After faltering down the stretch of the 2013 season, Urban Meyer and the Ohio State Buckeyes have a lot to prove this season.
The Buckeyes were riding a 24-game winning streak going into the Big Ten title game against Michigan State last year. That streak—and Ohio State's title hopes—were completely dashed by a green-and-white blur of defensive dominance.
If Meyer wants to make a run at college football's first-ever playoff, he and the Buckeyes will need to overcome a number of hurdles. Whether it's reshaping a unit that lost talented players, conquering struggles from last year or surviving a tough road test, Ohio State has a lot of obstacles to overcome in 2014.
Here are the three biggest challenges facing Urban Meyer and the Buckeyes this year.
Rebuilding the Offensive Line
Ohio State's strength in 2013 was its offensive line, which featured four multiyear senior starters.
That unit paved the way for Carlos Hyde and the Buckeyes' potent rushing attack. Ohio State averaged 308.6 yards per game, which ranked No. 5 in the country.
With Jack Mewhort, Corey Linsley, Andrew Norwell and Marcus Hall all gone, Meyer and the Buckeyes have a big issue to address.
That process started in the spring when Taylor Decker, the sole returning starter, flipped from his right tackle spot to left tackle. The only other starter to emerge was Pat Elflein, who is set to replace Hall at right guard.
The left guard, center and right tackle positions remain open. Alabama transfer Chad Lindsay and a host of talented freshmen are expected to come in and compete for spots in the two-deep depth chart this fall.
Regain a Defensive Edge
Ohio State's defense didn't play at the championship level its offensive counterparts did in 2013.
If the Buckeyes want to compete for a national title this year, that will have to change.
Ohio State struggled immensely on defense, particularly against the pass. While the Buckeyes ranked No. 46 in total defense—allowing 377.4 yards per game—the pass defense surrendered an average of 268 yards per outing, which ranked 110th.
That's why Meyer brought in Chris Ash from Arkansas to replace Everett Withers as co-defensive coordinator. Ash is known for his aggressive 4-3 scheme that aims to limit the holes an opposing offense can expose, especially through the air.
Meyer knows that his pass defense cost him a shot at playing Florida State for a national title. He doesn't want the same issue to arise this season.
Ultimately, it was Michigan State who halted the Buckeyes' run to a national title last year. That same giant could stand in the way of Ohio State's title run this season.
With the Big Ten's realigned divisions, Ohio State and Michigan State are now slated in the new-look East Division. The Buckeyes travel to East Lansing, Michigan, on November 8 for a titanic matchup with the Spartans.
Martin Rickman of Sports Illustrated produced an early ranking for the 2014 season and tabbed Michigan State as the No. 8 team. That's the top-ranked opponent on Ohio State's schedule. The Buckeyes came in at No. 4 behind Florida State, Alabama and Oregon.
With the matchup in enemy territory, the Michigan State game looks like Ohio State's toughest test of the season. If the Buckeyes survive it, there's a good chance they could redeem last year's letdown.
Stats via NCAA.com.
David Regimbal is the lead Ohio State football writer for Bleacher Report.
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Four-star cornerback Isaiah Langley spent his Sunday participating in Oakland's Nike Football Training Camp, and it was a very productive weekend for the highly coveted recruit.
The Foothill High School (Pleasanton, Calif.) star put on a show at NFTC. He lined up exclusively at cornerback and made several remarkable plays throughout the day.
As expected, Langley has some big decisions to make while he transitions into his senior year of high school.
“I'm just taking it all in, the whole process,” Langley said of the 30 offers he holds. He's considering USC, California, Oklahoma, Notre Dame, Oregon and Ole Miss the most, but for now, he's remaining mum on who the true favorite is.
That said, he spoke very highly of Cal while at NFTC.
“Cal’s my first offer. That’s home," the Bay Area native said. "They offered me first. I just have to consider them. Twenty minutes from home, I know the staff there…Cal’s just home.”
Cal's struggles were well documented in 2013, as the Golden Bears lost 10 straight games in Sonny Dykes' first season as head coach. But Langley doesn't see that as a major reason to count them out entirely.
“I mean, as long as they have my best interests on and off the field, they’re all good with me," Langley said." But you know, they were definitely hit with adversity, so now it’s about what they will do to surpass that.”
After all, all it takes is one strong recruiting class to start an upward trend in productivity.
Langley said he's paying attention to the other athletes Cal is recruiting, though that also won't be a major factor in his ultimate decision.
“That’s not going to make or break if I go to a school or not. I feel like if it’s the best fit for me, I don’t care who goes there. I’m going to compete and do my best,” he said.
Langley sees himself as a corner at the next level, though some schools are giving him the option to play both ways. While it's not necessarily what he's known for, he's lined up at wide receiver during his high school career and wouldn't mind getting to do so in college.
“I want to play as much as I can and showcase my talents, whether on offense on defense,” he said.
As a defensive-minded player, Langley intends to spend the offseason and next season getting stronger as a corner. In particular, he said he wants to work on keeping his eyes on his man.
At NFTC on Sunday, he didn't struggle at all in that facet of his game. He tightly locked up his receivers and didn't let any field a single catch while he covered them. He also made a head-turning play on the ball, a very athletic interception, pictured above.
Langley's goal at NFTC was to get an offer to this summer's The Opening, and by the end of the day, he met that goal:
And that makes his recruitment now a lot more interesting, as Langley had a particular plan for if he did, in fact, receive an invite.
"If I do [get an invite], it looks like a commitment will be coming out of me," he said. "I just hope that I get that opportunity."
As previously noted, Langley spent a lot of time talking about Cal while at NFTC, but according to the recruiting analysts at 247Sports.com, he looks to be a USC lean. He didn't name any other Pac-12 schools outright, but he did say there were a few he is high on.
Though this is the plan he has laid out for himself, Langley knows that recruiting is a fickle mistress.
“I would like to know where I’m going before my senior season, but you know, the recruiting process doesn’t always work like that," he said. "You get ready to commit to a school and then another five schools offer you.”
Also while looking ahead, Langley discussed his intentions after he completes his senior season.
"I’m looking to graduate early in January. So I have to take a couple college courses here [at Chabot College in Hayward, Calif.] and just get that knocked out early," he said.
If he does end up going that route, he would be an excellent early addition to whichever team ultimately earns his signature.
All quotes were obtained firsthand unless otherwise stated.
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The 2014 season could be the toughest one yet for Les Miles.
Miles lost arguably his best quarterback, running back and pair of receivers he has ever had at LSU. Overall, the Tigers had nine players selected in the NFL draft and a few key starters that went undrafted.
But the departed players are now in the rearview mirror. Miles is now focused on getting back to the SEC Championship Game for the first time since 2011.
The roster turnover is a hurdle Miles must overcome. Here are five more challenges he will face this season.
Who Will Play Quarterback
Miles has probably lost some sleep on whether to start sophomore Anthony Jennings or freshman Brandon Harris.
Jennings played sparingly as Zach Mettenberger's backup last season. He led LSU to a miraculous win over Arkansas, but he was below average, albeit in victory, in his only start against Iowa in the Outback Bowl.
Harris had a spectacular spring, especially considering the short amount of time he had to learn Cam Cameron's offense. He shined in the spring game, combining for four touchdowns. Jennings was less than spectacular, throwing two interceptions returned for touchdowns.
Miles and Cameron both said they are in no rush to name a starter. Expect both to play in 2014, but the decision to name a starter for the season opener against Wisconsin will be a tough one.
Managing True Freshmen
Oh yeah, and this dude named Leonard Fournette was the No. 1 prospect in the country.
The four 5-star prospects headline Miles' most highly touted class ever. He had four 5-star prospects in the previous four seasons combined.
Dupre, Adams, Garrett and Fournette aren't the only freshmen that will see the field next season. LSU will also look to 4-star talents Trey Quinn, Travonte Valentine, Ed Paris and others to play right away as well.
Miles has a tough task ahead of him. He must find the right mix of youth and experience for the team to be successful.
The SEC is nation's undisputed toughest conference. The SEC West is the nation's undisputed best division. LSU belongs to both exclusive clubs. Thus, an argument could be made for the Tigers having the toughest schedule in the country.
Bleacher Report's SEC Lead Writer Barrett Sallee ranked LSU the fourth-best team in the SEC West behind Alabama, Auburn and Ole Miss in his post-spring rankings. The Tigers not only have to play them and the three other SEC West schools, but also a brutal permanent cross-divisional rival in Florida. Miles has let it be known how he hates the scheduling format.
The Tigers are fortunate the only other SEC East school they must play is Kentucky, but that is offset by facing Wisconsin to open the season.
The depth of the Tigers will be tested. Fatigue and injury will require a multitude of players to play big. Miles and the rest of the coaching staff must have his team prepared for the tough road ahead.
LSU's defense finished a respectable fifth in scoring defense against conference opponents last season, holding them to under 25 points per game. But in their four road games, the Tigers allowed on average over 33 points per game. Three of those games were losses.
LSU's secondary will be rejuvenated, led by super sophomore Tre'Davious White at cornerback. The pass rush should be better with experienced defensive ends Danielle Hunter and Jermauria Rasco.
Defensive coordinator John Chavis will look to get his squad's swagger back. Miles knows his two national championship game appearances were spearheaded by dominant defenses. He will need them to return to elite form to help carry a young offense that will go through growing pains.
Miles had a good, but not great, year coaching the Tigers in 2013.
Going 10-3 is never a bad thing. Miles has won at least 10 games in all but two years of his illustrious LSU career. But his performance last season was not his best.
The Tigers were underdogs in two games last season. In both games, LSU suffered defeats on the road against Georgia and Alabama. Miles was not expected to win either of the games, yet great coaches find ways to win some games they are not supposed to.
Miles had a forgetful game against Ole Miss. The Tigers were favored by more than a touchdown, and the Rebels were missing five defensive starters. LSU only lost by three but were certainly outplayed.
Miles said after the defeat he deserves blame for the loss, per Jim Kleinpeter of The Times-Picayune. While that is respectable, the loss ranks amongst his worst.
But Miles was not done.
LSU was a 24-point favorite against Arkansas in the final home game of the season. The Razorbacks, who did not have a win in SEC play, outplayed the Tigers. It took an amazing 99-yard touchdown drive and a genius performance from Jarvis Landry to win it.
There is no denying Miles is a championship-caliber coach. Yet with a rather young team next season, he, along with the rest of his staff, will have to be at their best.
*Stats, rankings and game odds provided by 247Sports, LSU Sports Information, cfbstats.com and scoresandodds.com and quotes were obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted. Follow Carter Bryant on Twitter @CarterthePower.
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There is never an end to recruiting season, and the Bulldogs are already hard at work to put together a strong 2015 class.
After putting together a top-10 class, according to 247Sports Composite Rankings, the Bulldogs are putting the pieces together for another top-10 class in 2015.
Right now they are at No. 14 overall, but they have only eight players committed. By the end of the year, the Bulldogs hope to have some of the top players in the state, including defensive tackle Trent Thompson, who is considered the No. 1 prospect in the country according to 247Sports.
Here are summer grades for the 2015 recruiting class.
KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — If everything goes according to plan in 2014, Tennessee football fans won't recognize the Volunteers offense from a season ago.
The scheme hasn't changed, but head coach Butch Jones didn't mince words when discussing how much healthier the Volunteers' power spread offense will look with an injection of all the young talents who enrolled mid-term.
"Really, what you saw this spring was the same offense, just different individuals," UT's second-year head coach told Bleacher Report in an exclusive interview.
"I think we’ve taken great strides in moving forward and building our own offensive identity with the addition of Von Pearson, Josh Malone, Jalen Hurd, Coleman Thomas and the two tight ends.
"Those individuals changed our offense the minute they walked in."
During a woefully inept offensive campaign in 2013, the Vols averaged 23.8 points per game while finishing 12th in the SEC in total offense.
The only player on UT's offense with real game-breaking talent was true freshman receiver Marquez North. Now, thanks to a stacked recruiting class, the Vols have surrounded him with potential playmakers who should make an immediate impact.
The best thing for the Vols is they already have a spring practice logged beside the classes on their syllabus.
Former elite prospects such as running back Hurd, receivers Malone and Pearson and tight ends Ethan Wolf and Daniel Helm have revitalized a stagnant offense.
As a result, the timing and tempo of Tennessee's offense improved noticeably this spring. The Vols simply didn't look anything like the team from a season ago, especially during a highlight-reel spring game.
They were crisp. They were sharp. They scored points and moved the ball.
It was more like the offense Jones grew accustomed to seeing during stints at Central Michigan and Cincinnati.
Jones wants UT to establish a tempo-dictating offensive mentality that leans toward speeding up the game. It just hasn't had the horses to do it, but may now.
"Every great team has its own unique style of play," Jones said. "We've talked to our players about building our own identity and unique style of play. But we do want to play uptempo, and we weren't anywhere near where we need to be. Of anywhere else we've been,  is probably the slowest that we've played.
"We have to take monumental strides moving forward in terms of our overall speed and tempo. I thought we did it this spring, but we're still nowhere near where we need to be."
Even though the Vols aren't where Jones envisions his offense yet, the infusion of talent is making a profound difference.
He noted he was "absolutely" more confident in his quarterbacks now than at any point last season, and while they've made strides in leading the offense, a weaponry upgrade is the biggest factor.
"I also think that, again, they're a byproduct of improving overall speed-wise," Jones said. "At times last year, our quarterbacks had to play perfect. We had very little big splash plays, and it's hard to play perfect. This year, they can throw the ball up and have trust that when you play a jump ball, we're going to go up and get it.
"I think our quarterbacks now have great confidence with the players on the perimeter, so I think their overall improvement of the position is a byproduct of the improvement of the running back, receiver and tight end positions."
A study of statistics posted on UT's official site showed that, a season ago, the Vols had just 69 offensive plays go for 15 or more yards. Only 46 went for 20 or more.
Jones expects improvement, but also cautioned against anointing high school stars like Hurd and Malone All-Americans right away. Their ceilings are limitless, but they will be thrown to some of the nation's top defenses all season.
"We have to make sure we don’t place too much pressure on them right away or put too many high expectations on them right away," Jones said. "They’re going to be great football players. They’re going to help Tennessee win because they have great competitive character, are great individuals, they take ownership of representing their home state, they're very, very talented and gifted players and they're hungry.
"They want to be the best. But they should be finishing up high school right now. Fortunately for us and for them, they graduated and have that spring football under their belt."
Brad Shepard is the Tennessee Lead Writer for Bleacher Report. All quotes were obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted. Follow Brad on Twitter here:
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Nebraska football fans know that head coach Bo Pelini will have a number of challenges coming in to 2014. Overall, of course, the biggest challenge will be figuring out how to lose fewer than four games next season. But what is standing between Nebraska and that goal? Here are five things that may be keeping Pelini up at nights this summer.
All stats are from the incomparable cfbstats.com.
During the late springs of 2012 and 2013, Michigan’s recruiting was running at full tilt—it seemed as if every 4- and 5-star recruit in the land was pledging to Wolverines coach Brady Hoke.
This year, as you’ve certainly noticed, hasn’t been anything remotely in the ballpark of the past two “second seasons.” In fact, this latest period of scouting prospects has been incredibly slow—almost too slow.
However, at one time, Team 136 had early promises from two of America’s premier high-schoolers: Damien Harris, a 5-star running back, and George Campbell, a 5-star receiver. After a short honeymoon, they revoked their verbal commitments and reopened their recruitments.
Harris, though, remains an option, while Campbell occupies wish-lister status. Recruits will come and go, so don’t spend a whole of time worrying about the quality of the upcoming haul—it has started strong and the process will finish with emphasis.
As of May 20, Hoke’s seven-man group is the No. 24-ranked class in college football, according to 247Sports, which will serve as the guide for rankings, statistics and other related information throughout this piece.
Entering late May, Hoke has two corners, a safety, a quarterback, an inside linebacker, an offensive tackle, and a kicker scheduled to sign letters of intent for next year. This slideshow will grade the position groups—although there are five areas to summarize—based on talent, need, fit and the almighty “potential.”
Josh Sweat is a 5-star defensive end who is surging up many recruiting boards. He is a fantastic player who has yet to come close to reaching his peak on the field.
The Virginia native has many schools trying to convince him to join their programs, as his high ceiling has college coaches dreaming of tutoring him. If things go right, he will be a star early in his career at the next level.
Sweat warrants a closer look as a prospect.
Now that spring practice is over, the Virginia Tech football team is solely focused on assembling the 2015 recruiting class, but it has yet to make much progress.
It may be early yet, but so far the Hokies have just four hard commits in this class, and the staff is surely working feverishly to catch up to other ACC schools.
The conference has become a lot more competitive in the recruiting game recently, spurred on by the rise of Florida State, and Tech will need some big wins to keep pace with the other major ACC programs.
Read on for a look at how the Hokies are fairing at each position as they recruit for 2015.
The future is now...at least in college football recruiting departments.
Tyreke Johnson, an eighth-grade student at Trinity Christian Academy in Jacksonville, Florida, remains months away from his first freshman quiz but already holds more college scholarship offers than the majority of opponents he'll face this fall.
Ohio State is the latest in a long line of programs to extend an offer to the 6'1", 175-pound athlete, according to ElevenWarriors.com reporter John Brandon. Johnson is the latest in a long line of junior high students being swarmed by coaches fishing for a signed letter of intent four years down the line.
There are hundreds of rising seniors across the country who've won state titles and set school records without even a glance from Buckeyes head coach Urban Meyer.
Johnson, a gifted playmaker who is closer to elementary school than his senior year, can now boast he has an open opportunity to compete for the two-time national champions.
These days, he's hardly alone as a football phenom who arrives at the high school educational level with at least a few offers in hand. Sure, these stories remain relatively rare, but the shock value has steadily decreased in recent years.
Ohio State is one of several squads that opted to enter this particular recruiting race at an incredibly early stage. Florida State, Miami, UCLA, Virginia Tech and LSU are among a growing list of schools already keeping tabs on Johnson as a primary target.
Think these programs are getting a little ahead of themselves and giving into hype?
Verlon Dorminey, the head coach at Trinity Christian, believes it's been validated since Johnson's seventh-grade season.
"Honestly, you could see this kid in the Heisman Trophy race," Dorminey told MaxPreps reporter Stephen Spiewak in March 2013. "He's that type of kid. He's somebody's poster child for a program. He's somebody you want out front, portraying what your program really is."
It's lofty praise for a prospect who is currently viewed as a safety but could certainly grow into a linebacker—heck, even an edge-rusher—by the time he finishes physically maturing in high school.
Admittedly, the potential is clearly in place when you watch the video highlights Johnson has created so far during his small sample size of a football career.
He follows in the footsteps of older brother De'Andre Johnson, a four-year starter at First Coast High School in Jacksonville. De'Andre, a member of the 2015 class, committed to Florida State before his sophomore season.
Big bro may have hit prime time early, but Tyreke is approaching practically uncharted territory with his rare and rapid collection of scholarship offers at this stage.
Still, he has company, and the crowd is likely to grow exponentially in coming years.
USC quarterback commit David Sills, who will be a senior this fall, pledged to the Trojans in seventh grade. Four years and one regime change later, USC is looking toward a future with 5-star commit Ricky Town and Sills is exploring alternatives.
Louisiana linebacker Dylan Moses held six SEC offers before he played a high school snap. He became the first member of LSU's 2017 class less than a month into his freshman season.
And now here we are, ready to watch the dominoes fall for a 2018 class that is largely still wrapping up its final stretch of eighth-grade events.
Even if Johnson chose a university today, he wouldn't be the first member of the 2018 class to commit. Eighth-grade Texas quarterback Zadock Dinkelmann already committed to LSU in February.
However, it's vitally important to remember that verbal commitments are non-binding for both parties.
Dinkelmann could commit to 20 universities during the next four years, and only No. 20 would reap the benefits. Life as an LSU pledge could become just another adolescent phase.
Immense uncertainty defines college football recruiting today.
It's tough enough to keep a 3-star senior cornerback in your class until signing day. Now try to maintain a solid pact with a celebrated 14-year-old who's set to receive countless campus invites throughout his high school career.
College football's hierarchy could look completely different in 2018, particularly when you consider the high turnover rate among college football coaches.
Will Les Miles be at LSU in 2018?
We don't even have an idea of who the President of the United States—well underway with their second full year on the job by then—will be when members of the 2018 class move into their college dorms.
Still, it's compelling to watch a collection of the game's great coaches clamoring for attention from an athlete who just recently received the right to attend PG-13 movies without adult supervision.
The recruiting trail continues to stretch further, making a committed high school sophomore practically seem like a seasoned veteran of the process.
Maybe Tyreke Johnson will ultimately win that Heisman Trophy, capping off nearly a decade of involvement with the team he eventually chooses and leads. Then again, maybe he won't.
As surreal as it all seems, wouldn't you rather be the coach who took a chance on the wunderkind from junior high than the coach who joined the pursuit too late to be relevant?
That's the question now facing the men who receive multimillion-dollar contracts to deliver programs to the promised land. So far, their responses have swiftly ushered college football into a new, bizarre and still-growing recruiting era, for better or worse.
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Frequent scheme overhauls are not uncommon in today’s nomadic nature of college football coaching. After three different coordinators during the Charlie Weis tenure, Notre Dame ran a conservative 3-4 defense for four seasons under Brian Kelly.
When coordinator Bob Diaco left for Connecticut in December, Kelly tabbed former colleague Brian VanGorder to direct the Irish defense. VanGorder, the 2002 Broyles Award winner at Georgia for the nation’s best assistant coach, has transitioned Notre Dame to a 4-3 alignment.
Much of Notre Dame’s defensive roster was recruited for specific positions in the 3-4, so many players spent the spring adjusting to new roles. Others who were recruited more for their raw athleticism have found the system change more to their liking.
Which Irish defenders will be most impacted by VanGorder’s arrival? Let’s look at the winners and losers of the move to a 4-3 defense.
It is never too early to look ahead to college football season, but now that we are officially within 100 days of opening kickoff between Abilene Christian and Georgia State—get hype!—we might not need to explain ourselves as often for doing so.
So much can and will change between now and fall practice, and between fall practice and the season, that predicting who will win each conference is difficult. Part of it requires living in the moment, but another requires looking ahead to the future.
With that in mind, these predictions were based more on my gut than my final predictions before the season are likely to be. There is less information to go on now than there will be then, so consider this a countdown-to-the-season version of my picks.
There are, of course, some substantive reasons behind them, but more than anything, these are the teams I would pick if my life depended on it—the ones that the little voice in my head keeps telling me will win.
Chime in below and let me know where you disagree.
Note: All returning-starter information courtesy of Phil Steele.
With summer rapidly approaching, the main focus for Nick Saban and his staff will turn to building on Alabama's 2015 recruiting class.
The Tide already have 15 commitments—with potential difference-makers already in the fold at nearly every position.
How does the Tide's class shake out heading into the summer?
*Unless otherwise stated, all recruiting rankings courtesy of 247Sports.
The Texas A&M football team has a lot to prove in 2014. Head coach Kevin Sumlin and the Aggies have a number of obstacles to overcome in order to prove they can be an elite SEC program.
The Aggies have won 20 games during their first two seasons in the league. That is a solid start for any program that is transitioning from one league to another.
Since college football realignment began in 2010 with Nebraska's decision to join the Big Ten, the Aggies have the best winning percentage in their first two years in their new conference of any program that moved to a major conference.
The Aggies went 20-6 for a winning percentage of .769. Nebraska is next at .703, followed by Missouri (.654), Utah (.520), West Virginia (.440), TCU (.440) and Colorado (.166). Critics will point out that Sumlin's early success in the SEC was mainly due to quarterback Johnny Manziel's presence on the roster when Sumlin arrived.
The task for Sumlin and the Aggies going forward is to prove that their early success in the Southeastern Conference was not a fluke and that they have staying power in the league of champions.
This is a look at the biggest challenges facing Sumlin and the Aggies in 2014.
When compared with the FBS (or even power-conference) median, not every team has a strength, and not every team has a weakness. There are teams in college football that do everything or nothing well.
But relative to itself, almost every team does some things better than it does others. There is a best way to attack every opponent, even if that best way isn't necessarily a good one. It's just less of a bad one than the alternatives.
Even if it's impossible to know for sure, it is entirely possible to project which unit will be the strongest and weakest for each college football team next season. Based on how they performed in 2013, what they return and who has looked good during the offseason, we can take a stab at where their best and worst position groups might lie.
To celebrate being within 100 days of the start of the season, let's take part in this exercise with 25 of the best teams in the country, per the projected preseason AP poll by Bleacher Report's Barrett Sallee.
If you disagree, feel free to chime in below by calling me an idiot and telling me that I know nothing.
Note: Unless otherwise cited, all recruiting data is courtesy of the 247Sports Composite, all yardage figures are courtesy of cfbstats.com and all adjusted-line data is courtesy of Football Study Hall.
Spring practice is past, and preseason camp will not open for more than two months. That means recruiting season is about to heat up, and UCLA head coach Jim Mora is among those who are jockeying to be in the national mix.
The 2015 class is Mora's fourth at UCLA, making him a grizzled veteran in this process. His Bruins are off to a solid start with six verbal commitments, which ranks them second among Pac-12 programs, per 247Sports.com.
As summer camps and seven-on-seven tournaments commence, Mora and his staff must still put in plenty of work on the recruiting trail—especially because the one team that is currently ranked ahead of UCLA is crosstown rival USC.
We are fewer than 100 days away from kickoff, and you can already get in on the college football action in the city that never sleeps.
Casinos in Las Vegas and online sportsbooks have already begun putting out prop bets for the college football season. Will Alabama make the four-team playoff? You can put your money where your mouth is over at Bovada. Want to pick Florida State to repeat and Jameis Winston to win his second straight Heisman Trophy? Several books both onshore and off will gladly take your money.
But what are some of the best values out there in the SEC?
Auburn, Alabama, South Carolina, Georgia and LSU will all be in the preseason consideration to take home the inaugural College Football Playoff championship, with several stars in the discussion to take Winston's Heisman.
What's the perception of the SEC in Las Vegas?
Find Great Value in Georgia
The Georgia Bulldogs are coming off a disappointing 8-5 season that was littered with injuries, but will still find themselves in the national title discussion thanks to running back Todd Gurley, a loaded wide receiving corps and eight returning starters on a defense that got a boost with the departure of Todd Grantham as defensive coordinator.
That move was addition by subtraction in and of itself, and all head coach Mark Richt did was replace Grantham with Jeremy Pruitt—fresh off a national title with Florida State.
"I think, if you can get Georgia at 30-to-1, that's ridiculous," said Todd Fuhrman, market analyst at DonBest.com and analyst on Fox Sports 1. "Do I love the job Mark Richt has done there? Absolutely not. But if quarterback Hutson Mason can turn the corner and live up to some exceptions, they'll be a good play."
Not only is Georgia set up well from a personnel standpoint, but it has Clemson with time to prepare to open the season, two weeks to prepare for a road trip to South Carolina, a bye week before Florida and several cupcakes in the weeks preceding big matchups.
"Sept. 13 at South Carolina ... if they can navigate through that spot and come out of those first two games at 2-0—Clemson I don't think will push them much—you're looking at a team that could be 5-0 heading to Missouri," said Fuhrman, whose SEC win totals should come out in late May. "This is a really manageable schedule, so much so that they could be 9-0 and heading into a showdown Nov. 15 when Auburn comes calling with revenge in mind."
Heisman Dark-Horse Quarterbacks
The Heisman Trophy is a quarterback-driven award these days, with 12 of the last 14 winners taking snaps. That doesn't bode well for players like Gurley, South Carolina running back Mike Davis and Alabama's T.J. Yeldon and Derrick Henry, all of whom find themselves near the top of Heisman odds boards, but still fighting an uphill battle.
But what about the dark horses?
Auburn quarterback Nick Marshall, Mississippi State quarterback Dak Prescott and Ole Miss quarterback Bo Wallace will get considerable Heisman buzz, but the smart play may be the field if you're banking on an SEC quarterback winning the Heisman.
"Mason at Georgia makes a ton of sense if he's going to be throwing the ball around a little bit," Fuhrman said. "I'm not as high on Missouri quarterback Maty Mauk, but if they put together another season he may create a little bit of buzz given what he's capable of doing there. You look through the conference, it's tough to find the right quarterback unless you find the right scheme because of what we've seen from the SEC, being a run-first league, to an extent."
One of those schemes that could produce some Heisman value for its quarterback is at Texas A&M, where third-year head coach Kevin Sumlin will choose between sophomore dual-threat Kenny Hill and true freshman Kyle Allen this summer. But quarterbacks with video-game numbers need to win big, which may be hard for the Aggies this season.
"It's interesting with what we've seen out of Sumlin and how many points his offense will score no matter who's under center," Fuhrman said. "I just think that this team, with the way it's built, is going to be hard-pressed to be in the thick of things. That puts either of the quarterbacks behind the eightball. A&M would have to be 10-2 to get into a serious discussion about the Heisman, and I think, at best, the Aggies are a three-loss team when you have Alabama, Auburn and South Carolina on the road."
Sittin' on Top of the World
Auburn fell to Florida State 34-31 in the 2014 BCS National Championship Game, preventing the SEC from extending its streak of national titles to eight in a row.
Consider that a blip on the radar, not the start of a trend.
"I'd say that saying the league is going downhill is taking it a step too far," Fuhrman explained. "When you look at the way this league has recruited over the last few years. If anything, it's dominance and stranglehold over the college football landscape is going to get more pronounced."
Part of the reason is the new postseason format. That extra semifinal game will make it easier for the cream to rise to the top and more difficult for teams that skate by without playing anybody to win college football's biggest prize.
"By adding extra games to these schedules, teams that are deeper and more physical have a big advantage because you're less likely to have a so-called Cinderella team get through to the playoff or a national title game."
Value After Punishment
Since the start of the 2011 season, SEC teams are 7-11 the week after playing Alabama, with only three of those seven wins coming against SEC competition.
Playing physical teams has a tendency to take a toll on teams, and that's something to keep an eye on as the season progresses.
"It's definitely a handicapping angle that I think you're going to see veterans use more, but it doesn't factor into the lines," Fuhrman said. "If oddsmakers try and get too cute with that kind of thing, it puts them in a real tough spot."
But it isn't just the week after that gets teams. One punch in the mouth could have a lasting impact on a team's season.
"The Alabama example is tremendous," Fuhrman said. "But then we can go back and look at a team like Oregon that never really recovered physically from playing LSU in its 2011 opener. It will be interesting to see how a team like Wisconsin will respond, after playing an LSU team that's going to hit them in the mouth early and often."
Barrett Sallee is the lead SEC college football writer for Bleacher Report. All quotes were obtained firsthand and all stats are courtesy of CFBStats.com. Todd Fuhrman, market analyst for DonBest.com, will release his SEC win/loss totals in late May.
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You can either play by the rules or take a Brett Hundley laser to the orbital socket.
These are your only choices in Hundley's new video where the UCLA quarterback and teammate Luke Gane combine to enforce every last rule on UCLA's campus.
Nina Mandell of For The Win spotted the video, which was put together by campus performing production Spring Sing. In short, it is amazing.
Hundley stalks campus looking for perpetrators and adjusting attitudes with well-placed, pigskin fastballs to the face. There are lessons to be taught, and he's here to make sure these kids learn today. The show is stolen, however, by Gane—Hundley's reliable hype man.
Indeed, behind every strong superhero, there's a dude with a ragged, piercing voice waiting to jump out and talk trash to the recent recipients of justice.
Here are some of my favorite quotes by Gane:
"Keep it in your pants, Mark!"
"We tryin' to be breathe well out here!"
"You got to feed yo tummy before you feed yo mind, GUH!"
Unfortunately, Hundley is cut down in his prime, the victim of his own unyielding sense of justice. He takes two pieces of fruit from the mess hall and is forced to turn in his ball to the police station. This would be less funny, you know, if University of Oklahoma players hadn't been fined for the crime of "pasta in excess" this spring.
Altogether, this is a funny, well-made video. The NCAA might've instituted a new "unlimited food" ruling, but the premise of campus over-regulation still stands.
As for Hundley, he seems to be enjoying his decision to stay in school for another year.
Many predict the 20-year-old could be among the top prospects in the 2015 draft should he put together a strong junior campaign. I predict he’ll go on to the NFL while Gane will be receiving offers for the WWE.
You can never have too many good hype men.
You gon' learn today, UCLA.
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