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8 College Football Recruits Who Had an Explosive Week

Football fans, rejoice. Your favorite time of the year is here, as action gets underway on fields across America at every level.

Days away from kickoff at the collegiate level, we have a chance to look back at a busy weekend of high school games that featured some of the country's most coveted recruits. Season-opening showdowns and nationally televised matchups cast the spotlight on these prized prospects and provided the latest glimpse of their potential.

We'll examine these top performances every Monday throughout the season, highlighting playmakers who could someday dominate college competition. Though only a few regions are underway with the 2014 season, there are several sensational efforts to recap from this past weekend.

Here's our review of eight standouts who shone.

 

 4-star 2015 RB Eric Swinney, Sandy Creek High School (Tyrone, Georgia)

The Ole Miss commit erupted in the second half of a 21-13 victory over Archer High School. Swinney gained 149 of his 220 rushing yards after intermission, per David Friedlander of the Gwinnett Daily Post.

He used 34 carries to bring Sandy Creek back from a 13-0 disadvantage. A nine-yard touchdown scamper put the team on top for good.

Swinney, who rushed for 2,499 yards and 43 touchdowns during the past two seasons, committed to the Rebels in May. Rated 11th nationally among running backs in 247Sports' composite rankings, he also holds offers from Alabama, Miami and Ohio State.

 

5-star 2015 athlete Torrance Gibson, American Heritage High School (Fort Lauderdale, Florida)

It may have only been a preseason tuneup, but the stakes were high for Gibson in a matchup against Dwyer High School that was broadcast nationally on ESPNU. Gibson, aiming to prove he belongs at quarterback in college, showcased a powerful arm and passed for 298 yards in a 49-23 victory, per David Furones of the Miami Herald.

The 6'4", 200-pound prospect threw five touchdowns and rushed for another score. He launched a 72-yard scoring strike to 2016 Miami commit Dredrick Snelson on the final play of the first half:

Gibson, gunning for a state-championship repeat, connected with Snelson for three touchdowns. He also made headlines for his choice of shoes, which featured an Ohio State logo:

He confirmed the Buckeyes are the team to beat during a postgame conversation with B/R's Kynon Codrington.

"Ohio State is my clear leader," Gibson said. "I like the offense they run, I really like everything. I know it's cold, but it's cold in the NFL too. The most important thing is they want me a quarterback, not athlete."

He added that Arizona and Oklahoma are also in his top three.

 

5-star 2015 QB Josh Rosen, St. John Bosco High School (Bellflower, California)

The country's top-ranked passer opened his senior season in Hawaii, where reigning California state champion St. John Bosco battled St. Louis High School at Aloha Stadium (Honolulu). Rosen orchestrated an offensive attack that produced 585 total yards in a 63-14 victory, per Chris Trevino of the Long Beach Press-Telegram.

He collected 252 yards and a touchdown through the air, adding another score on the ground. Rosen, who threw for 3,200 yards and 39 touchdowns as a junior, committed to UCLA over Michigan in March.

 

5-star 2015 DE Josh Sweat, Oscar Smith High School (Chesapeake, Virginia)

Though his team dropped its first game to Booker T. Washington (Miami, Florida) in a nationally televised game, Sweat proved he can do just about anything on the field. The 6'4.5", 240-pound playmaker performed well on both sides of the ball, starting his final high school season as the No. 1 overall recruit in 247Sports' composite rankings.

He posted five tackles, including three for loss, and two sacks at defensive end, per Craig Haubert of ESPN. Sweat also scored a rushing touchdown and racked up 90 total yards as a runner and receiver.

The dual-role could become taxing during the course of the season. His future undoubtedly awaits on the defensive side of the football:

Sweat is set to spend official visits at Ohio State, Virginia Tech, Georgia, Florida State and Oregon.

 

4-star 2015 QB Drew Lock, Lee's Summit High School (Lee's Summit, Missouri)

The Missouri commit dismantled an overwhelmed Truman High School defense Friday night, fueling an 81-42 win. Lock led Lee's Summit to an explosive performance, passing for 343 yards and six touchdowns, per Shawn Roney of The Examiner.

The 6'5", 195-pound prospect accomplished all that in less than three quarters of action. He departed before the final quarter after completing 14 of 18 pass attempts.

Lock came out firing. He finished the first three possessions with touchdown passes and continued to pour it on from that point.

 

4-star 2016 WR Josh Imatorbhebhe, North Gwinnett High School (Suwanee, Georgia)

He caught three touchdown passes in a thrilling 52-49 win over McEachern High School. Imatorbhebhe, a 6'2" 202-pound junior, scored on plays of 18, 30 and 29 yards, per David Friedlander of the Gwinnett Daily Post.

His opening night efforts included eight receptions for 173 yards. Here's a look at highlights from the dominant performance:

Imatorbhebhe holds offers from Missouri, Michigan, Georgia and Vanderbilt, among others.

 

4-star 2015 RB Jordan Scarlett, St. Thomas Aquinas (Fort Lauderdale, Florida)

The former University High School standout made the most of limited touches in his debut at St. Thomas Aquinas. The 5'11", 210-pound prospect scampered for 94 yards on just six carries in a 31-7 preseason victory over Dillard High School, per George Richards of the Miami Herald.

Scarlett broke several tackles before bursting into the open field for a 66-yard sprint on his final carry, scoring the game's first touchdown.

“It felt great to be back on the field, playing someone else,” he told Richards. “We came out better than I thought we would.”

After initially committing to FAU, Scarlett pledged to Miami while attending The Opening in July.

 

4-star 2015 WR Deon Cain, Tampa Bay Tech (Tampa, Florida)

Cain put his skills on display early and often during a preseason clash with Blake High School. He compiled 204 total yards in the first quarter of a 20-6 victory, per Mark Chisholm of The Tampa Tribune.

The Clemson commit currently plays quarterback but projects as a top-tier receiver in college. Cain rushed for two touchdowns in the contest, including an 80-yard dash on his first drive.

He added a 30-yard touchdown run in the third quarter. Cain also threw a 44-yard touchdown pass.

His performance included 286 total yards, highlighted by 185 yards on the ground.

 

Recruit ratings courtesy of 247Sports.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

College Football Rankings 2014: Updated Outlook on Top Preseason Polls

It's officially kickoff week for the 2014 college football season, and preseason polls have been pouring in as experts try to sort out where every team belongs despite no games to judge off of just yet.

You can't look too much into any preseason Top 25 poll considering the massive changes it's sure to see when the action starts to unfold. With that said, a number of schools have proven through last year and the offseason that they're a class above the rest. Those few may dominate the top of rankings lists all season long, while pretenders fall out of the Top 25 completely. 

The Associated Press and Amway Coaches have both released preseason polls, and though there is little difference between them, both spur plenty of talking points and hot takes entering the new season. 

Let's take a look at both the AP and the Amway preseason Top 25 and break down what the rankings mean.

 

Top 25 Outlook

The 2014 season will begin just as last year's ended—with the college football world looking up at Jameis Winston and the Florida State Seminoles.

Coming off an undefeated, national-championship season that included a Heisman Trophy, the Noles nabbed the No. 1 spot in both preseason polls. It's far from surprising, considering Jimbo Fisher still has a stacked cupboard of talent on both sides of the ball that will more than alleviate the burdens of losing Kelvin Benjamin, Devonta Freeman and Tim Jernigan. 

Few have forgotten about another school stacked with talent that has been running things in college football for awhile. Alabama comes in at No. 2 despite ending last year with two straight losses. How the quarterback position develops with either Jacob Coker or Blake Sims will decide whether the Tide are truly title contenders this year.

Both the Seminoles and Tide will be hard-pressed to make it a two-man race—especially entering the first season of the College Football Playoff. Oregon, Oklahoma and Ohio State are the favorites from their respective conferences and could be in line to make the first-ever CFP. 

The Sooners are generating plenty of talk, even notching the No. 3 spot on one preseason poll. If Oklahoma head coach Bob Stoops continues his success over the Top 25 as ESPN's Jake Trotter shows, his team could win it all:

It will be easier said than done for the Buckeyes, who recently suffered a crushing blow by losing Heisman hopeful Braxton Miller for the season with a shoulder injury. The Columbus Dispatch's Tim May noted Ohio State's 2014 expectations among experts have tumbled since the news.

That might open things up for the Michigan State Spartans, who received a favorable Top 10 ranking and have last year's Big Ten Championship victory over the Buckeyes—and a Rose Bowl win—to build confidence off of. 

But as much as some fans and even experts love to crown the top teams before the season begins, the teams just outside of the top five schools might be the most dangerous of them all.

The Auburn Tigers, last year's national runner-up who returned quarterback Nick Marshall, come in at a sneaky No. 6 in AP (No. 5 in Amway). Considering the Tigers were nowhere near ranked when last season began and it ended in Pasadena, they probably won't mind the ranking either way.

UCLA is much more than a dark horse in threatening Oregon's run at the Pac-12 title with Brett Hundley at the helm, and even a South Carolina or a Baylor could pull off the upset and win their conference with high early season aspirations. 

But those who take the polls most seriously, or at least take most offense to them, are the schools that failed to be included at all.

The Michigan Wolverines were of that demographic, as quarterback Devin Gardner spoke some confident words in the wake of the Top 25, per Radio One Detroit's Lauren Beasley:

The rankings and polls are all fun and good, but nothing compares to the opportunity for these teams and players to make their own impact on said rankings. It's hard for some teams to be knocked off their perch in a certain poll, but through 12-plus games, each team will have its chance to make a mark.

With college football entering a new era of the CFP, though, the top of those rankings will be analyzed and critiqued more than ever, as four teams will stay alive for a national title when it's all said and done. 

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

USC vs. Fresno State Complete Game Preview

WHEN: Saturday, Aug. 30, 7:30 p.m. ET

WHERE: Los Angeles Coliseum 

TV: Fox

The long-awaited arrival of a new era in USC football kicks off Saturday. Steve Sarkisian's first game as Trojans head coach pits him against the Fresno State Bulldogs, defending champions of the Mountain West and USC's last opponent in the 2013 season. 

The Trojans blasted the Bulldogs in a 45-20 Las Vegas Bowl rout to cap last campaign. Duplicating that result would certainly be a resounding start to the new era. 

Featuring a new offensive style and one of the most highly regarded defenses in the country, the Associated Press Top 25 Poll's No. 15-ranked team has plenty to prove in Week 1. 

Begin Slideshow

USC vs. Fresno State Complete Game Preview

WHEN: Saturday, Aug. 30, 7:30 p.m. ET WHERE: Los Angeles Coliseum TV: Fox The long-awaited arrival of a new era in USC football kicks off Saturday...

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College Football's 6 Most Important Remaining Quarterback Battles

There's nothing quite like waiting until the last minute, but there are still a handful of important quarterback battles that have yet to be officially decided. 

With Week 1 of the 2014 college football season just days away, some of these quarterback announcements could come down to hours, if not minutes, before opening kickoff. Of course, all should be decided before then, but why tip your hand?

It's also possible that some of these quarterback battles bleed into the season. Which power-five quarterback battles remain? The answers are in the following slides. 

Begin Slideshow

What Needs to Happen for SEC to Get 2 Teams in 2014 College Football Playoff

The new era is upon us, as higher-ups in college football scraped the BCS after 16 years in favor of the new four-team College Football Playoff (CFP) that begins following the 2014 season.

What does it mean for the SEC?

The rules for selection by the 13-member committee are rather simple.

"The format is very simple," said CFP executive director Bill Hancock. "It's symmetrical. It's really beautiful. It's a four‑team bracket. We all love our brackets. The committee will select the best four teams, period, no strings attached."

Well, except that there are strings attached.

One of the stated points of emphasis for selection-committee members is conference championships, which contradicts the party line of choosing the four best teams, period, with no strings attached. The four-team structure also has an implied goal of making the event a national spectacle, which is best accomplished by having teams from around the country in the field.

Simply put, it's going to be very difficult for a team from any conference—even the mighty SEC—to get a second team in the mix, especially in Year 1 of the event.

Difficult, but not impossible—and certainly better than the options around the country, as NFL.com's Bryan Fischer notes.

SEC Media Days had talk of how bad it would be if they didn't get two teams in the playoff. Everybody else: We can't wait to put one in.

— Bryan Fischer (@BryanDFischer) July 23, 2014

What needs to happen for the SEC to get a second team in the field of four?

 

Divisional Balance

The SEC West is the roughest neighborhood in college football, and while that is a benefit for whichever team emerges as the division champ, it could serve as its downfall in the discussion to get a second team in the playoff.

With conference championships having importance, it's only common sense to assume that a team that didn't even win its division, much less its conference, would be viewed negatively by the selection committee. As a result, the SEC needs top-end balance between the SEC East and West, similar to the 2008, 2009 and 2012 seasons when the SEC Championship Game essentially served as a national semifinal.

That means at least one team—it doesn't matter which one—has to step up in the SEC East to not only become a competitive team, but a top-end, national championship-worthy team.

There are plenty of options.

South Carolina chimed in at the No. 9 spot in the preseason Associated Press Top 25, with Georgia at No. 12, Missouri at No. 24 and Florida second among teams outside of the poll receiving votes. 

If a team from the East can transform the SEC Championship Game into a de facto national quarterfinal rather than a victory lap for the SEC West champ, it will help pad the SEC's resume to get a second team into the CFP.

 

Championship Week Chaos

Even if the loser of the SEC Championship Game is a viable option, that team will still need a ton of help from around the country.

Last season Auburn got help in the Big Ten Championship Game when one-loss Michigan State upset then-undefeated Ohio State to knock the Buckeyes out of the BCS Championship Game and paved the way for SEC champ Auburn to waltz in. 

That won't cut it.

There needs to be even bigger chaos, like in the 2012 Big Ten Championship Game when five-loss Wisconsin upset two-loss Nebraska, 70-35. No, the Cornhuskers wouldn't have had a shot at a playoff spot had one existed that year, but the loss threw a wrench in the works in the BCS and entire bowl picture.

That kind of thing needs to happen in 2014 for a second SEC team to slide in.

If a Big Ten West team—which, this year, is largely viewed as the lesser of the two Big Ten divisions—gets hot for 60 minutes in the title game, it would throw the entire playoff picture up in the air. Or if the ACC Coastal champ—also viewed as the lesser of two divisions—shows up in the ACC Championship Game against Florida State, Clemson or another Atlantic division power.

It'd be incredibly beneficial for the SEC's second-best team for contenders to fall in the final week of the season and finish the season on a sour note with no momentum.

 

A '2011 Scenario'

Whether it's teams from opposing divisions or even two teams from the same division, there will be a scenario that develops at some point during the playoff when two teams from the same conference are unquestionably the two best teams in the country.

This was the case in the 2012 BCS National Championship Game following the 2011 season, when Alabama topped LSU, 21-0, in the Mercedes Benz Superdome after losing to the Tigers, 9-6, in Tuscaloosa earlier in the season.

The debate between No. 2 Alabama and No. 3 Oklahoma State leading into the BCS selection show wasn't whether Alabama was better than Oklahoma State; it was whether the Crimson Tide or Cowboys "deserved it more."

That debate would be rendered meaningless in this new format, because as the No. 2 and 3 seeds, they'd get to settle it on the field. Could the same situation arise in 2014?

Alabama checks in as the No. 3 team in the preseason B/R Top 25, with Auburn at the No. 4 spot. The two intra-state rivals square off in the Iron Bowl on Nov. 29 on the final week of the regular season, and if they hold serve throughout the season, could find themselves in a scenario where they are unquestionably two of the top four teams in the nation.

A non-division champ likely won't sit well with the selection committee, but if there's no doubt, then there's not much the members can do about it.

 

Barrett Sallee is the lead SEC college football writer for Bleacher Report. Quotes were obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted. All stats are courtesy of CFBStats.com, and all recruiting information is courtesy of 247Sports.

 


Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Oregon Ducks vs. South Dakota Coyotes Complete Game Preview

The Oregon Ducks open up the 2014 campaign in the friendly confines of Autzen Stadium against the South Dakota Coyotes.

While this game will mostly amount to a preseason affair for the Ducks, it will be an important first step, as the Ducks have to get ready to face the Michigan State Spartans, the defending Rose Bowl champions, in Eugene on September 6.

South Dakota finished 4-8 last season in the Missouri Valley Conference and are 51-point underdogs heading into Eugene. The Coyotes know they’re coming to Eugene to be used as a punching bag, but so did Appalachian State when they played Michigan in 2007. You can never be 100 percent sure of anything. That’s why they play the game.

If all goes according to plan, however, the Ducks will be up by five or six touchdowns by halftime and will rest their starters for next week’s big game. As for this one, here’s everything you need to know:

  • Date: Saturday, Aug. 30th
  • Time: 7:30 PM Pacific Time
  • Place: Autzen Stadium (Eugene, OR)
  • TV: Pac-12 Networks
  • Spread: Oregon is a 51-point favorite over South Dakota, according to 5dimes.eu.

Begin Slideshow

Oregon Ducks vs. South Dakota Coyotes Complete Game Preview

The Oregon Ducks open up the 2014 campaign in the friendly confines of Autzen Stadium against the South Dakota Coyotes...

Begin Slideshow

Mark Blaudschun's Blitz: What to Make of the Quarterback Upheaval in the SEC

It's almost hard to remember a time when the SEC wasn't the dominant conference in college football.   

But with a host of conference teams undergoing a transition of key personnel, and Florida State returning its national championship core, might the SEC's power be on the wane?

Don't be so sure.   

"It's interesting to me that we are always the basis of comparison,'' SEC commissioner Mike Slive told Bleacher Report. "To me, [that] is the sincerest form of flattery.''

Slive makes a compelling case. Consider the following facts:

• The SEC has won seven of the last eight national college football championships.

• A record eight SEC teams are in the preseason AP top 25, five in the first 13.

• In the latest recruiting ratings, eight SEC teams ranked among the top-25 classes and six were among the top 10.

On the other hand, six—No.  2 Alabama, No. 9 South Carolina, No. 12 Georgia, No. 13 LSU, No. 21 Texas A&M and No. 24 Missouri—of the conference's eight ranked teams head into the season with new starting quarterbacks. Gone are Alabama's AJ McCarron, South Carolina's Connor Shaw, Georgia's Aaron Murray, LSU's Zach Mettenberger, Texas A&M's Johnny Manziel and Missouri's James Franklin.

Compare that with the school that broke the SEC title run. Florida State returns as the consensus No. 1 pick in the polls with Heisman-winning QB Jameis Winston leading the way.

Or glance out West, where the increasingly powerful and confident Pac-12 has starting QBs returning to 10 of its 12 teams, including a pair of Heisman contenders in Oregon's Marcus Mariota and UCLA's Brett Hundley.

For its part, the SEC has hardly blinked at the upheaval it faces under center. Rather, the conference has shifted its recruiting focus toward building a league dominated by an elite class of running backs.

Go through the rosters of the elite SEC teams and you will see depth charts loaded with quality backs such as Todd Gurley at Georgia and T.J. Yeldon of Alabama. Watch what happens at LSU when five-star freshman running back Leonard Fournette blasts through holes opened by a veteran offensive line.

Who is to say the mighty SEC will not turn itself from a conference of QBs into a conference of running backs?

Who's to say that Gurley, for example, won't emerge not only as the leader of the Georgia offense but as a Heisman front-runner? Or that Fournette doesn't burst on the scene as the latest highly-touted freshman who can lead a team into contention for the national championship?

Still, the SEC's talent drain at quarterback has more than a few foreseeing a change in the game's on-field power structure.

"I guarantee there are a lot of teams in the SEC that aren't Alabama that wish they were Nebraska, wish they were Michigan, wish they were Ohio State," Nebraska coach Bo Pelini said at Big Ten media day last month. Pelini has had coaching stints in the SEC and Big 12 as well as the Big Ten. "Don't talk to me about the SEC...You know, the whole SEC isn't Alabama, it isn't LSU, it isn't Georgia. Let's talk about certain teams...There are some teams in the SEC that are trying to bridge the gap to be us. Everybody wants to lump the whole SEC into one category. Let's not go there."

But even Arizona coach Rich Rodriguez said this summer at the Pac-12 media days that the SEC "should claim themselves as the best league in the country because they've earned it and they've done it." Another enviable recruiting class won't hurt, nor will a sparkling new SEC television network, which promises to pour the kind of money into SEC schools that the Big Ten and Pac-12 have already seen with their networks.

Slive also notes that the conference's success is wider than what happens on Saturdays.

"It's great to be known for football, but people don't think about the other sports," Slive said. "A Final Four in men's basketball. We won in baseball. We won in softball. We won in golf. We won seven national championships last year. We average six or seven national championships a year. In many ways we are in the midst of a golden age in the SEC.

"And we have changed the culture. We have become very diverse. We had never had a minority coach. Now it's reached the point where it is not even a story. Before, many stories in the SEC were off the field. Now the focus is on championships."

Still, Slive conceded that it is unlikely that any conference will be able to repeat the SEC's string of seven consecutive national championships in football. "I often think of that record in same category as Joe DiMaggio's 56-game hitting streak. It's just one of those records that will never be broken."

 

Johnny Football, Part 2

Is Texas A&M sophomore Kenny Hill the 2014 version of Johnny Football?

Check out these stats from Hill's prep days at Southlake Carroll High School. In his final two seasons at Carroll, Hill passed for 5,305 yards and 45 touchdowns and ran for 2,305 yards and 46 scores on the ground. That's 7,710 total yards of offense and 91 TDs, which would be a good total running against a scout team, much less the 5A competition Carroll (which also won a state title in Hill's junior season) faced.

And in keeping up with the Johnny Football reputation, Hill had some problems this spring with local authorities in Aggieland, as he was arrested for a public intoxication charge.

For now, the incident is being considered an aberration and he has settled into his new role. His pedigree suggests he is ready. His father, Ken, is a former major league pitcher. And Carroll has a history of producing college signal-callers, previously sending Todd Dodge to Texas and Greg McElroy to Alabama. The school has won eight state titles in nine trips to the championship game and also can claim three high school national championships.

 

Bad omen for Seminoles?

Here's the hope for Florida State opponents who are counting on the Seminoles not repeating as national champions. In the 64 preseason polls conducted by the Associated Press, only 10 teams that have started No. 1 finished the year as national champions. Also, the last four No. 1 AP preseason choices didn't finish in the top seven in the final polls.

 

Winds of change

The SEC is not alone in replacing key talent at quarterback.

Look at the Associated Press Top 25.

No. 5 Ohio State and No. 16 Clemson have quarterback questions. Notre Dame, which is now dealing with academic issues, will also go into the season with a question mark at QB in Everett Golson, who is coming off a year's absence because of academic reasons.

Let's cut to the chase this season and take a closer look at the QBs residing in the top 10:

1. Florida State: Winston returns, which has the Seminoles as the overwhelming pre-season No. 1 pick.

2. Alabama: AJ McCarron is gone after a remarkable 36-4 record as a starter and two national championships. Replacing him with one person will be difficult, which is why Tide coach Nick Saban has watched a battle between FSU transfer Jacob Coker and fifth-year senior Blake Sims. Saban is expected to make a decision this week, but he really has three games—West Virginia, Florida Atlantic and Southern Miss—to find his primary QB. And truth be told, Alabama is good enough to win without a dominant QB.

3. Oregon: If he stays healthy, Mariota could get the daily double that Winston achieved last season—a Heisman Trophy and a national championship.

4. Oklahoma: Trevor Knight is a rising star who blossomed in the Sooners' Sugar Bowl win over Alabama last season. He is the reason OU is in the Final Four discussion.

5. Ohio State: That sound you hear is of the Buckeyes' national championship hopes crashing after Braxton Miller reinjured his shoulder last week in practice and was declared out for the season. Redshirt freshman JT Barrett will be the starter against Navy this week. He is no Braxton Miller. Still, the schedule is soft enough (see below) to carry their hopes into November.

6.  Auburn: Nick Marshall returns. He was good enough to get the Tigers into the national title game a year ago and he is good enough to keep the Tigers in the mix until at least the Iron Bowl rematch with Alabama.

7. UCLA: The Bruins look like a top-10 team, and Brett Hundley is a prime reason. Hundley passed on a chance to enter the NFL early. Will it pay off for the Bruins?

8. Michigan State: Defense, defense, defense, plus a solid running game. What's missing? A star QB. Connor Cook is a middle-of-the-pack talent, but he has come up with some clutch plays in crucial games (against Ohio State in the Big Ten title game and against Stanford in the Rose Bowl).

9. South Carolina: One of the biggest questions for the Gamecocks on offense is whether Dylan Thompson can step in for Connor Shaw, who was the winningest QB in Gamecocks history.

"He's a fifth-year player," coach Steve Spurrier told a group of reporters when asked about Thompson at the SEC media gathering last month. "We believe he's a very good player; he has chance to lead us to a big season."

10. Baylor: Bryce Petty was the Big 12 Offensive Player of the Year last season thanks to an amazing 4,200 yards 32 touchdowns and only three interceptions. He also ran for 14 TDs. It's little wonder the Bears are regarded as the main threat to Oklahoma in the Big 12.

 

Not the Power Five

The newly-minted College Football Playoff system may end some of the debates surrounding what team truly is best, but that's largely a Power Five conference problem. For those in the non-Power Five conferences, the new system means their chances to reach one of the two bowl semifinals will be extremely difficult. 

That means, going into this week's season openers, the team with the most to lose is Central Florida, who must get through an extremely tight window if it hopes to be the first non-Power Five team to since Cincinnati in 2009 to finish the season among the top four teams in the nation.

UCF represents the American Athletic Conference, which, along with the Mountain West, Conference USA, the Mid-American and the Sun Belt, will place its highest-ranked team in either the Cotton, Peach or Fiesta Bowls this season.

Technically, the best team from any of those conferences is still eligible to make into the football Final Four games in the Sugar Bowl and Rose Bowl, but the odds of that happening right now are astronomical.

 

In the AP preseason poll, UCF was the highest-ranked team among the non-Power Five, finishing just outside of the top 25. Marshall, who finished 32 in the preseason vote, is C-USA's best bet and Boise State, at No. 41 is the Mountain West's highest-ranked team. Neither the MAC nor Sun Belt has a ranked team.

Boise State has name recognition, but the Broncos have fallen off the top-20 ladder in the last few years. Coach Chris Petersen bolted to Washington and the five Boise losses last season would have been a four-year total a few seasons ago

That leaves UCF, which has some intriguing credentials. The Knights are coming off a 12-1 season in which they made their first BCS appearance, beating Baylor in the Fiesta Bowl. In three of the past four seasons they have won 10 or more games.

But...they enter this season with zero margin for error, which means that Saturday's opener against Penn State in Dublin, Ireland is a "must-win" game. And so is a road game two weeks later against No. 24 Missouri, the defending SEC East champion.

Come out of those two games 2-0 and UCF will be a front-runner to play in a New Year's Day bowl game. But that's about it. The rest of the schedule and the AAC's status as a second-tier league will prevent a climb beyond the last rungs of the top 10.

With no conference championship game to use as a boost and no wins against any teams ranked in the top 25, UCF cannot surpass any Power Five conference teams, even a team with one loss. 

Conventional wisdom says you can't win or lose championships before Labor Day, but in the case of UCF, a loss in August against Penn State will seal the Knights' fate, as well as the chances of all the other non-Power Five conferences teams.

 

Scheduling, scheduling, scheduling

Who you play matters. That's why the Buckeyes can remain a contender for the Big Ten title and national championship despite the loss of QB Braxton Miller. It's also why Ole Miss may turn out to be a dark horse possibility for the Final Four playoff. While Ohio State will avoid a trio of tricky Big Ten West teams—Nebraska, Iowa and Wisconsin—Mississippi will not see the SEC East. That means no dates with Georgia, Florida or South Carolina. Winning through those schedules is no sure thing, but the opportunity to surprise many is there.

 

How deep is the recruiting pool at Florida?

The Gators went 4-8 last season, which put coach Will Muschamp on a very warm coaching seat. Is it warranted?

Consider this: Jacoby Brissett, a Florida transfer is projected to be the starting QB at N.C. State, and Tyler Murphy, who graduated from Florida in December, but had a year of eligibility remaining, will be the starting QB at Boston College this fall.

That's a lot of unutilized talent for a job that wasn't exactly held by Tim Tebow. Jeff Driskel was awarded the job in spring after missing the last eight games last season following a broken right fibula against Tennessee.

 

You've got to be kidding

1. North Texas won nine games with a run-heavy offense and a bruising defense and posted a 36-14 win over UNLV in the Heart of Texas Bowl last season, a success quotient which has earned the Mean Green a startling nickname: The Stanford of Conference USA.

2. Only at Notre Dame. New top-of-the-line jerseys by Under Armour went on sale for $199 in the bookstore, which is the highest price of any jersey at retail.

3. The UCF-Penn State game in Dublin on Saturday might be postponed or cancelled because of a volcano eruption in Iceland, 900 miles away. The volcano could spread volcanic ash into the atmosphere, which could curtail flights to Europe, and keep both schools home.

4. The Atlanta Falcons announced that they will sell alcohol-infused cupcakes at games in the Georgia Dome this season. Can such sales for Georgia Dome college games be far behind?

 

Mark Blaudschun covers college football as a national columnist for Bleacher Report. He has more than three decades of experience covering sports at a variety of newspapers in New Jersey, the Dallas Morning News and the Boston Globe. Follow him on Twitter @blauds.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

SEC Football: Biggest 2014 Games with Playoff Implications

No one knows for sure* how the College Football Playoff selection committee will function, especially with regard to its treatment of the SEC.

Will what's widely regarded as the nation's best conference be given precedence by these subjective rankings? Will it matter that an SEC athletic director (Arkansas' Jeff Long) is sitting at the head of the table? Will an SEC team with one or two losses rank higher than, say, a Big Ten team with zero or one, respectively?

There's no way to find out the answers until the first CFP rankings are released in October, but regardless of the new system, we do know that the SEC will play a factor in the national-title discussion—and a big one at that. There are too many good teams for it not to.

But not every SEC game is created equal. Upsets such as Tennessee over South Carolina last season will inevitably pop up and throw a wrench into the standings, but looking ahead at the schedule, there are games that stick out for having near-certain CFP implications.

So, in preparation for the upcoming season (two days and counting!) we have ranked these games accordingly. The broad metric we used to determine the rankings was "how certain is this game to affect the playoff picture—regardless of which team wins?"

Make sure to circle these dates on your calendar.

 

*No one knows for sure how the committee will work…but of everyone out there guessing, Bleacher Report's Sam Chi probably comes the closest.

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College Football 2014: What Is Biggest Obstacle for FSU to Repeat in 2014?

The Florida State Seminoles are heading into the 2014 season with a chance to win back-to-back national championships.

Bleacher Report's college football analysts break down who might stand in the Seminoles' way on their journey to holding the brand-new CFB trophy in Arlington, Texas.

Do you think FSU will repeat in 2014?

Watch the video and let us know.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

AP College Football Poll: Official Top 25 Rankings and Week 2 Projections

The wait for college football is close to a conclusion, as the season kicks off this Wednesday. Until fans are given actual games to scrutinize, tearing apart the preseason AP poll will have to do.

Surely, the rankings will change frequently during the season. Last season, Florida State started with a No. 11 rank before climbing up the ladder and defeating Auburn in the BCS Championship Game.

The newly instituted College Football Playoff will add a new dose of intrigue to the procedures while stripping the AP rankings of some of their power. Nevertheless, the AP Top 25 provides a benchmark for appraising some of the nation's premier squads entering the season, even if they disprove those thoughts along the way.

Some of these early slot choices will seem foreign as soon a week from now. A few schools will receive tough litmus tests the second class comes back in session. Should they fail, the AP poll will undergo a facelift heading into Week 2.

 

Preseason AP Top 25 

 

 

Week 2 Projections

 

 

Top Game to Watch: No. 9 South Carolina vs. No. 21 Texas A&M

An early SEC bout between Texas A&M and South Carolina will set the table for each ranked squad.

Both schools watched major stars graduate to the pro level. Former South Carolina sack monster Jadeveon Clowney got selected first in the NFL draft, while the Aggies' elite passing duo of Johnny Manziel and Mike Evans also earned first-round nods.

Steve Spurrier's Gamecocks are ranked No. 9 after completing yet another 11-win season. The famed head coach relishes heading into the campaign as the top-tabbed SEC East squad.

"I think it's nice to be picked a little bit," Spurrier told The Associated Press' Pete Iacobelli. "People think we've got a chance to be pretty good, maybe that tells your players, 'Hey, we got a chance to be pretty good.'"

With senior Dylan Thompson taking the helm under center after predominantly coming off the bench, South Carolina will rely on a heavy dose of ground work. That amplifies the need for running back Mike Davis, who is questionable with a rib injury, to suit up Thursday night.

For what it's worth, the Gamecocks' leading rusher is confident he'll play:

On the other side, sophomore Kenny Hill will take over for former Heisman winner Manziel. B/R's Barrett Sallee labeled him a long shot to follow in the previous signal-caller's footsteps:

As I wrote last week, Sumlin's teams have finished in the top 11 nationally in total offense in each of the last six seasons and tops in the country twice during his time as the head coach of Houston (2008-2011) and Texas A&M (2012-present). The offense has the weapons around Hill both up front and at the skill positions for him to step in and shine from the moment toe meets leather.

Defense, however, is a bigger concern for the Aggies. They surrendered 475.8 yards per game last year, and they can't expect Hill to win a shootout against an SEC powerhouse in his first starting foray.

Look for South Carolina to humble Texas A&M and put its Top 25 standing in jeopardy. Barring a major upset to a top team, Spurrier's squad may have to wait a little longer to climb up the Top 10.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Georgia vs. Clemson Complete Game Preview

For the past seven months, coaching changes, disciplinary challenges and position switches have defined the Georgia Bulldogs.  On Saturday, the Dawgs have an opportunity to develop a reputation on the field—where they belong.

The season-opening battle with the Clemson Tigers is significant on multiple levels.  From a historical standpoint, this is the final meeting of the two rivals for the foreseeable future.  Meanwhile, the game offers new beginnings for two programs looking to replace all-time greats at the quarterback position.  Perhaps most pressing for both squads, this game will leave one ranked team with a 1-0 mark and the other behind the curve.

 

Here's what you need to know about this game:

Time: 5:30 p.m. EST

Place: Sanford Stadium; Athens, Georgia

TV: ESPN

Radio: Georgia Bulldog Radio Network, Clemson Tigers Sports Network

Spread: Georgia by 7.5 per SportsBook.ag.

 

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Arkansas vs. Auburn Complete Game Preview

After perhaps the longest offseason for college football fans in quite some time, it is finally game week all across the SEC.

And, unlike most season openers at Jordan-Hare Stadium, Saturday's game could play an important role in the Auburn Tigers' drive to get back to Atlanta for the SEC Championship Game and to get a spot in the first College Football Playoff. 

For the first time since 1995, Auburn is kicking off the season with conference football.

The Arkansas Razorbacks will be looking for a program-changing upset after dropping 11 straight conference games, including all eight in 2013. Traditional football-minded Bret Bielema has fueled the fire of this growing SEC West rivalry in recent months with a wide range of comments on Auburn and Gus Malzahn, an Arkansas native who once held the offensive coordinator job at the program.

Auburn, on the other hand, will take on the unfamiliar task of being a sizable favorite in a conference game while dealing with the indefinite suspensions of starting quarterback Nick Marshall and starting cornerback Jonathon Mincy. The Tigers have a few gaps in the depth chart to fill from last season's storybook season, and this season opener will go a long way in how the opening half of their brutal schedule will shake out.

Before we get to the breakdown of this SEC West showdown, here is all the basic info for the Tigers' and Razorbacks' season opener:

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Final Preseason Win-Loss Projections for Every Power 5 College Football Team

It’s finally here. At long last. Game week.

When Georgia State and Abilene Christian kick off Wednesday night in the Georgia Dome, the 2014 FBS college football season will officially begin. It’ll kick into higher gear on Thursday and hit its stride on Saturday with games spread throughout the weekend.

Fans across America are anticipating the season and looking forward to seeing just how their favorite team’s 2014 season will unfold. We’re here today with a look towards just that.

While this is far from a perfect process, we’ve taken a look at every Power 5 conference team and tried to project their 2014 records.

We looked at the team’s 2013 record, their returning starters, any changes in the coaching staff and of course their 2014 schedule to determine how 2014 will unfold. Will there be some surprises? Some flops? Sure. It’s an imperfect method, but this is a baseline for just how 2014 will progress for all 65 Power 5 conference teams, as well as Notre Dame.

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NCAA Football Rankings 2014: Preseason Standings and Analysis for Latest Polls

Week 1 of the 2014 college football season continues Wednesday when Abilene Christian squares off against Georgia State on ESPNU, but fans are already studying the preseason NCAA rankings and polls to determine this year’s contenders and pretenders.

The release of the Amway Coaches and the Associated Press Top 25 polls has college football fans ready for the beginning of the season, and the wait is almost over. For the hardcore fans who have been yearning for the sport all year, it’s good to finally have excitement on Saturday again.

Here are the preseason polls and full analysis of the teams to watch.

 

 

Breaking Down the Top 25

The top team in both polls is the defending national champion Florida State Seminoles, and the program deserves the honor. With Heisman Trophy winning quarterback Jameis Winston looking to improve in his sophomore season, Florida State could be even more dangerous this season, despite losing several key players to the NFL.

The Seminoles may be the consensus No. 1 overall team in the rankings, but the Alabama Crimson Tide have crashed the party and sit at No. 2. With a long track record of success and national titles in three of the past five seasons, Nick Saban and the Crimson Tide will look to take advantage of the College Football Playoffs and bring another title back to Tuscaloosa.

Both the AP and Amway Coaches polls have the Oregon Ducks and Oklahoma Sooners ranked in the top four, but Oregon is No. 3 in the AP Poll and Oklahoma is No. 3 in the Amway Coaches Poll. While the two voting processes couldn’t agree, both teams deserve the honor of being in the top five and will have to earn the right to move up through elite play on the field.

One program in serious trouble is Ohio State. The school was considered a potential national championship contender by both rankings, but a season-ending injury to star quarterback Braxton Miller, via Mark Schlabach of ESPN.com, will likely have the Buckeyes sliding out of contention within a few weeks.

While both polls have differing opinions on Ohio State and Auburn (fifth in the Amway Coaches Poll and sixth in the AP Poll), the two lists are identical from UCLA at No. 7 to Notre Dame at No. 17. The teams with the most potential in this span are the No. 8 Michigan State Spartans, No. 11 Stanford Cardinal and No. 14 Wisconsin Badgers.

The two polls are very similar in the final eight positions as well. While the order is a bit different, each lists top programs such as Mississippi (No. 18 in AP and No. 19 in Amway), Texas A&M (No. 21 in AP and No. 20 in Amway) and Arizona State (No. 19 in AP and No. 18 in Amway) in its latter ranks.

The only real discrepancy is at No. 24. While the AP has Missouri there, the Amway Coaches Poll has given Texas the benefit of the doubt and slipped them in ahead of Washington.

With plenty of elite teams in the hunt to make the College Football Playoffs (and several unranked programs like the Florida Gators looking to prove doubters wrong), the 2014 season looks to be one of the most exciting in years.

 

*Stats via CFBStats.com.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Bleacher Report's Official Preseason Top 25 Poll

It's game week! After months of waiting, the 2014 college football season is only days away, which means there's just enough time for one more preseason poll to get you prepared for the year ahead.

The Bleacher Report Top 25 is voted on by 20 members of Bleacher Report's college football team: writers Keith Arnold, Ben Axelrod, Phil Callihan, Michael Felder, Justin Ferguson, Andrew Hall, Kyle Kensing, David Kenyon, Ben Kercheval, Adam Kramer, Brian Leigh, Brian Pedersen, Barrett Sallee, Brad Shepard, Erin Sorensen, Marc Torrence and Greg Wallace, as well as editors Eric Bowman, Hunter Mandel and Max Rausch.

Each voter has made their preseason rankings based on offseason observations and coverage, taking into account personnel changes, injuries and the schedules each team is set to face. Our voting team will submit new ballots at the end of each week of play, with each subsequent poll coming out not long after the final game on Saturday night (the exception being opening week, when the poll will be released after the Miami-Louisville game is over on Labor Day).

Just like the Associated Press and Amway polls, teams earn 25 points for a first-place vote down to one point for being picked 25th. The points are tallied, and then teams are ranked according to their point totals.

Scroll through to see our preseason rankings. Then weigh in with your thoughts in the comments section.

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College Football Picks Week 1: Predictions and Odds for Top 25 Schedule

The 2014 college football season opens this weekend, and it will start with a bang as a number of Top 25 schools will face off against elite competition.

For many powerhouse programs, Week 1 is a time to beat the snot out of a FCS team or simply schedule an overmatched opponent to ease into the season. But with strength of schedule playing a bigger role in the wake of the first College Football Playoff, some schools have opted to open up with bowl-season-like matchups.

While some of the nation's best teams will open up with an easy one, matchups like Wisconsin-LSU and Florida State-Oklahoma State mean that Week 1 will have serious championship implications. 

Here's a look at all of the Top 25 matchups, with an emphasis on the games you simply cannot afford to miss.

 

Week 1 Schedule, Odds and Predictions

Note: Odds courtesy of Odds Shark. Multiple game lines are still to be determined.

 

Notable Matchups

No. 21 Texas A&M vs. No. 9 South Carolina

If any singular game this season will make your subscription to SEC Network worth it, chances are it's the first live contest the network will ever show.

The 21st-ranked Texas A&M Aggies will open up the post-Johnny Manziel era with a doozie on the road, traveling to face Steve Spurrier's No. 9 South Carolina squad. Williams-Brice Stadium is sure to be rocking for a Thursday night affair that seemingly kicks off the college football season.

The Gamecocks have a seasoned quarterback with big-game experience in Dylan Thompson, and three straight 11-win seasons have helped the media to select South Carolina as the favorite to make its second ever SEC title game appearance. 

Kenny Hill takes over the offense for the Aggies, and a deep cupboard of talent around him along with stockpiled recruiting classes have gotten Texas A&M into the Top 25 entering the season. But Manziel had to be magnificent just to keep the Aggies afloat last season, as defensive woes became a big problem in 2013.

South Carolina might be without star rusher Mike Davis as he's questionable with a rib injury, according to The State (Columbia, South Carolina). But even if Davis can't go, Thompson's command of the offense and the ability of backup Brandon Wilds will be enough to grind out a win at home—though closer than the line suggests.

Prediction: South Carolina wins, 27-20

 

No. 16 Clemson vs. No. 12 Georgia

It doesn't pack quite the punch that last year's epic encounter did, but Georgia and Clemson enter 2014 with similar expectations that will alter dramatically based on Saturday night's outcome.

After last year's 38-35 victory at home, Dabo Swinney's No. 16 Tigers will head south to Sanford Stadium to try to repeat history in a hostile environment against one of the SEC's elite.

Although Mark Richt's squad enters on the cusp of the Top 10, the Bulldogs are coming off a season to forget. An unprecedented amount of injuries helped Georgia to stall to an 8-5 record, losing to Nebraska in the Gator Bowl after lofty preseason expectations.

Should Georgia's offense stay healthy, it should have no problem getting back to 10 or 11 wins. Hutson Mason is a future star if his play late last year and offseason growth are any indication. Todd Gurley is among the best running backs in the nation, and a number of other speedsters who missed time last year are healthy and ready to go. 

Clemson's strong defense will make up for the loss of Tajh Boyd much of the season, but the Tigers won't be able to contain Georgia's offense at the end of this one.

Prediction: Georgia wins in OT, 27-24

 

No. 1 Florida State vs. Oklahoma State

The 2014 Florida State Seminoles have boasted a "Dallas to Dallas" motto entering this season, meant to signify their aspirations of playing in the CFP championship game in Dallas and defending their national title. It will start in Dallas on Saturday, when they take on Oklahoma State in a neutral-site clash. 

Jameis Winston returns to Florida State coming off his Heisman Trophy campaign a year ago, and Jimbo Fisher has plenty of offensive weapons to negate the losses of Kelvin Benjamin, Rashad Greene and Devonta Freeman. 

The top-ranked Seminoles only played three ranked foes in the regular season last year, and only two are on the slate entering 2014—Clemson and Notre Dame. Although it's not a ranked Cowboys team they will face, it could prove to be one of Florida State's toughest tests on the road to its title.

But even one of its toughest tests won't truly be that much of a test. Mike Gundy returns just 12 starters, two of which are kickers, and even Gundy's best repair job in 2014 won't make his Cowboys serious contenders against the champs in Week 1.

Prediction: Florida State wins, 45-13

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Florida Gators vs. Idaho Vandals Complete Game Preview

The Florida Gators begin their football season with what should be a painless matchup against the Idaho Vandals on Saturday. It’s your typical opening-week cupcake game that allows teams to warm up for the tough conference schedule that is soon to come.

Florida returns seven starters on both sides of the ball and hopes to be one of the more improved teams in the country, while Idaho has 15 starters returning and has nowhere to go but up after winning just one game last season.

Certainly not the flashiest game of the opening-week schedule, but it sure beats harping on last season’s failures over and over.

Let’s take a look at this weekend’s matchup. 

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Utah State vs. Tennessee Complete Game Preview

As far as tests go, Sunday's season-opening tilt with Utah State is ideal for a Tennessee Volunteers team filled with newcomers.

Though scheduling a mid-major game against the upstart Aggies and dark-horse Heisman Trophy candidate Chuckie Keeton could be considered a "no-win" situation for the Vols, it's actually just the opposite.

This game is exactly what UT needs.

It's enough of a test to where the Vols can't sleepwalk. A victory can give a growing team confidence heading into a grueling, season-long gauntlet.

Also, with Oklahoma and Georgia on the September schedule, lining up against a potentially dynamic offense will help UT prepare more than it would against a pair of cupcakes.

Keeton and his teammates may see the game as a showcase on a national stage that would help put USU on the map. But it's also a coming-out party for a group of Vols intent on erasing a miserable recent stretch of football.

"The one thing about football is it's not what they do, it's what you do," A.J. Johnson told UTSports.com's Brian Rice. "We have to come out focused and worried about us and getting the job done."

With that much inexperience thrust into key roles, UT has plenty of concerns. But there's palpable excitement, too. The practice pads are about to come off. It's finally game week.

 

Date: Sunday, Aug. 31

Time: 7 p.m. ET

Place: Neyland Stadium, Knoxville, Tennessee

TV: SEC Network

Radio: Vol Network, NewsTalk, Sirius/XM 91

Spread: Tennessee by 6.5 points, according to OddsShark.com.

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