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Florida State Football: Final Game-by-Game Schedule Predictions

Florida State just has to do one better. 

The Seminoles, the 2013 national champions after a 14-0 season, are looking to repeat. And they have to do it by going 15-0—one more obstacle required because of the new College Football Playoff.

FSU's schedule is tougher certainly than the 2013 version that included Bethune-Cookman, Nevada and Idaho. This fall, FSU will face Oklahoma State and Notre Dame in nonconference games (Florida is the one consistent nonconference opponent on the Seminoles' schedule).

Can FSU repeat? Definitely. The Seminoles are loaded with talent and have just a few question marks going into the season opener. And the schedule sets up well, giving FSU a bye week—and extra time to prepare—before games against Clemson in September and Louisville in October.

Let's take a look at FSU's 2014 schedule:

 

Oklahoma State, Aug. 30 (at Arlington, Texas)

Key stat: 29. The Cowboys lost 29 seniors, and it's tough to replace that experience and leadership.

Analysis: The Cowboys love to pass—they threw for 3,599 yards last season. Nobody defends the pass better than FSU, which led the nation by allowing just 156 passing yards per game in 2013. Oklahoma State loses its top two receivers in Tracy Moore and Josh Stewart, but there is plenty of talent returning—not to mention electric junior college transfer Tyreek Hill. FSU has the depth to adjust after losing All-American corner Lamarcus Joyner and safety Terrence Brooks. The Seminoles defensive backs, led by corners Ronald Darby and P.J. Williams and safeties Jalen Ramsey and Nate Andrews, should have their hands full in what will be a good early test. But FSU will pass the test.

Predicted winner: FSU

 

The Citadel, Sept. 6

Key stat: $440,000. That's the guarantee that The Citadel will receive to play the Seminoles (according to FSU records).

Analysis: Since Jimbo Fisher took over as FSU's coach in 2010, the Seminoles have demolished Football Championship Subdivision teams. In 2013, it was a lightning-shortened 54-6 win over Bethune-Cookman. Fans will get to see plenty of backup quarterback Sean Maguire; he'll lead the second-team offense as this game will be out of reach early.

Predicted winner: FSU

 

Clemson, Sept. 20

Key stat: 11,904. The number of passing yards by now graduated quarterback Tajh Boyd in his Clemson career.

Analysis: This fall will be a big adjustment for Clemson as the Tigers move on to life without Boyd and playmaking receiver Sammy Watkins. But Cole Stoudt has thrown for eight touchdowns (and just one interception) with a 72 percent completion percentage. This would be a much better game if it were scheduled for October or November. But with FSU coming off a bye week and Clemson still putting the pieces together on offense, expect FSU to put this game out of reach in the second half.

Predicted winner: FSU

 

at N.C. State, Sept. 27

Key stat: 0. Number of ACC wins for the Wolfpack in 2013.

Analysis: The Wolfpack are in Year 2 of the rebuilding effort under coach Dave Doeren. N.C. State will be much better—and will win ACC games—now that former Florida quarterback Jacoby Brissett is eligible to play after sitting out 2013. Brissett is very good, but he won't be able to single-handedly carry the Wolfpack. The Wolfpack have a steady receiver in Bryan Underwood, but they simply don't have enough talent surrounding Brissett to pull off an upset. And no, FSU's players haven't forgotten the stunning 17-16 loss at N.C. State in October 2012.

Predicted winner: FSU

 

Wake Forest, Oct. 4

Key stat: 14. The Demon Deacons ranked 14th (last) in the ACC in total offense in 2013.

Analysis: Wake managed very little on offense, but 2014 could be bleak. The Demon Deacons lose their quarterback (Tanner Price), leading receiver (Michael Campanaro) and top rusher (Josh Harris). FSU has defeated Wake 59-3 and 52-0 the past two seasons. It may be that ugly again in a game where FSU will surely be playing its backups after halftime.

Predicted winner: FSU

 

at Syracuse, Oct. 11

Key stat: 7-4. After a rocky two weeks to open 2013 in which Syracuse lost to Penn State and Northwestern, Terrel Hunt took over as starter and led the Orange to wins in seven of their final 11 games.

Analysis: Hunt is a dangerous, dual-threat quarterback who could present some problems for FSU, especially when considering the supporting cast. Syracuse brings back tailback Prince-Tyson Gulley along with receivers Ashton Broyld, Jarrod West and Brisly Estime. The Seminoles need to make sure they are not looking ahead to Notre Dame. 

Predicted winner: FSU

 

Notre Dame, Oct. 18

Key stat: 15. Following the academic scandal that impacts four players, Notre Dame's leading returning receiver is Chris Brown with 15 catches in 2013.

Analysis: This game could be a showdown of top-10 teams. Or maybe not. Only time will tell how much the academic fraud investigation, first reported by Pat Forde of Yahoo Sports, will affect Notre Dame. Losing three projected starters—receiver DaVaris Daniels, cornerback KeiVarae Russell, defensive end Ishaq Williams—in August is significant. And it's underscored by the fact that Notre Dame was returning just nine starters. Still, the return of quarterback Everett Golson puts plenty of excitement into the offense and this pivotal game.

 

at Louisville, Oct. 30

Key stat: 12. Number of years since Louisville upset FSU in the rain on a Thursday night in 2002. The teams again play on a Thursday this season.

Analysis: Replacing quarterback Teddy Bridgewater is no easy task, but coach Bobby Petrino returns to Louisville and has a talent in 6'5'', 230-pound Will Gardner. And Louisville has a star in receiver DeVante Parker (55 catches, 885 receiving yards, 8 TDs). Petrino loves to air it out. And FSU defends the pass well. Give Fisher an extra week to break down game film of Louisville (which also has a bye going into the game), and FSU should win this one on the road.

Predicted winner: FSU

 

Virginia, Nov. 8

Key stat: 6. Wins the last two seasons for the Cavaliers.

Analysis: The hot seat is scalding for coach Mike London. But the years of recruiting success have helped bring the Cavaliers 5-star recruits like Taquan Mizzell and Andrew Brown. Virginia has a workhorse running back in Kevin Parks (1,031 rushing yards, 11 touchdowns), but if the Cavaliers aren't more consistent in the passing game, FSU will win this one going away.

Predicted winner: FSU

 

at Miami, Nov. 15

Key stat: 49 percent. That was quarterback Jake Heaps' completion percentage in 2013 at Kansas before he transferred to Miami.

Analysis: It remains to be seen who Miami will start at quarterback three months from now. And coach Al Golden could change starters once or twice between now and then. But if the job goes to the veteran Heaps, he must make better decisions. The Hurricanes have a star in tailback Duke Johnson and a rising talent in receiver Stacy Coley. Heaps needs to be smart and put the ball in the hands of the Hurricanes' playmakers. But the defense must also be better. And it should be. Is Miami's defense good enough to force FSU to punt? The Hurricanes haven't been able to do that, as Fisher is 4-0 vs. Miami since taking over as head coach in 2010.

Predicted winner: FSU

 

Boston College, Nov. 22

Key stat: 2,177. Rushing yards from 2013 lost when Andre Williams graduated.

Analysis: Tyler Murphy is a capable one-year transfer replacement for BC after the Eagles lost Chase Rettig to graduation. But Murphy must perform better than he did for the Gators—three INTs in a loss to Vanderbilt and a 44.8 completion percentage in a loss to Georgia. If he's learned from his mistakes, BC could again push for a bowl game even without an experienced back on the roster. This is a reasonably soft game for FSU going into the regular-season finale against Florida.

Predicted winner: FSU

 

Florida, Nov. 29

Key stat: 18. The number of key players the Gators lost to injury during the 2013 season, according to ESPN.com's Jeff Barlis.

Analysis: Florida won't go 4-8 again. And Georgia Southern isn't on the schedule. How much better will the Gators be? That's a tough one to answer, but new offensive coordinator Kurt Roper's spread attack will be better suited for quarterback Jeff Driskel. If he's comfortable in the system, the offensive line improves and the receivers develop, Florida should win seven or eight games. And the defense will again be one of the nation's best. But will the defense be good enough against FSU? The Seminoles racked up 456 offensive yards, including 327 passing yards, in a 37-7 rout last November.

Predicted winner: FSU

Bob Ferrante is the Florida State Lead Writer for Bleacher Report. All quotes obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted. Follow Bob on Twitter. All recruiting information is courtesy of 247Sports.

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SEC Football: Every Team's Biggest Trap Game for 2014 Season

The SEC schedule is littered with potential trap games, and no team is exempt. Whether its schedule is lauded for its quality (Auburn) or ribbed for its lack thereof (Alabama), there are land-mines looming that could blow the season to pieces. 

This is not an uncommon occurrence in any of the power-five conferences: Trap games are the main reason so few teams go undefeated, and their presence is one of the many things that give college football the best regular season in sports.

So many games are losable, but every loss matters so much.

But who might be this year's South Carolina: the team who gets caught looking ahead and pays the ultimate price because of it?

Based largely on the schedule—i.e., whom the team in question plays before and after a certain game—but also on the quality of opponent, we went searching for each SEC team's most likely trap situation.

Sound off below and let me know where you disagree.

Begin Slideshow

4-Star G Josh Wariboko Announces His Top 8: Where Would He Fit Best?

Coveted Oklahoma offensive guard Josh Wariboko is beginning to narrow things down in his nationwide recruitment process. The 6'3.5", 319-pound prospect is primarily focused on eight collegiate programs, a collection he tweeted to the masses Monday:

Wariboko, rated sixth nationally among offensive guard in 247Sports' composite rankings, remains one of the most highly pursued offensive linemen in the 2015 class. The 4-star prospect originally pledged to the in-state Sooners but backed off that verbal pact in April.

Despite distancing himself from the team, Oklahoma remains in the picture for now.

"I knew I wanted to take some more trips without bringing into question my integrity or my family's integrity," Wariboko told Rivals.com's Josh McCuistion shorty after decommitting. "I didn't want to say I was committed and take trips, that didn't seem right."

You have to respect the honesty, and after exploring a variety of options, he could wind up in Norman after all. However, Oklahoma faces serious competition for his signature.

Oklahoma State would also love to keep the Oklahoma City native on his home turf, as he leaves his West Coast destinations open with USC, Cal and UCLA still in the mix. Louisville, Ohio State and Texas A&M also land on the list.

Though we don't have an indication of when Wariboko plans to finalize his decision, there's a particular cluster of squads to keep tabs on along the way.

Oklahoma can't be counted out because of his longstanding relationship with the Sooners coaching staff. However, a pair of Pac-12 squads appear to be strong contenders.

USC and UCLA each hold commitments from 5-star passers, so it's imperative the offensive line is able to keep them upright in the coming years. Wariboko is a beastly interior blocker who exhibits excellent technique when facing a pass rush.

His body will undergo a transformation on campus as he leans out and builds a stronger base for leverage. Ultimately, this comes down to Oklahoma versus UCLA.

Wariboko visited the Bruins in June and is slated to use an official visit on campus this fall. UCLA has managed to build an impressive collection of offensive skill players and now aims to beef up the offensive front to free up those skill players.

The chance for immediate action in a young, up-and-coming offense gives Jim Mora's Bruins the edge here. Wariboko will find a home at UCLA.

 

Recruit information courtesy of 247Sports. 

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How Tyler Johnstone's Injury Affects the Oregon Ducks

The two most important positions in football are quarterback and left tackle. This much is especially true when you run the most dynamic offense in college football.

Unfortunately for the Oregon Ducks, they’ve lost one half of that important battery.

News broke last week that starting LT Tyler Johnstone, whom some had graded out as a first-round pick in 2015, has re-torn his right ACL and will miss the 2014 season. Johnstone originally tore his ACL in the Alamo Bowl in December 2013 against Texas.

Not only is it a huge blow to the Ducks, but it is the second big ACL injury they’ve suffered this year—the other involves star wide receiver Bralon Addison.

While the Ducks won’t confirm the extent of the injury—according to Tyson Alger of The Oregonian, the official stance, as always, is “day-to-day”—the loss of the redshirt junior means the Oregon offensive line will now scramble to once again become a cohesive unit.

Johnstone, the 6'6", 286-pounder who has started 26 consecutive games for the Ducks, will now be relegated to helping get his replacement, Andre Yruretagoyena, ready for the 2014 season opener against South Dakota.

Marcus Mariota, the team's QB and Heisman candidate, loses his backside protection with Johnstone going down, but he suggests Johnstone can still play a vital role for the Ducks in 2014.

“Any time you have injuries, it's tough. It is unfortunate. We're praying for him but he's going to work back to getting healthy and he'll still make his contribution to this team,” he told reporters.

Mariota will now be leaning on Yruretagoyena, the 6'5" and 290-pound redshirt junior who has made 11 career appearances for Oregon.

Yruretagoyena won’t be completely unfamiliar to Mariota and the rest of the Ducks offense, as he has taken first-team reps during the spring and summer as Johnstone’s replacement.

It is now the job of the leaders, like Mariota, Johnstone and offensive line coach Steve Greatwood, to coach Yruretagoyena up and turn him into the “first-string talent” that Johnstone described when talking about his backup last week.

According to Alger, Greatwood thinks Yruretagoyena will be just fine and the reps he got with the first team this spring prepared him for the spotlight:

It immensely prepared him. You look at him and he's going against one of the premier defensive lineman in the country in DeForest Buckner every snap. That can't help but get you better and better. He's competing at a very high level. ...

I'm confident we're not going to drop off at Tyler's spot.

If the Ducks have any shot at competing for a berth in the College Football Playoff this season, they’re going to need to protect their best asset: Mariota.

The loss of Johnstone will be felt across the entire offensive line. However, the Ducks' mantra, started by Chip Kelly, has always been “next man up.” Well, next man up.

Welcome to the show, Andre Yruretagoyena.

 

Follow Jason M. Gold on Twitter @TheSportsGuy33.

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How Tyler Johnstone's Injury Affects the Oregon Ducks

The two most important positions in football are quarterback and left tackle. This much is especially true when you run the most dynamic offense in college football ...

Read the full article on Bleacher Report...

College Football 2014: Which Freshmen Will Have Biggest Impact This Season

Freshmen will have an impact across college football in 2014. Whether it be Leonard Fournette toting the rock for LSU or Jabrill Peppers roaming the secondary for Michigan, first-year players will make their presence known.

Who are some of the biggest names to watch? Watch as B/R's experts break down this year's top incoming freshmen.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Ohio State Football: Urban Meyer's Takeaways from Buckeyes' Second Scrimmage

Initially open but later closed off to the media, the Ohio State football team held its second scrimmage of fall camp on Saturday with two weeks to go until its season opener against Navy. And while reporters weren't there to witness it, Buckeyes head coach Urban Meyer met with the media afterwards to provide an update on his team in advance of its final week of fall camp.

Braxton Miller's health, the development of Ohio State's defense and a somewhat solidified offensive line dominated the conversation as the Buckeyes still face several questions heading into the 2014 campaign. But their head coach likes where they stand heading into his third season in Columbus, as Ohio State chases a spot in the first ever College Football Playoff.

 

Braxton Battling

After undergoing offseason shoulder surgery in February, Miller was supposed to be back at full strength in time for fall camp, but that didn't turn out to be the case. Instead, the two-time reigning Big Ten MVP has been severely limited in practice, even sitting out his team's first scrimmage on Aug. 9.

Miller managed to take part in the Buckeyes' second scrimmage although it was clear he was far from full-go. Meyer still maintains that he'll be ready to go when Ohio State takes the field for its season opener against Navy—he's just not there quite yet.

"Limited throws is where he's at," Meyer said. "From what [the training staff] tells me, he's right on schedule. But you'd like to have him do a bit more."

On Monday, Miller stood by during the Buckeyes' opening practice of a two-a-day session but was expected to take part in OSU's afternoon practice. More than anything from a physical standpoint, Meyer said that he can see something in his star player's demeanor that lets him know that when push comes to shove, he'll be good to go.

"I know he'll be ready. I've known Braxton for three years," Meyer said. "It's almost like looking at your son, and you can see in his face if he's concerned. And he's not. I trust that he'll be ready."

But ultimately, Meyer did concede that Miller's limited availability has hindered the Buckeyes to a certain degree this offseason.

"I'd like to be able to run the first team out there and go," Meyer admitted. "And we're not able to do that."

 

Looking Like A Line

Replacing four multiyear starters from a season ago, no position group on the Buckeyes roster faces more questions than Ohio State's offensive line. But with two weeks to go until the start of the season, Meyer likes what he's seen, with three players having already locked up starting spots for the coming campaign.

"Darryl Baldwin is the starting right tackle," Meyer announced on Saturday. "Darryl Baldwin is one of the most improved players on the team. You have [right guard] Pat Elflein, Darryl Baldwin and [left tackle] Taylor Decker are the three starters."

That leaves holes at left guard and center, where Meyer has plenty of options at each. The third-year OSU head coach mentioned Jacoby Boren, Joel Hale, Chase Farris, Billy Price, Antonio Underwood and Chad Lindsay as all potential starters but admitted that he's concerned that he doesn't have two from the group just yet.

"The good news is we have a couple of names in there," Meyer said. "The bad thing is that it's not solidified yet."

 

Defensive Development

It was just eight months ago that the Buckeyes defense found itself under fire after finishing the 2013 season by surrendering a combined 1,014 yards and 74 points in its final two games—both Ohio State losses. Enter new Buckeyes co-defensive coordinator Chris Ash, who was brought in from Arkansas to help overhaul OSU's defensive scheme.

So far, it's been so good, according to Meyer, who says that his defense's new philosophy is unique in that it places a premium on stopping the pass rather than the run.

"The biggest issue is the ability to think from the back end forward, which probably hasn't really been done here or many places," Meyer said. "College football has always been run the ball, stop the run. And when you're facing some really good throwing teams or you have a Sammy Watkins, you have to be able to get more than one hand on him. We have the ability to do that now. ... So far, it's exactly how I wanted to see it look."

In particular, Meyer has been pleased with his safeties, as Ohio State breaks in two new starters following the departures of C.J. Barnett and Christian Bryant. But a youthful group of highly touted prospects has taken advantage of the opportunity, both on the first team as well as the second.

"Safety is strong," Meyer said. "You've got Cam Burrows, Vonn Bell and Tyvis Powell and then Erick Smith right on his toes. [Ron] Tanner would be the fifth."

 

Dog Days Of Summer

Two weeks in and with two weeks to go in fall camp, it's not uncommon for a team to begin dealing with injuries at this time of year—and Ohio State is no different. Held out of the Buckeyes' scrimmage on Saturday were cornerbacks Gareon Conley and Marshon Lattimore as well as wide receiver Devin Smith, each of whom are expected to contribute significantly this season.

Nevertheless, Meyer maintains that his team remains on track despite a few minor setbacks.

"We're two weeks out. We're going through the camp blues or the dog days or whatever you call it," Meyer said. "That's what's going on right now."

Meyer was, however, quick to note that the Buckeyes have only endured two season-ending injuries—freshmen Kyle Berger and Dylan Thompson—to this point. But that doesn't mean that the minor health issues haven't hampered Ohio State as its battle with the Midshipmen approaches.

"The good thing is that there's been minimal season-ending injuries," Meyer said. "The bad thing is that there's been no consistency due to nagging injuries."

 

A New No. 2

While a promotion to Ohio State's second team may not be big news otherwise, it was on Saturday when Meyer announced that J.T. Barrett had passed Cardale Jones as the Buckeyes' top backup quarterback. That could be viewed as a surprise to some after Jones appeared to have a firm grasp on OSU's top understudy spot entering fall camp.

"J.T. Barrett's moved slightly ahead of Cardale in the quarterback derby," Meyer revealed "That's because of his opportunities."

Given Miller's injury history—he's yet to make it through an entire college football season fully healthy—Ohio State's backup quarterback spot is an important one, as Kenny Guiton proved a season ago. Asked what the redshirt freshman has done to seize his moment, Meyer pointed to a new sense of maturity that's apparent in both Barrett's game and mindset

"Just functionality, completing passes and understanding everything," Meyer pointed to as areas where Barrett's made strides. "He's grown up a little bit. He kind of always used to be a quiet guy. Now, he's starting to act like a quarterback."

 

Ben Axelrod is Bleacher Report's Ohio State Lead Writer. You can follow him on Twitter @BenAxelrod. Unless noted otherwise, all quotes were obtained firsthand. All recruiting information comes courtesy of 247Sports.

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Arizona State Unveils New Copper-Themed Uniforms for 2014-15 Season

The Arizona State Sun Devils have found a way to include copper on a uniform for this upcoming season.

In order to pay tribute to Arizona's copper production, Nike has incorporated copper into every part of the Sun Devils' new uniform. The main color of the uniform is anthracite, but copper is a big part of the new look. From the helmet to the jersey to the pants, it can be found everywhere.

Here's what coach Todd Graham had to say about the new look, via the Arizona State Sun Devils:

We wanted to pay homage to this great state while keeping the team’s look consistent. We are one of the top few teams in the nation with as many looks and combinations as we have, and this plays an important role in building a national fanbase and molding Arizona State University into a household name.

Arizona State will wear the anthracite and copper uniforms at some point this season, but no game has been selected yet.

Here are some more looks at the uniforms:

 

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Projecting USC Football's New-Look Offense for 2014 Season

Steve Sarkisian joked at Pac-12 media days that the biggest change he's introducing in his first season as USC's new head coach are "glow-in-the-dark uniforms."

Fans need not brace themselves for neon duds, but Sarkisian is introducing at least one dramatic change in the coming season. 

"Obviously, the uptempo [offense] is a big change," Sarkisian said. "We're going to go fast, and that is something that will be very different than has ever been seen at the Coliseum."

This year's Trojans are abandoning the offensive style past Trojans employed, seemingly dating back to the leather-helmet era.

OK, so the pro-style may not be quite that firmly entrenched into USC tradition, but it was part of the program's identity. 

Of course, the introduction of a no-huddle system doesn't mean USC will emulate Pac-12 counterpart Washington State by lining up four or five receivers every down. Neither will the Trojans be running the zone-read option Arizona's Rich Rodriguez is known to employ. 

"The schemes are going to look similar, but we are going to go fast," Sarkisian said.

USC's new system is more of a modern twist to the traditional concepts. But what exactly does that entail? 

Nearly nine months of suspense come to a head on Aug. 30 when the Trojans' new-look offense is unveiled against Fresno State. Spring practices, fall camp and Sarkisian's 2013 Washington Huskies offer some insight into what can be expected of USC this season.

Washington took 1,023 snaps through 13 games in 2013, 17th most in the nation and 99 more than USC had in 14 games.

As this season is for the Trojans, 2013 was the Huskies' first operating in the hurry-up system, and their number of plays increased from 904 the season prior. 

That breaks down to fewer than 10 more snaps per game, which may not seem significant on the surface. But for Washington, those extra snaps were taken in three minutes, 10 seconds of possession less per game than the 2012 season. 

Extra snaps obviously equate to more touches to be spread among the offensive playmakers. And, since Sarkisian promises a continuation of USC's longstanding run-pass balance, the extra opportunities should spread to the run and the pass accordingly. 

In other words, USC should have roughly 40 passes and 60 rushes more for which to account. 

Quarterback Cody Kessler is tasked with distributing those additional touches.

Sarkisian said the redshirt junior is uniquely equipped to handle to the on-the-fly improvisation necessary to flourish in the uptempo offense.

"He can make and see things extremely well and make decisive decisions quickly," Sarkisian said. "I think that comes from his basketball experience, playing point guard, having him make those types of decisions."

Comparing the modern tempo of college football offenses to basketball is nothing new, and Sarkisian brings up an interesting point. The back-and-forth pace on the hardwood doesn't allow for huddles between each sequence, so the point guard gets his play-call from the sidelines. 

This is true for a quarterback running a no-huddle offense. And, like a basketball team getting out in transition, the hurry-up offense's goal is putting the defense back on its heels. 

Kessler's ability to do that effectively will be an immediate boon for his individual production. 

The change in systems benefited Washington's Keith Price last season virtually across the board. His completion percentage, yards per pass attempt, touchdowns and interceptions all improved markedly. 

Price also distributed his passes more evenly among his teammates. His total number of attempts dipped in 2013, yet he connected 20 or more times with six different receivers. In 2012, he found just four different targets for 20 or more receptions. 

That uptick in distribution bodes well for Kessler with Marqise Lee gone for the NFL. Lee was the focal point of the Trojans' passing attack in 2012 and through the first half of 2013, before battling injury. 

USC returns talented playmaker Nelson Agholor, who last season caught a team-high 918 yards on 56 receptions. Agholor is likely to exceed 60 catches in his junior campaign. 

Darreus Rogers is a breakout candidate, and Victor Blackwell was involved in some noteworthy plays during fall camp. 

George Farmer is a potential X-factor. Injuries and position changes have hindered Farmer thus far into his USC career, but Kessler is seeing him develop into a weapon. 

"He's making cuts he wouldn't have made eight months ago," Kessler said last month at Pac-12 media days. "He's really starting to get back into the swing of football." 

Keeping Kessler upright is crucial for USC to push the tempo, but last year protecting him was sometimes an issue. The Trojans gave up 34 sacks to rank No. 104 in the nation. 

That was bad, but Washington's 38 sacks allowed in 2012 were worse. Price's struggles in his junior campaign were partially attributable to porous protection.

The Huskies shaved eight off that total in 2013—not necessarily ideal, and not particularly impressive on the surface. But with Washington running almost 120 plays more in 2013 than 2012, sacks were coming far less frequently. 

And, in general, Price was able to operate with far less duress. Similarly, Kessler's acclimation to the hurry-up will rely heavily on the offensive line's development. 

Offensive line play is USC's biggest question mark heading into the season, so look for the Trojans to particularly emphasize building from the rush through the first few weeks.  

Past USC teams have employed multiple ball-carriers, and that won't change with the arrival of the no-huddle. 

Sarkisian leaned primarily on one, workhorse back to shoulder much of the responsibility in his time at Washington, whether it was Chris Polk or Bishop Sankey. But Sarkisian didn't have two proven No. 1 backs at Washington, as he does in USC's Javorius "Buck" Allen and Tre Madden. 

Madden rushed for 703 yards on 138 carries last season, and he exceeded 90 yards in each of the first five games.

Getting him back healthy from a hamstring injury means opposing run defenses will get no relief from a relentless ground attack. 

"[Madden is] definitely a big asset for this team," Kessler told Rich Hammond of the Orange County Register. "I think him and Buck will be a really good one-two punch."

Sophomore Justin Davis also figures to be in the mix. Davis has impressed in fall camp and appears to be fully recovered from the foot injury that shelved him midway through last season. 

The trio should split somewhere in the neighborhood of 500 carries. Allen and Madden could combine for around 400 of those. However, Davis is fast making his case to be more than just a change-of-pace option. 

No matter who is getting the touches, Allen told Gary Klein of the Los Angeles Times the no-huddle offense means one thing: 

"There's enough to go around," he said.  

 

Quotes obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted. Statistics compiled via CFBstats.com.

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Projecting USC Football's New-Look Offense for 2014 Season

Steve Sarkisian joked at Pac -12 media days that the biggest change he's introducing in his first season as USC's new head coach are "glow-in-the-dark uniforms...

Read the full article on Bleacher Report...

Why Recent Recruiting Losses Shouldn't Worry Crimson Tide Fans

The script flipped for Alabama this past weekend, as a pair of SEC opponents plucked two prized prospects from the Crimson Tide's clutches. Well on his way to an unprecedented fifth straight No. 1 recruiting class, head coach Nick Saban certainly won't wallow in despair about the duo's sudden departure.

Supporters of the team in Tuscaloosa and beyond should adopt a similar attitude after experiencing a slight—and rare—step backward on the recruiting trail.

Keep calm and roll on.

Did Alabama lose a versatile 2015 defensive end when Jonathan Ledbetter pledged his allegiance to Georgia? Sure.

Would defensive tackle Benito Jones have become a foundational member of the Tide's 2016 class had he not jumped over to Ole Miss? Probably.

However, in today's recruiting climate, few programs overcome a bump setbacks en route to national signing day like Alabama. Do you think offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin is still lamenting the loss of 5-star quarterback Ricky Town?

The Tide acted swiftly following his flip to USC and identified multiple targets, many of whom have dual-threat skill that simply haven't been featured at the position during an incredibly successful run.

National champions Greg McElroy and AJ McCarron combined to rush for five touchdowns during the past five seasons. Town, another prototypical pocket passer, would have maintained that mold. Instead, Alabama altered its course and appeared intent on landing a dual-threat talent.

Saban found his man in Southern California quarterback Blake Barnett, who initially committed to Notre Dame last year.

"Coach Kiffin and Coach Saban were very fond about the idea of their quarterback being able to run the ball several times in each game," he said following an Elite 11 practice in Beaverton, Oregon. "It's something they were looking for, and it made sense as a fit for me."

A sensational summer and Elite 11 title sent Barnett soaring in national rankings, moving ahead of Town in the process. Barnett projects as a playmaker who can challenge for the starting job as an underclassman and bring a new dynamic to Alabama's talent-laden lineup.

"When a play breaks down and the pocket starts to close in, I can make things happen," he said. "I think I'll be able to bring that element to the offense and maybe open things up for other teammates."

That's one heck of a way to fill the massive hole left behind by Town.

Alabama has lost three commitments during past month (Jones, Ledbetter and top-ranked inside linebacker Leo Lewis), but the Tide managed to plunder other recruiting classes in the process.

Earlier this month, Alabama bolstered its secondary by flipping 4-star defensive backs Rico McGraw (Georgia) and Ronnie Harrison (UNC). They join a stacked backfield that already includes 2014 5-star signees Tony Brown and Marlon Humphrey.

Both of those coveted cornerbacks committed during the final stretch toward last signing day. They filled needs created by the departures of Stephen Roberts and Kalvaraz Bessent, who flipped to Auburn and didn't carry the same clout in recruiting rankings as their eventual successors.

When it comes to replacing Ledbetter and Jones, just look at the impressive list of defensive linemen who've expressed interest in attending Alabama. Rest assured, Saban will find new beasts up front.

Rashan Gary, a 5-star 2015 defensive tackle, deserves to be in the conversation when it comes to naming America's top rising junior. The New Jersey native has expressed significant interest in Alabama since receiving an offer.

He currently maintains strong communication with assistant coach Mario Cristobal and listed the Tide, Michigan and Ohio State as teams "I’m talking to the most," per Steve Wiltfong of 247Sports.

While speaking at The Opening, he admitted an opportunity to play in the SEC could eventually create an advantage for Alabama.

"It felt like things really reached a new level when the SEC offers started arriving," Gary said. "When I realized those teams decided early that they want me, it was an honor. That's grown-man football."

More immediate attention is needed when it comes to replacing Ledbetter, who is rated fifth nationally among strong-side defensive ends in 247Sports' composite rankings.

Alabama already has a superb stable of talent at the position but remains in pursuit of pass-rushers in this class who can dominate the edge. Top possibilities include CeCe Jefferson (Florida) and Kyle Phillips (Tennessee).

Though some rivals may have reveled in a rough weekend for Alabama's recruiting efforts, any hopes for a full-scale class implosion is foolhardy.

Saban has set a sky-high standard in Tuscaloosa and should feel confident he can raise the bar even higher by the end of this cycle.

 

All quotes obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted. Recruit ratings courtesy of 247Sports. 

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Alabama Football: Final Game-by-Game Schedule Predictions

In less than two short weeks, the Alabama football team will finally hit the field in a competitive game against somebody other than itself for the first time since a crushing 45-31 loss to Oklahoma in the Sugar Bowl to end the 2013 season.

Can the Crimson Tide get back to the top of the college football mountain?

That will be the question on just about everybody’s mind during the 2014 season. The talent is certainly there, but Alabama also has more question marks than it has had in recent memory—not the least of which is at the game’s most important position.

And so, as things stand right now, here are our final Alabama game-by-game predictions for the 2014 season.

Begin Slideshow

Preseason College Football Rankings 2014: Major Differences in Amway, AP Polls

There was just a bit of disparity between the 2014 Amway Coaches Poll and the Associated Press preseason poll.

Florida State earned the top position in each poll, however, further establishing itself as the premier team in the nation for the upcoming season. With kickoff just a few weeks away, teams will be scrambling to finalize their depth charts in hopes of catching the Seminoles by season's end.

These polls no longer matter for the playoff system now in place, but they serve as a good benchmark to tell which teams are playing well and which teams are spiraling downward. For now, the rankings stand as such:

You'll notice a few differences between the two lists. You'll find a breakdown of three of the most noticeable differences below.

 

Missouri

Maty Mauk may not have a clear reserve behind him, but that shouldn't scare people away from the Missouri Tigers. If Mauk suffers an injury, then this team might be doomed. With him under center, they'll be just fine.

The Amway poll didn't trust the Tigers, as they didn't even rank on the list. The AP had enough confidence in Mizzou to place them 24th, however, there's a good chance they finish even higher than that very safe ranking.

Mauk is enough to keep this team in the top 25 all by himself. After taking over as the starter last October, the signal-caller never looked back. He'll have plenty of help behind him in 2014, as junior running back Russell Hansbrough is a proven commodity.

Marcus Murphy will also get touches at tailback, but the senior has served primarily as a slot receiver in training camp this year.

Lucas Vincent leads a very strong defensive line. Vincent is actually a player to keep an eye on this season, and Dave Matter of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch already outlined his goals for 2014, via NCAA.com:

"He's playing at a different level than he's ever played,"[head coach Gary] Pinkel said after Tuesday's scrimmage, when Vincent was the most disruptive lineman from a front four that camped in the backfield all day.

Missouri has developed a reputation for churning out NFL-ready defensive linemen, with eight D-linemen from the Pinkel years currently in NFL training camps. Senior defensive end Markus Golden is widely considered the next elite pro prospect, but for now, Vincent has more immediate goals.

"I want to be All-SEC and All-American," he said.

While neither poll placed Mizzou particularly high, the AP poll was a bit more accurate in its assessment of the Tigers' talent.

 

Texas

It's rare to see the Texas Longhorns not in the discussion as one of the top 25 teams in college football. Amway liked Texas at No. 24, but the AP wanted nothing to do with the Longhorns. They failed to crack the list altogether.

One of the most important positions on the field is running back. A dynamic back can dictate the pace of a game and the overall explosiveness of an offense.

The Longhorns were deep at the position in 2013, but all of that has changed heading into this season.

Jonathan Gray's Achilles injury puts his status in jeopardy for 2014. Even if he is healthy, no one knows how he'll be able to produce when on the field. Joe Bergeron was dismissed from the team at the end of July, leaving Malcolm Brown as really the only viable option at the position.

This is certainly enough to make fans wary, so it's not a surprise to see the AP poll keep Texas out of the top 25.

That said, preseason polls only mean so much. It's impossible to quantify the impact of rookies, transfers and unknowns prior to the start of the regular season. Training camp and practices are good indicators, but anything can happen on the field.

Texas could very well sneak into the top 25 in a few weeks, but the running back depth could ultimately keep this team from finishing better than 7-5.

 

Oregon

The Oregon Ducks ranked No. 4 in the Amway poll and No. 3 in the AP poll. That's not a huge discrepancy, but it will be up to Marcus Mariota to prove that his team is even better than either poll has suggested.

The junior is one of the favorites to go No. 1 overall in the 2015 NFL draft (should he choose to leave school). He threw just four interceptions last season, though his completion percentage of 63.5 needs a little work.

Regardless, the pundits are in his corner. ESPN College Football predicted that he would win the Heisman Trophy over defending champ Jameis Winston:

The outcome of the 2014 season for Oregon is entirely up to Mariota. Two losses in November derailed the team's hopes at a trip to the national championship game last season, and consistency must be key for this explosive offense moving forward.

All the defense has to do is play well enough to keep their team in the lead. You never want to see a defense allow 30 points per game, but this Ducks offense can easily outproduce that.

Oregon could finish anywhere from No. 1 to No. 10, given how difficult it is to rely on an explosive offense to drop 45-plus points every game.

 

Follow Kenny DeJohn on Twitter: @KennyDeJohn_BR

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What Travonte Valentine's Clearance to Play for LSU Means for Les Miles, Tigers

At a time of year more prone to bad news (injuries, transfers, suspensions, etc.) than good news, LSU received a major boost when freshman defensive tackle Travonte Valentine confirmed that he was ruled eligible by the NCAA Clearinghouse.

 

Update: Monday, August 18 – 1:38 p.m. ET

Apparently, this may have been a bit premature.

According to Jeremy Fowler of CBSSports.com, Valentine jumped the gun with his announcement, which has not yet been made official. His paperwork is still going through the "final phases of (the) admission process," so he is not quite ready to join the team:

It still sounds like Valentine will be ruled eligible, it's just not a sure-thing. And he might have even less time to practice with the team.

We'll keep you updated as we learn more.

--END OF UPDATE––

 

Original Text

Valentine tweeted the news Monday afternoon, demonstrating exactly how much he has to learn about LSU by calling it the wrong name:

Note: To Valentine's credit, he corrected himself 90 minutes later.

Valentine was the No. 65 overall recruit and No. 3 defensive tackle in the country, per the 247Sports composite rankings. At 6'3", 338 pounds, he ostensibly has the size to contribute as a true freshman.

That is particularly important for LSU at defensive tackle, where last year's starters, Anthony Johnson and Ego Ferguson, both declared early for the NFL, and backup Quentin Thomas is dealing with a torn biceps injury that could slow him down at the start of the year.

Thomas was projected to start alongside Christian LaCouture, and even though his recovery from the injury has been impressive, it wasn't so long ago (less than a week) that Ross Dellenger of The Advocate was reporting he might be done for the season.

Even if he comes back to play against Wisconsin, his health, at best, should be considered a major question mark going forward.

Those questions make Valentine a valuable addition behind LaCouture, Thomas, Mickey Johnson and a trio of redshirt freshmen, Frank Herron, Greg Gilmore and Maquedius Bain. But because of all those bodies, it didn't necessarily make him an imperative one, as Bleacher Report Lead LSU Writer Carter Bryant pointed out:

Valentine will likely take some time getting up to speed during fall camp, which could, in theory, limit his early workload. Twelve days with the team is not enough to master John Chavis' defense.

However, considering LSU's Week 1 opponent—a Wisconsin team with a massive, experienced, road-grating offensive line, arguably the best running back in the country (Melvin Gordon) and a history of jamming the ball down opponents' throats—it might not be afforded the opportunity to ease Valentine into action.

Even Bryant, who didn't want to overstate the importance of Valentine's eligibility, was quick to note that Valentine is the biggest tackle on LSU's roster (which is a priority against the Badgers):

His size might be needed from the get-go.

Herron, after all, is "only" 6'4", 278 pounds, which makes him more of an oversized defensive end than a true defensive tackle.

Gilmore and Bain are 300-pounders whose size should be a benefit on the ground, but neither was as highly regarded as Valentine coming out of high school, and especially if Thomas cannot play or is not at full strength against Wisconsin, all hands will be needed on deck.

Still, it is best not to hail Valentine has a savior for this year's run defense. According to ESPN Scouts Inc. (subscription required), his raw potential against the run was curtailed by his inconsistency. In terms of crowding the ball, using his hands and maintaining a low enough pad level, he needs to be coached up a little bit.

In this regard, missing the lion's share of fall camp was particularly detrimental.

Valentine, more than most LSU players, could have used the extra time to learn under Chavis and position coach Brick Haley. More likely than not, he will have to develop technical consistencies on the fly, which should expedite his learning curve but also lead to occasional poor results.

Wisconsin has the type of veteran offensive line that can expose such raw deficiencies, so Valentine might be counted on in more of the short-yardage role Bryant alluded to than as a true rotation tackle. If he improves as the year goes on, that should change.

Any way you swing it, though, it's better to have Valentine eligible than to not. He is at the very least another giant body to trot out. The more of those you have, the fresher you can keep the starters at a position where fatigue is often an issue. It's also a safeguard against injury.

Unlike Herron, Gilmore and Bain last season, Valentine will not have a redshirt year to learn from the sidelines.

This front seven needs him to play—and play soon.

 

Follow Brian Leigh on Twitter: @BLeighDAT.

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Predictions for Florida State in 2014 After AP Preseason Poll Release

For the sixth time in its prestigious history, Florida State football rests as the No. 1 team in the land after the AP preseason poll reveal.

Rightfully so, too. After a national title and with a returning Heisman winner under center, the Seminoles are far and away the best team in the nation on paper, especially when the loss of recognizable names can be countered with the next-man-up philosophy.

As ESPN Stats & Info notes, history smiles upon the Seminoles:

It is a great sign, but the Seminoles must leave it all on the field now that the proverbial target is on their back. Below, let's take a look at the full poll to get a better idea of how the collegiate landscape shapes up and nail down some predictions for the Seminoles after the jump.

 

2014 AP Preseason Poll

Poll courtesy of The Associated Press.

 

 

Predictions

Seminoles Run the Table...But Not Without Struggles

Yes, the road to a national title is more difficult than last year's schedule, but there is little to suggest the Seminoles will not post a goose egg in the loss column once again.

Many will point to a matchup against Oklahoma State to start the season as an issue, but we're talking about a team that lost 29 seniors and an offense that is a shell of its former self going against what was an elite defense a season ago led by end Mario Edwards.

The real struggle will come against Clemson. As Andy Staples of Sports Illustrated notes, the team's playoff aspirations hinge on that one game thanks to the ACC:

The Seminoles can probably lose a game and still make the playoff. They’ve beefed up their nonconference schedule with home dates against Oklahoma State (Aug. 30) and Notre Dame (Oct. 18), and annual rival Florida (Nov. 29) should be better than last year. The ACC’s overall improvement will help too. Their must-win game is a Sept. 20 visit by Clemson. An FSU loss likely means no ACC Atlantic Division title and no ACC title. An SEC or Pac-12 team might make the playoff without winning its division, but that probably won’t be the case in the other leagues.

It is difficult to hype up the match too much, though. Clemson lost names such as quarterback Tajh Boyd and wideouts Sammy Watkins and Martavis Bryant to the NFL. Last year's contest in Memorial Stadium was a 51-14 train wreck.

No, the real problem for the Seminoles is themselves. We have yet to really find out what the team looks like if Winston posts a poor performance, and the chance of a sloppy contest littered with penalties could make road encounters with NC State and Miami (Fla.) tricky.

Home contests against Notre Dame—a team that touts dual-threat quarterback Everett Golson—and Florida should prove tricky, but an elite defense once again will do much to counter any potential issues under center.

 

ACC Championship Rout

The ACC Coastal Division is a complete wild card.

North Carolina seems to be a favorite, but Duke and Virginia Tech have enough talent to make a run at the top, too. Do not sleep on the Hurricanes, either, not with elite running back Duke Johnson leading the way (920 yards and six scores with a 6.3 average last season).

No matter which team emerges, though, it all ends at one roadblock—a loss to the Seminoles.

Let's pretend for a moment that Duke falls off a cliff with Kurt Roper gone to Florida and quarterback Brandon Connette now under center for Fresno State. So let's give the nod to Miami, an athletic team that does not get enough credit for its depth.

Under the spotlight of a championship game, even Johnson will not be able to run wild on a defense that surrendered just 12.1 points per game last season, the best mark in the land.

While Florida State resides heads and shoulders above the rest of the conference talent-wise, critical questions for every other team only make things worse. For the Hurricanes, it is who lines up under center.

If the Hurricanes cannot put a wealth of points on the board against an elite unit, this year's ACC title game will look similar to last year's—when Winston and Co. handed Duke a 45-7 loss.

 

Back-to-Back Champs

Going undefeated two seasons in a row is ridiculously difficult, but Jimbo Fisher has a roster in place to do just that, especially in a weak ACC. 

It hardly matters which teams make the playoff when one ponders just how much talent is on its way back to Tallahassee. Led by top NFL prospect Cameron Ervin, Winston will play behind the nation's best offensive line.

NFL.com's Chase Goodbread explains the senior's talent best:

A fifth-year offensive tackle, Erving could be the first ACC player drafted next year. He has the requisite size and length at 6-foot-6, 302 pounds and provides Winston with outstanding pass protection. Erving was a first-team All-ACC pick last season.

Protected by that line, Winston will only improve. The bright lights of a playoff are no big deal, either. Not just because of last year's triumph, but because of the razor-sharp approach the signal-caller employs, as best captured by Brandon Mellor of Seminoles.com:

Given the way the preseason poll aligns with schedules and the like, the likely three to join the Seminoles seem to be Alabama, Oregon and the defensive-minded Michigan State Spartans.

Of the three, the team that poses the biggest threat is Oregon, which would make for one heck of a final matchup.

Really, as great as it sounds on paper, the Oregon defense is a major question mark when tasked with the physical Florida State offense, and the Seminoles' veteran defense can at least slow an offense led by Marcus Mariota.

So the AP got this one right. Until Winston departs and Fisher stops being the nation's best recruiter, polls will continue to open with the Seminoles on top. Really, it is only fitting that the team to win the final title of the BCS era also kicks off the playoff era by lifting the hardware.

 

Note: Statistics courtesy of ESPN.

 

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Michigan Football: Running Back by Committee Is Best Shot at Success

Brady Hoke still believes that a running back will separate himself from the pack and seize the top position on the depth chart.

"Things will shake out a bit, and then we'll have a No. 1 and some other guys we're still excited about,” said Hoke earlier this week.

But with less than two weeks before the season opener, sophomores Derrick Green, De’Veon Smith and Drake Johnson are in a logjam, poised to be running back by committee in Michigan’s new offense. 

Last week, Hoke announced that Smith was the top back by a narrow margin, but during Saturday’s night scrimmage Green was on top.

For some teams, the tight competition might indicate a lack of talent, but for Michigan it’s the exact opposite—Derrick Green and De’Veon Smith were both 4-star recruits, and last season Johnson had beaten both out to backup senior Fitzgerald Toussaint before being sidelined by an ACL injury during the first game of the season.

While Hoke may prefer that one back assert himself, offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier is more pragmatic on the subject.

“We’re gonna play a number of guys—and what you look at who is going to shoulder the load,“ said Nussmeier last week during the team’s media day. “There are a lot of variables…we’re not gonna be a one-back team.”

Also in the mix is transfer Ty Isaac and veteran Justice Hayes. Isaac, a 4-star transfer, is awaiting a decision on his eligibility, and Hayes made an impression during spring practice with his blocking ability.

“We’d love to get to one guy for sure, but right now we’re just not there yet,” said Hoke. “All four, five if you want to count Ty [Isaac], have done some really good things and they’ve all made some bonehead mistakes.”

After watching Michigan’s offensive line struggle to open up running lanes during the team’s public night practice on Saturday, the running backs look to be in for a beating this season.

Michigan’s eventual top back may very well be determined by whoever can avoid injury while finding the microscopic openings created by an offensive line still looking for its groove.

The backs will also be judged on their ability to pass protect and navigate the inside and outside zone running plays that Nussmeier’s offense depends on. With a number of backs getting reps, Hoke may just find the right combination to make Nussmeier’s offense go.

That Derrick Green and De’Veon Smith are battling is not surprising considering how they performed at the end of last season, but Drake Johnson’s strong return is a bonus. Johnson, a lightly regarded 3-star recruit who played his high school football across the street from the Big House at Ann Arbor Pioneer, has forced himself into the conversation at running back.

Hoke may be frustrated by the tight competition to run the ball, but after seeing the current state of the team’s offensive line, he might need his entire running back committee by the end of the season.


Phil Callihan is a featured writer for Bleacher Report. Unless otherwise noted, all quotations in this article were obtained via press conferences or in person.

Follow @PSCallihan

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Bleacher Report's Preseason All-America College Football Team

There is an abundance of football talent scattered throughout the nation. Only a small portion of these players—a percent of a percent—can be preseason Bleacher Report All-Americans.

Of course, such labels are only labels. There are no prizes or trophies for the select few picked—that’s still a violation, probably—although it’s still a label you’d rather have than not. And with the college football season inching oh so close, it’s time to crown the truly exceptional (and enrage excluded fanbases accordingly). 

Crafting this team took the following into consideration: statistical performance from last year, team impact, award presence, 2014 projection and the vital eye-test addition. This is how a pool of thousands was narrowed to just 25. 

The All-America team consists of 11 offensive players, 11 defensive players and three specialists (a kicker, a punter and a return man). A second team was also handpicked, and these players are highlighted on each positional slide.

Here they are. Your outrage undoubtedly to follow.

Begin Slideshow

10 Most Underrated Offensive Recruits in Class of 2015

The 2015 class is stacked with plenty of offensive weapons destined to help keep scoreboard operators busy for the foreseeable future.

However, recruiting has never been proven to be an exact science.

For example, none of the three quarterbacks taken in the first round of the 2014 NFL draft—Blake Bortles, Johnny Manziel and Teddy Bridgewater—were ranked as Top 100 recruits in the 2011 class.

In particular, Bortles rose from a player tabbed as the No. 169 recruit in the state of Florida into the No. 3 overall pick of the Jaguars. 

The 2015 class has its share of offensive standouts who carry a rating of 3-star or below.

Which offensive players in the 2015 class are underrated and being overlooked by recruiting experts?

*All players listed in alphabetical order. All recruiting info courtesy of 247Sports and all rankings courtesy of 247Sports Composite Rankings unless otherwise noted.

 

Begin Slideshow

Notre Dame Football: Final Game-by-Game Schedule Predictions

SOUTH BEND, Indiana — As Irish head coach Brian Kelly stressed when he discussed the academic investigation Saturday, the season goes on for Notre Dame football.

For now, the Irish are without wide receiver DaVaris Daniels, cornerback KeiVarae Russell, defensive end Ishaq Williams and linebacker Kendall Moore, who are being held out of practice and competition during the ongoing investigation.

“I care deeply about the four young men,” Kelly said following Saturday’s practice. “But I’ve got a job to do. And I’ve got another 100 players that I have to be concerned with.”

Kelly must also concern himself with a rigorous schedule, one that features Michigan, Stanford, North Carolina, Florida State, Arizona State, Louisville and USC.

Five ND opponents also in the poll: FSU(1), Stanford(11), USC(15), Arizona State(19) and UNC(23).

— Dan Murphy (@BGI_DanMurphy) August 17, 2014

Only six teams play more AP Top 25 teams than Notre Dame this year. And five of those are from the SEC. Stanford is the other.

— Irish Illustrated (@NDatRivals) August 17, 2014

Let’s go game by game through Notre Dame’s schedule and predict the outcome.

For now, it’s only appropriate to approach this exercise as if Notre Dame will be without Daniels, Russell, Williams and Moore for the entire season. Obviously, should any of the four be cleared, these predictions are subject to change.

Begin Slideshow

Texas A&M's Kenny Hill Is the Ultimate Long Shot for the 2014 Heisman Trophy

Don't call him a favorite and don't even call him a dark horse, but if you're looking for the ultimate long shot for the 2014 Heisman Trophy, look no further than Texas A&M quarterback Kenny Hill.

Hill, the 6'1", 215-pound sophomore from Southlake, Texas, was tabbed as Johnny Manziel's replacement as the starting quarterback for the Aggies over the weekend by head coach Kevin Sumlin.

“The competition was close and that competition will continue to help us improve,” Sumlin said in a release from Texas A&M. “I have talked to both quarterbacks as well as the team and we will prepare with Kenny getting the first-team reps.”

Hill completed 16 of 22 passes for 183 yards, one touchdown and zero interceptions as the third-string quarterback last year, adding seven carries for 37 yards on the ground. He was rated as a 4-star prospect and the No. 8 dual-threat quarterback in the nation in 2013 by 247Sports.

Surprised? I was.

I had been back and forth between Hill and true freshman Kyle Allen all offseason but settled on Allen, an early enrollee, as the winner as fall camp began.

Sumlin commented on the race to Brent Zwerneman of the Houston Chronicle Saturday afternoon.

Sumlin said Kyle Allen took news "maturely" and knows he's one play away from starting -- whether from "subpar play or injury."

— Brent Zwerneman (@BrentZwerneman) August 17, 2014

Either way, though, the quarterback at Texas A&M is going to be successful. He has to be, and if you're looking for a long shot to win the Heisman Trophy, Hill is it.

It wasn't too long ago when a redshirt freshman was tabbed as the starter in Aggieland midway through fall camp. Eleven wins, 5,116 total yards and 47 touchdowns later, Manziel made history as the first redshirt freshman to ever win the Heisman Trophy.

Hill is perfectly set up to come out of nowhere to repeat the feat.

"Kenny throws a beautiful deep ball," TexAgs.com senior writer Billy Liucci told me at SEC media days in July. "In this offense, as we've seen the last two years, they're not afraid to take deep shots. They'll do that without [former wide receiver] Mike Evans out there."

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

The biggest criticism of this Aggie team is its defense, which finished last in the SEC and 111th in the nation in total defense last year (475.8 YPG). On top of that, defensive coordinator Mark Snyder lost several key contributors unexpectedly, including defensive tackle Isaiah Golden and linebacker Darian Claiborne.

While that's a criticism of the team, it's a benefit for Hill's  Heisman chances.

He has the dual-threat capabilities and the coaching staff to put up the video game numbers Heisman voters like, and, more importantly, he probably has to put up those stats if the Aggies are going to win football games.

That's what will hold Hill up regarding the Heisman. The award has evolved into a quarterback-centric award that is reserved for signal-callers who are on teams that, at the very least, are competitive within their division or conference. 

Texas A&M plays in the toughest neighborhood in college football in the SEC West—a division that has sent six teams to the national title game over the last five years. Hill will elevate from a "long shot" to "dark horse" if his defense fixes the glitch, which may be easier said than done but is certainly not impossible given the way Texas A&M has recruited over the last few years.

If you're looking for that long shot—that player out of nowhere who is beyond a dark horse but could put the pieces of the puzzle together to produce a Heisman-level season—it's Hill.

Several of those pieces are already in place. He has the coach, the system, the exposure and the defense that will bolster his Heisman case. Now he just needs the wins. 

It seemed crazy two seasons ago, too, and look how that turned out.

 

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


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