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How College Football's Realignment Craze Has Affected Travel Schedules

When Tulsa plays its first league road game as a member of the American Athletic Conference this October, the trip to Philadelphia to face Temple will be the culmination of months of preparation and planning.

And none of that will have anything to do with the Golden Hurricane's plan for the game itself.

"Battles are won in the planning stages," said Kyle Grooms, director of football operations for Tulsa, citing one of his favorite quotes from Sun Tzu's The Art of War. "It's not about where you play, it's about how you travel."

As one of a dozen FBS programs switching to or joining a new conference for the 2014-15 season, Tulsa and its realignment brethren face much more than a change in the level of competition. With new cities to visit, some of which require cross-country trips, the logistics associated with taking a college football team on the road can be as intricate and involved as scheming to stop the opponent's read-option offense.

Concern about travel depends on the program, though. West Virginia was one of the first teams to make a major move, both competitively and geographically, in 2012, but Mountaineers coach Dana Holgorsen has focused more on the who instead of the where.

“We were facing a significant upgrade in competition,” Holgorsen said. “A lot of people want to make geography a part of it, but I don't buy into that. I've never viewed it as a problem.”

Whether it will bother Tulsa will depend on how well someone like Grooms does his job. A former Tulsa player (who experienced the program's move from the Western Athletic Conference to Conference USA in 2005) entering his fourth season handling all of the Hurricane's travel arrangements, he has had his work cut out for him of late. Including this season's American trips to Central Florida, Houston, Memphis and Temple, he'll have made arrangements for road trips to 11 different cities in the past three years just for league games.

“It gets easier the more you do it,” Grooms said.

Because C-USA went through a major overhaul in 2013—adding six schools while losing four—the Hurricane will take only one repeat trip (to Houston, in 2012 and this November) over a three-year span. And that's only because the American has become a de facto C-USA, with East Carolina and Tulane joining Tulsa in that league this year along with the four (Central Florida, Houston, Memphis and SMU) who joined last season.

Tulsa's move becomes official on July 1, the same as for most teams making a conference switch this year. Most notable are Maryland (ACC) and Rutgers (American) to the Big Ten and Louisville (American) to the ACC, though all told five leagues will feature new lineups for 2014-15.

And while the main motivation for the changes centers around improved competition and better exposure (i.e., TV money), one thing that hasn't seemed to factor into the shifts has been a regard for travel impact.

The massive realignment wave began in 2011 when Colorado and Nebraska left the Big 12 for the Pac-12 and Big Ten, respectively, but it was the next year when things got really wacky in terms of geography. That's when Missouri and Texas A&M left the Big 12 for the SEC, a move that resulted in Missouri getting lumped into the SEC's East Division with the likes of Florida, Georgia and South Carolina.

The Big 12 responded by adding TCU and West Virginia, the latter sliding over from the Big East and initiating a mass exodus from that league over the next two years that affected nearly every league in FBS.

For West Virginia, moving to the Big 12 meant far more travel than before when it came to league road games. In their last Big East season, in 2011, the Mountaineers' average conference away game was 422 miles from Morgantown. The first slate of Big 12 road games, in 2012, were an average of 1,018 miles from home.

The conference switch wasn't even a possibility when Holgorsen left Oklahoma State for West Virginia in December 2010. He came to the school to be an offensive coordinator in the Big East, then was tabbed as the head coach before the 2011 season and led the Mountaineers to a league title and a blowout win over Clemson in the Orange Bowl. During that 2011 season was when West Virginia announced its move, sending Holgorsen back to the Big 12 where he'd spent nine of the previous 10 seasons as an assistant.

“I had a lot of familiarity (with the Big 12), having been there before,” he said. “I thought I could pass that on to the players. I was able to hit a home run with some of the boosters when it came to recommending some of the best restaurants.”

Holgorsen said he was more worried about how his players would handle facing better teams in bigger stadiums than anything to do with travel. While in the Big East his team had short 60- or 90-minute flights to games at Rutgers or Syracuse, but they also bussed the 300-mile trip to Cincinnati. As a result, having to fly more than two hours to get to cities in Oklahoma or Texas wasn't a big deal, he said.

“Sometimes we would bus five hours; it doesn't take five hours to get to Lubbock,” he said.

The key to minimizing travel and road woes is to stick to a routine, Holgorsen said, noting that whether playing at home or away the goal was to always be at the team hotel by 5 p.m. the day before a game. He said kickoff times, dictated by TV, can cause the most trouble because you have less control on when you're able to return from a road game.

“It just affects you on the back end,” he said. "It might take you an hour or two to load everything up, and then you still have to get home."

Tulsa's Grooms echoed Holgorsen's routine sentiment, as he plans for a hotel arrival between 5 and 5:30 p.m. the day before away games. Any earlier or later can mess with the routine and lead to too much idle time or a cramped schedule.

“We want to make it so that we plan the same way whether we're playing in San Diego or New York,” he said. “We want to keep it the same no matter the distance or destination.”

Tulsa announced its move to the American in April 2013 but didn't find out which teams it was going to play until February of this year, and when those games would be wasn't finalized until March. That put extra importance on what Grooms called his “spring recon trips,” when he visits three or four hotels in each road city to find the best place to stay and start working out a travel package.

If planned properly, players will have little exposure to the inner workings of a road trip. That's how UTSA senior offensive lineman Nate Leonard has seen it.

“We're so secluded when we go on the road, if we don't look outside we wouldn't know where we are,” said Leonard, who has started as the Roadrunners' center since the school began its football program in 2011. “The bus ride is the only time we know our surroundings.”

In Leonard's career he's seen UTSA go from being an independent in the FCS ranks to part of the now-defunct WAC and now to C-USA. He's played road games as far west as California and as far east as West Virginia, with a trip to Florida Atlantic in Boca Raton this season. He admits that travel can “take you out of your comfort zone,” but it's hard to complain about the opportunity.

“Playing football all over the country is a dream come true,” he said.

All quotes obtained firsthand, unless otherwise specified.

Distances based on TravelMath.com figures.

Follow Brian J. Pedersen on Twitter at @realBJP.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Jameis Winston Reportedly Purchases Insurance Policy Worth Up to $10M

Florida State quarterback Jameis Winston has reportedly purchased an insurance policy that will pay him between $8 million and $10 million if an injury or illness forces him out of the first round of the 2015 NFL draft. 

Yahoo Sports' Rand Getlin provided the news, noting that Winston is the first returning Heisman Trophy winner since Sam Bradford in 2008 to purchase a similar plan. 

He provided more details: 

According to Getlin, an insurance policy of this nature has a steep premium of $55,000 to $60,000 per year. While it isn't known how Winston himself will cover that cost, Getlin notes that most collegiate athletes who take this route use financing. 

You don't have to go very far back in history to find an example of how this sort of plan can be beneficial. 

USC wide receiver Marqise Lee purchased a total disability insurance policy last August, and when he slipped to the second round in the 2014 draft after suffering an MCL sprain, he collected somewhere in the range of $5 million.

Most likely, nothing comes of this. Players such as Jadeveon Clowney and Johnny Manziel had insurance plans that didn't pay off. Still, when it comes to Winston, who is projected as a top-10 pick after an electrifying redshirt freshman season, it's better safe than sorry. 

Moreover, as Getlin noted, this likely means that Famous Jameis won't be staying in Tallahassee past his sophomore season: 

It has always been assumed that Jameis would throw his name into the 2015 NFL draft hat, but his father, Antonor Winston, recently told AL.com's Jeff Sentell there was a different plan in place: 

"We want Jameis to succeed with one more year in baseball and two more years in football," he said. "We've never strayed from our plan that he is going to be in college until he gets that degree."

Taking out this kind of policy suggests otherwise, however. 

Either way, the two-sport athlete can feel safe knowing that his future is protected from an unpreventable injury. 

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Clemson Football: Why Wayne Gallman Will Be Tigers' X-Factor in 2014

The Clemson Tigers ranked No. 10 in total offense in 2013. Much of that was because of a passing offense that averaged 333 yards per game and ranked No. 9 overall.

On the ground, the Tigers weren't quite as successful. Clemson finished No. 56 in rushing offense and last year's top two rushers on the team are now gone.

No problem, Clemson fans, the Tigers should be a much better rushing team in 2014. Freshman Wayne Gallman will team with senior D.J. Howard and a pair of juniors in C.J. Davidson and Zac Brooks.

With that said, Gallman will be Clemson's X-factor on offense as the Tigers look to break in a first-time starter at quarterback.

In 2013, Howard, Davidson and Brooks combined to rush for 614 yards, while Gallman redshirted.

The Post and Courier's Gene Sapakoff notes that Gallman has impressed head coach Dabo Swinney and the Associated Press indicates he led the team in rushing in the team's annual spring game.

According to ESPN.com's Andrea Adelson, offensive coordinator Chad Morris hopes that he has the running back stable that will take his offense to the next level.

Gallman, along with Davidson, bring speed to the table. However, Davidson is more one-dimensional than Gallman.

At 6'1", 205 pounds, Gallman has excellent size and can run between the tackles or bounce it outside and go the distance at any time. That's something the Tigers lacked from the running back position in 2013.

For a player blessed with outstanding speed, Gallman is also a very physical runner.

This spring, Morris couldn't hide his enthusiasm regarding Gallman, telling Adelson that the running back is "probably as dynamic and electric a back as I've seen. He can turn speed to power so fast. There's a lot of great things going on with our backs."

The Tigers' current depth chart has Howard and Brooks ahead of Gallman and Davidson. However, the Tigers head to Athens, Georgia, on Aug. 30 to face a Bullogs defense loaded with talent and eight returning starters.

Clemson will need a playmaker—or two—in the backfield, and Gallman is that guy.

Howard has been injury-prone throughout his career and Brooks has never topped 246 yards in a season.

Clemson, with Cole Stoudt making his first career start at quarterback, will need plenty of speed and versatility on the field to get through the first month of the season when the Tigers not only face Georgia, but defending national champion Florida State, too.  

Gallman can provide that in bunches.

The biggest question regarding Gallman is how he will fare in pass protection. Young running backs generally struggle in this area, and Stoudt—while a pretty good athlete—isn't quite as nimble as former quarterback Tajh Boyd.

If Gallman wants to take the starting running back job, he must succeed in protecting the passer.

Clemson will most certainly use a running-back-by-committee approach early in the season. Talent usually wins out, though, and Gallman is the most talented runner Clemson has. He will remind some fans of former Tiger star C.J. Spiller.

For the first time in his seven-year tenure as head coach, Swinney will look for his defense to lead the team. However, at the end of the day, offense always wins for Clemson.

Gallman is Clemson's next offensive star.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Penn State Football: Incoming Freshmen Most Likely to Start This Season

It's no secret that the Nittany Lions have depth issues, forcing players into action earlier than they probably should be.

Last year, Christian Hackenberg started from day one, and he was joined by fellow freshmen Adam Breneman, Richy Anderson and Brandon Bell as newcomers taking significant snaps for the Nittany Lions.

2014 will provide depth issues of its own and a new crop of freshman will get early snaps. Here's a look at which players have the best shot at not only seeing action but also potentially earning a starting job among their new teammates.

 

 

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The Opening 2014: 10 Sleeper Recruits to Watch in Beaverton

The Opening is set to take place July 5-10, and it will be an intense event. While the pool of 162 players is filled with elite prospects, several sleeper recruits will be in attendance.

The stars will come into the event commanding all of the attention, but a few unknown commodities have a chance to steal the show. A few 3-star quarterbacks will have a platform to outshine several stud passers in Beaverton, while a 3-star offensive lineman could show he deserves to be ranked higher after a good performance.

Plus, an undersized defensive back is capable of holding his own versus some of the nation's top receivers.

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Jameis Winston Surprises Sleeping Teammate by Falling on Him on Team Bus

Jameis Winston should really let the people who block for him get their rest. However, the temptation to mess with a sleeping teammate is just too much.

Offensive lineman Cameron Erving apparently fell asleep during a bus trip. The Florida State quarterback saw that as an opportunity to wake up his teammate in epic fashion.

As Winston said on Instagram, he "had to do it." That's understandable. Most of us would probably have done something to mess with Erving as well.

[Jameis Winston, h/t College Spun]

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Elite 11 2014: Power Ranking This Year's Finalists

College quarterback stars of the future will converge in Beaverton, Oregon, this July as another edition of Elite 11 competition comes to a close. A group of 18 finalists earned the chance to emerge as the best of the bunch in a national showcase.

We tossed out the star ratings and focused on game film to rank each contender.

From celebrated commits to late-rising recruits still searching for offers, here's a look at who is aiming for a shot at stardom in an event that once featured Andrew Luck, Jameis Winston, Tim Tebow and Matthew Stafford.

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Don't Write off Injured Alabama DL Elisha Shaw Just Yet

"I've just got a feeling in my soul that I have another play left on that field."

That's what's motivating Elisha Shaw, a defensive tackle from Tucker (Ga.) High School.

The 6'4", 295-pound defensive tackle was once rated as the top defensive tackle in the state of Georgia and the No. 3 defensive tackle in the nation in the class of 2014. 

Then, things changed.

In August 2013 while at practice, Shaw injured his neck while making a tackle. It was a scary injury for Shaw, but at the time, it wasn't something that he thought would end his career.

"After I went down, my neck was really stiff so they put me in a neck brace," Shaw said. "I thought it was the sort of thing where they'd give me some pain relievers and it would be something that healed in a week, and that'd I'd come back and be ready to go."

He didn't.

During a checkup shortly after the injury, doctors discovered that Shaw had injured plates in his neck. He confirmed the specifics of his injury that were reported in February by The Crimson White—strained ligaments in his C1 vertebrae, bulging discs in C3 and C4, and an improper curve in his neck. His doctors advised against him continuing his football career.

"The doctor came into the room and said, 'I'm sorry son, but you will not be able to play football anymore'," Shaw said. "That's when it happened. That's when everything changed."

It changed in a hurry.

Shaw sat out his senior season recovering for injury. His star value sunk, the offers dried up and his options after high school dwindled.

"It never sunk in because, you know, something you work so hard for, you won't let it get by you that fast," Shaw said. "You won't just let it go."

One school didn't let him go.

Alabama.

According to ESPN.com's Alex Scarborough, Shaw "signed" with Alabama on national signing day in a ceremony with his teammates at Tucker High School. It wasn't the signing day ceremony he had in mind. Instead of signing a national letter of intent, Shaw agreed to a scholarship at Alabama under a medical exemption as part of an agreement with the staff.

He said:

That meant the world to me because my loyalty to Alabama was real. Alabama was my very first offer. I had no rankings, all I had was a day at their camp. They had faith in me through everything, and when this obstacle came up, they were there. I really appreciated that. I needed that in my life, because it was really hard. It was like a part of me had died. In life, you get stuff like that. The goal is to never stay down.

He isn't.

Shaw will arrive in Tuscaloosa this August, and hopes that his "career-ending injury" doesn't end his career after all. He has stayed in game shape throughout his injury, checking in at the same weight he was when his career was cut short.

"My only doctor is the man above," Shaw said. "I train everyday like I have a game next week. I'm still gridin' and still chasing that dream. When I get to 'Bama, I'm going to try to my best to get back on the field. Whatever it takes. I'm going to talk to the doctors and see what I can do."

 

If Alabama's doctors clear him, how risky would it be for Shaw to resume his career following his "career-ending" injury?

"This is a very tough injury and one that is going to give varied opinions from doctors," said Will Carroll, sports injuries lead writer for B/R. "Obviously, his doctors at Tucker were a bit worried. It's a serious injury, but if Alabama's doctors (some of the best in the world) clear him to play, they'll also be monitoring him closely. Certainly this is something that could cause problems in his cervical spine down the road. Although it elevates the risk, it does not put him in imminent danger."

He'll be on a medical exemption scholarship when he arrives, which doesn't make it impossible for him to see the field at Alabama. But, in order for him to play for the Crimson Tide, it would take some work behind the scenes.

John Infante of the Bylaw Blog confirmed that players on medical non-counter scholarships can come off and play at the same school, but that scholarship would be counted back every year in which he received aid. That could create a violation if it puts the school over the 85-player limit in any of the years in which received the scholarship.

"His best bet would be for Alabama to have an open scholarship this year and he essentially would not yet be on a medical scholarship," Infante said. "Otherwise, Alabama would either need to take the violation (which normally carries a two-for-one penalty so they would lose two scholarships at some point down the road) or try to argue for a waiver, probably on the basis that their doctors did not have adequate time to evaluate Shaw’s injury. Or, he transfers and tries to play somewhere else."

Shaw recognizes that playing again after such a devastating injury is a long shot, and even if it doesn't work out for him on the field, he still intends to pursue a career roaming the sidelines.

"I want to know my options," he said. "If the doctors tell me that they really think I shouldn't play, I'm going to continue to train with the team and push toward coaching."

He has options because Alabama believed in him, and that's not something that he takes for granted.

"They could have just thrown me away and moved on to the next," he said. "They stuck by their word."

 

* Barrett Sallee is the lead SEC college football writer for Bleacher Report. All quotes were obtained firsthand, all recruiting information is courtesy of 247Sports.com and all college statistics are courtesy of CFBStats.com.

 


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Bleacher Report's Complete Guide to July 1 Conference Realignment

Tuesday, July 1, will mark another round of conference realignment musical chairs. Maryland and Rutgers will head to the Big Ten, Louisville will go to the ACC, and a swarm of other "Group of Five" schools will shuffle among conferences.

It's enough to make your head hurt. 

So we here at Bleacher Report have decided to clear it all up. Not only will we tell you which schools are going where, we have a brief rundown of what each move means. Furthermore, we predict how each new conference member will do in its new home.

And whether it was a good move at all. 

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How Nebraska Joining Big Ten Has Worked so Far

The Big Ten is expanding once again. With the addition of Maryland and Rutgers, the Big Ten will now boast a total of 14 universities.

It's hard to believe it was a conference of only 11 until three years ago. Much like Maryland and Rutgers now, Nebraska made the switch to the Big Ten in 2011.

Since then, the Huskers have spent time getting acclimated to the new conference. How has it all worked out?

From a football perspective, the Big Ten has been nothing short of a roller coaster for the Huskers. In 2011, Nebraska stepped into its new conference with high hopes. It was assumed the Huskers would have a great shot at representing the "Legends" side of the division in the Big Ten championship.

Things didn't go exactly as planned. The Huskers fell 48-17 to Wisconsin in prime time that year. Nebraska then went on to lose 28-25 to Northwestern and 45-17 to Michigan, which ultimately seated Michigan State at the top of the "Legends."

As for 2012, the Huskers did make it to the Big Ten championship. Nebraska fell to UCLA 36-30 and Ohio State 63-38 during the regular season, but the team managed to get past those setbacks and make it to the championship game. Unfortunately, the Badgers handed Nebraska an embarrassing 70-31 loss.

In its third year in the conference, Nebraska football once again did not make it to Indianapolis. With losses to UCLA, Minnesota, Michigan State and Iowa, it was ultimately too much for the Huskers to overcome.

In the three seasons of Big Ten play, Nebraska football has ended with four losses. Fans are torn on what that number means, as Paul Myerberg of Pre-Snap Read noted in 2012. He even went on to question if nine-win seasons are the norm. Two years later, the question still remains.

It's not that things have been bad for Nebraska in the Big Ten. It's just been repetitive, as Matt Brown of SportsOnEarth.com said. "But Nebraska remains a good fit for the Big Ten culturally, and it now stands as the clear power, historically, in the new Big Ten West," he concluded.

Ultimately, Brown is right. Nebraska has been a good fit for the Big Ten and the Big Ten has been a good fit for Nebraska. It hasn't been an easy three years for the football program, but overall, it hasn't been a bad deal.

Looking at the Huskers' 2013-14 postseason recap for all sports shows promise. From men's basketball making it to the NCAA tournament for the first time in 16 years to the baseball team winning one game in the Stillwater regional, Nebraska has made its presence known.

From a financial standpoint, things are also looking up for the Huskers. As reported by Henry J. Cordes of the Omaha World Herald, "In 2017, when Nebraska will finally be on equal financial footing with the core Big Ten schools, the school's annual revenue from the conference could well swell to between $40 million and $50 million a year. Such a figure is astounding compared with four years ago, when the Big 12 paid NU $9 million."

As Maryland and Rutgers prepare to join the Big Ten, Nebraska can look back on the last three years and feel at ease with how it's gone so far. There are plenty of goals left to achieve, but it hasn't been a bad move overall.

There will always be the fans who miss the Big 12 (or the Big 8, specifically), but the Big Ten has been pretty good to the Huskers.

A season with less than four losses just might make it great.

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T.J. Simmons Commits to UCLA: What the Florida RB Recruit Brings to the Bruins

Jim Mora and the UCLA football team received some good news Monday as talented 3-star running back T.J. Simmons committed to the Bruins, as reported by Amy Campbell of Scout.com and Ed Lewis of BruinSportsReport.com

The Lakeland, Florida native opted for UCLA over the likes of Ohio State, Florida, Auburn, Notre Dame and Wisconsin, among others. 

Simmons' addition is a massive coup for Mora and the staff. It is no secret that the Bruins are targeting speed on the offensive side of the ball for this recruiting cycle. This axiom is especially true in regards to the backfield. 

Nicknamed "Speedie," Simmons brings very good speed to the table and is a threat to take the ball to the house at any time—as seen in his highlights. This characteristic is somewhat lacking within UCLA's current stable of backs.

Not only is Simmons proficient when it comes to quickness and pure speed but he's also a powerful runner with a strong lower base. He's good at getting low and exploding through holes up the field. 

Simmons won't be overly elusive in terms of making people miss, but he's a one-cut-and-go type of runner. In essence, he's in the mold of a traditional Kennedy Polamalu running back.

From a personality standpoint, Simmons is impressive. He appears to be a very respectful and articulate young man. 

As is the case with many commits on the other side of the country, holding onto Simmons might be difficult. Last year, fellow Florida running back Marlon Mack had committed to the Bruins. However, he ended up staying closer to home and signed with South Florida. 

Simmons has visited UCLA unofficially. Mack committed to the Bruins without stepping foot on campus. Having a familiarity with the campus and area could bode well for the Bruins in the long run. 

The commitment of an elite tailback from Florida truly does add credence to the thought that UCLA is becoming a prominent program. In previous years, UCLA beating out perennial powers for the likes of a recruit of this level would be unheard of—especially one residing on the opposite coast. 

He and current running back commit Bolu Olorunfunmi could make a nice combination of power and speed for the Bruins in the future.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

T.J. Simmons Commits to UCLA: What the Florida RB Recruit Brings to the Bruins

Jim Mora and the UCLA football team received some good news Monday as talented 3-star running back T.J. Simmons committed to the Bruins, as reported by Amy Campbell of Scout.com and Ed Lewis of BruinSportsReport...

Read the full article on Bleacher Report...

Complete Preview for The Opening 2014: Which Recruits Will Break out in Oregon?

The biggest names in the 2015 class will be heading out to Oregon for The Opening in a few days. Recruits from all across the country are excited to show how they can perform against the best of the best. 

Who do you think will stand out? Which matchup are you most excited to see?

Watch Bleacher Report's College Football Analyst Michael Felder and 247Sports Analyst JC Shurburtt discuss who to watch at The Opening.

Highlights courtesy of XOS Digital

Rankings from 247Sports Composite

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

LSU Football: Why Kwon Alexander Will Be Tigers' X-Factor in 2014

LSU linebacker Kwon Alexander's type of play can make anyone feel some type of way

Alexander's flashes of brilliance on film are impressive as any on LSU's defense. He is a physical force in the running game and can also defend a slot receiver in man-to-man coverage. It is unusual for a linebacker to be that versatile. 

Alexander has the capability of being LSU's leading tackler next season. But it all comes down to if he can master the little things required to be a great linebacker.

Here is why Alexander will breakout next season.   

 

Position Change

Alexander will have more freedom to make plays next season as he moves from strong-side to weak-side linebacker to replace the departed Lamin Barrow. Barrow led the team in tackles comfortably and was arguably LSU's best defensive player the last half of the season. 

Alexander is not as strong between the tackles as Barrow, but he does have more sideline-to-sideline range. Ball carriers attempting to turn the corner on his side of the field are often unsuccessful doing so. 

LSU defensive coordinator John Chavis will likely give Alexander a green light to play more aggressively this season. There are few, if any, linebackers in the SEC better than him at darting into the backfield to make plays. 

In the spring game, Alexander showed off his skills in his new role and jersey number. He only recorded three tackles but had a smooth 26-yard interception return for a touchdown. 

Now I'm getting older, heart getting colder pic.twitter.com/0owJ4XHACy

— Alexander the Great (@Showtime17Kwon) June 25, 2014 

 

Pass Defense 

Alexander's most valuable asset is in pass coverage, as he possesses the swiftness of a defensive back. He should have more opportunities to make plays now Barrow is gone. 

LSU's base defensive formation is a 4-3, but defensive coordinator John Chavis runs plenty of "Nickel" packages. The Nickel substitutes a linebacker off the field in favor of a defensive back. Last season, Alexander was often the linebacker taken off the field in favor of Barrow and D.J. Welter. 

Expect Alexander and Welter to be the linebackers on the field when Chavis calls for the Nickel. But even if LSU is in its base 4-3 package, the speed of Alexander is a near equivalent of having an extra defensive back on the field while not having to sacrifice a ferocious run-stopper.

 

Little Things

An X-factor does not necessary have to make that plays that make the highlight reel or stat sheet. Sometimes the little things are what makes a difference in a defense. 

Alexander can change offensive game plans. If he threatens to blitz pre-snap, a quarterback must also know he can sink back in coverage. The ground he covers can be frustrating for opposing offenses.

Alexander is also a superb special teams performer on both return and coverage units. His special teams duties may change now his defensive snaps will increase, but expect him to shine if given the opportunity. 

 

Conclusion

The LSU linebackers, despite losing Barrow, should be better a whole. The Tigers' second-leading tackler D.J. Welter returns as the starter up the middle. Lamar Louis should join Alexander and Welter in the starting lineup. Backups Debo Jones, Kendell Beckwith and Ronnie Feist should keep the unit fresh. 

Alexander was LSU's highest rated player in the 2012 recruiting class. His All-SEC talent has yet to be fulfilled, but expect him to be the star of the group and the X-factor for LSU.

There is a downside for LSU if Alexander performs at his best. The junior could bolt early to the NFL next offseason if he has a stellar 2014 campaign. He references the future riches that could lie ahead in his Twitter bio

If his dreams become reality, he could eventually be known as "Rich Homie Kwon."    

 

*All statistics and rankings were provided by LSU Sports Information and247Sports.com. Follow me on Twitter @CarterthePower

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Florida State Football: Incoming Freshmen Most Likely to Impact This Season

Florida State may not have won the 2013 national title without a pair of true freshmen.

Jalen Ramsey and Nate Andrews both started at defensive back and were key to a defense that was No. 1 in the nation against the pass. Ramsey started first at corner and then moved to safety, recording 49 tackles and an interception. Andrews added 35 tackles and ended up leading the team with four interceptions.

Which true freshman will have an impact for the Florida State football team in 2014? The roster is deep and experienced, but the most likely position where a newcomer could start would be at wide receiver.

FSU returns just one consistent, established receiver in senior Rashad Greene (76 catches, 1,128 yards, nine touchdowns). Senior tight end Nick O'Leary (33 catches, 557 yards, seven touchdowns) is the No. 2 returning pass-catcher, and he's improved each year at finding holes in defenses. But FSU needs more receivers to establish themselves, players who can be counted on to complement Greene and O'Leary.

The Seminoles have two seniors in Scooter Haggins and Christian Green. A trio of sophomores—Jesus Wilson, Isaiah Jones and Kermit Whitfield—are also options.

But three true freshmen have arrived on campus in the past few weeks: Travis RudolphErmon Lane and Javon Harrison. All of them have begun learning the playbook and working with teammates during the summer, including seven-on-seven workouts.

Rudolph is 6'1'' and 185 pounds. He's not the tallest, but he is fast (4.5 seconds in the 40-yard dash). He's tough and physical, runs good routes and is able to turn short catches into big gains. He also has a 34-inch vertical.

Lane is 6'2'' and 180 pounds. He's an instinctual receiver who uses his body to get an inside position on a corner and also goes up for the ball well (as indicated by a 36-inch vertical).

Harrison is 6'1'' and 190 pounds. He runs the 40 in 4.68 seconds (not elite speed) but makes up for it with a 33-inch vertical.

FSU coach Jimbo Fisher said all are taller, physical receivers but have the versatility to line up outside or inside.

"When you get three of them to be able to spread the field, inside guys, outside guys," Fisher said. "These guys are all big body guys. But big body guys that are outside guys that have the capabilities to go inside, which is very rare."

FSU fans can only hope that a few of the freshmen make an impact in 2014. And they will be mentored by Greene, who had one of the best seasons of any FSU freshman receiver when he had 38 catches for 596 yards and seven touchdowns in 2011.

"I've definitely been taking those guys under my wing," Greene said. "Teaching them the right things, how to run different routes and concepts. Giving them a head start on the playbook. We're definitely going to need those guys right away. I don't want anyone on this receiving corps to miss any steps going in to fall camp. I'm doing a great job at coaching those guys and those guys are doing a great job at wanting to be coached and wanting to learn."

 

Bob Ferrante is the Florida State Lead Writer for Bleacher Report. All quotes obtained first-hand unless otherwise noted. Follow Bob on Twitter. Stats are courtesy of seminoles.com and NCAA.com. All recruiting information is courtesy of 247Sports.

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Oregon Football: Why Arik Armstead Will Be Ducks' X-Factor in 2014

He arrived at Oregon in 2012 amid much fanfare, a 5-star defensive line prospect and standout in two sports. Two years later, Arik Armstead's sole focus is on the football field, where the junior is the X-factor in the Ducks defense. 

Improved line play is a point of emphasis for Oregon heading into 2014. To that end, Armstead's emergence as a major contributor should play an integral role in the Ducks' Pac-12 championship pursuit—particularly because Armstead is taking on a bulk of the duties Taylor Hart leaves behind. 

Hart was—pardon the pun—the heart and soul of Oregon's defensive front in 2013 with 75 tackles, six tackles for loss and 3.5 sacks. That's the level of production Armstead must match in his third season with the Ducks. 

The line rebuilds with 2013 breakout performer DeForest Buckner as its anchor. As his progression into a star playmaker continues, Oregon has the foundation for a devastating defensive presence up front. That would answer one recurring criticism of the Ducks' championship credentials. 

But for the unit to meet its potential, Armstead must reach his individually. His first two seasons did not quite live up to the lofty billing he garnered as a recruit. He made 26 tackles in 2012, but he suffered a sophomore slump with just 15 in 2013. 

First-year defensive coordinator Don Pellum obviously needs more from Armstead, and the junior is ready to respond in what he called a "takeover season." 

He isn't the only one looking for a takeover season. CBSSports.com NFL draft analyst Rob Rang has Armstead tabbed as a breakout candidate in the coming campaign:

Armstead's production is far from staggering but he boasts such an incredible combination of size and athleticism that he could wind up as Oregon's hottest NFL prospect on the defensive side of the ball...A monstrous man with natural power and light feet, Armstead's upside is undeniable.  

One dramatic step Armstead took this offseason was turning his attention exclusively to the gridiron. 

He left the Oregon basketball in January, giving him a full offseason to prepare for an expanded role. When asked by Victor Flores of DailyEmerald.com if the decision was beneficial, Armstead said: "Definitely. Being around my teammates more and lifting a lot more than I would have definitely helped me."

The result of that extra time spent in the weight room is 16 additional pounds of muscle, as reported by Matt Prehm of 247Sports. Armstead is now pushing 300 pounds on his 6'8" frame. That's a sizable load with which opposing offensive lineman must contend. 

That combination of length and mass should make Armstead more effective in shedding blocks, an area in which he has faced growing pains.

The below highlights from Oregon's 30-7 defeat of Texas in the Alamo Bowl show Armstead's struggles with the big, physical Longhorns offensive line. 

Should Armstead prove ready to meet his potential and indeed take over, the junior will be the X-factor Oregon needs on its defense.  

 

Statistics compiled via CFBStats.com. Recruiting rankings and information culled from 247Sports.com composite scores. 

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Oregon Football: Why Arik Armstead Will Be Ducks' X-Factor in 2014

He arrived at Oregon in 2012 amid much fanfare, a 5-star defensive line prospect and standout in two sports. Two years later, Arik Armstead 's sole focus is on the football field, where the junior is the X-factor in the Ducks defense...

Read the full article on Bleacher Report...

Five-Star LB Justin Hilliard: Top Prospect Knows Where He's Going in 2015

Justin Hilliard is one of the biggest names in the 2015 recruiting class. On July 2, he will announce where he will be playing football at the collegiate level. 

Which school do you think he will choose?

Watch College Football Analyst Michael Felder interview Hilliard about his relationship with each program.


Highlights courtesy of XOS Digital.

Rankings from 247Sports' composite rankings.

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Predictions for Every Team Joining a New Conference in 2014

Conference realignment will tone itself down in 2015, but the upcoming college football season features almost as many moving parts as any season in recent memory.

It's not just at the lower levels, either.

With Maryland and Rutgers moving to the Big Ten and Louisville moving to the ACC, even some of the "power-five" leagues will experience important turnover in 2014.

The movement of those bigger programs began a chain reaction as they all needed to be replaced by teams from middling conferences such as Conference USA. In turn, those teams from C-USA needed to be replaced from even lower-regarded conferences, and the teams from those lower-regarded conferences needed to be replaced as well.

But how can every new member be expected to fare in 2014? Is there a Texas A&M lurking in the bunch that is ready to compete for a conference championship? Or will everybody struggle to adjust?

Here is a realistic prediction for them all.

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What RB Recruit Josh Adams Commitment Means to Notre Dame

Notre Dame added a surprising piece to its 2015 recruiting class Monday afternoon, landing a commitment from Pennsylvania running back Josh Adams, who was heavily favored to land at in-state Penn State.

The Irish had only a six percent chance of landing Adams on the 247Sports Crystal Ball; the Nittany Lions had all of the other 94 percent. But the 6'2", 208-pound power back from Central Bucks South High School is heading to the Midwest instead.

"I called all of Notre Dame's coaches and they were so excited," Adams said, per Ryan Bartow of 247Sports.com.

And excited they should be: Adams is exactly the type of player Notre Dame was looking to land this recruiting cycle. He is the true power back its current roster lacks and the only running back among its 15 committed players for next season.

That need is likely a big reason Adams chose to play for the Irish instead of the Nittany Lions. Penn State already has two running backs, Andre Robinson and Saquon Barkley, committed in the 2015 class, and both are higher-regarded prospects than Adams.

Mike Farrell of Rivals.com agreed that this played a factor:

Whether he "wanted" to play at Penn State or not, Adams falls into what could be a nice situation in South Bend. Redshirt freshman Greg Bryant, the No. 45 overall player in the 2013 class, is the Irish's feature back of the future, but they could use a power complement such as Adams to spell him and convert short-yardage situations.

Adams is "only" a 3-star recruit and the No. 379 player on the 247Sports Composite. However, a big part of that might have to do with the knee injury that cut short his junior season in 2013.

The 247Sports subjective rankings favor him more keenly than the Composite, ranking him a 4-star recruit, the No. 16 running back and the No. 168 overall player in the class. Per Bleacher Report's Tyler Donahue, he had 2,800 yards and 22 TDs as a sophomore in 2012:

ESPN Scouts Inc. (subscription required) is a fan of Adams' versatility, lauding his taller, leaner frame and suggesting he could possibly fit as a slot receiver at the next level as well.

Parsing through the past two recruiting classes, it seems Adams would fill a bigger need at running back than at receiver. The Irish landed a pair of 4-star recruits, Justin Brent and Corey Holmes, at receiver in 2014 and have a pair of talented 3-star recruits, C.J. Sanders and Jalen Guyton, signed up in 2015.

Adams is the only running back it has signed in that span.

Still, there is no way to project with certainty how any of those players will pan out, so Adams' versatility, while unlikely to force a position change, remains a valuable asset at this early stage of recruitment.

If Bryant pans out as well as some Notre Dame fans hope, he could theoretically declare for the NFL draft after the 2015 season, leaving a hole for Adams to emerge as a feature back as a sophomore or redshirt freshman. More likely than not, Bryant will stay at least one more season after that and Adams will fight to be his complement.

Any way you swing it, though, Adams is an important signing for a Notre Dame team that lacked depth in its backfield for the future.

Now it just needs to hold onto his commitment.

 

Note: Unless otherwise cited, all recruiting info courtesy of the 247Sports Composite.

Follow Brian Leigh on Twitter: @BLeighDAT

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