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Grading Each Florida State Positional Unit at Halfway Point of the 2014 Season

Less than 48 hours away from a game that will make or break No. 2 Florida State’s 2014 season, let’s look back at how the reigning national champions got here—position by position.

A season after obliterating its competition en route to the third national championship in program history, this year’s FSU squad has had to fight for all six of its wins. With a showdown against Notre Dame set for 8 p.m. ET Saturday at Doak Campbell Stadium, here’s a look at how each spot on the Seminoles’ roster has fared through the first half of the regular season.

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Where Have You Gone, Coach O?

The drive between Northwestern State and Mandeville, Louisiana is roughly four hours. It’s an unassuming trek—with two roads doing the majority of the heavy lifting—although Ed Orgeron isn’t concerned with when he’ll finally make it home. For the first time in his professional life, there is nowhere he has to be.

Even through his thick, unmistakable Cajun drawl, you can hear the joy in Orgeron's voice as he navigates the familiar terrain. After a picture-perfect weekend—one that centered around football, albeit in a much different capacity than what he’s accustomed to—the former Ole Miss and USC head coach is embracing his newfound freedom as a free agent, dad and husband.

On Friday night, Orgeron watched his son Parker, a junior, lead Mandeville past rival St. Paul’s with two second-half touchdowns. The very next day, Orgeron was inducted into the Northwestern State Athletic Hall of Fame, the university where he played his college football.

“It was a great honor,” Orgeron said. “If I was coaching, I would not have gotten a chance to do any of this.”

As he makes his way back toward Mandeville—the city the Orgerons decided to call home when he latched on with the New Orleans Saints back in 2008—one can’t help but wonder why he would want to come back to a sport that has not always been reciprocal with its love.

He was chewed on and spit out at Ole Miss. At USC, his reward for bringing an unresponsive program to life was time off. He has logged thousands of nights in hotel rooms away from his family, a product of his magnificent recruiting track record. And then there’s the profession itself, a cutthroat and cruel way to make a buck, albeit a lucrative one.

For the first time in forever, Orgeron can say “home” and mean it. There’s no disclaimer attached, no strings that require discussing. He’s not living out of a suitcase, and the anguish of USC is more of just a bad scar than an emotional drain.

He sounds at peace with where he is and what he’s doing, and yet, his coaching itch has never been this strong. For reasons we couldn’t possibly understand, Orgeron is ready to trade in this stress-free life for a headset.

“It never stopped,” Orgeron said. “I didn’t leave because I didn’t have the coaching itch, that’s for sure. It was something we felt like we needed to do. But we’re ready to coach more than ever right now. I promise you.”

 

A Weekend with Ed Orgeron 

Like your college football Saturdays, Ed Orgeron’s game days revolve around food, the great outdoors and football. Before he leaves the house, he wakes up his son, makes him breakfast and takes him to football practice. As soon as he’s where he needs to be, Orgeron heads to the gym.

Even at the age of 53, Orgeron is a fitness junkie. He can still bench press 325 pounds comfortably and squats 315 pounds for reps, which probably isn’t far off from many of the players he has coached in his weight class.

After lifting and running, Orgeron heads home to cook for the second time. He prepares another meal that he and his wife enjoy by the pool and patio. They relax together, a Saturday ritual that is still somewhat foreign to both. When the first games come on, the day takes a different tone.

At that point, Orgeron is a coach again. He spends his Saturdays exactly like you do, bouncing from station to station and soaking in as much football as he can.

“We watch as many games as we possibly can on Saturday, sometimes watching games until early in the morning the next day,” Orgeron said. “We get up on Sunday, go to church and then come back and do the same thing with the NFL. It’s kind of cool; I’ve never had a chance to do this.”

He doesn’t just tune in because he loves the sport, although the baseline for his obsession begins there. Orgeron, like the rest of us, is watching to see each chapter of the season unfold. But he’s also watching to perfect his craft, a never-ending process for a coach.

“I really watch No. 1 as a coach, especially to see all the spread offenses,” Orgeron said. “I want to see who’s doing well and just keep up with it. I’m trying to get as much as I can out of it.”

When USC plays, the situation changes some. His consumption of the game reaches a more personal level that he won’t find anywhere else. There are no hard feelings—at least none that he cares to share—and he’s more focused on the people he’s spent a great deal time with, from family rooms to the practice field.

“It’s never going to be like watching any other team,” Orgeron said. “I don’t watch every play, but I’m obviously very interested in the well-being of those young men. We’re tied to them and we wish them the best.”

 

A Time for Reflection

One of the best lessons Orgeron has taken with him over time—through success and failure—could be summed up in a delicious item.

Cookies.

One of Orgeron’s first orders of business when he was handed the reins to the USC head coaching position was to bring the team together. To do that, he appealed to taste buds.

He brought in chicken and waffles, although that wasn’t enough. After talking to a handful of players who wanted their sweet-tooth options returned to the cafeteria, Orgeron also brought the cookies back that were lost in the Kiffin era. The players responded accordingly.

“I think they ate 500 the first night,” Orgeron said.

Cookies, of course, are only a small portion of the bigger picture. What has made Orgeron valuable as a coach is the way he manages people.

He’s not a chalkboard wizard. That's not to say he doesn’t know the game and the areas he teaches, but Orgeron’s value—the thing that separates him from just about any other coach in the country—comes in the way he manages personalities. It's his natural ability to get an entire team to run through a brick wall at the snap of a finger.

It’s about compromise and, more importantly, understanding the pulse of your team. For Orgeron, it was about taking his experiences at Ole Miss—a situation he struggled with—and tweaking the margins.

“When you have five years to think about what you would do as a head coach again, there are a lot of thoughts that you write down,” Orgeron said. “I told myself that when I got my chance again, these are the things I wanted to do. So I did them.”

Orgeron was granted this opportunity after the Trojans lost 62-41 against Arizona State. He was named interim coach follow Kiffin’s removal, and the team responded to the change, winning six of the next seven games.

It set up a matchup against rival UCLA, a game that many felt was Orgeron’s opportunity to turn the interim tag into something far more official with a win.

Regardless of the circumstances or whether this scenario was considered within USC walls, the Trojans lost to the Bruins and Orgeron was removed as coach, making way for the hiring of Steve Sarkisian. Although there were conversations about keeping Orgeron on the staff, it didn’t transpire.

Having bonded through difficult times, through small, meaningful actions and his overall inviting style, the players didn't hide their emotions when Orgeron wasn't given the job.

USC player showing his respect to Coach Orgeron in the @LasVegasBowl: pic.twitter.com/DVeN6KlXOr

— RedditCFB (@RedditCFB) December 21, 2013

You're not going to find a better recruiter, coach, or father figure that is anything remotely like Ed Orgeron!

— Kenny Bigelow (@_mcmxcv__) December 1, 2013

Words can't explain how I'm feeling right now....just lost a father. Way more than a coach #coachO

— Leonard Williams (@LWtrojan94) December 2, 2013

How hard will Sark's job be? Players openly crying after Orgeron's departure. #USC

— Ryan Abraham (@insidetroy) December 2, 2013

“You look at the overall body of work, and we had a lot of success there,” Orgeron said. “We’re very appreciative of the time with the USC family, and they were very good to us.”

The offseason came and Orgeron processed the past season and the path in front him. As he dealt with the disappointment of not getting the head-coaching position at USC, he processed his next move at home.

Although he had conversations with teams about various positions, none of them ever developed into something serious.

“I never really entertained anything, and I wasn’t really looking for anything to be honest with you,” Orgeron said. “After looking back, we feel that taking this year and spending it with my family off was one of the best things we did.”

 

What’s Next for Coach O

The Silly Season is on the horizon. Soon, your Twitter feeds and bottom tickers will be flooded with rumors of coaches being fired, coaches being hired and other strange, newsworthy developments regarding vacant positions.

Scott Roussel, who has turned this maddening time into a profession at FootballScoop.com, believes this upcoming Silly Season could be an active one for Orgeron.

“Ed has been very clear that he will return to coaching, and the respect that the coaching community has for him allows him some flexibility to investigate potential head coaching opportunities,” Roussel said. “Meaning, a lot of head coaches would love to have Ed on their staff and will hold a position for him a few weeks, and possibly longer, while he checks for the perfect fit out there.”

Head-coaching vacancies have already started to open. Kansas, in need of a recruiting boost, would make quite a bit of sense for both parties. Other opportunities will undoubtedly follow, and Orgeron—if granted a platform to state his case—could put himself in prime position.

“If Ed is invited to interview for a head coaching position, he is the type of guy whose personality can instantly win over an athletic director and university president,” Roussel added. “He’s lightning in a bottle. He just needs the right opportunity.”

At this moment in time, that right opportunity has not presented itself. Orgeron has yet to really get a serious look, although that will undoubtedly change once the calendar hits November and searches ramp up.

“It’s still early, but I’m sure there will be some options that will come and some things we’re going to like,” Orgeron said. “I just haven’t gotten a serious call from anyone yet.”

For him, in this place in time, this isn’t the worst thing. As he braces for the next chapter of his life and a return to his beloved, grueling profession, there are still high school football games he wants to see.

There is still breakfast to be made and other meals to be cooked. There is still pool and patio time to be shared with his family in a home that he can finally call home with no strings attached.

“I do believe I will be a head coach again. I do believe that,” Orgeron said. “When that’s going to happen, I don’t know. Maybe it will be next year, maybe not. We’re going to keep all options open.”

 

Adam Kramer is the College Football National Lead Writer for Bleacher Report. Unless noted, all quotes were obtained firsthand.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Which Top NFL Prospects Would You Rather Have on Your Team?

Bleacher Report analysts Michael Felder and Matt Miller decide to play a classic game of "Would You Rather," NFL prospect edition. Duke Williams, Vic Beasley and Randy Gregory are just few names mentioned. Which NFL prospects would you rather have on your roster?

Watch the video and let us know!

 

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Tennessee Football: How the Volunteers Can Pull the Upset at Ole Miss

The Tennessee Volunteers enter Saturday's contest with the Ole Miss Rebels as 16-point underdogs. To pull off the upset and minimize the weakness of the offensive line, the Vols will need to open up the playbook and take some big risks. 

The last time Tennessee faced off against Ole Miss in 2010, freshman quarterback Tyler Bray threw for 323 yards and three touchdowns as the Vols routed the Rebels 52-14. 

A lot has changed in four years.

The Rebels hired former Tennessee high school football coach Hugh Freeze in December 2011, and he has quickly transformed Ole Miss into an elite SEC West team. 

Meanwhile, the Vols are still experiencing growing pains under second-year head coach Butch Jones, who is rapidly improving the team's talent level but also feeling the frustration of a depleted offensive line left by his predecessor.

Quarterback Justin Worley is having a solid year, but Ole Miss' defensive front will give him even less time than usual to make his reads and deliver catchable balls.

If Tennessee offensive coordinator Mike Bajakian utilizes a conservative game plan similar to the one he used against the Florida Gators two weeks ago, the Vols won't stand a chance.

Instead, he needs to draw inspiration from Tennessee's consecutive near-upsets of Georgia in 2013 and 2014 to keep the offense moving.

Here are four keys to the Vols' chances of pulling a huge upset on Saturday. 

 

 

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USC Football: Grading Each Positional Unit at Halfway Point of the Season

Think of the midway point in the college football season a bit like midterm exams for USC. A considerable portion of the Trojans’ final grades are in the books, but enough opportunity remains from this part to improve upon current marks...

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USC Football: Grading Each Positional Unit at Halfway Point of the Season

Think of the midway point in the college football season a bit like midterm exams for USC. A considerable portion of the Trojans’ final grades are in the books, but enough opportunity remains from this part to improve upon current marks.

Head coach Steve Sarkisian said on his Sunday conference call after the Trojans’ 28-26 win over then-No. 10-ranked Arizona that the Trojans were a Hail Mary away from potentially cracking the top five of the polls.

While there are no retakes in college football, USC is positioned to contend for the Pac-12 South Championship and berth in the conference title game by leading the division in the win column.

“It’s good to control your own destiny,” running back Justin Davis said of the Trojans’ position through six games.  

For USC to fulfill a championship destiny, the Trojans must grade out the rest of the way with honors.

"It's only going to get harder," Sarkisian said. "Our conference is really good." 

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6 Most Important College Football Recruiting Visits of Week 8

Another busy weekend of action awaits college football teams across the country and America's premier prospects will be in attendance at several locations. From SEC country to Pac-12 territory, top high school players are expected to spend time on campuses and watch their potential future teams compete.

Through the first two months of this season, Bleacher Report has placed the spotlight on recruits who are hitting the road to visit marquee programs on game day. Here's our latest look, with an eye on the VIP attendees you need to know about.

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Insider Film Breakdown: Don't Blame Alabama's Struggles on Lane Kiffin

Much has been made of Alabama's offensives struggles over the past few weeks. After falling to Ole Miss and only scoring 14 points vs. Arkansas, some are starting to doubt the Crimson Tide's big play capabilities.

Bleacher Report College Football Analyst Michael Felder breaks down what exactly is ailing the Tide's offense by taking a look at their game film.

Will the Crimson Tide offense get it going this week vs. Texas A&M?

Watch the video and let us know!   

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Beating Ole Miss Would Help Vols Curb Rebels' Recruiting Success in Tennessee

With one flip of an Ole Miss lid onto Drew Richmond's head, the Rebels unofficially declared war on Tennessee for the state's suddenly, surprisingly fertile recruiting grounds.

The state of Tennessee's top-ranked player and major priority for the Volunteers at offensive tackle chose Hugh Freeze's team, which is closer to his home in Memphis.

While UT will continue to recruit Richmond, the lineman's pledge to Ole Miss was the most important of a recent string of battles Freeze has won for Tennessee prospects.

Not only would a UT upset of the third-ranked Rebels in Oxford on Saturday night be a major boost to Butch Jones' program, it would give him another recruiting selling point against a new nemesis.

"Ole Miss always has made West Tennessee and the Memphis area in particular a high priority in recruiting because of its proximity to Oxford and the amount of talent there," GoVols247's Ryan Callahan told Bleacher Report. "But with the Nashville area now putting out more Division I prospects than anywhere else in Tennessee, the Rebels are one of several teams who are starting to put a lot of effort into recruiting Middle Tennessee, too."

Ole Miss successfully reaching its recruiting efforts into the mid-state is becoming a major problem for UT.

In the past, the Vols have been forced to stave off rivals such as Alabama and Georgia for in-state kids, and James Franklin experienced success while at Vanderbilt. But Ole Miss is the newest rock in Jones' sneaker.

The Rebels currently have four commitments from the state in their 2015 recruiting class—Richmond, Nashville cornerback Ugo Amadi, Pulaski defensive back Cameron Ordway and Nashville offensive lineman Alex Givens.

All of those players at one point or another had Vols offers. UT is still heavily recruiting Richmond and Amadi, and would love to flip either.

The biggest remaining in-state prize—4-star strong-side defensive end Kyle Phillips of Nashville—is still on the market. According to Callahan (subscription required), "some believe the Rebels and Vols might be the two teams to beat." Mid-state JUCO cornerback Justin Martin is considering both, too.

Ole Miss isn't going away anytime soon, either. The state's top-ranked player for the 2016 class is linebacker Daniel Bituli, a teammate of Givens whom Callahan said has the Rebs and Vols as his top two teams.

Cornerback Joejuan Williams and defensive tackle Emmit Gooden are other huge 2016 in-state prospects Freeze is going head-to-head with Jones to try to land. The list goes on and on.

Freeze, who used to coach at Briarcrest Christian High School outside Memphis, spoke on this week's SEC teleconference about how improved the talent pool in Tennessee is compared to when he coached.

Drastically, actually. I don't remember when I was there as a high school coach, and it could be because I wasn't in this world, but I believe it has increased. It seems to be increasing every year. There's tons of kids, of course the Memphis and the Nashville area, but now there's starting to be some high-profile prospects in those areas. I think it's going to continue to increase with the jobs that the high schools are doing there.

With the talent getting better, the Rebels aren't going to quit poaching. If it's going to stop, the Vols have to stop it by winning—and Saturday is an excellent place to start.

Given the way Freeze has quickly built that program and its current lofty status, Ole Miss is a rising power that gained major national headlines with its wins over Alabama and Texas A&M.

Jones is looking for his young team's program-defining win, and Saturday would certainly qualify.

There are a lot of similarities between the two programs, Freeze noted on the teleconference. When he looks at how the young Vols are playing, he sees a reflection of his young team a season ago—staying in games, learning how to turn immense talent into wins:

The first thing I see is they've recruited extremely well. We can sit here all day and none of us are great coaches without players that can make plays. Coach Jones and his staff has certainly done that. They've got tremendous young talent. That's kind of the way we were after our first full recruiting class, we played a ton of freshmen just like they're doing. And those freshmen are scary. They're obviously young and make mistakes sometimes, just like ours did and still do. They're so talented. It's a scary talent because not only have they recruited well, but they're playing with a deal of hunger and passion which I think we did in our first couple years also and were in game that maybe we didn't stack up as well, but we were in a lot of games with those teams. I think that's exactly what they're proving this year. It's only a matter of time before they break through.

Until the Vols do, Freeze has something to sell that Jones can't: a winning program.

Last year, Jones lived up to his decree upon being hired in Knoxville that UT would own the state, signing 10 players from the Volunteer State. He reiterated that to ESPN.com's Chris Low after this year's national signing day when he said, "We've got to own this state."

UT signed nine of the top 11 players in the state in last year's class, according to the 247Sports composite rankings, an unbelievable haul that is paying immediate dividends.

This season, the Vols have commitments from just three of the top 14, and the Rebels have the same number.

"Tennessee is still recruiting well in the Nashville area and getting a good number of the in-state players it really wants, but Ole Miss is one of the teams that's making things a bit more difficult for the Vols," Callahan said. "UT and Ole Miss often are two of the first teams to offer prospects from Tennessee, and the Vols now are battling the Rebels for several of the state's top prospects."

Though Jones has put together another incredible class anyway that is currently ranked third nationally, supplementing it with guys such as Richmond and Phillips would be massive.

To do that, Tennessee will have to hold off Freeze, who is coming after Jones' state with a highly ranked team and a ton of momentum.

The Vols can squelch some of that this weekend. Asking for a win is a tall order, but getting one could pay dividends both immediately and in the future.

 

All quotes gathered firsthand and all recruiting information taken from 247Sports, unless otherwise noted.

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

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

The 10 Most Uncoverable College Football Wide Receivers

To the defensive backs lined up opposite these guys on Saturdays this fall, we have a message for you: good luck.

Offensive numbers in college football continue to tick upward, with CBS Sports' Dennis Dodd noting Wednesday that this season is on pace to break numerous collective records. Passing proliferation is a huge part of that, and not just because quarterbacks are becoming better and more accurate.

We're in a golden age of big-play wide receivers, and the current crop terrorizing college secondaries could be the best ever. But it's not all about putting the ball up and hoping someone with great hands comes down with it, it's also about getting open and beating coverage.

In other words, to be unguardable.

Looking at the current FBS leaders in receptions and yards, while also accounting for the number of times they're thrown to and how often they haul in those targets, we've picked the 10 most uncoverable wide receivers in college football today. They're listed in alphabetical order, but we'd like to hear your thoughts on how they rank (or who else is deserving of such a label) in the comments section.

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Texas A&M Football: 4 Realistic Goals for the Remainder of the 2014 Season

The Texas A&M football team is 5-2 with a 2-2 record in the SEC and the No. 21 national ranking. The coaches need to reassess where they are at as a program and come up with a few specific goals to accomplish during the last five games of the regular season.

A realistic look at the remaining schedule would have the Aggies going 3-2 to finish the regular season with an 8-4 record. Texas A&M will likely lose games at Alabama and Auburn, but there are possible wins against Louisiana-Monroe, Missouri and LSU. 

The 2014 version of the Texas A&M football team seems to have lost its confidence on offense. The Aggies struggled on defense in 2013 and again in 2014, but the offense has always been there to give the team a boost. 

The offense has struggled to consistently move the ball in consecutive losses against Mississippi State and Ole Miss. Questionable play-calling and poor execution has resulted in an offense that struggles to put sustained drives together. 

There are problems on this team that need to be addressed through recruiting and possible coaching changes. This is a look at what the Aggies' goals should be during the last five games of the 2014 season. 

 

 

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10 Best Coaching Jobs for First Half of 2014 College Football Season

One look at the current Associated Press rankings says almost everything you need to know about some of the coaching jobs being done in college football this season.

The No. 1 team in the country was unranked in August. So too were the Nos. 12, 15, 16, 18 and 20 teams. Two other teams in the top five were ranked outside of the preseason top 15.

But it's not just head coaches turning around teams that has stuck out from the first seven weeks. It has also been the impressive number of coordinators doing well to turn around units.

This list sought to highlight such coaches, ranking the 10 who have done the best job during the first half of the year. Where performance exceeds expected performance, this list sought to give recognition.

Sound off below with anyone we might have missed.

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College Football Week 8: Top 25 Upset Alert

With Week 8 approaching, could the college football world be in store for a Saturday full of upsets? Bleacher Report College Football Analyst Adam Kramer dishes out who he thinks will play the role of Cinderella this weekend. 

Which top team will fall in Week 8?

Watch the video and let us know!

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Mike Slive's SEC Legacy

Former United States president Teddy Roosevelt's foreign policy was best described by the phrase "speak softly, and carry a big stick."

SEC commissioner Mike Slive's style is governing the SEC in a similar fashion. 

Slive announced on Tuesday that he will retire on July 31, 2015, after 13 years of service.

"I have been blessed in more ways than I can count and I will have as much passion for this job on my last day as I did on my first," said Slive in a statement. "I consider my health situation a temporary detour in a remarkable road that has allowed me to meet amazing people, experience incredible events and celebrate historic victories. I will relish my final year in this position and look forward to being the biggest fan of the SEC for many years to come."

Once he hangs up the briefcase, Slive will leave a legacy of success, grace and prosperity that won't be easily matched in the world of college athletics.

 

Thoughtful and Deliberate

As a lawyer and judge by trade, Slive previously served as the commissioner of Conference USA (1995-2002) and the Great Midwest Conference (1991-1995). The soft-spoken man from Utica, New York, brought that experience in the legal world to the SEC which, prior to his arrival, was led by Roy Kramer. 

Kramer, a former head coach at Central Michigan, is widely known as "the father of the BCS."

Slive's style was different, and when he first got introduced to people familiar with the SEC, he was met with some doubt, including from SEC Network analyst Tony Barnhart.

"Can this guy, with an Ivy League education, worked at the Pac-10, has been a lawyer and a district court judge—is he ready for the rough and tumble world in the SEC? That was my first thought about Mike Slive when I met him," Barnhart told B/R.

That changed in a hurry.

"After I talked with him for the first time," Barnhart noted, "I thought 'OK, this guy is persuasive.'"

Persuasive he is.

Slive's ability to rally the conference together, create peace behind the scenes and get the entire conference believing that a rising tide floats all boats is a big reason why the SEC is now regarded as the most successful conference in sports, and Slive is known as one of—if not the—most powerful figures in college sports.

It wasn't without challenges.

Slive famously sat former Florida head coach Urban Meyer and former Tennessee head coach Lane Kiffin down at SEC spring meetings in Destin, Florida, in 2009 after the two had engaged in an offseason of public sparring.

"I'll never forget, he brought them into the coaches meeting room in Destin, and basically read them the riot act," Barhnart said. "He told them, in so many words, that they need to quit yappin' in public, because it was bad for the conference and he wasn't going to put up with it."

That's not to say those things don't happen anymore. They do. Most recently, old-school and new-school coaches sparred publicly over the failed "10-second rule," which was something that popped up seemingly out of nowhere. That, though, is now the exception, not the rule.

"Those kind of things still happen," SEC director of communications Chuck Dunlap noted. "But they're not good for anybody to take place in a public forum. I think that those things, for the most part, don't happen in a public forum, is another testament to commissioner Slive and the respect that our coaches have for him."

 

A Visionary

Slive's 13 years as commissioner will be viewed as an unquestioned success, but his real impact will be felt long after he retires.

The four-team College Football Playoff exists largely due to Slive's push, long ago, for what then was termed as a "plus-one." According to the Orlando Sun-Sentinel, Slive and ACC commissioner John Swofford proposed a four-team playoff at the BCS meetings in the spring of 2008, just two championships into the SEC's remarkable run of seven straight national titles.

"There was really no support for it back then," explained Dunlap. "And that was really early in our string of titles, so it wasn't like he was doing that as an SEC move. He's somebody who is good for college athletics, good for college football and somebody who listened to fans and certainly wasn't tone-deaf to their desires."

It was all part of the plan.

Slive didn't go into that meeting expecting a four-team playoff to be adopted. He was laying the groundwork, which, as we see in 2014—this first season of the playoff—paid off.

"He was the guy who wanted to put it on the table at the BCS meetings, knowing the first time he did, he knew full well that it was going to get shot down," Barnhart said. "Mike Slive never went into a room where there was going to be a vote where he didn't already know how the vote was already going to go, just like a great lawyer who never asks a question that he doesn't already know the answer to."

What's more, Slive has been instrumental in the push for player welfare reform from the outset.

His 2011 "state of the SEC" speech at SEC media days in Hoover, Alabama, became known as the "agenda for change." In it, Slive laid out four primary goals (via: ASAPSports.com):

  • Redefine the benefits available to student-athletes.
  • Strengthen academic eligibility requirements for incoming freshmen and two-year transfers
  • Modernize the recruiting rules
  • Continue to support the NCAA's efforts to improve the enforcement process

Fast-forward three-and-a-half years, and these goals are a big part of power-five conferences' push for legislative autonomy. Full cost-of-attendance stipends, enhanced medical coverage, a pared-down rule book and multiyear scholarships are all either available now or likely to become available through autonomy in the near future.

Slive deserves credit for that.

"There's a lot that he was a part of and did through the years that fans, not just part of the SEC, should be grateful for," Dunlap said. 

 

Coaching Diversity 

Mississippi State hired Sylvester Croom prior to the 2004 season to replace Jackie Sherrill as the head coach of the Bulldogs, marking a first in the SEC. Croom was the first African-American head coach in the SEC and blazed a trail for others to follow in his footsteps.

Croom's story was featured by ESPN Films' SEC Storied franchise, and Slive commented on just how important Croom's career was to his legacy in a press release from ESPN.

"It was a story not about sport, but it was story about us," Slive said in a statement in 2012. "It was a story about society. It was a story about the South. And I don’t believe there’ll be a more pivotal event that will occur in my tenure no matter how long I stay here."

Since 2004, Kentucky hired Joker Phillips, former Vanderbilt head coach James Franklin led the Commodore program to unprecedented success and Derek Mason was hired to replace Franklin after Franklin left for Penn State.

The fact that subsequent hires didn't receive as much attention speaks volumes to Slive's push for coaching diversity within the SEC.

"Dealing with compliance and the fact that, in 2014, a minority football coach being hired in the SEC is no longer news. Those are the two things that, if you pressed him, are the things he'd be most proud of," Dunlap noted.

 

A Windfall 

College athletics is big business, and under Slive's leadership, the SEC has generated a windfall for its member institutions.

Since taking over for the 2002-2003 school year, Slive has been at the forefront as the conference has more than tripled its annual total payout to schools. The conference paid out a total of $101.9 million to its member institutions after his first year on the job, according to AL.com, but the best was yet to come.

Groundbreaking television contracts, success on the football field and basketball court, the addition of Texas A&M, Missouri and its television markets and the development of the SEC Network—which he referred to as the "most successful launch of a new cable network in all of cable history," according to AL.com—helped the total conference payout jump to $309.6 million.

This, as FoxSports.com Clay Travis noted in the spring, is without the benefit of money generated from the SEC Network, which launched on Aug. 14, 2014.

Whoever steps in for Slive will undoubtedly credit him for what's coming because tripling revenue in just over decade will look like a baby step in a road paved with gold.

 

Slive will go down as one of the kindest, smartest and transformative leaders in the history of college athletics. 

"He's the most powerful man in intercollegiate athletics, but he's never acted like it," Barnhart said.

His grace, ability to keep the peace and foresight has ushered in a new era of SEC football, college football and college athletics, with the best yet to come.

 

Barrett Sallee is the lead SEC college football writer and video analyst for Bleacher Report, as well as a co-host of the CFB Hangover on Bleacher Report Radio (Sundays, 9-11 a.m. ET) on Sirius 93, XM 208.

Quotes were obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted. All stats are courtesy of cfbstats.com, and all recruiting information is courtesy of 247Sports. Follow Barrett on Twitter @BarrettSallee.

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Kansas State vs. Oklahoma Complete Game Preview

It's do-or-die time for the Oklahoma Sooners when the Kansas State Wildcats come to town.

After shaky performances in each of the last two weeks, the flaws of the Sooners are completely exposed. Already with a loss on their record—to a Big 12 foe—another could spell doom for a season that began with such high expectations. 

In other words, this is a must-win for Oklahoma.

Here's everything you need to know about Saturday's matchup.

 

Where: Memorial Stadium

When: Saturday, October 18, noon ET

Watch: ESPN

Live Stream: Sooner Sports

Listen: Sooner Sports Radio Network

Betting Line: Oklahoma (-7.5), per Odds Shark

Begin Slideshow

Ohio State Football: How Life Has Changed for J.T. Barrett

COLUMBUS, Ohio — A year ago, J.T. Barrett could walk around his new city anonymously, unidentifiable aside from the No. 16 tags on his Ohio State apparel.

A freshman fourth-string quarterback, nobody would have called home to say that they saw Barrett on campus.

But in football-crazed Columbus, all it takes is one moment to go from unknown to overnight celebrity. Which is why when Braxton Miller went down with a season-ending injury on Aug. 18, it didn't take long for the Buckeyes' new starting quarterback to realize that his life was going to be different.

"First day of class, teacher calls your name to see if you’re here, and everybody turns their heads and looks back like, ‘J.T.’s in class?’" Barrett recalled. "Life has definitely changed."

If Barrett's celebrity was already taking shape back then—three days before the first start of his college career—one can only imagine where it stands now. Through the first five games of the 2014 season, the redshirt freshman signal-caller is on pace to break Miller's single-season school total yardage record and has managed to help keep 4-1 Ohio State in the hunt for a spot in the first ever College Football Playoff.

Heisman Trophy talk may be premature, but by season's end, the numbers could be there, as well as a potential signature win in East Lansing, Michigan, on Nov. 8. But as the buzz around Barrett builds, so does his notoriety on campus, leading to more random interactions than he experienced a year ago.

"Walking to class and people are like, ‘Hey, J.T., 'sup?’" Barrett said. "And I’ll be like, ‘What’s up, man?’ It’s different.”

It's also been different inside the walls of Ohio Stadium and the Woody Hayes Athletic Center, where the Wichita Falls, Texas, native is beginning to assert himself as more than just a standard second-year player. Asked if there was ever a moment where he saw a wide-eyed look on his starting quarterback's face, Urban Meyer didn't hesitate.

"Oh my gosh, yeah," the Buckeyes head coach responded.

That was just prior to Barrett's college debut, a 12-of-15, 226-yard, two-touchdown, one-interception outing in Ohio State's 34-17 win over Navy in Baltimore on Aug. 30, which came on two weeks notice following Miller's injury. And while he followed that with a shaky (9-for-29 passing, 219 yards, one touchdown, three interceptions) showing in the Buckeyes' loss to Virginia Tech, his improvement has been noticeable, as has his command of the Ohio State offense.

That rang especially true three weeks after the Buckeyes' defeat at the hands of the Hokies, when Ohio State hosted Cincinnati. After building momentum with a 66-0 thrashing of Kent State after the loss to Virginia Tech, Meyer placed an emphasis on maintaining that momentum following a bye week—a message that Barrett wouldn't let his teammates forget before taking the field against the Bearcats.

“We were trying to make a big focus on coming out fast," senior wide receiver Evan Spencer recalled. "He stopped the whole offense and grabbed everybody and looked everybody in the eye like, ‘Look, we gotta do this. We’re going to do it and we’re going to get the win.'"

"You could just tell he wanted everybody's attention," added senior running back Rod Smith. "And that's what he got."

Respect might be earned with actions more than it is words, but Barrett's done a bit of both through his first five games. With at least seven games left in his freshman season, Barrett has already thrown for 1,354 yards and 17 touchdowns, rushed for 276 yards and two touchdowns, and maintained a passer rating of 186.3—good for third-best in the country.

Thrice Barrett has been named the Big Ten's Freshman of the Week and once he's been honored with the conference's weekly top offensive player award. Following his 338-yard, five-touchdown outing against Maryland on Oct. 4, the Lone Star State native was named the Earl Campbell Tyler Rose Award National Player of the Week, presented weekly to the top player who hails from Texas.

Not too shabby for a player who is just two months removed from having his name mispronounced by his head coach and his name mislabeled on Ohio State's website. Nowadays, you'd be hard-pressed to find somebody around town unfamiliar with Barrett, who's admittedly still getting used to life in the limelight.

“I’m just a normal person playing quarterback at Ohio State," Barrett said. "I’m not anybody special, I don’t try to be a celebrity. I’m a normal guy.”

In most cities, he'd be right.

But not in Columbus.

 

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

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College Football Teams Who Can't Wait for the Season to End

Are we done yet?

You're not going to hear that question from most college football fans, not with how exciting and crazy the 2014 season has been to this point. One of the wildest and most unpredictable years in recent memory is only about half-over, with plenty of surprises surely left to come.

That's how most of us feel, unless you're a fan of—or a part of—some of the teams whose 2014 campaigns haven't gone so well. For those teams, well, it's more a matter of staring at the calendar and wishing things would hurry up and be done.

At this point and time, every team that began the season eligible for postseason play remains as such, as none of them are guaranteed to have a losing record.

It's a foregone conclusion for many, however, while others can see the writing on the wall and probably can't wait for 2014 to end.

Begin Slideshow

The Last Time Every College Football Team Was Ranked No. 1

It might seem like every team gets its chance atop the college football charts, but that's not the case. According to a chart making the rounds across Reddit and the blogosphere, only 44 teams have ever been ranked No. 1 in the Associated Press poll, and it has been decades since many well-regarded programs took the top spot.

And now by year pic.twitter.com/STbv7IVHDa

— RedditCFB (@RedditCFB) October 15, 2014

[Twitter, h/t SB Nation]

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Why Star Louisiana Brothers Are Favoring Magnolia State School

Recent results have swiftly transformed Mississippi into the epicenter of an unpredictable college football season. Admirers and enemies alike have witnessed the rapid ascension of two in-state SEC programs, but few have enjoyed front-row seats to this spectacle like Louisiana brothers Rodarius and Andraez Williams

The Shreveport defensive back duo spends Friday nights shutting down opposing passing attacks for Calvary Baptist Academy, then stay busy on weekends by hitting the recruiting trail, highlighted by back-to-back Saturday afternoons at Mississippi State. They first journeyed to Davis Wade Stadium on Oct. 4 for a "prove it" game against Texas A&M.

The Bulldogs, then ranked 12th nationally and fresh off an upset road win at LSU, throttled the Aggies in front of a raucous crowd. Rodarius and Andraez, along with much of America, moved on from the matchup with an altered image of Dan Mullen's program.

"You can't help but be impressed," Rodarius said. "It’s a great atmosphere. It's the place to be right now. I love everything about Mississippi State so far from what we've seen."

The heralded high school juniors enjoyed the new experience, but what occurred next sent the strongest message from Starkville. The Williams brothers returned to school Monday with a Mississippi State scholarship offer awaiting each of them.

"The coaches told us they were going to offer, and they didn't waste any time," Rodarius said. "It means a lot to us. No matter what offers I get in the future, they'll always be near the top of my list. I really appreciate that they've been straight and honest with us about everything."

It represented the first big-time FBS offer for Rodarius, a 2016 prospect who has largely remained under the radar relative to his sibling. Andraez has already assembled an impressive list of collegiate opportunities, with Texas A&M and LSU among those in the mix.

He didn't hesitate when asked to assess the current climate in SEC country.

"I think Mississippi, the whole state, owns football in the South right now," Andraez said.

The brothers returned to Starkville last Saturday to watch the Bulldogs upend reigning SEC champion Auburn, giving the team three straight victories over top-10 opponents.

"It was like, wow, they did it again," Rodarius said.

Mississippi State rose to No. 1 in national rankings, leapfrogging defending national champ Florida State. Expectations are suddenly sky-high for a program long held down by more esteemed conference contemporaries.

"I think Mississippi State will go all the way to the national championship game," Andraez said. "They’ve got the quarterback and the defense to do it."

The quarterback, Dak Prescott, is a Heisman Trophy contender and Louisiana native. His national popularity, along with national respect for the program, is soaring.

"Everyone is talking about Mississippi State," Rodarius said. "I think they’ve surprised a lot of people. I'm sure they believed in themselves when the season started, but they’re the underdog. It's crazy to see them at No. 1."

The Williams' respect for the program has undoubtedly been enhanced by a recent string of eye-opening wins, but their interest extends beyond the win column.

Both prospects are intrigued by the opportunity to team up with cornerbacks coach Deshea Townsend, who starred at Alabama and went on to win two Super Bowl titles with the Pittsburgh Steelers.

"Coach Townsend was in [the] NFL for a very long time, and he obviously knows what he's doing," Rodarius said. "When we got to Mississippi State for the first time, he told us to watch how disciplined their defensive backs are. I kept my eyes on them all game. He wasn't kidding. They're trained very well."

Andraez echoed those sentiments.

"I think Coach Townsend is the best defensive coach around,"  he said. "It would be an honor to play for him because he always has his players ready to compete."

Whether or not the brothers compete together in college remains a mystery. While it's clearly a goal for both athletes, there's someone else who would cherish the bond even more.

"My mama would love that," Andraez said.

"Yeah, it would be sweet to play together, but a lot of it will depend on a team's situation at cornerback," he continued. "If there's an opportunity for both of us to come in and play, that's great. But if we have to fight for just one spot I'm not sure."

Rodarius and Andraez, nicknamed "Lee Lee" and "Greedy" respectively, have been spectacular for Calvary Baptist, a state title contender. They've combined for 39 tackles and five interceptions—four plucked by Rodarius—through six games.

"We talk about staying together in college all the time," Rodarius said. "We've had a lot of success in high school, and it would be cool to keep that going."

Much of that success has been forged through fierce daily competition against teammate Shea Patterson. The 5-star quarterback recruit is a blue-chip member of the 2016 class, tossing 51 touchdowns and just one interception in his past 17 games, per MaxPreps.

"He's definitely challenged us to become better defenders because it's really hard to deal with his passes," Andraez said. "He can burn you because he puts the ball in a perfect spot. That's forced us to play more physical in man coverage and learn how to jam up receivers at the line."

The results have been outstanding, putting both brothers in position to participate at the highest level of amateur football.

So what's their commonality?

"We’re both shutdown guys who can control our side of the field," Andraez said. "I'm faster than he is, but I think he’s got better ball skills right now. We're both working to get better, just trying to see where it takes us."

Andraez anticipates a return to Mississippi for the third straight Saturday—this time flying solo—to watch Ole Miss take on Tennessee. The Rebels, ranked third nationally, extended an offer last week.

"I've never seen Ole Miss play, so this weekend is going to be a good opportunity for me to see what that program is all about," he said.

A debate is raging about which Mississippi team is superior at this point of the season. If both programs manage to make it through their matchups unbeaten, the winner would be a strong favorite to claim the No. 1 seed in inaugural College Football Playoffs. 

Naturally, the Williams brothers will be front and center when the rivals collide Nov. 29 for what certainly could become the most meaningful football game ever played in Mississippi.

"I’m not sure if Ole Miss can beat Mississippi State because I think the Bulldogs have an edge, but it will be an amazing matchup to see," Andreaz said. "We’ll definitely be at that one."

 

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

Recruit ratings courtesy of 247Sports.

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Notre Dame Football: Everett Golson Must Be at His Best Against Florida State

SOUTH BEND, Ind. — Jameis Winston is the quarterback with the Heisman Trophy to his name, but Everett Golson will have to be at his best for Notre Dame football to topple Florida State on Saturday in a Top Five showdown.

The Seminoles are averaging 39 points per game this season after putting up 52 per game in 2013. It will be hard enough for the Irish defense to slow down Florida State, which is a challenge that becomes even unlikelier if Golson is at anything less than his best.

Against North Carolina on Saturday, Golson gift-wrapped the Tar Heels an early 14 points thanks to two costly turnovers deep in Notre Dame’s end of the field. Two quarters later, he coughed up another fumble—his ninth turnover in a three-game stretch.

Talk about Golson’s ball security has come to the forefront of late.

“It’s a consequence of me turning the ball over, really,” Golson said Wednesday. “If I stop turning the ball over, I don’t think y’all are still talking about it. Definitely gotta do a better job with that.”

On Sunday, following the North Carolina game, Irish head coach Brian Kelly said they’ve gone through each of Golson’s recent turnovers and looked for ways to eradicate them.

For the past few weeks, Golson has worked after practices on ball security with the running backs. In practice this week, Irish quarterbacks coach Matt LaFleur has had Golson experiment with a sensor-laden football that reveals how hard the ball-carrier is squeezing the ball.

However it happens, Golson knows he needs to cut out his turnovers.

“It’s a point where you get to be just fed up with it,” Golson said. “I think that’s where I am. I’m definitely not going to turn the ball over.”

He really can’t against the Seminoles. All three of Golson’s miscues on Saturday gave North Carolina a short field and led to three touchdowns. Take away those blemishes, and the Irish are probably looking at a more comfortable victory.

Not much will be comfortable for Notre Dame about Saturday’s prime-time tilt in Tallahassee, Florida. The Irish will enter their first true road atmosphere—and a wild one at that.

How will a young, talented team respond in that environment against an elite opponent?

“This group does not strike me as one where they're going to go down to Florida State and be affected by the crowd,” Kelly said Tuesday. “Our problems have been self-inflicted. So I'm more concerned about our self-inflicted wounds than I am what may happen because of the environment.”

The most notable of the self-induced wounds belong to Golson. But to his credit, he’s also made enough plays to overcome the mishaps in each of the last three games.

Against Syracuse, Golson completed 25 consecutive passes and directed a short passing game with precision. Against Stanford, Golson somehow found a way to bring the Irish back and win on 4th-and-11 with just over a minute remaining in the fourth quarter. Against North Carolina, the quarterback threw for 300 yards and three touchdowns while adding 71 rushing yards.

According to Odds Shark, the Seminoles are favored by 12 points—and rightfully so—but Golson does have the ability to lead the Irish to an upset victory.

He’ll just need to be crisp and efficient—nearly perfect—to keep pace with Winston and the Seminoles.

 

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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