Feed aggregator

Miami Football: Final Fall Camp Stock Report

Fall camp is entering its terminal stage for the Miami Hurricanes, so the opening week of the 2014 college football season has almost arrived.

The 'Canes second and final scrimmage took place, and that brought one notable surprise along with it. Otherwise, it has been a relatively quiet third week at the GreenTree Practice Fields—though a couple workouts remain.

Since Miami's opener against Louisville is on Labor Day, the Hurricanes have a few extra days to prepare for their new ACC opponent. According to Christy Cabrera Chirinos of the South Florida Sun Sentinel, head coach Al Golden said that process will begin Sunday.

Of course, with an unsettled quarterback situation looming, the Miami offense will benefit from the additional time it gets through next week.

 

Quarterback Competition

Brad Kaaya and Jake Heaps are still battling for the starting quarterback job during the season opener. However, Heaps did not participate in the second scrimmage, which was a surprise considering the emphasis Miami coaches have placed on those days.

"Jake's body of work is what he's running on right now," Golden told WQAM, per Matt Porter of the Palm Beach Post. "That 30 or 40 plays the other day, that wasn't worth setting him back."

The transfer's "body of work" isn't necessarily a good one, yet Golden appears determined to keep him at the front of the competition. While Heaps' experience is unquestionably valuable, Kaaya has remained impactful, tossing a pair of touchdowns in his competition's absence.

Ultimately, decision day is approaching, but there is not a specific target date. Golden said to Porter:

I always feel like intuitively, when it's decided, you have an idea. Where at this moment, everybody feels like this is the guy, and you go with it. When we feel that moment comes, we'll announce it and we'll move forward.

 

True Freshmen Continue to Impress

Golden and his coaching staff signed a well-rounded class in February, and many prospects were expected to immediately contribute in some manner. The true freshmen are creating headlines throughout each week of August, and the second scrimmage highlighted two more beyond Kaaya.

Per a UM release, Joseph Yearby led the offense with 71 rushing yards, which is an extremely welcomed sign after two early-camp scares. He missed one practice session and also exited the field early as a precautionary measure in another.

Those two instances were initially causes for concern, but Yearby's scrimmage performances help relieve any doubts about his health.

One week after being tabbed the No. 2 kick and punt returner, Braxton Berrios showed his value on offense, hauling in five receptions Monday.

"The UM defense has been unable to effectively cover quick, shifty freshman slot receiver Braxton Berrios," Barry Jackson of The Miami Herald said. "He's going to be difficult to keep off the field."

Yearby has essentially solidified his role as Duke Johnson's backup, and Berrios' successes are demanding attention.

 

Perryman Blows Up Edwards...Again

During the spring game, Denzel Perryman absolutely destroyed sophomore Gus Edwards, a hit that was captured on helmet cam and spread online like a virus.

Last week, Perryman called class back into session and taught Edwards, who was tentatively running toward the sideline, another hard-earned lesson. Porter said it best:

Two things are for sure: Edwards needs to run with his pad level lower, and Perryman's hit-stick is ready for the 2014 season.

Fortunately, the senior's sound tackling is only a few days away from being unleashed on someone other than his teammate.

 

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

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

The 10 Best Ineligible College Football Players for 2014 Season

A virtual all-star team of college football talent won't see the field during the 2014 season because of ineligibility.

Whether it's because of academics, NCAA transfer rules or disciplinary action that resulted in a suspension or dismissal from the team, plenty of big-time players will not be eligible again until 2015 at the earliest. Most of them would likely have played a significant role in their team's performance this fall, but instead they'll either be on the sidelines or away from the stadium altogether each Saturday.

Nearly every team in FBS lost a player to the ineligible list during the offseason, but some stand out more than others. We've compiled a list of the most notable ineligible players based on the significance of their absence to their respective teams.

Only players suspended for the entire 2014 season were considered, while those not officially ruled out for the year also were left off. That's why you won't see Notre Dame receiver DaVaris Daniels and three other teammates being investigated for possible academic fraud because they're being held out only of preseason practice.

Begin Slideshow

Penn State vs. UCF Season Opener Threatened by Potential Volcanic Eruption

Football is billed as the game that can be played in all conditions. Rain, snow, sleet, hail. You name it, a football game has likely been played in it. 

It seems the exception might be a volcanic eruption nearly 900 miles away.    

A report from The Associated Press (via ESPN) indicated the season-opening contest between Penn State and Central Florida in Dublin, Ireland, on Aug. 30 might be in jeopardy due to increased volcanic activity in Iceland. The country's Civil Protection Department said residents near the stratovolcano Bardarbunga have been evacuated as a safety precaution.

Although Iceland and Ireland are nowhere close to one another—the distance from Dublin to Bardarbunga is roughly 875 miles—the AP notes travel restrictions may force the schools to stay home. Airborne particles and ash could make air travel untenable for a significant period of time.

The two teams are scheduled to play at Croke Park, the first time either university has played in a game overseas. Notre Dame and Navy played in Ireland in 1996 and 2012.

For Penn State, the logistics of going across the pond for one game has already been a logistical headache. Travis Johnson of the Centre Daily Times profiled the difficulties of the process, which include transporting player equipment, ensuring personnel have updated passports and numerous smaller things that could complicate the entire trip. 

“It’s an ongoing, fluid process,” Michael Hazel, Penn State's director of football operations, told Johnson. “It’s a challenge. There’s just a lot of moving parts that exist when you are going overseas.”

The news of a possible volcanic eruption in another country was a complication for which no one could have planned. The unpredictability factor means the teams could be barred from flying into the country or, even worse, not allowed to fly out after the game.

Penn State is scheduled to host Akron on Sept. 6. In 2010, an Icelandic eruption caused more than 100,000 flights to be canceled. It is unclear how long flights would be delayed or canceled in this case—or if they would be canceled all.

"We're aware of that, and we're monitoring that situation," Hazel told reporters. "That's kind of out of our area of expertise." 

UCF does not play again until Sept. 13, so it has a slightly larger margin for error. Neither school has indicated whether a contingency plan is in place in case flights are canceled. UCF visited Penn State last season, so one would assume the Knights would have first hosting rights. The sides will also want to get the matter solved quickly for students, alumni and fans who are following their teams across the Atlantic Ocean.

Unfortunately, the volcano is likely unaware a football game hinges on its decision whether or not to erupt. (If the volcano is aware, well, that's another conversation—and hopefully a reality show—entirely.)

For now, it seems both sides are satisfied crossing their fingers and hoping this is just a false alarm.

 

Follow Tyler Conway (@tylerconway22) on Twitter.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Missouri Coach Tries to Teach Players How to Dougie

The Missouri Tigers needed to learn how to do the Dougie, and luckily, defensive coordinator Dave Steckel was there to teach them.

There's not much better than a coach who isn't afraid to have a little fun with his players.

[Mizzou Football]

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Remembering Top 2014 Heisman Contenders as College Football Recruits

Every Heisman Trophy campaign comes from humble beginnings. Dedication and attitude are developed during youth football, before physical and mental maturity transform boys into young men at the high school level.

Many of the perceived 2014 Heisman contenders carved out reputations as elite playmakers at early stages, receiving plenty of interest from collegiate recruiting departments. Piles of letters arrived first, eventually followed by formal scholarship offers.

The choices these prospects made on national signing day sent them down a path toward stardom that could ultimately lead to the winner's podium in Manhattan this December. Now established college standouts, the fates of their quests for individual glory and overall program success hang in the balance each week for the next four months.

Before we focus on what lies ahead for these difference-makers in 2014, let's take a look back to simpler times, when the national spotlight didn't shine nearly as bright.

Here's a review of the recruitment processes that put these Heisman hopefuls in position to excel.

Begin Slideshow

Complete Predictions for Every SEC West Team in 2014

Game plans are being put together, depth charts are being finalized and it's time for the rubber to meet the road.

That goes for football programs as well as preseason predictions.

Nobody thought Auburn would emerge from the SEC West last season to claim the SEC crown, but the Tigers did it on the heels of the a punishing multi-dimensional running game, a defense that played big when it needed to and two of the most unbelievable finishes in college football history to close out the regular season.

Will the Tigers repeat, or will Alabama re-claim its throne atop the SEC West? Will LSU reload enough to contend? Can the Mississippi schools take the next step.

Final SEC West predictions are in this slide show.

Begin Slideshow

Marcus Mariota Will Take Advantage of Oregon's Schedule in Hunt for Heisman

The strength of schedule often does aid in enhancing the resume of a potential Heisman Trophy contender.

This upcoming season, Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota is undoubtedly one of the top contenders to win the iconic award. The Ducks' schedule in 2014 provides multiple opportunities for the talented signal-caller to display his ability against top competition.

The nonconference slate features a showdown against Michigan State—perhaps the best team in the Big Ten in this season. Mark Dantonio's squad has been ranked eighth in the first 2014 AP Top 25 Poll.

Oregon is currently ranked third.

The theater on Sept. 6 at raucous Autzen Stadium will be absolutely fantastic. A true dichotomy exists: The explosive, offensive juggernaut that is Oregon battling the staunch, fundamentally sound defense of Michigan State. 

The classic green and white of the Spartans should mesh beautifully with the eclectic, ever-changing garb of the Ducks.

Assuming neither team loses its opening game, both will compete against each other as Top 10 teams. In essence, this could be the first massive contest of the entire 2014 college football season.

It will give Mariota an opportunity to prove himself early against what should be a phenomenal defense.

Last year, Michigan State ranked No. 4 in total defense. In '14, safety Kurtis Drummond and all-everything defensive lineman Shilique Calhoun will lead what should be another very good unit across the board.

Mariota will also go head-to-head against one of the most underrated signal-callers in the country—and perhaps a dark horse for the Heisman—n Connor Cook.

Moving down the schedule, Oregon has a monumental Pac-12 clash with upstart UCLA on Oct. 11 in the Rose Bowl.

This will be Oregon's toughest road game of the season. The Bruins are also ranked as a Top 10 team heading into this year and poised to break into the upper echelon of the conference.

A considerable sub-headline exists in regard to Mariota competing against fellow Heisman candidate Brett Hundley. UCLA's signal-caller is attempting to propel himself into the conversation as the best quarterback not only in the conference, but also the country.

UCLA also has NFL talent littered all throughout its defense—including the likes of Eric Kendricks, Owamagbe Odighizuwa, Kenny Clark, Eddie Vanderdoes and Myles Jack.

Again, this contest provides Mariota with a chance to boost his potential Heisman stock even further. A victory on the road against a Top 10 team—and most notably against a fellow candidate for the award—would theoretically look very good in the voters' eyes.

It could also derail Hundley's prospects in the process.

The last notable game on Oregon's schedule comes in the form of Stanford. Oregon's archnemesis in the Pac-12 North has been a major thorn in the program's side for the past few years.

In 2012, Stanford upset Oregon 17-14, virtually knocking the Ducks out of the BCS National Championship Game. Last year, the Cardinal upended Oregon by a score of 26-20.

As has been the case in recent memory, this game could determine the Pac-12 North winner. Conventional wisdom suggests both teams will be ranked fairly high by the time Nov. 1 rolls around.

This would yet again be an opportunity for Mariota to enhance his Heisman resume and defeat a marquee opponent.

Mariota is also 0-2 in his career versus the Cardinal. This could be even more of a motivating factor.

The gigantic elephant in the room when it comes to Mariota's Heisman chances is Jameis Winston. The Florida State signal-caller will head into 2014 as the clear-cut favorite to repeat as the trophy winner.

Comparing both players is a fascinating endeavor:

2013 StatisticsTDINTCompletion PercentageRushing YardsPassing YardsMarcus Mariota 31 4 63.5 715 3,665 Jameis Winston 40 10 66.9 219 4,057

The strength of schedule between both teams is nearly identical. Phil Steele (h/t FBSchedules.com) has Florida State with the 46th-toughest schedule in the country. Oregon is close at No. 48.

The NCAA strength-of-schedule method (h/t FBSchedules.com) has the Ducks at No. 49, while the Seminoles sit at No. 47.

When looking at Oregon's schedule as a whole compared to Florida State's slate, it appears as if Mariota will be facing tougher competition.

Based on the first AP poll of 2014, Oregon will play four ranked teams (Michigan State, UCLA, Stanford, Washington). Three of those squads—UCLA, Michigan State, Stanford—are ranked within the Top 11 in the country.

At the moment, Florida State would play two ranked teams (Clemson, Notre Dame). Looking at the number of teams from each conference in the Top 25 would indicate the Pac-12 is superior to the ACC.

The schedules for both players represent a minor aspect in winning the Heisman Trophy. Both will need to perform at exceptional levels for success on both a personal and team level.

However, Mariota's quest to win the Heisman Trophy will be buoyed by a strong schedule. If he does indeed win the award, the impressive competition he had to perform against will surely be a contributing factor.

As Oregon offensive coordinator Scott Frost told Daniel Uthman of USA Today, "I think [Mariota] is one of the very best players in all of college football, if not the best, and I think he was last year."

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Marcus Mariota Will Take Advantage of Oregon's Schedule in Hunt for Heisman

The strength of schedule often does aid in enhancing the resume of a potential Heisman Trophy contender. This upcoming season, Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota is undoubtedly one of the top contenders to win the iconic award...

Read the full article on Bleacher Report...

Miami LB Denzel Perryman Utterly Destroys RB in Practice Scrimmage

The U is back! Or something like that!

University of Miami football may not be fully resurrected, but sweet Jehoshaphat—one of the Hurricanes linebackers is conjuring up the ghosts of hit sticks past in Coral Gables.

Redditor Nemoran (h/t Big Lead’s Ty Duffy) tailored a GIF of a monstrous hit laid down by Miami linebacker Denzel “The President” Perryman during a recent team scrimmage. 

Yup. Perryman is a bad, school-of-Ray-Lewis dude.

It’s important to note that the running back flattened in this case was sophomore Gus Edwards—a 6’2”, 230-pound body. Perryman, listed at 6’0”, 242 pounds, is two inches shorter and a sick Pug heavier than his quarry.

Regardless of size, any linebacker who fires into the backfield untouched is going to do some damage. This wasn’t the first tattoo Perryman has applied, either. 

Here’s a mix tape of The President dropping the doom hammer on opponents. Make sure to stick around for No. 2, where Perryman can be seen delousing Edwards in Miami's 2014 spring game.

Carry on, Mr. President. I’m just going to stay here by my desk—far, far away from anything resembling a grass field in South Florida.

 

Follow Dan on Twitter for more sports and pop culture news.  

 

 

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Meet the New Oregon Ducks Starters for 2014

The Oregon Ducks will still look like the Oregon Ducks when they hit the bright green turf of Autzen Stadium in one of their neon uniform combinations on August 30th. They’re going to score a lot of points, they’re going to run the ball up and down the field and the defense is going to rotate more players than a hockey team doing 30-second line shifts. 

While the Ducks were supposed to return nine starters to the second-ranked offense in the country from 2013, injuries to wide receiver Bralon Addison and left tackle Tyler Johnstone have decreased the number of returnees to seven. Fear not Duck fans, Oregon’s offense isn’t going to score less. There’s just likely to be some different names doing the scoring.

On defense, the Ducks only return five starters—defensive end Tony Washington, defensive tackle Arik Armstead, middle linebacker Rodney Hardrick, middle linebacker Derrick Malone and cornerback Ifo Ekpre-Olomu. However, the Ducks, under new defensive coordinator Don Pellum, use more defensive players than almost any team in the country. What that means is that the backups from last year have a lot of game experience and should be ready to take over.

Philadelphia Eagles coach, and former Oregon boss, Chip Kelly used to use the mantra “next man up” when discussing players having to fill holes on the roster. Oregon head coach Mark Helfrich has taken his mentor's advice. It’s “next man up” in Eugene this year.

So who’s up next for the Ducks? It’s time to meet your new Oregon starters.

Begin Slideshow

Meet the New Oregon Ducks Starters for 2014

The Oregon Ducks will still look like the Oregon Ducks when they hit the bright green turf of Autzen Stadium in one of their neon uniform combinations on August 30th...

Begin Slideshow

Kent State Center Jason Bitsko Passes Away at Age 21

Kent State offensive lineman Jason Bitsko, 21, passed away on Wednesday. The cause of death is unknown after a roommate found him unresponsive.  

A release posted on the university's official athletics site states police believe an "undetermined medical issue" was a factor. It also included comments from both director of athletics Joel Nielsen and head football coach Paul Haynes.

"Kent State University and the entire Kent community mourns his passing," Nielsen said. "We are heartbroken by the news of Jason's death. Our thoughts and prayers go out to his family, friends, teammates and everyone whose lives he touched."

"Our players, coaches and everyone involved with our team are hurting because he was family," Haynes said. "As a team, we will come together and get through this one day at a time."

The Golden Flashes were made aware of the situation at the conclusion of the day's morning practice. All further activities scheduled for the team on Wednesday were canceled.

Bitsko started all 12 games for Kent State last season at right tackle and was slated to become the team's starting center heading into his junior campaign. The Huber Heights, Ohio, native had developed into one of the most reliable and versatile linemen in the Mid-American Conference.

His bio on the school's athletics site notes he was a co-recipient of the Read Award, which is handed out for "exemplifying hard work and dedication beyond the call of duty." College football writer Phil Steele also named him to the Preseason All-MAC Second Team. 

Dri Archer, who played college football at Kent State before being drafted by the Pittsburgh Steelers in May, sent out a message of condolence:

New England Patriots wide receiver Julian Edelman, who also starred at Kent State, provided support for the family as well:

No further details were provided as to how Kent State plans to move forward following the tragedy.

The Golden Flashes are currently scheduled to start the regular season at home in 10 days against Ohio.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Alabama Football: Blake Sims Isn't Going to the Bench Without a Fight

TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — Alabama’s quarterback competition was going to be as much of a competition as an Alabama-Chattanooga game, right?

Highly touted Florida State transfer Jacob Coker was going to come in and immediately be anointed starter, win a Heisman or two and ride off into the sunset after two years with a lot of hardware under his belt.

All of that could still come to fruition, but Coker hasn’t even been named the starter yet and doesn’t appear to be close to doing so, either. There is a very real chance that Blake Sims is Alabama’s starting quarterback for the 2014 season, and he won’t be relegated to backup duty for the third straight year without a fight.

“I would like to see somebody take the bull by the horns from a leadership standpoint, a consistency standpoint and win the job here sometime,” Alabama coach Nick Saban said on Tuesday. “But we're not going to make a decision until somebody does that.”

The biggest thing Sims has on his side in all of this is leadership.

He’s been around for four years now, going on five, so he is as familiar as anyone in that locker room with the other players. His teammates and coaches have spoken in the preseason about how he’s embraced that role.

“He’s definitely improved a lot,” wide receiver Chris Black said. “He’s more focused, being way more vocal, really stepping up as a leader, kind of trying to take control of the offense.”

That could go a long way for Sims in this competition. Having teammates who believe in you is half the battle for a quarterback, maybe more.

“Immensely. He's taken on a leadership role, at least a vocal role, on the offense,” center Ryan Kelly said. “Between him and Jacob, they're huge competitors. That's all you want out of a quarterback. When you get up to the line of scrimmage and you know you got those two guys behind you, you know they're going to give you everything they got. As an offensive line, it's awesome that we can work for someone like that. Whoever wins the job, I know they're going to do a great job competing for us.”

Off the field, Sims has been doing just about everything he can to improve as a passer.

He spent spring break and some of the summer in Florida with Ken Mastrole of the Mastrole Passing Academy. Mastrole has worked with the likes of E.J. Manuel, Tajh Boyd and Teddy Bridgewater and liked what he saw from Sims.

“He’s got the tools, definitely, to be the guy for Alabama,” Mastrole said in the spring. “Like I’ve been saying all along, just a good kid, he’s got very good leadership qualities, I think he really cares about this offseason and this year, about being the guy. He’s been patient. He does all the things that you want. He’s gonna walk the straight line, he’s going to represent the program well.”

The big question for Sims is his accuracy and learning how to manage using his feet to make plays.

Saban has, in the past, criticized him for going “rat-trap”—giving up on a play too early and trying to make something happen on the ground too quickly. He said on Tuesday that that’s changing.

“Blake's really improved first of all his knowledge of the offense,” Saban said. “He's capable of doing a lot more things. Really improved as a passer and because he's improved as a passer, I think he's more confident.

“So he doesn't go what I call rat-trap and start running around. He really has enough confidence to throw the ball on time and throw it to the right place and feel like he can make a completion and not have to do everything himself. I think those are probably the two areas that I think he's improved in the most.”

Alabama’s quarterback battle will likely go down to the wire between Sims and Coker, possibly all the way until the fourth game of the season, when Alabama plays Florida.

Coker came in as the favorite, but Sims is staking his claim for the starting job and has a very real chance of being Alabama’s quarterback in 2014.

“He's doing everything he's got to do to try to win the job,” Kelly said. “Him, Jacob and all the quarterbacks. When you step in to play quarterback for this offense, you know you're going to need to know the entire playbook in and out. Every quarterback has tried to do that, and they're still working on it everyday. Nobody is perfect on offense. Everybody is going to have a bad day. It's how you overcome it. They're both huge competitors.”

 

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

Follow on Twitter @marctorrence.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Western Michigan Gives Wheelchair-Aided Son of Former Player a Chance to Play

The 2014-15 college football season hasn't started yet, but the Western Michigan Broncos have already gotten the scoring underway—in a special way.

John Mulhearn, who is in a wheelchair, is the son of former Broncos linebacker Sean Mulhearn. He is one of Western Michigan's biggest fans, so the team wanted to give him a chance to make a play.

With his dad helping him all the way, John was able to score a touchdown during a recent Broncos practice. The touchdown set off a big celebration in the end zone.

As the video title indicates, this touchdown is worth more than points to the Mulhearn family.

[Bronco Video, h/t Dr. Saturday]

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Wisconsin Football: Final Game-by-Game Schedule Predictions

Coming into 2014, there is plenty of optimism between Lake Mendota and Lake Monona for the Wisconsin Badgers.  Last season, the Badgers won most of the games they were supposed to, lost the ones they were underdogs in and fell apart at home against Penn State.

This season, despite heavy losses on both sides of the ball including linebacker Chris Borland and wide receiver Jared Abbrederis, both of whom will be recognized in the coming years for their outstanding achievements while wearing Cardinal and White, there are plenty of signs of hopes for the Badgers.

The biggest thing for the Badgers is their relatively soft strength of schedule, though it is of no fault of their own.  In their non-conference schedule, the Badgers are playing a game in Houston against LSU and taking on the MAC champions in Bowling Green.

Their Big Ten schedule, which is scheduled by the league and not the teams themselves, have them playing Big Ten newbies Maryland and Rutgers in their "crossover" games, avoiding heavyweights Michigan, Michigan State, Ohio State and Penn State.

All of this adds up to Phil Steele's 72nd-ranked strength of schedule, which should mean a good shot at double-digit wins and a bowl berth locked up halfway through their Big Ten schedule.  Beyond that, the Badgers have a realistic chance to play in the inaugural College Football Playoff.

With all of that being said, let's take a look at game-by-game predictions for each of the Badgers' 12 regular-season games, starting at NRG Stadium in Houston.

Begin Slideshow

5-Star LSU Commit Kevin Toliver Sets 5 Official Visits: Should Les Miles Worry?

Longtime LSU pledge Kevin Toliver will take all five of his official visits this fall, opening the door for other programs to present their case for a commitment flip. Along with an early November trip to Baton Rouge, the 5-star cornerback plans to spend time at Auburn, Ohio State, Virginia Tech and UCLA, per Barton Simmons of 247Sports.

Toliver, who committed to the Tigers during his sophomore season, is rated second nationally among cornerbacks and seventh overall in 247Sports' composite rankings. He helped lead Trinity Christian Academy (Jacksonville, Florida) to a state title last fall, earning invitations to The Opening, Under Armour All-American Game and U.S. Army All-American Bowl.

The 6'2", 185-pound defender is at the foundation of an LSU class that rates 12th nationally in 247Sports' composite team rankings. Toliver was the first member of a group that now includes 15 prospects.

"I had a real good connection with the coaches and everyone who was there,” he told Justin Barney of Jacksonville.com after his 2012 commitment. “I knew I always wanted to go to LSU. There wasn’t no reason to wait.”

Despite dozens of offers at his disposal, Toliver has remained steadfast in his pact with the Tigers. His official visit schedule presents LSU head coach Les Miles with one final gauntlet to survive before securing his long-awaited signature.

SEC rival Auburn is the first to welcome Toliver to campus this season. He will attend the team's Aug. 30 matchup against Arkansas.

Head coach Gus Malzahn quickly reshaped the program's image in 2013, shocking the country with an SEC title and coming within seconds of a national championship. That leap piqued Toliver's interest.

"The big jump they've had from two years ago to last year, that's a big difference. ... They surprised me," he told Keith Niebuhr of 247Sports (subscription required) earlier this year. "I want to go to a game and see how the game environment is."

Auburn could certainly be seen as the most legitimate threat to LSU considering the team's proximity and recent success. If Toliver plays anywhere but Baton Rouge in the SEC, Auburn is the most likely landing spot.

Urban Meyer will aim to win over another Sunshine State prospect when Toliver comes to Columbus for a Sept. 6 showdown with Virginia Tech. Ohio State already holds commitments from Florida defensive backs Jamel Dean and Carlton Davis.

The Buckeyes have assembled quite a stockpile of defensive talent during the past two recruiting classes and could solidify a cornerback spot for the next three or four years with Toliver on board. Fortunately for Meyer, the Florida standout isn't coming to campus during the latter portion of the season when snowstorms are possible.

Fair or not, that can be a deal-breaker for Florida recruits.

Toliver will watch Virginia Tech for the second time in on Oct. 3. His journey to Blacksburg provides tremendous potential for the Hokies, who've also locked down an official visit weekend with in-state 5-star defensive end Josh Sweat, rated No. 1 overall in the class.

The pair of highly pursued playmakers will attend Ohio State together a month earlier, and that could set the stage for them to conspire about possibly playing together.

Needless to say, it will be one of the biggest official visit weekend schedules in recent Virginia Tech history.

Toliver is set to stay off the recruiting trail for a six-week span before heading to Baton Rouge on Nov. 8, when LSU battles Alabama. It's a chance for Miles, the coaching staff and Tigers fans to remind him why he committed to the team two years ago.

Miles' goal will likely be to have Toliver shut things down after that visit, but UCLA hopes he moves ahead with plans to travel west. The Bruins are set to welcome him into town for a Nov. 22 game against USC.

(Quick sidebar here: When you follow up LSU versus Alabama with UCLA versus USC, you're maximizing a once-in-a-lifetime recruiting process. Well done, Mr. Toliver.)

Jim Mora has been aggressive in his efforts to recruit East Coast athletes. His persistence has impressed Toliver.

"The biggest school coming at me is UCLA," Toliver told NOLA.com reporter Amos Morale in July. "I'm going to take an official visit there just to see what its all about." 

The Bruins would love to land a long, rangy cornerback to contend with the significant influx of top-tier quarterback talent set to hit the Pac-12 next season. It's a long shot, but getting Toliver on campus would be a major coup for Mora.

UCLA, Ohio State, Virginia Tech and Auburn better prepare their best sales pitches. Toliver will join each coaching staff for a few days this fall, then head home.

More than likely, he'll spend any return trip on the visitors' sideline.

Miles and LSU defensive coordinator John Chavis have been diligent throughout this recruitment and probably expected Toliver to at least explore some other options. He may be taking a nationwide tour to fraternize with other suitors, but this is LSU's chase to lose, and you have to like its chances to reach signing day with the coveted defender still on board 27 months after his initial commitment.

 

Recruit ratings courtesy of 247Sports unless otherwise noted.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

National Title, NFL Draft Dreams Within Reach for Former Oregon QB Bryan Bennett

It took a change of course, but Bryan Bennett is on the road he wants to be: competing for championships and chasing his NFL dream. 

"Ever since I was young, I've been saying I want to be a professional athlete," Bennett said. "For as long as I can [remember], it's been football. It's been the NFL. That's what I want to do. It's crazy how close it is now to being there."

Bennett is on track to achieve his goal, but it took an unexpected detour for him to get here.   

"I came into a situation where I was looking to transfer," Bennett said. "Looking for a better opportunity to play." 

He got that opportunity at Southeastern Louisiana University.

He enters the 2014 season as captain of a legitimate national championship contender in the Football Championship Subdivision. He’s a preseason favorite to contend for the Walter Payton Award, given to the subdivision's premier offensive player. 

And, if all goes according to plan, Bennett will have his name called at next May's NFL draft. 

The fact that all these lofty goals are within Bennett’s reach is not necessarily surprising. As a 4-star recruit out of Crespi Carmelite High School in Encino, California, in 2010, 247Sports ranked Bennett the nation’s No. 9 pro-style quarterback.

His blend of prototypical size and pocket presence, combined with explosive mobility, made Bennett a fit for Chip Kelly's Oregon program. 

The Ducks were fresh off the first of three straight conference championships under Kelly when Bennett committed. He'd have a redshirt season learning the ropes from Second Team All-Pac-10 honoree Jeremiah Masoli, then could compete for the starting job in 2011. 

That's where Bennett's road to his football goals veers down an alternate route. 

 

An Opportunity to Play  

Quarterback is a unique position. Every other spot on the offensive and defensive lineups requires multiple players, whether simultaneously or in specific situations. Barring rare exceptions, just one quarterback plays in meaningful situations.  

Falling behind on the depth chart is not necessarily an indictment of a quarterback's ability or potential—particularly not when he trails a once-in-a-generation kind of teammate. 

"Unfortunately, Bryan was behind a guy [who] doesn't come around every year," Oregon head coach Mark Helfrich said last month at Pac-12 media days.

Helfrich was the Ducks' offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach during the 2012 season. In the offseason leading up to that campaign, Oregon had a heated quarterback competition unfolding between Bennett and redshirt freshman Marcus Mariota. 

The back-and-forth lasted until one week before the season opener. Kelly didn't name a starter until Aug. 24—and his starter was Mariota.  

Bennett was relegated to a reserve role in 2012, and by season's end, it became apparent that his best shot to play would be in a different uniform.

It was an interesting turn of fate. Just a few months prior, Bennett looked to be Oregon's quarterback of the future.

After redshirting in 2010, he made clean-up appearances against Nevada and Southeast Missouri State early in 2011.

Darron Thomas—the Ducks' starting quarterback in 2010 after Masoli was dismissed just before the season—sustained a leg injury against No. 18-ranked Arizona State on Oct. 15, 2011.

That night, Bennett got his first opportunity to shine in a high-profile situation. He rushed five times for 65 yards, helping the Ducks preserve a 41-27 win over the Sun Devils.

The next two weeks against Colorado and Washington State, Bennett factored more prominently into the game plan. He waylaid the Buffaloes for 156 yards passing and two touchdowns, with another 69 yards on the ground. A week later, he threw for another two scores in the Ducks' romp over the Cougars.

Thomas returned to finish the season, but his unexpected early entry into the 2012 NFL draft seemingly gave Bennett an inside track to keep the Oregon machine rolling and launch his individual career.

In a way, the Ducks' 2012 quarterback competition was responsible for launching two outstanding quarterback careers.  

Heading into the 2014 season, Bennett and Mariota are in mirroring situations. Oregon has legitimate national championships aspirations; SLU has legitimate national championship aspirations. 

Mariota is a preseason favorite for his subdivision's top individual honor; Bennett is a preseason favorite for his subdivision's top individual honor. 

Come May and the NFL draft, their career arcs could again follow similar trajectories. Both are prospects to play at the next level. 

I asked Helfrich if landing two quarterbacks who spent time together in the same program in the same draft qualified Oregon for the designation as the new "Quarterback U." 

"I like the way you think," he joked. 

Playing at Oregon may not have been the football path for which Bennett was destined, but he maintains ties to the program. 

"[Oregon center] Hroniss Grasu, we were roommates. We went to school every day together in high school and then again in college," Bennett said. "That’s almost like family." 

He also counts Josh Huff among his close Oregon friends. Huff reunited with Kelly on the Philadelphia Eagles roster. 

Pursuing his opportunity may have required a change of scenery, but there's nothing but respect between Bennett and Oregon. 

"I still care about them, care about their success, just as they do for me," he said. "You part ways sometimes, but it wasn’t a bad thing." 

"I'm really happy for his future," Helfrich said. "I'll be a fan of his wherever he ends up."

The positive note on which Bennett left Oregon carried over into his new role as starting quarterback at SLU. 

Lions head coach Ron Roberts welcomes transfer players, but he expects a certain attitude from a newcomer into his program. 

"He's got to be a team guy," Roberts said. "He can't fall into the [mindset of], 'I'm not getting recognition or fame,' or that there's not 80,000 people in the stadium, and he isn't getting seven pairs of shoes.

"Bryan's not that. He's a totally selfless guy," Roberts added. "Total team player all the way around." 

Roberts said he first talked to Bennett right around the Ducks' 2013 Fiesta Bowl appearance. Those initial conversations were the first step in building a successful relationship.   

 

From Eugene to Hammond

Bennett's transfer to Southeastern Louisiana meant a change in classes, a change in teammates and even a change in lifestyle. 

Transitioning into a new program and university are the obvious challenges associated with a transfer. But Bennett said making the change from Oregon to SLU was seamless in that regard. 

"I was kind of going back-and-forth at Oregon, whether I was going to stay or whether I was going to go," he explained. "I decided to take a trip out [to SLU]; [the semester] hadn’t started yet, so I could get out for the spring, not be behind in any classes and have a spring football with the team."

For a young man from California who spent three years in the Pacific Northwest, the more difficult aspect of transferring was acclimating to a new culture and pace of life. 

Bennett said attending the Manning Passing Academy in nearby Thibodaux, on the campus of SLU's Southland Conference rival Nicholls State, gave him some familiarity with the area. But visiting for a few days and living so far from home are two different things. 

So too are Hammond, Louisiana, location of Southeastern Louisiana University, and the West Coast locales Bennett had previously called home. 

The US Census estimates Hammond's population in 2013 was 20,337. In contrast, the University of Oregon's undergraduate enrollment in the fall 2013 semester was 20,808 per the university's official website.

Fortunately for Bennett, he describes himself as someone who "can adapt wherever I go." 

"It’s been a great learning experience and just a great experience in general," he said. "Getting to be in a different part of the country and a different culture and adapt to it; I’ve learned a lot from being down here." 

While he was familiarizing himself with his new surroundings, Bennett found at least one immediate similarity to Oregon.

Both football programs favored an uptempo style of offense that allowed Bennett to do what he does best: make plays. And he'd have the chance to do so immediately. 

"When it came time to transfer, I talked to different people," Bennett said. "I heard there’s a new coach at Southeastern, things are looking bright for the future and they need a quarterback."

That new head coach was Roberts, who is now preparing for his third season at helm. Roberts came to SLU from Delta State, a Division II powerhouse in his five years there.

Roberts' first team at SLU finished 5-6, a two-win improvement over the season prior. Add Bennett to fill that quarterback void, and the Lions' improvement from 2011 to 2012 paled in comparison to the jump they made in 2013. 

"We thought we had a lot of talent going into the year," Roberts said. "The coaches, we thought we had the ability, maybe not to compete for the championship, but get into the playoffs." 

Bennett saw a chance to take the wheel and help lead the Lions on that course. Bennett applied lessons from his time as a Duck into his new role.  

"At Oregon, there are a lot of great coaches…I had the chance to be around a lot of guys who went on to play at the next level. I got to kind of sit back while I was there and observe," he said. 

Roberts saw that leadership quality in Bennett immediately. 

"Really as soon as he got here, he took on that leadership role," Roberts said. "Because he's a guy who works really hard—he's a tough kid—he stepped immediately into that role, and the kids followed him." 

 

Rewriting Record Books

For Bennett, transferring to SLU was an opportunity to play. For the Lions football program, his arrival proved downright historic. 

Behind Bennett's 3,165 passing yards, 1,046 rushing yards and 37 combined touchdowns, the Lions didn't just improve. They flourished.   

SLU’s 11 wins in 2013 were the program’s most in a single season. Its Southland championship was the program's first league title since winning the Gulf States Conference in 1961. 

Claiming the Southland crown meant beating Sam Houston State, the two-time FCS runner-up. And the Lions did it twice, the second time knocking the Bearkats out of the playoffs in a 30-29 thriller. 

Bennett rushed for a game-high 83 yards with a touchdown and passed for 286 yards with another two scores. 

His second touchdown pass that December night was history-making. 

Trailing 29-24 with 1:21 remaining with the ball on his own 15-yard line, Bennett found Tony McCrea for a gain of 11 yards. Then he hit Marquis Fruge' for 12 yards, Jeff Smiley for 21 and Fruge' again for another 15. 

Four snaps, four passes and four completions. SLU moved into Sam Houston State territory in seconds and wasn't finished yet. 

A 25-yard strike to Fruge' following his first and only incompletion of the drive set up Bennett and the Lions at the one-yard line. The last call of the drive was easy enough: Bennett to Smiley, touchdown SLU. 

In 85 yards, 45 seconds, six completions and one touchdown, Bennett forever etched his name in SLU football history.  

"For us, Bryan is a marquee player. He’s really helped elevate our program," Roberts said.

Yes, SLU is certainly elevated within the FCS ranks. Where a season ago they were projected to finish fourth by the sports information directors and fifth by the head coaches in the Southland, the Lions open 2014 ranked No. 3 nationally in the both the Sports Network and Coaches Polls.  

The only two teams ranked ahead of them are Eastern Washington and North Dakota State, which account for the last four national championships. 

SLU football's rise in the past year is meteoric. Not bad for a program that restarted in 2003 after 16 years of dormancy. 

"The only thing that’s different now is people know what we’re capable of. We’re going to have a target on our back," Bennett said. "We have a goal, and we want to achieve it. Just like last year: We had a goal [of winning the Southland championship], and we achieved it. 

"But we didn't fully fulfill what we wanted to."

The goal to which Bennett alludes is a national championship.  

"We have a lot more depth. We answered a lot of question areas we had, and we just have a lot more experience coming back," Roberts said. "We have guys who've won a [conference] championship and guys who've won in the playoffs." 

As often comes with the territory of quarterbacking a championship-caliber team, Bennett is a contender for the game's top individual honor. In FCS, that's the Walter Payton Award. 

Past winners include Dallas Cowboys star Tony Romo, Michigan-slayer and current Chicago Bear Armanti Edwards and 2014 NFL draftee Jimmy Garoppolo. 

Bennett said he embraces the pursuit of the award because of the implications it has for SLU football as a whole. 

"I should be working to try and win that," he said. "You have those individual goals when you say, 'Yes, I want to be a Walter Payton Award winner,' and, 'Yes, I want to be an All-American.'

"I want to do that. But now I'm more focused on doing what I can to make me and my team better. If we do that, everything else should fall into place," he said 

Improvement is a theme Bennett hit on frequently, and in pursuit of that goal, there's one critical element he emphasized both for himself and his team. 

"Work our tails off."  

It's a mantra that also applies both to SLU's championship aspirations and Bennett's own NFL stock. 

 

From Playing at SLU to Playing on Sundays 

Bennett said part of what made SLU attractive to him was it gave him "the best opportunity to try to play after college." 

His performance there thus far has helped land Bennett on draft boards early into the 2015 evaluation process. 

NFL.com's Mike Huguenin taps Bennett as a top small-school prospect. 

Washington State quarterback Connor Halliday, a 2015 NFL draft prospect in his own right, roomed with Bennett at last month's Manning Passing Academy. 

Halliday marveled when discussing Bennett's arm strength last month at Pac-12 media days, comparing the SLU quarterback to one NFL playmaker.   

"We lined up for skinny posts," Halliday said. "He threw the ball 84 yards. It was like seeing Michael Vick."  

This year's Manning Passing Academy was Bennett's fourth and a most productive visit indeed. The big arm Halliday described wowed others in attendance. 

Bennett's offseason grind also included work with former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Jeff Garcia. 

The process of cashing in on these efforts begins Aug. 30 for Bennett and the Lions, when they host Jacksonville University.  

SLU's season opener is his first opportunity to show off the efforts he's made in the offseason within a game situation.  And Bennett knows people will be watching. 

"I know there are some things I need to work on. I know what [NFL scouts] are going to be looking for," he said.

Improved accuracy is one metric on which Bennett can improve. With fewer interceptions and a higher completion percentage, his draft stock should climb. 

"Now I just need to take care of my team and the things I can do to better myself. I can't worry about, 'Oh, I need to to do this to make it to the league,'" he said. "I just have to do what I need to do to help my team wins games. If I do that, just like the awards, [the NFL draft] will take care of itself."  

It may have required a detour, but the next exit on the horizon for Bennett is a lifelong dream. 

 

All quotes obtained firsthand unless otherwise cited. Statistics compiled via LionSports.net and CFBstats.com. Recruiting rankings and information culled from 247Sports.com composite scores.  

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Why Ohio State Is the Best-Value Bet in 2014 College Football Season

The season-ending shoulder injury—or, the re-injuring of said shoulder, if you will—to Ohio State quarterback Braxton Miller already projects to have major championship effects. 

From the moment that Tim May of TheColumbus Dispatch first reported the news Monday, Ohio State's Big Ten and national-championship picture got fuzzier. 

As it turned out, the concern expressed by Haney wasn't a matter of creating a storyline through hyperbole. 

According to Las Vegas SuperBook, the Buckeyes have dropped to 50-1 odds to win the College Football Playoff (h/t Chip Patterson, CBSSports.com). For reference, Ohio State was listed at 12-1 by the same oddsmakers to win it all before Miller was officially ruled out for the year. 

Now is actually a good time to consider buying stock in Ohio State's championship odds. 

Miller's injury is more devastating to him than it is to Ohio State. You simply have to feel awful for a guy whose season is over before it begins. 

"My thoughts and prayers are with Braxton and his family," Ohio State head coach Urban Meyer said in a statement. "This is an unfortunate injury to a young man who means so much to this program and to Buckeye nation."

True, you can't understate the importance of Miller's injury. Good quarterbacks, especially ones who can pick up yards with their feet, are nearly impossible to account for and can mask a lot of deficiencies. As B/R's Ohio State lead writer Ben Axelrod writes, new starter JT Barrett isn't as physically gifted as Miller—not to mention he doesn't have experience. 

What Barrett does have, however, is leadership. That's a much-needed quality during a difficult time: 

Despite being just a second-year player with no playing experience at the college level, Barrett has also already been lauded for his leadership within the Ohio State locker room. And while he may not be a physical freak capable of stringing together single-game highlight reels like Miller, he prides himself on his intangibles and ability to spread the ball around.

But it's not like the Buckeyes were devoid of talent elsewhere. The defensive line of Michael Bennett, Noah Spence, Adolphus Washington and Joey Bosa could be the single best group at that position anywhere in the country.

Coupled with a secondary that will feature an up-and-coming star in Vonn Bell, the Buckeyes pass defense, which ranked near the bottom of the Big Ten a year ago, should be better.  

The question marks lie mostly on offense, which even before Miller's injury had to replace four offensive linemen, leading running back Carlos Hyde and leading receiver Philly Brown. The talent is there for the next wave of stars, there's just not a ton of experience in the trenches or in the backfield. 

But there's an X-factor with offensive coordinator Tom Herman, who was recently ranked as the top assistant in college football by Fox Sports' Bruce Feldman. That should inspire confidence that the offense will come together sooner rather than later. 

And, as of mid-August, Ohio State has one preseason top-25 team on its schedule: No. 8 Michigan State on November 8. That's not to say the Buckeyes won't be challenged before then, but that does give the offense time to iron out wrinkles. 

The odds may have dipped out of Ohio State's favor, and for all anyone knows, Miller's injury could cost the team a game or two it might have normally won. 

That said, there are still plenty of reasons to like Ohio State and their title chances in 2014. Putting the Buckeyes at 50-1 odds seems like a steal. 

 

Ben Kercheval is a lead writer for college football at Bleacher Report. All odds courtesy of Las Vegas SuperBook.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Why Ole Miss Can Win The SEC West in 2014

Over the last decade, the Alabama Crimson Tide, the Auburn Tigers or the LSU Tigers have won the SEC West division nine out of the 10 years. Those three are the top contenders in the division once again in 2014, but this year, the Ole Miss Rebels can win the SEC West for the first time in school history.

Before Ole Miss head coach Hugh Freeze came to Oxford, the Rebels finished with a 2-10 record in 2011. Since then, Freeze has the Rebels on the rise, as they finished with a 7-6 record in 2012 and improved to 8-5 in 2013. With a number of personnel losses at LSU and Texas A&M, the Rebels have a great opportunity to win their first SEC West division title this season.

The Rebels’ strength is their prolific offense led by quarterback Bo Wallace, who is one of the best and most experienced quarterbacks in the SEC. Last season, Wallace threw for 3,346 yards with 18 touchdowns and completed 64.8 percent of his passes. He also added 539 yards and six touchdowns on the ground. Wallace led the Rebels to some big wins against the Texas Longhorns and over then No. 6-ranked LSU.

While Wallace needs to eliminate the mistakes in key moments, like in the Mississippi State game, he is poised for a huge senior season.

Wallace he has an abundance of weapons around him, such as sophomore receiver Laquon Treadwell and tight end Evan Engram. Treadwell, who was named the 2013 SEC Freshman of the Year, caught 72 balls for 608 yards and five touchdowns. With Treadwell moving from the slot receiver to the outside, expect to see his number increase even more in 2014.

In the first seven games last season, before suffering an ankle injury, Engram emerged as the Rebels’ big-play receiver. Now that the tight end is 100 percent healthy, Engram—along with Treadwell and Wallace—could make the Rebels one of the best passing offenses in the nation.

Not only do the Rebels have a potent passing game, but they also have a solid running game to keep the SEC defenses honest. Running backs I’Tavius Mathers and Jaylen Walton combined for 1,114 yards and nine touchdowns a season ago.

The Rebels also have one of the best left tackles in the nation in sophomore Laremy Tunsil, who earned SEC All-Freshman honors a season ago. He will have to help anchor an offensive line that has many question marks, including the health of left guard Aaron Morris.

On defense, Ole Miss has nine starters returning, including All-American safety Cody Prewitt and All-SEC linebacker Serderius Bryant.

Last season, Prewitt made 71 tackles and had six interceptions. Bryant was just as active as he racked up 78 tackles, 9.5 of them for a loss.

Defensive end C.J. Johnson, who was injured in 2013, should provide close to his 2012 numbers when he had 6.5 sacks and finished sixth in tackles for the Rebels with 55.

Moving Robert Nkemdiche from defensive end to defensive tackle late last season helped him improve his production. He is a more natural tackle because of his 280-pound frame, and he can use his strength and long arms to push offensive linemen off the ball.

The biggest reason Ole Miss could win the SEC West is its favorable schedule. Alabama, Auburn and Mississippi State will all come to Vaught-Hemingway Stadium. Also, Ole Miss catches a break in SEC crossover play as it avoids Georgia, South Carolina, Florida and Missouri.

Ole Miss' game against the LSU Tigers on Oct. 25 will go a long way in determining if the Rebels are SEC West contenders. Ole Miss did defeat the Tigers last season and only lost to the Tigers by a touchdown or less in its last two trips to Tiger Stadium.

Freeze has had highly touted recruiting classes the last few seasons. So he can’t use the excuse that he doesn’t have the weapons to compete with Alabama, Auburn and LSU. With an experienced quarterback, excellent talent on offense and a skilled defense, there are plenty of reasons for optimism in Oxford, Mississippi, this season.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Auburn Football: Jeremy Johnson Is Already a Leader for the Tigers' Offense

AUBURN, Ala. — Jeremy Johnson's teammates say the Auburn sophomore quarterback would start at the 13 other schools in the SEC.

Although he is senior Nick Marshall's backup, Johnson said he entered each practice of his collegiate career like he's the starter at Auburn.

In less than two weeks, when the Tigers host Arkansas for its season opener, that focus and preparation will pay off for him.

With Marshall sitting an indefinite amount of time against the Razorbacks as part of his punishment for a July marijuana citation, Johnson will most likely—it somehow hasn't been made official yet by Auburn's coaching staff—make his second career start on Aug. 30.

"If I'm called upon, I'll be ready," Johnson said. "I really don't feel any pressure. I've just got to do what I've been coached to do, and everything will pan out right."

A start against an SEC opponent will come at the end of what has been an important month in the development of the young quarterback.

Johnson may not know if he's going to play a quarter, a half or the whole game against the Razorbacks, but his teammates say the sophomore is more than capable of leading the Tigers' offense into the 2014 season.

"Most freshmen are immature, just kind of lollygagging, but now he’s stepped up," senior H-back Brandon Fulse said. "He’s taking the game more seriously now, and I see that. First game, anytime you put him in, we have 100 percent that Jeremy Johnson will get the job done."

Since the start of fall camp, when Malzahn announced Marshall would not start against Arkansas, Johnson has split first-team reps with the returning starter.

Outside of a start against FCS opponent Western Carolina and reserve duty for an injured Marshall against Florida Atlantic last season, Johnson has not had a lot of time running the first-team offense.

The pressure of starting against an SEC opponent in a highly anticipated season opener might be too much for some underclassmen, but teammates said Johnson has showed great poise in the weeks leading up to the Arkansas game.

"I think he’s been handling it all pretty well," junior receiver Ricardo Louis said. "He's been more confident going into his second year. That's going to carry over for him by getting more reps and being more confident in throwing the ball and running the offense."

Auburn's coaches are already looking beyond the season opener in their plans to use a more confident Johnson in the offense this season.

"Me and [offensive coordinator Rhett Lashlee] decided Jeremy Johnson was going to have a bigger role regardless this year," Malzahn said. "We've talked about him and his ability and how we feel about him. We feel very good about our quarterback position as a whole."

One area Johnson said he has improved over the offseason is his work with the zone read, a staple of head coach Gus Malzahn's offense. The speedy Marshall excelled with the option last season, but the 6'5" Johnson brings a different element to the Tigers' ground game.

Johnson only ran the ball seven times last season for the Tigers, who mostly played him in special package plays. Whether it's through more package plays or more second-half snaps in lopsided games against weaker opponents, those numbers are expected to rise this season.

"They’ve got packages for me, so whenever it’s my time to go in on a certain package or a certain play, I’m going to make the best of it," Johnson said. "If it calls for a zone read, I can do it perfectly fine."

Johnson was considered a 4-star, pro-style quarterback out of Carver High School in nearby Montgomery, where he was named the 2012 Mr. Football winner for the state of Alabama. Despite the pass-first designation, Johnson still ran for more than 700 yards and seven touchdowns for the Wolverines.

His frame and athleticism may remind Auburn fans of a certain Heisman-winning quarterback, and Johnson said he strives to be just like him.

"I look up to Cam Newton," Johnson said. "I watch Cam on YouTube every day—watch his work ethic and everything he does."

While he has a bigger role for the team this season and aspirations to become an Auburn legend like Newton in his collegiate career, Johnson isn't looking to start any quarterback controversy with Marshall this season.

Johnson went as far to say he knew "for a fact" that Marshall would return to the field and win the Heisman Trophy this season.

Lashlee said the friendship between the two quarterbacks, who went head-to-head in an intense battle for the starting job in 2013, is completely genuine.

"I have even teased them before about their bromance on Instagram," Lashlee said. "They are just good friends. They get along. They are good in meetings. They are good on the practice field. I have never one time thought one had ulterior motives over the other."

So when Johnson leads the offense in Jordan-Hare Stadium a week from Saturday against Arkansas, he will have the full support of his close friend.

"I see Jeremy coming out there and practicing [well] every day," Marshall said. "He's leading the team just like he's going to be the starter, and I'm just behind him 100 percent."

 

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

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Pages