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Auburn Football: Meet the Tigers' Wild Card Running Back, Peyton Barber

Call him the man in the middle.

On paper, senior running backs Cameron Artis-Payne and Corey Grant are the favorites to replace NFL-bound Heisman Trophy finalist Tre Mason as the feature back of Auburn's high-octane rushing attack.

Both the powerful Artis-Payne and the speedy Grant played significant roles in the Tigers offense, getting important carries even after Mason's breakout stretch halfway through the 2013 season.

But Artis-Payne and Grant, who are both looking to expand their specific skill sets this spring in hopes of grabbing Mason's spot, will only be on the Plains for one more year. Who will replace the production of Auburn's dynamic backfield duo after next season?

Enter Racean "Roc" Thomas, a 5-star running back and the state of Alabama's Mr. Football award winner for the 2013 season. When the explosive Thomas arrives on campus this summer, he will enter with tremendous hype from Auburn fans following his 2,211-yard, 32-touchdown senior season in Alabama's highest level of high school football.

However, Auburn's running back of the future might already be on campus, getting a chance to break out this season.

Peyton Barber is the true wild card of Auburn's running back battle this spring. While many Auburn fans are looking to either Artis-Payne or Grant as the feature back of 2014, Barber has gotten equal reps with the rising seniors as a redshirt freshman.

"[Barber] is getting a lot of reps, which is good," Auburn head coach Gus Malzahn said after last Saturday's scrimmage, one where Barber recorded a rushing touchdown. "He definitely needs reps with different groups. You can see he’s improving. He wants to be good, and he’s a tough guy."

Barber's toughness was on full display last season, when he impressed coaches and teammates as a scout team running back.

"Being a scout team guy, you learn a lot," Malzahn said earlier this spring. "Those are situations that usually make or break a lot of guys that are young. They either get tough and fight through it or they go the other way."

Barber fought through it, and now he is in the running for a starting job without recording a single carry in a college game.

The former 3-star running back from Alpharetta, Ga., received the highest praise from the player he hopes to replace as Auburn's star running back.

"[Barber] is probably, skill wise, the best out of all of us," Mason told AL.com's Brandon Marcello before the BCS National Championship Game in January. "That guy is good. He's very consistent when he's scrimmaging. He's very consistent."

Although he has not been available to speak to the media this season, several of Barber's teammates have told reporters he has continued to shine in spring camp.

I’ve been hearing from some of the defense that Peyton is untouchable," tight end C.J. Uzomah said. "Going against our first team all last year helps him tremendously as a running back. I think that helped him adjust to the game and adjust to the speed.”

Standing at 5'11" and 225 pounds, Barber's physique and running style is similar to Mason's, especially after Barber developed more elusiveness to go along with his powerful nature last season.

"Peyton's a big kid," starting left guard Alex Kozan said. "Peyton's freaky."

Perhaps that freaky talent and Mason-like frame could make Peyton Barber the surprise story of the preseason.

Justin Ferguson is Bleacher Report's lead Auburn writer. Follow him on Twitter @JFergusonAU. All quotes are obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted.

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4 Unanswered Questions Heading into South Carolina's Spring Game

It's almost time for the Gamecocks' football season to really get back on the radar as South Carolina's spring game approaches. 

This Saturday, the Gamecocks will showcase how they have progressed throughout the spring in the Garnet and Black game. 

While the team has made long strides this spring, there are still some unanswered questions lingering around this football team. 

These questions have been the persistent topics throughout the offseason, and some could get answered during the spring game. 

Here are the four unanswered questions heading into South Carolina's spring game. 

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Steve Sarkisian and Nelson Agholor: Match Made in Heaven for USC Trojans

As the USC Trojans work through spring practice, one thing has been quite clear: Nelson Agholor is poised to have a tremendous season. Agholor, the rising junior wide receiver, led the Trojans in receiving yards and touchdowns a year ago, and in 2014 he should be even better.

And his new head coach, Steve Sarkisian, is a perfect match to help maximize the efforts of the third-year player.

Plenty of eyes are resting upon the USC quarterback battle as Cody Kessler and Max Browne jockey for position under the new coaching staff. As the Daily Trojan's Darian Nourian points out, both players have been inconsistent throughout spring, leaving the job in limbo.

Yet, through up-and-down quarterback play, Sarkisian knows he has his guy in Agholor. Following practice No. 10, the head coach remarked, per USCTrojans.com: "Nelson kinda does what he does, keeps making big plays." The coach believes in his best weapon, and given Sark's style of play, Agholor should find plenty of success awaiting him in 2014.

Unlike many teams that put up big offensive numbers around the nation, Sarkisian's scheme boasts a tremendous route tree. His receivers are not merely running screens, verticals and stick routes. Rather, he has them working deep outs, deep comebacks, hitches, fades, screens, corners, posts, slants, digs, crossing patterns and sluggos to find space.

Agholor will be allowed to get open all over the field: screens that put the ball in his athletic hands at the line of scrimmage; comeback routes that dare defenders to break on the ball, for fear of the double move; stutter steps on streaks that freeze cornerbacks and put Agholor over the top of the defense; even slants that gobble up the defense and eventually turn into sluggos when safeties get overzealous. 

Trojans fans will be familiar with many of the concepts—Robert Woods and Marqise Lee worked various routes to become targets at every level of the field. Sarkisian worked to do the same with the likes of Kevin Smith, Jaydon Mickens, Kasen Williams and Jermaine Kearse during his time in Seattle.

Although everyone's eyes will be on the home runs hit by Agholor, moving the chains will be just as important for USC. Here, from Washington, Williams runs a deeper out at 15 yards that looks routine on the surface but generates a first down to keep the ball moving down the field. Agholor will be doing much of the same as teams fear the explosion play, allowing him to find space and extend drives for the Trojans.

USC is going to run the ball and is also going to use the quick passing game as an extension of its rushing efforts. Screens, slants and hitches will populate the mix as well as long handoffs that have the opportunity to be broken for big gains on the edge. The speed and, more importantly, acceleration of Agholor will be a valuable asset for the new head coach.

And Sarkisian will be a valuable asset to Agholor. The coach trusts his wide receivers to make plays. He believes in their abilities to win 50-50 balls. He is not afraid to call the plays that ask his receivers to use their talent to get open and go make plays.

Steve Sarkisian and Nelson Agholor are going to work. Despite the Trojans not being certain of the quarterback, the head coach and the best wide receiver are on the same page. The coach believes he's sitting on a receiver ready to play to the level of Lee and Woods before him, as he told the Los Angeles Times's Gary Klein.

Sark and Agholor are a sound fit, and whether it is Max Browne or Cody Kessler, the junior receiver will be put in a position to explode in 2014.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Steve Sarkisian and Nelson Agholor: Match Made in Heaven for USC Trojans

As the USC Trojans work through spring practice, one thing has been quite clear: Nelson Agholor is poised to have a tremendous season...

Read the full article on Bleacher Report...

Chris Simms: Why 5-Star USC Commit Ricky Town Is Better Option Than Max Browne

Five-star quarterback Ricky Town has already committed to play his college football for the USC Trojans. The 6'4", 205-pound athlete is known for his strong arm and pocket presence. The Ventura, Calif., native will be a huge asset for the Trojans come 2015. 

Town's main competition when he arrives on campus will be redshirt freshman Max Browne. They are both prototypical pocket passers, but Town might have the edge over Browne, according to B/R's Chris Simms. 

Watch former NFL QB Chris Simms break down Town's film and explain why he will succeed at the next level. 


Highlights courtesy of XOS Digital.

Player rankings via 247Sports.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Chris Simms: Why 5-Star USC Commit Ricky Town Is Better Option Than Max Browne

Five-star quarterback Ricky Town has already committed to play his college football for the USC Trojans. The 6'4", 205-pound athlete is known for his strong arm and pocket presence...

Read the full article on Bleacher Report...

Jacob Breeland Commits to Oregon: Ducks Land 6'5" TE Recruit

The Oregon Ducks secured a commitment from under-the-radar Southern California tight end Jacob Breeland on Tuesday, giving the team two prospects in its 2015 recruiting class. He pulled the trigger on a pledge days after spending time on campus in Eugene, per 247Sports reporter Justin Hopkins.

"We visited on Thursday and Friday but stayed through the weekend," Breeland told 247Sports. "We came home and prayed about it as a family and just knew Oregon was the place."

Breeland was a third-team All-Orange County selection at wide receiver as a junior. He converted from quarterback at Trabuco Hills High School, per Los Angeles Times writer Eric Sondheimer, and another positional switch likely awaits at Oregon.

Given his 6'5", 205-pound frame, a future at tight end is probably in the cards for Breeland. He has a frame to build on and already displays impressive physicality in traffic and near the line of scrimmage.

Breeland possesses deceptive downfield speed, presenting matchup issues for linebackers. Formidable size and reach give him an edge on elevated passes against defensive backs.

His versatile skill set shines on highlight film, which can be seen on Hudl.com.

Viewed as one of Southern California's surprise standouts of the 2013 season, Breeland's stock steadily rose throughout the fall. He led Trabuco Hills with 36 receptions for 753 yards and 11 touchdowns, per MaxPreps.

His yards-per-catch average (20.9) is a strong indication of legitimate playmaking abilities. Breeland eclipsed the 100-yard mark in three of 10 games, finishing his junior campaign with a season-high 139 receiving yards and two touchdowns in a 21-17 victory over San Clemente.

He has Division I football in his family history. Garrett Breeland, his father, played linebacker at USC and was selected by the Los Angeles Rams in the 1986 NFL draft.

The Ducks were the first team to offer Breeland, who seems content to close the book on his recruitment.

"I won't be taking any other visits. This is it for me," he told 247Sports. "I'll be back for my official visit in September during my bye but that will be it."

Breeland joins 4-star California offensive lineman Zach Okun in Oregon's 2015 class.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Jacob Breeland Commits to Oregon: Ducks Land 6'5" TE Recruit

The Oregon Ducks secured a commitment from under-the-radar Southern California tight end Jacob Breeland on Tuesday, giving the team two prospects in its 2015 recruiting class...

Read the full article on Bleacher Report...

Breaking Down the Latest in Alabama's QB Battle

Spring practice is underway at Alabama and the battle to replace AJ McCarron is heating up. Redshirt senior QB Blake Sims is in Tuscaloosa with the Crimson Tide, but Florida State transfer Jacob Coker will arrive in the summer and is expected to win the starting job. 

Replacing McCarron is no small task. Nick Saban is looking for a QB that will minimize mistakes and get the ball to the Crimson Tide's playmakers. Sims has an opportunity to show Nick Saban and Lane Kiffin he has what it takes to lead the Tide in the spring, but Coker might be a better option come summer. 

Check out Matt Scalici from AL.com break down the latest in the Alabama QB battle with Adam Lefkoe


Highlights courtesy of XOs Digital

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Tennessee Moving Season Opener to Sunday Night Great Move for Program

Tennessee already had a tricky opponent on the schedule for Week 1, and the Vols have decided that they're going to step into the spotlight for that matchup in front of a curious audience.

The Vols announced on Tuesday that their Week 1 matchup with Utah State at Neyland Stadium in Knoxville will be pushed back one day to Sunday, Aug. 31, and will kick off at 7 p.m. on the new SEC Network.

"The atmosphere and energy in Knoxville will be unrivaled," head coach Butch Jones said in a release from Tennessee. "We're also excited about being one of the schools featured on the first weekend of SEC Network football telecasts, and we are looking forward to this tremendous opportunity."

Good move for Tennessee?

No, it's a great move.

The SEC Network will show at least six games on opening weekend, including two on Thursday, Aug. 28 (Texas A&M vs. South Carolina and Temple vs. Vanderbilt), and SEC Nation, the SEC Network's "GameDay clone," will originate from Auburn on Saturday, Aug. 30 before the Tigers host Arkansas.

Opening weekend combined with the launch of the SEC Network on Aug. 14 has allowed the SEC to own opening weekend and create a four-day football festival across the Southeast.

Not only will Tennessee be a part of that festival, it'll now be a featured part in prime time on Sunday night against an opponent that can absolutely spring the upset.

Utah State isn't a power, but the Aggies are tricky.

They should get electric quarterback Chuckie Keeton back after an ACL tear ended his 2013 season prematurely. SEC fans remember the Aggies from their near-upset of then-defending national champion Auburn in the season-opener in 2011, but they've also topped Utah, taken Wisconsin and USC to the wire, and beaten a ranked Louisiana Tech team over the last three seasons.

They're not a pushover by any means, and a good performance by the Vols should resonate across the country. 

Is it a risk?

Sure it is. The first two games on Tennessee's schedule should be considered "tricky," as both Utah State and Arkansas State will make the trek to Rocky Top.

But this Tennessee team needs to know about itself before hitting the meat of its schedule, when it travels to Norman, Okla., in Week 3. Creating a big-game atmosphere on the opening weekend—even if that's a bit of a stretch—will benefit this young Vols team that will play Oklahoma, Georgia, Florida, Ole Miss, Alabama and South Carolina this season.

It needs to be ready, and Utah State on a Sunday night in front of a national audience (and yes, it will be a national audience on the SEC Network once carriage deals are completed) will provide Jones an opportunity to find out a lot about his team.


*Barrett Sallee is the lead SEC college football writer for Bleacher Report. 


Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Ex-Michigan Safety Josh Furman Will Transfer to Oklahoma State

Oklahoma State has picked up a much-needed addition—and that may be putting it lightly—to the back end of its secondary. Former Michigan safety Josh Furman, who is on track to graduate this spring and should be eligible to play in 2014, confirmed on Twitter that he is transferring to OSU.

Furman, who was conspicuously absent from the online roster Michigan posted this spring, made the confirmation after being asked directly by Jimmie Tramel of the Tulsa World:

Last year's Cowboys defense was stronger than any of Mike Gundy's tenure, finishing No. 6 in the country in the Football Outsiders F/+ ratings. However, it loses both starting safeties—Daytawion Lowe and Shamiel Gary—to graduation, and oft-used backup Lyndell Johnson was reportedly kicked off the team this offseason.

Furman was a Week 1 starter for Michigan last season, finishing the year with three total starts. He made 32 appearances, mostly in a reserve and special teams capacity, during his three active years in Ann Arbor, but the size of his role was in question heading into 2014, which may have played a part in his decision to transfer.

According to Nick Baumgardner of MLive.com, the Wolverines started sophomore Delano Hill, who has only made one game appearance (as a reserve linebacker) in his college career, at one of their safety spots during last Saturday's spring game.

It's hard to gauge exactly how their secondary will shape until 5-star recruit Jabrill Peppers arrives this summer, but the Wolverines aren't oozing depth at the position.

The experience of Furman will be missed.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Odds on Where 5-Star WR George Campbell Lands at Next Level

George Campbell, the No. 1 WR in the 2015 class, is sure to have an impact wherever he lands. The 6'3", 184-pound athlete has the physical talent and technique to make any offense in the country better. 

Campbell had previously committed to Brady Hoke and the Michigan Wolverines, but he decommitted last December. Do the Wolverines still have a chance to bring in Campbell? Clemson is also in the running. After losing a lot of star power to the NFL draft in 2014, can the Tigers reload their roster in 2015 with the supremely talented Campbell?

Check out Adam Kramer break down the odds on where George Campbell will play at the next level. 


Highlights courtesy of XOs Digital.

Rankings from 247 Sports Composite

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Notre Dame Football: Comparing Everett Golson and Malik Zaire

SOUTH BEND, Ind. — Notre Dame has not named a starting quarterback. Everett Golson and Malik Zaire are jockeying for that position.

Seems simple enough, right?

Who knows when a starter will be named, but let’s dig into the quarterback competition and break down both Golson and Zaire in a variety of categories to try to gain a clearer picture of the position battle.


*All quotes obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted.

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Florida Football: 5 Players to Watch in Gators' Spring Game

We are just a few days away from the Florida Gators spring game and finally being able to see firsthand what these coaches have been talking about for the last couple of weeks.

If you’re no stranger to spring ball, you’ll know that coaches tend to brag about a lot of their players throughout camp, but it’s sometimes a different story when they take the field in live action.

That’s why the spring game is so important. It gives everybody a chance to display what they’ve been working on in a game-like atmosphere.

Let’s see what the freshman cornerback is truly capable of, how the quarterback looks and if a particular defensive lineman is really ready for an expanded role.

Here are some of the Florida Gators you should really be watching during this year’s spring game. 

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USC Football: Former 5-Star Chris Hawkins Ready to Take Charge in Secondary

USC's secondary is chock full of talent, and the coaches in Troy have been waiting for the next athlete to step up and assert himself as a playmaker. Through four weeks of spring ball, redshirt freshman cornerback Chris Hawkins has risen to the occasion.

With new secondary coach Keith Heyward having an objective eye for his stock, essentially every healthy athlete in the defensive backs corps has had equal opportunity to impress. That's especially important for the corner spot opposite Josh Shaw, which will likely be filled by way of competition. So far, Hawkins is proving that he's ready to live up to his highly touted status out of high school.

And this year, the coaches are definitely paying attention.

"He made a play," Heyward told FoxSports.com's Rahshaun Haylock after Saturday's scrimmage, referring to an interception the cornerback made. "I'm trying to find playmakers."  

Hawkins came into USC as a 5-star talent, but by no choice of his own, he ended up watching the 2013 season from the sidelines instead of participating.

When Anthony Brown got injured before USC's game against Hawaii, Hawkins thought he was going to be chosen to replace Brown. Instead, former defensive coordinator Clancy Pendergast called on Devian Shelton, and Hawkins knew then that the decision to redshirt had been made for him.

As fate would have it, Shelton only appeared in that one game for USC and has yet to make any significant contributions since. 

The old regime may have overlooked his immediate value to the team, but Hawkins is making sure to avoid a similar outcome this spring. So far, it seems to be working.

Defensive coordinator Justin Wilcox sung the cornerback's praises after Saturday's scrimmage:

Because he's performing so well, Hawkins is a legitimate threat to dethrone Kevon Seymour, who really improved and impressed during the second half of the 2013 season. Hawkins has the pedigree to be a regular starter and a desire to prove that he can live up to the reputation with which he came to USC.

Hawkins elaborated to Haylock about what his goals are for the spring:

I made it a point to send a message on the first day (of spring practice) that this is not the 17-year-old kid anymore. This isn't the young one, the little one. I'm still a pup but I wanted to make it clear...I'm here and I'm here to stay.

During next week's spring game, Hawkins will really have his time to shine. It will be in his best interest to leave a lasting impression on the coaches, as the competition during the fall is only going to intensify when USC's loaded 2014 signing class arrives on campus. After all, 5-star DB/WR Adoree' Jackson is coming, and he won't be denied.

Hawkins needs to use these remaining spring practices to show that he has star quality and to prove that the secondary needs him to be successful. 

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

USC Football: Former 5-Star Chris Hawkins Ready to Take Charge in Secondary

USC's secondary is chock full of talent, and the coaches in Troy have been waiting for the next athlete to step up and assert himself as a playmaker...

Read the full article on Bleacher Report...

4 Unanswered Questions Heading into Georgia's Spring Practice

There are only a few days before the Georgia Bulldogs hit the field for their annual spring game. And for the most part, fans know what to expect from players like Hutson Mason, Todd Gurley, Ramik Wilson and Amarlo Herrera.

They also know young players like Brice Ramsey, Faton Bauta, J.J. Green and Tim Kimbrough will have a chance to make a name for themselves before the regular season begins.

But there are a few questions heading into the spring game that need to be answered when the Bulldogs take the field for fall camp.

Here’s a look at four unanswered questions heading into G-Day.

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Michigan Football: Top Performers from the Michigan Spring Game

Fans watched the Michigan football team go through its final workout at Michigan Stadium, but those expecting a game left disappointed.

Earlier in the week Brady Hoke had announced that the spring “game” would consist of a typical practice followed by a scrimmage between the offense and defense. No score was kept and, in a bid to minimize potential injuries, special teams were not part of the proceedings.

But for a fan base still smarting from last season’s 7-6 start, the chance to see Michigan back on the field was a welcome sight.

Many were eager to see the new offense installed by Doug Nussmeier but instead saw some of the same problems that plagued the team last season—interceptions and a porous offensive line.

Despite the limited format of the scrimmage, the performance of some players gave fans hope that Michigan is in the midst of rebounding from last season’s November collapse.

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5 Unanswered Questions Heading into Penn State's Spring Game

Although James Franklin has gotten off to a tremendous start as Penn State's new head coach, there are still some issues he needs to sort out.

For the most part, the Nittany Lions are in good shape. They return an uber-talented quarterback, are loaded with offensive weapons to accommodate him and have some experience on defense as well. 

Nevertheless, there's still a fair share of question marks floating around. From offensive line depth to special teams concerns, Franklin will utilize the 2014 spring game as a way to assess some of the dilemmas that need solving.  

Here are five unanswered questions heading into Penn State's spring game. 

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Why D'haquille Williams Will Take Gus Malzahn's Auburn Offense to the Next Level

Auburn receivers coach Dameyune Craig quickly built a reputation as a top-notch talent-acquisition specialist, having helped reel in players such as quarterback Jameis Winston at Florida State.

So when Craig says a player is a once-in-a-lifetime talent, it’s worth taking note.

That’s precisely what Craig said of D’haquille Williams—rated by 247Sports as the No. 1 junior college transfer in the nation.

Williams quickly became a crown jewel in Auburn’s 2014 signing class, immediately eliciting comparisons to the impact Cordarrelle Patterson had in his one year at Tennessee.

With Williams in the fray, AL.com’s Brandon Marcello reported that Craig has expressed this year’s Auburn receiving corps could potentially be the best in the nation.

For defenses that couldn’t slow down Gus Malzahn’s attack in the first year, the idea of tremendous improvement in Year 2 should be terrifying.

Receiver Sammie Coates, who emerged as Auburn’s go-to target in 2013, returns after finishing with 902 receiving yards and seven touchdowns.  

Now Coates has a running mate who could supplant him as the most dangerous threat in the offense.

It took no time for Williams to draw praise from teammates.

“D’haquille is probably going to be a great player for us this year,” safety Jermaine Whitehead said to AL.com after the second day of spring practice. “He reminds me a lot of Sammie. He can get vertical fast. He also likes to put his foot in the ground and make plays across the field.”

Williams won’t be the only reason for Auburn’s improved passing game.

Because of his breakout season in 2013, it’s easy to forget that quarterback Nick Marshall is now halfway through his first spring practice under Malzahn.

Marshall didn’t enroll at Auburn until summer 2013, meaning he didn’t practice with the program until August.

He quickly claimed the starting position.

However, Tigers coaches quickly realized the need to play to the team’s strengths.

Marshall didn’t have enough reps in Malzahn’s offense to develop fully as a passer, and the Tigers young receivers needed more time to mature.

The result was a reliance on tailback Tre Mason and the run game—including Marshall’s ability to tuck the ball and make defenses pay for focusing too much attention on Mason.

Now Marshall has time to jell with a more seasoned crew, headlined by another big-impact junior college transfer in Williams.

Marshall and Malzahn both like what they’ve seen so far.

Despite enormous expectations surrounding Williams, he is apparently focusing on the little things that make all the difference to Malzahn.

“I just have to adjust to the fast-paced offense,” Williams said to Phillip Marshall of AuburnTigers.com after his second practice. “We ran no-huddle in junior college, but it wasn’t this fast.”

Malzahn declared to AL.com that he wants to press down harder on the gas in Year 2 than he did during his initial season as head coach at Auburn, which yielded an SEC Championship.

Having a talent who lives up to the considerable hype Craig placed on Williams would put Malzahn’s offense on the same level as Oregon’s or Baylor’s.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com