnants of dried sweat were caked on his forehead, discoloring his closely cropped beard.

"I didn't hear all of the lyrics and the full context of what they were actually saying the first time I saw it," Tapper said. "But when Striker sent it over, that's when I realized how ugly it really was."

Tapper, Sanchez and Walker abandoned their video game trash-talk and hustled over to the nearby Buffalo Wild Wings on Classen Boulevard, where a growing crowd of Sooner athletes was gathering.

"We were all talking about how we could address the situation, how we could get involved and do something," Tapper said. "We started strategizing, but as the crowd got bigger, we decided we needed to be in a private space. So then we headed over to Striker's house."

Striker, a 6'0", 225-pound All-American linebacker from Seffner, Florida, was having a difficult time controlling his rage.

He'd already sent out an incensed, profanity-laced Snapchat video.

"I was in a meeting watching film when it was sent to me," Striker said. "When I watched it after the meeting, I was so pissed off that my head and my stomach hurt. My heart dropped."

After arriving home, he couldn't stop pacing back and forth. He started calling his teammates, searching for a way to channel his mushrooming fury.

Striker had experienced a litany of microaggressions with OU frat members that he felt were laced with racism since he arrived on campus as a freshman.

"There were a lot of incidents where classmates would invite me to a party at their frat house," Striker said. "We showed up, and the person who invited us had to actually come to the door and vouch for us to get in. It was not a good vibe at all."

As he spoke, you could feel the hurt in his sincerity. At times, he paused thoughtfully, searching for the right words through deep breaths. He orated with a preacher's cadence, gesturing for emphasis.

"I could tell when and where I was not welcomed," Striker continued while lounging against a wall outside of the team auditorium a few days prior to the spring game.

His mom had always offered him books when he was younger, instructing him to read certain sentences, paragraphs and chapters. She'd ask him follow-up questions about what he'd learned.

His home library contained manuscripts about black leaders such as Frederick Douglass, Booker T. Washington, Marcus Garvey, Malcolm X and Martin Luther King Jr., among others.

One book that his mother handed him in the 10th grade, The Making of a Slave by Willie Lynch—which is a study of the brutal physical and psychological tools used to condition black slaves—made him break down in tears.

"I hit a wall when I read the Willie Lynch book," Striker said. "It hurt me so much, I broke down. But my mother put me in a position to think outside the box and to see things beyond what is simply in front you. It was mandatory in my house growing up to have an understanding of history and the African-American experience in this country."

With approximately 30 Sooner athletes gathered at his house on that Sunday evening when the SAE video went viral, they talked about what kind of steps and actions they could take within the university community.

"We just kept saying that this was something that we weren't going to tolerate or let happen," Striker said. "We knew that this was bigger than football and bigger than the University of Oklahoma. We were determined that something good was going to come from this."

The impromptu meeting lasted until the wee hours of the morning. It could hardly be characterized as one that followed Robert's Rules of Order.

"Everybody was just essentially expressing their hurt and anger," Tapper said. "Things got really raw and emotional."

With his mind racing after the meeting dispersed, Striker couldn't sleep.

Exhausted, with bloodshot eyes, he attended an on-campus march that morning that had been organized by Unheard, the student group that initially brought the SAE video to light.

Many familiar with SAE and the inner workings of other predominantly white fraternities did not see the situation at Oklahoma as an anomaly, but rather as an enduring problem.

SAE was founded in the antebellum south in 1856 and has a long history of racially demeaning behaviors. In 1949, when Harvard's Student Council passed a ban on discrimination based on color, nationality or race, SAE's national charter said that only "members of the Caucasian race" could join the fraternity. Faced with losing its Harvard affiliation, SAE acquiesced and changed its charter.

An SAE party on Martin Luther King's birthday in 1982 at the University of Cincinnati featured flyers asking students to bring things such as a canceled welfare check, "your father if you know who he is" and "a radio bigger than your head." The flyer also included prominent images of James Earl Ray, the man convicted of King's assassination.

At Texas A&M in 1992, an SAE "jungle fever" party featured revelers in black face and slave huts. Other racially charged incidents involving SAE members have sporadically surfaced all over the country in recent years, including one at Washington University in St. Louis two years ago, when pledges were ordered to hurl racial slurs at a group of black students.

Christopher Felix became a fan of the University of Oklahoma's football program when he was five years old. While out shopping one Saturday afternoon, his father stopped to check the score of the game being televised.

"Dad, who are we going for?" Felix asked.

"Son, we're going for OU," his dad replied.

"I've been a Sooner fan ever since that day," said Felix, who is a member of Alpha Phi Alpha, the nation's oldest historically black fraternity. He's a mechanical engineering major who is also minoring in business.

Felix was walking into what he thought would be a regular meeting on campus that Sunday evening when the video surfaced, and he immediately found himself, and his beloved OU community, immersed in a firestorm.

When he saw the school's football players active and engaged, he knew that the incident and the groundswell of activism on campus was prone to reach a wider audience.

"There is a lot of power in celebrity, and there are few bigger celebrities in Norman and in the entire state of Oklahoma than the football players at OU," Felix said. "When they said they weren't going to tolerate it, it became everybody's issue."

The day after the video went viral, all 105 members of the football squad gathered in the team auditorium, where they normally pore over film and digest on-field tactics and game plans. They began debating some different strategies.

Where photos commemorate the program's seven national championships and a quote in white script reads, "The only yardstick for success our society has is being a champion. No one remembers anything else," the players argued back and forth about what role, if any, they should play.

"Things got very heated, especially at that first meeting," said wide receiver Sterling Shepard, a political science major and another team captain. Shepard was a semifinalist for the Biletnikoff Award last season, presented annually to the country's best receiver.

"None of us were equipped to handle a situation like this," Shepard said. "Guys were almost getting into fights because everybody comes from different belief systems, political thoughts and economic backgrounds. The room was split."

"You had guys standing up and saying, 'I didn't come here to be a civil rights activist, I came here to play football,'" said senior center and Academic All-American Ty Darlington, a member of the Sooners leadership council.

Tapper, Striker, Shepard and other black players shared their hurt and previous experiences with racism with their white teammates.

"Obviously, being a white male here, as much as I can empathize and say that I understand how they feel, I haven't lived that," said Darlington, a native of Apopka, Florida, whose mom was once a cheerleader when she attended OU. "I had to sit down with them and try to understand, in depth, what they were going through."

Stoops was angry when he saw the video. Growing up in the rugged blue-collar town of Youngstown, Ohio, as the son of a legendary high school football coach, he had a diverse group of friends and teammates. The vehicle of sport, he later learned, allowed them to transcend their differences and appreciate one another as individuals.

"I truly believe that a big part of our job as coaches is relating to our players as if they're a part of our family, because they are," Stoops said while sitting on a comfortable leather couch in his spacious, wood-accentuated office in the Barry Switzer Center.

With two days of work remaining before the spring game, you could see the intensity etched into his poker face, even as he hastily flipped through a copy of Mitch Albom's The Five People You Meet in Heaven, a book he has already read.

"You have to have a sense of the pulse of your team," Stoops continued. "I felt strongly, with the level of emotion that so many of them had with this, that we were going to have to work through it. It was about allowing them the space to do that. And they were very thoughtful and put a lot of time into meeting and thinking about what the message should be and how we were going to deliver it."

Four days after the SAE video went viral, and just five days after spring practice began, the football players shunned their pads, skipped practice and held a silent protest—dressed in black, linked arm-in-arm—with Stoops and the entire coaching staff participating, demanding punishment for more than just the two SAE students who were swiftly expelled by Boren.

"We found out that the song in that video was being taught at a national convention, on a cruise," Stoops said. "The team's purpose was to bring attention, not only to the young guys at Oklahoma who said it, but to who was teaching this. Why would something like that be taught, and why did they feel like it was acceptable?"

 

The day prior, as the next-to-last practice before the spring game wrapped up, the crack of shoulder pads crashing together, whistles and hand claps echoed in the cavernous and empty Memorial Stadium. Footballs whizzed through the air as ominous storm clouds hovered above.

Soon, the mesmerizing spectacle of OU football will be back, a fact that Sooner Nation can't welcome soon enough.

But remnants of the damage to a wounded community can still be found at 730 College Avenue, the former address of the Sigma Alpha Epsilon house.

On a magnificent, luminous early afternoon the day before the spring game, when the main walkways on campus are awash with bustling students, most of them wearing T-shirts, shorts and flip-flops, the scene on College Avenue is subdued. The parking lot at the old SAE house is cordoned off by yellow caution tape attached to five orange OU traffic cones, with a hulking floodlight to the left of the lot entrance.

The gate with two standing, roaring lions that leads to the huge house is chained. Someone has spray-painted "Tear it D" in black letters on the right side of the house, with a squiggly line trailing after the letter D.

The windows out back are boarded up with plywood. The basketball half-court behind the house, with its soft, fancy purple and grey rubbery surface, is missing the rim from its backboard.

A few steps away, a landscaper is blowing leaves and tending to the meticulous lawn of a white-columned sorority house.

Slightly more than a block away at JJ's Pizza Stop on West Lindsay, a group of white freshmen males, some of them sporting Greek fraternity letters, are enjoying the lazy afternoon. A few of them are watching the Masters on the elevated flat screen near the establishment's entrance as they snack on appetizers and talk about Tiger Woods and Jordan Spieth. Others are off to the side shooting pool.

When the conversation switches to the spring football game, they talk about growing up as OU football fans and how crazy the stadium is on game days. When asked how they thought the football team responded to the SAE video, their smiles and laughter disappear.

One abruptly says, "No. We're not talking about that," as another summons the guys over from the pool table to let them know what's going on.

But Will O'Connor, a conscientious, innocent-looking first-year student from Tulsa who is a pre-med and biology major, does talk about it.

"I'm in a group called the President's Leadership Class, and Coach Stoops talks to the group at least once a year," O'Connor said. "This was a week after the incident, so tensions were still high. He was very emotional but very positive. He talked about how his own family and children, along with the football family, had been hurt and affected."

At the spring game, some members of the 1985 team gathered to begin a yearlong celebration of the 30th anniversary of their national championship.

Jamelle Holieway, that squad's electrifying option savant who remains the only true freshmen to quarterback a major college football team to the national title, enjoyed the hugs and jokes he shared with former teammates like tight end Keith Jackson and former coach Barry Switzer.

"I was sad that the people at the university had to go through something like that," Holieway said. "That video was a black eye that was felt by a lot of people. And when I saw Coach Stoops and the players out there together, protesting and making their statement, I felt like that was the first step toward mending what had been broken."

Holieway loved being around his old teammates, reminiscing about the good times. And he has faith that the good times will return to OU football very soon.

"Playing good football is going to help everybody heal, because everybody comes together around the Sooners," he said.

"We were a close team before, and we're probably a closer team now," Stoops said. "When you're a part of athletics and in an environment like this, you learn to love the other guy regardless of their background. This situation was thrust on us, but we were obviously strong enough to handle it, to look it in the eye and to try to bring about a national change. And that was our purpose.

"Because you have incidents like this all over the country, and there doesn't need to be any more." 

Wandering through the student union a few days prior to the spring game, the mood of the many students lounging and milling about is mostly buoyant.

The most powerful and inviting elements of the atmosphere are the photos that hang on the walls—the black and white snapshots that stare back at you. These are frozen images of school history—like the ones featuring the OU football team in 1896, the men of ROTC in 1939, the school orchestra in 1906, a sorority rush event in 1939, the track team in 1906 and an individual photo of Prentice Gautt, Oklahoma's first black football player in 1956.

On the third floor, to the right of the office of Student Life, is a poster from 2005. Its symbolism is inescapable. Standing center stage in the dazzling Reynolds Performing Arts Center is mammoth former Sooners offensive lineman Davin Joseph. Dressed in his crisp uniform and sporting a wide, toothy grin, he is holding a diminutive ballerina in the air. Above the photo is a caption that says, "University of Oklahoma." Below, it says, "We Have It All!"

Football's powerful force and unique strength is supporting, lifting and holding up something beautiful. They're an odd couple. But they're working together. She assumes her ballerina pose. He carries her. Both jobs are hard work. But they're both smiling.

 

Alejandro Danois is a senior writer and editor with The Shadow League. The former senior editor of Bounce Magazine, he's also had work published by the New York Times, Sporting News, Baltimore Sun, Los Angeles Times, Ebony magazine and others. Follow him on Twitter @alidanois.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

2016 College Football Recruits with International Backgrounds

Football may be America's game, but it continues to evolve into a global interest. The NFL and NCAA now play regular-season contests on multiple continents, while expansive media coverage provides a look at action like never before in various corners of the world. 

A new generation of promising players features phenoms from beyond United States borders, bringing a fresh element of talent into the mix. The game's growth outside of North America remains in a relatively fledgling state, but the emergence of foreign-born athletes provides a glimpse of what could lie ahead.

Foreign athletes who've flourished at the highest level of football include wide receiver Nate Burleson (Canada), defensive tackle Star Lotulelei (Tonga) and linebacker Tamba Hali (Liberia).

Here's a look at several prospects who have landed on the radar of college recruiters via their international endeavors.

 

Players listed in alphabetical order.

Begin Slideshow

College Football Coaches Who Shine and Struggle Against Top 25 Teams

Of the 128 FBS head coaches, how many do you think have a career winning record against Top 25 teams?

Half?  A third?  A quarter? 

How about 15 total?  That’s a paltry 12 percent of the field.

On the flip side, of the 110 guys who have at least one year of FBS head coaching under their belt and have played at least one ranked team, how many have never won a game against a Top 25 opponent?

Ten percent?  Twenty percent?  Twenty-five percent?

How about 32?  That’s a whopping 29 percent.

Comparing coach’s records straight-up isn’t an apples-to-apples affair. Some have 15 years of experience, while others have three—this means where one guy has faced 25 ranked teams, the other has played seven.  It’s further complicated when you have one guy coaching at Florida, while the other is at Memphis—giving one more exposure to ranked action than the other.

We’ll kick things off by looking at the top and the bottom of the barrel nationally and then switch gears to rankings within each of the Power Five leagues.

Begin Slideshow

Virginia Tech Football: 5 Players Sure to Surprise at Fall Camp

Fall camp is almost here for the Virginia Tech Hokies. In fact, it begins in just over two weeks. For college football fans, it is the best time of the year.

Virginia Tech fans hope the 2015 season is much different than the past three years. Tech's fanbase is used to the Hokies competing for the ACC title on an annual basis, and that just hasn't happened recently.

But that could change in 2015.

The Hokies return the majority of their starters on both sides of the ball, and several talented newcomers are now in the program. Which newcomer—or young player—will impress coaches this fall?

Here's a look at five players who are sure to surprise during fall camp.

Begin Slideshow

Power Ranking the Projected Big 12 Starting Quarterbacks

Though the Big 12 has consistently produced gunslinging quarterbacks such as Collin Klein, Bryce Petty, Robert Griffin III and Brandon Weeden since 2010, the conference may have its first down year in recent memory when it comes to the quality of its signal-callers. 

Trevone Boykin of TCU is the only quarterback whose name has any staying power. 

Guys like Baker Mayfield, Seth Russell and Patrick Mahomes may prove to be diamonds in the rough as the season progresses, but that's all theory and not reality. 

In a 10-team league, which team has the best quarterback? Which has the worst? 

Let's rank each Big 12 team's projected starting quarterback. 

Begin Slideshow

UCLA Football: Strengths, Weaknesses and Secret Weapons

When taking a look at a specific football program, each team will have its strong points and weaknesses. The UCLA football team heading into 2015 is no different.

Depth within the squad is as good as it's been in quite some time. Head coach Jim Mora and his staff have done an excellent job of building up the talent since he took over the post in 2012. The team is particularly strong at multiple positions—specifically with veteran leadership.

This piece will analyze not only the strengths but also the weaknesses and potential secret weapons within the UCLA Bruins' roster.

 

Strength: Running Game

UCLA should have no problem running the football in 2015. It boasts arguably the deepest stable of backs in the entire conference.

Leading the group is Paul Perkins. A season ago, Perkins led the conference in rushing with 1,575 yards and nine touchdowns. He figures to be even better as a redshirt junior this year.

Behind Perkins is rising sophomore Nate Starks. In limited time, the Las Vegas native flashed the propensity to break tackles and get tough yardage between the tackles. He reshaped his body considerably in the offseason, and it should lead to gains in the area of quickness.

Craig Lee and Steven Manfro provide depth.

Manfro has demonstrated the ability to catch the football out of the backfield—or even as a receiver in years past. Lee has yet to secure a role on this team. With that said, he may be the most innately talented member of the bunch. His quickness and speed are very impressive.

The potential X-factor in this group is Soso Jamabo. Ranked as 247Sports' second-best running back in the 2015 recruiting class, the incoming freshman out of Texas is a ridiculous athlete. His versatility enables him to line up all over the field in various spots.

Don't be surprised to see Jamabo carve out a niche for himself as a true freshman. He seems far too talented to redshirt.

 

Weakness: Quarterback Experience

Former quarterback Brett Hundley departed with a star-studded resume chock full of statistical records. He also left behind three years of starting experience.

Whether it's Jerry Neuheisel or Josh Rosen starting, neither brings much in the way of experience to the table.

Outside of garbage time, Neuheisel's main bit of experience came last season in the come-from-behind victory over Texas. Outside of that, he's green in terms of actual time on the field.

Rosen—a true freshman—has obviously not competed yet on the collegiate level.

Fortunately for UCLA, both are mature, intelligent players. That still won't prevent potential (and probable) mistakes from happening in the future.

Neither has truly faced any substantial level of adversity. Neuheisel got a taste of it a season ago, but it will be an entirely new ballgame should he find himself in a starting role.

The pressure to perform well for this veteran team will be tangible. Additionally, how will Neuheisel or Rosen fare against conference foes such as Stanford, Arizona State or Southern Cal? Will the signal-callers be able to play well in tough road environments such as Tucson, Salt Lake City or Corvallis, Oregon?

These are questions which will be answered during the season.

 

Strength: Continuity Up Front 

UCLA will have a veteran group along both the offensive and defensive line.

Run game coordinator/offensive line coach Adrian Klemm has done a masterful job of building up both the depth and quality along the offensive front. When he first took over, it was a ragtag unit comprised mostly of true freshmen.

A few years later, this seasoned bunch is littered with experience. Center Jake Brendel—a four-year starter—is the unquestioned leader. Alex Redmond and Caleb Benenoch have been starters since their freshman seasons.

Conor McDermott is a returning starter at left tackle. The fifth starting spot will likely come down to Kenny Lacy or Simon Goines. Both players have been battle-tested in their respective careers.

In terms of the front seven on defense, it's a potentially elite group.

Eddie Vanderdoes and Kenny Clark return as three-year starters. A Pac-12 coach told ESPN's Kyle Bonagura (h/t Fox Sports) that the duo is in all likelihood the most talented one-two punch of any defensive line twosome in the conference.

Defensive end Takk McKinley will most likely start as the third member of the group. While he's not overly seasoned, he did see time a season ago.

At linebacker, Myles Jack will assume the role left by Eric Kendricks. He'll be joined by pass-rushing dynamo Deon Hollins.

For the first time in the Mora era, he won't be relying upon true freshmen and inexperienced players to perform at significant spots.

Even in the secondary, the expected starting unit will mostly be comprised of upperclassmen (Marcus Rios, Fabian Moreau, Randall Goforth, Ishmael Adams), with sophomore Jaleel Wadood being the lone exception.

 

Weakness: Depth Along Defensive Line

The depth behind the projected starting trio of Clark, Vanderdoes and McKinley is paper-thin.

Depth at defensive end is in a slightly better spot than that of tackle. When looking at the roster, sophomores Matt Dickerson and Jacob Tuioti-Mariner expect to play prominent roles.

Both saw some time as true freshmen in 2014, but neither are overly experienced. Redshirt freshman Ainuu Taua is a bit of a hybrid player from the standpoint that he can play at both end and tackle. While not a true nose tackle, he should be able to play inside and use his quickness and squatty build (5'11", 296 lbs) to get leverage.

Eli Ankou is the most experienced interior lineman reserve. However, he's battled various injuries throughout his time in Westwood. As a result, former offensive guard Najee Toran has transitioned to the defensive side of the ball.

With depth along the offensive line looking good, don't be surprised if incoming freshman Fred Ulu-Perry gets a look at nose guard. An elite center prospect, he's built low to the ground and has immense natural strength.

 

Secret Weapons

Two of the secret weapons—Dickerson and McKinley—play the same position.

Dickerson looks like a prototypical 3-4 defensive end. With terrific overall length and size (6'4", 270 lbs) for the position, he should garner a lot of playing time in 2015. He'll most likely be the first reserve off the bench for the Bruins along the defensive front.

McKinley is only scratching the surface of how good he can truly be. He's got freakish athletic ability, possessing the skills to not only rush off the edge but also run down running backs in the backfield.

Against Arizona State last season (in his first collegiate game), McKinley was a gunner on kick coverage. Using his raw athletic ability and instincts, he was able to run the returner down with ease. It's a great feat considering the former high school track star is 6'4", 230 pounds.

The last secret weapon comes on the offensive side of the ball. Receiver Jordan Lasley has the potential to be the most dynamic receiver within the corps in 2015.

A redshirt freshman from Serra High School, Lasley created some buzz for himself with two Instagram videos from practice. One showed him leaping over Adams for a long touchdown. Don't forget, Adams is an All-Pac-12 selection.

In this one, Lasley is shown unleashing a stiff arm on linebacker Isaako Savaiinaea.

Lasley has been compared to former Southern Cal receiver Nelson Agholor. Lasley played the role of Agholor last year during game preparations versus the Trojans.

Former defensive coordinator Jeff Ulbrich had high praise for Lasley, telling reporters, "Jordan Lasley is going to be a stud. That sucker comes out and competes his butt off every day."

Look for Lasley to start off as an outside receiver in the Bruins' scheme. He'll likely be targeted on passes stretching the field vertically.

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