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10 College Football Rivalry Games That Won't Even Be Close in 2014

College football and its ever-increasing popularity can be boiled down to its biggest draw—rivalries. Most of the memorable moments happen in these games, just ask Alabama, Notre Dame or Oklahoma what a loss in a rivalry game can do to your season. 

While the insane finishes get all of the attention, sometimes it's a blowout victory in a rivalry game that also propels a team to greatness. It wasn't until Florida State blew out Clemson and Miami (FL) in two games in a three week span that its national title dreams became cemented in reality. 

So, as 2014 inches ever closer, which rivalry games will end up as blowouts? Who could propel themselves with a statement game? 

Let's take a look at the 10 rivalry games most likely to end in a lopsided score this season. 

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Texas A&M Football: Why Speedy Noil Is the Aggies' Spring MVP

The story of the Texas A&M football team during spring practice was supposed to be the competition at quarterback to replace Johnny Manziel. Instead, the highlight of the spring was the strong play of true freshman receiver Speedy Noil. 

The No. 1 ranked wide receiver in the country in the 2014 class wasted no time in showing off his skills in College Station. Noil played quarterback, wide receiver and running back in high school but has impressed with how polished his route running is.

The 5'11", 180-pound receiver looks like a junior or senior on the field, not an 18-year-old who should be finishing the spring semester of his senior year in high school right now. He is physically ready to be an impact player in college immediately.

Noil's surprising strength was evident during a session of the Oklahoma drill in spring practice. He pancaked sophomore cornerback Tavares Garner on two of three snaps. Not exactly what you expect from a high school quarterback.

Noil led Edna Karr High School in New Orleans to a state championship as a junior and an appearance in the state finals as a senior. His explosive speed and waterbug-like elusiveness made him a force to be reckoned with on offense and special teams.

Noil has consistently been able to create separation from Aggies defensive backs and get open in practices and scrimmages. He makes tremendous ankle-breaking cuts in space and is, arguably, already the most elusive player on the Aggies roster. 

When a freshman enters a college football program, a period of transition is expected. A freshman football player has to deal with being away from home for an extended period of time, along with the new academic and athletic pressures in their life. That is why it is common for freshmen to redshirt while they acclimate to their new surroundings. 

That is not the case with Noil. He came in and immediately stakes his claim to being one of the top receivers on the roster. If the season started today, Noil would be one of the starting receivers who would take the field for the opening offensive snap. 

Because of his size and speed, Noil will be able to play in the slot and outside for the Aggies. He will also return kickoffs and may see some time returning punts. 

In Noil and sophomore receiver Laquvionte Gonzalez, the Aggies have two dynamic young receivers who need the ball in their hands. Aggies fans should expect to see Noil put in motion to receive the "push pass" that Tavon Austin made popular at West Virginia, and the Aggies ran with Gonzalez on multiple occasions in 2013.

The Aggies coaches will try to get the ball into Noil's hand in every way possible in 2014. It is one thing for a freshman to light it up during practice, and another for him to deliver when the lights are on in front of 80,000 fans.

However, Noil's athleticism is undeniable. He will be among the Aggies' leaders in receptions and receiving yards as a true freshman. Aggies fans should expect a 40-catch, 600-yard season out of him. If he does not have a special teams touchdown in 2014, that will be a monumental surprise.

Noil dominated spring practice with his athleticism and surprising polish as a wide receiver. Texas A&M fans should be excited about everything this youngster will bring to the table for the next three or four years.  

 

 

 

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What Jimbo Fisher Needs to See from Jameis Winston, 'Noles in Spring Game

With great success comes great expectations, and with great expectations come unrealistic demands; and after last year's 14-0 season and BCS national championship, that is the exact position Florida State fans find themselves in before the annual Garnet & Gold Game this weekend.

With Jameis Winston, Karlos Williams, Nick O'Leary, Rashad Greene and four of five offensive linemen returning and an influx of blue-chip skill players coming in, the offense is expected to pick up right where it left off in 2014. Starting with the spring game on Saturday afternoon, nothing other than a similar mode of success will be accepted.

This is both fair and unfair. Fair because, realistically, there is no reason the offense should be worse than last season, despite the losses of Kelvin Benjamin, Kenny Shaw, Devonta Freeman and Bryan Stork. FSU fans are right to expect another dominant unit in the fall.

It's unfair to expect such quick cohesion, however, especially in the passing game. Having lost probably his two favorite targets from a season ago, Winston can (but won't) be forgiven if he struggles with things such as timing and rhythm on Saturday.

What Jimbo Fisher and the staff need to see from Winston is simple: that he cares. If he misses a couple of throws he would have made last season, there will be stories written about baseball screwing up his mechanics—but stories like that would be farcical.

We know that his arm will be fine.

All that really matters is that he comes out and plays with his normal joie de vivre. He needs to play hard but have fun; he needs to basically be...well, Jameis.

Elsewhere on the offense, it's fair to say Mario Pender needs to play well. Williams will be the starter and the closest thing to a workhorse next season, but Fisher likes to split his tailback touches evenly, as noted in this mid-February piece by David Hale of ESPN.com.

It's a shame, for the larger body of Seminoles, that sophomore Ryan Green and early enrollee Dalvin Cook Jr. suffered injuries this spring and will have to miss the scrimmage. But for Pender, a former blue-chipper himself who has the potential to contribute if he ever screws his head on straight, Saturday will be an opportune moment.

At receiver, Fisher needs to see at least one player not named "Greene" to step up and prove he will contribute in 2014.

It's not the end of the world if the spring roster isn't deep at the position, as freshmen Ermon Lane and Travis Rudolph will enter the mix this fall—which should yield at least one (and maybe even two) instant-impact players. It would be a problem, however, if those guys needed to contribute in year one, instead of it being a luxury.

Names to watch on Saturday include Christian Green and Isaiah Jones on the outside and Levonte "Kermit" Whitfield, Jesus "Bobo" Wilson and Jarred "Scooter" Haggins in the slot.

On defense, Fisher can expect to see a changing of the guard, of sorts, with respect to leadership roles.

Starting at the top with new coordinator Charles Kelly, who replaces Jeremy Pruitt, and continuing through the roster now that guys such as Lamarcus Joyner, Timmy Jernigan, Telvin Smith and Christian Jones are departed, FSU's defense is looking for a new voice of command.

One candidate for the role might be sophomore defensive back Jalen Ramey, who last year became the first Seminole since Deion Sanders to start as a true freshman at cornerback (before eventually making the switch to safety and continuing to play well).

He's been moved all around the defense during camp and should continue to be in the spring game and even come fall, but it's his leadership that Fisher wants to see improve. After the Seminoles' second scrimmage, Ramsey spoke with reporters about those skills, saying he's a quiet guy by nature—a leader by example—but he knows he must improve as an oral force if this team wants to get better:

I feel like I need to step up in (the leadership) area. I'm not really a vocal person, I just go out there and do it myself. I first have to make sure I do my job—to lead by example more then I do vocally.

But after that, yeah, I feel like I should step up a little more vocally. And I feel like I do at times.

Beyond that, Fisher needs to see a group of former blue-chip recruits take the next step. That process starts on the defensive line with Mario Edwards and Eddie Goldman, who played well in spots last season but are now being counted on as every-down, high-motor anchors.

The same thing goes at linebacker, actually. Terrance Smith returns, but Ukeme Eligwe and Matthew Thomas—the latter of whom was the No. 8 overall player on the 247Sports composite in 2013—must eventually, by the start of next season, turn athletic potential into consistent production to alleviate the losses of Jones and Smith.

Do they have to show that in earnest by Saturday's spring game? No. Not really. There is still time for Fisher and Kelly to drill them.

But, at the very least, Eligwe and Thomas must show some flashes.

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What Mark Richt Needs to See from QB Hutson Mason in Georgia's Spring Game

Georgia's offense isn't exactly full of holes, but the one left by former quarterback Aaron Murray is gaping.

Luckily for head coach Mark Richt and offensive coordinator Mike Bobo, they have a veteran to rely on.

Redshirt senior Hutson Mason will do his best "D.J. Shockley" impression and take the reigns from a legend. Shockley's one and only season as Georgia's starting quarterback in 2005 ended well, as he led the Bulldogs to the SEC Championship and an appearance in the Sugar Bowl.

Can Mason do the same? 

With running back Todd Gurley, a host of wide receivers and a coach in Bobo who he's worked with for the last four years, Mason certainly has the foundation to do so.

But he still has work to do, and needs to show how much he's progressed between the hedges in this Saturday's spring game in Athens.

What does Richt need to see?

 

Accuracy

Mason completed 57.3 percent (43-of-75) of his passes as the starting quarterback in Georgia's final two games of the season, for 619 yards, three touchdowns and two interceptions. In those games, he struggled to get in the flow at times, which put his team behind the eightball.

The bright side for Richt is that Mason led his team back to a dramatic double overtime win over Georgia Tech to close out the regular season, and led his team downfield in the Gator Bowl on potential go-ahead drives in the fourth quarter against Nebraska, before two drops in each drive sent those to screeching halts.

In an offense like Georgia's, which is predicated on establishing the run and a quarterback using play action off that, accuracy is vital. Mason needs to complete around 65 percent of his passes for Georgia to be a true national title contender.

If he can do that, then the offense will be fine. With Gurley and all those weapons around him, all he has to be is a caretaker for Georgia's offense to move the ball. If he can evolve into a difference-maker, that's a bonus.

 

Finding that Go-To Guy

Georgia has plenty of wide receivers for Mason to choose from, and he needs to find at least one that he knows he can rely on in key situations.

For Murray that player was Michael Bennett, and the senior could play the same role for Mason this season. But fellow senior Chris Conley, the speedy Reggie Davis and last year's spring superstar, Jonathon Rumph, are all vying for playing time this spring. 

Bennett and Conley are the favorites. As a junior last season, Bennett caught 41 passes for 538 yards and four touchdowns, while missing two-and-a-half games in the middle of the season with a knee injury. Conley led the Bulldogs last season with 45 catches for 651 yards and four touchdowns.

If Mason can connect with just one of those guys, then he'll be able to hit the ground running during fall camp when Malcolm Mitchell and Justin Scott-Wesley both get back to full speed from their ACL injuries.

 

Comfort in the Pocket

Georgia has been mixing and matching some pieces along the offensive line this spring. Hopefully for Richt and Bobo, those pieces have settled in. 

David Andrews is entrenched at center and John Theus and Kolton Houston each have experience at offensive tackle. Those three need to be comfortable in the checks at the line, which are so prominent in Bobo's offense. 

At the guard spots, Watts Dantzler, Mark Beard, Greg Pyke, Brandon Kublanow and Zach DeBell all are vying for playing time, according to the Red & Black. 

Whoever emerges as starters, Mason has to know that he's protected and that everybody is on the same page before the snap. A lot of that is on Andrews making the proper reads. But if Mason loses faith in his offensive line, he's going to struggle.

Richt doesn't need Mason to be a star, he needs Mason to be effective.

If he proves on spring's biggest stage that he's progressed from his limited time last year as the starter, Georgia could be in for a big season in 2014 with Mason at the helm.

 

Barrett Sallee is the lead SEC college football writer for Bleacher Report. All statistics are courtesy of CFBStats.com. 

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What State Court Questioning NCAA Penalties in Sandusky Case Means for PSU

With the Commonwealth Court, led by Judge Anne E. Covey, beginning to question the validity of the NCAA's consent decree, Penn State can sit in the background and watch the fight. A battle that Penn State's board of trustees considered waging in 2012 appears ready to take place without the university placed squarely in the cross hairs of controversy.

In August 2012, the board of trustees appeared poised to fire back at the NCAA, an action that would have made Penn State the football-hungry villain. Instead, the board elected to simply take the hand the NCAA dealt and move on with the sanctions.

Now, as The Morning Call reports, the Commonwealth Court might take the steps the board would not. The court voted 6-1 to uphold a law passed by the Pennsylvania Legislature in 2013 that would require the NCAA to spend the money from the fines levied against the Nittany Lions in Pennsylvania, not distribute it to other states.

During that process, Covey looked into the language regarding the consent decree and pointed out that ordinarily the NCAA would not take action in this instance and that "the NCAA involved itself." Her ruling opened the doors for state Sen. Jake Corman to continue pushing against college athletics' governing body. As Corman told the Centre Daily Times:

"I’ve always been uncomfortable with the way the NCAA handed this consent decree on Penn State and the process they went through to do it," Corman said. "Now that (the court) brought Penn State into the case and that they’re not sure that the whole consent decree is valid or constitutional, that’s an area that wasn’t part of our original lawsuit but clearly an area we want to explore now that the court has opened the possibility to do so."

Obviously, the NCAA is on the opposite side, pushing against the ruling that is not only forcing them to keep the fines obtained from Penn State in Pennsylvania. Now, with Covey's decision, the NCAA finds itself facing another legal battle that arose out of nowhere. It is fighting to prove that the organization was within its power to levy sanctions upon the Nittany Lions program.

Meanwhile, Penn State—and all those associated with the university and the program—sits on the sidelines and watches Corman ready himself for battle against the NCAA. The Nittany Lions can hunker down, working to demonstrate compliance to the NCAA to regain lost benefits. All while hoping Corman's lawsuit strikes down the sanctions.

The most recent questioning of the consent decree does not change Penn State's footing; it simply means someone may be fighting for the university without those closer to the program being involved.

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Ex-Georgia DB Josh Harvey-Clemons Will Reportedly Transfer to Louisville

Louisville rehired a coach, Bobby Petrino, with character concerns this offseason, and that coach appears to have landed a talented safety with similar misgivings.

According to Mike Hughes of InsideTheVille.com (subscription required), the grandfather of former Georgia safety Josh Harvey-Clemons said his grandson plans on transferring to play for the Cardinals after being dismissed from UGA this offseason.

Harvey-Clemons was a 5-star recruit and the No. 20 overall prospect in the 247Sports composite rankings in 2012, and he showed flashes of reaching that potential during his time in Athens. Recruited as an outside linebacker, he stands 6'5" (which is huge for a safety) and plays a Kam Chancellor-type role inside the box.

His occasional struggles in coverage, however, are well-documented and reared their ugly head on the Hail Mary against Auburn in 2013:

Harvey-Clemons got into all sorts of off-field trouble at Georgia, mostly for drug-related incidents. He was suspended for the 2014 Gator Bowl and first three games of next season (before being dismissed) by head coach Mark Richt for a "violation of team regulations," per Chip Towers of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

If the reports are true, Harvey-Clemons will now reunite with former defensive coordinator Todd Grantham, who left Georgia to join Petrino at Louisville this offseason. The Cardinals had two of the best safeties in the country—Calvin Pryor and Hakeem Smith—a season ago but are stripped of similar talent on the current roster.

If he's (finally) able to figure out the best way to use Harvey-Clemons, Grantham will get a major and much-needed upgrade on the back end of his defense.

Due to NCAA transfer rules, however, Harvey-Clemons will have to sit out this season before gaining eligibility in 2015.

 

Follow Brian Leigh on Twitter: @BLeighDAT

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2017 ATH Recruit Darnay Holmes Has NFL Genes, Talks Ohio State Visit

Ohio State welcomed intriguing Class of 2017 prospect Darnay Holmes to campus Wednesday. The Newbury Park High School (Calif.) freshman toured facilities with 7-on-7 teammate Keyshawn Johnson Jr. and former NFL star Keyshawn Johnson Sr., forming a high-profile trio of visitors.

Holmes, a 5'11", 180-pound speedster, also comes from a family filled with football pedigree. His father, Darick Holmes, spent five seasons in the NFL as a running back with Buffalo, Green Bay and Indianapolis.

Older brother Darick Holmes Jr., a 2015 running back recruit, committed to Arizona last month. His cousin Desean Holmes is a 4-star 2015 wide receiver with offers from USC, Cal, Oklahoma and UCLA.

The trip to Columbus was the latest development in Holmes' burgeoning collegiate recruitment, as he continues to carve out a name for himself. He doesn't yet hold an offer from Ohio State but admits the program ranks highly in his eyes for several reasons.

"It has a great tradition, good academics and will always be in the national championship hunt," Holmes said.

Though an offer from head coach Urban Meyer didn't come during his visit, Holmes managed to add another collegiate option Wednesday night.

He and Johnson Jr. each received offers from Louisville. His scholarship list also includes Arizona, UCLA, Tennessee and Utah.

Holmes visits Clemson on Thursday with the Johnsons, presenting another opportunity to expand his horizons as a young prospect.

He departed Columbus with a strong indication of how Meyer conducts things at Ohio State.

"He's a great coach," Holmes said. "He tells players how he feels, doesn't sugar coat it. Very hyped practice."

Expect his recruitment to expand moving forward, with physical maturity and family genes playing pivotal factors in heavy college interest. His athleticism sets the stage for progression at a variety of positions, particularly defensive back and receiver.

 

All quotes obtained firsthand by Bleacher Report unless otherwise noted.

Thanks to B/R's Adam Donaldson for his contributions to this story.

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Keyshawn Johnson Jr. Opens Up on Ohio State Visit: 'It's a Good Fit for Me'

Keyshawn Johnson Jr. is just a freshman, but a flurry of early scholarship offers have quickly accelerated his recruiting process. The Southern California wide receiver spent Wednesday at Ohio State with his father, former NFL Pro Bowler Keyshawn Johnson Sr.

They watched Buckeyes coaches and players go about their business on the practice field and in meetings. It gave Ohio State head coach Urban Meyer an opportunity to showcase his program for the suddenly coveted Mission Viejo High School standout.

"I loved the atmosphere," Johnson Jr. told Bleacher Report. "It's a good fit for me."

His father also approved.

"Urban Meyer is a guy you can trust with your kid," he said.

Johnson Sr., who finished his professional career with 814 receptions for 10,571 yards and 64 touchdowns, played for Super Bowl champions Bill Parcells and Jon Gruden during an 11-year stay in the NFL. His admiration for Meyer was apparent after the visit to Columbus.

"Urban Meyer is a kind of guy I could play for," he said. "If you can't play for Urban Meyer, Ohio State isn't for you."

Johnson Jr. didn't play varsity football last season for the Diablos, though he turned heads at the freshman level and also participates in the 7-on-7 circuit. He was accompanied Wednesday by Darnay Holmes, a fellow California prospect on Team 19, which features Johnson Sr. as a coach.

Offers have poured in for Johnson Jr. in recent weeks. Ohio State, Florida State, SMU, Utah, Arizona State, Tennessee, Miami, West Virginia and UCLA each extended scholarships since March 20, making him one of the hottest Class of 2017 targets.

The 6'1", 180-pound playmaker added Louisville to that list Wednesday night, when both he and Holmes received offers from the Cardinals. As his collegiate opportunities continue to mount, Johnson Jr. views Ohio State as a strong option.

He was particularly impressed by the way Meyer orchestrates practice.

"He's very straightforward. Tells you if you're good, tells you if you're bad," he said. "What impressed me the most was how hard they worked, how hyped they were. Not a lot of other schools like that, that I have visited."

Johnson Jr., who recently spent time at Arizona and Arizona State, is slated to visit Clemson Thursday. An offer from the Tigers could be in the cards.

There's a long road ahead for the receiver in his recruitment. Multiple seasons with Mission Viejo's varsity football squad separate Johnson Jr. from signing day 2017 and a college career.

His father starred during two seasons at USC before becoming the No. 1 pick in the 1996 NFL draft. Johnson Sr. is now an established television analyst on ESPN.

The father-son duo are sure to spend substantial time on campuses across the country in coming years. Their Ohio State visit provided an early highlight.

"I was impressed with Ohio State's coaching staff, Urban Meyer, and Buckeye Nation," Johnson Sr. said.

 

All quotes obtained firsthand by Bleacher Report unless otherwise noted.

Thanks to B/R's Adam Donaldson for his contributions to story.

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Complete Previews for Week Two of College Football Spring Games

Welcome to the heart of the spring football season.

This weekend features by far the most spring games of any on the calendar with 54, including 30 of the 64 teams from power conferences (31 of 65 if you count Notre Dame) and 20 of the 39 teams that finished last season with nine or more wins.

To further illustrate the point, take a look at this: Last weekend, we previewed the 12 best games on the schedule and ended up including SMU and Bowling Green. This weekend, we're previewing the 20 best games but ended up omitting West Virginia, Maryland, Minnesota, N.C. State and Central Florida, among many, many other quality programs.

The weekend is really that stacked.

Among those playing are the last two national title game participants from outside the state of Alabama, the reigning Sugar Bowl champion, the prohibitive Big Ten favorite and perhaps the best head coach who switched programs this offseason.

It's weird to say this in April, and it's admittedly wishful thinking, but we might be in store for an awesome weekend of football.

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Tennessee Head Coach Butch Jones Wise to Narrow QB Race in Spring

Tennessee will hold its spring game on Saturday, and apparently the quarterback race is narrowing leading into the event.

Head coach Butch Jonestold B/R last week that he hoped to narrow the quarterback competition among senior Justin Worley, sophomore Joshua Dobbs, sophomore Nathan Peterman and redshirt freshman Riley Ferguson to two before the end of spring practice.

Now, apparently, we know those two.

Butch Jones told reporters (via: Tennessee's Twitter account) on Thursday that Worley and Ferguson have been receiving more reps than Dobbs and Peterman, and that the reps will continue to be divided that way.

JONES (on QBs):We are balancing repetitions. Justin & Riley have taken more reps and they will continue to. Nate & Josh continue to progress

— Tennessee Football (@Vol_Football) April 10, 2014

It's a great move for Tennessee, because Jones couldn't afford to follow the same path as he did last season when the four-man battle lasted all the way to the final week of fall camp. Worley received more first-team snaps than the others as fall camp went on, but it was still a four-man battle that lasted far too long. That battle took snaps away from Worley, and he clearly was unsure of himself when the season started.

By narrowing it down now, it makes it more likely that both Worley and Ferguson will be as prepared as possible for that opener on Sunday, Aug. 31 versus Utah State.

Who's got the edge?

Jones was very complimentary of both in our conversation last week.

"Justin Worley has really improved greatly, from leadership to his ability to make all of the throws, particularly the deep balls," he said. "It's been great to get Riley Ferguson getting a volume of repetition. You know, Riley has an innate ability to create plays. I've been very encouraged."

Worley completed 55.6 percent of his passes last season (109-for-196), for 1,239 yards, 10 touchdowns and eight interceptions; but he was lost for the season in late October when he suffered a thumb injury versus Alabama.

Jones' comments last week suggest that he's comfortable with what Worley brings to the table, but thinks that Ferguson has more upside. 

For Ferguson, a former 3-star prospect from Matthews, N.C., getting a higher proportion of reps is huge for his development. If he can develop the consistency that Jones is looking for, he'll likely win the job. 

Can he do it?

That remains to be seen.

But now he has the chance, and it's more than the "one-in-a-million" chance Lloyd Christmas had in Dumb and Dumber.

 

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

 


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Will the Ohio State Buckeyes Land 5-Stars Christian Kirk and Torrance Gibson?

Ohio State landed one of the top 2014 recruiting classes and are already rolling on the 2015 class. Urban Meyer and the Buckeyes are heavily recruiting the No. 1 dual-threat quarterback Torrance Gibson and the No. 3 wide receiver Christian Krik

Both Gibson and Kirk have amazing playmaking abilities and are just the kind of athletes that Meyer favors. Gibson has the potential to take over the starting QB role for Braxton Miller in 2015, while Kirk would have an immediate impact on any offense. 

Check out Bill Kurelic from Bucknuts.com break down the latest on Urban Meyer's recruitment of 5-stars Torrance Gibson and Christian Kirk. 

 

Highlights courtesy of XOs Digital.

Player rankings from 247 Sports Composite

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Ole Miss Insider: OT Laremy Tunsil Most Physically Gifted in Rebel History

The Ole Miss Rebels are gearing up for what should be a very productive fall. Laden with talent all over the field, head coach Hugh Freeze is building a powerhouse down in Oxford, Miss.

Bleacher Report spoke with Ole Miss Spirit's Ben Garrett, who broke down which Rebel early enrollee has been must impressive this spring, the running back situation heading into the fall, and just how good sophomore OT Laremy Tunsil truly is.

What did he have to say about QB Bo Wallace?

Watch the video, and get all your Ole Miss insight heading into next season.

Highlights courtesy of xosdigital.com

 

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Missouri's Recruiting Roll Proves It Can Stay in the SEC East Discussion

If Missouri's magical run to the SEC East title wasn't enough, it's now recruiting like an SEC big boy too.

The Tigers have been on a recruiting roll in April, securing commitments of three 4-star prospects in the class of 2015.

The most recent prospect to commit to the Tigers is Drew Lock, a 6'5", 195-pound pro-style quarterback from Lee's Summit, Mo. Rated as the fifth-best prospect in the class, Lock has a big arm, is accurate downfield and can make throws on the run. He completed 199 of 331 passes for 3,062 yards, 35 touchdowns and seven interceptions as a junior for Lee's Summit Senior High School, and chose the Tigers over Tennessee and Ole Miss.

Staying close to home was important for Lock.

"My parents and grandparents would obviously cheer for me, but I do not think they would cheer for the school as well," he told 247Sports.com's Kipp Adams. "Going to Missouri, they would be cheering for me, but at the same time they would already want Missouri to win so bad.”

He's the icing on the April recruiting cake so far for Missouri head coach Gary Pinkel.

On Tuesday, Missouri got the commitment of a weapon for Lock to use in the future—4-star running back Natereace Strong. At 6'1", 210 pounds, Strong has the size to take the pounding between the tackles but is dangerous enough to be a weapon in space in that Missouri offense. The East St. Louis, Ill., native is rated as the nation's No. 14 running back and chose the Tigers over Florida State, Michigan State, Ohio State and others.

Earlier this month, Pinkel got the commitment of 6'4", 297-pound guard AJ Harris of Stilwell, Kan. Harris, the nation's 19th-ranked guard, had offers from Arkansas, Ohio State, Nebraska and others. 

This recent roll is a great sign for Missouri. Three likely contributors have committed to the program from three separate states, all in Missouri's region.

What does it mean? It means Missouri's success is resonating a bit.

The Tigers' run to the SEC Championship Game seemingly came out of nowhere, and they didn't have time to feel the recruiting effect from that in the recently completed cycle. The class of 2015, however, is a different story.

Those kids now know Missouri not as the "other expansion team" in the SEC; they know it as a champion. That's a big draw and could push Missouri over the top for kids within the region, especially if they want to move on to the NFL.

The SEC more than doubled its closest competitor in players drafted in the 2013 NFL draft, according to CBSSports.com's Chip Patterson. In that draft, either division would have led FBS conferences in players drafted. 

Is Missouri where it needs to be from a recruiting standpoint?

No. 

They're currently ninth in the SEC and 23rd in the country in the updated 247Sports team recruiting rankings. But it has a division title in its trophy case, a new identity in the nation's toughest football conference and momentum in the living room. 

That will go a long way towards keeping the program competitive in the SEC East.

 

* Barrett Sallee is the lead SEC college football writer for Bleacher Report. All recruiting information is courtesy of 247Sports.com.

 


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Steve Spurrier Ready for Run at SEC Title, but Not Before Golf Season

COLUMBIA, S.C. — South Carolina finishes up spring practice with its annual spring game on Saturday, and then the Gamecocks will enter the voluntary offseason workouts phase of their preparation for the 2014 season.

South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier will enter a different phase as well.

He calls it “golf season.”

“I don’t play at all during the football season,” Spurrier said. “So it’s my time to get out and enjoy golf, although I don’t play nearly as much as people seem to think I do.”

While other coaches brag about their around-the-clock work habits, Spurrier realizes the importance of down time.

It seems to work for him.

Spurrier will begin his 25th season as a college head coach with a record of 219-79-2, including a 77-39-0 record in nine seasons at South Carolina.

He’s only had one losing season, and that was his first one at Duke in 1987.

Apparently, he doesn’t lose much at golf, either.

Golf season for Spurrier begins just after the end of spring practice and carries on through most of the summer until the team reports in the fall.

Although he is not a member of Augusta National, he plays the course once a year as a guest of a member. This year, he’s bringing along Gamecock defensive coordinator Lorenzo Ward.

And then there is the ongoing “Spurrier challenge.” Any current player who wants to take Spurrier on in a round of golf is free to do so. The player gets one chance only.

He has never lost to a current player.

“My latest victim was [former Gamecock placekicker] Ryan Succop,” Spurrier said. “Of course he played on the golf team in high school, hits it about 300 yards. So we went out, I shot 77 that day and he shot 79. He triple bogeyed one of the par-three holes.

“Those guys get a little nervous when they’re playing the head coach.”

If Spurrier is nervous about the Gamecocks continuing their recent success, he doesn’t show it.

South Carolina has finished 11-2, including a bowl victory, and ranked in the top 10 each of the last three seasons.

It’s an unprecedented run of success for the Gamecocks, who prior to Spurrier’s arrival had one 10-victory season and three bowl victories to their credit in more than 100 years of football.

Has the wave crested? Can the Gamecocks keep it up, or even improve on what they’ve done? Can they win a conference championship? Compete for a national championship?

“That’s the next thing we haven’t done,” Spurrier said. “Winning the bowl games and finishing in the top 10 three years in a row, we’re proud of what we’ve done here. But we still want to win the SEC. If you win the SEC, you’ll be in the final four of the national championship playoff.”

Are the Gamecocks good enough?

“You never know until you start playing the games,” Spurrier said. “We lost a lot of key players in [quarterback] Connor Shaw and [wide receiver] Bruce Ellington and [defensive end] Jadeveon Clowney. But we’ve got some players coming back, so who knows how it’s going to be?”

The players are taking their cue from Spurrier.

“Of course the talent is here,” said junior tailback Mike Davis, who rushed for more than 1,000 yards last season. “We have a great quarterback in Dylan Thompson, talent at wide receiver, a lot of guys who stand out. We’ve got to see how it all looks in a game. You can never rule us out.”

Thompson, a fifth-year senior, gives the Gamecocks an experienced hand at quarterback.

“We’ve got a chance to be good, but a lot of teams right now have a chance to be good,” Thompson said. “At the same time, I think it’s really important what we do from right now until August 28th. We want to put in the work until then and focus on that.”

Neither Davis nor Thompson is likely to get much work in Saturday’s spring game, which will follow a casual format.

The game will be played in 12-minute quarters.

“The year before I got to Florida, they divided up into teams and had a steak and beans game,” Spurrier said. “Emmitt Smith carried 31 times in the spring game trying to win it for his team. We don’t do that.

“We’ll let the younger guys do most of the playing. It’s a chance for most of the young guys to show the coaches they can play. The defense will only rush four guys so hopefully we’ll get off some passes.”

The game will also feature what has become a spring game staple for Spurrier—a receiver stepping off the sideline to illegally catch a long pass.

“It’s going to be a little different this year,” Spurrier said. “It’s going to be a surprise. We have a surprise, celebrity catcher on the off-the-bench play.”

There’s one other note on the spring game. It begins at noon, and the clock will run continuously in the second half.

Chances are, the head ball coach has a tee time.

Unless otherwise indicated all quotes obtained first hand.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Ranking the Top 50 Sophomores Heading into the 2014 College Football Season

When it comes to college football players, there's a certain pecking order for hype bestowed on the various classes.

The junior class tends to get the most recognition, since it's loaded with the best of the draft-eligible standouts whom we expect to see playing on Sundays next year. That's followed by the seniors, the veteran unit that's stuck it out all four years and will be relied on for experience and leadership.

Next come the freshmen, a class full of promise and (often) overwhelmingly high expectations. Their exploits at the prep level are considered a blueprint for how they'll perform in college.

And that leaves us with the sophomores, collectively the least regarded of the classes, despite being home to the previous season's top first-year players. And that was a heck of a group in 2013, which makes the 2014 sophomore class one of the best in the game in some time.

Here's a look at the top 50 sophomores heading into the 2014 season.

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Boise State Football: 5 Players to Watch in Broncos' Spring Game

At 5 p.m. Saturday, April 12, the new look, new coached Boise State Broncos are hoping to break a spring scrimmage attendance record. Coach Bryan Harsin has been actively campaigning for a crowd of at least 20,000 to take over Bronco Stadium for the annual blue and orange spring game.

If that were to happen, it would be a tremendous accomplishment. However, even if the number was to fall a bit short, it should still be an exciting day on The Blue.

Boise State is in the process of installing a brand new offense and defense this spring, and although scaled down, this will be the first time the public will get a look at the progress.

In the midst of this transition, there are some key position battles brewing, and some new talent trying to impress. The spring game gives some of the key players a platform to show coaches and fans alike what they can do.

Let's look at five of the players who will be doing all they can to make waves on The Blue this Saturday.

 

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Big Ten Football: Will East Division Spending Spree Tilt Balance of Power?

When not considering whether players can unionize or the ramifications of the Rutgers and Maryland athletic departments joining the Big Ten this summer, a big portion of offseason news has focused on new coaching salaries. Seemingly all over the Big Ten, strike that, all over the East Division, head coaches and assistants are garnering huge paydays.

But does this more help the Big Ten keep up with the SEC, or does it more create a competitive disparity that will unbalance the new divisions over the next few years?

Hopefully, the West Division steps up and gives deserving coaches a big payday as well, especially following the new television contracts signed in a couple years. That would moot this potential issue.

But count me among the "hesitant to believe it" camp when it comes to increased spending. If an athletic department can find a way to pinch a penny to blow that dollar somewhere else, it will.

So let's take a look at some of the top salaries in the Big Ten as of 2014, and where that leaves the balance of competitive power between the new divisions.

 

East Division

Michigan State likely made the biggest waves of the offseason in salary news by giving Mark Dantonio a huge pay increase up to $3.7 million. Dantonio has stayed loyal to East Lansing for almost a decade, and his proven success of double-digit wins in three of the last four seasons speaks for itself.

Plus, winning the first Rose Bowl since 1984 and finishing in the top three in the country certainly doesn't hurt when your school has to compete against the image of being a "little brother" to Michigan and perhaps even to Ohio State. That provides a huge interest boost in the football program and sells more season tickets, which leads to a pay bump.

But the size of the pay bump was notable, as Dantonio made less than $2 million in 2013. His old salary would have made him the lowest-paid coach in the SEC (Mark Stoops, $2.2 million at Kentucky, for the record), but his new salary puts him among the elite coaches nationwide. Dantonio would now be close in salary to elite SEC coaches like Guz Malzahn and Steve Spurrier, for example.

In the Big Ten, the pay increase puts Dantonio fifth overall in planned compensation (although Brady Hoke is only higher because he is receiving deferred salary now).

He is now firmly entrenched in the $3 million-plus club, which includes six B1G coaches: Urban Meyer ($4.8 million), Brady Hoke ($4.3 million), Kirk Ferentz ($4.0 million), James Franklin ($4.0 million), Dantonio and Bo Pelini ($3.1 million). Those numbers are at least competitive with the SEC, the gold standard for paying coaches.

But note that four of those salaries, and four of the top five, belong to the top football programs of the East Division. Only Iowa actually competes with the coaching pay at the head coach level, and Kirk Ferentz's salary and buyout have become a bit of a joke nationally, so it's hard to count him.

Why else would Bret Bielema bail a dominant position to get more pay for his staff at a train wreck of a program in the SEC? It's all about money, and the Big Ten has finally realized that.

The top assistant coaches are also getting huge paydays, mostly in the East Division. The top-paid assistants include MSU defensive coordinator Pat Narduzzi, who was bumped to $905,000 this offseason; new hire Michigan offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier, who will receive $857,000; Michigan defensive coordinator Greg Mattison (about $850,000); Nebraska offensive coordinator Tim Beck (over $700,000) and Ohio State defensive coordinator Luke Fickell (over $600,000).

Once again, four of the top five paydays go to East Division teams (and Penn State may also pay this well, although the institution does not report that information publicly). If nothing else, it is clear that Michigan, Michigan State and Ohio State blow away what the other league competitors are paying for coaches, which means better coaches will stick around longer or come into the Big Ten, like Chris Ash and Nussmeier from the SEC this season.

With the extra money put into the assistant coaching staff as well, Michigan State is now one of only three schools that pays more than $3 million total for the assistant coaching staff. The other two are Ohio State and Michigan. See a trend? The West Division probably does.

 

West Division

Iowa, Minnesota, Illinois and Purdue will at least find more company than just Indiana on the bottom end of the assistant coaching staff pay list when Rutgers and Maryland join the Big Ten. Maryland currently pays Randy Edsall's staff comparably to these lower-tier pay scales in the conference, while Rutgers pays like a mid-major rather than a BCS conference program.

For example, Kyle Flood earns less than $500,000, and he's the head coach. However, Rutgers is not the team that the West Division needs to worry about. Instead, it's the three known (and likely four counting Penn State) powerhouses running away with higher coaching salaries that will be sitting in the way of Big Ten titles when the West Division champion goes to Indianapolis each December.

Nebraska and Wisconsin are the only assistant coaching staffs making about $2.5 million a year or more, and that is relatively a baseline amount for retaining competitive talent away from more lucrative schools and better pay in head coaching and coordinator positions.

Of course, these schools also need to pay head coaches enough to run good programs and encourage those young coaching talents to develop at the Big Ten schools as well. Right now, discounting Iowa and the infamous Ferentz contract, the only head coach in the West Division making much more than $2.25 million is Pelini at about $3.1 million.

The other five head coaches (Pat Fitzgerald, Gary Andersen, Darrell Hazell, Jerry Kill and Tim Beckman) all make about $2.0 million. That is certainly good money, but it simply does not compare to the top of most BCS leagues and all of the SEC.

So even though Kill now makes more money and Andersen received a raise, these numbers are not coming close to the four top programs in the East Division. Right now, that may not make much of a difference.

But if you let that disparity sit for a number of recruiting classes, then the West Division will inevitably lose more good assistant coaches (and possibly head coaches), leading to more turnover and lower likelihood of top recruiting classes. Meanwhile, the East Division will show recruits stability and a commitment to compete for the College Football Playoff.

 

Summary

Does higher coaching pay lead to better results on the field? It certainly seems that way, but it may be a self-fulfilling prophecy: As programs stay more consistent and make more money, athletic departments will spend more money to give coaches a fair piece of the pie, and the cycle repeats.

It is definitely true that going too low on the pay scale can be disastrous when it leads to too much coach turnover. Of course, lower and mid-tier programs have to be careful to not commit too much money to unproven coaches, as a long rich contract with a hefty buyout can hamstring a school's future decisions. So there is risk there to go with the potential reward.

If four of the top five paying athletic departments continue to be in the East Division over time, then in five years, these seemingly unbalanced divisions (now) could be a real balance problem.

As painful as it seems, the solution is simple: The West Division has to step up and pay more. Otherwise, the Big Ten Championship will be decided most seasons well before two teams make a trip to Lucas Oil Stadium.

That's not a good situation for the conference, or the fans.

 

Thanks for reading! I am the Featured Columnist focusing on Big Ten Football for B/R.

You can follow me on Twitter, and please leave comments below regarding whether you think the current coaching pay disparity will have long-lasting competitive balance consequences. 

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Pac-12 Football: 5 Sleepers Who Will Shock the Conference in 2014

College football is a cyclical sport, and just when you think there can't possibly be a better player than Joe Quarterback over here, a Mr. John Football (no relation to Manziel) comes along.

The Pac-12 will be highlighted by the sensational talents of Marcus Mariota, Brett Hundley and others, but perhaps more fun will come from discovering new players waiting in the shadows, hoping to be discovered.

We're not talking about the players primed to take that natural step forward, either. We're looking at the sleepers who will step into the spotlight and put up big numbers. Think wide receiver Jaelen Strong in 2013 or Ka'Deem Carey from the year before.

So who will begin to create their true legacy in 2014?

 

All stats via cfbstats.com

 

 

 

 

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Pac-12 Football: 5 Sleepers Who Will Shock the Conference in 2014

College football is a cyclical sport, and just when you think there can't possibly be a better player than Joe Quarterback over here, a Mr. John Football (no relation to Manziel ) comes along...

Begin Slideshow

Drew Lock to Missouri: Tigers Land 4-Star QB Prospect

One of the most critical components for any football program is having a reliable quarterback behind center.

The Missouri Tigers now have that in Drew Lock, a 6'5", 195-pound signal-caller from Lee's Summit, Mo., after he committed to the Tigers on Wednesday afternoon. Kipp Adams of 247Sports reported the news following the announcement.

Lock discussed his reasoning behind committing to the Tigers, per Adams:

I think home is a good word to use for Missouri. It is two hours and 15 minutes away, and my dad and my granddad played there. One of the things that really hit me was thinking about possibly committing to a school other than Missouri.

My parents and grandparents would obviously cheer for me, but I do not think they would cheer for the school as well. Going to Missouri, they would be cheering for me, but at the same time they would already want Missouri to win so bad.

That parent that Lock spoke of is Andy Lock, who played right tackle at Missouri from 1986-89. The elder Lock was in attendance and clearly happy about his son's decision, as David C. Morrison of the Columbia Daily Tribune points out:

Derek Young of Scout.com also shared his reaction to the commitment for Mizzou:

Mizzou made it all the way to the SEC Championship Game last season before falling to eventual national championship runner-up Auburn. Following that historic run for the Tigers, head coach Gary Pinkel received a contract extension.

While it may have seemed like a small move in the college football world at the time, it was a game-changer for Lock. The class of 2015 recruit touched on how that solidified the decision for him, per Adams:

I was sitting in class one day, my phone vibrated and it came up that Gary Pinkel had signed a contract extension. That was a real big deal to me and what I wanted to see. I feel like I really relate to Missouri’s offense since we both operate out of the shotgun, and the relationship with the coaches has been great. The family atmosphere is there as well.

As for his final thoughts, Lock made sure he let fans know one more time where his heart lies, per Morrison:

Considered the No. 5 pro-style quarterback in 247Sports' composite rankings, Lock gives the Tigers a quarterback of the future and one who can continue the tremendous resurgence the program experienced after some mediocre seasons.

His cool demeanor in the pocket and outstanding arm would make a great fit with any program, but Pinkel's system is custom built for Lock to thrive under center.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

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