After perhaps the longest offseason for college football fans in quite some time, it is finally game week all across the SEC.
And, unlike most season openers at Jordan-Hare Stadium, Saturday's game could play an important role in the Auburn Tigers' drive to get back to Atlanta for the SEC Championship Game and to get a spot in the first College Football Playoff.
For the first time since 1995, Auburn is kicking off the season with conference football.
The Arkansas Razorbacks will be looking for a program-changing upset after dropping 11 straight conference games, including all eight in 2013. Traditional football-minded Bret Bielema has fueled the fire of this growing SEC West rivalry in recent months with a wide range of comments on Auburn and Gus Malzahn, an Arkansas native who once held the offensive coordinator job at the program.
Auburn, on the other hand, will take on the unfamiliar task of being a sizable favorite in a conference game while dealing with the indefinite suspensions of starting quarterback Nick Marshall and starting cornerback Jonathon Mincy. The Tigers have a few gaps in the depth chart to fill from last season's storybook season, and this season opener will go a long way in how the opening half of their brutal schedule will shake out.
Before we get to the breakdown of this SEC West showdown, here is all the basic info for the Tigers' and Razorbacks' season opener:
- Date: Saturday, Aug. 30
- Time: 4 p.m. ET (3 p.m. local)
- Place: Jordan-Hare Stadium, Auburn
- TV: SEC Network
- Radio: Razorback Sports Network, Auburn IMG Sports Network
- Spread: Auburn -20.5, according to AL.com's Danny Sheridan
It’s finally here. At long last. Game week.
When Georgia State and Abilene Christian kick off Wednesday night in the Georgia Dome, the 2014 FBS college football season will officially begin. It’ll kick into higher gear on Thursday and hit its stride on Saturday with games spread throughout the weekend.
Fans across America are anticipating the season and looking forward to seeing just how their favorite team’s 2014 season will unfold. We’re here today with a look towards just that.
While this is far from a perfect process, we’ve taken a look at every Power 5 conference team and tried to project their 2014 records.
We looked at the team’s 2013 record, their returning starters, any changes in the coaching staff and of course their 2014 schedule to determine how 2014 will unfold. Will there be some surprises? Some flops? Sure. It’s an imperfect method, but this is a baseline for just how 2014 will progress for all 65 Power 5 conference teams, as well as Notre Dame.
Week 1 of the 2014 college football season continues Wednesday when Abilene Christian squares off against Georgia State on ESPNU, but fans are already studying the preseason NCAA rankings and polls to determine this year’s contenders and pretenders.
The release of the Amway Coaches and the Associated Press Top 25 polls has college football fans ready for the beginning of the season, and the wait is almost over. For the hardcore fans who have been yearning for the sport all year, it’s good to finally have excitement on Saturday again.
Here are the preseason polls and full analysis of the teams to watch.
Breaking Down the Top 25
The top team in both polls is the defending national champion Florida State Seminoles, and the program deserves the honor. With Heisman Trophy winning quarterback Jameis Winston looking to improve in his sophomore season, Florida State could be even more dangerous this season, despite losing several key players to the NFL.
The Seminoles may be the consensus No. 1 overall team in the rankings, but the Alabama Crimson Tide have crashed the party and sit at No. 2. With a long track record of success and national titles in three of the past five seasons, Nick Saban and the Crimson Tide will look to take advantage of the College Football Playoffs and bring another title back to Tuscaloosa.
Both the AP and Amway Coaches polls have the Oregon Ducks and Oklahoma Sooners ranked in the top four, but Oregon is No. 3 in the AP Poll and Oklahoma is No. 3 in the Amway Coaches Poll. While the two voting processes couldn’t agree, both teams deserve the honor of being in the top five and will have to earn the right to move up through elite play on the field.
One program in serious trouble is Ohio State. The school was considered a potential national championship contender by both rankings, but a season-ending injury to star quarterback Braxton Miller, via Mark Schlabach of ESPN.com, will likely have the Buckeyes sliding out of contention within a few weeks.
While both polls have differing opinions on Ohio State and Auburn (fifth in the Amway Coaches Poll and sixth in the AP Poll), the two lists are identical from UCLA at No. 7 to Notre Dame at No. 17. The teams with the most potential in this span are the No. 8 Michigan State Spartans, No. 11 Stanford Cardinal and No. 14 Wisconsin Badgers.
The two polls are very similar in the final eight positions as well. While the order is a bit different, each lists top programs such as Mississippi (No. 18 in AP and No. 19 in Amway), Texas A&M (No. 21 in AP and No. 20 in Amway) and Arizona State (No. 19 in AP and No. 18 in Amway) in its latter ranks.
The only real discrepancy is at No. 24. While the AP has Missouri there, the Amway Coaches Poll has given Texas the benefit of the doubt and slipped them in ahead of Washington.
With plenty of elite teams in the hunt to make the College Football Playoffs (and several unranked programs like the Florida Gators looking to prove doubters wrong), the 2014 season looks to be one of the most exciting in years.
*Stats via CFBStats.com.
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It's game week! After months of waiting, the 2014 college football season is only days away, which means there's just enough time for one more preseason poll to get you prepared for the year ahead.
The Bleacher Report Top 25 is voted on by 20 members of Bleacher Report's college football team: writers Keith Arnold, Ben Axelrod, Phil Callihan, Michael Felder, Justin Ferguson, Andrew Hall, Kyle Kensing, David Kenyon, Ben Kercheval, Adam Kramer, Brian Leigh, Brian Pedersen, Barrett Sallee, Brad Shepard, Erin Sorensen, Marc Torrence and Greg Wallace, as well as editors Eric Bowman, Hunter Mandel and Max Rausch.
Each voter has made their preseason rankings based on offseason observations and coverage, taking into account personnel changes, injuries and the schedules each team is set to face. Our voting team will submit new ballots at the end of each week of play, with each subsequent poll coming out not long after the final game on Saturday night (the exception being opening week, when the poll will be released after the Miami-Louisville game is over on Labor Day).
Just like the Associated Press and Amway polls, teams earn 25 points for a first-place vote down to one point for being picked 25th. The points are tallied, and then teams are ranked according to their point totals.
Scroll through to see our preseason rankings. Then weigh in with your thoughts in the comments section.
The 2014 college football season opens this weekend, and it will start with a bang as a number of Top 25 schools will face off against elite competition.
For many powerhouse programs, Week 1 is a time to beat the snot out of a FCS team or simply schedule an overmatched opponent to ease into the season. But with strength of schedule playing a bigger role in the wake of the first College Football Playoff, some schools have opted to open up with bowl-season-like matchups.
While some of the nation's best teams will open up with an easy one, matchups like Wisconsin-LSU and Florida State-Oklahoma State mean that Week 1 will have serious championship implications.
Here's a look at all of the Top 25 matchups, with an emphasis on the games you simply cannot afford to miss.
Week 1 Schedule, Odds and Predictions
Note: Odds courtesy of Odds Shark. Multiple game lines are still to be determined.
No. 21 Texas A&M vs. No. 9 South Carolina
If any singular game this season will make your subscription to SEC Network worth it, chances are it's the first live contest the network will ever show.
The 21st-ranked Texas A&M Aggies will open up the post-Johnny Manziel era with a doozie on the road, traveling to face Steve Spurrier's No. 9 South Carolina squad. Williams-Brice Stadium is sure to be rocking for a Thursday night affair that seemingly kicks off the college football season.
The Gamecocks have a seasoned quarterback with big-game experience in Dylan Thompson, and three straight 11-win seasons have helped the media to select South Carolina as the favorite to make its second ever SEC title game appearance.
Kenny Hill takes over the offense for the Aggies, and a deep cupboard of talent around him along with stockpiled recruiting classes have gotten Texas A&M into the Top 25 entering the season. But Manziel had to be magnificent just to keep the Aggies afloat last season, as defensive woes became a big problem in 2013.
South Carolina might be without star rusher Mike Davis as he's questionable with a rib injury, according to The State (Columbia, South Carolina). But even if Davis can't go, Thompson's command of the offense and the ability of backup Brandon Wilds will be enough to grind out a win at home—though closer than the line suggests.
Prediction: South Carolina wins, 27-20
No. 16 Clemson vs. No. 12 Georgia
It doesn't pack quite the punch that last year's epic encounter did, but Georgia and Clemson enter 2014 with similar expectations that will alter dramatically based on Saturday night's outcome.
After last year's 38-35 victory at home, Dabo Swinney's No. 16 Tigers will head south to Sanford Stadium to try to repeat history in a hostile environment against one of the SEC's elite.
Although Mark Richt's squad enters on the cusp of the Top 10, the Bulldogs are coming off a season to forget. An unprecedented amount of injuries helped Georgia to stall to an 8-5 record, losing to Nebraska in the Gator Bowl after lofty preseason expectations.
Should Georgia's offense stay healthy, it should have no problem getting back to 10 or 11 wins. Hutson Mason is a future star if his play late last year and offseason growth are any indication. Todd Gurley is among the best running backs in the nation, and a number of other speedsters who missed time last year are healthy and ready to go.
Clemson's strong defense will make up for the loss of Tajh Boyd much of the season, but the Tigers won't be able to contain Georgia's offense at the end of this one.
Prediction: Georgia wins in OT, 27-24
No. 1 Florida State vs. Oklahoma State
The 2014 Florida State Seminoles have boasted a "Dallas to Dallas" motto entering this season, meant to signify their aspirations of playing in the CFP championship game in Dallas and defending their national title. It will start in Dallas on Saturday, when they take on Oklahoma State in a neutral-site clash.
Jameis Winston returns to Florida State coming off his Heisman Trophy campaign a year ago, and Jimbo Fisher has plenty of offensive weapons to negate the losses of Kelvin Benjamin, Rashad Greene and Devonta Freeman.
The top-ranked Seminoles only played three ranked foes in the regular season last year, and only two are on the slate entering 2014—Clemson and Notre Dame. Although it's not a ranked Cowboys team they will face, it could prove to be one of Florida State's toughest tests on the road to its title.
But even one of its toughest tests won't truly be that much of a test. Mike Gundy returns just 12 starters, two of which are kickers, and even Gundy's best repair job in 2014 won't make his Cowboys serious contenders against the champs in Week 1.
Prediction: Florida State wins, 45-13
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The Florida Gators begin their football season with what should be a painless matchup against the Idaho Vandals on Saturday. It’s your typical opening-week cupcake game that allows teams to warm up for the tough conference schedule that is soon to come.
Florida returns seven starters on both sides of the ball and hopes to be one of the more improved teams in the country, while Idaho has 15 starters returning and has nowhere to go but up after winning just one game last season.
Certainly not the flashiest game of the opening-week schedule, but it sure beats harping on last season’s failures over and over.
Let’s take a look at this weekend’s matchup.
As far as tests go, Sunday's season-opening tilt with Utah State is ideal for a Tennessee Volunteers team filled with newcomers.
Though scheduling a mid-major game against the upstart Aggies and dark-horse Heisman Trophy candidate Chuckie Keeton could be considered a "no-win" situation for the Vols, it's actually just the opposite.
This game is exactly what UT needs.
It's enough of a test to where the Vols can't sleepwalk. A victory can give a growing team confidence heading into a grueling, season-long gauntlet.
Also, with Oklahoma and Georgia on the September schedule, lining up against a potentially dynamic offense will help UT prepare more than it would against a pair of cupcakes.
Keeton and his teammates may see the game as a showcase on a national stage that would help put USU on the map. But it's also a coming-out party for a group of Vols intent on erasing a miserable recent stretch of football.
"The one thing about football is it's not what they do, it's what you do," A.J. Johnson told UTSports.com's Brian Rice. "We have to come out focused and worried about us and getting the job done."
With that much inexperience thrust into key roles, UT has plenty of concerns. But there's palpable excitement, too. The practice pads are about to come off. It's finally game week.
Date: Sunday, Aug. 31
Time: 7 p.m. ET
Place: Neyland Stadium, Knoxville, Tennessee
TV: SEC Network
Radio: Vol Network, NewsTalk, Sirius/XM 91
Spread: Tennessee by 6.5 points, according to OddsShark.com.
The waiting and anticipation are nearly over. The 2014 college football opener is mere days away, and plenty of great matchups dot the schedule to kick off the new year.
With the new four-team playoff, the incentive for Big Five schools to schedule tough nonconference schools has only grown. Playing the Georgia Southerns and Savannah States of the world isn't going to cut it anymore.
As a result, what was arguably the best regular season in American sports gets that much better, and the margin for error is even smaller. The top teams in the country can't afford to use Week 1 to work out the kinks. If they go in with that mindset, their national title hopes will be over before they had a chance to gain steam.
The stakes couldn't be much higher this early in the season for the six teams below.
Games to Watch
Texas A&M Aggies at South Carolina Gamecocks
With all due respect to the ability of Kevin Sumlin, it's fair to say that the Texas A&M offense remains a major question mark heading into the season. You can't lose players as talented and important as Johnny Manziel, Jake Matthews and Mike Evans and not expect some drop-off.
Of course, Jadeveon Clowney is a big loss for South Carolina. Even if he struggled to find consistency in 2013, the attention he demanded from opponents' offensive lines opened up gaps for his teammates.
In total, the Gamecocks are replacing three defensive linemen and two cornerbacks on the defensive side of the ball. That's why it's imperative that Mike Davis and the South Carolina running game eat up the clock and wear down what should be an improved Aggies defense.
Texas A&M will hold its own inside Williams-Brice Stadium, but South Carolina's ability to consistently get positive on the ground will be the difference.
South Carolina 31, Texas A&M 23
Clemson Tigers at Georgia Bulldogs
Speaking of big losses on the offensive side of the ball, Aaron Murray and Tajh Boyd combined to throw for 6,926 yards and 60 touchdowns last year.
Clemson won this matchup 38-35 last year, but the Tigers were playing at home and had the duo of Boyd and Sammy Watkins. Boyd threw three touchdowns, and Watkins had six receptions for 127 yards and a touchdown.
Cole Stoudt looks like a good quarterback, but it's a bit unrealistic to expect him to weave the same kind of magic Boyd did against UGA last year.
The good news for the Tigers is that the front seven that constantly pressured Murray will be even stronger. Vic Beasley could have a Clowney-like impact for Clemson's defense.
This year's meeting shouldn't be the shootout that last year's was, with Georgia likely relying more heavily on the running game. And why not? Todd Gurley ran for 154 yards and two touchdowns on 12 carries against the Tigers last year.
"It's a huge challenge," said Clemson defensive coordinator Brent Venables of stopping Gurley, per Aaron Brenner of The Post and Courier. "They know what they're doing and they do it well. They're very aggressive in how they run the football—they run it downhill. They attacked us, had us on our heels at times last year. They'll physically try to impose their will on you and they'll be very persistent about it."
Gurley and Keith Marshall will be up to the task. The real question for Georgia is whether Hutson Mason and the passing attack can divert Clemson's attention away from the running game. The absence of Malcolm Mitchell will make that task a bit more difficult.
You could make a strong argument for either team, but Georgia has home-field advantage. Couple that with the departures of Boyd and Watkins, and you get a close Bulldogs win.
Georgia 20, Clemson 17
Wisconsin Badgers vs. LSU Tigers
LSU and Wisconsin are strikingly similar in terms of style. The Tigers and the Badgers will rely on their running games to cover up questionable passing attacks. Neither team is going to beat you through the air.
According to Jeff Potrykus of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, Tanner McEvoy will get the start Saturday, which is arguably the tougher matchup for LSU. His mobility makes him a great fit for Wisconsin's offense and will give the Tigers another headache defensively.
Gary Andersen apparently had McEvoy's speed in mind when opting for the redshirt junior, per ESPN.com's Travis Haney:
LSU's front seven was solid if unspectacular last season, and it will have its hands full against the combination of Melvin Gordon and Corey Clement. Few teams will run the ball better this season than Wisconsin. The Badgers have two very talented running backs and a fantastic offensive line opening holes at the point of attack.
Having Clement and Gordon should also allow McEvoy to ease into the starting role without having to do too much against what will be a tough secondary.
In terms of personnel, LSU arguably gets the edge. The Tigers simply have more talent than Wisconsin. With that said, talent doesn't always win out; otherwise, you'd never see any upsets.
The Badgers will get the surprise victory in a defensive struggle.
Wisconsin 17, LSU 13
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On Labor Day Monday, Sept. 1, the Miami Hurricanes look to redeem themselves against the Louisville Cardinals following an embarrassing finish last season.
The programs squared off in December during the Russell Athletic Bowl, where since-departed Teddy Bridgewater manhandled the 'Canes en route to a dominating 36-9 victory.
Since then, Louisville officially joined the ACC, raising the stakes for both teams as they attempt to open the year with a crucial conference victory. ESPN will carry the matchup, which is scheduled to kick off at 8:00 p.m. ET.
Both teams have a couple keys to victory and important players to watch in what will be an exciting finale to Week 1 of the 2014 college football season.
Just one short week ago, Urban Meyer and the Ohio State Buckeyes were preparing for the 2014 season and a potential run at the first-ever College Football Playoff.
With a dynamic group of playmakers on offense and NFL talent across the board on defense, the Buckeyes still have the talent to compete for a Big Ten title.
Can Meyer and Ohio State bounce back from Miller's injury? Here are five bold predictions for the Buckeyes' 2014 season.
Ohio State Will Have a Top-25 Pass Defense
One of the biggest question marks surrounding Ohio State is its pass defense, which was shredded by opponents regularly during the 2013 season. The Buckeyes gave up an average of 268 passing yards per game, which ranked No. 110 out 123 teams nationally.
This season, it won't be so easy to pass on Ohio State.
The fast and aggressive defense will surge under the direction of new co-defensive coordinator Chris Ash. With the Buckeyes abandoning their zone defense for more dynamic press coverages, opposing quarterbacks will have a much tougher time getting the ball down the field.
Doran Grant, Vonn Bell and a host of young and hungry defensive backs will fuel a Top-25 pass defense.
J.T. Barrett Will Win the Big Ten's Freshman of the Year Award
The last two quarterbacks to start as freshmen at Ohio State—Terrelle Pryor and Miller—went on to win the Big Ten Freshman of the Year award.
J.T. Barrett will continue the trend.
After struggling this spring, Barrett has made huge strides this fall to move ahead of Cardale Jones on the depth chart. Meyer and the coaching staff have confidence in Barrett to lead the team, and even some of the Buckeyes' top defenders have high praise for the young quarterback.
“Just smart decisions, makes the hard throws, makes the easy throws, controls the offense, controls the huddle," Grant said of Barrett, according to Tim Shoemaker of Eleven Warriors. "You can tell, even when we’re speeding it up, he has everything controlled, everybody’s getting set and it’s go time.”
The Buckeyes expect Barrett to be a distributor a la Kenny Guiton, which could lead to some big numbers. That will be especially true as Barrett triggers Meyer's offense.
Noah Spence and Joey Bosa Will Combine for More Than 20 Sacks
Ohio State's defense will be anchored by two standout defensive ends in Noah Spence and Joey Bosa.
In 2014, the two will terrorize opposing quarterbacks and combine for more than 20 sacks.
Bosa and the rest of the Buckeyes' defensive line will have to operate without Spence for the first two games of the season as he finishes serving his three-game suspension.
When the rising junior returns, Ohio State's defensive front will boast three potential first-round NFL draft picks. With studs such as Michael Bennett, Adolphus Washington and Tommy Schutt on the interior, most teams won't be able to double Bosa and Spence.
The two big-time defensive ends will have big years for the Buckeyes.
Dontre Wilson Will Eclipse 1,100 Total Yards
Needing playmakers to step up in the wake of Miller's injury, Dontre Wilson's role in the offense will be even more pivotal for the Buckeyes.
The speedy all-purpose back out of DeSoto, Texas was used mainly as a decoy in 2013, but that will change in a big way this season. Wilson secured the starting H-Back spot in March, more commonly known as the "Percy Harvin position," so he'll see a lot of touches as the Buckeyes look for the big play.
Wilson will deliver. As a receiver in the slot who will motion into the backfield five times a game, Wilson will finish the season with more than 850 receiving yards and 250 rushing yards.
Ohio State Will Win the Big Ten
Even without Miller, Ohio State will win the Big Ten.
A tough non-conference slate will help the Buckeyes adjust without their star quarterback. Maryland and Rutgers will serve as tuneup games for Ohio State's prime-time matchup against Penn State—a game the Buckeyes will win 34-24.
The Buckeyes' only loss of the season will come against Michigan State. The Spartans will have the inside track to the Big Ten title game in the final week of the regular season, but Christian Hackenberg and the Nittany Lions will spoil their run in Happy Valley.
Ohio State will clinch the East Division with a 31-24 victory over Michigan. A week later, Meyer will win his first Big Ten title when the Buckeyes defeat Wisconsin 28-25.
Because of its late loss, Ohio State will not be one of the four teams selected into the College Football Playoff. The Buckeyes will be picked to play Georgia in the Chic-Fil-A Peach Bowl.
All stats via NCAA.com.
David Regimbal covers Ohio State football for Bleacher Report.
Follow him on Twitter @davidreg412.
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Under Charlie Strong, the Longhorns are going to be a completely different team. They will be tougher, more physical and more motivated than they have been through the past four lackluster seasons.
Fall camp is now almost entirely in the books, and the Horns come off as a running team that will lean on its front seven to do most of the work on defense. That means huge seasons for Johnathan Gray and Malcolm Brown, while making defensive end Cedric Reed a candidate to become the Defensive Player of the Year.
Strong and the fanbase would certainly be happy with those results, but the true goal is to pile up numbers in the left-hand column. To do that, the team will have to pull off an upset during the early-season gauntlet.
Strong was hired to do just that, and getting it done will be just one of his great accomplishments in his first season.
LSU head coach Les Miles is not afraid of challenges in season openers. The Tigers' matchup against powerful Wisconsin in the 2014 AdvoCare Texas Kickoff is further proof of that.
The Tigers will play a ranked, nonconference opponent at a neutral site to start the season for the fourth time in the past five years. Miles has never lost a season opener and is undefeated against ranked, nonconference opponents in the regular season.
Wisconsin's Gary Andersen had a solid first year in Madison. The Badgers went 9-4 and continued their offensive rushing prowess. But Andersen undoubtedly benefited from a below-average Big 10 and went 0-3 in games decided by one possession or less.
LSU enters 2014 ranked No. 13 and Wisconsin sits at No. 14 in the preseason AP Top 25. The evenly ranked teams will play in one of the most heavily anticipated opening-week matchups in college football.
What You Need to Know
Time: 8:00 p.m. CT
Place: NRG Stadium; Houston, Texas
Spread: LSU by 4.5, via Vegas Insider
Stats, rankings and additional information provided by cfbstats.com, LSU Sports Information, and Wisconsin Sports Information. Recruiting informations provided by 247Sports. Quotes were obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted. Follow me on Twitter @CarterthePower.
Every college football game carries some level of importance for every team. But for those vying for one of the four coveted berths in the new College Football Playoff, the stakes are even higher this season. There are several Big Ten teams that are contenders in 2014, and there are a number of games that seem to loom on the 2014 schedule when it comes to possible playoff implications.
In just a few short days, the 2014 college football season gets underway. Not only are we finally getting back to honest-to-God football, but we're also entering a new era with the introduction of the College Football Playoff this season. So as teams like Michigan State, Ohio State, Nebraska and Wisconsin (as well as a few others) get geared up to make their cases to the playoff selection committee, we're going to take a look at which games on the upcoming 2014 schedule could have the biggest impact on the decision-making process.
Ohio State's national championship hopes took a hit last Tuesday when the school announced senior quarterback Braxton Miller would miss the season with a shoulder injury. The Buckeyes will turn to former Elite 11 quarterback J.T. Barrett to step up for the injured Miller.
On the recruiting trail, OSU has dual-threat signal-caller Joe Burrow committed. So there isn't a reason to panic when looking toward the future of the program. The 3-star is an in-state prospect that put up PlayStation type numbers to the tune of 3,732 yards passing and 47 touchdowns to go with 589 yards rushing and nine more scores as a junior.
Burrow is a talented athlete, but Ohio State will continue to actively recruit 4-star athlete Torrance Gibson. Gibson is one of the most athletically gifted prospects in the Class of 2014. He is dangerous when plays break down, and he has to improvise. This summer he took part in the Elite 11 Finals in Beaverton, Oregon, and he seems to be serious about improving as a passer.
On Sunday afternoon, Gibson completed 7-of-11 pass attempts for 298 yards and five touchdowns in his team's 49-23 rout of Palm Beach Gardens (Florida) Dwyer in a nationally televised game on ESPN.
Head coach Urban Meyer and Gibson could be a lethal combo in the Big Ten for years to come. The 6'4", 200-pound lefty from Plantation (Florida) American Heritage School has similar ability to former Heisman Trophy winner and NFL first-round pick Tim Tebow. Gibson will be in Columbus for the Ohio State-Virginia Tech game on September 6. Expect his visit to get the red carpet treatment.
When asked what Gibson plans to take from the visit, he told me following his game: "I want to go up there and have a good time with all of the recruits. The last time I was there, I liked it. I'll get a chance to see Braxton. He is real cool and we have a good bond. We joked a lot when I was up there last time. I look up to him, and we have the same ability on the field, so there's a connection."
Gibson said Arizona and Oklahoma were in his top three. Both schools want him at quarterback, and that is the only position he wants to play at the next level. The 247Sports Crystal Ball has him as a 55 percent lock to Ohio State.
Gibson added, "Ohio State is my clear leader. I like the offense they run, I really like everything. I know it's cold, but it's cold in the NFL too. The most important thing is they want me a quarterback, not athlete."
The 4-star field general said Ohio State is his only planned official visit. Without trips set up to Norman or Tucson, it's safe to say the Crystal Ball could be changed to 100 percent before his announced commitment date of October 20.
5-star Cornerback Kendall Sheffield Schedules Unofficial Visit
Standout cornerback Kendall Sheffield out of Missouri City (Texas) Fort Bend Marshall is heading to Arlington, Texas, this weekend for the Top 15 matchup of Wisconsin-LSU. Sheffield will be on hand to watch the Bayou Bengals. Although he doesn't have a top five, Sheffield is considering the Tigers along with Alabama and Texas A&M.
Sheffield told me, "LSU offered me when I was in 10th grade. I have a good relationship with secondary coach Corey Raymond. I went to LSU's camp and their spring game. Plus my favorite cornerback is Patrick Peterson. Coach Raymond reminds me of that too."
Earlier this month, Sheffield attended a scrimmage in College Station. He told 247Sports Recruiting Insider Brian Perroni (subscription required) he liked what he saw, putting the Aggies in good shape with Alabama firmly in the picture.
"I've been building a great relationship with Coach McKinney. I feel very comfortable with Texas A&M and their staff," explained Sheffield. "My family likes that it's close to home, but there isn't any pressure to stay close to home."
Sheffield affirmed that everyone is even at this time. Track is a big part of Sheffield's recruitment, similar to Marlon Humphrey and Tony Brown in the Class of 2014, who both signed with Alabama, respectively. Sheffield is a state champion in the 110-meter and 300-meter hurdles. "Track is important to me, but at the end of the day I'm going to college as a football player," Sheffield noted to Bleacher Report.
The fleet-footed corner plans to announce at the Under Armour All-America Game in Orlando.
Auburn Going After a Pair of 5-stars from Florida
The Tigers kick off SEC play on Saturday against Arkansas. Auburn will be without starting quarterback Nick Marshall, who is suspended for the regular-season opener. Currently, War Eagle sits comfortably at No. 9 in the 247Sports team rankings. Auburn may be making a move on 5-star offensive tackle Martez Ivey, according to 247Sports Recruiting Insider Keith Niebuhr.
I spoke to Ivey's head coach, Rick Darlington of Apopka (Florida), over the weekend, and he feels Auburn and Florida are neck and neck. "Right now those are the top two. Someone will have to make a great run to get ahead of those two," stated Darlington. "I'm not saying he couldn't go somewhere else either. I know LSU offensive line coach Jeff Grimes loves him. Alabama and Florida State are in his top five, and everyone wants to go to those places. He wears Nebraska shirts when he works out. With Auburn, they have done a great job building relationships with Tez. Florida has a new staff in there, but they are a good program too."
Ivey is the prototypical tackle prospect, but the thing that stands out is his ability to learn and grow on and off the field, according to Darlington.
"Tez is playing strong guard for us right now because that's where we need him to win," boasted Darlington. "He has grown as a player, but what I'm most proud of is the work he puts in. He doesn't miss a rep in practice and is first in sprints. This summer he was invited to the Rivals100 Five-Star Challenge presented by Under Armour in Baltimore. He missed it because he chose to go the Bahamas to play soccer with orphans. That's the kind of person he is."
Auburn is also looking to make a big impression on 5-star cornerback Kevin Toliver II this weekend. Toliver is taking an official visit to The Plains on Friday. The Tigers are hoping a strong showing could give the LSU recruit something to think about. Toliver's teammate Jeffery Holland is high on Auburn and Florida. If they can somehow flip Toliver, expect Holland to follow.
U.S. Army All-American Tarvarus McFadden Keeping It Close to Vest
Over the summer, Plantation (Florida) American Heritage cover man Tarvarus McFadden was busy with trips to the Rivals100 Five-Star Challenge presented by Under Armour and The Opening. His recruitment was put on the back burner a bit. Now that the season has kicked off, McFadden is having a tough time trimming his options down.
The 6'3", 198-pounder told Bleacher Report following his game on Sunday, "I don't really have a top five. The schools that I'm considering are Alabama, Auburn, FSU, Georgia, LSU, Ohio State and UCF. I may go up to Ohio State for an official visit on September 6 with Torrance, but I haven't set up anything."
McFadden took an unofficial visit to Florida State over the summer, and he enjoyed his trip to Tallahassee. "It was a great visit. I really enjoyed it a lot," said McFadden. "I talk to Coach (Sal) Sunseri, Coach (Charles) Kelly and Coach (Bill) Miller. Really I talk to all of them."
So what if Gibson commits to Ohio State? Will that help the Buckeyes?
"We've joked about it from time to time. However, only will time tell," remarked McFadden. "Right now I don't have a decision date, but I want to do it soon. I can't keep waiting."
Speedy Flanker Christian Kirk Talks Top Six
Earlier this month, Scottsdale (Arizona) Saguaro split end Christian Kirk took to Twitter to announce his top six of Arizona State, Auburn, Ohio State, Texas A&M, UCLA and USC. The 247Sports Crystal Ball has the Aggies trending, with a 74 percent chance he commits to A&M.
Kirk said he doesn't have a leader and everyone is even. When asked if he feels better about a certain staff or campus, he said: "Right now I feel comfortable with all the staff members at the schools in my top six. Same with the campuses. I'm deciding in late November or early December. The biggest factor in my decision is offensive scheme and how I fit in."
I like the fit for Kirk at A&M in its wide-open spread passing attack. He is the ideal slot receiver with superb lateral cutting ability and soft hands. If Kirk opts for College Station, he could team up with fellow Arizona natives Kyle Allen and defensive end Qualen Cunningham. Allen is the second-team quarterback, and a future Kirk-to-Allen pitch-and-catch battery could be the next Manziel-to-Mike Evans combo at Kyle Field.
Does the appeal of playing with a highly touted quarterback like Allen appeal to him, or is there family pressure to stay closer to home?
He told me emphatically, "My family hasn't pressured at all. With Allen being at A&M, it doesn't necessarily help them. However, he's a great QB, so it's just a bonus that he is a good friend of mine."
Clemson vs. Georgia Recruiting Impact
On Saturday, Clemson and Georgia will meet in Athens for a marquee SEC vs. ACC contest. The game will be a big one for college football fans, but the ramifications in recruiting may be bigger.
Clemson has always recruited Georgia well, and this year is no different. Suwanee (Georgia) North Gwinnett offensive tackle Mitch Hyatt is the headliner of the Tigers class. Clemson also has pledges from Peach State standouts Austin Bryant, Shadell Bell and Zach Giella.
Ryan Bartow of 247Sports says a Georgia win could help slow the Tigers, but not by much because of the value Clemson has placed on recruiting the state.
"A Georgia win could help with a guy like Albert Huggins. Huggins grew up a big fan of Georgia, but he has only been there once," noted Bartow to Bleacher Report. "He has been to Clemson several times, and it seems like everyone around him wants him to go to Clemson."
Head coach Dabo Swinney has made the state of Georgia a priority for his staff. Swinney has made a strong effort to lay pipeline in the fertile ground of the state.
"Clemson has always had success in Georgia. They always should too. Clemson is only 20 miles from the Georgia border. What they've done since Jeff Scott took over as the recruiting coordinator is put four coaches in the Atlanta era," added Bartow.
"(Brent) Venables has Cobb County. Mike Reed has Fulton County. Marion Hobby has DeKalb County and Tony Elliott has Gwinnett County," Bartow continued. "They also have Robbie Caldwell covering Middle Georgia. Danny Pearman has Valdosta and southwest Georgia, and Scott has southeast Georgia. So in total, [they have] seven coaches dedicated to the area. They treat it like it's in-state, and they need to do that. Georgia is the fourth biggest producer of Division I talent."
Huggins is down to Clemson and Georgia. The 247Sports Crystal Ball has him 92 percent leaning toward Clemson. Georgia is hoping to reverse the trend on Huggins and make a push with a win over Clemson to start the season.
*Unless otherwise noted, all quotes obtained firsthand.
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Following a battle that stretched throughout the last several months, true freshman Brad Kaaya has been named the starting quarterback for the Miami Hurricanes. Kaaya beat out senior transfer Jake Heaps for the position.
Miami coach Al Golden spoke about the decision to put Kaaya under center for the season opener, per the Associated Press (via ESPN):
As I told him, he's our quarterback. He's not a freshman quarterback. He's the University of Miami quarterback. [...]
It was a tight battle. It was a battle that none of us could have foresaw at the end of June or the beginning of July or maybe even the beginning of camp. I'm excited about that position. ... But right now, Brad nudged out Jake, and he's our quarterback.
Kaaya came to Miami as a 4-star prospect and the seventh-best pro-style quarterback in the nation, according to 247Sports' composite rankings, and he immediately made an impact. The West Hills, California, native arrived on campus in May and took over the starting position in that length of time.
In the final season of his high school career, Kaaya registered 3,853 passing yards, 27 touchdowns, six interceptions and a rushing score. Bruce Feldman of Fox Sports offers his take on the freshman:
The decision might come as a surprise with Golden even admitting no one could have foreseen this conclusion. But after a strong showing in camp, a lot will be expected of the young signal-caller.
As for Kaaya's actual opponent for the season opener, he will have to take on Louisville at Papa John's Cardinal Stadium in their first game as an ACC program. With the matchup coming on Monday, Sept. 1, all eyes will be on Kaaya to see how he responds.
If Kaaya can get past the Cardinals, he will have a few weaker opponents in Florida A&M and Arkansas State, both home games for Miami. But with Nebraska and a tough slate against programs like North Carolina, Duke and Florida State on the schedule, Kaaya's job will not be easy.
After finishing 9-4 last season, Kaaya takes over for a program that is trending in the right direction. But in order to keep that trend going, the Canes will have to rely on the young quarterback to shine after the departure of Stephen Morris.
Follow @RCorySmith on Twitter.
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The Texas A&M football team will travel to Columbia, South Carolina, on August 28 to take on the No. 9 South Carolina Gamecocks. The Aggies and Gamecocks will play a close game that will be decided in the fourth quarter.
The season-opening meeting between Texas A&M and South Carolina will be the first-ever meeting between the two schools. The Aggies enter the game ranked No. 21 and looking to improve on their 9-4 record in 2013.
This will be the first game ever televised on the SEC Network. The contest has major implications on the SEC title race as neither team can afford to start off conference play at 0-1.
Both teams will be attempting to replace program-defining stars from their 2013 squad. Former Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel and former South Carolina defensive end Jadeveon Clowney were both selected in the first round of the 2014 NFL draft.
A national television audience will get to watch two Top 25 teams square off in a game that will help shape the 2014 SEC race. This is a look at how the two teams match up with each other.
Playoffs? You want playoffs, and finally, you've got playoffs.
Nearly a century-and-a-half after the first college football game was played in 1869, a playoff will decide the national champion in college football's highest division. In this, the inaugural season of the College Football Playoff, a four-team tournament will be held at the end of the season to determine the 2014 champion.
Bill Hancock, the executive director of the CFP, is understandably stoked.
"The playoff will be extremely popular, the fans will love it," Hancock predicted when he spoke to Bleacher Report. "It's a joy to be involved in something that will be an iconic event."
Hancock mentioned the "bracket" aspect of the CFP, which is no doubt foreign to top-division college football but familiar to all NCAA championships, particularly the men's basketball tournament, which he ran for more than a decade. The CFP won't be March Madness, as it's only a four-team, three-game tournament, but it's a significant departure from what decided the mythical national championship in the past.
College football is used to having polls crown its annual champions. The Associated Press writers poll was founded in 1936, followed by the coaches poll with its various sponsors beginning in 1950. The Bowl Championship Series, which began in 1998 and lasted 16 years, pitted the purported top two teams in the regular season in a one-game championship showdown.
The BCS used a combination of polls and computer rankings to determine its top teams, a practice that will be discarded by the CFP. Instead of 170-plus voters and six computers, a 13-member selection committee will decide which four teams play in the playoff, as well as eight other teams for the four prestigious CFP bowls.
The 13-member committee includes five current athletic directors representing the five power conferences as well as retired administrators, coaches and former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. They are to serve two- to four-year terms, as the committee membership will eventually have turnovers on an annual basis.
A protocol has been set up for the committee members, who will vote each week beginning the last weekend of October to determine their collective rankings. These rankings will be made available to the public each Tuesday until the final weekend of the regular season, when the playoff field as well as the other CFP bowl participants are announced.
"I feel very comfortable with the selection process and the transparency of our setup," said Hancock, who along with committee chair Jeff Long will be the lone voices of the committee during the season. "I really believe the committee's protocol is excellent and our recusal policy is even a little more stringent than for the NCAA Tournament."
Nine committee members must recuse themselves when their respective institutions are discussed during their weekly meetings in Dallas. The committee will take a series of votes to settle on the pecking order of the teams under consideration each week.
This year, the final pairings will be revealed on Dec. 7, and there will be controversy. Whereas during the BCS era the No. 3-ranked teams were usually the aggrieved, in the CFP regime that snub will be keenly felt by No. 5 instead.
That's OK, Hancock said, as the committee will be fully prepared to defend its decisions. Besides, debates and arguments are simply part of the very fabric of college football.
"We wouldn't have it any other way," Hancock said. "Sure, teams will be disappointed, especially those that came very close, but there will always be debates, as that's a reflection on the popularity of college football. That'll never change, and we don't want it to change."
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The last time the Wisconsin football team stepped onto the field, the Badgers got shellacked by South Carolina in the Capital One Bowl on New Year's Day. Eight months later, the Badgers face another unfamiliar SEC foe, LSU, in one of the most anticipated games of the opening weekend.
With a lot of winnable games littered across their schedule, a Heisman trophy candidate in their backfield to go along with a lot of question marks at major positions, let's take an in-depth look at everything Badgers fans will need to know going into the 2014 season.
CoachesSource: uwbadgers.com 2014 Wisconsin Badgers Coaching Staff Title Name Years on Team Head Coach Gary Andersen 2 Defensive Coordinator/Linebackers Dave Aranda 2 Offensive Coordinator/Quarterbacks Andy Ludwig 2 Wide Receivers Chris Beatty 2 Running Backs Thomas Brown 1 Safeties Bill Busch 2 Tight Ends/Special Teams Coordinator Jeff Genyk 2 Defensive Line Chad Kauha'aha'a 2 Cornerbacks Ben Strickland 3 Offensive Line T.J. Woods 2
Year 2 of the Gary Andersen era sees very little turnover, all of his coaches have been retained except for star running backs coach Thomas Hammock, who moved to the NFL and the Baltimore Ravens.
Hammock created a strong tradition of having not just one or two top running backs but at least three guys who could make opposing teams pay thanks to competitive practices and a spirit of friendly competition.
Stepping in to replace the massive shoes of Hammock is Thomas Brown, the former running back for the Georgia Bulldogs was a star there and spent a couple of years in the NFL before becoming a coach.
Last season, as the running backs coach for Marshall, he coached a trio of backs to at least 500-yard seasons, one of only seven teams to accomplish that feat.
What Brown also brings to the table is excellent prowess as a recruiter in areas the Badgers have rarely mined for talent. In 2015, Brown has signed four players, which includes two from New Jersey, one from Georgia and another from Texas.
Overall, the coaching staff is particularly strong on the defensive side of the ball, with Andersen holding a background in defense, while defensive coordinator Dave Aranda has smoothed the transition from Chris Ash seamlessly, despite implementing a new defensive scheme.
Aranda's 3-4 defense will likely be more effective this season now that he is able to install more of his own players as opposed to those he inherited from Bret Bielema. While the Badgers have to replace their entire front seven (more on that later), the current set of players fit the 3-4 defense a bit better than the defensive ends and outside linebackers from last year's team.
On offense, the coaching staff, particularly offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach Andy Ludwig will need to figure out packages for Tanner McEvoy to play and how to maximize Joel Stave's effectiveness, all while maintaining an identity as a run-first team.
What to Watch For on OffenseSource: rivals.com 2014 Wisconsin Badgers Offensive Depth Chart Position1st String2nd String3rd String QB Tanner McEvoy Joel Stave Bart Houston RB Melvin Gordon Corey Clement Taiwan Deal FB Derek Watt Austin Ramesh Derek Straus WR Kenzel Doe Reggie Love George Rushing WR Jordan Fredrick Alex Erickson Robert Wheelwright TE Sam Arneson Austin Traylor Troy Fumagalli C Dan Voltz Michael Deiter Micah Kapoi OG Kyle Costigan Trent Denlinger Logan Schmidt OG Dallas Lewallen Ray Ball George Panos OT Rob Havenstein Hayden Biegel Beau Benzschawel OT Tyler Marz Walker Williams Jacob Maxwell K Rafael Gaglianone Jack Russell Andrew Endicott KR/PR Kenzel Doe Natrell Jamerson A.J. Jordan
There's a lot in this depth chart to digest. Some of these players may redshirt, particularly the freshman linemen that are third string right now (I'm looking at Beau Benzschawel and George Panos as likely candidates to redshirt) while D.J. Gillins could step in as the third-string quarterback over Bart Houston.
Speaking of quarterback, I had penciled incumbent Joel Stave in as the starting quarterback; however, Friday, Jeff Potrykus of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported sources tell him Tanner McEvoy will be the starter against LSU.
McEvoy brings something to the table Stave doesn't: mobility. McEvoy may not be the runner that Gillins or prized 2015 quarterback recruit Austin Kafentzis does in terms of running ability, but McEvoy is quite mobile and is athletic enough to run a successful read option.
Joel Stave, who started all 13 games last season and started 19 games in his career, will be valuable as a backup. It will be interesting to see how Stave is used as he has more experience and a stronger arm, but he has struggled with consistency.
At running back, the man to watch is Melvin Gordon. Gordon is a Heisman trophy candidate and has been excellent throughout his first two years of eligibility, rushing for more than 10 yards per carry his freshman season and following that up with 1,609 yards on 7.8 yards per carry while scoring 12 touchdowns.
Backing him up is Corey Clement, who rushed for 547 yards as a freshman last season and showed why he was so highly touted coming into Madison. Gordon and Clement hope to recreate the success of last year's running back tandem—Gordon and now-New England Patriot James White—who eclipsed 3,000 yards on the ground.
The vaunted third running back spot is up in the air between freshmen Taiwan Deal and Caleb Kinlaw. Kinlaw is faster and quicker than Deal, but injuries that have piled up throughout camp may hand the job to Deal.
At fullback, the Badgers have one of the best in the country in Derek Watt. Brother of the NFL's Defensive Player of the Year, J.J. Watt, Derek has cemented himself as an able pass-catcher and an excellent lead blocker.
Watt's pass-catching abilities have moved him into a hybrid fullback/tight-end role, which should give Austin Ramesh plenty of chances to see the field. Ramesh was excellent in the spring game and has carried that momentum into a strong fall and should see his hard work pay off.
At tight end, the Badgers have two guys who have patiently waited their turn behind guys like Jacob Pedersen and Brian Wozniak, both of whom earned training camp invites with the Atlanta Falcons, and now look ready to contribute in a big way.
With Sam Arneson, the Badgers have a dependable red-zone threat, who has turned 10 career receptions into four touchdowns, including a huge touchdown grab against Ohio State last season while getting clobbered in the end zone.
Backing him up is Austin Traylor, who despite not recording a catch yet in his collegiate career, projects out as an excellent blocker and should see a few targets, similarly to the way Wozniak was used last season as primarily a blocker but also a good safety valve.
Along the offensive line, the Badgers boast one of the strongest units in both the Big Ten and in the country. Led by offensive tackle Rob Havenstein, this starting group boasts dozens of starts between the five of them and nearly everyone along the line is on a preseason All-Big Ten team. Of note, Havenstein and offensive guard Kyle Costigan made Phil Steele's First Team All-Big Ten.
At kicker, the Badgers used a scholarship on incoming freshman Rafael Gaglianone, who impressed with every kick throughout fall camp. With seemingly limitless range, Gaglianone has probably overtaken incumbent Jack Russell on the depth chart, thus limiting the dog puns in my future columns.
Kenzel Doe has been shaky at times as a returner, but his 91-yard kick return in the Capital One Bowl last season showed he has the highlight-reel ability that teams look for in a kick returner and will handle kick and punt returns. Backing him up is freshman burner Natrell Jamerson and A.J. Jordan.
What to Watch For on DefenseSource: rivals.com 2014 Wisconsin Badgers Defensive Depth Chart Position1st String2nd String3rd String NG Warren Herring Arthur Goldberg Jeremy Patterson DE Chikwe Obasih Alec James James Adeyanju DE Konrad Zagzebski Jake Keefer Billy Hirschfeld OLB Vince Biegel Jesse Hayes Jack Cichy ILB Derek Landisch Michael Trotter D'Cota Dixon ILB Marcus Trotter Ben Ruechel Chasen Andersen OLB Joe Schobert Leon Jacobs Sherard Cadogan CB Sojourn Shelton Derrick Tindal Dare Ogunbowale CB Darius Hillary Devin Gaulden T.J. Reynard SS Michael Caputo Peniel Jean A.J. Jordan FS Lubern Figaro Leo Musso Austin Hudson P Drew Meyer P.J. Rosowski
The first thing you notice when you look up and down the depth chart is a lot of unfamiliar names, even to the most ardent of Badger fans. With that caveat aside, there is actually a lot of talent in here, much of which fits into defensive coordinator Dave Aranda's 3-4 scheme.
Starting at nose guard, filling in for the massive Beau Allen—a draft pick by the Philadelphia Eagles—is Konrad Zagzebski, a move which surprised some. Zagzebski was originally penciled in as a defensive end, but in order to move Warren Herring to defensive end, Zagzebski moves to nose guard.
Behind him, while the coaching staff had reservations about backups Arthur Goldberg and Jeremy Patterson, Goldberg has progressed nicely and coach Kauha'aha'a looks more comfortable playing Goldberg at this point. Freshman Jeremy Patterson has the frame to be a great nose guard, but for now, is firmly entrenched in the third string role.
At defensive end, the Badgers lost the most experience, losing Pat Muldoon, Tyler Dippel and Ethan Hemer, all three of whom were very good for the Badgers, particularly in run support. Konrad Zagzebski saw a few snaps last season, but more than the lion's share of playing time went to the three aforementioned departed seniors.
This leaves a potentially huge void at defensive end; however, the combination of Chikwe Obasih and Alec James should provide plenty of speed along the outside to help increase the pressure on opposing quarterbacks while also working in run support.
Furthermore, moving Herring to defensive end lets him spend more time pressuring the quarterback. Spelling Allen last year, Herring picked up four sacks—tied for second on the team. If Herring could pick up four sacks in a part-time role on the inside, the hope is that number can increase if he's playing more and at end.
With Herring and Obasih or James, the Badgers have more pieces to rush the passer than in years past, which will only be a good thing for them as coach Aranda gets to blitz a little bit more this season, now that the coaching staff has more of their own players in place.
At outside linebacker, the Badgers graduated Brendan Kelly and Ethan Armstrong; however, both Vince Biegel and Joe Schobert played quite a bit last season and both are chomping at the bit for their first real chance to start. Behind them, Leon Jacobs has been very good throughout camp and will be called upon to play plenty of snaps this season as the primary backup to Biegel and Schobert.
On the inside, the Badgers will attempt to replace the All-World production of Chris Borland. While no one will be able to do what Borland did, when called upon to start against Iowa after Borland went down with an injury, it was Marcus Trotter who stepped up to the plate and delivered a strong performance in relief.
Whether Trotter can keep up that kind of production throughout the course of a whole season is still yet to be seen; however, if that game was an indicator of anything, it's that Trotter is a sound tackler with good instincts and is very strong in run support.
Set to start alongside Trotter is Derek Landisch, who started a couple of games last season and, along with Herring, will be called upon to be a leader of this young defense. If Trotter and Landisch can play as well as they did against Iowa all season, the Badgers won't miss Borland as much as they may have anticipated.
For the first time in a long time, the secondary is not a question mark, but rather a position of strength. At cornerback, Sojourn Shelton looks to improve off an excellent freshman season. Paired with Shelton is Darius Hillary, who got picked on quite a bit last season but still performed very admirably.
In the nickel corner role is likely Devin Gaulden, who has struggled with injuries throughout his Badgers career, but if he can stay healthy, he will be a big contributor for the team. Also fighting for that nickel corner spot is freshman Derrick Tindal, who has been quite good throughout fall camp.
At strong safety, the Badgers have a strong, physical presence in Michael Caputo. Caputo is a tackling machine, recording the second most tackles on the team last season, and with Borland's departure, Caputo should rack up even more tackles this season.
Playing alongside him is likely freshman Lubern Figaro. Figaro has been nothing short of a revelation during fall camp, which has been a sigh of relief for the coaching staff as free safety was the only spot in the secondary with a question mark. Behind him is Leo Musso, who has been a valuable contributor in special teams thus far and should see snaps at safety.
At punter, Drew Meyer will likely retain his role. Meyer was really good as a freshman and solid last season as a sophomore. While the Badgers would love to see more distance on his punts, Meyer has been very effective in limiting the returns on his kicks.
Injury NewsSource: Various Wisconsin Badgers Injuries Player NameInjuryExpected Return Date Derek Landisch Hamstring By Opening Day Vince Biegel Head By Opening Day Caleb Kinlaw Undisclosed Unknown Robert Wheelwright Unknown Late August Jazz Peavy Hamstring Late August
The Badgers have been hit with the injury bug throughout fall camp, with more than a dozen players going down for stretches of time. With that being said, thankfully for the team, most of those injuries haven't been particularly serious, carrying tags of precautionary and the team has seen most players back on the field a couple of days later.
With that being said, the five injuries listed above are the most cause for concern. Both Robert Wheelwright and Jazz Peavy were in the discussion for serious playing time at wide receiver, with Wheelwright's name being bandied about as the No. 1 receiver.
Unfortunately, neither can seem to stay on the field, with Wheelwright watching his window of opportunity slip away as the trio of freshmen receivers along with previously unheralded players like Reggie Love overtaking them on the depth chart.
Kinlaw left practice on Tuesday with an undisclosed injury. Kinlaw was looking like a good change-of-pace option for the Badgers as the third string running back, though this injury could put the brakes on the freshman taking that role.
The last and arguably most important of these injuries is the one suffered by Derek Landisch. Landisch is one of the three most important players on the Badgers' defense and would expose some serious depth issues at inside linebacker.
With that being said, Landisch is expected back by the time the Badgers travel to Houston to take on LSU, though it will be important to monitor his health status leading up to the game.
While there are plenty of candidates for this role, there's one player who stands above the rest. Sure, one could point to Corey Clement, who will need to step into James White's big shoes as the complement to Gordon. One could point to Kenzel Doe in his attempt to fill the shoes of Jared Abbrederis, both as a receiver and a punt returner.
On the defensive side of the ball, one could look at Obasih or Biegel as the primary pass-rushers or Figaro as he is the freshman center fielder for the Badgers. But it is the man under center, Tanner McEvoy, that will make the biggest impact on whether the Badgers will be 8-4 or significantly better than that.
Originally, this section was written with Joel Stave as the X-Factor, when signs pointed to him being the starting quarterback for the Badgers; however, the substitution of McEvoy into this role shows just how important the man under center is.
McEvoy has the ability to hurt teams with his feet and his arms, though his 3/4 delivery is highly unconventional and, as a result, can be a bit erratic. He was good two years ago, the last time he played quarterback, when he was at Arizona Western, but last season, his first at Wisconsin, he played safety.
At safety, he played in 10 games, starting three and allowed Dezmen Southward to move over to a hybrid cornerback/safety role last season.
The questions that need to be asked include, "how much will McEvoy play?" and "how will the Badgers implement a mobile quarterback?" Outside of Russell Wilson in 2011, the Badgers haven't really had a mobile quarterback since the start of the Bielema era.
With that being said, offensive coordinator Andy Ludwig and coach Andersen have been looking to install a mobile quarterback, and while all reports have been that Stave has had the edge in camp, Ludwig and Andersen's preference for someone who can hurt you with their legs and their arm wins out.
While I don't believe McEvoy is Chuckie Keaton, the standout Andersen had under center at Utah State, by introducing an offense with a mobile quarterback this season, it could pave the way more easily for Gillins and Kafentzis in the coming years.
2014 ScheduleWisconsin Badgers 2014 Schedule DateOpponentLocation Aug. 30 LSU Houston, TX Sept. 6 Western Illinois Madison, WI Sept. 13 BYE Sept. 20 Bowling Green Madison, WI Sept. 27 South Florida Madison, WI Oct. 4 Northwestern Evanston, IL Oct. 11 Illinois Madison, WI Oct. 18 BYE Oct. 25 Maryland Madison, WI Nov. 1 Rutgers Piscataway, NJ Nov. 8 Purdue West Lafayette, IN Nov. 15 Nebraska Madison, WI Nov. 22 Iowa Iowa City, IA Nov. 29 Minnesota Madison, WI
Make or Break Games
Opening day is a good place to start, though beating LSU does more for the Big Ten than it does for the Badgers. A loss to the Tigers on opening day won't kill their chances to notch double-digit wins or make it back to Indianapolis, so I don't believe it is a make or break game.
The team's two make or break games come in consecutive weeks in mid-November, when the Nebraska Cornhuskers travel to Madison and the Badgers travel to Iowa City to take on the Iowa Hawkeyes.
These three teams are the class of the newly realigned Big Ten West division, and it's more than likely that the West's representative in Indianapolis will be decided in these two games.
If the Badgers can go 2-0 in these two games, even a slip-up against Minnesota or Northwestern at Ryan Field would still virtually ensure them a berth in the Big Ten Championship game.
Iowa has a similar schedule to the Badgers with their crossover games coming against Indiana and Maryland, two of the weaker teams in the East, while the Badgers get Maryland and Rutgers. Furthermore, Iowa's two toughest Big Ten games, against Nebraska and Wisconsin, both come at home.
Meanwhile, in Lincoln, Nebraska gets to play in East Lansing for one of their crossover games against Michigan State and also have to travel to Madison and Iowa City. With such a difficult schedule, I would be surprised to see Nebraska get through that gauntlet unscathed.
With all of that being said, that would make the Badgers' game against Iowa the make-or-break game on their schedule as both teams have a good chance to go undefeated in Big Ten play headed into this game, which would be the de facto West division championship game.
Not a lot is new this year, though the team has experimented with quite a few new combinations over the past few years. This season features an all-red uniform, which fits in with the rest of the team's uniform options nicely.
I think 11-1 is certainly in the cards. I also think the opening game against LSU will be too steep a challenge, considering the amount of losses at both the skill positions on offense and their entire front seven, but I think there is a lot to learn from this game, win or lose.
While it may be a bit optimistic, I think the Badgers have a good chance to run the table in conference. From there, a matchup with probably Michigan State in the Big Ten Championship game is on the cards. While anything can happen in a game like that—just look at the 2012 Big Ten Championship against Nebraska—I think Michigan State's defense would bottle up the run too well for the Badgers to overcome.
In terms of awards, Rob Havenstein is one of the best lineman in the country, and I think people will quickly find that out over the course of the season; however, Iowa's Brandon Scherff has the inside track on the Outland Trophy and Rotary Lombardi Award.
As for the much talked about Gordon, I think he will earn an invite to New York for the Heisman trophy award presentation, but Brett Hundley or Marcus Mariota will probably edge him out for the award itself.
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There is no game-planning for injuries.
Try as they might, college football coaches still haven't found a way to prevent the inevitable injuries that pop up and throw a wrench into their plans for the upcoming season.
Developing depth can help mitigate the impact of an injury, but only to a point. The same thing can be said with limiting the snaps that starters and key contributors get during the various offseason and preseason practices and workouts, as the lack of reps could lead to poor performance and timing that ends up being just as much a nuisance as an injury.
Since the 2013-14 season ended, nearly every FBS team has seen an important player go down with an injury. Most of them return quickly or only miss a few practices. Others, though, end up out of action for a much longer stretch. The closer that ailment comes to the start of the season the more games that player is apt to miss.
There are 10 teams, in particular, who will head into this fall without the services of at least one major player. Scroll through to see which teams are most impacted by injuries this season, and how they are dealing with it.